The way the terms kerygma (proclamation) and martyria (witness) are often used is problematic, particularly in ecumenical dialogues.1 To be sure, there is a distinction between these terms, but the Orthodox understanding of their meaning and functionality differs from that of Roman Catholics and Protestants (as well as those Orthodox theologians who are in dialogue with them in an ecumenical setting). Before approaching the subject let us offer a brief explanation of what proclamation (kerygma) and witness (martyria) are.
The Orthodox approach
There is an imperative for the Church to proclaim the Gospel to the entire world: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:19). The mission of the Church is to evangelize the world, to preach the Gospel of salvation to every human being “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The end of the Church’s proclamation to the world is that all “may have fellowship with us [the Church of the believers]; and our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3) and with the Holy Spirit. The purpose of evangelism2 is to bring all humanity to the unity of the triune God through Jesus Christ. This also constitutes a duty of all its members, namely to proclaim the Gospel in word and action to all. This is a movement both inward and outward.
|Witness (martyria)||Evangelization (kerygma)|
|To confess or declare one’s faith openly, even at the risk of losing one’s life.||To proclaim the Gospel in word and action to all, in order to bring all humanity to the unity of the triune God through Jesus Christ.|
We are also called to be witnesses of our faith in both word and action. A life of holiness is always a powerful witness: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid…Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 5:14.16). Perhaps a better way to witness to those who don’t share our faith is with our actions. A silent witness of our faith is often preferable to words, especially when our words fall short or when others are not ready to receive them. A life lived in accordance with the evangelical tenets is a more powerful witness than so many words, especially if they are not backed up by authentic Christian living: “You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on your hearts, to be known and read by all men” (2 Cor. 2:2).
The ecumenical approach
The ecumenical approach is to speak of proclamation (kerygma) when we address people of our own faith and of witness (martyria) when we address people that do not share our faith. It does not seem fair, they say, to proclaim our faith to people who come from different traditions and cultural backgrounds. In order to dialogue with each other we must be more receptive to listening and be more sympathetic to other people’s ideas and views. To be in dialogue, they add, does not mean that we compromise or relativize our faith. By following the witness approach we realize that diversity increases our receptivity to diverse ideas, improves our relations and enriches our lives.
Reconciliation, healing, mutual respect, acceptance, tolerance, peace, justice, inclusivity, sensitivity, care for the environment: these are the topics of discussion and activities that characterize those engaging in ecumenical discussions. This is how they witness to each other. But witness to what? Truth is excluded; it is not even mentioned. Why? Because truth is divisive, therefore it is avoided; so are ethnicity, religion, faith, and culture. Diversity is praised and extolled, but always in unity. “Unity, not uniformity” (read oneness of faith), is their motto, vision, credo and strategy. More than anything else love is used ad nauseam, as the summum bonum, a justification for not offending with the truth, as if the two could be separated. The culture of loveism is nurtured in the WCC agenda, the fruit of ecumenism. Its members thrive in endless emetic statements.
Is the ecumenical approach Orthodox?
It seems that the ecumenical approach to witness is mutual acceptance with the person or church or religious group with which we are dialoguing. For those engaged in ecumenical relations, dialogue seems to be an end in itself. The witness approach (as understood and applied by the ecumenists) is particularly applied in inter-confessional meetings, prayer services, cultural and educational ventures, social activities, mission work, and other forms of common testimony. If some commonality is reached, it is either through marginalization and minimalism of our faith or through “finding unity in diversity.” The scope seems to be not to offend anyone, but to accept their beliefs and convictions as equal to ours in our search for some common denominator.
The Orthodox understanding
We find both kerygma and martyria to be true, but not as they are applied by the ecumenists. Their understanding of martyria is actually opposite to what this word means, which is to confess or declare one’s faith openly, even at the risk of losing one’s life. So much so that those who gave their very life on account of an open confession of their faith in Christ are called martyrs (martyres), while those who suffered on account of their faith short of dying for it are called confessors (omologites, from omologō, to declare or confess openly). We bring the words of Metropolitan Nikolaos of Mesogaia who presents the Orthodox approach to the ecumenical “dialogues”:
Let me refer to our participation in the ecumenical dialogues, which constitutes a unique historical opportunity for us to express the testimony (martyria) of our faith to the contemporary world. The manner in which the so-called dialogue of love and unity is conducted displays characteristics of compromise and not of struggle; purposefulness and not sacrifice. For this reason it causes confusion and sparks off suspiciousness, when we search the dogmas to find what unites us, and not what separates us. This has a nice appeal to it, but is not convincing, because truth, when we possess it in its entirety is shown from what others do not possess, that is from our differences. And this we can declare (diakeryxoume) humbly and gently, without fanaticism. If our goal is coexistence according to worldly terms, this is politics that does not inspire. But if it is a common walk towards God’s truth, then this demands unyielding confession (martyria) and consistency of life, which convinces. Truth is not conversed; it is confessed (omologeitai).3
Do you see how kerygma and martyria are used in the same breath as having the same application? We declare our faith with words, as the apostle urges us to do (Rom. 10:9), and with our very life: “You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on your hearts, to be known and read by all men” (2 Cor. 3:2). Unfortunately, the words of Metropolitan Nikolaos and of other Orthodox theologians fall on deaf ears. Thus the ecumenical dialogues instead of giving us an opportunity to declare our faith, they remain sterile and unproductive, while the truth is kept under the bushel.
The Orthodox approach to kerygma and martyria is fought not only by the ecumenists but also a group we call semi-ecumenist. Who are they? They are those who declare they are Orthodox, while they call the true Orthodox isolationists. What characterizes them is the “spirit of love” they have for the non-Orthodox Christians, while they look upon their fellow Orthodox as demons incarnate. They need to engage into a deep introspective look to discover their double standard and give a confession of their Orthodox faith to everyone, without compromises and false pretenses.
The holy scripture provides abundant examples to illustrate and confirm the Orthodox understanding of the terms under consideration. A few examples will suffice. The Lord’s dialoguing with the Samaritan woman (John 4:7-30) is brought as an example of dialogue with an outcast.4 But it is equally an example of proclamation, as it ends with the Lord not only instructing her to the truth, but also revealing Himself to her. If this is truly a paradigm for mission (which it is), it is not for martyria alone, but also for kerygma, because the two are inseparable, as two sides of the same coin.
We ask: to which category does the Apostles Paul’s speech at Areopagus belong, martyria or kerygma? Before you answer, answer this other question: the Apostle was addressing a crowd of heathen philosophers. Which approach should he be using? Wouldn’t you say that he should be witnessing to them? Yes, he should—and He does. “You are very religious,” he compliments them. That’s a very clever approach and sets the stage for an exemplary kerygmatic delivery. But what does he say after that? “What you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you” (Acts 17:23). And he proceeds to proclaim to them the true God, who will judge the world through a man, whom He has raised from the dead.
It is true that he doesn’t call Christ the Son of God, but “a man.” However, who’s to say that had he not have been rudely interrupted, he wouldn’t have declared to them the entire plan of God? After all he did not hesitate to declare to them His resurrection from the dead, the centrality of the Gospel. What is this declaration—kerygmatic or martyric?
To the Presbyters of the Church of Ephesos he declared how he “testified both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance to God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). He was diamartyromenos with them, solemnly testifying, giving them the martyria, both the inner life of witness and the outward declaration of the faith in Jesus Christ. It is not one or the other: our life stands behind our faith, if our faith is genuine.
Consider also whether the following words of the Apostle Peter probe us towards witnessing or proclaiming: “Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet. 3:15). What does “make a defense” mean but proclaim one’s faith openly? Surely, not by being aggressive, acting in a demeaning or condescending way towards the other person, but in a calm and respectful way. Nevertheless, we must defend our faith, not hide it. We must “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15), but speak it!
Consider further these words of the Apostle Paul: “Woe to me if I don’t evangelize” (1 Cor. 9:16). Is to evangelize, to preach the Gospel, a proclamation or a witness? The Gospel is proclaimed: in word and deed, but it is always proclaimed, whether in the church or outside the church, in the synagogue or in the agora, with Christians or non-Christians, with believers or non-believers. The message of salvation is the same.
The Ecumenical Patriarch certainly knows this, but he does not proclaim this supreme truth because he is an ecumenist. What witness does he give when he donates to Muftis Quoran books that blaspheme against Christ, saying He is not God incarnate, but just a prophet? He has often been confronted for his equivocal stance, using compromising language in ecumenical encounters, while defending his stance and proclaiming his Orthodox faith when he addresses Orthodox Christians. This duplicity must stop, because it compromises our faith.
- See, for example, The Mission of the Church, Catholic and UCA dialogue report (UCA stands for Uniting Church of Australia), Chapter 3, Nov. 8, 2008), and Johannes Nissen, “Witnessing to the Indiscriminate Love of God The Holy Spirit and Authentic Witness” Paper for the IAMS (International Association for Mission Studies) in Malaysia 2004.
- “Evangelism is the announcement, proclamation, and/or preaching of the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4), the good news of and about Jesus Christ.” (Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry, https://carm.org/what-is-evangelism.)
Interview with Dionysios Makris of the newspaper Stylos Orthodoxias uploaded to the webpage of the University of Athens.The same interview contains these different but relevant words of the Metropolitan: “The purpose of the Church is not to overthrow the brunt of sin, but to confess Christ, based on the psalmic words, ‘mercy and truth are met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other’ (Ps. 84:11 LXX). How wise are these words! Truth to walk together with mercy and righteousness to walk along with peace.”
- Nissen, o.c., p. 6.