By Paul Goble
Last December, the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church laid claim to the congregations and bishoprics in Africa that had been subordinate to the Alexandrian Patriarchate. It did so because Moscow was furious at Alexandria for recognizing the Orthodox Church of Ukraine as autocephalous.
Earlier this month, Metropolitan Leonid, head the Russian exarchate in Africa, visited Uganda and declared that “more than 180” priests had shifted from the Alexandrian church to the Moscow one and that “the skeleton of the exarchate” now exists, with Moscow planning to “send the meat later” (ng.ru/ng_religii/2022-05-31/9_530_africa.html).
But now it appears that Moscow was counting its chickens before they hatched. The Alexandrian Patriarchate says that many of its priests who shifted to Moscow have now shifted back because as a result of Moscow’s failure to pay what it promised and opposition to Putin’s war in Ukraine.
At least some African countries are now distancing themselves from Moscow. Ugandan officials refused to meet Metropolitan Leonid during his visit because of what the Alexandrian Patriarchate is saying. Consequently, what looked like a done deal as far as Moscow is concerned appears to be anything but.
And so the victories Moscow has been claiming in Africa to distract attention from its failures in Ukraine and elsewhere may prove to be at best ephemeral and more likely Pyrrhic given how offended most patriarchates are at Moscow’s poaching on the canonical territory of another, an action prohibited by Orthodox canon law.