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

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