By the Grace of God our Missionary work here in Madagascar is being continued despite the innumerable difficulties and hardships that we have to face daily.
It is true that the situation due to the economic crisis has now become really tough and our struggle here is given under very difficult conditions. Nevertheless, we never lose hope.
The orphanage in the capital city of Antananarivo has now been completed. It is going to house more than two hundred orphans. However, the costs for feeding, health care and education are expected to be very high. If we do not support the project, the suspension of the operation of the orphanage will inevitably continue. Nevertheless, it is still one of the largest orphanages in the country, and even state bodies are anxiously awaiting the implementation of the promises of our Orthodox Church toward our poor people knowing that our disposition towards the people we minister to is honest and selfless, unlike other denominations and confessions.
The sensitivity that we show to the children of the country and particularly to the orphaned ones is by no means a result of uncritical thinking or unclear judgment.
The children here and especially in the province die every day of diseases that are usually directly related to undernourishment or malnutrition, that is, lack of food or poor diet as well as lack of proper clothing and medical care.
In Tulear province we have recently baptized children mutilated in a car accident who do not have any support whatsoever. These children are too small to be aware of traffic dangers, so during a game they can carelessly go onto the road. Sometimes a passing car after hitting them leaves them either disabled or mutilated and sometimes even dead.
In this article we present photographs of some of these children who were recently begging us to do anything to just relieve their misery. In one of the photos you will see a child literally moving on all fours using his hands as feet and wearing slippers on them instead of the feet. As I was leaving for Greece, he was begging me to bring him a wheelchair as soon as possible.
In the Missionary Center of Tulear we have three brothers blinded by a hereditary disease. We help them as much as we can. All three are students at a school for blind children. On my return from Greece, they are expecting me to help them with their fees and bring them schoolbags and notebooks from Greece.
Daily we are approached by parents and children who are seeking help. Weary and embittered fathers or mothers with one of their children in their arms burning from malaria or typhoid fever, or because the virus has penetrated into their organism through a minor injury and has created a fistula due to lack of antiseptic or antibiotic. Many times at the clinic in Tulear I have seen children being saved from certain death. Their parents, destitute in their vast majority (about 90%), come and implore us to help them…
Seeing these images daily, I can’t help thinking of the anguish, pain and endurance of these parents; these people who walk kilometers carrying the sick child in their arms; who get drained out in the sun and the heat trying to save their little sprout from the jaws of death. So these hands and the prayers of these people when they leave us are the precious jewel we have closely guarded in our heart here in the Mission.
They tell us when leaving and embracing us:”Nowhere else have we been given any help. Everybody demanded our money and would not say a word about treatment. You not only did not ask for money, but you also shared our pain and grief and cried with us. Above all, you saved our child.”
“May you always be a seed of God’s blessing.”
Could anyone ever expect to hear such beautiful wishes oftentimes coming out of mouths of non-believers?
These people may not be faithful, but they are filled with love, hope and sometimes not too late with the spirit of God too.
At the foot of Mount Athos, in the morning silence, you can hear the first prayer: «Glory to God in the Highest». The songbird tweets accompany the tremulous voice of the Elder and are gradually getting louder and louder along with the first sunrays that are softly and shyly caressing the northern ridge of Athos, as if they wanted to wake him up as gently as possible, as noiselessly as they can, this «elder» and his children; because they want that even in their sleep this heavenly rather than earthly companionship earns the eternal profit of the heavenly remunerations from the ceaseless and perpetual prayer «Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me». In the Elder’s hands, in the hands of the fathers or, actually, of the angels, through the timeworn prayer rope amidst tears and sighs.
…Down in the waves of the Indian Ocean, in the coral blue sea of Soalary, in Ankilibe, in Beravy, Madio Rano and even farther in Androka, Mahatsandry, and wherever your eye can reach, in this secluded but never forgotten and always in our heart South, the first Vezo fishermen have already put their pirogue into the blue Indian waters, and are sending the first prayer with their hands and faces turned up to the sky. Their eyes tear up seeing the scarlet sun rise over the horizon, and their lips reiterate: « For our children, O Lord, ». Immediately that morning breeze blows, the whiff of Peace, or as one would say, the breath of God, Who, as a caring Father, willing to do His children’s favor without scaring them, sends this first morning blessing. «O Lord, help me this day». He prays with the wooden paddle in hand. The father prays with his face burnt by the sun and the saltness. His hands clench the paddle, the «agandi» shut, the axe. Our fathers’ hands, their frazzled and soiled hands, worn out by pain and toil, sweat and moaning.
… Now the eyes cannot get enough of the wonderful landscape. Saint Anna’s Skete is a natural amphitheater. Our skete. Fully green with the marvelous historical huts of the most well renowned Brotherhoods, who have marked out the asceticism of the last four centuries, and have presented a multitude of known and unknown, old and contemporary saints. Each hut situated in this natural amphitheater, with the Kyriakon of Saint Anna to hold a prominent, leading and outstanding position, now tries to hear the sounds of the sea and of the mountain, as well as the sound of the fathers’ daily prayers. Huts that are spectators, witnesses to an endless performance, a performance that serves as a testimony and martyrdom. Witnesses to the only Truth that cannot be denied by the modern errant deceivers, who ramble in the streets and on television, trying in vain to throw mud at the truth and hide the gold that is carefully kept here.
…After an all –day- long course, sermons, a vespers service under the umbrageous kili tree of the village, I am now sitting with some of our faithful of this new parish. Several of them are already baptized. Some others are still waiting for their catechism, and God willing, they are going to be the ones who will enter the bath of regeneration the next time. Now I can see and hear them, even though the dusk does not let me discern their faces. This is truly the most beautiful time, though. Only the silhouettes of people can be discerned, but their voices, voices of the souls, can be heard so clearly. Honestly, there is no time more beautiful than this moment in the late evening, when after the tiredness of the day you listen to your brothers, their voices coming as if from eternity, as if you have known them for years, as if something supernatural connects you with them. «Thank you, Father. You really are our brother and father. You are no more a stranger to us. You are what we are. Come back again the soonest possible». Here there is no more room for dispute. Here it is the hearts that testify. The trees, the squares, the children, the elderly, the mothers. Everything lightens up miraculously and within the faith in the Holy Spirit. The African land, the land of Madagascar, is a spectator and witness.
…I am now climbing up the slope of Athos. My legs are trembling. For I know that I step on these same stones where our holy fathers have walked, cried, sweated for the salvation of their souls. And I want to kneel and kiss these inanimate souls, each of which is a relic and a heirloom.
…My feet are now sinking into mud and the river water will soon have reached my waist. We are heading for Antsarogaza. I need to oversee the church being built there, talk with our people in this parish, strengthen their faith, comfort them in their pain and illness. But the wayfaring fatigue, the water permeating and soaking my cassock and the waist pain make our walking difficult. But my heart is fluttering. For in a while I will see my brethren. You can now hear this water say «every step of yours here is a testimony, every pain of yours I write down and I will tote it in every village I go through. I will cool every drop of sweat for my people and I will heal the wounds of thorns and rocks on your legs».
…I am now venerating the icon of our Saint Anna reverently and tearfully. Kneeling down before the Mother of the Mother of Life, our Grandmother, I pray.
…«These gifts from Your own gifts». In a liturgy at a makeshift church, I kneel down and the wooden hut is showered with life. «We praise You, we bless You, we give thanks to You, and we pray to You, Lord our God.» From the mouths of our newly illumined brothers in their first liturgy. And you pray.
Before the altar table of the Kyriakon, now in the liturgy, «we offer to You this spiritual worship without the shedding of blood»
On the makeshift altar table under the tree, on the land of Madagascar, «once again we offer to You this spiritual worship without the shedding of blood»…
And we ask, pray, and entreat You: send down Your Holy Spirit upon us…
This is the miracle of our Faith. Two different worlds. Two worlds so far from each other, but at the same time united under the protection of God’s love. They daily confess and bear witness to the miracle of our living Faith. Here in Athos. Here in the Mission.
I arrived overnight in my beloved city of Sakaraha in Tulear. I came, although yesterday the fever and the exhaustion of the last two months due to a persistent illness did not leave room for such decisions. I spent two months confined at home, asking God to make me worthy to spend Christmas close to the people I love. Yesterday I was in conflict: on the one hand, I was struggling with the thought of going out of the house as there was a risk of a sudden deterioration of my health, and on the other, my heart was filled with sadness and pain for our people.
Holy Christmas 2016!
I am sitting under two mango trees, which are used as a roof to protect us from the morning dew, with our new parishioners; under the blessed sky, which now plays the role of a dome, so that the Omniscient God can lean on in order to observe and listen to his children’s prayers.
Christ is born, glorify!
The antimension is laid over the table. This table was specifically made in order to replace the altar and bear on its perishable wooden legs the Imperishable and Eternal God, who today will give His light to the city of Sakaraha and preach through our quiet supplication in the Peace of the Matins service the great event of the Nativity of Christ.
Christ is born.
How different really is this natural, divine Peace from the fake and false “peace” of this world! And yet, it is felt and experienced under our humble trees. Under the trees of our land today…
The Heaven opens and Christ is born! In this beautiful and so well blended harmony of the natural and human worldly element with the divine and heavenly. This uniqueness is something that no other doctrine can offer or see. No other doctrine manages to see the glory of God within the peace of the material world or, conversely, the peace of the material world in the glory of God. This is so, simply because nowhere else can the Peace of God be felt and experienced except through our Orthodoxy.
The people attending this Divine Liturgy are the same who until yesterday were against our purchasing this land and had been trying to stop the procedure for at least one month; now they are praying along with us. I do not want to mention the causes of this behavior but what I do know is that now they are catechumens, they call the writer of this article “our priest” , while the church that we hope will be built in this beautiful place, they like to call it “our church.”
Indeed, I hope that close to these wonderful mango trees a beautiful church will soon be erected. .. The Sacred Church of the Lord’s Ascension, a generous offer of love made by an anonymous donor through the Orthodox Missionary Fraternity.
At this time that I am writing the construction work is about to begin in a few days. And the dream comes true, always by the Grace and with the help of our Most Merciful God.
When the construction work of our church has finished, I hope and pray for it to be filled with human souls that will see Thy glory, O Christ, in the glory of Thy Church.
However, never will they forget the presence of these magnificent mango trees, which I also hope they will stay upright along with the church.
And when aged and with teary eyes I gaze upon our first church here with you, my brothers of this land, it is with pride I will also gaze at these superb mango trees – the first real church in our city Sakaraha. I will always remember the first divine liturgies with you under the Creator’s firmament of heaven and soliloquize that wonderful quote from the Gospel: “Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet, Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool”.
We give glory to God for all the blessings He gives us here in the Mission field, for what He allows and what He economizes. We also thank all of you who work behind the scenes so that we can evangelize those near and afar for the glory of God and His Church and the salvation of men. It is With great joy I announce to you that the two churches you funded, the Holy Archangels and the Transfiguration of the Savior, have been completed and now we are fitting out the interior equipment. They are already in operation but there are still many things missing.
In this part of the year, a considerable obstacle is the torrential rain flooding the roads, which results in the locomotion being very difficult, if possible at all. Last month, I visited a church in northern Madagascar to oversee the works; during the return journey an area of 400-500 acres was flooded and became inaccessible. The roads were totally and completely covered by flood water, which, like a boundless sea, rolled down rushingly drifting downstream everything in its path. Transport was stopped and, since the road was severed at several points, hundreds of cars were immobilized and the bus passengers were watching the phenomenon astonished.
At some point, I decided to move and cross the road in the jeep, but I risked being carried away by the water stream when a sea of water fell upon the car and the cabin got flooded. Rapidly and fearfully I returned back praising God, who saved us from certain death. We stayed on the road for three days until the rain had stopped and the water level had dropped from 1.20 meters that it had reached in some places to 30-40 cm, so that we could pass through the dangerous crossings.
In the Mission, one can meet unexpected situations. It’s a world both familiar and unknown that hides a lot of things. Adventures are something usual in the missionary course. God’s power and the love for the dissemination of His word make us defy several difficulties interposed in our missionary way. Conditions and appearances can be more or less disappointing. But the gospel that we read gives us strength and drives out every thought of despair, since we contemplate what sufferings both our Lord and the Apostles and other saints endured for humanity and the fellow man. We are deeply moved by people’s thirst for Orthodoxy and their love for the Church.
They walk for hours to reach their church and participate in the holy services. They attend the Liturgy very carefully and finally they partake of the Holy Communion in due order, with thoughtfulness and fear of God.
Their life has nothing to do with ours. The financial crisis is a permanent state of affairs in this country. But this does not impede our missionary work at all. New Parishes are opened constantly and people run like thirsty deer to learn the truth.
Once we say “Glory to God” that we have built churches for some parishes, suddenly new parishes are created, which also need a church. More specifically, we presently have four small villages with no church in the Toliara region. I implore you. If among you there are donors to fund these churches, I will be grateful to you. The cost for each church will amount to 30,000 euros.
Moreover, the orphanage in the capital city of Antananarivo has been completed and it will soon start operating. However, there are still many particulars needed. For instance, behind the orphanage, we are constructing an outbuilding to be used partly as an outdoor kitchen to cook on a wood stove for economy and partly as a laundry. It is essential that we have your help because there are always needs to be covered in the beginning. The beds for the children, the closets for their clothes, the tables and chairs, everything was made in our own carpentry shop. We understand the financial hardships people are facing and we demand nothing. We only earnestly ask for whatever possible.
Many times you think that you’re alone at last and that it’s time for you to rest. So, you sit down to relax, but you realize that a new temptation comes up besides the previous ones. An incessant daily whirlwind, a secret war amidst an unabated struggle that comes to fill the story of life, which probably has to be repeated, lest we should forget that we are nothing without God’s strength and grace.
I am at the house of a a very good friend, a bus driver, a Catholic till yesterday, now a very faithful catechumen. The best catechumen I have seen here. We are sitting together and discussing the progress of the new parish in his city, Sakaraha. Just like my good brother envisages it.
When you walk on the missionary path, you come across many unknown people. However, an invisible connection always brightens every encounter and, although you know nobody, in your heart starts a relationship more significant than that of brothers in the flesh, a spiritual bond, which leads you through a one-way road to sacrifice and makes you give your whole existence for the completion of the ultimate goal. Not because you want it, or you deserve to become an agent of the miracle of salvation, but simply because this is God’s will.
The conversation has been going on for hours and once more, the night finds me close to the people I love, hearing their grievance; a grievance that sounds like a monologue, like a monotonous wail heard daily in this land out of eveyone’s mouth, from the younger to the older.
—Here we have bad news, father.
With a lot of interest and curiosity I continue the conversation, although I already have a feeling of how the discussion will end up.
—What do you mean?
—My wife fell asleep in the Lord in August. I was looking for you, father, but your phone was switched off.
—I was away in Greece.
—Yes, I know. But I needed a little help for the woman. I had run out of money… Eventually she passed on. The problem is the baby, though. It hasn’t nursed since the third month and now it is eight.
I knew that it is very tough for a baby not to be nursed for so many months. The next day the father brought it over and showed it to me with joy.
—This is my son.
But what I saw before my eyes was tragic: an eight-month-old infant with an aged skin looking like 70 years old: soft and wrinkled. I asked the father what the infant ate and he said, mostly rice, and at times some milk, which a Catholic nun gave him. I told him that the child needed milk immediately. In the afternoon, I went to the pharmacy and bought him special milk for infants.
He left the same day for his home. At 8 o’clock in the evening I called him and he thanked me for the milk. The boy had drunk his milk with large appetite.
One hour later he called and said that the child had suffered a sudden relapse. I asked him to bring him to Tulear, but filled with immeasurable sadness he announced that nothing could be done any more, because the doctor had already declared his death.
The father, a wonderful man, like whom I admit I have never met before, is now my best friend. A very faithful catechumen, much more faithful than me, with a simple, childlike heart. He was incredibly grieved at the loss of his child and wife. But he didn’tgiveup. He continued his struggle. He stayed with me and, instead of me offering him consolation, it was he who consoled me in my sorrows and struggle.
He was a bus driver. It is there that I met him. When his bus was waiting at the capital to be filled with passengers, which can take many days, he usually stayed inside with the doors shut in usually unbearable heat and prayed, he ceaselessly prayed.
Only yesterday did he confess to me that he did not mind being left alone, because now he can shut his room’s doors and pray without distractions… Tears, he says, drop in abundance…
Now, I am sitting in my office and thinking, thinking about my faults and others’ faults, people’s pain and courage, and images are passing in front of my eyes one by one. One of these days I was informed of three children’s death in one of our parishes. Probably it was due to an epidemic. The father described in tears the last moments of his little son, when the dizzy child was hitting his hand and begging for help. Of course, I was trying to offer him some consolation. But which human word can heal human suffering in such moments as these? And yet, these people don’t get indignant. Above all, they do not quarrel with God. They don’t even think about it, but they accept God’s plans, maybe with feelings of bitterness and pain, but never with anger or despair.
Now, I am bending over the paper and thinking; Who after all, writes human history? Who changes the world? What does God want from us? Who builds and who destroys? Do we ultimately destroy, instead of building?
Most importantly, who are the heroes in this world? Those bearing a hero’s name? Christian, faithful, missionary, father, brother, spiritual father… there are so many names, but is it the name that really matters?
History is not written on paper; history is written with many labors on the soil, in the mud, through the slums and huts, in diseases and sorrows, with struggle and usually with blood.
Let us not deceive ourselves. Names are not enough. Simply because God does not care about names drafted on paper, but about the name hidden in the heart. Sooner or later, He reveals it and presents it before us according to His own will. Like a mirror reflecting us in the state we should be, but usually are not, so that we can pity ourselves and make a beginning for the new life and eventually learn how to build souls. History is written in this way, not on paper but on the heart.
Truly, our little birds, our little children here, perish singing and their chirping remains indelible in our memory. It is a chirping that like a moral injunction compels you to live and fight in this crummy world despite the difficulties, despite the toughness you see around you and the sadness confining your heart.
Sometimes, this singing is our great consolation and some other times it is our big mortgage in this life. One really hopes they will leave this world like these little birds, chirping and rejoicing in the midst of the bitterness of this world.
I contact you with a lot of joy, firstly to thank you for your ceaseless support to our humble missionary ministry, and secondly to let you know of the progress of the two churches whose funding you have overtaken.
The construction work for the first church in Diego, Saint Archangels, is nearing the end and the church may be rendered operational by Christmas. As I have mentioned many times, here in this country, all types of work are done by hand, with primitive means and many obstacles, which usually delay their completion. Moreover, adverse weather conditions, such as heavy rains, oftentimes hinder continuous work. The second church of the Transfiguration of the Savior, smaller than the former, has already been completed and awaits its opening. Due to the long distance, it was impossible for me to send you photos of the churches. I hope that I will soon be able to respond to this request of yours.
We praise God and thank our donors for this blessing that amidst the crisis, new churches are constructed for the glory of the Triune God and the salvation of mankind. Our struggle continues in every aspect and, despite the great difficulties, many people come into Orthodoxy every day and after the due catechesis, they are led to the first sacrament of our Church, baptism. This year, we have conducted many group baptisms in a river.
Furthermore, with the blessings of our venerable prelate, Pope and Patriarch Theodore, some graduates of our Seminary were ordained into the first rank of priesthood (i.e they became deacons) and some others into the second one (that of the presbyter), thus covering some of the many vacancies in our parishes. The Seminary operates normally with new and old students.
We keep on visiting villages for catechizing, conduction of holy services, reviewing projects and, most importantly, communicating with people, something they greatly need. People are thirsty for hearing the words of God as well as for learning more about God and our Orthodox faith in general. What impresses me the most is that they regularly attend the holy services sparing no labors, walking through long trails barefoot under the hot sun.
The charity work also goes on, though not as intensively as in the past. Some activities have been halted due to the ongoing financial crisis.
New institutions will start operating very soon, since they were inaugurated during our Patriarch’s visit. Such buildings are the orphanage, the new wing of the hospital, the University and some churches. We give glory to God and thank people for the blessings they gave us.
If possible, I would also like to ask you to consider helping us in purchasing the interior equipment for two new sacred churches, the one of Saint Archangels–so that it can operate this Nativity period, as well as that of Transfiguration.
Moreover, the equipment of the orphanage wing that was constructed with funds by an anonymous lady from Thessaloniki through your Fraternity, will cost ca. 15,000 euros.
Last but not least, I would be grateful if you could schedule the shipment of a new container with useful goods we highly need, such as food supplies, second-hand household appliances and stationery for students. In this way, you will substantially help our work, as you have already done in the past.
During the past month of May our Holy Metropolis here in Madagascar was honored with the visit of the Venerable Primate of the Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa, His Beatitude Theodoros.
The program that followed was admittedly quite exhaustive as he wanted in this short tour in our country, to cover the widest possible range of visits to His beloved flock regardless of cost, conditions and personal physical fatigue.
On Friday afternoon June 5th he arrived in Toliara, the capital of the broader region in the southern part of the country. There he received a very warm reception perfectly and earnestly organized by the whole body of clergy and the people of Toliara. At St. Andrew’s Cathedral he was addressed in the local language by the chancellor of our Holy Metropolis while the crowds of believers accompanied him with enthusiastic applause, an expression of deep emotion and love for their Venerable Primate.
In the Toliara region he also inaugurated the new wing of the Orthodox medical clinic in Betanimena which has been erected courtesy of an anonymous lady-donor from Greece and the overall concern of the Cyprian monk Anastasios, who, with the help of donors from Cyprus, provides full coverage for the maintenance of the clinic in terms of medicine and medical equipment. It is a project that relieves the suffering of the poor in our region since with minimal contribution on the part of the patients it covers the costs of diagnosis and treatment for our sick people in pain and distress. The ceremony was followed by festivities, where His Beatitude the Patriarch was warmly welcomed and addressed by representatives of the state and the local authorities who accompanied him throughout his visit to our town and who expressed their deep gratitude and appreciation not only to His person but also to the Orthodox Church as a whole for their continuous presence and interest in the poor of South.
The events culminated with the celebration of the Divine Liturgy at the Indoor Stadium of Toliara, where both State and Church representatives as well as crowds of clergy and faithful sang and praised God in the first outdoor Patriarchal Divine Liturgy in southern Madagascar.
One of the most emotional moments was when the Venerable Primate of our Patriarchate censed the crowds of believers, who were attending the Divine Liturgy with reverence from the stands of the stadium.
The Patriarch was offering the incense and was blessing the world, the Stadium, our faithful, the clergy, our city…
The journey of our Venerable Primate has come to an end. Now we are sitting with Him by the sea, where the famous Mozambican channel with its angry waves joins our world, the land of Madagascar, with the other similarly unfortunate Mozambique world, the land of Africa. His eyes, when gazing at the ocean, sometimes shed a tear and seem lost in thought. Sometimes they come alive again and talk to you through the serene smile on His face. They tell you about tomorrow, about the missionary vision, about expectations.
He turns to one of the people present and with a deep and heavy tone in his voice utters the great and ultimate address. Not from a piece of paper, but from the bible of the heart; a big heart, full of love and compassion for our fellow man.
My son! Please, have these people at heart and provide for them! Take care of the poor of the remote and isolated regions of Toliara. Care about the faithful of our cities. Make our church shine through this city. Forget anything else, any other possibility for your life and dedicate yourself entirely to ministering to this poor people.
My child! … Safely graze my sheep! And always bear this Cross with love and patience. The Cross whose roots go very deep and meet our sweet basil. The basil that reveals our primeval past and our primal roots. The roots of Orthodoxy, the roots of Faith, Hope and Love in this poor world.
But above all the roots of Love; such a kind of Love that did not hesitate to offer itself in sacrifice for the brother and the fellow man, and is eager to do it again if necessary. Look at the predecessor at the helm of this Holy Metropolis and remember this name forever: Nektarios! He passed on in the deep waters of the Holy Mountain and gave his martyred blood for his last mission in this world. His blessings will always follow you and his life will light your way and guide you!
But my child, bear in mind that the blessings and wishes of a Patriarch will always follow you!
Do not leave, my son!
«If you love me, feed my sheep. Be a shepherd for my flock… And I am with you always, even unto the end of the world…”
My son! I am going back to Alexandria, but my wishes and my prayers remain with you forever.
It is with great pleasure that I communicate with you in order to inform you of the official visit of our Prelatic Shepherd, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa Theodore, to Madagascar last June. This visit was planned long ago, so by the grace of God and the blessing of our spiritual father it was a great success. We praise God and thank everyone who contributed to the good organization of the visit of the Primate, clergy and laity. All of us tried to do the very best we could for the glory of God and our Church.
The venerable Primate with his entourage arrived at the airport on 29th May. There he was welcomed by a large crowd of young and old, all dressed in traditional costumes and holding in their hands small flags of the Patriarchate and of Madagascar. Also present were representatives of the state, ambassadors and other important agents. At the entrance to the Church priests and people were waiting lined up in two rows and chanting «It is truly meet». They all went to the church, where a doxology was performed and speeches were given respectively. His Beatitude thanked everyone for the warm welcome they had reserved for him.
The next day, the Saturday before Pentecost the inauguration of the girls’ orphanage was held on a privately owned Mission land of 10,000 sqm in a suburb of the capital. The construction of the building had begun a long time before with major funding coming from Australian expatriates, with the blessing and support of the Archdiocese of Australia. A wing was funded by the lady donor Mrs. Sarafoglou in memory of her husband Nicholas, through the Orthodox Missionary Fraternity.
The new Girls’ Orphanage of our Mission in Antananarivo
By the grace of God the construction work ended, except for a few remaining details and the interior equipment. The orphanage was a dream come true by the grace of God and with the people’s assistance. In my humble opinion, charity work should be interrelated with missionary work in these countries. The orphanage will be home to both orphaned girls and abandoned ones and will provide these children not only with shelter, clothing and education but also with a bright future and integration into the society.
The opening ceremony took place in a spiritual atmosphere with rich decoration, crowds of people and participation of politicians and other ecclesiastical authorities. The inauguration of the Sacred Church of the Theotokos, which is located within the premises of the Orphanage, was scheduled for the day of Pentecost. The church was built in order to meet the spiritual needs of the children that will be accommodated in the orphanage, but it will also serve as a parish church. It is situated in a good location close to a main road.
The opening ceremony was held with all due solemnity and reverence, while the Archbishop explained the meaning of each moment. The service was a long-lasting one, but the world and the officials stayed till the end. Subsequent to the service, there was a fellowship dinner for the entire congregation accompanied by a rich program of traditional music and dance.
On the Monday of the Holy Spirit there was a Divine Liturgy celebrated at the cathedral, where His Beatitude honored clergymen for their significant contribution to the Church and to the missionary effort as well as laypeople for their selfless love and genuine interest in the Church.
After the Divine Liturgy, His Beatitude met with all the priests of the H. Metropolis, heard their problems and gave them counseling and guidance for their spiritual growth.
The next day, His Beatitude met with the President of the Republic of Madagascar. The meeting was attended by His Excellency the Ambassador of Egypt, the Honorary Consul of Greece and Cyprus and clergymen of the H. Metropolis. His Beatitude informed the President about the missionary and charity work done by our Holy Metropolis.
The event scheduled for the next day, 3rd June 2015, was the opening of the University in Manakara. This town is 600 km away from the capital and is located southeast of the country. The university construction was funded by Christian donors from Karditsa, Greece, upon the initiative of The Very Reverend Archimandrite Fr. Kyriakos Tsolakis, and was built at the request of the District Governor in order to meet basic needs of agronomic nature regarding tropical plants and other types of surveys.
Upon arrival in Manakara, the Patriarch and his entourage as well as all the faithful went to the Holy Trinity Church, a donation of your Fraternity, where a doxology was chanted. His Beatitude spoke briefly to the flock and then, all together, arrived at the university premises, where many people, including official agents, were gathered waiting for their Spiritual Shepherd. The opening ceremony was attended by enthusiastic crowds and a multitude of students. The State Representative thanked His Beatitude for this great contribution of the Church to the Government and conveyed the appreciation and gratitude of the country’s President.
On June 4th there was a scheduled visit of His Beatitude to Arany village for the opening of a high school. The village is two hours away from the missionary center. Schoolchildren in traditional dress holding flags in hand were singing traditional songs. The bells were ringing joyfully until we arrived at the church. Next, we all went to the high school, which is situated beside the church, for the conduction of the Water Blessing ceremony.
On Friday 5th June 2015, His Beatitude with his entourage arrived in Toliara, the biggest town in the southern part of the country. The church was filled with people of all ages, young and old, who had come from the villages to welcome the Patriarch. His Beatitude thanked them and spoke with spiritual words about the salvation of the soul.
The schedule for the next day included the opening of the medical clinic at the missionary center. In this region of Toliara there is a clinic with a lot of departments. The person in charge, Fr. Anastasios from Cyprus, monk and physician, considered a good idea to have hospital-level upgrades for the clinic by creating more departments. The project was completed thanks to the generous donation of an anonymous lady, and on June 6th the inauguration took place. His Beatitude officiated at the Blessing Ceremony and then was shown around all the wings of the clinic.
On Sunday, June 7th, His Beatitude along with the priests celebrated the Divine Liturgy at the indoor stadium of Toliara, which had been properly equipped with a raised platform, a large altar, icons, a throne and all the things required for the celebration of the D. Liturgy. Crowds of faithful as well as officials had been gathering since the morning, Our Christians had arrived by bus in time for the event, even those from the most remote villages. Soon the stadium was filled to capacity.
Everything was marked by the majesty and the splendor of the Eucharist. The Patriarch and the priests as well as the dances created a spiritual atmosphere.
In the end, His Beatitude preached the Word of God, administered Holy Communion and after the dismissal he distributed the holy bread to the people present. Everyone rejoiced and enjoyed this spiritual feast, praising the name of the great God.
Returning to the missionary center, a fellowship meal had been prepared for all the faithful, as it was getting late, and many of them had to take the way back home to their distant villages.
The visit of the Patriarch was a blessing for the Metropolis 0f Madagascar. The presence of His Beatitude was necessary because it gave us courage to continue our struggle, overcome the difficulties and the problems we encounter, communicate with him like a father to his children, talk about our problems freely and unreservedly and make decisions on new projects together in the future. This communication is essential because we are confronted with plenty of difficulties and problems, which requires the mediation of our Patriarch with his long and varied experience.
On June 7, His Beatitude Patriarch Theodore II of Alexandria and All Africa completed his ten-day-long missionary tour in Madagascar, the “eighth continent.”
The Prelate of the Alexandrian Church was zealously received by His Eminence Metropolitan Ignatios of Madagascar, the whole clergy and the pious people of Malagasy. Along his tour, he was also accompanied my the nuns of Panagia Theogennetria convent from Crete, Greece, who are paying a visit to Madagascar to institute monasticism in the country.
During his visit, the Patriarch inaugurated a new Girls’ Orphanage in Andoharanofotsy, which will shelter 200 destitute and orphaned children. The construction of this foundation has been a concern and dream of Metropolitan Ignatios for many years, since many babies are abandoned in the streets by their parents, who are unable to feed them due to poverty. Our Fraternity thanks to your help has been a financial partner of the project.
Moreover, the Patriarch participated in the congregation of the Malagasy Orthodox priests, met with the students of the Orthodox Seminary of Ampany, while he also visited the Presidential Palace, where he talked with the President of Madagascar Hery Rajaonarimampianina on the manifold work of the Orthodox Mission. Furthermore, His Beatitude inaugurated the Entrance of the Theotokos church in Andoharanoftsy, opened the first Malagasy Orthodox University in Manakara, as well as a new Primary and Middle School in Ampany.
Finally, he visited Toliara, where he inaugurated a medical clinic in the parish of the Annunciation of the Theotokos, which will provide medical care for free to the children of the region, and consecrated the Saint Irene church. On the last day, he conducted the Divine Liturgy in the sports stadium of Toliara, which was attended by thousands of faithful from along the region.
By the grace of God and the blessings of our Venerable Primate, Patriarch Theodore, we continue our missionary work. I cannot say that there are no difficulties, problems or temptations, though. No matter how hard we try to overcome them, there is always a temptation that will not allow us to continue our work unimpeded.
Especially now, during the economic crisis, things are definitely more difficult and we are striving to cope with the current expenditure. However, we are not disappointed, but we hope in God, since the missionary work belongs to Him. And indeed God has not abandoned us.
There are people who can hardly make ends meet; yet they send us their small contribution, giving us hope and strength for the work which we have undertaken. How could I not mention the unreserved support of the Orthodox Missionary Fraternity, through which generous persons appear out of nowhere and undertake the funding of a church construction, or some other specific project? I would like to express my heartfelt thanks and sincere gratitude for everything you do for the work of the Church. Currently there are seven ongoing construction projects: five sacred churches, a small school (where we add classrooms since the existing ones are not enough) and an extension to the clinic in the region of Tulear. All these buildings are donations of anonymous sponsors from Greece and abroad. As for the room additions and the extension of the clinic, it indicates that by the grace of God these institutions work very well and people prefer them for the good quality of their work. We praise God for all the blessings He grants unto us in our humble ministry.
Longing for a church
Naturally, our lack of both human and material resources is immense. A large number of people in many villages have been longing for a sacred church of their own for years. It is their fervent desire but also our responsibility to satisfy their material as well as spiritual needs. There are about 20-25 villages lacking a church, and on our visits there we always hear the same earnest requests for acquisition of their own church building. On our part, we hope in the grace of God and in the presence of a new sponsor, who will fund a church building project. We feel great joy and praise the name of God when the sweet sound of the church bell is heard in the remote villages and dense forests, inviting our faithful to get together for a joint prayer. What is even more touching, though is to see people -young and old as well as mothers with young children on their backs- running like the thirsty deer to quench their spiritual thirst in the clear waters of the Orthodox Church, without considering time and effort. And if one watches them during the conduction of the sacred services, it is impossible not to notice their undivided attention and active participation in chanting the well-known hymns of our Church. What if they are not educated and have no degrees or credentials? They hold another treasure in their heart called Jesus Christ, the Crucified and Resurrected. This grace of Christ inside of them gives them pleasure and wings to overcome the various obstacles and find what they should truly love and worship.
Such thoughts come to my mind many times, when I am walking along the paths in the forests until I reach the villages where the Mission car has no access. I meet people and I attempt to penetrate into their souls and understand them. We often do them an injustice judging them by their outward appearance. Indeed, how far we are from reality! Our humility is only in words but theirs is in deed. That is the big difference.
The high cost of conversion to the Truth
About a month ago, I visited a remote village where the young priest had begun to catechize people in the Orthodox faith. These people were former Roman Catholics who came to know Orthodoxy in a remarkable way and gave us the church which they themselves had built. We visited them and everyone gathered -where else?- inside the church. A very old church, which was anything but a church! Yet these people were proud of their church and even prouder because they offered it to the Orthodox Diocese. After speaking to them about our Church and explaining many things about the differences between Orthodox and Roman Catholics, we gave them our humble gifts -books, crosses and icons- and left for the missionary center. Their request was that we built them a new church and a school because the Catholic school does not accept Orthodox children. My earnest request to all of you reading this article is that you help us build a church and a school so that the name of the God of the Orthodox Church is glorified and souls are saved.
Acquaintance with Orthodoxy
Such cases are numerous. Mission life holds many surprises and miraculous events. Once we were passing through a village located on the main street, in a barren and rocky area where there is not a single tree and people live on charcoal production, we stopped to give them food. After finishing our mission, we asked if there was a church in that area. The answer was positive. We were told that some of them attended the nearest Orthodox Church located two hours away from their village and that they occasionally went there on foot. The priest who was with us promised to go there regularly in order to catechize them, and we promised to build them a small church. Unfortunately, until now we have not managed to fulfill our promise.
We see that the grace of God precedes and prepares the ground, no matter how difficult it is. However, it is absolutely essential that we follow Him and continue caring for this harvest before the seed is lost or trampled by people or temptation. The Mission is a great art and science, too. † Ignatius of Madagascar