Hundreds of faithful filled the Ascension of Our Lord Cathedral here on Sunday, January 12, 2003, to welcome His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman, Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, as he celebrated the Divine Liturgy during his first primatial visit to the OCA’s Mexican Exarchate.
The faithful carried colorful buckets, bottles and even the occasional bag which they filled with holy water, which Metropolitan Herman blessed following the celebration of the Divine Liturgy.
Two days earlier, on January 10, Metropolitan Herman, accompanied by His Eminence, Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas and the South, who oversees the life of the Mexican Exarchate; Protopresbyter Robert Kondratick, OCA Chancellor; the Very Rev. David Brum, Secretary to the Metropolitan; the Rev. Seraphim Hipsch, Saint Seraphim Cathedral, Dallas, TX; John Mindala, Assistant to the Chancellor for Communications and Graphic Design; Jason Vansuch, Personal Aide to the Metropolitan; and the Very Rev. Ernestos Rios, Saint James Mission, Port St. Lucie, FL, were greeted at Mexico City’s International Airport by clergy and laity of the Exarchate and a number of civic leaders. Later in the day, Dr. Javier Moctezuma Barragan, Cabinet Officer of the Mexican Government, and Dr. Alvaro Castro Estrada, General Director of Religious Associations, welcomed Metropolitan Herman and his entourage at the Government Secretariat Building. After a detailed discussion on religious life in Mexico in general and the current situation and future prospects for Orthodox Christianity in the country, Metropolitan Herman presented Dr. Barragan with icons of the Savior and the Mother of God.
After the meeting, the Very Rev. Ernesto Rios guided Metropolitan Herman on a brief tour of Mexico City, which included stops at the city’s historic cathedral and a number of sites illustrating the city’s Aztec roots. In the evening, Metropolitan Herman and his entourage were the guests of His Eminence, Metropolitan Anthony of the Mexico City-based Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of Mexico. Metropolitan Anthony briefed Metropolitan Herman on the work of the Archdiocese, which ministers to faithful of Middle Eastern as well as Mexican extraction. Before expressing his gratitude for Metropolitan Herman’s visit, Metropolitan Anthony was presented with a set of icons to commemorate the occasion. Metropolitan Herman invited Metropolitan Anthony to visit the United States to observe the life of the Church in general and the OCA’s seminaries in particular and spoke of his desire to bring about Orthodox administrative unity throughout North America.
On Saturday, January 11, Metropolitan Herman, Archbishop Dmitri, and their entourage were received by Monsignor Diego Monroy, Rector of the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who surveyed the history of the shrine’s establishment centuries ago. The hierarchs viewed the historic image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which is venerated by tens of thousands of pilgrims daily, many of whom were anxious to meet Metropolitan Herman and receive his blessing.
In the afternoon, the clergy of the Cathedral of the Ascension took the entourage on a tour of the ancient city of Teotihuacan, where they viewed Aztec pyramids dating back nearly 2000 years. Later, Hegumen Alejo Antonio [Pacheco Vera], Dean of the Cathedral of the Ascension, and numerous local clergy and faithful welcomed Metropolitan Herman and his entourage to the cathedral for the celebration of Great Vespers. During a reception on the cathedral grounds following Vespers, Metropolitan Herman encouraged the clergy and faithful alike to remain steadfast in the Orthodox Faith and to persevere in their missionary efforts.
Concelebrating with Metropolitan Herman at the Sunday Divine Liturgy in the cathedral were Metropolitan Anthony and Archbishop Dmitri. During the Liturgy, Metropolitan Herman ordained Subdeacon Victorin, a monastic, to the Holy Diaconate.
At the conclusion of the Liturgy, Metropolitan Herman offered words of encouragement to the clergy and laity, praising them for their accomplishments while reminding them to continue building up the Body of Christ in Mexico City and beyond. He also presented Elisabeth Hernandez Rivera with a citation recognizing her dedication and generous commitment to the cathedral community. As the faithful came forward to venerate the Holy Cross, Metropolitan Herman presented them with icon prints of the Protection of the Mother of God.
A festive banquet followed on the cathedral grounds, during which Metropolitan Herman once again reminded the clergy and laity of their unique mission in proclaiming the Orthodox Faith in a land where Orthodox Christianity had been unknown for centuries.
“The OCA’s Exarchate of Mexico traces its roots to the 1920s, when the Mexican National Catholic Church’ was established as an independent entity separate and distinct from the Roman Catholic Church,” according to the Very Rev. John Matusiak, OCA Communications Director. “Over the next several decades, as Mexican Church-state relations improved, the National Church, which by 1928 had claimed 120 priests and parishes in 14 Mexican states, began to dissolve. The largest remnant of the independent movement, under the leadership of the late Bishop Jose [Cortes-y-Olmos], converted en masse to Orthodox Christianity in 1972, at which time the Mexican Exarchate was established.”
En route to Mexico, Metropolitan Herman stopped in Dallas, TX, where he visited the recently consecrated Saint Seraphim Cathedral and viewed progress on the cathedral’s iconography. He also met with local clergy for the first time since his election as Primate of the Orthodox Church in America in July 2002.