Τετάρτη, 19 Σεπτεμβρίου 2018

A conversation with Ghana’s Fr. Joseph Kwame Labi

St Vladimir's Orthodox Seminary
St Simon of Cyrene Orthodox Mission
Pradeep Hatcher 

Alumnus Protopresbyter Joseph Kwame Ayete Labi (’80) was there when Ghana was “looking for the Orthodox Church” in the 1970s. After Fr. Kwame and a group of seekers met Fr. John Meyendorff and Fr. Thomas Hopko, among others, at the 1974 World Council of Churches in Ghana’s capital city of Accra, Fr. Kwame embarked on a journey from Africa to St. Vladimir’s Seminary and back that has seen him help to establish and strengthen the Orthodox Church in Ghana to the present day.
Fr. Joseph, now the vicar general of the Archdiocese of Accra, returned to St. Vladimir’s Seminary this summer and sat down to talk about challenges the Church in Ghana faces today, the Seminary’s St. Cyprian of Carthage Fund aimed at helping African seminarians, and what the Seminary's role could be in strengthening Orthodoxy in his home country in the years ahead.
Watch an extended conversation with Fr. Joseph below.

A conversation with Ghana’s Fr. Joseph Kwame Labi from St Vladimir's Seminary on Vimeo.


Orthodox Ghana  (tag)

The Kingdom of Heaven, where racial discrimination has no place
"THE WAY" - An Introduction to the Orthodox Faith

Orthodox Mission in Tropical Africa (& the Decolonization of Africa)
How “White” is the Orthodox Church?

St. Justin Popovic: Whither does humanistic culture lead?
The Singular Goodness of God  
The Church as the Liberated Zone: "All we Christians are terrorist

Τρίτη, 18 Σεπτεμβρίου 2018

Theocracy, anyone?

Khanya (Orthodox Christian blog from South Africa)

The icon of Christ "Extreme Humility" or "The King of the Glory", from here.
My brethren, really, this is our King in the Orthodox Church!

Someone pointed me to an interesting article on theocracy recently Of Course Christians Are Theocrats | Peter J. Leithart | First Things:
In the final analysis, “human affairs” and “things divine” won’t stay put in their neutral corners. This is why I prefer Stanley Hauerwas’s straightforward confession: “I often enjoy making liberal friends, particularly American liberal friends, nervous by acknowledging that I am of course a theocrat.” That “of course” is the kicker. For Hauerwas, it’s obvious that a Christian must be a theocrat. He’s right. “Theocracy” means “rule of God,” and the Christian gospel is, in a literal sense, a theocratic message: Jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom of God. Against the Roman conviction that “Caesar is lord,” Christians proclaim that “Jesus is Lord.”
I thought it was worth reading, and on the whole I agreed with the sentiments expressed.
I recalled the ending of the account of the Martyrdom of Polycarp;, which I have often quoted, where after listing all the secular rulers and authorities at the time, the author goes on to say “but the reigning monarch was Jesus Christ, who rules for ever and ever.”
That “but” is important.
Yes, it is theocracy in the sense in which Stanley Hauerwas and Peter J. Leithart speak of it, but it is not what most people mean by “theocracy” when they use the word today. The “but” makes a clear distinction between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of men, in a way that “theocracy”, in its current English usage, does not.
Now the blessed Polycarp was martyred on the second day of the first part of the month Xanthicus, on the seventh before the calends of March, on a great Sabbath, at the eighth hour. He was apprehended by Herodes, when Philip of Tralles was high priest, in the proconsulship of Statius Quadratus, but in the reign of the Eternal King Jesus Christ. To whom be the glory, honor, greatness, and eternal throne, from generation to generation. Amen.
One cannot determine the meaning of words in current usage solely by etymology, which the First Things article does, So my response to it is both Yes and No, and the No comes from C.S. Lewis, with whom I also agree:
I am a democrat… I am a democrat because I believe that no man or group of men is good enough to be trusted with uncontrolled power over others. And the higher the pretensions of such power, the more dangerous I think it both to the rulers and to the subjects. Hence Theocracy is the worst of all governments. If we must have a tyrant a robber baron is far better than an inquisitor. The baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity at some point be sated; and since he dimly knows he is doing wrong he may possibly repent. But the inquisitor who mistakes his own cruelty and lust of power and fear for the voice of Heaven will torment us infinitely because he torments us with the approval of his own conscience and his better impulses appear to him as temptations. And since Theocracy is the worst, the nearer any government approaches Theocracy the worse it will be. A metaphysic, held by the rulers with the force of a religion, is a bad sign. It forbids them like the inquisitor, to admit any grain of truth or good in their opponents, it abrogates the ordinary rules of morality, and it gives a seemingly high, super-personal sanction to all the passions by which, like other men, the rulers will frequently be actuated. In a word, it forbids wholesome doubt.[1]
And it is also worth bearing in mind the Grand Inquisitor, from Dostoevsky.

Christ with Emperor Constantine VIII and Empress Zoe

In the days when Roman Emperors were pagan, there was less of a problem. There could be a clear distinction of church and state, between eternity and time. It was easy to be theocrats in the Hauerwas sense. But when Christian kings and emperors came along, a notion of Christian kingship.developed, which has never really worked out in practice.
We pray:
  • hallowed be thy name…  on earth as it is in heaven
  • thy kingdom come… on earth as it is in heaven
  • thy will be done… on earth as it is in heaven
So Christian rulers have a responsibility to God and not for him. They are to make their rule an icon, an image, of the kingdom of God and God’s justice. It is when Christian rulers think that they have a responsibility for God, and not to him, that things go horribly wrong. All too often they fail. And it is the failure to recognise the failure that, as C.S. Lewis points out, is the greatest failure of all.
The Bolsheviks thought they recognised the failure, but were trapped by precisely the same thing. They thought they could build the kingdom of heaven on earth,  without God (ie astheistically), Call it, if you will, as Philip Pullman did, the Republic of Heaven. But they too failed to recognise their failure, and thought that anyone who pointed out the failure and failed to recognise the Bolshevik earthly paradise must be mad, so they locked dissidents away in lunatic asylums. Even an atheist theocracy remains a theocracy, subject to all the weaknesses C.S. Lewis points out.
Beware the politician who thinks he knows the will of God, or, in the absence of God, substitutes his own will.
On balance I think I agree with C.S. Lewis: theocracy is the worst form of government.

Notes & References

[1] Lewis, C.S. 1966. Of other worlds: essays and stories. London: Geoffrey Bles; p 81.
For more on this and related topics see also:
See also
Grace and “the Inverted Pyramid”
Weak, Sick, Poor, Tired: A Story for Losers
Why Orthodox Men Love Church
The Kingdom of Heaven, where racial discrimination has no place
"THE WAY" - An Introduction to the Orthodox Faith
St. Justin Popovic: Whither does humanistic culture lead?

The Singular Goodness of God
The Church as the Liberated Zone: "All we Christians are terrorists..." 

Giving Thanks for All Things – The Cruciform Life
An Atonement of Shame – Orthodoxy and the Cross
Sunday after the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross: "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me"  


Δευτέρα, 17 Σεπτεμβρίου 2018

An Orthodox Bishop in Guinea & Sierra Leone

Orthodox Missionary Fraternity

On Thursday June 7, His Eminence Metropolitan George of Guinea, with the wishes and blessings of His Beatitude Theodore II, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa. arrived in Guinea through Mauritania. In the following days, he met with Orthodox Guineans, Russians and Ukrainians working in Guinea and visited real estate to find a suitable plot of land for the construction of a church in a suburb of the capital city, Conakry.
On Sunday, June 10, he performed the Divine Liturgy at the residence of a Greek-American woman. On Monday His Eminence visited the “Greek Square”, as it is called by the natives, inspected the progress of the construction works of the Holy Parthenios Church and of the “Friendship of Greece-Guinea” Academy and gave the necessary instructions for the immediate completion of the projects. The Orthodox Missionary Fraternity contributed decisively to the erection of both the church and the Academy.

On the afternoon of Thursday, June 14, he went to the Conakry port customs office and settled the customs clearance procedures for a humanitarian aid container, which arrived in Guinea a few days later and was sent to the children of Guinea by the Orthodox Missionary Fraternity. It was loaded by volunteers on May 6th and contains- among other things- religious items, 576 rice bags, 100 boxes of biscuits, 96 boxes of sugar, 83 boxes of flour, 55 boxes of candy, 52 boxes of sweetened condensed milk, 50 boxes of cooking oil, 40 boxes of salt, tomato paste, pasta, halva and 329 boxes of clothes, shoes, toys, books, and others. This aid will relieve hundreds of poor families in Guinea, where 47% of the population lives in abject conditions while 93% of them have no access to drinking water, and infant mortality is soaring.
Late Friday evening on June 15, His Eminence Metropolitan George of Guinea arrived in Freetown, the capital city of Sierra Leone, where he was welcomed at the port by the Chancellor of the Metropolis Fr. Themistocles Adamopoulos.  On Saturday morning, he officiated at the Divine Liturgy and preached the Word of God at the Church of Saints Constantine and Helen, and during the D. Liturgy, he ordained Soterios Sesay to Deacon. His Eminence gave parental counsel to the new Deacon, stressing the responsibilities he assumed as a soldier of Christ, and then addressed to the young people, who comprised the majority of the congregation, saying among other things how important it is to take advantage of the opportunity given to them by the Orthodox Schools in Sierra Leone to train and study in model schools and colleges so as to be able to work in order to improve the living conditions in their country and help- each one in their own way-for its  growth and prosperity, always having the Lord Jesus Christ above all and the saints of the Church as  role models. At the end of the Divine Liturgy, the youth presented an artistic program of Christian songs and traditional dances, and Sister Minais distributed knitted crosses to all the young people present.

In the afternoon His Eminence was briefed by Fr. Themistocles and his associates on the course of the works and thanked Fr. Themistocles, Maria Adams, teacher, and Dr. Eleni Athinodorou for the great work they have been doing in Sierra Leone, particularly in the field of education.
On Sunday 17 June, His Eminence Metropolitan George of Guinea officiated at the Divine Liturgy and proclaimed the Divine Word at the Church of St. Moses the Black in Waterloo region of Sierra Leone and ordained Deacon Nektarios Kollie to Elder and the instructor Athanasios Sesay to Deacon. In his address, His Eminence referred to the Gospel of the day, gave admonitions to the new clergymen, and then spoke about the position of the woman in the Orthodox Church and the duties of the elders’ wives (presbyteres), who should be role models for all women in the parishes where their husbands serve as church priests. He went on to stress the importance of the work the teachers in Orthodox schools have to do, and also referred to the great destruction that the Ebola virus had caused, wishing it would stay in the past as a nightmare and urging everyone to be careful and strictly follow the instructions of the Ministry of Health for prevention of reccurrence of a deadly virus outbreak in the country.

After the dismissal of the Divine Liturgy, the Eminence visited all the classes of the Kindergarten and the Primary School of the parish, and distributed to all the children candy, pencils and balloons, and to the outstanding pupils color palettes, courtesy of the congregation of the St. Athanasios Patriarchal glebe in Kypseli. Next he visited the clinic and the first building of the Orthodox Children’s Village for Orphaned Children, which will be inaugurated in November by His Beatitude Patriarch Theodore of Alexandria.
On Monday, June 18, His Eminence visited the largest slum in the center of the capital city of Sierra Leone, which has sheltered over 20,000 adults and children living under wretched conditions without water, electricity or any access to sanitation facilities. During the rainy season these people are at risk of being drowned by large water streams or being killed by landslides. There His Eminence and his entourage were met by a local councilor, who led them to the rudimentary school for the slum children. The pictures were horrible, yet, despite the miserable conditions and the hassle of the children, they were all very glad about our visit. His Eminence, on behalf of the Patriarchate, pledged to undertake the immediate refurbishment of the school and the rapid training of the teachers at the Sierra Leone Orthodox Pedagogical Academy. To all the children Sister Minais offered candy and stationery.

In the afternoon a gathering of priests took place in the presence of all the clergy and members of the ecclesiastical youth choir. Functional as well as other practical issues were discussed at the meeting. Finally, gifts were offered to all the priests and the young people present.
Prior to his departure from Sierra Leone, His Eminence publicly thanked the Orthodox Missionary Fraternity for their continued support for twenty consecutive years now as well as for the humanitarian aid they sent through this container to Guinea and Sierra Leone.

George of Guinea

News & articles from Orthodox Diocese of Guinea & Sierra Leone

In our blog

Orthodox Guinea 
Orthodox Sierra Leone
The Orthodox Archdiocese of Conakry and Guinea (the Orthodox Church in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Gambia, Senegal, and Cape Verde)

Παρασκευή, 14 Σεπτεμβρίου 2018

The Universal Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross

Commemorated on September 14 

Greek Orthodox Holy Icon of the Universal Exaltation of the Holy Cross (from here)

Troparion & Kontakion

Orthodox Church in America

The Elevation of the Venerable and Life-Creating Cross of the Lord: The pagan Roman emperors tried to completely eradicate from human memory the holy places where our Lord Jesus Christ suffered and was resurrected for mankind. The Emperor Hadrian (117-138) gave orders to cover over the ground of Golgotha and the Sepulchre of the Lord, and to build a temple of the pagan goddess Venus and a statue of Jupiter.

Pagans gathered at this place and offered sacrifice to idols there. Eventually after 300 years, by Divine Providence, the great Christian sacred remains, the Sepulchre of the Lord and the Life-Creating Cross were again discovered and opened for veneration. This took place under the Emperor Constantine the Great (306-337) after his victory in the year 312 over Maxentius, ruler of the Western part of the Roman empire, and over Licinius, ruler of its Eastern part. In the year 323 Constantine became the sole ruler of the vast Roman Empire. 

September 14, 2018: Bishop Athanasius of Kisumu and all western Kenya celebrated the Feast of the elevation of the Precious and Life-giving Cross (from here)

In 313 he had issued the Edict of Milan, by which the Christian religion was legalized and the persecutions against Christians in the Western half of the empire were stopped. The ruler Licinius, although he had signed the Edict of Milan to oblige Constantine, still fanatically continued the persecutions against Christians. Only after his conclusive defeat did the 313 Edict of toleration extend also to the Eastern part of the empire. The Holy Equal of the Apostles Emperor Constantine, having gained victory over his enemies in three wars with God’s assistance, had seen in the heavens the Sign of the Cross, and written beneath: “By this you shall conquer.”

Ardently desiring to find the Cross on which our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified, Saint Constantine sent his mother, the pious Empress Helen (May 21), to Jerusalem, providing her with a letter to Saint Macarius, Patriarch of Jerusalem.

Although the holy empress Helen was already in her declining years, she set about completing the task with enthusiasm. The empress gave orders to destroy the pagan temple and the statues in Jerusalem. Searching for the Life-Creating Cross, she made inquiry of Christians and Jews, but for a long time her search remained unsuccessful.

Finally, they directed her to a certain elderly Hebrew by the name of Jude who stated that the Cross was buried where the temple of Venus stood. They demolished the pagan temple and, after praying, they began to excavate the ground. Soon the Tomb of the Lord was uncovered. Not far from it were three crosses, a board with the inscription ordered by Pilate, and four nails which had pierced the Lord’s Body (March 6).

In order to discern on which of the three crosses the Savior was crucified, Patriarch Macarius alternately touched the crosses to a corpse. When the Cross of the Lord touched the dead one, he came to life. Having beheld the raising of the dead man, everyone was convinced that the Life-Creating Cross was found.

Christians came in a huge throng to venerate the Holy Cross, beseeching Saint Macarius to elevate the Cross, so that even those far off might reverently contemplate it. Then the Patriarch and other spiritual leaders raised up the Holy Cross, and the people, saying “Lord have mercy,” reverently prostrated before the Venerable Wood. This solemn event occurred in the year 326. 


Feast of Elevation of the Holy Cross in Rwanda 2018 (from here)

During the discovery of the Life-Creating Cross another miracle took place: a grievously sick woman, beneath the shadow of the Holy Cross, was healed instantly. The elder Jude and other Jews there believed in Christ and accepted Holy Baptism. Jude received the name Cyriacus and afterwards was consecrated Bishop of Jerusalem.

During the reign of Julian the Apostate (361-363) he accepted a martyr’s death for Christ (see October 28). The holy empress Helen journeyed to the holy places connected with the earthly life of the Savior, building more than 80 churches, at Bethlehem the birthplace of Christ, and on the Mount of Olives where the Lord ascended to Heaven, and at Gethsemane where the Savior prayed before His sufferings and where the Mother of God was buried after her death.

Saint Helen took part of the Life-Creating Wood and nails with her to Constantinople. The holy emperor Constantine gave orders to build at Jerusalem a majestic and spacious church in honor of the Resurrection of Christ, also including under its roof the Life-Giving Tomb of the Lord and Golgotha. The temple was constructed in about ten years. Saint Helen did not survive until the dedication of the temple, she died in the year 327. The church was consecrated on September 13, 335. On the following day, September 14, the festal celebration of the Exaltation of the Venerable and Life-Creating Cross was established.

Another event connected to the Cross of the Lord is remembered also on this day: its return to Jerusalem from Persia after a fourteen year captivity. During the reign of the Byzantine emperor Phocas (602-610) the Persian emperor Khozroes II in a war against the Greeks defeated the Greek army, plundered Jerusalem and captured both the Life-Creating Cross of the Lord and the Holy Patriarch Zachariah (609-633). 

"Love God and love your Neighbor as you love yourself' Believe in God Who is the Creator of all things. The greatest gift that God offered to His creation, with much love He offered His begotten Son!" (from here).
An African child (from Kenya) forms on his body the Holy Cross in the orthodox way, like the ancient Christians.

The Cross remained in Persia for fourteen years and only under the emperor Heraclius (610-641), who with the help of God defeated Khozroes and concluded peace with his successor and son Syroes, was the Cross of the Lord returned to the Christians.

With great solemnity the Life-creating Cross was transferred to Jerusalem. Emperor Heraclius in imperial crown and royal purple carried the Cross of Christ into the temple of the Resurrection. With the emperor went Patriarch Zacharios. At the gates by which they ascended Golgotha, the emperor suddenly stopped and was not able to proceed farther. The holy Patriarch explained to the emperor that an angel of the Lord was blocking his way. The emperor was told to remove his royal trappings and to walk barefoot, since He Who bore the Cross for the salvation of the world from sin had made His way to Golgotha in all humility. Then Heraclius donned plain garb, and without further hindrance, carried the Cross of Christ into the church.

In a sermon on the Exaltation of the Cross, Saint Andrew of Crete (July 4) says: “The Cross is exalted, and everything true gathers together, the Cross is exalted, and the city makes solemn, and the people celebrate the feast”. 

Fr Timotheos Ntumba, Orthodox Church of Saint Nicolas, Bunia (DRC), with the Holy Cross on his breast (see here). 
See also

The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (September 14): the crossroads of history and the Tree of Life... (an article from the Orthodox Metropolis of Zambia and Malawi)
Giving Thanks for All Things – The Cruciform Life
Jesus Christ and Nicodemus - A little of the theology of the Cross: The Sunday before the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
Sunday after the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross: "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me"

Two miracles of the Holy Cross in Africa (Congo) 
An Atonement of Shame – Orthodoxy and the Cross
Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy
Holy Cross Resource Page
Elevation of the Holy Cross
Kiss The Who's What?  

Του Τιμίου Σταυρού & άγιοι + μνήμες (& ένα βιβλίο) γύρω απ' αυτόν!...

Bishop Athanasius of Kisumu and fr John from Kenya 
with the Holy Cross on their breast (from here)

Σάββατο, 8 Σεπτεμβρίου 2018

Theotokos vs Nazi - The Miracle of the Theotokos in Orchomenos on September 10, 1943

On 8 September 1943, the day of the feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, the Italians capitulated and in the beginning refused to surrender their weapons to their German allies. In Orchomenos of Boetia the regional organization E.A.M. felt they could capitalize on this and accept the Italian arms. The Italians refused this and went with their weapons to Livadia. On the way the Germans surrounded them and disarmed them, and the Italians betrayed the people of Orchomenos by stating their intentions. When the Germans learned of the intentions of the people of Orchomenos they sent against them the next day, September 9th, armored vehicles. When the people of Orchomenos heard this they left and arrived at the crossroads of Agios Andreas, unprepared and disorganized as they were, and scattered throughout the surrounding area to the most remote Dionysus (Tsamaliou). The Germans continued the chase, to retaliate against Orchomenos, as was their usual tactic.

When the Germans entered Orchomenos they took 600 hostages, left a section in the village, and sent three tanks against the rest to Dionysus. On the night of the 9th towards the 10th of September, at around midnight, about 550 meters away from the Byzantine Church of the Panagia Skripou (874 AD), the three German tanks were immobilized for no apparent reason. As the German commander known as Hoffman later recounted, the form of a woman had appeared in the night sky with her hand raised in a prohibitive stance. Commander Hoffman then requested a tractor to pull the tanks, and he beheld another miracle when the tractor was able to easily pull the heavy tanks like an empty matchbox. He then proclaimed "miracle! miracle!" and asked the residents to take him into the church. From the icon in the church the commander recognized the woman to be the Virgin Mary. He fell down on his knees and said: "This woman saved you! You must honor her and glorify her!"

Orchomenos was indeed saved by the Panagia and the 600 hostages were freed with a vow by the commander that the village would not be harmed. Following the war, Commander Hoffman returned to the Church of Panagia Skripou, donating an icon of the vision he saw along with an large oil lamp. Just about every year he returned on September 10th to commemorate the event and light a candle in the church. For this reason the Panagia Skripou celebrates a feast on September 10th every year. A procession takes place with the icon on this day to the spot where the tanks were immobilized.
See also:  

Saint Charalambos of Magnesia (vs Nazi) 

The Miracle of Saint Menas in El Alamein in 1942
Orthodox New Martyrs in France vs Nazi

Not often you see a Nazi serpent in an icon
Holy New Martyrs of Jasenovac Concentration Camp
Orthodox Holiness - The New Martyrs of Bosnia

Orthodox Pascha (Easter) in Dachau