"Orthodox Mission: Its Incarnation in East Africa"



Daniel G. Christopoulos


Before Nancy and I traveled to Kenya, I was the assistant priest in Houston, Texas.  We are blessed in Houston to have a mosaic of Orthodoxy.  In addition to Greek, Antiochian and Russian Orthodox Churches, we also have Coptic, Armenian and Indian (Non-Calcedonian) Orthodox groups.  Priests from all of these groups meet regularly in the Orthodox Clergy Association in Houston.

At one particular meeting, during Great Lent, we were blessed to have an Indian Orthodox Bishop address us.  During his talk he shared a story which, I think, epitomizes Orthodox Christian Mission.

His Grace related: "If you happen to travel to New York City during these days" (it was springtime) "you will see something very interesting.  You will see Indians on street corners with clipboards.  And whenever they spot another Indian they approach him.  What they are doing is trying to get enough Indians to fill a charter airplane so that they can go to India for a summer vacation.  So they are working very diligently because they know one crucial fact, if they do not enlist enough people to fill the airplane the plane will not fly and they will not go home."

              At this point our blank expression registered with the Bishop.  He looked at us, realizing our lack of comprehension, and pleaded: "My dear brothers, don't you see?  Christianity is a charter flight!  It is up to us to bring everybody we encounter home to Jesus Christ.  Our very salvation is dependent upon it.  If we fail to fill the plane it might not fly.”

The story clearly illustrates some truths of Christianity, and by extension, the necessity of mission work.  Our Christianity and, indeed, our salvation, is not a personal matter.  It is not enough to only bring ourselves before Christ.  We are called to participate in the restoration of all things.  This means that we bring the other with us to the throne of God.  It is in such a recapitulation that the ultimate goal of Orthodox Mission is fulfilled.  But this is nothing less than the goal of the Church itself.  Mission is therefore not merely an arm or department of the Church but part and parcel of the essence of the Church.  It is not an optional activity but rather a requisite of the Christian walk.  As Nikos Nissiotes states, "We cannot separate mission from the ecclesiological discussion in relation to the nature of the Church and its unity. Mission is the fulfillment of this discussion as well as its power."[1]

In addition to its obvious implication for mission, the Bishop's story acts as our introduction for yet another reason – its simplicity.  It is a story which speaks of some of the deepest Christian truths, but in layman’s terms.  Similarly, the scope of this paper is not a theological treatise on Mission.  I leave that, respectfully, for the missiologists and theologians of the Church.  But, rather, it is the practical application in a concrete setting.  We will attempt to look at the translation from mission theory to praxis in a specific Archdiocese.  Our vantage point will be the two and a half years Nancy and I spent in East Africa, from August 1985 until December 1987.  From this perspective we will catch a glimpse of the continuing incarnation of Orthodox Mission in East Africa.


A Few Goals Of Orthodox Missions From a Theological Perspective

In order to understand the motivation behind the programs and activities implemented in the Archdiocese of East Africa a few general statements about missions from an Orthodox perspective are in order.  Many of these ideas have been articulated by Bishop Anastasios Yannoulatos, considered by many to be the leading authority on Missions in the Orthodox world, and as locum tenens Archbishop of East Africa the visionary force behind a systematic implementation of these mission goals.

The ultimate goal of mission is the recapitulation of the universe in Christ and the participation in the divine glory.[2]  We are called to not only bring ourselves and the other to Christ, but to share in His glory.  "For if we share Christ's suffering we will also share His glory."(Rom 8:17) Participation in God's glory changes us into His likeness.  We read: "Beholding the glory of the Lord we are being changed (transfigured) into His likeness from one degree of glory to another." (2 Cor 3:18)

               "Mission work... is not simply a declaration of some moralistic proclamation nor the call of only a few people to salvation, but rather the invitation to a journey, to a liturgy of transformation of the whole world, to the active realization of the elevation of human possibilities, to the 'ascension' of human matter to the throne of God, to theosis, by divine grace and its participation, in the life of 'agape' of the blessed Holy Trinity."[3]  Mission work, therefore, is the beginning of this transformation process.

Our mission is to collaborate with the Holy Spirit for the sanctification of all things, both quantitatively and qualitatively.  We not only participate in the Spirit's sanctification of the whole world but also the whole sanctification of everything.  Consequently a second goal of mission is to attend to the whole person.

We cannot cater to only the people's spiritual hunger and neglect their material hungers.  People must experience the redemption not only of their souls but also of their whole bodily existence - in other words a whole person.[4]  The development of the complete person, mind, body and soul is part of attending to the whole person.  Bishop Anastasios writes, “We can include as an indirect goal of the Christian mission everything that may help a people (and man in general) to develop all the possibilities that they have received from God and to become truly themselves – education, works of civilization, and social progress, for instance.”[5]

A third goal of Orthodox Mission is to allow the people's culture and experiences to shape the expression of their faith.  This necessitates a respect for the culture.  As Bishop Gerasimos of Abydou often reminds us, "Christ has saved us but we must make this salvation our own." The process of "making it our own" is not only unique to the individual but also to each local church.  The church in Uganda, Kenya, or Greece engages in this process out of its own unique heritage and culture.

Nissiotes cautions: "We must distinguish ecclesial mission from ecclesiastical imperialism, the first is a true movement from within, from the charismatic life of the church, through someone who is dedicated to the Church, and who endeavors to unite the non-Christian to the one Church while simultaneously respecting the local rules and human conditions."  Ecclesiastical imperialism "preaches together with the Gospel a particular civilization which in the missionary's mind is Christian."  The missionary “invites the people to mimic the European or American way of life, thus absorbing the Gospel in his own political system.”[6]

It is evident that, in Nissiotes' terminology, we are striving for ecclesial mission rather than ecclesiastical imperialism.  This is further accentuated by Bishop Anastasios in describing the establishment of the local church:

"In speaking of the establishment of the local church, we do not mean a spiritual colony or appendix of another local church.  In each country, the Church is called to glorify God with her own voice.  That means that in missionary work there must be a sincere respect for the identity of every nation; an investigation into the way in which God gave His witness in the past of each particular people, an endeavor not only to adapt, but also to incarnate the Logos of God into the language and customs of the country.”[7]


For the missionary, the idea first articulated by Philo of Alexandria concerning the "spermatikos logos" is not only accepted intellectually, but is the reality with which he deals daily.  Before the missionary ever arrived God had spoken to His people.

Although many other goals and ideas could be discussed regarding Orthodox Mission, these three satisfy our aim to give perspective to the programs and activities of the Archdiocese of East Africa implemented during our tenure.

As we turn now to look at the specific programs we will constantly hold them up to the three mission goals we presented:

1.       To participate in the recapitulation of all things in Christ and share in the divine glory.


2.       To attend to the whole person, mind, body and soul.


3.       To allow the local culture and experiences to shape the people's expression of their faith.


An Historical Sketch of the Archdiocese of East Africa

            Before we examine more closely the incarnational process of our mission in East Africa during the last few years, it is necessary to have a brief sketch of the history of the Archdiocese of East Africa.  Although the scope of our examination is basically a two and a half year period, we realize that the establishment of the Church in East Africa started many years ago and continues today.  As a matter of fact the incarnational process started in the 1920's.


The Years of the 1920's - 1946

What today comprises the Orthodox Archdiocese of East Africa had its beginning from two different sources.  The first source was made up of immigrants from Orthodox countries who came to Africa much in the same manner as they came to Australia, America, etc.  After they settled in their adopted countries, they brought priests from the "old country" to perform the services.  The second source was an indigenous movement started by two Ugandans who were originally members of the Anglican Church.

The desire to serve the Greek immigrants who lived in Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda (which at the time was "British East Africa") provided the impetus for the building of the Greek Orthodox Churches in Dar el Salaam and other "East African" locales.  The primary concern was not mission to natives, but rather, serving the Greeks who had settled in the colony.

            Quite separately, and unbeknownst to the Greek Orthodox of East Africa, Reuben Mukasa Ssebbanja and Obadiah Kabanda Basajjakitalo, both Anglican laymen, began a search for the "true" Christian Church which exemplified the love of God.  Their experience of the Roman Catholic and Anglican missionaries had been one of quarreling and a lack of cooperation.  Also, they longed for a church where their own customs and identity would be preserved.

In his readings about Church History, Reuben came across the "Orthodox Church".  Turning to his dictionary, he was overwhelmed by the definition of the word "Orthodox" and became intrigued to learn about the origin and nature of this Church.

The desire for an independent identity religiously was fueled by an overall desire to be free of British rule.  Such political aspirations spurred the Africans to communicate with their black brothers in America who were also striving for civil rights.  One day a magazine arrived which spoke to the "Evangelical Schismatical Orthodox Free Church" which was operating in the States.  This was the answer that Rueben was seeking and he promptly wrote to that church's head in 1924.  After collecting money to secure his transport, the "church" sent Bishop Daniel William Alexander from Kimberly (S.A.) to Kampala in 1932.  After teaching the two men, he "ordained" them priests and "ordained" others to minor orders before he left for Kimberly.

            Before the "Bishop's" departure, a Greek man living in Kampala (Mr. Vlachos) requested that his daughter be baptized.  From the conduct of the service Mr. Vlachos realized that the "Bishop" was not really Orthodox.  After the "Bishop's" departure, Mr. Vlachos shared this fact with the "newly-ordained" priests and asked if they preferred to follow "Bishop" Alexander or the canonical Orthodox Church.

Since they wanted to be part of the true Orthodox Church, Mr. Vlachos gave them the address of Fr. Sarikas, the Greek priest in Moshi and Arusha, Tanzania.  Fr. Sarikas catechized some of the young men and sent a report to the Patriarch of Alexandria (Meletios II) in 1934.  From 1934-1939 the Patriarchate of Alexandria sent English books about Orthodoxy as the extent of its involvement.  In 1939, however, the new Patriarch (Christophoros II) asked for young men to be sent to study at the Greek School in Alexandria.

Finally, in 1946, Rueben "Spartas" Makasa Ssebbanja, traveled to Alexandria.  After over 20 years of struggling to establish Orthodoxy in East Africa he was recognized as a priest and appointed Vicar General.  Also, the black Orthodox Christians of East Africa were received into the official Orthodox Church by the Patriarchate of Alexandria.[8]


The Years 1946-1981

Since the events which have transpired in the last 40 years are too numerous to delineate for the scope of this report, I would simply highlight the major occurrences in a chronological sequence.

1946-1958 - Tremendous growth occurs among the African Orthodox in East Africa.


1958 - Archdiocese of East Africa established at Dar el Salaam = "City of Peace" in Swahili.  Metropolitan Nikolaos - lst Metropolitan.  Ordains many priests.


1962-1963 - Independence of Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya.


1967 - Met. Nikolaos of Irinoupolis (E. Africa) becomes Patriarch of Alexandria.  Met.  Nicodemos, new Metropolitan of E.Africa ordains some priests (1967-1972).


1968 - Headquarters of Archdiocese transferred to Nairobi, Kenya.


1971 - Archbishop Makarios of Cyprus baptizes over 5,000 people in two days.  Procures money to build the Seminary in Nairobi.


1972 - Fr.  Rueben "Spartas", and two other African priests are elevated to the rank of auxilary Bishop: Bishop Christophoros of Niloupolis (Reuben Spartas), Bishop George of Nitrias (Arthur Gathuna), Bishop Theodoros of Navcratis (Theodore Nankyama).  Metropolitan  Froumentios becomes new Metropolitan of East Africa (1972-80).  One ordination takes place in this period by Bishop Theodoros.  Seminary in Nairobi never opened.


1976 - Bishop George (Gathuna) defrocked.


1981 - Bishop Anastasios (Yannoulatos) appointed "Locum Tenens" of E. Africa (Dec. 1981-). “Makarios III Archbishop of Cyprus Patriarchal Seminary" opens.


From Theory to Praxis

Thus far we have examined a few of the basic thoughts concerning Orthodox Mission.  Also we have seen, albeit briefly, the historical development of the Orthodox Church in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.  For the remainder of our effort we will focus on the systematic implementation of programs which are designed to be faithful to and help realize these goals of Orthodox Mission.


1.       Participation in the Recapitulation of All Things and Sharing in the Divine Glory

            The return to God and participation in His glory is effected by the Holy Spirit.  After the person hears the Gospel and believes, he's sealed by the Holy Spirit.  Such a sealing occurs within the fellowship of believers.  The communion established between the person and Christ as well as the person and his fellow believers brings him, at least momentarily, into a sharing with the Divine Glory.

Holy Communion stands as the act of sharing in God's glory.  "Mission does not primarily aim at the propagation or transmission of intellectual convictions, doctrines, moral commands, etc., but at the transmission of the life of communion which exists in God.”[9]  For the Orthodox, this “life of communion" is realized primarily in Holy Communion and all the mysteries (sacraments) of the Church.

            In order to have the sacraments we must have a baptized laity and canonically ordained and commissioned clergy.  The baptism of faithful believers and the preparation of men for the clergy are the two most crucial steps for the realization of this first goal.

The Makarios III Patriarchal Seminary in Nairobi, Kenya was opened in December 1981 for exactly this reason.  The basic preparation is in catechizing and liturgizing.  Before the people are baptized they must learn about the faith.  After their baptism they must continually grow through the participation in the sacraments. 

The student learns basic Orthodox Dogma, History, Bible Studies, Canon Law, Liturgy and Teaching Methodology in a one year Reader's Course.  After completion of this course he is ordained a Reader of the Church.  These Readers go back to their villages and choose people from other villages to be Catechists.  By working with the catechists of their area, the Gospel and Orthodox teachings are spread in the area.  As one of the Vicars of the Archdiocese, I met with the Readers and Catechists in my vicarate about once a month to review the Orthodox lessons that they were disseminating in their areas.

Materials for the catechism were taken from American or Greek sources and adapted for the East African situation.  At present, specifically East African catechism lessons are being prepared by Fr. Paul Njoroge (the recently appointed Catechism Director) and a staff of local catechists from the Nairobi area. They are taking the available English materials and systematically rewriting them from the East African experience.

Students with particular aptitude are invited to come back to the Seminary, after the completion of the Reader's Course, and matriculate in the two year program for ordination.  This program is specifically geared to producing men who will be ordained to the priesthood.  In addition to a more in-depth study of the courses offered in the Reader's Program, there is a particular emphasis on Teleturgics.  Rather than trying to produce theologians, the seminary strives to provide functional parish priests, i.e., people who are ordained and competent to perform valid sacraments.

Although this seems like common sense, we cannot underestimate the importance of this basic need.  The offering of valid sacraments by canonical priests is essential to the Church.  If either aspect breaks down there is no sacrament and consequently no local Church.  If a canonical priest does not correctly perform the sacrament, (i.e. uses incorrect liturgical formulae or wrong elements) then the sacrament is invalid.  Similarly, if a pseudo-priest uses correct Orthodox accoutrements, formulae and elements, the sacrament is likewise invalid.  When a charlatan pretends to perform the Orthodox sacraments, he is not only mocking God, but the elements remain unchanged, the sacrament inefficacious, the bread remains bread.  But it is equally distressing and inefficacious when a canonical priest fails to be orthodox in his performance of the sacraments.  Since the sacraments bring about our communion with God and the sharing in His glory, proper preparation of those who would serve them is of the utmost importance.

Georges Florovsky states, "It is the sacraments which constitute the Church.  They alone enable the Christian community to be called the Church."[10]  By preparing clergy, the Makarios Seminary assures not only an intellectual comprehension of God's glory by the laity, but their true participation in His glory through the Sacraments.

Participation in the restoration of all things also implies a struggle against those things which would keep us separated from each other and God.  "This is not a fight that manifests itself simply in the souls of individuals; it permeates the entire social life through injustice, oppression, etc.”[11]

The Hierarchy of the Archdiocese of East Africa encouraged lay and clergy alike to struggle against racism, injustice, poverty, ignorance and other forms of slavery which keeps us in an unrestored state.  At the Cathedral in Nairobi it was made perfectly clear that the Orthodox Church was for all races and ethnic groups.  Consequently, the congregation of that Church was a beautiful Orthodox mosaic of Kenyan, Ugandan, Greek, Romanian, Russian, Cypriot and American. 

The writings of the Cathedral bulletin, "The Beacon" and sermons systematically condemned such oppressive manifestations and called for active participation in restoring our fallen image, not only individually, but also systemically in our social institutions.  Our participation, along with other Christian leaders, in a commemoration condemning the Soweto Massacre, (where hundreds of South African school children were killed), encouraged our Orthodox Christians to resist and condemn such oppression.

Similarly, Bishop Theodoros Nyakyamas’ active presence and advice to the Ugandan civil leadership has always been a source of encouragement for our Orthodox Christians in Uganda.  Specifically, his condemnation of atrocities committed against the Ugandan people and providing shelter for those who would be victimized stands as a witness to the role of the Church in eradicating injustice.

The Archdiocese’s commitment to provide food in the Laikipia region during the drought in 1983, as well as its ongoing efforts to provide medical treatment and clothing whenever possible, also serve as harbingers of the freedom from sin, sickness, and death, brought about by Jesus Christ.

These are simply a few concrete examples of how the Archdiocese in East Africa is attempting to realize the primary mission goal of "Participation in the Recapitulation of All Things and Sharing in the Divine Glory."


2.       Attending to the Whole Person, Mind, Body and Soul

Kenya is a country of 225,000 square miles inhabited by approximately 19 million people with a growth rate of about 4% (one of the highest in the world).  The national income per person is $197 a year with the average family income being $1,103 per year.[12]  Uganda, due to its years of civil war, as well as Tanzania, present an even more distressing view.

While living in such conditions it is easy to see the Church's responsibility for attending to the whole person.  In Africa especially the words of James ring true daily: "If a brother or sister is ill clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled', without giving them the things needed for the body what does it profit?" (James 2.15-16)

The Archdiocese in East Africa, while never devolving into simply a social institution, consciously tried to attend to the body and mind of its communicants, and the East African people in general, through various programs.


At the Seminary

Especially at the Seminary there have been premeditated programs to aid the students in addition to the Religious Education that they receive.  One of the required activities for all Seminarians was to work on the small farm of the Seminary.  Students were taught better techniques for preparing the soil, planting and harvesting the crops.

In pastoral education units were spent on household management and budgeting.  Also, issues such as alcohol abuse and wife/child abuse were discussed.  The emphasis was not only on preparing these future priests to deal with these issues in their communities, but to come to terms with them in their own lives.

Other practical skills such as carpentry, masonry and painting, as well as first aid and preventative health care were offered whenever people with expertise were available.  Also, to aid students, they received a monthly stipend for incidental expenses.  For the married students this was a substantial amount, the majority of it sent directly to their families.  In addition to this, the school regularly provided loans to the students.  This system has been recently revamped to become a work-study program.


Other Educational Facilities

In addition to the Seminary, the Archdiocese is involved with other educational facilities. The largest of the schools, besides the Seminary, is at the Orthodox center in Kampala. Studying at the school are children from grade school through high school ages.  Throughout Uganda other Orthodox schools have operated in the past, but the years of civil fighting closed most of them.  We did, however, visit a functioning grade school about an hour outside of Kampala.

            In Kenya, two grade schools were built by the Finnish Orthodox Church and given to the Government.  An Orthodox principal heads one and Orthodox teachers are present in both schools.  Two other grade schools as well as several nurseries are also sponsored by the Church.  Under construction is a girls high school outside of Nairobi.

Of special note is the Women’s Program which operates in Nairobi.  The idea is to provide some sort of training for women parallel to that which men receive at the Seminary. The program was initiated in 1987 a few afternoons a week for about 25 women.  Courses offered were/are: 1) Orthodox Catechism, 2) The Orthodox Family and Married Life, 3)Dressmaking (Sewing), 4) First Aid and Preventative Health Care.  I would note that in the Orthodox Family class we not only talked about the theological underpinnings of the family but also dealt with issues such as birth control from an Orthodox perspective.  After completing the first year of operating, it was evident that this course was meeting a tremendous need of young Kenyan women and would continue to grow.


Medical Clinics

            In addition to educational needs, there is a real need for medical treatment as well as courses in preventative health care.  The Finnish Orthodox Church built two permanent health clinics in Kenya and has traditionally sent at least one Finnish Orthodox nurse to oversee them.  The nurses choose and train other local nurses to staff them.  Also, the Finnish nurse was manning a mobile clinic in the Laikipia region where she was rotating through the fifteen different areas where we had Orthodox communities.  Of course she treated and taught all people regardless of religious affiliation.

The largest, most well staffed and equipped medical facility, however, is Holy Cross Clinic in Kampala, Uganda.  It is run by a Ugandan doctor (educated in Athens) and staffed by other local nurses and doctors.  Every day people line up and patiently wait to be treated.  Complete with laboratory facilities, a dentist, a second new building which houses an x-ray machine recently given by Orthodox Christians from Greece, the facility is one of the best in Kampala. (I would be remiss if I failed to note that the money for the original building came from America.)  In addition to Holy Cross clinic, other small dispensaries and clinics operate outside of Kampala under its auspices.

Of course the clinic which is most on our mind is the one recently completed by our 1988 Project H.O.P.E. team in Western Kenya.  It too will serve as a beacon of our commitment to serve the whole person.

Equally important to the permanent clinic or dispensaries are the mobile medical teams we are able' to organize whenever visiting physicians and nurses travel to East Africa.  Both the 1987 and 1988 Project H.O.P.E. teams had medical teams as a major component of the effort.  These two teams traveled to various villages in Western Kenya, Laikipia, and the Nairobi region and treated over 5,000 patients.

Before the inception of the H.O.P.E. projects, other medical teams had been assembled by Bishop Anastasios to come and provide some rudimentary health care.  Usually, there were physicians and nurses from Greece who joined forces with the Finnish nurses in Kenya.


"Diakonia Agape"

The philanthropic arm of the East Africa Archdiocese is known as the "Diakonia Agapes" (Service of Love).  It is similar in function and purpose to the Philoptochos in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in America.

Every local community has a branch where they try and help people with particular needs in their community.  Also, they may forward requests to the Archdiocese for aid for specific members of their community since their resources are often negligible.  Often aid is requested to pay school fees for children who cannot afford to go to school.

The Archdiocesan Board of the "Diakonia Agapes" consists of the Vicar General, a couple of priests and other appointed representatives from the various areas of Kenya.  It meets monthly to consider the requests of the local chapters.

Organized originally in 1983, it has thus far concentrated on helping the families of the priests with educational and medical needs.  Once those needs are basically satisfied it uses the remainder of its resources for the needs of other laymen in the Archdiocese.  We must note that all of its financial resources, small as they are, come from Orthodox Christians of Greece, Finland and the Americas.


Self-Help Projects

In addition to the Philanthropic attempts of the "Diakonia Agapes," several different

“self-help” projects have been organized.  These tend to work out better in the long run because they not only provide temporary relief, but more importantly, help the people to participate in ongoing responses to their needs.  Two of the better-organized projects are taking place in Uganda under the supervision of Nicholas Bayego and Michael Kisembo, recent graduates of Holy Cross Seminary in Boston.

One project is a potato farm.  Money provided by the Archdiocese from the Kampala Mission Center hired a tractor to till the soil and buy the seeds.  The villages from the area volunteered to work the fields to care for, harvest, and sell the potatoes which are not eaten by the community.  The profit is used to prepare for the next planting and the remaining distributed among the people.

The second Ugandan project is a pig farm.  This more ambitious program is funded with money from the Archdiocese as well as U.S.A.I.D. Much work is required to prepare the pens for the pigs, and they were in this phase when we returned to America.  Again, the project is designed to provide food and money for the local community.

In Western Kenya, the Finnish Orthodox Church have purchased a few sewing machines and organized sewing and dress making projects.  This not only helps the people to make some of their own clothing but also gives them the skills to get much sought after jobs in the city.

A host of self-help projects were organized by Presbytera Nancy with money sent by the Presbytera Sisterhood and Philoptochos of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America.  They occurred among the 15 Orthodox communities in the Laikipia region of Kenya and included raising corn, buying and raising dairy cows, making and selling beaded jewelry.

Although not specifically self-help projects, we should note the great benefit derived from the well projects.  Over 20 wells have been dug and provide much needed clean drinking water for villages in the Western and Laikipia regions of Kenya.  Funding has primarily come from the Finnish Orthodox Church with the wells being dug by Kenfinco, a Finnish-Kenyan joint governmental company.  The Greek Archdiocese from America has also collected money for this purpose.

Similarly, the Support a Mission Priest program in the United States has provided money that, when combined with money from the Archdiocese of East Africa, enables each priest of the Archdiocese to receive 600 Kenya Shillings (US$36) per month as a stipend for his work.

Rather than simply give free aid, more self-help projects are needed.  They help maintain the dignity of proud people and yield better lasting results.


Distribution Projects

As I briefly alluded to in the section on realizing our first goal "Participation in the Recapitulation of All Things and Sharing in the Divine Glory", the Archdiocese also maintains programs which distribute needed items.  During drought periods we have distributed food and seeds for replanting destroyed crops.  Also, clothing is distributed to people in Uganda and Tanzania.  The Government of Kenya recently enacted legislation forbidding used clothing from being sent there, so we no longer can do this in Kenya.  Church Women United responded to a proposal submitted by Presbytera Nancy requesting money for blankets.  Recently we received the report that the blankets were bought and distributed.

Although we have far to go in our attention to the physical, intellectual and spiritual needs of the people of East Africa, it should be evident that a conscious effort is being made along these lines.  In this section I have focused on the bodily needs with the assumption that the attention to spiritual needs was equally important but more easily approximated by us in America.  Of course Divine Liturgy, the other Sacraments, fasting guidelines, etc. are also offered for the people's spiritual needs.


3.       Allowance of Local Culture and Experience to Shape the People's Expression of Their Faith

One of the things that we pride ourselves on in Orthodox mission, and yet one of the most difficult goals to truly achieve, is the "allowance of the local culture and experience to shape the people's expression of their faith."  No matter how loving we are, there is a tendency to think that our ways are the right ways.  This is simply false.  The missionary must approach the implementation of the faith, as much as possible, from the perspective of the local person.  We must be liberated from the "white man's burden" notion which sets us up as superiors helping our "poor African brother".

In the Archdiocese of East Africa, there has been a systematic attempt, even though painful at times to our Greek or American pride, to allow the African Orthodox to be African.

Rev.  Joachim Getanga, a Kenya Roman Catholic priest writes:

"When the Church came to Kenya a century or so ago, she found the people of Kenya with both a society and culture.  They had a moral code...


All these people, then, had their own culture, composed of language, beliefs, customs, songs, artistic norms, food habits, and way of clothing, which they had acquired not by imposition from outside but as a legacy from the past.


When the first missionaries came to Africa to preach Christ, despite their goodwill they imagined that they were coming to a particularly primitive, disorganized and uncultured people.  To be regarded as a true Christian in those days, a person had to abandon almost all the culture which he had acquired from his own African society.


The reasons why conversion has been so slow in many areas is because Christianity forced itself on society as a strong, rough wind of change rather than a calm breeze.”[13]


Translation of Services

  In the spirit of Sts. Cyril and Methodios, the first task toward realizing our goal of preserving cultural identity is through the translation of the services into the local languages.  Fr. Chrysostomos Papasarantopoulos, a missionary in Kenya and Uganda from 1960-69, was the first person to engage in the work of translation. Since 1982 a translation committee has revised Fr. Chrysostomos’ translations and added new ones.  Out of the over 100 different languages spoken in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, the Divine Liturgy and other major services have been translated and published in the five predominant languages: Swahili, Kikuyu, Baluo, Baluya and Luganda.

In Fr. Chrysostomos' letters we read that a necessary requirement for the missionary is: "knowledge of the local language for a direct communication with the brothers to be evangelized.  This direct method of communication contributes to a better comprehension of God's word and the edification of the faithful."[14]


Indigenous Clergy

A second area of equal importance is the presence of local clergy.  Because of the indigenous roots of Orthodoxy in East Africa this has been an easier process to implement.  This was precisely why the Synod of Alexandria elected and elevated three black Africans to the Episcopacy in 1972.

There have never been many white "mission" clergy in East Africa, but since 1981 Bishop Anastasios has made it a top priority to educate and ordain young East African men to the priesthood.  In order to put this into perspective, realize that from 1982-1987 over 25 ordinations took place compared with one between 1972 and 1981.  Presently over 60 African clergy serve in some 200 communities in the three countries.

The mere presence of indigenous clergy is not enough, they must also form a cog in the local church machinery.  The Deputy Director of the Seminary, Archmandrite Jonah Lwanda, is a Ugandan educated in Greece.  At least five other Africans, educated in Greece and Romania, are instructors at the Seminary, as well as an African administrative staff.

In Uganda, in addition to Bishop Theodoros, who is an assistant Bishop to the Patriarch of Alexandria, there are three graduates of Holy Cross Seminary in Boston who comprise the Mission office in Kampala: Fr. Manoli Sskawa, Nicholas Bayego, and Michael Kisembo.  Also, the Vicar General of Uganda, Fr. Irineos, is a Greek and Cairo educated Ugandan.

The elected officers of the African Orthodox Church of Kenya, all African priests, also participate in the operation of the Archdiocese, both as consultants to the Acting Archbishop and in the execution of certain administrative functions such as paying the priests, stipends.


Local Lay Involvement

The involvement of local lay people in the administrative structure is also of paramount importance. Each community selects a council of elders (“wazee”) to help the priest manage the local church community.  Periodically, councils of the “wazee” meet in Nairobi with the Archbishop and priests to discuss areas of mutual concern and establish some direction for the future.  Also, whenever problems arise in a particular area, the priests and “wazee” of the area communities meet (maybe with the Vicar present) to try and resolve them.

Although the American system of the Clergy-Laity or All-American Conference has not fully developed, the “wazee” councils are the preparatory steps for developing a similarly suitable African model.


Architecture, Iconography, Accoutrements

One of the best ways that a culture expresses itself is through its architecture and artifacts.  How should an African Orthodox Church look?  Should the icons feature blacks or at least Negroid features?  These are some of the questions being asked in relation to the expression of culture through the architecture, iconography, and other accoutrements of the East African Church.

Until now, the stone churches in East Africa have basically been basilicas, the icons and accoutrements brought from Greece, usually Byzantine.  Recently, however, the Acting Archbishop has been searching for ways to allow the culture to express itself within Orthodox parameters.  One of the things that His Grace has initiated is a search for young African iconographers.  He hopes that even if they are trained in the Byzantine school, their African heritage will be manifest visually in the icon.

            In addition to icons, there has been an attempt to decorate the Churches with more African accoutrements.  The icon screen of the new church built by the 1987 Project H.O.P.E. team was made out of bamboo.  Brightly colored straw or sisal mats, typically African, are put in the churches.  In the Seminary, batiks of the last supper, Swahili Biblical quotes and banana leaf pictures of the birth and crucifixion hang throughout.

With the completion of the new convent in Nyeri, which will have as one of its services the sewing of vestments, new questions are being asked: What style of vestments should we have?  Should we use the typical brocades of Byzantium or can we use the bright lightweight fabrics of East Africa?  Along these lines much can be learned from the Ethiopian Orthodox whose icons manifest their black heritage and vestments are a product of their culture.


Liturgical Music

The last area that we would like to look at in relation to the local culture is the music used in the church.  Again the questions arise: Should it be Byzantine or Russian?  Should we allow the use of traditional instruments? (After all, in America we allowed the introduction of the organ.)

Presently, a balance exists in East Africa regarding music.  The Kikuyu, Baluya, Baluo and some of the Luganda speaking people use traditional tribal melodies during the singing of Orthodox hymns.  The Swahili and other Luganda speaking people use Byzantine melodies with the translated words.

In 1987 a professional musician from Greece was brought to Nairobi by the Bishop with the purpose of hearing and recording present renderings in order to help create new ones which are more African, and yet, still a little Byzantine.  During his stay he wrote some new "Kyrie Eleisons" in the tribal languages, as well as a few hymns such as "One is Holy".  This was done with the cooperation and collaboration of the seminarians themselves.  Because of their participation in the process, their renditions were much more "alive" and typical of upbeat African music.

After services, during youth seminars, and any other time the Christians gather, they sing, with great enthusiasm, typical African songs which have religious themes.  At these times the use of drums, cymbals, etc. is not restricted.  I would include in this context that drama and skits, greatly loved in East Africa, also are used with great frequency in non-liturgical settings.

Again, we have seen that, although we have far to go in the Africanization of Orthodoxy, tough issues are being addressed to help insure a spontaneous Orthodox expression which is truly African.


From Jerusalem to Rome

            In the book of Acts we read of the church's spread from Jerusalem to Rome.  But its mere arrival in Rome was not the end.  So too, the arrival of Orthodoxy in East Africa is not the end. We speak of an incarnational process, in as much as, the Church is continually being incarnated in East Africa.  The Church is present in its fullness, and yet continues to be fleshed-out in a real, historical process.

In this paper we have extracted and examined a slice of that ongoing incarnational process.  Certainly, we have concentrated on the positive aspects contributing to the manifestation of the Church in East Africa, fully cognizant that setbacks, adversities, and even schisms have challenged this process.

But briefly reviewing specific programs and activities of a real missionary Archdiocese we have gleaned the translation of mission theory to praxis.  And in this process, I hope that we have made another discovery: In mission there is mutuality.  From the spontaneous, genuine expression of Orthodoxy from our black brothers and sisters, Nancy and I were evangelized.  As Bishop Anastasios states: "The criterion of mission's success is not to be sought in impressive statistics, but in the genuineness of life in Christ.”[15] 

Through the genuine acceptance of Christ, an attentiveness to the whole psychosomatic being, and a polyphonic genuine expression emanating from within, the members of the Body of Christ in East Africa profoundly affect our lives.  They challenge us to walk hand in hand, seated side by side on that "charter flight", as we raise each other up to be restored and transfigured, and share in the glory of Jesus Christ.


[1] Nissiotes, Nikos, Panta Ta Ethni, Vol.


[2] Yannoulatos, Anastasios, The Purpose and Motive of Mission, Athens, 1968, p.12.


[3] Yannoulatos, Anastasios, "The Elevation of Human Nature", Panta Ta Ethni, Vol. 22, 2nd  Trimester, 1987, p. 5.


[4] Reynolds, Thomas, "A Commentary: An Aid to the Understanding of the U.S. Bishop's Pastoral 'To the Ends of the Earth', Pamphlet, Columban NEB.


[5] Yannoulatos, Anastsios, The Purpose and Motive of Mission, Athens, 1968  p.28.


[6] Nissiotes, Nikos, Panta Ta Ethni, Vol.


[7] Yannoulatos, Anastasios, The Purpose and Motive of Mission, Athens 1968, p. 21.


[8] The majority of the information in the above section is taken from an unpublished manuscript, "Introduction of Orthodoxy in Uganda" by His Grace Bishop Theodoros of Navcratis (1987).


[9] "Notes and Comments I", St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly, Crestwood, NY, 1974, Vol.

          18, No. 4, p. 198.


[10] Florovsky, G. as quoted by Yannoulatos, The Purpose and Motive of Mission, Athens 1968, p. 20.


[11] "Notes and Comments I", St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, Crestwood, NY 1974, Vol. 18,   No. 4, p. 198.


[12] "Kenya", World Christian Encyclopedia, D. Barrett Ed.  Oxford 1982, p. 432.


[13] Getanga, J.' "African society and the Foreign Legacy in the Churches", Kenya Churches Handbook, D. Barrett Ed., Kisumu, Kenya 1973, pp. 106-108.


[14] Papasarantopoulos, C. as quoted by M. Papamichael in "Chrysostomos Papasarantopoulos: His Missionary Ideas From 177 of His Letters", Panta Ta Ethni, Vol. 10, 2nd Trimester, 1984 p. 28.


[15] Yannoulatos, Anastasios The Purpose and Motive of Mission, Athens 1968, p. 31.