Cameroon

An everyday tragedy

11 May 2016

When he approached, we realized that the man pushing was blind! Together they had crossed a huge distance through the heavy traffic of the busy streets. The disabled man was guiding his blind brother, hoping in the mercy of God

CC BY-NC Medici con l'Africa Cuamm

CC BY-NC Medici con l’Africa Cuamm

—“Father, if she doesn’t have lab tests, nobody can tell what’s wrong … Pay no attention to her mother’s words… Shortly, for tests to be done, they must be paid in advance. The mother said she had no money, therefore we cannot do anything….”

We talked for a while, I paid the fee, and they immediately got blood from the patient and sent the sample for analysis… I stuck around for an hour and a half. The nurse came and apathetically announced:

—The patient has AIDS! She is in urgent need of blood transfusion….

Another shock! She shortly moved to her post but she turned back again…

—Her blood group is not available in the blood bank of our hospital. You should look for it at another hospital, or wait until tomorrow morning, when we may find donors willing to give blood. Only If you pay them, of course…

God helped and while I was looking for someone to tell me where I should go, I came across a trainee doctor, who greeted me with a “Bless Father”. I was surprised, but he explained that he had studied in Moscow and so he figured out that I was an Orthodox cleric. I explained my problem to him and he offered toc ome with me, so that we could find the blood unit we needed…

We went from hospital to hospital, waking up the guards to let us in, finding the person in charge to learn if there was a unit of this blood group… In the fourth hospital in a row, the Lord allowed us to find one! An additional delay to find the cashier didn’t look like a hardship, because we had the joy of achieving our goal…

Ιατρείο της Ιεραποστολής στο βόρειο Καμερούν

Mission doctors in Northern Cameroon

At daybreak, we returned to the hospital. The transfusion started and instantly the patient opened her eyes. When she saw me, she clutched my clothes and started crying:

—Don’t let me die, don’t let me… Once I get well, I will be in church everyday… Pray for me… Don’t let me die…

I tried to reassure her…. But what can you say to a 20 -year-old girl when you know she has little chance of survival?

I left troubled by dark thoughts and in deep pain for the reality which had unwrapped in front of me the night before. I had certainly seen tougher situations, but this one hurt me in its own way…

The girl’s agony lasted for 12 days with constant transfusions… Then she passed away in tears and grievance…

—I wanna live. Why don’t I get better?

Who could possibly answer these questions? Or who would dare turn these questions of a young human being into self-criticism?

I think what matters more than anything else is to hold the hand of the perishing person till the end, so that they feel they are not alone… I have wondered time and again how many people must have left and how many leave daily, just because there was nobody to pay for their medication!

How small is the value of human life in the Africa of poverty and deprivation…!

†Gregory of Cameroon

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Flowers of altruism out of the field of Cameroon

21 January 2016

«When times are adverse, it is an honor to fly
all alone, all alone»
Chainides

Dear brothers in Christ, rejoice in the Lord always,

It is a fact that the difficulties which our homeland has been going through during the last years have had a serious impact on several areas of the apostolic work – as it has come to be expressed in the vineyard of Africa over the past 60 years.

However, despite all the hardships, we can say that we continue walking by the grace of God, our living Lord, who walks by our side daily through our difficulties and “by many proofs” blesses and transforms our little efforts and our mumble into a fruitful and plentiful seed.

With the “holy contributions” of our brothers from every corner of the world, we try to comfort the needs of our African brothers, especially those belonging to «vulnerable groups”, such as the disabled, who often, due to lack of care and a basic means of transport, they cannot participate in social life with the same rights as the able-bodied ones. Moreover, in Africa, apart from the marginalized position they have in the society, surviving through begging in deplorable conditions, they also go through a lot of suffering due to social bias and unimaginable superstitions, all of which results in making even the simplest daily tasks far more difficult for them, as if their daily toil was not enough.

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In cooperation with the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC), the official charitable agency of the Orthodox churches in the U.S.A., we received a number of wheelchairs and various other aids for the disabled, which we sent to the Ministry of Education of Cameroon for mobility-impaired students, and which unfortunately due to the absence of budget provision for their distribution to the schools of the country, mostly remained in warehouses.

Starting with people we met on the streets and relying on information which we gathered, we were able to distribute almost all of what we had received.

May the excitement, gratitude and wishes of the recipients be an eternal testimony and prayer before God’s throne for those who variously contributed to this effort.

Another donation for the repose of a departed brother was used in part for the support of the disabled people’s families and for the purchase of food supplies for orphaned children’s homes.20150706_124804_1

Many times, it is difficult to describe such situations… Nevertheless, we will describe an incident, so that you can better understand what we mentioned on the difficulties of the disabled, who ceaselessly cry before us “I have no man” (John 5:7). Once it became known that the Orthodox Church was giving out financial aid to disabled people, one day, when we had already finished with those gathered, we saw a handicapped running towards us in a wheelchair, pushed by a big sweaty man… We thought he would be a relative of his, but when he approached, we realized that the man pushing was blind! Together they had crossed a huge distance through the heavy traffic of the busy streets. The disabled man was guiding his blind brother, hoping in the mercy of God, which in that case was the small aid of our Church…

With the contribution, sensibility and understanding of Saint Ecumenius Missionary Association, we bought five motorcycles for five priests, each of whom ministers to more than two parishes, in order to reduce their travel expenses and enable our remote communities to be served regularly and not infrequently due to transport difficulties of the priest in charge.

Acts of altruism and charity are secret according to the command “let not your left hand know what your right hand does” (Matthew 6:3) and they are not kind of ecclesiastical news, because they are inseparably woven into the life and nature of the Church. They are, however, occasionally published as a testimony of love, as flowers of altruism, for the “subtle thought” of our weak brothers “that the ministry be not blamed” (II Cor. 6:3).

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Nevertheless, they are also testimonies of those, who in adverse times and in the face of those that out of poor ecclesiastical education and nonexistent faith, in covert deeds and words, consider the cause of the apostolic work “failed” or “unnecessary” and shamelessly vilify it, continue to “guard a Thermopylae never betraying what is right…”

May the love of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all, brethren.

† Gregory of Cameroon

A new struggle is opening for the faithful of Sangmelima

13 February 2015

By the grace of God, the blessings of our Patriarch and your own efforts, last September the construction of Saint Charalambos Holy Church was completed in the city of Sangmelima in Southern Cameroon, only 140 km away from the capital city Yaoundé.

The construction started in 2007 and was financed through a Fraternity donation. As I had explained, due to several design errors on the part of the contractor, the construction was halted at the foundation level. We resumed in November 2013 with a new contractor and with the help of God, in September 2014 we ended the construction, adding a small rectory for the priest as well.

On December 27, Memory of the First Martyr for Christ and Archdeacon Stephen, I visited the parish with other clergymen of the Holy Metropolis and conducted the Inauguration service of the S. Church as well as the first Divine Liturgy.

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We expressed our gratitude to the Lord for this new opportunity given to us with the establishment of this parish for the promotion of the work of the Apostles in one of the major cities of Cameroon with excellent prospects.

We extended our warmest thanks to the Greek sponsor of the plot Mr. Stefanos Kokkinidis, local resident, who attended the Divine Liturgy with his family, to the former presidents of the Fraternity Mr. Vaios Prantzos and Mr. Konstantinos Daoudakis for the adoption of the S. Church on the part of the Fraternity, and also to our noble sponsors, living and dead, for the boldness of their faith and their love for the forgotten command “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” May the Lord grant them a hundredfold in return of their donations and give eternal rest to the deceased. We will humbly remember their names in every Divine Liturgy.

This is certainly only the beginning. A new field for struggle is opening before us now: to organize the parish, to start catechetical lessons until through His Grace Christ has been formed in the hearts of our newly illuminated brothers.

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We have put our hopes on the constant presence of Fr. John, the new active priest, who has good knowledge of the local dialect and moved here with his family, which comprises adoptive children as well.

For all these great and wonderful things for our local Church, we ask for your wishes and prayers and greet you all with a holy kiss wishing every spiritual blessing in your struggle.

With ardent prayers unto the Lord

Bishop Gregory of Cameroon

Findings and Dreams of 10 years in the Tropics

13 December 2014

With the help of God, on November 25, 2014, ten years have been completed since the unfathomable and infinite mercy of our Lord appointed me as a bishop to the Holy Metropolis of Cameroon, in order to minister in this field of the work of the Apostles.

I do not think that the ten years of my ministry are enough for me to extract conclusions and be regarded as a specialist or take them as a reason for celebration. I believe though, that it is a great opportunity for reflection and self-criticism upon which the steps of the next five –maybe, by the grace of God, even ten- years should be carefully planned.

The experiences of this decade are plentiful and condensed. Some articles that occasionally saw the light of publicity in various missionary magazines could be described as “decompression efforts” of these experiences and mostly as efforts to create a dialogue towards all the ecclesiastical and non-ecclesiastical directions.

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Thus, I believe that all this has remained within the boundaries of a monologue with a charm that stems from the harsh beauty of the African landscape, the raw reality of all-surrounding death and the image of the priest going from place to place, striving to preach the Word of God.

Throughout this decade there have been individuals or people organized in associations and charities who have supported the missionary work with faith and trust and are worthy of the Church’s praise, which they will receive from the Impartial Judge and Great Gift-Giver Lord.

However, my ultimate goal in life was not to become either a writer of travel impressions or a research scholar in anthropology, but to define to the Church that sent me here the “size” of my “field” and the unique opportunity given to us in our chaotic era to preach Christ, to penetrate into a primitive society and its principle of formation based on the European model and to lay Christ as its basis and foundation, embodying in all its splendor the silent and apparent love of the “Good Samaritan” and correcting the indifference and superficiality of the “priest” and the “Levite”, which always carries the taste of bitterness…

In these ten years, God has filled me with events and gestures of touching love coming from simple people, but always and continually, with bitter flavors -with very few exceptions- from people who are still believed to serve the same purpose, namely the Gospel, maybe expressed in a different way, which persistently eludes me…

It is an undeniable fact that modern societies are tired and ageing because of time compression and modern life’s over-consumption, which they have imposed upon themselves due to their long indifference to the public affairs…

Some unashamed professional demagogues increased and exploited this indifference, ravaged and devastated “what belonged to the people” causing all this global chaos, the consequences of which we are experiencing as a crisis and disease, awaiting the recovery or some divine intervention in the form of financial assistance…

What I find totally inconceivable, though, is the ‘lethargy’ of the Gospel guardians and their alignment with the demagogues of the time! The help on the part of soup kitchens and social grocery stores is unquestionably immense, but it is not the solution to this problem…

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The charity work which a missionary division offers is necessary, but it cannot be regarded as its primary purpose… The purpose is solely Christ and His will, that is, the Gospel, and this is not the dissemination of an idea or a worldview… It is “the light” and “the truth” and “the way” and “the life of the world”, and this is the way we should talk about Christ and live with Him.

Christ always spoke to people in such a way that no one had ever spoken before, and he virtually opened people’s eyes into another morality and not into another moralistic life form. This is the reason why he did not hesitate to criticize any form of authority or faith in His time as well as any type of world hierarchy…

I would say with certainty that the Lord tried to instill this critical look into the world in his contemporaries, that is, in the ordinary people and not only in His disciples, wishing to make them smarter against the secularization of the religious people and the greed of political demagoguery…

Of course the reaction on the part of His society was to send Him to the Cross… but then the Cross was followed by the Resurrection, the Ascension, the Pentecost and the tangible blessings that stem from all this for believers and unbelievers…

Conveying the Gospel means conveying the will of God, which is the reason why we go around the African Continent, wearing out ourselves to the extent possible, thinking that what we do aims at the glory of the Church and might be heard by God after our own crucifixion…

But how many wonderful things could be done if the Church that sent us here leaned over us out of brotherly love in strengthening and support of our humble work?

How many wonderful miracles would we live, if some clergymen had the courage to come out of the “national monism” of their faith and stand shoulder to shoulder with us in the streets of nations and in the ends of the earth, where our poor brothers give their struggle for survival?

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How different would the image of our Church in the world be, if we believed in “the work of the Apostles to all nations”?

This is what I dream of on the long, rainy, tropical nights and from the beauty of those dreams I draw courage and hope to continue this largely solitary journey knowing deep down that probably after many years, some workers of the Gospel of another generation can fulfill them and live them…

Thanks be to Thee, O Lord!

With undivided love unto all those longing for the coming of our Lord.

† Gregory of Cameroon

 

Speaking of Christ in Africa

8 October 2013
A small echo of the commandment:
“Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation….”

At the end of John’s Gospel there is a clarification for the recipients of the epistle-gospel: “…and there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen. (John 21,25)

A lot of people might think that the Evangelist exaggerates at this point…Is that an exaggeration, though? According to the Orthodox tradition and the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils, the Gospel is God-inspired from one end to the other. The Gospels are a written record of some points of the Oral tradition of the Apostles towards the newly formed at the time Ecclesiastical Communities and are written according to the reminders of the Holy Spirit in the words of the Lord: “These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” (John, 14, 25-26) Moreover, in all four Gospels there are plenty of seemingly “insignificant” testimonies of a large number of miraculous healings.

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Therefore, due to the fact that man is prone to forgetfulness, the Father sends the Comforter, Who reminds us of everything that Christ commanded “by His word and actions” in his earthly life and action. Of course, this task of the Holy Ghost, that is, “the reminder” of the Lord’s commands, does not stop at the Apostolic age, but goes on throughout the centuries by means of the daily sanctification of the members of the ecclesiastical communities and by bringing into prominence holy male and female figures from all social classes and from the whole Ecclesiastical Hierarchy. This way, we have Apostles, Equal to the Apostles, Martyrs, Confessors, Holy Fathers and Mothers, Hierarchs, the Righteous and Pious. We also have holy Kings, Generals, soldiers, fishermen, slaves and freed men, women saints out of prostitutes, stylites or dendrites (tree-dwelling monks), fools for Christ’s sake, holy male and female suicides…

All these categories of virtuous people, through their life and the exceptional way in which they were led to holiness, “remind” us truly and substantially in actions and in words of one and the same thing: “the person of Jesus Christ”.

We could also say that through their life, their example and many times their teaching, they pull up in the memory of the ecclesiastical communities -as well as of the Church as a whole-many of the things that Jesus Christ did and were not recorded, which were so numerous that if they should be written down one by one, the world itself could not contain so many books.

This is the special value of studying and projecting the synaxaria of the Orthodox Saints and the rendering of due honor and veneration to the Saints.
At the same time, this is the struggle of the contemporary Orthodox Mission among the nations, that is, the formation of ecclesiastical Communities in unknown and pretty often primitive societies and the creation of the “memory of Christ”, which will be cultivated through “His continuous remembrance” and will create the bases that will pull up in the memory of the ecclesiastical communities all the things said and done by Christ that were not recorded “one by one”, that is, the daily sanctification…

This way we comprehend that the Mission is a basic requirement for every Church to exist, and woe to the Church that has cut its bonds with the Mission; it is like the tree that cuts off its roots on its own…

It should be understood that the efforts of all the Missionaries are efforts of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and not personal pursuits on their part in order to obtain the title of the Missionary.

I am not here because I love unknown and disconsolate places, or the adventurous life and action… I am not here because I love unknown and disconsolate places, or the adventurous life and action… I am here to continue and partake in the ministry of Apostles Mark and Luke…

And it is truly difficult for me to speak of Christ after two thousand years, but I think of the Apostles who spoke of the Prophets of Israel and their Prophecies despite the fact that it had been centuries since their time…”Brothers, God fulfilled His promise which he had given through His servants, the Prophets, and sent forth His own Son…”….. I think of Christ Himself who interpreted the prophecies at the Synagogues and led the people of Israel and His Disciples to seeing, touching, living, partaking in life and death and in the Resurrection of the fulfillment of these Prophecies…And I say “this Word is not mine and I have no right to deprive It of anyone”, and I speak of Christ, about the hope of Resurrection in a world that is daily experiencing the impasse of a cheap and senseless death which “covers vast expanses of human beings” destined to live eternally…

I believe that if some of the ancient Tragic writers were raised from the dead today and had the information we all have about Africa, they would continuously write new tragedies about it, in order to stigmatize and cure our criminal indifference!

Of course, could a world like ours, which lacks the education of tragedy that could cultivate it, that is, the tendency for “imitation of an action that is serious, complete and of a certain magnitude”, be cultivated this way nowadays? This is a question that needs extensive discussion, because the Church actually presents a tragedy in every Eucharist Assembly: “Christ incarnated, suffering, dying, rising, ascending and coming back in glory judging the World…”

Nevertheless, how many people truly experience through tragedy the eschatological dimension of the Eucharist Assembly in every liturgy? And how many accept this dimension of the Church the way it is taught by the Church itself?

This is exactly the distance of all those who regard the Mission as “a utopia and a lost cause” from the reality of the Church, τwhich they probably serve for some sort of personal and emotional fulfillment, and the distance from the Mission itself, which they have neither experienced nor practiced.It is important that everyone understands what a completely different situation it is to speak and make known:

  • to people who have never heard about Christ after 2000 years, and sow in their hearts the seeds of faith in Him
  • it is a different thing to speak of Christ to people who have very little knowledge of Him and something completely different,
  • to try to arouse the interest for the ecclesiastical way of life in people who carry in their DNA the remembrance of the experience of the ecclesiastical way of life…

Let us assume that the Missionaries deal with the first and the second reality and those not involved in the Mission with the second and mainly with the third reality.

The word of the Missionaries should not merely state historical events, but it should have this quality and potential to “incarnate, give birth” to Christ in human beings… and make people follow the Lord’s earthly life and have their faith certified “through the accompanying signs” of Christ’s presence in their life, and also conduce to the creation of a “memory” which will be reborn through the Mystery of Remembrance.

The word of the Shepherds in the Ancient Churches relies on the fact that “the memory” already exists…The human beings have, long for, already grow a relationship with Christ even when they appear indifferent to Him.

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This substantial difference between the two functions of the One and Only Ecclesiastical Word describes in the most obvious way the difficulties and the problems of the Missionaries, but also the necessity for the existence of the Missionary word in the contemporary reality of the Ancient Churches, which are characterized by complete lack of vitality….

My word may sound harsh and strictly critical… However, I think our self-criticism should be applied daily to some other theological levels as well, which will help us improve our position as Church Shepherds, and this can only be achieved through the continuous and thorough analysis of our shortcomings…

The embrace of faith unto all our brothers from the insignificant brothers of our Lord in Africa….

Gregory of Cameroon

Spiritual refuge for the young people of Yaounde

2 February 2013

Dear brothers,

Rejoice in the Lord always! I have mentioned in the past the importance of the presence of the Holy Churches of Saint Demetrios and the Holy Trinity at the capital of Cameroon, Yaounde, which were built thanks to the kind donation of the Fraternity. These two churches have been operating regularly since October 2011 following a specific schedule of services and Divine Liturgies four times a week and with a relevant schedule of sermons and speeches by all the priests. Our Church has already made its presence known in the city center, and we thank God for such a blessing.

Always thinking of promoting our humble missionary efforts, we are in search of more means to support the evangelical work. We have always considered the possibility of creating a center which could arouse the interest of the young people so that they would approach the Orthodox Church, this coming from the proximity of the Holy Church of Saint Demetrios to two big Universities. Hundreds of students roam within the vicinity waiting for their classes to start, and due to the fact that the number of the University classrooms is not enough for all students, half of them have to wait for the first group to finish so that they can continue themselves in the same classroom.

We conceived the idea of creating an open Library-Reading Room with personal computers and connections through the internet with e-libraries from all over the world. This library would be open to students. We believe such a plan could work positively for our missionary efforts, and in the long run we could have a lot of positive results, because through the offer of a spiritual refuge for the young people, at the same time the Orthodox Church becomes known, since the church will be situated within the same place.

Since the surrounding space of the Church is too small for something like that, the idea was put on standby. However, lately we were approached by a neighbor who suggested selling us the adjoining plot of 365 square meters for 23,000€. We believe this is a unique bargain.

We are aware of the fact that the times are hard and that there is financial depression everywhere; however, we hope that God never gives up on the Missionary work, which, after all, is the core of the mystery of His incarnation and humbly a matter of our unimportant existence, too.

With the Lord’s love and wishes to all the Fraternity members.
Gregory of Cameroon

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