Testimonies from the Orthodox Mission in Africa
by Monk Damascenos Gregoriates
Humanly speaking, Africa is the most unfairly treated continent when it comes to the spreading of the salvific word of God. Reasons of natural obstacles or other negative parameters did not facilitate the divine kerygma to reach the innermost parts of the continent, except only around its northern and northeastern regions. It may have been the plan of Divine Providence, for the Faith to spread there, only recently, during the twentieth century...
It is a known fact that other Christian "churches" have been established in practically all of Africa, since the middle of the 18th century, through colonization by European peoples. Apart from the purpose of exploiting those gold-bearing soils, these peoples had also arranged to propagate their religion. Thus, there are Papist christians there since the middle of the 18th century, Protestants from the beginning of the 20th century, followed by latter-day heretical "churches" with a christian or even a demonic content, that were formed by African pastors.
These "churches", which are cut off from the fullness of the Truth and Life, have never managed - not in the past nor in the present (nor will they ever manage in the future) - to deliver the mystically-minded African from his various demonic influences and convictions. The explanation is simple: The devil is afraid of the Truth; the Truth is Christ and Orthodoxy, and there is a vast chasm between Him and the demonic legions.
The Orthodox Church has long delayed bringing its Christian message to Africa. Only the more ardent of the Clergy, from Greece and abroad, who, with the blessings of their local Bishops, have settled in various regions of Africa and have ignited little sparks of spiritual light. And it is only this light - the light of the Orthodox faith and life - that is able to animate the indigenous African and unshackle him from the torments that are attributed exclusively to witchcraft and idolatry.
My consecutive travels to Central Africa for missionary purposes have helped me to acquire an authentic picture of the pagan element and to reach the relative conclusions.
In Africa - at least in the sphere that I am most frequently preoccupied with - there is no mention of an atheist African. That is a very encouraging element, when aspiring to guide them to our true Saviour Christ and His Church.
Witchcraft involves a faith that within the animal and plant kingdoms there are invisible, supernatural powers which act like spirits which have various characteristics, and which influence a person's life. One of the most ancient forms is "homeopathic" witchcraft. As an example, we would like to mention the practice of the witch doctor who, in order to harm an enemy, will fashion a likeness of him (a "doll") out of wood or wax or clay. He shapes it in such a way as to make it resemble the enemy, as much as possible. If it does not resemble the enemy, he "baptizes" the likeness with the enemy's name and then proceeds to torture it, depending on the result he wishes to achieve. For example, if he wants to cause the death of an animal, he has only to re-enact the death of that animal. To kill his "customer's" enemy, he stabs a needle into the "heart" of a doll or a wooden image that supposedly represents that enemy.
They consider it inconceivable that one can live, without his life being dependent on some higher power. This is evident in the various circumstances in their lives. If, for example, a relative became sick or died, they believe that someone hates them and is now taking their revenge. So, they run to the witch doctor. They tell him what their problem is, and they seek to discover who caused that terrible fate in their home.
The basic idolatrous religion in Africa is ancestor worship. This demonic phenomenon of invoking the deceased is called Spiritualism in my country. They believe in the spirits of their ancestors, and they invoke them. In this way, the devil assumes the voice of their deceased relative, and responds to their invocations during the night. The people believe that they are actually conversing with their deceased relative, when in fact it is the devil who is intervening and who tells them whatever he wants.
At one time I was in Kolwezi of Congo. Once a week, I would teach to a circle of baptized women. One day, I spoke to them about the sanctity and the glory of our saints in heaven. When I told them that true holy people exist only in the Orthodox Church, many of the women sprang up from their seats. They objected very strenuously, saying that they also have saints in their own, previous religion of ancestor worship. Despite my attempts to convince them of the opposite to their belief, they remained unconvinced. So, that lesson ended, with some of them not having accepted the uniqueness of our teaching regarding the Saints.
For those who have not become familiar - empirically and dogmatically - with the Orthodox Church, in Africa She is regarded as one of the numerous religious Protestant Communities. However, they are amazed at the wondrous work that is performed within Her, through the Grace of the Holy Spirit. Thus, they rush to the conclusion that (according to their steadfast religious mentality) the Orthodox Priests are awesome witch doctors - far superior to all the witch doctors of Africa!
When, in July of 1999, we went to the village of Lwankoko of the Kolwezi Detachment, having been invited by the villagers themselves regarding a horrific episode of witchcraft, we witnessed the following. The devil had brought the inhabitants of all the surrounding villages to an impasse and they were on the verge of civil war, on account of a deceased villager killed by the sorcery of three witch doctors, who had been baptized Orthodox two years before. They had become baptized hypocritically and for self-seeking purposes, without renouncing their magic implements and their demonic activities.
When I arrived at their village, the coffin with the body inside it was "stuck" to the ground and it was impossible to move it to the place of burial. The three witch doctors who had killed him were revealed by the devil himself in an uncanny way, as they too lay pinned down on the ground, unable to move.
Upon our arrival there, we could hear comments by many of the bystanders: "Now let's see what the Orthodox are going to do...." After reading the Exorcisms, we untied the rubber strap with which the coffin was symbolically tied through magic powers, then we sprinkled Holy Water over the body of the deceased, as well as all the people who were standing around us. Many of them scampered away, because they thought we were witch doctors and were sprinkling them with a magic potion that would harm them.
We then gave instructions for the coffin to be picked up by 3-4 people and to follow us. But no-one dared respond. They knew that the coffin was pinned down and could not be moved, so why should it now agree to move from its place? In a more austere tone of voice, 4 of our Christians obeyed, and we proceeded to go into the forest, at 10 o'clock at night, for the burial. Doubt and curiosity made many leave the village; they came along with us, saying among themselves: "Now we shall see - will the coffin agree to be placed in a grave, or will it return to the village again, stuck to the backs of the bearers, like it did yesterday?" It is a fact, that is exactly what had happened the day before. The coffin would not come down from the backs of the bearers, instead, with a demonic power it sped back to the village from where they had come, and it demolished the huts of the witch doctors who had killed the deceased...
Not only the Orthodox, but also people of other religions and idolatrous convictions resort to our Orthodox priests, in order to be rid of the torments of witchcraft. Our native priest, fr. Jacob Banza, has been ministering for 20 years in the Kolwezi Detachment. He has the divine charisma of opening the hearts of people. With the approval of the one responsible for the Detachment, he is the one who is sent to resolve all the complicated demonic cases. Once, he had been invited by two orthodox families of a Kolwezi suburb, because a young witch doctor, barely 12 years old, had bewitched two of their children. Fr. Jacob spoke to the young boy. He asked him:
"How do you do your magic?"
"I have such powers, that if I simply put my finger on the garment of the one I want to harm, whatever I wish is immediately done."
"Do you mean that if you touch my cassock, you will be able to do what you want to me too?"
"You Orthodox priests are all fire. If I touch you, I will burn. I will lose my power!"
Another time, father Jacob had told me that he kept company with a certain compatriot of his - a witch doctor. After numerous discussions they agreed that when the witch doctor performed his rituals, father Jacob would also be present, and when father Jacob would say his prayers, the witch doctor would also be present. The outcome was that the witch doctor was unable to stay in place while father Jacob was saying his prayers. He admitted: "I can't stay - something is driving me away."
In Africa, it is not only the witch doctors who are preoccupied with witchcraft; many of the people are also. Even young children can perform signs and monstrosities with the power of Satan.
Witchcraft in Africa has tremendous powers and methods of achieving its satanic designs. In the case of a person's death, the family of the deceased embark on a persistent search to find the cause of that death. That is when a scene reminiscent of a tragedy unfolds. Once, when I went to a village to buy vegetables for the the children in our boarding home, I noticed that the house where I used to purchase the vegetables had a huge hole in one of its clay walls. I asked around, to find out where the woman of the house was, and why the house was demolished. I was told that she was imprisoned, because they discovered she had participated in causing the death of a certain person, who had returned, still in his coffin, and had demolished the house. People who had seen that coffin - with the deceased inside it - flying past them at an incredible speed, had run after it, out of breath, and saw it smashing through enclosures and houses and even uprooting trees in its path, until it reached the house where it finally stopped. The villagers then arrested the people living in that house, because they had "proof" that they were the murderers of the deceased. That is how tortures, conflicts and clashes begin. Suffice it to say that within a single month, 62 people were killed in one village alone. The devil managed to divide them into two opposing sides and then prompted them to fight among themselves, to the death.
In June of 2002, we received a phone call from one of our Christians named Pandeleimon, who was severely wounded. He was taken to the Emergency Ward of the hospital in Likasi. He told us that he had fallen victim to witchcraft and that his head was broken in two. We sent our priest, father Augustine and Deacon Fotios. Through them, we learnt about the entire tragic incident. Co-workers of his at the same worksite had become envious of his skill and his promotion. He worked as a truck driver, transporting cobalt and copper which was mined by the GECAMINES company of Likasi. His envious co-workers took him to a witch doctor; they paid him, and he promised he would exterminate the undesirable worker. So, one evening while Pandeleimon was transporting copper from the plant to Likasi, a black dog jumped into his truck, through the window. The dog began to bite him, and in fact, in his private parts. The driver struggled to commandeer the truck with his one hand and with the other, tried - without success - to push away the dog. He was unable to get rid of the dog, which was a devil sent by the witch doctor; his truck overturned and fell on the right-hand side of the road into a ditch. The driver fell sideways and was almost mortally wounded in the head. Having achieved its purpose, the dog jumped out of the window and vanished into the forest.
The mistake that our Christian had made, was that it never occurred to him that the nocturnal aggressor might have been a devil in the form of a dog. If he had crossed himself immediately, he would have been saved. His attempts to stave off the dog with his own power failed miserably, and led him to be hospitalized. With the Grace of God, he escaped death and returned to his family, where his wife and four children were anxiously waiting for him.
Witch doctors are so well taught by their master the devil, that they rarely or never disclose the secrets underlying their satanic plans and rituals. This has been observed particularly with women witch doctors; they prefer to die taking their secrets with them to the grave, rather than confess them or disclose them to others.
When the devil revealed the three witch doctors who had killed Katoka, the guard at the Kolwezi Detachment's farm in July of 1999, only one of them had disclosed the following to father Meletios by way of a confession:
"Before you baptized us father, the spirits came to us and said the following: We don't mind if you decide to be baptized; we only demand one thing from you - do not say anything to the Orthodox priest about us. You have seen how we have been helping you so far, in every one of your problems. Do not betray our friendship. Surely you have no complaints against us?"
In Brazzaville there are currently three Orthodox parishes. From morning to night, father Jacob Banza receives tens of people who have no links to our Church. They do not come to ask for material support, as is the case in Kolwezi - only spiritual help. They come, looking for a "lifeboat", because the devil - in whose meshes they have become entangled - has driven them to an impasse. Father Jacob truly suffers in his efforts to help them confess their sins and their setbacks, which are attributed to witchcraft. He finds it necessary to tell them that he too, before being baptized, was a very powerful witch doctor; that he had relations with not only one woman, but two or even three women every day. In this way, they are encouraged to divulge their secrets. They begin to narrate their own sins. That is how their therapy begins - with catechesis and their eventual incorporation through Holy Baptism into the Corpus of our Church.
When Baptisms are to take place, there have been cases where shocking things have occurred. People who had any involvement with witchcraft and had not confessed honestly and thoroughly, would fall down, screaming and trembling at the sound of the benedictions of our Church being read. When the Precious Cross is extended towards them, they are scared, terrified, and want to escape it by running away. They admit that this Sign "burns" them.
One other time in Kolwezi we had a seminar for our catechism teachers. One of them - as we had heard - had not entirely renounced the powers of witchcraft in his life. During the Divine Liturgy one Sunday, when the procession of the Great Entry (of the Precious Gifts) was taking place, the catechist ...... collapsed on the floor as if he had died. After confessing, the unclean spirit departed from him and he recovered.
Another of our catechists was under the impression that he could have "the best of both situations". Whenever the need arose, he would visit his local witch doctor. The end result was that he eventually became possessed. He suffered immensely. The people of his village avoided him. Those who are demon-possessed have no place in a community of people. That is the reason the Authorities of their land oblige them to live in the forests, far away from other people.
With God's Will, the catechist was cured. He was again undesired in his village, because people now said that he was not N., but a foreign spirit with his form. They were afraid of him and had forced him to leave for the forest.
In 2001 a government minister had come to Kolwezi. It was the time when war had broken out on the border between Congo and Rwanda. Trains would come to pick up soldiers who were entirely inexperienced for warfare, to transport them to the war zones. The minister had made his appearance at the time, in order to boost the morale of the inhabitants when confronting the enemy. We were impressed at how he had publicly encouraged all the enlisted men to go to witch doctors; to be smeared with the unctions that they would give them, so that the enemy's bullets would not "find" them. And we were assured by local Christians of ours that of all those who had taken those unctions and obeyed what the witch doctors prescribed, would actually go to war wearing shorts, without any other protective garments, because the enemy bullets did not find them!
At a time of political confrontations, it is only normal for the representatives of party candidates to go on tour. A group of young men, who were supporters of a certain political party, set up their grass hut outside a neighbouring village, Chamboula. Hoping to create an artificial fear to passers-by, they also manufactured a fake grave, placing a Christian Cross at the head.
But their behaviour became tyrannical. Not only did they try to persuade the people passing by to support their party, they also asked them for money and from whatever merchandise they may have been transporting from the city to their villages, they would forcefully seize a portion of it for their own survival as well as their families'. Their presence became a plague to us also, because we would pass by there every day in order to get to the nearby farm for our vegetables. One afternoon, one of our clergymen passed by there, and, after making sure that no-one was around, he lit a fire and burnt down their hut. The next day, he departed for his vacation in Greece.
2-3 days later, I passed by there with another brother and the driver of our car, as we were heading for our farm. I was surprised but also shaken, when three of those young men suddenly sprang out of the tall grass. They were wearing shorts only; they had placed feathers in their hair, they had painted their half-naked bodies with multi-coloured vertical stripes and each of them was also carrying a long sword. They raised their hands in the air and forced our car to a standstill.
"We have something to settle with you Orthodox".
"What's the matter boys? Why did you stop us?"
"Why did you burn down our hut?"
"We could never do something like that. You have known us for so many years. We love you and have been caring for you and for your country".
"We went to our chief, and he said that your Orthodox priest .......... burnt down our hut. So, you will not pass through; instead, you will come with us to the village and our chief will pass judgment on you."
"Listen, my children. Get into the car. Let's go to our farm together and talk things over with you peacefully. Whatever it is you want and we can do, we shall do it."
They agreed, and so we all went together to the farm.
I asked Mr. Gerasimos - one of our Orthodox Christians - to talk to them and then let me know what their demands were. I withdrew from them, and pretended to examine the vegetables on the farm. Indeed. They asked for workers and materials of ours, in order to rebuild their hut. Then, in order to thank the witch doctor who had informed them about the burning of their hut, they also asked for a white rooster, half a sack of cornmeal, rice, potatoes and beans, so that they could all dine together. What could I do? I went to the market, I purchased a white rooster and gave them the rest of the supplies. I also sent them our workers to rebuild their hut and that is how my little adventure ended. From then on, we became painfully aware that one should not associate too much with witch doctors, because they don't take things lightly....
In the village of Mapendo, 30 kilometers away fom Kolwezi, there is a massive demonic "hornets' nest". We frequently go past it, on the way to the next village of Lwankoko, where the large farm of our Mission is. One evening, as father Meletios (currently Bishop) was returning from the farm, he stopped at the aforementioned village because he could hear shouting and a general turmoil. The village's chief and the witch doctor had summoned everyone to a meeting. Father Meletios got out of the car and began to approach that demonic congregation, holding a Crucifix in his hand. The witch doctor yelled out to him:
"Don't come any closer. You will ruin my work. Leave quickly..."
"But I won't interfere. I am only coming towards you to greet you."
"No, no.... You Orthodox priests are very powerful witch doctors. You are a hindrance, even by just being present here!!"
Lacking the fullness of the Truth, the other "churches" also lack that sanctifying grace. That is why many of the people hasten full of hope to our Orthodox priests. When a certain Papist priest attempted to read the Exorcisms over a demon-possessed person, the demon mocked him sarcastically - and of course did not depart. Another Papist priest - as father Kosmas had told me - actually proceeded to exorcise a demon-possessed individual, and the outcome was horrific - the priest himself became possessed!
So, as we can see, the only life-saving ark - everywhere and always, for every person anywhere in the world - is our Orthodox Church, with our Bishops and our priests, who are in the canonical, Apostolic succession, bearing a valid, grace-filled priesthood. The thanks of the Orthodox of Congo to all those who work together for the spreading of Orthodoxy in their land are innumerable, and life-long.
They now have empirical knowledge that only the Orthodox Church is the bulwark that can withstand all the evil currents of witchcraft and idolatry.
All of us neo-Hellenes will be tremendously accountable, not only for having generally kicked out the Faith of our Saints from our lives, but with our selfish and inadmissible stance have also hindered it from being broadcast to the fellow-humans "living in the land and the shadow of death" of Africa and Asia.
It is time that we recovered from this stance. It is time that we turned our mind thankfully towards Jesus Christ, for having the ancestral privilege of being Orthodox and unaffected by the bonds of witchcraft and eternal death.
The millions of African brethren are waiting for our Orthodox presence, with our prayers, the establishment of edifices that will be beneficial to them, holy Altars and other missionary buildings where the faithful can be sanctified and the powers of darkness driven far away from them.
«THE ACTS OF WITCHCRAFT IN AFRICA», BY MONK DAMASCENOS GREGORIATES,
«ORTHODOXI KYPSELI» PUBLICATIONS
Translation: K. N.
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