Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church

Holy Epiphany (January 6th) – Parish Procession & Diving for the Cross


Nassau Harbor and Lighthouse – Nassau, N.P. – Bahamas


Holy Epiphany (January 6th) – Parish Procession & Diving for the Cross


January 6, 2013 — It was on Sunday (the Feastday of Holy Epiphany) that parishioners of Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church of Nassau, Bahamas processed to Nassau Harbor for the annual celebration of “Diving for the Cross”. The celebration is held in honor/remembrance of the day when Jesus Christ was baptized in the Jordan River, by Saint John the Baptist. The service first begins with the “blessing or sanctifying of the water” which is then followed by the celebratory priest throwing a cross in the water, whereby divers retrieve it for a blessing.


Video:  Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church – Diving for the Cross, January 6, 2013 (Video)

The Best Kept (Religious) Secret in the Bahamas…


11 West Street  •  Nassau, New Providence Island  •  Bahamas


The Best Kept (Religious) Secret in the Bahamas


Note: I write this article as a relative newcomer to Nassau. I moved to this beautiful country with my wife at the beginning of August 2012 from Alabama to teach Religious Studies at The College of the Bahamas. No doubt, most aspects of the Bahamas are still a secret to me, perhaps making me a poor judge of its hidden treasures, but my general impression regarding the lack of knowledge of Eastern Orthodoxy in the Bahamas has prompted me to attempt to make this ancient, global form of Christianity better understood. For the sake of full disclosure, Eastern Christianity happens to not only be my area of academic expertise, but also my spiritual home since birth. Regardless, the content of the following article is born not only of personal conviction, but of the fruit of scholarly research.

When I mention that my area of study is Eastern Christianity, and more specifically Eastern Orthodoxy, quizzical looks and furrowed brows often follow. “Is that a form of Judaism…or some new cult?” The renowned religious historian Sydney Ahlstrom has summed up such a response:  “For most Americans, nevertheless, these [Orthodox] churches had been ¾ or still are ¾ a closed book. A Greek was a restaurateur, not a bearer of a rich and ancient Christian tradition.” The same statement could probably be applied to the Bahamas. Shocking though it may seem, the Orthodox Church in Nassau is about more than just a food festival; its first and foremost concern is with spiritual nourishment. I certainly do not blame people for being unaware of this. Often immigrants who brought these traditions to new lands were at first concerned to simply maintain and preserve their faith in a sometimes hostile environment. Even when they were welcomed, these immigrants did not typically have degrees in theology and continued to see their church as they had seen it throughout Ottoman or Soviet oppression:  as their church, whether Greek, Russian, or Serbian, etc. It was a part of their overall identity, an identity in which ethnic, cultural, and religious aspects were overlapping and sometimes indistinguishable.

While the importance of these early forbearers in planting and sustaining their religion in new soil cannot be minimized, the consensus of Eastern Orthodox theology and liturgy has a broader view of the Orthodox Church. They maintain it consists of more than a mere collection of national or ethnic churches; the creed of the faith affirms “One, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church,” of which local churches, such as that of Greece, are members. While there are minor differences between local varieties of Orthodoxy, all mutually recognized Orthodox churches are united to one another in beliefs and sacraments and thus form a single faith that fits neatly into neither the ‘Protestant’ nor the ‘Roman Catholic’ box.

Ethnophyletism, the confusion between Church and nation or religious ethnocentrism, was condemned by an Orthodox council in 1872. Still, outsiders, and sometimes even Orthodox Christians themselves, are too often guilty of referring to “The Greek Church” or “The Russian Church” as if the ethnicity and the church are synonymous, or ethnicity is the central aspect of the faith. I have heard this on numerous occasions in Nassau regarding the long-standing Orthodox Church on West Street. The church was built in 1932 but the families of some of its members had been in Nassau since the late nineteenth century. While officially called the “Greek Orthodox Church,” the church is not exclusively Greek but was simply founded by people who trace their origins to Greece, a county that has had a continuous ecclesial tradition since St. Paul first preached there. In fact, the so-called ‘national’ Orthodox churches did not become such until the rise of the modern nation state; originally they were simply large local branches of the Orthodox faith with centers in major cities.

Often when I try to describe the Orthodox Church in Nassau, people don’t know what I’m referring to unless I resort to the misnomer “The Greek Church”. This title makes more sense used as shorthand in a city where there are multiple Orthodox churches, each with its own history but united with the others in faith. A more appropriate way to describe the community in Nassau would be “The Orthodox Church of the Bahamas.” To be sure, it is a community that was founded and supported by mostly Greek-Bahamians, and this heritage should be respected and honored, but the community is changing. Increasingly, its membership is being transformed by conversions from personal conviction and intermarriage. Greek-Bahamians are now joined by Brits, Americans, Copts, Indian Orthodox, Serbians, Russians, and Bahamians of African decent. I myself grew up in the fully self-governed Orthodox Church of America, which has roots in an eighteenth century Russian mission to Alaska but has gradually become independent, indigenous, and ‘Americanized’, its services now completely in English.

As a result of its current transitional state, some visitors to the parish in Nassau will still be challenged by the prominent place of Greek in some services, such as Sunday morning matins at 9am. The church is presently struggling to understand and accommodate changing demographics and a growing range of linguistic and cultural backgrounds, some Old World, some New. The community is not perfect. No community is. In fact, if a congregation (or a pastor projects an image of perfection, this is almost surely a sign of delusion. People are attracted to the Orthodox faith despite the ongoing challenges of language and culture. It has seen significant growth in many countries based on its antiquity, its decentralized authority but universal scope, and its ability to hold together in a unified vision what are often seen as antinomies:  Bible and tradition, liturgy and personal experience, religious conservation and adaptation. While any religion with two millennia under its belt is bound to have had dark historical moments, Orthodoxy is relatively free of collusion with imperial domination and has more often than not been on the receiving end of oppression. Throughout its history, the Church’s missionary approach has typically been to inspire conversion by example not force or guilt, to learn and appreciate local traditions and languages rather than destroy them, and to focus on the continuity between local religions and the Gospel rather than the reject such religions wholesale as ‘pagan’ (see the eighteenth century story of St. Innocent of Alaska for an example). Missionaries were able to take this approach because they recognized that the image of God existed equally in all people and thus saw the ‘seed of the Word’ as existing to various degrees in all worthy human teachings. Christianity was not opposed to other religions, but seen as their organic continuation and natural fulfillment.

Orthodoxy Christianity is not a tradition that strives for up-to-the-minute relevance and attention-grabbing public gimmicks. Yet, I have felt compelled to speak up for it in order to clarify one or two common misconceptions for those in the Bahamas who are unfamiliar with this Church, despite its long history here. This faith, against which “the gates of Hell shall not prevail” (Matt 16:18), did not disappear into the mists of time only to suddenly reemerge today under the guidance of a charismatic leader. It has not changed in its essentials throughout its continuous history from the time of the Apostles. Even its details are slow to change out of a concern for ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’. It asks its members look beyond the superficial and the momentary to discern the universal and the eternal in the historical church in all her diversity. This involves not simply adapting one’s denomination to meet personal specifications but embracing the perennial challenge of adapting oneself to the transformative figure of Christ and His body, the concrete, historical, but human, Church.

This article has been more concerned with clearing away misconceptions than with providing a basic introduction to the teachings of Orthodox Christianity. Those interested in learning more would do well to first read classic introductions to the faith, such as The Orthodox Church (on history and doctrine) and The Orthodox Way (on theology), both by Metropolitan Kallistos (Timothy) Ware, or the four part Orthodox Handbook series by Fr. Thomas Hopko available online: This background knowledge can be invaluable in preventing future misconceptions and preparing one to connect with a style of worship and theology that may be unfamiliar and often drenched in symbolism. Regardless of whether you find you agree or disagree with its teachings, how can it be a bad thing to have a better knowledge of the faith of 300 million of the world’s more than 2 billion Christians, a deeply-rooted faith which ranges from Ethiopia to Alaska? For those who want to ‘Come and See’, the local Orthodox Church is located at 11 West Street near the intersection with West Bay Street and celebrates Divine Liturgy at 10am on Sundays with fellowship following the service.


*(Source: By Christopher D. L. Johnson, Ph.D.; Asst. Prof. of Religious Studies – The College of the Bahamas)

**(Originally printed in the Nassau Guardian on 25 October, 2012.)

Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church Celebrates Holy Epiphany



NASSAU, BAHAMAS — On Sunday, January 8, 2012, parishioners of Annunciation Greek Orthodox (Christian) Church celebrated the “Throwing In of the Cross” at Junkanoo Beach, where the celebrant priest tossed a cross into the sea and Orthodox Christian parishioners dived in to retrieve it. (Normally, this service would have been celebrated on the Feastday of Holy Epiphany, January 6th.) This special service is celebrated annually, in honor of Christ’s Baptism in the Jordan River, nearly two-thousand years ago. It is a major feastday of the Orthodox Christian Church and one that many look forward to.




Bob Marley: Orthodox Christian




Twenty four years on few know of his conversion to Christianity.

In May 1981, the world lost the man who had been described as the “first Third World superstar”. The Hon. Robert Nesta Marley O.M. died on 11th May 1981 in a Miami hospital after an 8 month battle with cancer. He was 36.

To the masses he was known as Bob Marley – the man who brought them reggae and Rastafarianism. His was the voice of classics like “No Woman No Cry” recorded live at the London Lyceum Ballroom in 1975.

However, what most people don’t know, and many try to cover up, is the fact that Bob Marley converted to Christianity in 1980. In fact on 4 November 1980 he was baptised and became a member of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. When he was buried under Orthodox rites on 21st May 1981 it was with his Bible and his Gibson guitar!

Bob Marley was born at Nine Miles, St Ann’s in Jamaica. His father was Norval Sinclair Marley, a 50 something Liverpool born captain in the British Army. His mother, an 18 year old teenager, was Cedella Booker. His birthday is thought to be 6th February 1945 although no birth certificate has ever been found.

His mum, and his grandparents, read the Bible at home and worshipped in a Christian church. Bob Marley strayed away from that upbringing as a teenager and as an adult embraced Rastafarianism. He had married Alpharita Anderson in February 1966 and while he was away in the USA earning some money to pursue his musical career she had converted to Rastafarianism following the visit to Jamaica of Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia. Rastafarians worshipped Selassie as the Messiah and Saviour. Bob followed suite and spent his career expousing the beliefs of Rastafari in songs like “One Love“, “Jammin‘” and “Exodus“.

The worship of Selassie is a little ironic as Selassie was a Christian and in the 1970′s personally commissioned Archbishop Abuna Yesehaq to go to Jamaica to start a church that worshipped Christ and not himself in the hope that Jamaicans would follow the true Christ. Yesehaq became the head of the Kingston chapter of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

The Archbishop (pictured left), interviewed by Barbara Blake Hannah for Gleaner’s Sunday Magazine (November 25 1984), told how Bob Marley had come to his church for some time. When he had expressed a desire to be baptised, people close to him who controlled him and who were aligned to a different aspect of Rastafari prevented him from going ahead.

The website says that Bob remained outside the church for several years after Rita and the children converted in 1972. Bob was under the spiritual guidance of the archbishop but was baptised just a year before his death, after 3 aborted attempts to convert in Kingston. He backed out each time, says the Archbishop, after being threatened by other rastas. Marley was finally baptised in the Ethiopian Church in New York where less resentments were less inflamed. The Archbishop christened him Berhane Selassie – “light of the Trinity”.

Yesehaq told Barbara Blake Hannah:

“I remember once while I was conducting the Mass, I looked at Bob and tears were streaming down his face. Many people think he was baptised because he knew he was dying, but that is not so… he did it when there was no longer any pressure on him, and when he was baptised, he hugged his family and wept. They all wept together for about an hour.”

Yesehaq is adamant Bob’s conversion was genuine. It is clear that Marley denounced the belief of Selassie as God at his conversion and baptism into the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and accepted their Christian belief system, otherwise his funeral would never have taken place in the church. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church does not allow any ceremonies including funerals for non-members.

Yesehaq’s testimony is supported by Judy Mowatt, one of Marley’s backing singers the “I-Threes”, which also included his wife Rita Marley and Marcia Griffiths. Judy (pictured left) sang with Bob for 6 years and told British journalist and broadcaster Mike Rimmer in an interview that was published in Christian Herald in March 2005 of a phonecall she received from Rita when Bob was dying.

“She said to me that Bob was in such excruciating pain and he stretched out his hand and said ‘Jesus take me’. I was wondering to myself ‘Why is it that Bob said ‘Jesus’ and not ‘Selassie’? But I never said it to anyone. Then I met a friend whose sister is a Christian and was a nurse at the hospital where Bob was treated and she had led him to the Lord Jesus Christ. So when Rita saw him saying ‘Jesus take me’, I now know it was after he had received the Lord Jesus Christ in his life.”

Judy Mowatt became a Pentecostal Christian herself in the mid 90s and is now a gospel reggae performer. Mike Rimmer asked her why the story of Bob Marley’s conversion was not more widely known:

“If people knew, they would be drawn to Jesus Christ. Nobody wants to promote that in Jamaica. I said it on a popular television programme over there and a Rasta man met me and asked me why did I have to say that? I told him it was because it’s the truth! But he never wanted me to reveal that and I think that nobody wants it to be revealed because so many people would be drawn to Jesus.”

Bob Marley’s official website doesn’t even mention his conversion, although a number of fan sites do.

Fans celebrated what would have been Bob Marley’s 60th birthday this February amidst rumours his body was to be exhumed and taken to Ethiopia. His widow Rita has strongly denied the rumours.

Three years after his death the “Legend” compilation album of Bob’s greatest hits was released, spending 12 weeks in total at No 1 in the UK album charts and selling over 15 million copies in the UK and USA. Twenty four years on the legend lives on. Bob Marley found a “Redemption Song” that “Satisfied his Soul”. The question is will the “People Get Ready” for their “Exodus”!

Bob Marley knew Jesus – do you?