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The Orthodox Church in Indonesia

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The Orthodox Church in Indonesia

23.12.2009

The Indonesian Orthodox Church (GOI Gereja Ortodoks Indonesia) unites more than 2,000 believers and consists of 13 parishes on the islands of Java, Bali, Sumatra, Sulawesi, Timor and New Guinea. The church is headed by Archimandrite Daniel, who is canonically subordinate to the Bishop of Sydney, Australia and New Zealand of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia.

According to some reports, in the 7th and 8th centuries, the first missionaries from Antioch – (Syrian) Christians – began preaching in Sumatra, although after the last remaining representatives of these clergymen died, local residents found themselves in political and geographic isolation from the Orthodox world. Nevertheless, in the 11th century, a Catholic missionary found Christians who had remained here despite the passing of nearly three centuries. Legend has preserved the names of three bishops – Mar Yaballa, Mar Abdisho and Mar Denha.

Reliable information about the arrival of Orthodoxy in Indonesia is related to Russian emigre parishes that were in existence from the early 1920s to the late 1950s on the island of Java (Bandung and Batavia). These emigres had left China and were under the jurisdiction of the Harbin episcopate. The parishes were secluded and preaching of Orthodoxy among the Indonesians did not take place.

The man who established the Orthodox Church in Indonesia is Archimandrite Daniel (Bambang Dwi Byantoro), an Indonesian who was born in 1956 on the island of Java. He grew up in a Muslim family, and during his early adolescent years, while still a schoolboy, he became a Protestant. On September 6, 1983 in Seoul, while he was studying at the Asian Center for Theological Studies and Mission, he converted to Orthodoxy. The impetus was the book “The Orthodox Church” by Bishop Callistus (Ware), which he read in search of the ancient Christian East.

That same year, Bambang Dwi Byantoro went to Greece and spent a year at the Orthodox monastery of Simon (Peter) on Mount Athos. It was here that he began to translate liturgical books into Indonesian. In 1984, he began studying in the United States at Greek Orthodox theological schools, and upon completing his training in 1987, Father Daniel was ordained a deacon and in 1988 a priest by Bishop Maximus of Pittsburgh (Aghiorgoussis). That year he returned to his homeland. Father Daniel began preaching Orthodoxy in 1988 on Java in his hometown of Modjokerto. After converting members of his family to Orthodoxy, he moved to the city of Solo, where he established the first Orthodox parish in 1990. In the same year the New Zealand Metropolitan Dionysius appointed Father Daniel vicar of the Korean Diocese (Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople) in the rank of archimandrite.

In order to obtain legal status, the Orthodox movement was formalized under the name of Yayasan Dharma Tuhu (The Straight Doctrine Foundation), but because the name sounded too much like the Hindu, it was renamed the Yayasan Ortodoks Injili Indonesia (Indonesian Orthodox Evangelical Society). In 1991, the Orthodox community founded by Father Daniel was legally recognized and registered under the name of the Indonesian Orthodox Church by the Ministry of Religious Affairs’ directorate for Christian denominations.

From 1990-1997, Indonesian Orthodox parishes were subordinate to the new Metropolitanate of Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. In 2000, Father Daniel appealed to the Moscow Patriarchate with a request that the Russian Orthodox Church assist with the establishment of the Orthodox community in Indonesia. Six Indonesians were trained in Russian seminaries. One of them was Hieromonch Iosaf (Tandibilang), who without yet having completed his studies at the Belgorod seminary, was ordained in the Russian Orthodox Church in April 2003. In December 2003, then Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad visited Indonesia. During the visit the issue of Father Daniel’s request to move the Indonesian Orthodox Church under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church was discussed. As a result of these discussions, a decision was made to allow Archimandrite Daniel to serve under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. In February 2005, in connection with staffing shortages, he called several Russian seminarians to Indonesia, and soon after they were ordained as clergymen by the Archbishop of Sydney, Australia and New Zealand (now the primate of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia).

Currently, the Indonesian Orthodox Church has over 2,000 parishioners. Most of the communities are located on Java, including two in the capital, Jakarta, and one each in the cities of Solo (Surakarta), Surabaya, Modjokerto, Salatiga and Boyolali, on the islands of Bali (Sanur), Sumatra (Medan) Sulawesi (Manado), Timor (Kupang) and New Guinea (Jayapura). There are eleven priests and five deacons, as well as thirteen churches and prayer houses. In Jakarta, there is the Cathedral of the Holy Apostle Thomas (the rector is Father Boris) and the home church of the Holy Apostolic Prince Vladimir at the residence of the Moscow Patriarchate's representative in Indonesia (the rector is Father Ioasaf).

As the head of the Indonesian Orthodox Church, Father Daniel has always been a supporter of preserving church unity and rapprochement with the Russian Orthodox Church. Even before its unification with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, in the Indonesian Orthodox churches parishioners residing or staying in Indonesia were offered occasional services in the official Russian Orthodox Church. Since the unity that took place between the two churches in May 2008, the primate of the Russian Orthodox Church has been proclaimed at the liturgies here. Representatives of the Indonesian Orthodox Church, David and Christina Hadiningraty, were present at the union of the the two churches in May 2008 and at the enthronement of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia in January 2009.

From December 6-13, 2008, at the invitation of the Indonesian Orthodox Church, a delegation composed of representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia visited Indonesia. The first joint visit by the hierarchs of both churches, it demonstrated the successful movement toward their reunification. During their visit to Jakarta the first joint liturgy involving both branches of the Russian Orthodox Church was held in Asia.

The delegation visited Deputy Minister of Religious Affairs Jason Lase, whose responsibility involves the directorate of Christian denominations. During the meeting they discussed problems associated with the legal status of the Indonesian Orthodox Church. An agreement was reached on the issue of registering the charter of the Indonesian Orthodox Church to provide a clearer definition of its status as an independent church organization in Indonesia that is spiritually connected with the Russian Orthodox Church.

The delegation also visited parishes in the cities of Jakarta, Solo and Denpasar. During the visit, Bishop Mark consecrated land for the construction of the first Orthodox church on the island of Bali. This church should become a center that attracts not only local parishioners but also Russian tourists. Agreement was also reached on the Indonesian Orthodox Church’s cooperation in training Indonesian personnel at the Belgorod seminary, as well as on providing other assistance in the development of Orthodoxy in Indonesia. The joint visit by the hierarchs was an important event in the process of restoring the unity of the church and served to strengthen the position of the Indonesian Orthodox Church and the development of Orthodoxy in Indonesia.

It is worth noting several peculiarities of worship in the Indonesian Orthodox Church. Upon entering the church, all parishioners remove their shoes and women cover their heads.  Men stand in the right half of the church, while women stand on the left. The service is conducted in Indonesian. All parishioners carry a little book with the Holy Liturgy, and they are actively involved in the service, fulfilling the role normally played by the chorus (there is no chorus itself). Pronouncements by the priest are made in both Old Church Slavonic and Indonesian, and the parishioners respond in Indonesian. The service breaks following the liturgy, and everyone sits on the floor on as the priest delivers a sermon. After that he hears confessions from those who arrived late for the beginning of the service, which is then followed by the Eucharist. After the liturgy one of the readers walks with two bags among the parishioners collecting donations. Everyone dips their hand into the bag in order to conceal how much money they donate. After the service there are often special prayers involving blessings with holy water. During the prayers the priest repeats the names of those being blessed several times and then sprinkles them with holy water, each individually and then all the parishioners together.

During the service the parishioners make the sign of the cross at the appropriate moments, bowing their heads. During the sacrament, everyone drops to their knees with their foreheads touching the floor. They often hold their arms bent at the elbows and with their palms facing up (as Muslims often do) - generally during the priest’s invocations, as well as their own. After the priest's invocation to be “of one mind and spirit” all the men shake hands and the women exchange kisses.

During the Easter service “Christ is risen from the dead...” is repeated three times in three languages - Greek, Russian and Indonesian. The shroud is carried away in stretchers (palatine), closed by a canopy. Above the canopy hang cords (thread) of small flowers. The shroud itself is a piece of plain white cloth, strewn with flower petals. Although they do not hold a procession around the church (possibly because it is enclosed on both sides by a fence), there is a ceremony that resembles a procession. Before leaving the church they not only turn off the lights, but they also blow out all the candles, leaving only a lamp. The priest then comes with a large lighted candle, and all the parishioners come up to him with their candles and light them from his candle. Some of them kiss his hand. Then an acolyte leaves with an icon, followed by the priests and everyone else. They leave the church at 23.40, go to the square adjacent to the church where clergy and the parishioners face one another. A member of the clergy reads the Gospel (the arrival of the Holy Myrrhbearers to the Holy Sepulcher), says a prayer, and then everyone returns to the church (about five minutes before twelve). The Easter service ends at 00.20, followed by a sermon and after that by the festive liturgy.

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