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Author Topic: Is the African Orthodox Church still in communion with the Copts?  (Read 2299 times) Average Rating: 0
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« on: December 21, 2010, 10:27:00 AM »

The African Orthodox Church is probably most widely known in the US for glorifying John Coltrane as a saint. According to the Wikipedia article on the Church, they are "allied" with the Oriental Orthodox Church through Alexandria, which I can only assume means they are in communion.

Is this still the case? And if so, what do Oriental Orthodox think about one of their sister churches canonizing a man who, though he acknowledged the fallen nature of man and the need for spiritual rebirth, never taught a specifically Christian message and indeed held that "all religions are equal"?
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« Reply #1 on: December 21, 2010, 10:33:27 AM »

No, they are not. I don't think they ever were. They claim apostolic succession through Vilatte, which is common for many vagante groups, and it does not indicate any real connection with the Syriac church or any of the other OO churches.
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« Reply #2 on: December 21, 2010, 04:08:04 PM »

No...it is not canonically recognized by the Oriental Orthodox Church, certainly not by the Coptic Church or her spiritual daughter churches, Ethiopia and Eritrea.  The Coptic Church has missionaries in several places in the continent of Africa, but when it comes to the US, there's no such autocephalous organization as the "African Orthodox Church."  There's only Coptic, Ethiopian, and Eritrean.

This group is an "Orthoducks" group.
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« Reply #3 on: December 21, 2010, 04:29:34 PM »

The African Orthodox Church is probably most widely known in the US for glorifying John Coltrane as a saint. According to the Wikipedia article on the Church, they are "allied" with the Oriental Orthodox Church through Alexandria, which I can only assume means they are in communion.

Is this still the case? And if so, what do Oriental Orthodox think about one of their sister churches canonizing a man who, though he acknowledged the fallen nature of man and the need for spiritual rebirth, never taught a specifically Christian message and indeed held that "all religions are equal"?
The African branch (i.e.  in Africa) was received by the Greek/Roman/Ruumii  Pope on Alexandria, not the Coptic one, at which point the Africans became Orthodox and cut ties to the church in the US.
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« Reply #4 on: December 21, 2010, 05:13:13 PM »

Monachos.net talked about it here:

http://www.monachos.net/forum/showthread.php?3488-African-Orthodox-Church

It seems like there used to be a valid connection with serious Orthodox roots.  I kinda jumped the gun and called them "orthododucks," but not like other "orthodocks" groups.
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« Reply #5 on: December 22, 2010, 04:14:24 AM »

CR,

The obvious history of Eastern Christianity in Africa is that of the Christianization effected by the Coptic Church, its Ethiopian and Eritrean daughter Churches, and Greek Orthodox, Armenians, and Melkites, all of which were focused in North Africa, the area geographically most proximate to Christianity's origins.  In the mid and southern reaches of the continent, Latin Catholic and Protestant missionaries had been a much more visible presence until the Orthodox missions of the past century.  

Notably, such missions have not been spearheaded by the Eastern Churches of African origin (Copt, Ethiopian, or Eritrean), but chiefly by the Greeks.  Anecdotally, it has been speculated that among the factors contributing to this have been a sense of superiority on the part of  North African Christians toward their sub-Saharan brethren, as well as a distrust among the latter of other Africans.  The distrust being part and parcel of the internecine warfare and tribalism that has marked the continent for centuries.

Interestingly, some of the earliest Eastern Christian activity of an "Orthodox" nature in the sub-Saharan regions was initially home-grown and incubated by a mix of vagante and non-canonical/independent "Orthodox" Churches having their immediate origins in the US. Marcus Garvey, an African-American best remembered for Black political activism in the early 20th century, was also involved with the ecclesiastical entity styled "The African Orthodox Church of America", which is the forerunner of the church about which you asked.  

The AOCA was originally headquartered in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood and one of its parishes, St. James, was still situated there, only a block from my grammar school, until the 1960s.  A classmate (who was Orthodox) and I, consumed by curiousity (him by the sign that said "Orthodox", though his parents said it wasn't  Huh  ; me by the fact that it was surmounted by a cross in an era when common wisdom said that only Catholic churches were  Huh  ), snuck inside in the early 50s. We were certain that we were doomed to Hell  Shocked  - although we weren't sure whether it would be the same Hell       Grin  .  

Inside, I got my first glimpse of what I would later understand was a rather rudimentary/primitive iconostasis, depicting solely Black images.  My friend, with all the wisdom of a 3rd grader, opined that the lingering scent of incense didn't "smell right", therefore, the church wasn't really Orthodox  Tongue     .  We escaped without further ado, sure that if we were caught, we'd be marched up the street to Father (with whom we knew the AOCA priest was friendly) or to Sister Superior, both of whom loomed as a far more immediate and dire threat than Hell's fires   Roll Eyes  .

Joseph Rene Vilatte, whose name is listed somewhere in the episcopal lineage of virtually every vagante and independent "Catholic", "Orthodox", "Anglican/Episcopal" and "Lutheran" Church in North America factored into the AOCA as well, consecrating a Garvey follower, George McGuire, as its first hierarch.  A group of African native clergy, with backgrounds principally in the Latin, Anglican, and Methodist Churches, as well as the Ethiopian Catholic Church in Zion (an early African independent church), sought and obtained hierarchical consecration from McGuire for Daniel Alexander, their leader.  The resultant body flourished, ultimately more so than did its American step-parent (which still exists, but in extremely small numbers).  Many of its clergy and faithful, as well as those of some of its offshoots, were inspired decades later to seek canonicity from various Orthodox Churches, including the Copts, Ethiopians, and the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria. Ultimately, some of these formed the nuclei of the Orthodox missions that are presently underway in Africa.  

There are also some historical ties among these bodies, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and the Orthodox community in Jamaica that arose initially from a cult-like fascination with Emperor Haile Selassie.

Some of the history of these bodies can be read at:

African Orthodox Church Archives  

Orthodox Mission In Tropical Africa

History of the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church
  
African Greek Orthodox Autonomous Church  

Imperial Coptic Ethiopian Church of Ethiopia

A Sketch of Rastafarian History  

As regards the AOCA, it's numbers had decreased dramatically over the years in North America and, only a few years ago, it had few surviving temples. One is St Philip's in Sydney, NS, Canada - the sole church of the denomination in Canada. (It is or, until recently, was a viable congregation; the current Lieutenant-Governor of the Province, Honourable Mayann Francis, is a congregant and her father was formerly its pastor). You can see interior photos of the church here and here.

It reflects the Church's mixed heritage, with touches of both Western and Ethiopian influences. Other than the 3 barred crosses on the exterior though, (which can be seen in photos on pages 8 and 9 of a history of Black Churches in Nova Scotia located here (slow to load, be patient), there is not much immediately reminiscent of the Church's early efforts to forge an Orthodox identity.

Details regarding the successor of the original entity can be seen at its website - which is sparse. And the reality of it may be less than what is depicted there, as I see it still lists St James in Roxbury, which I believe no longer exists. Ah, I see there is an updated version here.

There is, however, also the African Orthodox Church of Africa, which claims to be the legitimate successor to the church founded by Daniel Alexander, whom I referenced above. Its website can be viewed here.

Back to focusing on mainstream Churches, GO Metropolitan Makarios of Kenya compiled a detailed Chronology of Christianity in Africa. Metropolitan Makarios is a prolific writer and links to many articles by him, significant numbers of which relate to Orthodoxy in Africa, can be found at ORI.

There's also an interesting interview with Fr. Theotimos (Tsalas), an Orthodox priest in the Congolese Republic on an ROC site. An article on Orthodoxy in Uganda, from ONE magazine, can be read at at the CNEWA site.

Many years,

Neil
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« Reply #6 on: December 22, 2010, 03:15:42 PM »

Notably, such missions have not been spearheaded by the Eastern Churches of African origin (Copt, Ethiopian, or Eritrean), but chiefly by the Greeks.  Anecdotally, it has been speculated that among the factors contributing to this have been a sense of superiority on the part of  North African Christians toward their sub-Saharan brethren, as well as a distrust among the latter of other Africans.  The distrust being part and parcel of the internecine warfare and tribalism that has marked the continent for centuries.

I don't know the extent of the Alexandrian Greek's missions, but the Coptic Church as I understand is very active in African missions:

http://www.copticmission.org/copticmission

We have two Coptic bishops that are in charge of these missions.  This is Bishop Paul's website.  Bishop Antonios Markos is the other bishop that does other missions.
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« Reply #7 on: December 23, 2010, 02:19:39 AM »

Notably, such missions have not been spearheaded by the Eastern Churches of African origin (Copt, Ethiopian, or Eritrean), but chiefly by the Greeks.  Anecdotally, it has been speculated that among the factors contributing to this have been a sense of superiority on the part of  North African Christians toward their sub-Saharan brethren, as well as a distrust among the latter of other Africans.  The distrust being part and parcel of the internecine warfare and tribalism that has marked the continent for centuries.

I don't know the extent of the Alexandrian Greek's missions, but the Coptic Church as I understand is very active in African missions:

http://www.copticmission.org/copticmission

We have two Coptic bishops that are in charge of these missions.  This is Bishop Paul's website.  Bishop Antonios Markos is the other bishop that does other missions.

Mina,

I didn't mean by that paragraph to, in any way, suggest that the Coptic Church has not established missions in the sub-Saharan countries, only that they came late to doing so in comparison to the Greeks and others whom I mentioned - by a half to quarter century. Historically, the Oriental Churches concentrated on North Africa. It is only in the last quarter of the 20th century that they really began to move further south, albeit they have worked hard to make up for lost time since then, as demonstrated by the link which you provided. If I had to speculate on the reason why, I think it does turn on the very regionalized nature of the continent. There are clear distinctions between the northern and mid portions of the African continent with the former having a long-standing view of itself as being a more civilized, sophisticated region and peoples. The Greeks and others, being originally from outside the region, were significantly less inhibited - seeing the sub-Saharan as a mission opportunity.

It doesn't speak badly of the Coptic Church - or either of its daughter Churches - its simply the reality that so often plays into regional perceptions of one's neighbors, a comparable view can be seen in the sometime attitudes of Nova Scotians to their Newfoundlandian brethren, New Yorkers to New Jerseyites, city folk to their country cousins, etc.

Many years,

Neil  
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« Reply #8 on: December 23, 2010, 04:31:00 AM »

It's sad we're losing contact with these churches.  They could serve as some form of basis of American Orthodoxy.  The fact that they're dwindling is a clear case of their loss of canonicity and seriousness it seems.
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