Vassula in South Africa, March 2002
After her previous visit to South Africa in February 2001, Vassula had indicated that due to her tight schedule, she would not visit South Africa again soon. However, due to the fact that the Greek Orthodox community had been made aware of TLIG as a result of her interview on Radio 702, she undertook to come to South Africa if the Orthodox invited her specifically.
Inspired by his introduction to Vassula during that visit, Solly Selipas from the Greek Community, tirelessly liaised with the Bishop of the Orthodox Church. When a new Bishop was appointed to the Orthodox Diocese, the possibility of such an invitation seemed good, as he seemed very open to ecumenical endeavours.
Solly subsequently arranged a meeting for the small TLIG Committee with the newly appointed Metropolitan of the Greek Orthodox Church of Johannesburg and Pretoria, Bishop Seraphim. Initially he displayed a very relaxed willingness to host a visit by Vassula to Johannesburg but gradually, as events unfolded, he seemed to undergo a "change of heart", as he acquainted himself with the reactions of various priests within his diocese towards Vassula. TLIG SA was blissfully unaware of events that had started unfolding in Athens including negative commentaries of the editor of "Dialogue", a publication similar to the Vatican's "Roman Observer", which had already been in wide circulation amongst local Orthodox priests. This only became evident later.
TLIG SA was then notified that a bona fide meeting with the Greek Orthodox community would not be possible since the Bishop withdrew his support for an official invitation to Vassula from the Orthodox Church. However all was not lost. He remained active in promoting the ecumenical character of Vassula's ministry. As it was the Bishop's turn to host the monthly ecumenical meeting, he invited two members of the organising committee to address the leadership of the various churches attending the meeting, regarding Vassula's call from Our Lord to promote Christian Unity.
When Vassula was informed about the turn of events, a decision had been made that TLIG SA would humbly abide by whatever course of action she would indicate. Great was the surprise when she informed them that she had decided to come! Indeed the Holy Spirit was at work and the dates were set for the first week of March 2002.
This decision was accepted as an inspired challenge. Within a very short time an ecumenical committee was established to organise and oversee the impending visit. This possibly turned out to be one of the most positive fruits of the visit, for it was the first time in South Africa that such a team had succeeded in working together and in a truly ecumenical manner as well!
Sadly, all efforts with the Orthodox Bishop did not result in much. Nonetheless, TLIG SA was ultimately assured that the Bishop had at least agreed to a lunchtime meeting with Vassula in person on Saturday 2/03/2002. The preparations for the visit thus went ahead with all major obstacles, by the Grace of God, being miraculously overcome with love, perseverance and a good measure of prayer!
Vassula and Fr Nikolaos were met at the Airport by an ecumenical group of TLIG supporters from Johannesburg as well as Pretoria. The plane had been delayed by two hours as a result of numerous mishaps on route. The last and most threatening had been the fact that the Pilot had needed to abort his landing attempt due another plane obstructing the runway. The passengers were in shock for just when they were about to land, their plane took off immediately again! Praise God this was just a temporary disturbance. Vassula indicated with jest during one of her subsequent meetings, that she was quite well accustomed to these type of "upsets" during her travels and meetings.
This type of "disturbance" seemed echoed by the weather throughout her stay in SA. Although it had been a clear evening, with no sign of rain, when everyone arrived, by the time all had departed from the airport there raged a violent thunderstorm with much lightening. It was close to midnight by the time everyone was settled in for the night.
It was arranged to meet with Vassula and Fr. Nilcolaos later on Friday morning. A phone call out of the blue was received that morning to the effect that the Orthodox Bishop would no longer meet Vassula on Saturday as he had agreed due to the fact that she was accompanied by an Orthodox priest. If the Priest did not have a letter of introduction from his Patriarch, the Bishop would not even allow Vassula into his residence. Vassula requested to be taken to Bishop Seraphim's house that instant! After some delay she was cordially received and given a hearing. It appeared that the Bishop was appeased by the visit and changed his personal attitude towards Vassula and her mission. The Bishop then invited her and her companions back for lunch that same day.
Later that afternoon John Robbie interviewed Vassula on Radio 702. This proved very successful due to the fact that the live interview was broadcast during the afternoon rush hour, a time when many commuters travelling home from work, tune into the popular radio show in order to pass the dreary travelling time. Although known for his scepticism, the radio host did have a copy of the book " Vassula - The Enigma", which a TLIG supporter had given him. By the end of the talk he had asked her to have a photo taken with him and requested her to sign his copy of the book. He seemed to have been particularly touched by Vassula' s description of God the Father. For a number of days he repeated this description whilst advertising the meetings that Vassula was to address in Pretoria, Johannesburg and Soweto.
On Saturday the lunchtime meeting at Bishop Seraphim's residence took place. The lunch with the Bishop turned out to be very relaxed and friendly. Since much of what had been happening in Athens was public knowledge, Vassula proceeded to tell us all of her run in with the editor of the "Dialogue" publication who had caused TLIG much harm and calumny. A team in Athens had just completed a study of the tradition and writings of the early Church Fathers and Holy Scripture to demonstrate that Prophecy and the Prophetic role of the Laity in the Church had never ceased which confirmed the message of TLIG. The Bishop gave Vassula permission to meet and speak to the Greek faithful but not in any Church or Church property. He indicated that he had no problem with her message and wished her well. His position was that typified by Gamaliel in the time of Jesus' passage on earth - if this was from the Lord, it would endure.
The Bishop had invited some outsiders for lunch, amongst them were Marika and George Formington. Great was Vassula's joy when she learned that George had worked with her Father as an engineer on a water reservoir project in Egypt. It turned out to be a wonderful surprise. The Formington's despite their English surname, turned out to be Greek. Their paternal forebearers had been some of the British that had remained behind in Greece after the various Balkan wars.
Vassula left the Bishop to address the first public meeting to be held in Pretoria. This was the first time that Vassula had addressed an audience in this town. She met with the TLIIG organisers from Pretoria as well as the TLIG Supporters who had travelled all the way from Swaziland. They explained to Vassula that they would have to leave before the end of the meeting in order to reach the border post before closing time. They not only left with a new supply of books, but also with renewed enthusiasm and it was heart warming to see that TLIG is alive and well in our neighbouring country, Swaziland.
The organizing committee in Pretoria had done an excellent job. The hall at the Christian Brothers College (CBC) was filled to capacity, the singing was beautiful and a predominantly ecumenical audience was present. The audience were largely newcomers to Vassula's message. A Presbyterian Minister, Rev Willem Bezuidenhout opened with a short prayer and Fr Peter Switala introduced Vassula and warmly welcomed her.
Being a "new" Audience, Vassula gave an introduction of how she started receiving the messages. She also explained her charism and gave a general overview of the content and meaning of the Messages. As it was Lent, she read extracts from Volume 1 where Jesus described His Passion and Crucifixion. The effect on souls was tangible; many people had tears in their eyes. Throughout her talk a heavy storm raged outside, making parts of the videotape recorded there, difficult to follow. However, this has not prevented subsequent use of the Pretoria Video for successful ecumenical outreaches. This city is predominantly Protestant and Calvinistic, which makes such outreaches truly miraculous and a great stride in the right direction of Unity.
During the Sunday that followed, Bishop Seraphim invited Fr. Nikolaos to take part in the service at the Greek Cathedral, Vassula accompanied them. It was after this service that George Coconas, one of the parishioners and helpers at the Cathedral witnessed the miracle of Jesus appearing on Vassula during teatime in the hall. He had never heard or come to know anything about Vassula until then. He has been deeply touched by this occasion and is currently helping to promote the acceptance of TLIG amongst the Orthodox.
That afternoon the Johannesburg meeting was held at the Linder Auditorium. The meeting was fairly well attended if one considered the thunderstorm that hit Johannesburg that day. The audience appeared to be a good representation of the various denominations in the city. Fortunately a number of Greek people attended, and Vassula kindly spoke some Greek for the benefit of these visitors. It can be said that the audience were mostly newcomers, not the same faces as at previous meetings. The talk Vassula gave was a more mature and developed one on True Life in God than she had delivered before. Vassula was very surprised by a group of young children who came up to surround her afterwards, hugging and kissing her - she asked them if they understood what she spoke about, because she had spoken in a more advanced manner about TLIG. The children confirmed that they understood, and she told them to ask Jesus to enlighten them. The organisers were told that these children were invited to a birthday party that afternoon but had chosen to come to listen to Vassula instead.
On Monday morning Fr. Shaun van Lillienfeld introduced Vassula and Fr. Nikolaos to Bishop Reginald Orsmond, Bishop of Johannesburg who has sadly since passed away, God rest His soul. The Bishop was impressed with the content of the True Life in God messages and asked Vassula to ensure the survival of TLIG. After a warm and friendly audience she left to address local interdenominational clergy at the Croatian Church Hall where she spoke about the address she delivered in Rome regarding Ecumenism and Spirituality: "God's calling to His people".
She met with the Organising Committee of TLIG Johannesburg afterwards. She underlined the value and purpose of working together: "The group members should recognise their calling to discipleship and continue to work towards the conversion of the children of God through the spreading of His light, through the words of True Life in God". She stressed the formation of new prayer groups to cover areas she herself would be unable to cover.
On Tuesday afternoon Vassula met with TLIG prayer group members. She urged all to meet at least once a month. It was pointed out that prayer groups should also be involved in charitable works such as opening their homes and hearts to the needs of the marginalised. "We need to distribute the fruit of the fruit".
During Wednesday afternoon, before the meeting in Soweto, Vassula met with some friends and committee members. Klea Conidaris informed those present that she had been verbally attacked by a priest at the Orthodox Church regarding her involvement with Vassula and TLIG. Vassula had organised that the Document being prepared in Athens be faxed to Johannesburg and she requested that it be given to the Bishop and the priests involved as well as to all the Greek people concerned. It was hoped that this would clear all misconceptions and give some legitimacy to the standing of TLIG within an Orthodox context.
Fr. Shaun introduced Vassula to over eight hundred people from many different Parishes in Soweto. Most of those attending were from previously disadvantaged communities. Fr Shaun opened the meeting in Soweto that evening amongst vibrant jubilation - The talk on the messages of TLIG were followed by a healing service during which people were prayed over individually. The meeting ended quite late and it was then necessary to make haste to ensure Vassula and Fr Nikoloas did not miss their 01:00am flight!
The fruits of the visit have continued to multiply. Video recordings of the meetings as well as an audio recording of Vassula's talk to clergy and religious were finalised and copies produced. These have been sold and distributed. A good number of resources were sold at all the public meetings, and many subsequent requests for information and literature handled. The TLIG Johannesburg team, under the capable co-ordination of Winnie Williams and Gracinda Jardim continue to set up systems for the local publication of TLIG material. This will enable the spreading of the messages in South Africa enormously. This despite a great trial the latter underwent in terms of her own health shortly after the visit.
The TLIG Steering Group is preparing a communication plan to facilitate the spreading of the messages in Southern Africa.
Prayer groups have been established and continue to flourish. In Pretoria a new group started as a direct result of the meeting held there. A joint ecumenical prayer meeting was subsequently held for the Johannesburg, Soweto and Pretoria prayer groups. The meeting was held at the St. Ninian's Presbyterian Church and Rev David Hutt opened the meeting, explaining its ecumenical significance. Rev Don Thompson, an Anglican Minister shared a deeply significant homily regarding the issue of unity. Father Shaun, a Catholic Priest, concluded with prayer. Indeed it was awesome to see a Pieta Statue in the foyer of the Church and to pray the Rosary in a Presbyterian Church - a first for that Church! Furthermore, the meeting was attended by two members of the Greek Orthodox Community. It was a resounding success in terms of striving for unity.
We are thrilled to report that a group of nine members which include two priests are preparing to attend the Ecumenical Pilgrimage in Egypt.
TLIG continues to grow and set deep roots in SA, under guidance of the Holy Spirit, despite the fact that the country is predominantly Protestant. Our vision is truly to see our brother join the two sisters around one Holy Tabernacle.