Kenya’s Orthodox Miracle

A humble school forms Africa’s next generation of orthodox priests

story and photographs by Peter Lemieux

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“It’s a miracle,” said Archbishop Makarios of Kenya and Irinoupolis about the Orthodox Patriarchal Ecclesiastical School some 15 miles west of Kenya’s capital of Nairobi.

“I say it’s a miracle,” he continued, “because we have people coming from all over the continent belonging to different cultures and different nations. This institution is the center for Orthodoxy not just for Kenya, but for the whole African continent.”

Hearing these words alone, a visitor might expect to discover a cluster of well-maintained buildings encircled by a sprawling campus nestled in one of Nairobi’s more upscale suburbs. Nothing could be further from the truth.

A hard place to find, this tiny, resource-poor institution is lost among the narrow, unpaved streets of Kawanegware – Nairobi’s most notoriously dangerous shantytown. To get to the seminary, the visitor takes Naivasha Road, the district’s major thoroughfare, until he reaches an otherwise ordinary intersection – that is if it were not for the clutter of some dozen signposts, each advertising a different nearby church congregation.

“Sanctuary of Glory Gospel Revival Centre” reads one. “African Independent Pentecostal Church of Africa,” “African Christian Church” and “Seventh Day Adventist Church” read still others. Hidden among the signs, a hand-painted panel in black and white reads in part: “Orthodox Patriarchal Ecclesiastical School Makarios III Archbishop of Cyprus.” At the top, a small red arrow points left.

Veering left, Naivasha Road’s pot-holed pavement quickly turns to a rutty dirt street, and life in the surrounding slum slows to a crawl. Lining either side of the trail, drainage ditches bubble with stagnant sewage. Cows graze in the nearby trash heaps. However, such placid appearances can be deceiving; the neighborhood has an unrivaled infamy for violent crime. For the few daring to jerk their way through this bumpy stretch, locked doors and unfastened seatbelts are the preferred precautionary measures. After several twists and turns, the dirt lane abruptly narrows and the seminary’s entrance comes into view. Uniformed, armed guards emerge from behind the closed campus gates to greet the arriving visitors.

The seminary traces its origins to the former, controversial president of Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios III, who visited Kenya in 1970. The following year, in cooperation with President Jomo Kenyatta, the archbishop devised plans to construct a seminary in the Riruta Satellite section of Kawanegware. Opening its doors over a decade later in 1982, the seminary has already graduated more than 500 African Orthodox priests. In 1995, in an effort to foster African unity, the seminary began recruiting students of the Byzantine Orthodox tradition from all over the continent.

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