Celebrating the New Year in a War Zone
“Our nation is at war with a vicious enemy.”
(E.B. Koroma, President of Sierra Leone, 17 / 12 / 14).
Except for going to church services all the population of Sierra Leone was instructed to stay home during the Christmas and New Year holidays. We are currently under a semi – lockdown mode for the Festive Season. No restaurants, no sporting events, no public celebrations, no wedding receptions, no street celebrations, all shops must close on weekdays by 6.00 PM, by noon of Saturdays and no trading on Sundays . Even church services were restricted – they were to be held during the day and only up to 5.00 PM. New Year Church Service was forbidden. Indeed the army and patrol volunteers are still out in force to ensure these decrees. Violators face the full weight of the law. Add to that list of prohibition, school, college or university attendance.
Why? Are we experiencing some sort of state sponsored anti-Christian campaign? No! Then why these draconian measures during the Holy Festive Season and indeed indefinitely until further notice? The simple yet tragic answer is that this nation is at war again.
Just as ten times before in the last twenty years this nation is at war again through Christmas, New Year, Epiphany and beyond. But this time there are no AK47s or bullets killing innocent people. This time there are no rebel forces invading cities, towns and villages amputating arms and legs indiscriminately. This time the enemy asks no questions, take no prisoners and is totally indiscriminate in its killing spree – babies, toddlers, teenagers, adults and the aged are all living under the shadow of imminent death.
- This is a time without pity.
- This time the enemy is silent, invisible, deadlier.
- This time there can be no truce or treaties. It’s a zero-sum situation.
- This time the enemy is not the Revolutionary United Front amputating limbs!
- This time the enemy is an incurable microscopic virus producing a vicious and deadly haemorrhagic fever!
- This is a time of constant siren wailing ambulances striking macabre fears!
- This time the enemy is called Ebola!
For this reason, the Government decreed that all Christmas and New Year celebrations were to be cancelled in order to avoid the gathering of a crowd of people in enclosed spaces and in that way limiting the risk of body contact – the essential source of Ebola contamination.
When I first heard this new decree my initial instinctive reaction was negative. But then I reconsidered the situation from a purely spiritual perspective. What is the true meaning of Christmas, New Year and Epiphany celebrations? Is it about drunken street dancing? Is it about wild parties? Is it about alcohol or other forms of intoxication? Is it about carousing all night? Or as the habit here in Freetown is to hold night and day street parades by the native so-called “Devil Dancers?”
Perhaps these rigorous measures may be an unintended blessing in disguise. By removing all the unnecessary commercial and unspiritual layers from this Christmas, New Year and Epiphany, Sierra Leone has been given the opportunity – albeit unwillingly, to focus more on family re-unions rather than riotous street parties; to meditate more on the actual meaning of the Bethlehem Event, the arrival of the New Year or Epiphany in a spiritual manner rather than the indigenous “Devil Dancing” street parades. Hence, in the light of the present Ebola infested circumstance hopefully to reflect deeper on issues pertaining to personal physical hygiene and spiritual health. Indeed to supplement these measures the President of Sierra Leone has requested a week of national prayer and fasting during the New Year period in a meta-physical campaign against Ebola.
I realize that many of you who are reading this message outside of West Africa also are facing many challenges. We all share an earth of increasing apocalyptic political, economic and environmental and medical uncertainties – deadly incurable epidemics and plagues, wars and monstrous violence, young boys recruited and converted into killing machines, massive refugee displacements, catastrophic bushfires, even the specter of nuclear war is now dimly looming over the horizon in a Cold War II scenario. All these upheavals are threatening our very thin and fragile veneer of global civilization. And as if we are not content with our relentless drive for power and money we irresponsibly pollute our waters and degrade our natural environment endangering the very oxygen we breathe. And as a final nail to our negativity, traditional moral standards and Bible truths are considered outdated by a world obsessed in twisting and proclaiming error as righteousness.
But not all is lost!
We Christians are needed more than ever to proclaim and cling to the eternal and unchanging biblical truths.
- Let try to keep this New Year holy and in obedience to Christ!
- Let us become peace makers.
- Let us also help the less fortunate!
- In other words let us bring back the authentic expression of this Festive Season.
To those who have helped and are continuing to help our Orthodox Mission in Sierra Leone, the Orthodox Missionary Fraternity, our sponsors and individual donors in Greece, Australia, Canada, Romania, Russia and the USA, kindly accept on behalf of all our people here a warm note of gratitude. Because of the Ebola outbreak many people are now out of work and in need of food. We are distributing the much needed food that you have sent us (rice, oil, sugar, tomato sauce etc) as best as we can to meet these needs in addition to the protective gloves and mask that you have donated.
The blessings of Christ be upon you.
Archimandrite Themistocles Adamopoulos
Freetown, Sierra leone