The conversation published below
took place in early December 2009, during the visit of
Metropolitan Jonah (OCA) to Russia to celebrate the 15th
anniversary of the Moscow representation of the Orthodox Church
in America, and is devoted to the activities of the Church in
Beatitude, in which Latin American countries
is the Orthodox Church in America
jurisdiction of our Church extends to Mexico.
Previously, we also had some parishes in
Argentina, Brazil, Peru and Venezuela. But
some of them left for the Russian Church
Abroad, the others were closed.
communities in Latin America want to join
the Orthodox Church in America. We would be
happy to take these believers, but there is
no one to care for them, because we have
very few priests who speak Spanish or
A priest – I
hope he will soon become a bishop – began a
mission in Ecuador in Guayaquil, where there
settled a major Palestinian colony.
Unfortunately, in recent years, his good
initiative was dampened. I heard that in
Central American countries, particularly in
El Salvador, there are many Palestinians.
Curiously, they do not go to the parishes of
the Antiochian Church, and have been asking
to be accepted under our omophorion.
Ecumenical and Antiochian Patriarchates
prefer to care for the Greek and Arab
diaspora. We do not understand this. The
Church must give pastoral care, first of all
to local spiritual children. This is the
principled position of the Orthodox Church
was the Mexican Exarchate established?
- The Mexican
Exarchate exists since the early 1970′s. At
that time, the bishop of the Mexican
National Old Catholic Jose Church, Jose (Cortes
and Olmos), got in touch with our Church,
and together with his community came to
Orthodoxy. Because of his work, hundreds of
Mexicans penetrated the Orthodox faith.
5,000 Indians from 23 localities in the
State of Veracruz were baptized Orthodox
However, such a huge mass of parishioners
have only one priest. In the Mexican
Exarchate there are in general very few
clerics. All of them Mexicans, including the
ruling bishop – Bishop Alejo (Pacheco-Vera).
you ever been in Latin America?
- I just
visited Mexico. I’m now planning to go to
Guatemala. My friend,
(Aiai), lives there; she is Abbess of Holy
Trinity Monastery which is in the
jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Antioch.
Guatemala, my attention is drawn to a
group of thousands of people wishing to
convert to Orthodoxy. Most of them are Mayan
people. If we accept these, my Guatemalans,
as well as representatives of indigenous
peoples of other countries in Latin America,
the Indians, could become the main ethnic
group in the American Orthodox Church.
Personally, I would be glad.
- It is
clear that you are sympathetic to the
original inhabitants of the Americas …
- I feel very
warm feelings for the Indians. At university
I studied anthropology, was fond of the
Mayan and Aztec cultures. They are great and
I like Latin
America as a whole – its art, music,
literature, cuisine. Latinos love life, they
are open and hospitable people. I grew up in
California – one of the most Hispanicized
states in the US. From my Mexican friends I
learned a little Spanish (although I speak
it badly). The priest, having united me to
the Orthodox Church, was a Mexican. His name
was Father Ramon Merlos.
are the similarities and differences in the
missionary work with the Indians of the
United States and Latin America?
- Frankly, I
do not know … Our church has a missionary
experience in Alaska, where a wonderful
priest, Archpriest Michael Oleksa, serves;
he’s an anthropologist by profession. He is
Carpatho-Russian, and his wife comes from an
indigenous Yupik community. Father Michael
wants to hold in Alaska a conference of
Orthodox American Indians. It will be an
extremely interesting event.
as rector of the seminary, Father Michael
invited the community from Guatemala, which
is hungering for Orthodoxy, to send two of
its members to obtain theological education.
The idea is certainly good, but people
accustomed to a tropical climate, are
unlikely to bear Alaskan cold.
there Hispanics among your parishioners in
- Of course.
In California, 35% of the population is
Hispanic; in Texas it’s even greater. Latins
are present in both the flock and clergy of
our Church. St. Tikhon Seminary has a
Mexican student with Indian roots; he’s
named Abraham. He is a subdeacon. One
subdeacon in San Francisco is of Colombian
origin. At the end of November of this year,
I consecrated a new convent in honor of the
Nativity of Our Lord in Dallas — where the
abbess is Brazilian.
in your opinion, attracts Hispanics to
- Latins love
our liturgy and icons; they are captivated
by a deep reverence for the Mother of God,
inherent in the Orthodox Church.
I must say
that the Catholic Church is rapidly losing
influence in Latin America, because of her
close ties with the upper classes of society.
Many of the poor who are the majority of the
population of the region are disappointed in
the Catholic pastors and joined the
Protestants, Mormons and other sectarians.
Andres (Giron), the head of the Order of
white clergy of St. Basil the Great in
Guatemala, was formerly a Catholic priest.
He saw that his leaders were focused on the
rich, and in the early 1990′s left the
Catholic Church, because he wanted to work
for the people. Recently, Metropolitan
Andres told me: “I’m already old and sick.
Please, take my people to your church for
their salvation.” His community can hardly
be called Orthodox, but gradually it will
learn the faith and will be united to the
traditions of the Orthodox Church. In
addition to Guatemala, Bishop Andres opened
parishes in Los Angeles, San Francisco and
other cities in the United States where his
- You are
not afraid of a conflict with the Catholic
Church? Despite everything, Latin America is
still considered the “principal diocese of
- There will
be no conflict. The Catholic Church is loyal
to Orthodoxy. Moreover, I see great
potential for co-work with the Catholic
Church, particularly in opposing