To the Ends of the Earth

Orthodox Christian Missions

Archive for August 2009

Short Hiatus

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I will soon be traveling for about ten days visiting family and friends.  I don’t anticipate posting anything during this time, but will start up again when I get back.

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Written by Stephen

August 28, 2009 at 11:07 pm

Posted in Personal

Fr. Cosmas, Enlightener of Zaire

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zair6Fr. Cosmas was a missionary to Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), dying in 1989.  To commemorate the 20th anniversary of Fr. Cosmas’ death, the Greek missionary quarterley, St. Cosmas of Aitolia, has published  an edition on the life and fruit of Fr. Cosmas’ ministry.  As a bonus for us English speakers, they also published a mostly English edition, which can be found here.  The  issue contains a number of articles and reflections on Fr. Cosmas’ life and ministry, and also a short article in French.  In addition, Road to Emmaus has a short selection of his letters, found here.

The following are a couple of  selections.

From Road to Emmaus.

Monday, June 3, Feast of the Holy Spirit

. . . Late in the evening we arrive in Kolwezi. Here I found Christopher, one poor Christian, carrying his dead five-year-old son on his back in order to go to his village, which lies ten kilometers outside of Kolwezi. In the span of two weeks this man lost five children from an epidemic. I took him, his son and his wife in the car to the Mission Base. We put the poor little child in a coffin, covered him with a white sheet and, together with Father Gerasimos, took them to their village in order to bury him. Outside of their hut both Christians and idol-worshipers were waiting for them. The latter group started to mourn in their usual way, bent over and rolling on the ground, belting out inarticulate cries. We calmed them down and read the Service and spoke to them about death and the Resurrection. Father Gerasimos remained with many of the Christians in order to pass the night with chanting and prayer . . .

From St. Cosmas of Aitolia: Quarterley Journal of Greek Orthodox Mission

. . . A few months before his departure from this life, Father Cosmas visited the monastery of his repentance and spoke to the pilgrims there of this African nobility and their desire for authentic, ascetic Orthodoxy.  Biship Athanasios Yievtich, a close disciple of the great contemporary Church Father, Archimandrite Justin Popovich, was present and relates what Fr. Cosmas had to say:

They are people with great a sensitivity and awareness of the inner world.  Europeans usually underestimate them, but they are very mistaken.  The soul of the African inclines toward mysticism and for this reason Orthodoxy has something to say to them and something to offer, but only authentic Orthodoxy — monasticism, hagiorite Orthodoxy.  For among the brethren of Africa, witchcraft and magic holds great sway, a real demonocracy.  In Africa, I saw how true the Gospel of Christ is!  Everything that He said about the possession of men by the demons, I saw first hand.  However, the Living and True God is more powerful than Satan and all his servants.  Let it be understood, however, that true missionary-apostolic work cannot be carried out in Africa if one does not decide to leave his bones there.

Written by Stephen

August 26, 2009 at 8:12 pm

Posted in Africa, Congo, Missionaries

St. Cosmas of Aitolia

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stcosmasCommemorated August 25.

The following are a couple of selections taken from an article about St. Cosmas in the journal Road to Emmaus.  The entire article can be foundhere, which I encourage you to read. St. Cosmas as born in 1714 in Aitolia, a mountainous region of central Greece. He became a monk on Mt. Athos, and then an itinerant missionary, ultimately being martyred August 24, 1779, by the Turks in what is now Albania.

Like a second Paul, St. Cosmas cannot be fixed to any one place. He moved through Greece as the spirit of God lead him, and in his wake left a thriving Orthodoxy, resurrected almost single-handedly from the ignorance and malaise that had settled over the Greek Church after the coming of the Turks. . . .

Although we can recount his simple words, the spiritual power that moved through the quiet, unassuming monk cannot be recaptured in print. In his talks, Fr. Cosmas emphasized true Orthodox doctrine and practice, persauding his listeners to cease from evil acts, inspiring them to lead godly lives, and calling on them to give alms and build schools. He challenged his listeners to do acts of charity and forgiveness. His words and explanations were understandable to the simplest villager, and yet profound enough to touch the heart of well-educated rulers:

Shall we make a bargain? Let me take upon myself all the sins you have committed from the time of your birth until now, and you in turn, my honored friends, must take in their place four hairs. And what will I do [with your sins]? I have a deep pit and I will throw them into it. And what is this deep pit? It is the compassion of our Christ.

Now the first hair that I give you is your confession, the beginning of which we have already spoken of: “Forgive your enemies.” Will you do this?

(The crowds would open-heartedly answer, “We will, Saint of God.”)

Then you have taken the first hair. The second hair is to find an educated and virtuous confessor, so that you can confess all your sins to him. If you have one hundred sins and confess ninety-nine to the confessor and hide one, all your sins are unforgiven. It is when you commit a sin that you should be ashamed, but when you confess you should feel no shame…tell him everything that pricks your conscience–whether you have committed murder, or fornicated, or sworn falsely, or lied or haven’t honored your parents, or any such thing. And when you have confessed, behold, you have taken the second hair.

The third hair is when you have confessed and the confessor asks you: “Why, my child, have you committed these sins?” You must be careful not to condemn anyone but yourself and say, “I did these things because of my evil disposition.” Is it a difficult thing to accuse yourself? No, and see, you have already taken the third hair.

And now for the fourth. This is when the confessor gives you permission to depart. Do so with the firm resolve that it would be better to shed your blood rather than to sin again.

The four hairs are your medicine. The first is to forgive your enemies; the second, to completely confess; the third, to condemn yourself; the fourth, to resolve to not sin again, and if you can, to go to confession every day. If you can’t every day, then once a week, or once a month, or at least four times a year.

Written by Stephen

August 25, 2009 at 10:14 pm

Interview: Fr. Gregoire of Haiti

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frgregoirelegouteProtopriest Victor Potapov, Executive Director of the Fund for Assistance, interviews Priest Gregoire Legoute of Haiti.

Fr Gregoire, please tell us of your successes and difficulties.

At the present time, we only have two priests ministering to five parishes and two chapels. It is difficult for us to visit our flock; difficult to pay for the renovation of our premises, where we conduct services where there is no church; we need financial help in buying property to build a church.

The Government of Haiti provides absolutely no social support for the population, so all social work falls to the Church to perform. So it is important for us to have a school at the church, and a medical clinic. We have centers for mentally-challenged and disabled children, and we do everything we can to expand such work and to educate 100 children under 20 years of age.

Church schools in Haiti do not only provide education, but they catechize students, too. The children pray every day, and the teacher of the Law of God is always present to teach and provide spiritual guidance. That is why school is so important.

We have 12 readers who wish to obtain theological education, become deacons, and then priests, to help us in the near future.

They hold readers’ services, while the priests travel throughout the parish twice a month. Fr Jean goes north, and I go south. Besides this we need to perform weddings, baptisms and funerals during the week. Since we don’t have cars, we use public transportation, and this leads to many problems.

We count on the aid of all Orthodox Christians in spreading the Holy Faith in Haiti.

Fr Gregoire, why specificually drew you towards Orthodox Christianity?

Once, Fr Avraamii invited me to participate in common prayer in someone’s home. I came, and what I saw and heard turned my life upside down. I did not know where I was, in heaven or on earth. That moment I decided to become Orthodox.

How many Orthodox Christians were there in Haiti at that time?

There were about 50. The more prosperous Orthodox Christians in Haiti are Arabs and Russian ethnic Jews who live in big cities. But we are too far in the interior of the country, and they do not help us. They would like to visit us, but our parishes are simply too far.

At the present time, there are over 2000 Orthodox Christians belonging to ROCOR in Haiti.

Priest Gregory Williams helped you for many years. He left into schism, but you did not follow him. How did that come about?

Not long before the reunification of the Churches in 2007, Fr Gregory announced that he is abandoning his administrative duties, and advised that we transfer all our property to the Synod. But in June 2007, he declared that he would be obedient and would commemorate only Bishop Agathangel. This was right before all-night vigil, and we told him we disagreed, and we left, so he served alone.

Two days later I learned that at a meeting of St John of Shanghai Parish in the town of Okai, Fr Gregory promised everyone that those who would follow him into schism would gain materially, and that those who did not would get nothing. This talk of material benefit insulted us, and we decided to follow the path of faith, and follow our hierarchy.

On Pascha I received a letter from Archbishop Hilarion from Australia with a plea for us to remain in ROCOR. Vladyka Michael also wrote an epistle to us. We felt that we had support and protection, and understood that we must follow our archpastors.

Fr Gregoire, what is it that you need the most, how can we help you?

In Haiti, we have a need in all things. We lack liturgical books, sacramental items, we don’t have land to build a church on, our schools need material support.

You were a delegate at the Assembly of the Eastern American Diocese, which includes Haiti. How did you feel amidst the American and Russian clergymen?

I was happy to be among my brethren. Many priests I already knew. Because of visa problems, we were not able to participate in previous Diocesan meetings. This time I came especially to make an appeal to help the Haiti Mission.

I am very happy that everyone, beginning with Metropolitan Hilarion, paid special attention to Haiti, and I felt this attention towards myself, to Fr Jean and our entire flock.

Are you able to receive pilgrims from the US and Europe?

There are many foreigners in Haiti, so in that regard there is no problem. The church addresses are located in the Synod list of parishes, a pilgrims are welcome to come and participate in our life; we invite everyone to come.

I hope that the time will soon come when you and I will pray together in a church built in the capital of Haiti on the donations of Orthodox Christians from all over the world.

We depend very much on your prayer and help.

Source: ROCOR. A short interview with Metropolitan Hilarion on the history and needs of the Mission in Haiti can be found here.  Also, an update from the Mission’s administrator, Fr. Daniel McKenzie, can be found here, and other information on the needs of the Mission can be found here and here.  Please do pray, and if you would like to help monetarily, ROCOR’s Fund for Assistance is collecting.

Written by Stephen

August 22, 2009 at 4:19 pm

Apostle Thaddeus of the Seventy

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St. Thaddeus of the SeventySaint Thaddeus, Apostle of the Seventy, was by descent a Hebrew, and he was born in the Syrian city of Edessa. The holy Apostle Thaddeus of the Seventy must be distinguished from St Jude, also called Thaddeus or Levi (June 19), who was one of the Twelve Apostles.

When he came to Jerusalem for a feastday, he heard the preaching of John the Forerunner. After being baptized by him in the Jordan, he remained in Palestine. He saw the Savior, and became His follower. He was chosen by the Lord to be one of the Seventy Disciples, whom He sent by twos to preach in the cities and places where He intended to visit (Luke. 10: 1).

After the Ascension of the Savior to Heaven, St Thaddeus preached the good news in Syria and Mesopotamia. He came preaching the Gospel to Edessa and he converted King Abgar, the people and the pagan priests to Christ. He backed up his preaching with many miracles (about which Abgar wrote to the Assyrian emperor Nerses). He established priests there and built up the Edessa Church.

Prince Abgar wanted to reward St Thaddeus with rich gifts, but he refused and went preaching to other cities, converting many pagans to the Christian Faith. He went to the city of Beirut to preach, and he founded a church there. It was in this city that he peacefully died in the year 44. (The place of his death is indicated as Beirut in the Slavonic MENAION, but according to other sources he died in Edessa. According to an ancient Armenian tradition, St Thaddeus, after various tortures, was beheaded by the sword on December 21 in the Artaz region in the year 50).

Source: OCA

Written by Stephen

August 21, 2009 at 9:18 pm

Posted in Saints

Interview: Opening a Door for the Lord in People’s Hearts

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19671.pFather Alexy Aedo, Chilean native and archpriest with the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, is the pastor in Chile of two Orthodox communities—that of St Silouan of Mount Athos in the city of Conception, and that of St Nectarios of Aegina in the city of Santiago. While still a youth, being Chilean and Catholic, he converted to Orthodoxy. Father Alexy, a well-known missionary in his country, has devoted a lot of time and energy to preaching Christianity and Orthodoxy among the Chileans.

Father Alexy, tell us how you became an Orthodox priest and missionary.

I had wanted to become a priest from childhood. But I was born in southern Chile, and there it was possible to become a priest only with the Catholic Church. I began to study theology and entered a Catholic seminary. Then I became acquainted with some Orthodox families from Palestine. I saw how people in the Orthodox Church live, how they think. When I would start a conversation on some theological topic, they would tell me what the Orthodox Church teaches about it. So I converted to Orthodoxy and was received into the Antiochian Church. While still a layman, I came here, to Santiago, the capital, to complete my theological education. Once, walking home from the university, I found myself near a Russian church. I entered it, heard the Russian choir, looked at old Russian photographs….All this made a deep, deep impression on me. After that, more than once, the thought entered my mind, “O God, how good it would be if I also could someday serve Liturgy in such a wonderful church!” Later, when I was already ordained a priest, the Russian missionary-bishop Vladyka Alexander Meliant—may God rest his soul—invited me to transfer to the Russian Church. While still carrying on my missionary work in Santiago, I also took the first steps in building a church in the southern part of the country, in the city of Conception. I would like very much for a beautiful Russian church to be there, where my children and other young Chileans could go. And I ask God not to take me to Himself until there is a Russian Orthodox Church in the south.

In addition to Conception, are there any other Orthodox parishes in southern Chile?

In the city of Valdivia, there are Russians and Palestinians who would like to form a parish. There are also Chileans, not only in Valdivia but also in other cities, who want to convert to Orthodoxy. We hope that God gives us the opportunity to build here also, in Santiago, a large church.

You are doing a great deal of missionary work now. Was your acquaintance with Vladyka Alexander a stimulus for this?

Yes. Vladyka Alexander trusted and loved me as a priest. That is the best thing that can happen to a priest—when a bishop trusts him and loves him. For me, it was a gift from God.

In Russia, many people know of Vladyka Alexander through his website and are familiar with the “Missionary Pages” which Vladyka put out.

Both the site and the brochures which Vladyka Alexander published were extremely important and needed by us. They help us understand what Orthodoxy is. Thanks to Vladyka Alexander, we have come to understand that it is both possible and desirable to preach the Gospel through the internet: people hear us better, find out about us, get to know us; through the web, we can keep knocking patiently until the people hear us.

In the main building of Santiago University, you have now built a movable church. Tell us, besides spiritually feeding those students who are your parishioners, do you have any success in reaching other students with the Gospel message?

We carry on missionary work with the students, but, figuratively speaking, not “through an open door” but “through a window.” Formally, we do not have the right to preach in a secular educational institution, because the students don’t come to the university in order to be “missionized”. The founders and professors of this university are laypersons, secular people. But each time an opportunity presents itself, without pressuring or imposing on anyone, we remind them about God … and talk about the faith. Later, students will come and approach me as someone older, as to a father, in order to ask advice or to share their joys and sorrows.

And what is the most important thing for preaching Orthodoxy among specifically Latin American youth?

My feeling is that youth here are seeking religion, seeking the Church, but they can’t find genuine faith. Unfortunately, many join Protestants, or sects, sometimes even non-Christian sects. Young people need people to listen to them, to understand them.

We live in a time when people are weighed down by many sorrows: they are hit by economic difficulties, by war, at times by serious problems with their health. It seems to many people that their whole life is falling apart. People don’t know what they can hold onto for support, what represents authentic values, true moral guidance. Therefore, work with young people should begin with friendship. A person needs to be able to simply listen to them. And when you listen to them, they, without noticing it, begin to hear about Orthodoxy.

Do literature, the arts, and philosophy help to find a common language with youth?

Yes, through philosophy and ethics it’s easier for me to find a common language with youth. Young Chileans are inclined to relate critically to the way things are in their homeland, and indeed, to the world in general. And they want something they can grab hold of, like the tiller on a boat or the helm on a ship, that can help them steer their way through the surrounding world. Through this desire for a true moral compass, it is easy to move the conversation to the plane of philosophy and ethics. The next step up is religion.

After the restoration of canonical relations between the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, several parishes in Chile split off from the Mother Church. What do you think, is this a temporary phenomenon? And what, in your opinion, needs to be done to heal the schism?

This is a very sorrowful, contradictory phenomenon. The deep, painful wounds of the past have still not healed. Many of those who have gone into schism still do not understand that over the course of time, the situation in Russia has changed. However, those dear old priests who have preserved the traditions and cherish tradition have, together with us, embraced reunification, but some young priests have left. It may be that the latter are guided by personal motives—material interests, ambition—in a word, private interests. And at times they forget about obedience to the Church.

One Russian batiushka, a monk, lives on a mountain and abides in silence. Talking with him is like talking with a saint. He also didn’t accept the reunification. But I would prefer that he were a little less saintly and stayed with us.

Tell us, what to you is the most interesting thing that is happening today in the Russian Orthodox Church?

Between the West and the East exists a colossal difference in world view. Here in the West, Church and culture are separated. In the Orthodox East, they [Church and culture] represent a single, united whole. Matushka and I were in Greece. In Athens we asked a Greek, “What is more important to you, to be Greek or to be Orthodox?” He answered that they were one and the same thing. Russians think the same way. And I must explain to the Chilians that I am not Greek, not Russian—I am Orthodox. The Russian Church is a kind of model for us, integrating spiritual life with national culture. And I very much wish that the Chilean people would perceive and assimilate the Gospel of Christ in the way that the Russian people embraced the Gospel and integrated it with their own traditions and culture. O Russia! Help us find the path of how to be faithful to our national culture in the light of the Gospel teaching!

Father Alexy, in Latin America, [the project of] the “Days of Russian spiritual culture” has just been completed. What kind of mark have these days left in the souls of those Chileans who are still not in the Church, who consider themselves to be secular people? From your point of view, could it happen that, after visiting the concerts of Sretensky Monastery’s choir, the exhibition “Holy Russia, Orthodox Russia, and the cinematic festival of Russian films, there will be awakened in them an interest in spirituality, and in true Russian culture, which is closely bound up with the idea of Orthodoxy?

Of course. I think this [project] will also help them draw closer to the Orthodox faith because during this period of the Days of Russian culture, Chileans have had the chance to converse with clergy—with priests and hierarchs. After 20 years in the priesthood, I have come to the following conclusion: people may be very far from the Church, perhaps not even believe in God … until they become acquainted with a priest. The Lord God literally opens for them a little door, tiny and unnoticeable; and—lo!—faith appears. Such a person suddenly turns to us with a request to bless his home, to bless his children. Then he learns about the heights of monastic life, and is beside himself with joy and wonder about it. He starts reading the lives of saints—Seraphim of Sarov, Silouan of Mount Athos, Herman of Alaska, and other ascetics of piety. He learns about fools-for-Christ and begins to study the holy fathers. For confirmation in the faith, people often don’t need concepts and theories, but simply to see the way which God Himself trod. By God’s grace, a person talks with a priest and finds the footsteps of the Lord.

Interview by Hieromonk Paul Scherbachev
11 / 12 / 2008

Source: Pravoslavie
The “Days of Russian Spiritual Culture” refers to a tour lead by ROCOR through Latin America, which showcased Russian Orthodox spirituality and Russian culture. A letter by Metropolitan Hilarion on the commencement of the tour can be found here. News and pictures of that trip can be found here, here, here, and here.

Written by Stephen

August 19, 2009 at 8:55 pm

Interview: Orthodox Guatemala?

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22965.pAbbess Ines (Ayau Garcia) is the head of the only Orthodox parish in Guatemala–the Monastery of the Holy and Life-Giving Trinity, the “Lavra of Mambre”, under the Patriarchate of Antioch. She comes from an influential and well known family in Guatemala which has produced many outstanding individuals. When [then Catholic] Sister Ines was 36 years old, she made an extreme change in her life, leaving a Catholic monastic order and becoming an Orthodox nun.

Holy Trinity Monastery was founded by Mother Ines and Sister Maria Amistoso in April of 1986. In 1989, the engineer Federico Bauer donated a piece of land on the shores of Lake Amatitlan, not far from Guatemala City, to the monastery. The land is 1188 meters [about 3900 feet] above sea level and is located near Pacaya, one of the most active volcanoes in Central America.

On the day of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker in 1995, the “Act of Creating an Orthodox Church in Guatemala” was signed by Bishop (now Metropolitan) Antonio Chedraoui of Mexico, Venezuela, Central America and the Caribbean (of the Antiochian Patriarchate), and also by the head of the monastery, Mother Ines and her nuns, and 25 parishioners.

Buildings rose on the site donated by Federico Bauer and the consecration of the monastery took place in November, 2007, with 18 participating clerics, who came to Guatemala especially for this occasion.

The iconography in the Monastery church is being done by Russian masters from the International School of Icon Painting, based both in the town of Kostroma in Russia and in the USA.

In 1996, the government of Guatemala gave the monastery control of an orphanage built to house 800 children, the “House of Rafael Ayau” in the country’s capital, Guatemala City. At present they have just over 100 boys and girls – from newborn babies to 16 year old adolescents. The workers at the orphanage give the children a high-school education and familiarize them with basic Orthodox concepts. They also give them professional skills. Soon, the orphanage will be moved to the monastery.

In February of 1997, the church of the Transfiguration of the Lord was blessed in the orphanage building. In the absence of a priest, the services are led by a reader [called Reader’s Services]. Two children’s choirs sing antiphonally, where one choir sings one stanza, and then the other choir sings the next stanza. The exclamations and the dismissal are read by Mother Ines. The parish is made up of Guatemalans, Arabs, Greeks, Russians, and Ukrainians.

Holy Trinity Monastery has fairly large agricultural holdings, where rabbits and fish are raised and vegetables are grown. All that they produce goes to the orphanage.

In July of 2009, Mother Ines came to Russia to visit the holy places and to broaden her ties to the Russian Orthodox Church. The Abbess was accompanied Sister Maria and two teenagers from the orphanage.

This conversation with Mother Ines took place during that visit, on a trip from Sretensky Monastery to the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra. [lavra: a large monastery]

Mother Ines, how did you become acquainted with the Orthodox faith?

Abbess Ines, Sister Maria, and two of the “graduates” of the orphanage, Reina and Edgar Rolando– When I was 20 years old, I became a Catholic nun, and entered a monastery under the order of the Dormition of the Holy Theotokos. They gave me to read the conversations of St. Seraphim of Sarov with Nicholas Motovilov, and the texts of the Orthodox Liturgy. What I read astonished me to the depths of my soul. One of the nuns showed me several Orthodox icons, including a reproduction of Andrei Rublev’s “Holy Trinity.” I was interested, and I burned with a desire to find the roots of all of this. From that time, I began saying the “Jesus Prayer” [“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”].

I studied theology for ten years – with the Salezians in Guatemala, with the monks of the Holy Spirit in Mexico, with the famous theologian Jean Daniélou in France, and with the Jesuits in Belgium and El Salvador. I continued to be bothered by one question: where are the treasures to be found that I came across at the beginning of my Monastic life? Once, in Brussels, the nun who was in charge of my spiritual growth brought me to a Russian Paschal [Easter] service. It was held in a chapel on the second floor of a private home, but even then, I did not find an answer to my question.

I did not want to serve in Latin America: in those years, because of the spread of “liberation theology”, Church-government relations had become seriously strained. I received permission to go to the Philippines. There, to my amazement, I met more Sisters of the Dormition, who were seeking the same thing I was. We found out about Eastern Rite Catholics, and considered reforming our community to use the Eastern Rite. Unfortunately, most of the Sisters left, and several got married. Only the native-Philippine Sister Maria and I remained. The nuns of my order, which has great influence in the Philippines, asked me to leave the country, because they thought I was spreading revolutionary sentiments.

I went to Jerusalem, where I finally came into contact with real Orthodoxy. Sister Maria came to me from the Philippines, and together we traveled across the Holy Land, started to learn different liturgical services, and talked to priests.

How did your family take your conversion to Orthodoxy?

The katholikon of the Monastery of the Holy and Life Giving Trinity, the “Lavra of Mambre”– My father is a very educated person, but when I told him that I want to join Orthodoxy, he said “What do you mean? This does not exist in nature!” Nevertheless, our conversation intrigued him. In a few weeks, Dad went to Turkey. When he got there, he hailed a cab, and told the taxi to take him to an Orthodox church where he could see an Orthodox service. After that, he went by ship to the Holy Land, where he did the same thing. From that time, Orthodoxy became for him a reality.

My mother supported my decision right away. She was interested in Russia, and read a lot about it. She read a book about the activities of the Russian Orthodox Church in Alaska with great interest. When the Antiochian Bishop Antonio Chedraoui, during his first visit to Guatemala, received some Arabs into Orthodoxy, my mother also went forward and was received into the Orthodox Church through chrismation. Later, my father also became Orthodox.

How did you join the Antiochian Church?

Sister Mary and I decided to form an Orthodox monastery in Guatemala. On our way from Israel, we stopped in the Swiss town of Chambésy [not far from Geneva], where we visited Metropolitan Damaskenos Papandreu of Switzerland (Patriarchate of Constantinople). He blessed the opening of our Monastery, and said that we had to join a jurisdiction of one of the Orthodox patriarchates. To do this was not easy. The Orthodox Churches that had a presence in Latin America then did not have a particular interest in the local population. The Patriarchate of Constantinople served the Greeks, the Patriarchate of Antioch – Arabs, the Russian Patriarchate – Russians. Only after asking for ten years did we get accepted by the Antiochian Church’s Metropolitan Antonio (Cherdaoui).

For the registration of a parish, we needed 25 signatures of Guatemalan citizens. We did not have that many parishioners. So my relatives, the relatives of another nun, Sister Ivonne, and our friends also signed the petition.

Why did your community choose the ancient Russian style when building your church?

We sincerely love Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church. The crosses on our cupolas are Byzantine, but everything else is Russian: the architecture, the icons, and the frescos. People, when they see the Russian cupolas, understand right away that there is an Orthodox church before them. Our parish keeps to Russian traditions in the services, keeps to the Julian calendar; and the nuns wear the Russian monastic habit.

Where is the monastery?

We built the monastery 20 kilometers [about 12½ miles] from Guatemala City, on the top of a hill. Around us there are woods, and not far away, Lake Amatitlan. It is a very beautiful place, although it’s true that it is not entirely fitting for a holy monastery because we are so close to the city and come across the problems that exist in any suburb of a large Latin American city–overpopulation and the drug trade.

How large is the Sisterhood?

Three nuns live in the monastery. Besides me, there is Sister Maria Amistoso, who is a native of the Philippines, and Sister Ivonne Sommerkramp who came to the monastery five years after it was founded. She is a Guatemalan with German roots. Earlier, we had more nuns.

Who performs services?

We do not have a permanent priest yet. Two times a month, groups of missionaries and volunteers come from places such as the USA, Norway, Japan and other countries; and those groups always have a priest. Russian priests have also been with us: Protopriest Basil Movchanuk – head of the church of Sts. Peter and Paul in Yartsevo, in the Smolensk region; and Protopriest Igor Kropochev – a helper for the missionary department of the Kemerovo diocese.

Tell us about the monastery’s orphanage please.

Our orphanage, the oldest and largest in our country, is located right in the heart of Guatemala City. My ancestor, Rafael Ayau, organized it in 1857. He was a philanthropist, and a very pious person. Monks from the charity organization “Caridad” took control of the orphanage from [my ancestor] don Rafael when he, from France, invited them to do so. In 1960, the government deported the members of “Caridad”, and the government itself took over the care of the orphanage. After 40 years, President Alvaro Arsu handed over control of the orphanage, which was in terrible shape, to our monastery. It is unlikely that any other politician would have done that; they are afraid of Orthodox people. Arsu was not afraid, because there were some Orthodox people in his family.

Because of changes in the social laws, our orphanage began to look more like a boarding school. In twelve years, over 1000 children from poor and underprivileged families have gone through our orphanage. All of them are raised in the Orthodox spirit. Many of them return to their parents, but do not break their ties to the monastery, and continue to go to liturgy on Sundays. Over 300 of our orphans have been adopted by Orthodox families, mostly in the USA.

The Russian ambassador to Guatemala, Nicholas Vladimir, had told me that the Russian government grants stipends for higher education in Russia to young people from other countries, and we have taken advantage of that opportunity. Two of our children, Reina and Edgar Rolando, have come with us to Moscow. They will start studying Information [Computer] Science and Engineering at a Russian university in September.

How are your monastery’s relations with the Catholic Church?

We have a warm, friendly attitude towards them, but the Catholic Church has been quietly waging war against us, warily, secretly. For example, after we sent our petition to register the parish with the [Guatemalan] Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we did not know what happened to it for several years. When President Arsu asked the monastery to take the orphanage under its wing, I said that we could not do it, because we did not officially exist. The President entrusted his lawyer with solving the problem. As it turned out, our documents had been located in the curia the entire time; Catholics had spirited them away. Fortunately, President Arsu then gave the Holy Trinity Parish the status of a jurisdictional body by special decree.

Protestant denominations, of which there are hundreds now, do not worry the Catholics. Orthodoxy puts fear into them. There are several reasons for this, but, the biggest reason is that the Catholic hierarchy fears that the Orthodox Church will convert some of their flock. The Cardinal of Guatemala admitted this to the Russian ambassador.

Nonetheless, it is impossible to escape contact with the Catholic Church. Catholicism dominates Guatemala. My father is a public person; I was a Catholic nun for 16 years; the Cardinal is the cousin of my godfather, and has known me since childhood.

What are Orthodoxy’s prospects in Guatemala, in your opinion?

I am convinced that Orthodoxy has a great future in our country. Two priests, one 20 years ago, and another recently, [unofficially] converted to Orthodoxy from Catholicism, and brought their flocks with them. In total, that is over 100,000 people. They consider themselves Orthodox, though they have not been officially joined to the Orthodox Church, and, from my observations, know very little of Eastern Christianity. Among them are Ladinos (descendants of the Spanish) and Indians. Both groups intend to ask for entrance into the Russian Orthodox Church.

What are your impressions of Russia from your visit?

I have no words to describe the feelings that I have when I am here. I am astonished by everything: the architecture, and the interior decoration of the churches and monasteries, the architecture of the cities and towns, the nature [flora and fauna]… I especially notice the piety of the people, their deep faith, which they have preserved through decades of the godless Communist regime.

Interview conducted by Miguel Palacio.

Translated into English by Adrian Fekula. Translation edited by Br. James Hazen

Source: Pravoslavie. A few more pictures are also there.

Metropolitan Jonah of the OCA has also spoken about the people of Central America who are interested in becoming Orthodox when he made an appeal for Russian missionaries to come preach the gospel. Read that story here.

Written by Stephen

August 18, 2009 at 8:06 pm