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Important note: The Archdiocese of Johannesburg and Pretoria has recently began its own mission work, and in 1999 Archbishop Ioannis has therefore asked that the Society of St Nicholas be closed. The information on this page is therefore mainly of historic interest. More recently Archbishop Damaskinos gave his blessing to the Holy Community of New Sion, which is forming a Fellowship that we hope will reume the work of the Society of St Nicholas.


Work of the Society

The Society used to run a book agency. Though it does not have permanent premises for a book shop, where we sold books after the Divine Liturgy on Sundays at various Orthodox parishes in Gauteng, South Africa and also sell books by mail.

In addition, we distributed Orthodox literature free of charge to people interested in Orthodoxy. Some of this is material that we have bought out of profits from sales of books. People also donated old books and pamphlets on Orthodoxy that they no longer needed, and we used them for this purpose

We are also had some Orthodox literature translated into South African languages, and hoped to publish it ourselves when the translation was complete.

In 1997 the Society published a Readers Service Book, which was particularly useful for Orthodox communities with no permanent priest. It contains the services of the Hours (Third and Sixth), the Obednitsa, the troparia and kontakia for Sundays and major feasts, and the Slava service.

Evangelion newsletter The Society also published a newsletter, Evangelion, which was sent to all members of the Society, and to others who requested it. The newsletter dealt mainly with various aspects of Orthodox mission.

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The Parish of St Nicholas of Japan, Johannesburg

The Parish of St Nicholas is an Orthodox parish in Johannesburg, South Africa, and has services mainly in English. The parish is under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Johannesburg and Pretoria in the Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa.

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Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa

The Orthodox Church in Africa is under the Patriarchate of Alexandria and all Africa.

His Beatitude Theodoros II
Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa
PO Box 1307

Tel: 00203-482-2890
Fax: 00203-483-5684

The Patriarchate of Alexandria and all Africa now has its own Web page, where you can find the current addresses of all the Orthodox bishops in Africa.

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Other Web Sites

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History of the Society of St Nicholas

The Society started in 1987, when a group of twelve people who were concerned about Orthodox mission met in Johannesburg.

St Nicholas of Japan was chosen as the patron saint of the society because he was a Russian missionary who went to Japan and planted a Japanese Church. He did not seek to turn Japanese Christians into Russians, and so was a model of the kind of cross-cultural mission the society wished to foster. The Society's main aim was to encourage Orthodox Christians in Southern Africa to reach out in mission to people of all cultural, ethnic and linguistic backgrounds.

At that time most Orthodox Churches in South Africa were closely linked to immigrant ethnic communities (primarily Greek and Serbian) and their church services were in the languages of those communities. Those Churches were fully occupied in meeting the existing needs of their communities, and it would have been unfair to expect them to take on the burden of evangelising other communities and ministering to them as well. The Society therefore sought to establish a new parish that would be mainly English-speaking, and would concentrate on ministry to people who might not easily fit in to the existing Orthodox communities.

The Society invited Fr Chrysostom Frank to serve as its chaplain. Fr Chrysostom had served as a priest in the Diocese of Johannesburg, but had gone to the USA to study at St Vladimir's Seminary, and had become a priest of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA). An agreement was reached with the late Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa, His Beatitude Parthenios III, whereby Fr Chrysostom would be seconded to serve in South Africa. Fr Chrysostom returned to South Africa in October 1987, and began celebrating the Divine Liturgy in St Matthew's Anglican Church Hall in Fairmount, Johannesburg, which was the beginning of a new mission church.

Just before Pascha in 1988 the Society moved to new borrowed premises - a chapel in the Anglican parish of St Martin's in the Veld, Dunkeld. Pascha was celebrated there, and the black assistant priest of the Anglican parish, whose flat was next to the chapel, commented with some amazement, "I didn't know whites could sing like that".

After a year, the new church was fairly well established and so at the annual meeting of the Society in 1989, a parish council was set up and the Parish of St Nicholas of Japan functioned separately from the Society. The Society then changed its focus, and concentrated on distributing Orthodox literature. It also made contact with non-canonical groups in South Africa that called themselves Orthodox. The chief of these was the African Orthodox Church, which had had connections with the African Orthodox Church in Kenya and Uganda.

Later history of the Parish of St Nicholas

At the end of 1989 the parish of St Nicholas moved again, this time to the Russian chapel in Yeoville. The chapel had been set up by the Russian community as part of a community centre, and was a room in a house. At one time a priest of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia had served there, and when we used it, a Serbian priest served Vespers once a month. The chapel was small, but at least it had the advantage that one did not need to schlep the altar furnishings out of storage every Sunday.

Later in 1990 the parish bought an old Pentecostal Church, the Brixton Full Gospel tabernacle in Fulham Road, Brixton, and converted it into an Orthodox Church. We began celebrating the Divine Liturgy there at the end of October.

There were also great political and social changes in that year. In South Africa, opposition parties were unbanned and political leaders like Nelson Mandela were released from jail. Like many Second-World countries, South Africa was experiencing glasnost and perestroika (or Pretoriastroika as some called it). One result of this was that there were many new immigrants from Second-World countries into South Africa - Russians, Romanians and Bulgarians. The Parish of St Nicholas sought to provide a spiritual home for such immigrants. The parish used a blend of Slavonic and Byzantine musical traditions, so that those familiar with Slavonic music would find themselves at home.

There were still some canonical anomalies in the status of the parish, however. Since Fr Chrysostom had been seconded by the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), he commemorated Metropolitan Theodosius of the OCA in the Divine Liturgy as well as Archbishop Paul of Johannesburg and Pretoria, which led one of the other priests in the diocese to describe us, only half in jest, as "bigamists".

The anomalies were resolved in a rather painful way. In 1996 Fr Chrysostom decided to leave the Orthodox Church to join the Roman Catholic Church, and expressed the view that the parish had "no alternative" but to become a Byzantine-rite Roman Catholic Church - what is commonly called "uniate". Most of the parishioners, however, had no desire to do this, and wanted to remain Orthodox. At the request of the parish council, Metropolitan Theodosius of the OCA sent Fr Bertrand Olechnowicz (who had once spent a few weeks in the parish) to resolve the anomalies in the relationship between the parish and the local diocese, and to prepare the parish to function while it did not have a permanent priest. That this was achieved within three weeks, in January 1997, was miraculous.

During 1997 clergy of neighbouring parishes helped the parish to continue, by celebrating the Divine Liturgy. since their had their own parishes to look after, the celebrations of the Divine Liturgy were at odd times, and there was a "telephone tree" to let members of the parish know when the next service would be. Fr Alexander of Sophiatown and Fr Demetrios of Krugersdorp helped a great deal, as did Fr Nektarios of Orange Grove and Fr Nikodemos of the Cathedral parish. For festivals like Pascha and the Nativity, we joined in with those parishes, and the choir of St Nicholas joined with the choirs of the other parishes.

In December 1997 Fr Bertrand Olechnowicz returned yet again, this time as the permanent priest of the parish of St Nicholas, serving completely within the Archdiocese of Johannesburg and Pretoria.

In 2001 Fr Bertrand, by then known as Fr Iakovos, returned to the USA, and was replaced by Fr Mircea Corpodean, who had come to South Africa to serve the Romanian Community, but served at St Nicholas pending the construction of a Romanian Church.

In 2008 Fr Mircea went to New Zealand, and was replaced by Fr Athanasius Akunda. For more, see the parish of St Nicholas website

Later history of the Society of St Nicholas

The Society of St Nicholas has continued with its work of literature distribution through the bookstall, and with the publication of the Evangelion newsletter.

In 1997 one of the non-canonical bodies the Society had made contact with, the African Orthodox Episcopal Church, which operates mainly to the north of Pretoria, met Archimandrite Michael Visvinis, the Dean of the Church of the Annunciation of the Theotokos in Pretoria, and through him made a formal request to the Archbishop of Johannesburg and Pretoria to be received into the Orthodox Church.

In a more distant field, the Society was instrumental in putting groups of would-be Orthodox Christians in the Northern Mariana Islands in contact with the new Metropolitan of Hong Kong and South-East Asia. In small ways, we hope to continue to encourage Orthodox mission everywhere.

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Orthodoxy in Africa

According to tradition, the Orthodox Christian faith was brought to Africa by St Mark around AD 65, when he planted the Church at Alexandria in Egypt.

For the first couple of centuries the Bishop of Alexandria was the only bishop in Egypt, but at the end of the second century the church began to expand rapidly among the indigenous population of Egypt, and so more bishops were needed. When the new dioceses were established, the bishop of Alexandria was given the title "pope", because Alexandria had been the original church in Egypt. The title "pope" was later also adopted by the bishops of Rome.

A theological dispute in Egypt in the fourth century led to the calling of the First Council of Nicaea in AD 325, and eventually to the formulation of the Symbol of Faith (Nicene Creed). One of the protagonists in this was Pope Athanasius who also supported the mission to Ethiopia led by St Frumentius.

After the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451 there was a schism. The non-Chalcedonian party in Africa was the larger, and today it is known as the Coptic Orthodox Church. It is led by Pope Shenouda III. Since the Society of St Nicholas is linked to the Greek Patriarchate we will concentrate on that here.

The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, which is in communion with the Patriarchates of Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem, Moscow and the other autocephalous and autonomous Orthodox Churches is led by the Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa.

In the second half of the 20th century the greatest growth in the Orthodox Church in Africa has taken place in tropical Africa, starting with the countries around the shores of Lake Victoria - Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. There are also active Orthodox missions in West Africa, especially Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon. For more information on this, you can read an article on Orthodox mission in tropical Africa.

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Book agency

The Society of St Nicholas used to run one of the few Orthodox Christian book stores in Southern Africa. The bookstall was generally open after the Divine Liturgy at the Church of St Nicholas of Japan on Sundays, but also sometimes went to other parishes in Gauteng at the invitation of the parish priest. It had been at the Cathedral of Saints Constantine and Helen in central Johannesburg, St Nektarios in Orange Grove, Saints Cosmas and Damian in Sophiatown and St Andrews in Krugersdorp. The Society and its bookstall were closed at the request of Archbishop Ioannis in 1999

While you're here, why not visit some of the other pages on this site?

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This page is maintained by:

Deacon Stephen Hayes

Updated: 2014-08-02