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The term All-American Sobor applies to the periodic general councils of the North American diocese of the Church of Russia (the "Metropolia"). This term was superseded by All-American Council with the granting of autocephaly by the mother Church of Russia, the last sobor also being the first council under autocephaly, accompanied by the renaming of the Metropolia as the Orthodox Church in America.
The idea of holding a general meeting of the clergy and laity of the diocese arose during clergy meetings conducted by Abp. Tikhon during 1905. The feeling among the clergy present at these meeting was supportive and viewed as a return to the canonical and ecclesiastical norms of the church. Initially proposed to be held in New York after the transfer of the diocesan see from San Francisco, the site of the first sobor was set for Mayfield, Pennsylvania. The representation established for Mayfield sobor included in addition to the bishops priests from all the parishes and one lay delegate from each parish.
First All-American Sobor
The first sobor of the Russian Orthodox diocese in America was convened on March 5, 1907. The sobor began with a prayer service at St. John the Baptist Church in Mayfield, Pennsylvanis, followed by a greeting from Abp. Tikhon and the election of Fr. Alexander Hotovitzky as chairman. As he was not able to assume the position due to other responsibilities during the Sobor, Abp. Tikhon named Fr. Leonid Turkevich, who had received the second most votes, to be chairman.
The principal business of the sobor was to establish the diocese on a more formal and legal basis, including establishing a statute for the diocese, regularizing the financial basis for the diocese, and under Abp. Tikhon's guidance recognition of the diversity in the diocese in regard rituals and usage. But, the sobor ended on a sad note as Abp. Tikhon announced his departure for America and return to Russia.
Second All-American Sobor
The second sobor was originally planned to be held in 1918 after Abp. Evdokim returned from the All-Russian Sobor of 1917. However, with the chaos caused by the October Revolution in Russia and the extended sessions of the Russian sobor into 1918, as well as disruptions in the United States caused by the events in Russia, the second All-American Sobor was delayed until 1919. The sobor was convened on February 12, 1919 at the St. Theodosius Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and continued until February 15.
Among the actions taken during the Sobor were election of Abp. Alexander (Nemolovsky) as the diocesan bishop since Abp. Evdokim was not returning, the establishment of a financial administration to handle the financial crisis caused by the loss of funding from Russia, authorizing return of Ukrainian Uniates in Canada to the Orthodox Church as members of the "Ukrainian Orthodox Church," formalized relations between Syrians and Russians, and providing for consecration of Archimandrite Theophan Noli and Archimandrite Mardary as bishops of the Albanian and Serbian communities, if they were so elected.
Third All-American Sobor
The departure of Abp. Alexander in the wake of the deepening financial crisis within the North American diocese resulted in the convening of the third sobor. The sobor was held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, from November 7-9, 1922, for the purpose of electing Platon (Rozhdestvensky) as the ruling hierarch of the North American diocese with the title of Metropolitan of All America and Canada. However, in view of the confused communications with Patr. Tikhon in Moscow, Metr. Platon's election was questioned, resulting in further deliberations and another election during sessions of November 25-27, 1922. Platon's election was eventually purportedly confirmed by Patr. Tikhon, though other members of the synod with which Platon had associated himself (the "Karlovtsy Synod") expressed doubt regarding this confirmation.
Fourth All-American Sobor
Communications between the North American diocese and Moscow became more confusing with further claims by the Living Church movement resulted in the convening of the fourth sobor. The Fourth All-American Sobor was held in Detroit, Michigan on April 2-4, 1924.
The sobor began without the presence of Metr. Platon, as he wanted, to forestall any accusations of his influencing the review by the sobor of the situations and events concerning his position as metropolitan. In the end his election of 1922 was re-confirmed. The sobor then began deliberations on the issue of the diocese's canonical and administrative relations with the mother church that was under the thumb of the Bolshevik government. The document produced by the sobor declared the Russian Orthodox diocese in America a "temporarily self-governing Church, governed by its elected Archbishop together with the Council of Bishops, a Council composed of elected clergy and laity, and periodic Councils of the entire American Church."
Metr. Platon arrived at the sobor on its second day and assumed the chairmanship of the meeting. He was asked to draft a permanent statute for the American church. In establishing the "temporary self-government," the Metropolia was condemned by the ROCOR synod in Serbia and Platon deposed by them, an action largely ignored in American parishes.
Fifth All-American Sobor
The fifth All-American Sobor was convened in Cleveland, Ohio on November 20-23, 1934, to elect a successor to Platon who had died on April 20, 1934. In addition to considerations of the chaotic canonical positions that existed, the sobor, after considering options, elected Abp. Theophilus (Pashkovsky) of San Francisco the new metropolitan through concurrence by the bishops, clergy, and lay delegates.
Sixth All-American Sobor
The sixth All-American Sobor was convened in New York City on October 5-8, 1937, to confirm agreements made by Metr. Theophilus at a consultation called by Patriarch Varnnava of Serbia in 1936 with representatives of the Russian dioceses and exiles that were not administered by the Patriarchate of Russia (the ROCOR). The agreements that were subsequently ratified by the American Council of Bishops with bishops from the Church Abroad attending the meetings, made by Metr. Theophilus in which he had stressed that the autonomy of the American church remained inviolate. The sobor confirmed these agreements, but with over half of the delegates abstaining. The abstentions indicated an uneasiness about this "union" with the Church Abroad.
A major advance for the North American diocese was signaled when the sobor approved the of establishment of two theological training institutions. St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary was approved as a liberal arts college based school, while a school attached to St. Tikhon's Orthodox Monastery would provide pastoral training. By this course, the Metropola took action to alleviate the inevitable shortage of trained clergy that had been developing since the closing of St. Platon's Seminary in Tenafly in 1923.
The sixth sobor also approved a statute for the governance of the diocese, organizing it as a metropolitan district. However, without a central administration and the support of the parishes, the statutes were just another step in the maturing of the diocese as an effective organization.
Seventh All-American Sobor
The seventh All-American Sobor was convened in 1946 in a world that was radically different from that in 1937. In addition to the violence of World War II, events during and after the war occurred that greatly affected the Orthodox Church and in particular to the churches of eastern Europe. For the North American diocese these events greatly affected the so-called "temporary arrangement" of 1936 which was no longer considered to be effect. Also, the re-activation of the position of the Patriarch of Moscow with the enthronement of Sergius (Stragorodsky) in 1943 as patriarch, followed by Alexis in 1945, brought hopes that were quickly destroyed of a regularization of relations with the Church of Russia.
These events were to produce debates, decisions, and actions that were to be found wanting as church relationships were torn by the politics of the civil world. The sobor was held in Cleveland, Ohio, on November 26-29, 1946. The sobor initiated a petition to the Patriarch of Moscow to accept the American Metropolitanate under his spiritual leadership with the proviso that the "present autonomous status and right to self-government" were to be retained and that the All-American Councils/Sobors were to continue to be the "Supreme Legislative and Administrative body of our Church." However, in follow-up negotiations with the Moscow Patriarchate, no agreements could be reached as the conditions placed by the Patriarchate were allegedly politically and psychologically unacceptable to the American church. It would be nearly two decades before an attempt at rapprochement would be initiated again.
With the dissolution of the union with the ROCOR, nearly half the bishops of the Metropolia walked out of the sobor and remained in communion with the Church Abroad, splitting Russian-American Orthodoxy again in two.
Eighth All-American Sobor
The eighth All-American Sobor was held in New York City and was in session December 5-8, 1950 to elect a successor to Metr. Theophilus who died on June 27, 1950. Abp. Leonty, who was the consensus choice in pre-Sobor discussions, was elected by acclamation to the position of metropolitan of All-America and Canada and which was by then generally known as the "Metropolia."
Ninth All-American Sobor
The ninth All-American Sobor was held also in New York City on November 8-10, 1955. The principal product of this sobor was the adoption of a new statute for the church that provided clear regulations and procedures for the administration of the church at all its levels, from the ruling hierarch and the All-American Sobors through to the parish with its functions and purposes.
Tenth All-American Sobor
Eleventh All-America Sobor
The eleventh All-American Sobor was held again in New York City on November 12-15, 1963. This sobor finally addressed the inadequacies of a central administration by amending the statute to provide for three national officers. These were the chancellor, the secretary, and the treasurer. The individuals for these offices would be nominated by the Metropolitan Council and appointed by the synod of bishops. These three officers, with the later addition of two representatives from the Metropolitan Council were to constitute a permanent administrative committee.
Twelfth All-American Sobor
The twelfth All-American Sobor was held as an extraordinary meeting at the Holy Virgin Protection Cathedral in New York City on September 22-23, 1965 to elect a successor to Metr. Leonty who had died on May 14, 1965.
The election held at the sobor proved to be another step in the maturity of the old North American mission of the Church of Russia as the "old" and the "new" in the church polarized the discussions and the election on the question of further "Americanizing" the church by electing an American-born bishop. The two principal candidates were Abp. Ireney, who was Archbishop of Boston, locum tenens of the metropolitan's office, and who had worked closely with Metr. Leonty during his last few years of failing health, and Abp. Vladimir who was the head of the Japanese Orthodox Church, then under the jurisdiction of the Metropolia.
Under the statutes the first ballot required a two thirds majority vote for a candidate to win. On the second vote two names would be placed on the ballot, and the final selection was then placed in the hands of the synod of bishops.
The first vote produced a majority for Abp. Vladimir, but not two thirds. The second vote had the same results, and the decision was then turned to the bishops for deliberation and decision. After some minutes the holy doors on the iconostasis opened and the senior bishop, John (Garklavs) of Chicago, announced that Abp. Ireney was the new Metropolitan. Then, the sobor, putting aside any ill feelings that may have been present during the voting, broke into a majestic Eis polla eti despota, thus sanctifying and truly receiving the decision of the bishops.
Thirteenth All-American Sobor
The thirteenth All-American Sobor was held in New York City on November 14-16, 1967. The principal issue confronted was the aborted proposal to change the formal name of the Church from the cumbersome and increasingly irrelevant Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of America to Orthodox Church in America.
While the change in the name had been broached earlier and had been studied in committee, the bishops suddenly vetoed the proposal and, after approving a straw vote that affirmed strong support for such a change, forbade discussion on the subject. While the subject was then closed, the proposal for the name change was a notice that the church had allegedly matured to see itself not as an ethnic group but as the Orthodox Church in America. But, as this attempt may have been premature, other events had transpired that would reconcile the disagreements with the mother church.
Fourteenth All-American Sobor
The fourteenth All-American Sobor was held on October 19-22, 1970 at St. Tikhon's Monastery and Seminary in South Canaan, Pennsylvania. It was this sobor that received and assimilated the Tomos of autocephaly, granted by the Church of Russia on April 10, 1970.
With the grant of autocephaly, it became the custom to refer to councils of this jurisdiction as councils rather than sobors, and thus the Fourteenth All-American Sobor came to be known also as the First All-American Council.
Having received autocephaly, the sobor/council noted the need to define anew the statutory form and administrative structure of the church. To accomplish this the council resolved to convene the next council in 1971 for the sole purpose of adopting a new statute.
- All-American Sobors and Councils
- THE 1907 MAYFIELD CHURCH COUNCIL- Banquet address at the 100th anniversary celebration of the First All American Sobor (Council) at St. John the Baptist Cathedral (Mayfield, Pennsylvania) on October 28, 2007 by Alexis Liberovsky OCA Archivist.