St Thomas’s Orthodox Church in Sunninghill, Johannesburg, celebrates its 30th anniversary this weekend, on St Thomas’s Day.
The church was founded by Serbian immigrants to South Africa, and for the last five years has been led by Hieromonk Pantelejmon (Jovanovic).
A bishop, a priest and a deacon came from Serbia to celebrate with the parish, and last night Vespers and Litiya was served with Bishop Atanasije, the Auxiliary Bishop of Belgrade, in the presence of the local Archbishop, Metropolitan Seraphim, Archbishop of Johannesburg and Pretoria.
At the end of Vespers Bishop Atanasije conferred on Archbishop Seraphim the Order of St Symeon on behalf of his Holiness Pavle, Pariarch of Belgrade. The award was conferred for Metropolitan Seraphim’s encouragement and support for the parish of St Thomas and its clergy.
After Vespers Bishop Atanasije gave a public lecture on “The forgotten ways — church fathers and monasticism in the modern and postmodern world”. Bishop Atanasije said he did not want to give a formal lecture, but would say a few words, and then encourage people to ask questions and take part in discussion. He said that Jesus Christ did not write a book, but taught the apostles, and that their teaching was passed on to the church. They taught people, who in turn taught others, and this is why the church is described as apostolic, since it passed on the apostolic teaching.
Archbishop Seraphim then asked Bishop Atanasije about the state of the church in Kosovo, and conditions of life for Christians there. Bishop Atanasije said that there was a lot of hypocrisy on the part of political leaders of the world. One example was that the present Kosovo government was applying to the European Union for funds to restore churches and monasteries that had been destroyed under Nato supervision. This was to make them look good in the eyes of the politicians of the EU. What the church had asked was for the homes of the people who had been ethnically cleansed from Kosovo to be restored. If the people had homes, then they could themselves raise the funds to rebuild the church buildings.
He said that one of the saddest moments was when he visited one of the rebuilt monasteries and there were some Roman Catholic clergy there, one of whom had bade him “welcome”. And Bishop Atanasije said that in a monastery that had been Orthodox for 800 years, he should be welcoming the Roman Catholic visitors, rather than being welcomed by them.
Someone asked Bishop Atanasije about what spiritual advice the church could give people who had lost their homes and livelihoods in such a way, and so there was a general discussion on the question of innocent suffering. One comment was that some of the early desert fathers would complain to God when everything was going well and they were not being persecuted or suffering in some other way, and ask in what way they had sinned that God was neglecting them. That is quite a contrast to the “prosperity” gospel that is so common in the world today, and that, perhaps is one of the most forgotten of the forgotten ways.