EMILIANOS TIMIADIS [Metropolitan of Silyvria]|
A Lesson from the Byzantine Missionaries
Responsibility of the church to the local culture.
There is no place in the church of God for liturgical uniformity , cultural domination, colonialism, brutal conformism or a uniformity, forcibly imposing worship and theological expressions upon others. We may envisage this harmonization of different colors as a mosaic. Equally, it would be absurd to condemn other Christians who prefer this or that liturgical expression, this form of language, this kind of liturgical singing and music. This is not Orthodoxy. Spirituality can be expressed in different ways and must not be taken to mean a stereotyped form of piety, otherwise the human element is overstated as a compared with the divine at the expense of unity and the spreading of the gospel. By overstressing marginal secondary elements, we promote them to absolutes and essentials while in reality there exists a dialectic synthesis and harmony.
It was precisely this ignoring of cultural aspirations and the pluralism in humanity that manifested itself in the monolithic attitude of the Latin church when it adamantly insisted on Latin remaining to compulsory language in the worship of newly-converted nations, such as Bulgaria and elsewhere, creating the consequent split. Photius protested in an encyclical in 867 and denounced the anachronistic steps of Rome. The conflict was seemingly over evangelistic methodology and deontology, but behind it was the Roman claim to primacy of universal jurisdiction. It accentuated the conflict between the Roman claim to be the center of unity for Christendom and the Eastern Orthodoxy conception of the five patriarchates of almost equal status.
There is a deeper and more objective approach to theology and culture as a way of life that owes its origin to the early fathers of the east. Such a work is both indigenous and fruitful. Our faith and worship has to be expressed and reinterpreted through the language and the gestures, the customs of contemporary peoples scattered throughout the world. This was the extraordinary achievement of Patriarch Photius, seeking to integrate various Slavonic customs in religion and in liturgical life. Such an approach to inculturation remains a continuous responsibility. The church of today, especially that in diaspora and overseas, is urgently seeking a diachronic and synchronic liturgy, preaching theology and spirituality that will embody the best traditions of local culture.
These two brothers, left to our age, called technological, electronic, nuclear, spatial, revolutionary, an everlasting model of how preaching and evangelism should be in every historical period of change. While the central message will remain untouched and unchangeable, its language, form, semantic expression and terminology should always be reviewed, adapted to new emerging needs. Human beings, while remaining the same throughout history, from other aspects –cultural and intellectual- undergo considerable change, inviting appointed pastors to give more attention than they usually do to the methods used, to the language employed and to how they ought to speak in order to awaken apathy and sleepy consciences. Without absolutizing methods and informatique, from this new science, nevertheless, we are not at all excused, if we rely exclusively on old outdated patterns of our fathers, irrelevant today. Certainly they were valid in their time, but not for today. We need to become flexible, contemporary. We must, as an imperative challenge, stand with one leg in the past, in history, but we have to put the other leg into the present, with all that that implies and demands, for a proper articulation of our faith to the people. Only then will the proclamation of our faith become effective and credible.