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.

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