Seminarians Speak

Welcoming the stranger…

Author: 
Herman Fields

Fr. Chrysostomos with students and Fr. Chad Hatfield after his lecture (photo: Herman Fields)Fr. Chrysostomos with students and Fr. Chad Hatfield after his lecture (photo: Herman Fields)Many visitors frequent our campus each Academic Year: bishops, priests, musicians, academics, monastics, potential students, and so forth. All of them enrich our lives as seminarians as we converse with them, share meals with them, and worship together.

On February 4, 2017, Archimandrite Chrysostomos Onyekakeyah from Nigeria came to St. Vladimir's to talk to us students about Orthodox mission work in Africa. With the permission of the Seminary’s President, Fr. Chad Hatfield, I had issued the invitation to Fr. Chrysostom, whom I’d met during my parish assignment at St. Nicholas Antiochian Cathedral in Brooklyn. I had already learned a bit about his fascinating life, and I wanted him to share his story further with me and with my fellow seminarians.

We found out that Fr. Chrysostomos serves large communities of converts, by riding from village to village each Sunday on his bicycle, and organizing benevolent projects for the elderly and for orphans. We also discovered that he runs St. Christopher's, an orphanage and elementary school in rural Nigeria, under the jurisdiction of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria.

Fr. Chrysostomos with children of his flock in NigeriaFr. Chrysostomos with children of his flock in NigeriaAdditionally, Fr. Chrysostomos serves five different parish communities in the area! The Orthodox Church in Nigeria, he told us, is growing, but the resources are scarce, and finding young men to become priests, training them, and then providing livable salaries for them are all serious challenges. (He himself has been a priest for twelve years, having studied at the archdiocesan seminary in Lagos, the largest city in Nigeria.)

Very interesting to me was Fr. Chrysostomos’ statement that the Orthodox Church in this particular mission field makes a number of concessions to local custom, a phenomenon he calls “enculturation.” By blessing and accommodating not only the local language, but also some local customs, the Church succeeds in making Orthodox Christianity truly organic and local, while unequivocally remaining inside of the universal canonical church tradition.

Even more interesting to us all were Fr. Chrysostomos’ descriptions of the church services: his sermons are often more than an hour long, and are given in a manner that invites congregational response and interaction; baptisms involve performing the sacrament with twenty or thirty children during the same service—such is the growth rate of the Orthodox communities he serves; and so many children are being communed on a Sunday that distributing Holy Communion can take from 45 minutes to an hour!

Finally, Fr. Chrysostomos encouraged us to consider the responsibility we have within the global Orthodox community to remember our brothers and sisters who have fewer resources, and to consider supporting his mission and orphanage. (Vestments are especially difficult to come by in Nigeria, and local churches in the New York area have kindly donated some. Others have donated prayer ropes and icons.)

I, and my fellow seminarians, learn a lot when we follow our Lord’s admonition to welcome strangers (Matt 25.35). I’m told by Fr. Chad that Fr. Chrysostom’s visit has providentially led to the possibility of his coming in the near future to St. Vladimir’s for study, along with other Nigerian students. I’m so blessed to have had that initial conversation with Fr. Chrysostom at my parish assignment—it’s opened doors and pathways, both spiritually and materially, for both of us.

Previous Seminarians Speak articles:

Title Author Datesort icon
St. Vladimir’s Seminary and the Upward Call Fr. Lucas Rice July 19, 2010
"I (used to) Play in a Rock Band" Jamey Bozeman September 16, 2010
"It's Worth It": Reflection on "Ed Day" Andrew Boyd October 29, 2010
Feasting before the Fast, Thanksgiving at SVOTS Sarah Bracey-Johnson November 22, 2010
Bless These Waters: Theophany at SVOTS David Wooten January 14, 2011
"I was in prison, and you visited me." (Matt 25:37) Adam Horstman March 14, 2011
Marching Peaceably, Praying Mightily Seminarian Dn. David Wooten January 26, 2012
Embracing All Who Suffer Loss: Seminarians Train for Post-Abortion Counseling Seminarian Dn. David Wooten March 8, 2012
For a Monastic, Seminary Life Seems "Ideal" Monk James March 13, 2012
A Life in Christ Under Guard Harrison Basil Russin September 25, 2012
Serving with His Beatitude Ignatius IV, Patriarch of Antioch Richard Ajalat October 29, 2012
We Are Being Formed Daily Jabra Tannous November 26, 2012
Our Common Love Gabrielle Kushlan March 19, 2013
Reflections on a New Academic Year Sandro Margheritino September 24, 2013
Oregon and New York, Farm and Seminary Ashli Moore October 23, 2013
How Many are Your Works, O Lord! Bogdan Neacsiu December 5, 2013
The Road to Hospital Chaplaincy Beryl Knudsen February 4, 2014
The Festival of Young Preachers, 2014 Fr. Gabreil Alemayehu February 14, 2014
A Unique Orthodox Community Experience Dn. Shiryl Mathai March 10, 2014
The Vocation of Fatherhood Joshua Trant April 2, 2014
"Delicately Perched": An Armenian Student's End-of-year Insights Kathryn Ashbahian May 7, 2014
Restoring the Western Rite Ian Abodeely August 14, 2014
What I Did This Summer Dn. Theodor Svane September 23, 2014
Transfiguration Seraphim Long October 16, 2014
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall... Lijin Raju November 19, 2014
The Saints John Mikitish December 16, 2014
At the National Festival of Young Preachers Tristan Gall January 9, 2015
To Lead, We Must Learn How to Serve Fr. Mark Vair February 10, 2015
In Pursuit of a Focusing of the Faith Nikita Andrejev March 16, 2015
"Glory be to Thee who hast shown us the light..." Rami Dahdal May 14, 2015
Sowing Seeds, Reaping Blessings: A Mission Trip to Kenya Shawn Thomas May 21, 2015
The Way of a Pilgrim Abraam Mikhail June 22, 2015
Four Things I’ve Learned (So Far) Fr. Theophan Whitfield September 28, 2015
Pursuing an Infinite God: a journey of the mind and the heart Peter Mansour October 23, 2015
A Whole New World Alex Mackoul December 15, 2015
Article Profiles Seminarian and Iconographer Seraphim O'Keefe Alan Pell Crawford December 30, 2015
Changed by His Grace Thomas Totonchy January 18, 2016
From Gulu, Uganda to Yonkers, New York: Seminarian Simon Menya's Report Simon Menya February 4, 2016
Led by God's Hand Lauren Pulley February 16, 2016
Go to Seminary Now? Christopher Moore March 2, 2016
Living the Gospel: Seminarian, Alumnus Join IOCC New Orleans Project Team Erik Potter March 7, 2016
Romanian Student Discovers New Horizons at St. Vladimir's Alexandru Popovici March 27, 2016
Through the Cross, Joy Andrew and Melissa Cannon April 5, 2016
A Song of Truth and Worship Sandy Hermansen May 5, 2016
Students Take Part in IOCC Build Antwian Davis January 23, 2017
Welcoming the stranger… Herman Fields February 17, 2017
Syndicate content Subscribe