Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Seminarian Witnesses 'Explosion' of Orthodoxy in Guatemala

27 August 2012
By Seminarian Jesse Brandow

Whenever someone speaks of “American Orthodoxy,” there is usually an unspoken understanding that the term refers to North American Orthodoxy: the United States, Canada, and sometimes Mexico. This way of speaking is indeed convenient, considering that the majority of Orthodox parishes in the Western Hemisphere are still located in North America. However, in the past few years a great change has occurred in Latin America that makes it increasingly inaccurate to focus on North America as the western outpost of Orthodoxy. Just two years ago, in 2010, the Orthodox Church received a large group of Guatemalan converts numbering in the hundreds of thousands. Now Guatemala, and possibly all of Latin America, holds tremendous promise of becoming fertile ground for the Orthodox Christian Church.

The seed of Orthodoxy in Guatemala was planted by the nuns of the Hogar Rafael Ayau, an Orthodox orphanage in Guatemala City. Many people are familiar with the incredible work of Mother Inés, Mother Ivonne, and Mother María. In fact, just this year a group of seminarians from St. Vladimir's Seminary traveled with the seminary Chancellor/CEO Archpriest Chad Hatfield to see the work of the nuns and to assist at the orphanage. It is through these nuns that the Guatemalan soil was first prepared for the Orthodox Church.

Now, with the recent chrismation of a new group of Guatemalan converts that numbers between 100,000 and 200,000, the Orthodox Church is ready to blossom in Guatemala. The magnitude of the event cannot be overstated. Almost overnight, Guatemala has become the most Orthodox country in the Western Hemisphere (by percentage of national population). Furthermore, the Orthodox communities in Guatemala continue to grow rapidly and attract attention throughout Guatemala. There is still, however, little information available to the broader Orthodox world on the history and character of these new communities. For this reason, I traveled to Guatemala this summer, spending two months visiting many of the Orthodox parishes, meeting the leaders of the communities, and accompanying the bishop of the Guatemalan Church—His Eminence, Metropolitan Athenagoras—as he made his historic first visit to the new parishes in Guatemala. I returned to the United States with the desire to share what I saw and the conviction that the Holy Spirit is at work with power in Latin America...

Full article with much more on the St Vladimir's Seminary website.

Visit Seminarian Jesse Brandow's blog, with extensive personal accounts and numerous photos of his travels, here.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Special Benefit Dinner for the Hogar Rafael Ayau

Bishop Matthias
the Friends of Hogar Rafael Ayau

invite you to the

Walk with Angels Benefit Dinner

Featuring keynote speaker

Igoumeni Madre Ines Ayau
Abbess of the Orthodox Monastery of the Holy Trinity
and the Orthodox Orphanage Hogar Rafael Ayau in Guatemala

Madre Ines will be the featured speaker for the evening.
She will share the fascinating story of the orphanage's establishment
and its ongoing ministry to the neediest of children.

Friday, April 27, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Tickets $75
(charitable Donation of $40)

Sylvania Country Club
5201 Corey Road
Sylvania, OH 43560

Hosted by
His Grace, Bishop Matthias
and Friends of the Hogar Rafael Ayau

Proceeds to benefit the Walk with Angels Capital Campaign
to complete the new orphanage Hogar San Miguel

To order tickets, contact Matt at:

To donate for the Walk with Angels Capital Campaign,
visit the Friends of the Hogar website.

Watch for more info, including possible car pool arrangements.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Francesca at the Kliros

Dear Parish Faithful,

I just received this photo from Madre Ivonne of the "nina" we are sponsoring this year at the Hogar - Francesca Maria. She is at the kliros, which is the place that the various appointed children of the Hogar chant and sing during the services. Since Francesca is only seven (her birthday is 7/12), she is there quite early, which means she must be a good reader. This privilege of chanting builds up their self-confidence, the childrens' sense of contributing, and further helps them in their reading ability. It also helps them learn the order of the various services. The winning smile on Francesca's face pretty well captures her personality - she is a lively and good-hearted young girl, especially considering the trauma that she and the other children have experienced at a very tender age.

Also, knowing that she is sponsored is also a huge confidence-builder. Even though it is at a distance, Francesca will now feel wanted and cared about. This is a "good work" - may it be blessed by God!

Fr. Steven

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Hogar Nativity Appeal Wrap-up

Dear Parish Faithful,

Incredibly, we were able to send a check for $4,215.00 to the Hogar as the final step in our recent Nativity Appeal. Since this total exceeds the required amount for a one-year sponsorship for a particular child, the "extra" funds will be placed in a secure account for her future support and sponsorship, according to Madre Ines.

There is one change I would like to inform everyone of: the initial child we chose to support was quite unexpectedly ordered by the Guatemalan court to be sent back to her mother. This was not anticipated by the Hogar but, of course, they complied with the court order. After discussing this with Mother Ines, we shifted our sponsorship over to another young girl. Her name is Francesca Maria, and she will turn eight on July 12. We also met her on our last Mission Team to the Hogar in June, and became friends with her. She is a lovely little girl, very lively and goodhearted. Madre Ivonne says that she loves music and has a beautiful voice. But, as with all children at the Hogar, a child with a sad history behind her. Now that we know her name, please keep Francesca Maria in your prayers, and ask your children to do the same. We will have opportunities during the year to correspond with her in various ways.

It is a huge moral, psychological, and emotional boost to a child who knows that he/she is being personally sponsored by concerned Orthodox Christians from around the world. The given child then knows that he/she is cared about by others in a special way. Madre Ivonne just informed me that Francesca was told of her sponsorship and that she was "so happy." We will soon receive a card from her, hopefully with a photo.

I have seen and heard of various Christian churches here in the States - including right here in Cincinnati - speak about their great concern for some of the orphanages in Haiti that they are connected to, and for the safety of the children there following the earthquake. This heightened anxiety is rooted in personal contacts and developed relationships with these children following visits to certain Haitian orphanages by these churches. I can much more deeply understand their fears and anxieties, as we, too, have a deep international connection with the Hogar San Rafael in Guatemala, and know many of the children there through personal contact over the years through many of our parishioners.

I noticed a new book at the local bookstore entitled Give a Little - How Your Small Donations Can Transform Our World, by Wendy Smith. I am not implying that everyone is making a "small donation," but if I am reading the meaning of this title correctly, the author is explaining, through her experience as a "fund-raiser," how donations add up in such a way that they make a significant impact. (I did notice some of our children at the Cross stop and place a "small donation" into the basket when we were collecting. But is was "big" in terms of its meaning). That is exactly what is happening in our parish. As a parish community/family our individual donations, whatever the size may be, are "adding up" in a significant manner as in this latest example of fully supporting this child with the generous check that we just sent in.

All to the glory of God.

On a related note: Would anyone be interested in joining a Mission Team to the Hogar from June 16-23 of this coming summer? Please let me know.

Fr. Steven

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Vignette from the Hogar: From Hell to Heaven

Buenos Dias Padres, Madres y Amigos en Cristo!

Como estan? Espero que todos estan bien con ustedes. Estoy muy bien, pero un poquito consado. Saludos para todos ustedes de Madres Ines, Maria y Ivonne.

I returned from Guatemala and the Hogar San Rafael Ayau Orphanage as scheduled late Monday evening. After a day of "catching up" at home (mainly correcting midterm exams from XU) I am back at the church. I am also back to using English which does come to me a bit more naturally! Be that as it may, I would like to share with you some serious reflections and observations following my short stay at the Hogar, especially concerning the children and their upbringing there by Madres Ines, Maria and Ivonne.

As usual, a visit to the Hogar is an experience that paradoxically fills me with a sense of sadness and inspiration. In just a short period of time, it is virtually impossible not to feel sad on behalf of these "abandoned, abused, and orphaned children" and the brokenness of their young lives. There are even encounters that will either melt or break your heart. Yet simultaneously, it is impossible not to be inspired and deeply moved in a positive sense as you briefly witness how these broken lives are being protected and even slowly put back together again. The process of healing is taking place below the surface and when clear signs of it become manifest this is truly exhilarating and a cause for joy. Here is a very poignant and dramatic case in point:

There is a lovely young girl of about ten that presvytera Deborah and I met in June and spent some time with on an outing to a plant and garden nursery. We made friends that day and enjoyed her company for the rest of the week there. On my recent visit I discovered the shocking fact that she had been terribly violated ("let the reader understand") while living in a tenement building. She was then eventually brought to the Hogar and taken in. This is the part that truly breaks your heart, especially when you see this child up close, call her by name, hold her hand, hug her, and spend some time with her. To be perfectly honest, it also boils your blood. The tragic character of the fallen world is no more fully manifested then in the destruction of the purity and innocence of a child. The consequences are severe. The words of Christ make this clear: "It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones." (LK. 17:2) This also makes many of the children very susceptible to mood swings that will include a kind of depression. And yet this young girl has been baptized and now participates in the sacramental life of the Church on a daily basis. So, I am not ashamed to say that when she came to Communion on Sunday while I was serving, tears came to my eyes as I gave her the Body and Blood of Christ "unto life everlasting." This little child is truly on a journey from hell to heaven! She has been in the "dark pit" described by the psalmist, and has now returned to the light of day. This is the part that is inspiring. Or that uplifts your troubled heart.

We cannot romanticize this healing process. It is slow and difficult. Madre Ivonne further shared with me that for many of the children, it is not until they are about fifteen or so when they realize that they are being cared for in a spirit of love. They may not really "open up" until then and fully trust their caregivers. (By that age at the Hogar, we are speaking about teen-aged girls, for the boys have been transferred elsewhere to another very fine institution - Ak Tenamit - that further educates them and prepares them for life in society).

When you support the Hogar it is a child like this that you are supporting! You are helping to feed, clothe, and educate her. And protect her from the outside world that has betrayed her. You are helping to maintain her in a Christ-filled environment. It is a noble and worthy cause. May it be blessed.

I would like to share a few less dramatic things that I picked up on this trip in the days to come. There are a couple of practices I heard about at the Hogar that are meant to instill a spirit of maturity and responsibility in the children and young adults that I believe you will find interesting. Until then ... Adios!

Dios ustedes bendigan!

Con mucho amor en Cristo,

Fr. Steven

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Interview with Madre Ivonne

Dear Parish Faithful,

For those who may be interested, here is a pretty extensive interview with Madre Ines of the Hogar San Rafael Ayau Orphanage in Guatemala City, conducted when she was recently in Russia. It was sent to me by Bobbie Royhab, a woman from Toledo who has been on our own mission teams in the past.

Fr. Steven


Good Afternoon,

Ron and I attended a retreat with Madre Ivonne, coordinator of the Hogar Rafael Ayau Orthodox Christian orphanage in Guatemala, at a Greek Orthodox church and school in Pittsburgh this last weekend.

She gave us an article (link is above) that recently appeared in a Russian publication. It is an interview with Madre Abbess Ines of the Orthodox monastery in Guatemala. Madre Ines, also director of the Hogar, and Madre Maria, the third Orthodox nun who lives in Guatemala, spent several weeks in Russia in July.


Monday, July 27, 2009

A Part of Their Lives ~ Reflections On the 2009 Mission Trip, by Anastacia and Alexandra Taylor

When we arrived at the Hogar on Monday afternoon, I had no idea what to expect. I had no idea what connections I would make with the children in the few days I was there. Although I spoke no Spanish, and most of the children knew very little English, it didn’t stop friendships from being made.

As a missionary team, we were in charge of moving all of the furniture and instruments from the ‘old’ music room into the next room over and repainting the ‘old’ music room in order to expand the wood-workshop. While it was hard work, knowing how much we were helping the Hogar staff and children was well worth it. Many people on our team also helped with gardening and grounds keeping. The beautiful ‘park’ area now has freshly cut grass and weed-less flower beds.

On Tuesday night, Anastacia K, Mara, Megan, Alexandra, and I went with the older girls to a cinema to see Jonas: 3D Concert Experience. The girls were much like many of the girls here in the U.S.-they love the Jonas Brothers. Many of them knew more of the songs than I did!

When there was any extra time, (after lunch, before the next activity) I enjoyed helping at the nursery. I enjoyed playing with the children in their play-pen and also taking them outside on the swings. Some of the children were old enough to swing by themselves and some enjoyed sitting on my lap and swinging. David, one of the younger boys, was so sleepy one day that after swinging for just a few minutes he fell happily asleep.

On my second-to-last day, I decided to play in the courtyard with the pre-schoolers. Even though I couldn’t understand what they were saying to each other and to me, we had so much fun playing with bubbles. They loved blowing bubbles and chasing them and trying to pop them! They were laughing so hard and were having so much fun. Even though I was only able to play with them a few times the rest of the trip, I will never forget how happy they were to play with me. They loved having my full attention and talking to me, even though I couldn’t respond with words. They also loved being spun around and around in circles again and again. Their whole face would light up when I told them they were next…

The church at the orphanage was also beautiful. It was amazing how well-behaved all of the children were during each of the services. Everyone paid attention and sang along. Many of the girls had ‘jobs’ during the services, such as reading or leading the songs.

Going on this trip, I have taken a new perspective on life. I have realized not only how much my family means to me, but also that is not what you surround a person with, it’s who. All of the children are loved by Mother’s, care takers, nannies, and their peers. It amazed me how well everyone seemed to get along, always being so near to each other.
I was pleasantly surprised at how much the children wanted to be with us. We would communicate through hand-signals, games, and a combination of English and Spanish!


~ ~ ~

For our missionary work, we painted the music room. First, we moved all of the furniture out of the room and to the new music room next door. Then, we scraped off the bright red paint. Finally, we repainted the walls white. Afterward, we expanded the woodshop to include the newly-painted room. We did this because their wood shop needed more space for all of the large equipment. The children learn how to carve wood during the week.

It’s amazing how you can get so close to some of the children. From the sixteen-month old babies to the thirteen-year-old girls they were all fun to be around. I was especially fond of a toddler named Anna. We would go out on the courtyard swings and she would sit in the baby swing and I would push her. We would also go into her play pen and she would sit in my lap and we would play peek-a-boo or she would sit on the floor next to me and I would hold her ands and play pat-a cake.

We went to church in the morning and in the afternoon. Before church began, one of the girls would ring the bells, so everyone would know church was beginning. The church had many beautiful icons. There were more than 120 icons in it. On Tuesday morning, we celebrated liturgy. All of the children sat down and paid attention to the service.

Leaving the orphanage was the hardest part. The children all stood in a line and then we hugged each of them. I remember hugging them like it was yesterday. They all seemed so thankful for having us come to the Hogar. I felt part of their life and now they are part of mine.

I wanted to stay much longer.

Alexandra T.