"Touching Heaven in Guaxacana"
Touching Heaven in Guaxacana
Father John Chakos
One of the joys in visiting a parish in Guatemala is the warm welcome given to the visiting clergy. Such was the case upon our arrival at the village of Guaxacana (wa-sha-ca-na) on January 28th.
Not only was the Orthodox community celebrating the 14th anniversary of its founding, but also the installation of the church’s newly constructed icon screen. As we processed to the Holy Transfiguration Church along the village’s dusty road, accompanied by musicians and hundreds of the faithful, we also encountered the cacophonous and competing musical strains and shouts of loudspeakers from the Catholics, Pentecostals, Evangelicals, and Monophysites, each caught up in their own little world of worship. This babel of religions proved once again that Guatemala could no longer call itself a Catholic country. And now Holy Orthodoxy, the new kid on the block, brings toGuatemala something authentic, that is, something tried, tested and true into this diverse mix. The addition of the icon screen will set the parish apart, witnessing to the distinctiveness of our faith and its unique form of liturgical worship. Arriving at the front doors of the parish, Fr. Evangelos, their first and only priest, greeted the parishioners as the loud popping sounds of welcoming fireworks exploded all around us. This raccous greeting, although different in form, reminded me of the the prophetic words that greeted Jesus as He triumphantly entered Jerusalem: “ Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” I call this the great entrance, Guatemalan style. Once inside the church, we saw for the first time the wooden icon screen, built by the parishioners themselves. In the past they were accustomed to open altars without barriers that anyone could approach, quite often without a sense of awe. Now a more reverent orientation to God and the idea of sacred space as defined by the icon screen would point them more emphatically towards the kingdom of heaven. Likewise, the holy invitation to partake of the Eucharist “with the fear of a God, with faith and with love” would set a new tone in worship. Little by little or as the saying in Spanish goes , “poco a poco,” the Orthodox Church is quietly finding its way into the hearts of the believers. And in Guaxacana the sacred icons of the saints are reminders to all that we are made in the image of God and called to grow in His likeness. We left Guaxacana that day with the sense that in some small way we had experienced a taste of heaven.