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The Romanian Orthodox Church in Africa
Central Africa...somewhere, far, far away. In Rwanda.... Orthodox Christians pray, together with their priests. Inspiring them is Father Nectarios, a Romanian missionary monk.
Hailing from Tulcea in the south-east Father Nectarios, whose layperson's name is Alexandru Dima, is only 30 years old. Young as he may be, Father Nectarios has had very special spiritual experiences. It was not by chance that upon his ordination he was given the name Nectarios, while his presence on the African continent is not a happenstance one, either.
The urge to depart there came from Father Damaskin the Gregorian, of the Gregoriou Monastery in Mount Athos
ʺI arrived in Burundi, Africa, on September 11, 2019, at the Orthodox Archdiocese of Burundi and Rwanda. Therefore, my Bishop is colored, he is African and pastorates two countries. There, not having any knowledge of Swahili of the Chirunde local idiom, I started learning Swahili. The Swahili Language is spoken in, like, 17 countries of the African Continent. There are 56 or 57 countries on the African Continent, while Swahili is being spoken in the central, Western and Eastern part. It is some sort of African English, just as English is in Europe, for us, so is Swahili for Africa. I learned that language, I perform the divine service in Swahili and that's how I got to find my bearings, in the places I also travelled to, as well, in Africa or in other countries. After a month, the Bishop had me come to Rwanda, he told me "It is here you are needed as in Burundi we have a cathedral of the Greeks", but in Rwanda we had nothing. I performed the Holy Mass outdoors, in tents, in rented rooms or in the field. And the Bishop told me I was needed here, in Rwanda, and, with God's help, if I can, I should build a church. "
And he did build it !
ʺThe cathedral that was built, for it, the plot of land was bought by my Bishop, Inokentios, and only the foundation was laid, that was the best he could do in 2014, while nothing else had been done, from that year and until 2020-2021. I took over the work and, with the help of God, this year we also had its consecration, on October 30. We worked day in, day out, for the cathedral, masonry, plastering, painting. I brought a painter, a boy who was very skilled, from Iasi, Alexandru, he painted the church in three months, he works uninterruptedly, that boy. As for the iconostasis, the wood, the sculpture for the iconostasis, the lectern, the pulpit or everything else that was manufactured there, the iconostasis, we brought in a boy from Congo, who was skilled in carpentry manufacturing work. We do not have the machines so that we can work fast, and with perfection, but we did try manufacturing work, and to the best of our abilities, everything came out fine. "
The church is scanty for the Rwandians stepping in, that is why many of them continue to listen to the mass in the courtyard. In the lectern, a couple of dozens of children sing, also in Romanian. Father Nectarios learned Swahili, so why shouldn't they learn a little bit of his mother tongue too !
ʺIn time, I carried a lot and I brought priest's garbs from Romania, I take care of the communion wine, of candles, of everything related to performing the divine service proper. When I got here, the priests didn't have win for the Holy Communion and they were performing the divine service with fruit juice. They bought fruit juice from the shop, the cheapest one, to perform the Holy Communion or, instead of frankincense, in order for the smoke to come out of the incense burner they put a little bit of white wax from the Catholic churches. And that was a kind of choking smoke, like the one of a train locomotive. They are very poor! In Rwanda, Orthodoxy has been accepted since 2012, but very little has been done to that effect. When I came, in 2019, I started everything from scratch. What we've got so far are two small parishes and the cathedral that has been built. When I arrived, there were roughly 2,000 believers, baptized by Bishop Inokentios, while this year - we built a cross-shaped baptistery, with a stairwell, a nice one, we put water in there and we perform the baptizing there, since April and until now, recently, we have baptized 3,500 to 4,000 people, or thereabouts.
However, quite a few of the Rwandans who embraced the Orthodox Church also do that because, apart from the spiritual aid, they receive material aid as well. When he doesn't perform the divine service, Father Nectarios...the Romanian...travels across Rwanda, far and wide, in a bid to discover the needy of the land.
ʺThe Christians come to the church also for poverty reasons, since we gift away, and the Orthodox Church does indeed gift away. I put a lot of passion so that I can gift away as much as I can, with every Divine Service, no matter how tiny that gift is, but I make sure I gift away from the bottom of my heart, a candy, a piece of cake, a little loaf of bread, a bottle of milk... while in my day-to-day life, in the morning...today I skipped that...we perform the Morning Service, while on Saturdays and Sundays, the Holy Mass. After the Morning Service, on weekdays, I am off to do my fieldwork. I set off in the morning and I find myself still at it in the evening, when it gets dark outside, as a lot of people wait for me, quite a few of them write letters...Father, I need a house, Father, I need clothes, I need something to wear, my children are sick! I focus on a situation; I am exposed to other situations. And there's nowhere I can run, you know, I want to run, but I can't. Oftentimes I felt I cannot cope with it any more and even this week I said to myself it is too much for me. But I have no choice!"
Whenever he comes to Romania, Father Nectarios is busy replenishing the stocks, so to say, that including the donations he receives from his fellow citizens, dozens of suitcases he then takes with him to Rwanda. Communion wine, priestly garbs, candelabra, paints...and many, many other things.
ʺMy record high is made of 82 trolleys, this very year, in April. They were so many! When I departed from Bucharest, I have a staging post in Amsterdam, and from Amsterdam I have a non-stop flight to the Airport of Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. So what I'm saying is, for the 82 trolleys I had, we boarded the plane, but the plane had an hour and a half delay and the flight attendant kept saying on the phone, though the receptionist's " we apologize for the delay, it s because of too much baggage. " I didn't say anything, can you imagine how I got holed up in there, in my chair? Because they were all mine!"
Whoever wants to, they can support the orthodox Mission in Rwanda - it is an appeal made by Father Nectarios, who recalled an urge made by one of the Romanian Orthodox Church's famous spiritual advisers, Nicolae Steinhardt, who used to say that if we gift away, we stand to gain! But paradoxically, we gain not that which we have plenty of, but that which we lack.
And, since the Winter Holidays are drawing near, here is Father Nectarios once again, this time with a well-wishing thought.
"I am 8,000 kilometers away from Romania. I think the distance between us is rather big, but I should like to take this opportunity and thank you for the fact that I can go public and extend a heartfelt well-wishing thought to all our Christian Romanians from everywhere, in Romania and in the diaspora, so from the bottom of my heart, may the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ fill their souls with joy! I wish them all a blessed 2023, a year with spiritual fulfilment and joy, harmony and a united family!" (EN)
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