ROCOR and OCA
|ROCOR and OCA Timeline|
|1917||Bolshevik Revolution breaks out in Russia.|
|1919||Southern Church Council meets in Stavropol at which Higher Church Administration was formed in Southern Russia.|
|1920||St. Tikhon of Moscow issues ukase #362; first session of the Higher Church Administration outside borders of Russia.|
|1921||34 ROCOR bishops meet in synod in Karlovtsy, Serbia, including Metropolitan Platon, primate of the Metropolia.|
|1924||4th All-American Sobor of the Metropolia votes to establish "temporary self-government," breaking administrative ties with Moscow.|
|1926||Metropolitan Platon of the Metropolia breaks ties with the ROCOR synod.|
|1927||ROCOR synod sends epistle to American parishes suspending Platon and his clergy.|
|1933||Metropolitan Platon refuses to pledge loyalty to Moscow, which declares the Metropolia to be in schism and establishes the Exarchate of Moscow on American soil.|
|1935||"Temporary Regulations of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad" signed by Karlovtsy Synod, including Theophilus of the Metropolia, thus renewing relations.|
|1937||6th All-American Sobor of the Metropolia declares itself to report to ROCOR in matters of faith.|
|1946||7th All-American Sobor of the Metropolia breaks all ties with the ROCOR, splitting American Russian Orthodoxy in two.|
|1970||Metropolia receives autocephaly from Moscow and returns Japanese possessions to its control, becoming known as the OCA.|
|1971||ROCOR denounces Moscow's grant of autocephaly; OCA receives rebel ROCOR parish in Australia.|
|1982||Calendar schism in OCA diocese of E. Pennsylvania; ROCOR receives multiple parishes in the area.|
|2001||Election of Metropolitan Laurus as First Hierarch of ROCOR.|
The ROCOR and the OCA have a complicated history of cooperation, rivalry, and sometimes outright hostility. These two jurisdictions, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) and the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), both have their origins in the Church of Russia (a.k.a. the Moscow Patriarchate or MP), and their histories as clearly distinct and identifiable entities both stem from the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in the early 20th century.
In examining this history, other names are used for the pre-1970 OCA, the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church in America (its official name) and the Metropolia (its common name). The ROCOR is also referred to as the Karlovtsy Synod (from its seminal formations in Serbia) or simply the Synod, the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, or ROCA.
Contrasts and Stereotypes
Numerous stereotypes exist regarding the ROCOR and the OCA. The ROCOR is monarchist ("white"), while the OCA is associated with Russian Communism ("red"). The OCA is modernist, but the ROCOR is traditionalist. The ROCOR is "Great Russian," while the OCA is "Little Russian." These stereotypes have their origins in the history of Russian Orthodoxy in the West, a history which is complex and often sad.
The beginnings of the OCA and the ROCOR as distinct from the Church of Russia are in the early 20th century Soviet takeover of the Russian state. When the monarchy in Russia fell and the Church of Russia began being persecuted, a group of Russian bishops fled from northern Russia, joining with some in the southern portion of the country and organizing themselves via meetings in Constantinople and Serbia. These came to be known as the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia.
Meanwhile, the Metropolia, the Russian diocese in America, which was becoming increasingly less Russian and more Carpatho-Russian (with the reception of many thousands of former Uniates under the leadership of St. Alexis of Wilkes-Barre), began a winding path toward independence from the jurisdiction of Moscow. The increasingly Carpatho-Russian/ex-Uniate character of the Metropolia is seen in its choice to name itself in 1906 as the Russian Orthodox Greek-Catholic Church in North America under the Hierarchy of the Russian Church (emphasis added).
Patriarch St. Tikhon of Moscow, who had previously been a bishop in America, issued an ukase on November 20, 1920, declaring that the bishops of the Church of Russia were to see to their own organization until such time as communication with the central church administration could be coherently organized again. The Metropolia took this as a cue to declare in 1924 a state of "temporary self-government." From that point until 1970, the Church of Russia considered the Metropolia to be in schism, and many of the other Orthodox churches regarded the Metropolia as uncanonical and avoided contact with it.
The bishops which came to form the ROCOR took St. Tikhon's ukase as the basis for their own self-administration, organizing themselves in 1920. Although denunciations of the Soviet-influenced actions of the Church of Russia are multiple, it is not clear whether there was a formal break in communion from ROCOR with the Church of Russia, though such a break has been at several times directed from Moscow to the ROCOR.
1917-1946: A Tale of Two Histories
In examining the historical accounts published by both bodies, a notable discrepancy comes to the fore. The OCA's histories describe the OCA as being the direct heir to the original Russian missionary work in Alaska and thus as the heir to Russian jurisdiction in America, especially seeking to dissociate itself from the ROCOR. In Bishop Gregory Afonsky's book about the history of the OCA 1917-1934, he says that "The Metropolia... has never been part of the Karlovtsy Synod in Exile". Further, on the OCA website in the section regarding the 6th All-American Sobor of 1937 in New York, the claim is made that the ROCOR actually was made part of the Metropolia, confirming a 1935 agreement made in Serbia between the Metropolia's primate and the ROCOR synod:
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Orthodoxy in America
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American Orthodox Bibliography
Byzantines on OCA autocephaly
ROCOR and OCA
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- Moreover, Metropolitan THEOPHILUS had traveled to Serbia where, under the leadership of the Serbian Patriarch, an agreement was signed by the leading hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) along with other exiled Russian hierarchs throughout the world forging a peaceful coexistence. Under this agreement, the American Church was to retain her administrative autonomy while maintaining close relations with the ROCOR Synod and being accountable to it only in matters of faith. The parallel jurisdictions of the Metropolia and ROCOR were thus eliminated and the four ROCOR hierarchs in North America along with their clergy and parishes were integrated into the Metropolia. The vote of the Sixth Sobor on this loose affiliation with the ROCOR was as follows: 105 for, 9 against, 122 abstentions. The large number of abstentions reveals that there was much apprehension on this issue at the council. However, in approving the matter, the council delegates showed respect and obedience to Metropolitan THEOPHILUS' primatial leadership.
The website then goes on to describe this "integration" as merely a "loose association," which seems to contradict the notion that the two bodies were truly integrated, eliminating "parallel jurisdictions" and making the Metropolia accountable to the ROCOR in matters of faith. On another portion of the website, regarding the 7th All-American Sobor in 1946, the relationship then being severed with the ROCOR is described as having been a "temporary arrangement".
The nature of the association between the Metropolia and the ROCOR is characterized quite differently by ROCOR writers:
- From 1920-1926 and 1935-1946 they recognized the authority of the bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia; that this is so is almost embarrassingly obvious and true [proof of this recognition of authority can be seen in the list of hierarchs in the Russian Desk Calendar Reference for 1941—see original article for copy of this page from the calendar—PB]. From 1946-1970 they were in effect under no one, for five bishops separated themselves from the ROCOR, but would not recognize the authority of the Moscow Patriarchate, and had absolutely no claim to calling themselves an autocephalous Church. Fully aware of the illegitimacy of their position, in 1971 some prominent theologians of the OCA brokered a deal with the Moscow Patriarchate, one that even the other Patriarchates protested was an uncanonical move.
Additionally, there are a number of concrete facts to support this interpretation:
- In 1935 Metr. Theophilus went to Sremsky Karlovits in Yugoslavia at the invitation of the Patriarch of Serbia Barnabas and under his chairmanship an agreement was worked out dividing the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad into four Metropolitan Districts: Eastern European with Metr. Anastassy as the ruling Hierarch, Western European with Metr. Evlogy as ruling Hierarch, North American with Metr. Theophilus as ruling Hierarch, and Far Eastern with Metr. Meletius (in Harbin) as ruling Hierarch... There has long been a debate as to whether Metr. Theophilus subordinated himself and the Metropolia to the Karlovits Synod by this agreement. On the principle that actions speak louder than words, note has to be taken of the fact that Bishops previously under the Exile Synod [in America] accepted the authority of Metr. Theophilus and by the same token Metr. Theophilus was very careful to follow the proper ecclesiastical protocol in asking permission of the Karlovits Synod to give the higher church awards to clergymen as well as in submitting regular reports on the life of the Church in America to Metr. Anastassy and finally in having representation up to World War II in the person of a Hierarch at the regular meetings of the Exile Synod. It is further a matter of fact that at no time did the Exile Synod see fit not to honour any of the requests of Metr. Theophilus (at the same time, in this period, there [was] no acid testing of the arrangement in terms of requesting permission for the consecration of a new bishop) (Surrency, p. 45).
Permission to consecrate a hierarch for the Metropolia was eventually requested from the Synod Abroad, however:
- ...in a letter to Metr. Anastassy dated the 22nd of December 1945, permission was asked to consecrate Archimandrite John (Zlobin) as the new Bishop of Alaska. Permission for the consecration was receuved and it took place on the 10th of March (Orthodoxy Sunday) and the new Bishop promised obedience both to the Metropolia and to the Synod of Bishops Abroad (ibid., pp.54-44).
In November of 1946, at the famous Cleveland Sobor (the "7th All-American"), after a call from Moscow for the Metropolia to renew its loyalty, a vote was held which resulted in the Metropolia's separation from the ROCOR and which declared loyalty to the Patriarchate. The voters, comprised of clergy and laity, voted 187 to 61 to reunite with the Patriarchate in the USSR. The pro-ROCOR faction within the Metropolia was understandably furious, as they regarded the Patriarchate as still compromised by the Soviet power.
The history of St. John's Cathedral in Mayfield, Pennsylvania, describes the 1946 severence of ties between the Metropolia and the ROCOR as a split within one body:
- In 1946, at the Cleveland Sobor, the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia indicated that the church headquarters would be moved to New York. A split then occurred in the American Metropolia, and the decision was by approximately half of the bishops to disassociate with the Russian Synod Abroad.
The five bishops which refused to submit to the vote at the council—which had not been ratified by a Bishops' Council as protocol dictated, probably because doing so would have ended up with a vote against ratification, as the Council majority was pro-ROCOR—then received a letter from Theophilus indicating their exclusion from the Metropolia.
Theophilus then made a semblance of entering into negotiations with Moscow's representative (Metr. Gregory of Leningrad), but whenever Gregory thought he might meet with Theophilus, the latter was strangely unavailable. Subsequently, Theophilus preached a sermon in San Francisco on August 7, 1947, saying of Gregory: "You have probably heard and read that a certain Hierarch has come here. I tell you, beloved brethren, from this holy place that this envoy would greet us in order to violate our way of life, to abolish peace, to bring dissension and discord" (Surrency, p. 57). The rumor was further spread that Gregory was carrying with him some sort of heavy trunk, possibly an atomic bomb (ibid.). In October of that year, Theophilus held a council of his bishops declaring a postponing of "forming... canonical ties of the North American Orthodox Church with the Church and Patriarch of Moscow" and to "continue, as before, maintaining full autonomy in [our] church life as stipulated by the 7th All-American Sobor at Cleveland" (ibid., p. 58).
The effect of the events of 1947-48 was to declare autonomy from the ROCOR and to have Moscow believe it was about to receive its North American diocese into its fold again only to be rebuffed without explanation. The Patriarchate subsequently declared the Metropolia again in schism and called the Metropolia bishops to answer before an ecclesiastical court for canonical violations and for declaring an anathema on one of its bishops (Makary) who had decided to reunite with the Patriarchate.
By contrast, in the OCA-sponsored book, Orthodox Christians in North America 1794 - 1994, the authors state:
- Canonically, the jurisdictional system of ethnic churches was never stable. New jurisdictions appeared every decade with disturbing regularity, existing jurisdictions separated from their canonical authorities and joined others. The notable exception was the Metropolia. Forced to declare itself temporarily "self-governing" in 1924 to preserve itself from Communist interference, the irregular status of the Metropolia was tacitly accepted by all Orthodox in America and abroad, with the exception of the Communist-controlled Russian Orthodox Church. 
Fr. Andrew Philips, an English ROCOR historian, describes the 1946 split in this way, noting with some irony that the very church which refused the Metropolia recognition was the same one which gave it autocephaly:
- After 1917, they first joined together with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. However, eventually after much hesitation, a small number of Russian bishops in North America cut themselves off from the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia and formed an independent but uncanonical group, called the Metropolia. In 1970 this group was given autocephaly (independence) by the still enslaved Church in Russia.
Certainly, the ROCOR was not one of those who (especially after 1946) "tacitly accepted" the Metropolia's "irregular status." That the Metropolia (led for a time by Metropolitan Platon (Rozhdestvensky) of New York) was part of the ROCOR was attested to by St. John Maximovitch in his reference to the 1926 split:
- Notwithstanding the departure from the Church Abroad — and, one may say, from the Russian Church altogether — of Metropolitans Evlogy and Platon with their followers, the Russian Orthdox Church Outside of Russia remains the free part of the Russian Church.
The question of the nature of the relationship between the ROCOR and the Metropolia during this period has significant bearing on the jurisdictional legitimacy of both the OCA and the ROCOR as they now exist. If they never had much more than a "loose association," then the OCA's argument for Orthodox primacy in America is strengthened, as it would never have been under any jurisdictional authority other than Moscow's or its own. The period from the 1920s until 1970 of tension between it and Moscow are simply a difficult period between a mission diocese and its mother church.
If, however, the Metropolia was indeed part of the ROCOR, then its claims to being the direct heir of Russia's primacy in America are thrown into question, and the legitimacy of Moscow's grant of autocephaly to the OCA in 1970 has significant problems, in that it would be favoring a rogue jurisdiction which had switched allegiances multiple times and could be said to have been in schism from its legitimate canonical authority. Far from being a "notable exception" to the canonical authority-switching of various jurisdictions, the Metropolia had gone into schism from Moscow, joined the ROCOR, gone into schism from the ROCOR, rejoined it, then gone into schism from it again, eventually to receive canonical approval in 1970 from the church in Communist Russia.
1970: Autocephaly for the OCA
At the same time that the Church of Russia was about to declare the autocephaly of the Metropolia, it announced that it was going to begin communing Roman Catholics. Vladimir Moss, a former ROCOR layman, writes in his The Orthodox Church in the Twentieth Century:
- ...in October, 1969, Metropolitan Nicodemus gave communion to Catholic students in the Russicum in Rome. This was followed, on December 16, by a decision of the Russian Holy Synod to give permission to Orthodox clergy to administer the sacraments to Old Believers and Catholics... The decision of the Moscow Patriarchate to give communion to Catholics put the other Russian jurisdiction in North America, the Metropolia, into a difficult position; for in the early 1960s the Metropolia (a body in schism from the ROCA since 1946) had been, through Fathers John Meyendorff and Alexander Schmemann, among the most conservative participants in the ecumenical movement.
He further writes that the autocephaly about to be received from Moscow was part of a secret deal between the Metropolia and Moscow, and that the price of the Metropolia's autocephaly was to be the newly revitalized Church of Japan:
- However, this Church had been secretly negotiating with the Moscow Patriarchate for a grant of autocephaly. According to the deal eventually agreed upon, the patriarchate was to declare the Metropolia to be the autocephalous Orthodox Church of America (OCA) in exchange for the Japanese parishes of the Metropolia coming within the jurisdiction of the patriarchate. This deal, which was recognized by none of the other Autocephalous Churches and was to the advantage, in the long run, only of the patriarchate and the KGB, was made public in December, 1969 – just at the moment that the patriarchate announced that it had entered into partial communion with the Catholics. Thus the former Metropolia found that it had been granted autocephaly by a Church that was now in communion with the Catholics.
The ROCOR's 1971 reaction was thus as follows:
- The Council of Bishops, having listened to the report of the Synod of Bishops concerning the so-called Metropolia's having received autocephaly from the Patriarchate of Moscow, approves all the steps taken in due course by the Synod of Bishops to convince Metropolitan Irinei and his colleagues of the perniciousness of a step which deepens the division which was the result of the decision of the Cleveland Council of 1946 which broke away from the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.
- The American Metropolia has received its autocephaly from the Patriarchate of Moscow, which has not possessed genuine canonical succession from His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon from the time when Metropolitan Sergii, who later called himself Patriarch, violated his oath with regard to Metropolitan Petr, the locum tenens of the patriarchal throne, and set out upon a path which was then condemned by the senior hierarchs of the Church of Russia. Submitting all the more to the commands of the atheistic, anti-Christian regime, the Patriarchate of Moscow has ceased to be that which expresses the voice of the Russian Orthodox Church. For this reason, as the Synod of Bishops has correctly declared, none of its acts, including the bestowal of autocephaly upon the American Metropolia, has legal force. Furthermore, apart from this, this act, which affects the rights of many Churches, has elicited definite protests on the part of a number of Orthodox Churches, who have even severed communion with the American Metropolia.
- Viewing this illicit act with sorrow, and acknowledging it to be null and void, the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, which has hitherto not abandoned hope for the restoration of ecclesiastical unity in America, sees in the declaration of American autocephaly a step which will lead the American Metropolia yet farther away from the ecclesiastical unity of the Church of Russia. Perceiving therein a great sin against the enslaved and suffering Church of Russia, the Council of Bishops DECIDES: henceforth, neither the clergy nor the laity [of the Russian Church Abroad] are to have communion in prayer or the divine services with the hierarchy or clergy of the American Metropolia.
In the same year that the ROCOR issued its rejection of the OCA's autocephaly (1971), the OCA took under its jurisdiction a former ROCOR parish in Australia, thus creating another parallel jurisdiction in a nation in which the primacy of the Greek Orthodox was the historical precedent:
- As a result of a court case between a group of parishioners and the Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCA), four of the Clergy and one parish, as well as groups of parishioners, broke away from ROCA. They applied to the Orthodox Church in America -- then known as the Metropolia -- to be taken under its protection. This was granted immediately.
Thus, the rivalry between the ROCOR and the OCA became ever more strident, and the reception of autocephaly from Moscow by the OCA at the same time came to be seen by many Russians in the diaspora as a capitulation to the Soviet domination of the Russian Church, expressed, for instance, in these words by the famous writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (newly exiled in the West) in reaction to this act: "How can this be? Out of compassion for those in bondage, instead of knocking the chains off of them, to put them also upon oneself? Out of compassion for slaves, to bend one's own neck in submission beneath the yoke?"
Early 1980s: The OCA Calendar Schism
In 1982, Bishop Herman (Swaiko) of Philadelphia, the OCA's bishop for Eastern Pennsylvania, decreed that all of his parishes would begin using the Revised Julian Calendar. Some were already using it, but others had been using the Julian Calendar steadily up to that point.
As a result of this decree, internal schisms occurred in parishes throughout the diocese, particularly in the OCA heartland of the Wyoming Valley (Scranton and Wilkes-Barre area). St. John's Cathedral in Mayfield broke completely from the OCA (having come to it in 1951 from the ROCOR), and two parishes split into two congregations, creating two new parishes in Old Forge (St. Stephen's, splitting from St. Michael's and building a new church) and Simpson (St. Basil's, keeping its building, while those remaining with the OCA found new worship space). In numerous other parishes, migrations occurred of faithful, segregating themselves according to calendar preference—those preferring the Julian Calendar went with ROCOR, while those choosing the revised calendar stayed with the OCA.
This division further intensified hostile feelings between the OCA and the ROCOR, which was then entering into a phase of providing a haven for disaffected parishes and clergy seeking refuge from "modernist" jurisdictions. Much of that sort of behavior has been ascribed by ROCOR historian Fr. Alexey Young as due to the influence of Holy Transfiguration Monastery being incorporated into the Russian Church Abroad.
2001-present: Warming of Relations
Since the election of Metropolian Laurus (Skurla) of New York as First Hierarch of the ROCOR and that body's subsequent ongoing rapprochement with Moscow, signs have appeared of better relations between the OCA and ROCOR. Seminarians studying at OCA seminaries have attended retreats at the ROCOR's Holy Trinity Orthodox Seminary (Jordanville, New York), and ROCOR seminarians have also participated in OISM events at OCA seminaries. The first member of the OCA to study at Holy Trinity Seminary, Vitaly Efimenkov, graduated in 2002. It is also worth noting that several graduates of Holy Trinity Seminary, upon recieving their Bachelor of Theology, went on to recieve Masters Degrees from St. Vladimir's Seminary. The most recent graduate of both Holy Trinity and St. Vladimir's is Andrei Psarev, instructor of Russian Church History at Holy Trinity.
Warmly worded letters from the OCA hierarchy have also been sent to the ROCOR hierarchy. Further, pilgrims from the ROCOR have visited the OCA metochion in Moscow  and Metropolitan Laurus has received representatives of the OCA for informal discussions. Additionally, the OCA's chancellor and one of its senior priests have attended a banquet at a ROCOR clergy conference.
Perhaps with these signs of greater cooperation, these two daughters of Russian Orthodoxy in the West will come to terms with their mutual history and fully reconcile.
Timeline of Parish and Monastery Transfers
Throughout the mutual history of the ROCOR and the OCA, especially since the split in 1946, numerous communities have changed hands back and forth between the two bodies, usually following a dispute between the community and its bishop. Below is a chart listing many of these transfers.
|ROCOR & OCA Parish Transfers|
|1951||St. John the Baptist Cathedral (Mayfield, PA)||ROCOR||OCA|
|1964||Protection of the Holy Virgin (Ottawa, Canada)||ROCOR||OCA|
|1970||Protection of the Holy Virgin (Ottawa, Canada)||OCA||ROCOR|
|1971||St. Nicholas Church (Bankstown, New South Wales, Australia)||ROCOR||OCA|
|1972||Holy Ghost Church (Bridgeport, CT)||OCA||ROCOR|
|1977||Holy Ghost Church (Bridgeport, CT)||ROCOR||OCA|
|1982||St. John the Baptist Cathedral (Mayfield, PA)||OCA||ROCOR|
|1982||St. Basil the Great (Simpson, PA)||OCA||ROCOR|
|1982||St. Stephen (Old Forge, PA)||OCA||ROCOR|
|1997||Monastery of the Glorious Ascension (Resaca, GA)||OCA||ROCOR|
- Budzilovich, P.N. A Summary-View of the Three Previous ROCA Sobors, 2000
- Lebedeff, Fr. Alexander. Orthodox Jurisdictions in America
- Liberovsky, Alexis. Synopsis of the 6th All-American Sobor
- Liberovsky, Alexis. Synopsis of the 7th All-American Sobor
- Matusiak, Fr. John. Q&A: OCA and ROCOR
- Matusiak, Fr. John. Q&A: Russian Orthodox Church in America
- Maximovitch, St. John. History of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (from The Orthodox Word, 1971)
- Moss, Vladimir. The Orthodox Church in the Twentieth Century
- Phillips, Fr. Andrew. The Last Days of Rue Daru?, 2005
- Rodzianko, M. The Truth About the Russian Church Abroad, 1954 (tr. 1975)
- Stokoe, Mark and Kishkovsky, Fr. Leonid. Orthodox Christians in North America 1794 - 1994
- Surrency, Archim. Serafim. The Quest for Orthodox Church Unity in America, 1973
- Woerl, Michael. Book Review: A History of the Orthodox Church in America (1917-1934)
- Young, Fr. Alexey. The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia: A History and Chronology, 1993
- History of Saint John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Cathedral (Mayfield, PA)
- History of the Holy Orthodox Church: Part IV - Orthodoxy in Australia, Holy Trinity Romanian Orthodox Church (Los Angeles, CA)
- The Truth About the Russian Church Abroad, by M. Rodzianko
- Book Review: A History of the Orthodox Church in America (1917-1934), a ROCOR layman critiques a history by an OCA bishop
- Orthodox Jurisdictions in America, by Fr. Alexander Lebedeff