The flow of events, as the popular expression goes, but in reality, Divine providence, guided our steps to beautiful Savusavu of Vanua Levu, the second largest island of Fiji.
Originally this journey had been set to take place the following month. However, due to sudden great testing (dokimasia) of our Orthodox brothers, Pantelis Baravilala, we were forced to leave aside all urgent tasks we had on Viti Levu, the largest island, and instead find ourselves in beautiful Savusavu, the natural harbor of Vanua Levu.
Our Russian Orthodox brother Pavel Savenkov hosted us in his fair hotel with great warm hospitality. The next day we took the road to Pantelis’ village. The Toyota 4×4 somehow managed to take us most of the way, but from there on, travel was not easy– least of all for me. I struggled to walk on the treacherous trail that took us through jungle. Pantelis with his children and our other friends of the jungle took me in their hands, as once in ancient times the children of my compatriot Diagoras carried him into the Stadium of Olympia, and with their help, along with my fellow travelers Archimandrite Father Meletios and presbyter Father George, I succeeded in reaching the village without any problem.
We now found ourselves in a picturesque village, set, literally, in the heart of the jungle, in which we would begin the process, even from this day, of constructing, from wood and sheet metal, at first, a church in honour of the Apostle to the Nations, Paul, but also in honour of our Russian brother Pavel, who will play an active role in the spiritual life of our small parish that is now “swaddled” in this earthly paradise, which will literally be a Church of children, since most of the 40 members that it is starting with are children.
How could one possibly describe the spontaneity and love of these children, as well as that of the adults, for whom we have been struggling for years now, “until Christ is formed in them” (Gal.4:19)!
Dear Christian brothers and sisters, across Greece and throughout the world, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to describe what happens in a missionary’s heart, when after a long absence he meets with his spiritual children, those whom he has taught and baptized or crowned in marriage. Yesterday night was one of those times. One of our first children in the faith, Sophronia, was expecting us at her poor humble home with her husband Sotiris and their two happy children. And she didn’t know what to do first to please us, offering the best of whatever she had so as to prepare for, to receive and to take care of her spiritual father and his synodia, those who spoke about THE ONE and about His Church, the Orthodox Church.
As truly obedient children, they immediately agreed to leave their poor hut and carry its wood and sheet metal in order to construct another one in Pantelis’ village, beside where the Church of St. Paul will be, as God is willing.
We should mention here that Sophronia is the first and best chanter and being more educated than the others, she will become a key member in the spiritual life of the new parish.
The first thing that needs to be done is for a bulldozer to open a road, so that it will be possible to transport supplies needed for the construction. Mr. Paul will also help to a certain extent by lending us the machines of the hotel, as he has already promised us. But for the rest, God provides.
However, our journey to Vanua Levu does not end here. After the Divine Liturgy on Saturday, which out of necessity was done in the courtyard of Mr. Paul’s hotel so that all our Christians of the jungle could partake of Holy Communion, we went to Labasa, the island’s capital.
There we celebrated another festival, there in the Church of Sts. Athanasios and Nicholas. The zealot parish priest Fr. Varnavas, of Indian descent, increasingly widens the circle of catechumens. At least twenty persons are waiting anxiously for the day they will receive that bath of regenerationin the beautiful baptistery of their church. And while the number of the faithful keeps increasing, the size of the church is “shrinking”. It is obvious that something must be done; And that is to build a larger church in the garden of Sts. Nicholas and Athanasios church grounds. The decision was taken under the cool shade of a mango tree, where Presbytera Maria lovingly provided us a simple lunch.
Being fully aware of the fact that there is no money [for such an endeavour], we took this great decision to build church to the Apostle Barnabas just as we had decided to build a church to the Apostle Paul in Savusavu; these two great Apostles who together started preaching the gospel in Antioch, Cyprus and southern Asia Minor.
This is are the “follies” of the missionaries. Faith prodding them from one side and need from the other make them overbold “take the leap”
“We are fools for Christ’s sake”. (1 Cor. 4:10)
May the Lord’s name be glorified for all of this.