"Amazing Developments in the Guatemalan Church"
Amazing Developments in the Guatemalan Church
by Sandy Chakos
Hello Everyone! I apologize that this blog will not be very high-tech nor fancy. I hope that it will be informative and perhaps inspiring. The first three entries, which can be accessed by clicking on the links at right, were written by my husband, Fr. John Chakos, about his travels to several remote village churches in the mountains of Guatemala.
I would like to give a little background on the amazing developments in the Guatemalan church. Although Guatemala is a small country, only the size of the state of Ohio, it underwent a brutal 36-year civil war (1960 – 1996) where 200,000 people, the majority of them Mayan, were slaughtered by military forces. The issue at hand was land reform. Since the days of the conquistadores who came from Spain and subjugated the native Mayan people, most of the land in Guatemala was owned by a few wealthy families of European descent. Fr. Andres Giron, a Catholic priest, empathized with the plight of the Mayan people and sought justice for them. Using the non-violent demonstration methods he learned by studying Gandhi and Martin Luther King, he became a revolutionary, fighting for the rights of the people and for land reform. This did not sit well with the Catholic church, which aligned itself with the wealthy class, nor with the dictatorship in power. Three attempts were made on Fr. Andres’ life. Once, he was shot while serving a Mass, but survived. Another time, his car was blown up, but he was not in it. And in another attempt, his body guard was killed, but Fr. Andres escaped. He became well known in all of Guatemala as a champion of the people and was eventually elected to the senate. There, he achieved land reform and was able to give portions of land back to the people. He established 44 agrarian villages and organized additional businesses and schools for the people.
Fr. Andres left the Catholic church and formed his own independent church with himself at the head. Through his studies, Fr. Andres discovered the Orthodox church and patterned his own church along those lines, calling it the Guatemalan Orthodox Church. The church group prospered and grew to over 100,000 faithful. Fr. Andres is adored by all his followers. Because of his failing health, Fr. Andres began to worry about leaving his flock without proper leadership. He wanted to bring his people under the auspices of the official Orthodox Church and approached the Orthodox nuns who run the orphanage in Guatemala City. They put Fr. Andres in touch with Fr. John and other church leaders. Fr. John was in dialogue with Fr. Andres for at least 2 years before his church group was accepted into the Ecumenical Patriarchate by Metropolitan Athenagoras of Mexico. So now, Fr. John is in Guatemala training all the new priests in Liturgics. It will be a slow and gentle process to bring all these people to a full understanding of Orthodoxy. It will probably take a few generations. We are astounded by the tremendous piety of the people and their thirst for the faith. They will travel for hours to attend a Liturgy and approach the chalice on their knees with tears in their eyes. We might teach them a few things, but we have much to learn from them, too.
My job in Guatemala will be to teach a group of women to sew cassocks and vestments for the priests, altar boy robes, chalice covers and other ecclesiastical needs. Fr. John and I both feel so blessed to be a part of this historic growth in the church. It is a daunting task. With God’s help and your prayerful support, it will be accomplished.