– The Patriarch of Alexandria accused the Serbian Patriarch of the Serbian church of not noticing the Russian Church’s “invasion” of the African continent. How justified is this accusation? Can we say that the Russian Orthodox Church violated the canons by creating its exarchate in Africa?
– The Russian Orthodox Church’s first parish in Africa appeared in Egypt in 1914, and then there were more and more parishes – in 1920 the church was consecrated in Tunisia, in 1922 a parish was established in Algeria, in 1927 Russian Orthodox parishes were opened in Morocco.
The Alexandrian Orthodox Church has been present on the African continent even earlier, but only in Egypt and Libya. It was only around the year 1930 that Patriarch Meletius of Alexandria proclaimed the extension of his jurisdiction to the entire African continent, but the real actions began only in the second half of the 20th century.
The Bible calls to keep away from those “who cause divisions” in the Church (Rom. 16:17), which is why the Orthodox Church is very strict about the problem of schisms. Until recently, the relations between the Russian and Alexandrian Churches have been the best. But, unfortunately, they stopped in 2019 after Patriarch Theodore of Alexandria, being under external pressure from the Western countries, recognized the schismatic pseudo-church in Ukraine, although he had previously promised not to do so.
Let me remind you that on November 8, 2019, Patriarch Theodore officially recognized the “OCU”. Moreover, on August 13, 2021, he concelebrated with Dumenko at the Liturgy on the island of Imbros, which automatically made the Primate of the Alexandrian Church an accomplice to the schism.
With that in mind, and also reacting to numerous appeals of the clergy from the Alexandrian Patriarchate, who expressed the unwillingness to be complicit in the schismatic acts of Patriarch Theodore and who wished to remain in the canonical Church, in December 2021 the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church decided to form the Patriarchal Exarchate of Africa.
So, there were no violations on our part. Also pay attention to the fact, that we had been waiting a long time before taking such a step. We had been waiting for Patriarch Theodore’s sincere repentance for the sin of schism. He didn’t do that, so we had to think about the preservation of the true Orthodoxy on the African continent.
– What is the current state of the Exarchate headed by you? How do Africans perceive the new mission of the Russian Church?
– Over the past year and a half, the Patriarchal Exarchate of Africa has opened more than 200 parishes in 25 African countries. In addition to the liturgical life, there are many humanitarian and educational projects, translations of books into local languages and much more.
The establishment and activity of the Exarchate caused a surge of interest in the Russian Orthodox Church from the Africans.
For many people, it is highly valuable that our church has ancient origins, dating back to the time of the apostles, and that we are a traditional and conservative Church that does not allow people to change or cancel the words of the Bible on moral and family-related issues in favour of fashionable ideological trends that come from the West, and also that the Russian Orthodox Church has never been the Church of the colonizers.
The inhabitants of the continent show great interest in our mission. Frankly speaking, we have a heavy legacy inherited from the Greeks. It seems that they did not try to establish a normal church life in Africa. For example, we have to introduce Africans to fasting, and the sacrament of Confession. It creates certain difficulties for us, but, on the other hand, it opens up broad prospects for real missionary work and enlightenment.
We put a lot of effort into both religious and secular education.
Dozens of students from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, Rwanda, Burundi, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, and Madagascar have already been sent to study at Russian theological schools. At the same time, short-term theological and pastoral courses in English and French are organized in Moscow. After the completion of these courses, the citizens of the Central African Republic, Nigeria, Malawi, Cameroon, South Africa, DR of the Congo, Ivory Coast, Togo, and Madagascar were ordained priests. For the advanced training of priests and laypeople, online theological courses have been launched in English at the Moscow Theological Academy. 160 African people attend these courses.
As for secular education, the Russian Orthodox Church has opened an elementary school in the Central African Republic, and an educational centre in Tanzania.
The humanitarian work of the Russian Orthodox Church includes a fundamentally new approach to the solution of the problem of hunger. Although we have sometimes organized food distribution to the hungry (for example, in Kenya and Nigeria), we still are more focused on providing the local farmers with seeds and fertilizers and thus helping them harvest more crops. Such projects have been successfully implemented in Tanzania, Malawi, and Kenya. Giving a fishing rod, not a fish, is our approach.
On top of that, the Church helps the victims of natural disasters such as Cyclone Freddy in Malawi. The African Exarchate supports two orphanages in Kenya and one in Cameroon.
We also translate and publish Orthodox literature in African languages, not only widely spoken, such as Swahili but also rare ones, such as Acholi (Uganda), Tiv (Nigeria), Bemba (Zambia), Kirundi (Burundi), Kikkuyu and Tiriki (Kenya), Malagasy (Madagascar) and others. This is our contribution to the preservation and development of the African languages, that are used at liturgies in our parishes.
– St. Peter of Cetinje, before his death, said to Metropolitan Peter II of Montenegro and Primorye: “Pray to God and hold on to Russia!” What unites our Churches, people and countries today? Can we say that in light of today’s challenges to Orthodoxy, the Russian and Serbian Orthodox Churches need to form a strategic alliance?
– We have fraternal ties, we are united by a common history, and especially by the desire to live in the Spirit of God. I believe that our shared mission is to protect traditional values, without which humanity can’t develop in the right way.
I am also convinced that if the Russian and Serbian Churches stand shoulder to shoulder, no heresies and schisms will be able to shake the world’s Orthodoxy. And if the idea is approved, the format of such a strategic alliance should be developed by our Primates with the support of the Synods.
– Your Eminence, at the end of our interview, we would be grateful to You for parting words to our readers and the Serbian audience in general.
– We need to always hold on to God, trust Him, and rely on His boundless mercy. If we do, the most difficult problems and crises will be solved.
May the Lord protect the Serbian people, and the Mother of God cover our brothers and sisters in Kosovo with Her omophorion!