Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Imperative of Orthodox Mission Outreach to Muslims

New Martyr and Missionary Fr Daniil Sysoev
Greetings for the Civil New Year!

In resuming my postings for 2012, I want to especially emphasize the importance of missionary work among our Muslim neighbors. This is a divine imperative, which has both practical and pastoral dimensions, and is urgently needed. I myself am unqualified to advise on the topic, so I will use the approach I have employed in my book, Facing Islam, which is to turn to the examples and teachings of others who have proven to be qualified and proficient. This theme of Missions will be a recurring one going forward, and I will strive to give it its due, with a hefty percentage of postings, balancing some of the more daunting entries sure to come in the new year.

The impetus behind the launch of this initiative is specifically the encouragement of Fr Dcn Yuri Maximov, of the Moscow Theological Academy, with whom I am delighted to have struck up a correspondence. Dcn Yuri was a close friend and co-laborer with Priest-Martyr Daniil Sysoev, who of course is revered for his missionary work among Muslims in Moscow, having converted some eighty from Islam to the Orthodox Faith in Jesus Christ (including some "hard core" Salafists and Wahhabists). Fr Daniil and Dcn Yuri launched an actual missionary program out of the small wooden church in South Moscow dedicated to the Apostle Thomas which Fr Daniil had founded; this met with much success, training ordinary lay people in the essentials of sharing the Orthodox Gospel with others. In a recent email to me, Dcn Yuri writes:

I saw your blog, it has good materials. In USA and Russia we still have a freedom to tell the truth about Islam. In Europe there is no freedom for the theme already... I think it's important for your blog to have more information about mission amongst Muslims. Because to speak truth about Islamic terrorism without mission perspective is way to despair. And if we keep understanding that God make the Muslims as our neighbours for they will know about Christ, we have a good perspective. We start to see Muslims not as the problem, but as the way to fulfill the last comandment of Christ. This is the mention of St. Gregory Palamas, when he was captured by the Turks...

I was very moved when I read this email from Dcn Yuri. Both because I personally struggle against that sense of despair and hopelessness which he warns against, and because I feel personally responsible in writing on this subject to be a voice of encouragement, of hope, and of faith. One senses in Dcn Yuri's words the warmth of an evangelist, the love of a missionary for those who do not yet know Christ. This is what we must labor to acquire in our own hearts. Perhaps it is given to us today to apply the word of St Seraphim of Sarov — to acquire the Holy Spirit — so as to be equipped to share the Orthodox Gospel. Each small effort to advance the Gospel contributes to the spread of the Kingdom of God.

Thus, I would like to offer below an excerpt from an amazing interview conducted in Serbia with Fr Daniil and Dcn Yuri only a week before Fr Daniil's martyrdom. The links to the two portions of this lengthy interview are at the bottom of this post, but I will post excerpts from this treasure from time to time for both its inspirational value, as well as its practical direction. If nothing else, we here in America should feel deeply convicted (and thereby motivated!) by the evangelical warmth and zeal of our heavenly intercessor Fr. Daniil Sysoev — May we have his blessing!

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Fr. Daniil:  I think that the Lord has now created such a situation that almost the whole world is open for Orthodox missions. Truly, such was not the case 20 years ago. And regarding globalization-this is an act of God in order that the Gospel makes it to the ends of the world, so that the undistorted preaching of the Holy Apostles could reach every people of the earth. If we, Christians, do not use this chance then the Lord will demand an answer from us for the fact that we did not convert people to the light of Orthodoxy. Regarding missions, they are beginning to be revived. We know that there are active missions in the Russian Church and the Greek Church; the Orthodox Church of Alexandria actively preaches. Yuri Valeryevich can talk about that in more detail, and I will speak about Russia.

In Russia there are two types of missions: internal missions targeted at nominal Orthodox, more correctly called catechism, and missions targeted at those outside the Church. Unfortunately, external missions are less active, but it is also starting to intensify right now. Yuri Valeryevich and I, having studied the experience of a number of missionaries, came to the conclusion that it was necessary to create a missionary movement and we did that in the creation of the missionary movement of the Holy Prophet Daniel, where the a program based on the general experience of the Russian Orthodox Church, in a sense, exists. We have courses, over the course of a year, for training Orthodox missionaries which train people to preach on the streets, among sects, among those of other religions, as well as among average nominal Orthodox.

How is this done? People are invited to talk about God; those who have for a long time not been to church, and those who have never been there are invited; people are invited to confession and communion; the unbaptized are offered baptism. At the same time, our missionaries hand out special leaflets in which is explained why one should cross themselves, go to confession, and go to communion and the address of a church is given-this is very important, so that there is a place to send them.

Further is the second stage: catechism. There are a few systems of catechism in use. In my church there is a system of five talks: on God, on the creation of the world, on Christ, on the Holy Mysteries, and on the Law of God. Each talk is two-and-a-half hours long, and during those talks the person is prepared for baptism or reconciliation to the Church if it is a sectarian. They will also read the four Gospels and Acts and then be solemnly joined to the Church. We usually have baptisms at a baptismal liturgy.

Then, after baptism, is the second step: people enter into the life of the Church, studying Holy Scripture. For this we have permanent classes on studying the Bible. Every week, in our church and in a few other churches in Moscow, we study the holy Word of God in detail. This is very important as, for many Protestants, one of the reason why they are not in the Orthodox Church is that the Holy Scripture is not studied. I think that we, having such rich interpretation of the Bible from the Holy Fathers, must use it...

When we talk about the fact that the Church must be missionary, we remember that the Savior Himself, the Lord Jesus Christ, commanded all Christians to preach the Gospel to all people without exception. And, therefore, the Church is obligated to take the Word of God to all people. The Church must be active and not static, and that which is happening in the Russian Church is evidence that it is returning to its apostolic roots. Hundreds of priests and lay persons of our Church preach on the streets, go to the meetings of sectarians, and go to mosques and many then turn to Christ. I think that all of the Orthodox Churches must go and proclaim the Gospel to people. We should not be content with what we already have. Christ has very many sheep which we still have not found. Right now I have studying at my parish a family of Muslims from the Caucuses who wants to be baptized and they said to me, “Why did not you, Orthodox priests, come to our ancestors? Why did they not know about this truth? Why did we never hear about it in Dagestan?”

It often seems to us that we cannot do anything, but this is not so. The Orthodox Church can and does do very much for conversions. Some say that the Lord Himself leads people into the Orthodox Church. Yes, the Lord Himself leads people but through us, and if we lead a person to baptism then we cover a multitude of sins as the Apostle James said. We receive an enormous award in the Heavenly Kingdom if we turn people to repentance. Furthermore, when the Church preaches the Gospel to those outside itself, even to those of other nations, then the Church itself is rejuvenated, strengthened, and flourishes because the Holy Spirit then gives it strength in order to carry out missions also among its own people.

Some say, “First convert your own people then go to others,” but the Lord did not say that. If we have a neighbor who is a Muslim, Catholic, or Protestant why are they still not Orthodox? For we know that outside the Church there is no salvation, and those people, if they do not come into the Orthodox Church will perish forever, they will go into the eternal fire. We had an issue with Chechnya and some ask, “How can we preach to Chechens?” But I say that a Chechen who finds Christ becomes a better Christian than a normal person from a traditional Orthodox family. I had an acquaintance who was a Chechen Wahhabite and he came to me to convert me to Islam. We decided to examine where the truth is. Over the course of two months I told him about Christianity and afterwards he asked me, “And why haven’t you offered to baptize me?” I said, “If you believe you can be baptized,” and he was baptized. His name is now Alexander.