At the weekend we had a church leaders’ training course, followed by a Women’s Day gathering and picnic.
In South Africa August 9 is Women’s Day, in memory of the thousands of women who marched to the main government office in Pretoria to protest against passes (internal passports) for women, which the government at that time wanted to introduce. It also falls in the Dormition Fast, so it seemed a good day to celebrate the most notable Christian woman of all, Mary, the Mother of God.
The leaders training was for those who are, or might be called to be, church readers, and was for males only, as it was held on the premises of the Monastery of the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Gerhardsville, south wast of Pretoria.
Fr Elias Palmos bought beds to provide sleeping accommodation in the monastery library. We thought we might be roughing it a bit, but the beds were actually very comfortable.
When I arrived on Friday afternoon only Christo Kokkinos was there, and Fr Frumentius Taubata and his assistant Victor Rhema, who live on the premises, and prepared meals for us. As it was the Dormition Fast, the meals were very simple. We went to St Demetrius Church for the 9th Hour, and then had supper, and were joined by Bheki Buthelezi, who lives nearby at Olievenhoutbos.We waited for people from Soshanguve to join us, but they got lost in the dark, because of the road works on the R511, and eventually Fr Frumentius went out to meet them.
We had introductions and learnt a bit about each other. Christo Kokkinos runs a bicycle shop in Vanderbijlpark, and had helped out as a reader in his parish. Bheki Buthelezi hails from KwaZulu-Natal, but is working in Gauteng for SANRAL, the national roads agency, and is staying at Olievenhoutbos. He is preparing for baptism. Ernest Shilubane and Nicholas Chauke are from Soshanguve, and are leaders in St Seraphim parish there. We finished off with Compline in the church quite late at night.
On Saturday morning we started at 6:00 am with the First Hour; it was dark when we went into the church, and as we came out it was just beginning to get light in the east. There is no electricity in the church, so we used candles, which are made on the premises by Victor Rhema. If any parishes are interested in buying church candles, you can get them from the monastery — each bundle Victor is holding in the picture costs R50.00.
After the First Hour there was time for washing, tidying rooms, and reading until breakfast at 8:00 am. I went Atteridgeville to fetch Artemius Mangena, who was not able to join us on Friday evening because he still had to go for medical treatment from the time he was staying at the monastery and was shot by armed robbers some months ago.
This was followed by the Third Hour at 9:00 am. To begin with I read the Hours, but gradually some of the others joined in, and we used English, North Sotho and Zulu. After the Third Hour I said something about the daily cycle of prayer in the church.
Vespers – at sunset
Compline (Apodipno) after supper
Nocturns (Mesonichto) – midnight
Matins (Orthros) – 3 am
First Hour — 6 am
Third Hour — 9 am
Sixth Hour — Midday
Ninth Hour — 3 pm
In parish practice the services are usually “aggregated”, that is, jolined together into one longer unit. So the Vigil usually consists of the Ninth Hour, followed by Vespers, Matins and the First Hour, and in some parishes Matins immediately precedes the Divine Liturgy. During the course, however, we had them separately, partly to show their connection with the time of day, and partly to interperse the teaching sessions with prayer. We did not have Matins and Vespers, as they are much more complicated, and need a choir that can look up and sing all the variable bits. stichera etc, which we did not have. We were beginning with the relatively simple stuff, like the Hours and Small Compline.
We had tea and some more teaching, and then the Sixth Hour at noon, followed by lunch.
On Saturday afternoon Fr Elias Palmos arrived, bringing some course handbooks, and taught on the Ecumenical Councils especially the first one, and the doctrinal issues they dealt with, and in another session he taught on the Holy Trinity. Ernest Shilubane had to leave in the afternoon for a funeral, and in the evening I had to take Artemius Mangena back to Atteridgeville, as he had not brought any blankets with him.
On Sunday morning we had the First Hour at 6:00 am again, and Val came to join us for the Divine Liturgy, which we sang following the Third Hour. In many parishes the Liturgy of Preparation is done concurrently with another service, like Matins or the Hours, so that there is one service going on at the altar and another in the nave of the church, but we did the preparation separately, so that the students could see how the bread and wine are prepared for the Divine Liturgy. At the Divine Liturgy itself, Fr Frumentius served as priest and I served as deacon, while Val was the choir. Victor Rhema and Bheki Buthelezi, who are not yet baptised, stayed in the nave of the church. Some people from Atteridgeville, 21 km away, were supposed to join us, but could not do so as the taxis that were meant to bring them were engaged in ferrying people to Limpopo for Women’s Day.
Before, during and after lunch we had an informal class on church history, sitting round the table in the trapeza, where the students asked questions. We covered early church history of the Patriarchate of Alexandruia, to explain the origins of the Coptic and Ethiopian Churches, and how we differed from them. This was also a follow-up and expansion of what Fr Elias had taught the previous day about the Ecumenical Councils and the nature and person of Christ.
In the afternoon, after the 9th Hour we went through the Liturgy of Preparation (Proskomedia) that we had done that morning, line by line, action by action, explaining the theological meaning of each part of the service.
We ended that day, as usual, with Compline, though somewhat earlier than on previous days, as we were all tired, and went to bed early.
On Monday we started with the First Hour before dawn again, only this time there were only two of us, as Nicholas Chauke had gone back to Soshanguve to fetch the women for the Women’s Day gathering. Fr Kobus arrived to give some teaching on preparation for Holy Communion, but we suggested he should wait until more people had arrived, and instead we did the Readers Service (Obednitsa), mainly to show Christos how it could be done.
When Nicholas Chauke returned with the Soshanguve people, Fr Kobus gave his teaching to a larger audience, and by then others were arriving for the Womens Day gathering as well. There were people from several different parishes, and His Eminence Metropolitan Damaskinos. Archbishop of Johannesburg and Pretoria. There was also the local city councillor.
Fr Kobus served a Paraklesis to the Theotokos, and then Archbishop Damaskinos spoke briefly, and Thomae Cavaleros spoke about the life of the Theotokos and its significance for Christians today. Fr Elias Palmos also spoke on the life of the Theotokos, and this was followed by an Akathist Hymn, and then a picnic.
Owing to a misunderstanding some people had not brought any food, but others had brought more than enough, and so there was enough to go round, with some left over. Owing to another misunderstanding, Simon Shabangu, who was one of those involved in the planning of the course, missed the first couple of days, but managed to make it on the last day, and his comment was, “what a beautiful day it was indeed. We should continue organising such progressive events every now and then, since they unite the people in terms of getting to know each other n share ideas.”