ELDER MAKARIOS ARCHBISHOP OF NAIROBI The Mission
Text: Charalambos Nikopoulos
Photos: Marina Shacola and Archbishop's personal archive
Archbishop Makarios has been living in Africa for a half century, delivering a message of love, brotherhood, joy, and hope across the most tormented continent on Earth. Meanwhile, he has been catalytic for the Kenyan education system, by founding and operating schools of all levels, including seminary, and technology schools, and by providing material and spiritual nourishment and shelter for tens of thousands of people that lack even the most basic of necessities. Makarios’ mission is backed by an extraordinary body of work, for which he prefers to be discreet and free of any cliché or pompous declaration. After all, the essence of his work does not mix well with sensationalism. His story is fascinating; it includes some decisive encounters with enlightened historic figures and wonderful coincidences, most of which, for a Christian, are nothing more than the manifestation of divine providence. But let us start from the beginning.
From inclination to a call
Andreas Tillyrides (the future Archbishop) was born in Limassol in 1945. His first love was music. When it came to music notes, harmonies and melodies, his aptitude was apparent from an early age. In primary and high school, he was a member of the choir. He spent his teenage years enrolled in the branch of the National Conservatory of Limassol. There he had the opportunity to learn how to play the piano, which was very fulfilling. Later on, Andreas was able to compose and combine feelings with music. Those who had the chance to hear his work, were adamant that he could shine as a musician. A future career in music seemed inevitable. However, Andreas’ true calling was to prove differently guiding him down a path toward relieving the suffering of those who were abandoned and desperate.
After completing his mandatory military service, Andreas moved to England to study music at the Trinity College of Music. He spent endless hours at study and often dreamt of conducting an orchestra while playing piano simultaneously. It was a fantasy, something of pure imagination, but most likely unattainable. Nevertheless, it was indicative of his love for music. While everything seemed to be falling into place, God had different plans for him. These plans began to unfold when Andreas crossed paths with monk Sophrony of Essex, who subsequently became a saint. “At age twenty-one, it was inconceivable that I would meet with a modern saint who already knew, through divine inspiration, the path that I would follow in life. From a musician to a theologian! It was a solid and irrevocable command from above. Elder Sophrony already knew from our first meeting what I would become and how my life would evolve,” recounts the Archbishop lavishly. The encounter with Sophrony turned an inclination into a calling, but his acquaintance with Ethnarch Makarios was equally important. As a servant of the divine, the Ethnarch helped Andreas through critical moments in his life. “I was blessed and honored to be able to meet the late Archbishop and Ethnarch of Cyprus, Makarios the III. Was it a coincidence? I think not. It was unexpected, but certainly God’s plan. I was a fourth-grader when I asked to meet him, and when he asked what I wanted to become in life, my response was that I wanted to become a musician. Makarios listened attentively, then gave me 20 pounds which I spent on a large, English-encyclopedic dictionary of music to begin my studies,” he recalls. But that was just the beginning. The emblematic Archbishop would send Andreas 200 pounds per year to support his theological studies in Paris. “In 1972, having completed my studies in Paris, we met again, face to face. It was a crucial meeting. I had to secure the necessary funds to proceed with doctoral studies at Oxford University. Elder Sophrony encouraged me to visit Ethnarch Makarios to ask for the required amount. Naturally, I had no clue how I would go about presenting the issue to the Archbishop. When he took my degrees from Paris in his hands, he proceeded to say, ‘I can tell you love education. How about a Ph.D.?’. Before I could take the opportunity to ask, the Archbishop offered to fund my studies at Oxford University. I returned to Elder Sophrony at his monastery and told him all about it. ‘I knew it’, he exclaimed, ‘which is why I urged you to meet with him’.” Thus, Andreas began his studies at Oxford University.
During this period, the Seminary in Kenya was being built, which was founded by the late Makarios in 1971. “Suddenly, without expecting it, I received a message from the Archbishop asking me to return to Cyprus for three days. I was baffled by this abrupt invitation and wondered what it could be? Ultimately, the meeting was monumental since it paved the way for me to Africa.” Andreas soon departed for Kenya. There he devoted himself as a layman to preparing the operation of the Seminary. Simultaneously, he became its director. Finally, in 1992, Andreas joined the priesthood and was ordained as Deacon, Elder, and Bishop of Riruta.
The mission in Africa
The gospel says, “Strive to instill knowledge to all nations.” However, departing from the western world to a place where hunger, poverty, and misery prevail is no easy task. It’s a life-changing experience, no matter how strong you may be. The challenges are immense in a mission that must be authentic and not an imposition or attempt at proselytism. The goal is to provide a pure ministry that brings light to people’s lives. According to Archbishop Makarios, “I was taught what it means to love and accept your neighbor, your brother, and every single person regardless of race or nationality. This has been the symbol and motto throughout the duration of my ministry in Africa. I had the whole edifice of cultures and morals, languages and customs in front of me. I had to become one with them, at all costs, so as not to feel like a foreigner or stranger. I had to identify Christ within their faces.” Thus, with this conviction, Makarios devoted himself entirely to his station. Success would only come after many painful trials and tribulations. “I often think of the tragedies I witnessed: when I first met orphaned children that we rescued from the refuse and sewage-filled streets, giving them beds where they could rest their afflicted bodies, warm food, clothing, and things necessary for their education. I was shocked to my core when I met these neglected and psychologically-wounded children. None knew of their biological parents or had a place to call home. They had no concept of identity. They were numb and without hope,” he recounts, visibly moved at the recollection of small, abandoned children that, without assistance, would have died or become criminals.
Life in Kenya is demanding but also fascinating. Sleep is a luxury, and travel is constant. Dozens of material and spiritual issues needing immediate attention are part of every day. Moreover, a multitude of obstacles always present themselves. However, Archbishop Makarios never gave up hope. He is bold and never surrendered. He travels around the area of his Episcopal ministry, teaches at the Patriarchal School and meets people of all races, languages, and classes daily. Multilingual, he learned to speak English, French, Russian, Italian, and several African dialects. Due to his initiative, liturgies have been translated into more than 30 dialects, allowing him the opportunity to better understand the local culture. The more the seeds of the Gospel spring roots in the hearts of African people, the more strength he gains to carry on his work, God willing. “With divine intervention and inspiration, we built all of this using superhuman powers, and often even facing death,” says Makarios. With these gifts, along with humility and discernment, he carries on, and “though we sometimes get tired as humans, we never cave, since we are witnessing a divine and unique miracle unravel in front of us, through the everlasting presence of the Holy Spirit that truly preserves our soul.”