Members of the San Luigi Orders: Patriarch Daniel Alexander of the African Orthodox Church of South Africa

Archbishop Daniel William Alexander (1882-1970) was Archbishop and Primate of the African Province of the African Orthodox Church, one of the churches founded by Prince-Abbot Joseph III, and later the first Patriarch of the African Orthodox Church of South Africa after that church separated from its American parent body.

He was a Prelate-Commander of the Order of the Crown of Thorns and a member of the Order of the Lion and the Black Cross, and can be seen wearing the insignia of both Orders in the photograph. He was also awarded the distinction of Doctor Christianissimus in the San Luigi Orders. A draft in the hand of Prince-Abbot Edmond I of his brevet of Chevalier in the OCT is reproduced below (click for enlargement).

Daniel Alexander was born in South Africa on 23 December 1882, the son of a Black South African mother and a father who had emigrated to South Africa from the West Indies. Although baptized an Anglican, he attended Roman Catholic schools until 1895. Shortly before the outbreak of the Second Boer War in 1899 he married Maria Horsely. He was conscripted into military service and while serving his wife died. Once released from the army, he sought to pursue a vocation in the Church, initially with the Anglicans, and subsequently with the Ethiopian Catholic Church in Zion, before eventually coming to the African Orthodox Church.

The African Orthodox Church had been established by George Alexander McGuire (Patriarch Alexander I, 1866-1934), a former Episcopalian priest and close associate of Marcus Garvey, who was concerned at the discrimination he and his fellow Black clergy suffered within the denomination. He was consecrated for the new African Orthodox Church by Prince-Abbot Joseph III in 1921 and Garvey’s periodical The Negro World carried a report of the event. Alexander in turn read of the AOC’s work in the press and this prompted him to make contact with Archbishop McGuire with the request that he and his African congregation should affiliate with the AOC.

McGuire responded to the request with a thorough investigation of the bona fides of Alexander and his fellow clergy. Eventually in 1927 he invited Alexander to the United States and on 11 September consecrated him to the Episcopate in Boston.

Returning to Kimberley, Alexander established his church, St Augustine of Hippo, as the cathedral for the AOC in South Africa. He travelled throughout the country setting up missions and parishes wherever there was interest. Further afield, he visited Kenya, Uganda and Rhodesia, where he baptized candidates and trained ordinands. He set up a seminary in Kimberley and an annual synod for the province.

Relations with America were maintained on an amicable basis until 1960, when a delegation from the American church including Patriarch James I was invited to South Africa by Alexander. Alexander was now 78 and was concerned for the future of the church after his death. He had agreed with McGuire that only the Patriarch of the church could consecrate a bishop to succeed him, and produced two candidates for consecration from among his priests, Surgeon Motsepe and Ice Walter Mbina.

Unfortunately, the two new bishops took advantage of the presence of the Patriarch to further their own ends, and informed him that Alexander was incompetent and incapable of discharging his duties. The Patriarch believed their account and obliged Alexander to resign in favour of the new bishops, which Alexander refused to do, claiming that such a request was ultra vires. The matter proceeded to court, but before things could get under way, both Patriarch James I and Motsepe died. The new Patriarch, Peter IV, reconciled with Alexander and persuaded him to retire in favour of Mbina. This, however, was a short-lived solution, and in 1963 Alexander, convinced that this was not the relationship he and McGuire had intended for the Province, led his followers into independence as the African Orthodox Church of the Republic of South Africa with himself as patriarch.

In the event, both Mbina and Alexander were to leave branches of the AOC that survived them. On Alexander’s death in 1970, he was succeeded by his godson Daniel Kanyiles (Patriarch James II) (1924-2003). Under Patriarch James II, the church established intercommunion with the Apostolic Episcopal Church, of which the present Prince-Abbot is a bishop, in 1974. It continues to exist today.

Information in this article is taken from “The African Orthodox Church: Its General History” by Archbishop Philippe de Coster (Editions Eucharist and Devotion, 1993-2008)

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