Philippines: The dawn of Orthodoxy
The Philippines are a group of coral-embroidered islands, which the Pacific Ocean stole from the land of South Asia and made its own. They form a sea carved archipelago of more than 7,000 islands with a population of 95 million people. Their people are characterized by politeness in speech and kindness. Their piety stems from as pure as crystal soul and the religious feeling permeates throughout their society.
The Grace of God, Who knows how to defy the odds, allowed our Orthodox faith, which leads to salvation, to rise in this country as well, about 30 years ago. It all began in 1983, when Vincent Escarcha, a Roman Catholic benectidine abbot from the island of Masbate in Central Philippines, made a trip to the USA. There, on Holy Saturday, he met a large crowd of worshippers outside a Greek Orthodox Church and felt the urge to participate in the Divine Liturgy of the Resurrection. He was touched by the Orthodox worship and began to attend the holy services regularly, which lasted for six months.
His quest for Orthodoxy did not stop there. After seven years of laborious research, studying and penetration into the Orthodox faith, in 1990 along with another 12 souls he accepted the pastoral visit of Metropolitan Dionysios of New Zealand and of the Bishop of Zela at that time, Fr. Sotirios Trampas. In the April of the same year, at the chapel of the Greek consulate of Manila, where missionary Fr. Athanasios Anthides had once conducted the Divine Liturgy, Fr Vincent along with a novice, four nuns and another seven women, were chrismated and formed the first nucleus of the Orthodox Church in the Philippines.
The Orthodox Missionary Fraternity has embraced the Mission in the Philippines since its establishment, supporting the erection of the Holy Church of the Annunciation of the Theotokos in Manila and of the Holy Monastery of the Nativity of the Theotokos on the island of Masbate. Fr. Sotirios Trampas was the soul of the first missionary expeditions, which conveyed the Word of Orthodoxy to distant places.
Today Orthodoxy is present at 10 regions of this tropical country and numbers about 1,600 people. The distances are vast, since the length of the Philippines measures more than 1,850 km. Most of the communities are on the northern island of Luzon, where the capital city, Manila, is located. On the central islands, the Visayas, the worshippers are mainly served by the monastery of the Theotokos and some other nuclei. Lately, Orthodoxy has also spread to the southern volcanic island of Mindanao, where in December 2012 two new church communities of 70 believers were founded.
Orthodox Filipinos are characterized by their zeal, but the Mission has several problems to deal with. The clergy there has not received full training; as a result, there is only one confessor for the whole archipelago. There are still lacking in even the plainest items of worship, there are no holy churches, while the existing ones need restoration. It is characteristic the fact that the six priests of the country have no second cassock to wear, while the baptisms are performed within bins instead of fonts.
25 years ago, we, the Orthodox, transmitted the light of true faith to these people. Now, we must support them in these difficulties that they are going through. Orthodox Filipinos ask for nothing that is not really necessary. They simply ask for our help, like brothers in faith, in order to worship God properly and decently. They ask us to teach them the orthodox virtues and also to give them a tangible example of our love in Christ. They have shown admirable patience for so many years. Their heart is expecting to welcome our so valuable to them help. Let’s not turn a deaf ear.