Biography: Archimandrite Daniel Byantoro
The follwoing is excerpted from Fr. Daniel's "History", a reflection on his own conversion to Christianity and the beginnings of the Gereja Orthodox Indonesia, the Indonesian Orthodox Church.
Fr. Daniel was a Muslim boy who lived with his grandfather and began attending the Mosque at 5 years of age. As the boy grew older, he searched for a deeper certainty of God. In High School he met a former schoolteacher’s husband who had converted to Christianity. The young man debated the convert regarding the Trinity, the Divinity of Jesus Christ, His Incarnation and His being the Son of God. The young Muslim man won the debate, and remained unconvinced of the gospel’s truth. One night after reciting prayers and reading the Qur’an, the young man saw a “vision” that frightened him. He encountered Christ for the first time in the form of light. Confused and trembling but with unspeakable joy, the young man began to ask such questions as “Who is Jesus Christ? What is he about?” Looking to the Qur’an, he stumbled in verse 45, chapter 3 the story of the annunciation which states,
Remember when the angels said: O Maryam, surely Allah glad tidings with a Word from Himself, His Name will be the Messiah, Isa, the Son of Maryam. He is great in this world and hereafter, and he is among those who are near to Allah. He had read this passage many times before but this time he felt it was illumined in a manner that could only have been accomplished by Christ. He began to see Christianity differently through the Qur’an itself, which, although denying that Christ is God, treats many points of Biblical history with reverence.
a Word from Himself, His Name will be the Messiah made the biggest impression.
So the Messiah, Isa (Jesus) is the the Word from God, he said to himself. God seemed a mystery in the mind of this young man. He began to ponder the meaning of the “Word” through an inner dialogue of questions and answers, beginning with, “What is a word?” and finally arriving at the conclusion,
God, His Word who is called His Son, and His Spirit are not three different Gods, but the reality within the One God. Without Spirit God is dead, without Word or Mind God is an idiot. So, a One -Personed-God, without a Spirit and a Word is no God at all, rather wood and stone. These discoveries were astonishing and he thought to himself:
“If among human beings, communication is accomplished with words and impossible without them. How much more with God. God has Only One Word, Jesus Christ. In order to know God and have a relationship with Him, one has to know His Word Jesus Christ. Now I know why I did not know who God is, because I did not know His Word. Jesus Christ. I have to believe in Him!” The young man cried and said to God: “Oh Allah, yes I believe in Your Word Jesus Christ, and I will become a Christian.”
The young man invited Christ into his heart at that very moment. The young man was baptized into Dutch Reformed Protestant Christianity – the only Church he knew at this time - where his former debating opponent was an elder. He took the baptismal name of Daniel.
In 1974 while at a house prayer meeting, Daniel received the so-called “baptism of the Holy Spirit” complete with “speaking in tongues” and “prophesying” and became active in Charismatic Movement. Before this time he knew nothing on the existence of hundreds of denominations in Protestant Christianity or the difference between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, and nothing at all of the Orthodox Church.
The young man Daniel was very active in witnessing for Christ among the young people, even while continuing his schooling. Many were converted several prayer meeting groups were founded. After high school, Daniel wanted to be an evangelist or missionary. Further, her desired to make the Gospel known to his own people, within the context of their culture, not as a “western-religion,” but the truth of God that originated in the Middle East/Israel, the land of all the prophets. Later as he was invited to preach among many different protestant churches, the young Daniel was bewildered by the plethora of groups and denominations with differing and opposing theological thoughts, traditions and practices. He also began to miss liturgical rhythm of life which he was used to in Islam and set his heart searching towards the ancient Christianity of the East. He knew nothing of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, rather his intuition told him that Christianity was born in the same Middle Eastern milieu as Islam.
Discovery of Orthodoxy
Daniel was offered the position of charismatic youth spiritual advisor in a different area from where he lived in Java island, namely in the island of Sulawesi, by the newly installed Governor Willy Lasut of Manado, North Sulawesi Province, Indonesia. Governor Willy was an active Charismatic Christian and had met Daniel in a prayer meeting in Jakarta. In 1978, with the help of the governor, Daniel went to visit the largest Full Gospel Central Church in the world in order to learn how to start a prayer mountain in Manado following the pattern that existed in Korea.
During this visit Daniel met an American Baptist Missionary, Dr. Marlin Nelson of Seattle, Washington who led Daniel to study in an evangelical Protestant theological seminary, the “Asian Center for Theological Studies and Mission” (ACTS, which is an affiliate of Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA, USA) in Seoul, Korea. Dr Samuel Hugh Moffets from Princeton, NJ, a famous Asian Church Historian was its director. Daniel received a full scholarship to attend.
Meanwhile because of some political intrigues due to his religious activities, governor Willy Lasut was fired from his job and retired as the governor of Manado, giving Daniel little reason to return to Indonesia until he finished his academic work. Daniel plunged into his studies and continued on his original quest to find ancient expression of Christianity. At the start of 1983 and nearing graduation, Daniel found: The Orthodox Church by Timothy (Kallistos) Ware in a downtown Seoul bookstore. The book gave him a glimpse of the Eastern Church he had been seeking. After asking several people the exact location of the Orthodox Church in Korea, Daniel met the priest, and later made frequent visits to this Church. He borrowed Orthodox books from the Church library educating himself in Eastern Orthodoxy. Once he understood the teaching and theological tenets of the Orthodox faith, he decided that this was the Church he had been looking for.
Reasons for Becoming an Orthodox Christian
Politically, the Orthodox Church at least in Indonesia has never become the tool of colonialism. Culturally, there are many points of similarity between Orthodox practices and Islamic ones: the usage of prayer beads, the invocation of the Divine Name (the “Jesus Prayer” in Orthodoxy, the “Dzikir” in Islam), the prostrations in prayer, the fasting rituals, feasts, the hours of prayer, the orientation in prayer (Orthodoxy to the East, Islam –in Indonesia- to the West the direction of the Ka’bah in Mecca, the holiest shrine in Islam), etc.
The idea of “theosis” seemed to Daniel to be the answer for the Javanese yearning for “Manunggaling Kawulo lan Gusti” (the union between the servant/creature and the master/ creator) and that the Javanese Mystical Belief ’s teaching on the “Sangkan Paraning Dumadi” (“The Origin and Destination of Creatures”) has its answer in Christ as the Origin of everything that exists, because He is the Logos through whom God created everything (John 1:1-3).
Historically, the Orthodox Church has an unbroken continuity from the Apostolic time continuing through modern times without interruption. Orthodoxy does not recognize Reformation or counter-Reformation having nothing to reform or counter-reform preserving unchanging the apostolic teachings through the ages. This fact provided confidence to the young Daniel that the purity of the apostolic doctrines were kept, lived out and proclaimed by the Orthodox Church.
In the mind of young Daniel, these points of similarity between Orthodoxy and Indonesian culture would help greatly in his mission work in Indonesia, infusing the Gospel with a fresh start and approach. He believed that this was God’s answer to prayer. He had found ancient Eastern Christianity and a way to bring the Gospel within the context of the Indonesian cultural milieu. Daniel was joyful and elated at this discovery.
In spite of the clear understanding of his reasons for desiring to become an Orthodox Christian, Daniel had further struggles to resolve:
The Virgin Mary
Both the Islamic insistence on the Oneness of God and the hostility of Evangelical Protestantism towards Roman Catholicism supplied great apprehension to Daniel’s understanding of the place of the Virgin Mary in Orthodox belief. The seminarian Daniel was afraid that Orthodoxy committed idolatry, worshiping Mary, the Mother of Jesus. After much soul searching he discovered that the Bible calls the Virgin Mary “the Mother of my Lord” (Luke 1:43) and soon realized that the title “Mother of God” was not invented by Roman Catholicism. Mary is the chosen creature of God the Father for the sake of the Incarnation of His Word into the World.
The young Daniel found parallels between the views of Orthodox Christianity and Islam in regard to the Virgin Mary and the prophet Muhammad. Mary is the bearer of the Word of God made flesh in her Virgin womb, just as Muhammad was the bearer of the Word of God made book in his illiterate mind. Mary gave birth to the Word of God made flesh from her womb as Muhammad gave birth to the Word of God made book through his mouth. The prophet Muhammad occupies a lofty position in Islam understanding and when a Muslim “highly regards, respects and loves” the Prophet, he does not feel that he impinges upon the worship of the One God. The Eastern Orthodox also “highly regard, respect and love ” the Virgin Mary. Seeing the Virgin Mary in the light of an analogical practice in Islam in regard to Muhammad, the seminarian Daniel could see clearly that there is no idolatrous worship of Mary in Orthodox Christianity.
The seminarian Daniel discovered that Orthodox position in regard to the Virgin Mary has a strong biblical basis and nothing pagan in it. When it “highly regards” her, it is because the Bible says that God regarded her before anyone else, as Mary herself expresses it: ”For he (God) hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden (Mary) (Luke 1:48).”
The Invocation and Relics of the Saints
Due to his Islamic and evangelical-charismatic iconoclastic backgrounds, Daniel had a very difficult time accepting icons as part of the Orthodox tradition. Only later after he fully understood the meaning of the Incarnation of Christ which holds that material creation was glorified by His resurrection, did Daniel understand the theological basis of Iconography. In Islam it is believed that the “Word of God” was sent down to the world in the form of a book, the Qur’an, which contained writings in Arabic artistically expressed in “Calligraphy.” By the same token in Orthodoxy it is taught that the “Word of God” was sent down to the world in the form of a man: Jesus Christ (John 1:1-3,14). Therefore the art-expression of this Word Made Flesh in the form a human being is: ”Iconography.” Just as Islamic Calligraphy is not considered an idol, so Orthodox Iconography is also not an idol.
Preparation for Mission
After graduating from seminary in Korea, Daniel, went to Greece, where he stayed in the “Theological School Dormitory of the University of Athens” and later in Simono-Petra Monastery on Mount Athos. While in Greece, he learned to speak the modern Greek language which differs from the Greek of the New Testament. On Mt. Athos, his desire to have Orthodoxy with incarnational and multi-cultural approaches became more intense. Daniel had to struggle with terminologies suitable to express the faith as he began to translate the Divine Liturgy, write the first Orthodox theological treatises and translate liturgical books into Indonesian and Javanese languages. A new lexicon for Orthodox terms had to be created since one did not exist in his native language. When the newly created terms sounded too awkward and strange, he resorted to using the original Greek terms side by side with them, such as using “Theotokos” alongside with “Sang Pamiyos Widdhi.” (“Birth-Giver of God”).
Daniel kept in continuous correspondence with people in Indonesia. One of his letters, which took days and nights to write in order to perfect his explanation of Orthodoxy was 364 pages written in the Javanese language. The result of his correspondence to Indonesia was the conversion of four young men, two being his own brothers. These young men joined Daniel in the States and are now priests in Indonesia. Daniel had received a good education on the principles of indigenization and inculturation of the Gospel at the Protestant Seminary in Korea. He knew his culture, and he wanted to express Orthodoxy within its contexts and found that the history of Orthodoxy and many of its features are conducive to implementing that kind of indigenization and inculturation.
Arrival in the USA
Late in 1984, Daniel went to study in the U.S., at the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Masters of Theology and received ordination when his study was finished. Upon graduation from the Holy Cross Seminary he also studied at the Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, and at the same he was taking some more long distance theological studies. He was ordained by His Grace Bishop (now, Metropolitan) Maximos of Greek Orthodox Diocese of Pittsburgh to the Diaconate in Pittsburgh, PA (January 16th, 1988), and then to the priesthood in North Royalton, Ohio (May 25th ,1988). Since then, Daniel, the author of this article, has been known as Fr. Daniel B. D. Byantoro. In his official letter before returning Fr. Daniel Byantoro to Indonesia to begin mission work, Bishop Maximos wrote (dated on April 11th, 1988), “Rev. Bambang is a member of my diocese of Pittsburgh, with canonical ties to it…our Pittsburgh Diocese always remains his home.”
The Mission Begins
On June 8th 1988, Fr. Daniel left the States for Indonesia. First, he went to his hometown in East Java bringing with him the translations he wrote during his stay in Greece and America. In his hometown he fostered the conversion of family members, teaching them to make prosphora, and vestments from the local batik materials. Unsure of where to begin the more formal mission, Fr Daniel rented a room in a Christian Prayer Center with another person who later became his staff in the mission office. His goal was to fast and pray until he felt God’s direction. Eventually, he was directed to begin in Solo, Central Java. Fr Daniel moved from East Java to Solo (Central Java), living in a rented house with a pavilion used for the mission office. Bible studies were started in Solo, where many of his friends who had been part of the charismatic movement lived, and from these came several mission activities. The first convert to the Orthodox faith was a young Muslim man, baptized with the name of Photios. Since then Fr. Daniel witnessed the conversion of many people to Orthodoxy holding mass baptisms in rivers and wooded areas, afraid of other’s reactions and because there was no Church in which to hold them.