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 [+] +++
My dear son,u have no idea how proud I am of u.God is truly working in ur life. What an honor to be a part of a church service in Uganda.I love u,