In 2005, our Spiritual Father, Metropolitan Amphilochios (Tsoukos), was assigned to the Holy Metropolis of New Zealand by the Ecumenical Patriarchate with the additional responsibility of sharing the Orthodox faith to the island nations of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga.
Whenever I hear about the prospect of a mission, I’m always enthusiastic,” relates His Eminence Amphilochios, “They were asking me ‘Are there any Greeks in the islands? But I thought to myself, ‘Are there only Greeks? These local people, don’t they deserve to learn about the true church?’”
It is from this flame of love for all people burning in the heart of our Spiritual Father that the Apostolic Ministry in the South Pacific was born.
After a brief visit to survey each of the island nations, we returned to Samoa for about a month to begin the search for suitable land to build a Mission Center and, in due time, an Orthodox Church.
Together with us – a small entourage of his – the Metropolitan travelled throughout the island of Upolu, home to Apia, the capital city of Samoa. With prayer constantly on his lips and in his heart, His Eminence asked the Lord to reveal to him a suitable piece of land on which to build a Mission Center.
While searching for land, we sought ways to connect with the Samoan people, visiting them, sharing the Orthodox faith as opportunities arose. We even learned of a Greek man, the only Greek on the island, who unfortunately had been arrested by the Samoan government, and we went to visit him in prison.
The Metropolitan relays one story regarding a friend whom we had met on the brief scouting trip to Samoa several months earlier:
“On our previous visit, we met the simple-hearted pastor of a Protestant church, Pepe. At our present meeting we saw him sad and helpless, unable to walk due to an unknown disease in his feet.
We made the sign of the cross on Pepe’s foot with the piece of the Tree of Life (Christ’s cross) carried by our companion Fr. Savvas from the Holy Mountain, with the relic of St. Barnabas the Apostle, and with the icons of the Theotokos, Saint John the Theologian and other saints, while chanting their troparia. The next day, Pepe came again telling us that he was not in pain anymore and descended the stairs of the courtyard running. It was a miracle that impressed him and brought him closer to true faith, the Orthodox Faith.
This was the first intervention of our resurrected Saviour in the missionary events of Samoa“
Just a couple of days after our arrival, His Eminence announced to us that he thought they should check out from our hotel and find a different place to stay. Due to his health, the Metropolitan wished to be closer to the ocean.
Fr. Paul Patitsas, (now in Michigan, U.S.A.) a long-time associate of the Apostolic Ministry in the Pacific, was the treasurer for that trip. “Geronta* said he wanted to move to a different hotel, but every other place was more expensive.” Fr. Paul tried to convince the Metropolitan to stay where they were, but His Eminence insisted they start looking for a hotel on the shore.
Later that day, as we were all having lunch at an outdoor restaurant, two young girls came around to the table offering leis for sale to the tourists. His Eminence instructed Fr. Paul to buy some leis from the girls. “I objected, because I couldn’t imagine why we needed leis. Geronta told me to buy them for my daughter back in New Zealand, but I knew the flowers would all be dead by the time we returned. Out of obedience, I bought the leis. As we were leaving we saw those same two little girls again. They saw the size of our group and asked, ‘Do you need a van?’”
As it turns out,we were looking to hire a van to begin looking for a hotel. The two little Samoan girls pointed across the street and explained that the fellow parked in a van there was for hire. “That’s the van driver that got us to our new hotel,” Fr. Paul continued. “Geronta could see that we should do charity to those girls, and they were the ones that connected us with that driver. I never saw them before or since – perhaps we were entertaining angels unaware.” (Hebrews 13:2)
The driver immediately proposed a certain hotel, and with the Metropolitan’s consent he drove them to a beautiful, 5-star resort sitting right on a sandy beach.
Fr. Paul, dutifully considering our budget for the trip, expressed concern to His Eminence that such a fine resort would certainly be too expensive. His Eminence instructed Fr. Paul to go speak with the desk clerk and find out the cost for them to stay.
“I walked up to the man at the desk,” relates Fr. Paul, “and he told me a suite that could accommodate four people would cost $1,000 (Samoan Dollars) per night. There were seven of us! We could never afford that! I explained that we were travelling with our Geronta, who had never had a vacation in his life, and needed to stay close to the ocean for the sake of his health and well-being. The clerk asked how much we were paying at the other hotel. I told him $600 for our whole group. He said, ‘I’ll match it.’”
Not only did the group get a beach-side suite of three rooms with a kitchenette for the same price as their other hotel in town, but all meals were included in the price, so the overall cost was substantially less!
While budget alone would have justified the sudden transplanting of our entire mission team, there was a much greater blessing in store.
That evening, the Metropolitan proposed gathering for evening prayers on the beach in front of the suite, as he would often do while travelling in the islands. The group was in Samoa during the off-season, so there was only one other group staying in their wing of the resort – in the suite directly above them. During the short prayer service, those neighbors came out onto their balcony to see what was happening on the beach, and eventually started taking pictures of the Metropolitan and his entourage.
Fr. Paul had trouble concentrating on the service. “I started to get nervous,” he said. “I was thinking, ‘If word gets out that the Metropolitan is staying at a 5-star resort, that’s the end of our fundraising efforts!’” However, His Eminence calmly instructed Fr. Paul to invite the group down to join them. As they walked up, the woman in the group greeted us in perfect Greek: “Καλησπέρα σας!
Fr. Paul was mortified. “They’re Greeks!” he thought, “This is going to be all over the news!”
As it turns out, Fr. Paul’s fears were unfounded. This group – their only neighbors in the entire wing of the huge resort – happened to be an Orthodox family on vacation from Australia: a Greek woman, her Samoan husband, and their five, baptized Orthodox children! The two groups quickly became friends.
His Eminence relays what happened next:
“We trusted them with our problem of not having a plot on which to build the church. Being faithful Orthodox Christians and virtuous people, they told us, “We have some savings from the money we have earned over the past 20 years to buy a plot and build a retirement home here in Samoa. Now, once we buy the plot, we will offer it to you so that you can build the church for us, the Orthodox Christians here in Samoa.
This is the second clear manifestation of our Lord’s presence; our sweet Lord, who wants all people to be saved and become part of the flock of His One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.“
At exactly the same time as the plot of land was secured, we also happened to meet another Greek man named Elias who had arrived at that very time, having travelled from Greece to Samoa for some family matters. In typical fashion, our Metropolitan wanted to begin establishing a mission center immediately, and it just so happened that Elias was a skilled builder and stonemason. Inspired by the vision and decisiveness of the Metropolitan, Elias eagerly began work on a baptismal font and a gate for the property at once. Unfortunately, before further construction began, the local village council denied the Metropolis permission to open the church if built on the property, so the work was suspended.
In due course, a different property was purchased which is not subject to the same type of approvals from a local village council. The Holy Metropolis of New Zealand has drawn up plans for a church dedicated to St. John the Theologian. By the prayers and intercessions of St. John the church will be completed in his honor in due time.
Working Plans for the St John the Theologian Church, Samoa
It turns out that Elias is also an experienced builder of churches, and he quickly proposed to give his time and talents to complete a different project the Metropolis was working on – the beautiful Church of St. George in Tonga, built in the style of the Greek Islands with shimmering white walls and sea-blue domes. We will share Elias’ adventures in much more detail in our next article.
And to finish – a final word from our Spiritual Father, whose love for others and faith in the Risen Lord set this holy Apostolic Ministry in motion:
“People in Samoa… are calm, smiling, and deeply religious. I think that they deserve to be members of the Holy and True Orthodox Church. Let us support this new opening of the Orthodox Church for the evangelization of this island, which will lead our brothers to salvation.”
Please pray that God may continue to bear good fruit from the Orthodox Apostolic Ministry, that the people of Samoa and all throughout the South Pacific may come to full knowledge of the Truth.
*Geronta (GREEK: Γέροντα) literally means “elder” and is used to address an abbot of a monastery or a person gifted with the charism of spiritual direction.