Abp. Sergios of Good Hope: A History of Orthodoxy in Africa
(GOARCH-ZA) - 1. What are the historical roots of the Orthodox presence in Africa, its present and the consistency of its prospects?
The beginnings of Christianity in Africa can be traced to Alexandria in Egypt, where the Apostle Mark, one of the four Evangelists and one of the 70 Apostles, preached and spread the word of Christ. He was undoubtedly the first bishop of the Church in Africa, which has been confirmed by historical research. The activities and contribution of the Apostle Mark to the spread of Christianity throughout the continent of Africa are well-noted and he has been venerated by the Christians of Africa since the very beginning. Recently, the remnants of the Basilica of St Mark were discovered in the sea near Alexandria. The early Christians of Africa were of Greek, Egyptian and Jewish origin, and became the first members of the first Christian and community. Alexandria quickly developed into a spiritual centre and was originally the greatest Christian hub, where people of all nationalities congregated. The Patriarchate of Alexandria founded many dioceses, especially throughout Egypt, as well as in other places in North Africa, such as Egypt, Cyrene, Tripoli and Carthage. Due to the presence of Greek and other Mediterranean people in North Africa who travelled to other parts of Africa, Christianity spread to the rest of Africa south of the Sahara, which we now have evidence for. The spread of the Word continued in the so-called Byzantine period, as missionaries were sent to Ethiopia and other places that are not known today. There are some tentative signs indicating the presence of monks in parts of central and southern Africa, a broader area known as “remote border forts”.
During the fifth century, the secession of the Egyptian portion of the Church, namely that of Christians of Coptic origin or Jacobites, took place when they did not accept the decisions of the Fourth Ecumenical Council and they remain known to this day as the Monophysites of Egypt. During the course of many centuries, the Patriarchate of Alexandria has maintained a good relationship with this wider Christian family, although without Eucharistic communion. Since then it has been called the Roman Church (Rum) and is the local Church that remains in unbroken communion with the Church in other places. In AD 536, another section of “Greek” Christians, or Melkites, was established. They identified with the ruling empire and remained faithful to the political power of Byzantium. After the Great Schism in 1054, the Church retained the same name, with the addition of the adjective “Orthodox”, and became known as the Rum Orthodox Church (Roman Orthodox). In this it showed the right belief of the peoples of the East, in contrast to the term “Roman Catholic” that was used in the West.
Today there are many Christian denominations on the African continent and Africa can basically be identified as a Christian continent. The Church, under the Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa, has bishoprics and parishes everywhere. There are both ancient communities and recently-established ones that have emerged due to the movement of Orthodox groups from North African communities and also due to of the missionary activity of the Church.