19.03.2024 Author: Yuliya Novitskaya

Vladyka Konstantin: “For me, Africa is the place of my ministry, my native continent”

My conversation with the Acting Patriarchal Exarch of Africa, Bishop Constantine (Ostrovsky) of Zaraisk, took place shortly after the decision of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Alexandria to remove him from archpastoral ministry. But we talked mainly about other things: about how the parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church in Africa live and what problems the clergy face on the ground; the humanitarian charitable projects jointly organized with Maria Lvova-Belova, the Children’s Rights Commissioner under the President of the Russian Federation; the Country for Children Foundation, and about how often Vladyka Konstantin plans to visit Africa.


– Vladyka Konstantin, the Patriarchal Exarchate of Africa began the coming year with the largest-scale trip of clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church to various countries on the African continent. What were the goals of the participants in this historic trip?

– The goal was actually quite simple – to perform services on the great church holiday of the Nativity of Christ (Christmas). First and foremost for our compatriots, but also for all those who wished to attend. Naturally, the very fact of a priest coming to another country arouses interest. Therefore, our priests not only offered services and Church sacraments for people: Confession, Holy Communion and Baptism, they also held meetings and conversations. However, the main goal, I repeat, was to perform the Divine Services.

– Seventeen nations were visited during this trip. Summarizing the results, what problems do ministers face on the ground? Are they different from country to country or are they the same?

– Priests who serve in the field face a variety of problems. First of all, we need to understand that they left the Patriarchate of Alexandria and came to us. Therefore, it is absolutely understandable that the Patriarchate of Alexandria is taking certain measures against them. But I would like to emphasize one very essential point, which is our main principle. We do not quarrel and we do not make loud statements. Our task is to solve all problems peacefully and to calmly organize the church life of newly arrived priests. And we do it methodically, routinely, without unnecessary noise. The most important thing is to keep a peaceful spirit.

Priests are living people who have families and parishioners. Therefore, like any other person, they also have certain problems. If we talk about general problems… There are certain issues of organizing the life of the Russian Orthodox Church in Africa. This is a slightly different range of topics in itself. But the most serious and urgent thing is to build the right order in everything.

Since the beginning of this year I have already visited Egypt and South Africa; I am now off to Tanzania, then there will be other trips. All of them are filled with roughly the same activities: Meetings, communication, listening to people and their aspirations, understanding how exactly they live and what they need. And finding ways to solve their problems.

– I cannot help but touch upon the decision of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Alexandria to suspend you from archpastoral ministry. In general, how much opposition do you feel from the Patriarchate of Alexandria? And to what extent can it interfere with the activities of the Patriarchal Exarchate of Africa as a whole?

– Strictly speaking, the decision of the Patriarchate of Alexandria has nothing to do with me, since I am a cleric of the Russian Orthodox Church. From the ecclesiastical and legal point of view, I am subordinate to the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, since I am a bishop and his vicar, that is, an assistant to the Patriarch. And as any Russian bishop, I am subordinate to the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church. Thus, the Patriarchate of Alexandria can make absolutely any decisions – that is its own affair. As for opposition on their part… Life will show. For now, we are quietly carrying out our activities.

– What is the situation with feeding our Russian-speaking brothers and sisters living in different African countries and local residents? Is there a need to increase the number of clergy and build new Churches and spiritual centers?

– There are already Russian churches in Africa. Some of them have been around for a very long time. For example, in Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, and South Africa, Russian Orthodox priests serve there.

As for your question… This is life. Now I am visiting countries to get acquainted with the situation on the ground. Every temple should be built for a reason. There must be a community there, at least a small one. As a last resort – the desire of our local Russian citizens. Plus, there are certain external conditions – I mean indoors. Of course, in each case the issue will be resolved based on the actual situation being faced.

– Today, parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church are founded in more than thirty countries. How often do requests come from other regions of these countries or new countries asking for clergy to be sent to them?

– First of all, we work with the local clergy. After all, the Patriarchal Exarchate of Africa is, first of all, local priests who came to the Russian Orthodox Church. Therefore, communication with these priests comes first. Then we work with those priests who want to move to the Russian Orthodox Church. Next is communication with people who want to be ordained in the Russian Orthodox Church and study in our seminaries. We pay a lot of attention to this process.

Presently, more than forty seminarians are studying in four seminaries in Russia. There are candidates for ordination among them – people who are preparing to receive the holy orders of the Diaconate and Priesthood.

As for the issue of sending Russian priests to serve in Africa, I think you understand perfectly well that this is connected with serious organizational issues. A priest must go to a specific place and for a specific service. Such issues require very serious consideration and study.

– I know that the Patriarchal Exarchate, together with the Commissioner for Children’s Rights under the President of the Russian Federation Maria Lvova-Belova and the Country for Children Foundation, is implementing humanitarian charity projects in Africa. What are these projects and how were they born?

– Not only priests live in Africa, ordinary believers are there. We perfectly see the situation that is developing and we hear the people’s requests. During the St. Petersburg Russia-Africa summit, a trilateral agreement on interaction was signed between the Patriarchal Exarchate of Africa, the Commissioner for Children’s Rights under the President of the Russian Federation and the Country for Children charity foundation.

The Country for Children charity foundation allocated more than 2 million rubles to create a farm for growing crops in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The money was used to rent 20 hectares of land, for plowing and harrowing the field, seeds and fertilizers, and wages for the workers. According to forecasts, the harvest should be good. About 500 families with children living below the poverty line will be able to receive it.

And in the village of Matara in Kenya, they built a poultry house for 500 chickens and purchased incubators. Charitable assistance for these purposes was also provided by the Country for Children foundation and amounted to 900,000 rubles.

Today, malnutrition is one of the reasons for the high mortality rate of African children. Therefore, the first priority is to help solve the food problem.

– Vladyka Konstantin, how often do you plan to visit African countries in the future?

– This is my ministry and I need to do it constantly. Therefore, I plan to travel regularly and often. In a few days I am going on my third trip this year. We will continue to make trips with large groups of Russian Orthodox priests. We hope that we will be able to organize a similar trip for Pascha (Easter). This is a serious and responsible matter that requires a lot of preparation. I hope that with God’s help we will be able to achieve this.

– And at the end of the conversation, a traditional question from our magazine. What is it like, your Africa? What attracts you most about it? What sticks in your soul?

– I have been abroad a lot and I can say with confidence that Africa is the same land as anywhere else in the world. The same people live there as in other countries. The same Orthodox priests serve there and the same Orthodox parishioners come to the churches. They are no different. Therefore, for me, Africa is the place of my ministry, my native continent.

– Vladyka Konstantin, we wish you God’s help in your labors.


Yulia NOVITSKAYA, writer, journalist-interviewer, correspondent of the “New Eastern Outlook

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