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In Memoriam: His Grace Bishop Athanasius Akunda

4 January 2019

We were very sad to learn of the death of His Grace Bishop Athanasius Akunda, Bishop of Kisumu and Western Kenya. He was a friend and colleague for the 13 years that he worked in South Africa.

Bishop Athanasius Akunda, when he was Rector of the Church of St Nicholas of Japan in Brixton, Johannesburg.

Fr Athanasius had been a school teacher in Kenya, where Archbishop Seraphim Kykkotis ordained him as a deacon and sent him to Holy Cross Seminary in Brookline, Massachusetts, USA for further training. When Archbishop Seraphim became Archbishop of Johannesburg and Pretoria the African Orthodox Episcopal Church, with its headquarters in Soshanguve, had asked to unite with the Orthodox Church, and needed someone theologically trained who could catechise them in English, and as Deacon Athanasius was nearing the end of his training in America, Archbishop Seraphim invited him to come to South Africa to do that.

He arrived on Ascension Day, 13th June 2002, and I went with Grace Magu, a fellow-Kenyan who was working in the Archbishop’s office, to meet him at the airport, and on the way back took them to the top of Linksfield Ridge to show them something of the layout of Johannesburg.

After a couple of days with the Archbishop Fr Athanasius came to say with us, and a few days after that, on 17th June, we had a rally for Youth Day at Soshanguve, where he was introduced to his flock.

We had planned it as a catechetical event, to which all congregations of the former African Orthodox Episcopal Church were invited, and held a Requiem (Mnemosyne, Panikhida) for those who had been killed in Soweto and elsewhere in 1976, who were commemorated on Youth Day, and explained how the Orthodox Church commemorates the dead. Soon after that Deacon Athanasius began giving catechetical teaching in Soshanguve and Winterveld.

Deacon Athanasius Akunda with a catechism class in Winterveld, 2002

He stayed with us until he was able to rent a room, and later a house in Soshanguve, and we travelled around together, visiting people and teaching, taking one or two other people with us, who could both teach and be taught. On these journeys I got to know Deacon Athanasius, and he shared with me a vision he had for teaching the Christian faith through literature, and partly with that aim in view I began reading the short stories of Chechov.

Simon Thamaga and Deacon Athanasius Akunda. 2002

We worked with Simon Thamaga, the former Archbishop of the African Orthodox Episcopal Church, who had been baptised as a simple layman, and then was tonsured as a reader and ordained as a priest before his death in 2004, visiting the AOEC congregations as far away as Dennilton in Mpumalanga.

Axios! Ordination of Fr Athanasius to the priesthood at Pantanassa Church, Melrose, Johannesburg, by Archbishop Seraphim of Johannesburg and Pretoria. 14 July 2002

Within a month of his arrival, on 14 July 2002, Deacon Athanasius was ordained as a priest and Pantanassa Church in Melrose, Johannesburg, and several people travelled from Soshanguve for the ordination. He also registered at the University of South Africa for his studies for a doctorate in theology, for which I became his co-promoter, and I still have about 15 versions of his doctoral thesis on my computer, as we worked through it over the next few years..

After Fr Athanasius moved to Soshanguve to be closer to the people he was teaching, we continued to see each other quite frequently, as Archbishop Seraphim appointed us as Orthodox representatives to SACTE, the Southern African Committee for Theological Education. And from there we were drafted into SAQA, the South African Qualifications Authority, to participant in the Standards Generating Body for qualifications in Christian Theology and Ministry. A wide range of Christian denominations was represented there, and one of the things that was interesting was that we, as Orthodox, found ourselves closest to the Zionists in most things.

In May 2003 we organised a leaders training meeting for people from all over the diocese, held at the Cathedral of St Constantine & Helen in central Johannesburg, which unfortunately was never followed up. But a few months later a Catechetical School was started in Sophiatown, which later moved to Yeoville, and Fr Athanasius was made Deputy Dean, and there he endeared himself to the students.

His Beatitude Theodoros II, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa,  at the Catechetical School in Yeoville, flanked by Archbishop Seraphim (left) and Fr Athanasius, the Deputy Dean, (right).

Fr Athanasius also used the Catechetical School as the base for starting a new mission parish in Yeoville, which was becoming a cosmopolitan melting pot, with people of many different nationalities and cultures living there, and soon there was a thriving congregation of new converts, which unfortunately had to close when the Catechetical School itself close a few years later.

Another project we worked on together was a diocesan youth conference at the end of 2006. Unfortunately that too, like the leaders training course, was never repeated.

Teachers and students at the Catechetical School in Yeoville

In 2008 Fr Athanasius was also made parish priest of the Church of St Nicholas of Japan in Brixton, at first on a part-time basis, in addition to being Deputy Dean of the Catechetical School. He asked me, with the blessing of Archbishop Seraphim, to serve with him there as well. We had been among the founder members of the parish, and he wanted me to help him learn its traditions, so we continued, as before, teaching each other and learning from each other.

Holy Saturday 2011. Fr Athanasius at St Nicholas.

In 2010 Fr Athanasius graduated with the degree of Doctor of Theology in Missiology. His doctoral thesis was on Orthodox Dialogue with Bunyore Culture.  At the time of his graduation we talked of writing a joint book on Orthodox mission and culture, a project that will now, sadly, never be completed.

Fr Athanasius at his graduation at Unisa, 4 October 2010

In the course of his research he returned to Kenya a couple of times to do field work, interviewing people about the history and cultural practices of people and parishes. .

When the Catechetical School closed Fr Athanasius became full-time rector of St Nicholas, where he organised the youth for teaching and service, and was a much-loved parish priest.

At the beginning of 2015 the Patriarch visited South Africa, and announced that Fr Athanasius would be recalled to Kenya to teach in the Patriarchal Seminary there, and he left just after Pascha. His leaving was a huge loss to the Archdiocese, but we had to acknowledge that we had not been making the best use of his talents.

But his time at the seminary proved rather short, and within 9 months he had been elected as bishop of the new Diocese of Kisumu and Western Kenya. And it seems that he has been working energetically there getting the new diocese off to a good start.

With H. G.Bishop Athanasius of Kisumu in Homabay, pastoral work visit. To some point we had to trek due to poor Road network. Glory to God (Photo Amadiva Athanasios).

He fell ill in the USA about 6 weeks ago, and sadly did not recover.

Bishop Athanasius visiting Uganda.

Like any human being, he had his failings and weaknesses, but these were outweighed by his love, his gentleness, his sense of humour, and his pastoral concern for people. In the 13 years we worked together, so many things would have been impossible to do without him. We miss him here in South Africa, but his diocese will miss him even more.

I hoped that I might live long enough to see him become Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa, but that was not to be.

May his memory be eternal!

 

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Simon Shabangu permalink
    5 January 2019 12:55 pm

    May your memory be eternal my dear Bishop and friend.

  2. Whitney permalink
    6 January 2019 8:40 am

    Memory Eternal

  3. Nickson Andati permalink
    8 January 2019 11:12 am

    Can’t forget what he did at st mark eshianda,bukura,kisumu diocese,he built that church. He will surely be missed .memories,memories,memories..may his soul rest in eternal peace..

  4. Rachael permalink
    16 January 2019 1:48 pm

    May he find rest in our creator… Alutacontinue to his good deeds

Trackbacks

  1. Στην αιωνιότητα ο Επίσκοπος Κισούμου Αθανάσιος ! Συγκλονισμένοι όλοι οι φίλοι της Ορθόδοξης Ιεραποστολής ! Repose in Christ of His Grace Bishop Athanasios Akunda of
  2. Στην αιωνιότητα ο Επίσκοπος Κισούμου Αθανάσιος ! Συγκλονισμένοι όλοι οι φίλοι της Ορθόδοξης Ιεραποστολής ! Repose in Christ of His Grace Bishop Athanasios Akunda of
  3. Learning Etiquette and Protocol in the Orthodox Church – Clueless Reader

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