With God’s help and the blessings of Their Eminences Metropolitans George of Guinea and Theoklitos of Florina , a journey to Sierra Leone in West Africa was carried out by a missionary team from the Holy Metropolis of Florina from May 23rd to June 9th, 2017. That team consisted of the writer himself, two nuns from St. Athanasius H.Monastery of Florina, and Mr. Constantine Christomanos, honorary professor at the University of Thessalonica.
The visit took place at the invitation of the missionary Rev.Themistocles Adamopoulos. The purpose of this mission was to offer assistance in a difficult and multi-faceted work that is carried out there, such as the clergy specialization or training in liturgical matters, given that in Sierra Leone there is no Orthodox ecclesiastical tradition, since the Orthodox Church has only had ten years of life there.
During our twenty-day stay there, we tried as much as we could to meet the purpose of our journey. Several lessons were given regarding issues on the value of the holy service, the performance of the sacred services of Vespers, Matins and of the Divine Liturgy, as well as the general order and the decency of the church. I must admit that the interest on the part of the indigenous priests was very big.
At the same time, the nuns tried to teach women how to knead prosphoro (altar bread) for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. Unfortunately, several times the priests in the African Sea are forced toperform the sacred mystery using common bread (loaf) that they buy from a bakery! The women were also instructed how to make koliva (boiled wheat). A sewing machine was also bought , which enabled us to make covers for the Holy Tables, altar boy robes and other ecclesiastical stuff.
Moreover, other activities were carried out, such as church preaching, catechetical classes to youth gatherings and lectures given at the Orthodox Pedagogical College by Mr. Christomanos.
During our stay we were hosted at the Orthodox Mission Center, which is situated in Freetown, the country’s capital. In this compound, apart from the residence center where we stayed, there is a sacred church dedicated to Sts. Constantine and Helen, which was built through the sponsorship of the Missionary Alliance «St. Cosmas the Aetolian « in Thessalonica. The compound also houses the College (Pedagogical School) which we have previously mentioned, project funded by the generosity of the same Alliance, a notable institution of our Church offering a high level – study and being attended by some 135 students. Also under construction is a kindergarten along with a boarding house for destitute and deserted children.
In Syke Street, another area in the center of the capital, there is the second Orthodox Center, which includes St. Eleftherios Cathedral , which was funded with donations from the Orthodox Missionary Fraternity of Thessalonica, as well as a School for 2,000 Kindergarten and Primary School children. In the same premises there is a school building consisting of 16 rooms, funded by the generosity of a lady from Athens through the same Fraternity.
The third Center is located in Waterloo, 20 km away from the capital. Within its premises there is the church of the Resurrection of Christ and St. Moses the African, also sponsored by the Orthodox Missionary Fraternity of Thessalonica. There is the second school unit of our Orthodox Church, which is attended by another 500 children. In the same compound there are small houses hosting disabled victims of the civil war, which plagued Sierra Leone between 1991 and 2000.
During our stay in Sierra Leone we made two important visits. One was to the School for Blind Children, a state institution for blind kids abandoned by their relatives. Their children attend classes at the School there and are hosted at a boarding house which is within the premises of the institution. The boarding house is supplied with food by the Orthodox Mission, since the state cannot meet all its needs. We were deeply touched by the blind children’s beautiful singing and the expression of their gratitude to all those who send food from Greece. Rev. Themistocles suggested that the Orthodox Church should undertake the school’s running and maintenance.
The other visit was to a district of the capital, Kroo bay, which is considered among the poorest and most deprived areas in the world. This visit was one of the most striking experiences of our lives. There are no words to describe the living conditions in that slum. Humans live in sheds most unsuited for human shelter, without adequate access to sanitation and health services or drainage system, resulting in the entire region giving off an unbearable stench. It is considered to be the «Africa of Africa «. With a lot of difficulty and precautions, we walked on the muddy and dirty paths and visited the school and the clinic only to find them in an awful condition. We couldn’t believe our eyes. What we saw was really incredible. When we left, we had the feeling that we had come back from hell. Rev. Themistocles is considering asking the state to concede the school’s maintenance and operation to our Church.
Our journey left us with a lot of indelible impressions and conscience-shattering experiences. We experienced the miracle of the creation of a Church. We saw how the grace of God, without the human means and facilities employed by other denominations, attracts the souls to the only true Church, Orthodoxy, overcomes all obstacles, and opens up streets to spread the Gospel.
When one is given the chance to have a close look at such difficulties, they feel it is their duty to pray more fervently for the work of our missionaries and support it in every possible way.
Fr. Epiphanios K. Hatzigiagou