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Orthodox Christian Missions

Archive for January 2010

Struggling ROCOR Mission in Uganda

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Fr. Christopher Walusimbi serves Liturgy in Beltsville, MD.

Last August the Fund for Assistance received a heart-wrenching letter from a ROCOR missionary priest on Bukasa Island, Uganda.

“I have almost come to the end of the wall. I sometimes can’t afford to buy the church wine. This means I have to miss the Holy liturgy… I trust in my Lord for everything,” wrote Fr. Christopher Walusimbi in an email.

Fr. Christopher is the first Black African priest ordained in ROCOR and is under the omophorion of Metropolitan Hilarion.

Bukasa Island is considered one of the world’s beautiful places, it overlooks Lake Victoria, and is a popular though remote tourist destination for forests, exotic birds and monkeys. Second largest of the 84 islands in the Sessee archipelago, it is remote and dangerous to get to. Life here is difficult. Poverty is rampant, there is no healthcare and no electricity. Most people survive by growing and selling produce.

And here, in the midst of Africa, on a tiny island you will not find on most world maps, stands a beautiful Russian Orthodox Church with multi-colored Russian style cupola built by Fr. Christopher Walusimbi, who is not only the priest, but also a representative to the District educational Committee, a Board member at two other school committees; he is also considered somewhat of an elder in the community and is a popular person to consult with in any family crisis.
Despite being over 60 years old, Fr. Christopher is very active: he assumed a great burden to help children in the Sesse islands, who were orphaned as a result of the AIDs epidemic. For the past 25 years he has also run an ambulance service form the island to the mainland 40 miles to the north.

Besides serving every Saturday and Sunday, hearing confession whenever any of his parishioners need it, and taking care of his parish and other duties, Fr. Christopher has to take care of his own large family, he has a wife and ten children.

“We grow our own food, take what is needed, and sell the rest in shops. My wife makes the best cookies, which we sell on the mainland in supermarkets,” he wrote in an email.

The family survives on their own produce and donations from people who know his difficult situation.

Even though the parish comprising over 100 parishioners has never yet been able to pay him a salary, Fr. Christopher feels responsible for their financial as well as spiritual well-being. He continually looks for ways to help the mission’s financial situation. Because in his thinking, when the mission gains strength, so will the members.

Recently the community started planting orange trees with plans to sell juice and wine in order to sustain the mission. They already have 100 seedlings, and are looking for a way to acquire 500 more.
They also raise chickens and make charcoal to take to the mainland for sale.

Getting there, however, is no easy feat. Located over 40 miles south of Kampala, the only way Fr. Christopher can get to mainland where banks, post offices, email access, super markets, fuel, good schools and hospitals are located is taking a 4 to 6 hour dangerous boat ride. Every year over 100 people die in boat accidents on Lake Victoria. Every trip costs the parish $126 (24 gallons of gas and 12 gallons of oil). The mission has to take around four trips a month, which comes to $504. Unfortunately, the parish boat and engine are old and are dangerous to use. A new engine will cost $3,000 which the mission doesn’t have.

Despite many difficulties, the parish continues to grow. Sometimes whole families convert, sometimes individuals. All of them need help.

Although there are many needs, Fr. Christopher considers education as the most urgent, as it allows people to understand their faith.

Contrary to most of the Ugandan population who think that women do not need education, Fr. Christopher believes that it is especially important to educate girls. “We need to collectively fight this way of thinking if we are to expect developed society”.

Here is the complete list of the mission’s needs:

Church supplies
Church building fund

To date FFA raised and disbursed over $21,000 to the Uganda mission.

“I feel so blessed that we have God’s people coming for us at all times, I thank everybody for all the love not only to us sinners but to our Holy faith,” wrote Fr. Christopher.

We ask you to support Fr. Christopher Walusimbi and the ROCOR mission in Uganda!

Donations by Check

Please make the check out to the Fund for Assistance to ROCOR/Uganda and be sure to include your return address so we can send you a receipt for your records.

Please send the contribution to:
The Fund for Assistance to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia
75 E 93 St
New York, NY

Source: Fund for Assistance to ROCOR


Written by Stephen

January 31, 2010 at 9:53 pm

Posted in Africa, ROCOR, Uganda

New Russian Seminary Near Paris

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By Lisa Bryant
January 4, 2010

The Russian Orthodox Church has opened its first seminary outside the former Soviet Union – in a small French town outside Paris. The institution is starting modestly but has big ambitions: to serve Russia’s growing diaspora and foster closer ties between Eastern and Western Christian churches.

It is a bitterly cold afternoon, but the large stone building in the heart of Epinay-Sous-Senart is warm and welcoming, with smells of cooking and a Christmas tree in the front hall. Upstairs, half a dozen black-robed students are studying theology.

The building is an old convent. But the nuns are gone and their Roman Catholic crosses have been traded for Russian icons and incense. The students are on the front lines of a bold experiment launched by the Russian Orthodox church, the first pupils of the church’s first seminary in the West.

Alexander Siniakov is the seminary’s director.

“The Russian Orthodox church needs more than ever good specialists who know not only the life of Christian churches in western Europe, and in the West generally, but also who know the theology, the history of the Catholic Church and the other Orthodox Churches and specialists who know foreign languages and are able to study the experience that Christians in Europe encounter with secularization,” Siniakov said.

The seminary was officially inaugurated in November and it is starting modestly with about a dozen students enrolled in its five-year program. Most are from Russia and former Soviet republics, but there are plans to diversify and grow the student body to 40 over the next few years, with the seminarians also earning master’s degrees in theology from the Sorbonne University in Paris.

One of the students, 25-year-old Andrew Seebrych Anekcandroviych from Ukraine, says he likes the cross-cultural experience.

“It is a nice possibility to study French and to study and to know how western people live in France and in other Western countries,” Anekcandroviych said.

Some students will return home after graduating. But others are being groomed to serve Russia’s far-flung diaspora that has ballooned after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Establishing a Russian Orthodox seminary in the West was the idea of Patriarch Kirill, who was elected to head the Moscow church in February. Orthodox priest and researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research, Stephen Headley, says Patriarch Kirill wants to train priests to serve parishes wherever Russian expatriates are located.

Father Headley also teaches at the seminary.

“He wanted to have a seminary in Paris where people would get used to using foreign languages, get used to living in a secularized society, like France,” Headley said.

The seminary’s director, Father Siniakov, says the institution is open to students of all Orthodox faiths, including those linked to the Patriarch of Constantinople in Istanbul.

The Moscow Patriarchate has also reached out to the French Catholic Church, asking for help in finding a location to house the seminary. French bishops put the Russians in touch with elderly nuns living in Epinay-Sous-Senart, who were moving out of their convent. The nuns still come back to teach the young seminarians French.

Monsigneur Michel Dubost is bishop of the Evry-Corbeil-Essonnes diocese where the seminary is located. He explains why it is important to have ties between the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches.

“We cannot be Christian ignoring the oriental tradition. The church has got two lungs as Pope John Paul said, one occidental and one oriental. And we cannot know the roots of the Catholic Church when ignoring what happened in the Orthodox Church,” Dubost said.

The relationship between the seminary and the French Catholic Church reflects more broadly the warming ties between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church after centuries-old divisions. The dialogue has intensified under the current leaders, Pope Benedict XVI and Patriarch Kirill, who have met several times in the past.

Although differences remain, Father Headley, the Orthodox researcher, believes the leaders are focusing on ways they can work together.

“I think there was a conscious decision on the part of the Vatican and the Moscow Patriarchate to try to cooperate on the social level, which talks about the re-Christianization of western Europe and the Christian roots of western Europe, because that would be a more fruitful and productive venue for them to work on,” Headley said.

On a practical level, Father Headley believes the two churches may eventually lobby for causes they believe in. Both Pope Benedict and Patriarch Kirill have conservative views on matters like euthanasia, abortion and homosexuality.

Russian Orthodox church expert Michael Bourdeaux, who founded the British Keston Institute, agrees.

“If the Catholic and Orthodox churches came closer together, they would form a huge beacon for conservatism in the world today. Conservatism in terms of theology which they share, and conservatism in terms of sexual morality, morality in society in general,” Bourdeaux said.

As night falls, the students at the Epinay seminary put their books aside and head for the large, plain room that serves as the school’s chapel. They chant for Vespers service in Russian, with director Siniakov chiming in in French.

Asked earlier what the Orthodox Church can offer the West, student Anekcandroviych thinks for a while. His answer: spirituality. He says for many Russians, the Orthodox faith is not just a matter of rules and rituals. The Orthodox faith, he says, is alive.

Source: VOA News
Hat Tip: Mystagogy

Also, below is the address of Patriarch Kirill to the seminary at its opening in November 14, 2009.

His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia addressed Archbishop Innokenty of Korsun as well as the rector, faculty, students and participants in the solemn opening of the Paris Seminary. Below is the full text of his address.

Your Eminences and Graces,

All-Honorable Fathers,

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

I wholeheartedly greet you all, participants and guests of the solemn act of opening the Paris Seminary.

With the feeling of gratitude to the Giver of All Good Things, we launch the academic process in the new theological school in the belief that its work will bring with time abundant fruits. Today the Russian Orthodox Church stands in a special need for highly educated specialists fully aware of Europe’s life and well versed in academic, inter-church and diplomatic spheres, as well as for clergy who could render appropriate service at parishes abroad. The door of this school will be always open to representatives of other sister Orthodox
Churches as well.

It is noteworthy that the Paris Seminary is called to become not only an educational and theological center but also a place of Orthodox witness. The very fact of its establishment is an expression of our willingness to cooperate with the European Christian civilization, the realized desire to study its achievements and potential. Along with it, I am convinced that the Paris Seminary will become a significant step towards building relations with European churches. This cooperation, I hope, will be fruitful and beneficial.

I would like to emphasize that the opening of the seminary has become possible thanks to the good and dynamically developing relations between France and Russia.

I prayerfully wish all the participants in the solemn act – the administrators, professors and students of the Paris Seminary – the inexhaustible help of God in their work ahead.

May God’s blessing be with you all.

+ Kirill
Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia

Source: DECR

Written by Stephen

January 30, 2010 at 2:42 pm

Posted in France, Russia, Seminary

Interviews: Archbishop Hilarion of Volokolamsk on Missions

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Below are excerpts of three recent interview with Archbishop Hilarion of Volokolamsk, the chairman of the MP Department for External Church Relations. The first is from an interview to Interfax-Religion, the rest of which can be found here.

What changes in the Russian Orthodox Church since 1 February 2010 have been most obvious and impressive?

The election and enthronement of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill have, undoubtedly, been the most important events in the life of the Russian Orthodox Church last year. By the will of the Holy Spirit and through the election by the Local Council, the Church has been granted the Primate required by our troubled time, a time of impetuous changes and everyday challenges.

Today our Church is facing an unprecedented task to teach an active faith in Christ to people who have heard of Him but failed to listen to Him, to bring nominal Christians to the wholesome life in Christ. This task demands that the whole Church should exert maximum efforts, interpret creatively and sometimes even critically of what has been done or undone, and reflect fruitfully on what is to be done in future. A particular responsibility in this context is placed on those people who are entrusted with governing the Church. Therefore, a cost of a mistake, of an erroneous assessment of the situation, a wrong or irrational straining of efforts could be catastrophically high.
That is why one of the first actions of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill were changes in church governance in keeping with the demands of the time. New Synodal institutions were established, the frame of reference of the old ones was made more precise; an Intercouncil commission was set up, and the post-graduate and doctoral programme of the Church was launched; while reorganization of the diocesan and parish life is going on.

As to the tendencies, I believe that the church life would be developed in the light of the task that I mentioned. All of us should bring witness about Christ to the near and to the far, to those who do not know Him yet, and to those who might have forgotten Him.

The second is from an article on an interview conducted on the TV program, “The Church and the World.” The rest of that article can be found here.

The DECR Chairman noted: “the work of the Church is always and everywhere mission-oriented because mission is a vocation of the Church.”

This mission, the archpastor explained, is directed first of all at the members of the Russian Orthodox Church as well as at her potential members, including children, the youth, and other people who, though having been baptized, do not lead a Christian way of life as yet.
Archbishop Hilarion added that there were nominal Orthodox believers in the world who consider themselves Christians by birth or by belonging to a certain ethnic group, but they do not completely fulfill that what their religion prescribes. The archpastor expressed his regret, saying: “It is a common problem of all the religions: people identify themselves with a certain confession, but they do not shape their lives in accordance with its teaching.” He added: “This means there is such a phenomenon as a lack of serious and thoughtful consideration of the fact that they belong to the Christian Church. They even agree to perform certain religious rites, but as far as real life is concerned, they are not ready to observe the commandments of Christ.”

Lastly, an interview with the ‘Argumenty I Fakty’ Internet Portal about marketing technologies and reaching out to the youth. The rest of the interview can be found here.

Information plays the leading role in society today. The Protestants in the USA buy TV time, distribute leaflets, put advertisements in the streets, place their banners in the Internet, arrange shows and build entertainment centers to attract parishioners. In other words, they “pitch” the church through marketing technologies. How should the Orthodox Church announce herself in the information society? What is inadmissible to her?

The educational activity of the Russian Orthodox Church among different strata of population in the modern information society presupposes constant renewal of the form of missionary ministry and active use of the information space, including various modern technologies.

Today as never before the Church has to seek and find unconventional solutions. Even more important is an ability to present the experience of the apostolic and patristic tradition in the language that our contemporaries understand. In society, which has almost forgotten the commandment of love of the neighbour and in which indifference prevails, including indifference to religious questions, the Church is called to encourage the indifferent to turn to the Gospel and help them implement Christian values in their everyday life. A form of the sermon can change in accordance with modern challenges, but its content is intransient. Because only the conscious faith, rather than the imposed worldview or ideology, is effective in the cause of salvation, and any coercive pressure on the human being, be it marketing technologies or neurolinguistic programming, is unacceptable to the Orthodox Church. In the long run, these technologies produce a countereffect: they do not attract, but alienate people.

Your Eminence, you will open a series of lectures on ‘The Foundations of the Orthodox Worldview” in the Polytechnical Museum on October 6. Share a secret of what you going to talk with the youth?

First of all, I would have liked to know what the young people expect of the lectures, what are their concerns, and what they would like to know about the Church. I do not know how to do it in the best way. I would suggest to the organizers to give questionnaires to the audience in which they could indicate their preferences. I assume that these lectures are for the secular young people who trust the Church and wish to know her views on different problems of modern life, and therefore I think it helpful to discuss the subjects that could be summarized under the title “Christianity in the Modern World.” I shall be happy just to answer any questions from the audience.

What do you think about the purpose of such lectures and what results can be expected?

The main purpose is to understand the position of another person. I am confident that many conflicts in the world, in the families, and deep inside people, could be remove if we always show our wish to know and understand our neighbour, a colleague, and a relative. For a Muslim to understand an Orthodox, and for the Orthodox to understand a non-believer, efforts should be exerted, and genuine interest should be shown to another person. In this case we shall discover that we have much more in common and less that separates us.

I hope that all those attending the lectures will be able to come to a deeper understanding of what Orthodoxy is today, of the feelings of a common Orthodox believer in today’s life, of his thoughts and actions. This will help to affirm Christian spirit and Christian love of the neighbour among young people.

. . .

Another matter of concern is certain people who study religious literature in depth but forget about the main thing – the life in accordance with the commandments of Christ and prayer. It is this, rather than wide reading and erudition, that leads us to salvation.

Written by Stephen

January 28, 2010 at 5:08 pm

Posted in Interview

South Africa: Two Farewells

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Fr. Dn. Steve Hayes of South Africa recently posted on his blog, Khanya, about a funeral and the departure and arrival of two Russian priests to serve the Russian-speaking population of South Africa. A portion is below, and the rest with pictures can be read here.

On Saturday 23 January we had the funeral of Theodora (Rosina) Thamaga, the widow of Father Simon, who died in 2004. Father Simon was Archbishop of the African Orthodox Episcopal Church, an African independent church which asked to join the Orthodox Church in 1997.

After his funeral in 2004, several neighbours who attended his funeral wanted to know more about the Orthodox Church, and so a new mission congregation was started in Tembisa, where Mrs Thamaga lived, and she together with a local school teacher, became leaders of the new congregation. We visited them to help with services every second week from 2005 to 2008, when Father Johannes Rakumako was asked to take charge of the congregation.

For me, the funeral began at 5:00 am, when I left home to drive 20 kilometres to Mamelodi to fetch four of our church members there to take them to Tembisa. We arrived at Tembisa just before 7:00 am, and Father Johannes Rakumako was already there. A tent had been erected in the yard outside the house, and there were about 50 people who had been there for the all night vigil, when the body was received from the undertakers the evening before.

Written by Stephen

January 27, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Posted in Africa, South Africa

New Issue of Indonesian Newsletter

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The Friends of Indonesia website, which supports and promotes the work of the ROCOR portion of the Indonesian Orthodox Church, has recently published the winter edition of their biannual newsletter. The newsletter can be found here, and to read back issues or subscribe, click here.

Written by Stephen

January 26, 2010 at 1:51 pm

New Japanese Church Consecrated

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The Primate of the Autonomous Orthodox Church of Japan, Archbishop Daniel of Tokyo, Metropolitan of all Japan consecrated a new church in honor of Theophany in the city of Nagoya. The snow-white church in the Suzdal style, 11 meters in height, was built in the middle of a typical Japanese residential district in only six months, reports the Vesti channel.

Funds for the construction of the temple were raised by the faithful. The community is headed by the priest-in-charge, Fr. George Matsushima.

Japanese cedar, considered one of the most solid and durable varieties of wood, was used in the temple’s interior design. Outside the church is decorated in the best traditions of old Russian architecture.

About 300 believers came to the consecration of the new Theophany Church. The service was done in about four hours. To accommodate all attendees live television transmission was provided in a separate room.

Greeting the crowd on the holy day, Metropolitan Daniel of Tokyo and All Japan, in part, said: “This is a significant day for our Church. With the opening of a new temple in Japan, more people will learn about Orthodoxy. I am glad that it took place precisely in Nagoya, because this city is located in the heart of this country. ”

Until the end of the month of worship in Nagoya will be committed in an old temple, and the final move to the new location will be marked by the All-Night Vigil on the night of 30 to 31 January.

Source: Orthodoxy in China

Written by Stephen

January 25, 2010 at 11:22 am

Interview: Russian Orthodoxy in Asia Today

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By Yuri Maximov
Translation by Katherine Ilachinski

From 18 to 23 December 2009 there were celebrations dedicated to the tenth anniversary of the Orthodox Church in Thailand, which was headed by Archbishop Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Volokolamsk. Rectors of many parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate in Asia came for this holiday: from Mongolia, China, Singapore and Indonesia. They were all very glad to have this opportunity to congregate together, share experiences, discuss pressing issues, because their parishes are living in similar conditions, and have essentially the same problems and challenges. Such a meeting has been so useful that there were suggestions that Asian parishes would sometime in the future form, as a minimum a separate deanery, to be able to coordinate joint efforts to solve all problems facing them.

Addressing the gathering, Archbishop Hilarion, said: “Your service is of particular significance for our Church. This is truly a missionary and selfless ministry, which takes place in difficult conditions – not only climatic, but also psychological and spiritual. You live in conditions as closely resembling those in which the apostles lived and served. This imposes a special responsibility on you, but at the same time requires special internal strength. Not every priest is able to endure those conditions in which you find yourself?

I managed to talk with the participants of the meeting. Each of the priests serving in these Asian parishes, I asked the same four questions. The responses provide a fairly good impression of the situation of the Russian Orthodox Church in Asia, particularly the Orthodox life and pastoral ministry in this region, as well as the prospects of the mission.

Please tell us about your parish.

Archimandrite Oleg (Cherepanin), representative of the Russian Orthodox Church in Thailand: the Orthodox community in Thailand for ten years. Our first parish – in the name of Saint Nicholas – was opened in Bangkok in December 1999. But since there are still a number of places where an appreciable amount of Orthodox Christians are living and these places are far from the capital, over time, the question arose about the opening of other parishes. After Bangkok, where the first temple was built, there came the parish in the city of Pattaya. This second temple – in the name of All Saints – just now consecrated by His Eminence Archbishop Hilarion. Also there is the Holy Trinity parish on the island of Phuket, where the construction of the temple has only just begun, and the Ascension Parish on the island of Samui, where so far they only purchased land for the future church. In addition, there is still a place acquired to build the first Orthodox cemetery because the deceased are cremated in Thailand, but for Orthodox Christians living here on an ongoing basis, of course, it is important to be able to be buried in a Christian way. Here will be built a small Church of the Dormition and, God willing, maybe, there will be a monastery and educational center. As you can see, there are many parishes, and it became already difficult to handle them by myself, so for me, and for our entire community has been a great joy the ordination of a second priest – Father Daniel Vanna, that took place in the summer. He was from Thailand and was the first local resident who converted to Orthodoxy after the founding of the parish. Now there are already several dozens of Orthodox from Thailand, but the bulk of the congregation are still Russian-speaking parishioners. Our congregation has Romanians, Greeks, Serbs, and Bulgarians. There is an Englishman, a Frenchman. We try to ensure that no one feels like a stranger. Therefore prayers in the temple are in Church Slavonic, and Romanian, and Greek, and English, and more and more frequently – in Thai.

Archpriest Dionisy Pozdnyaev, rector of the parish of the Apostles SS. Peter and Paul in Hong Kong (China): In our parish we have the following background. From 1933 to 1970 in Hong Kong has already been the parish of the Russian Church Abroad, who was led until his death, by Father Dimitry Ouspensky. After his death the parishioners of the old church of the apostles Peter and Paul dispersed in different directions. Since at that time the parish was not a missionary parish, there was no Chinese left, which I consider a great disadvantage and an omission. Our community was established in 2003, and then began regular services, and last year the community has acquired canonical status of a parish. There are few dozen of parishioners, about half are Russian-speaking, and fifteen per cent – Chinese, the others — American, French, and German converts to Orthodoxy. In the service we use mainly Church Slavonic and English, sometimes we add Chinese.

Priest Alexis Trubach, rector of Holy Trinity parish in Ulan Bator (Mongolia): Our parish was founded in the XIX century, with Russia’s consulate. In 1872 the church was consecrated, and unfortunately, was closed in 1921, after the horrible killing of the last abbot by white Baron Ungern von Sternberg. Since 1927 the temple was used for various household needs. Since 1996, priests started coming in Ulan Bator, and in 1998 the parish was given the land and two-storey building of the former Russia’s trade mission in Mongolia for their use, which was before vacant. This, incidentally, is not so far from the old temple, and it survived, there is now an internet cafe, but if you go inside, it is easy to recognize the features of the old temple. Initially, we converted part of the upper floors given to us in building into the church, where I started the ministry, but later we managed to build a separate large Orthodox church, the consecration of which took place in 2009. And this is the first time in the history of Mongolia, as even the pre-revolutionary church was connected with the building of the consulate, and the last abbot, Father Theodore Permyakov, wrote that the whole community wanted and collected funds for the construction of a separate church. We can say we carried out the aspirations of so many Orthodox Christians, who lived in Mongolia. We have now about 60 people attending Sunday worship and during the Nativity and Pascha we have about 300. The parish mainly consists of Russian, but there are Orthodox Mongols, and Serbs, Bulgarians, and Americans. Of course, in the future basis for the parish should be local residents – the Mongols and the Russian, who were born here. We try to create a community, which could be attended by all. Therefore, among the main activities are missionary. We have translated a large part of the service into the Mongolian language, and some services are conducted in it; sermon is delivered in two languages. 25 Mongols have already converted to the Orthodoxy, many of whom actively attend church and participate in parish life. The choir consists entirely of local residents. Also, we are publishing: print newspapers, brochures, we are translating, and also conducting a Sunday school for children and adults.

Priest Alexander Dondenko, cleric from parish of Dormition of Mother of God in Singapore: The parish in Singapore was established two years ago with blessing of the Holy Patriarch Alexis by Right Reverend Sergius (Chashin), at present bishop of Solnechnogorsk. At present the parish prays in the house church, which is situated in the hall of private house. On Sunday we have around 60 to 80 people. At present the main part of our parishioners are Russian speaking but we also have Japanese, Georgian, American, Ukrainians, White Russians — it is a very colorful parish. We are glad, that there are more and more people, the parish is slowly growing. We have a Sunday school, we take care of sick people, because so many children, who are suffering from cancer, are coming to Singapore, and a number of them are in very difficult condition. We are slowly moving to our dream of construction of the church and also are working towards other goals.

Hieromonk Ioasaph (Tandibilang), the head of the parish of St. Thomas in Jakarta (Indonesia): Now in Indonesia, I am serving three parishes – in Jakarta, Surabaya and on island of Bali, but the latter is only beginning to exist, and the first two are quite serious. Almost all of our parishioners are Indonesian, there are few Russian. The fact is that we have no separate church, and we pray in the home church. Indonesia is not very welcoming to this approach, to attend religious gatherings in the home is considered a sign of sectarianism, so many Russians are afraid to attend the house church, but when we are able to build a temple, I believe that they would attend it, like here in Bangkok. When I returned from Belgorod seminary to Indonesia, I assumed that I would serve for the Russian, but we soon learned that it is very important, if the parish have Indonesians. Because many of the Russian did not live there permanently, and when they return home, the church is deprived of the parishioners. It is therefore important that the bulk of the parishioners consisted of locals, because they will be permanent. History teaches us this also. Earlier in Jakarta there already was the church of Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, but not for long, because when the adverse political conditions begun, the Russian parishioners dispersed to other countries and the parish closed. Thank God, now every Sunday many Indonesians come to service.

What are the particulars of spiritual life of Orthodox Christians in Asia, and especially the pastoral ministry in a foreign and foreign-language environment?

Archimandrite Oleg (Cherepanin) (Thailand): As you know, in Thailand from 85 to 95% (according to different estimates) of the population – are Buddhists, from 3 to 5% – Muslims. There are only about 0, 6% of Christians of all denominations in the country of the total number of those living here. This certainly leaves its imprint on the life of our congregation, and pastoral activities. First of all arises, the question of religious identity; note, not national, but certainly religious. We are the Orthodox Church. In communities across the country are not only Russians but also Ukrainians, Serbs, Romanians, Bulgarians, Greeks, French, Thais. Orthodox Church is above nationalities. In theory, it is understood by all, but by practice, unfortunately, shows the opposite. The division among Christians in general is a tragedy, a violation of the divine commandment about unity. Separation in the Orthodox environment can hardly be called otherwise than a crime against Orthodoxy. Good that our parishioners understand it. It is not by accident that Orthodox communities in Thailand, while in the canonical jurisdiction of the Holy Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, are united in the Orthodox Church in Thailand, where every Orthodox Christian residing in the territory of the kingdom, feels at home. The service is conducted in Slavonic, Romanian, and Thai — in any required language. Today it is generally recognized: the beginning and development of Orthodoxy in Thailand – is a merit of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Archpriest Dionisy Pozdnyaev (Hong Kong): A special feature is a large, unlike in Europe, closeness to the Christians of other denominations, because we are finding ourselves in pagan environment. For the Chinese are incomprehensible dogmatic disputes between Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox, because they are far from knowledge of the very foundations of Christianity. Disputes between Catholics and Protestants have always hindered evangelizing in China. This can be attributed in a lesser degree to the Orthodoxy because Orthodox evangelization was not so intense. Any of our conflicts and disputes has a very negative impact on the attitude to Christianity as such, including Orthodoxy. Therefore, the preaching of Orthodoxy in Asian countries needs to be built on the positive apologetics, not so much on exposure, but rather on the absence in other faiths, but availability in Orthodoxy. Often the Chinese are converting from Catholicism and Protestantism to Orthodoxy because they did not find sufficient depth in those denominations, but they still see their past stay in them as a first step towards Christ. And this must be taken into account. With regard to the specific characteristics of Hong Kong … The city is very focused on business. People are busy, they have very little time, the rhythm of life is quite hard, and because to be a Christian according to Orthodox canonical laws it requires more sacrifice from people – this refers, above all to regular attendance at religious services. For local population Christians the additional difficulty is the lack of worship in their native language, so our parish needs a priest – a native speaker. In Hong Kong there is (Guangdonghua) Cantonese dialect of Chinese, and there must be a translation of worship to it. Such work is being done, but we are lacking people who would have enough time, skills and knowledge to do this work.

Priest Alexy Trubach (Mongolia): Of course, the main problem is how the newly converted Christians can be Orthodox, while remaining members of the society in which they grew up and still are part of. The peculiarity of Mongolia – a very strong family and kinship ties, and here it is very important to have recognition of relatives. Therefore the main challenge for us — is not so much the conversion of individuals, but entire families. And now we have two families – one already baptized, the other going thru— catechization and is about to be worthy of baptism. Need education work not only among those who already want to convert, but also among their relatives, although sometimes it is difficult to do. This imposes specific nature on pastoral activities, as well as the need to learn the local language and local culture. A priest who serves in such a country has to communicate a lot with local people, and not only with the Orthodox. Engage in social work, contact with the media, and do much more in order to create good information field around the parish. This helps the converts not to feel alienated in the surrounding society.

Priest Alexander Dondenko (Singapore): Of course, the surrounding area could either make us closer to God, or take us away from God. We must pay tribute: in Singapore there is some freedom of choice, no one climbs into your head and does not impose his choice – it is prohibited by law. Therefore, directly they do not influence the people, but the movement of society itself to the material ideals, does not contribute to bring people closer to God. It is a hard fact that in this busy city everyone has to work, and people find it very difficult to physically attend church often. Of course, the Lord sends comfort and gives grace for even rare visits, people feel it, and the community is gradually growing stronger.

Share your impressions about acquaintance with the Orthodox community in Thailand.

Archpriest Dionisy Pozdnyaev (Hong Kong): On the whole a very positive impression. Of course, there is now a very difficult period of work, when one is laying the foundation and creating an environment for future missionary service. Father Oleg was here a long time the only priest, and the enormous strength he had to give to the work with compatriots, administrative and economic matters, the establishment of churches and settlement. Much has been done, and this in the future will become a stepping stone to missionary work. It is essential that a Thai priest is present, it is important that students from Thailand and Laos are now studying in religious schools in Russia, but this is only the beginning. Translations are especially needed. Here something is translated into the Thai language, but more needs to be – the liturgical and catechetical texts, which should be available to people in the Thai language. And there remains only to wish success, in which I, frankly believe, because so far much has been done here, even surpassing human strength.

Priest Alexis Trubach (Mongolia): Of course, a very good impression. Indeed, here one feels a mystical connection, which exists in the Universal Orthodox Church. One wonders how often ideas and their execution coincide and, in many ways I felt a similarity of our Mongolian community with Thai Orthodox community. Of course, the Thai community is more successful in the preaching of Orthodoxy, and there already exists a priest from the local community, and we are only preparing two local boys to enter the seminary – God willing, this will happen next year. Moreover, the interesting coincidence of names: here the first Thai priest in baptism was given the name of Daniel, and we have an Altar server, which we hope to send to the seminary, so that he will became the first Mongolian priest, was also baptized with the name of Daniel. Apparently, this is no accident, for God has no accidents. And we’ll follow in the footsteps of Thai parish, and hopefully, will bring this Orthodox Mongol to ordination and further service in the parish.

Priest Alexander Dondenko (Singapore): I became acquainted with the Orthodox parish in Thailand two years ago and was very glad to see how colorful and diverse the congregation is here, and how its members co-exist harmoniously, not only Russian but also French, and Thai. It is very difficult – the very moment of conversion of Thais to the Orthodox faith. It is God’s mystery, how the Lord turns their hearts to Him. So it is a very difficult missionary work, which is being done here by Father Oleg, and now with Father Daniel, with God’s help. It is so joyful to see such a witness, a flag of the Church of God on Thai soil.

Hieromonk Ioasaph (Tandibilang) (Indonesia): I am very happy being here, because in the Orthodox community in Bangkok, I feel like in Russia. Much is the same as in Russia. Of course, where the Russian live, they do not have to change anything, but keep the good Orthodox way of life, because Thai people will look at them and take an example. I like that in Bangkok a lot of Russian attend services, so I hope later on, if we will have in Jakarta our own temple, we will have also more Russian parishioners, like here.

What is the future of Orthodoxy in Asia?

Archimandrite Oleg (Cherepanin) (Thailand): We have to work regardless of the prospects. The future is in God’s hands. We can only pray God to grow the fruits, which we now are planting. We have no other means to win the hearts of people adhering to different faiths, but the love, the love that manifested itself in the fullness of God, devoting himself to the Passion for the salvation of mankind. And for God nothing is impossible.

Archpriest Dionisy Pozdnyaev (Hong Kong): I think there is every chance that the Orthodox Church will develop, but it is necessary to exert sufficient effort on the part of the Orthodox Church.

Priest Alexis Trubach (Mongolia): I think, of course, there are prospects, and large prospects. As in Mongolia, and Thailand there are many opportunities not used, but with time they should be used. The main issues that stand on that road are the same as were in the XIX century – the problem of funding the mission and the problem of getting staff missionaries from Russia. These problems are open and required solutions. As for the conversion of Asians to Orthodoxy … we have before our eyes a magnificent example of Indonesia. Here, in Bangkok, I met with Father Ioasaph, who created a magnificent parish in a rather complicated non-Christian environment, he has already more than fifty members, and he is going to continue to develop it. And I think our meeting in Bangkok was important precisely for this opportunity to learn the missionary experience of each other. Indonesian congregations are encouraging optimism in the future development of Orthodoxy in Asia. Their experience is valuable to all of us. I think maybe we’re not going to convert people as fast, as Protestants, but this process, which is already in progress will continue.

Hieromonk Ioasaph (Tandibilang) (Indonesia): I find it difficult to talk about the whole of Asia, but I think that Orthodoxy — is a mercy for Indonesia. I see that in other Christian denominations there is not very much change in a person’s life for God’s sake. But when people become Orthodox, they are changing for the better, and it’s obvious to all. Therefore, it is difficult not to say that the Orthodox — are different people, because we all look not so much on who is saying what, but rather on who leads a different life. And people say: why adopt a religion, if it does not change a person’s life? And thank God that the Orthodox Church gives person the power to change, and this is God’s blessing for Indonesia.

Priest Alexander Dondenko (Singapore): I believe that there are enormous opportunities for development, but much depends on people – both on the pastor, and on the parishioners. As soon as we pray, as soon as we prepare our hearts to accept God’s grace, then God will grant it. Of course, despite our unworthiness, the Lord gives us much. We have to approach this task which was entrusted to us very responsibly, and Orthodox Christians must realize that they are missionaries. Not only is the priest a missionary, but every Orthodox Christian, and if he is aware of this and will live according to the commandments and become a vessel of God’s grace, this will become the best sermon for our foreign-language neighbors, who do not understand the language and do not know the services are judging our faith, by observing our lives. If they see from our actions that God exists, then it will help them to convert to Orthodoxy. Now the natives are converting one by one, but as soon as we can find the way to their hearts, then they can convert en masse, as we know from Japan’s example, where St. Nicholas worked. But, of course, for this a heroic deed is needed.

Source: Orthodoxy in China

Written by Stephen

January 23, 2010 at 2:34 pm