Update from Santa Maria

Early in the morning of Tuesday the 16th, I flew from Manila to Davao. John and Marina from the mission community of St John Maximovitch met me at the airport and in only a few hours we traveled the 60 miles to Santa Maria.

Lambino Village, Santa Maria

I’ve settled in a boarding house, a row of small apartments with a place to cook, a private restroom, and solicitous neighbors. This entire street is named Lambino Village, as its entire length is the homes of the extensive Lambino family. They’re not sure what orthodox means, but they are glad to have a priest living here.

I don’t have an air conditioner. I may get one later on when the hot season comes, but right now it is the rainy season; except for a few hours during the day, an electric fan is all you need. There’s also no refrigerator; we shop each day for what we mean to cook. Vegetables and fruit kept overnight on the counter in a hot humid climate are likely to go strange or attract ants.

Because we are so close to the equator, the sun rises and sets about 5:30 every day all year round. After dark is of course time for karaoke, concentrating on th 80s and 90s — so from time to time I find myself humming “Desperado” or “Open Arms.” The roosters begin waking everyone about 4:45, so we’re all ready to start the day bright and early.

Humbling hospitality

While I’ve been setting up my kitchen, various parish members and neighbors have been either bringing me to dine with them or bringing meals to me. Tonight: two different kinds of pancit (noodles) with spicy shellfish that were caught only a few hours ago. (And rice, sine qua non.)

Now that I’ve got a butane burner and a rice cooker, my kitchen is ready to go. For the past two Sundays, I’ve baked communion bread in a skillet, with the pot from the rice cooker over the top. The results are certainly functional – it’s risen bread with a visible seal – but it’s not pretty. I mean to buy a small countertop electric oven when I’m in a bigger city, if I can arrange a way to transport it here.

I am practicing my vocabulary on everyone. Yesterday, today and tomorrow; breakfast, lunch and dinner… What is your age? Where have you come from? How many siblings do you have? Only one man at St John’s has very much English, so I am motivated to get up to speed quickly on the language. When I’ve met with the ladies during the day, we’ve managed to communicate through a mix of Cebuano, English, and vigorous handwaving. They are my best language teachers.

I walk daily to the palenque, the built-up area and town square where the markets and bus station are. There I buy veggies, fish, and hosehold essentials. Folks there are getting used to seeing me, and a few want to talk. (I’d forgotten how kids will greet any American with “Hi, Joe!”)

Saint John Mission

The core of the mission community is a few families. There are dozens on the membership list, but many are children and not all of the adults are active – it has been a year now with only infrequent visits from clergy, so interest has waned for some. Others were chrismated or baptized with very little catechism, so they are now a little surprised by things like standing for all the services, not eating breakfast before Communion, and so on. Visiting clergy have consistently expected people to come to Confession before Communion, so that at least is not a surprise to them. But since the sun goes down at 5:30 and often a violent thunderstorm follows, we’ve been having confession Saturday mornings (and Sunday before the Liturgy if necessary.) Neither Vespers nor Compline exist yet in Cebuano, so we don’t yet have an evening service on Saturday night. (I serve Reader Vespers each evening here at my room, but all in English; that wouldn’t be very edifying for most of the parish.)

Does this sound familiar? “Only-Begotten Son” in Cebuano.

I’ve now served two Sunday Liturgies entirely in the Cebuano language. The parishioners have kindly assured me that my reading is intelligible. This week I was challenged to also preach the homily in Cebuano. With the aid of Google Translate I was able to write and read a short homily. The language barrier is increasingly frustrating! We’ve talked about both adult catechism and Sunday school/children’s classes. but again, even with much language practice, I’m probably a few months from being able to start those. Thankfully, clergy of the Moscow Patriarchate mission are close to publishing in Cebuano both the Orthodox prayerbook and the catechism of St Nikolai Velimirovich. Having those in the local language will be an enormous blessing.

What’s next?

I’m making plans now to travel to Palo, Leyte, where the community of St Nikolai Velimirovich is waiting for me. A year ago we baptized eleven people at Palo. Since then, visiting clergy of the Antiochian and Moscow Patriarchates have baptize 22 more, and I understand there are more yet who are waiting to be baptized or made catechumens. This community’s growth is especially surprising in that their homes and chapel were utterly destroyed by Typhoon Yolanda in November. number of them have moved out fo refugee tents and rebuilt simple homes, but there is still no chapel. A new chapel of woven palm panels could be built for under $2000, but I gather a simple building of cinder blocks and concrete, perhaps 5 by 8 meters, could be built for about $5000, and would outlast the next typhoon. I expect that project will be our next fund-raising focus.

Traveling to Palo will be a challenge. I could fly from Davao to Tacloban, the airport nearest Palo, but fares to Tacloban are currently over $400 each way (by comparison I can fly all the way to Manila in the north for only $100!) So I’m working out a patchwork of bus and ferry fares; in only about ten hours, a bus can take me frim Davao to Cagayan de Oro on the north of Mindanao; then a ferry to Cebu, and another to Tacloban. All in all as much as three days travel, but God willing no more than a hundred dollars each way. I really hope I can eventually settle into serving the Liturgy in Palo and Santa Maria on alternating Sundays, but that’s got to wait till I get the logistics and travel budget under control.

Meanwhile, clergy of the Moscow Patriarchate have been working with several dozen parishes of the Philippine Independent Church; a number of their bishops and clergy have petitioned the Patriarch to be received into Orthodoxy, and evidently in response catechism has been ongoing since early this year. The scale of that movement has been a surprise to me, and I can’t say yet how it will affect our own work in Santa Maria and Palo. But I’m thankful in any case for the emergence of so many new Orthodox communities near us.

So it’s a time of beginnings, full of frustration and promise and God’s faithfulness. Please remember us in prayer, that God will protect and prosper the work He’s begun here; and that we will be able soon to move beyond isolated services and begin the formation of a genuinely Orthodox community.

In Christ,
Father Silouan

Father Silouan

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