Archimandrite Daniel Performs First Divine Service at the Mission
of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia
On February 20, Archimandrite Daniel (Bambang Dwi Byantoro) of Indonesia,
received from the Patriarchate of Constantinople in early February
by His Eminence Archbishop Hilarion of Sydney and the Diocese of
Australia and New Zealand, performed Divine Liturgy at the Mission
of St John the Russian in Columbus, OH, founded in 1999 by Priest
Victor Boldewskul with the blessing of His Eminence Archbishop Alypy
of Chicago and Detroit. His Grace Bishop Peter gave his blessing
for Archimandrite Daniel to nourish this Mission until his return
Indonesia is the fifth-largest country in the world by size, with
a population of 220 million, and it is first in the number of Muslims
(almost 90% of Indonesians are Muslim).
In the 7th-8th centuries, the first Christian missionaries from
Antioch (Syria) preached in Indonesia, but after the last clergymen
died, the local residents knew almost nothing of Orthodoxy, since
it was politically and geographically isolated. In the 11th century,
a Catholic missionary bishop discovered descendants of Christians
here; they survived despite some three hundred years of isolation.
From that early period until today, not one written record survives,
yet oral tradition preserved the names of three local bishops: Mar
Yaballah, Mar Abdisho and Mar Denha.
So despite the mainstream Muslim population, Indonesia does possess
some Christian roots, feeble but deep. Most Indonesians do not know
of these roots, but Archimandrite Daniel, the first Orthodox priest
and missionary in contemporary Indonesia, stresses that it was Eastern
Orthodoxy that arrived there before any other Christian confession.
The mission headed by Fr Daniel is a part of the Diocese of Australia
and New Zealand of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.
During his service in Indonesia, Fr Daniel was able to convert some
2000 people to Orthodoxy.
We offer our readers an interview given by Fr Daniel to Thomas Halbert,
published in the periodical Thomas:
Thomas: How do you approach the souls that come
to you? If they are Muslim how do you work with them and how do
you explain the difference between Christianity and Islam. How do
you draw them in?
Fr. Daniel: I think that in any missionary work,
you must first of all understand the culture of the people and you
have to be able to speak within the bounds of that cultural language,
because otherwise your word cannot be heard or understood. So, when
you talk with a Muslim, you must understand the Muslim mind. Donít
just try to throw in words and phrases that are familiar to Christians,
to Orthodox, because they will not be understood by a Muslim. First
of all, when you talk to a Muslim, you have to emphasize that God
Thomas: Because they already believe this?
Fr. Daniel: Not only because they already believe
this, but because they accuse us [the Christians] of having three
gods. That is the problem. So, you have to clear up the misunderstanding
that we worship three gods. Donít try to use our traditional language,
like Father, Son and Holy Spirit Ė because for them, that is three
gods! In their minds, the Father is different, the Son is different,
the Holy Spirit is different. For myself, I emphasize that God is
One, that this One God is also the Living God, and as the Living
God He has a Mind. Because if God didnít have a mind, Iím sorry
to say, He would be like an idiot. God has to have a mind. Within
the Mind of God there is the Word.
Thus, the Word of God is contained within God Himself. So, God in
His Word is not two, but one. God is full with His own Word; He
is pregnant with Word. And that Word of God is then revealed to
man. The thing that is contained within Ė like being impregnated
within oneself Ė when it is revealed, it is called being born out
of that person. That is why the Word of God is called the Son: He
is the Child Who is born from within God, but outside time. So,
that is why this One God is called the Father, because He has His
own Word Who is born out of Him, and is called the Son. So, Father
and Son are not two gods. The Father is One God, the Son is that
Word of God. The Muslim believes that God created the world through
the Word. So what the Muslim believes in as Word, is what the Christians
call the Son! In that way, we can explain to them that God does
not have a son separate from Himself.
Thomas: How do Muslim converts to Orthodoxy sustain
their belief in the predominantly Muslim society of Indonesia? Do
you have communities of Orthodox Christians who live together and
support each other in the hostile religious environment, or is the
parish way of life more common?
Fr. Daniel: No, we donít really have any special
kind of community where we live together. We are spread out geographically
like other Christians, and we come to the church for services. But
as to how we withstand the environment Ė the way I do it is that
I teach very strong Bible classes in Indonesian. Every day I have
Bible study before Holy Communion. In between Orthos [Matins] and
Liturgy there is always Bible study. And in my Bible study, there
is always a comparison between Christianity and Islam, all the time.
It reminds people that this is Christianity and this over here is
Islam. For example, I ask questions like: “OK, in nature which is
higher, a human being or a book?”
Being formed by Muslim culture, some of them say “a book.” So then
Iíll ask them, “Which is higher, then, revelation of God in the
form of a human being or in the form of a book?” Of course, revelation
is higher in the form of a human being. They can see that from God
Himself. So, God the Word become flesh, the Word become man, is
higher than the word which became a book. Thatís number one.
Second, if in the past God sent down His word through the prophets
in the form of a book, namely the Old Testament, and the Old Testament
has been fulfilled completely in the form of man, Jesus Christ,
is it possible, after the Word of God has been fulfilled in man,
that God would revert to the old way, sending a book again? Of course
not! When the Word has become man, it is already complete. And that
Man, Jesus Christ, is still alive! So, it is impossible that God
would again send another revelation in the form of a book. From
our point of understanding, it is not possible. For us, the most
perfect prophet and the last revelation of God is Jesus Christ.
There is no need for any other revelation. This is the point I emphasize
again and again. They understand this quite well. So this is how
we keep holding onto the path of Christ in spite of so many attacks
from the Muslims.
Thomas: Maybe you could tell us more about this.
What are the difficulties that Christians encounter in a Muslim
Fr. Daniel: You know, when you are living among
a Muslim majority, sometimes you are afraid of being asked about
your faith. Christian people who have been formed in a Muslim environment
cannot always explain themselves; and Muslims, fearing that Christian
“heresies” will spread are always ready to attack Ė about the “three
Gods,” about “worshiping a human being,” about the cross, about
all the fundamental beliefs of Christianity. Christians are often
not ready to answer these things. Also, almost every morning all
of the Indonesian TV channels broadcast about Islam. There is no
other religion being aired. Everyone is bombarded with Islam, the
mosques are plastered with loudspeakers and people are always talking
against Christianity. The police do not do anything. In this way,
we have been psychologically defeated. Many books are written attacking
Christianity and there is no way to answer them because when a Christian
tries to answer about his faith he has to criticize Islam and this
is very difficult. There will be a reactionary demonstration against
him. In the city of Solo, there is a man by the name of Achmed Wilson
who became a Christian. He is now on trial in court because he was
asked on a call-in radio program what he thought about Mohammed,
and he answered that he believed as a Christian. So, this is a great
problem for him now. Things like this are very common.
Thomas: So there is no real religious freedom?
Fr. Daniel: No. Donít even think about it. It is
very difficult when you live in such a society. You are allowed
to criticize the idea of God because god is a general term. The
Buddhists believe in a god, the Hindus believe in a god, the Christians
believe in a god, but donít criticize Mohammed because that is distinctly
Islamic. You can criticize the idea of God, you can become an atheist,
but donít say anything about Mohammed or youíll be in trouble.
Thomas: How do former Muslims who convert to Orthodoxy
cope with family situations? Are they able to continue to live with
their non-Christian family members? Are they accepted?
Fr. Daniel: Some of them are accepted and some
are not. There are cases when they return to their former beliefs,
to their families, and confess Islam again, although when they meet
me they still say that they believe in Christ. They do believe and
they worship secretly in their homes, but they cannot come to church.
Several of our people are like that. Some of the families are better.
They are more open and they let their children continue in their
Christian faith without being disturbed. It differs with each person,
from area to area, and even from one ethnic group to another. Some
ethnic groups are more fanatical than others.
Thomas: How do you encourage Orthodox Christians
to conduct themselves in public given this dangerous environment?
We here in Europe often read about persecution and martyrdom in
Fr. Daniel: I always teach them that if there is
no possible way to escape (even if we have been trying to be good
and obey the laws of society), if we become known as a believer,
if they stigmatize us as unbelievers as heretics or whatever, then
it is obvious there is no other way Ė if martyrdom comes, then we
have to accept it. If you cannot escape being a martyr, do it! Go
for it! I teach
this in church, and I say, even to myself, that there is no other
way. But still, we do not try to provoke other people. Even if we
evangelize, we evangelize nicely, explaining our faith like: “this
is your faith and this is our faith.” We do not degrade other peopleís
Thomas: How would you encourage Christians to look
at Muslims? There are two tendencies in the West: either to unconcernedly
accept Islamic people and ideas regardless of their growing numbers
and cultural and religious influence; or to see them as bogey men
responsible for many of the worldís current political problems.
Of course, we know that as individuals there are many wonderful
individual Muslim people who are charitable and generous to their
neighbors regardless of creed, but for many of us the overall influence
of modern Islam, particularly on Christian populations, is a question.
We do not want to be naive on one hand, nor uncharitable on the
other. Do you have any thoughts on this?
Fr. Daniel: It is a difficult problem indeed, even
for us, because there is always a dialectical relationship between
us and them. In Indonesia, because they are the majority, we have
to befriend them, there is no other choice. Individually, we must
treat them as anyone should be treated Ė with love. But theologically
we have to stand on what we believe to be true, there can be no
We try as much as possible to introduce elements of Indonesian culture
into the Church: the daily cycle of services is divided into several
separate ones. This is done to ensure a sort of "rehabilitative"
continuity for people who converted from Islamófor in Muslim tradition,
they are accustomed to praying five times a day. (In Orthodox services,
by the typikon, a day contains the following services: vespers,
compline, midnight office, matins, the 1st, 3rd, 6th and 9th hours,
Divine Liturgy, which in ancient day were also divided by time;
Ed.). Even iconography and church architecture successfully choose
elements of Indonesian culture.
Thomas: Can we use this as a measure of the depth
of penetration of Orthodoxy into a culture?
Fr. Daniel: Yes. The content is visible in the
form. That also goes for people converted to Orthodoxy in the Greek
or Russian traditions who are themselves not Greek or Russian.
Thomas: Does the Indonesian Orthodox community
have services in Indonesian or in Greek?
Fr. Daniel: Of course, in Indonesian.
Thomas: What about other languages?
Fr. Daniel: Sometimes if we have guests, here and
there we have something in Greek or English. Sometimes even in Russian.
Thomas: Indonesian remains the main liturgical
language then, one that all the different ethnic groups in Indonesia
Fr. Daniel: Yes. I have translated the services
into Indonesian for this purpose.
Thomas: Generally, I donít think that Western people
know how varied the languages and cultures are in Indonesia.
Fr. Daniel: We have 350 different languages and
dialects in Indonesia, with one national language. I have translated
the service books into Indonesian, and now Iím beginning to translate
them into Javanese, which is my ethnic language. The services are
also in the Patlak language, which is spoken on Sumatra and there
are plans for translation into the Balinese language, spoken on
the island of Bali. This is going slowly.
Thomas: Being a Semitic-oriented people and having
less exposure to the saints of traditional Orthodox lands, would
you say that Indonesian Orthodox are more drawn to the Old Testament
Fr. Daniel: Prophet Daniel was my choice, not for
Indonesians in general. I encourage people to be close to their
own particular saints. For the time being, the spiritual orientation
of the Indonesian people is not so much in the direction of the
saints as it is to the Holy Scripture itself. This is still the
Thomas: The traditional orientation reflects a
more Islamic pattern with a Christian substance?
Fr. Daniel: Yes. Iím speaking here not of the belief
but of the pattern. One has to introduce things slowly. There is
less emphasis on the saints, although the Orthodox, of course, believe
in them and they have their names. In our cultural traditions we
also have an understanding of sacred places, especially graveyards,
the burial place of local saintly figures. This is not strange to
us, it is not new to our culture. But Iím afraid that new converts
look at the saints in their old way of understanding Ė the dead
people in their past, the worship of ancestors. This is a concern
here, as it is in a lot of native cultures. So, I try to emphasize
more the understanding of Scripture in the light of Orthodox belief.
Thomas: Who are the saints who have helped you,
the ones you feel closest to?
Fr. Daniel: My own patron saint, St. Daniel the Prophet. I chose
that name because I believe that he had such a strong heart. He
had courage against the king and the lions; and I am living among
the lions, let me tell you. I want to have his courage.
Thomas: How is the Indonesian Orthodox community
Fr. Daniel: We have two levels of structure, actually,
because the Orthodox Church is recognized outwardly as being under
the State Department of Religion, as part of the Protestant contingent.
This is because there are five recognized religions in Indonesia:
Roman Catholic, Protestant, Islam, of course, Hindu and Buddhist.
We have to fit somewhere within these five categories, so we fall
under the Protestants. In terms of our relationship with the government,
we have our own leader. I appoint a lay person who is responsible
to me. On the parish level, we have a council with a president.
We also have organized religious education, and a youth organization.
We have a womenís association called Saint Sophia, a priestsí association,
and other things like that.
Thomas: As someone who has traveled extensively
and seen Orthodoxy in many places, do you have a word for people
in the West? What can we do to deepen our faith?
Fr. Daniel: As Westerners, to deepen your faith
you must go back and explore the original Western culture that was
sanctified by Orthodoxy, the Christian society that was oriented
towards God. These are your roots. From there, try to sanctify the
culture you are in. Donít let yourselves be eroded by contemporary
Western culture, which is very shallow. Also, try to be true to
as such, donít try to “revise” it according to the mode of the time.
If you do not keep the Faith as it is, you will be undone by your
surroundings. Try to interpret your life within the context of your
faith. When people do not have culture, they do not have a root
Ė when they do not have a root, they are shallow. If Orthodoxy is
only understood superficially, outside of the context of its historical
rootedness, then we also become shallow Ė it is just a fad, like
any “new” religion. We have to be able to identify ourselves with
the whole flow of history within the Church. I think that it is
very important to acquire our identity within the Church.
Thomas: So that means going “against the flow”
because Western cultures are for the most part losing their Christian
Fr. Daniel: Of course. It is difficult, but the
Lord went against the flow, didnít He? Yes, He did.
Thomas: What do you see for the future of Orthodoxy
Fr. Daniel: I cannot see into the future but I
believe that Orthodoxy will continue to grow. It depends on more
people receiving an Orthodox education Ė the more the better. Right
now in Indonesia, Orthodoxy is still identified with me. When people
think of Orthodoxy they think of me. We need to have more young
people educated. Sometimes people do not understand this Ė but I
try my best. I try to send as many people as possible to Russia,
to Greece, but I am not a bishop so I donít have the power to arrange
things so easily. If I become a bishop, I will send as many people
as possible abroad to gain experience and education in Orthodoxy,
so that when I die, someone can continue the work. This is the main
Daniel among clergymen during the celebration in Cleveland, OH.