number 4, december 8, 1998

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Harare liturgy marks growth of Orthodox Church in Africa

By Andrei Zolotov

An unusual Orthodox liturgy was held in Harare’s Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Trinity on Sunday, bringing together representatives of 13 of the world’s 15 Eastern Orthodox Churches.

Many Orthodox clergy are in Harare for the WCC assembly.

Sunday’s service, intended as a sign of Orthodox unity and of the church’s presence in Africa, was presided by Patriarch Petros VII of Alexandria and All Africa and by Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana and All Albania, who was an Orthodox missionary in Kenya before his enthronement as the head of the Orthodox Church in Albania in 1991.

Though for many centuries the Orthodox Church was a cornerstone of life in Greek colonies in northern and, later, other parts of Africa, in recent decades the church has spread its influence far beyond Africa’s Hellenic communities, mainly by establishing missions across the continent.

Coptic Churches — which are part of the Oriental Orthodox church family — have also extended their work beyond their traditional bases in Egypt and Ethiopia.

In his address to the international congregation on Sunday, Patriarch Petros stressed the importance of Orthodox unity, adding that Orthodoxy had deep roots in Africa and was committed to expanding its mission.

Although the Patriarchate of Alexandria is numerically one of the world’s smaller Orthodox Churches, it is recognised by Orthodox Christians around the world as the second "in dignity" — after the See of Constantinople — because it was established in the 1st century by the Apostle Mark.

Sunday’s congregation was reminded of the patriarchate’s traditional importance when Petros was referred to by his full title — "Bishop of Bishops, Pastor of Pastors, 13th Apostle, Judge of the Universe, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa".

Taking part in the service were bishops and priests from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the patriarchates of Antioch and Jerusalem, as well as clergy from the Russian, Romanian and Georgian Orthodox churches, the churches of Greece and Cyprus, from Orthodox churches in America and "the Czech Lands", and from the Polish Orthodox Church.

Conspicuously absent were representatives of the Bulgarian and Serbian Orthodox churches, which have not sent delegates to the WCC assembly.

"Orthodoxy today is spreading radically in the entire African continent," said Archbishop Macarios, of Zimbabwe, who hosted the service. "We look forward to the day when there will be a network of Orthodox churches around Zimbabwe."

Though its membership is at present overwhelmingly made up of ethnic Greeks, the Zimbabwe diocese is now completing the translation of its liturgy into the Shona language — one of Zimbabwe’s two main indigenous languages — and is preparing to ordain its first indigenous priest.

The Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa consists of 14 dioceses and has about 500 priests, most of them black. Kenya, where Archbishop Macarios served before his appointment to Harare, has the biggest concentration of Eastern Orthodox Christians, with about 300 churches.

Zimbabwe has only three Orthodox congregations and two priests. Its Greek community numbers about 2500, most of them descended from Greeks who arrived here at the start of the century when the region was a British colony

In Congo (Brazzaville) there 4000 to 5000 Orthodox Christians, mostly indigenous.

— Ecumenical News International

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Read other articles in this issue:

A day of hearings
Attention! Debt to be chained up
Padare' to showcase vitality of ecumenical movement
Harare liturgy marks growth of Orthodox Church in Africa
Invest in human rights education, church told
Assemblies: Nelson has seen them all
Church doing well in Africa?
Decade plenary reveals consensus and division
The topic was sin

8th Assembly and 50th Anniversary

copyright 1998 World Council of Churches. Remarks to webeditor