Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Why Legio Maria Faithful Make and Use Graven Images

Growing up as a Legio Maria was never easy. As a young boy, discussions with my playmates on my faith almost ended up in scorn. Belonging to other faiths, these playmates of mine were taught in their churches that God’s second commandment to humanity was clear: that nobody should make or bow to graven images. And so, they were on point. They were always referring me to the scriptures and warning me of Hell if I did not heed their regular advice and stopped bowing to the images. 

Images Everywhere

However, it was almost impossible to live my life as a child in a Legio Maria family and ignore images. There were images everywhere. At the entrance to our home, there was a big wooden cross. Before this cross, my dad, mother and elder brothers and sisters used to kneel and make prayers routinely. Inside every house was an altar, and on every altar were placed images of Simeo Ondeto, Jesus Christ, Virgin Mary, angels, saints and Mama Maria. There were also mini crosses on the altars. At church, there were two big wooden crosses, one at the entrance and another at the middle of the church compound. The church altar had several images too.

The Rosaries and Catenas

Moreover, in our home, every person had a rosary and a catena. On the rosaries and catenas were medallions with engraved images of Mary, Jesus, the last supper, Simeo Ondeto, Virgin Mary and Mama Maria. Of course, each rosary or catena would have a medallion that was relevant to their prayer uses. But this ensured that images were everywhere in my life. And to escape them would almost be tantamount to running away from home because there was no way of living in our family without interacting with the images. 

Pricking Dilemma

As a young boy with little understanding of what the images meant, I always faced immense dilemma. On one side were my friends who always read to me the bible and asking me to shun the images. And on the other hand was my family who had made the images part of our life. Sometimes I felt the boys were right, and that Legio Maria faithful were wrong. At other times I saw the devotion of Legio Maria faithful to the images and heard the teachings of Baba Simeo Ondeto regarding the images, and then felt that the boys were wrong. It was a big dilemma of my boyhood.

Research into the Dilemma

To unravel the puzzle and find direction in my life, I decided to do my own research into the Ten Commandments. At the very beginning, I met the shock of my life. The second commandment (about the graven images) did not exist in the prayer book that was on our home altars. This puzzled me. I could not find a reason for this until when I was in High School. As a high school student, I was a devout member of the Christian Union (CU), even rising to be Chairman of the Union. Therefore, I was exposed to several books that discussed the second commandment.

The Puzzle Solved

And when I joined college, I kept the reading zeal that I had in high school; reading several books on the history of Christianity, commentaries on the Bible, Church Council records and the opinions of Church Fathers. In the end, the reasoning behind use or no-use of graven images became clearer to me. At one point, after I had read an insightful book on the history of the church’s reformation and the arguments of Martin Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and Erasmus, for and against the images, I just broke into laughter. I laughed so loudly because I had discovered the truth.

Meaning of the Second Commandment

So, what truth did I discover? Naturally, the human mind is dazzled by images. It stores for longer what it learns in picture (image) form that what it learns through words. Humans like images! And they are in the image of God too. Yet, during the time of Moses, God was only known as “I AM”. He had not been seen.

 Nobody knew how he looked like. He was only experienced through revelations, dreams and visions. He was only a voice that called prophets and instructed them on what to do and what to tell the people. His image could not be captured by humans, and therefore any attempts to make graven images of the unseen God were always going to be a mess.

Hence, the second commandment was important in reminding the people of Israel that they had not seen God and could not make his image. It also reminded them that any images that they could make were going to be wrong pictures of God because they did not know exactly how he looked. Furthermore, the images would direct their devotions to the wrong objects.

Jesus Came as a Man: His Images Could be Captured

The coming of Jesus as a man changed everything. Through Jesus, the unseen God took the form of the seen and lived in the world. His image could now be captured and stored. Expert artists could now draw or paint Jesus’ figure and store in their shelves. His miracles could now be captured in picture form and used for teaching and preaching his Gospel to the world. 

Therefore, the son of God who dwells eternally as the spirit became the first physical image of the unseen God and took a form that could now be bowed to, knelt to and worshipped. Indeed, Jesus fulfilled the second commandment in a revolutionary way and drastically changed the way that commandment could now be approached. After the incarnation of Jesus, his image can now be made!

Using Images in Worship

Images have greater effect than mere words. If someone tells you about Jesus and another shows you the image of Jesus, you would most likely feel greater connection with Jesus because of the image than because of the words. Words are easy to forget, but images linger in the mind longer. Therefore, the use of images in worship makes the worship environment more solemn. Worshippers feel like they are before the lord more than they would feel when told about the lord’s presence. 

When they stare directly at the images believers feel as if they are staring directly at the face of Jesus. In fact, the cross of Jesus with his image on it has a greater effect on believers than the words of a bishop or pastor calling people to remember the suffering of Jesus. 

We Bow to Images Without Shame

As Legio Maria, we bow to images of Jesus and of Simeo Ondeto without shame. We feel no guilt. Instead, we feel more connection to Jesus (Ondeto) when we bow to the images. We feel like we are right before him and he is staring directly at us. And we know that by Ondeto becoming the physical image of the unseen son of God, he has authorized us to take his pictures and use on our altars. In fact, he even instructed us to use his images!

The Miracles of Simeo Ondeto

Baba Simeo Ondeto did many miracles. He was many things to many men. He preached the message of hope and eternal life. Always, he reminded humanity to work and pray. For him, there is no faith that can be demonstrated without work. 

“Work hard every day so you do not steal,” he reminded his followers.

“Without work life can never get better,” he said.

“I came with only two things: work and prayer,” he taught.

But apart from giving prominence to work and prayer, Simeo Ondeto also performed numerous miracles in order to improve the conditions of the people he met in his life. Yet, he never prioritized miracles over his message. He did not preach miracles, but eternal life. To him, it was better to die and receive the miracle of eternal life, than to receive a miracle of wealth, power or healing and remain in sin.

Resurrection Miracles

Even though he had the power to give life, Simeo did not raise the dead every day. He did not call the world to bring their dead to him so he could bring all of them back to life. He always concentrated on his message and reminded people that this earthly life is just a stage to be passed. He always affirmed the greatness and glory of everlasting life which awaits all who trust God with their future. Nonetheless, there were occasions when his compassion overwhelmed him and his pity for the bereaved compelled him to raise the dead. Therefore, when he visited a Holy Ghost church in Gombania Tanzania, a man died when members of the church were praying for him. And he raised the man back to life.

Simeo Ondeto had pity on a woman who came crying to him when he was in Kisumu. He gave that woman his headgear to be worn on the head of the woman’s dead husband. When this happened, Amoke of Asembo, who lived in Kisumu, was brought back to life. In a third incident, Simeo Ondeto raised to life a teenage girl called Angeline, the daughter of an affluent family in Seme, Central Nyanza. In a fourth incident, Simeo Ondeto raised back to life the Son of Kalaudia in Makongeni Nairobi. Simeo also raised back to life a woman in Nakuru and another woman in Winam Kisumu.

Simeo Cures 10 Years of Bleeding

Simeo Ondeto cured several people from their sicknesses. He met with Dalmas Oyier who was crippled and could not walk, and ordered Oyier to walk! Dalmas Oyier walked as Baba Simeo had ordered. Baba Simeo also met with Joseph Obote who was dumb and breathed into Obote’s mouth. Obote was immediately healed and started speaking. But most important was the healing of Salome Owiny who had been ill for ten years. Owiny had gone round to hospitals but could not find cure. Her bleeding was ceaseless. When she met Simeo Ondeto, she was cured with just the breath from the mouth of Simeo.

Simeo Calms a Storm

Simeo did many miracles against nature. While preaching at Ephesus Church, he stopped rain until he could preach and finish. When he was called to Bumaenga in Western Kenya, he found the villagers complaining about monkeys who were excessively destructive. Simeo called the monkeys to a meeting during daylight and all the monkeys heeded. He ordered the monkeys to stop straying into farms and homes, and the same day the monkeys stopped. 

But most importantly, when Simeo was in a boat and on a journey to Nazareth, the current suddenly changed and huge waves started to knock the boat as they approached Wath On’ger. Sadly, a huge log was also being moved by the current towards the boat. Susana Ouma woke Simeo up from his sleep, and then he took up some water from the boat and poured into the stormy waters, and there was immediate calm!

Simeo Ondeto: The Champion of Human Freedom and Dignity

During his earthly life, Simeo Ondeto was an unyielding champion of human freedom and dignity. Simeo could take any risks, face any hardships, and endure any affliction in order to ensure that humanity was never at peril. His resolve to deal with the problems of human freedom and dignity was always evident in his actions and words. 
When he preached, he encouraged spiritual freedom. His miracles were always about giving hope to the suffering, empowering the weak and the emotionally insecure and making life livable. He neither performed miracles to demonstrate his power nor performed miracles to boost the numbers of his followers. But everywhere he went, he performed miracles only when necessary for freeing a suffering soul and for strengthening the hopeless.

Homes for Orphans, Widows and the Needy

During his lifetime, Baba Simeo ensured that Legio Maria churches were the safe havens for orphans widows and the needy. After he was forced to desert his Hill of Calvary (Got Okwon’g) through police raids and eventual burning, Simeo Ondeto decided to settle in St. Mary Church Jerusalem Amoyo from 1966-1991. And he turned Jerusalem into the home of thousands of Orphans and hundreds of widows. Any widow could just walk in, find a place to build a house in the church’s compound and live there with her family. Simeo would then provide food to all the orphans and widows from the regular gifts he received from church members and from people who visited him. In fact, Simeo never kept any gifts or moneys. As soon as he was given a gift, a widow or orphan was there to pick it. And he would give out the gifts without looking at his side.

The widows and orphans programs were not only running at St. Mary Jerusalem. Baba Simeo also ensured that all Legion Maria churches had allocated small sections of their land to the widows’ programs. In his decrees, he also ordered that widows be welcomed in Legio Maria churches and shown where to build their houses in the churches without being asked to pay for it. In return, he expected the widows to be committed to the service of God while they lived in the church compounds. Indeed, the widows and orphans programs allowed many single families to settle in Manyatta church, Efeso Nzoia church, Kodero church and Nyapiedho church, among other churches.

Involvement in Political Freedom

While Baba Simeo did not engage directly in political affairs, he advised politicians whenever necessary. According to Susana Ouma, his foremost maidservant, Baba Simeo was involved in the fight against colonialism in Kenya. Susana recounts how she met with Baba Simeo while she was boarding a bus in Nairobi. She said: 

“On that day, I went to town to buy a few things for my aunt whom I worked for as a baby nurse. While inside the bus, this man (Simeo Ondeto) entered the bus and sat next to me. I did not yet know that he was one of the freedom fighters. But the people in the bus said it loudly that this man was one of the Mau Mau fighters who was fleeing from the police…..We talked all the way until he alighted.”

Well, it is not just Susana Ouma who reported the involvement of Simeo in the freedom fight. Even Simeo himself recounted several times how he worked closely with African and Kenyan freedom fighters to liberate Africans from the colonial yoke. Indeed, it is because of these narratives that Legio Maria calls him Dedan Kimathi, which is a symbolic name for Simeo’s liking for liberation and freedom.

Moreover, Simeo Ondeto worked with Jaramogi Oginga Odinga during the struggle for Multi-Party Democracy in Kenya. Often, Jaramogi Oginga visited Simeo for discussions on freedom in Kenya and how to achieve it. In fact, even when Oginga was despairing, Simeo encouraged him. And in 1989, Simeo gave Oginga Odinga a two-branched image to symbolize the imminent victory in the struggle for pluralism in Kenya. Furthermore, in his sermons, Baba Simeo frequently instilled hope in his listeners, telling them that “however bad things may seem, human freedom and dignity would always prevail.”

Simeo Ondeto and Melchizedek: High-Priests of Different Eras

Melchizedek of Salem is highly regarded by Legio Maria faithful. His role in the history of glorification of mankind is re-told with broad smiles among members of the glory-of-God movement. But who is Melchizedek? Why is he so crucial to Legion Maria faithful?

Old Testament High Priest

Melchizedek is mentioned a few times in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. His name first comes up when he meets with Abraham. In the scene, Abraham has just rescued his nephew Lot and is having rich loot in his custody. But when Abraham meets with Melchizedek, the patriarch recognizes the priesthood of Melchizedek and gives a tenth of his loot to the priest. Melchizedek blesses Abraham.

Priesthood before Aaron and Levi

Through this encounter between Melchizedek and Abraham, we are introduced to a priesthood that comes before the later priesthood of the house of Levi. Melchizedek is introduced not just as a common priest ordained through an earthly order, but as the priest of the Most High God. Moreover, Melchizedek is said to have neither father nor mother; neither beginning nor ending. In a sense, three critical points are made by this encounter:

1.      There can be priesthood outside the house of Levi.
2.      The priesthood that exists outside the house of Levi (Judaism) is greater than that of the house of Levi and is recognized by Abraham.
3.      The priesthood of the Most High God is without beginning and without ending.

Essentially, Melchizedek is one like the son of God, without beginning and ending. His priesthood is eternal and greater than the priesthood of Levi. He is a priest for all and of all.

The Messiah and Melchizedek

Later on, David proclaimed in Psalms that the expected Messiah would be priest in the order of Melchizedek. Therefore, he would serve as a priest forever and his priesthood would be outside that of the house of Levi. The Psalmist’s prophecy was fulfilled through Jesus. The salvation ministry of Jesus existed outside the priesthood of Levi. Jesus was not anointed by the priests of Judaism, neither was he accepted by the teachers of the law and the custodians of the Levitical priesthood. However, he called all humans to God and offered himself as an eternal ransom for human sin.

Jesus Promised to Come Again

While the sacrifice of Jesus was a once-for-all affair and an eternally sufficient payment for human sin, the Lord promised to return to earth to pick his faithful servants and take them to paradise. This promise, therefore, implies a second appearance on earth of a person in the order of Melchizedek who would gather the worshippers and servants of the Most High God, and take them to heaven. In his second coming, Jesus would not be negating the efficacy of his sacrifice on the cross but would be gathering his faithful servants up in order to receive their eternal reward, which is eternal life.

The Last Visitation of the Son of God

The final visitation of a person in the order of Melchizedek is for the establishment of God’s Reign and the rewarding of the saints. While so many verses in the New Testament describe what would happen when the King of Kings return to earth, they all agree that in his second coming, Jesus would not be dealing with sin but will be rewarding his most faithful servants with eternal life. Indeed, therefore, the final revelation of the Son of God (priesthood of the order of Melchizedek) on earth would be to reward and glorify the saints.

Simeo Ondeto as Priest in the Order of Melchizedek

Simeo Ondeto does not belong to the order of Levi. He is not a Jew. Yet, on March 9th, 1962, when the Holy Spirit descended from heaven, he was declared as the second Christ, the fulfillment of the second coming of Jesus. Besides, during his mission, he sat on his glorious seat, passing judgment on the living and the dead, and making saints from among the daughters and the sons of men. Therefore, since he was not a Jew and yet fulfilled the prophecies of the second coming of Jesus, he belongs to the eternal priesthood of Melchizedek. Moreover, Simeo’s giving of eternal rewards to both the living and the dead means that his ministry has eternal effect.