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Patriarchal Journey to Ivory Coast (Part II)

For the first time in the two-thousand-year presence of the Apostolic Throne of the Alexandrian Church, the country of Ivory Coast was visited by His Beatitude Theodore II, Pope and Patriarch, Venerable Shepherd and Father of all the Orthodox Christians throughout Africa. Frantic preparations were made for the distinguished visitor. Everyone was in anticipation of his visit, from the senior government officials of this hospitable country to the simple faithful people, who saw and heard the Shepherd’s voice.

An unprecedented welcome to this historic visit, This Monday, November 5, 2018, will be unforgettable for the local Church. The distance and the difficulties in traveling did not prevent the faithful from setting off from far–off regions of the country to take the Patriarch’s blessing.

On the first day of the Venerable Shepherd’s stay, one could see the obvious joy in the people’s eyes. Amidst them they had the Father, who, from the red carpet laid out for his reception, continued to walk where the people’s daily routine and real life was with all its needs and difficulties.

Who will be left untouched by the picture of the next day, the 6th of November, when at the Cathedral of the Lord’s Resurrection, in the capital city of the state of Abidjan, there was a real Paschal atmosphere with the Patriarchal Divine Liturgy, the pious clergy ministering to this field of God, offering their best spiritual services, unselfishly and sacrificially, along with their loyal volunteer associates, to their faithful flock?

The Patriarch of Love marveled at the faith of these people, who participated in the Bloodless Sacrifice, and who so beautifully and angelically rendered the hymns of praise, by taking down to earth the heavens with the Angels. This celebration continued with the young men and women and the Women’s Association, who, dressed in traditional costumes in their country’s colors, danced and sang, presenting their own cultural values.

Perhaps words are too poor to express what one sees being accomplished, first in the souls of these people who learn about the true God of Love, Peace and Freedom, and then in all the necessary infrastructure projects, which are meant for young people’s education through school reconstruction and for the relief of human pain through the erection of medical centers and healthcare clinics.

In this work, of course, one could not possibly overlook the contribution of some great Mission friends and supporters, such as the Coyo family of Silvestro and Flora, whom we thank wholeheartedly for the donation of a plot of land, where a church, a school, a medical center and a healthcare clinic will be built in order to meet some spiritual as well as social needs of the Metropolis. Another major supporter is the Orthodox Missionary Fraternity, which has always stood by our side, funding the great projects of Mission in Africa and around the world. We are grateful to them as well.

The greatest emotion was felt by all when the Mission Patriarch kneeled and laid the Foundation Stone for the erection of the new Mission Center in the city of Akorre’, which will include a Church, a School and a Medical Clinic. In such a God-pleasing project, the Patriarch, as the First among the Missionaries, and the capable partners who assist him, realize his great vision which becomes true, first with the projects for the spiritual growth of these people’s souls, and then with the material infrastructure projects, so that there will be no one left unaware of Christ, no one left hungry, naked, sick, or homeless. And as His Beatitude pointed out to his children, the Gospel of Christ is realized in this place and does not only stay in words. And for love to be true, it requires sacrifices and deprivations.

It is noteworthy that during the visit of His Beatitude to the Presidential Palace of the country, the Venerable Shepherd received a very warm welcome from the President-in-Office of the Republic, where there was a very fruitful discussion on Mission issues and the presence of the Patriarchate in this beautiful country and the assurance on the part of the vice president that the state would always be a helper in all the activities of the Orthodox Church, which is highly appreciated by everyone in that country, from the simple people up to the high ranking political officials, for the work that has been done so far. Among the country’s politicians who visited His Beatitude were the Ministers for the Interior, Foreign Affairs, Defense and Environment, the Secretaries-General of the Presidency and other Ministries, as well as the Ambassadors of Lebanon, Russia, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, the Papal Nuncio and Coptic Priests.

The moment of departure finally arrived. The joy of this great visit to Ivory Coast will be engraved in the history of this place. The President-in-Office of the Republic, himself, accompanied His Beatitude to the airport.

The whole body of clergymen bid farewell and saw off the Shepherd and Father, drawing power from this presence, mainly by taking his blessing for the continuation of the missionary work. And the Patriarch of Love, Prayer, Peace, Reconciliation, Sacrifice, who knows better than anyone what Mission means, blessed this country and the work done in the name of the Lord.

This visit and the words of his love will remain engraved in the hearts of those people who saw him, heard him and received his blessing, as they know that along with the foundation stone, their Shepherd also laid his own heart on this beautiful country of Ivory Coast.

† Bishop Narcissus of Accra

Planting the Seeds of Knowledge in Timor

Dear Friends of the Mission,

This year we spent the holy Christmas days with devout reverence in all our parish communities. God permitting, next year we will be gathered all together in a large hall room, where we will celebrate with representatives from each community. I received your 15,000-euro assistance for the Theotokos Hospital, donated by Fr. Nicholas Marketos and other donors from Sydney, Australia, and I would like to thank you wholeheartedly for that.

As I have repeatedly mentioned, Savvas Marcelino from Timor studied at the St. Paul Theological School and made the decision to become a priest. On August 24, 2018, he was ordained elder. What a great blessing for us! Now he has returned to Timor to disseminate the light of Orthodoxy.

As you know, the education sector is the one we developed from the beginning, and it is this very sector that helped us reach out to thousands of young people who got interested in Orthodoxy and were eventually baptized into our Church. For Orthodoxy to take root and grow in Timor, we must build a school there as well to teach and preach the word of God to the young children. In order to be able to realize this project, we are making an appeal to you, as the amount required is estimated at around 50,000 euro. We have faith and hope in your loving heart so that this vision of ours comes true as well.

Fr. Chrysostomos Manalu

The Orthodox Mission in the Pacific

At Christchurch, in the context of my first informative episcopal journey, I met Kyriakos, a person with rational thinking, businessman, energetic and active member of the local Greek Orthodox community, who spends a considerable amount of his own personal time participating in civic life, providing aid and assistance.

In his own straightforward way he gave a vivid description of the exceptional experience he had when he met with the former Metropolitan of New Zealand and current Metropolitan of Ganou and Chora His Eminence Amphilochios and heard from his own lips about his thoughts and plans for the beginning of the missionary effort on the islands of the Pacific Ocean.

Baptisms in the Pacific Ocean by Metropolitan Amphilochios

The Elder left determined to pursue his vision. Time passed and Kyriakos traveled to Fiji on business. He went to have a close look at all those things that until then he had only heard about. And O Lord! What did he actually see? A most beauteous and clean Church dedicated to the Holy Trinity, standing there as a white dove in the green rural landscape of the island. From there he could hear beautiful byzantine ecclesiastical hymns of reverence sung in Greek out of the mouths of the young children of the Orphanage and of local Fijian nuns (Sisters Melania and Anysia) in a way that many people would envy.

He started watching them. He enjoyed what he was listening and did not want to finish what he was living. The Divine Liturgy was about to finish, though. 30 children and all attendees responded to the call of the officiating priest Fr. Bartholomew, «Approach with the fear of God, faith, and love.” Eveyone without exception partook of the Holy Communion. Only Kyriakos stood in a corner dumbfounded and stunned by what he was experiencing.

As soon as they came out of the church, the peaceful and full of reverence atmosphere of the service gave way to smiling faces and to the happy sounds of children’s voices. Joy was obvious on their faces, in their movements, in their speech, in their behavior towards the others. Kyriakos gave them four balls, two for football and two for rugby, which he had brought for them. It is practically impossible to describe their joy for these little presents. Before long the whole place was filled with children running, playing, having fun; trustful children feeling safe and secure, knowing that they were surrounded by people who loved them and cared for them. They thanked him in a very polite and mature way, with beautiful words in Greek. However, what pleased Kyriakos the most was their smile and the expression of their joy. “This state of existence is rare in our western rationalistic societies”, he thought to himself. We do not teach our children how to be truly happy, how to live and enjoy life.

Inauguration of the Holy Trinity church, Fiji

Kyriakos also visited the monastery of the Dormition of the Theotokos, the Safe Home, the guesthouse of the older boys. He was enthused, touched, and felt deep inside the nature and importance of the work of the Church, her role, her mission in the world. He regretfully remembered his former reserved attitude to the Elder’s dream, and tears came to his eyes. He went to buy a big amount of food, new beds and mattresses and lots of toys for the children. He wanted to contribute himself and feel like a member of this joyful community. Since then his respect, gratitude and admiration for Elder Amphilochios and the accomplished work have been evident and continuous and the only words he has been saying are words of gratitude and admiration. Finally, he has been encouraging all of us to continue and enhance the great, God-pleasing and «crazy» vision of Elder Amphilochios.

† Bishop Myron of New Zealand

Continuous praise

Dear Friends of Mission,

Your god-sent donation came as a gift from the heavens, so valuable and necessary that you cannot possibly imagine, giving us a breath of life and courage for the continuation of our struggle. I have no words to express my feelings of deep gratitude to the Fraternity, which still helps and sustains the work of God that is being done in India by His own grace. I wholeheartedly pray that our Lord grants everyone health of both body and mind so that your Fraternity will devotedly and conscientiously continue its great missionary work, which is so God-pleasing.

Above all, I ask for your prayers, so that God can support us and bless our humble effort in this Country where He has ordained us to offer our ministry, for let us not forget: «Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it».

My soul glorifies and thanks God Almighty for His love and Providence for His children in India, which is something revealed to us in a miraculous way every day. So now, while I was making calculations and plans agonizing about how we could manage to cope with the current economic circumstances, the donation from your Fraternity came like manna from heaven. A mere thank you is not enough to describe our infinite gratitude.

May God keep you well and bless you with good health and the richness of His grace.

Sister Nectaria

The new Lenten issue of the Orthodox Mission magazine is now out!

The new issue of our magazine is now out with news and reports from 15 missionary regions.

  • What are the new dioceses of the Orthodox Church in Africa?
  • How do the Orthodox of Katanga spend the Great Lent?
  • What are the current needs of the Mission in Sierra Leone?
  • What are the plans for the further development of the Mission in Central Nigeria?

Find out about these and many more in the issue at hand. Browse through it, read it, share it!

Memories from Fr. Cosmas of Gregoriou

On January 27, 30 years will have been completed since the unexpected departure for the Lord of the pioneer missionary priest Fr.Cosmas of Gregoriou, who with his unparalleled diligence watered the roots of the Orthodox Mission and made it grow deeper and settle in the land of Katanga, in Southern Congo.

From the very first moment, the Orthodox Missionary Fraternity stood by his side and published his letters regularly from the day he went to Africa in August 1975 to the end. We regularly sent him financial assistance and listened to his concerns.

To honor his sacred memory, we publish in our magazine one of his letters that dates back to 1985.

Kolwezi, September 24, 1985

Dear Doctor, rejoice in the Lord along with Mrs. Elli and your good associates.

As you know, in our area, AIDS has afflicted 10% of the population. About 60% suffer from venereal diseases, tuberculosis and so many other epidemic diseases, such as cholera, etc. Therefore, no matter how many measures one can take, one will not be able to escape the nets of the epidemics unless God protects him.

This week we are struggling to cope with a heavy workload in all fields. Yesterday I was in Likasi to serve our faithful there. From there, I sent Father Petros to Lubumbashi, along with other priests, to baptize about 80 children of Christians. I have sent you the two names you asked for. Apart from the heavy workload, we are confronted with temptations from the devil, who follows us in close pursuit in order to tire us and be able to move unhindered. The day before yesterday, while the boarding school children were on the way to the boarding school, they were attacked by tramps that threw stones at them and ripped apart their coats.

Within the precincts of Saint Nektarios church, which is located in the suburb, we began an effort to start a convent with seven girls as novice nuns. The girls are struggling, but Satan is furious and has launched a terrible war against us. These days, we are enclosing the monastery with a stone wall. It has been three days now that tramps have been hanging around the wall in the evening hours, as in the case of Lot when they were asking for the angels, and have been calling us names, because, according to them, these girls are supposed to be free to go with them and not be closed in like European chickens in a poultry farm, and other things like that.

Two days ago, the truck with the workers from the forest was late to come. So, at about 10 o’clock in the evening, on our way there with Fr. Cyril and two young men to see what was happening, we had a puncture. At that time, the one lad, Alexis, started to walk in the night, crossing 12 km of forest to get the spare wheel with another car and return. Fr. Cyril stayed inside the car, and the writer along with the other young man, Andreas, walked 7 kilometers in the forest to find the truck. I do not mention all this stuff about the forest for the adventure, but because such incidents comprise a part of our everyday life. What I want to emphasize here is the temptations of Satan. In both the first and the second youth that I sent to the premises of a company to make a phone call (if there was a telephone), a column of fire («Tshiyeye») appeared 3 times to the first and 4 to the second in order to scare them and intimidate them. They prayed the rosary and continued walking trembling. Scared though they were, they took up prayer again.

It was past midnight when I reached the area of temptations. There was a nearby village where live magicians, who do terrible things!

Such incidents that last for three to four days need to be dealt with promptly. Besides these, there are other urgent matters, like the orphans, the flock of faithful, conducting worship services, our missionary journeys, damage and machinery repairs, all issues that cannot be postponed, therefore, it is only natural that we are exhausted. That’s why over exhaust has become a permanent situation in our everyday reality.

Thank you for the two million drachmas that you sent us, one for the poor and one for the boarding school.

With love in Christ,
Archim. Cosmas

Energizing the Mission

As a man of Overseas Mission, I have long wanted to write down a few thoughts of mine. It has been years since His Eminence Metropolitan of Kinshasa -with tears of anguish and pain accompanied by fervent prayer- started to knock on doors imploring assistance in a matter that is self-evident: the financial sustainability of the only Theological School that exists in Africa, in the city of Kinshasa. All this time his sole concern has been to keep it open, as this precious spiritual beehive, created in Central Congo by the grace of Christ, this unique spiritual center where young people are studying Orthodox Theology, is the future of the Black Continent and the pride of the Church.

The operating costs are unmanageable. Along with the region’s only Orthodox radio station, they exceed the amount of € 9,000 per month. Our anguish peaked when His Eminence Archbishop Nikiforos told us that the School and the station were on the verge of closure. Electric power in the area is available during the late evening and for only a few hours; as a result, the daily needs of the School can only be met with the help of oil generators, the use of which greatly increases the operational costs.

It is sad and at the same time humiliating for an Orthodox Mission after so many years of presence to be unable to maintain a Theological School whose teaching staff includes University Professors as well, and a radio station. We will end up as an example to be avoided and as the laughing stock of the other denominations. This is why, with the help of God, we have set a sacred goal : that of gathering our forces to get solar panels bought and built so that free electric power will be generated for the needs of our orthodox brothers.

In this project, which is of vital importance, we seek your support and make an earnest appeal to you for assistance.

Charalampos Metallidis
President of the Board

Incense Scent in the Heart of Africa

Where the sky smiles and the earth assents, there is a miracle unfolding in front of you, as Orthodoxy takes its first steady steps!

This time we are here in Southern Congo at the Holy Diocese of Katanga, whose see is in Kolwezi. Reaching this destination, you behold a small organized city: St. George’s Church, the episcopal office with the radio station, the hostels, the boarding school, the hall of events and seminars, the school building complex with Primary, Middle and High School, as well as warehouses, where the farm products of the Mission are stored.

His Eminence Meletios surrounded us with cordial hospitality throughout my stay along with Mrs. Angeliki Arnaouti, educator and secretary of the Orthodox Missionary Fraternity. Missionary Fr. Efthimios co-ordinated our program, attended to our needs, and at the same time oversaw all missionary work. Mrs. Theano, a formidable figure called «mother of the Mission», gave her tireless and cordial love daily, as she has been doing for 30 years now.

The Mission in Kolwezi began in 1972 from the late missionary Fr. Chrysostomos Papasarantopoulos, the spiritual founder of our Fraternity. In 1973 he was succeeded by Father Amphilochios Tsoukos, who called over John, later Father Cosmas of Gregoriou, who, with his sacrificial love and offer, consolidated the edifice of the Mission. Behind St. George’s Church is the grave of the late Fr. Cosmas, to whom we bow, paying tribute! He fell asleep in the Lord on January 27, 1989, after a road accident.

Since 1989 his work has been continued by His Eminence Meletios, who has been rapidly increasing and enriching the legacy he has received. What he is particularly vigilant about is the spiritual training of the locals in the Orthodox Faith, transferring the spirit of the Athonite tradition into the liturgical life and instilling into them the experience of inner truth. For this reason, there are monthly seminars for priests, catechists and chanters, which are organized every year.

Today, 160 parishes and over 60,000 Orthodox Christians are under the supervisory jurisdiction of the Holy Metropolis of Katanga. Another concern of the Mission is the consolidation of monasticism, which is the reason for the creation of the Holy Apostles Monastery a few years ago. All this time Abbot Barnabas has been making superhuman efforts for its proper operation. There is also a convent, that of Saint Nektarios, with 5 nuns and their Abbess, Mother Markella. The native nuns also serve at the administration of the Mission Hospital.

By running our daily schedule, we arrived at the wonderful hospital, whose operation is perfect and exemplary. There, I was given a comfortable practice room to conduct daily ophthalmological tests to the residents of Kolwezi.

Our account at the end of the trip was full of rich experiences. I feel deeply touched by these people, whose life is filled with devoutness, joy and gratitude, for the gates of the Orthodox Mission were opened to them, and they were offered the treasure of Truth.

Waiting in the queue for pumping clear water

And now on the way back, I am thinking of our little homeland, Greece, where there is a tree planted like the one that produces incense. For the incense to spurt from the tree trunk as a distillate, the tree has to be carved in many spots, exuding the product with the finest fragrance all over the world, from East to West and from North to South! The more they wound this «tree», the more intensely the fragrance of Greek Orthodox culture is offered as a sacrifice to the peoples of this world!

Katerina Alexandrou
Ophthalmologist – Board Member

Thoughts on Mission

Traveling to Africa for the first time, I came across an unprecedented landscape… An awesome scenery of rare beauty and uniqueness was unwinding in front of me, but at the same time unknown and dangerous, perhaps because of the many diseases that plague the black continent.

It seems that varied and intense feelings are generated in people involved in Mission. The thoughts that follow are a testimony of the soul. I had the impression that I was going to help in the Mission, but finally, when I saw children smiling and eyes glittered with joy, I realized that the one who was finally being helped was me.

Many people are looking for diamonds and rubies in the earth, ignoring the fact that offering joy and hope to our fellow human being is the most precious thing in the world. It is worth knowing to offer ourselves unconditionally, without limitations, barriers and borders.

The children are the future and the hope of the world, they are our children and have equal rights in life. We do not have the right to remain indifferent to their suffering and cry and overlook their anguish, especially when this becomes a struggle for survival. All together we can work the miracle and change their everyday life. It is our duty, our obligation…

When I first beheld all this huge work, I felt it was immeasurable. Then I drew courage from a story that I was told by His Grace Father Agathonikos:

A little girl was on a beach trying to save all the starfish that had been washed ashore and eagerly threw them back into the water one by one to help them live. But there were millions of starfish out of the water. At some point, her grandfather approached her and told her that it was impossible to save all the starfish. Then she looked at the palm of her hand where she was holding a starfish and said, looking into her grandfather’s eyes: “But at least, I can save the one that I am holding”, and she gently tossed it back into the sea to live.

If all of us care about the «starfish» that fall on our way, then our world may slowly change … What Mission really needs most, though, is not the money as such, but human hearts with courage, a deep sense of honor, duty and self-sacrifice.

Let us turn our thoughts to the Crucified Jesus, whose sacrifice did not concern a single nation or a group of people but was addressed to the entire world, regardless of color and language. Besides, the commandment of the Lord is clear: «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”.

Archimandrite Porphyrios
Chancellor of the H. M. of Arusha

Where God Really Wanted…

Wherever one serves the Lord and the Church, it is there that he finds joy and rest. This is the law and the criterion. The distinguishing feature which makes the man truly attracted and renders him unable to resist this inconsolable power, this mystical calling which will not hesitate to ask for even the ultimate sacrifice. What our Lord in John’s Gospel mentions as the highest of all sacrifices: «Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”, (John 15:13). Therefore, it is until there that one has to walk…

Yes, even as far as there, in these dark paths of death, which, though, hide in them the Light and Peace of Christ. When one looks at the Crucified Christ, behind the real pain of our Lord, behind His full of blood face and His firmly shut eyelids, His bloodstained Most Holy Body, one can distinguish three things: the first is obvious and, of course, it is nothing else but the ultimate sacrifice on the Cross. The second is immediately visible after the first one, and it is the form of His Most Holy Body which, though nailed to the Holy Tree, with modesty and humility takes His last breath on earth, His arms open, ready to embrace man, His child, who at that moment becomes His enemy and puts Him up on the wood of the Cross, which until then was considered utterly dishonorable. This is how our Lord delivers His spirit. This is the reason why the Wood which takes His form is consecrated, and now becomes the overwhelming and noble trophy against the devil. Finally, behind all this, if one wants to look carefully, one will distinguish two great things: Peace and Rest. «This is the day of rest». Indeed, there is no other greater donation, other expectation, other ending than the rest which the fine iconographer depicts on the face of Crucified Jesus.

These three things, sacrifice love and rest of the soul, are the ultimate criteria for the choices we make in our life. Where one finds them, one should never let go of them but should keep them as something truly valuable, which will shine in front of them and help them go through the difficult times in life.

Ankilibe. Our few personal belongings have been loaded into the pirogue. I help our two guides, faithful lads of our coastal parish, to drop it into the water of the Indian Ocean. Golden blue sea! The wind, tired of blowing for so long, weak as well as aged but not forgotten companion of the South, comes and kisses the sail of the pirogue that we have already raised, and with as much strength has been left in it, blows it to the opposite shore. The burnt by the sun and the salt bodies of our two faithful guides, figures I had forgotten, are now passing again before my eyes, fighting with the sea, and driving the pirogue with the paddles where God really wanted …to the opposite shore.

Soalary. The opposite shore of the Bay of Toliara. It is late in the evening now, and all of us tired, disembark at the shore. We leave the pirogue on the beach and keep on walking. Anxiety reaches its highest point. We go through the village market. People can hardly remember you. Your feet are sinking in the sand, and now you are standing outside the hut of one of the catechumens. The voice comes out easily but your guts are burning inside of you as your anxiety is growing. «Where are you! I am the priest. «The father’s figure bashfully appears in the dark. He approaches me and greets me. He does not seem to have realized what is going on around him. He comes closer and embraces me. His arms tighten up around me. «Father, we did not expect to see you again.» We stayed up until late at night and we were talking. He was a father to seven children, one of whom, a little boy, had a hernia. Before I left, I had given him some money to have the child operated but I had also told him to pray for his child because God could heal it. The father, a simple-hearted man, said that during my absence, he had not forgotten my words and that his child had been cured without being operated. Simple, pure hearts, hearts that we, the people of the modern world, have denied and forgotten. People with simple faith; poor creatures that struggle really hard to support their children and family. However, it is these people who see the miracle. We have ceased to see the wonders of life. The miracle of God.

Now in the poor but so beautifully and warmly prepared hut, I can hear the sound of the waves of the Indian Ocean. The images seem to be rolling like a movie inside of you. The serene song of the sea. The children’s laughs. The catechetical sessions in the makeshift grass huts that are used as temporary churches. The sacred services underneath the «kili»trees, the traditional trees of the south. The people’s complaints. The poor mother who is trying to breastfeed her little toddler from her withered breasts and asks for a little money to buy rice, some medicine. The songs of our youth, our festivals, the confessions under the sun, the baptisms, the diseases, the dangers, the hands of the robber, our dead children, the tears, the pain, a whole life!

The sun is already rising and the bodies, dark figures, like the spirits of the people who you loved and who followed you to the distant land of ordeal, now come to life beside you, and you see them again struggle along with you so that you can reach where God really wanted!

Fr. Polycarpos of Hagia Anna