On December 29, at a meeting of the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, it was decided to create a Patriarchal Exarchate in Africa, which immediately included 102 parishes from eight countries of the continent. Metropolitan Leonid (Gorbachev) was appointed Patriarchal Exarch of Africa, who was given the title of Klinsky. In an interview with Interfax-Religion correspondent Yelena Verevkina, the bishop told how and with whose money new parishes will develop, whether racism is possible in the Russian Church and whether it is worth waiting for new people who want to join the Moscow Patriarchate in the near future.
- In connection with the entry of some African parishes into the Russian Church, a number of completely new questions arise. Do you think our Church will face any new challenges - for example, the demands to portray the apostles or Christ as dark-skinned, as it happens in some Protestant churches? Can the question of racism arise in the Church and what is your general attitude towards the Black Lives Matter movement, can it reach the Russian Church as well?
- We always say that "there is neither a Greek nor a Jew" (Col. 3:11) in the Church, therefore, one or another image associated with national symbols doesn't prevail in Orthodox traditions. Racism can't arise in the Orthodox Church unless an ethnophilic soil is formed for this. Everything always depends on the people who lead their flock to salvation.
As for the issue of the BLM movement, I would like to emphasize once again that in Orthodoxy salvation is possible for believers, regardless of skin color, nationality or language, for everyone who tries not to deviate from the commandments of God and the canons of the Church.
- Will seminaries be established in Africa for the training and education of Orthodox priests?
- Today we are just starting to implement our plans. Undoubtedly, the issue of education is one of their top priorities. We have an understanding of how to solve it. There are excellent theological schools for teaching and training students. However, it is possible that we will create a number of educational institutions on the territory of the African continent, if necessary and expedient.
- In post-Soviet education, especially seminary education, languages have always been quite stressful, and here are African languages. Who will train people to work in Africa?
- There are a sufficient number of universities in Russia that can train specialists with language knowledge. In addition, English, French, Swahili and local dialects are spoken in African countries. Today there is no acute language problem. We communicate in the listed languages. There are printed publications, religious literature, the following of the Divine Liturgy, texts necessary for the performance of divine services in different languages of the continent. Translation activities will be carried out as needed. The issue of training specialists is considered by us in a wide range.
- Are there people in the Russian Church such as patrons, bishops who are ready to support financially these African parishes? These are for the most part very poor communities that require financial support. Who will finance them?
- Yes, there are benefactors in the Russian Church who provide assistance in numerous areas of her ministry and, remaining indifferent to the fate of Universal Orthodoxy, are ready to support our mission in Africa from their generosity. We are grateful to them for understanding that Russian Church is becoming the guardian of Orthodoxy now, not allowing the sacred canons to be trampled in favor of certain political decisions.
- What are the next steps the Russian Church is going to take regarding the development of these new parishes?
- Only two weeks have passed since the historic decision of the Holy Synod, so it's too early to talk about the steps being taken. We hoped to the last that the leadership of the Alexandrian Orthodox Church would understand the tragedy of their steps and make the only right decision by refusing to support the schism. We didn't prepare for anything in advance, but, believe me, it won't matter. A full-scale program is currently being developed not only for the development of parishes, but also for the full-fledged presence of the Russian Orthodox Church on the continent, including liturgical, educational, social and humanitarian components.
- How much does the course of the liturgical and parish life of these parishes differ from the traditional order in the parishes of our Church?
- Each community has its own characteristics. The uniqueness of Orthodoxy is that it doesn't eliminate, doesn't level national traditions, culture, it unites everything and everyone in Christ. I have repeatedly said this, bearing my obedience both abroad and inside Russia. We won't break the local foundations and traditions. Orthodoxy has always been distinguished by patience and love. Therefore, on the contrary, we will support and preserve the individuality of each community on the continent, if its features don't contradict the teaching of the Church. These traditions won't affect the course of the service.
- Do you think that the accession of African parishes will open the movement of joining the Russian Church in other Churches that have recognized the non-canonical Church of Ukraine, such as in Cyprus, Greece?
- We have said before and we'll repeat: the Russian Orthodox Church is not engaged in expansion. The Patriarch of Constantinople committed a canonical crime by entering into ecclesiastical communion with schismatics. A number of Orthodox Churches supported this illegal decision and concelebrated with people who don't have canonical, legal ordination, who are not clergymen.
We know that, according to the teaching of the Church, "he who communicates with schismatics becomes a schismatic himself." We have defended and will continue to defend Orthodox Christians who refuse to associate themselves with schism.