Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church
The Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church (Russian: Российская православная автономная церковь, before 1998 - Free Russian Orthodox Church, Russian: Российская православная свободная церковь, the Moscow Patriarchate also has the designation Suzdal schism, Russian: Суздальский раскол) is one of several "True" Orthodox churches in Russia which has roots in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and claims to be a continuation of the Catacomb Church of Russia. Its current primate is Metropolitan Theodore (Gineyevsky) of Sudzal and Vladimir (since 2012). It is not in communion with any of the recognized Orthodox Churches.
Establishment of the "Free Russian Orthodox Church"
At the end of World War II, many parts of the catacomb church reconciled with the Moscow Patriarchate, due to the election of a new patriarch (Alexei I) and to a lessening of the level of persecution on the part of the Soviets. By the 1980s, what was left of the catacomb church no longer had any hierarchy of its own, and was very small and scattered. Due to a desire to support these people, the ROCOR decided to consecrate a secret bishop for the catacomb church in 1982—Bishop Lazar (Zhurbenko). This was the first step towards the establishment of ROCOR parishes inside Russia—a policy that was controversial even at the time, and which ROCOR later came to regret. These parishes came to be known as the Free Russian Orthodox Church (FROC).
Fracturing of the FROC and establishment of ROAC
As the number of parishes and bishops of the FROC increased in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union, conflicts among them likewise increased, as well as conflicts between the leaders of the Synod of ROCOR and the bishops in Russia. Bishops of the Free Russian Orthodox Church, who were under the jurisdiction of ROCOR, i.e., Archbishop Lazar and Bishop Valentine, were ultimately removed from their sees. They chose to separate from ROCOR administratively and form an autonomous, self-governing Church, citing as their canonical basis Ukaz No. 362 of St. Patriarch Tikhon of November 20, 1920. They also consecrated three bishops for the Russian church, Theodore, Seraphim, and Agafangel.
A year later, after unsuccessful attempts to find an acceptable means of self-government for the Russian parishes, on February 11/24, 1995, the Synod of ROCOR suspended five bishops of the FROC at one time. The result was a schism between the Synod of ROCOR and a large portion of the FROC.
In 1995, Abp. Lazarus, with Bishops Benjamin and Agafangel, came back to ROCOR, while three bishops, with Abp. Valentine at the head, remained in schism. In May 1995 the long-term secretary of the Synod of Bishops of ROCOR, the famous church historian and canonist, Bishop Gregory (Grabbe), visited Suzdal. He approved the decisions of the Russian bishops to withdraw from administrative subordination to the ROCOR synod just before he passed away. Some attributed this to his age, while others claimed this was due to his belief that they were following the "true" historical course of ROCOR.
In October 1998 the "Free Russian Orthodox Church" (FROC) headed by Valentine was re-registered under the name of the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church (ROAC). Presently the episcopate of ROAC consists of twelve bishops with over 300 parishes worldwide. The head of the church was elevated to the rank of Metropolitan in March 2001.
American parish list
- Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker Orthodox Parish, Elmwood Park, New Jersey - Bp. Andrei of Pavlovskoye, Protopresbyter Vladimir Shishkoff (retired)
- Christ the Savior Orthodox Parish, Fort Wayne, Indiana - Fr. Isaac Henke
- St. Sophia Orthodox Parish, Hobart, Indiana - Dn. Michael McCombs
- St. Peter the Aleut Orthodox Parish,Covington, Louisiana - Mark Templet
- Saint Andrew the First Called Orthodox Parish, Fredericksburg, Virginia - Archpriest Fotios Roseboro
- Official Russian website
- Official American Diocese website
- Archbishop Theodore of Borisovskoye and Otradna, Secretary of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church (ROAC), Responds to Various Questions from the Faithful
- The History of the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church
- The Free Russian Orthodox Church: A Short History, by Vladimir Moss