Patriarchates of Moscow and Alexandria at odds
by Vladimir Rozanskij

The Alexandrians condemn the invasion of their canonical territory by the Russians. The Muscovites boost their presence in Africa. Russian Exarch Leonid: in Orthodoxy tradition is respected, not a question of racism.



Moscow (AsiaNews) - The controversy between the Orthodox patriarchates of Moscow and Alexandria shows no sign of abating, just when almost all the Christian Churches are celebrating the Week of Prayer for the Unity of the Faithful, the texts of which this year were prepared by the Eastern Churches. After Moscow's decision to welcome more than a hundred African priests, the Greeks of Alexandria harshly condemned the "invasion" into their canonical territory, accusing the Russians of behaving just like the enemies they have always criticised.

On 12 December the Alexandrians met in their patriarchal synod under the presidency of Theodoros II (Choreutakis), and approved a pronouncement against Moscow on the basis of the report by the metropolitan of Cameroon, Grigorios (Stergiou), assisted by canonists from the theological faculty of Athens and the metropolitan of Peristerios, Grigorios (Papatomas). The patriarchate of Alexandria regrets Moscow's decision "on the days of the Holy Christmas of Christ, but will continue to carry out its pastoral ministry for the flock entrusted to it by the Lord, submitting to the spiritual heritage of the great Greek fathers of the Church".

The Metropolitan of Klinsk Leonid (Gorbańćev), who was appointed exarch of all of Africa, responded to the Alexandrians, assuring Interfax that "we had not planned all this, but we could not exempt ourselves from welcoming these priests". Leonid explained that the Russian patriarchate will launch a vast programme not only to develop parishes, but in general to "affirm a fully-fledged presence of the Russian Orthodox Church on the African continent, with all the theological, educational, social and humanitarian dimensions that are necessary".

The exarch did not rule out the opening of special study institutes and seminaries for candidates to the priesthood on African soil, assuring that the Moscow patriarchate "has the necessary benefactors", probably alluding to the various Russian oligarchs operating in Africa. These "are not indifferent to the destiny of universal Orthodoxy, and are ready to support the Russian mission in Africa with their generosity".

Leonid thanks all those who "understand that the Russian Church today is the only true guardian of Orthodoxy, and does not allow the sacred canons to be trampled underfoot for the benefit of various political decisions". In the interview, he also said that the Moscow Patriarchate does not rule out the opening of its own structures in other countries where the Churches recognise the autocephalous metropolia of Kiev, such as Turkey and Greece, "to protect all the Orthodox who do not want to be associated with the schism".

The interviewer also asked Leonid whether he was not concerned about the acceptance into the Russian Church of "believers who might want to depict Christ and the apostles with dark skin on their icons", raising issues of racism and "Black Lives Matter" style protection, for which the Russians are not very prepared. According to the exarch, "the Church knows neither Jew nor Greek, and therefore any representation linked to national symbolism cannot prevail over Orthodox traditions... there can be no racism in Orthodoxy, if there is no room for ethnophiletism, that is, the heresy of ecclesiastical nationalism".

Leonid points out, special missionaries will be prepared for Africa who will take advantage of "the many Russian institutes specialised in languages and the study of other cultures", and there is already a vast religious, liturgical and catechetical literature in various languages: English, French and even Swahili. All these plans will soon be realised, even if Moscow is still waiting for "the leadership of the Alexandrian patriarchate to realise the tragic error of its decision, and refuse to support the schism. The Russian Church does not want to achieve its own expansion, but places itself at the service of true Christian unity".