CATHEDRALS OF THE POOR IN GUATEMALA

The Mayan Orthodox Church – June-July 2016

The experience of worshipping with the indigenous people in their small churches made of baked mud and clay or wooden planks defies description. These are the cathedrals of the poor, every bit as magnificent as the hallowed shrines of Orthodoxy in the great centers of the world. What a great mystery our faith contains. In the least likely places the bliss of paradise comes upon the humble of heart. Through numerous pastoral visits to remote villages such a world of infinite possibilities and promise unfolds before us as we celebrate the Divine Liturgy, but not before hearing many confessions, which in itself is a unique and intimate pastoral encounter. For example, as shy and reserved as the women usually are, adhering to the custom of not eating with nor serving food to visiting men, the floodgates of emotion pour out as they tearfully whisper their sins into our attentive ears. Orthodox Church communities like this exist all over Guatemala. New communities are being added to the fold on a regular basis as they learn of an apostolic church that offers them the holy sacraments.

Because of liturgical and pastoral encounters like this, in places where other missionaries have not gone or will not go, Orthodoxy continues to grow, not only near the Pacific coast and the Highlands of Western Guatemala, but also in Southern Mexico. They come to us by word of mouth, not one or two persons at a time, but whole communities, guided by their elders into the loving care of Archbishop Athenagoras and the Guatemalan clergy. They follow the example of the late Fr. Andres Giron(+2014), their church founder and former leader in the agrarian land reform movement. He greatly benefited the indigenous population of Guatemala with his advocacy of their spiritual and material needs, both as a priest and senator in the congress. As beautiful as these men of God are who tirelessly preach the gospel of peace, even more beautiful are the humble folk who receive it with love and purity of soul. These are the real treasures of the Orthodox Church in Guatemala. The sound of their voices continue to fill the heavens.

Now, inspired by the witness of their newfound faith, many communities are asking to renovate or build houses of worship that reflect the beauty and theology of the Orthodox Church. Where once open altars were the norm, simple icon screens are becoming the new focus of worship. Domes or cupolas are crowning church structures, and icons instead of statues are adorning the interior spaces of many sanctuaries. All of these changes are shaping a new mindset and orientation towards worship and the church. The intense power of their Christ-centered individual and corporate faith remains the same, but now it finds full expression in their communion with all the saints in a heavenly world without end.

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