Metropolitan Alexander of Nigeria
May 15, 1960 ~ June 30, 2023
Memory Eternal ~ Αἰωνία ἡ Μνήμη
The Church of Alexandria has truly lost one of her stalwarts—a man of stature, not only because he was a tall man, but because of his vision, his intellect, and his theological thought that pushed boundaries and challenged what some accept unquestioningly as “sacred cows.” He was also an outspoken critic of the Russian Church’s uncanonical encroachment into the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa. Metropolitan Alexander of Nigeria was a true Bishop, “rightly defining the word of truth,” a spokesman for an Orthodoxy that was not afraid to enter into dialogue with the world.
: A MAN OF STATURE: THE LATE METROPOLITAN ALEXANDER OF NIGERIA by Metropolitan Petros of Accra
He was my beloved brother, friend, and mentor. I first met him on the day of his ordination as presbyter in 1988. Hearing that I was from Johannesburg and knowing that was to be sent there to serve in a parish, he sought to meet me. That was the beginning of a friendship that lasted all these years.
Metropolitan Alexander was elected and ordained Bishop of Nigeria (a Diocese also encompassing Niger, Benin, and Togo) in November of 1997. He adopted Nigeria as his new homeland and her people as his people. He was devoted to mission with a pioneering spirit. His words from his speech, “Mission and Culture,” delivered at the Volos Academy in 2009, speak for themselves:
Why can’t the African Church have its own liturgical form, an expression of its own character? Did it not have one in the past, or is the creation of new liturgical forms heretical? […] Why must Byzantine and Russian music be the music of our assemblies? Does it express us? Does it speak to our hearts? Is our character expressed in these? Why do we import wine for the Holy Eucharist from Greece, considering it the most proper? Where is the offering of our gifts, our own gifts, which we made with our own hands to offer back to their Creator? And what would happen if we didn’t produce wine and instead produced other products?
These questions give a clear impression of his bold missionary thinking.
The fact that the Gospel is clothed in the flesh of the world means that not only does it not reject any culture from the outset, but rather that it is grafted into the existing culture with the goal of transforming it, “Christifying” it and “Churchifying” it. Because what is not assumed is not healed and is not saved. Yes, there are some parts of culture that it will not be able to retain, that will not bear the light of the Gospel, because they contain death, and we are talking about resurrection and life. These parts of culture we ourselves are the first to reject, with whatever cost this entails. […] Today we face a new reality. The Church of God has opened itself up to the whole universe. This is the Church to which you belong, but also the same one to which we belong, along with Asians, Aleuts, Latin Americans, and many others. We are following in the wake of a change, a shift in Christianity’s center of gravity, from the rapidly de-Christianizing West to the countries you refer to as the Third World, a world which has recently emerged from the demonic domination of colonialism and is trying to regroup and rediscover—to the extent possible—its stolen identity, relying on its own inner strength to move forward.*
Likewise, in the eulogy delivered by Metropolitan Gregory of Cameroun at the funeral of Metropolitan Alexander, he made mention of the late Metropolitan’s words to him:
All that we are doing today and in our generation is doomed to be lost in appearance…. Africa will embrace them and give them her own colour, her own music, her own expression… we give as much as we can. Africa will choose her own way of restructuring them, because all these are building materials. With these building materials one builds an Acropolis, another builds the Great Wall of China, while yet another, the Hagia Sophia.
Metropolitan Alexander struggled courageously with a terminal illness for many months. On the 4th of February, the Universal Day for the fight against cancer, he wrote of his own struggle with the illness:
This day is dedicated to the struggle and fight against cancer, an illness that many people worldwide are called to deal with. They either defeat it or are defeated by it. In this struggle one needs deep faith, trust in the God-given medical means and enormous reservoirs of spiritual strength.
Let us not forget that we all partake in fallen nature and no one can avoid its consequences.
How we approach these consequences, however, is largely determined by how much the Resurrection has spoken to our hearts, by whether we truly believe in the Resurrection and what it means for us.
At this time, during which I myself am battling with this illness, I reach-out to all fellow-sufferers and pray that the Lord, through the intercession of His Saints, grant us all physical and spiritual strength. And let us never forget that “His Will be done.”
Metropolitan Alexander has left a void among us that will be difficult for anyone to fill. He will be sorely missed. As for us, “we will stand on the shoulders of giants” like him. May his memory be eternal! May he continue to pray for the Africa that he truly loved, defended, and laboured for.
✠ Petros of Accra
*Paraphrased from “Mission and Culture,”The Wheel Journal, 2021.
See Metropolitan Alexander’s article written for Orthodoxy in Dialogue: Faith in a Time of Pandemic: Why Are We Sitting Here? . Three years old, it remains one of our most popular and most shared guest articles. See also a young gay inquirer’s first impression of His Eminence.
Metropolitan Petros (Parginos) is the ruling hierarch for the Metropolis of Accra, Ghana in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa, and the founder/administrator of St. Mark’s Academy in Johannesburg, South Africa. He holds a PhD from the University of the North West focusing on Orthodox-Catholic dialogue. His Eminence has written previously for Orthodoxy in Dialogue.