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Memory eternal: Nicholas (Blackie) Sibiya

24 July 2009

Nicholas (Blackie) Sibiya died last week.

Ten years ago today we held a catechism class at his house in Mamelodi; tonight we will have a Memorial Service (Requiem, Panikhida) and tomorrow we will bury him.

Ten years ago I wrote in my diary

23-Jul-1999, Saturday
In the afternoon Bridget[1] came with me to Mamelodi for the AEOC[2] catechism class. We met at Blackie Sibiya’s place, and he wasn’t looking at all well. He said he thought he had had a stroke last Wednesday, but hadn’t been to the doctor yet. Johannes Rakabe said he might go to the service at Soshanguve tomorrow, so I suggested that if he was planning to travel, he should rather come to the Pretoria Church, as the bishop would be there, and they could join the march to protest against the Turkish occupation of Cyprus. I taught about the beginning of the baptism service – the exorcisms, and the rejection of the devil and accepting Christ. Bridget talked to some of the young people afterwards, and there were a couple of young guys who had come there for the first time. We went to Vespers at St Nicholas in the evening.

It was the first time I had been to Blackie Sibiya’s house. We had begun holding catechism classes in Mamelodi on on Saturday afternoons a few weeks before. The leaders of the African Orthodox Episcopal Church (AOEC) had applied to join the Orthodox Church in 1997, and the Archbishop of Johannesburg and Pretoria, Metropolitan Paul Lyngris, had asked me to give them catechetical instruction. The leader of the AOEC, Simon (August) Thamaga, had had major heart surgery, and so it was not until 1999 that he was able to introduce me to the Mamelodi congregation, which was the one closest to where we live.

We began holding the classes fortnightly, and each time we met there were more people, some of whom had not been members of the AOEC, but simply joined in because they were interested.

Some of the young people who were at the catechism class at Sibiya's house on 24-Jul-1999

Some of the young people who were at the catechism class at Sibiya's house on 24-Jul-1999

Blackie Sibiya had attended regularly, and this was the first time we had held it at his house, and I was sorry to see him looking so ill, as he had been bright and active at our previous meetings.

Soon afterwards, however, disaster struck. I was ordered to stop giving catechetical instruction to the people in Mamelodi, and not to communicate with the AOEC people in any way. I couldn’t even enquire after Blackie Sibiya’s health.There was no explanation or reason given for this order, and to this day I do not know what, if anything, was the reason behind it. [3]

I obeyed the instructions, however, and two years later the new archbishop, Metropolitan Seraphim, gave me a blessing to reestablish contact with the Mamelodi congregation. I discovered that they had been entirely neglected, and almost disintegrated. The AOEC priest, Simon Mabula, had left them as well. The youth had all left, except for one girl of 13, Hellen Malahlela. She said there was no teaching, and no youth. I said to her that she was the youth, and should try to gather others. Johannes Rakabe, who had helped Simon Mabula in leading the services, had a taxi business, and worked on Sundays. We began holding the Hours and Readers Service for the few people who remained, but many of the other people, including most of the young men in the photo, had joined other churches and never came back. The Sunday congregation, which had been about 30 two years previously, was now 8-10 people from 3 families.

We held services in a school classroom at Zakhele school for a few weeks, but there was no sign of Blackie Sibiya. Eventually we went to his house for a service — the congregation was small enough for us to do that. Blackie Sibiya had recovered somewhat from his stroke, but was still not his old self. He asked about getting our own church building. I said that the congregation was too small for that, but suggested that he go to the municipal offices and find out what we would need to do to get land to build a church.

After that Sibiya was regular at Sunday services, and each week he reported on progress. He found out about the bureaucratic procedures from the municipal office in Mamelodi, and eventually we went together to the municipal office in town for the new megacity of Tshwane, of which Mamelodi was now a part. They showed us maps with available church sites, and there was one very suitable one, but before we could apply for it we would need to get 100 signatures. The City of Tshwane has a points system for applying for church sites, and one of the criteria was a minimum of 100 signatures of church members who wanted it. We only managed to collect 50 signatures, so that idea fell through, but Blackie Sibiya’s knowledge came in handy when he helped the priest at Soshanguve to apply for a site there.

The newly-illumined servant of God Nicholas Sibiya on the day of his baptism 2 March 2008

The newly-illumined servant of God Nicholas Sibiya on the day of his baptism 2 March 2008

After that Blackie Sibiya’s health began to deteriorate again. He could no longer walk the kiilometre and a half to the school where we held services, and was more or less bedridden. A couple of times we again took the congregation to his house, and one of the last times was to baptise him on 2 March 2008, giving him the baptismal name of Nicholas. When we had the Divine Liturgy at the school, with Fr Frumentius from Atteridgeville, we took him the Holy Communion at home afterwards.

He was in poor health for most of the time I knew him, but when his health permitted it he did what he could to play his part in the life of the church. There have been other funerals in Mamelodi, but he is the first baptised member of the Orthodox Church there to be buried.

The congregation gathered in his house last Sunday as well for a Memorial Service. Memorial Services (Requiems) are not normally held on Sundays, because it is the day of resurrection, and it is normal to hold them on Saturdays. But it is also customary to hold them on the third, ninth and fortieth day after a person has died, and thereafter annually. At the Memorial Service the priest blesses koliva, made from boiled wheat, and flavoured with nuts and various other things. This refers to I Corinthians 15:36-37. And we can pray that the church in Mamelodi, which died ten years ago, will rise again and vindicate Nicholas Sibiya’s hopes, since he wanted to see it alive and flourishing.


[1] Bridget (Julia) is our daughter, now studying theology at Athens University.
[2] The AOEC was the African Orthodox Episcopal Church.
[3] Those who gave this strange and inexplicable instruction are no longer in the Archdiocese; I mention it because it is a good example of how not to do mission and so is a good missiological lesson, so we can learn from our mistakes.

One Comment leave one →
  1. sol permalink
    26 July 2009 2:10 am

    Memory eternal!

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