Πέμπτη 31 Δεκεμβρίου 2015

Saint Sisoes the Great (+ 429), the flower of the Egyptian desert

Venerable Sisoes the Great

Bielin, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Orthodox Monastery of St Basil of Ostrozh, St Sisoes the Great (from here).

Orthodox Church of America

Saint Sisoes the Great (+ 429) was a solitary monk, pursuing asceticism in the Egyptian desert in a cave sanctified by the prayerful labors of his predecessor, St Anthony the Great (January 17). For his sixty years of labor in the desert, St Sisoes attained to sublime spiritual purity and he was granted the gift of wonderworking, so that by his prayers he once restored a dead child back to life.
Extremely strict with himself, Abba Sisoes was very merciful and compassionate to others, and he received everyone with love. To those who visited him, the saint first of all always taught humility. When one of the monks asked how he might attain to a constant remembrance of God, St Sisoes remarked, “That is no great thing, my son, but it is a great thing to regard yourself as inferior to everyone else. This leads to the acquisition of humility.” Asked by the monks whether one year is sufficient for repentance if a brother sins, Abba Sisoes said, “I trust in the mercy of God that if such a man repents with all his heart, then God will accept his repentance in three days.”
When St Sisoes lay upon his deathbed, the disciples surrounding the Elder saw that his face shone like the sun. They asked the dying man what he saw. Abba Sisoes replied that he saw St Anthony, the prophets, and the apostles. His face increased in brightness, and he spoke with someone. The monks asked, “With whom are you speaking, Father?” He said that angels had come for his soul, and he was entreating them to give him a little more time for repentance. The monks said, “You have no need for repentance, Father” St Sisoes said with great humility, “I do not think that I have even begun to repent.”
After these words the face of the holy abba shone so brightly that the brethren were not able to look upon him. St Sisoes told them that he saw the Lord Himself. Then there was a flash like lightning, and a fragrant odor, and Abba Sisoes departed to the Heavenly Kingdom. 

 Saint Sisoes the Great as a Model for our Lives 

St. Sisoes the Great (Feast Day - July 6)
By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Sisoes lived in the fourth century and came from Thebes, Egypt. He belonged to the first generation of great ascetics and was a disciple of Anthony the Great. Shining with spiritual wisdom, humility and brotherly love, he was interested in returning to the fold of Christ even one sinner. For the righteous and unrighteous, rich and poor, rulers and subjects, clergy and laity, and generally for the whole world, he would pray continuously. He showed himself to be a heavenly man and an earthly angel. When Christ came to collect his soul at the moment of his departure, He called him a "vessel of the desert".

"They would say of the venerable Sisoes that, when he was at the end of his long life of labors, as the fathers were gathered about him, his face began to shine as the sun, and he said, 'Behold, Abba Anthony is come;' then, 'Behold, the choir of the Prophets is come;' his face shone yet more bright, and he said, 'Behold, the choir of the Apostles is come.' The light of his countenance increased, and he seemed to be talking with someone. The fathers asked him of this; in his humility, he said he was asking the Angels for time to repent. The fathers told him, 'You have no need of repentance, Abba.' Abba Sisoes responded, 'I tell you the truth, I have not even made a beginning of it.' Thus they learned he was perfect. Again his face became as bright as the sun, so that the fathers were filled with fear. He said, 'Behold, the Lord is come, and He says, "Bring Me the vessel of the desert,"' and as he gave up his soul into the hands of God, there was as it were a flash of lightning, and the whole dwelling was filled with a sweet fragrance."

His departure was as glorious, as his humility was deep, and his life was magnificent. Besides, his entire earthly life was a philosophy of death. Tradition has preserved in iconography the visit of the Saint to the tomb of Alexander of the Great. "There he deeply realized the vanity of human glory and royal power and mourned for death, the common fate of humanity. Then he philosophized about death and life, the temporary and eternal."

Below we will quote part of his divinely inspired teachings, which is just as valid today and is able to build us up. They are answers to various requests made to him for reasons of salvation or to solve certain problems that concerned them.

- One of the Fathers asked Abba Sisoes, “If I am sitting in the desert and a barbarian comes to kill me and if I am stronger than he, shall I kill?” The old man said to him, “No, leave him to God. In fact, whatever the trial is which comes to a man, let him say, ‘This has happened to me because of my sins,’ and if something good comes, say, ‘It is through the grace of God.’”

- A brother asked Abba Sisoes, "I have fallen, Abba; what shall I do?" The old man said to him, "Get up again." The brother said, "I have gotten up again, but again have I fallen." The old man said, "Get up again and again." So the brother asked, "How many times?" The old man replied, "Until you are taken up either in virtue or in sin. For a man presents himself to judgment in that state in which he is found."

Many are hurt by the mistakes of others to the point that they feel within them boiling the fury of vengeance. They claim that they cannot forgive, because they feel hurt or betrayed. Of course, the question is: "Is their love hurt and betrayed or is it their ego?" For when someone truly loves it is impossible for them to not forgive, for no misconduct can defeat love. Therefore, the problem in human relations - in the family and in society in general - is the lack of love, which prevents grace and forgiveness. When one does not forgive, certainly they will suffer a fall in order to be humbled and recover. Whoever believes in the Triune God and has full confidence in His providence and love, takes no revenge on anyone, but they pray and entrust everything to God.

- A brother whom another brother had wronged came to see Abba Sisoes and said to him, "My brother has hurt me and I want to avenge myself." The old man pleaded with him saying, "No, my child, leave vengeance to God." He said to him, "I shall not rest until I have avenged myself." The old man said, "Brother, let us pray." Then the old man stood up and said, "God, we no longer need you to care for us, since we do justice for ourselves." Hearing these words, the brother fell at the old man’s feet, saying, "I will no longer seek justice from my brother; forgive me Abba."

Certainly it is important for one to have the continuous remembrance of God. Even more important, though, is to have humility, which is the foundation of all virtues, and the source of all good. Whoever is truly humble, considers himself inferior not only to all people, but even to irrational creation.

- A brother said to Abba Sisoes, "I am aware that the remembrance of God stays with me." The old man said to him, "It is no great thing to be with God in your thoughts, but it is a great thing to see yourself as inferior to all creatures. It is this, coupled with hard work, that leads to humility."

One's state of being in this temporary life sooner or later will become manifest. And it manifests itself mainly during the time of a persons repose. The repose of the saints is truly glorious, brilliant. It is a true celebration.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Ὅσιος Σισώης ὁ μέγας", June 2014. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.
The Icon of St. Sisoes the Great

Concerning the icon of St. Sisoes staring over the dead bones of Alexander the Great, we do not know for sure if this depicts a historical event. We do not have a historical account of what the icon describes until its depiction first starts appearing in monasteries in Greece following the Fall of Constantinople in 1453.

The inscription on the icon reads:

Sisoes, the great ascetic, before the tomb of Alexander, King of the Greeks, who was once covered in glory. Astonished, he mourns for the vicissitudes of time and the transience of glory, and tearfully declaims thus:

'The mere sight of you, tomb, dismays me and causes my heart to shed tears, as I contemplate the debt we, all men, owe. How can I possibly stand it? Oh, death! Who can evade you?'

The astonishment of Sisoes has been an icon of contemplation for all Christians, especially for monastics, since the 15th century and has spread so much in popularity that it appears throughout hundreds of Greek churches and monasteries. Among the most famous come from Holy Trinity Monastery and Varlaam Monastery at Meteora, and Hosios Loukas. The site of the church where this icon usually appears is on the opposite side of the altar area as people exit the church, where also the Dormition icon of the Theotokos also appears. It is wisely placed here so Christians can contemplate death as they leave the church.

It is no coincidence that this icon became so popular after the Fall of Constantinople. Constantinople, once the seat of the Roman Emperor from the time of Constantine the Great, always looked to Alexander as one of the most exemplary of rulers. In fact, this was a tradition of all the Roman Emperors. The historian Dion Cassius (155-235 AD) reports that after Augustus had visited the body of Alexander in Alexandria, he was asked if he also wanted to visit the tombs of the Ptolemies, the sovereigns of Hellenistic Egypt. He refused, saying: "I came to see a king and not dead men". Roman universal rule was considered an inheritance of the Roman Emperors received through Alexander.

It is not implausible that the depiction of Sisoes lamenting over the tomb of Alexander is a historical event lost to us in document form but survives only in iconography. In many ways, the iconographic tradition is just as reliable historically as is a written document. Since Sisoes was a contemporary of the time of the destruction of Alexander's tomb, I would find it difficult to believe that such a wise disciple of Anthony the Great living outside Alexandria would not at least make some comment in this regard.

Sisoes lamenting over Alexander is also a lament over an ideology. It is not by coincidence that both men are known by the epithet "Great". At one time, during Roman rule that lasted over a millennium and a half, Alexander was an icon of the Empire, but now that the Empire was gone the Romans looked to monastics as the only hope for suffering Orthodoxy under the Ottoman Muslims. It is this outlook which formed the Orthodox mentality during this period. That is not to say that it did not exist before, since this was always a part of christian and monastic tradition, but now Sisoes stands over Alexander's dead bones alive and learning the great lesson of the vanity of worldly glory. Roman glory may have vanished, but the Kingdom of Heaven reigns forever.

Read also: Sisoes the Great and the Contemplation of Death as a Means to True Life in Christ
Venerable Sisoes the Great - Troparion & Kontakion
Troparion — Tone 1
Dweller of the desert and angel in the body, / you were shown to be a wonder-worker, our God-bearing Father Sisoes. / You received heavenly gifts through fasting, vigil, and prayer: / healing the sick and the souls of those drawn to you by faith. / Glory to Him who gave you strength! / Glory to Him who grant-ed you a crown! / Glory to Him who through you grants healing to all!
Troparion — Tone 5
From your youth you followed the angelic life / And were therefore filled with many godly gifts. / O Sisoes, emulator of the angels, / In the hour of your going forth from this life, / You shone resplendently as the sun / Revealing your glory and illuminating our souls!
Kontakion — Tone 4
In asceticism you were revealed to be an earthly angel, / continually enlightening the thoughts of the faithful with divine signs. / Therefore we honor you with faith, venerable Sisoes.


Τετάρτη 30 Δεκεμβρίου 2015

Congo (Brazzaville): Look down from heaven and behold…

†Panteleimon of Brazzaville and Gabon

Photo from here

On October 26, the Church of Christ celebrated the memory of the Holy and Glorious Great Martyr Demetrius the Myrrh-gusher, also feast of our Diocese Cathedral. What does this celebration mean for the local Church of the Congo?
From the early years of Christianity, the Holy See of the Bishop was that place in which the sacred church where the spiritual shepherd officiated was located. Alongside this there has always been the holy baptistery, indicating an unbroken unity between the place where the Eucharist was celebrated by the Bishop and the celebration of the sacrament of Baptism. Then only he had the right to perform the baptism as a guarantor of good faith, which is why the baptistery was always located in the See: the Bishop was witness to the Unity of the Church, in charge of this sacred and unshakeable duty. He walked, taught and lit the darkness of heresy, namely the removal, decomposition, fragmentation of the seamless tunic of Christ, a work of the devil himself. Once, a monk, using an expression of old times said that the Sakkos (dalmatic) carries bells to “scare the heretics away.»

Look down from heaven, oh Lord: here, in Central Africa, Congo-Brazzaville, we are experiencing the same truths that the Church has lived since the Redeemer spilled His blood. Indeed, this place experiences early Christian times! We work in a land that was once scraping along– is it still? – in search of a «god» who works within the frames of a grim compatibility, a give and take relationship. The greatest difficulty in spreading the Gospel lies in the teaching of the Word that gives priority to the freedom and sacred uniqueness of the person. This is so because our African brothers, like the gentiles of the time, coexisted -and perhaps they partly coexist- with a religiosity blended with superstition and through it with slavery. Our brothers undergo an involuntary martyrdom every day in the places they serve, as well as thousands of other practices that seem to be incomprehensible to us; after all, we ourselves, despite having been Christianized centuries ago, have, indeed, compromised with our own attitudes, whether these are right or not.


We come to this land in order to speak to our brothers about Jesus Christ, the One and Only Truth, which affects slavery. Unfortunately, a deep-rooted feeling of fear creeps into their collective unconscious. Fear dating back to older times, a fear of the leader, the magician, the exorcist, the strong warriors, the strictly graded racial hierarchy, the settler-oppressor. A fear which depended primarily on the provision of food and grew through the systematic concealment of education and knowledge. Before the arrival of the colonizers at the richest continent in the world, Africa, when traditional structures and values were being monopolized, it was these groups managing the land, water and food, there was collective education, racial awareness and tribal knowledge, while religiosity, wherever it turned within the darkness of superstition, was part of their existence. Then came the westerners, who along with the other ills, stretched over a Christianity «enriched» with their ruthless pursuits, clergically developed, based on divine wrath which always lurks...

And then it was our turn. We came here, materially poor but spiritually rich by preserving the unfaked, genuine character of the holy Gospel, listening to the voice of the indigenous people. That is how Orthodoxy reached these places. We live experiences dating back to apostolic times in places where fear is the sole ruler.
The hymns sung on St. Demetrius feast day, evoke precisely this absence of fear that the Martyr of Christ had. His answers to the questions in the court of the compromised. The judges of the martyrs, lovers of absolute nothing. Those who condemned, persecuted, killed Christians are no longer remembered. . Oblivion has swallowed them, since their memory and heart refused to see the Truth. By contrast, on his feast day from the cloud of martyrs emerges the young Great Martyr Demetrius: «Martyr of Christ, come forth», sung in French, and the Martyr of Christ can hear our call. For us, the Orthodox Christians in Congo-Brazzaville, the altar of the Cathedral became the plate of his tomb -like the early Christian Holy Altars- which was shed with myrrh, fruit of the grace of his martyrdom. And it is over this tomb that the Bishop of the local Church officiates, confessing the unity of Faith with heavenly Orthodoxy.


In places where dissonance prevails, which in any way infringes on the intellectual freedom of our brothers living here, with profound religious, social and cultural roots, comes the holy candle of Orthodoxy in order to shine and take away the fear of death. Everyone’s ultimate fear is death and the defeat of fears is magnified in the Resurrection of Christ. A Resurrection experienced by the enlightened children of His Church, joined in its Body. Without this unity, the Church is not accounted for Church. A Church that was shed with the blood of Christ, of the martyrs, of Demetrius the myrrh-gusher, the Saint from Thessalonica that advocates for Peace and Unity in the distant from the place of his martyrdom Church of the African equator, which has recourse to him as its protector and intercessor to the Triune God.
It is this Church, oh Lord, that we ask you to “look down from heaven and see”. «Visit the newly-sprung vineyard. Protect your children, who now know Your Road to walk properly. Safeguard the Unity of the Church through the link of faith and peace. Enlighten people so that they can understand that love to Your Church primarily means love for its Unity. Grant spiritual strength to Your new children, our Church, and «take care of it, which Thy right hand hath planted.»

See also

Orthodox Church & Capitalism: Orthodox Fathers of Church on poverty, wealth and social justice
Grace and “the Inverted Pyramid”

Orthodox Mission in Tropical Africa (& the Decolonization of Africa)
Theosis (deification): The True Purpose of Human Life

Everything you need to know about elections in Central Africa Republic (CAR)

CAR citizens go to the polls hoping to turn the country's fortunes around after years of violence [Al Jazeera]

Al Jazeera

When the Muslim-led Seleka rebels marched into the capital Bangui and deposed President Francois Bozize in March 2013, it ushered in one of the darkest periods in recent Central African Republic history.
A political struggle quickly mutated into a communal tussle between the Muslim and Christian communities, as rival militia and vigilante groups unleashed a spate of violence upon one another.
Thousands were massacred and many more wounded and scarred as more than 20 percent of the population found themselves displaced, hiding from rival gangs in the dense forests across the country or beyond its borders.
In January 2014, a transitional government was propped up with the purpose of bringing some order following mass political upheaval.
After repeated delays and postponements, on Wednesday citizens of the country take to the polls for parliamentary and presidential elections in a bid to turn the country's fortunes around.

Why this election must take place

Even if there remains significant discontent about the timing and uncertainty over the authorities' ability to stage a free-and-fair election, many analysts see Wednesday's vote as the country's best chance to move on.
According to David Zounmenou, a senior researcher at the Institute of Security Studies based in the South African city of Pretoria, there are two reasons the elections need to be held.
"One is to put an end to the transitional government, which has no credibility, and the other is to create an impetus for the peace process in the country," said Zounmenou from the institute's African Security Analysis Programme.

Martin Ziguele is one of the main opposition leaders [Courtesy Martin Ziguele]

Without a credible, legitimate government, no decisions can be truly seen as representing the will of the people.
"There is a perception from the international community that it's better to have bad elections than no election. [The logic is that] even if we wait for 10 years, the conditions are never going to be in place to hold elections, so it's better to transfer the responsibility to government to address some of the issues now," he told Al Jazeera.
Not everyone is convinced that elections should happen at this point.
Thierry Vircoulon, project director for Central Africa at the International Crisis Group in Paris, told Al Jazeera that the lack of preparation could plunge the country into a deeper crisis.
But proponents say the elections should be seen as part of a larger move to improve the country's destiny.
"Elections on their own won't solve its problems ... it is only one move of a larger initiative that needs to be taken in the CAR for it to return to normalcy ... It's already a risk to hold elections in a country where disarmament of armed groups haven't take place," Zounmenou said.

Issues at hand

At the top of everyone's agenda are peace, security, rebuilding the country, and reviving its devastated economy.
The new government faces the daunting task of reuniting the estranged Christian and Muslim communities who have faced off against each other in bloody communal violence over the past two years. Amnesty International described the killing of Muslims as "ethnic cleansing", while the Muslim-led Seleka rebels have equally been accused of a litany of crimes against the Christian population.
More than a million people remain displaced, both internally and across the border in neighbouring Chad, Cameroon and the DR Congo, underlining the extent to which the social contract in the region has been severed.

The candidates

Thirty candidates are vying for the post of president. Both former President Francois Bozize and Michel Djotodia, who toppled him in March 2013, have been banned from participating. As a result of their omission, the ensuing political alliances have left this election wide open. If there is no outright winner, a second round will take place in late January 2016.
Some of the frontrunners include:
Anicet Georges "Mr Clean" Dologuele, 58, who headed the Development Bank of Central African States between 2001-2010. He set up the Central African Union for Renewal Party. Dologuele was also a former prime minister of CAR during 1999-2001.
Abdoul Karim Meckassoua, 62, is a Muslim leader who served under Bozize. Though still considered an ally of the former president, he is running as an independent candidate.
Martin "Iron man" Ziguele, 58, served as a prime minister in CAR between 2001-2003. Ziguele was a firm opponent of former President Bozize and is currently the leader of Movement for the Liberation of the Central African People.


Why the election matters

Africa is changing rapidly and coups and conflict should be part of a time long past. But beyond the damage to the "emerging Africa", which has seen so many countries such as Ethiopia, Rwanda and Senegal debunk the basket-case myth of the "dark" continent, a protracted crisis in CAR only threatens to fuel more instability in a region already characterised by uncertainty.

CAR is after all surrounded by South Sudan, Sudan, Chad, Cameroon, Congo and the DR Congo, zones currently embroiled in one conflict or another. Resolving CAR is about consolidating peace and democracy on the continent.
"There is a concern that the conflict in the CAR will take religious lines, which has already happened, and allowing the country to take that path will be detrimental not only for the country, but the entire region and this is why the African Union, the UN and the international community are insisting that a proper peace process is implemented in CAR," Zounmenou said.
"The election is supposed to hold the key to enter a new era that could influence the larger region as well." 

State of security

Since the formation of the transitional government in January 2014, it is mostly the capital Bangui that has been made secure. The rest of the country has largely been left to the mercy of militia; at one point 80 percent of it was held by armed groups.
Understandably, the remote areas have been difficult to patrol and it is still not clear how safe rural areas will be for voters. While 2.1 million people are on the electoral roll, little more than 38 percent cast votes on December 13-14 for the new constitution.
Moreover, out of the 460,000 refugees - mostly Muslim - living beyond the country's borders, only 26 percent have been able to register. Zounmenou says that even if there was a bigger voter turnout on Wednesday, questions would still need to be asked about the new government's legitimacy.
While the UN Mission to CAR already has 11,000 peacekeepers, a further 300 were deployed from the UN Mission in Ivory Coast to assist. In the absence of a stable state, the UN Mission is responsible for providing logistical, technical, and security assistance for the elections.
"Our efforts aim to ensure Central Africans can vote in security and elect the country legitimate bodies, which will mark the end of the elections," Vladimir Monteiro, spokesman for the MINUSCA, told Al Jazeera.
The African Union has sent 40 observers to the country. Souleymane Ndiaye, head of the African Union's Election Observer Mission to CAR, told Al Jazeera two to three observers will be deployed to 17 districts across the country.
But Bangui, despite the presence of thousands of peacekeepers, remains a fragile city.
At least 100 people have been killed, hundreds wounded, and some 40,000 displaced since September. During the voting on December 13, five people were killed and 20 others injured in the PK5 district of the capital, pushing the vote to a second day.

Challenges ahead

Since 1960 CAR has endured five coups and years of instability, leaving analysts to conclude the country has never been able to institutionalise a system of governance beyond the whim of its leaders.
For too long, good governance was compromised, tailored around personalities. Moreover, France, Zounmenou argued, has meddled far too much with CAR's politics since "granting" the country independence. France will have to change its posturing towards the nation, he said..
One of the major priorities of the new government will be to disarm and demobilise a litany of armed groups that emerged in the political vacuum of the past 24 months. There is also the complex issue of reconciliation.
"There is often very high expectation on post-conflict governments to fix everything and often less international attention allows the problems to build up and derail the peace process, like they have in Mali and Cote d'Ivoire [Ivory Coast] recently... This is the main challenge now," Zounmenou said.

See in Al Jazeera about 

Δευτέρα 28 Δεκεμβρίου 2015

Something bad is happening in Burundi...

Khanya (orthodox christian site from South Africa)
21 December 2015
Something bad is happening in Burundi. I learnt this from Tweets on Twitter, and from things friends post on Facebook.


Yesterday I bought a Sunday newspaper, City Press, in the hope of learning something about what was going on. but they thought it was more important to tell me What celebs want for Christmas | City Press. From the picture people posted on Facebook, it looks like a refugee problem is developing there that is as bad as that in Syria.
Of course one never knows with pictures like that on Facebook. For all I know it could have been taken 20 years ago in Rwanda, but by all accounts something bad is happening there, and whatever it is, the media are not telling us. For City Press it is far more important that we should read about Bonang, Pearl, in Revlon row. I think yesterday was the last time I’ll ever buy it.
I switched from the Sunday Independent to City Press because the former’s political reporting was all about personalities, and said nothing about policies. It was all about political infighting and jockeying for power among politicians, but said nothing about what those politicians actually stood for. It treated politics as a popularity contest, with the politicians as just another bunch of celebs, so that what they wanted for Christmas was more important than their principles or policies, if any. Now City Press seems to have deteriorated to the same level.
Perhaps I’ll go back to reading the Sunday Times.
I stopped buying the Sunday Times over 30 years ago, when they devoted three full pages to Sol Kerzner’s birthday party. But yesterday someone posted a link to a Sunday Times article that impressed me – SUNDAY TIMES – Behind Zuma’s U-turn: ‘SA will go bust’:
In those three days Zuma appeared to have lost his grip on the party and the country, with Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa angrily telling his staff that he had nothing to do with Nene’s removal.
It has now transpired that, between Friday and Sunday evening, Zuma’s colleagues at Luthuli House took charge in a bid to avert the consequences of the worst political decision since the recall of former president Thabo Mbeki from office.
Even Zuma’s erstwhile comrades in the SACP and Cosatu turned on him, telling the president at a meeting held at his official residence, Mahlamba Ndlopfu, late that Friday that he would be “on your own” if he did not remove Van Rooyen.
One thing that interested me was that the article seemed to provide confirmation that what I thought might have happened had actually happened. That doesn’t count for much, really — reading news that conforms to my preconceptions and prejudices could just be reinforcing my delusions.
But something else impressed me too. As a language pedant, I was impressed that there was a journalist who knew the meaning of “transpire”. And if someone knows what “transpired” means, perhaps they also know what “refuted” and “suspects” mean. Just using those three words properly could take reporting to a whole new level of clarity and precision.


But having had my rant about journalism and the media, what about what is happening in Burundi?
Well I don’t know much about that, so I’d better get back to Twitter and Facebook, because they are for sure telling me more about it than City Press did. Revlon, and the people who sell the stuff that celebs want for Christmas, take paid advertisements in the media. Burundian refugees don’t. That’s capitalism for you.

Please, see also

A fair trial for Richard-Spyros Hagabimana, in Burundi - Sign the petition to free him

About Orthodox Church in Burundi, see here.

Orthodox Christmas 2015 in Africa!...

Merry Christmas from the Orthodox Christian Mission Center!!!


Theodoros II, Patriarch of Alexandria: Grace and Mercy and Peace by our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ born in Bethlehem
Christmas 2015 in the St. Nickolas Orthodox Church, Cairo

24th of December 2015, Maputo, Mozambique

Sierra Leone - Christmas at Waterloo with the Children

Christmas in Uganda: visit to prisons

Christmas in Bunia, Eastern Congo

24th December 2015, BAPTISMS IN POINTE-NOIRE (Holy Diocese of Brazzaville and Gabon)


Christmas 2015 in Harare, Zimbabwe

The Holy Metropolis of Good Hope wishes to everybody "Blessed Christmas"

Christmas at Orthodox Center for Children from Khayelitsha (Archbishopric of Good Hope)

Christmas 2015 at the Cathedral of Cape Town 

Orthodox Communities in Cape Town celebrate the Nativity of Christ – 2015 Archbishopric of Good Hope, Cape Town, South Africa 

 Photo from Bunia

A white lady Liberation Hero in Zimbabwe...

In the Orthodox Vineyard of Africa

For first time in the history of Zimbabwe a white lady received the official declaration as a Liberation Hero of the Nation

Kykkotis Philippos Seraphim
Hellenes Zimbabwe

...this person is the late Mrs. Kiki-Vasiliki Divaris from Mystra (Greece).


Please, see also:

The Orthodox Christian Church in Zimbabwe

Πέμπτη 24 Δεκεμβρίου 2015

Theodoros II, Patriarch of Alexandria: Grace and Mercy and Peace by our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ born in Bethlehem

Christmas 2014 in the Orthodox Church of Accra, Ghana (photo from here)
“Jesus Christ is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14). 
My dear brothers and sisters,
Man was created with a peaceful nature by the God of love. And the relationship between mankind and his Creator in paradise was totally peaceful. However, from the moment that mankind raised his ego as a banner of rebellion, this peaceful relationship with God was disrupted. From the moment that mankind elevated his personal will over the will of God, peace fled from his heart. That is when the “barrier of the dividing wall” was raised between God and mankind.
This dividing wall was broken down by the Incarnation of the Son of God. Jesus Christ hovered between heaven and earth, stretched out His arms and made peace between earth and heaven. He united mankind with God and created a new humanity, bringing peace. This peace has a dual direction: it is a reconciliation of mankind with God, as well as a reconciliation of people among themselves. Our Lord became a guarantor of peace, as the cornerstone of the body of the Church. 
Christmas 2014 in the Orthodox Church of Pointe-Noire, Congo Brazzaville (from here)
He called on us to become compassionate, by harnessing our ego. He called on us to consider as our neighbor, as well as God’s, the one who is compassionate. That person who obviously supports others, not because there is a racial, national or religious relationship between them, but because it is demanded of his heart. He taught us compassionate love as the only measure of our faith, our intentions and our actions.
Yet people often fail to honestly pose this question to themselves: am I a good neighbor to my fellow humans? They continue to raise their own dividing wall, hoping in vain to exclude the misery of the world. Still, the dividing wall is corroded by the tears of those seeking help. The dividing wall is demolished, as were the walls of Jericho, by the laments of the desperate. The dividing wall is conquered by armies of those in need who have only the battering ram of despair.
 Missionary visit of Pope and Patriarch Theodor II to Holy Metropolis of Irinopolis in Tanzania
Pope and Patriarch Theodoros II in Tanzania, 2013 (photo from here)
My dear brothers and sisters,
The refugee crisis which has struck and broken down the doors to Europe, has proved in practice that however many walls are erected, as many fences as are spread, as many minefields as are planted, desperation breaks the impermeable and seeks practical understanding. However, if thousands are struggling to escape from the furnace of civil war in Syria, there are millions in Africa and the Middle East who consider Europe as the Promised Land, the land that they strive to approach, endangering even their lives.
Today, the measure of our compassion ought to be not only our readiness to support the refugee, irrespective of his blood composition, the color of his skin or his religious convictions. Our compassion is judged by the readiness of our Christian conscience to rebel and to demand not simply the control of the crisis, but the solution to the reasons which stoke it.
And the solution will come only if the import of misery is replaced by the export to the homelands which are bleeding, of the values which flourished and bore fruits in Europe, and on top of this list must be Christian love. Only then will this endless human river of misery be halted, and also then will the hatred of terrorism cease to be smuggled aboard the boats of despair.
St Basil the Great said: “We do an injustice to as many as we could assist” (Homily on greed, PG 31, 276Α-277Β). I would add that we do an injustice to ourselves too, when we allow the thorns of terrorism to take root in the fields of misery. Therefore let us not sow denial as we will continue to reap the despair of others and our own fear. Let us sow love and peace, as our Lord did, He who was born for the evangelisation of peace to all mankind, “to those far off and to those close by” (Ephesians 2:17).
Many years!
  Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa
In the Great City of Alexandria
Feast of the Nativity 2016
Christmas 2014 in the Orthodox Church of Mozambique (from here)

Christmas 2014 in the Orthodox Church of Rwanda & Burundi (from here)

Christmas 2014 in the Arabic-speaking Orthodox Church of Alexandria (from here)

Christmas 2014 in the Orthodox Church of Congo Brazzaville (from here)

St Efthimios Keratsini (Athens, Greece) and the Mission to Madagascar: Greeks in Need Giving to the Needy


In the Orthodox Vineyard of Africa

In a non-descript, lower middle class section outside the port of Pireaus stands the cathedral of St Efthimios of Keratsini. On first glance it appears like so many neighborhood churches, looming in its red clay Byzantine shingles and arched doorways, a large fixture that calls those in its reach to worship as faithfully as the clock strikes the hours in its bell tower. But a side door on its right side, an entryway that one can walk by and totally miss, leads to an underground level that is teeming with an army of volunteers. In its subterranean level a nest of worker ants is buzzing with activity all in the name of philanthropy.


The facade of St. Efthimios in Keratsini; what looks like a normal, neighborhood church is bustling with a hive of do-gooders

Sacks filled with clothes and provisions lie neatly stacked on huge industrial shelves; knick knacks line the gift shop, selling everything from icons to soap, donations from lay people, supermarket surplus, or the remaining inventory of shop owners whose business closed due to the crisis. On first impression the church and its mission exude organization, a rare commodity in a country stereotyped as lacking in that department.


A drove of volunteers organize drop-offs daily bringing order out of chaos.

St. Efthimios serves the double duty of providing for the needy in the surrounding parish as well as the needier in the remote countryside of Madagascar. In operating for 11 years now, St Efthimios serves as the head quarters for its mission in Madagascar. Father Constantinos, one of the priests in charge of coordinating the effort, when asked why Madagascar of all places replies, “It is important for a person in need to help. We have to pick one country to give to. If we have a chance to give, why not take it? The people in Madagascar are not different from us in Greece.”


Father Constantinos, one of the five parish priests, is in charge of the philanthropic mission.

History of the Mission

St Efthimios first started its missionary work by sending aid to India. Calcutta to be precise, where the Greek Orthodox Church ran an orphanage with 300 girls (the documentary “Tears of Love” by Christiana Thanos publicized the site). However, after the state of India refused to renew the visas of all missionaries to its lands, the philanthropic efforts were channeled to Madagascar, according the UN estimates, the poorest nation in sub-Saharan Africa. This occurred around the time when the fateful helicopter journeying close to Mt Athos that bore the Patriarch of Alexandria and the Archbishop of Madagascar exploded. This prompted the Patriarch to send the young Father Ignatios to expand the small mission in Madagascar in 2004. The headquarters for the relief has concentrated in St Efthimios’ four large warehouses since that time.

Work of the Mission in Madagascar

The Mission in Madagascar is a bustling reflection of the church’s efforts in Keratsini. Each year teams of volunteers visit the compound and help with construction, education, health care, theological training to some of the most impoverished peoples, mostly in the bush and far country, away from the main city. For example, every year a 6-member team from Cyprus including two internists, two dentists, and two pediatricians, run a 20-day healthcare program, visiting remote villages around the country, providing locals with the only visit they will get to a licensed healthcare provider the entire year. The mission not only runs an orphanage that takes in many out-of-wedlock babies through an chute door by its side, but has established a woodworking factory, an iron works shop along with aluminum welding factory. Most of the wood and iron supplies are shipped by containers from Pireaus every year as the local materials are quite expensive and of inferior quality. In this way the Mission has developed a nucleus of construction to build more needed buildings such as adequate houses for villagers, school houses, and health centers.


An underground door leads to the front of the thrift shop where voluteers are busy organizing supplies and tending shop

The containers sent over by the work of volunteers from Keratsini have included cars, tractor trailers, medical equipment such as X-ray machines, wood beams, iron joists and steel pillars necessary for construction, in addition to food, clothing, school supplies, hardware, household appliances. The Mission sends from 2-3 containers annually, this year marking their 17th container to one of the most remote destinations in the world.
The volunteers in Madagascar include people from a broad spectrum of life: nurses, teachers, carpenters, lawyers, priests, theologians, social workers, etc. “We accept volunteers who are willing to work and not just tourists who want to use the mission as a base to go on holiday,” Father Constantinos explains. He asks that volunteers be willing to dedicate two months out of their lives to help. The Mission can accommodate up to 20 volunteers at one time as there are only so many seats on the jeeps to take them into the back country each day. He prefers that those thinking of volunteering to email their intentions first, go through a short Skype interview with himself or Bishop Ignatios, before they can get definitive approval. Because the summer months of July and August are high season for the volunteer supply chain, the Fathers would prefer to engage those willing to serve throughout the year, especially in the winter (when thanks to the equatorial flip they would enjoy hot summer weather instead of the Northern European or American cold).

The Work of the Mission in St. Efthimios

To generate revenue to support the Mission in Madagascar, St. Efthimios runs a thrift store. A team of volunteers sort and sift through bags and bags of donations, separating them into what is usable and not. These goods are distributed along with food and other necessities into burlap sacks that serve as care packages, each designated for a specific family in Madagascar.


Volunteers sort out clothing into what is usable and what is not and place in cubbies. 150 volunteers take part in the Mission's efforts.

The church also organizes fundraisers, but while other charities hold holiday fundraisers mostly around the Christmas or Easter holidays, the mission in Keratsini holds one every week. Word has gone out to the greater community, so that the needy in Athens and the surrounding suburbs can visit the shop for reduced prices on goods year-round. Neatly folded slightly used sweaters are stacked on shelves; slightly-used jeans can be had for 2 Euros as opposed to 25 in the going market. Everything from toys to baby supplies, feeding chairs, books, furniture, shoes, school supplies, hardware, light bulbs, lamps, paintings and decor–everything for the home can be purchased for under 5 Euros.
“This is very important for us,” Father Konstantinos attests, “because the store provides us with a needed source of income to fund our mission work. At the same time in this way the Mission for Africa has provided a step to help even the crisis in Greece.”
Dimitra Pallis, the social media volunteer who has worked at the Mission for 34 years, states that St. Efthimios has become a model of philanthropic logistics for other churches to replicate. It started before the crisis tending to the needs of 60 parish families but now serves 260. A retired teacher, Pallis devotes herself full-time to the mission. “I am working harder now then when I did in the job field,” she admits. During her interview, she was organizing the weekly food distribution for the needy and the unemployed on register: neatly packaged groceries in orange plastic Sklavenitis bags, just as you would find in a regular supermarket. She points to a young couple who dropped in to pick up their weekly rations.
“They are waiting on their second child,” she explains and because the mother has health problems we also supply the family with medication.” The parish is sponsoring and collecting funds for their marriage ceremony and the baptism of their first child. “We cater to the whole person,” Pallis states, “even bringing in social workers, plumbers, carpenters, whatever services are needed depending on the individual need.”
“Some of our volunteers are themselves unemployed,” she continues. “I feel that the mission has been set up to assist those who do the giving just as much as those who do the taking.”


Stacks of supplies and goods wait neatly packed on the ceiling-to-floor shelves of one of the four storage facilities of the Mission

The Church runs a tight ship. While it never turns away those who ask for help–providing free food, free clothing, free housewares–it does follow a thorough screening process. Families fill out forma and undergo a thorough background check to verify need. Visits to the shop operate by strict appointment schedule. This way much of the double-dipping from government aid that might happen is reduced. A team inspects documents and double-checks them against welfare lists; even house visits are arranged to verify the need. And donations are not distributed willy-nilly; they are checked against need, size, and quota.
To save on costs, the mission buys in bulk and wholesale. “Just today,” Father Constantinos confesses as he shows me a bill, “I spent 400 Euros for a month’s supply of marmalade.”

The Recycling Campaign

In one of its more progressive actions, St. Efthimios has undertaken a recycling arm to its fundraising efforts. Started in the last four years, it acts as a pickup point for old paper, cooking oil from restaurants, old appliances, construction and electronic supplies, wood, and plastic. The Church has done such a successful job in recycling that the “demos,” or public sanitation department has allotted a recycling container inside the church grounds. “The public employees work only until 3 pm,” Father Konstantinos explains, “but our volunteers labor around the clock. As a result, the Church has a better track record for recycling than the city.”


One of the most innovative recycling efforts of the Mission involves school children collecting plastic bottle caps. One and a half ton of plastic caps are collected and brought to recycling facilities.

Its most notable campaign involves the collection of the plastic bottle caps on the UHT cartons for milk, juice, and soft drinks, even detergent and fabric softener containers. Schoolchildren in the local area make an effort to collect these and bring them to school. One child can bring from 15 to 20 per day; with 500 children in a school, an average of 10,00 can be collected per day, amounting to 50,000 per week. Every week the church makes pick ups of these caps and after a ton and a half have accumulated, they pass it on to the local plastic recycling plant.
“We just break even with our recycling program,” Father Konstantinos said, “but we continue because it is a way for even the smallest of our members to contribute in some way to the larger good. We upkeep this campaign more for the feeling of accomplishment that we allow the giver, and not for the actual physical or financial gain in the practice.”
To date, the Million Cap Campaign has spread though the local public schools so that it has become a common habit among the children. 

Post Script:

As a quasi-objective observer of this humanitarian effort, what struck me most is that in a nation ravaged by financial crisis and in need itself, people can still give out of their very need. It seems counter-intuitive but it seems that the more one needs, the more one gives. There is perhaps a drive or a need to give more in those who suffer want or need. Allegations of bigotry, racism and the rising tide of supremicist nationalism, the efforts of St. Efthimios, supported by Greeks of the Diaspora and within Greece itself, prove wrong in their very actions of philanthropy. In the words of Pater Konstantinos, “A human being has the same worth wherever he or she is–be it in England, or in Africa, or in Greece.” In the words of Dimitra Pallis, “If you want to give something you have to give to everyone. You cannot distinguish among people. For us it is not about giving to Greece over Africa. People who are practiced in giving give to everyone. Those who aren’t, don’t give to anyone.”


The Mission keeps storage of long-term food stuffs such as UHT milk, water, sugar, flour.


Another room in the thrift store that helps both needy Greeks purchase goods at reduced prices and needy Africans receive needed supplies–a double do-good.

See also

The life of st. Efthimios (st. Euthymius_the_Great) 
The Orthodox Christian Church in Madagascar
Orthodox Mission of Madagascar | Facebook

Madagascar : "My son! Please... dedicate yourself entirely to ministering to this poor people"
News & articles from the Orthodox Church in Madagascar here & here.