Black History Month: Come and See

February is the month where we take the time to acknowledge and celebrate the achievements of  African-Americans.  Some of us also recognize noteworthy kings and queens of Africa as well.  It is not unusual to have church bulitien boards filled with pictures of great religious leaders from Richard Allen (founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church) to Malcolm X.  To celebrate the African heritage of Christianity, we invite you to come and see the black presence in the ancient church.

Saints of Africa Icon by Fr. Jerome Sanderson

The Bible its self is a product of Africa.  The Old Testament used by the apostles and early Christians, the Septuagint, was translated from Hebrew to Greek by Jews who lived in Alexandria, Egypt over two centuries before the birth of Christ.   The fourth century bishop of that city, Athanasius the Great, compiled a list of Gospels and epistles for his priest to read during worship.  This list was canonized as the New Testament by a council in Carthage (in modern Algeria) in 397 AD.

St. Cyprian of Carthage

Some of the most noteworthy saints of the Orthodox Church were Africans.  Anthony the Great is considered the father of monks and nuns.  Catherine of Alexandria confounded pagan priest with her intelligent defense of the Christian faith. The words of Macarius are found in prayer books from Russia to Ethiopia.  In speaking of that great land of believers, our patron Saint Moses the Black was once a notorious gang leader who became much beloved among the Desert Fathers for his forgiveness and humility.  St. Moritz, Switzerland is named for Maurice, the Thebean commander and his soldiers who chose to die rather than sacrifice to Roman gods and kill their Germanic Christian brothers.

Ethiopian Theotokos

While Paul made missionary journeys in Asia Minor and Greece, Matthew went southward as far as Ethiopia.  Mark evangelized Egypt and Northern Africa.  To this day, the Coptic, Eastern, and Ethiopian Orthodox Churches continue to practice the faith that was handed down to them by these great Gospel writers.  Many Sub-Saharan Africans are turning to this indigenous expression of Christianity with the Orthodox Church in Uganda having ties to the Marcus Garvey movement of the Harlem Renaissance.

A Ugandan baby taking the Eucharist

In the winter of 1984, a descendant of AME preachers visited St. Cyprian of Carthage Orthodox Church in Richmond, VA.  He was so overjoyed and inspired by the presence of African saints depicted in the full sized icons that he converted to the faith and became a priest.  For over 20 years, Father Moses Berry has inspired a multi-ethnic, pan-Orthodox Brotherhood of St. Moses the Black encouraging people from all walks of life to “Come and See” the ancient faith and it’s African roots for themselves.

Fr Moses Berry
Fr Moses Berry

Come and see by clicking the links to the various articles and websites.  Find the Orthodox Church nearest to you and call the priest to ask more questions and investigate the faith and it’s ties to Africa.  Attend the worship services and discover a liturgical worship that has not changed for almost 2,000 years and is the same from Addis Ababa to Zadonsk.  May Black History Month inspire you to overcome obstacles and achieve goals.  If you seek further inspiration from ancient African Christianity, the doors of Orthodoxy are open to you.

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