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Mission and migrancy

10 November 2015

Today I had a visit from three priests, and we had an interesting discussion on mission and migrancy.

Fr Ciprian Burlacioiu is a Romanian priest based in Munich in Germany, and is doing research into mission and migrancy. He has recently completed a monograph on the African Orthodox Church in South Africa, and his current research project grows out of that.

Fr Diliza Valisa and Fr Mthuthuzeli Thompson are priests in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Fr Diliza is writing a history of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in South Africa, and I am editing it for him to help him get it ready for publication.

Mthuthuzeli Thompson, Ciprian Burlacioiu, Diliza Valisa

Mthuthuzeli Thompson, Ciprian Burlacioiu, Diliza Valisa

Cipian himself is in a situation of migrant ministry — his parish in Munich caters mainly for migrant workers from Romania, who are there to make money and possibly go home, so the church is not the highest priority in their lives.

Mthuthuzeli Thompson

Mthuthuzeli Thompson

Mthuthuzeli Thompson is in a similar position. The bulk of the congregation are migrants from Ethiopia. They have their Sunday services at 6:00 am, and it’s all over by 8:30. Most of the congregation are businessmen, and they have to be at work by 9:00. The South Africans complain that the services are too early. By the time they wake up on a Sunday morning the service is over.

Fr Diliza Valisa commented on the fissiparousness of South African Christianity. No one knows exactly how many different Christian denominations there are in South Africa, but there are well over 10 000.The Ethiopian Church in South Africa sprang from the Ethiopian Church founded by Mangena Mokone in Marabastad, Pretoria, in 1892. It was a breakaway from the Wesleyan Methodist Church. It united briefly with the African Methodist Episcopal Church of the USA, and then a substantial fraction under James Mata Dwane joined linked to the Anglican Church as the Order of Ethiopia, and it continued like that for 70 years, when it weas decided that the Order of Ethiopia should have its own bishop. Unfortunately they could not agree who should be elected, so the choice fell to the Anglican Synod of Bishops, who chose the Revd Sigqibo Dwane, the grandson of the founder. He was not a popular choice, however, because he had not grown up within the Order of Ethiopia himself, and so there were numerous splits. One group, under the Revd Ephraim Hopa, who had been the Provincial of the Order, made contact with the Church of Ethiopia, and united with it, so completing Mangena Mokone’s vision of 90 years before, of an indigenous African Church that was older than most of the European churches that had sent missionaries to Africa. But even then there were splits, as people wanted to be leaders on their own account, and that in turn led us to a discussion of married bishops.

Fr Ciprian Burlacioiu

Fr Ciprian Burlacioiu

Many of the clergy who left the Ethiopian Orthodox Church did so because they wanted to be bishops, and as bishops in the Orthodox churches have to be monks, and therefore unmarried, they saw no future for themselves and left to start their own denominations. Mthuthuzeli Thompson said that in part that was a cultural thing. In Xhosa culture, in particular, an unmarried man is still a child, and his opinion does not count. The idea of an unmarried man being a church l;eader therefore does not fit, and people find it difficult to respect an unmarried bishop.

Fr Ciprian Burlacioiu said that his original research into the African Orthodox Church indicated that Christianity had spread in many p0arts of Africa through migrancy. Migrant workers went to the diamond mines at Kimberley (where the AOC started) mainly in order to earn money to buy guns. But in the course of working in such places they came into contact with the Christian faith in various forms, and then took it back to the places where they lived, and thus the Christian message spread though largely informal channels of migrant workers.

He is here to do more research into this, and after our discussion, he and I went to the national archives so he could follow it up, but unfortuately the power was off at the archives, and so we could not go there. That is rather sad, as he is only here for a limited time, and it seems that one of the places where he was hoping to do research may not be available.

Ciprian also commented on the recent influx of refugees from war-torn Syria into Germany. Some have said that they are economic migrants rather than refugees. Ciprian said that there are also large numbers of economic migrants in Munich — many from Greece.

On Sunday he joined us in our service at Mamelodi, and as it was the bfeast of St Michael and the Angels, he spoke a little about the angels. And even there, though the people in the congregation have lived in town all their lives, they still gregard “home” as a rural area somewhere in the region of Polokwane or Tzaneen. So migrancy persists for a long time, and the church has not really come to terms with it.

St Michael and all the Bodiless Powers of heaven, celebrate in a house church in Mamelodi East

St Michael and all the Bodiless Powers of Heaven, celebrated in a house church in Mamelodi East

Anyway, we had an interesting conversation, and here I am trying to write down what I remember of it before I forget completely, like Boswell recording the converstions of Samuel Johnson. But if anyone reading this knows of any research resources that might be usefulo for Fr Ciprian’s migrancy and mission project, please let him know. You can contact him at


2 Comments leave one →
  1. Ashley permalink
    6 January 2016 12:12 am


    I am a seminarian (RC) and a semi regular reader of your fascinating blog. Semi regular because I do not have regular access to the internet. I am interested in obtaining a copy of the book you are helping to publish on the history of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in South Africa. When will it be ready for publication, and where can I get a copy?

    God bless,

    A Ritchie


  1. Sunday in Gauteng: Greek Liturgy, Romanian Temple, Turkish Mosque | Khanya

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