African Exarch about the situation at hand
The Patriarchal Exarch of Africa gave an interview to the Spas TV channel, which can be considered programmatic not only for Africa. Let's analyze its key points.
On January 24, 2022, on the air of the Spas TV channel, Exarch of Africa Metropolitan Leonid of Klin voiced a number of theses that concern not only the plans of the Russian Orthodox Church on the African continent, but also the most global processes taking place in Orthodoxy, as well as geopolitics.
Metropolitan Leonid (Gorbachev)of Klin, brief reference
He was born in 1968, spent his childhood and youth in Krasnodar. At the age of 21, he became a monk. He received his theological education at the Leningrad Theological Seminary and at the Theological Faculty of the University of Athens, speaks Greek, English and Arabic. The metropolitan’s service record includes:
- pastoral care of penitentiary colony 17 of a strict regime, a children's tuberculosis dispensary and a city home for veterans in Krasnodar;
- business trip as part of the peacekeeping forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina;
- business trips to Athos, to Finland, India as an employee of the Secretariat for Inter-Orthodox Relations of the DECR;
- from 2004 to 2013 – Representative of the Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus to the Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa, business trips to Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Botswana, Greece;
- from 2013 to 2016 – Bishop of Argentina and South America;
- from 2016 to 2021 – Archbishop of Vladikavkaz and Alan, head of the Patriarchal deanery of the parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church in Armenia;
- co-chairman of the Working Group on Dialogue between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Malankara Church;
- сo-Chairman of the Commission for Dialogue between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Ethiopian Church;
- since December 29, 2021 – Patriarchal Exarch of Africa.
As you can see, Metropolitan Leonid is a bishop who has traveled a lot around the world and has experience in communicating with representatives of both Orthodox and non-Orthodox Churches. In addition, he provided pastoral care to peacekeepers, prisoners and sick children. It says a lot. He knows the situation firsthand or from media reports, but from his own experience. All this lends great weight to Vladyka's words. So what did he say in the interview?
The Russian Orthodox Church will not put up with the violation of the canons in the Church
Apparently, the ROC has now a point of view, according to which the time for patience and compromises with the Patriarchate of Constantinople has run out. Phanar began to make claims for supremacy in Orthodoxy about 100 years ago. Even the hierarch and confessor Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow protested against this. But resistance to these claims all these years was limited mainly to letters and statements. In fact, Phanar was advancing its position, while other Local Churches, including the Russian Orthodox Church, was making concessions and compromises.
A classic example of such tactics is the church situation in Estonia, where Phanar, contrary to the canons and common sense, established a parallel jurisdiction, which the ROC had to agree with. However, after the intervention of Phanar in Ukraine, it became clear that the claims for supremacy had already taken the shape of the so-called heresy of Constantinople papism, and the time had come to oppose this new ecclesiology firmly and resolutely.
In addition, the role of the US State Department in the anti-canonical actions of Phanar is so big and obvious that the recognition of Phanar's primacy will be tantamount to recognizing the actual leadership of Orthodoxy by the State Department. This turns the Church of Christ into some kind of department of the American administration. At the same time, excuses such as the fact that Phanar is so dependent on the State Department that it simply cannot dare go against the opinion of American officials are completely unacceptable.
Here is what Metropolian Leonid says about this: “As His Holiness the Patriarch said in his sermon: ‘Wasn’t the Russian Orthodox Church exposed to various kinds of pressure for 70 years? Look what burden and humiliation the Russian Orthodox Church had to endure.’
But could we choose to split Universal Orthodoxy for the sake of this or that political event? We suffered, endured, and this history is dotted with numerous Russian martyrs who shed their blood for the triumph of Orthodoxy. That's what we have! Here's what we can show the world! But what did you show? That the State Department or other political forces put pressure on you and you decided that in order to please these decisions, you can change the canons of the Church? No, gentlemen, no one is allowed to do this! <…> One cannot break the canons of the Church. This is something the Lord will surely respond to."
ROC does not claim primacy
The pro-Phanar camp often hurls accusations against the ROC that the Moscow Patriarchate, they say, seeks to deprive the Patriarchate of Constantinople of its primacy in order to take this place itself.
Firstly, this is not confirmed either by the deeds or by the statements of the hierarchy of the ROC. Secondly, the Russian Orthodox Church generally rejects the very wording that anyone in Orthodoxy can claim primacy. In this respect the Russian Church relies on the Gospel: “I repeat once again: we have never claimed primacy, we do not want to be the first, we want everyone to be the first. As the Holy Scripture says, if you want to be first, be the very last and the servant of all. Here we are – the people who are servants and will serve as best we can.”
The bishop says that the ROC can and should take responsibility for the protection of traditional values worldwide. In this respect, it can serve not only Orthodoxy throughout the world, but also human society as a whole: “We are fully entitled to offer the world a different (non-liberal – Ed.) agenda, behind which the Russian Orthodox Church will stand. Just do not be ashamed of this universality, which we are now entering."
Intrusion or upholding the canons?
As for the issue of the actions of the Russian Orthodox Church in the canonical territory of another Local Church, here the point of view of the Moscow Patriarchate is extremely clear and understandable: since the Church of Alexandria took the side of the schismatics, it thereby separated itself from the Church of Christ with all the ensuing consequences. Under these conditions, someone must accept those clerics and believers, who do not want to go into schism after the Alexandrian hierarchs, under its omophorion.
Metropolitan Leonid: “We did not invade anywhere, we did not take anything from anyone, we did not act with expansion. We do not allow destroying those people who have declared that they are against the split. Patriarch Bartholomew, in our opinion, acted anti-canonically and illegally. Therefore, there can be no justification for his actions. <...> We said twe would not abandon those people who protested this recognition ( of the OCU – Ed.)."
Vladyka emphasized that the reason for establishing the Exarchate was the desire to preserve the canonical order in the Church, rather than the desire of the Russian Orthodox Church to seize anything from the Alexandrian Church: “We do not seek to destroy the Alexandrian Orthodox Church, and we never expand anywhere. But I repeat once again that we will never give anyone the opportunity to mock the Orthodox canons.”
The situation with Orthodoxy in Africa and the priorities of the Exarchate
Describing the situation in Africa, Met. Leonid, first of all, draws attention to the huge potential for Christian preaching: “The continent is burgeoning. It embraces one and three tenths of a billion people. There are not so many churched people, and the Orthodox mission there has every chance of success.” At the same time, the exarch is far from slandering the Church of Alexandria: “It cannot be said that the Orthodox Church of Alexandria did nothing there (in Africa – Ed.). There are quite bright bishops who were successfully engaged in missionary work in their places on the African continent.”
The mission of the ROC in Africa could have been carried out not only in coordination with the Patriarchate of Alexandria, but also as assistance to the Alexandrian bishops and clerics; however, the recognition of the Ukrainian schismatics by the Alexandrian Patriarchate crossed out this possibility.
What tasks does the Patriarchal Exarchate set for itself in Africa?
“The main task for any Church is the pastoral care of those souls who are entrusted by the Lord, to whom we will provide pastoral care,” says the hierarch. “First of all, these are the pastors and the flock that did not agree with the sole decision of Patriarch Bartholomew and, as a result, Patriarch Theodore of Alexandria and All Africa to recognize the anti-canonical break-away group on the territory of Ukraine, the so-called OCU. Today we have more than 150 clerics who want to transfer, and many of them have already transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church under the omophorion of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill.”
In response to a clarifying question from a journalist, Met. Leonid confirmed that the number of those willing to transfer to the Russian Patriarchal Exarchate is growing, and while at the time of the creation of the Exarchate on December 29, 2021 there were 102 people, today, after just a few weeks, their number has increased one and a half times.
Moreover, these clerics do not live compactly, but in more than 12 countries of the continent. As soon as it became known about the establishment of the Exarchate, and especially that it was created in response to the requests of the African clerics, who were opposed to staying in the Local Church that associated itself with schismatics, accusations immediately fell on the ROC that it was luring to its side supernumerary clerics or those who were banned from priesthood by their clergy for various misconduct.
These voices are especially loud because the schismatics from the OCU and earlier from the UOC-KP and the UAOC acted precisely in that way (a guilty mind betrays itself, as the proverb goes). Bishop Leonid said in the interview that these accusations against the Russian Orthodox Church are absolutely groundless. Moreover, making sure that clerics joining the ROC should be morally and canonically impeccable, each such candidate undergoes a rather rigorous check. “We don't have random people. All those who wished to go under the omophorion of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill are subject to check-up,” Metropolitan Leonid said.
Personnel and infrastructure
Metropolitan Leonid sees personnel work as one of the priorities, and the main emphasis will be placed on local clergy – both those who have a priestly rank and future servants of the Church. “Bishops will be appointed locally. There will be priests. We will rely mostly on African personnel. And, of course, our missionaries, who, I think, will go to the African continent with pleasure. We will make sure that people can come to Russia and get their education there. His Holiness the Patriarch blessed for that. There are certain quotas, which we will use,” Vladyka said.
The second direction after the pastoral care of the believers, which the Exarchate will deal with, is humanitarian assistance. “We will try to provide everyone with basic access to medical services. Feldsher posts will be opened in remote places.” Humanitarian activity in Africa is a huge front of work, which requires both significant material costs and skilled labor resources. Apparently, this work will be coordinated with the Russian government agencies and possibly with the business community, which will help financially.
Without such serious support from the ROC, it will be difficult to implement all the plans on our own. Moreover, these plans are very ambitious: “This is a multi-level continental work. We have now fully entered the continent, where a complete restoration of the entire normal vertical of life is required. <…> We will help the African continent as best we can.”
It remains to wish God's help to the mission of the Russian Orthodox Church in Africa and hope that the fruits of this activity won’t be far behind.
Orthodoxy and the decline of Christianity in Western civilization
Today, Western civilization has already ceased to associate itself with Christianity. The essence of this civilization can be defined as “militant liberalism”, in which any traditional values and concepts are allowed to be violated, any perversions and vices are welcomed, and the only thing that is condemned and persecuted is traditional views on gender, family, religion, morality, and so on.
However, even in the West, a lot of people, and even the majority, do not share the rabid liberalism dominating public opinion and legislation. These people need not only protection, but also some kind of moral guideline, moral authority, which the Russian Orthodox Church can show to the world.
Presenter Anna Shafran put the question as follows: “What do you think, Vladyka, in Europe, and even in America, where traditional values are actually rejected at the official level today, where the institution of the family is being destroyed, where, moreover, even temples are being destroyed and demolished as useless – is this path they have embarked on irreversible?”
In response to this, Metropolitan Leonid compared what is happening in Europe and the West in general with the persecution of the Church in the Soviet period: “Does this all ring a bell to you? They are destroying churches, replacing the agenda (traditional with liberal – Ed.), they will soon say that the last priest will be shown on the Internet. And all this will be peaceful. While we faced violence after the seventeenth year (1917 – Ed.) and the Church was driven underground, going though terrible decades of martyrdom, people of the 21st century, albeit not all of them, vote with their hands and feet for this destruction.
Nevertheless we still believe that the majority does not want such changes, and if the governments of European countries do not draw appropriate conclusions, I am even afraid to imagine what could be further on. In the long run, it can turn into complete chaos and destruction."
The bishop believes that the ROC and Russian society should stand up for traditional values and take on the role of leader in upholding the conservative foundations of society: “We cannot, but we must! Because everything so far points to the fact there will be no one to play this role at all. So now we just have to do it.”
Disturbing moment of the interview
Speculating that at the backdrop of Western civilization sliding into the abyss of liberalism, Russia should become a zone of traditional normality, show the world a spiritual and moral landmark, hostess Anna Shafran said the following, “Honestly, given the ongoing developments, the very thing suggests itself: Moscow is the third Rome, and there will be no fourth."
This was said with a touch of humor, but, nevertheless, Vladyka did not refute this statement and replied, “True, a well-known expression. I won't dispute it. I also think that we have a certain mission in this world, and I repeat once again – everything will depend on how we manage our internal and external agenda in the next few years.”
The “Moscow is the third Rome” theory arose, according to some sources, at the end of the 15th century, according to others – at the beginning of the 16th century as a reflection on the fact that the centuries-old Byzantine Empire, the Orthodox kingdom, was enslaved by the Turks. A lot of people, who refused even to think about that there would no longer be such an Orthodox kingdom on earth, responsible for the fate of Orthodoxy, came to the logical conclusion – to declare the Muscovite state such a kingdom.
One can approach this theory in different ways, but it must be recognized that it is not supported by the Holy Scripture. The Gospel does not say anything about the Christian kingdom on earth, and even more so about the obligatory nature of its existence. The theory of the first, second or third Rome is more political than religious.
In general, neither this interview of Metropolitan Leonid nor his other words and statements give grounds to believe that the “Moscow is the third Rome” theory occupies some significant place in his worldview. Vladyka proved with all his many years of ministry that he is a priest of God, not a statesman. Therefore, one should not attach particular importance to the fact that he expressed some sympathy for this theory.
However, it should be remembered that the similar ideologeme "Constantinople is the second Rome" triggered the situation when the ideas of Hellenism began to dominate the Holy Canons of the Church in the modern Patriarchate of Constantinople, while the assertion of the superiority of the Patriarch of Constantinople today is viewed by many Greek bishops as an essential requirement for preserving this Hellenism.
Metropolitan Leonid comes off as a very energetic and purposeful church leader. At the same time, he is very dutiful and sensible. As already mentioned, it’ll take a few years to see some fruits of the work of the African Exarchate headed by him, but today it is already clear that a large-scale Orthodox mission is ushering in Africa. May the Lord help both Metropolitan Leonid and all those who will work together with him!