With regret and sadness I have to inform you that I am leaving Nepal. There are several reasons for my departure and they have had a cumulative effect. It wasn’t until my recent visit to Greece that I realized how empty I had become. I was both physically and spiritually exhausted. Living alone for so long without the grace of the Church, without Orthodox fellowship had exacted a heavy toll. It took several weeks of attendance at services and reception of the eucharist and the lovingkindness of friends in Thessaloniki before I began once again to feel the strength of God’s grace within me.
A second reason has to do with my original motivation for coming to Nepal. The young Hindu priest who wished to become Orthodox and whom I first met in 2006, for reasons known only to himself and God, has refused to meet with me even once in the past 16 months. He no longer even responds to my emails. It is both puzzling and disheartening. I learned while at Vatopaidi that he is even now however seeking the help of the Romanian Orthodox Church to visit Romania and Greece and to have his family received into the Orthodox Church. Imagine having multiple jurisdictions in this small country with only 1 Orthodox family (should he actually succeed in becoming Orthodox) and one Orthodox priest. It is not a situation in which I wish to participate. He has made it clear that he wants to do things on his own and desires no help from me.
Finally, almost as soon as I arrived in Nepal in August 2013, I was once again hit with asthma, something I had been free of for a few years. It grew worse with each passing month. When I went to Greece, however, after a few weeks I was able to be free of symptoms and medicine. However, as soon as I returned to Nepal, the asthma returned and is even worse now than before. I am back on medication and yet struggling to breathe during the day and even more so at night. In fact, I had the first “asthma attack” in years just a few nights ago. In spite of the medication, the asthma attack is getting worse with each passing day and night.
Thus as I wrote at the beginning of this post, I am sad and regretful that I have to leave. I pray that one day someone else, better yet, a team of younger, healthier Orthodox believers will come to Nepal to enter upon longterm mission work here. Nepal is actually very open to the Gospel and the Orthodox Faith is a far better fit to the culture than the American version of Charismatic Protestantism that is being reproduced throughout the country. But as yet, Orthodoxy is virtually unknown here. The fields are ready for the harvest. Please pray that the Lord of the harvest will raise up workers.
To those of you who have been faithful to pray for me and to support me financially, I am so grateful and I thank you. Forgive me for being unable to complete the work that we all helped to begin here. Some small seeds have been planted. My Nepali language teacher says that he wants to meet me in Greece in order to learn more about the Church and the monastic life there. By your prayers and God’s grace may these small seeds yet spring up to bear some fruit.
What to do after I return to America is an open question. I ask your continued prayers that God would go before me and prepare the way and reveal that way to me. Thank you so very much.
Yours in Christ,
After Fr. Matthew Harrington arrived in Thessaloniki, we spent a few days in the city visiting various churches and venerating the saints of the city. Then we headed to Mt. Athos together.
Morning has broken, at Grigoriou monastery
First stop was Grigoriou monastery, where we spent time with old friends, Fr. Damianos, Fr. Pavlos, and Fr. Neophytos.
From there we traveled to Simono Petra, where I hoped to visit old acquaintances of mine. I hadn’t seen Fr. Iakovos in years, and hadn’t seen Fr. Maximos since his days as a teaching assistant at Holy Cross in 1996. Since then, my youngest son, Michael, had studied with both Fathers during his time at Hellenic College. Unfortunately, Fr. Maximos was still in the USA and Fr. Iakovos was on a brief trip into Thessaloniki, so we missed them both.
Looking up to the majestic Simono Petra Monastery
Our final stop on Athos was at the Monastery of Vatopaidi.
The ancient Byzantine monastery of Vatopaidi
And finally, after leaving Mt. Athos, we traveled to St. Nikodemos monastery near Greece’s border with Bulgaria. This monastery is a metochi (daughter monastery) of Simono Petra.
With Fr. Matthew
Unfortunately I do not have my laptop with me, neither do I have wifi at the moment so I am unable to post any pictures yet. That will likely have to wait until I return to Nepal. Fortunately my dear friend, George Karampatakis allows me to use his computer while I stay in his family’s home, which after so many years of visits here has become “my home” in Greece.
I’ve just returned to Thessaloniki after 2 weeks at Vatopaidi monastery. What a blessing, not only to be back at that wonderful monastery, but simply to be in an Orthodox temple, worshiping with my fellow Orthodox believers. It has been far too long. I was blessed to concelebrate the liturgy with Abbot Ephraim and the hieromonks of the monastery one Sunday. During the small entrance, each of the priests carries one of the reliquaries of the monastery. With wonder I stared down at the relic in my hands, the skull of St. John Chrysostomos. Amazingly the ear into which his disciple beheld St. Paul whispering to St. John as he wrote his commentaries remains incorrupt over 1600 years later.
Let me share what the Vatopaidi Fathers refer to as “a small miracle.” Every year on the eve of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, which we just celebrated on Mt. Athos, a small bowl of water mixed with flour is placed under the large cross in the entry of the main monastery church. It remains there overnight and at the conclusion of the Festal liturgy a monk retrieves the bowl. Several of us gathered to see what always happens by the conclusion of the liturgy. One clearly sees the yeast which has formed on top of the thick mixture of just flour and water. The appearance of yeast can only be explained by the grace of God. This then becomes the starter for all bread that is baked in the monastery kitchen for the following year until the miracle is repeated during the next Feast of the Cross. So in a way, every time we eat a piece of the monastery bread, we are participating in a small miracle. Thanks be to God!
Several people with strong interest in mission work in Nepal learned that I was coming to the monastery and so made a point of remaining longer than intended so that we could meet together. It was a great encouragement to me to meet people, previously unknown to me, who pray for me and for Nepal every day. One of the monastery fathers whom I know well, Fr. Charalambos, has prayed every day for me since my first visit to Nepal in 2006. He was a treasure trove of contacts, iconographic information, and much else. May God bless him for all he has done and is doing to help me in my work.
Now I await Fr. Matthew Harrington’s arrival on Thursday. I will show him around Thessaloniki and then take him out to Mt. Athos to some of the monasteries. It has been years since his last (and first) visit here when he was a layman and newly converted to Orthodoxy. After many years in the Church and now a priest, he will see things with new eyes.
I look forward to posting pictures of my stay here once I return to Nepal. Please pray for me as I travel. May God bless all of you who are contributing your prayers and finances to this ministry. – Fr. S.