Friday, April 13, 2007
NEWS FROM THE ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN MISSION CENTER (OCMC)
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To look into the eyes of Rajmonda (Ray-moonda) is to stare across oceans of time. Within her lies a storied past, but also a sincere hope for the future. Rajmonda was born in Albania into a world made gray by communism. During her childhood, food was scarce and the pangs of hunger could be felt by many. The fear of heavy handed authorities hung over the entire country like a dark cloud.
It hadn’t always been that way in Albania. Rajmonda’s parents could remember how the policies of the communist government kept people employed and mouths fed during the Second World War, while their neighbors struggled. But as time passed, the costs of a radical communistic
(Bolshevikian) utopia would take a heavy toll on the Albanian people. Life behind the iron curtain would get progressively worse as the economic reforms that brought sustenance during the war, now served to suffocate Albania
in the decades that followed.
Wreaking more havoc on the Albanian people than communism’s economic failings, however, was the merciless religious persecution that the government wrought. Albania had been Christian since the time of the Apostles; but from the 1950s on, the Church had become increasingly persecuted – culminating in a constitutional ban on religion in 1976. A devout Orthodox Christian, Rajmonda’s father was devastated.
Growing up, Rajmonda would sit on her father’s lap as he would tell her stories of how his countrymen used to care for one another like a family because of their Orthodox faith. The contrasting reality she witnessed in Albania under communism would create a longing in her heart for the days of which her father spoke. People accused of being Orthodox were blackmailed, imprisoned, sent to labor camps, stripped of their possessions, and robbed of a future.
By 1992 the communist regime had fallen. The constitutional ban on religion was revoked and Orthodox Churches began to re-open. So deeply had the fear of being labeled a Christian been ingrained in Albania, that Rajmonda’s mother forbade her from entering a church – in spite of the country’s new religious freedom. Rajmonda’s longing for the days of her father remained and she began walking by the Orthodox Church in her community regularly, her curiosity growing with each passing day.
One day Rajmonda noticed that the church was offering English classes, and she decided to attend. The course was being conducted by an Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC) Missionary from America. Rajmonda and the missionary quickly became friends through gentle encouragement, Rajmonda and her children began to attend worship services.
Bathed in the flickering light of candles and swimming in clouds of incense, Rajmonda felt the love of God that permeated the stories her father would tell her as a child. The seed of the Holy Spirit that her father planted so many years ago was watered by Rajmonda’s missionary friend and through Bible study and Catechism; and on Great and Holy Saturday, she was welcomed into the Orthodox Church.
Today, Rajmonda is a leader in the Albanian Orthodox Church’s women’s movement. Her life is dedicated to caring for the poor, engaging in outreach, conducting Bible studies and coordinating volunteers.
For decades, churches in Albania were destroyed or seized by the communists and transformed into barracks, nightclubs and even brothels. By the grace of God the faithful have reclaimed these houses of worship and with one voice proclaim, “Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!”
The Paschal flame that emerges from Christ’s tomb spreads around the world and burns brightly in the hearts of people like Rajmonda. In answering the call to missions, Orthodox Christians across America have been able to join their newly illumined brothers and sisters around the world in joyous celebration of the glory of Pascha.
The Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC) is the official international mission agency of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA). Its purpose is to encourage, support and facilitate the establishment and development of self-supporting, Eucharistic Orthodox Christian communities worldwide, thus incorporating the person into the fullness of a life in Christ. Visit www.ocmc.org for more information regarding OCMC’s ministries.
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