The first Orthodox priest from Samoa explains how he came to Orthodoxy
25 October 2017
• Diocese of New Zealand
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.
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