His Beatitude the Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa Kyr Theodoros II in official visit to the only Serbian Orthodox parish

Members of the Serbian community and the faithful of the only Serbian Orthodox parish in Africa, were blessed with great blessing and spiritual support just before the holy days of Week of Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ and the feast of feasts, the Resurrection of Christ. On Friday, March 26th, on the eve of St. Lazarus's Saturday, the Serbian Orthodox parish of St Thomas the Apostle in Johannesburg was visited by His Beatitude Theodoros II , the Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa. His Beatitude was accompanied by His Eminence Seraphim, Archbishop of Johannesburg and Pretoria, the Very Reverend Archimandrite Pantelejmon, personal secretary at the Office of His Beatitude in Alexandria, and our dear priest from Johannesburg, the Reverend Father Athinodoros Papaevripaides.

The welcoming ceremony was attended, among many gathered members of our church community in Johannesburg and members of our parish, by President and Vice President of the Church Committee, Mr. Igor Marinkovic and Mr. Predrag Sarovic, and members of the Church Committee, Mr. Zivojin Jovanovic, Mr. Ivo Zecevic and Mrs. Mirjana Mihaljevic. His Excellency the Ambassador of Serbia in South Africa, Mr. Goran Vujicic also attended this ceremony, as well as Father Daniel, the Rector of the Russian Orthodox parish of St. Sergius of Radonez in Johannesburg, Hieromonk Seraphim (Van Niekerk), Deacon Stephen (Hayes) and student of the Orthodox Seminary of Patriarch Petros VII in Johannesburg, the brother Chrysostom, who comes from the African Orthodox family and whose immediate family members serve God as priests and monastic clergy in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

All gathered, including many children, welcomed the Patriarch of Alexandria at the entrance to the church yard with a traditional Serbian custom - with bread and salt, and the clergy with the Holy Gospel and Holy Cross. After all present received Patriarchal holy blessing, they proceeded to St Thomas's church while singing a church prayer song in honour of the Most Holy Theotokos "Axion Estin". The Doxology was served in the church and then His Beatitude Patriarch Theodoros, quite spontaneously (Seeing the big picture of late Serbian Patriarch Pavle in our church), knelt down in front of the photograph, kiss the photo and then served a memorial service for the Serbian Patriarch. Members of our church community had emotionally experienced this act of the Patriarch of Alexandria, an act full of love and deep respect for the Serbian people and Serbian Patriarch Pavle.

After holy prayers, the Rector of the Church of St Thomas the Apostle , Archimandrite Pantelejmon welcomed the spiritual father of all Orthodox Christians in Africa, saying that today's visit of His Beatitude Patriarch Theodoros II to the Serbian parish in Johannesburg is a great honour and privilege and that it was a great blessing for the Serbian people in Africa and the Serbian Orthodox parish in Johannesburg. Through our parish, we can see indeed, brotherly love and an unbreakable connection between Alexandrian and the Serbian Church. He thanked Patriarch Theodoros for the great effort that he personally, together with members of the Holy Synod of the Alexandrian Church, have made in preserving and spreading the Orthodox faith on the African continent. Father Pantelejmon also expressed his gratitude to Archbishop Seraphim and Father Athinodoros for the support provided to our parish in spiritual and missionary work, and also thanked the other members of clergy present, Fathers Daniel, Seraphim and Stephen for brotherly love and spiritual cooperation and support.

Archimandrite Pantelejmon then pointed out that among the gathered Serbs, who came to greet the Patriarch of Alexandria, are those who came to South Africa more than 50 years ago (Mr. Kosta Babic and Mr. Risto Andjelopolj), as well as those who arrived recently, and who with hard and honest work took place and gained reputation and respect in South African society. Father Pantelejmon also thanked Patriarch Theodoros for his Patriarchal blessing for a Serbian bishop from our homeland to visit the Church and School Community of Saint Sava in Johannesburg (which has an invaluable spiritual significance for the Serbian people in Africa) and he also expressed sorrow at the moving into eternity of our father, Patriarch Pavle of Serbia, who was our great comfort, joy and spiritual strength. At the end, Father Pantelejmon expressed happiness over the election of a new Serbian Patriarch, the experienced bishop Kyr Irinej, who with the Holy Spirit and the will of God has been elected to lead the entire Serbian Orthodox Church and who, we firmly believe and know, will continue to lead the Serbian Orthodox Church on the same path as Patriarch Pavle did. Then Archimandrite Pantelejmon asked kindly His Beatitude to pray to God for members of the Serbian community in Africa and around the world.

His Beatitude Theodoros, Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa particularly expressed his gratitude to Father Pantelejmon and faithful people who help him, for the warm welcome and kind words. "I was born in Crete and I feel love and closeness with the Serbian people and Serbian Orthodox Church. Great credit for my love of the monastic life, holy altar and holy table, even from the time when I was a student in Athens, are due to the Serbian bishops Amfilohije Radovic, Artemije Radosavljevic and Irinej Bulovic." Saying that he brought us the blessings of St Mark the Apostle of Alexandria, Patriarch Theodoros said that we are at the beginning of a passion week in which the church services quote a lot of biblical events that happened in Egypt. "When here, in your holy church, I saw photograph of the late Serbian Patriarch Pavle, I reacted emotionally because Patriarch Pavle did a lot for Orthodoxy throughout the world. I thank God for the election of a new Serbian Patriarch Kyr Irinej and I look forward to meeting him and being his host in Alexandria."

His Beatitude Patriarch Theodoros thanked father Pantelejmon for excellent cooperation that he has with Archbishop Seraphim, and told him that the Patriarchate of Alexandria and the Diocese of Johannesburg and Pretoria are always there to help him in pastoral and missionary work. The Patriarch said that the Greek and Serbian people were passing and are still going through similar problems; that through all the ages together they will witnessing the Orthodox faith worldwide, and these two peoples are therefore very close. His Beatitude Patriarch Theodoros, as he was blessing the people present one more time, expressed gratitude for the hospitality and welcome and as he had seen icon Mother of God "three hands" in our church, said that the holy icon causes in him special feelings because that icon is the feast day of his family's patron saint.

After everyone sang "Many years" to His Beatitude, Archimandrite Pantelejmon gave gifts to distinguished guests: from the Serbian monastery a beautiful icon of St. Sava, the book "History of the Serbian Orthodox Church" (in Greek) and "Christ the Alpha and Omega" (in English) and drawing of seven year old girl Anastasia from Serbia (niece of father Pantelejmon), who drew church of St. Thomas in Johannesburg and Father Pantelejmon with joyful African children in the front of the church. The drawing had the message: "Lots of love to children in Africa from children in Serbia". Patriarch Theodoros sincerely thanked Father Pantelejmon for the beautiful and precious gifts, and then handed over to Father Pantelejmon beautiful gift (for the Serbian Orthodox church of St Thomas the Apostle in Johannesburg) which was made by the Egyptian monks - a Holy Cross with a box for the holy gifts. Then Patriarch Theodoros and Archbishop Seraphim wrote messages in the holy Gospel, set on holy table in altar and in the book of mourning established on the occasion of passing of Serbian Patriarch Pavle.

Upon exiting the church, attracted by the beautiful smell, the Patriarch Theodoros noticed a handful of basil planted in the church gardens and joyfully picked small bunch for himself. After taking a group photograph in front of the church, by traditional Serbian custom and hospitality, the hosts had prepared a lunch according to the rules of Great Lent. The atmosphere on the table was close and friendly, full of brotherly love and mutual respect. We all felt like members of one family. Parishioners jointly prepared lunch and again testified that on our church property in Johannesburg we gather in Christian love, contributing to the progress and spiritual benefit of each other and jointly working with faith in our Lord. Lunch was prepared by: especially Milivoje Milovanovic, then Ognjen Bulatovic, Pedja Turnjanin and the families Ristovic, Marinkovic, Mihaljevic, Sarovic, Djokic, Zecevic, Jovanovic, Colic, Lazic, Popovic, Tucakovic, Belovic, Mihic... While sitting at the table the parishioners sang the Hymn to St. Sava and one song from Kosovo.

His Beatitude Patriarch Theodoros congratulated Father Pantelejmon for his commitment and effort in promoting the spiritual life in the Serbian parish, helping Archbishop Seraphim in missionary work and for taking good care of church property, noticing a great improvement of the church property compared with his first visit five years ago. Father Pantelejmon thanked the Patriarch of Alexandria for fatherly words of support and love and reminded the parishioners present of the great blessing that all felt and that great spiritual strength is given to us by having gathering with God's holy people, to whom Patriarch Theodoros certainly belongs. While Father Pantelejmon was addressing parishioners at the table in the Serbian language, Patriarch Theodoros spontaneously took the role of interpreter to Greek language (as he himself lived over long period of time in Russia and knows Slavonic languages) for the Greek-speaking clergy present. Father Pantelejmon, surprised, said to everyone that he thinks that no one has ever had such an interpreter as His Beatitude Patriarch of Alexandria, which caused honest applause and laughter of all present, as well as of the Patriarch Theodoros, who felt as though he was among his closest and dearest.

We, all the members of the Serbian Orthodox community that, together with our children, gathered on this day in our Church of St Thomas the Apostle in Johannesburg, are thankful to God for the great gift and blessing during a visit of Alexandrian Patriarch Theodoros II to our Church-School community of St. Sava. We are proud that our Church-School community undoubtedly became an unbreakable bond of most sincere brotherly love and cooperation between the Alexandrian Patriarchate and the Serbian Patriarchate, between our Patriarchs Theodoros and Irinej, and between the Holy Synods of both Orthodox Churches. We are also grateful to our Father Pantelejmon, who in his work, openness and devotion to the Church and people during last seven years (unlike the previous period of passing through the various temptations and challenges), greatly contributed to even greater closeness and strengthening of fraternal ties between the two Orthodox Patriarchates. We pray to God for him to continue on this path and for our only Serbian Orthodox parish in Africa to be in the future dignified place that truly witnesses and shows the love and closeness between the Alexandrian and the Serbian Patriarchates.

Members of the Church Committee
Church and School community of St. Sava
Johannesburg - South Africa