“Are you traveling to the Philippines?” Why? ”- shortly before my trip to this corner of Southeast Asia, I had the occasion to hear such a question, as well as the opinion that neither the country itself nor the people inhabiting it deserve attention. How wrong was this opinion!
It’s amazing how many places in the capital of the Philippines are somehow connected with Orthodoxy. While we were driving through the streets of Manila, Professor Philip Balingit kept showing me: “This is the place where there was a Russian Orthodox church, destroyed by a Japanese bomb in 1945 … But this huge temple and university used to be Orthodox, built and maintained a rich greek family. When she was poorer, everything had to be sold to Catholics … And here is the non-canonical “United Holy Orthodox-Catholic Church”, which, according to its leader, supposedly was founded by St. John (Maksimovich), which, however, is not true ”. In general, in the Philippines, 190 organizations are officially registered, using the word “Orthodox” in their names, while only two or three of them are related to true Orthodoxy. For some, the creation of such structures is just a business: for example, a former Catholic priest registers another “Orthodox church” to provide a special service – to marry couples on the beach, which is prohibited by the local Roman Catholic Church. All Orthodoxy is reduced to the name, the rest is Latin.
Early in the morning from Manila, Philip and I flew to Masbate Island, one of the most beautiful places in Asia that I have ever seen. The coconut palms here are incredibly high, their thickets densely cover the hills, on the one side of the road stretches the seashore, and on the other the rivers flash, alternating with rice fields. The whole hour, while we drove to the monastery, I enjoyed the views. We had time to start liturgy. The only Orthodox monastery in the Philippines turned out to be a rather imposing structure. In the temple and in the service everything is in Greek style, but many icons are Russian. They serve in English, only some parts of the service are in sebuano. They sing all who are in the temple. The chanting is simple, but performed so sincerely and harmoniously, that it almost shakes through shivering. Almost all those who pray are suitable for communion. The local priest, Father George, serves with great reverence.
During the festive dinner, Professor Balingit told me the sad story of Father Vincent (Eskarcha), who stood at the origins of Orthodoxy in the Philippines. He was a Benedictine priest and was famous on the island for his rigor in prayer and worship; founded the convent of the Benedictine order and became his confessor. Once in the United States, Father Vincent saw an Orthodox church; interested in its architecture, he entered – and was captivated by Orthodox worship. He tried to learn as much as possible about Orthodoxy, and his research ended with the entry of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1990 together with the whole monastery – 12 nuns. Father Vincent became the first Filipino Orthodox priest. During the joint works – his and Mother Superior Theodotus – a wonderful Orthodox monastery was built (they were expelled from the former Catholic Church as soon as it became known that they had accepted Orthodoxy); there was a community of newly formed local residents. In 2004, due to ill health, Father Vincent was asked to retire, and his desire was granted. But later he began to accumulate resentment towards the Greek metropolitan, and also some jealousy appeared towards other Filipino priests ordained after him. As a result, he created his own “church”, which attracted some of the parishioners. In his practice, he confused Orthodox traditions with Catholic ones (for example, he served on unleavened bread), and in time he introduced some occult elements. Some time ago he had an accident, injured his leg and ended up in a village hospital. Here he began gangrene. I was told that my leg was no longer possible to save. During the story, the idea arose to visit Father Vincent, and we went to the hospital.
Smiling, he asked for forgiveness that he could not accept us with dignity, because he was very sick. We talked a bit, I thanked Father Vincent for all the good things that he did for Orthodoxy in the Philippines, and gave a little help. Father Vincent kissed my hand, as well as Father George, and thanked us for seeing him. Father George will continue to visit the patient. Sadly, but at the sight of Vincent’s father, one cannot get rid of the impression that his illness is about to die. Since he had previously expressed a desire to be buried in the monastery, Mother Theodotia asked for his instructions on this matter, and he said that he wanted to be buried in a simple coffin, without any pomp. Philip hopes that he will nevertheless reconcile with the Church before he goes to another world. Readers of these lines, please pray for the seriously ill, misguided, hieromonk Vincent.
Father George was worried that he had not yet received permission from the Metropolitan to practice (in the Greek Churches such permission is not given immediately), although he has been serving on Masbate for four years now. And all this time, parishioners remain without confession. He explained the situation to the Metropolitan and asked either to give him permission to confess, or to send another priest who was allowed this sacrament, but did not receive any reply. I said that although in the Russian Church the priest begins to confess immediately after consecration, Father George must follow the tradition of the Church to which he belongs, and wait patiently for the Metropolitan to give him permission, politely reminding him of the situation from time to time. And if now he himself will show an example of patience and obedience, in the future he will be able to expect the same from his spiritual children.
Already after dark we returned to the monastery and, after talking with Mother Theodotia, we went to bed. I remember the story of Mother about the reaction of local residents to their conversion to Orthodoxy: “Oh, you became Communists”. Orthodoxy was associated with Russia, and Russia with communism, as a result of which two associations formed something incredible.
Early in the morning Father George took us to the airport, and we returned by plane to Manila. Here I had a lecture at Philippine Normal University, organized by Professor Balingit. For me, this was the first lecture in English, the theme was “The Spiritual Life of an Orthodox Christian.” Since the faculty is pedagogical, it turned out that most of the students are girls. After the introductory part, I showed a selection of photos about Orthodox life, accompanying them with comments, and at the very end distributed icons with the Vladimir image of the Mother of God. Some moments of the lectures of the students were interested, and they listened with great attention, but it is difficult to say how well my presentation went as a whole. It seemed to me that in a Catholic country it would be strange and even offensive to talk about the need for faith as such, but from the following questions I realized that I was wrong: Filipino students and young people are now very disappointed in Catholicism and in religion in general, so for some quite understandable religion in principle.
In general, Catholicism losing ground in the country. Over the past 20 years, the number of Catholics has decreased from 90% to 70% of the population. Various Protestant movements have become very popular – their churches can be found literally at every corner of Manila; there were also “self-made” Filipino new religions; Muslim preaching is active; finally, the number of non-religious people has also grown.
We warmly said goodbye to the students, and many wanted to be photographed as a souvenir – Filipinos in general love to take pictures and take pictures.
It is worth noting that Metropolitan Nectarius took a sharply negative attitude towards the Antioch mission, declaring it to be a non-canonical structure. He excommunicated all the laity who had passed from the parish of Constantinople to Antioch and forbade their clerics and parishioners to communicate with the Antioch parish. All this is a manifestation of that non-Orthodox ideology, which has recently become noticeably spread in the Patriarchate of Constantinople, according to which the entire non-Orthodox world is the canonical territory and property of their Church. Disagreement with these ideas was expressed at the Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church in 2008; they do not support these developments in the Antioch Church either. In particular, Metropolitan Pavel (Saliba), who heads the Australian and New Zealand Diocese of the Patriarchate of Antioch, said in one of the public speeches: “It is well known in educated circles that the Patriarch of Constantinople does not have the same position in the church hierarchy of the Orthodox Church as the Bishop of Rome occupies Catholic Church. The Patriarch of Constantinople is not the Pope of the East. Even in educated Orthodox circles it is well known that in the past there were cases when the Patriarchs of Constantinople at Ecumenical and other Local Councils were recognized as heretics … The Patriarch of Constantinople is not the voice of Orthodoxy and cannot set standards in Orthodoxy. The Archbishop or Metropolitan, subordinate to the Holy Synod of Constantinople, may still less claim to primacy over the bishops and archbishops of other Local Churches. Over the past hundred years, it has been well known to all that the Patriarchate of Antioch and its dioceses throughout the world have received instructions from the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Antioch and from no one else. We do not interfere in the internal affairs of other jurisdictions. At the same time, we do not allow anyone from other jurisdictions to advise on what we should do. ”
On the last day of my stay, we went to the town of Laguna to visit Father Philemon (Castro). He was previously the “bishop” of one of the Filipino non-canonical denominations abusing the name “Orthodox”, but in 1994, with the help of hieromonk Vikenty, he came to the Orthodox Church. He built a temple in Parañák, a suburb of Manila; it is now the largest parish in the philippines. However, several years ago, a new priest was ordained for the temple, and Hieromonk Philemon was sent to the province. He is very active as a missionary and has created three parishes in the region. Today in his home church of St. Sava the Sanctified people are few since the weekday. During the service, Father Philemon gives some exclamations on the tagalog. He translated the entire liturgy into this language, but it seems that only he has the little books with this translation. I remembered that Hieromonk Vincent told us about his transfer of the main services to sebuano, which, however, remained in manuscript.