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The Veliko Tarnovo Holy Metropolia hosts

International consultation
on the mission of the Orthodox Church

The experience the Veliko Tarnovo diocese got in the field of Orthodox mission ministry in the last
several years, and especially this current year, allowed the organisers of the Orthodox mission
network to choose this diocese to host the Second international consultation on Orthodox mission.
The first one was carried out in February in Minsk, Belarus, where missiologists and missionaries
of different countries of Central and Eastern Europe established the Orthodox mission network and
shared experiences of mission ministry in the parishes and the dioceses from which they had come.

The Orthodox missiologists were representatives of the theological schools in the countries with
majority of Orthodox population where missiology as an academic discipline was being taught, and
the missionaries were the priesthood and the lay people who were engaged in practical mission
ministry in their countries. At the Minsk consultation, some ten main themes of Orthodox mission
ministry have been discussed, and it was there that the idea appeared of continuing the discussion
on the topics on another meeting of Orthodox missiologists and missionaries. This second forum
took place between 20 and 24 October in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria.

The specific thing about the meeting was that it was not a conference, where theoretical issues of
mission have been discussed, but a consultation meeting where practical issues of Orthodox mission
ministry have been considered by the participants of different countries. In fact, the meeting was an
expression of true brotherly Christian communion between the participants not only during the
sessions but also during the morning prayers, the vespers and the two liturgies administered by
priests from Russia and Romania.

The Bulgarian participants in the consultation presented their vision on the relations between
Christian community and mission ministry (protopriest Slavcho Ivanov, vicegerent of the Veliko
Tarnovo diocese), on the similarities and differences between mission and missionary ministry
(Valentin Kozhuharov, who was Head of the mission department of the Veliko Tarnovo diocesan
centre between January and July 2010, now carrying out mission ministry at social institutions), and
on the mission ministry in the context of social Christian work, mainly in the pastoral work with
drug addicts (protopriest George Fotakiev and deacon Mikhail Manev of the diocese of Varna and
Veliki Preslav).

The theme of the academic theology and the place of the discipline of missiology in the theological
schools, as well as the topic of the limits of the theoretical and practical mission ministry were
presented by Ventsislav Karavalchev, who is an Orthodox missionary of the Bulgarian Orthodox
church doing mission research work in the Institute for theological research of St Andrew the First-
Called in Kiev.

The participants of the Russian Orthodox church provided very interesting information about the
mission work in Russia which was followed by lively discussions, especially on the themes of the
relations between mission and local culture, more specifically – the culture of the local peoples of
Altai and Central Siberia (protopriest Igor Kropochev of Kemerovo diocese, Siberia), of the
methodology of the mission work of the Russian Orthodox church in accordance with the Russian
church’s Concept of mission and with the practical results of the 15-year long mission ministry on
the vast territory of the Russian Federation, as well as the practical mission ministry among the
local peoples of Yakutia and the Northern border of Russia along the North Atlantic Ocean coast
(hegumen Agathangel Belykh, lecturer in the Belgorod missionary seminary and priest of the
Mission department of the Russian Orthodox church), of the success and the challenges in the social
Christian activity among prisoners and in other institutions for temporary imprisonment (Natalya
Ponomareva, Head of the Centre for spiritual education at imprisonment institutions and Fellow
missionary at the Synodal department for prison ministry), and of the legacy of the communist
regimes in the former Soviet Union and the mission ministry as a form of struggle for revival of
Orthodoxy, mainly through the activity of the Christian seminar for religious revival, established in
1974 (Alexander Ogorodnikov, political prisoner in the 1980s, Orthodox journalist and Head of the
children’s village “Island of Hope” where hundreds of homeless children find home, fatherly and
motherly care and get true Orthodox Christian education).

On the part of the Georgian Orthodox church, an interesting view has been presented about the
relations between the theological disciplines and missiology in the Orthodox theological schools, as
well as the means by which the boundary between mission theoretical and mission practical
ministry can be overcome. The rich experience of Fr Kakhaber Kurtanidze (lecturer at the Orthodox
theological faculty of Tbilisi) allowed him to outline the main problems which the Orthodox
theology faces today and to suggest to the participants which might be the ways of closer relations
between theory and practice of the contemporary theological disciplines.

Fr Claudiu Melean and under-deacon Gelu of the Romanian Orthodox church dealt with the issue of
revival of the Orthodox mission as revival of the parish life by the example of the activity carried
out by the Orthodox organisation “The Lord’s Army” which was recently founded and which has
been working in this specific field of ministry. Although the organisation has had a modest
experience until now, a structure of such goals and aims possesses big potential which in the future
needs to be further developed and disseminated within the Romanian society, the authors asserted.

The Finnish Orthodox church was represented by two catechists coming from Helsinki (Johan Slätis
and Teppo Vaisanen) who told the participants about the activity of their parish and its efforts in
attaching new missionary taste to the Orthodox education and the catechetical work in the church.
Of special interest was the approach to revival of the ancient practice of Christian catechumenate in
the life of those who prepare themselves to receive the Holy Baptism by the model of the “little
church” – the family.

Quite interesting was the paper of the representative of the Kenyan Holy metropolis John Njoroge
Ngige (the paper presented by the representative of the Russian Orthodox church in Rome Miss
Irina Borshch) where the issues of interrelations between mission, culture and national identity have
been discussed. The various approaches to dealing with the local culture surrounding the missionary
have been clarified, and it was pointed out that in their work missionaries face the challenges of
either accepting some cultural elements of the people among whom they preach or renounce other
elements while trying to implement the truths of the Gospel in the life of every single person of the
country of mission.

The Belarusian Orthodox church (Moscow Patriarchate) was represented by one of the main
organisers of the consultation Miss Olga Oleinik; although she did not present a separate paper
during the sessions, she took the opportunity to tell the participants about the main activities of the
newly established Orthodox mission network and about the mission ministry of clergy and lay
people in the different parishes in Minsk and other cities, towns and villages of Belarus. Miss
Oleinik pointed out the big importance of the forum of Orthodox missiologists and missionaries in
its further development and expansion (as the name of the organisation in English is “Orthodox
mission network”) for the benefit of the Orthodox mission in Europe and in the world as a whole. In
support of this, the participant from Hungary, Miss Nóra Sümegi (she represents the Central and
Eastern European Association for Mission Studies based in Budapest), shared her view on
strengthening the practical mission ministry through further development of mission research and
publication of academic theological works on missiology which are to be used by missionaries in
the different countries.

At this point of discussion, it became clear why the consultation was not attended by theologians of
the Bulgarian theological schools. It was pointed that still there are no established mission
researchers in the country who could develop theoretical issues of the Orthodox mission and who,
through their written works, could share experience with colleagues of other Orthodox churches; it
was also stated that missiology is not being taught in the theological faculties and the spiritual
seminaries, either. It is important to note that almost half of the participants in the consultation are
at the same time missionaries and missiologists who carry out mission ministry in their parishes and
dioceses and at the same time teach missiology or develop teaching programmes on missiology
which are used in the theological schools.

The above described character of discussions during the consultation needs to be supplemented with
the prayerful communion between the participants where at the morning prayers, the vespers
services in the temple and the two liturgies one could hear prayers, exclamations, ektenias and
chants in ten languages: Greek, Slavonic, Bulgarian, Russian, English, Georgian, Hungarian,
Finnish, Romanian and Belarusian. Only those who were in the temple during the worships could
sense the brotherly unity and like-mindedness of the participants where not only the language but
mainly the spiritual communion, through the worship order, united everybody in one single
organism that has had “one heart and one soul” in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The consultation was opened by Fr Slavcho on behalf of the Veliko Tarnovo metropolitan Gregory.
He pointed out the importance of the event and expressed the gratitude of His Eminence over the
confidence with which the Orthodox mission network’s organisers entrusted the Veliko Tarnovo
diocese while recognising its efficient missionary activity done in the recent years and months
within the ten bishopric areas of the diocese. The same was again reconfirmed by Bishop Gregory
himself on the last meeting’s day where for several hours he has been discussing with the
participants the outcomes of the three-day forum, then he blessed the missionaries while wishing
them even higher spiritual success in their mission ministry; at the end, he closed the consultation.

On the last day of the meeting, a consultation Statement from the participants was discussed. The
statement may be sent to missionaries and missiologists in Europe (but also to the Orthodox
Christian mission centre – the mission department of the American Orthodox church) for
information and as an impulse for further ideas and activities which would lead to strengthening the
Orthodox mission network in its being an efficient theoretical-practical organisation with the aim of
supporting the missionary activities in the countries of concern. On Sunday, the participants who
were still in Veliko Tarnovo, took part in the holy liturgy at St Marina church and at the cathedral.
Then most of our guests went to their countries.

It is our hope that the consultation meetings of this type will continue in the future and that the
participation of Orthodox missiologists and missionaries will further expand and strengthen, and in
this way the Orthodox Christian presence in our societies will be confirmed through efficient
missionary activity in our countries. It is our hope, too, that the Bulgarian Orthodox theologians
will rediscover the importance of missiology as a necessary practical theological discipline which
would give students theoretical and practical knowledge and skills in mission ministry in the
Bulgarian parishes and dioceses so that we can see how the Bulgarian Orthodox church more
efficiently strengthens for the benefit of nation and state.

Translation: Dr. Valentin Kozhuharov