When I decided to come to India-specifically to the orphanage of the Orthodox Church in Calcutta- and I announced it to my friends, they all asked me the same question: “Where will you spend your Christmas? At least, will you have any relatives there?” And I replied, “Yes, I will have my aunt, Sister Nektaria”.
It is true that Christmas is a family celebration customarily spent with the loved ones. But I came to Calcutta and was welcomed into a larger family. More than 100 boys and girls who live in the orphanage received me as their brother, and we spent these Holy Days together.
A few days before the holidays, the older girls made prosphoron (communion bread) for the Divine Liturgy in our Greek Church of Calcutta and for the church of the Girls’ Orphanage. Due to these preparations, the grounds of the orphanage had a festive atmosphere. On Christmas Eve, the older girls again went to clean the church. They polished all the utensils, swept, mopped and decorated the place with colorful flowers to be ready for the reception of the faithful, who would come to church to celebrate the Nativity of Christ.
Boys, girls, and many faithful from the village and the surrounding area turned out in the evening for the all-night vigil of Christmas. The choir consisted of the girls of the orphanage, who sang Byzantine hymn tunes in Greek, English and Bengali. People of all ages, young and old, were all attending the Divine Liturgy without talking, silently participating in the Mystery. All these people came to know Christ and were baptized into His Church, believers in a country where Christianity is a minority and fanaticism is fierce. They are true Christians. I felt infinite admiration for them and I will try to imitate their example in my own personal and spiritual life.
After the Divine Liturgy, all the participants gathered in the orphanage refectory to drink tea, eat cake and watch the ladies sing Christmas songs. At midday everyone gathered in the same place to enjoy the Christmas dinner. The atmosphere was so nice and festive! The children were happy and the food simple but wonderful.
In the afternoon, we visited the church in Calcutta with a group of boys and girls. I was told by Sister Nektaria that on such a day lots of people come from early in the morning to pray. What I saw though, was far beyond my imagination. We sat in the church for a few hours in order to have a look at it and venerate the holy icons and during our stay there, thousands of people passed to light a candle and pray. The queue outside the church was huge. The most impressive thing though, is the fact that these crowds were not Christians. They were Hindus, who, nevertheless, acknowledge and respect Christ.
Once again I was immensely impressed by the reverence of these people. Inside the church they were peaceful and serene, and when arriving in front of the icon of the Virgin Mary with Jesus Christ, they knelt down to venerate it and pray. Hindus of all ages passed through the beautifully decorated Orthodox sacred church.
The spectacle was unprecedented and unique. The church interior was so beautifully floodlit and decorated! Externally, not only the building but also the surrounding trees and the manger were illuminated with spectacular lights. Everything was adorned with remarkable care and attention, a sign of devotion and Faith, love and gratitude to the newborn Christ, our Savior.
The fact that the Mission in this distant country is blossoming is a blessed work, which presents Orthodoxy as a religion of love and offer to the fellow man and which honors all those who support it, both materially and morally.
May God enlighten all those responsible for this remarkable missionary work and give them strength and health to continue their daily struggle to change the lives of even more people in need.