Our new Orthodox Mission issue is out with articles and reports from 14 missionary divisions.
What is the contribution of the Orthodox Church in African youth’s education? How many children does the Mission in Malawi feeds daily? Who is the bishop of the newly established third diocese of Tanzania? How was the Nativity Season celebrated in Brazzaville, Kolkata and Tulear? What Orthodox priests do in Pacific Islands? These and many more in our spring issue.
For the last twenty years the Holy Metropolis of Mexico headed by His Eminence Archbishop Athenagoras of Mexico has been struggling in the region of Central America for the dissemination of true Orthodox Christian faith. The beginning of this course was characterized by a slow pace, but then there was a big response on the part of the local population. As a result, during these two decades, over forty new churches were founded in Central American countries such as Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba and others with young, qualified in spiritual matters priests with studies in Higher Education in Theology in Greece. One of the largest and most recent missionary efforts of our H. Metropolis is the one taking place in Guatemala to the indigenous populations of Mayan descent. Despite the fact that these people are deprived of essential goods, they have shown tremendous faith and love towards Orthodoxy. They reside in Peten, the northeastern region of the country, and number about 350 000. It is moving to see them walk through the woods to attend the Divine Liturgy at the nearest church.
It is noteworthy that despite the economic and other difficulties we face in our work, with the help of Christ and of the Virgin Mary and the daily support and sympathy on the part of the people, the Holy Metropolis of Mexico is developing into an Orthodox Metropolis of the future.
A recent welcome development is that after our actions, our Holy Metropolis has now acquired another very old church, which belonged to the Roman Catholics, in the center of the Mexican capital. We have transformed it into an Orthodox Sacred Church and daily a large number of people visit it and ask to learn about Orthodoxy.
We would like to express our heartfelt thanks to the Orthodox Missionary Fraternity for all the help that it has offered to our Metropolis over the years, and to all the partners who stand by the missionary work in Central America, since we are talking about the only Orthodox Mission in the West. We would also like to thank our clergy, our priests, who, although they give their struggle for Orthodoxy under adverse conditions daily, they take strength from their great faith in God. We can see very clearly that our Church is a recipient of a multitude of miracles that happen every day as more and more young people are gradually approaching our Metropolis, which is the greatness of the Orthodox Church.
Chancellor of the H. Metropolis
By the Grace of God our Missionary work here in Madagascar is being continued despite the innumerable difficulties and hardships that we have to face daily.
It is true that the situation due to the economic crisis has now become really tough and our struggle here is given under very difficult conditions. Nevertheless, we never lose hope.
The orphanage in the capital city of Antananarivo has now been completed. It is going to house more than two hundred orphans. However, the costs for feeding, health care and education are expected to be very high. If we do not support the project, the suspension of the operation of the orphanage will inevitably continue. Nevertheless, it is still one of the largest orphanages in the country, and even state bodies are anxiously awaiting the implementation of the promises of our Orthodox Church toward our poor people knowing that our disposition towards the people we minister to is honest and selfless, unlike other denominations and confessions.
The sensitivity that we show to the children of the country and particularly to the orphaned ones is by no means a result of uncritical thinking or unclear judgment.
The children here and especially in the province die every day of diseases that are usually directly related to undernourishment or malnutrition, that is, lack of food or poor diet as well as lack of proper clothing and medical care.
In Tulear province we have recently baptized children mutilated in a car accident who do not have any support whatsoever. These children are too small to be aware of traffic dangers, so during a game they can carelessly go onto the road. Sometimes a passing car after hitting them leaves them either disabled or mutilated and sometimes even dead.
In this article we present photographs of some of these children who were recently begging us to do anything to just relieve their misery. In one of the photos you will see a child literally moving on all fours using his hands as feet and wearing slippers on them instead of the feet. As I was leaving for Greece, he was begging me to bring him a wheelchair as soon as possible.
In the Missionary Center of Tulear we have three brothers blinded by a hereditary disease. We help them as much as we can. All three are students at a school for blind children. On my return from Greece, they are expecting me to help them with their fees and bring them schoolbags and notebooks from Greece.
Daily we are approached by parents and children who are seeking help. Weary and embittered fathers or mothers with one of their children in their arms burning from malaria or typhoid fever, or because the virus has penetrated into their organism through a minor injury and has created a fistula due to lack of antiseptic or antibiotic. Many times at the clinic in Tulear I have seen children being saved from certain death. Their parents, destitute in their vast majority (about 90%), come and implore us to help them…
Seeing these images daily, I can’t help thinking of the anguish, pain and endurance of these parents; these people who walk kilometers carrying the sick child in their arms; who get drained out in the sun and the heat trying to save their little sprout from the jaws of death. So these hands and the prayers of these people when they leave us are the precious jewel we have closely guarded in our heart here in the Mission.
They tell us when leaving and embracing us:»Nowhere else have we been given any help. Everybody demanded our money and would not say a word about treatment. You not only did not ask for money, but you also shared our pain and grief and cried with us. Above all, you saved our child.”
“May you always be a seed of God’s blessing.»
Could anyone ever expect to hear such beautiful wishes oftentimes coming out of mouths of non-believers?
These people may not be faithful, but they are filled with love, hope and sometimes not too late with the spirit of God too.
Four are the cardinal directions and four are the sacred mysteries conducted in 16 October 2016, at this simple little church of the Holy glorious leading Apostles on the island of Tongatapu, in Fangaloto, a region of Tonga Islands. It is in the same area that the capital Nuku’alofa is located. The colors white and blue that are dominant in the church and in the sacred baptistery, which is situated behind the altar, create a sense of joy and hope in every soul gazing expectantly upon heaven and praying for the whole world, particularly for doleful Greece.
The church of the Holy Apostles and the Sacred Baptistery are the toil of faith and piety of the devout monks Arsenios and Savvas from Mount Athos, partners of the Mission, and of pilgrim Nicholas, who built them with their own hands.
The home of hospitality, which has already been completed, and the handsome large S. Church of the Holy Glorious and Triumphant George, which is under construction, are the result of the philanthropy of devout Christians from Greece, more particularly from Thessaloniki and Aspropyrgos, Australia and America. There should have been someone here on Sunday October 16th to watch with how much reverence and simplicity our first Tongan catechumens received the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, and then the first Holy Communion. After that, we had the first Orthodox wedding between Constantine and Helen and the feast of love, which was attended “with gladness and singleness of heart”, (Acts 2:46) by all those who participated in this great joy.
In externalizing his impressions and feelings, Constantine, who is of Jewish origin, said that with the Holy Baptism he felt reborn, which is exactly what the Lord said to Nicodemus: «Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God» (John 3:5). Peter, an indigenous Tongan, said that with baptism he left behind his secular name Ofisi, and from that day on he would have the name of Heaven, Peter. Through his simplicity he formulated the theological truth that the person baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity no longer belongs to the earth. From then on, this person is a citizen of Heaven according to St. Paul, who says «For our citizenship is in heaven» (Phil.3:20).
Orthodoxy is once again present in distant Oceania. The cross of the Lord adorns and sanctifies the place, the chests and the homes of our newly illumined brothers. The church bell of the Holy Apostles may be small but its sound is luscious, joyful, simple and touching, and spreads as the voice of the Church to the lengths and widths of the vast Pacific, inviting every unprejudiced person to come to the source of truth and life: «Come together, all ye people, and know the power of the dreadful secret; for Christ our Saviour, the eternal Word, hath been crucified for our sake, and was buried willingly, and hath risen from the dead to save all. To him, let us bow down in worship» (Octoechos: Sunday third tone).
«Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered» (Ps. 32:1) through the sacred mysteries of Holy Orthodoxy. «How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!» (Rom. 10:15) Worthy of their wages are the donors and founders of the holy churches of God.
After Tonga, comes the other island of the southeastern Pacific, Samoa, which is also under the jurisdiction of the Holy Metropolis of New Zealand. God willing, a new church will be built there: that of St. Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian, whose voice «has gone out into all the earth,» like the voices of the leading Apostles Peter and Paul and of all the other Apostles.
“Glory to Thee, O Christ our God, Your Apostles’ proudest boast and treasure of Your Martyrs’ joy, Who to all proclaimed the Consubstantial Trinity.” † Amphilochios of New Zealand
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.
Recently the President of Sierra Leone, Dr. Ernest Koroma, declared this West African nation to be Ebola Free. For those of us who live in Sierra Leone and went through the nightmare of the recent deadly epidemic which between 2014 – 2015 claimed thousands of deaths, this is wonderful news and a much needed relief.
We no longer have to wash our hands daily in chlorine! We no longer have to take daily temperature readings! We no longer have to worry about shaking someone’s hands! We are no longer routinely stopped by the police at road blocks to have our temperatures checked! We are no longer bound by curfews! We no longer have the daily worry of a potential deadly contamination!
We are truly enjoying are Ebola Free freedom. We are now free to move without road blocks, free to assemble in churches and public places, free to travel from one part of the country to the other without curfews and quarantined zones. We thank our Lord Jesus Christ for this freedom and peace of mind.
However the tragic consequences of the Ebola Epidemic linger on and are everywhere around us here in Sierra Leone:
The deadly epidemic has left thousands of children as orphans in many cases rendering them homeless.
The Ebola epidemic has economically damaged Sierra Leone making it the second poorest nation on earth with around an 80% unemployment rate. Food prices have risen. Petrol, transport and electricity prices have sharply increased and the people are facing very serious economic challenges.
The epidemic has also impacted upon the nation’s medical facilities and capabilities. Many doctors and nurses have died. Many have left. The medical infrastructure and services are presently at a depleted and weakened state.
It is only fairly recently that pupils and students have returned to school, colleges and universities after a prolonged shut down of educational institutions.
How is our Mission here in Sierra Leone meeting these serious national and regional challenges?
To begin with we have taken up the challenge of the Ebola orphans. In his epistle St. James writes: «True and pure religion before God the Father is to take care of orphans… in their suffering…» (1:27). Presently we are about to begin the construction of two modern orphanages which will cater for about 100 children. In addition to providing shelter and food, we will also provide free medical and educational services from nursery to high school and even College level. Indeed we are presently providing a hot meal six days a week to about 40 Ebola orphans (in addition to another 400 children and teachers in our school at Waterloo). We also provide all the children with imported shoes and where relevant wheelchairs.
In terms of the national unemployment problem, our Mission provides employment with good salaries and other benefits to scores sixty Sierra Leoneans. We employ school teachers, lecturers for our College, local priests to shepherd the Orthodox flock. We employ administrators, drivers, security guards, cleaners etc. In addition through our Teachers’ College and our scholarship system we train young people to become qualified teachers.
In the face of a weakened medical system where basic medical services are not available we meet this challenge in different ways. Where a member of our Mission cannot be treated here we send them abroad with all expenses paid. For example recently one of our local priests’ wife (Presbytera Elizabeth) developed cancer in her arm. Here we have no availability of chemo-therapy treatment. So our Mission send her and her husband (Rev. Alexander Kamara) to Ghana for treatment. She is now receiving chemo-therapy treatment which will be completed by December. The Mission is taking care of all the medical, transport and living expense. We are also grateful to the Archdiocese of Accra for housing and sheltering Rev. Alexander and Presbytera Elizabeth. Furthermore for less serious cases we provide free medical services in our clinic in Waterloo for our teachers and school children.
Our Mission in Sierra Leone is very grateful to the Orthodox Missionary Fraternity of Thessalonica for all its assistance throughout many years. We are able through its financial gifts to help local people in need with medical expenses, school fees, funeral expenses and so many other needs. Over the last few years the Fraternity has also organized containers for the assistance of our people here. With the food supplies that they send us (rice, oil, flour, sugar, salt, powdered milk etc) we are able to observe our Lord Jesus Christ’s commandment to feed the poor. Our Mission in Sierra Leone offers thanks and gratitude in Christ to this noble Fraternity of Thessalonica.
Lately, despite the financial difficulties that we have been facing, there has been an extraordinary effort by members of the Orthodox Missionary Fraternity to get two building projects completed in the parish community of Transfiguration, Degeya of the Holy Metropolis of Uganda. These projects are the Sacred Church of Sts. Constantine and Helen, and the «P. Papadimitrakopoulos Health Clinic», which is located beside the church. We praise the Most Merciful God, for His Grace has promoted such projects to their current stage despite numerous difficulties. We would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to the Fraternity and also to all those who have contributed their mite to the realization of these projects. Their support has been invaluable.
As you may recall, the place where these projects are taking place, that is, the Transfiguration center, has a prominent position and serves a sufficient number of fellow humans in the region, not only those of the Orthodox faith but also the heterodox, mainly as regards the need for education and health care. However, with the development of the region and of the people living here, the basic needs are increasing. Therefore, whatever is added to the center, such as an extension wing, or the widening of the range of its services, arouses great expectations for this people’s further course in Christ.
As young people’s education within the precincts of the parish community of Transfiguration is considered very important in the region, the S. Church of Sts. Constantine and Helen has been erected outside the wall surrounding the school in order to be established for the community life of the believers and, (in this way), to separate programs and activities. As for the Clinic, although located inside the area that is surrounded by the school wall, it will serve not only the students, but also all the patients coming through a special entrance beside the church.
The church needs painting as well as furnishings and equipment (there is 1000 euro available in the fund for this purpose). However, the carpenters’ bids for the seats required were flimsy. Maybe we should have them made gradually. It seems that the carpenters are trying to exploit us regarding the size of the seating space. As for the clinic equipment, the project work is proceeding according to schedule, that is, without any problem. Doctor George Sunday, Orthodox grandson of the late Fr. Elias Buzinde, is the person making arrangements for buying the right medical equipment and having it installed. (There is 2500 euro left in the fund for this project).
The salvation of the people in Uganda and Africa is a work of our Lord Jesus Christ. Despite the delays and the unexpected situations that usually arise, it is going on. May the God of Love bless all those working for the salvation of mankind.
Our new Orthodox Mission magazine Christmas issue is now available online full of news from the Orthodox Missions, who work across the continents to herald «good tidings of great joy which will be to all people; for there is born this day in the city of David a Savior». See the message spreading from Madagascar to Tonga islands and from Guatemala to India.
I am sitting at the refectory of the Patriarchal School tonight, here, on the same chair for thirty five years. How many memories cross my mind! How many images of all those years occur to me! How many labors! How many young people from all the countries of Africa have passed from this room! How many spiritual lectures have been given on a daily basis! I once wrote that it is the liturgical life here in our School that supports us and strengthens us and keeps us alive physically as well as spiritually. But this meeting at the refectory every evening is uplifting too, because there is a talk taking place, followed by a relevant discussion. It is the time when every seminarian has the opportunity to open their mouth and speak freely. In the classroom we speak academically whereas here they can speak with more comfort and convenience.
I looked around me. I counted how many of the seminarians present were children of old students of mine. I remembered their fathers at the same age sitting on the same chairs. The case of one of them was particularly important to me. I remembered his birth, baptism and then his studies in the primary and secondary school. His father had a dream: to see his first son come and attend the Patriarchal School. He wanted to fulfill his mission completely. I had no doubt about that as I had known him since he was an infant. When it was time for the School to open for the academic year, he wanted to bring him himself. When he said that to me, I told him that such a thing was not customary, because usually young people are mature and serious enough to travel by themselves. He insisted though, so I did not object to his wish. Indeed, he came with his son. First, he took him to the School chapel and advised him not to miss any of the church services. He promised him that if he really loved attending and participating in them without fail, then he would be greatly benefited spiritually since sacred services constitute the authentic food of School life. He did the same while showing him around the School refectory, the classrooms, the wards, even the bathrooms. Generally, he took him everywhere. You see, he remembered the time he was a seminarian himself. Nothing had changed although many years had passed. He also showed him around their surroundings, gardens, trees, flowers… The most important of all this was the love of the father for his first-born son. Undoubtedly, the School environment was nice, as he experienced it himself, but far more important was the life through the liturgical tradition of our Church, the obedience and respect for the teachers taught to them. Principles and inspirational messages which helped him develop spiritually, and now enable him to exercise the duties of the priest and spiritual Father.
People usually come to visit me for several reasons. Among them are also those who wish to have a church wedding. One of them, a young man from one parish near Nairobi, visited me and asked me to perform his wedding. As usual, I noted it down in my diary and I said that if I was here, I would definitely arrange to go. He did not ask for anything else, he just wanted the blessing of the Church.
After a few weeks, the wedding day had finally come. So I went to the church, where, I saw again this young man shedding rivers of tears, and wiping his eyes with a handkerchief. I approached him and asked him why he was crying so much instead of being happy, as marriage is a pleasant event in one’s life. He then explained to me that he was very touched and could hardly believe it was really happening. It should be noted here that according to the tribal tradition, men should never cry, even at funerals. I blessed him and then walked into the sanctuary to wait. When the priest came, he gave me some further explanations. This young man had always wanted to have a church wedding, but he was poor and did not have the money required to pay to the bride’s parents in order to marry her, that is, something like our dowry. The priest explained to me that the groom had been offering his services in the sanctuary since he was little and had been feeling ashamed and accountable before God toη be living with his wife like a traditionally married couple without God’s blessing. He only had two euro in his pocket, but the bride’s parents wanted a thousand, which was a large amount indeed. When the parishioners were informed of that, they all ran to help. They contributed their mites in order to raise the amount required and enable the young man to have a church wedding.
The groom could not believe the miracle he was living. Apparently, it was his simple-heartedness and love for God that made him worthy of experiencing the greatness of the mystery of marriage the ecclesiastical way, despite existing difficulties. Indeed, throughout the entire sacred service, this young man continued to be emotional. His wife, a young girl modestly dressed, was carefully watching the whole marriage service performed in the tribal dialect and in Swahili. Undoubtedly, marriage is a happy event in one’s life but the responsibilities and commitments involved are enormous. As soon as the mystery ended, it was time for me to preach. Being aware of the fact that most of the people who had come to attend the mystery belonged to other Christian or non-Christian denominations, I spoke about the importance of the Holy Mysteries within the Orthodox Church and laid particular emphasis on the value of the Mystery of Marriage and that of the Eucharist. As for the newly wedded couple, I advised them to start their new life in the Lord by participating in the holy Mysteries of the Church frequently, and I offered them as a gift an icon of the Virgin Mary, urging them to pray together before the icon, morning and evening. It seemed as if everybody rejoiced.
I am writing -admittedly, with a certain delay- to inform you that we received your € 5,000 donation, and to thank you wholeheartedly for that. I would also like to express our sincere gratitude for your overall support.
Lately I was in hospital day and night next to a 6-year-old girl, who, while being healthy and cheerful, all of a sudden suffered an intracranial hemorrhage, which was manifested with a severe headache. I immediately took her to the doctor, but there she lost consciousness and would not recover. Then I took her to hospital, where I spent all my savings. She got intubated and fell into a deep coma. The doctors were not at all optimistic, but I was hoping for a miracle. She was in the intensive care unit and I was allowed to visit her three times a day. I would speak to her aloud hoping she might be able to hear and wake from the coma. I was praying to God, to our Lady and to all the Saints. Three days ago she passed away. That was God’s will for this poor creature.
This week in West Bengal everything is closed due to Hindu festivals. Nobody is working except me. The orphanage staff is on leave because of the feast, so I do the cooking as well. Actually, I am mostly coordinating things because the older girls help me a lot. All things should be done unto the Glory of God!
May all of you enjoy good health. Please, remember us in your prayers.