Greek immigrants brought their faith to Kenya in the early twentieth century. Local Kenyans quickly discovered the richness of Orthodoxy, and the Orthodox Church has been growing there ever since.
Today, Kenya is the largest Orthodox metropolis in Africa, with 1 million indigenous faithful, 300 churches, dozens of parochial schools, a seminary, and a growing number of monasteries, orphanages, and clinics. By comparison, a half-million faithful make up the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Across all jurisdictions, America may have about 1 million Orthodox.
Fr. Constantinos Eliud’s family converted to Orthodoxy when he was 7 years old. 30 years later, he would never dream of leaving the Orthodox Church.
Most Christians in Kenya are Protestant (about 15 million). In the words of Fr. Constantinos, “People come and go in the Protestant Church,” with lures like material prosperity and groovy bands playing emotionally stirring music. “But once you’re Orthodox,” says Fr. Constantinos, “you’re always Orthodox.”
Kenyans are increasingly leaving Protestantism and becoming Orthodox. They have a natural piety, a sense of gratitude toward God and awareness of spiritual realities. They see through convenience and enticement. They sense the authenticity of Orthodoxy – the rigor and continuity of Orthodoxy – and are attracted to such things.
Despite the boom of Orthodoxy in Kenya, the Church there remains poor. Kenya is a developing country with limited economic opportunity. People often leave remote villages in search of a better life in Nairobi, the large capital, only to find crowded streets and growing slums.
After becoming a priest, Fr. Constantinos chose to remain in the wilderness 2 hours north of Nairobi. 12 years ago, he looked around and saw futility: no Orthodox presence, dozens of orphans without a home, 1200 households relying on seasonal rivers as the only source of water, little access to education and healthcare.
Fr. Constantinos saw futility but had a vision – a vision bubbling up from faith in Christ, the good Creator Who provides. Now, 102 orphans call St. Irene Orthodox Mission Center their home, and another 155 children attend school there. These precious children of God fast, pray, and attend Divine Liturgy 3 times every week. A solar-powered well provides water for the children and for local households. A beautiful Orthodox sanctuary exudes hope and assurance of God’s presence, a sacred place where a growing number of faithful encounter God and are quenched with “living water” (John 4:10).
The children have their troubles, but they also have huge smiles, and gratitude, and zeal for life. They have Christ.
Fr. Constantinos’ wife, Presvytera Theresa, has played a vital role from the beginning, when she often led during Father’s seminary days. Look at what she’s doing at this moment: she’s home with 6-year-old Modestos and 1-year-old Nektarios, while her husband spends 2 months in America garnering support for the orphans and beneficiaries of St. Irene Orthodox Mission Center.
We leave our families briefly for business trips and fun getaways, but to leave sacrificially for 2 months with no personal benefit? “No thank you,” says America. “That adversely affects mental health. Stay at home, keep your life and family in order, maintain a sense of stability. If you leave your family, only do it for some needed R & R.” What does the Gospel say? “Whoever leaves house and field and family for my sake, and for the sake of the good news, will receive a hundredfold” (Mark 10:29). If you want to really live, “deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34).
I was so humbled after 5 days with Fr. Constantinos. He’s a short man and soft-spoken; spiritually, though, he looms large and speaks loudly (without saying much), like an apostolic figure. He is “sent” in the deepest sense of the word, with an all-important mission that conquers all. He has tremendous administrative and organizational skills, which he uses in humble service to our Lord.
We don’t always encounter people, surely due to geographical distance but perhaps more so due to figurative distance. God allowed me to encounter Fr. Constantinos, if only to a small degree. In that encounter, beyond the caricatures of my imagination, I found new life.
If you didn’t speak personally with Fr. Constantinos last week, you still encountered him in the Liturgy. Surely, you noticed his pace. That was the longest Great Entrance I’ve ever experienced. That was the slowest Gospel I’ve ever heard. His sermon was 30 minutes. We don’t have time for such things in America! Fr. Constantinos does everything at the same slow, deliberate pace, which can feel disruptive. Perhaps disruption is what we need, to be shaken out of our familiar, stale, complacent spiritual state. (In the Gospel today, locals tell Jesus, “Leave us,” after He miraculously heals the Gadarene demoniac at the financial cost of a herd of swine. We don’t like disruption.)
Your poor priest exhorts through words. Fr. Constantinos exhorts through his very essence.
Archbishop Makarios of Nairobi has large fish to fry. His Eminence supports St. Irene Orphanage with love and prayer, but practically speaking, St. Irene is on its own. (Fr. Constantinos sometimes doesn’t receive his regular priestly stipend from the Metropolis, because the money simply isn’t there.) Father does what he can for St. Irene through social media and other connections.
Can we help him? Our money goes a long way in Kenya. The proposed $162,000 dormitory would cost several million dollars here in America. Please consider supporting St Irene Orthodox Mission Center & Orphanage towards the completion of building the ongoing dormitory project. Each dollar goes a long way. Think about these things. Pray about them. Perhaps even do them.
Fr. Joshua Pappas
Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church