Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. President, and members of the Missionary Organization ‘Protoklitos’
Hail to the Lord,
I thank God for giving me this opportunity to communicate with you and to inform you of the progress of the ecclesiastical body of the Madagascar Mission. Two and a half years have passed since, by the grace and mercy of God and the collaboration of the Venerable Principal and Spiritual Patriarchal Father, His Holiness Theodore II, I was placed by His Holiness in the vacant Bishopric of Madagascar, formerly the seat of His Grace Kyros Nektarios the first Bishop of Madagascar. Of course, my dreams and my plans were different, but as the aphorism goes: 'Man proposes but God disposes.'I am not looking to find an answer, but with the blessing of the Church, I take up the plough and look ahead with a view to cultivating as much as possible of our Lord’s uncultivated field in accordance with evangelical exhortation. The task is difficult, but the work is enjoyable. This is typified by many examples in the life of Christ the Sower himself, and in the life of His disciples as well.
What could be better than deeply ploughing the soil and eradicating small and large trees with roots tens of years and even centuries old that, unfortunately, in the 21st century have sprouted thorns and tackweed instead of fruit? Souls for which Christ himself was sacrificed, while they worship other gods far from the truth and the light - caught in the nets of Satan and his evil instruments. Then, after all the labour put into ploughing and sowing, you see the black angels wearing their white tunics chanting, ‘For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.’ (Galatians 3: 27) Hallelujah. Building on the foundations laid by of His Grace Kyros Nektarios, I shall continue with both the missionary and the charity work, with the grace of the Holy Spirit. Our work here, as before in the vast and distant subcontinent of India, has two strands: missionary work and philanthropic work. These tasks are interrelated to the extent that there can be no missionary work without philanthropic work and vice versa. Our visits to nearby and remote towns and villages are very frequent. There is fertile ground all around, and the seeds of the Gospel are sprouting everywhere.
Our journeys to remote settlements can take up to four days of travelling: walking by day and by night, we travel through endless forests, over mountains, and across deserts. We walk along rudimentary paths and numerous bypaths, and there is always the potential danger of losing our way. On our journeys, we meet neither humans nor even birds of the air. Our only hope and safety are our prayers and the help of God. On many occasions when we lost our way, God was there for us and out of nowhere there would appeared a guiding landmark to save us from our dire situation. The miracles of God are many and manifest in our struggles: all we require are the proper spiritual glasses to perceive them. Indeed, when we are cognizant of the hand of God leading us in the right direction, then our thanks are boundless. At last, after much suffering and adventures, we come to the edge of a village, where the young and the old have been waiting for us for hours.
What does the patience of these people hide? What can one conclude if one analyses it? Foremost, their humiliation and love, and their respect and appreciation of our person, and especially of the clergy, to whom both the young and the old run to kiss their hands. Then, singing, we joyfully head to the village church or to a tree that will host us during the catechism or homily. It is a blessed simplicity met only in the Gospel: as when Christ beckoned the people to sit down on the ground to hear His words of salvation. The story, as well as the Gospels, is timeless, but not to us - but to people who truly thirst for God and have been deprived of the spiritual and secular goods of this vain world. They are poor in material goods, but rich in spiritual goods and virtue, without themselves realizing it. The catechism begins with prayers and everyone recites aloud the 'The Lord's Prayer' (Mathew 6: 9 - 13). They pray from their hearts, and they cross themselves with sincerity. We convey to them the greetings and blessings of our Venerable Principal Patriarch, His Holiness Theodore II, for them to understand that our Church is not leaderless: first is Christ and then our Spiritual Father. Having become engaged in some event or Church celebration, we analyse the subject for a long time: using a few simple examples to make the speaker, as well as the preaching, understandable. Their silence is exemplary as is their attention. They pray for it never to end: they have yet to sate either their hunger or their thirst for it.
Their love for learning is enviable. Sometimes, the speaker stops and asks if they have questions, or if they understand everything. When we finish, we give them the usual gifts, which they await with great suspense; yet, the gifts are nothing more than one or two sweets each, a plastic icon, and a cross. However, their joy is much greater when they are dressed in white tunics waiting for their turn to be baptized. Following on, while holding candles, they chant: ‘For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.’ (Galatians 3: 27) 'Joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth.' (Luke 15: 7) Indeed, this joy is manifested externally, and their faces glow because they have become His children and by extension - citizens of the Kingdom of God. We often go to villages and conduct outdoor baptisms because of the lack of churches. Any place may become a church and such places are sanctified by the sacraments. Church membership is growing, and the presence of Orthodoxy is manifested by its neophytes and the establishment of new churches. The light of truth is dissolving the darkness of delusion and idolatry and conquering new ground. Christ says, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life,' (John 14: 6), and ‘he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness,' (John 8: 12). In actuality, people follow Christ without hesitation on the right path of Orthodoxy. Orthodox churches are slowly sprouting like mushrooms, and the pealing of the bells calls the faithful to prayers. Lastly, a sufficient number of churches have been built and are being built to cover a few of the many churchless areas that exist. Unfortunately, the long distances, and the difficult roads do not facilitate the rapid transportation of materials.
The building materials required to build the altar of God are transported slowly and steadily by the primitive means of oxen and carts. Here, there will be heard praise to the God of All; here, there will be performed the bloodless sacrifice of the Holy Communion, which will be given to our repentant brothers to eat and drink. There, prayers and supplications, problems and pains, as well as the demands of our poor and suffering brothers will be comforted. The Orthodox Church is the solace and hope not only of Christians, but also of non-Christians. How long have the young and the old been waiting for the dream to become a reality? Yet, Christ does not disappoint; he fulfils people's yearning desires. I cannot but mention the financial difficulties we face: our poor earnings are insufficient to cover the shortage of churches in various parishes. This is especially true of a remote place, which is situated in the NE of Madagascar (1,300km away from the capital), where there are a few Christians: here, due to a lack of land, we built a wooden churchyard in the courtyard of a Christian's house. They are emergency solutions, and we are trying to find a plot of land to rebuild the church. Nothing is easy here. Everything is done with a lot of effort, but they have the salt of the grace of God that makes their adversities flavoursome and palatable.
Our satisfaction is seeing altars raised to the glory of God and the sanctification of our faithful brothers. The candidates’ Seminary for priests and catechists works normally, and many have graduated. All of them have become clerics or lay catechists. Little by little, parishes lacking clerics are being manned, and the clerics are acquiring co-workers. Each priest has four or five parishes, which means it is difficult to visit them frequently and perform the Divine Liturgy. In these cases, the lay catechists assist in the gatherings of the faithful; they perform the morning or evening services, and they catechize the people. This year, the seminar had thirty-two candidates on a one and a half month course, who had come from different villages in order to graduate as catechists. On the last day, we had a celebratory meal with the students and the attendant clerics, teachers, and lecturers. There was a discussion and a speech, and we emphasized the obligations and responsibilities we have to God and the people. As it concerns our philanthropic work, all activities and projects are progressing satisfactorily.
The polyclinic offers its free medical services to the poor on a daily basis. From very early in the morning, people gather outside the door anxiously waiting their turn to see a medical worker or a doctor. Education in our Church is free of charge. Many villages lack primary schools because the state is unable to meet all these needs on a nationwide basis. In some villages, we have established primary schools so that poor children can attend free of charge. So far, eight primary schools are operating and two are under construction: a primary school and a middle school-secondary school complex. Every morning at the Mission, morning breakfast (milk and biscuits) is provided to between 500 to 600 poor children in our area: on public holidays and vacations, the number of children can exceed 700-800. This little bit of charity helps to alleviate the poverty and deprivation of these people. Very early in the morning, the children are assembled outside the door of the Mission, where they wait with anxiety for it to open so that they can have their milk. In this way, they don't go to school hungry. Many of them take milk home to drink later. On Monday, and indeed every Monday, food is distributed to 650 poor families. Here, the same picture is observed: poor people of various ages, impoverished, and dressed in rags, patiently waiting their turn.
Five kinds of food are distributed, which are the most basic foodstuffs for a family. What thoughts come to one’s mind when one sees these people bending over and picking up accidentally spilled foodstuff - grain by grain? Our wastefulness is unknown here. Luxury is also alien to these people. One faces only one thing, which is a guilty conscience for whatever we enjoy so richly by the providence of God – because we do not appreciate it. It is our great satisfaction to see these poor people leaving the Mission happy and satisfied having secured their weekly food. Then God and the angels, and the people rejoice, and we deeply glorify God for the blessings he gives us. The month of September heralds the beginning of the new school year, and many poor children need money to pay their school registration fees.
Education here is not free, and pupils have to pay the tuition fees for the whole school year; however, since they do not have the money, they turn to the Orthodox Church. We not only give them the tuition fees, but also the stationery they will need. It should be noted, the children benefiting from our Church's charity are many. In some cases, the Mission also covers the costs of hospitalization for poor people who are urgently in need of surgery as well as those who do not have the means to purchase medicines. We also financially help some poor elderly people who live alone, while in other cases we pay poor people's residential rents. Wherever you look, you will see scenes of destitution, misery, impoverishment, hunger, and sickness. The needs are many and varied.
Everywhere there are brothers of Jesus, who control us by their presence. The Gospel is timeless, but every epoch is identical: the same needs, and the same problems. Theory must be translated into action. Our participation is evident: missionary work and philanthropic work - two interrelated activities. They both demand sacrifices on our behalf. Just as Christ did not distinguish between them, but considered them complementary – so do we. Through this sacrifice, the seed of the Gospel germinates and becomes a tree, and people call us to baptize them, so the tree of Orthodoxy may grow in their village. Later, an orthodox church will be built with its bell tower, and the pealing of the bell shall announce aloud the presence of Orthodoxy in this small, remote village.
We ceaselessly glorify God for all this! The Spirit of God blows where IT wishes and transform and alters the souls of men. 'Joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth.' (Luke 15: 7) Along with our other requests in our prayers, let us add the 'Annunciation of the nations'. It is our duty. God Himself has asked and requested us to be His associates.