Wednesday, February 22, 2012

School Days, Special Blessings, Photos from Fiji : The Newest Chapel

Dearest Friends, Family, Readers,
I hope 2012 is going well for you all and that your Christmas and Epiphany Holidays were filled in the most sanctified way in your hearts.
We are beginning a new school year. Georgios is at an Intermediate School now and the experience has reminded us once again that we are "not in Kansas anymore".  If you read my last blog you know that the concept of ritual really rings vibrant here in New Zealand and from time to time it's all such a pleasant and interesting surprise. 

The first day began with a welcoming ritual that is common to Pacific Islanders and in Maori is called a Powhiri.  It has all the pomp and circumstance of a graduation ceremony (graduation ceremonies are desperately lacking in this part of the world, in my American opinion) and this is the way that school begins at this very South Pacific traditional school, very positive, very ceremonial and intensely focused. 

We were asked to congregate on the outdoor net-ball court in the morning at 8:45, and we stood there waiting. I thought that there might be a little something said to the parents; something like .....a nice way of saying, "Okay.. we've got your kids now... you can go home".  Rather we were called to from the doors of the hall in the Maori language by a woman's very penetrating vocals that sounded almost as a chant, but it was more like an instruction to approach. It is a traditional Maori way to make our way to the hall, and to enter. 

We sat in a special order. Men were recruited from the parents to speak.  Women sat behind the new children, and the rest of the men behind them.  In the States this would appear blatantly sexist.  The men however went to a lot of trouble to make sure that every woman had a seat. It is a matter of order and tradition, and it made me wonder how it still goes on with such acceptance in this part of the world. 

I guess some people looking at the Orthodox Church as outsiders, or with worldly eyes wonder why it is that we don't have women priests.  For me it is an easy answer, and I am always sad when they think we are being sexist and implying that men are ranked higher because of the different roles that we play in our worship and other things.  So, over all I was rather comfortable with it, just that seeing it in another realm caught me off guard. 

I think that one thing which impresses me about the South Pacific Islanders is that they live their faith.  The Samoans in Samoa live in a society that is deeply Christian, and everything is scheduled around the life of their churches.  The Maori don't see what they believe about the life to come as separate from the life they are trying to live now.  There is no division between home and what we call church.  It is all a matter of the way we live our lives.  Don't get me wrong, the elders go to a lot of trouble to talk with their youth about the importance of maintaining these life traditions.  We are not the only ones.

Living as if heaven is calling is how I see them, and it is the way that I was raised, but I know that even in my life, little by little, I saw the evidence of a spiritual life in the homes of the people I know and love, perhaps including my own diminish... or at least it seems that way because of the illustrations in daily life that I see now.  The cares of this life seep into our thinking and we live and breathe as if this is all there is.  Worry is one sign of this phenomenon.  Christ teaches about this too. From what I have learned in my observations of these Pacific Island people and most especially from our Archbishop is that as human people, living a simple life is key.  Simplicity, in what we do, what we eat, how we resolve our troubles, it is very helpful.

Back to the school:

The year 8 students stood facing the year 7 students who sat on the floor waiting and watching for the unexpected, the inevitable, the procedures, the tone to be set.  It was embracing, enchanting, traditional, and I dare say, full of respect and reverence.

Father Paul was asked to be one of the speakers.  Never having been to a Powhiri before, he wasn't sure what to do so he let a few others go first.  If our Archbishop hadn't visited one himself and spoke, he wouldn't have participated. Mind you it is not a worship service but kind of like a synagogue meeting.... Oh the things people have in common.

All in all, it was one of the warmest, most civilized ceremonies I have ever attended.  The parents were shown a great deal of respect, and those who spoke were well versed in genuine inspirational expression. They not only reminded the children of their great opportunity to learn, but also the staff were reminded that they were being entrusted with their precious children.  The staff  accepted the responsibility as an honor, and had no qualms discussing Holy Scripture as we know it.  Everyone was free to hear the faith based encouragement of all the speakers. Several faith traditions were represented.

The children were then matched with their teachers, and the parents were invited to attend the morning session with their children.  I felt deepened in my understanding of what an educational institution can look like. Genuine regard, no matter where we are can be expressed in unique and beautiful ways.  The focus doesn't always have to be on the outcome. That day the focus was on togetherness, the value of personhood, the gift of learning, and the providence of God. While it is up to us to make the better of it all, being in an environment of bona fide respect, is a great start.  

Archbishop Amfilochios...

His Eminence was with us from December 27th for about 5 days.  He had become very ill with bronchitis while in Fiji where he had over worked himself, gladly as usual, for the sake of the people who are coming into the church.  The conditions there are very poor and the needs many. But the joy is immense, hard to describe.  

This month he left New Zealand again to visit them in Fiji.  In his entourage is a woman who is a known theological author, and she is doing research to write an account of the mission work here. I got to meet her at the monastery in Levin.  

There weren't any baptisms on their last trip, as they spent their time acquiring property for an orphanage and future monastery and building another church. The photos below:

Christmas decorations at the local hospital

Sister Gabrielle with the children who love her so much.

Altar boys in the new chapel. The priests are busy in prayer

Archbishop Amfilochios with the volunteers who came to help build the church.
While His Eminence was recuperating here in Auckland, he remained vigilant, and kept his schedule of church services as if he were tireless.  On the feast of Saint Basil the Great, Jan 1st, he elevated Father Paul to two new ranks, once to Protopresvyteros meaning that he is entrusted to encourage and help other priests, and then to Exomologos which designates him as a priest who is trusted by his bishop to hear confessions.  I personally am very happy about this because I have had the impression that Father Paul was very good at hearing confessions throughout his time as a priest. It was a great honor and it was done in such deep prayerfulness.  

Fund Raising around the world:

We had the blessing to attend a special fund raiser for the remaining refugees in Serbia.  It turns out that there are more than 3,000 homeless people still in Serbia after the war.  They were displaced, lost everything, and were confined to barracks where some of them have been living for over 10 years.  The legendary basketball player Vlade Divac (LA Lakers) came with his wife Anna along with Bishops Irinej of Australia and New Zealand, to show us the housing his foundation has provided.  Through their fund raising efforts have made homes for half of these people. 
Vlade Divac looking at his birthday cake that they prepared for him.
His Grace Irinej of Australia and New Zealand.
Some of us knew him from the USA, Cleveland and Chicago
and Washington DC...   IOCC, and the Serbian Archdiocese
So many children dancing reminded me of old times in the States

Translating the Liturgy:

Another project that Father Paul has been working on with a few other priests and people who came from Greece to help, is the translation of the Liturgy.  We have in His Eminence a person who understands the Liturgy in such depth, that and so Father Paul and the team have him as a resource when it comes to getting at a more exact meaning in English. In Fiji, they pray the Liturgy in both English and Greek. They help to bridge the gap between the Fijian and the Indian Fijian cultural differences.  The translation will be an aid to this mission effort not only for the Fijians,but also for the New Zealanders. 

If you would like to donate towards the publishing of the translation, please contact Father Konstantinos who is the General Secretary of the Archdiocese, at this email address:

This would be a separate donation than what we collect on this web page.

I will most likely be sending you another blog soon. Great Lent begins next week,

More and more is going on here, and we want so much to share it all with you. 

Until then, may the Lord bless you in every way. 

Fijian children going their part to help build

Volunteer from Greece doing small things with great love.

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