14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Guanabacoa, 10 January 2020 — When it is said that an Orthodox church is located at number 54 Maceo street, in Guanabacoa, it is essential to warn those who venture to visit it that, although it may not seem like it, the temple is there, behind that semi-ruined façade where an imposing door leads to a mansion built in the 19th century.
In front of that wall, eaten away by time and laziness, two men chatted casually. They seemed to be comfortable with that certain look of those passers-by who seem to believe they will never find what they are looking for. One of them is wearing a bracelet with yellow and green beads on his left arm, dedicated to Orula, the saint of divination in the pantheon of Cuban Santería. “Yes, this is the church,” he says, and he points to the open door.
Already, in the central courtyard, the voice of a singer who accompanies the liturgy can be heard. A bearded man dressed in traditional Greek Orthodox clothing – a stole, wide sleeves, an epigonation, a belt, a phelonium and with a lidded chalice – explains to the congregated faithful why they are celebrating Christmas this January 7th in accordance with the original ecclesiastical calendar.
They have met there every Sunday for their celebrations, and they dream of one day building a church that will amaze with its beauty everyone who passes by
Barely 30 square meters, seven chairs and a sofa placed in front of a screen, the room has provisionally been enabled for the liturgy since December 13th of last year, when they celebrated the date of Saint Andrew, patron of this church. They have met there every Sunday for their celebrations, and dream of one day building a church whose beauty will amaze everyone who passes by.
This religious community surfaced in 2017. The initial headquarters was in the El Sevillano neighborhood where the first meeting was held; then they had a temporary space in Alamar. Two years ago, the family of the priest who officiates the liturgy moved to Guanabacoa, where they finally acquired this house.
The spiritual leader of this community is Father Evággelos, with his wife, the priestess Xenia. Their daughter helps them with the organizational tasks and the three grandchildren run around the yard incessantly. Xenia is the one who shows us the house. Looking at it through her eyes, one can guess where the library is going to be, how big the central nave will be, where each painting will be located, each detail.
At the conclusion of the service, while the rest of the attendees gather around a table placed in the large patio to celebrate the feast day, Evággelos keeps on his ritual clothes and prepares to answer questions from 14ymedio.
Escobar: What is the link between you and the Greek Orthodox Church?
Evággelos: Our Church comes from the self-reliant Church in Greece, the same one that was persecuted in that country from 1924 until, in 1980, it was recognized by President Andreas Papandreu. Our metropolis emerged from the émigrés who had fled persecution, led by the Most Reverend Archimandrite Pedro Artifides, and the church became official in 1954 in Astoria, New York.
Escobar: There are two other Orthodox churches in Havana: the one that belongs to the Moscow Patriarchate, on Avenida del Puerto, and the San Nicolás de Mira Greek Orthodox Church, which belongs to the Patriarchate of Constantinople and is located in Old Havana. How does yours differ? Why are they called Genuine and Traditional Greek Orthodox Church?
We are characterized by not having changed one iota from the ways of celebrating any liturgical function since the origin of the Apostles
Evággelos: On the one hand, to differentiate it from the New Calendar Church, also Orthodox, and fundamentally because we are characterized by not having changed one iota from the ways of celebrating any liturgical function since the origin of the Apostles. Ours has not made any variation, that is why we call ourselves Genuine and Traditional Orthodox Church.
Escobar: Is the name you go by here the one your parents gave you or did you acquire after your initiation?
Evággelos: I adopted the name Evággelos upon receiving my baptism in the Orthodox Church in 2009. I belonged then to the New Calendarist Church until I became acquainted with this one.
Evággelos comes from the Biblical passage of the Annunciation and means “the good announcer.” Symbolically, in Baptism, the old man dies and is resurrected in Christ in its waters. It is a ritual inherited from the times when Jesus said to one of the Apostles: From now on you will be called Peter, which means stone.
Escobar: Let’s go from spiritual issues to other, more earthly ones, does this congregation belong to the Council of Churches of Cuba?
Evággelos: No, we do not belong to the Council of Churches, although we have had contact with them, especially to acquire literature, but we have had other priorities, such as finding a place to celebrate and to get all the liturgical things.
Escobar: And do you aspire to belong to that Council?
Evággelos: Our Church has a very different point than what they profess in relation to ecumenism. It’s not that we have anything against anyone, it’s that we have different points.
Escobar: How are relations with the Office of Religious Affairs of the Communist Party?
Evággelos: When we started the procedures before the Ministry of Justice to be included in the registry of associations, we were told that we should go to the Office of Religious Affairs. We are still awaiting the results of that process. But I must say that so far, although they do not drive us, they have not slowed us down.
Escobar: In relation to the reconstruction of the property to turn it into a church, it seems that there is a long way to go. What phase is the project now?
Evággelos: We are still in the preliminary procedures: obtaining the building license and the architect’s plans. The second stage depends on the cost of materials, whether they exist or allow us to import, plus the issue of financing. It is an uncertain prognosis that requires many resources and the help of many benefactors as well as the collaboration of the State.
Escobar: And what are the resources that you have guaranteed so far?
Evággelos: Guaranteed, we have the faith, which tells us that in the end here we are going to build our beautiful church in a definitive way.
Translated by Norma Whiting
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