It is almost a year since my arrival at the newly established Holy Diocese of Brazzaville and Gabon. A year of apprenticeship in the principles and mentality of the Congolese brothers, a year of anxiety for their spiritual progress – always in accordance with the Orthodox teaching and tradition, a year of exhaustive tension for the administrative reconstitution of the Diocese- according to the Holy Canons, the Patriarchal Clauses of the Second Throne Church of Alexandria and the legislation of the republics of the Congo-Brazzaville and Gabon. Also a year of conscious silence as an answer of pastoral responsibility to extremely dangerous for the cohesion of the newly founded local Church external blows… However, the Lord, “who only doeth wondrous things”, is the living God!
Meeting with the Orthodox Pygmies
This year I experienced the most intense feelings in my life and the secret way of God’s answering in the innermost recesses of the soul. The first meeting with the Orthodox Pygmies in North Congo is what dominates my thinking. A very old tribe that lives in the rainforests on anything nature can offer, inherently noble and good-hearted. When I first met them, they did not talk to me either about problems or future plans. They experience in practice the constant present of the ecclesiastical time, without planning for tomorrow. They did not fail to mention the benevolence and undivided love of the Orthodox Greeks who they came to know through Orthodoxy, the way this was expressed through the Orthodox Missionary Fraternity, which offered the amount of 7,380 euros for the purchase of valuable primary necessities for their difficult living conditions in the woods. Axes, knives, files in order to grind their tools, and also cooking utensils were those items that they chose in advance as absolutely necessary. This amount also helped cover the annual rental for the small house that is used as a temporary “Church” for their operational needs as well as the monthly stipend of the trained Parish priest, Fr Sergio Mabelemo.
It is with emotion that I remember the christenings on the banks of the serene river Oubangui. A pirogue was the stand from where I performed the baptism of the neophytes, glorifying the Most Gracious God for the early Christian experience I was living.
Six months later, the Benevolent God spoke in the heart of an anonymous donor, unknown to me as well, and on the Feast of the Presentation of the Theotokos, anniversary of my first Episcopal election, It was with trembling hands that I laid the foundation stone of the first Orthodox Church of John the Theologian and Saint Nicholas, so that it would light up North Congo like a far-shining spiritual lighthouse.
At “Saint Efstathios Orphanage”
The living concerns, life, death, joy, dancing and singing are interrelated in Africa. Its inhabitants know how to deal with the totally different situations of their daily routine. However, when one is responsible for little orphaned children, things become more serious. To these pure souls food, clothes, shoes, medicine, school stuff, toys, are as important as Christian catechesis and proper upbringing. Being a celibate cleric myself, I have to admit I was not aware of the fact that being in charge of the Episcopal “Saint Efstathios” Orphanage involved parenting 25 boys aged 5-17, who have exactly the same needs, material as well as emotional and spiritual, with all the other children in the world. Now I understand that I must be a child with the toddler and an adolescent with the adolescent, but at the same time I must remain their spiritual shepherd, coordinator and employer of the twelve–member-staff that looks after them. Apart from moral strength, what is definitely needed is money, too. Money for clothing, food, wages, social security contributions… Again, our charitable brothers lent a helping hand through the Orthodox Missionary Fraternity by contributing with another 8,000 euros to this “home of love” during the last year.
Material and spiritual reorganization
Having to talk about finding the funds required at such difficult times for our dearest country, is something that made all of us here in Congo well aware of the need to look for resources within the country itself. This can only be achieved by means of numerous legal acts, endless and time-consuming procedures for the safeguarding of resources that could sustain and support the future operation of the Diocese. There have been a large number of flights to the capital city of Brazzaville for meetings with the appropriate authorities, various obstacles on the way, complex legislation of the former French colonies, plenty of disappointments and tension…
And since mentally we are in the beautiful city of Brazzaville, it is worth mentioning the totally new for the believers experience of the blessing of the waters on the Epiphany Day, which was first conducted with the immersion of the Precious Cross into the rushing waters of the River Congo.
There are plenty of events, concerns and joys that have taken place since last year. The constant training of the priests, the finding of spiritually healthy clergy candidates, the pastoral and administrative reconstitution of the nine Parishes, the reorganization of the Radio Station “the Voice of Orthodoxy”, the smooth and lawful functioning of our Orthodox Schools with the 289 students and the 26 teachers, the utterly important for the activation of the young “Orthodox Youth Convention”, the subscription of the people in need, the ineffable feelings during the first ordination which I performed, that of fr Paul Diafouka.
A recent event was the pastoral visit to Gabon. By the Grace of God, Orthodoxy takes its first steps there as well. A lot of things are needed: the first Orthodox Church, the first Gabonese cleric, the establishment of the first community…
History is nothing but a “sequence of events”. The history of the local Church of the Congo only started 30 years ago. The first Orthodox Congolese and later first priest, the late Floribert Tchizibou, sowed the seeds of Orthodoxy. The faithful who were baptized by his own hands are still alive.
The Most Reverend Metropolitan Ignatius of Pentapolis and former Central Africa, having Fr Theologos Chrysanthakopoulos as his prime mover, who completed fruitfully his missionary ministry in this corner of the African land, gave a big boost to the advancement of the local Church. And the highly experienced missionary of Africa, its Patriarch, my Father, Master and Benefactor, His Beatitude Theodore II, with the unanimous decision of the Holy Synod of our far-famed Patriarchate, decided that this Church grew mature enough to become a Diocese and have its first own Shepherd.
When I was a little kid and people asked me “what will you be when you grow up?”, I would answer “a priest”. What I could never even conceive of though, was the cross and resurrection prelatic ministry in the African Equator and the thrilling experiences that this ministry involves!
Panteleimon of Brazzaville and Gabon