Orthodox Church in America

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Orthodox Church in America
The Orthodox Church in America
Founder(s) Ss. Herman of Alaska, Innocent of Alaska, Alexis of Wilkes-Barre
Autocephaly/Autonomy declared 1970 ("temporary self-government" in 1924)
Autocephaly/Autonomy recognized 1970 by Russian Orthodox Church
Current primate Tikhon (Mollard)
Headquarters Syosset, New York
Primary territory United States and Canada
Possessions abroad Mexico
Liturgical language(s) English, Church Slavonic, Spanish
Musical tradition Russian Chant, Byzantine Chant (in some ethnic dioceses)
Calendar Revised Julian, Julian
Population estimate 30,000 to 1,000,000
Official website Orthodox Church in America

The Orthodox Church in America (OCA) is an autocephalous Church with parishes mainly in the United States and Canada (though with a few parishes also in Mexico, and until 2011 in Australia as well). The OCA traces its history to the Russian Orthodox missionary efforts in Alaska and the Aleutian Islands, which began in 1794. Originally an Alaskan diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church, it expanded to the contiguous United States (the "lower 48") from 1860 onwards. By the early 20th century, it had parishes throughout the United States and Canada, mostly serving immigrant communities from Orthodox countries and Native Alaskan (Yupik and Aleut) villages.

Orthodox life in America was severely disrupted by the Russian Revolution of 1917, leading the Russian Orthodox diocese to splinter into a number of separate jurisdictions organized mostly on ethnic grounds. The remaining core of the old diocese organized itself into a de facto self-governing Church in 1924, following the instructions of Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow who had directed all Russian Orthodox churches outside of Russia to govern themselves autonomously until regular communication could be resumed. This de facto self-governing Church in North America officially called itself the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church in America, and was informally known as the Metropolia.

In 1970, after having re-established communication with the Russian Orthodox Church, the American Metropolia received a tomos of autocephaly from Moscow, and changed its name to the Orthodox Church in America. Since then, the OCA has sought to cultivate an American identity, such as by promoting the use of local languages in the liturgy (mostly English, but also French, Spanish, Yupik and Aleut) and encouraging the veneration of American saints. The OCA is in full communion with all of the other autocephalous Orthodox Churches, but its administrative status is disputed. Some other Churches recognize the OCA as autocephalous, but most regard it as a de jure part of the Russian Orthodox Church (although self-governing in practice).

By number of parishes, the OCA is the largest Orthodox jurisdiction in North America. By number of members, it is second after the Greek Archdiocese.


See Also: Orthodoxy in America

The OCA began with the missionary work of the Russian Orthodox Church in Alaska and the Aleutian Islands by eight Orthodox monks who arrived in Alaska in 1794. They were part of the centuries-old missionary heritage of the Russian Orthodox Church that brought the Orthodox Church, by the monks Hourg and Barsanuphii, to the Mongol peoples. And monk St Stephen of Perm (1340-96) who would in turn journey beyond Kazan, across the Ural mountain, into the forests of Siberia to bring Orthodoxy to the pagan Zyrians. And the Russian monks who brought the Church even more eastward, eventually establishing a network of missions across Siberia and along the entire Pacific Rim: in China (1686), Alaska (1794), Japan (1861), and Korea (1898).

While the Church in Alaska was growing, immigrants were arriving in the rest of North America. In the 1860s a parish was established in San Francisco by Serbians, Russians and Greeks. Parishes were also established across the territory of the United States. At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, the headquarters of the North American Diocese was moved to San Francisco and then to New York. At this time there were great waves of Orthodox immigrants from Central, Eastern, and Southern Europe, and the Middle East. A belief commonly held within OCA circles (and among some in other jurisdictions) is that they were all united in a single diocese or jurisdiction, which was under the Russian Orthodox Church. (This view is disputed by a number of non-OCA church historians.) Although the Russians certainly were united, as were some parishes from other ethnic groups (especially those of Middle Eastern heritage), there were many others (most notably the overwhelming majority of the Greeks) who did not look to the Russian Orthodox Archdiocese of the Aleutian Islands and North America. Instead, they looked to their mother churches. In an attempt to address this problem, Archbishop Tikhon, later Tikhon of Moscow, had advocated (in a 1905 report to the Holy Synod) for an American Orthodox Church with "greater autonomy," governed by a synod of bishops representing the various nationalities. Tikhon's proposal did not have the opportunity to succeed.

In 1917, the Bolshevik Revolution brought communication between the churches in North America and Russia to an almost complete halt. In the early 1920s, Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow directed all Russian Orthodox churches outside of Russia to govern themselves autonomously until regular communication could be resumed. (He died in 1925, and was glorified as a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1989.) Shortly thereafter, at a Council of all hierarchs and clergy and parish delegates, it was decided that the Church in North America could no longer maintain strict administrative ties with the Church in Russia, especially since Patriarch Tikhon had been arrested. Additionally, the loss of financial support from the fallen empire added to the diocese's problems.

At that time, some parishes which had been part of a single, multi-ethnic, North American diocese organized separate dioceses and placed themselves under various other mother churches, solidifying the current situation of multiple, ethnically-based, overlapping, jurisdictions in North America. Though the revolution in Russia helped to speed this fragmentation process along, it had already been occurring prior to 1917, as hundreds of Orthodox parishes in the US had been founded without any reference to the Russian presence, whose authority was not universally acknowledged.

From that point until the restoration of relations with Moscow in the 1960s, the Metropolia entered twice into union with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (see ROCOR and OCA), finally breaking with the latter body in 1946. Additionally, in 1927, the bishops of the Metropolia attempted to create an autocephalous body known as the American Orthodox Catholic Church, which failed after only six years.

In the early 1960s, the Metropolia (as it was then known) resumed communication with the Patriarch of Moscow, and in 1970 full communion was restored. At that time, the Patriarch of Moscow officially granted the OCA autocephaly, or self-governing administrative status. The OCA's autocephaly is not currently recognized by all autocephalous Orthodox Churches, including the Church of Constantinople. Churches that do recognize its autocephaly are mainly those in former Communist lands (most of which had thus come under the influence of the Church of Russia), including the Russian Orthodox Church, the Church of Bulgaria, the Church of Poland, the Church of Georgia, and the Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia. According to supporters of OCA autocephaly, it is common for recognition of autocephaly to be granted belatedly; however opponents regard the grant as not being within the purview of Moscow's prerogatives (see Byzantine response to OCA autocephaly).

From 2005 to 2008, the administration of the OCA was the subject of allegations of financial misconduct. In November 2005, a list of accusations were brought forward by Protodeacon Eric Wheeler, the former treasurer of the OCA. Internal investigations, audits, and other actions have since then been enacted in an attempt to address the allegations, including the firing and deposition of the OCA chancellor, the former Protopresbyter Robert S. Kondratick. From January 2006 until 2011, reports and editorials on the scandal were published by the OCA News website, a privately operated site with no connection to the administration. Some of the reports included allegations of division within the OCA's Holy Synod. In August 2007, the Diocese of the Midwest, which at the time contributed more funds to the OCA than any other diocese, began withholding its assessments to the central administration.[1] In September 2008, after the release of a scathing report by an official investigative committee, the former primate, Metropolitan Theodosius, was disciplined,[2] and the then current primate, Metropolitan Herman, was retired by the Holy Synod.[3]

On November 12, 2008, after the financial scandals, the OCA's All-American Council and Holy Synod elected auxiliary bishop Jonah as its new metropolitan. He was formally installed on December 28, 2008 at the primate's cathedral, St. Nicholas Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

On November 13, 2012, the OCA's current metropolitan, the Most Blessed Tikhon, was elected at the 17th All-American Council.

The OCA today

Holy synod logo.png

The OCA today consists of 14 dioceses on the territory of Canada, the United States, and Mexico with 623 parishes, missions, and institutions (456 of which are parishes). Of the dioceses 3 are non-territorially organized along ethnic lines. These ethnic dioceses include communities in both the United States and Canada.

There are three ethnically defined dioceses in the OCA: The Albanian Orthodox Archdiocese of Boston (13 parishes[4]), the Bulgarian Orthodox Diocese of Toledo (21 communities[5]), and the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate in America (100 communities[6]). These dioceses' geographic territory overlaps with the other dioceses of the OCA and they have under their care parishes with those ethnic associations, although all are home to multiethnic parishes and the Bulgarian Orthodox Diocese also includes Romanian-language communities. These dioceses are the result of smaller ethnic jurisdictions joining the OCA at some point in its history, usually after having broken from other bodies due to the politics of the Cold War era.

The OCA also has 28 monastic communities[7], six of which fall under the direct jurisdiction of the Metropolitan (i.e., are stavropigial). The largest of these monasteries are New Skete (Cambridge, New York) and St. Tikhon's Orthodox Monastery (South Canaan, Pennsylvania).

There are three seminaries operated by the OCA: St. Tikhon's Orthodox Theological Seminary (founded 1937), St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary (founded 1938), and St. Herman's Orthodox Theological Seminary (founded 1973). All three educate seminarians from multiple Orthodox jurisdictions, including those outside North America.

The OCA is a member of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America that has superseded the Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA).

Diocesan structure

Growth and membership figures

Altogether, estimates of OCA faithful number from about 28,000[8] to 1 million[9] to 2 million[10], depending on the report cited and method used for counting. The number of new parishes founded from 1990 to 2000 increased the overall parish number by about 12%, and new membership has been fairly equally divided between new immigrants, children of existing members, and converts to the faith. Overall, according to one report the trend during that decade held the population of OCA faithful in neither increase nor decline, but remaining steady.[11] According to another, however, that same decade saw a 13% decline.[12]

This article forms part of the series
Orthodoxy in America
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American Orthodox Timeline
American Orthodox Bibliography
Byzantines on OCA autocephaly
Ligonier Meeting
Saints - Bishops - Writers
Antiochian - Bulgarian
OCA - Romanian - Moscow
ROCOR - Serbian

Ecumenical Patriarchate:
Albanian - Carpatho-Russian
Greek - Ukrainian

Christ the Saviour
Holy Cross
Holy Trinity
St. Herman's
St. Tikhon's
St. Sava's
St. Sophia's
St. Vladimir's
Assembly of Bishops
Amer. Orthodox Catholic Church
Brotherhood of St. Moses the Black
Evangelical Orthodox Church
Holy Order of MANS/CSB
Society of Clerks Secular of St. Basil
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According to Fr. Jonathan Ivanoff, who is on the administrative committee of the OCA's Department of Evangelization and the board of directors of the Orthodox Christian Mission Center, the OCA's American contintental membership (i.e., not including Alaska, Canada, or the ethnic dioceses) "has been declining between 6 and 9% for nearly 20 years. The OCA's Census population in 1994 was 29,775; in 2004 it stood at 27,169."[13] Despite these sobering figures, however, the OCA's dioceses of the West and South, as well as many parishes in other dioceses, have reported steady growth.

A 2010 United States Census of Religious Bodies, of which Alexei Krindatch, a statistician who has done extensive work on Orthodox churches and congregations, is part, estimated that in the United States there are approximately 85,000 people who consider themselves adherents to the OCA, of which about 40% (approximately 34,000) are actually regular church attendees. [14] (See also Demographics)


According to the 1970 Tomos of Autocephaly granted by the Church of Russia, the name of this church body was originally The Autocephalous Orthodox Church in America.[15] According to the Statute of the Orthodox Church in America, adopted by the Second All-American Council in October 1971, the usage is The Orthodox Church in America at the beginning of sentences[16] and the Orthodox Church in America in the middle of sentences[17], thus seeming to imply that the capitalization of the in the name is not vital.


Diocesan bishops

Auxiliary bishops

  • Right Reverend Andrei (Hoarște), Bishop of Cleveland, auxiliary to the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America
  • Right Reverend Gerasim (Eliel), Bishop of Fort Worth, auxiliary to the Diocese of the South

Retired bishops

  • Most Blessed Herman (Swaiko), former Archbishop of Washington and New York, Metropolitan of All America and Canada
  • Most Blessed Jonah (Paffhausen), former Archbishop of Washington, Metropolitan of All America and Canada
  • Most Reverend Lazar (Puhalo), former Archbishop of Ottawa
  • Right Reverend Seraphim (Sigrist), former Bishop of Sendai and Eastern Japan
  • Right Reverend Tikhon (Fitzgerald), former Bishop of San Francisco, Los Angeles and the West
  • Right Reverend Nikolai (Soraich), former Bishop of Sitka and Alaska
  • Right Reverend Matthias (Moriak), former Bishop of Chicago and the Midwest

Reposed bishops

This list only includes those reposed bishops who have articles on OrthodoxWiki.

For bishops prior to 1970, see: Bishops of the Russian Metropolia in North America

List of primates and ruling bishops

  • Bishop Joasaph (Bolotov) Bishop of Kodiak Auxiliary of the Irkutsk Diocese (1799)
  • Bishop Innocent (Veniaminov) of Alaska
    • Bishop of Kamchatka, the Kurile and Aleutian Islands (1840-50)
    • Archbishop of Kamchatka, the Kurile and Aleutian Islands (1850-68)
  • Bishop Peter (Ekaterinovsky) Bishop of Novoarkhangelsk (Sitka) Auxiliary of the Kamchatka Diocese (1859-66)
  • Bishop Paul (Popov) Bishop of Novoarkhangelsk (Sitka), Auxiliary of the Kamchatka Diocese (1866-70)
  • Bishop John (Mitropolsky) Bishop of the Aleutians and Alaska (1870-77)
  • Bishop Nestor (Zakkis) Bishop of the Aleutians and Alaska (1878-82)
  • Bishop Vladimir (Sokolovsky-Avtonomov) Bishop of the Aleutians and Alaska (1887-91)
  • Bishop Nicholas (Adoratsky) Bishop of the Aleutians and Alaska (1891)
  • Bishop Nicholas (Ziorov) Bishop of the Aleutians and Alaska (1891-98)
  • Bishop Tikhon (Belavin) of Moscow
    • Bishop of the Aleutians and Alaska (1898-1900)
    • Bishop of the Aleutians and North America (1900-05)
    • Archbishop of the Aleutians and North America (1905-07)
  • Archbishop Platon (Rozhdestvensky) Archbishop of the Aleutians and North America (1907-14)
  • Archbishop Evdokim (Meschersky) Archbishop of the Aleutians and North America (1914-18)
  • Archbishop Alexander (Nemolovsky) Archbishop of the Aleutians and North America (1919-22)
  • Metropolitan Platon (Rozhdestvensky) Metropolitan of All America and Canada (1922-34)
  • Metropolitan Theophilus (Pashkovsky) Archbishop of San Francisco, Metropolitan of All America and Canada (1934-50)
  • Metropolitan Leonty (Turkevich) Archbishop of New York, Metropolitan of All America and Canada (1950-65)
  • Metropolitan Ireney (Bekish) Archbishop of New York, Metropolitan of All America and Canada (1965-77). In the latter part of his tenure assisted by Archbishop Sylvester (Haruns), Archbishop of Montreal and Canada, Temporary Administrator of the Orthodox Church in America (1974-77)
  • Metropolitan Theodosius (Lazor)
    • Archbishop of New York, Metropolitan of All America and Canada (1977-80)
    • Archbishop of Washington, Metropolitan of All America and Canada (1981-2002)
  • Metropolitan Herman (Swaiko)
    • Archbishop of Washington, Metropolitan of All America and Canada (2002-2005)
    • Archbishop of Washington and New York, Metropolitan of All America and Canada (2005-2008)
  • Metropolitan Jonah (Paffhausen)
    • Archbishop of Washington and New York, Metropolitan of All America and Canada (2008-2009)
    • Archbishop of Washington, Metropolitan of All America and Canada (2009-2012)
  • Metropolitan Tikhon (Mollard), Archbishop of Washington, Metropolitan of All America and Canada (2012-present)


  • Orthodox America 1794–1976 Development of the Orthodox Church in America, C. J. Tarasar, Gen. Ed. 1975, The Orthodox Church in America, Syosett, New York

See also

Autocephalous and Autonomous Churches of Orthodoxy
Autocephalous Churches
Four Ancient Patriarchates: Constantinople · Alexandria · Antioch · Jerusalem
Russia · Serbia · Romania · Bulgaria · Georgia · Cyprus · Greece · Poland · Albania · Czech Lands and Slovakia · OCA* · Ukraine*
Autonomous Churches
Sinai · Finland · Estonia* · Japan* · China* · Ukraine*
The * designates a church whose autocephaly or autonomy is not universally recognized.

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External links