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Cementing a personal and religious friendship.

Byline: Bejay Browne

THE PERSONAL friendship between two men, a Greek Cypriot doctor and a Ugandan-born priest, has done much to bind ever tighter the historical ties between the Orthodox church and Kenya which the late President Makarios did so much to boost.

The Very Revered Archimandrite Father Innocentios Byakatonda of Kenya is the dean of the metropolis of Archbishop Makarios of Kenya, and he recently visited Cyprus at the invitation of retired Paphos doctor, Ioannis Taliotis.

The two became friends after Doctor Taliotis was part of a medical mission taking medical supplies to Kenya to treat patients in April.

Sixty-nine-year-old Taliotis was born in Yeroskipou in Paphos and had always wanted to be a doctor. "My mother had ten pregnancies of which only six survived, and I'm the eldest. I think this is what pushed me towards obstetrics and genecology," he said.

When he learned about the recent violent political unrest in Kenya, and that there was an Orthodox mission in Nairobi with many Orthodox Christian refugees, he approached several businessmen in Paphos to gain sponsorship for a team of doctors and nurses to travel out there. After securing this, the team approached the government which provided a large supply of medicines and vaccines.

"It was my first time in Kenya, but I'd worked in West Africa from 1967 to 1970, as a medical officer in a diamond mine. I saw many serious injuries there. I was also an operating obstetrician," he said.

When the medical team arrived in Kenya, Archbishop Makarios showed them the mission in Riruta. He also explained the extent of the refugee crisis and took them to six camps housing over 10,000 refugees.

"We looked after the day-to-day needs of the people, and we probably treated about 150 to 200 patients a day," he said.

The Cypriot medics were there for over two weeks, treating everything from common colds to tropical and skin diseases and patients with AIDS.

It was at the mission that Taliotis and Innocentios struck up a friendship, and the doctor urged the dean to visit Paphos as his guest. The mission in Kenya tries to help the local communities, but at times this can be an uphill struggle.

"'You can never do enough in Africa. There is so much misery. I felt I did very little," said Taliotis.

"I could've done a lot more if I was working from a hospital for example, but even this very little that you offer in Africa, to them seems enormous."

The doctor has since received letters from people at the mission informing him that the team's visit had saved many lives.

"I wasn't aware of this at the time, but we offered primary medical care to around 4,000 people. They don't have enough medicines, and we went well stocked from the Ministry of Health, which was highly appreciated."

The team are hoping to return in the near future, this time venturing further into Africa. This bond between Cyprus and Africa has recently been strengthened, not least by the visit of the dean to Cyprus.

Father Innocentios originates from Uganda but has spent most of his life in Kenya. He's described by many as the right hand of Kenya's Archbishop Makarios. The dean is the director of the teaching academy and the theological seminary, which is home to 50 student priests from all over east Africa.

"There aren't many Cypriots in Kenya," said Innocentios who speaks fluent Greek, "but there's a strong affinity between the two countries, as they have a common background of struggling against colonialism."

The history of the Greek Orthodox presence in Africa dates back to colonial times. Greek and Greek Cypriot immigrants settled in the capital Nairobi, and were working as merchants and at the tea plantations. They also exported flowers to countries including Holland, a trade that still survives today.

The Orthodox Church of Cyprus was boosted after a famous visit from Archbishop Makarios of Cyprus whilst the country was still under colonial rule. When Cyprus became independent Makarios went back as President.

As a leading light in the Non-Aligned Movement along with Kenya's President Kenyatta, President Makarios was highly respected in Kenya. He was given 50 acres of government land in a poor area, and he built a church. He then built a technical school and an Orthodox theological seminary. To this day he has streets named after him.

"I think it's important for people in the higher echelons of the Kenyan Orthodox Church to visit Cyprus, to get an idea of where our church started," said Innocentios.

"I'm very honoured to be in Cyprus, and to see where Archbishop Makarios, who did so much for us was born. The people here have welcomed me with open arms, and I have visited a number of churches and monasteries. In particular I have spent time with the Bishop of Paphos and also at the monastery of St Neophytos and Kykkos."

He officiated in a number of services with the Archbishop of Kykkos and at St Neophytos monastery in Paphos. Kykkos monastery also gave him substantial assistance just before he departed.

Archbishop Makarios of Kenya, Dr Tillyrides, was born in Limassol in 1945. He studied theology at St Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris, the Sorbonne and College de France. He then studied at Oxford University and the University of Louvain in Belgium. He taught at the seminary of St Barnabas in Nicosia, and in the Orthodox Patriarchal Seminary in Nairobi.

His namesake, the late President Makarios had sent him to Nairobi to organise and initiate the seminary in 1977.Since then his activities have been numerous, encompassing meetings with the World Council of Churches, the Middle East Council of Churches, and he has worked towards developing the Orthodox faith in Africa.

He was ordained on July 19, 1992 as a deacon of the church of Saints Nicolas and Anastios in Riruta, Nairobi, where he was given the new name of Makarios. On July 25 he was consecrated as Bishop of Riruta.

In 1998 he was elected as Archbishop of Zimbabwe and Southern Africa, and in 2001, he became the Metropolis of Kenya.The Archbishop played an important role in re-uniting the Kenyan church, which had been divided for more than 30 years.

Copyright Cyprus Mail 2008

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Publication:Cyprus Mail (Cyprus)
Date:Oct 26, 2008
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