In Guatemala, thousands of indigenous Mayan people are becoming Orthodox. With the blessing of His Eminence Metropolitan Athenagoras, OCMC Missionaries Fr. John and Pres. Alexandra Chakos are working alongside Fr. Andres Giron to train clergy and catechists that will help these new brothers and sister in Christ grow in their faith.
“In the least likely of places, the bliss of paradise opens itself up to the humble of heart”, observes OCMC Missionary Fr. John Chakos. Over the past few years, a great change has been taking place for Orthodoxy right here in the West. Guatemala now holds astounding promise in becoming very fertile ground for the growth of the Orthodox Christian Church.
Guatemala is a nation in Central America made up of approximately 13 million people, 36% of whom are indigenous Mayan. It is within the indigenous communities that the Orthodox Church is taking root and growing. There are hundreds of thousands of faithful who need to be properly catechized and prepared for reception into the Church through chrismation and baptism.
The Orthodox Church of Guatemala was established by a former Roman Catholic priest, Fr. Andres Giron, when he responded to a calling from within to minister to the indigenous Mayan population. In April of 2010, he was received into the canonical Orthodox Church by His Eminence Metropolitan Athenagoras, the presiding hierarch of the Orthodox Metropolis of Mexico, Central America, Columbia, Venezuela, and the Caribbean Islands, under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. Fr. Andres quickly began chrismating the faithful and educating the hundreds of thousands of new Orthodox. He has established more than 40 villages, and he ministers and labors unceasingly among the indigenous Mayans living in the mountainous regions of Guatemala and southern Mexico. The group has 338 churches to which more than 350,000 faithful belong.
It is within this context that Fr. John and Presbytera Alexandra Chakos are serving as long-term OCMC missionaries in Guatemala to assist leaders in teaching the faithful. Fr. John Chakos says of the churches there, “These are the cathedrals of the poor, every bit as magnificent as the hallowed shrines of Orthodoxy in the great centers of the world.” He continues, “As beautiful as those are who preach the gospel of peace, even more beautiful are the humble folk who receive it with love and purity of soul.”
Fr. John is helping to train new priests and catechists who then return to their own villages across the country to serve the Mayan people. Eight priests have been ordained and are assisted by nearly 500 catechists who are ministering to the faithful by helping them to grow in their faith. Reaching the Orthodox communities in Guatemala can be a challenge. More personnel, supplies, support, and materials in the language of the people are needed to teach the basics of Orthodoxy, the Divine Liturgy, and other services. Despite these basic needs, their faith is strong: parishes are packed on Sundays, many communities base their activities around the local church, and many villages tithe faithfully.
Tithing is one aspect that will help this community attain the holistic goal for the Church to be self-sustaining. On a recent visit to Guatemala, OCMC Executive Director Fr. Martin Ritsi was awed by the number of initiatives being undertaken by the Church in Guatemala to ensure that the communities will be financially independent. One of these efforts, a sewing and arts and crafts ministry in Nueva Concepcion, is being coordinated by Pres. Alexandra. The women employed by this ministry sew vestments and liturgical pieces to sell globally, and this money helps to support the Church there.
OCMC will be sending additional long-term missionaries to Guatemala to assist with the growing needs. Fr. David and Matushka Rozanne Rucker will be serving as Mission Specialists, where Fr. David will assist with clergy training. Other missionaries will be going to serve in number of capacities including the translation of Orthodox materials into the many Mayan dialects spoken by the people in Guatemala.
Looking forward, the mission field in Guatemala has a bright future. Those diligently working in this field have future priorities of training new catechists by holding bi-monthly seminars at the Centro Apostolico, translation work, building Orthodox schools, providing medical care and dental care, and continuing with sustainability projects. This is an exciting time for Orthodoxy, and we hope that you will keep every one of our Orthodox brothers and sisters in Guatemala in your prayers as they continue in this great work.
For more on the work there and to follow the progress in Guatemala, you can view Fr. John and Pres. Alexandra’s blog at www.thewordfromguatemala.com.