African Orthodox Church
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The African Orthodox Church is a primarily African-American denomination founded in the United States in 1921. It has approximately 15 parishes and 5,000 members, down significantly from its peak membership.
The AOC holds to the historic three-fold ministry of bishops, priests, and deacons, and lays strong emphasis on apostolic succession. The church celebrates the seven sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church. Its worship is liturgical, of Eastern and Western rites. The Nicene, Apostles', and Athanasian creeds are affirmed.
The African Orthodox Church (AOC) was founded in the belief that black Episcopalians should have a denomination of their own. Episcopal rector George Alexander McGuire was consecrated a bishop on September 28, 1921, in Chicago, Illinois, by Archbishop (episcopus vagans) Joseph Rene Vilatte, assisted by Bishop Carl A. Nybladh who had been consecrated by Vilatte. This placed Bishop McGuire in apostolic succession, which was something he had greatly desired.
The new denomination was originally called the Independent Episcopal Church, but at its first conclave, or House of Bishops meeting, on September 10, 1924, the denomination was formally organized as the African Orthodox Church. Bishop McGuire was unanimously elected archbishop and enthroned with the title of "Archbishop Alexander".
McGuire served for several years as chaplain of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA), founded and led by Marcus Garvey. When Garvey decided in 1924 to relocate UNIA headquarters to the West Indies, McGuire left the UNIA and began to devote himself to the development and extension of his church. Soon Endick Theological Seminary was founded, as well as an order of deaconesses, and the Negro Churchman magazine began publication with McGuire as its editor.
The United States Census Bureau's Religious Bodies, 1926 edition, first reported one denomination "which now has a thriving organization of congregations" derived from Vilatte, that "aspires to ultimate association with Eastern Orthodox Churches as a racial or national unit" and "does not desire any association with Old Catholic Churches"—the AOC.(p1070) It had its episcopal see in New York City but incorporated in Florida. It claimed 13 organizations, with a membership of 1,508 without a church edifice. There was no organization reporting a parsonage. The number of ministers identified with the church was 30.(pp46–47)
Another denomination first reported in Religious Bodies, 1926 edition, named the African Orthodox Church of New York (AOCoNY) also had its episcopal see in New York City and incorporated in New York. The AOCoNY was in a fellowship "strictly one of spiritual communion" with the AOC and a distinct organization with "absolute independence." It claimed three organizations, with a membership of 717 with one church edifice. There was one organization reporting a parsonage. The number of ministers identified with the church was not reported.(p49)
The African Orthodox Church originally attracted mostly Anglican West Indian immigrants. It spread to the South in 1925 when McGuire started a parish in West Palm Beach, Florida. Two years later he consecrated an African, Daniel William Alexander, as Primate of the Province of South Africa and central and southern Africa. At this time McGuire was elected as patriarch with the title of Alexander I. The church then spread to British Uganda and British Kenya, where it grew to about 10,000. A congregation also developed in Nassau, Bahamas.(p37) Its greatest strength, however, was in New York City where on November 8, 1931, McGuire dedicated Holy Cross Pro-Cathedral, a remodeled house purchased by McGuire from funds obtained by mortgaging his own home.
In 1932 a bishop of the church went to Uganda and ordained Ruben Spartus Mukasa and one of his associates there priests of the African Orthodox Church. However, a few years later, Mukasa and his followers decided to align with the Eastern Orthodox Church. Mukasa went to Alexandria and was ordained by the patriarch there, while the African Orthodox Church lost its connection in Uganda.
McGuire died on November 10, 1934. He was survived by his wife, Ada Robert McGuire, a native of Antigua, and a daughter. At the time of his death the church had about 30,000 members, about fifty clergy and thirty churches located in the United States, Africa, Canada (e.g. St Philip's, Whitney Pier, Nova Scotia), Cuba, Antigua and Venezuela.
Relationship to Syriac Patriarch
A notice from the Syriac Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East concerning schismatic bodies and episcopi vagantes, dated December 10, 1938, states that "after direct expulsion from official Christian communities" some schismatic bodies exist, including "all the sects claiming succession through Vilatte," that claim "without truth to derive their origin and apostolic succession from some ancient Apostolic Church of the East" and
[...] some of these schismatic bodies have with effrontery published statements which are untrue as to an alleged relation "in succession and ordination" to our Holy Apostolic Church and her forefathers, We find it necessary to announce to all whom it may concern that we deny any and every relation whatsoever with these schismatic bodies and repudiate them and their claims absolutely. Furthermore, our Church forbids any and every relationship, and above all, intercommunion with all and any of these schismatic sects and warns the public that their statements and pretensions [...] are altogether without truth.(p70)
The notice named the AOC specifically as an example of such schismatic bodies.(p70)
- Mead, Frank S., Handbook of Denominations in the United States, 10th edition, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995, pp. 128-129
- United States. Bureau of the Census (1929). Religious bodies 2 (1926 ed.). Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office. pp. 45–49, 1070. OCLC 628203882. Retrieved 2013-04-24.
- Brandreth, Henry R. T (1987) [First published in 1947]. Episcopi vagantes and the Anglican Church. San Bernardino, CA: Borgo Press. ISBN 0-89370-558-6.
- history of Orthodoxy in Uganda
- Sunday Religion, Inspired by Saturday Nights - New York Times
- Alexander, D. W. Constitution and Canons and Episcopate of the African Orthodox Church Beaconsfield 1942
- Arthur C. Thompson's The History of the African Orthodox Church (1956)
- Byron Rushing's A Note on the Origin of the African Orthodox Church (JNH, Jan. 1972)
- Gavin White's Patriarch McGuire and the Episcopal Church