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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 16 June 2018
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 16 JUNE 2018 9 NEWS Peter Papathanasiou with his wife and newly baptised son. African King travels to Mount Athos to be baptised Greek Orthodox Tribal King Tchiffi Zae Jean Gervais from the Ivory Coast has been baptised Greek Orthodox by a monk at the Monastery of Koutloumousiou An African king hailing from the Ivory Coast has been baptised Greek Orthodox in Mount Athos. Tribal King Tchiffi Zae Jean Gervais of the Krou chieftains in Côte d'Ivoire, as he is formally known, travelled to the Orthodox spiritual centre located in the northeast of Greece and took part in the sacrament last Thursday at the Monastery of Koutloumousiou. The service, carried out by Hieromonk Dionysius, saw the King receive the Christian name of David. A prominent figure, King Tchiffi Zie Jean Gervais serves as the Permanent Secretary-General of the Forum of Kings, Princes, Sheiks and Traditional Leaders of Africa and is the Prime Chancellor of the United Kingdoms of Africa. The Greek Orthodox faith has had a presence in the north of Africa for hundreds of years, and in the past hundred years has developed south of the Sahara Desert. Overall the prevalence has been growing since the 19th century, with members of the faith from across the diaspora venturing to various parts of Africa and establishing churches under the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and all Africa. King Tchiffi Zie Jean Gervais (third from left) at Mount Athos. PHOTOS: THEORTHODOXCHURCH.INFO used email, and even posted church programs to social media. I went away and fired off a query; the priest replied within the hour saying he would check with the bishop in Sydney. I explained things to my 87-year-old mum, herself an avid churchgoer. She was understandably disappointed but also equally surprised. She said Dad had baptised both boys and girls, and that was 50 years ago. Dad respected the Church, but he was never one to let it dictate his life, particularly when he had the chance to become a much-admired nouno. The priest emailed me the next day. "The bishop said there is no problem for someone who has baptised girls to baptise a boy, or vice versa," he wrote. "There is even an official letter from the Orthodox Patriarch in Constantinople." I went back to my old friend, told him the good news. "Sorry," he said, "but my decision remains the same, I hope you understand." I must admit: I didn't. Here was the Church trying to be progressive, to move in step with the modern world, and still its parishioners clung to the old ways. I didn't understand my friend's decision, but I respected it. The night before the baptism, my brother called from our home in Greece, a small rural town in the north. I asked whether godparents could baptise both boys and girls there. "Definitely," he replied. "My own nouno absolutely baptised girls. And he was also only seven years old when he baptised me. To this day, we're still close friends." After some time, we found a new godparent, who was actually my godsister's son. At 19 years old, he was ecstatic at the prospect of being a first-time nouno. He immediately wanted to know my son's birthday and promised to teach him sport when he was older. My ageing footballer's knees were silently grateful. "There was once also a rule that a godchild couldn't marry until their godparent did," my brother had said. "I see the logic behind the gender rule, but some rules just make no sense whatsoever." The baptism went off without a hitch. We welcomed an array of friends to our church – Australian, Greek, Fijian, Iranian, Norwegian, Chinese, Italian, Pakistani, Christian, Islamic, Hindu, Judaist, atheist, straight, gay, lesbian – who together marvelled at its wonderfully ornate interior and the sanctity of the ancient baptism ceremony. For me, baptism isn't so much about religion as it is tradition, and it was special to share the day with so many good friends. This included my old friend, who was pleased with our new choice of godparent. So were we. And in the cool and airy church, our naked, newlybaptised son even peed on his godfather as he held him in his arms. This is apparently good luck. King Tchiffi Zie Jean Gervais being baptised.
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