lunedì 16 maggio 2022

New Orthodox developments in Africa and Serbia

Andrei Novikov with 20 priests who joined the Moscow Patriarchate in Madagascar
(Peter Anderson)
Father Andrei Novikov (Moscow Patriarchate), who was in Tanzania in February, is now in Madagascar.  On May 13, he distributed antimensions to 20 native African priests from Madagascar who have joined the Moscow Patriarchate. (link) According to Father Andrei’s narrative on his Facebook page, the two eparchies of the Alexandrian Patriarchate in Madagascar had a total of 30 native clergy, and a majority of these have now joined the Moscow Patriarchate.  The priest who acts as the coordinator for the Moscow Patriarchate in Madagascar and who has been most active in organizing the clergy is Father Randrianaivo Vacilios Frederic.  His Facebook page is at (link). In January Father Vacilios made the following claim:  “In Madagascar, black priests are not allowed to enter the bishop’s house!  But any Greek can walk up and down his residence.” (link) The governmental ties between Madagascar and Russia have also been strengthened this year.  See (link)

It appears that all of the African nations for which the Moscow Patriarchate has appointed coordinators have now been visited by a representative of the Moscow Patriarchate and the antimensions have been distributed.  From what has been posted on the Internet by the African Exarchate, it appears that the number of African native clergy joining the Moscow Patriarchate to date from the various countries are as follows:  Kenya – 93; Madagascar – 20; Tanzania – 16; Malawi – 11; Uganda – 10; Nigeria – 7; Zambia – 3; Cameroon – 3; Rwanda – 2;  Democratic Republic of the Congo – 1 (?); Republic of the Congo – 1 (?).  See especially  (link).   The total of these numbers is 167.  Of course, these numbers may not be totally accurate and may change in the future.  In addition, the Exarchate includes 6 Russian parishes in Morocco (Rabat and Casablanca), Tunisia (Bizerte and Tunis), Egypt (Cairo), and South Africa (Johannesburg).

On May 9, Patriarch Theodoros of Alexandria issued a circular providing instructions as to actions to be taken in view of the transfer of clerics to the Moscow Patriarchate. (link) (Greek)  The following is an article (link) which describes the circular:

Patriarch Theodore of Alexandria sent a circular message to the bishops of the Patriarchate of Alexandria, instructing them on how to approach the problems posed by the “illegal and vindictive invasion of the Russian Church into the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Alexandria” after the latter recognized the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Church.  It is clear from the message that the tactics of the “Russian Exarchate” on the African continent envisage first financial enticement of local clergy, and then seizure of the temples of the parish communities and their other property.

“We learn with pain from our fellow hierarchs to our patriarchal cathedral, who describe the tragic events that befell them after the anti-canonical and inadmissible attempt to invade the Russian Church on the African continent, which has undoubtedly been in the canonical jurisdiction of our ancient patriarchy for centuries.  This came after our recognition of the canonical autocephaly granted by the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the local Church of Ukraine.

The main goal of the non-fraternal Russian actions is the theft of the parish communities of local Orthodox Christians, which is done first by financially luring parish priests, and then separating parishes with their temples, buildings and others from our ancient patriarchate, which laid the foundations of Orthodoxy in the long-suffering African land and works around the clock with great efforts to enlighten all of us in Christ and other brothers and who, in addition to charities, is constantly building new structures to improve the quality of life of people here.

The Patriarch of Alexandria then told the bishops that the “robbery and disrespectful conduct of the Russian Church” must be addressed with clear action to protect movable and immovable parish property, to be organized by the diocesan legal advisers in accordance with local law.   Relevant procedures must also be initiated for the immediate restoration of ownership of any property (temples, buildings, etc.) seized by an offender.  To this end, the dioceses must speed up the process of documenting the ownership of all temples in order to limit the possibility of abuse.

With regard to the seceding African clergy, the patriarch ordered the bishops to impose a ban on the conduct of priesthood in the hope that they would repent until the competent ecclesiastical court of the Patriarchate of Alexandria ruled.

The patriarch called on the bishops to show courage to preserve the integrity of the verbal flock entrusted to them by their predecessors and acquired through the martyrdom of many hierarchs and priests, and not to be afraid to stand up for justice, following the canonical tradition of the Orthodox Church.

Finally Patriarch Theodore prays to “the Risen Lord, Who builds His Church, to purify the minds and hearts of the local clergy and our indigenous flock from the treacherous conduct of spiritual apostasy for thirty pieces of silver.”

There are now a number of complaints and lawsuits that have been initiated by bishops of the Alexandrian Patriarchate to protect property claimed by them.  In a sense, this is very similar to the legal actions taken by the UOC-MP with respect to parishes seeking to transfer to the OCU.  A majority of the attempts to transfer parishes to the OCU have resulted in lawsuits filed by the UOC-MP.  The OCU claims that many parishes are reluctant to transfer because a transfer will often result in the need of the parish to hire an attorney to defend the lawsuit by the UOC-MP.  However, in Africa, it is likely that the Moscow Patriarchate has the financial means to defend legal actions brought by the Patriarchate of Alexandria.

On May 15, the bishops of the Serbian Patriarchate celebrated in the Serbian town of Sremski Karlovci (near Novi Sad) the Divine Liturgy to mark the 100th anniversary of the re-establishment of the autocephalous Serbian Patriarchate and its recognition by the Ecumenical Patriarch.  It was also the beginning of this year’s Assembly of all of the Serbian bishops. (link) (English)  An Epistle was issued by the bishops for the anniversary. (link) (full text)  The Assembly of bishops will meet for a number of days beginning May 16 at St. Sava Cathedral in Belgrade.  The results of the Assembly are announced at its conclusion.  The agenda for the Assembly is determined by the bishops at the beginning of the Assembly.  An article in the major Serbian newspaper Politika speculates on the subjects that will be covered. (link) The article assumes that the issue of the “Macedonian Orthodox Church” and the action of the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate with respect to that church will be discussed.  Other subjects may include election of bishops, religious education in the schools, and the situation in Ukraine.

On May 12, Montenegro’s new prime minister Dritan Abazović (an ethnic Albanian and a Muslim) made a special trip to the Monastery of Ostrog to meet with Patriarch Porfirije on the feast day of Saint Basil of Ostrog. (link) It appears to have been a warm meeting.  Abazović said that the Government of Montenegro will lead a fair dialogue with the Serbian Orthodox Church to resolve open issues fairly and in accordance with the law, for the mutual benefit of the state of Montenegro and the Serbian Orthodox Church.   With respect to the still unsigned agreement between the Serbian Orthodox Church and the government of Montenegro,  Abazović said in an interview:  “So when we have the contract that is in accordance with the law and the Constitution, then there is no problem to sign it.  It does not matter to a secular state, we do not care if it is a small or large religious organization, if there are many or few believers.  We want to promote the liberal context of freedom of religion, where every believer has the same rights.  Nothing else!  Nothing more!  And if we talk about whether he will sign the agreement with the Serbian Orthodox Church?  Yes! I am ready to sign it without any problem.”  (link)

Peter Anderson, Seattle USA