The Orthodox Church in Kenya, and the Christian community at large, is in mourning as it lays to rest the first bishop of the Diocese of Kisumu and Western Kenya, Dr Athanasius Akunda.
His death is all the more poignant, happening at the prime of his ministry, at the age of 48, and barely three years since his consecration as bishop.
Bishop Akunda was admitted to the intensive care unit at St Vincent Hospital in Worcester Massachusetts late last year and succumbed on Friday, January 4, to an illness he contracted during the visit, primarily for the wedding of a friend.
Before he was taken ill, he visited California, Colorado and Maine, speaking at various churches about his ministry in the Orthodox Church of Kenya.
The irony of his death is that it comes less than three years after the creation of the Diocese of Nyeri and Mount Kenya and his own Diocese of Kisumu and Western Kenya, both of which fall under the Orthodox Archdiocese of Nairobi.
The cleric gave 13 years of his ministry to the Orthodox Church in South Africa, where he was ordained in 2002.
He was a missionary in South Africa from 2002 to 2015 and created the first interracial Orthodox churches in the country after 50 years of apartheid.
With his Kenyan community caught up in funeral arrangements that included bringing him home for burial, I found it necessary to surf the Internet to find out who exactly Bishop Akunda was.
More so after Ms Njeri Kang’ethe, a doctoral candidate and lecturer in law at Catholic University of Eastern Africa and the international liaison and linkages officer of the International Ecumenical Movement’s Kenya chapter, described the bishop as a great ecumenist.
The Orthodox community in Kenya is the third largest in sub-Saharan Africa, only superseded by sister churches in Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Bishop Akunda’s death will, therefore, be felt beyond Kenyan borders. The Universal Church will miss the great ecumenist and servant of God, who represented the Patriarchate of Alexandria at the All Africa Conference of Churches and at the World Council of Churches.
It turns out that Bishop Akunda was actually a gift to the Orthodox Church in South Africa, where a Khanya blog says of the bishop: “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.”