Some history

Deisis

History of the beginnings of the Orthodox Church in countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, in the beginning of the XXth century [1]

The first African Orthodox followers

The Orthodox mission that is present today in several Sub-Saharn African countries started in Uganda in the first decades of the 20th century, thanks to Spartas Mukasa Reuben and the African believers of the Anglican Church’s search for the tradition of the unidivided Church. These Christian Africans were infuriated by the racial abuse and the segregation that local Ugandans were victims of. Therefore, they searched for a Church that was loyal to the undivided Church and that was dedicated to a Christian life of brotherly charity, justice, truth, love, goodness, forbearance and peace. At the time, their actions were deemed as schismatic by the Archbishop Stewart Willis of the Anglican Church, but their quest was not fuelled by such considerations, but only by the wish to rid themselves of the segregation which the black people were victims of during colonial times at the hands of the white communities present in Southern Africa. The black people did not understand why they were thus rejected by the white communities, even in the Church of God. The Orthodox Church was at the time limited exclusively to one ethnic community, the Greek followers. This was the situation that prevailed at the time in Black Africa. The Ugandans were the first of the Africans to start their quest or a Church which would welcome the people of the continent and which would enable them to rediscover the roots of the Christian tradition of the first centuries. This is how they came upon the Orthodox tradition and a few years later, they came under the jurisdiction of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa.

Spartas Mukasa Reuben and Ugandan followers started this quest without knowing anything about the patriarchal jurisdiction, not even knowing that the Church was named the Orthodox Church. This quest for an authentic tradition that started in Uganda, spread in the 20th century to Kenya and to other parts of Africa in the following order : Zaire (Congo D.R.C.), Congo Brazzaville, Tanzania, Cameroon, Rwanda, Burundi, Zimbabwe, Angola,  Mozambique, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Zambia, Malawi and Madagascar»[2].

The Ugandans were first integrated, on the 6th January 1929, into a Church whose rites and liturgical practices were quite different from those of the authentic Orthodox tradition. When they realized this, they reached out to the Father Archimandrite Nicodemus Sarikas, of the Alexandria Patriarchate and asked him to pass their complaints to the Alexandria Patriarch, His Beatitude Meletios Metaxakis. Father Nicodemus Sarikas defended their cause at length and in 1933 the Patriarchate sent him to Uganda, at Dégéya, to consider together with Reuben Spartas and his colleagues the means of integrating the Ugandans’ within the Orthodox jurisdiction. Spartas formalized the integration request for his community in March of the same year. His Beatitude Meletios Metaxakis approved it and offered Spartas and his community books on the Orthodox faith and liturgical books.

In 1942, Nicolas Abdallah visited the Church of Uganda, under the Patriarchal administration of His Beatitude Christophoros II Daniilidis, Metropolite of Axum.  In the same year, he wrote a very favorable report for the Church that he sent to the Holy Synod of Alexandria. The Patriarch therefore decided to invite Spartas to the Patriarchal Synod’s council in 1946. In his presence, the Holy Synod decided to take the Church of Uganda and Kenya under its jurisdiction, decision which came into effect on the 3rd June 1946. Spartas was then named Vicar of the Patriarchate for the Orthodox Church of East Africa.

In 1958/9, the Holy Synod of Alexandria created the first Holy Archdiocese of Irinoupolis for East Africa. Its jurisdiction covered Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda and its headquarters were in Dar-Es-Salam. Nicolas Varelopoulos was named Metropolitan Bishop because of the large number of Greek nationals living in Tanzania. However, he decided to keep the headquarters in Uganda and did not move to Tanzania [3].

The Holy Archdiocese of Irinoupolis was created due to His Beatitude Christophoros II Daniilidis’s wish to promote the Orthodox mission among Africans. He asked Spartas to send young Ugandans to Egypt to receive formal theological and pastoral training. Four young Ugandans left right away and ten others were sent to Egypt in 1944/45.


[1] We are greatful for this short history of the Orthodox tradition in Uganda to the Father Euloge Adade, who presented his work, Histoire de la mission orthodoxe en Afrique subsaharienne sous le patriarcat d’Alexandrie et de toute l’Afrique, during his studies at the Saint Sergius Theological Institute in Paris (June 2011)

[2] Ibid., Cft Introduction : Les débuts de la quête de la tradition orthodoxe par les Africains.

[3] Interview with Metropolitan Bishop Jonas of Kampala and all Uganda.