|present page: Pilgrimage to Los Baņos
"For everyone who asks receives,
and he who seeks finds,
and to him who knocks it will be opened."
Pilgrimage to Los Baņos|
by the Very Revd. George Vladimirou
(at that time Chancellor of the Metropolis of Hong Kong and SE Asia,
now Metropolitan of Zimbabwe, Africa).
With the blessing of God, I visited last month our fellow brothers and sisters in the Philippines. This time I had the chance to visit the Holy Trinity parish in Los Baņos, Laguna. The ride from Manila to Los Baņos by car or bus is one hour, if you are lucky, as the traffic in Manila is terrible. Usually it takes you around two to three hours to reach Los Baņos.
In the same area of the Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, is the campus of the Manila University. Los Baņos is motherland of Dori (Theodora) and Ludy (Lydia). The Hong Kong community remembers them very well as they worked for a couple of years in this part of the world and were very active members of the Orthodox community here.
No matter what the economic difficulties of the country are, the people there live on their own rhythm. They are always happy, polite, and very hospitable. The reason of that is not only their culture, but also because Philippines is a Christian Nation. The local government respects and supports Christians. Because of that, the missionaries feel more comfortable to work in such environment rather than work in a country where Christians are prosecuted.
Another characteristic of the people is their love for music. All gatherings and celebrations are accompanied by music, songs, dance. Everybody is blessed by God with a beautiful voice.
In Los Baņos Fr. Philemon and I were welcomed by Lydia, Theodora and her family. We walked to their home. We talked about the community, the Sunday school and the preparations for His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew's visit, which will take place in March 2000. The Orthodox children who attend Sunday school will present to the Patriarch various folklore songs and dances of the Laguna area. Around 4 pm, we proceeded to the church of the Holy Trinity. To reach the church, we had to pass through rice fields. The rain was so heavy that it made our way more difficult as the dirt became mud. At the entrance of the church, we were welcomed by Fr. Tarasios, the parish priest who just finished with his duties as a teacher at the local primary school. At 5 pm, we co-celebrated the Divine Liturgy in honor of Saint Onisiphoros of the Seventy and Saint Sozon. The heavy rain did not stop at all. The noise of the rain dropping on the church roof and the loud thunderstorm many times drowned the beautiful chanting of the congregation.
The Divine Liturgy was followed by "Artoklasia", the blessing of the loaves, and then I extended to the faithful people a personal message of His Eminence Metropolitan Nikitas along with his paternal love and blessing. Then we distributed crosses, icons and sweets to adults, chocolates and toys to children. The William McGrath family was so kind to offer us four huge bags full of toys and Barbies. The children were so happy that it reminded me of the Christmas feast. Only those who were present there could witness the happiness of the girls when they received the Barbie dolls.
The darkness of the night already covered the area, and it was so peaceful on our way back to Theodora's home. She and Lydia already prepared many local dishes and hosted a dinner for all the faithful who attended the Divine Liturgy. After having our dinner, it was time for some spiritual food as well. Many brethren express hesitations, and then one subject followed the other. We covered many dogmatic theses of the Orthodox church. When you have good company the time passes fast, so we reached midnight without realizing it. Everybody went back home joyful because of the many blessings that were given on that day.
The next morning, we visited the church of Annunciation in Paranaque, Metro Manila, the parish of Fr. Philemon. This church is one of the diocese's diamonds. His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will consecrate the church in March 2000 when he visits the Philippines. More than 40 children were there waiting to meet us. Most of them lived in nearby slums. Many families are still living in slums in the Philippines, India, Thailand, while West is preparing to celebrate the 2nd Millennium by spending billions of dollars. And everybody can wonder how you celebrate in such way while people are suffering and dying of hunger.
Fr. Philemon has arranged to offer a meal to the children every Sunday. He distributes food and candies not only to the Orthodox people, but also to everybody needing help. The church does not discriminate. The Orthodox church might be strict with the dogma and the Holy Communion; however, when it comes to philanthropic help it gives its love to all the children of God regardless of their faith, language, culture and the like.
The service of the Small Supplications to the Theotokos was followed by the presentation of flowers by the children to the icon of the Theotokos. Then there was the meal that followed. On that date, the volunteers prepared pasta with minced meat sauce. After supper, we distribute chocolates and candies. Once again, we witnessed the love of the Orthodox church. Our brothers and sisters from the Philippines are always in our hearts and in our prayers. We are sure that the merciful God will always bless and protect them.
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