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

Read Part I here. Read Part II here. Read Part III here.

September 21, 2019.

On the [Nativity] of the Mother of God, I performed the baptism of Anna and her children Catherine and Philaret in the Caura River. At sunset that day, another baptism took place in the city of Chaguanas. Before receiving baptism, Ketevan asked questions and received an explanation about the Faith that the Son of God is God. So, in the evening, when the first day of Creation and the day of Resurrection came, another soul was reborn.

September 22nd.

Today I celebrated the first Liturgy in Trinidad. I put on my vestments and quietly performed Proskomedia. Gradually, parishioners began to catch up. About 5-8 people went to Confession, then as many took Communion. Many could not come, because there was a red warning about Storm Karen. Anna and the children did not show up for Liturgy. Instead, they went to the Mount St. Benedict Monastery.

But some of the Liturgy attendees who were from other religions were fascinated about the Orthodox Faith and they seemed to be interested in knowing more.

In the evening, Thaer and Ketevan were married. The prayer at the Matrimony service clearly states that we ask to bless the spouses’ right hand. But in Syria, it is customary to wear rings on the left hand, and I allowed them to act according to their culture after the wedding.

September 24th.

When I returned to Grenada, I immediately got a message from Anna, "come back to Trinidad." I calculated how many donations I received from Trinidad. I did not ask for it and I did not refuse it, so it turned out that they were exactly enough to cover the ticket back and forth and for another time there. I decided to visit Trinidad once every one or two months.

September 29th. Sunday Liturgy at Aziz’s restaurant.

When I started Proskomedia, only two people came to the service. One Orthodox woman is married to a Presbyterian. She said that, when the "priest" comes to their home, they pray and take Communion with the whole family. I did not allow her to have Communion, because the rules for those who have already joined the Church are the same as for those who are entering: you cannot have Communion in other confessions once you are Orthodox. If the shepherd often closes his eyes, it turns out that the blind leads the blind. We touched upon the topic of divisions, in which, from the Presbyterian point of view, the Church hierarchy was to blame. I decided that I would call the brother of that lady to explain everything, which I did the next day, and I wrote to her myself, but they no longer answered me.

September 30th. Prison Ministry.

After lunch, I went to the jail. I was a bit late. An employee of a rehabilitation center, a Protestant missionary named Leon Cornwall, met me with the question, "Do you know the Cappadocian Fathers Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and Gregory of Nyssa?" He asked that question because he loves them.

He then led me into the territory of the prisoners and showed me the place for prayer; in which one of the prisoners asked me to do the next time I visit. He left me for a while in the yard, where prisoners began to approach me one by one. Before that, whenever I visited the prisoners, I was always put into a room where there were two rows of tables between the prisoners and me.

But in the yard, there was no barrier. One asked for prayers, the other simply said something about himself, and the third asked questions about the deity of the Son and the crucifixion on the Cross. For some reason, they are more inclined to personal communication, and whenever the next prisoner came up, the other would step aside.

Some prisoners signed up for a course in theology by mail at one of the theology schools in London. They are troubled by Origen, whose interpretation of universal salvation is close to their hearts. I was able to maintain a conversation on this subject, since they hoped to find a like-minded person in an Orthodox Christian. However, they do not know that they met a deep enemy to those views.

After talking with the prisoners, Leon introduced me to another pastor, and we parted. I did not expect to see that people were extremely interested in my religion, especially the prison staff.

October 4th.

A conversation took place with one of the parishioners in the company of our friends. He made some complaints about me to our mutual friends. It would be a good idea to discuss them together – but it so happened that non-practicing Orthodox, Catholics, and atheists also participated. The parishioner complained that I say "only Orthodoxy," and he does not want his children, like the children of Sunni Muslims, to humiliate other children after my lessons on the basis of their Faith.

I wanted to propose for this to be discussed separately among the members, but they did not want to because they insisted that my refusal to discuss with non-members would be evidence of me religiously discriminating against those people. I explained that there are different levels of initiation or dedication in the congregation and we welcome everyone. There is the concept of fidelity to one’s Confession, as well as the concept of fidelity in marriage. You can date a lady before marriage, but after marriage, such behavior is impossible. Regarding religion, I explained that I cannot admit that there is more than one truth.

They replied to me, "you don’t understand." The parishioner continued to complain to our mutual friend, who is a non-practicing Catholic, how good he felt when he went to the Catholics and how hard it is for him now. Since he is now a member of the Orthodox Church, he can no longer take communion with them, and all because of the "sinful priests" who are to be blamed for the division that has arisen. I said that this is nothing more than Protestantism ‒ blaming the sin of separation on the entire priesthood.

"It is better to pray at home, than to pray as we do – wherever we have to," he said.

I agreed that the restaurant where Liturgy was usually held is not the best place, but our parish cannot afford a better place, since we do not have monthly collections. I also added that we must appreciate that we have the opportunity to participate in the Eucharist, and in order to get the best, we need to be thankful for what we have. But he continued to be indignant that the rich Russian Church does not pay my salary and still has not built a church, that I was doing something wrong, and that I had better return and report about my failures to the bishop. He said that inviting another priest to the island or opening a bank account would not be a problem.

He stated that he would remove himself from among the other directors and he refused to fill out tax forms.

October 10th. Conversation with Jehovah's Witnesses.

While walking through the Sendall Tunnel, I picked up a sectarian leaflet (after all, the leaflet contains verses from Holy Scripture that people trample upon because of their ignorance). When I walked along the shore of Carenage Bay, a conversation ensued with a group of Jehovah's Witnesses, who then offered me another, cleaner leaflet.

I recalled the tactics of communicating with them proposed by the book "Bethel Gambit" and I asked them what exactly attracted them to study the Bible in this organization. Then, when they could not clearly answer, they vaguely referred to their operation as “"fruits of their activities" (Matthew 7:16). I reminded them of their doctrine in the year 1914; normally they would hide this from their newcomers, when the Lord allegedly came to appoint a faithful and good slave over the entire estate (which they base on Matthew 24:45). At the same time, I quoted from Charles Russell, the founder of Jehovah’s Witnesses, about his attitude to the Bible (where he was replacing the Bible with his own works)

I also noticed that the first generation of Jehovah’s Witnesses had a Cross on the cover of their magazine. At this time, one Jehovah’s Witness apologized and left. They called their leader who was standing nearby. He found out what religion I am, and in the process of telling him the story, I tried to direct his thought that the Eastern Church was the original, which had not changed. He asked if we believe in the Trinity. I replied, while making the sign of the cross, "We believe in the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit."

He replied, "So this is the Trinity!" I asked him to remember what he just said, and I opened Matthew 28:19 and said, "You see, it is not me, it is you who said it was the Trinity!" Then I noted that it was commanded by the Holy Scriptures to baptize not "in the names" but "in the name," which means that the Son and the Spirit have the same Name as God the Father, which, according to them, is Jehovah.

Then, to return to the conversation about the original Church, I asked him to show me a place where, in his opinion, it is said that the whole Church fell away from God. He brought about the parable about the tares of Matthew 13:24-30. During the discussion, it turned out that the wheat still remains until the end (verse 30, which he did not want to finish reading). He tried to change from an uncomfortable topic and he asked me about our attitude toward military service. I said that in order to correctly understand the attitude prescribed by the Bible to this issue, you must first find out where the correct understanding of the Bible is stored and accept it.

I did not want to change the subject, but since he was insisting, I suggested that he reflect on Luke 3:14, where St. John the Baptist addresses the soldiers with instruction. He himself quoted Rom. 13:1-7, which gave me reason to notice how during Rutherford’s leadership in his organization, the understanding of this place changed and then returned back to the original; which did not fit into their concept of "the path of the righteous, shining brighter and brighter," which they base on Prov. 4:18.

I had to fend off a statement about the presence of other religions in the darkness by recalling a shameful incident at the Chicago airport with one of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. And here we turned to the topic of attitude toward those who were excluded from communication: what to do with those who were excommunicated for what later turned out to be true (an example of Raymond Frentz)? What kind of manifestation of love is this?

When he again tried to change the subject, we parted with plans to meet again (they are there every Thursday). If our conversation happens again, then I have plans to strengthen his belief that it is good to ask questions to the representative of the original Church (after all, he seems to have never thought that the original Church could have survived) and, finally, to talk about false prophecies. It is a pity that when we spoke, the other Witnesses were not particularly interested in our conversation.

At the Presbyterian Church in St. George’s, Grenada.

At 5:00 PM, I attended Bible study with the Presbyterians with their minister. This is my second visit (the first was before my ordination in May 2019). I consider it a duty to have a missionary presence whenever uncertainty arises amongst my flocks. This can sometimes affect them. It is my responsibility to clarify this uncertainty. There has been one such case; an Orthodox woman married to a Presbyterian. She believes, "if a presbyterian is not a true priest – then my marriage is not true, either," which is wrong.

In addition, people were glad to see me. The Presbyterian Tower is the third attraction after Catholic and Anglican Churches overlooking the magnificent town ​​bay. The building is almost ruined by Hurricane Ivan. Bible classes are held in the house next to the tower. There are almost only women in attendance. The minister explains each verse of the Bible, as far as the Oxford edition allows. A somewhat boring lesson today was devoted to a general review of І Corinthians.

I was able to offer another interpretation of І Cor. 7:36-38, which refers to a man keeping his damsel. From the Russian Synodal translation it is clear that it is talking about the father, and the English translation gives reason to interpret this as the life of the spouses as brother and sister. After studying, the pastor gave me an opportunity to comment. I said what I would usually say whenever I am in a situation like this, "my goal is that they all may be one" (John 17:21), because they believe in Christ, and we believe in Christ; they accept the same Scripture as we do, but we differ in understanding, and for this I came to clarify which one is true.

I got another invitation for the next class. Meanwhile, people began to leave. The women sitting next to me started asking me about my Church, about the history of the emergence of various faiths, and I pointed out that the Eastern Church, due to the lack of papal innovations, did not need, unlike others, neither reformation nor restoration.

With the explanation that all Christian organizations have historically separated from the Orthodox Church, I often have problems, because the main association with the word "Orthodox" is Orthodox Judaism, which is not Christianity. The reason for this is the local textbooks, in which there is a place for Orthodox Jews, of whom there are only a couple millions, but there are no Orthodox Christians, which are a hundred times more.

A girl asked about the prayer rope. I told her about the union of mind and heart in prayer. After that, the pastor and I talked about the Syrians. The pastor noted that the head of one of the major Syrian-Presbyterian families, unfortunately, converted to Buddhism. So, they drove me to a bus stop.

I am glad that I saw a lively interest in some parishioners to Orthodoxy.

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