Beans and Rice and not Pumpkin Spice!

Greetings family and friends in Christ,

The transitions continue! We made the move to the village of Aguacate in Guatemala back in June. It was a blessing, and no coincidence, we entered into the mission field just in time to celebrate the feast of Pentecost. Everyone here has made us feel like family since we have arrived and we are grateful to call it our new home! We have more or less adjusted to village life and have also plugged into the roles and routines of the seminary. Aguacate (fun fact: means Avocado in Spanish) is a small village in the Highlands of Guatemala, about forty-five minutes to an hour from the Mexican border, depending on what kind of transportation you use. It is home to the Annunciation Cathedral, which is also connected to St. Andrew’s Seminary and a medical clinic dedicated to Fr. Andrés Girón of blessed memory.

The Annunciation Cathedral, home to the growing community of the Orthodox faithful in Aguacate, as well as the St. Andrew’s seminary, and Father Andres clinic.

The Annunciation Cathedral, home to the growing community of the Orthodox faithful in Aguacate, as well as the St. Andrew’s seminary, and Father Andres clinic.

The Priests, seminarians, and our fellow missionaries all greeted us when we moved into the house Pentecost weekend! Hno. and Hna. are abbreviations for “hermano” and “hermana,” titles people use to address one another in the church community.

The Priests, seminarians, and our fellow missionaries all greeted us when we moved into the house Pentecost weekend! Hno. and Hna. are abbreviations for “hermano” and “hermana,” titles people use to address one another in the church community.

As you may have noticed in past blog posts and on social media, the community here is very vibrant and faithful. It has been a wonderful blessing to be a part of an Orthodox community again since while studying in Mexico we did not have a nearby Orthodox Church. Every Sunday, the Cathedral is full for the celebration of the Liturgy, and the faithful actively participate with their congregational singing, making a joyful noise. Communion usually takes anywhere between thirty minutes to an hour, depending on how many priests are present. During the week, the Seminary holds both matins (6am) and vespers (5pm) services. We have also traveled with Archimandrite Evangelos (vicar of Guatemala), the seminarians, and the other missionaries to many communities to celebrate their feast days, as well as witness sacraments like weddings, baptisms, and chrismations. The Liturgical and sacramental life here is very active!

V. Rev. Fr. Evangelos preaching on the importance of the Saints and Church Fathers and choosing a baptismal name. 154 Chrismations were done this day!

V. Rev. Fr. Evangelos preaching on the importance of the Saints and Church Fathers and choosing a baptismal name. 154 Chrismations were done this day!

Parish visit to the community of the Most Holy Theotokos of Perpetual Help, where Fr. Alexios serves in Tajumuco. Their feast was celebrated along with many baptisms and chrismations!

Parish visit to the community of the Most Holy Theotokos of Perpetual Help, where Fr. Alexios serves in Tajumuco. Their feast was celebrated along with many baptisms and chrismations!

One of the many new Orthodox churches being built, this one is in Santa Rosa in southern Mexico.

One of the many new Orthodox churches being built, this one is in Santa Rosa in southern Mexico.

Visit to the parish of San Marcos Evangelista (St. Mark’s) in Tres Caminos Agua Alegre Chiantla, were 74 new members were brought into the Orthodox faith through the sacrament of chrismation. (Pictured: V. Rev. Fr. Evangelos on the right, V. Rev. Fr. Juvenal OCMC missionary on the left, and the newly illumined of the community

Visit to the parish of San Marcos Evangelista (St. Mark’s) in Tres Caminos Agua Alegre Chiantla, were 74 new members were brought into the Orthodox faith through the sacrament of chrismation. (Pictured: V. Rev. Fr. Evangelos on the right, V. Rev. Fr. Juvenal OCMC missionary on the left, and the newly illumined of the community

 The clinic here also plays a huge role in the village. Throughout the week, people come in for dental check-ups and medical consultations and care. There is a full-time doctor and a dentist that serve here for a year as a part of their medical residency. I often walk by and catch a friendly greeting from the patients waiting to be seen. This November a medical team of thirteen people through OCMC will be serving here at the clinic! Each year about two medical teams volunteer at the clinic to help serve the medical needs of the people. We are excited to be here for our first mission team as long-term missionaries!

Recently, Thomas has been teaching a class on “The Economy of the Son of God.” Although a difficult subject to teach, especially in a second language, he is using resources such as Saint Athanasius’ On the Incarnation that luckily has already been translated into Spanish! He recently started teaching a class on The Holy Spirit and is preparing his next class on Pastoral Care. The seminarians are eager to learn more about the rich and profound theological tradition of the Orthodox Church, and especially enjoy all of the literature Thomas has provided for them.

Thomas teaching a class on “The Economy of the Son of God.”

Thomas teaching a class on “The Economy of the Son of God.”

“La Economia del Hijo de Dios”

“La Economia del Hijo de Dios”

I have been working on metering and teaching many of the church’s hymns to both the choir and seminarians. We have been focusing on the hymns that are frequently sung throughout the year, such as the eight Apolotikia or resurrectional hymns that are sung on Sundays, hymns for major feasts and saints, and hymns for sacraments. This will be very useful when God-willing the seminarians one day become priests and need to know the basics of the musical tradition. In addition, I have been planning and preparing for a children’s ministry program here in the village. Every Sunday, when I watch the communion line go by, I think, “wow! I’ve never seen so many children in one place before!” As the village continues to grow and more and more families become baptized and chrismated, I pray that we can help solidify the foundation of Orthodoxy to help build up future leaders of The Church!

Music lesson in the cathedral

Music lesson in the cathedral

The choir in Aguacate leading the faithful

The choir in Aguacate leading the faithful

Not only is there frequent traveling to local communities but there have also been other activities happening outside of the village. Many catechetical retreats are held throughout the year for the leaders of all the Orthodox communities, varying between eight to ten in Guatemala and four to six in Mexico. The catechists (local leaders in each community) gather at the meetings to hear talks and presentations made by the local priests here as well as the seminarians and missionaries. It is a great way for Fr. Evangelos to check in with the community leaders and help strengthen and deepen their Orthodox faith. They are even required to take an exam! Some of the topics we heard at the recent retreats include, church leadership, preaching, church history, and saints of the church. On the second day of the retreat, Liturgy is held where more learning can be done, and of course they are able to worship together and partake of Holy Communion. It really is a fruitful and meaningful ministry.

Day two of the catechetical retreat in Huehuetenago, Guatemala. V. Rev. Fr. Evangelos and Fr. Daniel serving in the liturgy celebrating the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.

Day two of the catechetical retreat in Huehuetenago, Guatemala. V. Rev. Fr. Evangelos and Fr. Daniel serving in the liturgy celebrating the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.

Fr. Alexios speaking at the most recent retreat in Huehuetenango. The theme was on preaching. (Photo courtesy: V. Rev. Fr. Evangelos)

Fr. Alexios speaking at the most recent retreat in Huehuetenango. The theme was on preaching. (Photo courtesy: V. Rev. Fr. Evangelos)

In addition to our transitions and events in the field, we have some exciting news to share! A new family member and missionary is on its way, “baby Manuel” coming in March 2020! We will keep you posted on more updates, but please keep us in your prayers for a healthy pregnancy and as we adjust to this exciting new chapter in our lives. Also pray for the priests here that they may be able to carry out the many tasks of their communities and that the future leaders and seminarians are strengthened and continue to grow in their faith and knowledge of the Church. We wish everyone a blessed Liturgical New Year and look forward to sharing more updates in the future from the field.

Baby Manuel coming March 2020!

Baby Manuel coming March 2020!

Traditions small and Great

Christo Ha Resucitado! En Verdad Ha Resucitado! Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!

Orthodox Christian families have many small traditions that they keep from year to year to commemorate the Resurrection of Christ, or Pascua in Spanish. For me, some of these little “t” traditions include attending the Holy Friday night service as a child. As my sisters and I walked around the church with our candles, we competed to see whose candle could last the entire night without going out. On Holy Saturday, my mother always made sure we took a nap during the day so that we could stay awake for the Resurrection service at midnight. We usually joined the community afterwards to eat Avgolemono (traditional Greek chicken soup) and Magheritsa (lamb soup), and traditional Pascha bread, Tsoureki. Thomas, as the son of a priest, remembers going to church with his father every day during Holy Week and often serving in the altar. Following the Liturgy on Holy Saturday morning, the Manuels would put on Franco Zeffirelli’s 1977 “Jesus of Nazareth” while food for Pascua was prepared. Someone also had the unlucky task of picking up the fifty piece chicken tender platter from Chick-fil-A for consumption afterwards of course!

Many of us have memories that we associate with such feast days, whether it is singing our favorite hymns and songs, or a special dish our mother makes. The beautiful thing about these “small t” traditions is that they vary from culture to culture and can be altered with time. This year, we learned about many of the Pascua traditions practiced by the Guatemalans in the village of Aguacate. Being that the village is home to a seminary, the cathedral was filled with the faithful every day of the week, beginning with the procession through the village on Palm Sunday. Processions have been practiced by the church for centuries to publicly celebrate and commemorate feast days. Normally in parishes in the States we process indoors, so it was a really beautiful experience to walk through the village with our palms singing, “¡Hosanna en las alturas, bendito es Él que viene en el Nombre del Señor! — Hosanna in the highest, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Procession on Palm Sunday through the village of Aguacate

Procession on Palm Sunday through the village of Aguacate

Girls from the community as “Miróforas” or myrrh bearing women ready to throw their petals on Christ’s Tomb

Girls from the community as “Miróforas” or myrrh bearing women ready to throw their petals on Christ’s Tomb

We were extremely humbled and impressed by the amount of love and dedication of the priests, seminarians, and faithful throughout the week. Every day the seminarians helped decorate the cathedral, practiced hymns, and helped Father Evangelos (the local priest and Vicar of Guatemala) prepare for the next service and the upcoming events. Each day we plugged into the life of the seminary, assisting the seminarians with their tasks and preparations. We chanted alongside the choir as the congregation joined in for the hymns and responses. Many of the women know the Liturgy by heart and never miss a service! We were especially moved by the fervent piety of the faithful who, at every service, including morning Pre-Sanctified Divine Liturgies, filled the cathedral.  

From Holy Thursday through Pascua we were blessed with the visit of the Archbishop of Mexico and Central America, Athenagoras. The community welcomed him with traditional songs and joyful greetings, and of course, fireworks! On Holy Friday night traditionally the Lamentation hymns are sung as we commemorate Christ’s death and burial. The female choir’s singing of the Lamentations was the most beautiful rendition that either of us had ever heard! We processed again through the village with the decorated tomb holding the icon of Christ, the Kouvouklion or “Tumba,” in Spanish. We sang the thrice holy hymn in Spanish, huddling close around each other so that our candles would remain lit. On Saturday morning, people from nearby villages traveled to celebrate the Liturgy. There had to have been over easily 700 people! Going back to the early Church, baptisms are traditionally done on Holy Saturday after the Liturgy. In fact, the whole Lenten period was originally a time of preparation for those preparing to be illumined by Holy Baptism on Pascua. That morning we had the blessing to witness and participate in 22 baptisms and 1 chrismation. Glory to God!

Greeting the Archbishop upon his arrival into the village

Greeting the Archbishop upon his arrival into the village

Holy Thursday evening

Holy Thursday evening

On Sunday morning, we went with His Eminence Archbishop Athenagoras to a community in Chiapas, Mexico to celebrate Agape Vespers (Vísperas de Amor). With us came the whole seminary, missionaries and the Vicar as well. We were all graciously and lovingly greeted by hundreds upon hundreds of Orthodox Christians representing around 25 communities in the state of Chiapas! We celebrated the Vísperas de Amor with joy and following the service his Eminence greeted representatives from each of the communities. Following our departing lunch, his Eminence Archbishop Athenagoras looked to us and said, “This will be a Holy Week and Pascua that you will never forget.” And certainly he is right!

On Holy Saturday morning there were 22 baptisms and 1 chrismation! Gloria a Dios!

On Holy Saturday morning there were 22 baptisms and 1 chrismation! Gloria a Dios!

C risto ha Resucitado! Christ is Risen!

Cristo ha Resucitado! Christ is Risen!

In life we are often confronted with change and new chapters. It is hard to let go of old traditions, but we can keep them in our memories and pass them onto the people we encounter. We can also adapt to new traditions and carry them with us. The beautiful thing about the Orthodox Church is that no matter where you are in the world, the little “t” traditions may vary, but we all follow the same teachings that have been passed down from the Apostles. This is an important thing to remember as missionaries. Sometimes it is hard to see new things when you have been doing them the same way your whole life. Regardless of how a hymn is sung, what kind of flowers are used, or how red the Easter eggs are dyed, Christ still rises on the third day. What we must not forget is the reason why we celebrate, that Christ went into Hades to destroy death for us and for those in the tombs, by His death, and then rose on the third day, so that we one day might rise with Him. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:7-8)

New Beginnings and Language Studies

Dear Friends and Family! 

Greetings from San Cristobal de las Casas! We have been here for almost a month and a half, yet it feels like much longer! This week we are approaching our sixth week at “Instituto Jovel,” our language school where we spend 4+ hours a day learning Spanish one-on-one with three different teachers. We’ve adjusted more or less to the routine here in San Cristobal, and usually spend our afternoons studying and doing homework, buying produce at the local markets, and watching shows in Spanish to increase our vocabulary! The school offers extra activities, including “Club de Conversacion,” where a group of students from the school gather at a local café and speak Spanish with each other with the help of one of the teachers. We have found that this, along with simply speaking with the people around us during bus rides, at restaurants, or the local bookstore, has helped increase our speaking abilities, poco a poco (little by little). Please continue to pray for the growth of our language skills so that we may be able to better serve the Orthodox communities in the future. 

View from our apartment

View from our apartment

Our Beautiful School!

Our Beautiful School!

We have also had the opportunity to attend liturgies at a few churches here in the southern state of Mexico. On one Sunday, we were amazed to have witnessed two marriage ceremonies and ten baptisms! It was truly a day to remember. The community of San Caralampio (St. Haralambos) welcomed and treated us with great hospitality, including inviting us after for a meal. A day in the life of a priest here is very labor intensive. On top of conducting the needed sacraments in each village they visit, they also tend to their flocks in any capacity necessary from confession and spiritual counseling, to physical needs as well.  Unfortunately, most communities only see a priest about once a month or every other month due to the large number of churches, 100-125, compared to the number of clergy that serve them, 5 local priest. Please continue to pray for the leaders in the local communities that may have been called into the priesthood, as well as for the current priests, and seminarians at the seminary of St. Andrew in Aguacate, Guatemala. 

Getting to know the seminarians after Liturgy

Getting to know the seminarians after Liturgy

Presenting the new Prosfora seal to Fr. Evangelos made by one of our parishoners

Presenting the new Prosfora seal to Fr. Evangelos made by one of our parishoners

“Oh holy martyrs, crown them with glory and honor” -Hymn from the Service of Matrimony

“Oh holy martyrs, crown them with glory and honor” -Hymn from the Service of Matrimony

Fr. Evangelos prepares for ten baptisms at the church of San Caralampio

Fr. Evangelos prepares for ten baptisms at the church of San Caralampio

In recent events, the five-year memorial of Fr. Andrés Girón was celebrated at the end of February on the southeast coast of Guatemala, where Fr. Andres resided. Many of the local priests and communities gathered together to honor their beloved hero and father in Christ, who brought thousands of indigenous people to Orthodoxy in Guatemala and Southern Mexico. 

Many people traveled far to be present at Fr. Andrés five-years memorial. Here people enter the chapel with Fr. Mihail

Many people traveled far to be present at Fr. Andrés five-years memorial. Here people enter the chapel with Fr. Mihail

Photo courtesy: Jesse Brandow

Photo courtesy: Jesse Brandow

As we approach the beginning of Lent, we are reminded by the Gospel readings during triodion, to constantly be in preparation. The Holy Days of our church calendar are an annual reminder “to keep us from forgetting events that are vital to our salvation and the abundant life that God wants us to have,” (Introducing the Orthodox Church, Its Faith and Life by Anthony M. Coniaris). Our fellow missionaries Jesse Brandow and Jennifer Rice, have spent much of their time producing and updating the “Calendario Ortodoxo,” a compilation of the daily readings and saints of the day for three-month periods at a time. It is an extremely useful tool for the communities here, as it is written in simple language, and even includes the fast rule for the day. This book, along with other resources for catechists, will assist in continuing education for lay people, lay leaders and ultimately, future clergy.  

Although we are not fully working in the mission field, we are learning so much about the language and way of life in Central America. Part of being a missionary, especially during the first year, is simply observing and adapting to the life of the people you are serving. It would be impossible to relate to the people and to serve them without our adapting to the culture and the language. Our experience so far has been quite an adjustment, but we are grateful for all of your prayers and support. We are also thankful for our fellow missionaries Jesse and Jennifer, for welcoming us and helping us adjust to the life here. The body of Christ is at work throughout the world to do God’s will, and that is extremely present here! 

As we prepare to meet our Risen Lord let us “sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the people, sanctify the Church, [...] let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber,” (Joel 2:12-26, Daily readings for March 6th). We wish everyone a blessed Lenten journey! Gloria a Dios!

Fall Updates

Greetings team Guatemala! It has been several months since our last blog post, and much has been happening. We’ve made visits near and far, from the Boston, Massachusetts area all the way down to Atlanta, Georgia. They have been worthwhile visits and we continue to expand our Guatemala mission family.

Parish visit at Holy Transfiguration in Marietta, GA

Parish visit at Holy Transfiguration in Marietta, GA

Speaking at the missions meeting at Hellenic College Holy Cross in Brookline, MA

Speaking at the missions meeting at Hellenic College Holy Cross in Brookline, MA

As many of you all know, our original plan was to depart for Guatemala this fall, however we are planning to God-willing leave in January 2019. We are currently working on setting an official date so we will be sure to keep you all posted. This will give us more time to focus on fundraising and making parish visits, as well as making more preparations for the big move.

We have a handful of parish visits coming up in the next few months, so if you’re in the area come join us and learn more about the work being done in the Orthodox Church in Guatemala. For more updates on our whereabouts, check out our Facebook page. Upcoming visits include:

  • Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church- Wilmington, DE (October 28)

  • St. George Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral- Pittsburgh, PA (November 4)

  • St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church- Saginaw, MI (December 2)

  • Assumption Greek Orthodox Church- St. Louis, MO (Missions banquet, January 10)

Please continue to pray for us as we spend the last few months with friends and family and begin to say our good-byes. In addition, pray for the missionaries currently in Guatemala as well as the clergy and communities.

We are 75% funded! Thank you everyone who has pledged and given to our fund. We still need more pledges before we can leave in January. Make a pledge or one time gift of any amount to our online support page.

As we prepare to leave in a few months to join the team of missionaries down in Guatemala for two years to start, we are reminded of the loving and supportive communities that surround us. This journey wouldn’t have been made possible without your prayers and financial support. Glory to God!

In Christ,

Thomas & Elizabeth Manuel

First Visits

Greetings friends and family! We'd like to wish everyone a blessed Lenten season and good strength as we enter into the second week of Lent. Since the start of the New Year, we have been incredibly grateful to have been hosted by many local parishes and communities.

Thomas explains how we are more connected to Guatemala than by its delicious coffee!

Thomas explains how we are more connected to Guatemala than by its delicious coffee!

Our inaugural support raising visit was hosted by the St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. It is always a pleasure to visit our sister community and worship with friends and of course family, as Thomas's dad Fr. John Manuel is the priest there. They also added some Spanish into the service, which reminded me of the importance of language and enculturation. As missionaries, we must be vigilant about being sensitive to the culture we are reaching in order to share and contextualize the true message of the Gospel. We are all called to be missionaries and to fulfill the Great Commission, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit...(Matthew 28:19)," whether we are serving internationally or in our own community. 

Sts. Constantine and Helen in Richmond, VA

Sts. Constantine and Helen in Richmond, VA

We spent the following weekend in Richmond, Virginia where the Sts. Constantine and Helen Cathedral hosted its annual GOYA basketball tournament. Following the Divine Liturgy on Sunday, we were able to share with them the beautiful work happening in the Orthodox Church in Guatemala. With the high attendance of children and teenagers, it reminded me of when I first learned about Orthodox missions around the world, and the potential for our young Orthodox to pursue a calling in missions. A special thank you to Fr. Nick Bacalis for graciously hosting us.

Fr. George from Sts. Constantine and Helen in Newport News, VA

Fr. George from Sts. Constantine and Helen in Newport News, VA

The next Sunday, Fr. George Chioros and the community of Sts. Constantine Helen in Newport News welcomed us to their parish. It was nice to hear Spanish in parts of the Liturgy, as well as incorporate other languages from around the world. Thomas gave a sermon on the Great Commission, as it happened to be the Gospel reading for the Orthros (Matins) service. It is important to be reminded that to spread the Gospel is not just the work of missionaries, but an obligation of all Christians to fulfill. We had a nice time presenting during coffee hour and opened up for Q&A afterwards. We are so grateful to have such supportive communities around us, much due to the strong brotherhood of clergy in our area!

Fr. Alban from Lynchburg, VA

Fr. Alban from Lynchburg, VA

 

At the beginning of February, I made my first solo parish visit. As a full time pastoral assistant and youth director at our home parish, Thomas is involved in much of the church's ministry especially on Sundays. I was hosted by Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in Lynchburg, Virginia. It was a pleasant surprise waking up to snow in the beautiful mountains of Virginia. This might have been the last snow I will see for a while, however we will still be close to the mountains, as much of the people we will serve live in the highlands of Guatemala. Father Alban and his parish were very welcoming and I really appreciated our discussion during the coffee hour.

 

Palm trees!

Palm trees!

Deerfield Beach in Boca Raton, FL

Deerfield Beach in Boca Raton, FL

 

The following weekend we were invited to attend an OCMC Gala honoring Louis and Helen Nicozisis in Boca Raton, Florida. On Saturday morning, we had a chance to meet and greet with the OCMC board. There really is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes at OCMC! We spent the afternoon with Fr. Martin and Presvytera Renee Ritsi. This included going to a beach front café for lunch, and then soaking up some sun at Deerfield beach. We could not have traveled all the way to Florida and not spend time at the beach! That evening, we attended the OCMC celebration Gala at the Marriott at Boca Center. There were about 300 guests in attendance to honor Louis and Helen Nicozisis and their lifetime of dedication to Orthodox missions. We met many wonderful people that had either participated in missions first hand, or were long time supporters of OCMC. The next morning, we attended Divine Liturgy at the beautiful St. Marks Greek Orthodox Church. With 14 priests and a Bishop serving the Liturgy, it was truly a heavenly experience! Thank you to OCMC and the Gala coordinators for putting on a successful and fruitful event. Glory to God for all things!

Seeing Double?!

Seeing Double?!

Beautiful Gala!

Beautiful Gala!

St. Mark's Liturgy on Sunday February 11th

St. Mark's Liturgy on Sunday February 11th

Thomas giving the sermon on Forgiveness Sunday February 18th

Thomas giving the sermon on Forgiveness Sunday February 18th

On the eve of Lent, last Sunday, we visited St. Demetrius Orthodox church in Williamsburg, VA. It is always a joy to visit our sister parish over the river and to worship in their beautiful church.  Fr. (uncle) Milton shared with us stories from some of the first mission trips that were offered by OCMC in which he attended. The Orthodox Christian Mission Center has grown tremendously in the past few decades, and continues to touch lives for people all over the world. We are so thankful for their support and guidance. Please continue to pray for missionaries and those at OCMC who help continue to serve people throughout the world! Gloria a Dios!

Preparing to serve in Guatemala

Elizabeth and I are thrilled to announce that we have begun a new chapter in our lives as Missionaries to the Orthodox Christian Church in Guatemala! Over the past ten years there has been an explosion of Orthodox Christianity in Guatemala as thousands of Mayans enter into the Church. The calling to serve as missionaries is near and dear to both of us. We have known for some time now that the mission field is the path we wanted to take. Of course we are not leaving right away, but first need to raise support before departing for Guatemala. Please pray for us as we begin this new and exciting chapter of our lives.

To read more about our story, please visit our support page here at OCMC.org.

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