With the blessing of His Eminence, Archbishop Alejo of Mexico City, seven Spanish-speaking laypeople from various parishes in the US met in Mexico City on July 6, 2013 to begin their ministry as the Orthodox Church in America’s inaugural teaching team to San Esteban Mission in the foothills of Hidalgo, Mexico. [See related story.]
Leading the team were Archpriests Ted Pisarchuk and Antonio Perdomo. Team members included Joel Appelfeldt, Mary Ann Bertram, Larry Coor, Sara Dawson, Seraphima Karbo, Robert Levings and Rebecca Showalter. Accompanied by Hieromonk Serafín [Mendoza Segundo], Novice Fidencio [Ulises Barrangan] and Subdeacon Abraham Labrada, they slowly made their way from Mexico City to San Esteban.
“San Esteban is an Aztec city of about 1,000 inhabitants,” explained team member Sara Dawson. “Because of the remoteness of the town and the often troublesome road conditions, a priest can only come to the mission in San Esteban a few times each year. The teaching team spent a total of three and a half days in the town teaching and getting to know the people from the town.”
The residents of San Esteban warmly welcomed the team at the town’s entrance before leading them to the church, where they spent the next three days teaching.
“In the mornings, we worked with the children of the village,” Sara continued. “On Tuesday morning, thirty timid children joined us for a lesson about Jesus—and by Wednesday morning, 60 excited children encircled us to learn about the Liturgy and all the different traditions of the Church.”
According to Rebecca Showalter, “the best part of the trip for me were the kids. To see all of them sitting quietly on the floor and staring with such genuine interest when showing them simple things like a censer or chalice was priceless.”
In the evenings, the team celebrated Vespers and other services, followed by educational sessions and brief lessons in liturgical singing.
“The adults were especially engaged in and receptive to the teaching sessions, and by Thursday’s Divine Liturgy, the entire crowd was responding during the litanies and participating in the services,” Sara said. “After the Liturgy, the faithful gathered all the icons and crosses in the church and processed around the village, accompanied by the town band.”
Despite a Thursday afternoon storm that knocked out the town’s power source, people still came to the final service and listened intently as Father Antonio read the Gospel by flashlight and conducted the teaching session by candlelight.
“On Friday morning, we said goodbye to the residents of San Esteban,” said Mary Ann Bertram. “Many people asked when we would be coming back. I was really moved by the initial greeting and the goodbyes of the people of San Esteban.”
San Esteban’s first encounter with Orthodox Christianity dates back to the 1920s.
“One elderly lady in the town recounted the history of the Orthodox church to the team, as she can still remember when the first Russian missionary, Father Armene, came to San Esteban and founded a mission in 1925,” said Sara. “According to the woman, who remembers meeting Father Armene as a child, the priest planted at least 10 churches in the area that Archbishop Alejo is now working hard to make sure are served.
“After Father Armene, two other priests served at the church,” Sara added. “Today, Father Serafin is the priest-in-charge, and during our trip, we blessed property that has been recently acquired by the diocese on which a rectory will be constructed, allowing Father Serafin to fully serve the community in San Esteban and nearby missions.”
Father Ted hailed this inaugural trip as a success, saying that “the team members came together like a well-oiled machine.”
A photo gallery of the team’s visit may be accessed here.