Orthodoxy in the World Last Updated: Feb 8th, 2011 - 05:50:02

The Earthquake in Chile:
”Everyone Around Seemed to be Orthodox.” A letter from Father Alexey Aedo

By Fr. Alexey Aedo
May 27, 2010, 10:00
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Translated by Kira Stebunova

Edited by Hierodeacon Samuel (Nedelsky) and Isaac (Gerald) Herrin





“I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord” (Psalm 118:17)


The Earthquake


On the early morning of Saturday, February 27, the city was still asleep, not paying any attention to the music heard from far away – a celebration of the passing summer before the lessons at school and university began next week.


Both sleep and the occasional party suddenly stopped: the ground began to shake, the electricity suddenly switched off. It was hard to understand in the pitch blackness what was happening... Everything in the house began to fall to the floor with a tremendous wallop, the land was shaking so strongly that no one could either get down the stairs or even keep their balance…


I didn’t know what to do, but only prayed: “Save us, Lord, save us...”, “Please, stop this, God, let it end.” But the shaking went on and on… Eternity seemed to pass before the shaking began to quit and we could get together with our courtyard neighbors. Everyone was safe, only some household items were broken. In the dark of the night we looked in each other’s eyes. Our hearts were overfilled with gratitude to God for staying alive.


In spite of government’s statements that there was no big threat of a tsunami, two hours after this statement ocean water rushed into the city and the seaside villages. There were only two radio stations online, calling for calm. The tremendous tremor continued over and over.


When finally the dawn broke, we tried to clarify the fate of our parish, friends, and acquaintances living next door. When we reached the heart of the city we saw awful things. The city looked like after a bombing, with ruins, wreckage and dust everywhere.


“This is the most shameful scene of our life, much worse than the earthquake itself”


Later in the day, things more frightening than the earthquake and tsunami occurred in the city: robberies, plunder, violence, destruction. Gangs were sacking supermarkets and shops. Prisoners ran out of destroyed jails. The people were thrilled... the police failed to cope with it. Neighbors created a self-defense group to defend our district. We had to shut off the streets, to light fires, to prepare for defense...


We seemed to have returned to the Stone Age only in one day; we seemed to have become troglodytes again. Everyone cared only about themselves. Men could do nothing with the robbers. We looked as if we had no experience of living without a civilization...


I thought, “Is this the result of so many years of work in education? Where are those Christians and 500 years of people’s evangelization? This is the most shameful scene of our life, much worse than the earthquake itself”.


A couple of days later we were able to contact relatives, parishioners, and friends in other cities. After three days without electricity, fresh water, telephone and internet connection, and television, telephone communication began to work off and on, for very short periods of time. The shops were closed, the marauding was still going on everywhere. Agencies and institutions were not working; the police could not cope with it all. The government imposed a military emergency and a curfew.


”Everyone around seemed to be orthodox”


I started visiting injured people at the hospital in the center of Concepción. I was struck by the lack of everything, especially of medical staff... I was deeply impressed by the people rescued from the ruins, the injured and dying who got help. I was shocked by how badly people needed spiritual support. Everyone around seemed to be Orthodox, because in that moment it isn’t important to people what Church comes to help them. To them it isn’t important how to pray. It was very easy to talk to the people in the streets who had stayed alive. We all seemed to be old friends.


At the hospital I talked to a woman with acute peritonitis. The surgeon began to operate on her a few minutes before the earthquake began. He moved the operating table aside a few moments before the room had crashed down. She woke up under a tree right in the street, with the cut open. Several patients, who had had cardiac surgery just before the earthquake, were nearly dead. Some fell down from the trees where they tried to save themselves, some had burns, and some were dragged out of the wreckage.


The state of the parish


I visited the parish as often as I could. A woman from Moscow told me: “I want to go home. I don’t want to stay here.” Many in our parish were shopkeepers, and their trade shops that weren’t damaged by the earthquake were destroyed by marauders. There are some injured people who have no possibility to return to their destroyed houses. Fortunately, the Santiago and Valdivia parishes are not wracked as badly as ours because the earthquake was weaker there.


The earthquake happened when we were undergoing the authorization process for land that was contributed for building the first Orthodox church in the city. The buildings where we used to serve have been destroyed. That's  why we will serve in a local school for some time, if possible.


People are fending without supply


Aftershocks, one by one, day and night, are continuing even now, approximately fifteen shocks a day. It seems that the Earth is turning over and over in its bed. Some shocks reach 7 points on the Richter scale.


As the city began to return to normal life, some sanitation problems occurred. Garbage was everywhere; foodstuff had spoiled in idle refrigerators, etc.


We haven’t had water supply for ten days. Fortunately, there are a few spring wells in the hills, and people like me who lived not far away from these hills, could find water there in the daytime. After a few days of complete inactivity, some shops have begun to work and supply foodstuffs at a high cost. As Chile is long and narrow, no one can provide supplies while the roads are damaged.


Back to normal life. New problems


Now we are preparing to face new problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder and the problem of employment, which will only be completely solved at a distant date


The revenues of the institution where I work depend on the students’ contributions. Most of the students are from the working class, which is out of a limb now. This picture is getting worse, because it was reported that more than 20,000 employers have lost their businesses. It concerns us very much, as my family and the whole Orthodox mission barely make ends met. They are dependent on my wages. The prospective is as bad as it gets.


In the context of this disaster, a great consolation for us was the human and spiritual sympathy and care of our Metropolitan and Bishop John of Caracas and South America. We pray that they have many, many years. We appreciate the love and care of the St. Nectarius Church’s parish and trustee funds for our Church’s needs. We’ve gotten moral encouragement from Jordanville, and from our brothers who have managed to connect with us. Our hearts are filled with joy and gratitude to our Lord that He has given us life and the opportunity to serve Him in His Church. May the Lord gratify our arch-pastors for all their love and closeness to us in such a bitter time, in a time when the ground is still shaking.


Father Alexey Aedo – Vilugron

Concepción, Chile


Two years ago it was like this:


Open the Doors for the Lord in People’s Hearts


An interview with the Archpriest Alexey Aedo (Chile)


The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad’s Archpriest Alexey Aedo serves two Orthodox communities in Chile, the Community of Saint Silouan of Athos in Concepcion, and the Community of Saint Nectarius in Santiago. Chilean and Catholic, he adopted Orthodoxy in his youth. Father Alexey, a famous missionary in his country, spends plenty of time preaching Orthodox preaching among Chileans.


- Father Alexey, tell us about how you became an Orthodox priest and a missionary.


- I have wanted to become a priest since I was a child. But I was born in south Chile, and there it was possible only to become a priest of the Catholic Church. I began to study theology, and then entered a Catholic seminary. After that I met some Orthodox families from Palestine. I learned how Orthodox people live, how they think. When I started some theological conversation they explained to me what the Orthodox Church says about it. So I was received into Orthodoxy in the Antiochian Church.


While a layman, I came here to Santiago to finish my theological education. Once, while going home from the university, I happened to see a Russian church. I came in, heard the Russian choir, saw old photographs… I was impressed by it all. Later, I often thought: “Oh God, how great it would be if I could serve the Liturgy in such a beautiful church one day!” Later, when I was already a presbyter, the Russian Bishop-missionary, Vladyka Alexander (Mileant) – God rest his soul – invited me to the Russian church. Continuing my missionary work in Santiago, I began to build a church in Concepción in the south. I am anxious that there be a beautiful Russian temple there where my children and other young Chileans could go. And I am asking God not to take me until there is a church of Russian Orthodox Church in the south.


- Are there any Orthodox parishes in the south, except the one in Concepción?


- Russians and Palestinians are eager to create a parish in Valdivia. There are also some Chileans who want to become Orthodox, not only in Valdivia but in other cities, too. We hope God will give us the opportunity to build a big church here in Santiago.


- Now you are doing great missionary work. Is it because of your acquaintance with Vladyka Alexander?


- Yes, it is. Vladyka Alexander believed in me and loved me as a priest. That is the best thing that can happen to the priest. To me it was like a gift from God.


- Many people know Vladyka Alexander due to his website, they know the Missionary Booklets edited by him.


- Both the website and the booklets edited by him are particularly important and useful for us. They help people to recognize what Orthodoxy is. Due to Vladyka Alexander we realized that we could and should evangelize by the internet. We would be heard and known better. We would get people’s attention.


- You made a mobile church in a state university building in Santiago. Tell us, how do you manage to serve in the parish and preach to the students?


- We are doing missionary work to the students but, metaphorically speaking, we do it not “through the open door” but “through the window.” Officially we have no right to preach in secular institutions, because people do not come here for mission. The founders and professors of this university are secular people. But every time possible we unassumingly remind them of God, speak about faith. Then the students come to me as to someone who is elder, to a father, to ask for advice, to share their joy and sorrow.


- And what is most important for Orthodox preaching to young Latin Americans?


- I feel that young people are looking for religion, for church, but fail to find true faith. Unfortunately, many remain Protestant, or get into religious sects, which are often non-Christian. Young people need to be listened to and understood. We live in a time when people face different troubles, such as economic issues, wars, serious health problems.


Many think their lives are falling apart. They don’t know what they can hold on to, or where there are true values. That is why work with young people should start with friendship. And you should be able to listen to them. When you listen to them they begin to listen to Orthodoxy without even realizing it.


- Literature, art, philosophy probably help to deal with the young people.


- Yes. It’s easier for me to get on well with them through philosophy and ethics. Young Chileans are inclined to take a critical stance towards the situation in their country and in the whole world. And they want to get hold of something like a wheel to be orientated in the world. Due to this wish it is easier to turn the conversation into the philosophical and ethical domain. The next stage is religion itself.


- After the recovery of canonical communion between the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, some parishes dissented from the Mother Church. What do you think, is it temporary? And what, to your mind, should be done to avoid schism?


- This is very sad and contradictory event. Deeply painful wounds haven’t healed yet. Many of those who went into schism didn’t understand that the situation in Russia had changed with the course of time. Old persons who kept up the traditions stayed with us, they accepted reunion. Some young priests didn’t. Probably the latter are guided by their personal interest, material incentive, ambitions. They forget about obedience to the Church.  


One Russian Batuishka, a monk, lives upon a mountain, keeping silence. Talking to him is like talking to a saint. He also didn’t accept reunion. But I would prefer him to be little more sinful and to stay with us.


- Tell us about what is most interesting to you of what happens in the Russian Orthodox Church now.


- There is a great difference in mindset between East and West. Here, in the West, culture and church are separated. In the Orthodox East these things are a single whole. My mother and I were in Greece. We asked a Greek in Athens, “What is more important for you, to be a Greek or to be Orthodox?” He answered that these are the same things. Russians consider it the same. As for me, I should explain that I am neither Greek nor Russian, but I am Orthodox. For us the Russian Church is a kind of model which integrates spiritual life and national culture. And I wish Chileans could perceive the Gospel, accept it and combine it with their traditions and culture as the Russian people have. Russia, please help us to find a way, how to be loyal to our national culture in light of Evangelicalism!


- Father Alexey, there were Days of Russian Culture in Latin America. What do you think, did they mark an impression on those Chileans who consider themselves secular people, who are not with the Church? Might they, in your opinion, become interested in spirituality and Russian culture tightly connected with Orthodox ideas after visiting the Sretensky Monastery Choir’s concerts, the exhibition “Orthodox Russia,” and the Russian films festival?


- Certainly yes. I think it will help them to come to Orthodoxy also because, during the Days of Russian Culture, Chileans had the opportunity to talk with clergy, with priests and bishops. After twenty years of my priesthood I came to the following conclusion. People can be very far from the Church, they can even believe in no God, until they meet a priest, and it’s as if the Lord opens a little door for them. The door is little and hidden, and faith appears there. People suddenly ask you to dedicate the house, to bless the children. Then they learn about monastic life, admire it, read Lives of Saints, of Seraphim of Sarov, Silouan the Athonite, Herman of Alaska and other ascetics of piety, fool-for-Christs, study the Holy Fathers’ writing. To confirm their faith people often need not ideas, they need to see the way of God. When people talk to the clergy, they find a trace of the Lord.



An interview by Hieromonk Pavel (Shcherbachov)

December 2008

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