March 14, 2024

Bishop Timothy of Assos on His Conversion to Orthodoxy and Mission in Latin America

"I am a local, I was born in Colombia, in a village on the border with Venezuela, and I come from an Indian tribe," says Bishop Timothy of Assos as he recounts his relationship with Orthodoxy, Greece and Cyprus.

"I encountered Orthodoxy when I was about 11 years old. I happened to see on television Archbishop Makarios from Cyprus, who as President had visited Colombia," he says. "I saw him," he continues, "and I asked a Western priest, 'Who is the one they are showing on TV now, who visited Colombia?' And he told me that he is an archbishop who is a heretic, but an Anglican priest said to him, “No, he is not a heretic. He is Orthodox. And Orthodoxy is the Mother Church, and if you want to be a Christian, become Orthodox and search Orthodoxy and don't easily believe what they tell you."

Bishop Timothy states that his first visit to Cyprus took place in 2010, when a strong earthquake hit Haiti, causing the death of thousands of people and massive material damage, and he had come to receive humanitarian aid from Cyprus.

"That's when I met Bishop Nikephoros of Kykkos and Isaiah," he says while also mentioning the transfer of the statue of Makarios in 2005 to Havana, Cuba, by the then Bishop Nikephoros of Kykkos, and notes that "Fidel Castro had very good relations with Makarios."

Bishop Timothy of Assos noted that when he understood that the works of the Fathers, the New Testament, and in general everything related to the Church is in Greek, he realized where not only human wisdom comes from but also why all human civilization has Greece as its source and there the great change took place in him as he began to search for Orthodoxy.

Recalling his stay in Greece, the Bishop states that he was sent to Greece to learn Greek and studied theology in Thessaloniki, stressing that "we, as natives of Latin America, learned the true theology from our pappou and yiayia in Greece, people who hosted us, helped us and taught us to do our cross and reverence the icons."

"From the Greeks we learned Christianity and the Greeks illuminate not only in the theological but also in the scientific field," and he noted that Greek tools exist through Greek philosophy and history. "Man today," he continued, "is looking for existential answers and will find them in the Holy Bible and in Greek philosophy."

The Bishop stated that the Greek immigrants who arrived in Latin America in the previous century helped and their descendants continue to help the locals by keeping the Greek spirit and the Orthodox tradition.

"We love the Greeks and the Greek history, from the time the Greeks arrived here and the diaspora of the Greeks leaves a big mark on the history of the people", he declares, explaining at the same time that in Latin America there are also families from Mytilene, from Cyprus and from all over Greece who don't look after themselves, but help others.

"If you go to Latin America, you will find an area called Athens, you will hear people talking about the Minoan civilization and a street named after Socrates, or a street named after Archbishop Makarios. If you go to Havana, Cuba, you will find the big statue of Makarios,” he adds.

In his final comment on the people of Cyprus, the Bishop of Assos, said: "You are an example that we must follow, because despite the many sufferings that befell the Cypriot people, you never lost hope, philanthropy, love and your faith."
On the Mission in Latin America
Answering a question about the missionary work being done in Latin America, the Bishop of Assos said that there are three main axes. 
The first "is to keep the Greeks and help them spiritually so that they can keep and pass on their own faith and tradition to their children".  
The second axis, he said, is to teach Orthodoxy to the locals, to our brethren. In Cuba, he explained, there is a parish school where the Greek language is taught, there is catechism and "we want to make a center for teaching Byzantine culture." Also, he continued, Colombia was granted a site with buildings for the creation of a School of Theology, for a center of Greek culture and for the first monastery.  
"The third axis is the philanthropic work," he notes. He pointed out that children buy presents at Christmas and give them to poor, non-Orthodox children. "We help children who are suffering. Children learn from an early age the dogma of dogmas, which is love for one's fellow man," he said. "We have refugees from Venezuela and there was a day when we fed 5000 refugees. We became a bridge between rich and poor. We remember the Parable of the Good Samaritan. You do good to man because he is an image of God," he noted. 
"We need prayer but we are also doing a fourth mission," he said. "To remind the Greeks what Hellenism means and why we come and look towards Hellenism," he said. He stated that there is a commitment to the mission with a single concern for the people and for the purpose of the mission, among other things, medicines, clothes, food are collected, but also doctor missions are organized to help the people of Latin America.  
The Spread of Orthodoxy in Latin America 
Bishop Timothy mentioned that Colombia and Venezuela and the wider region of Latin America are areas where Christianity is known, but a different kind of Christianity that disagrees with Eastern Orthodoxy. He noted that the difference lies in matters concerning rationalism and apophatic theology. He explained that most are Roman Catholics, but there is a large share of people today who go to other denominations which, he said, have no foundation.  
"In our parts, Orthodoxy until 2000 was unknown and was limited to certain parishes that were for the Greeks, for the Russians and the Arabs," he said. "The locals," he continued, "even though we were looking for Orthodoxy, we did not have these possibilities to approach Orthodox Christianity."  
He stated that in 2000, the Ecumenical Patriarchate established a new Metropolis first in Panama, then in Mexico and this Metropolis opened its doors and slowly the Church began to build Orthodoxy in these areas.  
"People found in Orthodoxy an answer," he declares. He noted that the entire Metropolis today numbers over one and a half million Orthodox Christians and the number is increasing every day. He pointed out that today it is not difficult with modern means to discover Orthodoxy. 
"We then only had the black and white television and some works of the fathers, which we had the opportunity to read," he said. He stated that the country with the most Orthodox Christians, 250,000 in number, is Guatemala, while significant numbers also exist in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Cuba and throughout the Caribbean. Especially for Cuba, the Bishop of Assos, Mr. Timothy, pointed out that today there are four parishes and Christian churches. 
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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