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"My Grenada" ‒ Part I ‒ From the Diary of Hieromonk Ambrose (Sitalo)

I would like to offer selected memoirs from my diary from July to December 2019 and tell about the development of the missionary parish in the Caribbean, where the Lord judged me to serve. I hope it will give answers to some questions and become an inspiration to Orthodox Christians for missionary work.

I accepted the leadership of the Christian community at the request of about 50 Orthodox people in Grenada, which they sent on February 10, 2019 to His Eminence Hilarion, Metropolitan of Eastern America & New York, First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad. In response to the petition of the faithful, Vladyka ordained me to the priesthood at the Manhattan Synodal Cathedral in New York City and, after completing the prescribed practice at Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, [NY ‒ ed.] blessed me to go to the flock. He also gave me a blessing to visit neighboring islands and to take a pastoral care of local Orthodox Christians in need of Church and a priest.

I had been on the islands before as a helper, formally being a reader at Moscow region Diocese. Now, for the first time, I came as a rector of a new parish.

What can bind a native of the Middle Russian chernozem strip, the place of service of St. Joasaph of Belgorod, and volcanic islands with evergreen forests of a humid tropical climate, on which there is never winter? Is there anything in common between the famous Soviet poem "My Grenada"[1] (1926) about the Spanish province of Granada and the rusting An-2 at the abandoned Pearls Airport of the South Caribbean island? Will the former British colony accept from someone like me today something different from the Marxism-socialism, weapons, and ammunition that were used during days of the legendary Maurice Bishop[2]?

To understand this, I went to the [Grenada National] Museum, which gives access to the history of Grenada. The idolatry of the Indians was replaced on the island by the struggle between the French and English religions ‒ Catholicism and Anglicanism. Only here I learnt about the Shango religion, which is mentioned in the encyclopedia[3] as a widespread religion. Shango, also known as Orisha, is a syncretic religion brought from the African Yorba tribe (West Africa) during slavery. The deity is Orisha, whose power is represented by the images of thunder and lightning.

In Grenada, in comparison with official statistics on the distribution of inhabitants by religious affiliation, it seems to be more Rastafarian in way of life[4]. Interesting was the rack of small books by local authors, from which one can understand how they perceive their country. The ancient exhibit item shows how much easier life is for us now, and the amount of time that we can devote to prayer.

The capital of Grenada is named after Saint George the Trophy-Bearer (Saint George’s); our parish is also in his honor.

Upon arrival in Grenada, I settled in the heart of the island at the Grenada Agrocomplex charity farm, where they grow vegetables and give most of them to an orphanage and a home for the disable. During this time, I managed to get to know the staff more closely and talk about faith with them. Some of them would like me to baptize their children and marry them. They expressed their concerns about my license [to perform weddings] which is not yet ready; even though the community is already state-registered.

July 9th, 2019

In the streets, it seems like those who were simply curious about my appearance (a white-looking man with a beard in a cassock and a long silver cross around his neck) pay less attention to me. However, the conversations with those who were really interested in my religion became longer and more meaningful. This is not the first time I have met people in the Caribbean who forced me to admit that ‘Christ was not a white person.’ I have been exposed to the idea that the ‘first people were black and that now the real Jews are black, therefore Christ was black; white people painted him white to make the black bow down to the white. And all the elites know this, but keep it a secret.’

I found a response to the conspiracy theory that world elites are more at odds with each other than are in conspiracy, therefore they can hardly keep a common secret. Regarding whether Christ was white, as I already know, I quote from the Prologue[5] for June 29/July 12 that Christ was swarthy ("Apostle Peter versus Simon Magus" attributed to the Holy Apostle of 70 Linus.). However, another historian, St. Nicephorus Callistus, points out that, "His complexion was almost wheat-colored when the wheat begins to ripen." In the future whenever I encounter that idea, I think I would indicate that the fact that the Lord was of a certain race does not introduce racism; just as the fact that He was a man does not denigrate women in any way. In response to the assertion that the real Jews are black, I think one can simply notice that they, firstly, they do not call themselves Jews; and secondly, those who do call themselves that, do not recognize blacks as Jews; and thirdly, most importantly, the prophecy about the gathering of the Jews after being scattered in the Holy Land was fulfilled now in the 20th century by the modern inhabitants of the holy land (the same white people). I would like to add that the meaning of the conversion of the Gentiles to Christianity is not serving the whites, but rather, in order to arouse jealousy of God among the Jews.

They still ask me in the street: "Are you a Jew?" I reply yes, in a spiritual sense, because the name "Jude" means "praise the Lord," and I praise the Lord Jesus Christ.

July 17th

In the evening, I phoned a longtime acquaintance who told me in confidence that his neighbor is engaged in magic and flies at night (a soucouyant[6]). I have long advised him to pray the Jesus Prayer. This time he asked me to do some special service for him. I suggested blessing the water as I myself needed some, and we agreed to meet the next day in Grenville, at a store which belongs to an Orthodox Syrian. I just wanted to consecrate more water in order to bless by sprinkling the place for the Liturgy.

When we met, I initially explained that he should have faith in the Church, to whose help he should seek consolation.

I informed him that we would bless the holy water only for members of the Church, and that I could give it to him, provided his intention to be baptized. He agreed. After the blessing of the water, I explained how to utilize and treat the holy water with reverence.

A young employee from the store asked me to bless her cross. She revealed that yesterday she was thinking about blessing it. But coincidently I was there to bless it. At that time, I decided that I would bless her cross at her request, and the next time I will first propose conversion to Orthodoxy. After the blessing, we continued our discussion. She asked questions about dreams and sorcerers.

Immediately after the conversation, I bought a fan on credit to dry Russian vestments. In our rainy season, nothing really dries out, worse than that, it gets the smell of mold.

July 20th. Charity farm.

There was a debate about the veneration of icons, in particular, of my pectoral cross. In addition to the usual proof-points for veneration of holy Church objects[7], I said, "You don’t understand why we venerate holy objects in Church, but look, you are wearing your bracelets and they are looking like handcuffs made by evil slave traders, and it is a symbol of liberation for you in memory of the slavery of your ancestors and as a reverence for their stamina, which for you or for some may even become a religion and a subtle idol of worship."

I spent time again among those who considered themselves Jews (possibly the distant descendants of King Solomon and Queen of Sheba in Ethiopia).

July 21st

On certain Sundays, we would congregate for Liturgy at an Arabic restaurant owned by Aziz. Today I arrived early, but Aziz opened at his usual time, at 9:15 AM. Parishioners were expected to arrive by 10 AM. I did not thoroughly decorate the place with icons for the sake of saving time, I only sprinkled it with the holy water then I began the entrance prayers. When they arrived, I asked them to read prayers for the Holy Communion. The service of the Third and the Sixth Hours had to be slightly shortened. I delivered a small sermon and I mentioned that we as parishioners need to pray for the construction of the Church.

"It is like the Kingdom of Heaven: if we do not ask for it, we will be strangers to it, and if we receive a church we had not been praying for, then we will not feel belonging."

In total, there were 8 members, all of whom took Holy Communion. Everything was finished by 12 noon. Unfortunately, no one wanted to stay for lunch. There was 110 EC in the donation cup.

I was very elated to serve Liturgy after such a long break on the new altar in the new consecrated vestments and especially to take Communion. It seemed that this time, I didn’t have any prayer errors. A prayer was offered in clouds of incense during the Cherubic Hymn: I read the Secret Prayer in Church Slavonic in an undertone, and the parishioners, after reading the Cherubic prayer, enthusiastically began to read the 50th Psalm (or the 51st in western numeration) in English and Arabic using bilingual books.

I hope to fix that when I have singers.

July 26th. Evening at the farm.

I was invited to an event on Friday evening, to which I came with the Holy Scripture [in hand].

In response to my suggestion to read the Holy Scriptures, one of the honored guests from Ghana approached me and he said that in his opinion, my idea of reading the Holy Scriptures is untimely which juxtaposed the event. He quoted a verse from the book of Ecclesiastes, "A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance" (Eccl. 3: 4).

I replied, "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine" (II Tim. 4: 2).

The guest’s response was interesting. He said that Timothy was not a prophet, and the Lord does not do anything without His revelation to the prophets (Amos 3:3). And in general, he doesn’t believe either the apostles Paul or Luke. Then he asked whether there were prophecies about Jesus in the Old Testament. Although he did not declare what was his religion, I suspected that he was a Muslim, of whom there are many in Ghana. By the end of our conversation, he still did not even confirm his religious identity.

I suggested considering the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14. He tried to prove to me that this concerns the son of Isaiah, Mager-sheal-hash-baz from chapter 8, and I said that the son of Isaiah was not called Emmanuel, but it was Christ Who was rather referred to by that name. Furthermore, he pointed out the alleged contradiction between John 1:1-3 and what Isaiah says, "I am the Lord that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by Myself" (Isaiah 44:24). To prove my point, I referred to the history of creation by the word (Genesis ch. 1) And indicated that His Word and Spirit are inherent to God.

When I finished, he asked me, "How come you’re a priest, not a Levite?"

I replied that my priesthood was in the order of Melchizedek and reproduced Hebrews chap. 7 (apology by apostle Paul of the priesthood of Christ). It was surprising that he did not recognize, or perhaps did not know this place, and he began to prove that Abraham did not give tithe to Melchizedek, after which I simply showed him Genesis. 14:20. It was remarkable that he started as a proponent for the prophets and ended up taking away what belongs to Moses.

On this note, we parted.

August 10th. Protestant meeting.

Father Peter Jackson, who led the Eastern Orthodox community for a short time in Grenada, before my appointment, asked me to continue to attend Bible studies at the GCI Protestant organization, which took place every Saturday. The supreme leadership of this denomination developed an interest in the teachings of the Eastern Orthodox fathers (St. Athanasius, St. Gregory, etc.).

Although there was a meeting, Bible study was cancelled today due to the preparation of the noisy pre-carnival performances near the stadium. Therefore, I just talked with various friends who were present at the meetings.

I discussed the subject of exorcism with a man, which is often turned into a show. I then explained to another man about various fasts in our Church, including that of the Dormition of the Mother of God. Then I wanted to show him how faith in the Church is connected to faith in the Mother of God, but he claimed that she is still in the tomb. It is even more outrageous what they usually say about their dead, that their dead is already with the Father.

Here it would be nice to find a photograph of the sepulcher of the Mother of God and show that it is empty, like the sepulcher of the Savior, but it was time to leave.

In the following conversations with them, I plan to talk again about the original Church and ask whether the Bible says that the whole Church can be wrong.

[1] https://timediff.ru/en/geografiya/on-hatu-pokinul-poshel-voevat-chtob-zemlyu-grenada-pesnya.html

[2] Maurice Bishop - famous figure, 2nd Prime Minister of Grenada, head of the revolutionary government of Grenada 1979-1983

[3] Гренада / ПЭ. Т. 12

[4] Rastafari is a religious and political movement, begun in Jamaica in the 1930s and adopted by many groups around the globe, that combines Protestant Christianity, mysticism, and a pan-African political consciousness. Rastas live by the laws of the Old Testament stories. They believe that they are being tested by Jah (God) through slavery and the existence of economic injustice and racial “downpression” (rather than oppression). Looking to the New Testament book of Revelation, Rastas await their deliverance from captivity and their return to Zion, the symbolic name for Africa drawn from the biblical tradition. Ethiopia, the site of a dynastic power, is the ultimate home of all Africans and the seat of Jah, and repatriation is one goal of the movement. Many (though not all) Rastas believe that the Ethiopian emperor, His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, crowned in 1930, is the Second Coming of Christ who returned to redeem all black people. The movement takes its name from the emperor’s precoronation name, Ras Tafari. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Rastafari

[5] Slavic Church teaching collection, also called Synaxar or Synaxarium. It is a collection of abridged lives of the saints, as well as the instructive words of Basil the Great, John Chrysostom, and others, arranged by day of the year. The name "Prologue" is due to the fact that the translators of this book into Church Slavonic took the corresponding subtitle: "Πρόλογος" ("Preface") as the title of the entire collection.

[6] A soucouyant is a shapeshifting Caribbean folklore character who appears as a reclusive old woman by day. By night, she strips off her wrinkled skin and puts it in a mortar. In her true form, as a fireball she flies across the dark sky to suck her victim. In Caribbean some complain that they have marks on their skin in the morning. Probably soucouyant visited them at night.

[7] See, for example “Orthodox Church and Sectarians” , D.Vladykov and “Antisectarian cathechism”, martyr N. Varzhanskiy.

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