Orthodox America


 Prisonerís Diary 


   On Sunday, February 21, 1988, a member of the Church in Ipswich, Mass. was called via short wave radio by Priest Gerasimos (a.k.a. Jerry) Karobites from his home on the island of Bukasa on Lake Victoria. Fr. Gerasimos (featured in OA 72) reported that Ugandan soldiers had come from the mainland in what appeared to be a move to oust him from the island and force him to abandon both his mission and his medical practice there (Fr. Gerasimos was the only physician in the area, serving a population of 10,000 inhabiting several islands): he was threatened with bodily harm and was made to leave his home which housed a chapel where the soldiers spent the night, smoking and drinking. Taking his family, Fr. Gerasimos went to the mainland. He returned to Bukasa four days later; the situation seemed calm. The next day, however, soldiers again came from the mainland. Fr. Gerasimos radioed the States to report that they were breaking into the compound of his medical clinic, when his conversation was cut off. Shortly thereafter he was arrested.

      A diary which Fr. Geracimos kept while in prison conveys the details of his ordeal and the anguish of a shepherd forced to leave his flock, of a husband and father separated from his family. It also expresses the pain and the joy of suffering for the sake of Christ and His Holy Church.

 

Day 1 Feb. 24, 1988

      Hear my humble prayer, O Lord, for I have been brought down to the Earth. Free me from Egypt's bonds 0 Lord.

Thy will.

 

Day 3

    Having just received the Precious Body and Blood of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, I pray my Lord's strength with the things of this day. If it be either freedom or imprisonment, Glory to God. For of the present things (accusations) I am innocent.

    They have brought me food, but my hunger is little. My ear is not well and now my back begins to hurt. Tiny ants lie dead in the bottom of my plastic drinking mug and have found their way into my loaf of bread. At least I can eat them; they are lenten.

     My cell has bars on the windows; each window has thirty squares of steel. There are five windows. The room is big and mercifully last night no electricity, so the lights were not on.          /.../

 

Evening Third Day

    In spite of my weakness for fasting I am forced to fast by my circumstances. The clay has been spent in Halcedema (a cell) whose walls and floor were covered with human blood). I gave along statement to CID (Criminal Investigation Department) Police, Perhaps I will be transferred and charged with some crime tomorrow. My Lord, your useless servant has been exceedingly humiliated. Forgive me my sins.

    I miss Sarah and the children very much, and my flock who through my sinfulness are now far from me. My Christ, relieve Thou our sufferings.

    My captors are not treating me badly; I have a soft sponge mattress and good though simple food and soda. They have not abused me and speak to me with kindness...

 

The Fourth Evening

    All have left except for a few guards, I shall not go forth this evening. It seems that I have really upset the apple cart for them to care enough about keeping me here for the weekend. My poor flock Where are they tonight ? My wife and children? No vespers. No confession. No Liturgy.. Woe unto my suffering flock, due to my sins.    /.../

    And so I have been given a chance to pray and study a little and test my faith to see where it is lacking. The fast lasted till evening today except for fluids and for that I must be grateful. I guess I must leave Africa. What to do! New home, parish, exams for my medical license. Perhaps a manuscript for Carley (my agent). Amateur radio? Unlikely. That was for here and will have no appeal or function in Canada. The telephone is much quicker.

 

Kyriake Morning--Sunday

     I awoke despondent with a heavy heart, but after a little psalmody and reading of the Holy Scriptures I am somewhat relieved. I ate a little bread and drank some water. Perhaps today I will get a meal. (They forgot to feed me on Saturday.)        /.../

    I have been reading the Ladder∑ of Divine Ascent and see the reason for my being here. It is because of my pride. Yet I tire. It is afternoon. Tomorrow is Monday. Shall I be released? Will they deport me? What shall happen?

    My Lord, I have only tried to serve you. I have cheated no one, stolen from no one, honored the Government and supported them. I have opposed the desecration of an Orthodox church. Why do they hate me so much, my God, when I have served them so faithfully?

 

Monday, 28th February

     It must be about noon. No word about anything. The night was hard with diarrhea and a bad stomach. Not much sleep. I had hoped for some action by now. I must learn only to hope in GOD. There is no hope elsewhere. Sores are beginning on my mouth. Surely they must be getting tired of having me around. What a punishment!

     May God give me strength because I am too weak. It is almost seven in the evening. Diarrhea was most unpleasant. My prayer was so weak. Nothing eventful...

 

March 1, the prison, KamPala

My Dear (N)...,

     I could not have imagined writing to you and through you to the Brother... Yet circumstances in life begged me to put pen to paper and send you this account of the last nine days, five of which I have spent in prison. There is still some light for me to write by. Today I was fed beans and rice whilst yesterday bread and water. Since today ends the first week of the Holy and Great Fast, I should have much to be thankful for.

     You came into the picture by the many gifts you have given me which "holpen and comfort" me in my present: affliction. The Holy Cross filled with relics which you gave me in happier time s, and the silver vial filled with Holy Communion which has sustained me each and every day. St. John of the Ladder.

    Nine days ago, powerful men of the world came to our Annunciation Church on the island carrying with them a corpse. The deceased was placed in our church and we were driven out. This occurred as I was on the mainland, and upon returning to Bukasa, for once that reprobate demon of anger was stilled and as I entered the church with the corpse, I had at least for the moment acquired a meekness. I greeted the mourners with words of kindness for their loss and proceeded into the Holy Sanctuary to remove the Holy Things from the Altar, which I then took away. Matushka Sarah then joined me with the children in another place. I ordered my flock to serve those who had driven us from our rightful place. Friday, Saturday and Sunday passed while we were not allowed to return to Evangelismos (Annunciation Church) to hold our poor but Holy services.

     When the 150 mourners, soldiers and officials left the island, I spoke by radio with amateur operators who then sent the information to our Orthodox clergy, and our bishops.

     Two days later I was arrested. Equipment, drugs , letters were seized. It is now the seventh night since I was seized and my flock has suffered without the benefit of Holy Services. During these days I have had the blessing of having St. John Climacus [i.e., The Ladder'] and finding in this gaol a copy of the Holy Scriptures.

     Now here is what I have been shown: the present situation has occurred to me because of the Lord our God Who desires that my anger, foulness of mouth, vainglory and pride should be subjected to radical surgery! Woe unto me who am so blind to my sins! Perhaps I will be released tomorrow, perhaps not; I am very weak and have no strength for this.

      May Christ manifest His strength in my weakness,

In Christ, Father G.

 

Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word. For my eyes have seen Thy salvation which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people.  

    It is Tuesday the 7th of March and I have been deported to Nairobi. Sarah is on the Ugandan mainland, and the children on the island with our relatives. Communication is poor and the situation is unclear. How have we come to this state of affairs? On Saturday night, forty-eight hours after I was released from prison and placed on bail, a knock on the door startled us at 11 PM. I opened the door to a very large man who was standing there with the officer for the Criminal Investigation Department. Once again I became afraid: "What do you want?" I asked.

    "We want to get the message out of the computer," he said. "The message you sent to America." "There is no message in the computer," I answered.

    "About the radio," he added. "There is no message about the radio in the computer," I said, "only the call sign of the station I called."

    The man's face was hard. I opened the door and asked them in, but they didn't want tea. In the computer room he looked at the machine. "Take it," I said. "Take it to Kampala. I am sure you have some experts there who can get all the information you want from it."

     "Gentlemen," said Matushka Sarah; "What is it that you need?"

     "We need to take your husband to Kampala."

    I sat down weakly, and broke into a cold sweat. The exhaustion, the difficulty were getting tome. They allowed me time to prepare and then told Sarah that she could find roon Monday at Impala House in the capital.

    Had I known.., but I did not when earlier that morning we celebrated our last Holy and Divine Liturgy as a flock. The plastic vial in which I carry cotton from the Myrrh streaming Icon formed a very large tear. drop of myrrh on its surface as we celebrated our Holy Service. I anointed my flock with that blessed oil.

    Sarah and I sang to Thee O Champion Leader" as we walked by our neighbor's house in the dark, down the pitted rutted road, past the useless government dispensary, and down to the new pier our parishioners had built for the St. John the Russian ambulance boat.

    We held hands and said our final goodbye. I had gently kissed my children as they slept, not knowing if I would see them again. Oh, how I felt, such deep pain. I really thought that these men were going to keep me, and with the acceptance of that, my fear was replaced with prayer and I was well, even cheerful.

    They had taken some of the men from Entebbe to drive the boat, but these men--whom I had so often cared for--kept their distance from me. They were afraid.

     A small wind buffeted us. I slept on the hard floor in the middle of the craft, my riassa over my head. The others--my captors, the general, the prosecuting attorney --were afraid and crowded towards the middle of the cabin, away from the fearsome waves. It was my small victory to know the Lake and sleep.

 

Nairobi airport, Friday

My family has come after six days.

 

Hearthrow airport. London. Sunday

     It is now Sunday morning and we have been traveling for almost two days. Everyone is exhausted. We slept in a hotel and were flown out compliments of "National Geographic Magazine." What a joy to be a family again. It seems that we have lost everything, all our material goods. We have come out with three suitcases. At least we have our lives. Glory to God.

 

      Fr. Gerasimos is now back in his "home" country, Canada, where he has received the blessing of Metropolitan Vitaly to start an English-language mission. He and Matushka Sarah ask prayers for her brother Christopher and the other members of the Annunciation community who remain on Bukasa, keeping the light of Orthodoxy shining in the midst of the surrounding pagan darkness. It is hoped that Christopher will be able in the near future to come to the States in order to be ordained a priest for the Bukasa mission.


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