And, lo, I am with you always…

Light of Light shined onto the world with our Lord’s Resurrection! Light of Light also shined here, on the equator of Africa, so far from homeland. Christ has risen! This world-redeeming news is the truth, it is the glad tidings which we live and convey. The Holy Light is a fact that invites us to see the faces of the others in the Light of Life and not in the shadow of death. As Christ was revealed to us after the Resurrection, so we are revealing the Risen Christ in the exercise of love.

Only someone who lives here can understand what it’s like to be in a community that is newly planted in time, which is persistently seeking to escape the futility of the old error/fallacy, to which it has been chained for centuries. In these places, being Orthodox is first of all a revolution against the enemy of habit. When we say in the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil, in these places, the phrase “releasing us from the delusions of idolatry «, we are talking about something daily, something that exists around us!

Under these circumstances, we once again arrived in the land of the Pygmies in the joyous atmosphere of the Easter week. It was a pastoral visit to the northernmost point of the Congo-Brazzaville, on the border of our country with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (former Zaire) and the Central African Republic.

The tranquility and beauty of the tropical nature is the first welcome after the two flights required from the seat of the Holy Metropolis to this place. After a short pilgrimage to the Holy Parish Church of St. John the Forerunner and St. Nicholas, which completed its first year of life since its construction and consecration, with a heart full of enthusiasm we rushed to the bank of the River Oubangui. The twenty-two catechumens were patiently standing there in anticipation of the Holy Baptism! Christ’s mandate for peoples’ evangelism is a timeless one,» Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world» (Matthew 28:19-20).

Members of the two sovereign tribes of the north, the Pygmies and the Bantu, receive the Holy Light in the waters of their own river, which thus becomes their own Jordan River! Glory in the Most Holy Name of the Triune God! «Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost».

But baptism is only the beginning of the spiritual and redemptive course that the newly-baptized people are starting today. «.. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you”. What follows is the constant teaching and preaching, the evangelization of the faithful, and the application of the evangelical mandates to our daily life, the «good alteration», which results in the formation of Christians who not merely bear the name but who first and foremost bear Christ in them.

So, on the Sunday morning of Doubting Thomas, we performed the Holy Eucharist in the newly-built church, thus becoming all brothers of the Master Christ, older and newly-illumined Orthodox! And with this power of unity in the Resurrection, we rushed to the settlement of our Pygmy brothers, in the rainforest, in their own homeland.

The Pygmies are noble people. Although they used to systematically avoid contact with other tribes, particularly with the white race since they had suffered from them during the years of colonialism, they are sociable people with values, principles and secrets of their tribe which they preserve vigorously, consciously refusing to abandon their ancestral homes and embrace the modern «western» way of life. They owe their name to Herodotus (5th century BC), who named them “Pygmies” because they have a small body «like the size of a punch» (“pygme” in the ancient Greek language). They were also known to the ancient Egyptians, who called them “Aka”. This is one of the oldest human tribes that have survived to this day. They are considered to be the best trackers and hunters in the world. Consequently, they are constantly on the move after herds of wild life, depending on the annual migratory movements of the African prey during the rainy season.

It is this people that the Light of Christ has already reached! Salt, soap, matches, toothpaste and toothbrushes, antipyretics and analgesics were our humble gifts, but the joy of our African brothers was great, because these are the things they need and live with. With the salt they will preserve the wild game meat, with the soap they will be washed and cleaned, while the matches will enable them to cook, light up their dark nights and keep them warm; as for the other gifts, they will help them take care of their health.

And if with the goods mentioned above our African brothers are practically relieved, with the Holy Communion they are spiritually shielded. This purpose is served with the construction of a traditional for them hut, which will be the Orthodox «Shrine» of the forest! Our spiritual children observed the apostolic request of their Shepherd a year ago and prepared their own sacred space so that the good and hardworking priest from the north, Fr. Timothy, can go every month to those who cannot possibly move to the Central Parish Church, in order to perform the Divine Liturgy there, always preach the word of God, illuminate souls, “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever the Lord hath commanded us”.

Dear brothers and sisters,

Christ invites us to a triple process which involves: seeking souls and teaching faith (Go ye therefore, and teach all nations), baptizing (baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost), and faithfully applying His words (Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you).

And since baptism has already been performed and the teaching of faith as well as catechism and evangelism are continuous, «and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world»(Matthew 28: 19-20), what is left, O Lord, is the accomplishment of our ultimate purpose, our encounter with You! Meeting and being united with You, regardless of race, nation or language. Come on, brothers, let us continue the Mission work of the Apostles! All together, united, with each one of us practicing generosity and selfless love and giving our offering, whether it be a material good or a spiritual gift! The Lord, «the One who trieth the hearts and reins», awaits our good intentions!

† Panteleimon of Brazzaville and Gabon

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