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But Egypt’s Greek–speaking Christians suffered for their loyalty to Byzantium and their numbers declined. Until the middle of the 19th century, most of the Greek Orthodox men who held the title of pope and patriarch of Alexandria lived in Constantinople and were appointed by the ecumenical patriarch who resided there.

In the 19th century, the situation changed as Orthodox Christians from Greece, Lebanon and Syria began to settle in cities throughout the African continent. There, they built churches as their communities grew in size and wealth. The port city of Alexandria drew tens of thousands of Orthodox emigrants, particularly as Egypt won a form of autonomy from Great Britain. By the 20th century, the British estimated that nearly 200,000 Greeks lived in Egypt. Flush with assets, the Greek Orthodox popes and patriarchs of Alexandria gained considerable influence in Egypt and beyond.

The controversial Meletios II (1926–1935), who once served as ecumenical patriarch before his resignation in 1923, compiled the bylaws of the patriarchate of Alexandria and submitted them to the Egyptian government. Politically astute, he secured government protection and asserted jurisdiction throughout the continent, introducing “All Africa” as an official part of his title. Modernizing the patriarchal church, he founded the seminary of St. Athanasius the Great in Alexandria, systematized the church’s courts, regulated church laws governing the order of marriage and divorce and organized patriarchal eparchies.

New growth. Until the 20th century, Orthodoxy’s reach throughout “All Africa” ended at the Sahara. The story of how it penetrated the continent, to Kenya and Uganda in particular, is not the familiar one of European missionaries and colonizers. Rather, it began as a spontaneous movement by African Christians seeking a form of Christianity untainted by European colonization with roots in the early church.

Reuben Spartas was an Anglican Ugandan who discovered Orthodoxy through the “Back to Africa” movement of Marcus Garvey, an influential West Indian who backed the creation of an African Orthodox Church. Frustrated with the Anglican Communion’s subservience to the British Empire, he joined Garvey’s church as a priest and began a mission in his native country. Learning later that his orders were invalid, he appealed to the patriarchate in Alexandria to have them regularized. In 1946, Pope Christophoros II received the cleric into the Alexandrian church and ordained him to the priesthood.

The reception of Reuben Spartas opened the entire continent to the ancient church. The synod of the patriarchate extended full communion to those parish communities associated with him, staffed parishes with priests from Egypt and set up eparchies for their pastoral care in Congo, Cameroon, Kenya and Tanzania. In 1981, under the patronage of Archbishop Makarios III of Cyprus, a seminary was established in Nairobi for the training of priests. Since the seminary opened its doors, more than 500 African men have graduated from its three–year program. Graduates, most of whom are subsequently ordained to the priesthood, include men from Burundi, Cameroon, Madagascar, Malawi, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

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Tags: Africa Orthodox Church Church history Orthodox Patriarchal Church of Alexandria