Orthodoxy in Sub-Saharan Africa

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Orthodoxy in Sub-Saharan Africa has been a recent development, covering approximately the last one hundred years. While Orthodox Christianity in northern Africa is ancient, its history south of the Sahara Desert is most recent. The Orthodox presence in the south began among Greek immigrants in the early years of the 20th century and remained there primarily as an immigrant church. The main growth more recently below the Sahara began among the indigenous peoples of central and eastern Africa who found Orthodox Christianity after they became unhappy with western Christian missionary practices. In the past fifty years the Patriarch of Alexandria, whose jurisdiction covers all of Africa, has taken these almost spontaneous Orthodox missions under his wing and has led in sponsoring active missions in sub-saharan Africa.

Historical overview

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During the early part of the 20th century a group of black Methodists, unhappy with racism within the Methodist Church and other African oriented Protestant groups allied themselves with an offspring of the Pan African movement, the African Orthodox Church. The leaders of the African Orthodox Church tried to obtain recognition from some elements of the Russian Orthodox emigration after the Bolshevik revolution. With the confusion of the time these approaches were not successful. Daniel Williams Alexander, who had been consecrated a bishop in the African Orthodox Church, provided much of the leadership for this Orthodox oriented movement in East Africa during the period between the two major wars. Other early leaders included Fr. Reuben Spartas and Obadiah Bassajjikitalo.

One of the attractions for the Africans toward the Orthodox Church was that it was not associated with the colonial powers. This set it apart from the Catholic Church, which was associated with French and Portuguese rule, and the various Protestant Churches, which were associated with the British Empire. However, this facet also made the colonial authorities hostile towards Orthodoxy, which would prove troublesome during the independence movements after World War II. During the 1930s, Alexander established a seminary in East Africa and made contacts with the Patriarchate of Alexandria. By 1946, this movement sought and received recognition by the Patriarchate as a canonical Orthodox Church. With recognition, African candidates for the clergy began to receive training in Egypt and Greece. But, as the anti-colonial independence movement intensified after World War II, the Orthodox church in these colonial enclaves was banned. Also, members of the churches received harsh treatment from the colonial authorities, particularly in Kenya (which was under British rule at the time). The treatment of the Orthodox faithful and clergy in colonial Africa was similar to that received by the Church of Russia under the Bolsheviks, that is destruction of churches and imprisonment of clergy. These pressures on the church were relieved as the African states gained their independence.

During the struggle against colonial rule, a close friendship developed between Jomo Kenyatta and Archbishop Makarios of Cyprus that resulted in aid in financing a new seminary in Nairobi, Kenya that was built in the late 1970s. As a leader attempting to gain independence for Cyprus, the presence and actions by Abp. Makarios provided great moral support to the fledgling African church. While not having any jurisdiction in Africa, Abp. Makarios baptized some 10, 000 people at Kagira and Nyeri. The seminary began operation in 1982, initially serving students from East Africa. In 1995, the seminary began receiving students from other African areas including West Africa, Zimbabwe and Madagascar.

In 1958, the Alexandrian Patriarchate appointed a Metropolitan for Irinoupolis (Dar es Salaam) that oversaw Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda. But, missionary development had its reverses in the 1970s and 80s as the result of colonial pressures and disingenuous propaganda by Protestant and Roman Catholic missionaries aggravated by schismatic tendencies among the Orthodox. Nevertheless Orthodoxy has continued to expand, largely through internal missionary evangelism, that is by word of mouth. The missionary activities also stressed the translation of the church services into the local languages, yet retaining an emphasis on a pan-African unity of the church.


The Orthodox churches of sub-Saharan Africa are organized under the Patriarchate of Alexandria and include the following Archdioceses and dioceses:

External links