martedì 5 luglio 2022

Moscow Patriarchate's progress in Africa & other news

(Peter Anderson)
The Moscow Patriarchate continues to devote considerable resources to its effort to establish its presence in Africa.  In this regard it continues to work closely with the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation which is seeking to expand Russian influence in Africa.  The latest manifestation of this effort is the visit of Metropolitan Leonid of Klin, Patriarchal Exarch of Africa, to Cairo, June 24-28.  This was his second trip to Africa as exarch.  His first trip as exarch was to Uganda, May 19-21, to meet with Uganda President Yoweri Museveni.  From 2004 to 2013, Leonid as a priest was in Africa as the representative of the Patriarch of Moscow to the Patriarch of Alexandria.

On June 25, Metropolitan Leonid celebrated his first Divine Liturgy in Africa as exarch.  It occurred in the Church of the Great Martyr and Wonderworker Mina and Pope Cyrillos VI, located in Hadayek Al-Ahram (“Pyramids Gardens” – a section of Giza west of the historic pyramids). (link) At the Liturgy, Coptic Bishop Theodosius of Mid-Giza announced that this particular church is being provided to the Moscow Patriarchate for it free use as a metochion to the Coptic Church.  In return, the Moscow Patriarchate will be providing to the Coptic Church a  metochion  church in Moscow. (link) It appears that the church in Giza was first consecrated in March 2020 and is located on one of the floors of a multi-floor building. (link) The Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Egypt was present at the Liturgy. (link) Approximately eleven members of the Moscow Synodal Choir were flown from Russia for the purpose of singing at the Liturgy.  Before returning to Moscow, the group also gave a concert at the Russian Cultural Center, operated by a Russian federal agency through the Cairo Embassy.(link)

On June 27, Pope Tawadros II, primate of the Coptic Church, met with Metropolitan Leonid and the Russian Ambassador.  According to the Pope’s website, His Holiness “welcomed the delegation and their new service in Egypt for Russian citizens, whether residing in Egypt or visiting it for tourism.” (link) From this, it appears that the Pope believes that the mission of the Exarchate in Egypt is limited to Russian citizens.  While Metropolitan Leonid was in Egypt, Coptic Bishop Michael, rector of the Coptic theological academy and seminary in Cairo, was in St. Petersburg, Russia for the fourth meeting on the development of cooperation between the theological schools of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Coptic Church, June 26-30. (link) As can be seen from the foregoing link, the meeting, which was held at the St. Petersburg Theological Academy, was programmed as a major event.

Metropolitan Leonid informed TASS that matching memos and appeals will be sent to the President of Egypt from the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Russian Orthodox Church requesting a site in New Cairo for the establishment of an administrative and spiritual center for the Russian Orthodox Church. (link)  Presumably the spiritual center will be the cathedral for the Exarchate and for its Diocese of Northern Africa.   According to this article, the Metropolitan previously stated that a total of 192 clerics [a term including both priests and deacons] of the Patriarchate of Alexandria from 12 countries have already passed into the jurisdiction of the Russian Church and their number is constantly growing. 

Father Georgy Maksimov, the person from the Moscow Patriarchate who has been most involved in recruiting native clergy, has now returned to Africa.  On June 26, Father Georgy was in Nairobi and held a pastoral seminar with deans.  According to the report from Metropolitan Leonid, a “fruitful communication and exchange of experience on the preaching of Orthodoxy among Protestants took place.”  (link) Ten days earlier, the Sretensky Monastery in Moscow posted an article by Father Georgy where he expressed his views concerning the non-Orthodox. (link) He stated:

As far as grace is concerned, external grace [призывающая благодать – grace calling one to accept the faith] operates throughout the world.  Saving grace operates only in the Orthodox Church.  Therefore, neither Catholics, nor anyone else who does not adhere to Orthodoxy, can be saved until they come into unity with the Orthodox Church.   And this is a great tragedy that so many people who seem to believe in Christ, try to read the Bible and live like a Christian, but, having this infection of heresy, deprive themselves of salvation.

It is an interesting viewpoint in light of the current efforts of the African Exarchate to develop good relations with the Copts and with such people as Uganda President Yoweri Museveni, who is an Anglican.

On July 4 Metropolitan Leonid announced that the Exarchate had received its first certificate of registration on the African continent.  The certificate was received from the Central African Republic (“CAR”).  (link) (English)  According to the article, the Metropolitan described this as “a historic moment.”  The Telegram channel of the Metropolitan provided the details. (link) An uncanonical community in CAR calling itself the “Orthodox Byzantine Church of the Patriarchate of Constantinople” had written to Patriarch Kirill requesting to come under his jurisdiction.  The community consisted of one “bishop” and four “priests.”  It appears that Father Georgy visited the community on July 2, and the bishop and priests agreed to accept lay status with possible ordinations later.   After this visit, Father Georgy went to the Minister of Territories to apply for registration.  It appears that the registration was provided within two days.  This fast response is not surprising.  The existing government of CAR has been especially grateful to Russia after the Wagner group played a decisive role in repelling a rebel attack on the capital Bangui in January.  As evidence of the close relationship between CAR and Russia, Russian has now been made the third official language of CAR.  All university students are now required to learn Russian, and this requirement will soon be extended to secondary schools as well. (link) With respect to the Exarchate’s efforts in CAR, Metropolitan Leonid remarked, “Our embassy provides all kinds of support.”

From watching the Telegram channel of Metropolitan Leonid, it appears that the efforts of the Exarchate in Africa are well-financed.  For example, professional singers are flown from Moscow to Cairo to sing for a day or two.  On July 3, Metropolitan Leonid showed on his channel a large shipment from Russia (probably Sofrino) of 86 beautiful Eucharistic sets, altar crosses, and censers for the priests in Kenya.  In various African countries, the Russian embassies and their Russian cultural centers are the bases of operations for priests such as Father Georgy and provide support for recruiting native clergy.  In contrast, Bishop Neofitos, the one native bishop of the Alexandrian Patriarchate in Kenya, needs to hold a fund-raiser and to solicit donations online, in order to replace his car which has had major mechanical problems. (link) Fortunately, the Patriarchate has obtained funds to reopen its important seminary in Nairobi.

In other news, Pope Francis on July 2 gave a 90-minute interview with the news agency Reuters.  One of the topics related to possible papal trips to both Moscow and Kyiv.  Reuters has provided the following excerpts: “I would like to go (to Ukraine) and I wanted to go to Moscow first.  We exchanged messages about this because I thought that if the president of Russia gave me a tiny window, I would go there to serve the cause of peace .... And now it’s possible, after I come back from Canada; it is possible that I manage to go to Ukraine. The first thing is to go to Russia to try to help in some way, but I would like to go to both capitals.” (link)

Archbishop Elpidophoros, head of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (Ecumenical Patriarchate), has responded to the letter from the leading bishops of the Antiochian, Romanian, Serbian, and Bulgarian Patriarchates in the United States and by the primate of the OCA. The letter to the Archbishop had protested the planned episcopal ordination of Alexander Belya to head a Slavic Vicariate.  The full text of the response of the Archbishop can be read at (link). On June 30, Dritan Abazović, Prime Minister of Montenegro, met with Serbian Patriarch Porfirije in Belgrade.  The two men acknowledged that the working groups on each side had reached “agreement in principle” on the Basic Agreement governing relations between the State of Montenegro and the Serbian Patriarchate.  This agreement must now be reviewed and approved by the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate and by Montenegro’s Commission for the Political System and then at a session of the Government. (link) An unofficial draft of the agreement has been posted at (link).

Peter Anderson, Seattle USA