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Inside St. Sergius Russian Orthodox Church

#Gauteng52, Week 37: South Africa’s Only Russian Orthodox Church

Welcome to Week 37 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit the Russian Orthodox Church of St. Sergius of Radonezh, in Midrand.

If you’ve driven from Pretoria to Johannesburg, you’ve probably seen it: The white church with gleaming gold domes in Midrand, easily visible from the N3 Highway. Apparently lots of people show up at the gate of the Russian Orthodox Church of St. Sergius of Radonezh, simply because they have glimpsed the church from the road and are overcome by curiosity.

Outside the Russian Orthodox Church of St. SergiusThe Russian Orthodox Church of St. Sergius of Radonezh, built in 2003. The domes are covered in very thin gold leaf. Father Daniel, the priest, says it’s less than one kilogram of gold altogether.

If you read my blog, then you know I love visiting churches and places of worship of all kinds. So when I got invited to visit St. Sergius as part of an event organized by the Johannesburg Russian Tea Room Group, I eagerly accepted and invited my friends Ang and Gail.

St. Sergius is the only Russian Orthodox Church in sub-Saharan Africa (the next closest one is in Egypt), and it is spectacular.

Inside St. Sergius Russian Orthodox Church
Inside the church. There are no pews, just a few chairs around the edges, because parishioners usually stand during the 90-minute services.

Ceiling in Russian Orthodox Church That ceiling.

Detail of the ceiling at St. SergiusDetail shot of the ceiling.

Side of the Russian Orthodox Church
The church is built in the shape of a cross. This is one of the two side areas.

Orthodox church ceilingAnother ceiling shot, this one taken from the upstairs gallery where the choir normally sits.

Father Daniel at St. SergiusFather Daniel Lugovoi, the priest assigned to St. Sergius. Father Daniel, along with his wife and children, moved here from Russia for this assignment in 2010.

Father DanielI was charmed by Father Daniel.

I was fascinated by this church, as I am by all churches, and I imagine it would be even more fascinating to go during an actual service. Father Daniel says anyone is welcome at any of the services, although most of them are in Russian. (There are some English services though.) The schedule is here.

Russian Orthodox church entranceThe other side of St. Sergius.

The Russian Orthodox Church of St. Sergius of Radonezh is located at the corner of Wattle and 8th Street in Midrand. Call +27-76-565-2225 or email

Read all of my #Gauteng52 posts and check out the interactive #Gauteng52 map.

Inside Ethiopian church

#TheGodProject: Holy Trinity Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church

For the last year or so, my friend Ang at JOZI.REDISCOVERED and I have been working on a blog collaboration called #TheGodProject. We visit different places of worship around Johannesburg. Ang interviews a spiritual leader (or leaders) at the place of worship, and I take photos. Then we both publish posts on our blog. In this installment of the series, we visited the Holy Trinity Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in Bertrams, just up the road from Ponte City.

I’m not going to say much about the church itself or the history of Orthodox Christianity. Ang will have all that covered and you should definitely read her blog for the fascinating details. My post is all about photos. This church is, without a doubt, one of the top five coolest places that I’ve taken photos in Joburg. I’ve done my best to show you only my very favorites, but there are lots.

Before I start the slideshow, I’d like to thank my friend James, the owner of James XVI Ethiopian in Maboneng. James organized our visit to the Tewahedo Church and it was a particularly spectacular Sunday to attend services there. You’re the best, James, and so is your food.

Visiting the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church

James’ brother drove us to the church and dropped us in the parking lot, introducing us to a man named Behailo, the secretary of the church. Behailo invited us in, mentioning that there was a wedding happening today, and said we could come find him in his office whenever we were finished observing the service. Ang and I removed our shoes, covered our heads, and walked into the chapel.

View from the back of the Ethiopian churchOur view when we first entered the chapel. Women sit on the right side and men sit on the left.

There was indeed a wedding happening, and I noticed right away that there were a bunch of photographers set up in the front of the church. A wedding press box! I plunged through the crowd, camera around my neck, and joined the rest of the media. No one seemed to mind, even though I was the only non-Ethiopian photographer/videographer there.

Wedding videographyOne of a few videographers at the wedding. The the photographers were evenly divided between men and women.

View from the front of the churchView from the front of the church. People praying, people holding babies, kids playing on iPads…The service was long and people weren’t expected to pay attention the whole time.

Bridal partyThe bridal party. The lady kneeling on the far right, wearing a crown, is the bride. The groom wasn’t with her until later. 

Ethiopian church service 2Seriously, could this church be any more beautiful? I had no idea what was going on as the service is conducted in a language called Ge’ez, which I believe is similar to Amharic. But I was transfixed. Incidentally, this building used to be owned by the Rhema Church, a huge South African evangelical church, and my boxing coach George used to run a gym here.

Marvin and the umbrellaThe man with the umbrella, I would later learn, is a deacon named Marvin. Marvin is not Ethiopian. He is a colored guy from El Dorado Park — a former Rastafarian who became interested in Ethiopian religion and converted to Orthodox Christianity. Ang will have more to say about Marvin.

Women prayingWomen praying.

Ethiopian brideAnother look at the bride.

Ethiopian priest
The priest, doing his thing with the incense.

Giant bibleAfter the priest walked through, this man came behind him with a giant bible and everyone kissed it. 

Preparing communionPreparing communion.

The longer I stood in the press pit, the more I noticed the children. There were tons of children around and they had free reign of the place. The kids wandered wherever they wanted, even crawling right in the pulpit behind the priest, and no one seemed to mind.

Cute kidCute kid.

Cute little girlCute kid just hanging around.

Mom and baby in church Mom and baby. There’s Ang in the back.

Well dressed kid in Ethiopian Orthodox ChurchThis kid wins the prize for best dressed. His outfit matches his mom’s — I think they were part of the bridal party.

Kids waiting for communion at Ethiopian Orthodox ChurchAt one point all of the kids crowded up to the front of the church, for some kind of kids-only communion. I was surrounded by a sea of cuteness.

Church guy talking to kidThis church official was showing the kids, very kindly and patiently, how to stand when they accept their communion.

Smiling girl in Ethiopian Church Cuteness!

Inside Ethiopian churchCheck the kid in the front. At this point in the service, a group of men and women were lined up in the front singing, while a few people played drums in the background. It was so beautiful and fun.

We stayed for well over an hour, but the service was still going strong and we needed to speak to Behailo. Sadly, we left before the service ended.

Outside the Ethiopian Church Scene outside the church.

Behailu in his officeBehailo in his office next to the chapel, showing us the Amharic alphabet on his phone.

We finished with Behailu, and by the time we got outside the service had ended. We watched everyone come outside and I ate some tasty Ethiopian food that was being served in the church courtyard.

Wedding carThe wedding car.

We had a brief, fascinating chat with Marvin, and then it was time to go.

Marvin, deacon at Ethiopian Tewahedo church
Marvin outside the church.

Taking pictures at this church was an amazing experience. Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity seems like a lot of fun — at least it did during the two hours I spent at this church. I would love to go back someday.


A Quick Jaunt to Abu Dhabi

In my last post I told you about my whirlwind trip to the United Arab Emirates. I stayed in Dubai for four nights, courtesy of Qualcomm, and spent a few days exploring the area without a smartphone to support the #WorldWithoutSnapdragon/#WorldWithoutSmartphones campaign. (Read more about the campaign here.)

We spent half a day in Abu Dhabi, which is the capital of the United Arab Emirates. We mainly went to Abu Dhabi to see the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the largest mosque in the UAE, but we had a couple of other adventures along the way.

Our voyage to Abu Dhabi, which is roughly similar to a voyage between Johannesburg and Pretoria, posed the greatest challenge in our WorldWithoutSmartphones. We had initially planned to take the metro to Dubai’s bus station, catch a bus from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, then catch a local taxi to the mosque. But we weren’t able to check the train and bus schedules (no Google, obvi) and we wound up missing the bus to Abu Dhabi while we waited in line to buy our tickets. We were short on time so rather than waiting for the next bus, we hired a cab straight to the mosque and kept the same cab driver for the whole day. This didn’t cost us too much more than the bus journey would have anyway.

Taxi-driverOur handsome cab driver, Aminuallah, whose name I wrote down in the trusty notebook supplied to me by Qualcomm.

Gareth-drawingGareth drew a picture of Aminuallah to pass the time in the taxi. We were bored without our phones.

Off we went to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, completed just a few years ago in 2007. I’ve seen a couple of other spectacular mosques lately — the Nizamiye Mosque in Joburg and the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. I don’t want to pick which is the most beautiful, as they’re all stunning, but the Sheikh Zyed Grand Mosque is a contender.

Mosque-from-frontI only managed to get one shot of the front of the mosque, through the taxi window as we drove around looking for the public parking lot.

One of the coolest things about visiting the mosque, in addition to the mosque itself, was the outfit I got to wear.

Women visiting the mosque must completely cover their heads, arms, and legs. Men must also cover their legs but are allowed have bare arms and heads. If you aren’t wearing the right clothes (I had a scarf but no long sleeves), you can go to the basement below the mosque and borrow an abaya. I think I look pretty cool but geez, it was hot inside that thing. (Photo: Gareth Pon

Gareth, despite being male, had to wear a robe — or “thobe” in Arabic — to cover up his tattoos. He rocked it. I tried to google and figure out why men get to wear white and women suffer in stifling black, but couldn’t find a clear answer. Apparently it’s a tradition dating back to Bedouin times. 

Mosque-selfieMosque selfie with my new friend Putri.

This mosque is a photographer’s dream.

Mosque-turretsSeriously, Mosque, could you be any more beautiful?

Mosque-and-floorI love the giant flowers.

Mosque-wideCheck my friends on the left, madly shooting pictures.

Inside-mosqueThat’s quite a carpet.

Inside-mosqueThe neon-colored chandelier was a bit much for me but otherwise I loved it all.

After the mosque we asked Aminuallah for advice on a locals-only-type restaurant in Abu Dhabi where we could go for lunch. He took us to the Abu Dhabi Oasis, tucked into a strip mall next to the highway.

Abu-Dhabi-restaurantPutri outside of Abu Dhabi Oasis.

This lunch turned out to be my favorite experience of the trip. We walked through the tiny ground-floor takeaway area and climbed the stairs to the traditional restaurant, which was a small room with a carpet and a scattering of cushions. There were three men sitting on the cushions: Ali, Mohammed, and Ahmed.

Abu-Dhabi-Oasis-ownersAhmed (left), Mohammed (middle), and Ali (right).

This trio, we later learned, are the owners of the Abu Dhabi Oasis. I hung back at first, not sure how a foreign woman is supposed to greet a group of Emirati men. But then I pulled out my Instax camera — my favorite item in the repertoire of tools we received to “replace” the Qualcomm Snapdragon chip set — and offered to take portraits. Suddenly these serious Emirati men were all smiles.

Restaurant-guysMy favorite #2SummersInstaxPortrait to date.

And then we ate some delicious chicken and rice, with our hands, and Mohammed refused to let us pay our bill.

Abu-Dhabi-lunchI was starving and this tasted so good.

Then Aminuallah took us back to Dubai.

I’ve got one or two more UAE posts to come, but this is the end of the #WorldWithoutSnapdragon/#WorldWithoutSmartPhones part of the story. Thanks again to Qualcomm for hosting me in Dubai for such an interesting campaign. And thanks for my new Snapdragon-powered phone.

Heather-androidDon’t hate, iPhone peeps. I’m not abandoning you; I’m just going to take this shiny little lady for a test-drive and let you know how it goes. (Photo: Ray)

This post was sponsored by Qualcomm. Opinions expressed are my own.

#TheGodProject: A Catholic Church in Rosebank

A few months ago, my friend Ang at JOZI.REDISCOVERED asked me to partner with her on a blogging project. It would be called #TheGodProject, and the two of us would go around Joburg exploring different places of worship. Ang would interview the various religious leaders and write about the services, and I would take photos.

I’ve always been fascinated by religion so I jumped right on board. It took us a few months to get the project off the ground but we’re finally ready with our first post, about the Rosebank Church of the Immaculate Conception.


The Rosebank Catholic Church, at 16 Keyes Avenue in Rosebank.

I’m not going to say much about the church because the whole point is for you to go read Ang’s post. But I will say that this was my first time visiting this church, which is about 80 years old, and I found it incredibly beautiful and interesting. Here is my collection of photos from the Sunday evening service that we attended.


A statue of the Virgin Mary in the church’s courtyard.


A window inside the church illustrating one of the 14 Stations of the Cross (religious images of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion). Interestingly, this is the second time this year that I’ve mentioned the 14 Stations of the Cross in a blog post.


A full house for the Sunday evening service. It’s technically called the “Youth Service”, although the parishioners were all different ages.


Brent Chalmers, one of the deacons of the Church of the Immaculate Conception. Ang will have a lot more to say about Brent in her post. He looks stern in this picture but is actually a very friendly guy.


The cross above the pulpit. Brent told us that the reddish lines on the marble below Christ’s hands just appeared there over the years, and no one knows how. 


The section of the church where parishioners go to light prayer candles.


Maxine, a cute young girl who played guitar in the “youth band”. Maxine was the only youth in the band though. All of the other musicians ranged between 30 and 80.

At the end of the service I approached the priest, Tony Nunes, to thank him for letting Ang and I attend the service and take photos.

“It was a pleasure,” said Father Tony. “And what is your religious faith?”

A logical question, coming from a priest. But I had to pause for a panicky second, thinking of an answer.

“I’m Jewish,” I said.

This answer is 100% correct. My mother is Jewish so technically I’m Jewish too, even though I know next to nothing about Judaism. I was also baptised Episcopalian when I was a baby, attended a Methodist Sunday school as a kid, and now don’t follow any particular religion. But I didn’t want to get into all of that with Father Tony.

“Ah, I’ve just returned from Israel!” exclaimed Father Tony. “Amazing place.”

I smiled and nodded, praying (pardon the pun) that Father Tony wouldn’t ask me if I’ve ever been to the Wailing Wall or which shul I attend in Joburg.

“It was great meeting you, Father,” I said, backing away. “Thanks so much.”

“Of course,” said Father. “Shalom!”

#TheGodProject is going to be interesting.


Thanks to the Church of the Immaculate Conception.

Follow #TheGodProject on 2Summers and on JOZI.REDISCOVERED.