Christopher (Spartas) of Nilopolis
Christopher Reuben, also known as Christopher Reuben Spartas and Spartas Reubuen Kukasa, was an African convert bishop to Orthodox Christianity during the early part of the twentieth century who through his own efforts, after learning about the African Orthodox movement in America, introduced Orthodox Christianity to East Africa. His search and conversion were instrumental in the continued expansion of Orthodoxy in East Africa.
Reuben Mukasa Mugimba Sobanja was born about the year 1900 in Uganda in East Africa. His father was Yakobo Damulira Mugimbalume and mother, Maliza Mukomutibwa, a Christian woman. A member of the Muganda ethnic group, Reuben was baptized and raised in the Anglican Church. As a teen, Reuben adopted the name "Spartas" because he had been told that he exemplified the spirit of ancient Greek Sparta.
Spartas received his education in the Anglican mission schools before continuing his education at King's College in Budo, Uganda where he discovered that the Anglican Church was an offshoot of the older, true church. After his graduation in 1920, Spartas joined the Kings African Rifles where he met a fellow Muganda, Obadiah Basajjakitalo. In 1925, the two left the Rifles to found the Anonya Private School, near Degeya.
Also in 1925, Spartas learned about the African Orthodox Church movement that grew out of the 1921 religious movement in America by George Alexander McGuire. Attracted by the goal and ideals of the AOC to become a universal black church affiliated with the ancient Christian Church which was not known for racism or colonialism, Spartas wrote to George McGuire. In 1928, McGuire replied and referred Spartas to Daniel Alexander who was the archbishop of the AOC in South Africa. After meeting with Bp. Daniel, Spartas left the Anglican Church in January 1929 and began an AOC presence in Uganda. During the years 1931 and 1932, Abp. Alexander visited Uganda and ordained Spartas and Basajjakitalo to the priesthood.
During a visit by Abp. Alexander to Spartas, a Greek expatriate named Vlahos asked Alexander to baptize his children. Having noted that the baptismal service conducted by Alexander did not follow proper Orthodox form, Vlahos advised Spartas to contact Nicodemos Sarikas, an Orthodox archimandrite, serving the Greek community in Tanganyika (now Tanzania). This Spartas did. After Sarikas visited Spartas in Uganda, Spartas broke his relationship with Alexander and sought, under advise of Sarikas, recognition by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria. Since his letters were not answered, Spartas and his friends, including Irenaeus Majimbi and Theodoros Nankyamas, journeyed to Alexandria. There, they spent several years learning what Holy Orthodoxy was and, ultimately, being ordained and sent back to Uganda.
In 1942, Metropolitan Nicholas of Axum visited Uganda as a representative of the Patriarch of Alexandria. Ethnically an Arab, Metr. Nicholas was more concerned about ministry to people beyond the Greek community than had been the Greek hierarchs. Thus, he recommended the reception of the African Orthodox into the Patriarchate, an action that was delayed until 1946, after World War II ended.
In a visit to the Patriarchate in Alexandria in 1946, Spartas was named vicar general for Uganda. In September 1953, through Father Spartas' efforts, the African Greek Orthodox Church was registered in Uganda, and in 1959 the Patriarchate of Alexandria established an archdiocese in East Africa that encompassed Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, led by Metropolitan Nicholas (Valeropoulos) of Irinoupolis.
With recognition, the labors of Fr. Spartas and his friends began as they recognized that spreading the faith also meant educating the people. He began teaching English language in the school he founded that was officially private and belonged to the Church. Teaching English in Uganda at that time ran into the opposition of the colonial British government that tried to maintain its monopoly on education with a law that allowed teaching English only in state schools. This did not stop Fr. Spartas, for which he spent five years in prison.
To gain support of the new churches in East Africa, Fr. Spartas and some of his fellow priests traveled the Greece and the United States to ask for missionary help and financial aid. In 1972, the three native Ugandans were elected to become bishops, Fr. Spartas as Bishop Christopher Nilopolian, Theodore Nankyamas, and Arthur Gatung’u was Gathunna. In 1973, they were consecrated auxiliary bishops of the Orthodox Church.
Bishop Christopher reposed in 1982.
- A Mission without a Missionary
- Pioneer of Orthodox Christianity in East Africa
- Spartas, Reuben Sebbanja Ssedimba Mukasa