A Young Missionary

A young man whom I know from our local Orthodox Christian Fellowship at the University of Tennessee is looking to return to Tanzania as part of a mission team this year. It is a joy to see young people giving their lives for the cause of Christ and reaching out at home and across the world to bear witness to the fullness of the faith. If you are interested in following his story and/or support his efforts, he has started a blog on the topic.

Jordan, may God bless your work!

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.





18 responses to “A Young Missionary”

  1. Lisa Gillstrom Avatar
    Lisa Gillstrom

    My thoughts and prayers are with this young man…As the mother of a young man who hopes to attend seminary when he completes his four year degree, and is currently raising funds to go on a Missions Trip this fall to Ukraine to work in orphanages…I know just how courageous this young man is. The courage of his conviction, the expression of his faith and love, and sharing that with others is a glorious, and difficult path. I wish him the best, and my son and I will be praying for him.

  2. Simon Marc Avatar
    Simon Marc

    Father, this brings back many fond memories. I was part of a Protestant mission in Tanzania during July last year.

    I have a question about Orthodoxy in Sub Saharan Africa and the Ethiopian church in particular. I know that they are part of the Oriental Orthodox communion, which broke away from the Eastern Orthodox in the 5th century. However, I wonder what you think about their liturgy. I’ve seen some footage of this and it seems wonderful with their dances and singing etc. It is rather different from the Coptic liturgy It seems to incorporate their culture. What scope is there for peculiar cultural practises in liturgy for Eastern Orthodox. I do know that the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom is the main Liturgy used by all Orthodox. But are there different cultural expressions of this Liturgy accross the various ethnic groups?

  3. fatherstephen Avatar

    Simon Marc,
    There is indeed room for cultural expressions. Were there to be a healing of the schism with the Oriental Orthodox (a distinct possibility), it would not effect the Ethiopian liturgy at all, I would think. Theirs is a very ancient liturgy. I think that it is not so much Chrysostom as St. Basil’s liturgy used – as well as some others.

    The liturgical practice of the Church(es) is set in the Typicon – which is not a document with the force of canon law. It can and is changed for a variety of reasons. In general today, there is the Typicon that is followed in Greek practice, and that which is followed in Russian practice (and many derivations and varieties related to them).

    Many Americans, seeing an Orthodox liturgy here in the U.S., think that what they are seeing is “foreign” and wonder if there could be an “American expression” of Orthodoxy. What they are seeing is an American expression(s) of Orthodoxy. There are any number of things that one sees in the US that you would not see in Europe, etc. Liturgy is sort of like language – it is the Church’s song to God. But like language, dialects and accents are inevitable and natural. Orthodoxy is far less centralized and controlled – far more organic in its expression – than the various systems of Church in the West. Thus there will always be variations. However, liturgy is one language, and there is enough conformity that we can “speak” one another’s language. I’ve served in a variety of Orthodox settings – including in the Middle East. Things are different, but you still know what you’re doing (even if the service is in a different language).

    One of the slower processes in becoming Orthodox is “learning the language of liturgy.” Time and practice are what makes this possible. It’s then that you begin to realize just how “American” our services are – and how inescapably true it is that liturgies will express the culture in which they are found.

  4. Simon Marc Avatar
    Simon Marc

    That’s very interesting. What is going on at the moment that encourages you about Eastern and Oriental Orthodox reunion?

    I think the Ethiopian Church and many of the really old Churches in the East are an enigma to Western Protestant Christians. They don’t recognize them exist nor do they respect them. I think this is probably because of ignorance. For example, you said that the Ethiopian Liturgy would probably remain the same if a renuion with the Oriental Orthodox took place. Western Protestants missionaries who came to Africa sought to destroy all cultural practises and tried to make the people “civilized” Europeans or North Americans. No dancing, no drums etc, as if these things were evil in and of themselves. This was very clear when I was in Protestant communities in Tanzania. Certain things are taboo like dancing etc. Then you have a very ancient expression of African Christianity in Ethiopia, much older than Protestantism, that has very unique worship that incorporates the culture of the people. It just makes you wonder what it is about Western post enlightenment culture that makes it want to completely dominate and even whitewash others.

  5. fatherstephen Avatar

    There is a historical respect between Oriental and Eastern Orthodox, for one thing. Conversations on a more formal level have a deep agreement. There are sticking points (that would seem minor to others). There is a formal cooperation that recognizes our historical, cultural and doctrinal affinity that we do not have with any other Christians. If there is a schism that will be healed in my life time (the next 30-40 years), it would be with the Oriental Orthodox. I do not know that it will happen or how, but I know many leaders within Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental Orthodoxy who would be quite happy to see such a healing – and these are not “ecumenists.”

  6. Philip Jude Avatar
    Philip Jude

    Ethiopian Christianity is very Jewish. Once or twice a year, priests carry about wooden blocks, imitations of the tablets Moses brought down from Sinai. They also observe certain Jewish dietary laws and practice ritual circumcision. Ethiopian Christianity reflects the deep continuity between Old Israel and New Israel.

    African Christianity is very fascinating. I am intrigued by Nubian Christianity, too, which persisted until the 14th century.


  7. fatherstephen Avatar

    Ethiopians were largely Jewish before they were Christian. The Ethiopian Eunuch (in the book of Acts) was clearly Jewish. They trace themselves back to Solomon’s wife, Bathsheba. The language, Alhamric, is Semitic as well. The Church in Ethiopia clearly dates back to the first century. It is Orthodox.

  8. Philip Jude Avatar
    Philip Jude

    Intriguing. Do you know any decent books on the subject?

  9. Philip Jude Avatar
    Philip Jude

    “If there is a schism that will be healed in my life time (the next 30-40 years), it would be with the Oriental Orthodox.”

    Father, perhaps you know better than I, but this strikes me as very unlikely, given the Oriental rejection of Chalcedon. The nature of Christ hardly seems like a matter that is easily overlooked. Or has everyone concluded that the problem is just a matter of semantics? Lost in translation, as they say.

  10. fatherstephen Avatar

    The discussions on Chalcedon have progressed further than you know. The current problems that remain have more to do with the Anathemas of later councils on Monophysite saints, as well as a formal recognition of the 7 councils of the Church by the Oriental Orthodox. If you read Oriental Orthodox material on the 2 natures, you’ll see that “semantics” is a facile dismissal of a genuine problem begotten of language. They do not deny the humanity of Christ – but had reservations about how it was to be expressed – preferring the earlier language of St. Cyril of Alexandria. Chalcedon, particularly in the East, underwent some increasing nuances in the ensuing centuries – some refer to it as a Neo-Chalcedonian position – as seen in the 5th Council and the work of St. Maximus. It is simply “flat-footed” to say of the Oriental Orthodox that they “reject Chalcedon.”

  11. Chris Avatar

    Thank all of you for your discussion. Having once worked for an adoption agency which placed children from Ethiopia with American families, I was heartbroken when some of the children coming to live in Protestant Evangelical families were taught that the Ethiopian Orthodox faith to which they had been exposed was somehow tainted. Probably breaks God’s heart as well.

  12. Simon Marc Avatar
    Simon Marc

    It would indeed be a wonderful thing if the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox communions could come back together.

    It’s also interesting that the Ethiopians maintain many Jewish customs like circumcision and the Sabbath. I come from a Protestant Sabbatarian background, and we were always taught it was Rome that “changed” the day of worship from Sabbath to Sunday as a “man-made tradition” or an accomodation of pagan practises into the Church rather than from a scriptural mandate. So I find it intriguing that the Ethiopian Christians still celebrate Sabbath AND the Lord’s day and that this isn’t seen as either/or but rather both/and. This is also true of the Eastern Orthodox from what I understand. It was never seen as “Sabbath vs Sunday” as if they were in opposition to one another. Of course the issue is deeper than this very low grade and truncated view that I was raised with. I wonder if you have any thoughts on this.

    Apologies for getting off topic!

  13. Simon Marc Avatar
    Simon Marc

    On the topic of healing schism again, I wonder what the possibilities of Orthodox Anglican renunion would be. Of course this would be far more complicated than with the Oriental Orthodox, but there is good will between the two communions. And, from what I’ve read and heard from prominent Anglicans like CS Lewis, Rowan Williams and NT Wright, there appears to be some very Orthodox thought being expressed. I think Rowan Williams wrote his thesis on Lossky, so the Orthodox influence on him is clear. I know that there are huge issues that divide here and the direction Anglicans have gone on some doctrinal issues would not be conducive to any meaningful renunion. But the Anglican way of thinking about things seems to be more Eastern Orthodox in shape than the scholastic approaches in the West – either Protestant or RC. At least this is what I perceive is going on. There appears to be some meaningful common ground and understanding.

  14. fatherstephen Avatar

    Simon Marc,
    I have participated in some of the formal talks with Anglicans. The case was stated very clearly by Met. Jonah of the Orthodox Church of America. Anglicans would be welcome, but would have to embrace the fullness of Orthodox faith and practice. We believe this is of interest to some Anglicans, and is a proper direction for them. Lord Michael Ramsey, the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury, once wrote that it was the vocation of Anglicanism to be united with the Orthodox. There would be no “special case” or allowances – but Orthodoxy does not have a political sense of its faith. Either you embrace the faith in its fullness, or you do not embrace the faith. There is only union in the fullness of Christ.

    Williams is an interesting character – but of course his positions on many contemporary questions are beyond the pale and demonstrate that his interest in Orthodoxy has fairly severe limits. I think Lewis could have easily embraced Orthodoxy.

    I visited Lewis’ grave near Oxford several years back. When we arrived at the Church, we founded the grounds keeper. He showed us to the grave and commented with great sadness, “It’s only the Americans who come.” Lewis lived long as a prophet without honor (Oxford certainly failed to honor him – Cambridge stole him away).

  15. Philip Jude Avatar
    Philip Jude


    Thank you for the thorough answer. I think you misread my tone, however. I wasn’t being flip when I attributed the misunderstanding to “semantics.” Indeed, it is a great tragedy if the whole controversy was the result of language barriers, and it would be heartening if the problem could be resolved as an accident of mistranslation.

  16. fatherstephen Avatar

    Language was probably a major problem (I don’t think anyone was Monophysite in a thoroughly heretical manner – denying Christ’s humanity). But the politics of the Byzantine Empire were a contributing factor as well – including the measures by subsequent Emperors to clear things up. In the end, the Alexandrian language would not have proven as useful for the development that occurred in the Neo-Chalcedonian work of St. Maximus. Of course, St. Maximus’ work would not have occurred without the Alexandrian efforts. Church history, like all human life, is full of tragedy. The Cross is able to redeem all tragedy, if we’re able to embrace the Cross. It is that embracing that I pray for (in my life first of all).

  17. Philip Jude Avatar
    Philip Jude

    This is interesting and relevant reading:


  18. Simon Marc Avatar
    Simon Marc

    Thanks for your comments Father Stephen 🙂

    Getting back on topic – I wish this young missionary all the best. I can tell him and anyone else from first hand experience that Tanzania is an absolutely awesome part of the world. I’m sure there’ll be plenty of challenges, but he’ll have a wonderful time I think.

    Mungu akubariki! (God bless in Swahili)

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