FROM GUATEMALA WITH LOVE : MAYAN ORTHODOXY COMES TO THE U.S.A.

The legacy of Fr. Andres lives on in America.

Led by their charismatic leader in Guatemala- the late Father Andres Giron (2014), the Mayan people found a champion to vigorously address their spiritual and material needs. The social movement began with his advocacy for land reform and their repatriation to lands forcibly taken from them. No longer having a spiritual home because of many dislocations brought about by a brutal civil war and the absence of pastoral care, these same people also asked Father Andres to assume responsibility for their spiritual lives. Village after village sought him out for sacraments — baptisms, weddings, confessions, the Holy Eucharist, health care and healing. Having been expelled from his mother church for his political activities, he was additionally threatened with death and nearly assassinated four times, even while accompanied by body guards. Fr. Andres, nonetheless, bravely traveled to remote places where the faithful yearned to hear the Gospel preached from a man who dearly loved them, even unto death. This true apostle of Christ, accompanied by a small cadre of dedicated priests that he had inspired and trained, led his long-suffering flock into the embrace of the Orthodox Christian Church in 2010. It was Archbishop Athenagoras of Mexico who wisely opened the door of Orthodoxy to the tens of thousands of Mayans who now call the Orthodox Church their true mother.

Since this time, the church has grown and can now be found in more than 150 villages throughout Guatemala and Chiapas, Mexico. The seeds of this movement have now been planted in the United States in places like Oakland, California and the state of Washington, where pockets of Guatemalans are seeking to establish their own distinctively Mayan Orthodox churches. On July 13 and 14, I joined Father Evangelos Pata, the Vicar for Guatemala, in Oakland to celebrate the Divine Liturgy for 300 people, as well as the rites of Baptism and Chrismation for 16 candidates. Fr. Tom Zafferes, priest of the nearby Ascension Church, with the blessing of his hierarch, Archbishop Gerasimos, desirous of meeting the pious members of the community, participated as well. Most of the Guatemalan faithful hailed from the region of Todos Los Santos in the state of Huehuetenango. Arrayed in their typical indigenous vesture, they honored the revered traditional dress of their Mayan ancestors.

The Liturgy is solemnly celebrated, bringing much joy to all.
New members of the church are presented to the congregation

A bright future is envisioned for these fledgling communities of Guatemalans. Following the example of their beloved founder, Father Andres, they hope one day to reach out to the greater Latino community in the United States. Evangelistic efforts like this one are happening throughout Guatemala every day. Our team of five OCMC missionaries serving in the field, led by the five indigenous clergy, are spreading the Good News with support from so many people of good will throughout the world. To date, we have established the Father Andres Giron Medical Clinic, fully operational since 2015, the St. Andres Seminary, housing and training 12 students, a sewing center for Orthodox vestments, a catechetical training center for the many catechists of the church, a medical scholarship fund to train doctors and nurses, a center to publish liturgical texts and the “Calendario Ortodoxo” of daily saints and Scripture readings. Besides this, there is an active program of church construction and renovation taking place, allowing us to bear witness to the unique character of the Orthodox church in icons, architecture and ritual. All of this is made possible with the help and encouragement of Archbishop Athenagoras, as well as visiting OCMC teams of medical professionals, construction workers, translators, teachers, and many generous foundations and donors. Working together, we can make the great mission legacy of Fr. Andres and his priests and people, a great witness that redounds to the glory of God.

Comments

  1. May the presence of God-loving Orthodox from among the Maya in Oakland and elsewhere bless our cities and show Christian love to all the people who live there. As a longtime past resident of Oakland I lament the inability of Ascension Cathedral to effect its mission beyond a very narrow category of upper middle-class, Greek-American people. The presence of large numbers of Orthodox who are anything but rich and Greek presents a challenge to Ascension and all the churches in Alameda County to respond to their pastoral needs. Success in such an effort will save Ascension, et.al. from irrelevance, and show Christ to all who are seeking Him. May this be so.

    • Father John Chakos says

      Thank you for your insightful and challenging response, highlighting the need for the church to reach out in love to the world. Fr. John

  2. Helenmae Reed says

    Yesterday my husband and I attended a Guatemalan Orthodox Church. As we walked in a sense of being transported to Guatemala overtook us.
    All of the ladies had their traditional white cotton lace head coverings, vibrant hand woven shirts, belts and navy blues skirts on. Many of the men wore their tradition dress also. I would have like to take a picture of them but didn’t want to intrude like a tourist.
    What a beautiful experience to see these warm hearted loving people gathered together to baptize 4 babies and carismate 5 older children/adults.
    The Priest Mihail Castellanos who came from Guatemala to officiate welcomed us open heartedly also.
    After the service everyone present was treated to very tasty homemade Guatemalen food!!
    After Maks/Michael and I left we felt we’d received an awesome gift of being invited into Guatemalan here in America.
    Thank you Lord!
    When I was 17 I went to a village in the mountains of Mexico SW of the city of Monterrey with a mission group and lived there or almost a year. Having not taken any courses I truly learned Spanish by immersion. Years later I took a number of conversational Spanish classes which I’ve used it In my jobs in Pediatrics and in Postpartum/Lactation at a
    Hospital in Silverdale Washington.

    The service this last Sunday was mainly in Spanish although an interpreter was used at times because some of the people don’t speak Spanish but Mam/Todo Santos.

    I became acquainted with the Guatemalan people in the hospital and looked into their cultures. I knew a little about them because my parents had friends from Wycliff Bible Translators who were there for moe than 20 years working with another people group.
    I met Jesse Brandow a missionary who works Orthodox Missions in Aguacate, learned about their work there and sponsored him for 2 years. Also Father Juvenal a retired priest spoke about heading to Guatemala to work with the Mayan people I told him about the Guatemalans here and wondered if a
    missionary could come here for outreach.
    Fast forward 2 plus years.
    You know we are downsizing and needed a painting company. One I spoke with had a little bit of a Spanish accent I wondered if he was Mexican or Guatemalan. As he went thru our house our icons caught his attention and asked if we were Orthodox. He then told me he was also.
    I guess that was about 1 month ago. He said a
    Priest was coming to baptize and people.
    There is lots more to tell but I can say it seems like God is doing something.
    The painters, the praise group and the Priest came to Vesoers at our church then Maks and I went the next morning there.
    Please pray for His Will to be done in their churches and how I fit in.
    Father John Strickland is looking into how we might reach out to our Todo Santos Orthodox brothers and sisters in Christ.
    Blessed be the Name of the Lord.

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