The word of God on the eighth Sunday of Matthew is very remarkable. There are two sentences that literally describe the mission work in the countries in Africa and a miracle, that of the multiplication of the loaves, which proves beyond the slightest doubt that this missionary work is God’s work.
The disciples respond to the Lord’s commandment «you give them to eat …» We do not have enough food for so many people, only five loaves and two fish. It is obvious that human logic, «arithmetic reasoning», is limited, whereas God’s logic removes all kinds of limitations and not only makes the five loaves and the two fish be enough to feed more than five thousand people but also has an abundance left over.
In this excerpt there are two points of significance that are worthy of attention, reveal what is human and what is divine and how church work, in this case missionary work, is accomplished according to human standards.
The disciples give this minimum and meager amount of food (five loaves and two fish), which, however, is necessary for God to take and bless in order to multiply it into abundance. In fact, this is what happens on the Mission field: the slender means available in the work of the Orthodox Church, within Mission are taken by God and are multiplied, thus being enough to meet a multitude of needs.
It is also important to mention that God, after the multiplication of the scanty food, does not distribute it among the people Himself, but He gives it back to the disciples and those in turn to the hungry people. This way, Christ shows us that cooperation between God and man is a necessary condition for the realization of this project called «the Miracle of the Mission».
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The morals drawn from this are the following: First, it was necessary for the Apostles to have those few things, which was a precondition for the occurrence of the miracle. Second, God reveals that the work of the Church, in this case the Mission, is a divine work done by human hands.
Dear members of the Orthodox Missionary Fraternity and our companions in this work,
As for our lot from God, that was to minister in Africa; this is why we gladly give whatever little we have, a little bit of hard work, a little bit of strength, a little bit of knowledge, a little bit of spirituality, patience, conscientiousness, skills, generally a little bit of everything. And God gives it back multiplied so that we can minister to His people’s needs.
This work can only be realized with your own love and support to the Mission of Sudan.
These were just a few heartfelt words I wanted to say. † Narcissus of Nubia
By the Grace of God and the blessings of the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria Theodore II, I set out on Easter Tuesday on a journey to the capital of South Sudan that was meant to hold a lot of pleasant surprises mixed with plenty of difficulties.
First of all, the rainy season has started in South Sudan and malaria is on the rise due to mosquito bites, which multiply during this period. Naturally, I would not stay on the sidelines myself , since every inch of my body –whether it be hands or feet– was bitten despite the protective measures which are known to everyone. In any case, not contracting malaria is indeed a miracle, and such a miracle was accomplished in me. Thank God!
Then, the almost incessant rainfall on a practically non-existent road network made our moving from one place to another seem like Calvary. You set out for a particular destination planning to fulfill a mission, which anywhere else on this planet would take two hours at most, but here in this place it takes a whole week.
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It is considered an achievement to bring a job to a successful completion, especially when this job is related to civil services in Africa; however, the miracle happened! The recognition procedure of the Orthodox Church from the State of Southern Sudan has been completed, therefore we have become an active member of the Southern Sudan Church Council (SSCC).
I cannot hide the joy and satisfaction I feel as well as the personal need for praising God’s name and glorifying Him, which, apart from the effort we made for the preparation required, God showed the right persons at that critical moment for a faster and more effective completion of the procedure to reach the desired result of recognition within a few months, which under different circumstances would take years.
Another big surprise awaited me, when I arrived in Wau town and headed for our parish community, where I was welcomed at the door of the Prophet Elijah church by the faithful, who were holding the Greek flag in their hands.
I was wondering how people, who had never visited Greece and might not even know its location on the map, had been able to understand the symbolism of holding the Greek flag in a distant foreign land and feeling Greek. History though shows that this is what Hellenism has always been, cities scattered throughout the world and not trapped in a geographical place, which proves its anthropocentric character and makes it known as an ecumenical culture.
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The first example is shown, however, by the Church, since Orthodoxy does not remain trapped in a place and its people but it opens itself, goes into the whole world, seeking man, wherever he is and offers him the possibility of meeting with God without constraint, and also it creates sacred churches (as the meeting places of God and man) scattered around the world, demonstrating the universality of this faith, which lives in harmony within nations and states but has never been a nation or state Itself ; it has always been the Kingdom of God’s love.
The next day I conducted the Paschal Divine Liturgy and baptized four young children. At the end of the sermon I stressed that for us Orthodox Christians the experience of God in the world is the life of the Church through its sacraments.
Τhen, we had a meal all together and after that, I showed them pictures of my first visit to them, which gave them much joy given that there is neither TV nor cinema there.
When I returned to Juba, the capital city, I visited and met with the tribal chief of the Magala region, the Sultan (King) Tarcisio, and thanked him for the donation of the four-acre land. I also assured him that their donation would return to the broader region with many benefits from the construction of the Saint Mark Mission Center, which would include obstetrics clinic and primary school.
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Thus, with the Church recognition and the land title settlement, we are starting the procedures for the submission of the architectural plans and the issuance of the building permit from the competent services for our mission center.
The miracles of faith are also a product of patience of the people to whom the miracle occurs. It is there that faith is tested and man surrenders to God’s will. “For where God wills, the order of nature yields”, and this is our faith in our project in South Sudan, where after 38 years of ecclesiastical absence (due to the civil war), the Good God gave vitality to His Church. Just as the paralytic in the Pool of Siloam had to wait for this encounter with God for 38 years, so our brothers in South Sudan took 38 years in order to find the place of their meeting with God and their Church alive, and now they are moving towards a better future in their much-afflicted country.
Please remember this long-suffering nation in your wishes and prayers so that God may grant His blessings upon them. Amen! Bishop Narkissos Gammoh of Nubia
On Sunday, March 8 at 11 am, Metropolitan Narkissos (Gammoh) of Nubia will make us the honor to join us for the monthly gathering of our Fraternity. His eminence will speak about the new missionary efforts of the Orthodox Church in South Sudan, the newest independent state of the world. The event will take place in our Fraternity’s hall, 6, Mackenzie King st., Thessaloniki.
Earlier, we will jointly attend St. Basil’s Divine Liturgy at St. John Forerunner’s church on Pavlou Mela street. You are all invited.
By God’s grace and the blessing of His Beatitude Theodoros II, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa, we set out earlier this year on a tour of the inaccessible region of South Sudan.
For decades a fierce civil war had been raging and was still continuing unabated, which created continuous frustration and despair on the indigenous people.
I started without knowing where I was going, my destination was undetermined as all information and instructions were confusing and instead of clarifying things for me, in fact they confused me even more. Certainly the invariable advice was “be careful”.
Those moments I remembered what I had read in the Bible and had not fully understood. In Apostle Paul’s epistle to the Hebrews, chapter 11: by faith, Abraham, when he was called, obeyed to go out to the place which he was to receive for an inheritance. He went out, not knowing where he went. The personal experience of access to an unknown place, showed me how difficult it is humanly to set out for someplace without knowing where you are going. And here even the best information for the South was disheartening.
Laying the stone for the first missionary center in South Sudan
However, there occurred the miracle of faith and everything went on very well: the churches that had been closed for many years were reopened; the Divine Liturgy was served again, filling the congregation with pious emotion and unspeakable joy. All those that remained in the region of the capital of South Sudan like real heroes —literally risking their lives keeping alight the flame of Orthodoxy— received holy communion. The next day we blessed and shared out the Vasilopita and then we sat in the church yard, with relief and spiritual invigoration written over the faces of all the participants.
We also laid the foundation stone of the St. Mark new missionary center in Mogala region in the eastern end of the capital city Juba. There, for the blessing of water service we had no censer available, so looking for one around to give a rough and ready solution, the only thing I could find handy was a magazine of bullets from a kalashnikov. I lit the charcoal briquettes at the one end of the magazine, placed the incense on top of them, held the magazine from the other end and censed the people accompanying me. I could not help thinking that with that magazine of the kalashnikov which had scattered death, I was meant to cense at the sacred service for the laying of the foundation stone of Saint Mark’s first missionary center. Within me, I was praying that those tools of war and destruction would be transformed into God-worship utensils. Only then could peace and unity of the people reign in this country.
The second trip two days later involved my moving to the western tropical city of Wau in South Sudan. It was a revelation to me to find there people who are pure, sincere, genuine, and unfortunately absolutely poor without electricity or water. Imagine how many essential things are lacking there, while for us in the western world they are unquestionably taken for granted. A pleasant discovery, however, was the fact that lack of electrical power could turn into something good… One can see the stars at night and feel like they are in a spacious place.
By the grace of God we baptized ten children and reopened Prophet Elijah church, which had been built by Greeks around the beginning of the previous century; the church bell rang again after many decades. I also read them the forgiveness prayer and they all received Holy Communion.
There, one night in the humble dinner which they so nobly prepared for me, where everyone ate with their hands from the same big plate on the table, they told me around the brazier with the lit fire stories about how they lived in the days of the civil war… They tore off the tin from the roofs of their huts to cook on it in order to eat something, while at the same time food was scarce and disease was treated without even the basics, such as medicines or doctors.
Meanwhile, malaria has ravaged half the population. There is not a single person who has not got sick with malaria. The stronger organisms withstand, whereas the weaker die out, especially children. Everyone’s life is on the razor’s edge and anyone may die at any time. Life is uncertain, death is a daily routine, whether it comes from cholera or malaria or Ebola; and if one manages to escape all these, the civil war awaits around the corner, which is why whoever survives there, is a champion of life.
Our Greek community in Wau consists of descendants of Greeks who got there at the beginning of the twentieth century, circa 1910. It was a great thrill for me to get there and find out that their first concern was to call me to go and conduct a Trisagion memorial service over their Greek fathers and ancestors that are buried in the Greek cemetery, which happened before I even had time to arrange my things. I put on my vestments, lit the censer and while chanting during the service , I was thinking about the bravery of those people to be forced to leave their homeland, i.e., the Greek islands of Lesbos, Lemnos and others to come here at the edge of the world to make families and work under unfavorable living conditions, outside of civilization and amenities. A rough estimate would say that this region of the world has always been 100 years behind. So it was a great feat then in 1910 that they created the community, a Greek club, a school, they built a church, in other words, they created a small Greece out of Greece to live in and keep it alive inside of them. I noticed that on their graves they had elaborately carved the marble with nostalgic words for the homeland, which could make even a stone-hearted man shed tears. They were really admirable people.
Finally the day of return to the capital city Juba came due to an earlier meeting arrangement with the country’s Foreign Minister. At the airport I felt that I did not want to leave, so when I had to say goodbye to the people and head to the plane, I felt my heart bleed, as if it did not want to be separated from them. However, I was comforted as this little death, separation, will bring resurrection one day, since my return there is a given.
Dear members of the Orthodox Missionary Fraternity, as sadness when shared decreases and joy is multiplied, I have the pleasure of contacting you and making you partakers of our missionary efforts in Africa. We plant the seed, you water it and God makes it grow; therefore, I pray feverishly for the success of our joint efforts so that the holy name of God is praised in every place now and forever.
May His Grace keep you strong. Narcissus (Gammoh) of Nubia
Orthodox church in Juba
Laying the stone for the first missionary center in the country
By grace of God and the blessings of His Beatitude Theodore II, the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa, Metropolitan Narkissos (Gammoh) of Nubia founded the first missionary center in South Sudan – the newest independent state in the world, a long-suffering nation plagued by civil war for more than 30 years, with little cessation of hostilities.
This first missionary center will be named in honor of the glorious Saint Apostle and Evangelist Mark, the founder of the Alexandrian Church. The missionary endeavors will be housed on Mongala, an eastern suburb of the capital Juba, 500 meters from the White Nile.
In his short speech, His Eminence conveyed to the faithful the absolute love and watchful interest of the Patriarch for South Sudan, praised the few Greek, who remained in the area despite all the difficulties and dangers, and wished this day to be the beginning of a lasting peace and unity for South Sudan, so that this wounded people will prosper and advance.
Next day, January 11, the Divine Liturgy was celebrated for the first time after 38 years in St. Stylianos church in downtown Juba, by Metropolitan Narkissos of Nubia. A holy excitement and unspeakable joy took over the few Greeks who remained in South Sudan despite the adverse political conditions, while the Bishop prayed that 2015 will be a year of peace and bring reconciliation and unity among the people. Before the dismissal, the bishop blessed and distributed a Saint Basil’s pie.
On January 12, the Metropolitan was received by Mr. Moses Telar Cindwt, the country’s Minister of Religious Affairs, to whom he stressed the historic presence and contribution of the Orthodox Church in the region and the will to continue this presence and offer in the future, now that South Sudan is an independent state. In turn, the Minister pledged that the new state will provide every possible assistance to the Orthodox Church to achieve its much-needed mission.
Finally, on January 13, the bishop visited Wau, another city of the South, to meet several Orthodox families living there, celebrate the Divine Liturgy in Prophet Elijah church and conduct the baptisms of many children.