DIOCESE OF AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND: February 21, 2012
A New Mission Established in the Kingdom of Tonga
If many Russians consider Australia the end of the Earth, then the Kingdom of Tonga in the south-western part of the Pacific Ocean, consisting of 176 islands, represents the furthest reaches of the globe.
Tonga’s islands were discovered for Europe by the Dutch seamen Willem Schouten and Jacob Le Maire in 1616. In 1773, the English explorer James Cook called the archipelago the “Friendly Islands.” In 1900, the archipelago became a British protectorate. At the same time, Tonga preserved all rights to self-governance. The islands’ independence was granted in 1970. Tonga is now a member nation of the UN, the South Pacific Commission and the Forum of Pacific Islands.
Tonga is a small kingdom, world-renowned as the first of all nations to see the rising sun. It is also the only state in Oceania which was never colonized. Ruling Tonga now is His Highness King George V. Thanks to its independence, the nation was able to preserve its ancient culture and traditions.
The nation’s population is very homogeneous; small groups of Europeans and people from neighboring lands number no more than 1,000 on any of Tonga’s islands. The population of Tonga practices various forms of Christianity. According to official statistics, Methodists comprise the largest group (48%), though there are many Catholics (16%), Mormons (30%) as well as Anglicans, Adventists and Pentecostals.
It is a 4 ?-hour flight to Tonga from Sydney, Australia, which is almost halfway to Hawaii.
The capital of this constitutional monarchy is Nuku’alofa, where, with the blessing of His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion, Mitred Protopriest Michael Protopopoff visited to open the first Orthodox Christian mission. Fr Michael was accompanied by Siluan Vea, a native Tongan, who is eager to see the light of Orthodoxy shine in his homeland.
The official visit took place on February 2-7, 2012. A large house was rented, which will be outfitted with a chapel, administrative center and rooms for pilgrims.
In order to open a parish, it was necessary to obtain the support of local representatives of the Royal Government, and the heads of other Christian confessions, which was accomplished during the visit.
On Saturday, February 4, Fr Michael baptized two children of Russian-Tongan parents, and on Sunday, the first Divine Liturgy was celebrated. Seven people partook of the Holy Gifts during the service, laying the foundation for the Orthodox faith in this Pacific monarchy.