Life is best defined as a mystery; a wonderful mystery of God In this mystery, when we arrived by plane from Nadi of Vitilevu to Vanualevu, we had just spent four peaceful days at the mission center of Saint Paraskevi in the village of Sabeto with Archbishop Amphilochios, our Gheronda.
In His Eminence's presence one senses deeply the patient, fatherly love of our Heavenly Father. Naturally at the center vespers and "apodypno" (sometimes referred to as "compline) are said each evening and each morning orthros. We then share our breakfast, mostly in serene silence - accompanied only by the birds chirping and greeting the morning! Depending, after breakfast Gheronda might say an encouraging word to all or to each - and then perhaps a reading. One morning he read to us from St. Paul's letter to the Galatians; "...correct one another in a spirit of gentleness," and on other days he has shared readings from the "Gherontikôn" (Desert Fathers) about proper behavior becoming of monks (respectful shyness and avoiding vain curiosity) which he said applies to lay people as well) and about greed versus grace (pride versus humility).
Arriving in Labasa on Friday with hopeful and joyous anticipation by plane, we were heartily received by our father Barnava, formerly a Hindu. He and his family came into the Church at the kind invitation of Gheronda on a providential meeting five years ago. Father Barnava then felt Gheronda's holiness and Gheronda felt fr Barnava's humility. It was meant to be. The Church is alive and well now in Labasa and nearly 100 (men, women and children) have been baptized - including the 23 that we baptized on this trip. The baptized couples have also now been wed. We were received into fr Barnava's home with true, embracing philoxenía. A sumptuous meal of curry and dal (like Greek fakés but spicy) with heaps of steamed white rice and a refreshing cucumber salad was readily served us by Presvytera Maria. We then said vespers and retired to clean quarters which they had arranged for us. By the grace of God and with the Archbishop's blessing, on Friday morning the first fourteen were baptized - Oh! What joy!
Everyone took delight when little Eirini put up a bit of a fight! Preceding the baptisms of course, is the Service of the Catechumens - but actual catechism also was given: the meaning of doing one's cross; God from heaven sent into the world His Only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ - and we have protection on all sides by the Holy Spirit; the why of the three fingers together and the meaning of other two; Christ's own example and His commission that we baptize "all nations" («πάντα τα έθνη») and the continuous prayers that we all have of the Theotokos, our Pânaghía. Together we also enjoyed learning a song about her many names: "Pânaghía Despoina".
Saturday, the wonderful ecclesial climate of agape-love was not overtaken by the intense heat and high humidity, as the feared cyclone (named "Winston") was closing in, weaving in and out among the islands. That evening businesses closed, a curfew was imposed as the winds and rain raged! Everyone throughout the islands was in a prayerful mood. Needless to say, the other baptisms had to be postponed. It was said that this might be the biggest cyclone in their recent history. Saturday night the islands were hit. Intense prayer everywhere - as the strong winds and rain increased. Except for a few generators, all electricity was out. There was property and landscape damage everywhere, certain parts of the Fijian Islands were hit harder than others. Hundreds were injured. May our good and eternal God grant rest to the 21 persons who perished. On Sunday morning - true Resurrection! Labasa was hit less by Cyclone Winston. As God allowed and though the police were standing guard (keeping the curfew), we were allowed to drive to our Saints Nicholas and Athanasios Church. The newly illumined and many others who also were allowed out despite the curfew were in attendance. And we celebrated one of the most very thankful liturgies ever! After a light refreshment we then celebrated another 9 baptisms and two more weddings! By the patient and Apostolic work of Archbishop Amphilochios, the Church is growing here on the Fiji Islands and the kingdom of God is procuring more prospective members. Glory to God! Αμήν! Father Barnava leads the catechumens in the Symbol of Faith
~ Faithfully submitted with the blessings of Archbishop Amphilochios of New Zealand and Fiji, Tonga and Samoa, by Archimandrite Christodoulos, Ierokyrix of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Atlanta