Joseph Muzendi grew up in Papua, and was raised as a Baptist Christian. He had a successful career as a civil servant in the immigration office, something that is nearly impossible to attain in other provinces because of the societal discrimination against Christians. But over the years he began to feel a desire to minister in the name of Christ full time. He left his government position, graduated from a Protestant seminary, and was ordained a Baptist minister. He was assigned to work under an American mission organization on the island of Batam, the northern-most main island in Indonesia, directly south of Singapore.
But his connection to Papua drew him back. In the 1970’s, the government began an aggressive campaign to Islamicize Papua. Over 1,000 Muslim missionaries were sent to Papua, and many entire Muslim families were relocated to Papua. These efforts were particularly directed at the primitive tribes of animists who lived in the more remote parts of Papua, but also at the Christians. Pastor Joseph felt that God was calling him to help strengthen the Christians on Papua against the increasing pressure they were facing to convert to Islam, so he returned and took on the responsibilities of being a pastor in a small Baptist church.
As he worked to help build up the faith of his flock, he began to discover what he felt were the limitations of the Baptist faith. He felt that he could not find enough that was spiritually nourishing to help keep his people strong in the faith, and he began to search for more information about the origins of the Christian faith. Then, in 1997 he found a copy of a book written by Fr. Daniel Byantoro, on the subject of the New Testament Church. As a convert from a Protestant background himself, Fr. Daniel explained that the Orthodox Church was the exact same organization founded by Christ, led by the apostles during the New Testament period, and still very much alive and vibrant today. The book explained the Orthodox understanding of the Holy Trinity, the Divinity of Christ, and also some of the practical disciplines of the Apostolic and Orthodox faith: the practice of the prayers of the hours, Divine services, fasting, etc. These themes are almost always of interest to Indonesians everywhere, as they are constantly faced with some very different teachings of Islam on the same subjects.
Fr. Dcn. AthanasiusHaving read the book, around the year 2001 Pastor Joseph contacted Fr. Alexios, the Orthodox Priest at Holy Trinity Church in Solo, and asked about how he could meet Fr. Daniel. Fr. Alexios sent him a number of other books written by Fr. Daniel, further explaining the teachings of the Orthodox Church in Indonesia. Finally, in early 2007, Fr. Daniel was able to go to Papua for the first time ever. He spent two weeks there, in and around the capital city of Jayapura, with its population of around 200,000 people. Fr. Daniel led Bible studies, lectured and taught daily, and visited with numerous groups of Protestant Christians. For two hours every night, he taught on the Orthodox view of eschatology, particularly on the topic of the soul after death. While Protestants focus on dramatic theories about the end times, they have very little understanding about what happens to the individual after his or her own death. He also baptized and chrismated Pastor Joseph and his wife, Dolly, giving them the chrismation names of Athanasius and Parascheva. At that time they were, and still remain, the only known Orthodox Christians in Papua.
For the next 10 months, the former Pastor Joseph continued to lead his Baptist congregation of approximately 150 people, and continued to receive a salary from the Baptist church, and to live in the house supplied by the church. However, as an Orthodox Christian, he could not administer baptism and communion, so other Baptist pastors would visit occasionally for that purpose. Needless to say, this whole situation felt extremely awkward, and Pastor Joseph (Athanasius) was more than ready to take the next step, which occurred in December 2007.
Fr. Dcn. Athanasius ordinationDuring the visit of Archbishop Hilarion, Bishop Mark, and the rest of the Moscow Patriarchate delegation, Pastor Joseph came to Holy Trinity Church in Solo to meet the with the Bishops, and to receive ordination to the Diaconate. In anticipation of this event, he had come to Solo one month earlier, and stayed with Fr. Alexios to be taught how to conduct Orthodox services, and after his ordination, he stayed an additional two weeks for further instruction. Also during that trip, Archbishop Hilarion informed him that he had been able to find some funding to allow Fr. Deacon Athanasius to rent a house in Papua, as a place to live, and a place to hold Orthodox services. Already, some of his former Baptist parishioners are now catechumens, and Fr. Dcn. Athansius is now able to more fully share the richness of the Orthodox faith with them, unhindered by any continuing connection with the Baptist church. Current plans are for Fr. Alexios to spend some time in Papua in the near future.