With the blessings of His Beatitude Theodore II, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa, during the festive twelve- day period of Christmas, His Eminence Metropolitan Makarios went to the consecration of two new churches in two different regions.
The first church was dedicated to the Resurrection of our Savior and to the Apostle of the Gentiles, Paul, on December 28, 2016 in the remotest corner of Kenya, near the border with Somalia, at the end of the Indian Ocean, in a small but dynamic parish community in Beketoni village next to Lamu island. This region, plagued by the recent events with the jihadists and the Islamic fundamentalists, was hardly accessible. For this reason both the trip there and the consecration service were postponed frequently and for a long time. But this time, even though the whole area was surrounded by strict security forces, the preparations required were made, and ultimately the visit was realized under tight security.
It took us two days to get from the Orthodox Patriarchal School “Archbishop Makarios III” to our final destination, with an intermediate overnight stop in Malindi. Everyone feels too small and weak when the human factor comes first, defying the major protection and stewardship of God Himself, who, along with His Friends the Saints, directs our life and our actions, particularly in such very special cases. Right here come naturally to mind the living words of the Apostle Paul that suit our own case, ” nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” Thus, all the things that seem strange and frivolous to us, the people of little faith, meet in a wonderful manner with the holiness and blessedness of our Saints, making it possible for us to understand how important such things are, like the act of the church consecration in that remote part of the world, since with the placement of holy relics, the whole of the visible and invisible nature of God, our creator, is sanctified and transformed. In any case, nothing could stand in the way or stop us. No pagan forces from this densely populated -mostly by Muslims- area was able to impede the divine will and hinder God’s own plan. Now the whole village can proclaim till the end of time the words of the Apostle Paul again,” while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son” (Rom. 5:10)
The second church is located outside the renowned Nakuru town with the famous lake, which hosts thousands of flamingos and varied wildlife in the jungle adjacent to it. In this area there are already consecrated churches, like those of the Resurrection, of Saints Raphael, Nicholas and Irene, of Agios Nektarios and others. Soon two more churches will be consecrated: the church of Saint George and that of Saint Paraskevi.
The consecrated church of Hagia Sophia will serve the needs of the Orthodox local residents, who used a makeshift church until recently. His Eminence, who has been visiting this village for several years now, thought of the importance it would acquire, especially through the creation of new educational establishments and several industrial enterprises, and decided to lay its foundation stone. Little by little, the construction commenced with the zeal and enthusiasm of both priests and parishioners. After superhuman efforts it was only recently completed.
This Orthodox sacred church is very impressive indeed and, as it is just off the road, it draws the admiration of passersby, who stop to have a closer look at it. And then, on entering it, they get even more impressed by the beautiful Byzantine icons that decorate the iconostasis and the surrounding walls.
These two new sacred churches have been acquired by Kenya in order to proclaim joyfully the timeless message of the Lord’s Resurrection. Thanks to them, more and more souls will find spiritual rest and will ultimately be led to their salvation. May the name of the Lord be blessed and glorified, since once more He called us into His loving embrace, accepted us there and gave us a message of optimism and hope. Amen!
I am sitting at the refectory of the Patriarchal School tonight, here, on the same chair for thirty five years. How many memories cross my mind! How many images of all those years occur to me! How many labors! How many young people from all the countries of Africa have passed from this room! How many spiritual lectures have been given on a daily basis! I once wrote that it is the liturgical life here in our School that supports us and strengthens us and keeps us alive physically as well as spiritually. But this meeting at the refectory every evening is uplifting too, because there is a talk taking place, followed by a relevant discussion. It is the time when every seminarian has the opportunity to open their mouth and speak freely. In the classroom we speak academically whereas here they can speak with more comfort and convenience.
I looked around me. I counted how many of the seminarians present were children of old students of mine. I remembered their fathers at the same age sitting on the same chairs. The case of one of them was particularly important to me. I remembered his birth, baptism and then his studies in the primary and secondary school. His father had a dream: to see his first son come and attend the Patriarchal School. He wanted to fulfill his mission completely. I had no doubt about that as I had known him since he was an infant. When it was time for the School to open for the academic year, he wanted to bring him himself. When he said that to me, I told him that such a thing was not customary, because usually young people are mature and serious enough to travel by themselves. He insisted though, so I did not object to his wish. Indeed, he came with his son. First, he took him to the School chapel and advised him not to miss any of the church services. He promised him that if he really loved attending and participating in them without fail, then he would be greatly benefited spiritually since sacred services constitute the authentic food of School life. He did the same while showing him around the School refectory, the classrooms, the wards, even the bathrooms. Generally, he took him everywhere. You see, he remembered the time he was a seminarian himself. Nothing had changed although many years had passed. He also showed him around their surroundings, gardens, trees, flowers… The most important of all this was the love of the father for his first-born son. Undoubtedly, the School environment was nice, as he experienced it himself, but far more important was the life through the liturgical tradition of our Church, the obedience and respect for the teachers taught to them. Principles and inspirational messages which helped him develop spiritually, and now enable him to exercise the duties of the priest and spiritual Father.
People usually come to visit me for several reasons. Among them are also those who wish to have a church wedding. One of them, a young man from one parish near Nairobi, visited me and asked me to perform his wedding. As usual, I noted it down in my diary and I said that if I was here, I would definitely arrange to go. He did not ask for anything else, he just wanted the blessing of the Church.
After a few weeks, the wedding day had finally come. So I went to the church, where, I saw again this young man shedding rivers of tears, and wiping his eyes with a handkerchief. I approached him and asked him why he was crying so much instead of being happy, as marriage is a pleasant event in one’s life. He then explained to me that he was very touched and could hardly believe it was really happening. It should be noted here that according to the tribal tradition, men should never cry, even at funerals. I blessed him and then walked into the sanctuary to wait. When the priest came, he gave me some further explanations. This young man had always wanted to have a church wedding, but he was poor and did not have the money required to pay to the bride’s parents in order to marry her, that is, something like our dowry. The priest explained to me that the groom had been offering his services in the sanctuary since he was little and had been feeling ashamed and accountable before God toη be living with his wife like a traditionally married couple without God’s blessing. He only had two euro in his pocket, but the bride’s parents wanted a thousand, which was a large amount indeed. When the parishioners were informed of that, they all ran to help. They contributed their mites in order to raise the amount required and enable the young man to have a church wedding.
The groom could not believe the miracle he was living. Apparently, it was his simple-heartedness and love for God that made him worthy of experiencing the greatness of the mystery of marriage the ecclesiastical way, despite existing difficulties. Indeed, throughout the entire sacred service, this young man continued to be emotional. His wife, a young girl modestly dressed, was carefully watching the whole marriage service performed in the tribal dialect and in Swahili. Undoubtedly, marriage is a happy event in one’s life but the responsibilities and commitments involved are enormous. As soon as the mystery ended, it was time for me to preach. Being aware of the fact that most of the people who had come to attend the mystery belonged to other Christian or non-Christian denominations, I spoke about the importance of the Holy Mysteries within the Orthodox Church and laid particular emphasis on the value of the Mystery of Marriage and that of the Eucharist. As for the newly wedded couple, I advised them to start their new life in the Lord by participating in the holy Mysteries of the Church frequently, and I offered them as a gift an icon of the Virgin Mary, urging them to pray together before the icon, morning and evening. It seemed as if everybody rejoiced.
For many years people had been waiting for Christ to come: the One who would bring love and peace, the real smile and justice, equality and serenity, things so precious to someone who wants to feel the true meaning of life.
Since then two thousand years have gone by and still there are people who not only live in poverty and deprivation, but also have not even heard that message of love and justice. They are still waiting for him; they have not yet met Him or seen Him.
The doleful land of Africa was deprived of this great gift of God, did not see the light or the sun of justice when it was revealed to humanity.
Suddenly, this light came and shone for this land too. And the indigenous peoples, trying to comprehend this great mystery of the Resurrection, started building and inaugurating sacred churches in the name of God and realized that they should feel as His own children. Now they know that God is the One who embraces and accompanies them in their lives. He shows them the way and they walk along with Him. This is the mystery of the Gospel. They live and move between divine intervention and love.
As for the Orthodox Mission of the Patriarchate of Alexandria throughout the African continent, one of its main concerns is to build schools for educating young people in order not only to combat illiteracy but also to help them become useful citizens.
Moreover, the Orthodox Church of Kenya is struggling to diminish pain and fight disease by providing free medical care to all people.
Once again, the Orthodox Church, being sensitized to all this agony and life of hardship, offers its contribution to alleviate those poor people’s pain and fight injustice, which they are suffering from.
The church bell rings and calls the faithful for the eternal journey to the Kingdom of Heaven; they dance and play, thanking and praising God with their simple, pure, selfless heart. For many years the Holy Metropolis of Kenya has been working with various charitable organizations; as a result of this collaboration, there are annual visits on a permanent basis, tours with doctors of all specialties and other volunteers who heal physical as well as spiritual wounds.
Hospitals, clinics, schools, churches are tokens of the bond of love coming from Orthodox believers all around the world. The local authorities recognize their contribution, appreciate it and express their gratitude for it.
As for the people’s pleasure, this is manifest and expressed in so many different ways. It seems like doors and windows are opened to them… they taste the joy and blessings that are now offered by the presence of Orthodoxy; the love of God has entered into their homes making them feel that they are children of God, noble creatures, all equal before Him… These visits strengthen the people. This hope that we have not forgotten them is offered even to those living in the most remote areas. The Church is beside them, having undertaken the great mission of providing spiritual care as well as social welfare and assistance.
Not long after the acquaintance with true faith, the living conditions got better and the people started appreciating more things such as nature, the beauty of creation, life itself as a gift from God despite the adversities they were confronted with. Through the missionary movement and activity of Orthodoxy these people, young and old, are offered hope, joy as well as peacefulness and are able to smile…
This is what the Orthodox spirit does. The tradition of Orthodoxy along with local habits forms a wonderful mosaic, rich in content. Now the people continue their traditions, their daily habits in a new perspective, that of a new life. This is the true path of Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy embraces all people, accepts their traditional habits. This is, then, the superpower that can save humanity and spare man from aimless searching and wandering. It can offer a lot of light, the true light, which will transform and regenerate the human race.
Today Orthodoxy renews its strength and determines the real dimensions of its mission, an ecumenical and universal message: to embrace all people of all races, all backgrounds and all languages.
The more the soul of man is deprived of material goods, the more God strengthens her and prepares her for a spiritual exaltation and a life of bliss, peace and innocence. One can see that the struggle of this soul is a spiritual exercise, despite its looking tired, weary and miserable. In the end, she enters into that euphoria of exuberant humility and unspeakable joy. It is worth stressing that excess food intake usually makes us slaves of our bodies -because we believe that the more weight we gain, the safer and healthier we will be. But alas! In fact, the opposite happens. We will suffer from obesity, which ultimately makes us feel sluggish, sick and unhappy. But unfortunately we are slaves to our passions out of conviction and stubbornness, believing that everything related to the physical part of our existence is the most important of all things. However, this is not what actually happens. We are deprived of the unique and irreplaceable spiritual nourishment that is provided to us through our participation in the Sacraments of the Church, by means of which we are sanctified and born again. Only at this moment are we made worthy of receiving illumination and seeing the light that comes from our Lord Jesus Christ.
Daily in our Mission area we live real, authentic moments from the early Christian days. We preach the Gospel of our Christ, especially to the humble and innocent souls of young children. Here the Orthodox faith is taught through education, cultivation, which brings together academic knowledge and religion.
It is at the school that is housed in the courtyard of the Metropolis that 450 children from poor families gather daily. Probably most of them have no parents, or live with only one parent, usually the mother. Poor little creatures! One might think and say without a second thought: miserable. But there is something valuable in this misery: a hidden treasure. Daily we experience their pain and try to help them as much as we can in order to soothe it and alleviate their suffering. Among them there are plenty of children who stand out for their seriousness, diligence and devotion to Christ and Orthodoxy. This age is the best and most reliable point of reference.
One of these children is Paul. He is a charismatic boy. If you see him, you may think that he is a fool for Christ’s sake, as he is dressed in rags and is untidy in his appearance due to the extreme poverty that plagues his country. He lives with his mother, who, in order to raise him, has set up a small vegetable stall off the road, right at the entrance of our Patriarchal School. Of course, the little money she earns is barely enough to make ends meet. We, on our part, help by providing free of charge schooling and two meals, breakfast and lunch. This little boy, among other qualifications, has an incredible aptitude for learning and is a top student at school. He is never absent from the daily liturgical celebrations, conducted day and evening at the church of Hagia Sophia. He also has a wonderfully delicate voice, and he is only eleven years old. He usually chants in the choir of seminarians and everyone marvels at his excellent knowledge of musical sounds. He is delighted because he seems to know better than us the secret of true happiness.
One day, after the Vespers service, he followed me to my office and started bombarding me with questions about Christ and Orthodox Christianity in general. As we were talking, I noticed that he was pondering over my answers. Very seriously he told me about his plans in life and his intention of becoming a priest and a great theologian, which is why he wanted to be properly prepared. Our conversation was continued and the young boy seemed satisfied. I invited him to the kitchen to offer him something to eat, because I realized that he was hungry. There were two bottles on the table, one of which was containing oil and the other vinegar. Then he asked:
—What is there in that bottle?
—It’s vinegar, which is used to make foods tastier.
—I have never seen it in my life.
—We use it quite often for therapeutic purposes as well, and in such cases we mix it with soil.
Looking puzzled, he said:
—So if I understood correctly, this is the vinegar that was given to Christ when he was on the Cross, isn’t it?
—Yes, exactly that.
—Can I try it?
Then I filled a teaspoon with vinegar and he tasted it. From his reaction it was obvious that he did not like the taste. At that point he made the following comment:
“I thought it would be good to know how Jesus felt when He was given it. I wanted to see myself what a hard time the Lord went through that terrible moment, when He was on the Cross. Now I understand how much pain He must have felt and how much He must have suffered”.
Daily we live the great drama of little children. In our own societies certain things are taken as a given. Our own child grows in its environment and under any conditions it should be offered the necessary food from morning until it is time to sleep. This is an absolutely normal situation. The child cannot live unless it is given food. Here, however, in Africa, things are different. Children wake up in the morning and in the evening they go to sleep starved, there is no guarantee that they will have the necessary food. This is something very common here; therefore, they are born and grow up in this environment, whether they want to or not.
The Orthodox Diocese of Kenya, among its various programs, implemented a special feeding program for children and not only: it undertook a rescue crusade of young children, not only for daily food, i.e. breakfast and lunch, but also for educational opportunities for them at a payment of 20 euros per month. This effort met with response, and today the program has expanded throughout the country. The Greeks -even though they themselves are facing a financial crisis- made the strongest efforts and stood beside us to save as many souls as possible and relieve our children, who live under difficult and incomprehensible to us conditions. Unfortunately, there are no conditions suitable for children here. Therefore, through this program, the Diocese of Kenya has been trying to give a message of hope and certainty that they will have the right to live and be educated.
Every year, besides the daily meals, extra meals are organized on various occasions as well. So this year, at Christmas, in the courtyard of the Cathedral gathered, apart from the children of kindergarten and primary school, the children of our slum, for a sumptuous Christmas dinner and not only. Refreshments were offered, and each child got a small Christmas gift and stationery, notebooks, pencils etc.
A mother of two little children approached the Bishop and confessed that the food offered to them on Christmas day was the only one that they had the opportunity to eat. Otherwise, on that day the children would stay hungry.
The efforts and programs of the Metropolis of Kenya will continue even under the current economic crisis. We must not let the children suffer and live in misery. We have to strive and do everything in our power to ensure that these poor children will not sleep hungry.
Those wishing to offer a minimum contribution can do so through the Fraternity with the indication “for Kenya”. This way we can support, encourage and give hope to these unprotected children living under adverse conditions and waiting for a helping hand to continue themselves, as creatures of God, their destination on our planet.
On the morning of October 12th His Beatitude Patriarch of Alexandria arrived at the international airport of Kenya. During the day, the patriarch had a long cooperation with His Eminence Metropolitan Makarios of Kenya over the course of the Orthodox Church in the country.
On Monday, October 13, 2014 His Beatitude, accompanied by the local prelate, visited the second largest slum in the world after that of Brazil, the well known Kibera. His Beatitude was shown around the premises where the Metropolis runs a Kindergarten and a Primary School, a clinic and the sacred church of St. George. The pupils, boys and girls, had reserved, along with the priest and the teachers, a very warm welcome with songs and dances.
Deeply touched, His Beatitude thanked for the warmest welcome and then distributed sweets and small icons to all the children. Then he visited, just behind the slum area, the very recently completed orphanage, where he toured the premises of the ultra-modern building complex. Then he visited three other primary schools and kindergartens in the regions of Kawaguare Rironi and Kereita. In all schools, His Beatitude thanked and distributed gifts to the children.
On Tuesday, October 14 His Beatitude visited the sacred church of St. Titus in the Moukoui village with the adjacent Orthodox Middle school and kindergarten, and the parishes of St. Panteleimon in Kerwa, St. Seraphim of Sarov, where there is a Middle school for the boys of the same parish, and that of the Transfiguration in Kamangou, where the parish runs a coeducational middle school and a medical center. Returning late in the afternoon, His Beatitude visited the sacred church of Saints Raphael, Nicholas and Irene in Thogoto, where he held a memorial service over the tomb of the late Bishop George Gathuna of Nitria, the first African Bishop in Kenya. He also visited the nearby health care facility of the parish.
In the evening, he attended a formal dinner hosted in his honor by the Russian Ambassador at his official residence. That was also attended by the Ambassadors of Greece and Egypt. The next day the Egyptian Ambassador organized a formal dinner in honor of His Beatitude as well, which was attended by all the Ambassadors of the Muslim states.
On October 16 His Beatitude visited Archbishop Makarios III Orthodox Patriarchal Ecclesiastical School. There the seminarians of the Patriarchal School in a most melodious manner chanted the doxology and sang praises to the Patriarch’s name and fame in Greek.
His Beatitude expressed his great joy for being present at the start of the new academic year at the Patriarchal School for the first time. Addressing the seminarians, he urged them to benefit from their schooling there in order, on returning to their countries to be able to serve the ethos and splendor of Orthodoxy with all the knowledge they will have gained. This year the first grade is being attended by twenty seminarians from African countries except Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and Malawi, who His Beatitude laid readers. In the end, His Eminence Makarios offered as a gift an icon of the Virgin Mary surrounded by small African children, with the inscription in Swahili “Mother of the Orphans’.
After a short break, His Beatitude visited the sacred church of St. Makarios, where he attended an assembly of clergy and laity representatives of the Church and of the surrounding parishes. Metropolitans Gregory of Cameroon and George of Guinea spoke to the attendees, and His Beatitude replied to questions asked by clergy and laity.
The day of October 18, 2014 was a historic day for the Metropolis of Kenya. At 11 am there was a scheduled graduation ceremony for the students of the Orthodox College of Africa. The presence of the Primate of the Alexandrian Church gave special honor and glory to the whole program, since it was the first time the Spiritual Leader of the African Orthodoxy Theodoros II had attended the ceremony. The program of the whole ceremony included speeches, prayers, songs performed by various choirs of the Patriarchal Ecclesiastical School and of the Orthodox Teachers’ College, by talented Orthodox singers, as well as by primary school children.
His Beatitude congratulated wholeheartedly His Eminence, who has been striving to support and promote the work of education in Kenya all these years. He was glad once more to see the progress made in all the fields and promised to continue, as always, his assistance in the efforts made for the development of the Church in the blessed country of Kenya. Addressing those who had finished the Orthodox College, he wished them all the best in the new course of their lives and gave them his patriarchal blessings. In the end, His Beatitude as well as the other officials handed the diplomas to the graduates.
During his visit to the premises of the Metropolis of Kenya, our Patriarch did not fail to conduct a memorial service over the tombs of the late Archimandrite John Eko, a Finnish missionary, whose three- decade work in Kenya was exemplary, first as a teacher and then as a priest, the late “mamma” Stavritsa Zachariou, who also worked tirelessly until her repose, the late pioneer African priest Fr. Eleftherios Ndwaru.
On the morning of October 19 HDB Theodoros II Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa celebrated the Divine Liturgy at the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Holy Unmercenaries in the capital of Kenya, Nairobi. His concelebrants were His Eminence Metropolitan Makarios of Kenya, His Grace Bishop Innocentios of Burundi and Rwanda and a large number of African priests. During the Divine Liturgy, His Beatitude ordained as a deacon the second-year seminarian of the Patriarchal Ecclesiastical School John Karakasia, who comes from the tribe of Luhya. At the end of the Divine Liturgy, he expressed his joy for the opportunity given to him to start the second decade of his Patriarchate from the Metropolis of Kenya. He characteristically said, “Here is the center of our mission in Africa.”
In the early morning hours of October 22, HDB Theodoros II Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa having successfully completed his pastoral visit to Kenya, departed for the headquarters of the Patriarchate in Alexandria. Overwhelmed with feelings of love and gratitude, His Beatitude thanked His Eminence Makarios for his successful and blessed visit to Kenya. In his turn, His Eminence expressed the boundless gratitude on the part of the clergy, the people and himself for that visit, so rich in spiritual support for the multifarious work being done in Kenya.
This was definitely not a typical pastoral visit of the Patriarch. It was an unparalleled, profound and rich in spiritual messages visit, revealing the behavioral standards and summarizing the character of the Spiritual Leader of the Black Continent. The Africans were waiting to be close to him in order to see him and kiss his hand, as they only knew him from the photos and wall calendars issued by the Metropolis every year. His visit to Colleges, Seminaries, clinics, schools at all levels of education and Sacred Churches was a magnificent mosaic decorated with the virtues of the Primate of love, humility, acceptance of everyone as they are. His good and simple heart, his warm smile of kindness and innocence, his bright face, his movements, even the way he walked, all of them revealed the greatness of his mental strength and endurance…
Undoubtedly, though, the most impressive of all was the fact that for the first time a Primate had visited the slum of Kibera, where people, especially little children, live despised and forsaken by people. He spent time listening to them, sharing their pain, anxieties, sorrows and sufferings, holding their hands in his own and meaning to instill a sense of hope in them. A Father of infinite kindness who wanted to share their concerns and problems, walked along with them and got a taste of their daily Calvary, clasped their bony hands and promised to carry them always in him, in the depths of his heart, and be their companion and fellow traveler on their difficult road of life.
August is considered the main holiday month, that is why schools, both primary and secondary, are closed. However, during this period His Eminence Metropolitan Makarios of Kenya continues his pastoral visits throughout Kenya.
Thus on August 17, he celebrated the Divine Liturgy at the roughly built church of St. Makarios – it is made of mud – in a remote village in the Kakamega region. The divine service and the sermon preached by His Eminence were followed by a procession of priests and faithful to a nearby river, where there were group baptisms of more than a hundred people, from infants to elders.
It was a spectacle reminding of the Jordan River. Deeply moved, His Eminence thanked God for this blessing as well as priests and catechists, who work tirelessly for the progress of Orthodoxy and the development and promotion of the Orthodox faith and tradition among the wretched people, inviting them to guard this treasure deep inside their soul and life with frequent participation in the sacraments of the Church in order to be made worthy of becoming partakers of the kingdom of God.
On August 21, His Eminence was in the Nyeri region, at St. Anthony’s parish in the village of Isamara, where the next day the Divine Liturgy was celebrated by priests from various places and in the presence of hundreds of women, who participated in a seminar of Orthodox spirituality.
In the end, His Eminence opened the three-day conference, stressing the important role women play in the development of Orthodoxy throughout Kenya, and he invited them to continue with even stronger faith, zeal and commitment their active participation in all the local Church events in Kenya. His Eminence partook of a common meal with those Orthodox women, who sang Christian songs in order to please him.
Then His Eminence visited our large orphanage in St. Nicodemus parish Kasika, which hosts one hundred and ninety orphans. He received a warm welcome from all of them, which touched him deeply, and he thanked them and assured them that the Diocese would continue to provide them with free food and education and that they should consider him their father and that place their home.
His Eminence remembered how the orphanage project started a few years ago, hesitantly but steadily, without any specific sponsorship, and thanked God for that miracle that is taking place today thanks to love, and it is dedicated to God and to vulnerable young boys and girls who are seeking a better and happier future. Each child has its own story, no matter how tragic it may seem at the present time- at least there is the certainty and confidence that now they can feel that they belong somewhere; hopefully, they will be able to have a better life, as they are entitled to it, just like any other human being.
His Eminence has known these kids since they were very little. Emotionally touched, he stayed with them until late in the afternoon playing, singing and walking around the full of green premises of the orphanage, in order to emphasize that the Orthodox Church is the Mother who protects, cherishes and helps all children, regardless of race or even religion. The kids, in order to please His Eminence, danced and sang Christian as well as traditional songs. A very emotional moment indeed was when a teenager talked on behalf of all the children, and in the end, said a strong improvised prayer, asking God to strengthen, protect and give health to the Bishop.
We are all well aware of the importance of water. Water gives man life. It is an element that is absolutely essential for human existence. In fact, there is no life without water. Perhaps, we have never been through difficult situations in the place where we live, and water has never been scarce for us. However, there are people on our planet who are deprived of this precious element.
As Christians, we know that God used water in many cases, especially during the time of creation, when He created the heavens and the earth, showing this way that water was an essential element among His creatures, which would live within this beautiful world. Of course, the issue starts getting complicated when we raise the question whether water is available everywhere, and even if there is water somewhere, whether it is accessible to everyone.
Here in Africa, things are very different. Many times we witness scenes that are really shocking. In many regions we see people of all ages, from little children to young men and women, carrying heavy jerry cans of water on their heads for long distances, even for several kilometres, in order to wash themselves, cook, or use it for other domestic purposes. This phenomenon, which seems to be unbelievable to us since we have plenty of this good available and take advantage of its invaluable use, definitely raises questions such as: How is it possible for these people to waste their precious time in order to fetch water to their homes?
When I first visited a primary school, I saw the children forming a long queue and carrying water on their heads, going up and down the place where there was a river. Being puzzled, I asked the headmaster.He answered that there was no running, drinkable water in their school. When, out of curiosity, I wanted to see what kind of water the little children were carrying, I found out that it was so dirty that it would infect them and I wondered whether it would be better for them to live without it. The headmaster, as if he was reading my mind, gave me the answer: “This is all that we’ve got. That’s why we use it. We have no other choice.” Naturally, after this incident the Holy Metropolis of Kenya was interested in eradicating this phenomenon and providing a proper solution. Through a pipe we transported clean water from the mountain spring so that these children could drink and wash themselves with pure, clean, safe water, without germs or waterborne diseases. This way, their suffering ended once and for all. Now they can enjoy it and use it without fear.
During the 1970s, when I was first traveling to the neighboring country of Uganda, I was informed that on my trip I had to take one or two bottles of water with me. I asked whether that water was intended for drinking or for any other use and I was informed that I would need it for drinking and washing. But I thought to myself, “Is there possibly any place where I could not be given some water?!” Anyway, I carried a bottle with me, and from the very first moment I realized that I had to keep it throughout my stay there for drinking or brushing my teeth. That bottle, then, was my salvation, as it was on that trip that I really appreciated the value of water. Since then, it has always accompanied me on my tours in the remote and arid areas of Kenya.
When studying and writing some historical information about the Maasai, it never even crossed my mind that in that tribe, so beautiful, important and archaic, I would discover such a shocking custom, which has been really puzzling me until today, whenever I remember their narrations.
In my research, I was impressed by the riches and culture of the Maasai, which we do not encounter in other tribes. I have given plenty of information about their life and activities, but when the question “What do they do with their dead people?” arose, I came up with an thunderous answer. 50 years ago, or maybe less, in the areas where the Maasai live, there was not even a question of burial.
– “So, what did the Maasai do with their dead?” I asked one of the tribal chiefs.
– “They threw the dead body into the forest hoping that it would be eaten by the hyenas and the other wild animals”, said the chief.
At that point I cut off our conversation and thought that it would be better to see things the way they are today, in order to avoid the traumatic experience caused by this information. Fortunately, with the arrival of Christianity, this custom ceased to exist.
For more than 30 years that they have known Orthodoxy, I have been given the chance to see and live many people’s death at close range.
It is a fact that the funeral customs differ from one tribe to another. Most tribes give the impression that death is an event of great joy. Lately, I have had the chance to attend the funeral of a young Maasai, who I happened to know and who was interested in studying at our Orthodox Patriarchal School, in next academic year. George was a young man of rare spiritual gifts, and I had already started thinking that one day that youth would become a good priest and would help the Maasai communities.
For unknown reasons, despite the fact that I had talked to him the day before he died, he did not reveal to me that there was something wrong with his health, and while I was on tour around west Kenya, his younger brother called me and announced to me that George had commended his spirit under unknown circumstances.
In order to be able to go to his funeral, I discontinued my tour and rushed to the place. Plenty of Maasai people had gathered there, hundreds of them, dressed in their traditional costumes, surrounded the place, particularly his peers. After we conducted the church service, there were speeches given by his relatives as well as by the village authorities.
The whole atmosphere was not at all joyous as is the case with other tribes, where they dance and sing ceaselessly for several hours. The Maasai were completely different. I noticed no cultural feast whatsoever with the usual traditional singing and dancing. On the contrary, the people were silent and watched everything with reverence, particularly the bishop’s memorial speech.
This was not the first time I had been given the chance to speak at a Maasai funeral. In the previous cases as well, the funeral was of young people too, therefore, I took advantage of the fact in order to emphasize on the great sensibility people usually have in such cases, knowing that a young person’s death is a definite cause of deep sorrow, not only for his peers and friends, but mostly for his family members.
This was also a chance, by making a brief flashback, to remind the older ones of their ancient custom, where without a second thought they threw the dead into the forest, so that it would be eaten by wild animals. Research carried out found that the Maasai tribe had been defying death since ancient times. That was the main reason why such a custom prevailed. Probably they came up with this solution so as not to think too much about it, or torture their mind, or even because they were reluctant to spend too much money. In fact, they were materialists and had no deep spiritual experience. Their spirituality could be characterized as rich only through their own reality; that is they gave the image of “the good savage”, as described by the 18th century writers, Rousseau and Voltaire.
Therefore, that day I wanted to convey the message of the resurrection of the dead because I knew that the funeral was attended by people of all ages and beliefs — baptized, non-baptized, educated, uneducated. Perhaps that day these people realized for the first time how important the human person is for Orthodoxy, since it recognizes the living image of God in it.
This was definitely a new hope for their own mentality and culture, which opened new horizons for their spiritual training and progress. We should not forget that we are talking about people who were inimical towards their fellow humans a few years ago, that is why anything that led to death cost them nothing.
What really impressed me was the order that prevailed, the solemnity and utter silence: no noise, no shouting, no dancing or singing. They quietly lowered the coffin of the dead man into the grave, covered it with that hard soil of the Maasai land and then, they walked away in silence.
After the funeral, we sat under a tree, where young people surrounded me and started asking me questions about the afterlife, the resurrection of the dead, as I described to them in my speech. They showed so much interest and understanding that I realized these people longed for catechism and for the depth of orthodox spirituality in relation to death. I thought that was the right moment, at least for the youths, to give this message of hope, eternity and expectation of the resurrection of the dead at the Second Coming of Christ.
May our efforts not only with the Maasai but also with the other tribes, manage to offer the real meaning of Orthodoxy to the souls of these much afflicted people, who long to meet and taste the springs and the ethos of our Orthodox faith as the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
On Sunday, June 22, 2014, HE the Metropolitan Makarios of Kenya consecrated a new church, dedicated to Apostle Peter, according to the will of American donors.
As you know, in this region mostly inhabited by Africans of the Turkana tribe, the Orthodox Church of Kenya has undertaken a huge missionary and evangelical work for years. His Eminence Makarios led this campaign of love and outreach, traveling from as long away as two days far to reach there, where the big lake Turkana lies, bordering with Somalia and Ethiopia. He performed the first group baptisms in the big lake and then he appointed as catechists some graduates of the Patriarchal School, who then were ordained and today they serve in various parts of the region. The four priests work very successfully, since they are pious, faithful, zealous, humble and enthusiastic; thus they were able during this period to make such a wonderful work; thus the parishes increased and the faithful multiplied all over Turkana region.
After the Sunday consecration, HE Makarios laid the cornerstone for the third church, dedicated to St. Nicholas. There operate primary schools and kindergartens and free food is provided to the children. Furtermore, there have been drilling projects and clean water is now provided to the inhabitants of the region. The Orthodox Christian Mission Center has decisively and exclusively undertook the development of the region. Groups of young adults and priests come regularly to catechize and help in the work of evangelizing the tribe.
All the priests of the region as well as others from America and Nairobi participated in the consecration. It was a special day for Turkana, since the church was built in the midst of nowhere, but there are many who have been exhaustively catechized and converted to Orthodoxy.
First Holy Communion
Flock of the church
The biggest problem plaguing this desert area is the constant drought. When His Eminence first visited the region to perform the first group baptisms, he wasn’t able to do so, because the lakes and rivers had dried out. In fact, once the people were in despair because of the aridity, he blessed the water and read special prayers. Then, God rained so much water that the lakes and rivers overflew and people asked the bishop to tell the God he believed in and had prayed to, Who listened to their prayers and did the miracle, to stop, because the place had gone flooded. “We asked for water but that’s too much”, they told. Blessed be the name of God!
Conclusively, this recent visit proved that our priests of the Turkana tribe work with exemplary zeal, deep faith and absolute devotion. The work of the Lord and Orthodoxy is promoted and the primitive tribe of Turkana is pronounced with the good news and a great joy.