Pentecost in the Land of Pygmies

«…Αnd when He divided the tongues of fire, He called all men into unity; and with one accord we glorify the All‐holy Spirit.» This hymn sounds like a sweet caress that brings back childhood memories, somewhere in our homeland, in the small picturesque chapel or in the beauteous parish church, but always in the One Church of Christ, the Church of great sacrifices and major wonders. Ode to the Holy Spirit! The feast of Pentecost is a celebration of the unity of the Church.

Following in the footsteps of the Apostles we left our homeland Greece, a blessed country bathed in the Grace of the Comforter, and we came to the other end of the world. We speak to you from afar, our voice an early Christian one, the voice of a recently founded Church. We bow down before our blessed brother compatriots, who still speak the language of the ancient philosophers and the Holy Fathers, the people who received the Holy Enlightenment and accepted the Apostolic preaching from the very beginning. The fellow-elect Church of Congo-Brazzaville knows where to address, even if her voice comes from afar.

«We celebrate Pentecost and the coming of the Spirit, the appointed time of the promise and the fulfilment of hope …» It is this great celebration of the Church’s manifestation to the world that we decided to co-celebrate with our brothers who live far away from modern technological culture, the Orthodox Bantu from the city of Impfondo, and those of the tiny forest-dwelling Pygmies who have been baptized Orthodox. We arrived in the administrative district of Likwala, the poorest and most distant district of Congo-Brazzaville in the north of the country, bordering with Gabon, the Central African Republic and the former Zaire.

We walked a land that does not look like the blessed land of Greece, but which thirsts for the Grace of God! It is there that our unworthy hands laid the foundation stone for the first orthodox church in 2013, and four years later, despite the raging and persistent battle of the malevolent devil, by the Grace of the Holy Spirit we were made worthy to inaugurate it. In this Church of Sts. Nicholas and John the Forerunner we performed the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist and the Vespers of Genuflexion, kneeling and rendering prayers and supplication to the Triune God on the great day of Pentecost. And according to the kontakion of the Feast, all together, Bantus, Pygmies and Greeks, speakers as well as bearers of different languages and cultures, “were called into unity”, to «glorify the All-holy Spirit with one accord».

Kneeling Vespers on Pentecost

This accord, this harmony of faith, grace and enlightenment, presupposes agreement on practicing love. Therefore, on the afternoon of the same bright day of Pentecost we could not but walk to the settlement of our Pygmy brothers, in the equatorial tropical forest of Africa.

Carefully traversing the rainforest with the dense vegetation, we reached the first houses: mud brick, supported by bamboo frame, with cane doors and palm thatch roofs. We were warmly welcomed by the oldest man of the tribe, who bowed respectfully and devoutly kissed the Bishop’s hand. This was a sign of respect and recognition of the tribe’s spiritual father, the Bishop. All the people were friendly and smiling and were carefully listening to the simple words about Pentecost. They opened their eyes wide on hearing that the Holy Spirit embraces, bestows grace, illuminates and protects every human being with a loving heart and a living faith! Indeed, what a striking contrast with their own spirits, the spirits of the forest, which, when challenged, spread punishment and death and demand bloody propitiation!

Next, they talked about the problems they face in their daily routines and accepted with great joy the little but valuable to them gifts that we offered them. Salt for preserving game meat, matches for lighting a fire, soap for personal hygiene, toothbrushes and toothpaste, antipyretic and analgesic drugs, candy for the children, who reveled in the unexpected gift!

Pentecost in the land of Pygmies. We walked a land where demonic temptations are lurking to grab and devour immortal human souls, tarnish the divine breath instilled in them and drag them into the dark paths of Hades through sorcery, sacrifices, idols and abominable ceremonies. It is in such spiritually “stormy waters” that the Pentecostal tongues of the Holy Spirit spread the Light, «the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world «, gave strength and support, consolation and hope. Currently, there are fifteen new Pygmy catechumens periodically taught the Orthodox faith by Fr. Timothy, waiting to be baptized. The catechetical sessions are taking place in the forest, in a special hut used as the «Chapel» of the tribe.

«Αnd when He divided the tongues of fire, He called all men into unity”. It is this unity that we ask you to support, beloved brothers, and pray that the Lord and Creator of the Church consolidates the missionary struggle initiated by heroic Greek clergymen before us and continued by us, as our Holy Church mandates. Brothers and sisters in Christ, become the bridges so that the Holy Spirit can also blow in the most inaccessible parts of this edge of the equator; so that our brothers here can chant in the local dialects of Lingala, Munukutumba or Pygmy, “We have found the true faith; We worship the undivided Trinity; For the same hath saved us.” Amen!

† Panteleimon of Brazzaville and Gabon

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