Sunday, May 25, 2014

Celebrating The Resurrection


Christ is Risen!
Pascha was 6 weeks ago?  WOW! We are now anticipating Pentecost, his All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomeos is in Jerusalem with Pope Francis, and Fr Paul just began his 7 week tour in the USA.

Every Easter, I wonder "How were things in Fiji for Easter this year?" It is a wonderful thing to see their growth and their response to the DIvine LIturgy. Truly! The Divine Liturgy is where 90% (in a manner of speaking) of mission work happens. People's experience of God through worship is far more reaching that any catechism. Learning through the example of our Archbishop, we see that our people are not indoctrinated, but grafted into the life of the Church, through love, and through the life of the Church. We come in through experience.

In Saweni Father Bartholomeos, with his family and parishioners too, who served Easter services for the 4th time in his life, does it without having one particular benefit: memories of Greek Orthodox Easter services from his youth.  Certainly, he has celebrated in his previous church,and has experiences since his ordination both spiritual and practical that are of great value,  I could never address such things.  I would feel unworthy but compared to the life in the church that I have lived....

His parents probably didn't bring him to Church every night of Holy Week for evening services...

There wasn't an extra strict fast...

They probably didn't bring extra cash on Friday and Saturday night of Holy Week to purchase large candles because they would need to carry them....

They didn't take a flame home to bless their homes with the light of the resurrection...

They didn't dare each other on Holy Thursday to drink straight vinegar (admittedly not a universal practice - my family can attest to it though ) to remember that Christ was given gall when he was thirsty....

They didn't walk under the Epitaphios or crawl under it as children do....

There wasn't even a church in town to say... "Hey it's Greek Easter over there! "

Do you think they dyed their eggs red, and only on Holy Thursday if they died them at all in Fiji? We can be pretty sure there was no Kouvouklion with women decorating it on Holy Friday morning while the Royal Hours were being read. His pastor didn't spray the entire church with little flowers blessed in the Altar in anticipation of Christ's Resurrection.   True they had different traditions, and I don't mean to compare traditions, but rather experiences.

Personally,  I have not only lots of relatives and friends who have shared the same liturgical and traditional experiences with me, I have had them since my earliest memories.   How could I present to my children, something of the way of life that Christ taught us, all the way through time to my ancestors, and then to me without having had it presented to me through the years?  There is a lot to learn.

Looking at the  photo here with adorable little girl #1: we who are Greek Orthodox all understand that this is happening during Palm Sunday, just because we see the palms on the floor. Here I am just talking about the traditions. What about the developmental cognitions as well?

I can remember the first time I understood in some mystical way that Easter was about love.  I can remember when it was a tremendous joy in my heart, and it did not matter one bit what was going on in the world, because in my family there was spiritual joy between us when we sang "Christ is Risen", a shared experience that is hard to describe in words. The first time I was allowed to go to the night services made me cognizant of how serious it all was.

 Therein all these insights was a veraciousness far more truthful than the morning paper. I was building a much needed foundation, not only in my relationship to Christ but also in my relationships to others.

The grandson holds the candles, watches Father Paul
The grandfather at the chanters stand

Ironic though it may seem, the important work in Fiji at this place in time, is not for many people to come to the church, so that they can have greater independence, and greater financial stability, or an efficacious group leadership.  It is not so that we can report to you all about "our success". May God forbid that.

It is about the nurturing of a very personal awareness of, and exposure to something holy, real, and genuine. It is so that a few families can grow in the meaningful traditions that have been established, which will eventually aid in establishing them in the Kingdom of Heaven, and so that they can be the ones who will pass these important things to their loved ones in the generations to come. It takes time to grow a church.  God is doing this great work in them.

It is also a time to build the infrastructure they will need

Because of their love for our Archbishop, they do what they can with a lot of love. Whatever they can do is tremendously meaningful to them.  These are TRADITIONAL people.  They LOVE being in a church that is so. They LOVE IT that  they have a leader who loves these traditions and loves them through these things.  When he teaches them something traditional, they understand they are receiving a TREASURE.

Through this writing, it occurs to me that building the real foundations of mission work is slow. It is rooted in trust in God, and dedication. It is filled with lingering moments and also moments when nothing happens, we just don't get it, and well we might as well just peel potatoes today since this is what we have and this is all we can give today.

 Fijian people are quite civilized, and they have insights too that will one day feed into these "grafts sites" that are being offered to them. They will add to us as we add to them. Just like the leaves of a grafted branch bring the energy from the sunlight to the whole plant, and the root brings water to the new graft, so it is with a new people that comes into the Church.

It took a couple of generations to get that very momentum going in Kenya.  I say Kenya because our Archbishop was instrumental along with his spiritual father Elder Amphilochios Makris of Patmos, for bringing Orthodoxy to Kenya, and Uganda, Africa (and perhaps other places) in the middle of the 20th century, long before there were Orthodox mission trips from Greece or the USA. He never boasts about his past accomplishments.  He takes no credit.  I think Fr Paul told me Archbishop Amfilochios worked with the Turkana people in the 1970's, and that only because he read about it.   Archbishop Amfilochios knows how important it is that they are not stripped of their own customs, and ways of life. He's done this before.

Young Turkana Woman

In fact, I met a Kenyan nun at the monastery of Saint John the Forerunner in Kareas, Athens, Greece, who was quite young when Archbishop Amfilochios was there.  And another named Sister Galini, a Greek woman, who worked with her in orphanages in Kenya and in Rhodes.  A surprise to see in Greece two sisters, one Greek and one Kenyan working side by side for more than 30 years.

In Fiji, they don't, have that "which was handed down"  Parakatathiki like we did yet, although they are receiving it form his Eminence.  They will hand down the tradition soon enough, and it will take at least a generation to establish a little of what we had growing up, that firm foundation of both practice and experiences that make up our age old way of life. 

As of late, they are building a cathedral in the town of Saweni at the site of the already built orphanage, monastery and yet to be built school.   

This cathedral is going to be the center of the orphanage community as well as the local parish.  It will be the first constructed TRADITIONAL Orthodox church in Fiji.   So very much of the support for this comes from monies being sent. Our Metropolis is quite poor by comparison. Yes we have several parishes, but we have only two full time active parishes, with a full time priest and weekly services.  This is New Zealand.  His Eminence Archbishop Amfilochios is continually hard pressed like Saint Paul was, on all sides to make these ministries viable.

A request for assistance: 

I have been writing this blog for 4 years.  This is the first time I am asking for money directly through this medium.  We have the capability to raise funds through PayPal and there is an icon at the top corner that you can click on to help.  If you will, please use it!   Please be generous!  And please remember the blessing of church that you have. that has nurtured your soul over the years.  You are giving a gift of Tradition, one that can never be taken away from any individual once established.  And you are making the work of the Apostles alive here in the South Pacific with your love for the Holy Orthodox Church.

I greet you in the Love of God, Christ Jesus, our Savior who rose from the dead so that we could have eternal life.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Ordination of Father Panayiotis

This week was the ordination of the 4th Fijian Priest Father Panayiotis Singh.  He along with Father Bartholomeos will be serving the parish of Holy Trinity in Saweni.  Until that church is built, they pray at the Dormition of the Theotokos church of the monastery that is there, and awaiting monastics to fill it.

Father Panayiotis and Presvytera Sophia are of Indian background and had served as a pastor (and pastor's wife)  in another Christian denomination.  He and his wife Presvytera Sophia have one son.

It was a wonderful experience for us. We have known Father Panayiotis for over a year.  Very devout in his prayers at every Divine Liturgy.  He is also a dedicated servant of others, as I could tell by the way he cared for us during our recent visit to Sabeto last month.

His first ordination was in Auckland on the Sunday of the elevation of the Holy Cross,  he was tonsured a reader, then made a subdeacon, and then ordained a deacon.  It was a long set of services.  We began at 9 am and did not finish until nearly 2 pm.  At one point, we had over 95 people in Church, but our people are still not used to being attentive in DIvine LIturgy, plus some of our people needed to leave for various reasons, so by the end of it I think we had 50.


But it was all good, a wonderful sanctification of our Holy Naos, to have an ordinaiton there.  The heartfelt joy, true spiritual joy that cannot be explained by our mere thoughts abounded to say the least.  The words of His Eminence addressed many living issues that we face as ierapostolic workers  in the vineyard of our Lord.

We had a nice meal and then off to the airport. I am sure His Eminence deserved a good long sleep.  I hope he got it because just two days later, Panayiotis the Deacon was ordained on the 25th of March to the Holy Priesthood at the Annunciation Cathedral in Wellington.

We were all very tired, but hardly felt it for the joy that was making us feel lighter than air.

We have some more personal good news.

We have received residency status from the NZ gov't and now can reside here indefinitely. This also means that we have a few more rights that are nearly the same as citizens, and this makes us glad. One is that Nicholia will be able to afford her tuition for studies.

I know that for our friends and family it sends a message that we are not coming home.  This is not the case. The truth is we just don't know, but we are always free to do so, and when the Lord calls us back we will return.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

It's Been Nearly a Year

Yes it has been nearly a year.  I refer to my sister from time to time in this blog, the one who encourages these things..  Hey Lil' Sis!   I was kind of blocked out of my page here and thank God I have it back.  It was a cookie issue, and that's all it was.

I miss hearing from everyone who writes back.  I will be managing a blog for our Archbishop, so that he can send pastoral messages to his people easily.  I hope it works.  Already, I am kind of regretting using wordpress rather than blogspot. I find it too difficult.  I just thought it sounded more professional for his sake.  However, I may just redo it as a blogspot.

We are expecting a bad tropical storm, like cyclone style this weekend.  If you think of us, please pray, especially for the homeless and those with simple homes.  We will be praying for them with you.

Father Paul is doing well.  The radio program continues and we actually won a little award for it from the radio station for Program Excellence!   That was a nice little boost. I hope we can improve still a little more.

Our children are doing well.  Raphaela moved to Greece and she likes it very much.  Nicholia is working on finishing school.  Georgios is very busy, and thank God he is.  Swiming, piano, basketball, water polo.  He's having a pretty good time at school.

We were in Fiji a couple of weeks ago, the orphanage is progressing.  His Eminence needs to raise a lot of money to keep the construction going.  It would be the equivalent to $9,000.00 USD a month. I hope that we can see that assistance coming to him.

The orphanage house is built.  The Church is next, and then the school.   In the photo, is pictured His Eminence Archbishop Amfilochios, with Father Christodoulos, and Father Paul.  They are with Yianni, who is visiting with His Eminence while there and Maria and her daughter Eirini who are native Fijians and live near the site.  They are good caretakers of the property for Gheronta.

I can write again soon, to fill you in on the past year and such.  For now, this is just a little add-on to get the blog flowing again.

Thank you so much for your prayers and encouragement!   We do not do this alone, but with you all.

Panaghia be with you and us, and as I sign off, I wish you all a blessed Great Lent.

Presv Katerina Patitsas and Family

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Mission: Prison. Hope for the Forgotten Inmates

At some point, when one has given everything they have or that they know how to give, and they have nothing else left.....  How then do they still feel free?   Or does it automatically mean that one is not?

It is Wednesday of Holy Week... the day we remember the betrayal of Christ and His imprisonment.  My thoughts have quickly turned to Him and His integrity while a prisoner, to the thief on the cross and the harlot.  How the services of holy week work on our deepest guilts and transgressions! I begin to contemplate human freedom and how Christ remained free in every circumstance and yet set us free through His passion.

I am also remembering the times we had with Father Gervasios Raptopoulos of Thessaloniki last March just before the beginning of the fast.  He came to visit the New Zealand prisons.

A few facts:

Father Gervasios has supported over 15,000 prisoners financially.  He has ministered to many of them personally. He has raised over 4,000,000.00 Euro in financial support for people who could not pay their jail fines or who needed clothes or health items while in prison. He has gone to prisons in more than 15 different countries and to every prison in Greece.  If you want to know more about him, you can read up on his ministry at a very nice Orthodox Blog called Mystagogy. Click on the links:

He came as a guest of our Archbishop who also was with us.  It was quite a stirring visit.

Visiting inmates in Greece

Like brothers

When he arrived in Auckland his first stop was our home.  His countenance was as gentle as a  springtime flower. The look in his eye was as clear as the Aegean Sea when the water is still and from your boat you can see the beauty that the sun's reflection hides when you are on the shore: fish, coral, sea life, clarity.   He was not eager to talk, and extraordinarily attentive no matter what was being said, comfortable in his own place. I wondered if I would get a chance to know him or if he was just too deep for that kind of thing.  What a silly thought!  He is a relational genius.  With a well timed smile and a nod he can enter into your world and talk about you in a way that makes you think you are seeing yourself for the first time.

Discussing the schedule shortly after their arrival.
He didn't come alone but with two women: a nurse who cares for his health, and another, also from the Synodia of Saint Xeni who came as an interpreter, who also handled their communications for the ministry and their finances.  There were also two men, a TV reporter for a lifestyle/news program called "True Scenarios"  (Αληθινα Σεναρια) Mr Nikos Asflanidis and photographer Christos. These men came to do a documentary on the prison ministry of Father Gervasios and to also make a documentary about the Greeks in New Zealand.  Their work also took them to Fiji, where they made a documentary about the mission work there.

They scheduled to visit 3 prisons in Auckland but were only able to visit 2, one men's and the other women's.   It took a lot of communications skills from Father Paul for the NZ prison system to approve the visit. They are very keen here in NZ to protect the prisoners, respecting their vulnerable state. It was the first time that Father Gervasios had encountered this type of obstacle.

At the men's prison,  the visitors were greeted with a traditional Maori Powhiri.  Just so that you can see how seriously this ritual is taken,  below is a link depicting one that was done in Wellington when Hillary Clinton visited nearly 3 years ago.  If you have never seen one, then you may find that you have never seen anything like it.

Powhiris are a regular here.  The Samoan and the Tongan and other island nations have similar traditions. Powhiris are about communication, spirituality, and gender plays a very important role. Manhood is about strength and wisdom and wisdom is spoken. Women have a strong role, as well, as their  spiritual presence is considered a contribution; they are protected by their men during these meetings, and as such they are supposed to feel very, very valuable in their culture.  Ordinary men are supposed to be able to show that they are honorable through this ritual.  For how "uncivilized" the dance and chanting appear to us Westerners, in the end, the real decorum is about the sharing of hearts and not material things.

Once the initial greeting is complete, and the chanting is also, tender words are actually exchanged, and there are speeches made and these are intended to bring a beautiful meeting of the minds.   In the words of Mr Michael Templeton who is a pastoral worker from Saint Paul's Anglican Church, "the tradition is to engage first in a profound spiritual way, seeing and recognizing each party as bringing a spiritual element with them. There is an invitation for God to be with them.  Then, there is a focus back to Earth, to the place where the work intended needs to be done."

Michael was especially impressed by the words of our Archbishop Amfilochios who told the wonderful story of a Maori Soldier who married a Greek woman after WW2.

Their story won the hearts of Kiwis and Greeks alike throughout New Zealand...  but many of the inmates were hearing of this for the first time, and they said afterwards how they appreciated H.E.'s choice to share that story in particular . His Eminence also recognized the deep traditions of the Maori and made connections between our cultures through the understanding of tradition and it's importance. 

Father Gervasios made a very interesting distinction for the inmates telling them also about something we have in common.  Those of us who are not in prison also are guilty, but we have not been convicted yet.   Thus he gave significance to the universal need for repentance: that everyone makes mistakes, affirming that sin is a reality we all live in.  Everyone needs to change.  By speaking about sin in this way, he gave them a sense of brotherhood with the world outside to help them make necessary changes.  A loud applause was heard in appreciation.

The inmates offered the following:  "...when people speak with words it is so the reason of the mind can be heard.  When they sing it is so that the heart can be heard" .... and a Maori proverb "What is the most important thing in the world: the people the people the people! "

The way I see it is that if we all had a stronger sense of brotherhood to begin with, they might not be in jail now.  When we read of Christ forgiving the harlot, we see Him giving her once again a place in her community.   When we read of him healing the soldier's ear, we see Him acting beyond the scenario and the emotion of that moment.  The prisoner Christ, is the giving one because He is the One who is truly free.  The soldier is the one in need, along with St. Peter who drew the sword.

Introducing Father Gervasios and His Eminence

The following Sunday, Father Gervasios came back to the parish, he talked to our congregation about how raw a feeling it is to have your humanity stripped away from you because of your prison sentence.  He told us of  a time when all he had to offer an inmate was 30 euro, and that this little amount in the inmate's pocket helped him to feel human again because he could call home and buy cigarettes. That little bit of freedom was a priceless gift even if only worth 30 euro in the world.

That Sunday, I had the privilege of interpreting the sermon for both our Archbishop and for Father Gervasios.  It was a beautiful lesson, quite intricately and delicately told to a very full house.  He began by answereing what may have been the simplest question of all....  Why did he come such a distance?  His answer was: "To visit Christ in the prison."

Christ the Bridegroom
He is mocked as a prisoner

The prisoner is just as much an icon of Christ as we are and perhaps even more so because Jesus knows what it is like to be behind bars and treated badly.  When I heard that my mind fell like a thump into my heart.  I would scarcely go across town to visit a prisoner let alone across the world.    He gave me the impression that he really does visit Christ when he is with anyone, and more so the prisoner.

He talked about our own practical spirituality, the value of keeping watch over what we allow to enter our minds and hearts through the senses.  Our ears, for example,  were designed to listen to the sounds of nature as a gift of God, and to listen to another who may be in pain, or perhaps to the angels.  When we use the same ears, which He created for a purpose, to listen to anything contrary, we risk being  spoiled in our hearts and minds. And he said that when we do keep the members of our bodies in faithfulness to the Lord, not only do we avoid the pain of sin, but we become holy for the Body of Christ.

His compassion for the inmates is not so much sorrow for their time away from society, but for the created immortal soul that is a unique and precious child of God. His genuine concern for the soul gives him a great reach into that depth in many people, so that they can feel their own humanity, as brothers and sisters, to a world from which they have been exiled.

Communications never cease.
Both were taking calls from Greece

Chanting the Vespers service in the van 

Sneaking in a birthday celebration 
Especially when the schedule is tight, His Eminence
knows how to slow down the pace... appreciating God's gifts
Niko and Christo doing a bit of the same
Throughout Great Lent,  we have been thinking and talking about repentance and there is something about Father Gervasios' lessons that really brought the message home to me.  For so long, I had thought about repentance being about doing the hard work of generating good behavior where there was wrong behavior before.  Then, it seemed to be,  it was all about creating a contrite heart where in our  innocence, we didn't need contrition.  Then, it seemed like repentance was all about acquiring humility so as to have a good relationship with Jesus Christ.  After Father Gervasios' visit, and a few experiences since then, it seems to me that repentance  is indeed all that.  Even more so however, it is about restoring a soul to its original beauty in community....  in community!

Recently, with the radio program, we had the chance to share a song by Brandon Heath.  It is about an inmate on death row, in a place he loves called Blue Mountain, Tennessee. You can hear the whole song by clicking the link:

Looks like this is my dyin' day
They tell me that's the only way
I'll ever see the other side again
But they don't know who's been in here
Every day the last three years
Yes, sir, I'm the one who let Him in
And He comes and sits down in my chair
Weeping, breathing this same air
And opens up His hands
Reminds me that He walked this mile
Suffered for a little while
And made me an innocent man

Would you pray with me
Touch the hand of a sinner
Would you stay with me
And be my guest for dinner

I want to send these lyrics to Father Gervasios. I think he would be pleased to know that there are people out there who understand the great value of the human soul.. the great value of repentance.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Happy New Year... Coming through...!

Newness, beginnings, hope, the freedom to reframe,  the setting of goals,  the course towards the future.  Universally we all mark the beginning of the new calendar year and there is not a continent on this planet where it is not honored in some form.  The cycles of life beckon us to look back as we look forward. We set bookmarks in our thoughts so that we can remember what was once new, fresh and hopeful, and know that we have changed, or hope to reach beyond what we were before.

 As individuals, I wonder, do we think that the New Year is coming, or that we arrive at a new year?   I happen to think that some of us sort of personify the holidays and so we see them as coming to us, and others see ourselves as travelers through a calendar of events systematically arriving at each one.  This can be understood of course in the way we talk about our time and events.  So often I have heard spiritual fathers talk about the life to come as a destination that we reach after a long, or short journey of this life on the path of time.  So often we hear people say "time waits for no man", as if we are chasing something. Other times we plan so diligently for things, that the event we longed for seemed to elude us although it was with us all along.

My favorite perspective these days is the one in a song by the Avett Brothers.

 Forever I will move like the world that turns beneath me and when I lose my direction I'll look up to the sky, and when the black cloak drags upon the ground I'll be ready to surrender and remember, we're all in this together... if I live the life I'm given, I won't be scared to die"   

Finding a synchrony with the things we journey to, and the things that come, prepares us for the inevitable.  The events that pass us by are important, but so is the way that we move within and around them.  The thing that caught me by surprise in these lyrics is the line "we're all in this together", which is something I would not expect an American, born of rugged individualism would portray. It is a uniquely Orthodox Christian sentiment long before this song was "born".  The writer is talking about being actively in the moment of life in a way that also states: to be in the present is to be together.

Orthodox Theologians call this The Eternal Now.

Our Christmas holiday had sadness this year with the proclamation by the hymns of our Church, ...

"Your Nativity O Christ our God, has shown the light of knowledge unto all the world, for those who worshiped the stars, learned by a star to worship You the Sun of Righteousness, and to adorn you as the Dayspring from on High, O Lord glory to You"

... Mourning and the acute awareness of the suffering of others rippled around the world.  From the Election stress (you may have seen the video of the little girl who was crying and so tired of "Bronco Bama and Mitt Romney") to the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy, to tragic events in the Middle East, to Cyclone Evan, which has devastated both Fiji and Samoa,  a dear friend has cancer, and our best friend's Dad died just that Christmas morning. Variations of pain and loss echoed.

The most gripping emotions of fear, and sadness have throughout the ages motivated many hearts.   It seems every crisis in this world, as we become aware of it, is born in our hearts, and every pain of the heart eventually bears its fruit in the world around us. All the more to look for and find Christ there, whether he is welcomed as a babe or as the gardener of our hearts, or as the one who stands at the door and knocks.

The Cyclone in Fiji miraculously left little damage compared to Samoa. No casualties.   20 schools were demolished.  The construction of the Greek Orthodox school/orphanage, His Eminence tells us, is okay and not in danger at this point in time.

 Our mission team was exhausted. The Archbishop was there about two weeks ago still, and in his kind way says that the cyclone made a great impression on him, and at the same time, he does not not forget for a moment those who have suffered more.  The mission house had been without electricity for nearly 3 weeks.  We felt pretty much in the dark as to how they were doing, except for that we know from experience, Archbishop Amfilochios, knowing he is very much human, is undeniably relying on heavenly strength to lead his people during troubled times.  Please pray when you remember them.

The Skinny Little Greek Tea

Since my last post we have been more active than usual.  We had a fund raiser for the building project in Fiji to build a school and orphanage.  The event was an afternoon tea. We called it our Skinny Little Greek Tea.  Everyone agreed that it was a nice departure from the "Big Fat" we have been hearing about for so long Just 60 people in attendance and we were able to give the mission $3000.00. It was a gorgeous venue, the home of one of our parishioners, and we gathered a few members for our first philoptochos.

We had a silent auction, and raffle there  with His Eminence's permission.  Along with tea and coffee we had lovely sweets and savories.  One of my funny's is the Fijian/Asian Fusion dish that I made up.  I kept acting like we had to have it on the menu. It made me laugh: Kokonda Spring Rolls.  The Fijians eat a raw fish cured in lime juice and coconut milk they call Kokonda. Seasoned with cilantro and served cold, we wrapped them in rice paper. That was tricky because I had never done it before. It got great reviews.

We were able to make a slide show from our recent trip to Fiji, so that those donating could see the plans for the buildings there.  We are quite fortunate to have been there before, because if we get to go after the building we will be able to appreciate the beauty of that construction.

 We could barely believe it ourselves how lovely the weather was on that day. Sun hats everywhere! It had felt like a true summer day, surrounded by rain for the entire week before and the week after, the warmth of the day and the beauty of the sun was a great conduit for the message of love that Father Paul gave to those who would volunteer.  "Give as Love tells you to."  making sure that no one felt obligated to give more than what they had spent on their ticket to be there. All the items in the silent auction sold at a good price and so success was handed to us by Providence.

Father Paul began a radio program to help our faithful and those who may be interested in learning about Greek Orthodoxy.  He calls it In the Narthex.  It can be heard in Auckland on Friday afternoons at 3:15 pm and throughout the week online at The title above is actually a link.

In the 30 minute show we have any of the following: news, lives of saints, Gospel lessons, and music from songwriters that may well express an Orthodox mindset.  We always look for Byzanatine chant or traditional Church Music, or it may be from an Orthodox Christian Artist.  I help work the controls which is a great experience if you can get it.

You can also find us on Facebook "In the Narthex with Father Paul"


We will be reinstating the blessing of the waters and the race for the cross this year on January 19th.  It seems late I know, but two of the 5 canonical Orthodox jurisdictions here in NZ are on the old calendar, and we wanted to wait so that we could all do the blessing together.  Of course we had the liturgy and the blessing of Holy Water on Jan 6th as is our tradition, and we had a beautiful crowd that day and a 40-day blessing.

We took a trip to Christchurch in November, and had some precious time with His Eminence and Father Amfilochios and Presvytera Anastasia. Father, Presvytera and family also came to spend some time with us here in Auckland.

Sometimes Our Archbishop gives us a little somethings to do just to refresh us.  He knows that as westerners (aka Americans), we don't really take time to rest in between tasks. This is something that he teaches from his example.  I feel like it is my job to watch and learn.  He not only maintains a great rhythm  of work - rest - prayer , he also has the beautiful love for prayer and for being with the image of God in us.  While he does have his personal time with the Lord everyday, however, unlike anyone else I have known, he also shares some of that with us. It is a very, very generous gesture. ***** It seems that nothing can get in the way of his love for God and his deep desire to remember to invite the Lord to be with us. He knows that our Lord is humble and that He responds so nicely to invitations.

This taking time to stop the mind's antics and commune in the heart with others, with the Lord, with nature, this blessing is a refreshment that requires no calendar with pages that need turning, no clock to mark its end. It is the natural and simple action of one inspired by the One Who is great in love.  The phrase take time to smell the roses is a little less than what our Eminence's example shows us.  It is not the time we take, but the attention that we give to others, to God, to the essence of living authentically enough that we too may not be afraid of that same clock when it stops for us.  Because in the moments that we truly live, whether in comfort or in suffering, we also are in the presence of God, and where God is, so is His mercy, His love, and His creation.

Georgios is in the middle of his summer holiday.   Our daughters have gone to Greece for the winter. (Kiwi summer) and thoughts of them are in the forefront of our minds no matter where we are or what we do. We eagerly await their arrival.  We have missed them so much.  They have been gone for about 8 weeks now.

If you get a chance to listen to the radio show, feel free to give us some feedback either here or on the FB page.

Wishing you a beautiful year, whether you are moving though it or it is running past, it is a gift from God. It is all good!  Happy New Year. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Finally Fiji!

Mother Gavriilia had said  “Orthodox spirituality is knowledge acquired through suffering rather than through learning.” 

Mother of 10 helps out at Kimisis.
I am no expert on the subject of trust, but I have felt compelled to write about it a lot this past month. It was mostly as an exploration after an incident back home left a lot of people feeling betrayed.  As I wrote, reflected on events around us including the up coming election in the USA, bringing in things that I have learned from the little Theology that I know, and what I recall about psychology, I can only solidly remember two things:  His Grace Bishop Gerasimos of blessed memory telling us in a lecture that trust in God is very important, and that the theorist Maslow said it was essential to human development.

There isn't a whole lot that is said or written about it per se but we allude to it all the time. I would venture to guess we all think it is one of the most fundamental aspects of our lives. In the book Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, the issue of trust is talked about throughout the pages but only mentioned by name a little. I am sure, he must know that he was writing about that very thing. To me it seems so anyway.

What exactly is trust?

At first you think you know what it is. And then when you start to notice all the facets of life that involve trust, you come to realize that trust as an issue is more prevalent than you once thought, and less understood. Even the existence of money can be on one hand an example of trust, and an indication of lack of trust. On any occasion can be unclear. 

My Dictionary of Psychology didn't have an entry for the word trust. That was disappointing .... so I decided to go to the NZ dictionary:  "firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability or strength of someone or something".  Gosh that leaves me kind of flat and discouraged. I mean it is kind of circular.  Really, if Maslow thinks it is essential for human development and the bishop thought it is really important for a relationship with God....  how are we to employ it if we aren't sure what it is?  I kept looking through various texts for some help on the issue. I was ready to scour the Philokalia, but got a little intimidated.

Exasperated, I went to Wikipedia.  Lots and lots there.  I liked what they all have to say about the
social-psychological aspects of trust.  So,  for this blog I choose...

  1. ^ Barbara Misztal, Trust in Modern Societies: The Search for the Bases of Social Order, Polity Press, ISBN 0-7456-1634-8
.....attempts to combine all notions of trust together. She points out three basic things that trust does in the lives of people: It makes social life predictable, it creates a sense of community, and it makes it easier for people to work together.
Ummmm... I could easily insert mission work between those lines.

The Bible did have the word in there a little:  Proverbs 3:5
Trust in God with all your heart,
and do not exalt your own understanding.
In all your ways know wisdom
That she may cut a straight path for you
And your foot will not stumble

Trust is so important, and yet it brings countless questions with it... Do we trust what we know?  What we see?  Who we know? On and on, to where you start asking about the connection between trust and faith.

In the spirit of the words of Mother Gavriilia above, if you want to have trust that is both milti-faceted and real, being willing to struggle for it, even suffer for it, is not out of the question.

Trust helps a great deal when involved in mission work.  I see the people in Fiji and how so many have taken a leap of faith because  they met our Archbishop and they were drawn to him by something. It was easy to trust him, they want to trust him, they hope to trust him still!  He seems to have that rare, ability to know when, how, why, who to trust, and HOW to best trust each person he meets and with what. Even the Hindu woman in the neighborhood refers to him as "mahatma" a great soul.  Not that this should surprise us, but how uncommon that a man's genuine sanctity as a bishop and as a person is so perceptible.

We arrived in Nadi Fiji on 28th of September. Father Paul and Georgios and I.   His Eminence asked  us to conduct catechism on the Holy Sacraments for the newly baptized and for some catechumens.  It was a challenge  before we even got there as transportation was going to be an issue. One of the vans wasn't starting and the other one was in full use between the staff members there.  Here's our first lesson as His Eminence was trusting us to be there to teach, and we were going to do less than he wanted.

For some the little burger they got from the mission might be
the only meat they eat for the whole month. 

The day after we arrived, we went to the church of Kimisis to do a lesson for the children.  Sister Gabrielle visits them in the morning around 10 am "Fiji time".  They  usually pray in the church first, and since they all know the proper way to venerate the icons they have the initial feeling of full participation and purpose.  They sing their favorite hymns in Greek and English.   Then a craft, some games, a lesson, and a snack.  After the snack they can still play a sport before it is time to go.   We joined in and played some games with the children that would help them learn the words of the Jesus Prayer and how to do prostrations, and taught them some lessons from the Bible.

It has been a while since I've been around a group of kids like these.  They do this thing where they look at you, smile and then change their expression to a frown and then walk away.  They reject you at first and then they test over and over again to see how you might react. When they know you are leaving they come near and smile again as if to say " thank you, you passed the test... for today".   Despite the obvious tests,  they don't know what it means yet not to trust.  Notice I said "yet".  Somehow we humans expect all children to learn how and when not to trust...   but we never imagine we can forget how to ourselves. However, we do.

Courtesy of Sis Gabrielle

The Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos church is in a little village that is really a set of houses along side a dirt road on a property that belongs to one man who sometimes behaves in a very chieftain way.  This is par for the course in Fiji.  Property ownership is not like that in most places.  Goats and cows line the road.  Cats and dogs are everywhere. Most of the homes are made of a corrugated steel, so that they are indistinguishable from barns or sheds.  If there is electricity connected to the home it is most likely in one room only and that means that the refrigerator is in the living room.

Making puzzles: scenes from the Divine Liturgy

Break time. The boys are getting to know each other. 

Back at the compound...

The schedule for Orthros and Vespers and Small Compline was kept vigilantly at the Misson Center, referred to as "the compound" by the Fijians.  The presence of Saint Paraskevi is felt there, as several of the people told me they feel very close to her when they come. This from a group that is not used to honoring the saints.  A beautiful icon of her sits in the iconastas. She looks as though she is ready to speak words of love and joy. She was a martyr.

St Paraskevi Chapel

Father Paul working out the details of the service
In the chapel of Aghia Paraskevi at the Mission Compound. Holy Water service.

The caretakers not only keep the place well, they pray all the services and they minister to the material needs of the people of the parishes.  They give clothes to anyone who needs regardless of faith.  A bread-works is being considered so that the mission can employ some of the people who are in the church who need a job, and to make a bit of independent income.

Saweni and Laotoka....
The view from one of the Saweni homes. The lean-to at the back
of the house is the traditional outdoor kitchen.
They cook on a burning wood stove.  The goats like to
 get into their grains when they are not looking. 
We passed by Saweni several times throughout our stay. We picked up those who wanted to come for catechism.  After vespers and before nightfall we took the drive through Saweni and to Laotoka to the home of Father Bartholomeos for prayer and catechism.

The property for the proposed orphanage and school
Roadside stand just outside the Saweni property
Cows are tied to the trees.  There are very few barns. 

The ones who were most interested in these classes were the young ladies aged 13 - 20.   There were boys there too, and mothers. They were extremely shy at first, and as is their tradition, they didn't ask very many questions although Father Bartholomeos encouraged them to ask.  Overall, I noticed that the people are extraordinarily respectful when asking questions, and they were careful not to challenge.  There is a tremendous civility about them and a warmth.  They speak ever so softly.  It is more important to them to show respect than it is to get their point across.  If we misunderstood anything, they were hesitant to correct us, so we had to try hard to get it right the first time.
Beginning the lesson with Small Compline 

It was touching at times.   So many were able to discuss their baptism, telling the catechumens how it felt to come out from the font, and what it meant to them to be blessed. When we talked about the sacraments they could witness the difference between their perceptions of life,  the notions they had of blessings before and after.  Maria did this also regarding the sacrament of Marriage.

Patiently waiting for the lesson to begin.  Traditionally,
Fijians sit on the floor, and they do not wear shoes indoors. 
Singing songs of parise to God, or of anything virtuous is extraordinarily meaningful to the young ladies who came for catechism.  They had amazing aptitude for it, and were hungry for more and more.  It never occurred to them that I might not know any spiritual songs.  They seemed to understand the positive influence it has on their souls. My experiences with Father Paul really paid off here. I had lots to offer them. He even made one up for them, and gave a new tune to. "My every hope I place in you, Mother of God. Keep me under your protection"  There was an intimacy that they felt in joining their voices in these positive words and gentle melodies.  They began adding Fijian harmonies.   Beautiful!  The ride home past Saweni was never quiet. It was melodious and tranquilizing.

Quality time with the clergy families...

Father Paul did a Bible Study with the priests and the presvyteres, on  St Paul's first letter to Timothy. St Paul instructs us through this letter how one should be as a leader of the Body of Christ.  The fact that they are so new at this, in a new territory for Orthodoxy, made me feel so strongly that in Fiji we are still in Apostolic times, and that we still have so much in common with the early church there.

We had met both clergy families before.  Father Bartholomaios was with us in 2009 when we visited. He had not yet been ordained, but was preparing to go to Greece to learn about what the church looks like in action there, and to make his decisions about accepting ordination.  Father George had come to our home in Auckland with his family. We are fast becoming friends, by the grace of God

Fijian Hospitality.......

We went to several homes while in Fiji.  We had hoped to also visit Father Barnabas in Labassa, Vanua Levu but were not able to on this trip.  I had great anticipation upon entering the homes of the presvyteres especially.  They both treated me like a sister, and their conversations were honest and sweet. Their hospitality was just as warm as any Greek house I have been in.  Their love for Christ is evident in their welcome.  They have great hope for the church in Fiji.  They have so many things in common with the presvyteres that I know in the USA.
Offering what they can.  The lenten Halva that
we know so well is  identical to the
halva the Indian families make.

Notice the Greek Flag in the background

Looking forward to Fijian Independence Day Celebrations

Cooking traditional Vegetable Green Curry
There was a unique comfort in the embrace of these homes.   They had so little compared to what I have had as an American.  That alone is saying a lot. For example in some neighborhoods, the city water is turned off at 8 pm.  They hosted us anyway, and finished their dinner dishes from a pail of water they saved before we got there.   But in terms of dignity and warmth, of care and desire for real fellowship, they had so much more than I could truly perceive.  Being honorable is a much lovelier "garment" than the finest threads.  Genuine interest is and good listening skills are like adornments.

Newlyweds, one of the rare Fijian/Indian couples 

Outside the home of Nicholas who
 said we could post his photo. 

Love in action...

As I explored, and the issue of trust had exhausted itself, I looked to the people we met. I recalled something that Metropolitan Kallistos Ware  quoted in one of his lectures. "Love in action."  I believe this is what the Fijian people see in our Archbishop.  His love for Christ overflows to the people he meets.  They see it as a very special love, and they feel very much included in it.

For myself, I struggle to say "you can trust me" to the people I meet there.  They would never say such a thing to me. I don't think so.  I feel unworthy for such a statement having seen that they have made such a sure and significant change in their lives to embrace the Church. I am sure that Christ, when he said we are the salt of the earth, tells us that we were being trusted with something extremely valuable to keep and preserve. At first it seems like a dilemma.  how can I serve humbly, and hope to be trusted with also a chance to learn where to put my trust.  So, I think of the words of Saint Paul in his letter to the Galatians:
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me

This quote speaks of Christ's love which enables us to be and do good things. It is our trust in Christ that allows Him to live in us, humbles us, and allows us to be near others regardless of our mistakes or theirs. Our understanding that God has infinite love for us all makes it possible for me to trust anyone and for them to trust me.  So I think that what Mother Gavriilia said about suffering and what Saint Paul says here is true for Missions.  We are worthy to the extent that we are a willing sacrifice, in that way to show the path of Christ's love.

Divine Liturgy

I love how in the Liturgy we are all so equal.  There was a young woman there who reads Greek better than I do.  Very bright.  And she went to Greece too.  She sings the psalms during Holy Communion " Give thanks unto the Lord for He is good Alleluia". She knows what she is sining.  The children who don't understand the words sing along with gusto!
Altar boys reciting the Lord's prayer in Greek and English.

Young Reader prepares to red aloud the Epistle 
As for any altar boy, there is a time to sit.
I wonder now if and when we will return to Fiji.  I do hope that Father Paul will.  I personally am not sure about myself.  It is an expensive trip to go from NZ even, and I am not sure what I can offer honestly.  When you feel like you get more than you give....

Father Bartholomeos, at coffee hour in Saweni