100-year journey of Orthodox Church in Uganda

Sunday May 05 2019

Head. Metropolitan Yonah Lwanga, the Archbishop of Orthodox Church in Uganda. FILE PHOTO

President Museveni is today expected to lead hundreds of faithful to kick start a fundraiser to build a multi-billion shilling house of worship on one of Kampala City hills.
The Shs15b Orthodox Church will sit on one of Kampala’s vantage Namungoona Hill, on Hoima Road, just some six kilometres off the city centre.

This magnificent house of worship will bring to a high point nearly 100 years of the Orthodox faith in Uganda, which curiously started without any foreign missionary work.
The Vicar General, Fr Paul Mutaasa, says the journey of the Orthodox Church began and continues to flourish by the power of the Holy Spirit.

“This mysterious Orthodox phenomenon in Uganda was not through proselytism [conversion]. It was not through indoctrination. It was not through missionary propagation of faith from outside. It germinated by itself by the will of the Creator of all things visible and invisible,” Fr Mutaasa says.
Even then, like any other new venture, the beginning of the Orthodox faith was not without a host of difficulties, as the Church soldiered on.

“But led by curiosity, anxiety and vigour, the indigenous Ugandans were steadfast in their resolve,” Fr Mutaasa told Sunday Monitor in an interview at Namungoona on Wednesday.
Today, the Church boasts of 100,000 faithful spread across the country in Luweero, Nakasongola, Mukono Buikwe, Busoga region, Namutumba, Mbale, Soroti, Fort Portal, Lira and Gulu.
These are dissected into parishes that take care of the flock at the grassroots. Among its many challenges at commencement was the doubt of something new; something started by Ugandans.
But resilience and consistence of focus by the founders on their goal was to yield the current spiritual dividend.

Fr Mutaasa says preaching of the word of good news by the initiators would later spread among other companions who also enthusiastically joined in and formed the group of Anoonya, marking a full blown beginning of the Orthodox Church in Uganda.
Ms Jane Ssekikubo, the wife to Lwemiyaga County Member of Parliament Theodore Ssekikubo, who joined the Church after marriage to the MP, described the uniqueness of the Church in an interview with Sunday Monitor on Wednesday.

“Wow, pretty wonderful being an Orthodox. The way of praying and praising makes you feel like you are in heaven. Its total submission when you pray in this Church,” she says.
Ms Ssekikubo says she only joined the Church 10 years ago after her marriage to Mr Ssekikubo, crossing over from the Catholic Church.


Greek Connection
Vicar General Mutaasa says between 1919 and 1929, Ugandans made contacts with the Greeks of the time “but they [Greeks] doubted whether the native Ugandans would be able to preserve and conserve the Orthodox Faith according to its renowned and strict tradition and ethos of the Eastern Orthodox Church!”

But after a thorough scrutiny, the Greeks accepted and designated Archimandrite Nicodemus Sarikas, who was then commissioned by the Patriarchate of Alexandria to serve the spiritual needs of Greeks in Africa.
Archimandrite then embarked on a fact-finding mission to establish whether the African Orthodox Church was on the ground and to witness the Greek community in Uganda in 1933.

It is thought that Uganda’s Orthodox Church could have bred the Orthodox Church in Kenya and Tanzania.
This is based on the fact that Ugandan priests and catechists took evangelism work to the northern, eastern regions and beyond in Kenya.

In 1936, Patriarch Nicholas V ascended the Patriarchal throne of Alexandria but his tenure was short lived and in 1939, he was called unto the Lord and was succeeded by Patriarch Christopheros II. Fr Mutaasa says that Christopheros II was more dynamic and mission- oriented and in the same year called for the two Ugandan youths who were in Arusha, Tanganyika (current Tanzania) – Ermolaos Seddimbu and Irineos Magimbi – to go to Alexandria, Egypt to learn Greek and Orthodoxy.
Then in 1942, Patriarch Christopheros II sent Metropolitan Nicholas of Axum as his envoy to East Africa to assist the neophyte African Orthodox Church.

In 1945, four energetic faithful, including Theodoros Nankyama, Dimitrios Mumbale, George Lubulwa, and Elias Katumba, were sent to Egypt for training. After their graduation, the Greek Patriarchate of Alexandria now fully and officially recognised the African Greek Orthodox Church.
Uganda got its first bishop, the Rev Fr Christopheros Reuben Spartas Sebbanja on December 17, 1972, when he was consecrated bishop for Uganda with a title of Niloupolis, and on December 22, 1972, the Rev Fr Theodoros Nankyama was consecrated bishop with the title of Navcratis.

In the following year, on February 25, 1973, the Rev Fr George Arthur Gathuna was also consecrated Bishop with the title of Nitrias. They all worked under a Greek archbishop who oversaw the flock in East Africa. It was now evident that the Church had established itself and at the beginning of the 1980s, more than 100 priests in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania had been ordained.

In 1995, the Holy Metropolis of Irinoupolis (East Africa), was divided into three metropolis of Irinoupolis, Metropolis of All Kenya, and Metropolis of Kampala and All Uganda.
The long-serving missionary in Kenya from 1980, Andreas Tyrilidis, after serving as Metropolitan in Zambia, became the Metropolitan of All Kenya, and Bishop Theodoros Nankyama, the Metropolitan of Uganda in 1995.

Bishop Jonah Lwanga from the Bishopric of Bukoba, Tanzania, was transferred to Uganda as Metropolitan of Kampala and All Uganda after the falling asleep of Metropolitan Theodoros in 1997.


Uganda got its first bishop, the Rev Fr Christopheros Reuben Spartas Sebbanja on December 17, 1972, when he was consecrated bishop for Uganda with a title of NILOUPOLIS, and on December 22, 1972, the Rev Fr Theodoros Nankyama was consecrated bishop with the title of Navcratis.

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