African Orthodox Church

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The African Orthodox Church (AOC), registered as the Holy African Orthodox Church, is an Episcopalian, primarily African-American denomination which was founded in the United States in 1918 by the joint collaboration of its first Patriarch George Alexander McGuire and Marcus M. Garvey. It has approximately 15 parishes and 5,000 members, significantly down 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 Catholic Church. Its worship is liturgical, of Eastern and Western rites. The Nicene, Apostles', and Athanasian creeds are affirmed.[1]


The African Orthodox Church (AOC) was founded on 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, who had served as Chaplain-General of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (U. N. I. A.), in Chicago, Illinois, by an episcopus vagans, Archbishop 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.[1]

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.[2]: 1070  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.[2]: 46–47 

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.[2]: 49 

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.[3]: 37 

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 Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria. Mukasa went to Alexandria and was ordained by the patriarch there, while the African Orthodox Church lost its connection in Uganda.[4]

The St. John William Coltrane Church in San Francisco was founded in 1971 and joined the AOC in 1982.[5]

Relationship to the Oriental Syriac Patriarchate[edit]

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.[3]: 70 

The notice named the AOC specifically as an example of such schismatic bodies.[3]: 70 

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Mead, Frank S., Handbook of Denominations in the United States, 10th edition, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995, pp. 128-129
  2. ^ a b c United States. Bureau of the Census (1929). "Religious bodies: 1926". Religious bodies. Vol. 2 (1926 ed.). Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office. pp. 45–49, 1070. hdl:2027/mdp.39015002601345. OCLC 628203882. Retrieved 2013-04-24.
  3. ^ a b c Brandreth, Henry R. T. (n.d.) [1947]. Episcopi vagantes and the Anglican Church (PDF). Northumberland, Great Britain: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
  4. ^ "history of Orthodoxy in Uganda". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2009-10-29.
  5. ^ Freedman, Samuel G. (December 1, 2007). "Sunday Religion, Inspired by Saturday Nights". The New York Times.

Works cited[edit]

  • 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. "Patriarch McGuire and the Episcopal Church" in Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church. No. 38. — 1969. — P. 109—141.

External links[edit]