Now that the Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) has officially taken up the task of missionary work in the renewed Diocese of the British Isles and Ireland after several decades of disruption, it would be well to consider the nature of the missionary work that we need to do.
First of all, we must understand that there is only one sort of authentic missionary and pastoral work. This serves the people as a community, it is not an ideological plan on a map with pins in it, it is not top-down, but down-top, from the grassroots. Now, wherever there is a demand, ROCOR will do its best to meet that demand, setting up parishes where there is a need, now with official support. Where there are thirsty Orthodox people (at least one of whom can sing and read) and where there are premises, we will provide a priest. We can think of many cases in history of such missionary work, for example the mission of St Augustine in England in 597 or that of Sts Cyril and Methodius to St Rostislav, always in answer to a request. We can build nothing where there is not a spiritual need and a willingness to make sacrifices.
But what of areas where there is no actual demand, but just unconverted souls, potential Orthodox? Here we can take the examples of St Herman in Alaska and St Nicholas in Japan. They lived simply in a place for many, many years, praying, learning and understanding the people among whom they lived, before missionary work began. They waited for people to come to them, they did not serve themselves by imposing themselves on others. Self-serving (usually in the name of some personal problem and unfulfilled ambition) is pseudo-missionary work. It tries to impose itself, being characterized by gurus, vagantes and clericalists who like fancy titles, dressing up and having their photographs taken. They who do not look after the people, do not travel to meet people, even despising them for their simplicity.
We should be wary of the sort of ‘missionary’ work that despises the people, their languages and their customs and tries to force them into a strange mould that is not theirs. That is the false missionary work of those who use their personalities, not heartfelt faith in God, to convert others.