A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE ORTHODOX CHURCH IN GHANA
A Chronology of Events, 1884-1982
28 March 1884 Church founder Rev. Kwamin Ntsetse Bresi-Ando was born, on this date, in the British Colony of the Gold Coast (today known as Ghana, West Africa). The Ghanaian church community that he founded (in 1932) eventually became the canonical Orthodox Church of Ghana, within the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria (in 1982). Bresi-Ando was very well educated and well known in his day as a powerful, versatile religious figure. He had a vision for religious, cultural, economic and political emancipation for the African man during the days of British colonial rule.
31 March 1926 Originally an ordained minister in the Methodist Church in the Gold Coast, Bresi-Ando left the Methodist Church, and the Gold Coast, and started his own independent Protestant church in eastern Nigeria on this date, under the name, “The United Free Church of Africa.”
1929 Bresi-Ando’s “United Free Church of Africa” was renamed “The Primitive Apostolic African Church” (still located at this time only in Nigeria).
1929 Gold Coast native, Laura Adorkor Koffey, founded “The African Universal Church and Commercial League” in the United States in 1929. Its aim was to repatriate African-Americans back to the homeland of their forefathers in West Africa.
22 Sept 1931 On this date, Bresi-Ando’s “Primitive Apostolic African Church” merged with Koffey’s organization, taking the shortened name, “The African Universal Church.” Bresi-Ando became the church’s “Supreme Pontiff.” The plan of repatriating African-Americans back to West Africa became a key plank in the new organization’s platform.
1932 Rev. Bresi-Ando returned to the Gold Coast (Ghana) and, with the help of his half-brother, Ernest Ando-Brew, launched the local Gold Coast branch of “The African Universal Church” in his hometown of Apam in 1932. His new church was an all-African run Protestant church, with many members defecting from the local Methodist Church to join Bresi-Ando’s new church.
1932-35 These four years were a period of rapid church growth for Bresi-Ando’s “African Universal Church” in the Gold Coast. A large number of parishes were started and quite a few schools were opened. Many Africans expected their brother African-Americans to come back from America (to “repatriate”) to the Gold Coast. However, only one came—the American missionary, Rev. Carey H. Jones. By 1935, the repatriation plan had proven to be a failure.
1935 Bresi-Ando did not despair over the failure of the repatriation plan. Rather, while in London in 1935, he searched for a new religious affiliation. He looked for a church organization with deeper historical roots. In London he came in contact with a sect headed by an “episcopi vagante” (“wandering bishop”) of the Archbishop Vilatte succession, named Archbishop Churchill Sibley. Sibley claimed that he could trace the “Apostolic Succession” of his own “valid orders” back through Archbishop Vilatte to the Jacobite-Syrian Orthodox Church, despite the fact that this same church had excommunicated Archbishop Vilatte and his followers and considered all ordinations performed by Vilatte to null and void.
8 March 1935 In London, on this date, Archbishop Churchill Sibley consecrated Bresi-Ando a bishop—“Mar Kwamin I”—and set him up as “Prince-Patriarch” of his own autocephalous “African Universal Church.”
1935 The newly consecrated Bishop Bresi-Ando, as an “Orthodox” hierarch (but not canonical), returned to the Gold Coast to re-organize the numerous parishes which he had founded there. He added “Orthodox Catholic” into his church’s name, renaming it, “The African Universal (Orthodox-Catholic) Church.” From 1935 onwards, Bresi-Ando abandoned many of his Protestant teachings and practices and instead adopted Roman Catholic-style doctrines and liturgical practices. Ironically, he did not introduce any Syrian-Jacobite liturgical forms.
1935-1939 Throughout the late 1930’s, Bresi-Ando’s re-organized church continued to grow and open new parishes, however, at a slower rate than before.
1942 In response to pleas from his flock in Nigeria (which he had not seen since 1932), Bresi-Ando left the Gold Coast in 1942 to once again work with the church communities he previously had founded in Nigeria.
1942-1944 During Bresi-Ando’s absence from the Gold Coast, his large church organization there began to deteriorate, divide and dismantle.
1 Feb 1945 Priest Edonu arose as the savior of the crumbling Bresi-Ando church organization in the Gold Coast. Through the mail, on this date, Bresi-Ando appointed Rev. Edonu (known later as V. Rev. Protopresbyter Kyriakos Edonu) as his “Deputy Bishop” for the Gold Coast.
1945-1950s Deputy Bishop Edonu gathered and taught the faithful of the Fante tribe in the Central Region of the Gold Coast, while his assistant, Fr. Gregory Labi, worked with the faithful of the Larteh tribe in the Eastern Region. In all, only about ten parishes remained faithful to the Bresi-Ando organization. Most others, in the other regions, collapsed or went into schism, only to collapse at a later time.
May 1951 Bresi-Ando’s church dropped the words “African Universal” from its name and began to use the simplified name, “The Orthodox Catholic Church.” This stressed their Orthodoxy. They were convinced that they were Orthodox. The faithful believed that there were other Orthodox churches in the world, yet there was little contact at this time with the outside Orthodox world.
21 Dec 1955 Bishop Bresi-Ando returned to the Gold Coast for an archpastoral visit, arriving on 21 December 1955. After touring his few remaining faithful Gold Coast parishes, Bresi-Ando returned to Nigeria, in February of 1956. This was the only pastoral visit that he ever made to the Gold Coast between 1942 and 1970.
23 Sept 1956 In an effort to solidify the remaining faithful and build up their spiritual lives, Deputy Bishop Edonu oversaw the construction of the St. Raphael Healing Shrine, in the town of Fomena. Church members began to make an annual pilgrimage to this national shrine, which was dedicated on 23 September 1956.
About 1957 The Greek business community in the Gold Coast tried unsuccessfully to construct a church building in Accra, the capital. The Greek Orthodox community did not know of Bresi-Ando’s church (whose parishes at this time were still located in out-lying towns and villages, with no parish in the capital city).
6 Mar 1957 Ghana Independence Day. The name of the country was changed from “The Gold Coast” to “Ghana”. Dr. Kwame Nkrumah became the nation’s the first President.
About 1960 A prominent Greek Orthodox businessman began construction of a Greek Orthodox church building on his private land in Accra. Construction was completed on this Church of St. George between 1966 and early 1967, but it was never consecrated.
1960s Throughout the 1960s, a commuting Greek Orthodox priest of the Patriarchate of Alexandria visited Ghana periodically, providing pastoral care to the Orthodox Greeks and Lebanese living there (weddings, baptisms, etc.). There was no contact between this priest and Bresi-Ando’s organization.
24 Feb 1966 President Kwame Nkrumah and his government were over-thrown on this date. Most Greek businessmen and families chose to leave Ghana because of the unfavorable political and economic conditions during this era. The Greek businessman who had built the unconsecrated Church of St. George on his private land also sold his business, land, and church building, in 1970.
1960-1970 Deputy Bishop Edonu tried his best to keep Bresi-Ando’s church organization running, without the help of Bresi-Ando, who was stuck in Nigeria because of the Biafran Civil War there. This civil war disrupted normal church life and scattered Bresi-Ando’s Nigerian parishes. In Ghana, due to Rev. Edonu and Rev. G. Labi’s unfailing efforts, and despite the lack of guidance from their hierarch, the number of parishes remained about the same ever since the mid-1940’s, averaging around 10 parishes, with several mission posts.
27 May 1970 Bishop Bresi-Ando and his Nigerian wife, Joana, and three children were repatriated back to Ghana, arriving on 27 May 1970. He was old and ill when he met his Ghanaian faithful once again.
2 Oct 1970 Bishop Bresi-Ando died at Cape Coast Hospital at the age of 86 on 2 October 1970. His church was left orphaned, with no link to the global Orthodox community. The “Search” by members of the Ghanaian church community for true Orthodoxy began.
July 1971 The youth of Bresi-Ando’s church decided to form the Orthodox Youth Organization (O.Y.O.) in July of 1971, with its chief aim being the resuscitation of their church. They saw a bleak future, a need for clergy and uniform doctrines and liturgical practices. The youth believed that their church was part of a larger global family of Orthodox churches, but sadly, they had no contacts and did not know where to find the true Orthodox Church. The enemies of Bresi-Ando’s church, on the other hand, ignorantly claimed that there were no other Orthodox Churches in the world. They accused Bresi-Ando’s followers of inventing the Orthodox Church and inventing the claim that they were part of something much bigger--the original Church that Jesus Christ had established. The youth, therefore, dedicated themselves to finding the true Orthodox Church and linking up with it.
1 July 1972 A special meeting of the clergy of “The Orthodox Catholic Church” in Ghana determined its numerical strength to be 1,998 members, with 12 parishes (three of which were new).
8 Aug 1972 Youth leader Godfried Mantey found Timothy Ware's famous book, "The Orthodox Church", in the University of Ghana BOOKS in August of 1972. Excitedly, he notified the other youth of his find. The youth were certain that they finally had found absolute proof of the existence of the global Orthodox family of Churches. As a result of their find, the youth intensified their search for a way to connect up with representatives of the canonical Orthodox Church.
4 Aug 1974 By God’s miraculous providence, the youth established a solid "link" with global Orthodoxy. O.Y.O. youth leaders Kwame Labi and Godfried Mantey discovered that Orthodox clergymen were present on the University of Ghana's Legon campus for a World Council of Churches meeting in August of 1974. Fr. John Meyendorff, Fr. Thomas Hopko, theologian Nicolas Lossky, and Alexandrian Patriarchate representative Dr. Parthelus met with and interviewed the Ghanaian Orthodox youth on 4 August 1974. It was determined that Bresi-Ando’s “Orthodox Catholic Church” was non-canonical. Instruction in the Holy Orthodox Faith, followed by canonical Reception, would be required. The link to the outside world family of Orthodoxy had begun.
1975-1977 During the next few years there was a continual exchange of communication between the O.Y.O. youth leaders, the Patriarchate of Alexandria, and the Orthodox Christians in North America.
Oct 1977 O.Y.O. General Secretary, Kwame Labi, traveled on a scholarship to study Orthodox theology at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Seminary in New York.
15 Jan 1978 Archbishop Irinios of the Archdiocese of West Africa, Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria, arrived in Accra, on this date, to pay a historic first visit to the Ghanaian "Orthodox Catholic" church community. It was the first of several pastoral visits by Archbishop Irinios.
May 1979 Other O.Y.O. members traveled on scholarships to Athens, Greece, to study theology at the University of Athens in preparation to become future Ghanaian Orthodox priests.
6-10 Aug ‘80 The Orthodox Youth Organization of Ghana is granted "Affiliate member" status within the SYNDESMOS youth organization at their 10th General Assembly, held in New Valamo Monastery, Finland.
25 July 1981 Archbishop Irinios came to visit to the Ghanaian community in July of 1981 in preparation for their Reception into canonical Orthodoxy within the Patriarchate of Alexandria.
2 Feb 1982 Kwame Joseph Labi, having graduated from St. Vladimir's Seminary, returned to Ghana on 2 February 1982, and then traveled on to visit Archbishop Irinios in the Cameroun. This visit confirmed the possibility of Reception of the Ghanaian community into canonical Orthodoxy. The final dates were set for the Reception. Archbishop Irinios charged Kwame Labi with the responsibility of preparing the communities and clergy for the Reception. Liturgical translations were made. The Ghanaian community began to learn the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom as a means of preparation for the Reception.
Mar-Sept ‘82 Three Clergy Training sessions were conducted by Kwame Labi (for the three priests and five catechists of the church community).
3 Aug 1982 Soili Oorni and Paivi Tiainen of the Orthodox Youth of Finland came to Ghana for a short visit to do youth work among the Ghanaian communities as SYNDESMOS representatives.
25 Aug 1982 Fr. Theoklitos of the Missions Office of Apostoliki Diakonia of the Church of Greece arrived prior to the Reception to help with final preparations.
14-19 Sept ‘82 Archbishop Irinios received the Ghanaian church community into canonical Orthodoxy through Holy Baptism and Chrismation, and ordained V. Rev. Kyriakos Edonu, Rev. Gregory Labi, Rev. Samuel Adjei-Kumi, Rev. Kwame Joseph Labi, Deacon Daniel Aidoo, Deacon Jacob Sey, and Deacon Emmanuel Bruce. The Reception was held in the town of Larteh, where church members gathered from their respective towns and villages for Holy Baptism. About 1,500 Ghanaians were baptized. However, not all members of the fifteen parishes, sub-stations and mission posts were baptized in Larteh. The Archbishop performed more baptisms in the next few years at other locations, bringing the total of Ghanaians received into the Orthodox Church to nearly 3,000.
The above is a condensed version of The History of the Orthodox Church, Ghana, a U.S. Fulbright history research project of Andrew J. Anderson. It was begun on 11 September 1992, (the date of Anderson’s arrival in Ghana). Anderson’s research affiliation was with the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, Legon Campus. Professor Kofi A. Opoku, the Deputy Director of the Institute, was the mentor for the project. The interviewing of the primary source, Very Reverend Kyriakos K. Edonu in Gomoa Afransi, in the Central Region, Ghana, was begun on 29 September 1992. Interviewing was concluded on 13 October 1994. The presentation of a draft copy of research findings to V. Rev. Kyriakos K. Edonu and Rev. Gregrory Labi was on 16 Nov 1994. Anderson departed to the United States on 18 Nov 1994, to begin work at the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (O.C.M.C.) in St. Augustine, Florida, USA.