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 to Indonesia.

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 is One.

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 environment?

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 Indonesia.

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 beliefs.

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 compromise.

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 speak?

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 saints?

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 foundation.

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 structured?

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 the Faith 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 world-view.

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 in Indonesia?

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 point.

Archimandrite Daniel among clergymen during the celebration in Cleveland, OH.