The course of life of a person who cherishes inside of him a deep love for Jesus Christ, the true God and Savior of the world, is indeed a mystery. With these thoughts, I began with Mr. Nikos Aslanides, an experienced journalist, dear friend, Missionary partner and member of our Fraternity, to follow in the footsteps of the pioneer Elder and spirit-driven founder of our Fraternity Father Chrysostomos Papasarantopoulos.
We began our journey with him in secret, for it was in secret that he was given the Grace and power by God for this work. Our purpose was to record step by step the desire of this Saint to convey to the natives of Africa the joyful message of the Resurrection of Christ.
He firmly believed that the time had come for Orthodoxy as divine worship and faith to be proclaimed to the black angels, as he called the natives. Being extremely poor himself like them and suffering due to advanced age and ill and fragile health, he arrived in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, in 1960, and put up his hut among those he loved so dearly, friends and children.
It is up on a beautiful hill in Kampala that he built the first Church of St. Nicholas. This beautiful church that overlooks the whole city, though small, is well-made and graceful, built in a cruciform shape, with a high belfry and windows all around. The late indigenous pioneers, seekers of Orthodoxy and keepers of true faith and worship, are all buried around the church building. Bishop Christopher Mukasa Spartas, Fr. Obadiah Basajakitalo, Fr. Irenaeus Bangimbi, Bishop Theodoros Nankyama and others, devout, faithful, loyal to Mother Church until the end of their lives.
The next day we made our way to Dijiye village, where the first Orthodox Divine Liturgy was celebrated in 1933, by pioneer missionary Archimandrite Nicodemus Sarikas. We went 4 hours deep into the country, passing by endless plantations of corn and sugar beet rooted in the Nile basin. There was so much green everywhere, so much light, so many children playing and going to school! There was a smile on everyone’s face but also two innocent eyes wondering:»what do these muzungu (white people) want in our land with the stuff that they are carrying on them (cameras, stanchions, equipment)?»
The natives are simple-hearted, kind people with a wide smile. They open their arms to embrace you, and you, the “muzungu”, can see straight into their heart, their pure, undefiled soul, the vast world of love, the creation of the Master Artist, the image of God.
This is what the Elder saw as well when he first came here: the selflessness and purity of these people’s souls, the image of God, which is why he walked many kilometers through the jungle. He sent thousands of letters asking for help. «Son, I am writing to you from Africa. Please, come over; I’m here (and I’m) waiting for you. Don’t be long.»
In a dying and shrinking Europe that kills thousands of children through abortions, Africa remains alive and growing. Children walk around the road every day and cover very long distances on foot to get to school, to acquire knowledge, to receive education.
It is for these children that Fr. Chrysostomos made schools, which on Sundays were turned into churches, a place of worship and devout reverence.
We traveled on bad dirt roads for many hours. It would have been impossible to find the way if Fr. Stephen had not sent his son from Nakyaka village to meet us and take us to the Church of the Annunciation.
The church building was large and spacious, covered with sheet metal, like all the churches here. The reception the children gave us was friendly and cordial, with rhythmic songs and drum beats. For years now, the drumbeat of the natives, the rhythm, the body movements along with hand-clapping and singing, have been a way of expressing joy, sadness and gratitude to God.
The next day we covered even more kilometers and reached Nakabale village, with St. Paul’s parish. The school was situated next to the church and the children were all neatly dressed in the same color.
St. Paul’s Church is in need of maintenance but the people are poor and weary, and by no means could they afford to pay for the repair to the church building and its maintenance. Their heart is pure and innocent, and despite all their deprivations, they offered us bananas, beans and rice. They consider it both an honor and an obligation to host you. They gave the bishop a surplus of their love, a few beans, a few bananas and a rooster.
Late in the afternoon, being really exhausted after covering so many kilometers, we returned to Jitsa, the city with the beautiful red brick church on a small plot of land. The parish priest, who was there with his wife, was a prudent, serious, educated person with a European mentality. Bishop Sylvester has confidence in his abilities and great expectations of him. The town is well built, with curbs and beautiful houses. In the evening, we arrived dead-tired at St. Lavrentios Orthodox Cathedral in the city of Gulu, Northern Uganda. A beautiful church indeed, built in the highest part of Gulu, bright, with many windows and doors, a refuge for the Orthodox Christians of the region.
Once again, we set off on our next journey very early in the morning. We had to go through endless forests and dense vegetation to meet a tribe of natives speaking a different language, which even the bishop did not understand. Communication was held with the help of a translator. There, after many hours, we were welcomed by our Orthodox brothers who were waiting for us with singing and dancing, holding branches in their hands. The people here live in a primitive condition, with the water being about 2 hours’ distance from the village. They have lived in this region for thousands of years the say way as their ancestors, and they live on fruit from the trees and produce from farming in its most rudimentary form. They have their mud-huts around in the jungle and amidst them the large church of St. Nectarios. The grace of the saint has come as far as this place; may the Saint intercede with God for them. A large church indeed, with only three icons hung on its built icon screen; even these icons along with the vessels of the Holy Altar are borrowed, brought here by the bishop. We started with the conduction of the Matins Service, went on with the baptism of 70 people and ended up with the Divine Liturgy. Both children and adults with patience, prayer and devout reverence entered into the church of Christ to be baptized and become members of the spiritual body of believers in the big embrace of the Orthodox faith.
After the Holy Eucharist was over, everyone was glowing with happiness and joy because they had all received Holy Communion. They held in their hands a sheet of paper bearing names of Martyrs and Saints of our Church. At the end of the Divine Liturgy food was offered to us under the trees while the children were waiting patiently for their turn to eat. When I asked them why the children were not eating, they told me that according to their law, it is the strong that eat first because they are the ones that will feed the weak. They all show respect for the unwritten laws of the jungle. The chief of the tribe, with his clothes and shoes patched with wire, spoke to us about their needs, the lack of water and the need for a borehole in this area. The children walk all day to get to the nearest school, which is about 10 kilometers away, and receive education. We thanked him and left without giving any promises very late at night.
On the return journey, my mind was running back to reunite with these people, whose daily life is embraced by death, suffering and illness. Mortality rates are high, there are no hospitals and clinics, and life is as it was thousands of years ago.
My eyes grew heavy and my mind weary, sunk in thought, trying to connect the images of the day. I could only see the eyes, the children’s eyes that were following me. I erased my few thoughts in Saint Nectarios’ embrace. “Saint of love and patience, open people’s hearts, illumine their minds and support us in this missionary effort «in the footsteps of a Saint».
We walked in the footsteps of the late Elder and pioneer missionary Fr. Chrysostomos Papasarantopoulos, and we smelled the scent of Holiness. He taught us that whatever is done for Mission, should be done it wholeheartedly, without a single doubt about its rightness, with full confidence in God’s promise «and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.»
We felt the Saint’s anguish and struggle for a better future, a better life, a life grafted in with the power of Orthodox faith in the Black Continent. Elder Chrysostomos whispered to us that holiness wants no signs but evidence of spiritual greatness, sacrificial course, missionary action, and absolute confidence in «May Thy Will Be Done.»
Charalampos Metallidis, Board President