A closer look at life & prayer in Guatemala

Note: This post was originally located on the author's seminary blog and is now reposted here on Mayan Orthodoxy for background info.

Greetings from the United States of America! After two very full months in Guatemala, this gringo has finally returned home.

Waving goodbye just before leaving

I've had a chance to look back on my last eight weeks abroad, and I'd like to offer a couple more reflections on the Church in Guatemala. My last post concluded the short chronicle covering Metropolitan Athenagoras' historic first visit to the parishes of the Guatemalan Orthodox Church. Now I would like to give you a closer look at daily life and prayer in the Guatemalan Church.

Daily Life
After finishing my work as the metropolitan's handy photographer, I began a one-month stay with Fr. Evangelos, the priest who oversees dozens of parishes in Guatemala and México. This gave me a nice taste of daily life in Guatemala and also a chance to see some beautiful sights. We spent a lot of time with Fr. Evangelos' extended family (he himself is unmarried), relaxed in his house in Aguacate, took a few trips to gorgeous rivers and springs, and enjoyed some delicious Guatemalan food. Here are a few sights from life with Fr. Evangelos and his family:

[Click on any photo to enlarge]

Eating in Santa Cruz de la Quiché with Fr. Evangelos
and his mother

Tasty tostada

Traveling with Fr. Evangelos and company

Río Lagartero, near Nentón

Río Lagartero

Banana leaves are huge! Some are even bigger.

On our way to the Laguna Brava, where we
slept for one night and enjoyed the gorgeous
water. We rode there on horseback.

Paddling across the Laguna Brava

Fr. Evangelos' house in Aguacate

A typical breakfast: tortillas, beans, eggs, and coffee

Many parishioners are very poor, so they bring corn as a
donation to Fr. Evangelos. We used the corn to make different
food items from scratch. Here I am helping to make pan de
elote, a dense, sweet, and creamy corn bread.

Mixing the batter for pan de elote

Pan de elote: the finished product!

A yummy fruit called lichas in Guatemala. They are also named
rambutans, and I believe they originally came from Asia.

Lichas are a fun fruit to eat! They are also great for gringo
travelers because they're cheap and have a thick skin that keeps
them free from any kind of contamination. The texture is sort of
like a grape and the flavor is like a mix between grapes and
plums. Watch out for pits!

Traveling from the mountains to the Pacific Coast

Ahoy from the shore of the Pacific!

 Prayer and Worship

It wasn't just fun and games with Fr. Evangelos; we also did plenty of work! When it comes to his efforts as a priest, Fr. Evangelos is a workhorse, spending week after week on the road trying to care for his far-flung parishes. I traveled with him and assisted him during the services. Also, knowing that I wanted to practice Spanish, Fr. Evangelos would frequently put me on the spot to force me to learn more. He would unexpectedly ask me to say some words to the congregations during the services, and he also had me deliver two separate hour-long presentations to the catechists and youth leaders in México. Because I was "in action" much more during these activities, I don't have as many pictures, but here are a few:

A wedding at Fr. Evangelos' parish in Aguacate. Weddings
are done once or twice a month and often with multiple couples
at once. On this day there were four couples, all of them
appearing to be in their teens.

"Our Wedding"

A fitting visual metaphor: marriage needs to be lifted up by
Christ, the Church, Our Lady and the Saints.

This juxtoposition sums up where the Guatemalan Orthodox
Church is right now: Fr. Evangelos censes during the Divine
Liturgy while the band plays loudly behind him.

Baptism in the church at Inchehuex

One of the "vigil" services, not to be confused with Eastern
Orthodox all-night vigils. These vigils are four hours of loud
Christian music, clapping, occasional dancing, and a passionate
gospel message delivered by Fr. Evangelos in the middle of
the service.

Meeting with the leaders of the Mexican communities. This is
where I delivered my presentations to the same group
of leaders, instructing them on some basic Orthodox practices,
such as the sign of the cross, venerating icons, etc.

In addition to traveling with Fr. Evangelos, I also spent some time traveling with Fr. Blas to an area of México where he serves in a few communities. Fr. Blas is one of the three married Guatemalan priests, and he lives close to Fr. Andres in Escuintla. He and I traveled to Toquián, México, which is right next to the Mexican half of the volcano Tacaná (the border goes across the volcano). The two parishes that we visited were poorer than most of the other parishes that I have seen. Here are some pictures from our visits:

The sign for the first parish that we visited

The community is very poor, possessing only this
makeshift hut for a church.

A moment of personal prayer when everyone speaks out their
own words at the same time

House blessing

Another four-hour vigil with music, clapping, plenty of
excitement, and a message at the end

Walking to the second parish

Our charcoal came from someone's wood cooking stove

It was more difficult to get these coals going
than the synthetic stuff that's common in the

The parish

Songs at the end of Liturgy

That wraps up this mostly-visual post on daily life and prayer in the Guatemalan Orthodox Church. I pray that many of you will get a chance to see these things for yourself! The Guatemalan Orthodox could use your presence, your love, and especially--whether you travel to Guatemala or not--your prayers. Thank you all for keeping them in mind and heart!