Two different worlds, two testimonies of faith
At the foot of Mount Athos, in the morning silence, you can hear the first prayer: «Glory to God in the Highest». The songbird tweets accompany the tremulous voice of the Elder and are gradually getting louder and louder along with the first sunrays that are softly and shyly caressing the northern ridge of Athos, as if they wanted to wake him up as gently as possible, as noiselessly as they can, this «elder» and his children; because they want that even in their sleep this heavenly rather than earthly companionship earns the eternal profit of the heavenly remunerations from the ceaseless and perpetual prayer «Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me». In the Elder’s hands, in the hands of the fathers or, actually, of the angels, through the timeworn prayer rope amidst tears and sighs.
…Down in the waves of the Indian Ocean, in the coral blue sea of Soalary, in Ankilibe, in Beravy, Madio Rano and even farther in Androka, Mahatsandry, and wherever your eye can reach, in this secluded but never forgotten and always in our heart South, the first Vezo fishermen have already put their pirogue into the blue Indian waters, and are sending the first prayer with their hands and faces turned up to the sky. Their eyes tear up seeing the scarlet sun rise over the horizon, and their lips reiterate: « For our children, O Lord, ». Immediately that morning breeze blows, the whiff of Peace, or as one would say, the breath of God, Who, as a caring Father, willing to do His children’s favor without scaring them, sends this first morning blessing. «O Lord, help me this day». He prays with the wooden paddle in hand. The father prays with his face burnt by the sun and the saltness. His hands clench the paddle, the «agandi» shut, the axe. Our fathers’ hands, their frazzled and soiled hands, worn out by pain and toil, sweat and moaning.
… Now the eyes cannot get enough of the wonderful landscape. Saint Anna’s Skete is a natural amphitheater. Our skete. Fully green with the marvelous historical huts of the most well renowned Brotherhoods, who have marked out the asceticism of the last four centuries, and have presented a multitude of known and unknown, old and contemporary saints. Each hut situated in this natural amphitheater, with the Kyriakon of Saint Anna to hold a prominent, leading and outstanding position, now tries to hear the sounds of the sea and of the mountain, as well as the sound of the fathers’ daily prayers. Huts that are spectators, witnesses to an endless performance, a performance that serves as a testimony and martyrdom. Witnesses to the only Truth that cannot be denied by the modern errant deceivers, who ramble in the streets and on television, trying in vain to throw mud at the truth and hide the gold that is carefully kept here.
…After an all –day- long course, sermons, a vespers service under the umbrageous kili tree of the village, I am now sitting with some of our faithful of this new parish. Several of them are already baptized. Some others are still waiting for their catechism, and God willing, they are going to be the ones who will enter the bath of regeneration the next time. Now I can see and hear them, even though the dusk does not let me discern their faces. This is truly the most beautiful time, though. Only the silhouettes of people can be discerned, but their voices, voices of the souls, can be heard so clearly. Honestly, there is no time more beautiful than this moment in the late evening, when after the tiredness of the day you listen to your brothers, their voices coming as if from eternity, as if you have known them for years, as if something supernatural connects you with them. «Thank you, Father. You really are our brother and father. You are no more a stranger to us. You are what we are. Come back again the soonest possible». Here there is no more room for dispute. Here it is the hearts that testify. The trees, the squares, the children, the elderly, the mothers. Everything lightens up miraculously and within the faith in the Holy Spirit. The African land, the land of Madagascar, is a spectator and witness.
…I am now climbing up the slope of Athos. My legs are trembling. For I know that I step on these same stones where our holy fathers have walked, cried, sweated for the salvation of their souls. And I want to kneel and kiss these inanimate souls, each of which is a relic and a heirloom.
…My feet are now sinking into mud and the river water will soon have reached my waist. We are heading for Antsarogaza. I need to oversee the church being built there, talk with our people in this parish, strengthen their faith, comfort them in their pain and illness. But the wayfaring fatigue, the water permeating and soaking my cassock and the waist pain make our walking difficult. But my heart is fluttering. For in a while I will see my brethren. You can now hear this water say «every step of yours here is a testimony, every pain of yours I write down and I will tote it in every village I go through. I will cool every drop of sweat for my people and I will heal the wounds of thorns and rocks on your legs».
…I am now venerating the icon of our Saint Anna reverently and tearfully. Kneeling down before the Mother of the Mother of Life, our Grandmother, I pray.
…«These gifts from Your own gifts». In a liturgy at a makeshift church, I kneel down and the wooden hut is showered with life. «We praise You, we bless You, we give thanks to You, and we pray to You, Lord our God.» From the mouths of our newly illumined brothers in their first liturgy. And you pray.
Before the altar table of the Kyriakon, now in the liturgy, «we offer to You this spiritual worship without the shedding of blood»
On the makeshift altar table under the tree, on the land of Madagascar, «once again we offer to You this spiritual worship without the shedding of blood»…
And we ask, pray, and entreat You: send down Your Holy Spirit upon us…
This is the miracle of our Faith. Two different worlds. Two worlds so far from each other, but at the same time united under the protection of God’s love. They daily confess and bear witness to the miracle of our living Faith. Here in Athos. Here in the Mission.
Fr. Polycarpos of Saint Anna
Tuléar – Madagascar