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Monday, January 16, 2017

Orthodox Christian's mission to save humanity

Interview with Archbishop Makarios of Kenya

 “Our mission is to save humanity.” --- Archbishop Makarios

Archbishop Makarios of Kenya first visited the U.S. in 1971 when he went to Boston while a seminarian living in Paris. He was attending an international youth conference.  In 2017, he has returned to the U.S., to Metro Atlanta, to attend an international meeting of the World Conference of Churches focused on missions and evangelism. The meeting will involve planning an event that will take place in Tanzania in March 2018 which will be interdenominational, with 1,000 people from all over the world attending. Previous meetings have been held in Tanzania, South Africa, and Switzerland.

This interview just so happened to be done on what would have been the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 88th birthday. Makarios says he often quotes from MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  He will be attending the MLK service tomorrow at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Members of his group have also toured the Museum for Civil and Human Rights as part of their visit.

When asked to contrast the Ethiopian orthodox mindset with the Kenyan orthodox mindset, Makarios says there are a lot of differences. “They call themselves Ethiopian Orthodox Church, but they are not orthodox. The same with the Coptic church in Egypt. They were both actually introducing a kind of heresy because they were saying up to now, that Jesus Christ has only one nature. With us, we say Jesus has two natures – the human and the divine. From the 5th century, they separated themselves. They ran away from us and formed their own church.”

On the question of why churches are so segregated racially, Makarios says he doesn’t see it that way and has a different opinion. “I am dealing only with the African people. I have been evangelizing for the last 40 years and am dealing only with Africans. I am the only European. In our school, we have only Africans from all over Africa. I feel that we need to somehow make it known to the people that it is not the correct thing to think that Europeans are actually racists.”

When asked about the appeal Africans have toward orthodoxy, Makarios said, “It is very important for us to bring the message of the gospel to the African people. Orthodoxy is very close to the African cultures. Me, personally, I have great respect and honor for the African cultures. That’s why I fully participate in their cultural festivals and activities where I am always present. I don’t want the African people to feel that becoming orthodox will make them lose their identity, roots, culture and origins. I encourage them to keep their cultures, and the way I am encouraging them is by translating all the information on orthodoxy into their local dialects. We have students from different African nations, and because of our work on translations, they are celebrating services in their local dialects. Even the Greeks, if we lose our language, then we will lose our identity. I insist that we must translate the church services into the local dialects of the people. By keeping their language, they will also keep their culture.”

 Archbishop Makarios with priests at Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church, Marietta, Ga.

When asked about challenges orthodoxy faces with the onslaught of Islam, Makarios says having direct dialogue with Islamic leaders is very important. “I cannot say that we have direct problems with Islam.  I myself am very close with the Islamic people. I have many friends.”

He recently traveled to Iran to meet with Muslim leaders. “Not all Islamic people are against the Christians. Not all Muslim people are killing the people.” Makarios said last week he was traveling in a very dangerous part of Kenya, an area where much conflict between Muslims and Christians transpired resulting in assassinations, an area that is still very sensitive, where you need a lot of security to reach your destination, where a majority of the population are Muslims.

“I decided to go, of course with an escort, the police and the army.” Makarios said. “It was two days’ journey from Nairobi. Unfortunately, as we were passing through the forest, the jungle, one of our cars broke down. We were in the middle of nowhere. It was dangerous. Even the Muslims themselves were fearing.” Makarios said he was praying. Muslims helped them, and they were able to reach their destination safely.

Makarios gave us a brief history of orthodoxy in Kenya. “Orthodoxy is connected very much with the struggle for independence of the country. Kenya was like Cyprus, like my country, under the British administration, under colonialism. The Kenyan people were fighting for their liberation. We can go back to the 1930’s, but unfortunately, you see, all the missionaries, the Roman Catholics and Protestants, were under the influence of colonial rule, which meant that in their schools and churches, they were promoting colonialism. A group of people wanted to introduce schools which were independent and not under the control of the colonial people. That group of people were the future leaders of the orthodox church. They were able to establish independent schools in Kenya. They were the founders for the liberation of Kenya."

Makarios said that liberation starts with education. “We have the best schools in Kenya because those schools are not colonial-minded. They were only for education and the free will of the people and also religion. The religion which they have chosen is orthodoxy.

“Those churches were not fighting the Africans. So, when the British discovered that, they closed all the schools which were favoring independence and orthodoxy. So, the leaders of those independent schools were arrested by the British colonial administration. And they were imprisoned in jails. So, there was no activity between 1952 up to 1963. It was only after their independence in 1963 that these people came out from the prisons.” Makarios said the independent movement was led by Jomo Kenyatta. 

Archbishop Makarios of Kenya is also dean of the Orthodox Patriarchal Ecclesiastical School
“Now there is freedom in the country, so Orthodox Christians are able to exercise their religion freely, to establish their schools, their churches, and slowly by slowly, one African bishop was consecrated. Today we have five African bishops.”

Speaking of Archbishop Iakovos who marched in Selma with MLK but was later reported to have been ousted from his leadership role by Bartholomew I for his political views, Makarios said that Iakovos was with King and believed in his movement. When asked about advocacy of the church in the 1960’s being more vocal than today as far as fighting for human/civil rights, Makarios said he was not sure about that. 

Archbishop Iakovos (l) marched with MLK and was featured on Orthodox magazine cover.
“The fact is that the American Orthodox are the people who are supporting the mission in Africa. There is an Orthodox Christian Mission Center in Florida, and we receive assistance from there to promote orthodoxy among the Africans on the African continent.”

Books and CDs can be purchased by contacting the Archbishop at P. O. Box 46119, Nairobi, Kenya or emailing him at

As far as what the Catholics are doing in Kenya, Makarios said, “Of course they have been there for many centuries, but they have not done much. The people knew they were after colonialism. They were not supporting the cultures of the people. They were interfering, they were condemning. You know, Africans are very sensitive. They like their cultures. We honor, support and follow their cultures. We have nothing against their cultures."

Philosophically, when asked about the beginning of the bible, with God separating the darkness from the light, metaphorically what that could connote about separation of the races, Makarios replied that really didn’t have anything to do with race. “If you go through the bible, you will find that God created according to his image and likeness which means that we, the human being, we can really become like Him, like God, any kind of human creation. That is why, when I see you… you know when I met with a Muslim leader, he said to me, ‘This is the first time I am meeting with a Christian leader. How do you see me? I am Muslim, you are a Christian.’ There was no reason for me to think too much about it. And I told him immediately, ‘You know, you are in the image of God. You are a human being. God created all human beings according to His image which means that each and every human being is an icon of God.’ Very simple.”

Makarios says his mission is salvation. “This is my truth. This is why I am dealing with the Africans, because I see them as the images of God. I cannot reject them. I cannot tell them that because you are Africans, you are not like me. We are exactly the same. African, Europeans, Indians, Japanese, whatever – they will be judged equally when the time of judgment comes, we will all be judged equally.”

Makarios is a firm believer, and his countenance speaks to his beliefs. He just doesn’t talk to impress people. When asked about the mission of Orthodox Christians, Makarios said, “To save humanity. Our message is a message of salvation. To bring the people to Christ. If you know Christ, then you will be able to think more philosophically and realize that, yes, there is somebody, somewhere, if I follow Him, and if I become like Him, then there is also for me a space, a place in Heaven.”

Archbishop Makarios with Tomi Johnson and Maria Caras. (This interview took place on January 15, 2017 at Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church, Marietta, Ga.)

Interviewer's Note added 1/19/2017: This interview may be deemed more of a respectful public relations piece. Questions still may arise concerning attempts to paint religious missions in Africa as methods to "save" ancient cultures by Europeans who want to "civilize" others and exploit their cultures for their own ends. 

Hopefully this journalist will be able to travel to an African mission to see first hand how the religious community is helping natives there.

In this direction to understand more, read the following:


  1. Fr. P. says: Excellent work, Tomi!

  2. Maria says: Excellent journalism. Loved it!

  3. Pat says: Thanks so much for sharing, what a wonderful article.

  4. Ellen says: Read this on FB….nice job, Tomi!! J

  5. Donnis says: Beautiful article Tomi. Thank you!

  6. Hey Tomi, just read your article,nice, I hope he speaks the truth..your bro-in-law


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