Diocese of Zambia & Malawi
Father Nicodemus Chilembwe, Orthodox clergyman from Blantyre, Malawi, happened to be in Greece this summer in order to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Mount Athos and delve into Orthodox spirituality. Taking advantage of his presence, we asked him to talk to us about Orthodoxy in this small country in East Africa.7 years ago I was a Protestant in religion and a translator in profession. I liked to read and translate texts from English into Chichewa, the native language of Malawi. One day, as I was crossing the city, my eyes fell upon an Orthodox church. I found the spectacle rather strange. In some way it looked like a mosque, but the cross indicated that it was something related to Christianity. Curiosity prompted me to go in and observe its interior. I got confused. Although I was a faithful Protestant, that place was totally unfamiliar to me. A deep sense of awe came over me.
Suddenly, I saw a black figure approaching me from the north side of the church. I wanted to run away, but an Orthodox priest stopped me. It was Fr. Ermolaos Iatrou. “Who are you? What made you come here?” he asked. “I wanted to know some things about this church,” I said and started to ask questions. After some discussion, I asked him to accept me for catechesis.
Some time later, Fr. Ermolaos asked me what I did professionally. Once I told him that I was a translator, he suggested that I should work in the translation and printing office of the Mission. It came as a blessing to me. At the same time, he gave me a stack of books on the Orthodox faith to study at home. Little by little, some of my friends were interested in what I was doing and wanted to come for catechesis themselves. I was baptized one year later. Initially, it was difficult for my family to understand my conversion, but by the grace of God that changed.
On May Day 2009 I was ordained priest. This was a blessing as well as a new opportunity for me to get to know my faith better. In the Orthodox Church we can never learn it all. We always learn something new.
Then, I was assigned the ministry of catechesis. In time, I came to realize that the doctrines of our Holy Church are very strong because Orthodoxy originated in the Apostolic Age, the age of the Bible. It is not like the other churches that sprang up suddenly out of nowhere, without roots.
In the Orthodox Church, when we pray, we feel the power of the prayer. The protestants know nothing about the Holy Mysteries. Neither do they talk about the Holy Trinity. They perform baptism just by sprinkling with water and not according to the teachings of the Bible. Our pastors were afraid of getting wet with the water. They do not practice the Sacrament of Confession, neither do they have a spiritual father. However, when one wants to meet a President, one has to follow a protocol. Likewise, we should keep the protocol set by God for the remission of our sins.
This is true Faith. And the people who are serious eventually come to realize that, whether they turn to Orthodoxy or not. Unfortunately, Orthodoxy is something new for my country. They constantly ask me, “Where have these people been for so many centuries?” This is a difficult question to answer. My reply is that it was God’s plan.
Today there are 2,000 people who have already been baptized Orthodox and many others who are being monitored and catechized for at least one year.
Our main activity is catechesis. Naturally, this involves a lot of traveling from the city to the villages. Getting around is really difficult. Problems like having no petrol or getting stuck on the road are very common. We have 25 parishes across the country, with the exception of the northernmost part, but so far we have only managed to erect a Sacred Church in 10 of them.
Moreover, we do charity work as well. We do everything in our power to provide access to clean water because Malawi faces a big problem regarding water supply. We have already drilled over 20 water wells. Besides, we strive to provide food for 300 orphans on a daily basis, a task which is very difficult to accomplish! Many times we have nothing to give them; it is then that the thought of giving up crosses our minds. But since we started, it would be like an act of betrayal towards these children. We hope in God and continue our work.
We also try to visit prisons regularly. We give the prisoners gifts and also preach and catechize them. Some groups have already been formed but until now there have been no baptisms. On our part, we have designated a committee to visit and catechize the inmates in every prison. We also wish to organize spiritual meetings for women, but so far we have not managed to realize that.
Fortunately, there are some believers who are characterized by great zeal for the propagation of our faith. We have sent six of them to Kenya to study at the Theological Seminary there. Once they have finished and if called by God, they will be ordained priests. There are also some earnest catechists who are sent to the villages for catechesis. Every week we invite them and teach them at the school for Catechists. We instruct them not to teach anything that is not included in the Orthodox books, and certainly not to improvise. If they cannot respond to a certain question, they should not say anything, but instead, consult their books, read the proper answer and then explain it.
Running the printing and translation center of our mission is a difficult and demanding job. We need to find educated persons with a very good knowledge of English. Unfortunately we have no Orthodox people available who would be eligible to undertake the translation task. We have already translated the services of the Divine Liturgy and of some Sacraments. We have provided every believer with a booklet to read and understand the Divine Liturgy. We are currently translating the Menaea. Most believers attend the Matins, the Vespers and the Compline.
The translation process is a very tedious and costly task for our Mission. Good translators ask for a good salary, too. Thus a lot of money is required, as we do not need someone who only deals with translations part-time, because then the quality of the translation will be substandard and the translation rates slower. If something is unfamiliar or new to the translators, they come to me and I explain it to them.
I hope to increase in my knowledge of God. I am not pleased with myself. Recently I was in the Holy Monastery of Karakalou. There I had the chance to do some meditation and I wondered how much more difficult it is for a married clergyman who lives in the world to be saved. I read the book on Elder Joseph the Hesychast and I realized that I did not know many things and that my knowledge of God was limited. I want to be very close to my spiritual father and other devout brothers in order to fill my life with the truth. I also want to be able to share this truth with all the people so that we can inherit eternal life, which only the Orthodox faith can attain. My vision is to become holy myself and lead people’s souls to Christ.
Fr. Nicodemus Chilembwe