A Wedding in Kenya

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.

† Makarios of Nairobi

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