Latin America, unlike other continents of the world, is a cluster of nations that have developed under the auspices of Western civilization. A Western world in crisis where Christianity, besides sects, has left its mark and is based on the Holy Scriptures. Unfortunately, the Holy Bible is interpreted in various ways and forms that have little or no connection with the first Christian and apostolic community of the era in which, with the incarnation of the God-man Jesus Christ, began what we know as the Christian era. The Church Fathers, as I have already mentioned in other articles, may be known by name, but the truth is that their works are only now beginning to come to light and be studied in depth by those who yearn to return to early Christianity and pure worship of God. Ignorance of Eastern Christian wealth is not due to reckless intent or lack of interest on the part of the indigenous people because the truth is that although we are in the 21st century, there are still many places on earth where the Orthodox Christianity is still unknown or, it is something new. We must revive the Apostolic call and the mandate of our Christ, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).
It is remarkable how much and how far our priests have to travel, as I did as Assistant Bishop in Colombia and Venezuela. They go on long journeys from one city to another to respond to the pastoral, spiritual and liturgical needs of each parish community. We are a Church in Doctrinal, Liturgical and Pastoral Formation and what we know is still little compared to the greatness and enormous wealth of the ORTHODOX Church. For this reason, the help and support of the Mother Church of Constantinople, Greece and Cyprus is of vital and fundamental importance to us. We are not selfish or nationalistic, but we consider the Greek world the source of the true faith that the Holy Fathers of the Church have transmitted to us, because it is not accidental the fact that this is the source from which the light coming from the east has lit up the world.
With all due respect to various Western Christian denominations, and with the millions that they invest in their Mission in our own countries, being of the opinion that a truth that hurts us is better than a lie that kills us, in our own experience and not theory, we must say that the only thing their actions and misinterpretations have achieved in our already wounded society is division and chaos, where every day a new “Church” is born; this in the case of Colombia is expressed in more than 10 thousand Christian denominations, each one of which declares that it is the “True Church” of Christ, which is why many seek the Orthodox Faith. As a Western theologian confirmed, it is the time of Orthodoxy, it is the time of Truth against lies, of Light against darkness.
On the other hand, it is not easy for someone to come to our land for Mission ministry if they are not prepared, since what is required is much more than a simple desire, as they must first have clarity of criteria so as not to confuse Sacred Tradition with customs and avoid any insult to any expression of cultural identity for every region, city or nation. Whoever carries out the Mission must necessarily be willing to learn and respect the culture of these peoples, not to violate them, and above all, to understand that Christian Hellenism grows stronger by transmitting the freedom offered by the Orthodox faith as a message of liberation from human complexities through repentance, purification, emptying, illumination, bringing man to Theosis (deification),without insulting the cultural identity of each nation, since the Greek Orthodox heritage enriches and strengthens every people, just as Saints Cyril and Methodius did with the Slavic Peoples.
The aforementioned things make us refer to the great contribution of Arch. Father Irenaeus Laftsis, Chancellor of the Holy Metropolis of Alexandroupolis, who, with the blessing of our Spiritual Shepherd His Eminence Athenagoras along with the selfless, infinite love of His Grace Metropolitan Anthimos of Alexandroupolis for us, has visited Colombia and Venezuela for the third time to strengthen us liturgically, pastorally, philanthropically and spiritually in the work we are doing by the Grace of God. We will never forget that his first visit was with a group of doctors from the city of Alexandroupolis in the midst of the pandemic to help so many people in need. Those doctors and Fr. Irenaeus were witnesses of extreme Christian love, laying down their lives to save and help our brothers.
According to what was mentioned before, Fr. Irenaeus is a clear expression of humility and extreme missionary love and ministry to such an extent that he became a Greek- Colombian, respectful of our culture and an exponent of the infinite love of Christ and the philanthropy of Hellenism, extremely sympathetic to our poverty and economic difficulties, strengthening our hope in the Triune God, which we have called ”ontological revolution”, a revolution that transmits the Orthodox faith as a way of life. With Fr. Irenaeus we visited all the Orthodox parishes that we minister, and among other things, we conducted seminars on Theology and Dogmatics regarding the liturgical order of the sacred services, the administrative structure and organization of the parishes and the organization of the charities.
Tirelessly, he undertook long journeys with us from one parish to another, imparting knowledge, experience and teachings on liturgical life to our priests and Orthodox believers. We held lectures presenting Orthodox teaching and life to students of Roman Catholic and Protestant universities as well as to various religious state commissions because, as I said, there are many people who want to hear about Orthodoxy in these places, especially from the mouth of Greeks, since the Greeks here are considered by many the best teachers in faith and knowledge. This is so because they have not been contaminated by Western rationalism and because everything that is mentioned in Science and Theology is written, interpreted and launched through the Greek language and culture. We visited favelas (slums) and impoverished Christian families in various Colombian cities, where we delivered humanitarian aid offered by the Holy Diocese of Alexandroupolis, which brought joy to those forgotten people. In addition, he transferred on behalf of Metropolitan Anthimos, as a reinforcement of the work carried out by the newly established Church in Colombia, a set of chalices, hagiographies (a donation of the School of Hagiography “St. Glykeria” of the Metropolis of Alexandroupolis for the first Church built on the border of Colombia and Venezuela), priestly clothes and vestments, candles from the Holy Monastery of “Our Lady of Evros”, as well as breast crosses, outer cassocks and inner cassocks. Every donation we received is a blessing for the two countries in which Orthodoxy is growing and is looking for the means to continue this God-pleasing work.
Our gratitude is immeasurable, since the greatest wealth we have received in this liturgical education is precisely the knowledge of the form of liturgical worship, which is not learned in books or in a theological school, but in practice, which leads us to a perfect communion with God in partaking of the Divine Mysteries.
We thank you wholeheartedly for all the support we have received for this project. Today we experience our first Pentecost in these distant countries of Latin America that Columbus discovered one day, which today the Greeks enlighten with the revelation of the Orthodox faith.
We are not the United States and we do not live in the European reality, but we want to live the joy and hope of this same Christian faith that you Greeks, our elder brothers in Faith, have inherited from your parents, which you have preserved unchanged over the years. We lack everything and we are still very young in the faith, but be sure that our Orthodox Christian calling is genuine. We ask for your help to be formed, to build our churches, to have the necessary holy vessels and equipment, to reduce the hunger and extreme misery that so many of our brethren in the flesh are suffering from. God was generous with you and gave you this Orthodox faith, which was heroically preserved and supported by your noble nation in Constantinople, the center of Orthodoxy, in Greece and Cyprus, where the purest Orthodox doctrine has been preserved in the monasteries, parishes and families. May He bless you all. Bear in mind that your pain is also our pain. We pray for everyone and those who have suffered the consequences of the fires that have razed the holy land of Greece and we ask God to enlighten and bless every Greek wherever and whenever they are. Long live the Lord our God, Who taught us to view every difficulty as an opportunity for more and better days and way of life.
† Bishop Timothy of Assos
Auxiliary bishop of Colombia