On December 29, the Moscow Patriarchate announced a surprising decision – for the first time in its history, it formed a patriarchal exarchate in Africa. Formally, this is done through the admission of “one hundred and two clergy of the Patriarchate of Alexandria” serving in eight African countries. The new church structure will consist of two dioceses – North and South Africa – and will be headed by the Bishop Leonid (Gorbachev).
The decision of the Moscow Synod is an undisguised criminal act against the Patriarchate of Alexandria for recognizing the autocephalous Orthodox Church in Ukraine in 2019, and the Patriarch of Alexandria in August last year. Theodore served for the first time with the Kiev metropolitan Epiphanius.
In practice, the Russian Exarchate creates a rift in Africa, not just the parallel existence of two Orthodox jurisdictions. From now on, there will be no Eucharistic communion between local African clergy. Firstly, because the Moscow Patriarchate has unilaterally cut off Eucharistic communion with the Church of Alexandria (a similar decision by the Church of Alexandria could also be expected), and secondly, because many of the African clergy joined have unsettled canonical status. the rest are to be punished by the Church.
As early as the end of September 2021, the Russian Synod made this plan public. The reason was also announced – requests were received from African clerics who want to join the Moscow Patriarchate. At this stage, the decision provided for a “study of the appeals received”, and this task was entrusted to Archbishop Leonid of Vladikavkaz.
Of course, no information was received about the results of this “study”, which provided information on the canonical status of the clergy – whether they were under guardianship or overthrown, or whether they belonged to the clergy of the canonical Church of Alexandria.
It is obvious that the canons in this case are of secondary importance – the Russian side is ready to accept any clergyman, as long as it creates even a minimal “administrative basis” for the spread of the new structure of the continent.
The truth is that this idea began to be launched in the media (via Interfax) even a year earlier, by the same archbishop. Leonid, and this obviously reflected already active processes.
In this context, the words of the official statement of the Patriarchate of Alexandria that she was blackmailed sound understandable: “In the last two years” we have suddenly faced the anti-canonical and immoral invasion and intrusion (into our territory) of the Russian Church ” in order to blackmail and avenge us. “
The Patriarchate of Alexandria reacted almost immediately. In his statement, the Alexandrian St. The Synod described Moscow’s actions as a “non-fraternal blow by fellow Russians,” but said it was not surprised by two years of attempts to interfere in the patriarchate’s internal affairs. However, the main instrument for “influence” on the African clergy by the Russian Church is clearly defined – the financial one. For two years, the Moscow Patriarchate has been trying to bribe our clergy, the bishops said.
Without saying whether the number of one hundred and two, announced by the Ministry of Justice, corresponds to his information, the Synod of Alexandria states that this group consists “of self-separated clergymen under ecclesiastical punishment, or of other, of unknown origin, self-proclaimed Orthodox but never belonged to the Patriarchate of Alexandria. ” More specific was the Cameroonian miter. Gregory, who said many of these clerics belong to different Old Calendar factions that have settled in different African countries for decades. Ironically, he noted that Russian church policy prefers not to delve into the canonicity of the ordination of these people, and they will be accepted without examining the schismatic structure from which they come.
There is also a theological argument in the opinion: the Russian church action is “an attempt to change the Orthodox ecclesiology in many of its features, but especially with regard to the question of the boundaries of the administrative division of Christ Church structures by criteria far from Orthodox Tradition. We find with pain that all these things are due to sinful causes infected with the “virus of ethnophiletism” condemned by the Council of 1872.
The main reason why, according to the Patriarchate of Alexandria, the “Russian invasion” in its jurisdiction will not succeed is the colonial spirit that these actions carry and to which the local population is particularly sensitive. The success of the mission of the Patriarchate of Alexandria is due to the “sacrificial spirit of Orthodox and Holy Tradition”, which is possible because evangelization is not accompanied by selfish economic and political interests of any colonial power – as is the case with the Moscow Patriarchate.
The official statement also said that the Patriarchate of Alexandria would send letters to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and local churches describing our “plague” attack on “Christ-born children”, believing Africans, as a result of overt and covert actions. of authorized representatives of the Russian Church. ” Unofficially, information appeared in the Greek media that synaxis was possible (meeting at the level of primates), but only for the so-called “ancient patriarchates” of the Pentarchy – the Ecumenical, Alexandrian, Jerusalem, Antioch, and the Cypriot Church, as based on universal fair.
All violators will be subject to “the provisions of the divine and sacred canons of ecclesiastical punishment,” the synod said in a statement. Analysts point out that violators include both local clergy who move to the new exarchate and the Moscow Patriarchate, represented by “Patriarchal Exarch Klinski Leonid “, whose actions, however, are still pending. In ecclesiastical terms, it is not the stated intention that matters, but the performance of worship in a foreign jurisdiction – which is not yet a fact on his part.
A few words about the biography of the new African exarch
The new African exarch, Leonid (Gorbachev), will be named “Klin, Cairo and North African, patriarchal exarch for all of Africa.” Officially, he is Deputy Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Ministry of Justice, headed by the Mayor of Volokolamsk. Hilarion (Alfeev), and is currently his right hand man.
The “church biography” of Metropolitan Leonid is interesting. His first mission abroad as a clergyman was as part of an airborne brigade with the Russian peacekeeping contingent in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He went on missions to Ethiopia, Tanzania, South Africa, and Cairo, where he always worked with Russian embassies and intelligence services.
In 2013 he became Bishop of Argentina and South America. It was then that he first came to the attention of the Russian media on an unpleasant occasion – in connection with the biggest drug scandal in recent Russian history, when in 2016 twelve suitcases of cocaine were found at the Russian embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The main figures are two “Russian Orthodox patrons” who carry drugs disguised as church utensils. In the case he was interrogated and ep. Leonid, who says he has nothing to do with the “patrons” and even refused to sign a “Memorandum for the supply of church utensils” with them. Shortly afterwards, however, he was recalled to Russia and headed the Vladikavkaz diocese of the ROC.
In the last few years, Archbishop. Leonid became the right hand of the Volokolamsk miter. Hilarion (Alfeev) and his personal vicar. The special “specialization” of his foreign church service is impressive: he was sent to “head” new church structures of the Russian Church outside the traditional lands of its activity with a disputed jurisdiction.
In October 2021, for example, he headed the new “Yerevan-Armenian Diocese” of the ROC, surprisingly established. The reasons for the formation of this new structure outside Russia were again political and “punitive” – the decision was provoked by the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict and came just two days after a failed meeting of spiritual leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia in Moscow.
The fruit of the same “line” is the Russian-Georgian scandal of early 2021, when a clergyman of the same Vladikavkaz diocese “entered” not without the consent of his bishop in the jurisdiction of the Georgian Church, serving Christmas in Tskhinvali Cathedral , Abkhazia. The act provoked a sharp reaction from the Georgian Patriarchate and accusations of violating jurisdiction.
It is interesting to note that in December 2019 Archbishop Leonid was also in Bulgaria, where he served in the Russian court in Sofia and met with the Russian ambassador to Bulgaria to “discuss issues of mutual interest.”
According to Metropolitan of Klin Leonid, already as exarch in Africa, “the core of the new structure will be forged in Moscow” and thus will seek “a solution to the personnel issue, which is paramount.” This means that the Ministry of Justice intends to use the local parishes that have joined them as a base to send Russian priests. This policy is in clear contradiction with populist promises to local clergy that separating them from the Alexandrian Patriarchate is a path to the formation of an autocephalous African church.
For now, H.E. Leonid will not make an “archpastoral visit to Africa” due to the “epidemic situation”. On the other hand, he received the “courtyard of the African Exarchate in Moscow”, where his residence will be.
“Where there is opportunity and need, Russian temples will be built in Africa,” he was quoted as saying by RIA Novosti. He promised that a “network of theological schools” would be built for its own staff.
The Russian Synod may also consider appointing new bishops in Africa, both Russian and local, but for now locals are only required to sign an “oath of allegiance” that threatens eternal condemnation and loss of salvation. clerics promise never to leave the Moscow Patriarchate on any occasion.
The Orthodox mission in Africa today
Among the retaliatory measures of the Patriarchate of Alexandria is the internal reorganization of the bishop – in the first days of the new year the Synod of Alexandria announced a number of changes such as election of bishops, promotion of bishops to metropolitans and transfer of minor metropolitans to major metropolises ( this is permissible under the statutes of most Orthodox churches). Hierarchs with a strong missionary charge and administrative skills were sent to more critical points. Among the new names is the longtime missionary in Africa, Archim. Chrysostom (Maidonis) from the Diocese of Ierisso and Mount Athos, who is known for his extensive experience of working with young people, which is the predominant flock of the Church of Alexandria.
At present, the Orthodox mission on the African continent is supported in terms of staff and finances, mostly by the Greek Church. The Greek state is also involved. In 2006, for example, the Greek government solved the problem of medical, pre-hospital and hospital treatment of the clergy of the Patriarchate of Alexandria through a special legislative change. The Patriarch of Alexandria, Theodore, then expressed his great satisfaction with the words: “Thank you very much to our Greece, which always supports the apostolic work of the Patriarchate of Alexandria.”
Lay people – men and women, monks, nuns and clergy from Greece and Finland in the past 20th century worked very hard for the Orthodox education of the local population. The Orthodox mission also bears fruit such as the famous missionary nun Tekla, called the “mother of Tanzania’s children”, who has spent thirty-five years of her life serving the poorest and most disadvantaged. Huge funds were raised and invested from donations for the construction of churches and schools, medical centers, water supply, etc. The Orthodox Churches of Greece, Cyprus and Finland participated with both staff and many funds in support of Orthodox Africans. Thus, hundreds of thousands of inhabitants of the “black continent” were attracted to the Orthodox faith, tens of their young people graduated in theology in Greece, Russia, Romania, the United States and other countries and became clergy among their tribes and peoples. There are already several local bishops in the hierarchy of the Patriarchate of Alexandria, although most of the bishops are from Greece and Cyprus with an almost exclusively African flock.
Apart from the traditionally strong missionary charge of the Orthodox Churches in the mentioned countries, an important prerequisite for the success of the mission is the fact that the locals do not find in the Orthodox missionaries representatives of any colonial power that seeks to expand its political and economic influence. and seizing the resources of the Black Continent – a historic trauma for the African population, but still a pressing issue.
That is why the words of the Cameroonian miter do not sound unfounded. Gregory, who expresses his skepticism about the success of the “Russian mission” in Africa precisely because of ignoring the peculiarities of the local mentality and history: “Given the unsuitability for the African mentality of the so-called Africa Corp “Africa” I foresee the failure of the entire Russian theological arsenal used so far for propaganda purposes against the recognition of the autocephaly of the Church of Ukraine and against the Ecumenical Patriarch, as well as the fall of the generals. Even Rommel was defeated in Africa, having one of the most disciplined and organized armies in the world. Lucky are those who have already decided to write a doctorate on the Russian operation. “
* This text with author Zlatina Ivanova was published in Bulgarian for the first time in the magazine Christianity and Culture, issue. 1 (168), 2022, pp. 69-74 (Еd. Note).