THE Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria is stepping up missionary work in Africa, in response to the Russian Orthodox Church’s formation of two new dioceses on the continent.
“Our Church embraces all people, regardless of nationality,” Patriarch Theodore II explained during a week-long visit to Rwanda last month.
The Greek-born Patriarch spoke after dedicating a new church, school, and clinic at Rwamagana, during his first-ever visit to Rwanda. The Alexandria Patriarchate said that the aim of the tour had been “primarily to strengthen the local Orthodox Church”.
The online Orthodox Times said that the Patriarch’s pastoral travels should be viewed as countering the Moscow Patriarchate’s attempts to “build up a parallel and competitive structure in Africa” after the formation, last December, of Russian Orthodox dioceses in Cairo and Johannesburg, in retaliation for Patriarch Theodore’s 2019 recognition of a new independent Church in Ukraine (News, 14 January).
Orthodox leaders in Greece, Albania, and elsewhere, have accused the Moscow Patriarchate of violating Orthodox principles by trespassing on another Patriarchate’s jurisdiction, and of using the Ukrainian conflict as the pretext for a long-planned expansion into Africa.
In a social-media post in July, Moscow’s new Patriarchal Exarch for Africa, Archbishop Leonid (Gorbachev) of Klin, who now claims spiritual jurisdiction in 66 countries, said that defecting African clergy had faced harassment, but remained “faithful to their choice to belong to a Church which preserves the canons transmitted from the Holy Apostles”.
The Patriarchate of Alexandria, dating from the first Christian centuries, has 35 dioceses and archdioceses in Africa, which are mostly staffed by local clergy, and believed to have up to five million members, including one million in Kenya.
In June, Kenyan media reported that some clergy had returned to the Alexandria Patriarchate, after being unable to receive promised Russian funds because of Western financial sanctions. This was denied, however, by Metropolitan Leonid, who opened a new school at Bimbo, in the Central African Republic, earlier this month. The school is headed by a Moscow-trained African priest.
“At the present time, the forces of world evil have taken up arms against Holy Rus’ to crush and enslave it,” the Metropolitan told Patriarch Kirill in a message for the Patriarch’s birthday on Monday. “In this unparalleled battle, like your great predecessors, you are calling on our people to defend their country and help its army and war victims, as helmsman of the Russian Orthodox Church and spiritual champion for our Fatherland.”
The Moscow Patriarchate said that Orthodox ordinands from Cameroon, Malawi, Nigeria, and South Africa had arrived in Russia this week to begin priestly training, while students had also begun two-year courses in Orthodoxy and the Russian language in Tanzania.
In talks last week with a Greek government delegation, however, Patriarch Theodore again “categorically condemned” the Russian Church’s “illegal entry” into his traditional canonical territory, saying that its “unjust, arbitrary, and divisive” character threatened the “creative unity of Orthodoxy” needed in a “modern turbulent world”.