The Greek Orthodox Church in America is furious over a Southern Baptist decision to name two missionaries to Greeks who live in the United States.
Officials of the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board expressed surprise at the strong negative reaction that included calling the Atlanta-based Baptist agency "blatantly unchristian."
The controversey also threatens the future of relations between Greek Orthodox and Southern Baptists. The two have held at least one theological dialogue.
In June, the Home Mission Board announced appointment of a couple, Ignatius and Parthena Meimaris of Roslindale, Mass., as the denomination's first missionaires to Greeks in the United States.
Identical letters of protest from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America subsequently were sent to the president of the Southern Baptist Convention and the head of the Home Mission Board. The letters, written on the instructions of Archbishop Iakovos, primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in the Western Hemisphere, said that the Orthodox view the Baptist action as "blatantly unchristian, nothing short of proselytism."
Conciliatory reponses from Dr. Adrian Rogers of Memphis, president of the more than 13 million-member Southern Baptist Convention, and from Dr. William G. Tanner, executive director of the mission board, failed to soothe Greek Orthodox leaders.
"They must think we are heathens following Zues and Aphrodite," said Bishop Maximos of Pittsburgh, director of the Greek Orthodox department of interchurch relations.
Americans of Greek decent number about two million, most of whom are normally Greek Orthodox. While the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese does not claim all these people are actively involved in the church, it objects to unilateral missionary action by other denominations within its ethnic community.
Eastern Orthodox Churches are historically sensitive to the Protestant missionary movement, and have often objected to the sending of missionaries to work among Orthodox populations in the Middle East or Eastern Europe.
"We have no intent to proselyte amonp people who find fulfillment in other churches but we try to address the needs of those not actively involved," said James Lewis of the Baptist mission board staff. CAPTION: Picture, ARCHBISHOP IAKOVOS . . . primate of Greek Orthodox Church