Preaching the Gospel to All Nations

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One of the striking experiences of Theophany (Jan. 6) is the public Great Blessing of the Waters. I have done this service at several rivers, once in Columbia, S.C., where the ruins of one of the older, more infamous State Prisons, overlooked the site of the blessing. To pronounce the words of blessing over the waters in sight of those ruins could not help but conjure up thoughts of the ruined walls of Hades (to use a metaphor). That place (the prison), once the home of such much suffering and torment (I’m not talking about state-inflicted torture or anything – just the torment of being in prison), stood as an icon of the torment and imprisonment we often carry within our own hearts. To hear the gospel proclaimed in such a place was indeed a true word of freedom.

It seems interesting to me that the specific commandment in the Scriptures (in Matthew’s gospel) is:

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world (28:19-20).

And in Mark’s gospel:

And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature (16:15).

What strikes me as interesting here is that neither gospel wording says, “to all people,” or “to every man,” or something to that effect. In one case the gospel is directed to nations (ethnos) and in the other to a word that goes beyond humanity to include every created thing (ktisis). Neither, of course, excludes the preaching of the gospel to all humanity – but it is interesting how that preaching is envisioned.

First, there is a regard for the ethnos, or nation (not to be confused with the modern nation-state). Thus St. Paul will say that there is “neither Jew nor Greek, Scythian or Barbarian, male or female, etc.” when he addresses a certain aspect of the gospel, but in other aspects there are certainly Jews and Greeks, Scythians, Barbarians, British, Germans, Russians, Chinese, etc. These “peoples” to whom we all belong (though America seeks to identify us in new ways for a new political entity) seem to have some standing within the gospel, even if that standing is not something meant to separate us from one another, nor to confer a special relationship with God. Nevertheless, we are not merely individuals who have no ethnos.

Neither does the preaching of the gospel single us out as human beings who are somehow separate from the rest of creation. Ktisis includes us as well as the trees and rocks (and all that is)- and the gospel is to be proclaimed to all. One of the liberating aspects of this proclamation is to say that the gospel is not a consumer product. The gospel is not an idea about which we must become convinced. You do not preach to a tree in order for it to reach a decision. The proclamation of the gospel is an announcement of good news which is as true for every rock and tree as it is for every human being. Human beings do possess the ability to choose – an ability which will itself be an aspect of who we are that must embrace the gospel – but, as creatures, let us understand that the gospel is true whether we respond favorably or not. God has acted without invitation, without approval, without a vote. God is love and the Kingdom of God has come among us in the Person of Jesus Christ.

The lives of the saints are frequently marked by a peculiar relationship to creation – whether tree, rock, or beast. Wild animals are known to behave as virtual pets in the presence of a saint. Plants bloom and grow in ways that defy all that nature would expect. Even rocks are not immune from this peculiar behavior.

Such proclamation obviously goes beyond preaching as we generally understand it. Lives whose very presence is the gospel preached can be articulate even in silence. Such silence can be heard by the whole of creation – and doubtless will be.

17 Responses to “Preaching the Gospel to All Nations”

  1. bríde Says:

    All I can say is, “Woah.”

    This is extremely profound.

  2. Terry Says:

    This was just awesome!!!!

  3. Gina Says:

    Growing up on a dairy farm, I used to pray for animals, usually when they were suffering or ill. I hesitated because I didn’t know any theological justification from a Protestant standpoint. I’m glad I did anyway.

  4. Mary Lowell Says:

    Gina,

    Sweet! My grandchildren list their stuffed animals in their prayers. I never correct them, since we often tell them God made everything. Not a good theological defense, but they are three-year-olds. “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!” That’s what my little ones are doing, God will sort it out for them in time.

  5. Hartmut Says:

    Thank you, father, for this reference to Matthew 28. My mistake yesterday was that I confused “nation” with the modern nation-state, as you mention.
    “teach all nations” – my thoughts go on in this direction: do justice to the different people in their different nature. As St. Paul says: “To the Jews I became as a Jew, … to the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all man …” To the Russian become a Russian, to the German a German, to the Asien a Asien … And so each nation has to live and express the faith – the same, catholic faith – in its unique way.
    Another thought: was there not in Russia, after the fall of Constantinople, the view to be the “Third Rome”? Maybe God chooses also in the time of his new testament particular nations to be a special light of the world? And the russian piety in their hystory could indeed serve as an example.
    Or is this heretical and one must say: every nation, every christian is choosen to be a light, the light of the world.
    The truth probably is in between the two: every nation, every “ethnos”, every christian ist choosen to be the light of the world but some meet ist more than others. And so we can consider certain people as holy – the saints and can do so also with certain nations, for instance the “Holy Russia”.

  6. Hartmut Says:

    concerning the “ktisis”:
    I remember a chrismas eve, and after having finished my chrismas services (I was a pastor in a number of villges) I told my dog: “Today Christ is born!” I did so out of the joy that was in me. I don’t know wether he understood, but I felt right, to do so.

  7. fatherstephen Says:

    Hartmut,

    Technically, no notation is superior to another, though the Jews have played a unique role in our salvation and therefore do have something unique about them. But as for the rest of us. We’re doing good when there is something to point to. Both Russia, Greece, Romania, etc. all have much to point to, of what God has done among them.

    Even America, now has Orthodox saints to point to, though they’re mostly imported. They are still ours: St. Herman of Alaska, St. Innocent of Alaska and Moscow, Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow (who had served in America), St. Juvenaly the Priestmartyr, St. Peter the Aleut, St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, St. Nicolai of Zicha who labored in America, the priest martyrs John and Alexander who labored in America (they were martyred by the Bolsheviks), St. Jacob Netsvetov missionary to Alaska. There are several more who are being considered at this moment.

    Many of us would like to see Leonty (a former Metropolitan) added to the saints. Canada already is recognizing St. Arseny, a Bishop. I have my own private hopes for some (even some who are still living – whose entrance into the fullness of heaven I will be very patient for).

  8. For all of creation « OrthoPraxis Says:

    […] other things;better theological explanations are available many places, including hereas well as here) In Fr. Gregory Jensen’s homily for the feast, he mentioned that in his time serving the […]

  9. FrGregACCA Says:

    “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. ” Romans 8:19-23 RSV

  10. handmaid Says:

    I pray for Matushka Olga of Alaska to be glorified

  11. NewTrollObserver Says:

    FrGregACCA,

    because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.

    If you add the above quote to Fr Stephen’s note on ktisis, would it be far off to suppose that creation’s obtaining of freedom from decay and of glorious liberty, is creation’s obtaining theosis?

  12. fatherstephen Says:

    St. Maximus the Confessor lists a number of antinomies that will be overcome in the Eschaton. One of those is the created/uncreated dichotomy. Thus we become “uncreated” by Grace, sharing in God’s attribute of “uncreated.” Creation itself would participate in this.

    As I’ve noted with others, I tend not to use the term theosis in my writings. It is overused in America, mostly by convert Orthodox. It can also cause confusion because of the false teaching of the Mormons. I speak instead of sharing in the life of God. Works just as well, is less technical, and cannot be confused with the Mormon doctrine. Just a suggestion. We have to translate Orthodox doctrine into American English.

    Divinization, though correct, again has some of the same problems. I again prefer the simple phrase, we will share in the very life of God.

  13. William Says:

    It really is helpful when speakers and writers use the simpler terminology of “sharing in the life of God” in place of or alongside terms like “theosis” or “divinization.” Having been raised in the thick of Mormondom, I was taught early on that Mormons believe they will become gods and that this was a fundamental doctrine that separated them from the truth of Christianity. So when I first began dabbling in Orthodoxy and patristic writings many years ago, I found such (perfectly Orthodox) statements such as “God became man so that man might become God” to be shocking and even a bit like stumbling blocks (though not too hard to get over). Mormons use almost the exact phrasing. At the same time, I was able to understand, at least in part, how the fathers meant such phrases, and it was clear to me how their meaning differed from the Mormon meaning. I quickly grew to find Orthodox use of “man becoming God” language to be beautiful, meaningful and challenging to me. But I must say that the frequency of use of this kind of language can still shock my ears. I still find it helpful to hear other people describe such marvelous doctrines in terms that are more ordinary, even though I, like others here, would never like to see the technical terms, which are so precise, fall out of use.

    To simplify, I’m just saying that I appreciate hearing grand doctrines being taught both in grand language and in plain language. The use of plain language also helps to remove the grand doctrines from the level of metaphysical concept to the level of experiential life.

    Please, to anyone who prefers to use words like “theosis,” don’t interpret my comment here to be a knock or a complaint. God bless you all.

  14. sean Says:

    Father,

    Is the photograph accompanying this article one of your own? If so would you be willing to share it? I’m a painter and I collect “backgrounds” for possible use.

    Regards,

    Sean

  15. Sue Says:

    What is the people of all the other nations dont really want to hear about Jesus and are quite happy within their own Sacred Traditions.

    That is the point where Western/”christian” imperialism INEVITABLY comes in.

    Any group that claims to possess the ONE TRUE faith/way/revelation has in effect declared war against all other forms of religious and their cultural expressions.
    And will use whatever means necessary, including imperial conquest (with the inevitable mountains of corpses), to “convert” everyone else into their own image.

  16. fatherstephen Says:

    Sue,

    You are familiar, it seems, with the history of Western Christianity. There is not a history of conquest and conversion in Eastern Orthodox Christianity. You should not confuse the two. Their history of missions are quite different. The conclusions you have drawn are only true in certain circumstances and are not universally true (as in Eastern Christianity).

  17. agaba samson Says:

    I really appreciate the work of God you are doing and I promise to join in doing such a great service to the living God. May the Almighty God bless you abundantly.

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