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Orthodoxy in Guatemala — New Blog and New Missionaries

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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

ROCOR in Nicaragua

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I could be wrong, but would this be the first Orthodox parish in Nicaragua?

NICARAGUA: November 28, 2012

The First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad Makes an Archpastoral Visit to Nicaragua

On November 12-14, 2012, His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern America and New York, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, visited Nicaragua. The main goal of the visit was to meet with clergymen and Orthodox faithful in the nation.

After his arrival, at a press conference, His Eminence noted: “I am making my first visit to Nicaragua on church matters, since many Orthodox Christians have settled here. Our parish here is headed by Hieromonk German (Castro). Nicaragua is a very good country, a country of light, and the people in this nation are kind and very attentive, living with great hopes for the future. It is very important that a parish of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia is opening here. At the present time, there are some 200 Orthodox believers living in Nicaragua. Our parish is located in Camoapa, but another will soon be established in Managua.”

In addition to meetings with clergymen and parishioners, a visit is also planned with Monsignor Leopoldo Brenes, Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church, and his aide, Monsignor Silvio Jose Baez Ortega. During their meeting they will share opinions on the problems affecting all Christians in Nicaragua.

Commenting on the visit of the First Hierarch to this nation, Mr AA Melik-Shakhnazarov, representative of the Russian agency Rossotrudnichestvo stressed that “it is very important for Orthodox Christians living in Nicaragua. They have new hope that the Church has not forgotten them, and they can turn to her for help in moments of need.”

As he bade farewell to Fr German and his parishioners, His Eminence promised to visit them again next year.

Source: ROCOR website

Written by Stephen

December 1, 2012 at 2:55 pm

St. Vladimir’s Seminary Missions Day: Orthodoxy in Guatemala

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Some of the Guatemalan clergy, from left to right: Fr. Mihail, Fr. Evangelos, Fr. Andrés Girón, Fr. José, and Fr. Danil

This is coming up quick–this Wednesday, November 7, but if you are able to go, this sounds very interesting. News of this “explosion” first started appearing a couple of years ago, but it is only in the last couple of months that more substantial information is becoming available.

If you can’t attend the event at the seminary, or even if you can, I highly recommend the account of seminarian Jesse Brandow, who travelled to Guatemala this last summer for two months to see what was happened, and blogged about his experiences and observations here. An article about Fr. John and Mat. Alexandra Chakos, missionaries to Guatemala, can be found here.

UPDATE: Fr. John Chakos and Fr. Andre Giron are also at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology this week, in Boston. On Thursday, November 8, at 7 pm, they will be giving a lecture titled, Mission to Guatemala: Receiving the Mayan People Into the Orthodox Church. The lecture can be viewed live here, or available later from their video archives. It sounds interesting!

YONKERS, NY [SVOTS Communications] Saint Vladimir’s Seminary invites the public to its second annual Missions Day on Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 7:30 p.m., for a presentation on the “explosion” of Orthodox Christianity in Guatemala, where in recent years 338 Orthodox churches, with 200,000 faithful and catechumens, have become part of the Orthodox Metropolis of Mexico.

Archimandrite Dr. Andres Girón de Leon and Archpriest John Chakos will be the guest lecturers, sharing first hand their missionary activities among the indigenous people of Guatemala, within their presentation, “Mission to Guatemala: Receiving the Mayan People into the Orthodox Church.” The presentations will be in the Metropolitan Philip Auditorium of the John G. Rangos Family Building on the seminary campus.

Father Andres, a native Guatemalan who grew up in a family of privilege, has crammed several lifetimes into one: former Roman Catholic priest, trained counselor, Senator in the Guatemalan Congress and advocate for the rural poor, UN Ambassador, and now Orthodox priest among disaffected Mayan people who were searching for a spiritual home outside the Roman Catholic Church.

Father John is a “retired” Greek Orthodox priest from Pittsburgh, serving in Guatemala under the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC) for six months out of the year, with his wife, Presbytera Alexandra. Father John serves the vast spiritual needs of the new Orthodox faithful, while Presbytera Alexandra sets up shop as a seamstress and teaches the Mayan women sewing skills that will bring them fresh purpose and needed income.

The presentations are open to the public.

Written by Stephen

November 5, 2012 at 12:53 pm

Ancient Faith Radio: Orphans in Russia, Guatemala, and India

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Children from Hogar Rafael

Continuing to post on recent missions-related podcasts at Ancient Faith Radio, here are a few about orphans and orphanages around the world.

The Russian Orphan Opportunity Fund
From Russia, there is an interview with Georgia Williams, a founder and administrator of the Russian Orphan Opportunity Fund, which seeks to assist orphanages and orphans through camps and education, and so on, including those deemed unmanageable or unteachable. (Turns out they are teachable!) In addition to describing their work, Georgia also discusses new partnerships ROOF is hoping to form with Orthodox parishes and people in North America to further the work in Russia. You can find the interview here. It is well worth a listen.

Hogar Rafael Ayau Orthodox Orphanage, Guatemala
Hogar Rafael has become fairly well known in North American Orthodox circles. Here are two more podcasts about the work there.

The first is with Mother Abbess Ines about some new laws governing orphans and adoptions in Guatemala that is making it more difficult for the orphanage to operate, as well as an update on the building of a new orphanage site just outside of Guatemala City, which would be a much better environment for the children. You can listen to that here.

If you feel moved to assist Hogar Rafael with their building project after listening to that first podcast, you can listen to this second one about a new CD released by the Friends of the Hogar. The CD is of the children singing Orthodox hymns (they sing beautifully and apparently know everything by heart), and is being sold as a fundraiser. You can listen to that podcast here, and/or buy a CD here.

Theotokos Greek Orthodox Girl’s Orphanage, India
Lastly, there is an interview with Christina Thanos, who produced a short documentary called Lucky Girls about the Theotokos Greek Orthodox Girl’s Orphanage. She also organized a lenten fundraising campaign for the orphanage. Lent is over, but they are still accepting donations, even of just a few dollars. You can listen to the podcast here, and visit the film’s website, which includes fundraising details, here.

Lucky Girls from Lucky Girls on Vimeo.

Written by Stephen

May 30, 2011 at 8:17 pm

Latin America: Peoples in Search of Orthodoxy

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Orthodox Children in Cuba

I am not sure exactly when this appeal was written, but I think in January, 2011. It is certainly a very exciting snapshot of what is happening in Latin America right now.

by His Eminence Metropolitan Athenagoras of Mexico

Thirteen years ago, when I undertook the (then newly-established) Holy Metropolis of Mexico with only three priests and three mainly Greek-speaking communities, in Mexico, Panama and Venezuela, I would never have expected, let alone conceive the miracle that is unfolding today for our Orthodox Church in Latin America.

We all lived the miracle of Cuba, when Fidel Castro’s government undertook the construction of the Sacred Temple of Saint Nicholas in Havana and officially received Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who officiated the inauguration of that Holy shrine in January of 2004. In the decade that passed, we experienced the propagating of our faith in the states of Mexico, Colombia, Costa Rica, etc… just as we experienced – and continue to experience – the continuing drama of the people of Haiti, after the catastrophic earthquake of last January. A drama which unfortunately will heal, only after several years have passed.

Greece became acquainted with Christianity and lived its own Pentecost around two thousand years ago, through the Apostle Paul and the other Apostles. Greece is the most blessed country in the world. And this is because – as I point out to our priests – whichever stone you lift, underneath it you will find the relics of a Saint, a Martyr, a holy man, a fighter for the Orthodox faith… We, however, in Latin America are living our Pentecost today. For us – with the exception of the few Greek Orthodox Communities – Orthodoxy has only just arrived in Latin America.

I recall six years ago, when our Ecumenical Patriarch visited Cuba to officiate in the inauguration of the Holy Temple of Saint Nicholas, there were only four Orthodox Cubans, whereas now, more than one thousand Cuban families have been baptized and have embraced Orthodoxy. And every day, there are more – many more – who seek to acquaint themselves with the Faith of our Fathers. Six years ago, with the inauguration of Saint Nicholas’ church, the first Orthodox Community in the land began to function. Now, with the grace of God and the untiring labours of our five priests (one Colombian and four Cuban), some very significant and impressive missionary work is under way in three other cities of this Land. And this, in spite of unfavourable and financially difficult conditions. At this very moment that I am writing, the Hierarchal Commissioner of Cuba, fr. Athenagoras, is in Greece trying to secure vestments and cassocks and chalices for our needs there. Even though the Cubans have given us the exceptional privilege of acquiring our own property (something that is not permitted by their Constitution), unfortunately, there are no funds for us to purchase a suitable building with the necessary thirty-five thousand Euros, to convert it into a Temple for the worshipping needs of the neophytes. We are hoping for God’s grace and are praying for a donor to be found.

When I visited President Fidel Castro seven years ago, to obtain the official invitation with which he was inviting the Ecumenical Patriarch to visit Cuba, I thanked him for that courteous and hospitable gesture of his. I will never forget his response: “No, Your Eminence, the people of Cuba thank you and the Ecumenical Patriarch, for bringing Orthodoxy to our country.”

Cuba, indeed, is “ours”. Haiti is “ours”, Mexico, Costa Rica, Santo Domingo and Colombia, where now, thanks to a lady donor of the Missionary Association “Saint Kosmas the Aetolian”, the first Holy Temple is being erected in the city of Cúcuta of Colombia, in honour of the Supreme Archangels. And now, another miracle: Guatemala….

As in the eras of persecutions, when Christians used to live in catacombs in anticipation of the day they could freely worship the Triadic God, so it is with us here, in all of the countries of Central and South America; for entire decades, innumerable groups of people – who had abandoned the Roman Catholic church – were waiting for the embrace of Orthodoxy. One such large group in Guatemala knocked on the door of our Metropolis several months ago, asking us to accept them in the bosom of the true Church. I didn’t know them. I didn’t even know they existed. And indeed, in this vast region of the twenty states under the jurisdiction of the Holy Metropolis of Mexico it is impossible to know everyone. However, twenty years ago, they had established their own (anti-canonical) Orthodox Church, naturally without knowing full well what they had done, and had endeavoured to survive. They lived incorrectly, in their own particular manner, an “orthodox” worshipping life. They knew and they desired Orthodoxy. They knew that our Church has the true faith – that they had a right to Orthodox teaching and its way of life. They believed that only there would they find the Saviour and Redeemer Christ. So, for twenty years. they walked along a path with the hope that they would eventually reach the truth. Knowing also that it was imperative to commemorate a Bishop in all of their liturgies, during the last ten years they would commemorate our Ecumenical Patriarch.

New Orthodox Church in Guatemala

Twenty years later came the “fullness of time”. After searching, they learnt a few months ago that in Mexico there is a canonical Metropolitan and a Metropolis of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. They found me, and they knocked on my door, asking me to receive them. I sent two priests to go and meet them so that we could determine who they are and if their request is serious and valid. I was stunned. It was a “group” of more than 500.000 people, with 338 churches and chapels, most of whom were natives of Guatemala – and in fact of the ancient race of Mayans! They live in the mountains and the vast plains of the land and even in the southern cities of Mexico. I crossed myself and gave thanks to the Holy Mother for that miracle. I fully understood now what the great byzantinologist and historian of the previous century – Steven Runciman – meant, when he wrote that “the third millennium belongs to Orthodoxy”. Now I also understand the words of a noble Mexican, a University Professor and a faithful member of our Church, when he said to me: “Your Eminence, Orthodoxy is like a shoe that fits us Latin Americans, provided you know how to put it on us.”

So I accepted that group and as a first step, I ordained the two leaders of the group. Now begins the long road of catechism for the hundreds of thousands of those people. It will require several years and a lot of hard work – but a blessed work – to teach those new faithful of ours what the Orthodox way of life involves, and how each of us experiences his own path towards Calgary, which leads to one’s personal Resurrection. By training suitable indigenous clergymen, they will learn to live the worshipful life of the Orthodox Church and, after being baptized and receiving Holy Chrismation, to receive the Immaculate and Sacred Mysteries (Sacraments) – the Body and Blood of our Lord and Redeemer Christ.

You must realize however, that for all this project that is now unfolding before us, we need your help. We need the necessary financial means to send our own priests to Guatemala, to instruct the catechist teachers there how to catechize the faithful. The financial means are necessary, in order to print hundreds of thousands of catechist texts, for children and for adults. In the meantime, many of those people are illiterate. Money is also needed, to prepare videotapes in Spanish, and even in the local dialect of the Mayans, so that they might familiarize themselves with the Divine Liturgy, the Baptism, the Chrismation and all the Services of our Church.

Can you imagine what this means for Orthodoxy? And this is just the beginning. The struggle has only just begun. We truly “own” Latin America. The third millennium truly belongs to Orthodoxy. With the meagre means at our disposal, but with the wide-open, vast and endless Grace and presence of the Holy Spirit, we will continue with our endeavours.

We do however ask for your support. As I outlined above, we need a donation of thirty-five thousand Euros for the purchase of the property in Cuba, where we will establish a Temple and areas for the congregating and the catechizing of the faithful. We will also need another donation of twenty-five thousand Euros, in order to begin catechizing the new faithful of Guatemala: to print catechism texts, prepare videotapes of Divine Services and to send suitable priests of ours to that Land, in order to undertake this very important work.

It is our belief that the Missionary Association “Saint Kosmas of Aetolia”, which has been the main support of our labours and our endeavours all these years, as well as all you pious donors and the members of the Association, will support us in this new venture that God has placed before us.

The Lord God lives, for all eternity!

With wishes and infinite thanks
† Athenagoras of Mexico

Hat Tip: Mystagogy Click here also for more pictures.

Written by Stephen

February 26, 2011 at 12:05 pm

New Diocese of Mexico Video

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Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

A merry Christmas to you all. As part of the joy, I thought I would post this new video from the Diocese of Mexico (OCA) which I just found, thanks to the Diocese of the South (OCA).

It is also worth noting that the Diocese of Mexico has a new website:


Written by Stephen

December 25, 2010 at 2:04 pm

1/2 Million Received in Guatemala

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I usually don’t comment on what I post, but this time I think I should add a caveat as there seems to have been a lot happening behind the scenes that isn’t readily knowable.  And what is knowable only raises more questions.  I don’t mean to cause scandal by pointing these things out, but only to say that the internet is only as good as the information posted, and to say that our new brothers and sisters in Guatemala could use our fervent prayers, and perhaps other support if possible.

First there is the matter of why the EP received this group, rather than the OCA. Even just a few months ago, in December, 2009, Met. Jonah of the OCA spoke in an interview, found here, about the Guatemalans.  In January, OCA News reported that Bishop Benjamin and Fr. Michael Oleksa of the OCA had travelled to Guatemala for further discussion.  And now, only two months later, it is announced that the EP has received the group, and the current role of the OCA in this, if any, is unknown.

One can guess, from the website of the apparently newly-created General Secretariat for Pan-Orthodox Ministries of the EP’s Metropolis of Mexico, that the EP received the Guatemalan group out of their perceived mandate to care and evangelize the non-Orthodox world.  But this doesn’t explain the role, current or past,  of the OCA.

In addition, there is the matter of Fr. Andrew, the priest who received this group, and who heads the St. Gregory Nazianzen Orthodox Theological Institute, based in Puerto Rico.  From an announcement made in August, 2009, found here, it appeared that Fr. Andrew and the Institute were both under ROCOR, but that no longer seems to be the case.

Lastly, there is the question of numbers.  Below, it is reported to be 500,000 new members received into Orthodoxy, with another 800,000 ‘seekers.’  But in January, the OCA News report mentioned above only said 50,000.  But either way, these are astounding numbers.

I don’t know what exactly these apparently inconsistencies mean, nor do I want to publicly speculate.  I hope that the OCA, or the relevant members of such, will continue to be involved in receiving and catechizing the Guatemalans, as I don’t know how one person, Fr. Andrew, is going to be able to properly care for this entire group.  Indeed, may this reception be a means for pan-Orthodox co-operation, and may great fruit be borne.

As with any conversion, baptism and chrismation are only the beginnings, and so our new brothers and sisters will need much time, prayer, and assistance as they mature in the Faith.  May God grant us to help them in this as we are able.

After months of catechetical and pastoral follow-up, the Archiepiscopal Vicar, the Right Reverend Mitered Archimandrite Dr. Andrew (Vujisić), traveled to Guatemala in January 2010 and received Msgr. Andrés Girón and Msgr. Mihail Castellanos of the independent Iglesia Católica Ortodoxa de Guatemala (ICOG), into the Orthodox Church. At that time, guidelines were also established to facilitate the reception of the ICOG’s 527,000 members, which are overwhelmingly indigenous. The former ICOG has 334 churches in Guatemala and southern Mexico, 12 clergymen, 14 seminarians, 250 lay ministers, and 380 catechists. It also has an administrative office on 280 acres, a community college and 2 schools with 12 professors / teachers, and a monastery on 480 acres. Fourteen students from Guatemala are now enrolled in the St. Gregory Nazianzen Orthodox Theological Institute Licentiate degree program.

In February 2010, the Right Reverend Mitered Archimandrite Dr. Andrew (Vujisić) returned to Guatemala and met with clerics and others who assist in the Church’s pastoral work and outreach. He discussed mission and ministry priorities, and economic development with Msgr. Andrés Girón and Msgr. Mihail Castellanos. He met and encouraged the faithful who collaborate in the diverse ministries in Guatemala, visited schools and institutions, and spoke at length with seminarians regarding matters related to the Orthodox faith, especially the importance of the development of an Orthodox phronema, praxis, and liturgical life. His Right Reverence inspected places of worship, liturgical vessels, vestments, etc. in order to assess the needs of the Church in Guatemala. Twelve full sets of vestments for Priests were given to Msgr. Mihail Castellanos. Catechisms were distributed to the lay ministers and catechists.

In his talks with the clergy and faithful of the ICOG, the Right Reverend Mitered Archimandrite Dr. Andrew (Vujisić) reiterated the message of St. Paul: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your nous (mind), that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12: 1-3). He stressed the importance of formulating an Orthodox worldview through prayer, fasting, repentance, struggle against sin and overcoming the passions, participation in the Holy Mysteries, and the reading the Holy Scriptures and the writings of the Holy Fathers. His Right Reverence conducted impromptu question and answer sessions everywhere he visited. Interest and excitement permeated the discussions.

The Right Reverend Mitered Archimandrite Dr. Andrew (Vujisić) also visited Holy Trinity Monastery (Antiochian Orthodox Church), where he held lengthy discussions with Abbess Inés and Mother María, and later prayed at the magnificent monastery Church, where he blessed the Russian iconographers of the Prosopon School of Iconology. He traveled to Guatemala City and visited the orphanage, Hogar Rafael Ayau, meeting, embracing, and blessing the children, and later having lunch with them. He held meetings with ‘Orthodox seekers’, who represent another 800,000 souls, regarding the straight and narrow path of reception into Orthodoxy. His Right Reverence will return to Guatemala after the Holy and Great Pascha of the Lord for follow-up meetings and discussions.

Source: American Orthodox Institute Blog

Written by Stephen

March 24, 2010 at 7:01 pm