In memory of Nelson Mandela
The Orthodox Church of St Nicholas of Japan began as a English speaking multi-ethnic Orthodox missionary community in Johannesburg in 1987. An objective was to make non-Orthodox people aware of Orthodoxy. St Nicholas the Enlightener of Japan evangelized Japan in the late 19th century. He was the first priest in Japan and subsequently went on to become the first Archbishop of Japan as this church grew. It was because of the similar situation that the founders of the then new parish found themselves in and therefore decided to choose St. Nicholas of Japan was as the patron saint of the church. Initially, services were held in various church halls and chapels until the community finally moved to its current premises in 1990.
This Orthodox parish, under the authority of the Patriarchate of Alexandria, is not aligned to any particular ethnic community and parishioners and visitors to the church are drawn from all geographical areas, many even traveling considerable distances to attend the services.
Testimony of the parish’s outreach and missionary work in South Africa is that a number of our parishioners have over the years joined the clergy and been ordained priests, deacons, and nuns. These include: Father Iakovos van der Riet, Father Zacharias van Wyk, Father Jonathan Procter, Father Andrey Kashinsky, Father Deacon Stephen Hayes, Father Deacon Irinaeos McDonald, Father Paul Vermaak, Father Deacon Constantinos Couvas, Sister Paisia D’Amico as well as Father Deacon Anastasios Noel Barham, of blessed memory.
The services have always been conducted primarily in English. However, a little Greek, Romanian, Slavonic, Afrikaans and other languages are also used as the occasion requires.
Fr. Kobus van der Riet
The musical tradition of the church is mostly in 4-part harmony and is always unaccompanied. It draws its material mainly from the Orthodox Church in America, which is Russian in style, and occasionally uses Byzantine chant. The choir director is Georgia Jammine.
The Icons in the church are mainly the work of parishioners of St Nicholas, in particular that of Diaconissa Cathy McDonald, but including the works of Carol Hamman, Lynn Katsoulis and Danie Steyn.
Parish priests that have served over the years in a permanent role were Fr. Chrysostom Frank, Fr. Iakovos Olechnowicz, Fr. Michai Corpedean, and presently Rev. Fr. Athanasius Akunda.
Our Clergy (here)
Fr. Kobus van der Riet
Father Jacobus van der Riet was born in Stellenbosch in 1959, where, after brief sojourns in Wellington and Harrismith, he attended school and university and obtained degrees in Classics and Theology in the 1980s. He also obtained a Ph.D. from Wits in Classics in 1999 on the subject of Roman and Greek poetry, and a Masters in Theology from St Tikhon’s Orthodox Seminary in Pennsylvania in 1999. In 2012 he obtained a diploma in Library Science from UCT.
He was received into the Orthodox Church at St. Nicholas of Japan in 1994, after a year-long catechumenate. Presvytera Marica Frank, his colleague at the time in the Classics Department at Wits, had invited him to attend services at St Nicholas and he gradually came to appreciate the Orthodox faith and worship and way of life.
In 2001 he lived in a monastery in the Peloponnese to learn Greek, Byzantine chant and iconography. He was ordained a Deacon in 2002 and a Priest shortly afterwards by Archbishop Seraphim and some years later elevated to the rank of Archimandrite.
He served at first in St George’s Church in Brakpan for eighteen months, then in the chapel of Sts. Constantine and Helen in Eldorado Park since 2004 up to the present (the latter parish of being an offshoot of St. Nicholas of Japan Church), and later in addition in St Basil’s Church in Springs for twenty months. At present his ministry in Eldorado Park is combined with ministry in the Church of the Dormition of the All-holy Theotokos in Rustenburg, since the end of 2011. Being for the most part a non-stipendiary priest, he works in a public library. Any spare time is devoted to the translation of liturgical texts into Afrikaans.
Father Jacobus has always had a close relationship with St Nicholas of Japan, and has on frequent occasions throughout the years, stood in when the parish priest was absent.
In 2012 he published, through the publisher Protea, a book of poetry, Die Onsienlike Son, which contains 66 sonnets on Christ and the Saints, from Old Testament times up to the present.
Father Deacon Stephen Hayes
Father Deacon Stephen Hayes was born in Durban in 1941. After matriculating at St Stithians College, he completed a BA in Theology at the University of Natal. This was followed by a Diploma in Theology at Durham University in the UK. He then completed a Bachelor’s, a Master’s and a Doctorate in Theology all through UNISA.
His first exposure the Orthodoxy was a seminar he attended in Switzerland in 1968 for non-Orthodox theological students, followed by attending services for Holy Week and Pascha in Paris. The Easter kiss that followed made a very strong impression on him, and he began to read about Orthodox theology. Although he was Anglican, and remained so for 15 years thereafter, he found that the theologies of the two churches were in conflict. In 1985 he and his family, including his wife Valerie, and his children Bridget, Simon and Jethro started attending services at Pantanassa Church, where the services at the time were in English. After an incident in which a visiting priest in 1986 announced that the church was built with Greek money and was for Greeks, he along with several others, formed the Society of St Nicholas of Japan with the aim of promoting the Orthodox Christian faith among people of all ethnic groups. In November 1987 the family were received into the Orthodox Church by Fr Chrysostom Frank, who was then chaplain of the Society.
In 2001, he was appointed as the secretary of the Diocesan Mission Committee, under Metropolitan Seraphim. He was involved in teaching in various congregations and groups from the African Orthodox Church who were interested in Orthodoxy, first as a Reader, and later as a deacon. He was mainly involved with the former congregation of the African Orthodox Episcopal Church in Mamelodi East, several members of which were baptised on the day I was ordained as a deacon. . In 2005 he was involved in planting a new Orthodox parish in Tembisa. After Fr Johannes Rakumako was assigned to Tembisa, Father Stephen began to spend alternate Sundays at St Nicholas of Japan in Brixton, and with the congregation in Mamelodi East, where they have the Hours and Readers Service (Obednitsa) With the blessing of Archbishops Paul and Seraphim at the time, he had the Hours and Obednitsa translated into North Sotho and Zulu for use in mission congregations where there was no regular priest.”
Father Deacon Stephen participates in a number of internet discussions on Orthodoxy and missiology (the study of Christian mission) and continues to supervise post-graduate student in missiology at the University of South Africa. His blog Khanya has articles on Orthodox missiology, the history of St Nicholas parish, and other topics.
Diaconissa Katherine (Val) has always shared in Fr Stephen’s mission work. Their daughter, Julia (Bridget) is a professional iconographer in Greece, and her work can be viewed here.
Fr. Athanasius Akunda
Father Athanasius was born Amos Akunda in Kenya in 1971. He was the eldest of six children whose father is a theologian from St. Tikhons Theological Seminary. He became Orthodox at the age of 8 after his parents converted to Orthodoxy. He attended Makarios III seminary in Kenya and graduated with a Diploma in Theology, followed by a Master of Divinity at Holy Cross School of Theology. At the International institute of Church Management he graduated in a Doctor of Divinity and at the University of South Africa a Doctor of Theology. He also completed a Diploma and Post Graduate Diploma in Education Management at the India Institute of Management, and a Certificate in teaching English as a foreign language at the Cambridge Institute of English Language in Boston.
Father Athanasius worked in African literature, Christian religious education, Social education and Ethics at Ebukhaya High School, Ebusiloli High School and Ngoro Orthodox High School, all in Kenya. He held the position of Catechist in Western Kenya, and Secretary in the office of the Archbishopric of Kenya.
He was ordained as a Deacon in Kenya in 1998 by His Eminence Archbishop Seraphim and ordained as a Priest at Pantanassa Church also by Archbishop Seraphim in 2002. In 2010 at the Church of St Athansios in Benoni, on the feast day of that church, he was elevated to the rank of Archimandrite by His Eminence Archbishop Damaskinos. He has served as the Parish priest St. Seraphim in Soshanguve and at St. Raphael, Irene and Nicholas in Yeoville, Johannesburg. He was also Dean and lecturer at Petros VII seminary. He has been the parish priest at St. Nicholas of Japan since 2009.
Other positions he has held include Director of missions from 2003 to 2008 and Vicar in charge of missions since 2010. Father Athanasius has represented the Patriarchate of Alexandria at the World Council of Churches, and the All African Conference of Churches.
NOTE: In 24th November 2015, fr. Athanasios Akunda elected new Bishop of Kisumu from Patriarchate of Alexandria and all Africa (see here).
Saint Nickolas of Japan & the samurai Fr Paul Sawabe Takuma
Orthodox South Africa