Orthodox in America and around the world often gets criticized for lack of evangelism and missions. In some ways this is fair. In the US, we have often created insular communities with little organized community action.
Yet, looked at from a large historical perspective this criticism is unwarranted. Look out over the scope of the globe and most of Europe and Asia have been touched by Orthodoxy. A large majority of our saints were missionary saints. In the 20th Century, Orthodox missions has been vibrant through Africa and parts of Asia.
Missions have been hard for us due to persecution. Orthodoxy in the Middle East has been under the thumb of Islam for centuries so survival often takes precedence over expansion. Eastern Europe was under the Ottoman yoke after the fall of Constantinople, and after a brief period of freedom the Communist scourge took over and decimated the Orthodox world.
Yet after the fall of communism, the Orthodox of Russia have shamed us all by displaying a commitment to spreading the Gospel. At the fall of Communism in 1991, there were 7000 Orthodox churches in Russia. As of right now there are 28,000. Tell me another church body that has seen fourfold growth in 20 years. That is pretty impressive. It's not just Russia these believers are reaching, but they are entering the edges of their homeland to affect traditional Muslim societies as well.
One courageous individual was recently brought to my attention due to AFR's podcast Postcards from Greece by Fr. Peter Alban Heers. Fr. Peter details the life and ministry of the Newly Martyr Fr. Daniel Sysoyev and his missionary activity in Moscow and beyond in two parts.
Fr. Daniel was born in 1974 and was shot dead inside of his parish at the hands of radical Islam on Nov. 2009. Over his ministry he had reached out and personally converted at least 80 Muslims, which made him a target of radicals. He had been threatened for years.
Not only did he reach Muslims, but the unchurched, neo-pagans, and others were brought into the Church under his ministry. He was intentional and aggressive, and he was very systematic in approach to ministry and mission. One area of great strength was creating missionaries and evangelists among his own laity.
All Orthodox should examine his ministry which could become a model and paradigm for how evangelism and mission could be done in our multicultural age. Moscow is not much different than Paris, New York City, or even Louisville, KY in the diversity of religious climate and the advance of secularism. He provides a witness and example of the effective yet traditional approaches to spreading the Gospel.
I would really like to do some future posts looking at the details of his ministry and how it could apply to our situation in America.
For now, here's some further resources and links:
Fr. Daniel, please pray for us that we will have the courage to take the gospel throughout our neighborhoods and around the world.