20 March 2014

Moved to a new site!

Dear friends throughout the world,

I'm officially moving a my new missionary blog at Mayan Orthodoxy. There will be many, many more posts about Orthodoxy in Guatemala and Southern Mexico as I begin my long-term mission work in the Mayan Orthodox communities. Please keep me in your prayers, and please continue following my steps over at the new blog (see above link). You can subscribe to the new blog by email through this link: subscribe.

By the way, in addition to housing my blog, Mayan Orthodoxy also has many more pages of info about Orthodoxy in Guatemala, as well as photos and more. To learn more about the Orthodox movement in Guatemala, I recommend checking out the FAQ page on the website.

Much love to you all!

17 February 2014

Fr. Andres Giron—memory eternal!

Note: This post was originally located on the author's seminary blog and is now reposted here on Mayan Orthodoxy for background info.

Many of you have been keeping Fr. Andres in your prayers, along with all of the people in his flock in Guatemala and Southern Mexico. Thank you for your prayers. With a heavy heart, I now give you this final update. Fr. Andres passed away in the Lord yesterday morning in the hospital in Guatemala City. His loss will reverberate throughout the hundreds of Mayan communities that he upheld as a shepherd and father. Thousands of people have lost their beloved leader who fought for their most basic needs, such as land and food, and guided them towards Christ. I am so thankful that I was blessed to know this man of the people, and I am heartbroken to lose him. 

While this will be a sorrowful time and a difficult transition for the people living in Guatemala and Mexico, we also must accept that it is the will of God. So many people have been praying for God's will in the time of Fr. Andres' sickness, and God has chosen to receive Fr. Andres into his arms in the blessed hope of eternal life in His Kingdom. I am confident that Fr. Andres will always stand before God in tears and supplication for the native people he loved so dearly. Please stand there with him, before God, by praying for the Mayan Orthodox people who have lost their leader. And pray for the repose of the soul of Fr. Andres Giron. What a man, so full of love and joy. May his memory be eternal!

Two articles from Guatemalan news sources concerning Fr. Andres' passing:
"Fallece sacerdote Andrés Girón" on Prensa Libre
"Muere sacerdote Andrés Girón por complicaciones médicas" on Soy 502

07 February 2014

Stand with the Guatemalan Church in Fervent Prayer

Note: This post was originally located on the author's seminary blog and is now reposted here on Mayan Orthodoxy for background info.

Dear friends,

This post comes after a long pause, but I write it with an urgent request for prayer.

As most of you know, I spent summer of 2012 living in Guatemala with the Mayan Orthodox Christians in the mountains. I fell in love with the leader of the Mayan communities: Fr. Andres Giron. This man has spent his life fighting for the rights of the Mayan natives, traveling by car and by foot through horrible mountain roads to visit the villages, and even facing assassination attempts for his defense of the native people. He is a father to thousands of natives, and he became like a father to me during my months in Guatemala. I cannot describe this man's love, which shines with joy through every wrinkle on his weathered face.

To my deep sadness, I recently received news that Fr. Andres is sick. I do not want to go into details in a public post, but I am begging you to keep this incredible man in your prayers. Please, pray fervently for Fr. Andres that God will heal him, and pass this prayer request on to others who can stand with the Mayan Orthodox Christians in prayer.

Thank you so much!

Fr. Andres Giron:

03 April 2013

New Events & Resources in Spanish-Language Orthodoxy

Note: This post was originally located on the author's seminary blog and is now reposted here on Mayan Orthodoxy for background info.

Over the past year or so, this blog has given lots of overage to the explosive growth of Orthodoxy in Guatemala. With that growth comes the possibility that Orthodox Christianity will blossom not only in Guatemala but also throughout Latin America, and among Spanish speakers living in the United States. There are a number of new events and resources that are, little by little, helping to make that continuing growth a reality.

Very recently, the Orthodox Christian Network (OCN) launched a Spanish-language version of its flagship internet radio program "Come Receive the Light." Each episode of the new Spanish-language version, called "Vengan a Recibir la Luz," will feature talks by Fr. David Wooten and Fr. Aristidis Arizi, will include hymns and Scripture readings in Spanish, and will also feature a sermon by Fr. Michael Marcantoni. Father David Wooten is a former Spanish teacher who now serves a parish in Miami that is entirely Spanish-speaking. The Rev. Aristidis Arizi also serves in Miami and spent most of his youth in Panama. The Rev. Michael Marcantoni is originally from Puerto Rico and currently serves in Raleigh, North Carolina. Working together, they will help to increase the online resources for Spanish speakers, which already include many resources by Fr. Antonio Perdomo, such as his two podcasts on Ancient Faith Radio: Glorificando a Dios Diariamente and Toda Gloria a Dios. More information on the launch of "Vengan a Recibir la Luz" can be found here.

This coming May, the Antiochian Orthodox cathedral in Los Angeles will sponsor a short retreat for Orthodox Spanish Speakers to help them grow in knowledge of their faith. St. Nicholas Cathedral in Los Angeles has a long history of Spanish-language ministry, and every Spring/early summer they sponsor a Spanish-language retreat on a different topic within Orthodox Christianity. More information is forthcoming.

This coming July, a small mission team will be formed to minister to native Aztec Orthodox in San Esteban, Mexico. The inspiration for the mission team comes from a recent exploratory trip that occurred in the region in January of 2013 (more info here). This summer's small mission team will be composed of people who are fluent or near-fluent in Spanish (essential for this region of Mexico), and will aim to present the Orthodox Christian faith in a teaching capacity. For more information, please contact Fr. Ted Pisarchuck.

Finally, OCMC is sponsoring a short-term mission team to Guatemala for this coming summer. OCMC has sponsored a Guatemala team for many years, sending short-term missionaries to the Orthodox orphanage in Guatemala City, but this is the first time that the team will instead be traveling to the Mayan communities in the highlands of Guatemala. The team will work in the same communities that I visited last summer and featured in this blog. More info is available here.

I pray that more events and resources will continue to spring up to meet the need for Spanish-language Orthodox ministry, both in Latin America itself and right here in the United States.

22 December 2012

The Eye of the Storm: Celebrating Christmas after Sandy Hook

Many people have remarked on how terrible it is that the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School took place during Advent, leading up to Christmas. Such violence and loss of life is unimaginable at any time of the year. But now especially, when we sing "all is calm, all is bright," how can we pretend to forget the violence and darkness that surround us?

Edmund Steimle reflects on this question in his incredible sermon for Christmas Eve, called "The Eye of the Storm." The sermon was written several decades ago, but his answer is a powerful message for us today in the wake of Sandy Hook. "And so tonight," says Steimle, "you and I come here, not wanting, I hope, to block out or forget the storms around us. Because if we do, we miss the whole point."

The Eye of The Storm
by Edmund Steimle

A Christmas Eve sermon on Luke 2:1-20:

I think I shall never forget the time when hurricane Hazel, back in the fifties, was sweeping through eastern Pennsylvania and hit Philadelphia, where we were living at the time, head on. Unlike most hurricanes, which lose much of their force when they turn inland, this one hit with all the fury of a hurricane at sea: drenching rains, screaming winds, trees uprooted, branches flying through the air, broken power lines crackling on the pavements. It was frightening. Then suddenly there was a letup, a lull. Shortly all was still. Not a leaf quivered. The sun even broke through briefly. It was the eye of the storm. “All was calm, all was bright.” And then all hell broke loose again: branches and trees crashing down, the screaming winds, the torrential rain, the power lines throwing out sparks on the pavement. But that was a breathless moment—when we experienced the eye of the storm.

Christmas Eve is something like that, like the experience of the eye of the storm. At least the first Christmas night. So Luke reports: “And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” The Christmas crèche and the Christmas pageantry picture it so today: “All was calm, all was bright.”

Mary . . . resting now, after the pain of the contractions and the delivery without benefit of anesthetic.

The child . . . sleeping peacefully in the swaddling cloths and the straw. At least we like to think him so. “Silent night, holy night.” Of course, maybe his face was all contorted reds and purples with the frantic bleating of a newborn child, fists clenched, striking out at this new and strange environment after nine months in the warmth and security of the womb. But no. Let's picture him sleeping, exhausted perhaps from his frantic protests. “All is calm, all is bright. . . . Silent night, holy night.” The eye of the storm.

For make no mistake, he comes at the center of a storm—both before and after the birth. The storm before: From devastation of a flood expressing the anger of God with a people whose every thought and imagination was evil, to his anger at the golden calf, to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Exile in Babylon, to Jonah desperately trying to run away from this God, to the narrow legalism of the Pharisees, to the oppression of the Roman occupation. He comes at the eye of the storm before.

And what followed this “silent night, holy night”? The storm after: the massacre of the innocent male children two years old and under by Herod in his frantic effort to deal with the threat of this child sleeping in the manger. And as he grew up, his family thought him a little bit nuts, his hometown neighbors threw him out of the synagogue when first he tried to preach. Then the sinister plots to do away with him, the angry mob crying for his blood on that first Good Friday, and the end? Death to the child.

What we tend to forget on Christmas is that these lovely stories of the birth—the manger, the shepherds, the angel chorus in the night sky, the wise men following the star and presenting their rare and expensive gifts—are not children's stories. If you think it takes children to make a Christmas, then you don't belong in church tonight. These are adult stories for adult Christians. Oh, let the children delight in them of course—and get out of them what they may. But they were written down by adult members of the early Christian community for other adult members of the Christian community.

Moreover, they are postresurrection stories, that is, they grew up in the tradition after the resurrection. Who knows where they came from? They came into being in the years following the resurrection as negro spirituals came into being, as mature Christians pondered the mystery of the beginnings of this life whom they had seen die and rise again from the dead. They knew about the storm which preceded the birth. And they knew even more—first hand—about the storm that followed. They were not carried away by “the romantic fantasies of the infancy.” Like one standing in the eye of a hurricane, they were aware of the storm that went before and that followed.

And so tonight you and I come here, not wanting, I hope, to block out or forget the storms around us. Because if we do, we miss the whole point. We too are aware tonight of the storms which surround this “silent night, holy night.”

We are aware of the confusion and destruction around us in the world. The violence in the Middle East, southern Africa, and Northern Ireland, the hunger in the Third World. Or closer to home, the muggings on the streets, the unemployment (a grim and passive kind of violence), the ghettos, the injustice to the blacks, the inner cities gutted by poverty and inflation and the massive indifference—sloth is the old-fashioned word for it—on the part of so many of us who do not live in the gutted inner cities. Moreover, we are aware of the precarious future which haunts all of us. People are dying this Christmas night as people die on every night. As one day, one night, you will die and I will die. And before that the inner loneliness which no one of us can entirely shake, and the specter of hopelessness which haunts us—for peace in the world, for the end of inflation, for families breaking up, for our nations as they drift along often so aimlessly, and for ourselves and our future.

The point is, we don't forget all this on Christmas Eve—or block it out. Like a person standing in the eye of a hurricane, we are aware of it all. If you want to forget it all tonight—OK! Go home and listen to Bing Crosby dreaming of a white Christmas. And there's a place for that—but not here!

For what other message on Christmas Eve is worth listening to? What peace? What hope? If it is simply a forgetting—when we can't forget, really—then we're reducing the Christmas story to a bit of nostalgia and indulging ourselves in the sentimental orgy which Christmas has become for so many, or we are reduced to the deep depression which grips so many others on Christmas Eve.

No. The Bible—praise God—tells it like it is. They saw the birth of the child as the eye of the storm—a peace which passes all understanding because it is not a peace apart from conflict, pain suffering, violence, and confusion; that's the kind of peace we can understand all too well. But it's a peace like the peace in the eye of a hurricane, a peace smack in the middle of it all, a peace which indeed passes all understanding.

So in this hour, this night, worshiping at the manger of the child when “all is calm, all is bright,” we rejoice in the hope born of the conviction that the storm, the destruction, the violence, the hopelessness, does not have the last word. But God—who gives us this “silent night” in the middle of the storm—he has the last word.

So rejoice . . . and sing the carols . . . and listen to the lovely ancient story and light the candles . . . and be glad—with your families, your friends, with the God who is above all and through all and in you all, who comes to us miraculously in this child, this night, when “all is calm, all is bright.”

Take from: Thomas Long and Cornelius Plantinga, eds.,  A Chorus of Witnesses (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994) 237-242.

16 November 2012

Fr. Andres, leader of Guatemalan Orthodox, visits North America

Note: This post was originally located on the author's seminary blog and is now reposted here on Mayan Orthodoxy for background info.

Fr. Andres, the charismatic leader of the new Guatemalan Orthodox Church, touched down in Boston last week to spread the word about the Guatemalan Church. He spent a week at Holy Cross/Hellenic College (Nov 5-9), where he spoke at the annual Missions Week, organized by the Missions Institute. He was accompanied by Fr. John Chakos, the O.C.M.C. missionary priest who is helping to catechize the newly chrismated Orthodox in Guatemala. Fr. Andres and Fr. John delivered a public lecture on Nov. 8th about the Guatemalan Church, entitled "Mission to Guatemala: Receiving the Mayan People Into the Orthodox Church."

You can view the full lecture and Q and A session online. Take a look below:


The Presentation

The Q and A Session

14 August 2012

A closer look at life & prayer in Guatemala

Note: This post was originally located on the author's seminary blog and is now reposted here on Mayan Orthodoxy for background info.

Greetings from the United States of America! After two very full months in Guatemala, this gringo has finally returned home.

Waving goodbye just before leaving

I've had a chance to look back on my last eight weeks abroad, and I'd like to offer a couple more reflections on the Church in Guatemala. My last post concluded the short chronicle covering Metropolitan Athenagoras' historic first visit to the parishes of the Guatemalan Orthodox Church. Now I would like to give you a closer look at daily life and prayer in the Guatemalan Church.

Daily Life
After finishing my work as the metropolitan's handy photographer, I began a one-month stay with Fr. Evangelos, the priest who oversees dozens of parishes in Guatemala and México. This gave me a nice taste of daily life in Guatemala and also a chance to see some beautiful sights. We spent a lot of time with Fr. Evangelos' extended family (he himself is unmarried), relaxed in his house in Aguacate, took a few trips to gorgeous rivers and springs, and enjoyed some delicious Guatemalan food. Here are a few sights from life with Fr. Evangelos and his family:

[Click on any photo to enlarge]

Eating in Santa Cruz de la Quiché with Fr. Evangelos
and his mother

Tasty tostada

Traveling with Fr. Evangelos and company

Río Lagartero, near Nentón

Río Lagartero

Banana leaves are huge! Some are even bigger.

On our way to the Laguna Brava, where we
slept for one night and enjoyed the gorgeous
water. We rode there on horseback.

Paddling across the Laguna Brava

Fr. Evangelos' house in Aguacate

A typical breakfast: tortillas, beans, eggs, and coffee

Many parishioners are very poor, so they bring corn as a
donation to Fr. Evangelos. We used the corn to make different
food items from scratch. Here I am helping to make pan de
elote, a dense, sweet, and creamy corn bread.

Mixing the batter for pan de elote

Pan de elote: the finished product!

A yummy fruit called lichas in Guatemala. They are also named
rambutans, and I believe they originally came from Asia.

Lichas are a fun fruit to eat! They are also great for gringo
travelers because they're cheap and have a thick skin that keeps
them free from any kind of contamination. The texture is sort of
like a grape and the flavor is like a mix between grapes and
plums. Watch out for pits!

Traveling from the mountains to the Pacific Coast

Ahoy from the shore of the Pacific!

 Prayer and Worship

It wasn't just fun and games with Fr. Evangelos; we also did plenty of work! When it comes to his efforts as a priest, Fr. Evangelos is a workhorse, spending week after week on the road trying to care for his far-flung parishes. I traveled with him and assisted him during the services. Also, knowing that I wanted to practice Spanish, Fr. Evangelos would frequently put me on the spot to force me to learn more. He would unexpectedly ask me to say some words to the congregations during the services, and he also had me deliver two separate hour-long presentations to the catechists and youth leaders in México. Because I was "in action" much more during these activities, I don't have as many pictures, but here are a few:

A wedding at Fr. Evangelos' parish in Aguacate. Weddings
are done once or twice a month and often with multiple couples
at once. On this day there were four couples, all of them
appearing to be in their teens.

"Our Wedding"

A fitting visual metaphor: marriage needs to be lifted up by
Christ, the Church, Our Lady and the Saints.

This juxtoposition sums up where the Guatemalan Orthodox
Church is right now: Fr. Evangelos censes during the Divine
Liturgy while the band plays loudly behind him.

Baptism in the church at Inchehuex

One of the "vigil" services, not to be confused with Eastern
Orthodox all-night vigils. These vigils are four hours of loud
Christian music, clapping, occasional dancing, and a passionate
gospel message delivered by Fr. Evangelos in the middle of
the service.

Meeting with the leaders of the Mexican communities. This is
where I delivered my presentations to the same group
of leaders, instructing them on some basic Orthodox practices,
such as the sign of the cross, venerating icons, etc.

In addition to traveling with Fr. Evangelos, I also spent some time traveling with Fr. Blas to an area of México where he serves in a few communities. Fr. Blas is one of the three married Guatemalan priests, and he lives close to Fr. Andres in Escuintla. He and I traveled to Toquián, México, which is right next to the Mexican half of the volcano Tacaná (the border goes across the volcano). The two parishes that we visited were poorer than most of the other parishes that I have seen. Here are some pictures from our visits:

The sign for the first parish that we visited

The community is very poor, possessing only this
makeshift hut for a church.

A moment of personal prayer when everyone speaks out their
own words at the same time

House blessing

Another four-hour vigil with music, clapping, plenty of
excitement, and a message at the end

Walking to the second parish

Our charcoal came from someone's wood cooking stove

It was more difficult to get these coals going
than the synthetic stuff that's common in the

The parish

Songs at the end of Liturgy

That wraps up this mostly-visual post on daily life and prayer in the Guatemalan Orthodox Church. I pray that many of you will get a chance to see these things for yourself! The Guatemalan Orthodox could use your presence, your love, and especially--whether you travel to Guatemala or not--your prayers. Thank you all for keeping them in mind and heart!