martedì 4 gennaio 2022

More developments relating to Orthodox Africa

(Peter Anderson)
Almost a week has now elapsed since the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate resolved on December 29 to establish two dioceses and an exarchate covering all of Africa and to accept jurisdiction over 102 clerics of the Patriarchate of Alexandria. (link) What has been the reaction to this very bold move by the Moscow Patriarchate?  Although I am sure that many people may have strong opinions on this subject, none of the Local Orthodox Churches, aside from Moscow and Alexandria, have yet expressed their opinions on the subject.  On December 30, the Patriarchate of Alexandria issued a very limited statement. (link) The statement provided:

The ancient Patriarchate of Alexandria expresses its deepest sorrow at the synodal decision of the Russian Patriarchate to establish an Exarchate within the normal limits of the jurisdiction of the Ancient Church of Alexandria, a decision taken in the midst of the Nativity of Christ and the divine Epiphany, during which Christ the King of Peace is projected.  The Patriarchate of Alexandria will continue to carry out its pastoral duties towards the flock which has been entrusted to it by the Lord, which fall under the spiritual legacies of the great Greek Fathers of the Church, who, according to the modern Russian theologian the late Fr. George Florovsky, left an indelible mark on Orthodox Theology and the Church.  The decision of the Russian Patriarchate will be discussed at an upcoming session of the Synod of the Patriarchate, at which time relevant decisions will be taken.

As far as I know, no date has been set for the “upcoming session.”  Alexandria may need some time to assess the situation.  The only specific information that Moscow has provided is that there are 102 unidentified clerics from eight unidentified African countries.  My only information comes from an open letter posted in December 2019 in which a group of 27 priests, who identify themselves as being “African priests” of the Patriarchate of Alexandria, wrote that they “do not agree” with the decision of the Patriarchate of Alexandria to recognize the OCU. (link) The signers consist of 19 priests from Tanzania,  4 from Kenya, 3 from Uganda, one from Zambia.  It is certainly possible that Alexandria will seek to ascertain further the reasons for the discontent of the 102 clerics (which may be largely unrelated to Ukraine) and seek to address or remedy the discontent.   

There are also a number of other factors that might be important.  For example, who owns the churches used by the 102 clerics?  This may depend on the law of the country involved and the name in which title is held.  Interestingly, the Russian Federation has very recently adopted a law that parishes cannot separate from their parent organization without the consent of the parent organization.  Do any of the eight African countries have similar laws?  Financial support is another important factor.  It is extremely likely that most of the parishes involved are not self-supporting but are missionary parishes depending on outside financial support.  At the present time, most of the outside money comes from places such as Greece and the United States.  If the Moscow Patriarchate takes over missionary parishes, it will probably involve a substantial financial commitment on its part.  One also wonders if the Moscow Patriarchate will seek to use increased financial support, such as higher clergy salaries, as a means of attracting clergy.

Today, January 4, a letter from Bishop Marcos of Kisumu and Western Kenya (Patriarchate of Alexandria) has been posted at (link).  See also (link). It states that the Patriarch of Alexandria has called “a synod of Bishops in the next few days.”   He urges his priests who have signed an oath [to join the Moscow Patriarchate] to sign an attached letter stating that they will not have an affiliation with this movement in any way.  Affiliation will endanger their priesthood.  It is certainly possible that this letter, assuming that it is genuine, was the idea of Bishop Marcos individually and not directed by the Patriarchate.

Since the December 29 resolution, there have been a number of statements by representatives or supporters of the Moscow Patriarchate.   Soon after the announcement, Metropolitan Leonid of Klin, who is heading the Moscow Patriarchate’s efforts in Africa, gave an interview to RIA Novosti. (link) He stated that the 102 clerics represent a significant percentage of the total number of clerics of the Patriarchate of Alexandria and that he expects their numbers to increase.  He said that he did not exclude the possibility that some of the bishops of the Patriarchate of Alexandria will declare their desire to join the Russian Orthodox Church.  Furthermore, the “issue of allocating a land plot in Cairo for the construction of a cathedral there is being resolved.”  Metropolitan Leonid also gave an interview to TASS. (link) Here, he emphasized that the new Exarchate will not only provide spiritual care, but also humanitarian care such as providing “our brothers and sisters in Africa with basic living conditions and infrastructure” and medical care including an expected shipment of vaccines to them.  According to the Metropolitan, the clergy should be provided with everything necessary for the performance of divine services: utensils, vestments, vessels, literature in the native language of believers.  All of these may be economic inducements that may be attractive for local clergy.

Metropolitan Hilarion has also given an interview to RIA Novosti. (link) (official English translation).  He explains the reasons for the actions of the Moscow Patriarchate in Africa.  He also stated:

We could not turn down the clergy, who realized the falsity of the stand taken by their Patriarch, in accepting them in the fold of our Church.  In the same way, we cannot deny pastoral care to the Orthodox faithful in Turkey in the situation when the Patriarch of Constantinople has taken the side of the schism.

This is a clear message that the Moscow Patriarchate is prepared to establish its own parishes in Turkey, the country in which the Ecumenical Patriarchate is headquartered.  Metropolitan Hilarion also stated that “the conciliar wisdom of the Church can heal the schism in the world Orthodox community.”  This observation may provide some support for the theory that Moscow’s actions with respect to Africa may have been motivated in part by a desire to create a situation where more Local Orthodox Churches will support a second Amman-type meeting of the primates.  It appears to be the hope of Moscow that such a meeting would examine the powers claimed by the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Father Georgy Maximov, a well-known figure in the Moscow Patriarchate who has had substantial contact with Africa, has also expressed his views on the current situation. (link) Here are some of his views:

However, it [the current situation] is not surprising given their monstrous isolation from their own African flock, when most of the Greek bishops do not even live in Africa.

The modern Greek mission in Africa is largely a Potemkin village, exploited by a handful of Greek bishops in order to collect money from Greeks from other countries.  Not all Greek bishops are like that, but many are.  Africans are not fools, and they see it too.  Their irritation from the Greeks has been accumulating there for a long time.  Africa deserves better.

He noted that the African priesthood was tired of the exploitation of the Greeks.  He estimates that the 102 clerics represent approximately one-third of the total number of priests in the Patriarchate of Alexandria.  These observations by Father Georgy may or may not be accurate.  However, his observations lead me to suspect that the cause of the discontent in the African priesthood may not stem so much from what is happening in Ukraine, but more from certain long-term tensions between Africans and Greeks in the administration of the Patriarchate. 

The Union of Orthodox Journalists has posted a long English-language article on the “Russian Orthodox Church in Africa: causes and effects.” (link) This website, which publishes in seven languages, is not an official organ of the Moscow Patriarchate, but is the most prolific source of news championing the position of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine.  The article discusses the canonical aspects of Moscow’s resolution, the possible reaction by the Phanar and its supporters, the alleged intimidation exercised by some of the Alexandrian hierarchs, and what to expect in the future.  The following quotations especially caught my interest:

It is clear the Phanariotes and their “overseas friends” are worried along with the Alexandrian Church, because they understand that the Russian Church may not stop there.  The African dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church are a "big clue" that there may be further creation of similar structures in Greece and Turkey.  More precisely, in the territory of those bishops who recognize the OCU.


Moreover, in terms of creating an Exarchate in Africa, the ROC showed it can give quite a clear and adequate answer.  At the moment, the ROC stands out as the leader of conservatism in Orthodoxy, and therefore there is a high probability that if other Churches fall into schism, traditionally-minded believers from other countries will join the Russian Church.

Some may raise the question of whether the bold stance made by the Moscow Patriarchate on December 29 was coordinated with the government of the Russian Federation.  On December 2, Archbishop Leonid met with Head of the Foreign Policy Directorate of the President of the Russian Federation, I.S. Neverova. (link) There was no mention of the subjects discussed. 

In my opinion, all of this means that the Moscow Patriarchate has chosen to increase to a very significant degree its conflict with the Ecumenical Patriarchate.  It comes at the same time that tensions between Russia and Ukraine have greatly increased due to the presence of Russian troops near the Ukraine border.  The Moscow Patriarchate does not wish to accept the status quo in Ukraine.  For example, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Kyiv on August 22, 2021, appealed to the UOC-MP “to foster peaceful coexistence and mutual understanding between people and Orthodox Christians here.” (link) To best of my knowledge, the Moscow Patriarchate has never responded to this appeal or discussed publicly the idea of peaceful coexistence between the UOC-MP and the OCU.  Instead, it is my belief that the Moscow Patriarchate believes that the claims of Constantinople for special powers must be defeated and that it is prepared to take very aggressive action to accomplish this end.

For those of you celebrating Christmas on January 7, I wish you a very blessed feast of the Nativity of Our Lord.  May He bring us peace.

Peter Anderson, Seattle USA