News from Orthodox South Africa.
Here are a couple of items that caught my attention in the last few days, both pertaining to the Orthodox Church in South Africa, and both of interest to me and, I hope, to some readers of this blog.
The first piece of news comes from a friend and reader of this blog, Macrina Walker, who writes regularly at A Vow of Conversation and also does outstanding work as a craft bookbinder. For the better part of a year, Macrina has been commuting regularly between Cape Town and a small town two hours east called Robertson, where she has been working to establish an Orthodox house of prayer called Life-Giving Spring. As she announced recently on her blog, Macrina finished her work in Cape Town at the end of September and moved full-time to Robertson to focus on the development of Life-Giving Spring. Here is a bit more from Macrina on her work in Robertson, courtesy of the Life-Giving Spring website:
The Orthodox Church around here is still small and fragile and we have limited resources. Yet we are also immensely privileged and have a heritage that is largely unknown in this country. While the tasks ahead of us are great, we need to create the space to nurture an inner life, enter into a rhythm of prayer, and allow ourselves to be formed by the tradition of the Church. All Christian life is geared towards theosis, in which we become partakers of the Divine Nature, but this requires a process of purification, of self-knowledge and repentance, a learning of humility, so that we can reflect the transfiguring Light of Christ to those around us. The path to salvation that is offered to us in the Church exists to equip us with the tools that we need on this way.Macrina's work at Life-Giving Spring enjoys the blessing of the Greek Orthodox Archbishopric of Good Hope in Cape Town, but more support is needed. The Life-Giving Spring website has a page with information on how financial contributions may be made to provide for the physical needs of the house as well as to help build up the library. More fundamentally, I hope that readers will join me in supporting this developing initiative with their prayers.
Throughout the history of the Church there has been a movement to the desert in which our Fathers and Mothers in faith sought to distance themselves from the clamour of the world in order to seek God in truth, simplicity and prayer. This new venture is a small and tentative initiative to make something of this tradition available to those who seek God in our context. Although informed by the monastic tradition, it does not claim to be a monastery but is simply a small step whose future will become clear with time.
The second item that I'd like to share today comes from Orthodox Deacon Stephen Hayes, who blogs at Khanya and Notes from the Underground. Deacon Stephen and I enjoyed a somewhat spirited exchange two years ago regarding the legacy of the Bush-Blair war policy on Iraq, during which Deacon Stephen offered a line that still makes me smile: "I wouldn't presume to argue with a presumed Jesuit on moral culpability." I still read Khanya and Notes from the Underground with some regularity, and I was pleased to learn (via Khanya) that Deacon Stephen's home parish of St. Nicholas of Japan in Johannesburg is celebrating its 25th anniversary this weekend. Marking this milestone online, Khanya has a history of the parish which includes an explanation of why St. Nicholas of Japan was chosen as the patron of the community:
At the time that the Society of St Nicholas started most Orthodox Churches in South Africa were “community” churches, that is to say they were established and run by ethnic communities (kinotites) and they functioned more or less as ethnic chaplaincies, using the language of the particular ethnic community, such as Greek, Serbian etc.Later, Deacon Stephen notes the way in which the St. Nicholas community has assimilated liturgical practices from various corners of Orthodoxy, thanks to the multi-ethnic nature of the congregation as well as a succession of parish priests from different countries:
St Nicholas was intended to be a mission church, and multi-ethnic, with services mainly in English. St Nicholas of Japan was chosen as the patron saint because he was a Russian missionary who went to Japan, but started a Japanese Church, not a Russian one. So the aim of the society and the parish of St Nicholas was to be a South African Orthodox Church, which people of any ethnic background could join. . . .
[As parish priest] Fr Mihai also introduced some Romanian liturgical customs — I was ordained as deacon while he was in the parish, and learned the Romanian pattern of censing from him, or at least the Romanian modification of the Russian-American pattern established by Fr Chrysostom. Also, the Romanian version of the prayers at the Proskomide (Preparation Service) listed just about every possible way in which a person could die. I think nearly everyone was moved when he prayed, at the Great Entrance, "for those for whom no one is praying any more."My prayers today are for the clergy and people of St. Nicholas of Japan Orthodox Church in Brixton, Johannesburg as they celebrate twenty-five years as a community. Going forward as a church made up of people who come from different cultures but share a common faith, may they succeed in weaving a truly African Orthodoxy. AMDG.
As a multi-ethnic parish St Nicholas has been rather eclectic in such things, drawing on customs from different parts of the Orthodox world. On Holy Thursday and Good Friday we have had the Greek custom of the bringing out of the cross, and the taking down from the cross, which doesn’t seem to be part of Russian practice. And at Pascha we have the Russian style Easter kiss, which many of the Greek parishes seem to neglect. We have adopted the Serbian custom of the Slava, which seems to fit in very well with the understanding of the importance of ancestors in many parts of Africa. And perhaps from these different strands, a truly African Orthodoxy can be woven.