To the Ends of the Earth

Orthodox Christian Missions

Christ is Risen!

leave a comment »

Written by Stephen

May 6, 2013 at 9:42 pm

Posted in Ghana, Pascha, Video

Orthodoxy in Guatemala — New Blog and New Missionaries

leave a comment »

IMG_3404As earlier reported, the Orthodox Church in Guatemala is growing, and not just growing but also needing a lot of help to become established. I recently discovered a new blog and website by two of the principle missionaries to Guatemala, Fr. John and Pres. Sandy Chakos. That can be found here and is well-worth checking out. I will re-post one of their blogs below.

Also, OCMC recently announced that Fr. David and Mat. Rozanne Rucker are transitioning into being missionary specialists in Guatemala, starting September. Fr. David was previously the Associate Director for OCMC. The official announcement can be found here.

Father John Chakos

The newly emergent Guatemalan Orthodox Church under the omophorion of Metropolitan Athenagoras faces many challenges, not the least of which is the low number of canonically ordained priests–eight to be exact–who serve the spiritual needs of its nearly 300 communities.

They travel over great distances into remote mountainous areas, often along dangerous and at times impassible muddy roads, going from village to village in an attempt to reach people that the world has seemingly forgotten. Because of this glaring shortage, one of the top priorities of Father Andres Giron, Vicar of the Guatemalan Orthodox Church, is the recruitment and training of qualified candidates for the holy priesthood. In the meantime, and certainly well into the future, the pressing spiritual needs of such a vibrant, dynamic and growing church movement require an empowered laity, not only willing to fill the pastoral void, but to promote the church’s greater mission to expand its outreach. Among those who stand in the forefront of this great challenge are the church’s catechists. It is about these men and women of faith that I wish to speak.

Who are the catechists and what role do they play? They are most certainly teachers as the name implies, but also the respected leaders of the church communities. They possess a moral authority that goes well beyond the mere teaching of the faith. They are the voice of Christ to the people and organizers of the spiritual, educational and worship life of the community. They are indeed the backbone of the Orthodox Church in Guatemala and in every sense the foot soldiers of Christ. Without them the church would not have been able to advance as it has over the past twenty-five years.

I have gained a greater appreciation of their unique role in the church by attending the bi-monthly seminars that are held at the Centro Apostólico in Huehuetenango. They often travel from great distances at great expense to themselves to attend the two day seminars. They carry their own bedding and even children with them and sleep on the cement floor of the large lecture hall where the classes are held. They love and live by the Holy Scriptures and speak of Christ and the Church with great conviction. Likewise they lead late night vigils of prayer in their villages and call upon the faithful to fast for specific intentions. In short, they fulfill the calling of the royal priesthood of the believers through prophetic teaching and preaching, self-donating service and virtuous leadership. I greatly admire their commitment and am inspired by their faith. It is amazing what an empowered laity can do to set the church on fire. If Orthodoxy is to grow in Latin America it will need catechists like these to lead the way.

Written by Stephen

April 22, 2013 at 4:39 pm

A Miracle of the Holy Cross in Fiji

with 2 comments

fitziBy Metropolitan Amphilochios of New Zealand

One day, on the second biggest Fiji island, Vanua Levu, the person in charge of the Mission for the island , Father Barnaby, along with the hieromonk Savvas visited the hospital at the city of Labasa in order to comfort a patient. As they were talking with the patient, they heard unnatural loud screams coming from the other side of the corridor, and being alarmed by those grisly screams, they moved towards there in order to help.

In an adjoining room there was a girl lying in bed, who was blocking her ears with her hands, was twisting her head left and right and was screaming in a hair-raising way. The nurses were just standing aside, unable to understand what had happened and too scared to do anything.

Father Savvas approached a nurse and told her: “We are from the Greek Orthodox Church. Could we just make the sign of the cross over her?” Then he takes out the cross which had the True Cross inside and started making the sign of the cross on her face. The more he did so, the more she screamed. In the end, the priest put the cross into her mouth and immediately she calmed down. It was obvious she was possessed, and with the power of the True Cross the evil spirit finally left.

This incident reminds us of the words of the hymn of Octoechos “Great is the power of your Cross, o Lord”. Christ came to the world and was crucified for the salvation of all people. That is why the power of the Holy Cross is not only restricted to Christians, but also to any person under the power of Satan.

The cure of this Fijian girl through the touch of the True Cross as well as the faith of the fathers who thought of making the sign of the cross over her, was the best sermon for herself, her own family and everyone else who witnessed this miracle.

When Christ said to his Disciples that he would be with them all along their proclaiming His Gospel, this is exactly what he meant: His living presence witnessed by the signs and wonders that would follow.

Therefore, the Missionary work is done by Christ Himself, who uses as means ordinary people, like the Fijian father Barnaby and the simple monk Savvas. Mission is not a matter of wordly wisdom but a matter of faith “acting through love”.

Source: Orthodox Missionary Fraternity

Hat Tip: Mystagogy

Written by Stephen

April 15, 2013 at 9:36 am

Posted in Fiji, Miracles

New Church for Chile

leave a comment »


Concepcion is Chile’s second-largest city with a population of 1.5 million. Among the Orthodox Christians living there are Russian emigres of the post-World War II period and their descendants, Russian and Ukrainian immigrants after the fall of the USSR, Palestinians, as well as Chilean converts.

Orthodox services have become a regular occurrence since March, 2006, in a building in the Arab section known as Estadio Arabe. They are conducted mostly in Spanish, some prayers are read in Church Slavonic and Arabic. Concepcion’s Protopriest Alexei Aedo Vilugron of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia conducts the services. The parish belongs to ROCOR’s South American Diocese under His Grace Bishop John of Caracas and South America.

Fr Alexei is Chilean by birth, having accepted Orthodox Christianity with his heart and soul. By his efforts and persistence, his focus and a great deal of labor, with reliance on God’s help, work on building the first-ever Orthodox Church in the south of Chile commenced in August 2011.

The consecration of the cornerstone and erection of a cross on the site of the future church was performed by Vladyka John on December 5, 2010, in the presence of representatives of the local authorities and of the Russian Embassy.

The Palestinian community of Concepcion donated the parcel of land for the church (costing approximately US $144,000 and measuring 758 sq. m.).

Donations by the parishioners covered all the expenses of the preliminary construction stages (planning and documentation). In July 2011, the community received aid from the Chilean government in the amount of 30M pesos (about $63,000). The funds covered closing the perimeter of the property, excavations, foundation (1.5 m deep and 1.1 m wide), and the metal framework for the walls. Concepcion is in within Chile’s earthquake zone: the last earthquake, which struck in February 2010, measured 8.8 on the Richter Scale. For this reason, construction standards here are stringent and costly. Construction has been temporarily halted due to a lack of funds. The second stage of construction will cost $135,000. We would be grateful for any help in building our church to the glory of God. Donations can be made by visiting

Source: ROCOR

Written by Stephen

February 5, 2013 at 12:37 pm

Posted in Chile, ROCOR, South America

New Service Books in Zulu and English

leave a comment »

At a gathering of the clergy of the Archdiocese of Johannesburg and Pretoria we presented Archbishop Damaskinos with a copy of a new service book in English and Zulu, and copies were offered to all the clergy present.

The book has the Third and the Sixth Hours and the Reader’s Service, based on the Typika used in monasteries on days when the Divine Liturgy is not celebrated. In its present form it is designed for use in mission congregations for Sunday services when there is no priest, and it may be led by a deacon or reader. Some parishes use it if, for any reason, there is no priest available.

The Readers Service (ObednitsaTypika) consists mainly of the parts of the Divine Liturgy that are not reserved to the priest or deacon.

It took rather a long time to get printed in its present form.

In 1997 the African Orthodox Episcopal Church wrote to His Eminence Metropolitan Paul Lyngris, the then Archbishop, asking to be received into the Orthodox Church. The Archbishop asked me to teach them to prepare them for their reception into the Church, and gave his blessing for their clergy to be taught to use the Readers Service, which we then had partly translated into North Sotho. Later His Eminence Metropolitan Seraphim gave his blessing for it to be translated into Zulu, and we printed a few copies for use at courses and conferences, but we did not have money to print a large number.

Three years ago Father Daniel Sysoev, a priest who was doing missionary work among Muslims in Moscow, was shot dead, and a group of Serbian Orthodox Christians, inspired by his example, formed a missionary society in his memory. They wrote to Father Pantelejmon, a Serbian priest in Johannesburg, asking if they could help us to print liturgical books in local languages. Father Pantelejmon asked me if we had anything ready for publication, and I remembered the Zulu translation of the Reader’s Book. With the blessing of His Eminence Metropolitan Damaskinos 500 copies were printed by the missionary society in Belgrade, in memory of Fr Daniel Sysoev.

Source: Khanya

Written by Stephen

January 28, 2013 at 4:38 pm

Christmas in Thailand and Cambodia

leave a comment »

On the night of 6 to 7 January 2013 Orthodox Christians in Thailand celebrated Christmas. This year holiday services were performed at the St. Nicholas Chapel in Bangkok, All Saints Church in Pattaya (Chonburi province), Holy Trinity Church on Phuket, Holy Ascension Church on Samui, as well as at the church of Saint Great Martyr George in Phnom Penh and St. Panteleimon in Sihanoukville of the Kingdom of Cambodia.

In the Holy Dormition Monastery brethren held a reader’s service due to lack of a priest, who will visit the monastery January 9.

Pattaya and Phuket were especially crowded where numerous tourists and vacationers joined the residing parishioners of All Saints and Trinity Churches.

In Pattaya the evening festive service began at 6 January from 10:00 pm. Vigil and Divine Liturgy were served by the Representative of the Russian Orthodox Church in Thailand archimandrite Oleg (Cherepanin). On the occasion of Christmas, many pilgrims confessed and received Holy Communion. Throughout the feast day the church was filled with worshipers.

Christmas services at All Saints Church in Pattaya
In the photo: Christmas services at All Saints Church in Pattaya.

In the afternoon, All Saints’ Sunday school held a Christmas pictures competition and festive play. Archimandrite Oleg, who attended the children’s party, congratulated the children for Christmas and thanked them for the program.

The same evening, the Russian Orthodox Church in Thailand held ​​a festive evening service. Members of the Catholic community in Pattaya came to give congratulations on the Orthodox Nativity of Christ. In response, archimandrite Oleg gave the guests an icon of St. Nicholas, a saint of the undivided Church of Christ and patron saint of the Orthodox believers in Thailand.

Representatives of the Catholic community in Pattaya congratulate Orthodox Christmas
In the photo: Representatives of the Catholic community in Pattaya congratulate Orthodox Christmas.

French broadcaster «Sable Rouge» filmed the Orthodox community celebrating Christmas in Pattaya.

On Phuket vigil was served ​​by priest Alexey Golovin. Holy Trinity Church was festively decorated inside and illuminated by electric garlands outside by parishioners.

Christmas Liturgy at Holy Trinity Church in Phuket
In the photo: Christmas service at the Holy Trinity Church in Phuket.

The Church in Phuket is the largest Orthodox church in Thailand. More than 200 people came this year during the Christmas service in Phuket. As noted by archimandrite Oleg (Cherepanin), Representative of the Russian Orthodox Church in Thailand, summing up the celebration of Christmas in Thailand: «It is gratifying that a year ago, the temple opened, consecrated in February 2012 by archbishop Mark of Egorievsk, head of the Moscow Patriarchate foreign institutions of the Russian Orthodox Church, and has taken a worthy and important place in the life of the Russian community of the island. The obvious merit goes to the recently appointed priest from Tomsk Fr. Alexey Golovin».

Orthodox believers of Bangkok also had Holiday service on Christmas. At St. Nicholas Church the evening service (Vigil and Divine Liturgy) was performed by priest Daniel Wanna. In the evening of Christmas Day after festive Vespers there was a Christmas tree for the children of parishioners. The parish council of St. Nicholas Chapel in Bangkok offered ​​a traditional holiday dinner.

Fr. Daniel Wanna offers the cross at the end of the holiday service in Bangkok
In the photo: Fr. Daniel Wanna offers the cross at the end of the holiday service in Bangkok.

At Holy Ascension parish on Samui there was a festive service, despite the fact that the temple has not yet been finished. Arranged by the Orthodox Missionary Department (Moscow) and the Kolomenskaya Seminary, a student Roman Pashin, specially arrived for the holidays from Moscow to assist in the organization of services in Samui. Archimandrite Oleg (Cherepanin) blessed an evening reader’s service. Mr. Pashin also prepared those present for the Confession and Holy Communion at the Divine Liturgy, which would be available on January 8th on Samui, served by priest Alexei Golovin, on the second day of Christmas.

Space for the Christmas service on Samui is located right beneath the walls of the temple under construction
In the photo: Space for the Christmas service on Samui is located right beneath the walls of the temple under construction.

It is expected that for the feast of the Holy Dormition in 2013 the construction of a temple on Koh Samui will be completed, which will allow, upon consecration of the temple, the full liturgical life.

Due to the special care of the Hierarchy for the development of Orthodoxy in the South-East Asia for the first time this year, it became possible to send to Cambodia not only lay missionaries, but a clergyman.

In the Orthodox chapel of the Holy Great Martyr George, located at the Bulgarian Embassy, always kindly provided for the needs of the Russian community, Sunday services began, which coincided this year with Christmas Eve. Priest Roman Bychkov served All-Night Vigil on Saturday evening and Sunday Divine Liturgy. Fr. Roman was ordained for ministry in Thailand in December 2012. He was helped by Xenia Bychkova, and Ilya Molev, lecturer at the School of the Orthodox Missionary Department (Moscow), arriving especially for holidays from Moscow to assist in the organization of services in Cambodia. On Christmas eve night Fr. Roman Bychkov served festive Vigil.

During the services, according to the canons of the Church as the chapel belongs to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, following the commemoration of the Patriarch of Russian Orthodox Church Kirill, Fr. Roman remembered His Eminence Kirill, Metropolitan of Varna and Veliki, the governor-chairman of the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. Fr. Roman Bychkov also gave a Christmas gift and heartfelt congratulations to the charge d’affaires of Bulgaria Mr. Svilen Popov on behalf of the Representative of Russian Orthodox Church in Thailand archimandrate Oleg (Cherepanin). In view of the special conditions of the religious situation in the Kingdom of Cambodia, at the vigil of the Orthodox Church of Phnom Penh also prayed Ethiopian citizens living in Cambodia.

Priest Roman Bychkov served Christmas Divine Liturgy ​​the morning of January 7 at the parish of the Holy Great Martyr and Healer Panteleimon in Sihanoukville. Afterwards baby Samuel received the Holy Sacrament of Baptism.

Priest Roman Bychkov served a festive Divine Liturgy in the parish of the Great Martyr and Healer Panteleimon in Sihanoukville (Cambodia)
In the photo: Priest Roman Bychkov served a festive Divine Liturgy in the parish of the Great Martyr and Healer Panteleimon in Sihanoukville (Cambodia).

Preparing parishioners to worship, confess and receive Holy Communion was Ilya Molev, a lecturer at the School of the Orthodox Missionary at Synodal Missionary Department (Moscow). Church staff and members of the parish council visited the Russians jailed in Sihanoukville, consoling them for Christmas.

The Representative of the Russian Orthodox Church in Thailand archimandrite Oleg (Cherepanin) praised the organization and conduct of the Christmas holidays in the parishes of the Orthodox Church in Thailand this year. He expressed his sincere gratitude to the Foundation Committee of the Orthodox Church in Thailand and the parish councils, as well as all those who labored for the holidays. Archimandrite Oleg asked clergy serving in Thailand to plan the organization of festive Christmas services in the next year in the People’s Democratic Republic of Laos.

Source: Orthodox Christian Church in Thailand (Moscow Patriarchate)

Written by Stephen

January 22, 2013 at 5:55 pm

New Orthodox Community in Philippines

leave a comment »

By the Grace of God the Orthodox Metropolitanate of Hong Kong and South East Asia established a new Orthodox Community in Davao, Philippines. The Orthodox Community of Saint Isidore of Chios in San Guillermo,Davao.

On Monday, December 17,2012, Metropolitan Nektarios of Hong Kong visited San Guillermo and chrismated 71 catechumens. Among them were some catechumens from Lake Cebu and Kisulan. The Service of Chrismation was held at the new Church of Saint Isidore of Chios, which is being build by the members of the newly created Orthodox Community.

On Tuesday, December 18, Metropolitan Nektarios traveled to Manila where he visited the Annunciation Orthodox Cathedral and had several working meetings.

Source: Orthodox Metropolitanate of Hong Kong and South East Asia

More pictures can be found here. Other recent photo stories from the Philippines can be found here and here.

Written by Stephen

January 14, 2013 at 11:27 am

Antiochian Orthodox Life in Argentina

leave a comment »

Met. Silouan of Argentina

Met. Silouan of Argentina

The following is a transcript of a talk given by Metropolitan Silouan of Argentina about the youth in his diocese, though he also talks about other aspects of Orthodox life there. The talk can also be heard here on Ancient Faith Radio.

Metropolitan Silouan: Your Eminence, I am very glad to be with you today. I am glad for the opportunity I have been given last year to be at the convention and to receive all your love for the few words I could speak last year. I am most blessed today to be with Your Eminence, with all Your Graces, and all the priests of this Archdiocese.

It is a blessing for me and my church to be present here only for one thing: to be in communion, not only in the holy chalice in this holy communion, but also to share with you who we are, because you don’t know us, and I feel it is my duty to let you know who we are. Metropolitan Philip asked me to speak about the youth in my church. I will do this presentation. And he asked me, too, to have some time for your questions, so I will divide in half my presentation. The one that you will see on the screen, and the other half will be yours so you can ask the question you feel you need to ask.

I have a lot of words in my heart to say. I will speak about people that I love, and I am speaking to people that I am coming to love, to you. I should continue what Metropolitan Philip started to say about many of you and your parishioners who came to Orthodoxy, to this church. This year I discovered something that I transmitted to His Eminence, and to some of you, some of the priests, I am glad for three reasons.

The first one, that you encounter the truth that we chant at the end of the Liturgy: “We have encountered the true Faith.” Fr. John yesterday explained to me what he and many of you have found: the true grace of God. I feel this is important, but what is more important to me is to notice that your family, your children, are at church, not only at church, but they have adopted what for you what was your life; it is now their life, and not only this, that they are eager to serve the Church as their own personal option. For me, this is a second motive to be glad for you and to share it with you. The third one is to see what is happening up this hill, this transfiguration of the youth that come here and they are eager to learn about their faith and to be a real community, a real community of Christians. For me, this is a very beautiful testimony that I will bring to me there. I will share with you mine in Argentina; you will see it now.

I have seen with my own eyes how these young people are serving the Church, and this I will cherish very much. I am glad for you, for your present and your future, because you are in a good path, in a good way. I pray that you can fulfill your ministry. After the words I have heard on Monday evening, what you have been saying about the youth, about your own struggle in your own parishes, in your own realities, words for me that are very precious, I don’t know what I can tell you [except] to share some of our experience in Argentina, and hopefully it will be of some utility for some of you. I hope it will not be a boring presentation, but I feel as brothers you are eager to see what’s happening in this far land.

We will start with this presentation. Welcome to Argentina! You see the map, and this is the logo of our youth: “Unión de la Juventud Ortodoxa Argentina.” La juventud Ortodoxa Argentina tiene… [laughter] The youth in Argentina has a great story, and a great history that I don’t know. I came to know it by the day of my election. They have told me that they went to the great synod of 1993; they were present in Balamand at that time, and they spoke about the youth in Argentina.

This is the other logo of our Christian education, the catechism in our parishes, where our youth are working now. I have asked them to work in catechism because we need people in our Sunday school. This is one of the pictures of general meetings of EN.Mí.-C.O., which is a national encounter of instructors of Sunday schools. This is the first meeting that we had done. They were so serious that I asked [it] to be done each year, not every two years. In 2010, 2011, and 2012, we had more than 65 present in these national, archdiocesan meetings. They learn their faith through these meetings, and they teach, too.

We are trying with Balamand next year to make a teaching program of our general program, S.O.F.I.A., that we have on the internet, with all the Archdiocese of South America, so that they are able to be instructed in their faith and be better instructors. We are trying to have some material for Sunday school that the priest, along with the instructors, are preparing.

We have made some utilities. This is a puzzle about St. George for the children in Sunday school. The Bible you have in English was translated by the Greek Archdiocese in Spanish. “Los niños lean la Biblia—the kids read the Bible.”

All our youth meet on a yearly basis. We go to many parishes. In 2008, in Salta, in the north of Argentina, this is one of the meetings; 2009 in the same parish, in Salta. We divide them in two groups: one of teenagers and the other one of young adults. We are not so many, but they are eager to work in the Church. This was in Córdoba, the second city of Argentina: teens and young adults. This was in Tucumán last year. In this national encounter, two brothers from Kansas were present there, the Chipi brothers, and they were well-welcomed there. Their presence had a great influence on all the youth, because they behaved excellently with them. This was this year in Santiago del Estero. These are the young adults, and these are the teens.
I have written what happened in each encounter and made these as letters to our young people. I don’t have time to let you know what is the transformation that is taking place in them, but we have this problem that you have, that their energy will last one month, two months, three months, and later on, we should have something done again, but we cannot. We have another problem with the youth, that not all our priests are able to accompany them. They are like you: They have a lot of services; they go to see ill people. We have one priest in one state, so it is a reality beyond our forces, but still they are present at church, and I have a lot of hope for them.

They started as instructors in Sunday schools; I want to form choirs now. We have the book of the Liturgy, a defined text of the Divine Liturgy, and I am seeking what kind of music we can do with them that people can chant, because the people in our parishes chant with the choir. We have small choirs, so this is the second step that I want the youth to do.

You will see the youth in each parish. This is Argentina. Argentina is a long country. It’s like Europe: from north to south, this is the farthest point of the earth. Salta: from Buenos Aires you need twenty hours by car to get there. I go by plane; it is two hours to get there. We have two parishes in this state. There are more than 200 people in Sunday school.

Some of their activities: they make some—I don’t know in English—a one-day picnic or something like that. They distribute vestments to poor people, and they form the choir of the church. These young people are not the choir of the church, three or four of them. It is a good publicity! Not all of them are the choir, three, four of them. And one of them will go this year, hopefully, to Balamand as a seminarian.

We have a problem that after Sunday school, we don’t have a continuous Sunday school from the first grade till college. We have a sacramental Sunday school, which means that the fourth and the fifth grades who come to church have their Sunday school time. We don’t have places. We don’t have instructors. We don’t have material for the other grades.

In this parish in Salta, the priest cannot cope with the teens. He thought maybe and he spoke with me about creating for this period of time in their life to be as scout-boys and scout-girls. We are evaluating this experience in church. We need the boy-scout for two or three years. We don’t know yet what is the impact in the life of the church. They are behaving well. Some of the mothers are participating to help us.
This province is Tucumán. Tucumán is the smallest state in Argentina. It is twice the superficies of Lebanon. It is our place where most of the clergy came in Argentina. We have three churches there with one priest. It is sixteen hours by car from Buenos Aires. Some of the responsible of the Sunday schools in this parish, they have a small mission. I don’t like to speak about a mission; it is an established parish without a priest. They give food to poor children of this area, for about one hundred poor children that come there. Many of them receive some instruction at Sunday school.

The other province is Córdoba. It is eight hours from Buenos Aires. We have a school there with 700 children. We have four schools and one kindergarten in Argentina, belonging to the church. The priest who serves there is 74 years old. There is one young priest who came from Lebanon two years ago to help him. They make picnics out with the young of the college, but also with the people of Sunday school. This is a photo with the young there. Some camp, the priest was Fr. Antonios. This is when we greeted Fr. Antonios two years ago when he came from Lebanon to Córdoba.

We will go now to the province of Buenos Aires. We have the cathedral in the capital, and in the province of Buenos Aires we have three parishes. In this parish, we had a lot of problems, but, God willing, it will be the best parish in Argentina. We have a priest who is 65 years old. He and his khouria are making a wonderful work. We have a school with—I don’t know—more than 700 students. In catechism, we have 120 children in Sunday school.

This is a real mission there. It is an established parish since more than 75 years, but the behavior of the parish now, they are coming to Orthodoxy better than before. They are eager to know about our faith. It is the only parish where all the parishioners are eager to listen about Orthodoxy. Some pictures of the work done in the parish.

The other one is Pergamino. Pergamino is in the province of Buenos Aires. The priest died three years ago. He died at the age of more than 80 years. The parish is still existing by the effort of one couple, Marcelo and Alicia, who are instructors in Sunday school. These are people at Sunday school; they have 100 people. I don’t know how people have faith to work without a priest, and to be alone without any help, but they are eager to do this work. This is a procession on the day of St. George.

The province of Mendoza, very well-known for its wine, like California here. Ten hours from Buenos Aires. There is one priest who is 76 years old. They are surprising the young there. There are two girls, 15 and 16 years old, two sisters. Three years ago, they wrote all the material for the classes of Sunday school for the fourth and fifth grade. They made it by themselves during summertime, and they presented it to me.
In Argentina there is something beautiful that Sunday school makes in Nativity. They make a presentation about the Nativity of the Lord, and here in Mendoza, they are vested like angels, like Mary, like the Magi.

They made the oak amps [17:50]. The priest does not know how to behave with these young people. They are asking for help, but we try to give them some remote help. They are collecting vestments and comida, food for poor people.

We go to Santiago del Estero. Santiago del Estero has a superficy of Syria. 50, 60 years ago, all the deputies of this state were speaking Arabic during their sessions. Now very few are speaking Arabic. We have one priest, we have two churches there. One is the oldest on the continent. Twelve hours from Buenos Aires. This is a picture of one of the activities of their Sunday school. They have 250 children. One of their camps. The Liturgy.

We go to the province of Santa Fe, not Santa Fe of Mexico or New Mexico. We have one school and we have five parishes, with one priest attending them. The school has 600 students. Youth there are working. There are very few youth working in this parish, but they are missionaries like their priest. They accompany him six hours in the car to celebrate the Liturgy in the parishes of this province. There are those who are in charge of the choir. This is the church of St. George in Rosario, where next year we will be having our annual youth retreat. This is Fr. Alejandro, and behind him, three, four youths who accompany him in his travels. Preparing some food for an activity. This is a church and some of the Sunday school.

We go to the cathedral in Buenos Aires. In Buenos Aires we are very few. I am with two other priests and one deacon who last Sunday was ordained as a priest. We work for all Argentina. We make everything for Argentina. Here is a photo when we make a DVD about the Holy Week in the Orthodox Church. Some of them helped us making this DVD.

This is our Sunday school at the cathedral. This is the saloon of the cathedral. This is a choir. It is not the choir of the cathedral; it is the choir that was formed from all the states at the ordination last Sunday—from Santiago, from Salta, from Tucumán, from Buenos Aires. Some of them are Americans who are living now there, like this boy with the lance in the middle. They collect vestments to give to poor people.

This is in the ordination of Padre Gabriel. I don’t know, I can’t see Fr. Michael. Fr. Michael Corbin from Ohio went there because he was and is a friend of Fr. Gabriel. He can tell you what he saw there. He is a witness. For this ordination, 190 people came from all Argentina to attend this ordination. Half of them were the youth. They don’t have money, but they are eager to serve the Church and to care to come to this ordination. We have ordinations one each ten years. This is my first ordination, but there is a lot of hope. My work here is to transmit to you and to share with you this hope.

We have courses on the internet for our youth and for all our parishioners. This is what we had done in the Antiochian Archdiocese of Southern America: S.O.F.I.A., Seminario Ortodoxo de Formación para IberoAmérica. We have taught eight courses during the four last years: iconography, Liturgy, Holy Fathers, Orthodox spirituality, lives of the saints, Byzantine music. Three courses of Byzantine music, not occidental music, of Byzantine music. Many of the youth learn Byzantine music.

We have another course that the University of Balamand is doing: Cursos Bíblicos del Balamand. It is the Holy Scripture that is done twice a year. Twelve months is each course. It is the sixth year, and we are those who give these lessons. This is a website done by one of our youth. It was lately updated. You can follow us, get attuned to our activities and our notices. You will see your photos in our website. I was taking note of everything I was hearing and listening to, to be able to transmit and share it with our parishioners and our priests there. I hope I can be faithful to what I have seen.

We have made some publications, mainly to teach our youth the basic things. A book of prayer, of daily prayer: El Consuelo Espiritual. The Book of the Divine Liturgy that we have edited in September last year, and this DVD of the Holy Week. We have a Sunday bulletin, edited on a weekly basis, for all the Archdiocese, a good teaching material for all the youth and parishioners. We have in this bulletin many things translated from Greek, from French, from English, material like the writings of St. John Maximovitch. They know him. About Mother Gabriela, The Ascetic of Love. Those books that you know. Some of Fr. Thomas Hopko, about the Liturgy. A lot of material is being translated and edited in this bulletin.

How can we help the youth? We have made something very small, like you have the Order of St. Ignatius. We have called it Manos en el Arado, what St. Luke says in his Gospel: our hands on the plough. And some people accepted to make a monthly contribution, debiting their accounts, and it is a good way to finance these meetings, this work, this editing, and people who are not able to, attend this way.

These are the priests. They are not twelve; they are eleven priests and one deacon. This is last year at our convention. We celebrated together. There is one priest missing. These are some of the women in our Archdiocese that help us. We don’t have an order for them. We call them “En Amor—In Love.” We had last year a national meeting for them. Now, in August, we will have the second one, and it will be preceded by the meeting of the khourias for the first time in Argentina.

This is our last convention last year in Mendoza in September. Good people from all the parishes. I hope that someday we can do the same as you do, gather all the families to come to the convention, but distances are too big and the costs are too great so I don’t know if we can afford doing it, but we work in the hope of it.
And this is a great thank-you for you. [applause]

I leave the time because it’s eleven, so that you can ask questions. I don’t want to speak more. I have a lot to say, but I give you the opportunity if you have any questions.

Q1: How many parishes do you have in Argentina?
Metr. Silouan: We have nineteen churches in eight states. Two of them are closed since 40 and 60 years ago. I have said that we have twelve: eleven priests and one deacon to serve them. Each one lives in his own state. They suffer of loneliness. Not all of them have studied theology. Many of them, like today Christopher who was made subdeacon, they studied some courses, either at the Catholic university or some Protestant seminary, and read some of the books available in Spanish—we don’t have a lot—and they started to work like this.

Two years ago in February 2010, I went with half of them to Syria and Lebanon, and we had some courses in Balamand, the faculty of theology, and they came to know His Beatitude, their Eminences, the parishes, institutions, the archbishops there, to come to know whom they are serving. They love Antioch. They didn’t know it, but they loved it from afar, but when they came to know it, they loved it more. But when they came back, for six months they didn’t speak with me. I didn’t know why, but I discovered the reason later. They said we should have come there twenty years ago, not now. We have seen something very beautiful, and we are down below. They felt that they are not good priests, that they are not serving as they do. They do not have the knowledge that they need to have. But when I discovered it, I gave them some pills they won’t have a headache.

2: It’s not your fault.
Metr. Silouan: I am glad with these priests. We are what we are, and we are glad to share what we have, and we are trying to improve our service. It is not the best, but not the least.

Q3: How do the priests survive financially?
Metr. Silouan: Some of them have to work. The others are full-time priests. By the grace of God. Two of them are living well, but the others not: they have to struggle for everything. They have to struggle for everything. They cannot have their own car. It is very expensive for them. But we are trying to make something that you will do this night, about retirement and social security. We are trying to provide them with these things. I have made so in our cathedral, and we will continue doing it so that the priests will not have to think about material things but to spread the word of God.

Q4: If you have any questions, please come to the microphone so people can hear you. But I have a question first: Sayidna, it sounds like you still need especially laypeople educated in our theology to teach until you can get the priesthood at the point where you want it. Am I right? It’s the ministry of the laity if ever we’ve seen it.
Metr. Silouan: We need a lot. We lack of resources: of priests, of laity people, of material, of everything. We are trying this internet program, S.O.F.I.A., that we are converting to the module we are trying to have next year with Balamand is an attempt to instruct people about our faith and enable them to be better servants in our church. There are some laity who are the right hand of the priest, but they are good faithful, but we need people who know their faith. I am counting on youth and on some women to do so, but it is a long process before getting there. We should have patience.

You have seen a lot of annual conferences, about catechism, about youth, about women, about men. This year we had for men of parish councils, for the first time in history there, and they were surprising. Every time we do something, people are surprising. I cannot tell, not the emotions, but the transformations that are occurring. They are similar to what you know upon this hill. You will understand me better.

Q5: Sayidna, I have two questions. The first one: you had mentioned many times that we have schools. Do these schools have an income and the Archdiocese make any use of this income for the clergy or for the church? And the second question is: what is the nature of the Orthodox there? Are they all from Arabic origin or do you have some native converts?
Metr. Silouan: We are the unique Archdiocese in southern America to have such colleges. They were created so that all the Orthodox people from Syrian and Lebanese origin will get their children educated there, but they prefer to send them to better schools: to the Roman Catholic schools. They are not nowadays a place for evangelism and mission. We are not prepared to do so. This is the first part. The second part, the financial part, we cannot have the priests on the income of these schools for many reasons, but I cannot detail them now.

I am trying to work during the four past years with the catechism Sunday school in order to prepare young people to prepare material that will be the base for what the catechism might be in our schools. We don’t have time, we don’t have people, so I need to wait a little more so that our schools may be more Orthodox than they are now. People who work at our schools are not Orthodox. This is another problem for us. It is not our community who serves there, so I need to prepare instructors before entering [that]. We are trying to audit somehow these schools and to work on an educational project for these schools. There are people who are helping me who are professionals, but it is taking time. Time there is not like in Syria and Lebanon or in the United States. What you make in one week there needs two months, three months, four months. I should be patient.

The other question is: our people, the Syrian Orthodox descendants have left their churches there. Few of them have stayed. The immigration has now about 150 years in Argentina since the time of the massacre in Damascus in 1860. After that massacre, many of them came to Argentina. We have lost the first generation. They were more Orthodox than [those] who live now, because they were waiting for the priests to come once a year to celebrate Pascha, the Resurrection, to make baptisms.

But after 40, 50 years, they became Catholic, because they have the church nearby their home. Their children are being educated in Roman Catholic colleges. It is better for them not to be Orthodox, because the church will ask them money to sustain herself. It is better to go there, because they will have a more social connection with people, with the high society, I don’t know. It is this inferiority complex that they felt at the very beginning that made them rapidly into great Argentinian society. They are not too eager to know about their faith.

One or two priests talked on Monday evening about how to live an Orthodox way of life. I feel that we don’t live an Orthodox way of life. We are trying to explain it, to teach about it, to live it concretely with people. I myself, the priests, and those who are at Sunday school, these people who are present, the men, we are trying. The actual energy we have in our church are those I may say converted. We don’t have a massive conversion. There are people who come in personal form to the Church for some reasons. I will not explain them now; we have no time for that. But they are helping us, living, in catechism, in attending our church, in helping the priest. These are the ministry of the laity in our church.

Those of Arabic descendancy are more skillful in administration, organization, and fundraising, and they are helping us in the parish councils, but they don’t have idea about the mission of the Church. It is a thing that we are living with, little by little, so they might be conscious about the changes in our church. We cannot continue thinking like our grandfathers 60 years ago, what the Church is, what the priest is, what his role is about. Now our circumstances have changed, and we need to change, too, in order to be able to have a good present and a better future. They are listening. Some of them are cooperating. I hope things will be better in the future.

Q6: Fr. George asked me to ask you: Have the IOCC helped there in your church? And the other question: Is there any other ethnic Orthodox churches, like Greek or Russian?
Metr. Silouan: We don’t have any help from outside Argentina. The only exception is His Beatitude, when I went with the priests and the other case is Metropolitan Philip last year and this year [who] is eager to help us.

The other question is: we have all the denominations there: Greek, Russian, from the Patriarchate of Moscow, from the ROCOR. We have Serbian, Romanian. There are some Maronites, some Melchites, too. There are some Syrian, but we are the biggest so far between the Orthodox, between the Catholic from the East, and the Muslims. As an institution, our church is the biggest in Argentina. In extension, in people, in institution, in presence, in every area, we are the biggest, but we are still in the minority there.

7: Any other questions?
Q8: Your Eminence, the immigrants who came to Argentina, 150 ago, as you state, did they plan to come or did they get there by accident?
7: Did you hear Sayidna’s question, everyone? He asked, 150 years ago, when the people went to Argentina, did they go there intentionally or by accident? Am I right, Sayidna? That was your question.
Metr. Silouan: Maybe some of them came intentionally, but some of them didn’t know where to go. The ship came to Buenos Aires. His brother came to Brazil, the other one came to Boston. This is what happened with people there. Immigration has stopped since the early 1970s.

For 40 years, we don’t have any immigration to Argentina. I don’t know really the reasons, but there are two or three. The first one is the political situation of Argentina is not a stable one, first with the dictator and later on with the social movement. The second one is the economical situation of Argentina. You have heard what happened in 2001. It is a disaster. There is no stability in the economy. We have inflation each year. In 2010, 23% last year; 25 or 30% this year. This year they speak about 25%. It is unbelievable how they are living there. They told me that it is like a wheel. Each ten years it goes up and then it goes down. We are now down. I hope we will be someday up.

Q8: Your currency is pesos, right?
Metr. Silouan: Pesos.
Q8: Pesos. How many pesos make a dollar?
Metr. Silouan: Officially, 450, but in the black market, I don’t know what today—more than six.

Q7: Sayidna, are you finished there? Sayidna, do you have any of the problems with the youth that you’re hearing us discuss here, like with alcoholism?
Metr. Silouan: I identify with what you were saying on Monday evening. Maybe I can share something—but later in private, not now—about what happens in confession. What happens at the camps, parishes, something that we are trying to do there, but we do not deal with drugs and alcohol. We don’t have people prepared to it. We are not prepared to serve the Church there. We are trying.

Q7: Any other questions, comments, anybody? Well, thank you, Sayidna. Yes, Fr. Anthony? He asked if there is anything our Archdiocese could do to help His Eminence.
Metr. Silouan: I think that churches in communion should be a reality. It is not a mere theology. As Paul did with Jerusalem, we should do this the same. I have told His Eminence that the Patriarchate asked to help the Syrians, [in] this letter that the Patriarch sent in the Great Lent, and I was afraid of what to do in Argentina because we need, and they need, but people and priests said, “We will help.” And we have collected what is about 80% of our budget, of the budget of the Archdiocese, to send to the Patriarchate. We should have this sense of solidarity. It does not matter the amount, but we should have solidarity.

I think that you can help. You can think about it, and I can think with you. Maybe it is not the proper time to do it right now, but I will tell you that all the churches in Latin America are getting help, not from their Patriarchates because they are not able to do so, but from the United States, from North America: the Greek, the Russian, the Serbian, everyone, because they cannot sustain their presence there. They need the help of others. In what you can help me, I am trying to be here to listen to you, to learn from you, to see what the committees, departments you have are doing. Maybe they can be helpful for me.

Yesterday I went down below to see this exhibition about the Holy Land. Our instructors are doing so. I need to take this exhibition, to translate it into Spanish, and to exhibit it there. But maybe we can have some exchange program. I don’t know what type. You can help me; I can help you. We have many things in Spanish done in liturgical books, prayers, translations that can help those priests, those parishes, those converted, who knows Spanish. We can afford it.

I have something with me that people, some priests asked me to share. I will share it with you. I don’t know. I will see the Khouria Stephanie to speak about this meeting of khourias in Argentina, to learn from your experience. I will be in the meetings this weekend of the OCA, of the women, of the youth, to see what you do and to be able to think with you. Maybe money is the easiest thing, but what I need you to help me [with] is to find some projects that you can finance, too, in order to be a sustainable parish for its priests and its activities. I have presented some to His Eminence Metropolitan Philip, and he is eager to help one of these projects. I am grateful and in debt of this, but I don’t know how to present all these things.

I didn’t come prepared for this, but I came here because, as I said last year, I am preoccupied about my church, and I am knocking on doors: for music, for the youth, for the priests, for many things, and for money to come also, but I feel that it is God who is making things, and I have seen his providence each month. I don’t know why he is so generous with us. We are not worthy. I am conscious of this, but I don’t know why he is so insistent that we stay, that we are, that we work, and it is something amazing. I hope that you can keep hoping for us. This is the best thing that you can do: keep hoping for us. Patience is the virtue of those who preceded me, and it should be mine, too, and that of my parishioners there.

Thank you for your attention and for your prayers, because it is the most precious thing that may change our reality into a better one and transfigure it to what we are eager to see and partake, which is the kingdom among us, between us. Many thanks, Sayidna.
7: Thank you, Sayidna. [applause]

Written by Stephen

January 8, 2013 at 6:11 pm

Orthodox Life in Antarctica

leave a comment »

0510-436x600From, with many more pictures, here.

Mission on the White Continent: an Interview with Hieromonk Pavel (Gelyastanov)

We often complain about life: Public transport is really annoying… Where are all these people going anyway?… We’ve had enough of this rain… Why is this heat so unbearable?… What do they want me to do anyway? I’m fed up with all this shouting and noise and fuss… We could go on listing the complaints, dreaming about being on our own and how nice it is everywhere else, and in general having a moan and making out we want to get away from it all. But once you are at the end of the earth, suddenly everything is the other way around and you look at the world in a completely new way.

These are the thoughts I had when I met Hieromonk Pavel (Gelyastanov) who had just come back from an obedience of 15 months in the Antarctic. I don’t know if it is correct to call the Antarctic the end of the earth, but it could probably be called the end of the planet or the end of the map. Though, on the other hand, you can’t really see any earth in the Antarctic, rather it’s all ice, snow, water and rocks and Polar birdlife. But on top of this you have the people who are always there, far fewer than the visitors, but they live there in the kingdom of snow for about a year on average: they come from various countries to carry out some special task and then go home. This is why the Antarctic, discovered in 1820 by the Russian explorers Bellingshausen and Lazarev, is called a free country: there are no politics, no economy, no citizenship, no social divisions…

How did Fr Paul, a monk from the Novospassky Monastery in Moscow, end up there? I tried to find the answer to this question not among the ice, but in Minsk, in our monastery where Father had come to ‘thaw out’ after his very long winter stay.

Tell us, Fr Paul, how come you went to the Antarctic?

At the request of Archbishop Theognost, the Superior of the Holy Trinity-St Sergius Monastery, a decree was issued by his Holiness the Patriarch that I should be sent as a member of the 56thRussian Antarctic Expedition. I arrived there on 3 March 2011 to serve in the Holy Trinity church in Bellingshausen.

This is the only church in the southern continent and, it must be said, as such it is not only the object of curiosity, but also of respect. Anyone who goes to our island first of all goes to church, has their photo taken, asks about the history of the church and many come and venerate the icons. It’s a local sight.

When we flew in, the first thing we did was to hold a thanksgiving service. We were met by good weather. True, there were some heavy gusts of wind, but they did not stop us from admiring the wonderful views on the descent. Out station is situated on King George Island; next door to us are the scientific stations of Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Korea, China and Poland. Our station and the landing strip of the Chilean base ‘Via Frey’ are on the part of the land which is ice free in the summer.
Places like this are called oasis – they cover less than 5% of the island. Of course, the nature is amazing! Actually, penguins are very similar to monks. They have a little white cassock on their fronts and they are dressed, so to speak, in a little black overcassock on top. They are very good-natured, they walk on their legs like human-beings, and they are inquisitive and not afraid of people.

Who was priest in the Holy Trinity church before you?
Hieromonk Sophrony and Hierodeacon Pallady, also monks of the Holy Trinity-St Sergius Monastery), spent over fourteen months there as part of the 55th Expedition. The whole concept of setting up a permanent church at the South Pole was the idea of the head of the Russian Antarctic Expedition, Valery Lukin, and His Holiness Patriarch Alexis II. This was backed by Peter Zadirov who was then the head of a company called Anteks-Polyus.

A trust fund called ‘A Church in the Antarctic’ was set up and a nationwide competition for designs was held. Church builders from Barnaul won it. The site of the church was blessed on 20 January 2002 and the church was built on 15 February 2004. The superior of Holy Trinity-St Sergius Monastery, Bishop Theognost of Sergievo-Posad consecrated it together with a whole group of clergy, pilgrims and benefactors who came on a special flight from the nearest Chilean town of Punta-Arenas.

The first rector of the church was Hieromonk Kallistrat (Romanenko), he was followed by Hieromonk Gabriel (Bogachikhin) and his assistant Vladimir Petrakov. Almost all the clergy who had the obedience of pastoral care for the polar workers were monks from Holy Trinity- St Sergius Monastery and changed over every year, more or less like those who worked at the Antarctic polar stations themselves.

What did you do on the first days of your stay in the Antarctic?
A parishioner of our Monastery, Anatoly Pristupa, received a blessing and was given the obedience together with me. He served in the altar, sang, read, baked prosphora, rang the bells and also worked as a restorer…Our first task was to set up the new two-tier iconostasis together with Hieromonk Gabriel (Bogachikhin) and the artist and restorer Valery Grishanov, who had painted the icons. These had been painted especially for conditions in the Antarctic. On 6 March 2011 we invited all seventeen members of the Expedition with their head, Bulat Rafaelovich Mavlyudov, to the church, where we did the little blessing of water, blessed the icons and the iconostasis, the people and read the prayers for the Increase of Love and for Those Who Travel, and took a photograph of everyone together. After this Fr Gabriel and Valery flew back to Moscow.

The church is built of logs in the Old Russian style with a belfry. There are eight chains from the foundation to the dome which help to protect it from the wind. The thick logs and the chains too, which are painted a bronze colour and go up somewhere past the ceiling, give it a fairy-tale feel and you cannot help remembering Pushkin’s verses, ‘There is a green oak by a curved bay, and on that oak a golden chain…’. Once in the winter we had a very unusual and mysterious night time service.

The words of the prayers and the sound of the bells with the winds and the creaking of the frozen logs gave you the impression, if you closed your eyes, of being in an old sailing ship crossing a stormy sea. Given those circumstances, the irmos of the sixth ode of the canon to our Lord Jesus Christ sounded quite different: ‘Beholding the sea of life surging high with the storm of temptations, I have fled to Thy calm haven and cry aloud to Thee; lead my life forth from corruption, O Most Merciful One’.

Who are these people who live at the South Pole?
They come from various countries but are very friendly, they invite each other over and selflessly help each other. The way life is organized there is reminiscent of life on Mt Athos, at least according to the stories that are told. If Athos is a monastic republic, then the Antarctic could be called a polar republic. The precise way work is organized is much the same, the voluntary submission to a strict code of discipline (for instance, if you do not have permission from the head, you cannot leave the station; you must absolutely sign a register, saying where and how long you will be away for; give the estimated time of your return; take rations with you).

Each station is a sort of monastery with its own rules, its abbot and monks, property and territory. No door on any dwelling or station anywhere on the island is ever locked. Nobody would ever steal anything. Every dwelling has food inside and anyone who has been caught out by bad weather can shelter inside at any time. I remember on the third Sunday of Lent we served the Liturgy of St Basil the Great. After the service we left, but when we came back in the evening we found flowers on the stand! And they were so bright! It was really nice, especially when there’s not a tree or a blade of grass or a leaf in sight! Who put them there is a mystery. Thank you and may the Lord save him (or them)…

You can learn a lot from the members of the polar expeditions. They have a hard time of it, they risk their lives. For example, it seems as if in Russia more care is taken of technology than people and until recently in the Antarctic they basically used equipment that had been written off. Of course these machines break down and the polar mechanics have to take the engines to pieces and sort them out in temperatures of -50, without any sort of shelter, and then they have to repair them so they can get back to where they have to be. Many have lost their lives in the ice. There are 160 Russians buried there. I considered it my duty to pray for all these people, baptised, unbaptized, believers, non-believers…God knows!

Unfortunately, during this stay there were virtually no Churched people at the station. There was only one person who more or less came to confession and took communion regularly, but then he was transferred to another station. True, two people were baptised and a couple of others would come with a need, but most of all they liked being alone in the church, they had no desire to listen to the Gospel, confess or listen to talks on spiritual topics. Perhaps, in part that was my fault because I did not manage to arouse interest in spiritual life among people, though of course I did try. But I hope that my attempts will bear fruit – the Lord will provide.

It’s cold. It’s dark. There’s not much sun. No green. How did you cope with depression?
Yes, this is one of the problems of polar stations, all around you reality is always the same black and white. There were many ways of fighting depression. For instance, going for walks and looking at the penguins. Anyone who is a bit down or tired takes a look at them and his mood is gone. I felt this, but not only me, others too, I noticed quite often that people would go off for a walk along the shore by the ocean and breathe the air. But you can’t go for walks in bad weather. As a rule, depression takes over when there is no sunshine. True, after the Liturgy on Sundays and feast-days it was often sunny.

Other days you could fight against negative thoughts through reading or watching a film. I read through the works of St Ignatius Brianchaninov and Dostoyevsky. And of course in such situations, if possible, you must not be alone. Anatoly was with me and sometimes he supported me and sometimes I supported him, so with God’s help we coped.

Apart from doing the services, what else did you do?
Officially, I and Anatoly were listed as technicians and repairmen and we had various jobs to do. Like everyone there we had different duties. For instance, repairs, as well as ongoing jobs like clearing up the baths, helping in the galley, washing floors…No exceptions are made in this respect, everyone is at the same level. One of the most complex jobs is clearing rust off the houses.

All the buildings at the station stand on concrete piles about 1-1.5 metres off the ground. This was done so that they would not get snow under. The houses are fixed with very sturdy bolts to special metal platforms and those in turn are fixed onto the piles. They have already been there for over forty years. The aluminium walls are fine, but the platforms, which are made of ferrous metal, have undergone significant corrosion.

At the beginning, because we were not used to it, towards the evening our bodies would feel broken, our eyes would close all by themselves, as soon as we got near a bed or an armchair. The main reasons for this were acclimatization and the very pure ocean air. Our station and the church are on the shore of the continent and although you do not get really sharp frosts, there are strong winds and high humidity. In weather like that even temperatures of – 20 and -30 feel like – 60 and they recommend you stay inside.

Sometimes we would have to work on our days off – we would clear up rubbish from the island which has piled up after fifty years of the station’s existence. At the beginning everything was just thrown out without any control and so piles of rubbish built up. This attitude to the environment has changed nowadays. By international agreement on the Antarctic it is forbidden to bring pets, earth, or seeds to the continent, so that no bacteria or viruses, alien to the natural environment can get there. It is deliberately kept clean because any non-indigenous matter attracts the sun’s rays and the ice begins to melt especially rapidly and so-called wellheads can form in the ice, meaning that an accident could happen when an aircraft lands.

Did you ever feel unsafe?
There was fear, but only from lack of understanding. When there was a strong wind, the house would begin to shake like a moving tram and the first few days I really did not feel safe. I would start to pray very hard that the house would not be blown away. While I was there, there were no accidents on our station, but they had a fire at the Brazilian station. And because the builders had not fixed the water tank properly, the wind tore it away and blew it towards the houses. But by the mercy of God it was blown between the buildings and straight into the ocean. There was another time when instead of winter diesel they left summer diesel and it froze. You can imagine what it means to be without heat in the Antarctic.

There are people who want to be at the North or South Poles. Why?
I thought a lot about that and understood that it is not just a question of surpassing ourselves (we can surpass ourselves in other circumstances too), it’s a subconscious desire to find our bearings, our direction. Just as the globe turns on its axis, so people’s hearts beat because of some main aim. This aim is different for each person. But if people arrange their lives in such a way that everything turns around God, then life will be joyful.

The Lord made the world in such a way that the invisible and immaterial axis of the world has a huge significance. All visible and material things turn around it, the oceans, the continents, cities and villages with people and their belongings. Everything is subordinated to this universal law, given to the Earth by God.

If the axis of the planet, around which everything turns, completely changed direction, then there would be a worldwide catastrophe! This arrangement of the visible world only serves to remind us of the arrangement of the invisible, spiritual world. Someone said that Jesus Christ is the axis of world history. And this ‘world axis’ goes through the heart of all the citizens of the Earth. And I think that each of us has felt within us this invisible spiritual bearing which is called the Holy Spirit.

What else did the Antarctic teach you?
My obedience in the Monastery is to organize the Sunday school. Before I left, I felt as if I were at my last gasp. Various questions constantly worried me: What next? What should I teach? What shall I talk about? When I went off to the Antarctic, somewhere in the bottom of my soul I had the thought that this voyage would give me answers to the questions that worried me. During my winter stay I realized especially clearly how weak I am and how much I still have to work on myself.

I understood that in order to go to the Antarctic and work there effectively, you have to be ready to accept that you will not get your hand kissed and or have your blessing asked very often, but you will, as it were, wash the feet of those who are alongside you. For those at the polar station matters like who you are, how you are dressed and the words you say are not important, it is what you do that is important.
And I also felt there that I and the scientists were people with a very different spiritual make-up and aims. Although they are very good people, unfortunately, we did not have the same spiritual direction, as I have with the other monks in the monastery. Now I am back in the monastery, I am especially glad whenever I meet any real believer, especially the monks.

Do you have any desire to repeat your winter stay in the white wilderness of the Antarctic?
There are those who have been there and cannot live without the Antarctic and really do speak of love for ‘the white wilderness’. In April or May they return to the mainland and then in October or November, if invited, they go back. I already told someone jokingly that I would go back again if the head of the station agreed to get baptized (he was unbaptized). But seriously, I think that if there were some likeminded believers in such conditions, then we could have a sort of skete, a little monastery, a ‘scientific’ dependency of one of the Orthodox monasteries. I would be only too happy to serve in such a ‘monastery’. But it is all God’s will.

Interviewer: Dimitry Artyukh

Written by Stephen

December 10, 2012 at 10:59 pm

Posted in Antarctica

ROCOR in Pakistan

with one comment

253431_480300635327915_1171068380_nA few years ago I blogged about the first Orthodox priest and parish in Pakistan, Fr. John Tanveer, under the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Now, ROCOR also has a parish there, started recently by Fr. Adrian Augustus.

The following is an interview with Fr. Adrian about his own conversion to Orthodoxy and his work in Pakistan. There is also an active Facebook page for the church here, and their website is here. (Incidentally, the EP church has their Facebook page here, and their website here.)

On September 18, 2012, the Missionary Department of Moscow Theological Academy hosted a meeting with Priest Adrian Augustus of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, who is ministering to an Orthodox Christian parish he founded in Pakistan.

Path to Christ. Priesthood.

My conversion to Orthodoxy was not easy. Until my conversion in 2007, I was an Anglican deacon in India. When I began to seek Orthodoxy, I sent many letters with questions on the faith to the only person who would provide detailed answers, Vladyka Hilarion, who was then Archbishop of Sydney. I hail from a very poor family, my mother was a school teacher, and life proceeded in a strict Catholic spirit. When Vladyka suggested that I enroll in seminary in Jordanville, NY, my mother fell very ill, and I found myself in a difficult situation—going to America was practically impossible for me. Three months later, Vladyka Hilarion wrote that he could receive me in Australia. Vladyka and I then became like father and son. Everything I know about Orthodox Christianity I learned from him. I wished very much to become a priest, but did not ask Vladyka to ordain me, expecting that the Lord Himself would make it happen. When I was finally ordained, I did not wish to limit my ministry to a parish: I wished for our true faith to be accessible to everyone. Many people in Pakistan and in India would like to learn about Orthodoxy and become zealous Christians, but they have little opportunity to do this.

It is very difficult in Pakistan today because of the Muslim government, and it is unsafe for white people to live in the country, so missionaries don’t wish to go there. True, Pakistan is not a safe country by any means. One must note that this country is dangerous not only for white people and foreigners, but even for its own citizens: within the country, Muslims fight with other Muslims, Muslims kill other Muslims. Pakistan is divided into three big groups. In the north are Pashtuns from Afghanistan, the Punjabs live in the middle, the Sindhis live in the south, and within Sindhi itself is a small group of Indians, and these populations are all in conflict. A Pakistani simply does not know when he leaves his home in the morning whether he will return that night.

A Voice from Pakistan.

There were two people in Pakistan who left the Catholic seminary and, as did I some time ago, and e-mailed letters with questions about faith, seeking to find Orthodoxy. Vladyka Hilarion forwarded these letters to me, since I know the mindset of these people and could determine whether these were genuine believers or if they were sent by people who have no desire to find Christ. The population of Pakistan is very poor, and this could simply have been a scam. When I read these e-mails, though, my heart was moved. I didn’t think twice, and asking Vladyka’s blessing, headed for Pakistan.

When I arrived, I was very surprised: instead of the two people who wrote the e-mails, I was greeted by some fifty people. When I settled into my hotel room, I was not allowed to go outside. The problem was this: It is still dangerous for me to come to Pakistan, because I have lighter skin, being Indian. There were four wars between Pakistan and India, and when I arrived, I was viewed as a spy. But a local member of Parliament gave me permission to leave the hotel for twelve hours, deeming me a missionary and not a spy. The press reported that some priest arrived, and even more people came to see me, and, praying to the Holy Spirit, I began to preach. At first I tried to talk about the time before the Birth of Christ. Then I told them about the Nativity itself, the creation of the Church, the period of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, and the roles that priests and deacons play. I tried to explain that accepting Orthodoxy in not that simple, that a person must be transformed first. The only normal reason to come to Orthodoxy is to become a saint in the Church, because the human soul unites with God after death. And the role of the priest is to give a person a nudge to begin this effort. There is no easy way of doing this, prayer is needed, and fasting and the fulfillment of all the other Orthodox methods. After a two-hour sermon, many questions were raised by those who sought the true faith, there were representatives of agencies who tried to find something suspicious in my sermon. That night,  about 110 Catholics joined the Orthodox faith. The next day I was also able to baptize about 74 people from 10 Pakistani families. I asked people why they were so interested in my sermon, and they said that they were touched that I, as an Indian, came to them to preach Orthodox Christianity to them, and that I did not look at them as some kind of bad people, I did not judge the way they looked—these Pakistanis are poor, simple peasants. In the church, and during our discussions, I do not take a chair when they sit on the floor—I sit beside them. These people are in special need of pastoral care, for they have no one who will listen to them: neither in the mosque or the Catholic Church. We must keep in mind that in Pakistan and in India, the Catholic Church is a very large, powerful organization. Catholic seminarians are often sent to work as directors of local schools immediately upon graduation, schools that every child aspires to be accepted into. As school directors, Catholic pastors forget that they are first and foremost pastors, not school directors. I explain to the people who come to see me that my task as a priest is to serve people towards their salvation, to love and care for them.

Vladyka was happy to see me return alive…

My next challenge was to preserve the community of one hundred converted Pakistanis. When I returned to Australia, I told Vladyka right away that we must hasten to organize a mission in Pakistan. Vladyka Hilarion gave me his blessing to establish the Archangel Michael Mission. I asked people in Pakistan why they invited me instead of other Orthodox priests who already serve in Pakistan. They answered that those priests belong to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, while I belong to the Russian Orthodox Church, and since the Russian Church is the largest of all National Churches which consists of many different peoples, they hoped to receive care from the Russian Church. Considering all the saints who glorified the Russian land, seeing that I belong to this same Russian Church, the Pakistanis believed that I, too, could love them and care for them. I also asked Vladyka Hilarion to appoint more priests so that Divine Liturgy could be celebrated there soon.

My second trip to Pakistan lasted 10 days. This time my chief mission was pastoral care. I met with people, trying to understand their needs, trying to let them “spread my wings” over them. I was then able, for the first time, to celebrate Liturgy in the Russian style but in the Urdu tongue. I was also able to convert a former Catholic priest and his wife to Orthodoxy. Once, as he was translating Liturgical text into Urdu, the words that the priest is to speak touched his heart, and he wished to turn back to those times when these prayers were being composed. This was the reason he wished to convert to Orthodoxy. This last time, over 50 new people came to Christ.

I also wish to say that I now have the ability to travel to Pakistan without an invitation. Once I was able to meet with the Pakistani ambassador and explain who I am and what the Orthodox Church is, and explain that I am no spy, etc. He congratulated me on my efforts in working towards the good of Pakistanis, but said that doing missionary work on a tourist visa is illegal, and then he said a remarkable thing. He told me that he believes in my work in Pakistan, and that I can receive a missionary visa. It is almost impossible for a Christian priest to receive a missionary visa in an Islamic country. During my next trip there I met with Pakistani intelligence, I showed them my cross and my missionary visa, stating that the government permitted me to work here. You can believe me or not, I said. They asked what my plans were, and I said I wanted to build a church. There are three Christians in the Pakistani community who wish to become priests, and they face their own challenges. Orthodox Christians now gather at homes for divine services which are permitted for laypersons to perform themselves; I instructed them to read the Hours and the obednitsa [reader’s service], the Gospel, after which they continue their socializing at tea. It is very important that a regular priest be provided for Pakistan as soon as possible. If a Christian dies, who will conduct funeral services? My next trip to Pakistan is scheduled for January-February, for 5-6 days.

“Neither Greek, Nor Jew”

Next time, a 22-year-old man from Odessa will accompany on my next trip. I invite anyone, not only Australians, but Russians, too, to join me in my work in Pakistan. We have a hotel with armed security, where you will be safe. It is very important for Pakistanis if someone from Russia comes, because then they will feel that the entire Church supports them, cares for them. If you visit them, try to be as gregarious as you can, and poor people will give their last penny to make you feel comfortable.

My dream is to disseminate Orthodoxy, I have no fear of death, because I do everything for the sake of the Church, the Church is my family, my life, the Orthodox Faith overfills me, and I wish to share this with others.

-Fr Adrian, is this your first visit to Russia?

-Yes, this is my first time here. Russia was always a country I wished to visit. Of course, because of the Orthodox Church, I would be happy to stay here forever. One of the favorite saints of the Pakistani community is St Sergius of Radonezh. Being able to venerate his relics was very special for me.

-Do you plan on working with the Moscow Theological Academy?

-Yes. Three of our candidates will soon head for Thailand to see Fr Oleg for Liturgical practice. And I plan to send future candidates here, too. We also have six young women who wish to become nuns, they are about twenty years old. When I asked why, they said that they wish to become brides of Christ. You should know that in Pakistan, as a Muslim nation, a woman has no rights. Two of them were novices in a Catholic convent for six years. Nuns in the Catholic Church are different from Orthodox nuns. We have completely different rules. Fr Georgy Maksimov and I are trying to organize their trip to convents in Russia for a few weeks, so that they could experience that life for themselves.

-You will soon be inviting seminarians to join your mission in Pakistan. What requirements will you have of anyone wishing to go?

-To leave their pride at home. If someone pours you tea in a broken mug, thank them and drink it. The main thing is to be friendly, to love them—that is all you need. Of course, you have to imagine what Islam is and to be able to explain if needed why salvation is found in Orthodoxy, and nowhere else. Of course, I guarantee that you will be safe, better that I die than someone else suffers. One should not think about the Taliban, the community is fairly safe. It would be good if two or three students could go and help me with Liturgy, though I serve in Urdu, some songs could be sung in Church Slavonic.

-What will those who volunteer to go with you do? What will their job be?

– To sit with people and a translator whom I will provide, and tell them about the holy fathers, about Orthodox Christianity, the meaning of life. If you look at our photographs, you would see that I sit with them on the ground, without my cassock, and we talk like friends. My personal experience is that the true spread of the Gospel occurs during a cup of tea, during friendly conversation.

– Not all seminarians have the missionary spirit you speak of; do you think that seminaries can instill the desire to spread the truth to their students?

– It is very egotistical to want to save only oneself. It is easy to save yourself, but to save yourself and your neighbor is much harder. One must think about people who do not know Orthodoxy, do not know the true faith, one must remember that they are dying spiritually. Our goal is to bring them to faith. The seminary must use special programs, they must stress the importance of missionary work, and point to the examples of St Nicholas of Japan, Equal-to-the-Apostles, St John of Shanghai. And of course, it is desirable to invite renowned missionaries to read lectures on their experience.

– Fr Adrian, who finances your trips?

– I do, by working in American Express Bank five days a week.

– Tell us what in the Gospel touches the hearts of the Pakistani people most?

– They had heard the Gospel from the Catholics, and Evangelicals, and Anglicans. I try to emphasize life according to the Gospel, not simply teach them lessons about it. I explain that the Church is not a social club, the main goal of the Church is to approach holiness. In the Church we must see to it that the Gospel is preserved in our hearts, and, as we leave the temple, we must spread this Word of God to the whole world, so that it would give strength to us and to our neighbors.

– What questions are most often asked of you by your flock?

– Most often I am asked about the difference between Orthodoxy and Catholicism. I try to understand them and teach them that their goal is to approach sanctity. The problem is that Catholics don’t approach the level of the common man, they look upon a person as does a judge. As I said, Catholic priests often forget their pastoral role, but when Pakistanis receive care from an Orthodox priest, love is generated, and they immediately see the difference between Orthodoxy and other teachings. They see that this Indian priest named Adrian came to them and cares for them. I learned this from Vladyka Hilarion: when I was in Australia, Vladyka, at the time only an Archbishop, picked me up from the airport in his car, took me home and made me dinner.

Denis Grishkov

Source: ROCOR website

Written by Stephen

December 3, 2012 at 10:35 pm

Posted in Asia, Pakistan, ROCOR