My dear president, I would like to express my great joy for your effort to prepare this beautiful event in order to inaugurate the handicraft exhibition. How can I start speaking theologically when my heart rejoices in emotion seeing this place, the Hagia Sophia Church, this street, these stairs that I climbed up! How many memories! How many hardships! But still the only thing I can say is Glory to God!
My children, I want to tell you when I first heard about the Mission: It was from my spiritual father Bishop Theodoros of Lampe and Sphakia. He was a disciple of the holy elder bishop Augoustinos. His home in Heraklion was so humble! Elder Augoustinos named him “the aged youth”. He was greatly blessed and spiritually benefited by father Augoustinos, he was a classmate of father Epiphanios Theodoropoulos and dreamed of a Church that would revive the order of the fervent in spirit Holy Fathers of Saint John Chrysostom, where each would take on a single domain of ministry.
In 1975, when I was a monk here at Saint Theodora monastery, he was ordained a bishop and told me “child, we are setting off for the Diocese of Lampe and Sphakia.” The first one we founded when we reached Spili was the Foreign Mission Association.
“Theodoros, I want an active and striving Church.” I remember him saying that the Church triumphs when in prison, and loses face when in the palace. He said that financial reliance brings spiritual enslavement. And he knew about these African peoples. So, for the first time we communicated to the people that beyond Crete, beyond Greece, there is another continent, Africa, the “continent of the future” —that was the first time I had heard this phrase. How could I know that someday God would ordain me humble father of this Africa!
I am glad that you mentioned Fr. Chrysostomos Papasarantopoulos, the founder of your Fraternity, and I remember that late Parthenios was the chief secretary of the Holy Synod when he first met an old priest in the courtyard of the Patriarchate. He asked to be received by Patriarch Christopher. Initially they paid little attention to his request, but the Elder insisted and finally they received him and listened to him. He took the blessing of Patriarch Christopher and travelled down there and commenced his great work. When I visit his tomb, I kneel down, kiss the cross and say, “Elder Chrysostom, I thank you, for you believed”. If he had not had faith in what he was doing, he would have born no fruit.
This is how the story of the Mission started. And little by little the Patriarchate came to realize that apart from the land of Egypt, there was also another world, large and beautiful, which was athirst. And this is how the first missionary teams started going down.
I thank God, that, after my long journeys in the Northern Thebaid, for years and years in the frozen steppes, He illumined Patriarch Peter, who called me that morning: “Theodore, come, make the sign of the cross and go to Cameroon as a bishop.” I remember him vividly: the only thing that I said was “may it be blessed, Your Beatitude.” This is the starting point of my own course in those French-speaking regions.
For a while I want to recall those beautiful years, when I climbed up these stairs to your Fraternity. My only equipment was a small bag, my short cassock and a small prayer rope. How many times I sat tired here in this corner, to see our doctor, late Panagiotis Papadimitrakopoulos—may God rest his soul—, who would listen to me for hours and hours! Today, God blessed me to come here as a Pope and Patriarch, but above all as a humble missionary. I would to like to say a very big thank you to your Fraternity! Thank you for keeping your door always open for me. I was in great need of it…
Tonight I am not here to preside over a beautiful ceremony, to say beautiful words but I came to express my deep gratitude to you because after a few days I restart my long missionary journeys so as to meet my children again. I have missed their soulful eyes. I know that they can spend hours and hours awaiting me in the dust in order to welcome me with dancing and palm leaves in hands.
I dance along with them because I want to show them that I respect their traditions, their manners and customs, but above all I try to give them the crystal clear water that is called Orthodoxy. And they understand that we are not like the other denominations, we do not have money to offer them, we have limited possibilities, but whatever we give them comes from our hearts.
I thank God, for he gave me good bishops. I thank God for the hierarchy of my throne, who share my agony and understand that the future of our Patriarchate is Africa. That’s why I ordained African bishops too, so as to show them that Africa is a matter of theirs as well as our Patriarchate’s. Now we can work with our own children doing the best we can in order to educate them and let them carry on this magnificent, this great work called Mission.
It was God’s will and St. Mark theEvangelist, sent by St. Barnabas the Apostle, toured Ethiopia, toured Libya but blessed the whole of the African land, from Alexandria to the ends of Africa, to the Cape of Good Hope. And now, the entire continent of the future is a construction site.
I would like to congratulate you, but also bless our late doctor, who believed. If he had had no faith in this institution, nothing would have been accomplished. And these people gave a lot, for by their side they had spiritual people who started this endeavor. The doctor used to tell me “you are in the vanguard, we are in the rearguard.” But everyone is necessary.
Thus, I would like to express the gratitude of our Patriarchate, our Church. Thank you for not forgetting us and thank you for honoring me with this plaque. Mr. Nostis, I know that this poem was written by you with whole lot of love, and today I name you “poet of the Mission”.
My dear president, on behalf of our Patriarchate, I would also like to offer you the Winged Lion of St. Mark the Evangelist. His symbol is a lion, for his gospel is mighty. This is the preaching of the Holy Fathers, this is the preaching that came to elate people’s hearts, and in this we are ceaselessly helped by people and fraternities that believed in the institution of preaching. Therefore, I award you this Lion of Saint Mark, so that you will have leonine health and keep on helping us in this struggle of ours.