The tragic news that came this morning, on the feast-day of the Beheading of the Holy Forerunner John the Baptist, of the helicopter crash off the shores of the Holy Mountain, with its sixteen victims, among them Patriarch Peter of Alexandria and Bishop Nectarius of Madagascar, has shocked the whole Orthodox world.
I feel this shock in particular. From 1976 on, I had intended to work for the Orthodox Church in Nairobi in Kenya, but at the last moment was unable to do so. Having taken a temporary job as a gardener-chauffeur just outside London, I was about to buy a ticket to Nairobi with the money I had earned, when I heard about the untimely repose in 1977 of Archbishop-President Macarius of Cyprus, the great patron of Orthodox missionary work in Black Africa. All my plans stopped: it was not God's Will for me to go to Africa.
However, I have continued to follow developments in Africa, especially through a good Cypriot colleague. This was the then interpreter to the ever-memorable Archbishop Macarius of Cyprus. He is himself now an Archbishop and took the same name as his beloved Abba, the Very Reverend Macarius, Archbishop of Zimbabwe. These contacts were reinforced by those with Bishop Nectarius of Madagascar. In 1997, the then Fr Nectarius showed such faith in the work that we are trying to do in England, that he took out a ten-year subscription to Orthodox England. In our journal, we have always reported on the developments in his Diocese.
The following is the last communication received by me from dear Bishop Nectarius. May it be to the eternal memory of these contemporary apostles who have worked tirelessly to preach Christ to Black Africa, where there is now an Orthodox flock numbering millions. And may we indeed live to see the first African Orthodox Patriarch.
A Lesson for Europe: Historic News From Madagascar
The Orthodox Church was founded in Madagascar ten years ago by the grace of God and through the efforts of Bishop Nectarius Kellis. Prior to this, Bishop Nectarius was a Greek Orthodox priest in Australia. From a young age he had a great desire to see Orthodoxy spread and people of different colours and races find salvation in the One True Faith.
Fr. Nectarius arrived in Madagascar in July 1994. At that time there were no Orthodox among the native people and Orthodoxy was largely unheard of in Madagascar. In the capital city of Antananarivo there was one small Greek Orthodox church, which had been built in 1949 solely to serve the small Greek community that had existed at that time. With the decline of Greeks in Madagascar over the years, the church had been closed since 1964. The first Divine Liturgy since the church's closure was served by Fr.Nectarius on this first visit to Madagascar.
Not many Greeks participated in the Divine Liturgy, but most importantly it attracted the attention of three Malagasy natives, who out of interest came to learn about Orthodoxy. It was then that Fr. Nectarius began his ministry. The mission was established and took root in Madagascar, progressing across the island nation, particularly in the southern and north-western provinces and in the central Antananarivo area. The mission's objectives have always been related to evangelisation and not, as amongst sects, towards proselytism. For this reason, from the outset, the natives sought to find out about the Orthodox Church. They often walked hundreds of miles from their villages to reach the priest from whom they could receive guidance and instruction as catechumens.
On the 23rd of September 1997, Madagascar was separated from the Archdiocese of Zimbabwe and was made a separate Diocese of the Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa. Two months later Bishop Nectarius was consecrated to the episcopate by Pope Petros VII, assisted by various Metropolitans of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Alexandria. On the 10th May 1999 the Orthodox Diocese of Madagascar was officially recognised by the Malagasy government. This was a turning-point in the history of the Mission, further facilitating its spread across the island.
Today, the Orthodox Diocese of Madagascar includes 63 Orthodox parishes, 13 native priests, a native nun, a novice monk, many catechists and approximately 16,000 native Orthodox Christians and catechumens. Apart from its evangelisation, the mission in Madagascar has always been dedicated to philanthropic projects. These have included visits to the Capital's prisons to provide Christmas and Easter lunches to captives, as well as visits to leprosy colonies and various hospitals to distribute clothing to the sick. The mission has also come to the aid of many suffering Malagasy people at times when the nation has experienced great famines, devastating cyclones and political upheaval.
It must also be said that the Orthodox Mission plays an active role in the promotion of education and health. The Diocese has built eight primary schools in areas which are particularly isolated and where children otherwise remain uneducated. In addition to this, the Mission seeks to care for some 300 orphans, providing them with financial support for schooling and medical expenses, as well as regular food rations and clothing. The Mission has also built a large modem medical centre which provides services in areas such as pathology, dentistry, ophthalmology, gynaecology and pharmacy. The Mission's medical centre, which is situated in the capital city, is of excellent standard and one of the best clinics offering health care in the country.
The year 2004 was especially memorable, with the first official visit of the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria Petros VII This occurred from 2nd to 16th February 2004. He was welcomed at the airport by members of the Malagasy government as a Head of State and thousands of native Orthodox brethren. Despite his late evening arrival, many people from parishes far and wide had travelled on foot from their villages to greet him.
On the 3d of February 2004 Patriarch Petros celebrated a service of thanksgiving in the Diocesan Cathedral of the Dormition in Antananarivo. A reception was then held in the adjacent hall where all were able to greet him personally. On the afternoon of the same day, the Patriarch visited the Minister of Foreign Affairs and was then received by the Prime Minister of Madagascar at his residence.
From the 4th to 6th February 2004, His Beatitude visited the State of Fianarantsoa, where he met the parishioners of Sts Peter and Paul church. The Patriarch was also received by the Premier of the State of Fianarantsoa, the mayor and many other government dignitaries. On his return to Antananarivo he visited the newly established parish of Antsirabe, where he was met by the parishioners and Sunday school children, who performed traditional songs and dances.
On the 7th February 2004, the Patriarch inaugurated the mission's medical centre in Alasora, and blessed the foundation stone of the Orthodox Seminary of St John the Theologian. He also inspected the mission centre in Alasora and the Bishop's residence. The day concluded with a reception attended by various ministers, ambassadors and consuls. In the evening the Patriarch met all the priests of the Diocese in the offices adjacent to the Cathedral in Behoririka. He was informed about the work being carried out by the priests in the mission, whilst also giving advice and suggestions on how the mission might progress further. He also met the students of the Seminary who come from various areas of Madagascar and are studying for the priesthood or as catechists.
The 8th of February 2004 was a historic day for the Mission. His Beatitude celebrated the first ever Patriarchal Divine Liturgy in the Cathedral of Antananarivo. Many invited official guests were present, including government ministers, ambassadors and consuls. This Liturgy was broadcast across the nation on government television and radio stations. After the Divine Liturgy the mission provided a lunch in his honour.
The following day His Beatitude departed for the southern state of Tulear. He was welcomed at the airport by the Premier, representatives of the army, the mayor and other government officials. The programme for Tulear was very eventful. After he arrived, a service of thanksgiving was held at St. Andrew's Cathedral and then all the official invited guests accompanied His Beatitude to a formal lunch. In the evening he visited the parish of the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple in Tsongobory. Here, the Sunday School children performed traditional songs and dances in welcome. On the next day he blessed the foundation stone of the Church of the Annunciation which is next to the Diocesan Centre and residence. In the afternoon, the foundation stones of a technical school for young girls and a small orphanage were also blessed.
On the 11th of February 2004, the Patriarch visited the parishes and primary schools of the villages of Ankiliberengy, Sakavilany, and Andranovory. Each village warmly greeted His Beatitude with traditional songs and dances. The following Thursday, he returned to Antananarivo and in the evening he was received by the Ambassador of Egypt at her residence. On Friday 13th of February the Patriarch made a courtesy visit to the President of the Republic of Madagascar, Mr. Marc Ravalomanana. In this meeting he exchanged gifts with the President and discussed various issues concerning the mission in Madagascar.
On Saturday 14th of February 2004, the Patriarch and his entourage travelled to Mantasoa. On this day he blessed the foundation stone of an orphanage which will be the largest and most modern in all Madagascar. On the Sunday before his departure, the Patriarch opened the Seminary chapel of St. John the Theologian in Alasora. This was followed by the Divine Liturgy. Many people gathered to take part in the special service. After the Liturgy, everyone had the opportunity to make their farewells. The children of the Alasora parish performed traditional farewell songs and dances. Afterwards, a formal farewell lunch was held at the residence of the Consulate General of Greece, where the Patriarch had the opportunity to meet with the members of the Greek community of Antananarivo.
The visit ended on Monday the 16th February. Many awaited the Patriarch at the airport to wish him farewell. His visit was a blessing for all Orthodox. Bishop Nectarius, the clergy all the faithful gave their heartfelt thanks for the blessings, encouraging words, advice and joyful presence of His Beatitude on this first historic visit to Madagascar. We pray for the future progress of the mission and remain ever grateful to God for its many achievements in the ten years since it began.