The Moscow Patriarchate has decided to establish a Patriarchal Exarchate in Africa, a move perceived as deepening the schism in the Orthodox Church.
Moscow’s move came after Patriarch Theodore II of Alexandria and All Africa recognized the new Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which the Moscow Patriarchate strongly opposed.
The new Exarchate is in the jurisdiction of the ancient historic Patriarchate of Alexandria, which is the second largest in the world after the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
This act of Moscow is seen as an “ecclesiastical coup” in Orthodox Church circles, and as a vindictive act, because Patriarch Theodore II recently recognized the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
The new Patrarchal Exarchate in Africa
The decision to set up an Exarchate in Africa was made at a Synod meeting in Moscow; it is expected to include 102 clerics of the Orthodox Church of Alexandria who have expressed a desire to transfer to the Russian Orthodox Church. They come from a total of eight African countries.
Those who transferred to the new Exarchate had disagreed with the establishment of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
The Moscow Synod appointed Archbishop Leonid of Yerevan and Armenia as “Metropolitan Klinsky and Patriarchal Exarch for Africa” with instructions to administer the Metropolis of North Africa and to temporarily administrate the Exarchate of South Africa.
At the same time, Archbishop Leonid was relieved of his post of deputy chairman of the External Church Relations Department of the Russian Orthodox Church.
The Exarchate of Alexandria expresses its sorrow
The Patriarchal Exarchate of Alexandria issued a statement after the establishment of the ‘Russian’ Patriarchal Exarchate in Africa:
“The ancient Patriarchate of Alexandria expresses its deepest sorrow at the synodal decision of the Russian Patriarchate to establish an Exarchate within the canonical boundaries of the jurisdiction of the Ancient Church of Alexandria…
“…a decision taken in the midst of the Nativity of Christ and the Divine Epiphany, during which Christ the King of Peace is projected.
“The Patriarchate of Alexandria will continue to carry out its pastoral duties towards the flock which has been entrusted to it by the Lord…
“… which fall under the spiritual legacies of the great Greek Fathers of the Church, who, according to the modern Russian theologian the late Fr. George Florovsky, left an indelible mark on Orthodox Theology and the Church.
“The decision of the Russian Patriarchate will be discussed at an upcoming session of the Synod of our Patriarchate, at which time relevant decisions will be taken.”
Russia hints at establishing exarchate in Turkey
The Russian Orthodox Church has also hinted that it wants to establish an exarchate in Turkey, as it has just done in Africa.
In an interview with Ria Novosti, Metropolitan Hilarion, the Metropolitan of Volokolamsk and chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, stated “The Russian Orthodox Church cannot refuse to nurture the Orthodox Church in Turkey.”
Metropolitan Hilarion also blamed Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew for “taking part in the schism” for recognizing the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.