Photo Credit: Anglican Media Melbourne
By Roland Ashby for Anglican Media Melbourne
Imprisonment, torture and an experience of angels are all part of the remarkable life story of the Most Revd Stephen Than Myint Oo, the Anglican Archbishop of Myanmar, a story told in a new book Dancing with Angels, by Archdeacon Alan Nichols.
In launching the book at Bishopscourt on 23 June, Archbishop of Melbourne Dr Philip Freier praised Archbishop Than for his courage. “He is a great witness to us. [Christians in Australia] are fairly complacent about our place in society, but the things we take for granted can’t be taken for granted in Myanmar.”
Because the Anglican Church was identified with the former colonial power, he said institutions such as schools and hospitals it had set up had been stripped away from it.
He said Archbishop Than had also shown great compassion in the way he had engaged with a society that had treated Anglicans harshly, by looking for ways the Church could offer loving service.
The Revd Paul Arnott, Chair of Acorn Press, the book’s publisher, said Australian Christians could learn from a marginalised church in Myanmar “because this is the path we seem to be going down in Australia”.
In conversation with Barney Zwartz, former Religion Editor of The Age and now media adviser to Archbishop Freier, Archbishop Than reflected on the challenges of being Christian in a Buddhist, post-colonial country. “[For example] the Burmese people don’t have a concept of God… or any words for God.
“[And also] because Christianity came to Burma from England… the Burmese cannot distinguish between Christianity and colonialism. Christians are white, they defeated our country, they made our country lose its freedom and independence.”
In describing Archbishop Than’s encounter with Archangels Michael and Gabriel, Archdeacon Nichols writes: “From within… the billowing smoke a huge figure moves towards him and says, ‘I am Michael.’… Another very tall figure emerges, looms over him and says, ‘I am Gabriel.’…
“… He tells the other bishops, ‘The angels are with us. God is with us on our journey. We have been keeping our heads down below the table, but we can now put our heads up, join civil society, and the angels are with us every step of the way.’”
Archdeacon Nichols, who is author of many books and was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 2006, has had a long involvement with refugee work in Burma/Myanmar.