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The history of ancient Orthodoxy in Uganda and the role of father Joachim Kiyimba in the foundation of the Old-Rite faith in Africa

Ancient Orthodoxy appeared in Uganda not so long ago. In 2013, with the blessing of the Metropolitan of Moscow and All Russia, Korniliy, archpriest Joachim Kiyimba and his wife Margarita joined the Russian Orthodox Old-Rite Church. In the same year, the community of father Joachim in Kampala joined the Church. This event was perhaps the first in the history of the Old-believers, when a whole congregation of non-Russian Christians joined the Church of Christ. On the shoulders of the Moscow Metropolitan fell the spiritual responsibility for several hundred Old-Rite Orthodox Christians in Africa.

The history of ancient Orthodoxy in Uganda and the role of father Joachim Kiyimba in the foundation of the Old-Rite faith in Africa

It should be noted that before joining the Church, the Christians of Africa had long been examining the Church Tradition of Russian Old-believers. A great assistance in this dialogue was rendered by the Commission for the reception of non-Orthodox clerics to our Church, led by father Gennadiy Chunin, and also by the priests, father Alexey Lopatin and father Nikola Bobkov, who later became curators of the Orthodox mission in Uganda. Passing on the knowledge of divine worship and the way of life of the Old-believers, father Nikola and father Alexey influenced in many ways the development of the spiritual life in Africa.

Now in the Ugandan communities of Old-believers, the divine liturgy is being performed, and baptisms, weddings and other sacraments also take place. In addition, the Old Orthodox faith successfully integrates into local traditions. Worship is performed in Uganda’s native language, Lugandan.

The ancient Orthodox Christians of Uganda stand out among the majority of believers in the country.

By 1900, three ‘traditional’ confessions already coexisted in Uganda: the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church and Islam. At that time, in Uganda, the Orthodox Christian faith (ancient Orthodoxy) was not heard of. In the early 1920s, there began the establishment of the New-Rite faith, which was small in comparison with the traditional confessions in Uganda. It should be noted that the dominance of the three religious confessions in the country was the result of a great awareness of the people, in particular through active missionary work. The overwhelming majority of all beliefs in Uganda are monotheistic.

In Uganda today, along with traditional denominations, there are others, including Seventh-day Adventists and Pentecostals. The Pentecostal Church has shown significant progress over the past forty years, where the call for youth to turn to God plays a big role. This progress follows their modest beginning in the 1970s, when there was complete opposition to this Christian denomination, both from traditional religious institutions and the government. The Pentecostal churches experienced a ban on their Christian religious practices. They use the same Holy Bible as other Christian Churches, but prayers are accompanied by singing and dancing, using all sorts of modern and traditional musical instruments. Their approach to worship is attractive to many modern people, which largely explains the rapid growth of this denomination. Although ancient Orthodoxy in Uganda is a minority among these denominations, it firmly retains its identity. The ratio of ancient Orthodox Christians has the least transition to other confessions.

The Old-believers of Uganda believe that Old Orthodox Christianity is the oldest, most original among all Christian confessions in the world and that the word ‘Orthodox’ means adherence to established customs and traditions of the Ancient Church. This means that a Christian devoted to the Orthodox faith must be considered the protector and guardian of the eternal and unchanging traditions of glorifying God and worshiping Him. It is this devotion that helps the Old-believers maintain the Church Tradition and originality. Old-believers, as the true continuation of the Ancient Church of Christ, are faced with the task of preserving the institution of the family and taking care of the youth, who are exposed to many modern temptations and wrong ideas that can lead them away from God. This includes the dangerous influence of ecumenism and salvation in any religion, regardless of dogmatic and canonical differences.

Speaking about the secularization of society and the challenges that the world has thrown to the Church, it must be said that what is happening in Uganda also happens in other countries. “We are faced with the task of helping our children learn about God as early as possible,” says Margaret Kiyimba, the widow of the late archpriest Joachim, “teaching them the traditions and beliefs of ancient Orthodoxy, because the more the world changes for the worse, the more it needs pure Christian faith.”

African Christians understanding of Old-Rite Orthodoxy, whose nearest confession in Uganda (and in Russia) is the New-Rite faith, was accelerated by the parts of the Tradition of the Old-Rite Church, which the Greek-Russian Church had still kept. In the first quarter of the last century in East Africa (Uganda is located on the equator and is located in close proximity to the Eastern part of the continent) lived bishop Christopher (Spartas Mukasa). It was he who played a significant role in the spread of the New-Rite Christianity throughout East Africa. He learned about the Orthodox faith in 1914 in Russia, when he was still a soldier during the First World War.

Once, he attended a Russian church service. This church was Greek-Russian and even as an Anglican, he decided to pray in this church, although he had never heard of the Orthodox faith before.

He carefully observed how the prayers were performed and how the worship services were arranged. The future bishop became very interested and felt a great need for this faith. Upon his return from Russia, he firmly decided to bring this faith to Uganda.

He returned to Uganda in 1921 and preached in Uganda and throughout East Africa the word of God, based on the Greek-Russian doctrines, in accordance with the old calendar. He preached his sermons with the help of his good friend, Obadiah Kabanda. After a few years, people became earnestly interested in believing in God and the two preachers began to choose candidates for priesthood. The chosen candidates were sent to Greece to attend ministry training in the Greek Church.

In 1924, King Daudi Chwa of Buganda gave bishop Christopher land in a place called Namungwa, about five miles from the city of Kampala (the capital of Uganda). It was at this place that he built and founded his first parish. The late King David Chwa donated large areas of land in different parts of the Kingdom of Buganda, where bishop Christopher later built churches and schools. In the main community of the church in Namungoona, he built a school and called it the ‘Chwa II Memorial College’ in memory of King David of Buganda, for his support for the mission of the Church. Together with his friend Obadiah, the bishop continued to work hard to spread his church mission to other East African countries, in particular Kenya and Tanzania.

In 1939, during World War II, bishop Christopher (Spartas) returned to Russia and remained there until 1945. When the war ended, he returned to Uganda and continued to preach the word of God. During this time, many students from Kenya and Tanzania came to Uganda to study in the schools established by bishop Christopher and he continued to send youth to study in Greece. The Ugandan church was part of the Patriarchate of Alexandria.

In the 1960s, some of the young people, upon returning to Uganda, began to preach new ideas and teachings that contradicted the young church of Uganda. They had already decided to transfer the community to the Greek Orthodox Church and to the new calendar. Bishop Christopher did not agree with this idea and his refusal to accept the changes caused a lot of friction between him and those who were determined to change the structure of the Ugandan church. However, no matter how he tried, he failed to stop these new developments. As a result, he was very distressed that he could not prevent the new, incorrect teachings. Finally, in 1972, the Ugandan church was declared the Ugandan Orthodox Church using the new calendar.

Some time later, in 1982, bishop Christopher died from a serious illness. However, before his death, he managed to teach some young people the ancient faith that he wanted to establish in Uganda, explaining the difference between the old Greek faith and the new faith. Among these young men who listened to the sermon of the elderly bishop, was a young man named Joachim Kiyimba, who later became the priest of the mission of the Russian Orthodox Old-Rite Church in Kanyanya in Kampala.

Today, Orthodox Christianity is practiced in Uganda, with sermons in Tanzania and Kenya. The efforts of the late bishop Christopher (Spartas), in search of the ancient Christian faith and its sermons, were continued by his student – father Joachim Kiyimba – and later, in 2015, by father Joachim’s own student – father Joachim Valusimbi.

Original article written in Russian by Daniel Ermokhin with material supplied by Margaret Kiyimba