An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
Last Sunday, I was honored and blessed to serve for the Divine Liturgy with Fr. Stephen at St. George Orthodox Church in Bbira district, Kampala. I had little idea of what to expect in terms of what a Deacon would do because of obvious reasons: the Ugandan expression of the Liturgy as well as the fact that the Ugandan Church derives most of its traditions from Greek practice. The Georges' were kind enough to give me some specific clues as to what to expect, but the little details could not all be communicated. Plus Fr. Stephen does not typically serve with a Deacon.
Trying to figure out what I was going to do
But I found that it flowed quite naturally for the most part. There certainly were differences, for instance they completely skipped the Litany of Fervent Supplication which I had gone out to do, but Fr. Stephen very kindly called me back in to the Sanctuary without much disruption. I suppose that might have confused the choir, but luckily it was being led by Photios who has had extensive theological and muscial training both in America and Greece and therefore likely knew this portion would confuse me.
"Commemorating our All Holy Immaculate..."
I found that I was easily able to blend with the choir to the point that I thought it sounded quite nice, and as I really began to "get into" the service, I began to feel comfortable and being able to relax, became aware of God's presence there with us. And as I did, the possibility of making mistakes became less and less important. The thought that I was in Uganda Africa became less of a primary thought, and instead was becoming more aware of the reality that we were participating in the Kingdom. This was indeed the Liturgy I knew and loved, despite all the differences. And the fact that I would offer the litanies in English and some of the responses were in Lugandan made little difference, we were united in our worship.
The Gospel reading, I did the English and Fr. Stephen did the Lugandan. I forgot to ask why he wore blue...given the minimal salary he earns, I am sure he is unable to own anything but what is gifted to him.
The reading of the Holy Gospel was much different than I was used to doing, but I simply followed Fr. Stephen's lead. I was handed a copy of the very familiar Orthodox Study Bible from which I read. There is no fancy gold cover for the Altar version Fr. Stephen used - it was clearly a very well used and old book which was completely in Lugandan. It was the Sunday and Publican and the Pharisee. When the time came for the Great Entrance, I was a little worried because I had no remembrance from previous attendances of where we were going, let alone what a deacon's role was in their custom. I was fairly sure I was to offer the commemoration of their hierarch, but beyond that very little else (e.g. when to begin the proclamation, whether to stop and face the people while saying it etc.). I did go into "auto-pilot" and nearly moved their Metropolitan Jonah to America, but caught myself and corrected: "of all Amer....of all Uganda." I later learned from Peter that he is commemorated as "Archbishop of Kampala, Metropolitan of all Uganda." But, otherwise it all went fairly smoothly none-the-less as we brought our offerings to the Lord's Table.
Note the simple candle our very capable young altar server was using
Towards the end, Fr. Stephen leaned over to me and asked if I would deliver the homily. I told him I was not prepared to do so, and he then said: "Next week, then?" and I agreed. The homily is offered just after the clergy commune and before the people are offered the Gifts. And while Fr. Stephen was kind enough to give it in English, I had to confess that I struggled to understand all that he said mostly because, as I've often found with Ugandans, he was so soft-spoken and quick that I could not hear him very well. But he did speak very kindly of me, welcoming me to their Parish and committing me to speaking next Sunday by announcing that I would. Hmmm... :)
I have no idea if it is common practice for Deacons to commune the faithful, but once he again he asked me to do so.
St. George Parish is a very small community. I would guess we only had perhaps 15-20 people present. I'm told many of the young people who'd normally be there were now at boarding school (a relatively common practice in Uganda). I really do enjoy the music they sing, which as I've described before maintains a distinctly African feel to it, despite being commonly known Greek tones. There was a particularly beautiful song they sang as I was finishing the Gifts and cleaning the Chalice which Photios told me was a psalm and was a piece they had gotten from their cathedral in Namungoona: St. Nicholas. It was lovely and I suspect it was a local original work - though I cannot be sure. Some of the tones are only reminiscent of how I recall them, because of the uniqueness they add to them. I have not the musical skills to discern the exact difference and can only describe it as African harmonies as I only hear that lovely sound in that context. It was a rich blessing to be there and I look forward to serving again tomorrow and in the future. Perhaps in time I will be able to memorize the Little Litany in Lugandan, but we shall see. In the end, I was reminded that despite our vast differences in so many ways, we are united via the Divine Liturgy in Christ and in His Kingdom: We have seen the True Light! We have received the Heavenly Spirit! We
have found the True Faith! Worshiping the Undivided Trinity, Who has
saved us. Amen.
After Litrugy speaking (or at least trying to - I don't think she speaks much English) to the Priest's mother who is the matriarch of the Parish.
Many thanks to Peter and Sharon Georges for the pictures of my first time serving the Divine Liturgy in Uganda.
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 6:42 AM [+] +++
Sunday, February 09, 2014
"Am I my brother's keeper?"
This is, of course, the answer Cain offers to God when he is asked: "Where is your brother Abel?" It came to mind after I was blessed to be able to spend some time on Saturday at the offices of St. Nicholas Uganda Children's Fund in Kampala Uganda. Cain's answering in the form of a rhetorical question which we can assume he thought should be answered with an obvious "No" is ominous because not only had he just killed his brother, but the REAL answer to the question is of course a resounding: "YES!" I only spent a few hours with Peter and Sharon Georges at their offices, but in that time I saw a constant flow of people coming into and out of their facility with a variety of issues, problems, or concerns. It very quickly became apparent to me that their ministry is FAR more than simply handing over cash in order to pay for the education of children. No, Peter and Sharon are mentoring, challenging, encouraging, and advocating for these kids, providing food and services of all kinds to their families, and also holding them accountable. At least two conversations I overheard involved them talking to parents or guardians of students who had truancy issues of one sort or another from school, others involved medical needs for a young girl who was running into road blocks from the convoluted system in Uganda. I can only imagine the long, long list of needs that Peter and Sharon address over the course of any given year. Put quite simply, they are being their brothers' and sisters' keepers. I did not realize how much of themselves they pour into this work and I could not be more honored to be playing a very small part in supporting their efforts. They have somewhere between 260-280 children in their program (I can't recall the exact number) and this coming week they will be hiring buses to take 82 of them up to the Orthodox Boarding School in Monde. It must be a monumental effort, which they undertake with joy. If you spend some time on their website and follow the links, particularly in the "What we do" section, you will see some of the evidence of the work they undertake, but I'm quite certain it cannot fully bring across to readers in the States the full scope of the GOOD they are doing here. I was somewhat sad to learn that only a small proportion of their kids are sponsored, luckily they have generous donors who give significantly without connecting through their sponsorship program and this, combined with a few grants from some charitable foundations, allows them to care for so many. But it gave me pause to think of how many people there are out there who cannot offer large lumps of cash but could perhaps commit to $20 or $50 (or more) a month - it would make a tremendous difference. I really encourage anyone who has a desire to see their money used in an incredibly responsible and effectively beneficial way for the helping of the desperately poor: seriously consider them. In addition to getting to witness first hand the work they do, they had arranged for me to be able to meet the young man that we sponsor and to share some gifts of clothing we brought for his family.
Henry, his sister Sharon, and I chatting
Henry's got a couple of inches on me. He's 18, but missed several years of school and is now one of the highest achieving students in the program.
And then, I was able to meet a couple of gentlemen from the program who had just begun studying at Makerere University and are study Biomedical Laboratory Technology. They were clearly eager to talk and I invited them to come to our facilities to see the work that we do at the Hutchinson Centre Research Institute - Uganda. We also agreed to stay in touch and I offered to help them and offer advice anytime they might need it. These young men are living lives they could not have dreamed possible until the St. Nicholas Uganda Children's Fund stepped into their lives.
I guess I get somewhat animated and excited talking about Real-Time Quantitative PCR.
Finally, seeing all these people coming in and out of the offices there also made me think of something that I know will embarrass the Georges, but I'm going to say it anyway: I have no doubt that when the end of the ages comes, they will be standing on the right and will hear our Lord say: "Come you, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me."
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 10:50 AM [+] +++