“A righteous man shall be in everlasting remembrance…” according to the Psalmist David (Ps. 111:6, OSB). One year after the falling asleep of +Fr. Andres Giron (2/16/14), these words seem to ring true, especially for the many thousands of Mayan Orthodox Christians who still hold him in such high esteem.
For many years most of them were like sheep without a shepherd, living a life of exile that the expulsion from the Cathoic Church imposed upon them. In village after village the sad story of their rejection and abandonment was told and retold by the catechists who, together with their people, suffered the consequences of life without the sacraments. All of this was soon to change, however, with the arrival of Fr. Andres, who himself by now had been expelled from his mother church for political activities in defense of the landless poor. One story, in particular, as told by catechist Mateo Paiz Lucas of the village of Aguacate, captures the essence of Fr. Andres’ ministry to these lost sheep. He was invited by the village elders to come to their village to perform the long-neglected sacraments. Arriving on August 24, 1995, and there being no sanctuary large enough to accommodate the many hundreds assembled, Fr. Andres baptized 200 infants in the village soccer field and performed hundreds of marriages. To their joy and delight, the long-suffering shepherdless flock of Aguacate, along with people from four other villages, had found their “gran pastor” or spiritual father. Persecutions from the Catholic Church soon followed, and in November of 1996, Fr. Andres was arrested by the civil authorities in the same village and told to never return again. Upon his arrest, Fr. Andres told his followers “if this church is of Giron, it will not last, but if it of God, its descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sands of the sea.” Despite numerous threats against his life and three assassination attempts, Fr. Andres persisted in his efforts to reach the lost sheep, whom he eventually led into canonical Orthodoxy in March of 2010.
Now five years later, I, together with the vicar- Fr. Mihail Castellanos, and the other Guatemalan clergy, have been making the rounds of the major parishes to commemorate the one year anniversary of the falling asleep of Fr. Andres.
The turnout in each place, including Chiapas, Mexico, has been very impressive, enthusiastic, emotional and inspiring. Over and over again we heard loud chants of “viva la Ortodoxia.” The Mayans have come home to the mother Church, after being rejected by their step-mother. Despite the loss of their leader, the momentum of the church and its potential for further growth continues unabated. In one of the villages representatives of non-Orthodox villages came to observe the services with an eye towards embracing the Orthodox Faith. The pastoral needs of the church in terms of ministry far outpace our ability to adequately respond. We have inherited a large flock, but few are the shepherds to tend it. Fr. Evangelos Pata, for example, is constantly on the move, visiting his seventy-two villages, but he is only one man. Two weeks ago in Aguacate, he and I performed 13 baptisms and 6 weddings during and after the Liturgy. This past Saturday we removed all the pews from his parish, and the people stood together like sardines for 4 hours as we celebrated the Liturgy and a three hour program remembering the life of Fr. Andres. Four full challices were needed to administer Holy Communion to this burgeoning community. Shouts of “Que vive Padre Andrés,” resounded in each village. Fr. Andrés lives on in the hearts and minds of his people, or as the Psamist says, “A righteous man shall be in everlasting remembrance…