When one is orphaned, poor or widowed, it seems that an endless darkness and despair is waiting for them, to such an extent that many of us would feel with certainty that Christ has left us. For this reason, the Orthodox Church chose to preach the Gospel with deeds to this marginalized group of our society.
In the two years since the establishment of our Diocese, we have started a scholarship program to help poor children study. We have also opened the St. Tabitha Orphanage and School, which houses 30 children. We feed and educate them, but we need books and money for the teachers’ salaries. The good news is that we are now building them a permanent home, which is due to be completed by December. We have also opened the St. Basil Orphanage in Kissimmee, where we recently baptized 60 people, among whom 16 orphans.
Moreover, we have got several feeding programs, while our priests are touring the various regions to teach the Word of God to our faithful. Our bishopric building and our little church have been completed, and we currently have to provide water to the poor families, to the St. Tabitha Orphanage as well as to the inland villages. We would like to thank you wholeheartedly for helping us make a substantial difference for the vulnerable of life. Remember us in your prayers.
It is an undoubted fact that by the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos, many of God’s countless blessings derive from the Divine Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy, this sacred service which helps the whole universe, which is the most powerful prayer that exists, which unites Heaven with Earth.
We praise Almighty God for in the third world country of Malawi where we serve, with the blessings of our Bishop and our Patriarch, the 25 priests of our Mission have truly loved the Divine Liturgy and perform it quite often. As a result, along with the frequent group baptisms that are conducted , little by little, Orthodoxy is spreading across the country.
Of course, this spread of faith is not easy or unimpeded; on the contrary, it encounters plenty of problems and goes through trials and tribulations, but in the end with God’s intervention, everything is resolved as the wicked devil is not allowed to tease more. Therefore, I could say that what we live is a continuous miracle, thanks to God’s infinite love, but also thanks to your prayers.
We have realized, however, that frequent Divine Liturgies are very helpful in whatever we do. The more often we perform or attend one, the more blessings and benefits we will be granted.
After the Divine Liturgy, comes the Paraklesis Service (Supplicatory Canon) to the Most Holy Theotokos, which we have found greatly beneficial. In the Orthodox Church Mission in Malawi it is conducted daily after the Vespers; in fact, it has been translated into chichewa, which is the local dialect. Our Lady often shows us how much she is delighted with it through facts. When, for example, problems are solved, when we feel her protection and affection so close to us, when she stops the temptation that comes on furiously and wants to break everything apart, we understand that our intercessions and supplications work. And with even more zeal and enthusiasm, all our priests in every corner of Malawi, sing the Paraklesis to the Theotokos with deep faith and love. And if we have Our Lady near us, what could possibly scare us?
How important it is to read an intercessory prayer every day can also be understood by this: Once, a saintly man said that St. John the Baptist presented himself to him holding a book with the service of Paraklesis to the Theotokos and showed it to him saying: “Here’s the book you should use. Read the intercessory prayers, especially if you have problems, and they will be solved.”
On the one hand, my dear brothers and sisters, the daily Divine Liturgy, on the other, the afternoon Paraklesis Services, this is how problems can be solved and how God’s blessing can come to us…
And this can certainly happen not only within Mission, but also in each one of us individually. My beloved brothers, this is the only solution to the deadlocks of our homeland Greece, which are varied -moral, social, spiritual, financial. With prayer and repentance, in a very short period of time the situation can change and we will be able to move from Crucifixion, which we are going through now, to the Resurrection. We will see our people resurrected, able to help other peoples and disseminate Orthodoxy to the four corners of the earth.
But there is something else that we need to be careful about. Especially nowadays that there is a tendency to alter and distort our holy faith and mix it up with other doctrines, we must be on the alert, both clergy and lay people We need to keep our holy Orthodoxy genuine, unaltered, untouchable, and we should not engage in any activity associated with heretical doctrines. On the one hand, we love all humanity, but on the other, we do not want any relation with any other faith they have. As Saint Cosmas of Aetolia said, all religions are fake and false, only one is the true, genuine Church, the Holy Orthodoxy.
Here in Malawi we go by these principles: praying and guarding Our Faith. Keeping them has made us worthy to see great blessings, since we have no virtues such as those of the saints, yet, the Most Merciful God is very touched by those who guard our Faith firmly and with fervent spirit and those who regard prayer as their prime and foremost concern.
The same spirit, as I said before, characterizes all of our priests in Malawi. Besides, every 2 months, there are 5-day theological seminars held all over the country, and these 5 days, we say and do a lot of useful things. A worth mentioning example is that of Fr. George from the parish of Sts. Athanasius and Cyril in Zomba, Malawi. He is a native priest with plenty of pure, selfless love inside him. In a very short time his congregation has grown large enough to fill the church, and there are still new people coming to embrace Orthodoxy.
In a group baptism that was taking place in his church, during the Holy Mystery, a disabled woman threw away the crutches and immediately became well. Another miraculous event is the following. Every night, between 12 and 2 o’clock am, the time when Fr. George rises in order to pray, that is, make prostrations, read the Lord’s prayer and do his penance, his neighbor, who woke up every night at that time to go to his work as a night-watchman, saw heavenly light bathing the priest’s house while he was doing his penance. Our poor finances made us leave his house without a power supply, so it was clear where that celestial light was coming from. This man asked to be baptized, realizing where the truth is.
These are only few of the little miracles we are living in the Mission here in Malawi. We are deeply grateful to our Sweet Jesus and to Our Lady, for though we have no virtues, they are constantly close to us, they are covering us protectively, they act and intervene miraculously and assist and guide us all the time. When, for example, we run out of money, something comes at the last minute, and it is just as much as we need to keep the Mission moving. His Providence does not abandon us. That’s why I said from the beginning that we are living a permanent miracle.
The hearts of all our neophytes are overflowing with gratitude, thanksgiving and praise, to Almighty God. How could one not be grateful and not appreciate or understand His infinite donations … and that is true for all of us.
Saint Paisios said, «We should live in a climate of continuous praise and thanksgiving to God».
Therefore, praise, thanksgiving and gratitude for everything! Amen.
Without doubt, the preaching of «the gospel of the kingdom of God» (Mark 1:14) is the quintessence and reason for the existence of the missionary activity of the Church of Christ in the nations. It is the axis around which all the individual actions and initiatives of the mission must revolve and develop, so that they can be understood and evaluated as tools alone – and not as an end in themselves, which contribute to and facilitate the encounter of peoples with the redemptive message of the Gospel.
If our Lord Jesus Christ and His disciples and apostles functioned and ministered primarily and principally as preachers of the «Gospel of God,» and enclosed every meaning in the phrase, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15), then, necessarily and over time, this should be the meaning and the starting point of the ministry of every contemporary missionary apostle within the Church.
The Apostles were called « to become fishers of men” (Mark 1: 17), and we see them preserve and defend this self-consciousness to the end. Besides, this was the reason for the election of the seven deacons, so that the twelve apostles would not be forced to «leave the word of God, and serve tables» (Acts 6: 2), but rather give themselves continually “to prayer, and to the ministry of the word” unhindered (Acts 6:4).
This is the most sacred and at the same time the most difficult task, which the Lord did not entrust to all but only to those who fulfilled the requirements for this ministry, and had the dedication, the experience of the Holy Spirit and the call for preaching the word of God.
The need for complementarity and variety of spiritual gifts within the Church made St. Paul the Apostle use the image of the human body so as to explain to his brothers that everyone has a place and role in the Church ministry and their help can be conducive to the fulfillment of her mission as long as they realize that they should function within the framework of their own personal inclination and call. «And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles…Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? (A’Cor.12: 28-30). And he continues, «But covet earnestly the best gifts…» (A’Cor.12:31), in order to demonstrate later that every gift within the Church becomes important and necessary only if and when it is used “in love”.
Therefore, the inspiration and guidance of our Lord’s contemporary missionary apostles should be drawn from the aforementioned fundamental principles, which He Himself set as commandments in His New Testament.
But let us now come to the African reality in order to trace the challenges and the problems there. Our call and mission is to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God in His Son and the salvation and redemption of man through the plan of His Divine Providence. To every human being that God will send near us, in the villages and cities, in the fields, in the streets, in the wilderness. To impart the ecclesiastical experience of centuries and help so that it becomes understood and experienced as the only safe and sure path to salvation.
In Africa, since the problem of people’s daily survival is dramatically and desperately pressing and there is no end to it, the challenge is painful. The need leads to the ministry of the tables (in the broader sense), thus the daily dual struggle between the need and the divine service of preaching divides the missionary apostle and penetrates his heart like a double-edged sword.
He knows well what exactly the human beings he has before him are most in need of, but they themselves don’t! As expected, they only ask for the worldly, the material things that will help them meet pressing immediate needs. He was called to fill them up with the spiritual, the eternal. How can he achieve that without the support and help of deacons of complementary gifts? That’s his drama.
Many times the immaturity of the people and the inadequacy of the gifts make the most sacred and hard work, the testimony “on the word of life” (John,1: 1), come last, or inevitably end up in the hands of people who may be good but who are inexperienced both ecclesiastically and spiritually!
Here, on our mission field, as we have already written in previous updates and reports, little children who are usually orphaned and unprotected tend to have a particularly high level of emotional sensitivity which is reflected in their mentality and behavior.
Our Orthodox Church, once she decided to deal with Mission Overseas, set as her priority, among other objectives, these small, innocent creatures. These abandoned children found shelter in the bosom of our Church. She picked them up from the streets and explained to them that they were like the other kids. Although alone and unprotected, they would now have a place where they would feel safe and could share their joys and sorrows with other children of their age. Our Orthodox Church here in Kenya offered them the care and affection they so much needed.
So we gave priority and opened our premises, where we could give these innocent beings hope and make them smile again. We have even shared with them our own lives, since they spend more time with us than with their relatives or even their parents – if they exist.
The place is relatively quiet. We are surrounded by small houses mostly populated by poor people caring about their household, their daily routine and their family. So there is no noise or annoyance from all those people who surround us. I realize that every day, since at 4 am I am already in my office to deal with the various urgent affairs of our church, our schools and everything else related to the service of our priests and our flock.
Suddenly, while there is still darkness and tranquility, the scenery changes. From very early in the morning, these children arrive at the nearby kindergarten and the elementary school, which is right next to my office. Upon arrival, these little kids start to run, play, shout, jump, and rejoice. When dawn breaks, with the first rays of the sun, they are here to spend the rest of the day. They run and shout joyfully. Perhaps this is their only joy, since wherever they come from, there is no such possibility. Within the beautiful nature which surrounds the whole place, one can hear children’s cheerful voices while playing, jumping and hoping, creating their own “kingdom” this way. A mythical kingdom, it is true, without any other option. But it is no small thing, since they know that they will spend eight whole years of their life in it and they will have the chance to live like other children…
What these little children have on our Mission premises is not at all small or insignificant since it is part of the best period of their lives. They will meet with so many other children their age; they will make friendships that can last a lifetime. Their staying here will help them make dreams and envision a better future. It is this loving atmosphere that keeps them alive. So every morning in the early dawn light their happy voices can be heard all around. It is the same happy voices that are heard when dusk nears as well, as they are leaving for their homes.
God couldn’t have granted to us a greater gift than this! Last week we performed the first baptism of an infant whose parents were both here at this kindergarten and elementary school. The presence of the young parents awakened memories of the past, when they and their classmates shouted joyfully, ran and jumped around happily, filling nature with life and beauty.
Therefore, it is the daily sound of these voices, the voices of small, innocent children, which gives us strength to hold on to our holy mission here and keeps us vigilant. It is these voices that make us rejoice and give praise to God for providing us with spiritual as well as material food at this stage of our life. Otherwise, who knows where we would be living now and what our life would be like without these children’s voices and play? It is such voices that give life to man.
Thirteen kilometers was the distance the children of Nkanka had to walk every morning under the hot sun or in heavy rain in order to reach the nearest school and receive education. They walked for hours and hours out of their longing for education, without minding fatigue, as long as they could have access to schooling. What about the children who could not walk, or whose parents could not afford to pay the school fees? Well, in the Congo, there is no such gift as free education, as in Greece. Students have to pay in order to be educated; otherwise they remain illiterate in their mud huts in the forest and spend their time helping their parents cultivate a little orchard or taking down bananas or other forest fruit from the trees. One could easily see the complaint in their eyes, in their expression. «We’ll remain illiterate, while our friends and other children whose parents have money to pay for schooling may walk miles and miles every day, but at least they go to school, they receive education. As for us, alas, we will never be given the chance to learn to read and write; we will remain illiterate.»
Their tearful eyes did not escape the notice of His Eminence Ignatius, Metropolitan of Central Africa at the time, who built the St. Nectarios School next to the Candlemas Church at the edge of the Nnanka village.
However, it was not possible to run the school and afford its maintenance and operation without funding. The parents, poor people themselves, were not able to afford tuition fees. The building was made, but there was no money for its running costs. How could the teachers, the staff, the operational costs be paid? By no chance could the Metropolis respond to so costly a project. The economic crisis in Greece had a devastating impact on church missions as well. Donations have fallen short of our expectations. Our anxiety is increasing; how will this school work?
Then a Greek man from Kinshasa, Congo, along with his son undertook the burden of its operation. Every month they paid the teachers and covered the running costs. In the first year we had 100 children enrolling in the first grade. Some of them, even if they were 15-16 year- olds who had never been to school before, rushed to enroll. The forest children were given the chance to receive free education. They would not have to walk for miles and miles anymore. The number of students was growing, the school was functioning properly, and eventually we had the first graduates from Primary School. The children wanted to further their education, so last year we had the first Middle School classes operating as well.
The children did not have to walk long distances every day. The smile on the faces of the children, particularly those who could not go to school before, flashed. Cheerful voices were heard now, for now they had a school.
A Greek man from Kinshasa with his son helped so many trapped in poverty children study, and made them smile again. These two people gave the poor forest children, the children of Nkanka, the chance to have access to free schooling. These are the Greeks of Kinshasa, the Greeks of the Congo, always by the Church, supporters of the Mission, who love, embrace and sympathize with their indigenous brothers and sisters.
However, one day this great benefactor passed away. Since then, his son has made great efforts and sacrifices to keep the school open by paying its running costs, something extremely difficult since the financial crisis has struck the Congo as well and is on the increase. Naturally, it is becoming more and more difficult for the school operation to be continued without everyone’s support. Every month € 850 must be gathered for salary payment to the teachers and the rest of the staff as well as for the operating costs. The St. Nektarios School, the one next to the forest, the Nkanka school, where the poor indigenous children are given the chance to study and hope for a better future.
Which warm-hearted philanthropist will help these poor underprivileged children to continue going to school every morning and dare dream of a better life? Who will help us save our school from closure?
As you know from earlier articles, Central America is experiencing a miracle in progress. Our mind effortlessly runs to the Mayan tribe of Guatemala, which we mentioned in our previous article, to Venezuela, which lives in a state of despair, fear and terror, and of course, to Colombia and to Father Juan Paul, who, by the grace of the Triune God, is doing a great pastoral and social work.
In particular, the town of Copacabana is delighted with his work. Fr. Juan Paul is a married and unpaid priest who serves at the Church of the Archangels and is the spiritual father to the 600 orthodox families in the town of Copacabana. It is really amazing to see the faithful Colombians gathering in the poor rented space of the Church of the Archangels, where only the sanctuary is built, while the rest of the church consists of a simple covering instead of a roof. This poor Church, which struggles to meet its monthly rent, every Sunday becomes the most beautiful palace where the grace of God radiates within the Colombian faithful who confess our Lord Jesus Christ as Savior by praying with tears, not due to the countless difficulties of life, but out of love for the Church of Christ, to which they were called to become members and be glorified in its Sacred Mysteries.
A competent worker of God, Fr. Juan Paul, found receptive hearts and filled them with Christ. But his work does not stop there. In searching for ways to generate revenues in order to meet the parish needs, such as the rent, catechetical needs, and support for the financially weak, Fr. Juan Paul managed to create a recycling spot. This has resulted in the partial coverage of the parish needs, but it also has other beneficial effects.
The recycling machine recycles the waste of Copacabana. It is unambiguous that a lot of hands are required for garbage collection. Fr. Juan Paul did something very humane: he hired young people who are in a drug detoxification process. This way, these young people have not only managed to earn a living, but, most importantly, they have won their meeting with Christ, and along with that, their quick rehabilitation. In fact, this social work continues with the 120 single-parent families that we support spiritually and financially. And especially when this work is done by an unpaid, married cancer-stricken priest, who despite the chemotherapy he is constantly undergoing, strives hard for his flock.
Leaving Copacabana and going to the city of Yarumal, again under Fr. Juan Paul’s pastoral jurisdiction, we find another 170 Orthodox families. Things are difficult there, too, because the praise of the Triune God is conducted in a rented space. The difficulties in Colombia may be a lot but the blessing of God is even greater with new souls constantly coming to His Holy Church.
We are deeply concerned about our Orthodox brothers and sisters from Colombia, and seeing them without a church of their own fills our heart with pain and sorrow. All of them live with this dream. This is why we humbly appeal to your generous hearts for assistance so that we can manage to raise the amount of 50,000 euro required to buy a plot of land where a church for our Orthodox Colombian brothers and sisters will be built.
Ending today’s spiritual journey, we deeply thank the few donors for the support and sensitivity they show to the work of our Metropolis, but we would also like to thank in advance those who want to become supporters of our work now and with the sensitivity of their heart will give their contribution out of the little they have to help our Colombian brothers in Christ see their dream come true.
In closing, we could not possibly fail to thank the Orthodox Missionary Fraternity, this charitable society which you can get in contact with if you want to become co-workers in the Vineyard of the Lord for spreading Orthodoxy in Central America.
With God’s help we are keeping well. I received the amount of € 7,000, which you sent for our hospital. I am deeply grateful to all of you for your love, especially to Fr. Nikolaos Marketos. May God reward you with His abundant blessings. I also received the chalice and the holy icons for Fr. Chariton Zenga. Next week I am planning to go down to Nias Island and give these ecclesiastical items to him in person.
July the 16th was the beginning of the school year in Indonesia. On the first day I went to Sumbul village, where our “St. John the Baptist” School is situated, and taught them excerpts from the Holy Bible. The problem is that the children have no Bible of their own, which is the reason why we appeal to your kind heart and ask you to fund the purchase of 53 New Testament copies, whose estimated cost is € 15 each.
Moreover, I received the amount of € 2,000 which you sent for the labor and delivery of Fr. Savvas’ deaconess. Fortunately, the woman gave birth to a healthy boy in the middle of July. Glory be to God! In September, they are expected to return to Timor. However, I cannot possibly afford to pay for their tickets or their rent, neither can I buy them any simple furniture or the basic housewares and new home essentials, therefore, once again I appeal to your philanthropic love for our brothers. Fr. Savvas will be the first Orthodox priest permanently serving parishes in the land of East Timor.
By the Grace of God, His Eminence Metropolitan Demetrius of Irinoupolis laid the foundation stone of another church, that of the Holy Trinity and St. Irene in the city of Mvoumi, Eastern Tanzania.
Despite the fact that God blessed these 14 years of missionary work in Central and Eastern Tanzania so that until now 32 church buildings have been erected, the existing needs are still big due to the growing and rich in blessing and fruition Mission, and as a result, more than 18 parish churches are being housed in straw huts.
Since early Monday morning, a large number of people had begun to arrive. Among them, there were indigenous priests, readers, faithful, catechumens, a lot of students from the surrounding areas as well as Presidents, Mayors and School Chiefs, who had all gathered in order to attend the ceremony of laying the foundation stone of the third Orthodox church building in Morogoro region, the heart of Islam in Eastern Africa!
Following the service of consecration, His Eminence, speaking in Swahili, praised the efforts of the Ancient Patriarchate of Alexandria in every corner of the African continent for peace, progress, education, health, prosperity and harmonious coexistence, that is, all the values that His Beatitude Patriarch Theodoros II of Alexandria has been trying to put into practice in the land of Africa.
By grace of God, our Diocese held the general convention of Orthodox Ghanaian youth for the second time, with a turnout of 350 young people in Saint Peter Technical School in Larte, Accra, and with the help and participation of the Orthodox Christian Mission Center.
Our Orthodox Mission believes that whoever invests in youth, they belong in the future and the future belongs to them and we, the Orthodox people, want to be active in the future, in order to shape it and instill in it our Orthodox Christian values. This is our responsibility and duty and we must not wrong ourselves and our Church.
The African youth craves for learning the faith and experiencing real prayer and relation with God. This is easily shown by the high attendance at this convention, that included all daily services, catechetical lessons, bible studies and lot of play in the spacious and hospitable venues of Saint Peter Technical School in Larte.
This is also a means to give life to this school and get it back up and running, since it has ceased operations due to the financial crisis. With your precious help and support, we believe that we will be empowered to carry on this work, so that joy and smile will bloom in the faces of these angelic souls.
† Narkissos of Accra