January 2015 – Madagascar
By the grace of God and the blessings of our Venerable Primate, Patriarch Theodore, we continue our missionary work. I cannot say that there are no difficulties, problems or temptations, though. No matter how hard we try to overcome them, there is always a temptation that will not allow us to continue our work unimpeded.
Especially now, during the economic crisis, things are definitely more difficult and we are striving to cope with the current expenditure. However, we are not disappointed, but we hope in God, since the missionary work belongs to Him. And indeed God has not abandoned us.
There are people who can hardly make ends meet; yet they send us their small contribution, giving us hope and strength for the work which we have undertaken. How could I not mention the unreserved support of the Orthodox Missionary Fraternity, through which generous persons appear out of nowhere and undertake the funding of a church construction, or some other specific project? I would like to express my heartfelt thanks and sincere gratitude for everything you do for the work of the Church. Currently there are seven ongoing construction projects: five sacred churches, a small school (where we add classrooms since the existing ones are not enough) and an extension to the clinic in the region of Tulear. All these buildings are donations of anonymous sponsors from Greece and abroad. As for the room additions and the extension of the clinic, it indicates that by the grace of God these institutions work very well and people prefer them for the good quality of their work. We praise God for all the blessings He grants unto us in our humble ministry.
Longing for a church
Naturally, our lack of both human and material resources is immense. A large number of people in many villages have been longing for a sacred church of their own for years. It is their fervent desire but also our responsibility to satisfy their material as well as spiritual needs. There are about 20-25 villages lacking a church, and on our visits there we always hear the same earnest requests for acquisition of their own church building. On our part, we hope in the grace of God and in the presence of a new sponsor, who will fund a church building project. We feel great joy and praise the name of God when the sweet sound of the church bell is heard in the remote villages and dense forests, inviting our faithful to get together for a joint prayer. What is even more touching, though is to see people -young and old as well as mothers with young children on their backs- running like the thirsty deer to quench their spiritual thirst in the clear waters of the Orthodox Church, without considering time and effort. And if one watches them during the conduction of the sacred services, it is impossible not to notice their undivided attention and active participation in chanting the well-known hymns of our Church. What if they are not educated and have no degrees or credentials? They hold another treasure in their heart called Jesus Christ, the Crucified and Resurrected. This grace of Christ inside of them gives them pleasure and wings to overcome the various obstacles and find what they should truly love and worship.
Such thoughts come to my mind many times, when I am walking along the paths in the forests until I reach the villages where the Mission car has no access. I meet people and I attempt to penetrate into their souls and understand them. We often do them an injustice judging them by their outward appearance. Indeed, how far we are from reality! Our humility is only in words but theirs is in deed. That is the big difference.
The high cost of conversion to the Truth
About a month ago, I visited a remote village where the young priest had begun to catechize people in the Orthodox faith. These people were former Roman Catholics who came to know Orthodoxy in a remarkable way and gave us the church which they themselves had built. We visited them and everyone gathered -where else?- inside the church. A very old church, which was anything but a church! Yet these people were proud of their church and even prouder because they offered it to the Orthodox Diocese. After speaking to them about our Church and explaining many things about the differences between Orthodox and Roman Catholics, we gave them our humble gifts -books, crosses and icons- and left for the missionary center. Their request was that we built them a new church and a school because the Catholic school does not accept Orthodox children. My earnest request to all of you reading this article is that you help us build a church and a school so that the name of the God of the Orthodox Church is glorified and souls are saved.
Acquaintance with Orthodoxy
Such cases are numerous. Mission life holds many surprises and miraculous events. Once we were passing through a village located on the main street, in a barren and rocky area where there is not a single tree and people live on charcoal production, we stopped to give them food. After finishing our mission, we asked if there was a church in that area. The answer was positive. We were told that some of them attended the nearest Orthodox Church located two hours away from their village and that they occasionally went there on foot. The priest who was with us promised to go there regularly in order to catechize them, and we promised to build them a small church. Unfortunately, until now we have not managed to fulfill our promise.
We see that the grace of God precedes and prepares the ground, no matter how difficult it is. However, it is absolutely essential that we follow Him and continue caring for this harvest before the seed is lost or trampled by people or temptation. The Mission is a great art and science, too.
† Ignatius of Madagascar