The first Orthodox priest from Samoa explains how he came to Orthodoxy

25 October 2017

I first heard about the Orthodox Church, when I was at the Catholic (Roman Catholic) College of the Mariot Brothers (St. Joseph’s) in Samoa at the age of 15 years old; that was back in 1968. It was just a brief explanation of how the Roman Catholic Church broke off from the Orthodox faith.

However, in the year 2000 I took up studies on Theology at the School of Theology at the Auckland University in New Zealand. In the year 2001 I joined the Anglican Church and studied at their seminary in Auckland to take up vocation as a priest. Anyway, I am a born Roman Catholic from a very strong Catholic background in Samoa. During my studies at the University and the Anglican seminary, I somehow came across some history of the Orthodox faith but did not get the full background sources of Orthodox Catechism as such. Nonetheless, students were somehow restricted of given the opportunity to research on Orthodoxy. I was at that stage felt confused, because I heard through various sources that Orthodox is the original Christian church before the Roman Catholic, the Anglican, Protestants etc.

Bishop Amphilochios in Samoa

Consequently, while I was growing up, I thought to myself, “Why are they so many churches worshipping one God? What is the True Church? Somehow, I used to hear in the Roman Catholic and the Anglicans and some others say in the Creed: ‘I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church’.” I kept on praying to God through the Holy Mother that one day I would be shown the direction to the True Church. As the Lord says: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”

In the year 2005, I completed my Theology degree studies at Auckland University and graduated with a Bachelor of Theology Degree; in the same year I was ordained a Priest in the Anglican Church. I served as an Anglican priest from 2005 to 2015; five years serving as a hospital chaplain priest in the Auckland City National Hospital, as well as helping out with various community church services in the city; I served my last five years 2011 to 2015 as Vicar and Priest in Charge of the Church in Samoa. My time as priest in the Anglican Church was not very comfortable as I witnessed the Church approval of gay and lesbian marriages, the ordaining of gay and lesbian priests, as well as ordination of gay and women bishops. I felt all these were and are against the Holy Scripture (Gen. 2:24, Matt. 19:6, Eph. 5:24-25, 30-31).

Somehow, I felt within me the warmth of the Lord’s healing touch and knew nothing is impossible with God. I have had some very tough and challenging experiences in my life. From 1976 until 1992 I was an active serviceman with the New Zealand army both in New Zealand and overseas. But whatever consequences I faced in life, I knew God is always there. As in Psalms 46:10 – “Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen and I will be exalted in the earth”.

In late 2013, I started to feel the touch of the Mother of God and seeing visions and answers to my prayers. A friend by the name of Iosef Tuala approached me and discussed about the Orthodox faith. To me, that was a feeling of a miracle from God. Mr. Iosef is a lawyer and he told me he did some research on Orthodoxy during his law degree studies in New Zealand. We did not take it too seriously but just a general discussion and ended the topic. But another miracle came my way subsequently in 2016. A man by the name of George, a Greek national, came to Samoa to attend a friend’s father funeral at my wife’s village. Here I met George and he talked to me about the Orthodox faith briefly. Somehow, George introduced me to Archbishop Amphilochios, when he returned to New Zealand.

In May 2017, another miracle occurred, when George rang me, when I was visiting New Zealand, and asked me to speak to His Eminence Amphilochios for the first time in Auckland. After some spiritual discussion with His Eminence, I felt God’s blessings and touch and I accepted to be baptized and join the Orthodox faith. I thank the Holy Mother of God for revelation of love and to God be the glory for choosing me, the humble servant, to be the first ordained priest in Samoa and my wife, Salome Faasenga, as presbytera. His Eminence Amphilochios invited my and my wife to Wellington, New Zealand to receive the Holy Baptism, receive the blessings of Holy Chrismation; the renewal of Orthodox Marriage vows and the bestowment of the Holy Ordination to Deacon and Priesthood.

I and my wife, Salome, now feel completely whole and reborn into Christ and the True Church, the Orthodox faith. Now visiting Constantinople and Greece and particularly the Holy Mountain Athos for pilgrimage, venerating the icons of the Holy Mother of God and relics of saints have much strengthened our spiritual journey to dedicate our lives not only to Orthodox but following Christ’s footsteps to be pioneers of Orthodoxy not only to my people in Samoa, but wherever God directs me to spread the good news. Special thanks to His Eminence Amphilochios for his directions, prayers and blessings to me and Salome at the beginning of our missionary journey and to all the clergy and Orthodox Church for supporting the start of our Orthodox mission. May God’s name be praised and revered.

Fr. Ioane Peniamina Tapelu

The sacrament of marriage between Fr. Ioane and his wife Salome

I am with you always, to the end of the age…

18 July 2017

After the admirable interventions of the Lord in the Missionary effort in Tonga with the erection of the chapel of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, the house of the missionaries and the majestic  Sacred Church of Saint George the Trophy-Bearer, whose construction is about to end in a month, came Samoa’s turn.

Samoa is a beautiful island state, bathed in green and adorned with the smiles of its noble and hospitable inhabitants. On our previous visit, we met with the simple-hearted priest Pepe. At our present meeting we saw him sad and helpless, unable to walk due to an unknown disease in his feet. This meant that all our plans for the beginning of Orthodoxy there were doomed to fail. But above Fr. Pepe and every human factor is our Lord, who sent out His Apostles, and now sends His humble workers like us to preach the Gospel by saying, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age… Be sure I shall be close to your every need and difficulty forever. ”

We made the sign of the cross on Pepe’s foot with the piece of the Tree of Life that our brother Savvas from the Holy Mountain has, with the relic of St. Barnabas the Apostle, the icons of the Theotokos, of Saint John the Theologian and Evangelist and of other saints, chanting their troparia. The next day, Pepe came again telling us that he was not in pain anymore and descended the stairs of the courtyard running. It was a miracle that impressed him and brought him closer to true faith, the Orthodox Faith. This was the first intervention of our resurrected Savior in the missionary events of Samoa.

Despite our anxiety for the unknown horizon ahead, our hearts were at peace as this incident gave us faith and courage to look for a suitable piece of land on which to build a church dedicated to the Lord’s Beloved Disciple.

We considered changing hotel so as to be closer to the sea for reasons of wellness and health. There we met with a couple from Australia. The man was Samoan and his wife of Greek origin from her mother’s side. We trusted them with our problem of not having a plot in which to build the church. Being faithful Orthodox Christians and virtuous people, they told us, «We have some savings from the money we have earned over a twenty- year period now in order to buy a plot and build a home whenever we can. Now, once we buy the plot, we will offer it to you in the form of a loan so that you can build the church for us, the Orthodox Christians here. They had a lawyer speak to the owner, who gave them the plot for a hundred and twenty thousand Samoan dollars, an amount that was inaccessible to us. So with the money we have, around fifty thousand, we hope we can build the church.

This is the second clear manifestation of our Lord’s presence; our sweet Lord, Who wants all people to be saved and become part of the flock of His One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

Praise be to His glorious name and to the name of His Holy Apostle John the Theologian, who is always close to us. This is something that I realized this time too, as on the first night that we came to Samoa in my dream I was transferred to Patmos, close to Elder Amphilochios, who highly revered and loved the Lord’s Beloved Student.

Mission often has bitter and distressing moments, but it also has such blessings and joys that can only be characterized as celestial. And it is these special moments that give the courage to the Missionaries to persevere and win with the help of the Master of Salvation and Defeater of Death, our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory, honor and adoration forever and ever. Amen.

†Amphilochios of New Zealand