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Mission to Tanzania


Father John Erickson (left) of St. Vladimir's Seminary in New York
with Metropolitan Jeronymos of Mwanza, Tanzania

“Things that you read about in the New Testament and in the lives of the saints are happening in Africa today,” observed The Very Rev. John Erickson, as he began a lively presentation entitled “SVS goes to Africa!” to the St. Vladimir’s community on October 15, 2008.

Fr. John, who is the Peter N. Gramowich Professor of Church History at SVS, along with two seminarians—second-year M.Div. student The Rev. Dn. Peter Robichau and third-year M.Div. student Troyen Hamilton—related their missionary experiences in the African continent during the summer of 2008, under the auspices of the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC), the official international missions agency of the Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops in America (SCOBA).

Fr. John served for five weeks in Tanzania during the Paschal season as an OCMC “mission specialist.” His first days were spent serving with His Eminence Jeronymos, Metropolitan of Western Tanzania, during the last days of Holy Week (in the archbishop’s new headquarters in the city of Mwanza) and Pascha (in a remote village about four hours to the south). Fr. John then spent most of his time working at an Orthodox seminary in the village of Kasikizi, where he “enjoyed the daily rhythm of services and classes, and the simplicity of life without electricity and running water.”


Father Erickson celebrating a baptism

He spoke of the exponential growth of Orthodoxy in Tanzania, which he experienced first hand one Sunday when he assisted in the baptism of some 90 persons and then in a “sextuple” marriage ceremony for six separate couples.

Despite the language barrier between him and his African hosts, Fr. John said he experienced great joy in serving with them. “Since the students knew very little English and I knew no Swahili or other local language, communication brought daily challenges,” he said, “but gestures and singing helped make up for deficiencies in vocabulary.

“We made a deal. They helped me get through the daily services, and I taught them to sing ‘Christ is risen’ and a few other things in English. Perhaps my most joyous experience was celebrating the Divine Liturgy on the day of St John the Theologian (May 8), when I did the Great Litany in Swahili for the first time and the students sang ‘Christ is risen’ in English.”

He joked that “where there are no mirrors” his awareness of his own racial distinction disappeared as he engaged with the African community. Fr. John especially highlighted the need for educational materials for the Orthodox seminarians in Africa, and the need of Orthodox Christians in the Western world to learn about “Spirit-filled living” from their African Orthodox brothers and sisters.


Father Erickson with Tanzanian seminarians

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