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Archive for the tag “Patriarch of Alexandria”

The Pope in Gauteng

Yesterday I had to take my son Simon to work in Johannesburg, and went to St Thomas’s Church in Sunninghill where the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa was paying a visit. After a service in the church, the Patriarch had lunch with some of the parishioners.

One of the contrasts between Orthodoxy in America and Orthodoxy in South Africa is that in South Africa there is not the same ecclesiastical apartheid that one finds in America. St Thomas’s is largely a Serbian parish. The parishioners are, for the most part, Serbian immigrants and their descendants, and they use the Serbian language in their services. But the Antimension on the Altar is signed by His Beatitude Theodoros, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa. People of all races and ethnic groups are welcome at St Thomas’s, and one of the gifts presented to the Pope by Archimandrite Pantelejon was a picture drawn by his 7-year-old niece in Serbia, showing her uncle baptising black children in Johannesburg. Some of those who regularly attend St Thomas’s are black South Africans from Klipfontein View, who used to belong to Tembisa, but find it easier to get to St Thomas’s.

The picture shows Pope Theodoros II with Archimandrite Pantelejmon, the Rector of St Thomas’s Church.

The Archbishop of Johannesburg and Pretoria, Metropolitan Seraphim, says that we should not refer to the “Greek Orthodox Church”, but rather “The Orthodox Church of South Africa”, or the “African Orthodox Church” because though there are Greek, Russian and Serbian parishes in the archdiocese, which maintain ethnic traditions and have services in those languages, the Orthodox Church is one church. So while the Patriarch visited St Thomas’s, he was shown a classroom attached to the church hall, which is a Serbian School, and children are taught the Serbian language and history, and he approved of it. But in spite of the variety of ethnic groups and traditions, we are still one Orthodox Church, under one bishop and one Pope and Patriarch, and nobody asks the question, so common among Americans “What juridiction are you?” In South Africa, thank God, that question is meaningless.

Every year a different bishop from Serbia visits St Thomas’s for their patronal feast in October, but the visiting bishops are always given a formal reception by Metropolitan Seraphim at the Metropolis as well, and Metropolitan Seraphim makes a point of atending at least part of the celebrations of the patronal feast (panigyri).

Among the guests at lunch yesterday were Father Daniel, the new priest of the Church of St Sergius of Radonezh in Midrand, and Fr Seraphim (in the world Matthew van Niekerk), the first South African to be tonsured as a monk in South Africa, who is at the moment caring for the Greek parish in Klerksdorp.

Fimi of the Patriarch of Alexandria: Tone 4

His Beatitude Theodoros
Most Divine and Most Holy
Our Father and Shepherd, Pope and Patriarch
Of the Great City of Alexandria
Of Libya, Pentapolis and Ethiopia
Of all the land of Egypt and All Africa
Father of fathers, Shepherd of shepherds
Bishop of bishops, thirteenth in line of the Apostles
And Judge of the Universe, Many Years!

Muslims call for peace with Christians

In my previous post I reported some confusion about a letter to Roman Pope Benedict XVI signed by 38 Muslim scholars, and another addressed to a wider audience by 138 Muslim scholars.

The confusion has now been resolved, with the latter being issued on the anniversary of the former. The second and more recent letter is addressed to a number of different Christian leaders and is a call for Muslims and Christians to work together for peace. It is addressed to all Chtristian leaders everywhere, and is addressed to two African church leaders by name: His Beatitude Theodoros II, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa and His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa on the Apostolic Throne of St. Mark.

Muslims and Christians together make up well over half of the world’s population. Without peace and justice between these two religious communities, there can be no meaningful peace in the world. The future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians.

Ruth Gledhill, the religion correspondent of The Times, blogs about it here, and reports that Irene Lancaster thinks the letter is “threatening”. Part of the confusion about the two letters was caused by Ruth Gledhill linking to the wrong one on her blog, which one hopes may be corrected.

There seems to have been a mixed reaction among Christians, but I think that any call for peace is a hopeful sign, if it can be followed up. Religious leaders might not be able to deter political leaders who are bent on war. Many of the Christian leaders to whom the letter was addressed urged the USA and Britain not to invade Iraq in 2003, and the call was ignored. But quite a number of ordinary Christians went to Iraq to face the bombs.

Imagine what might have happened if Christian and Muslim leaders had been united, and the Roman Pope, Orthodox Patriarchs and the other leaders to whom the letter was addressed had gone to Baghdad in March 2003 and refused to move until George Bush withdrew his threat?

The world might have been a much less dangerous place today.

So if the letter leads to united action for peace by Muslim and Christian leaders, it is to be welcomed.

Memory Eternal — Pope Petros VII

This is the third anniversary of the death of His Beatitude Petros, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa, who was killed in a helicopter crash on 11 September 2004.

He was the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians on the African continent, as the secular media would say. Several other clergy were killed with him on that day, including three bishops, so it was a severe blow to the Church in Africa.

Among those killed was His Grace Nectarios, Bishop of Madagascar, whose short period in that country as a missionary priest and later bishop was amazing.

Father Nectarios Kellis was a priest in Australia, and he read in a magazine published in Greece that a priest was needed in Madagascar, because they had been without a priest since 1972, when political changes had led to the expulsion of many foreigners, including the Greek priest.

Father Nectarios asked his bishop if he could go, but the bishiop said no, he needed him in Australia. As the computer fundi for the diocese, he would be hard to replace. But later the bishop relented. I can see that you will just be miserable if you don’t go, said the bishop, so go with my blessing.

Father Nectarios went to Greece, and found the author of the article, so see how he could make contact with the people in Madagascar who were appealing for a priest. He was told that there weren’t any. The person who wrote the article had made it up — he had just seen that there hadn’t been a priest there for a long time, and thought it would be nice if there was one.

Father Nectarios set out for Madagascar not knowing what to expect, and arrived there in 1994. He found two churches, neither in use, one in the capital, Tananarive, and one of the coast. There was a local family that was acting as caretakers of the church in Tananarive, and I met a member of this family, a young man, at the Makarios III Orthodox Theological Seminary in Nairobi in November 1995. I was then doing research for my doctoral thesis on “Orthodox mission methods”, and was interviewing the students (who came from various parts of Africa) to find out how the Orthodox Church was growing in their home countries.

The story I heard from Madagascar was quite amazing. Father Nectarios had been there for 18 months, and had started 15 new parishes in that time. He travelled down the coast taking the student with him, and when he saw a village with no church, would speak to the chief of the village and ask if he could come on a date to be arranged to explain the Orthodox Christian faith to anyone interested. Then a few weeks later he would return and speak to the people there, and then gather the interested people to catechise them and baptise them, and so 15 new parishes had been started within 18 months.

Six months later I met Father Nectarios in person.

At that time Madagascar fell under the Archbishopric of Zimbabwe, and Father Nectarios had travelled to Bulawayo where the Patriarch was blessing a memorial in the local church. While they were there, the Archbishop of Zimbabwe suffered a heart attack, so Father Nectarios stayed on for a few days to look after him. When he eventually returned to Madagascar, he had to change planes in Johannesburg, and as the plane for Madagascar only left the following morning he was booked into a hotel overnight near the airport. The hotel was in Isando, an industrial area, all over factories, where there is nothing to do and nothing to see, but the seminary student had given him my phone number, so he phoned me, and we said we would fetch him and show him around a little, rather than leave him sitting in a lonely hotel room. It was Monday 1 April 1996, in the middle of Great Lent, and we wanted to take him to supper at a restaurant, but finding a restaurant open on a Monday in Gauteng is not easy, never mind one that serves fasting food. Still, we took him round to see some churches and a priest we found at home, and while we were going around he told us the story of how he had found himself in Madagascar. He was quite a delightful character, short, with a reddish hair and beard, and he spoke Australian with a Greek accent.

Later Madagascar was made into a separate diocese, and Father Nectarios was consecrated as its bishop, and served there until his death on 11 September 2004. His successor was Father Ignatios Sennis, who had served as a priest in Calcutta (Kolkata) in India, where he served mainly among the very poor people.

The 11 September 2004 was a sad day for the Orthodox Church in Africa, and for those who died and their families we pray: Memory Eternal!

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