The story of Russian jurisdictional divisions is both tragic and complicated, and it can only be summarized but briefly here. On 20 November 1920 Patriarch Tikhon, doubtless foreseeing that he would be imprisoned and deprived of the free exercise of his office, issued a decree authorizing Russian bishops to set up temporary independent organizations of their own, should it become impossible to maintain normal relations with the Patriarchate. After the collapse of the White Russian armies, over a million
Russians found themselves in exile, including many priests and several bishops. It was clearly impossible for the Patriarch to supervise the religious life of the exiles, and so the bishops outside of Russia applied the conditions of Tikhon's 1920 decree. In 1921, at the invitation of the Patriarch of Serbia, they held a Council at Sremski-Karlovci (Karlovtzy) in Yugoslavia, at which a temporary ecclesiastical administration for Russian Orthodox in exile was worked out. Supreme control was vested in a Synod of bishops who were to meet annually at Karlovtzy; an administration board was also set up, comprising representatives of clergy and laity. The decisions of the Karlovtzy Council of 1921 were at first accepted by every Russian bishop at that time outside the borders of Russia. But Tikhon, on 5 May 1922 issued a decree abolishing the Administrative Board, and ordering Metropolitan Evlogy to work out a new scheme for the Russian Church abroad. Evlogy (1864-1946), the Russian bishop in Paris, was Exarch in western Europe; he had attended the Council of 1921 and signed the decisions. When he issued this decree, Tikhon was already in Communist hands, so that there is some reason to believe he was acting under pressure and unable to express his true mind. Evlogy and the other bishops at the Karlovtzy Synod of 1922 duly worked out a new administration for the Russian Church in exile. Tikhon made no protest against these arrangements, and the Karlovtzy bishops claimed that he accepted the new constitution. Sergius, Alexis, and Pimen, however, have several times condemned the Karlovtzy administration, and the Moscow Patriarchate continues to the present day to regard it as entirely illegal and uncanonical. The Synod, for its part, does not recognize as valid the elections of Patriarch Sergius and his successors; and it has ignored the condemnations published by Moscow, looking upon them as political documents devoid of any spiritual authority. Between the wars the Synod met regularly at Karlovtzy; after WWII it moved to Munich and since 1949 its center has been New York. The Synod was headed at first by Antony (Khrapovitsky), formerly Metroplitan of Kiev; from 1936 until 1964 the presiding bishop was Metropolitan Philaret. In the last few years this group has become increasingly isolated from the rest of the Orthodox Church.
We still haven't got to our Church yet, my brother Gregory, but I ask you to be a little more patient while I explain further about how the OCA fits into the American scene and how our church came to be and still is within its rightful jurisdiction.
A small number of emigre Russians, instead of recognizing the Karlovtzy administration, preferred to remain in direct contact with the Moscow Patriarchate, thus forming the second of the four jurisdictions mentioned above.
This group has never been large (very few clergy in exile were willing to comply with the demand of Sergius in 1927, and to provide a written statement of loyalty to the Soviet regime); but in 1945 several bishops and parishes in western Europe joined this Moscow jurisdiction.
The two remaining groups were formed by bishops who at first supported the Karlovtzy Synod, but who left it in 1926. The Paris jurisdiction owned its origin to the Russian Exarch in Paris, Metropolitan Evlogy. At first, as we have seen, he cooperated with the bishops at Karlovtzy, but after 1926 he ceased to attend the Synod. Then in 1920 he was disowned by Sergius because he prayed for the Christians under persecution in Russia (Sergius held that there were no persecuted Christians in Russia). Finding himself isolated, in 1931, Evlogy placed himself and his parishes under the spiritual care of the Ecumenical Patriarch. In 1934 Evlogy was privately reconciled to Metropolitan Antony, and in the following year he went to Karlovtzy for a special "reunion" conference, at which the schism between him and the Synod was healed; but he subsequently renounced this agreement. Eventually in 1945, shortly before his death, he submitted to the Patriarch of Moscow. But the great majority of his flock did not feel able to follow him, and remained under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch. So matters continued until 1965, when the Patriarch of Constantinople - acting apparently under Russian pressure - suddenly announced that he could no longer continue his Russian Exarchate; and he recommended its members join the jurisdiction of Moscow. This, not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority were unwilling to do, and they chose rather to constitute themselves into an independent group. In 1971 they were received back into the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Finally, there is the fourth group, the North American Metropolia, which is where the focus of your question about who our church is owes its origins and its continued existence within its rightful jurisdiction.
After the Revolution, the Russians in America stood in a slightly different position from the emigres elsewhere, since here alone in the countries outside of Russia, there was a regularly constituted Russian diocese before 1917, with a resident bishop, Metropolitan Platon of New York (1866-1934), like Evlogy, separated from the Karlovtzy Synod in 1926; he had already - in 1924 - severed contact with the Moscow Patriarchate, so that after 1926 the Russians in the United States form "de facto" an autonomous group.
Following the 1920 decree from Patriarch Tikhon for Russian bishops to set up temporary independent organizations of their own, as we have seen, Metropolitan Platon and all of the other North American bishops comprising the Synod at that time, chartered and constituted THE HOLY EASTERN ORTHODOX CATHOLIC AND APOSTOLIC CHURCH IN NORTH AMERICA on February 2, 1927, as an autocephalous self governing church, to be in communion to the extent possible with all Orthodox churches united in peace and love throughout the world. It was co-named the AMERICAN ORTHODOX CATHOLIC CHURCH.
They appointed Bishop Aftimios Ofiesh as its first Metropolitan Archbishop. The church was legally incorporated in Massachusetts on February 1, 1928. Its mission was to be the repository of "Truth" in North America and to weather the storm of Soviet tyranny in Europe and looking to the future to unite English speaking Orthodox peoples in North America with the various ethnic Orthodox that were streaming into America after the Great War.
Platon was close to Aftimios who also lived in New York. The task ahead was a great one. When Platon left New York to become the Moscow Patriarch he must have known his march was toward matrydom. Aftimios knew this and was aware of the difficulties to come and what would happen without the support or protection of a "mother church".
They both vowed to maintain the truths of Orthodoxy. In 1935, under Soviet pressure, Platon was forced to denounce the emigre churches, including the ones founded with his own signature. His New York successor, Metroplitan Theophilus, also rejoined the Karlovtzy jurisdiction in 1935. Aftimios did not and suffered persecution and isolation for it but his canonically established church was forced to attempt growth with no financial backing. His was the altruism of true Orthodoxy, which seeks freedom from political intrigue, believing that Americans needed the renewal of the inclusiveness of the Orthodox gospel, and resisted becoming bogged down in inter-church political chessplay.
In 1946, immediately following WWII, at the Synod of Cleveland, yet another division occurred among the Russians in America. Five of the nine bishops present at this Synod, and a minority of the delegates from the parishes, decided to remain subject to the Karlovtzy-Munich group under Anastasy; but the other four bishops (including Theophilus himself), with a large majority of the parochial delegates, decided to submit to the Moscow Patriarchate on condition that the Patriarchate allowed them to retain their "complete autonomy as it exists at present". At that time the Patriarchate was unable to consent to this.
But in 1956, during the height of the Cold War, the Orthodox Church in America was formed. In 1970, still during the Cold War, the Soviet dominated Patriarchate granted the Metropolia not just autonomy but authocephaly (which had already been granted to THE HOLY EASTERN ORTHODOX CATHOLIC AND APOSTOLIC CHURCH IN NORTH AMERICA in 1927!), declaring it to be the "Autocephalous Orthodox Church in America (OCA). But this grant of autocephaly has not yet been recognized by Constantinople, or by most of the other Orthodox Churches.
So after a long discussion we see that both our Churches are formed to serve the same people. The OCA was funded by the Soviet dominated Moscow Patriarchate, THEOCACNA was not.
Metropolitan Aftimios made significant progress in positioning our church to fulfill its mission. He never involved himself in the politics of negotiating a compromise position with the Moscow Patriarchate while it was under Soviet domination. After the martyrdom of his friend and co-founder, Metropolitan Platon, he determined to steer the course of altruistic calling of Orthodox spirituality rather that putting form over substance. Aftimios died in 1966 with most of his church residing as hermits or small congregations, sharing churches with Episcopalians or Methodists.
God allowed his poverty to be complete. His own cathedral was acquired with the help Antiochan Orthodox who took it out from under him by some legal maneuvering. Loving God and never embittered, Aftimios died knowing he had kept his promise to keep the Light of Orthodoxy going.
The successor to Aftimios has had the focus of being an altruistic Hesychast. The churches are humble and the congregations are small. There are a number of hermits in the church whose goal is to keep the intact teaching of Orthodox spirituality and pass it on intact.
Following in Aftimios' footsteps, we believe that American Orthodoxy must be involved in interfaith and ecumenical affairs. To this end, our church has represented Orthodoxy on several occassions.
Calendar? We follow the Saint Herman Calendar and live a traditional monastic typikon using the Great Horologian and other service books, except for the Divine Liturgy which is predominately the Western Rite.
The usage of the Western Rite Orthodox (approved by the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of America) seemed to be appropriate given the shared space arrangments with Episcopal, Methodist, Anglicans so common in our parishes (as was necessary because of the lack of funding). Our priests are all qualified in the traditional eastern rite, however, and we often utilize the Divine Liturgy of Saint James.
As far as communion goes, we still uphold our constitutional requirement to hold ourselves out in communion to all Orthodox jurisdictions united in faith and in love around the world. We consider that the Church of the Nativity in the Holy Land is in our Church. The Holy Bible was compiled into a canon by our Church. The Church of the Holy Sepulcre in Jerusalem is our Church. Every holy monk on Mount Athos and in every monastery in the world is united in prayer in our Church. We share the altar with (SCOBA) Ukranian Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox and are on friendly terms with our Greek brothers down the street. And, my dear brother, if you are validly ordained, we will gladly share the altar with you, for we have one High Priest whom we serve, correct? We are advocates of the inclusiveness of Orthodox doctrine to bring renewal to all Christians, especially western Christians who seek to purge themselves of the wrong ideas of original sin, guilt, separation, and atonement. We believe that our melting pot in America is not done melting yet and that Orthodox spirituality is the real hope of today and tomorrow. We must unite for the greater good of the souls in America.
I personally enjoyed my times with my OCA friends in Montreal in the mid 1990's. They also were struggling to get a parish going in the basement of an Episcopal church. We enjoyed holy moments and I fondly think of them often. Even though they we of all the espionage activities that used to occur out of the Montreal and US OCA parishes, (which is certainly no secret anymore) there are very holy men and women there now. This is not a dig, brother, it is just a fact of how business was done in the Cold War, justified that somehow the greater good was to be served by having a funded OCA. But it doesn't make OCA more "canonical" just because it is better funded and has Moscow blessing in 1970.
We, like you, are hindered by the lack of good English translations of liturgical texts. We also serve a Spanish speaking neighborhood who want to love God in the Orthodox way yet we must come to them through the Western Rite (the Gregorian pre-schism mass or the modified Tridentine rite). And have you ever tried to find the Philokalia in Spanish?! Forget it. Is our church a member of SCOBA? No. It wasn't a member of the Cleveland schism in 1946 either, with Aftimios vowing to stay out of the political fray for the good of the people.
Can we work together? My dear Sweet Jesus I certainly hope so. We need your help and I hope you could see the benefit of our faithful adherence to Orthodoxy. We seek the Kingdom of God through His revelation to the Church. I speak for our whole Church when I tell you we are men of peace and not political turmoil. We go to great lengths to protect our apostolic succession, which is direct from the Church of the East and Aftimios himself.
Our church has been plagued in the past 10 years with so called independent bishops claiming to be in or through our church but were not so you will see some references to those types of infractions on our web pages.
Translations? We are using the Greek translations in some parishes and the Slavonic in others. One parish uses the Aramaic Church of the East. Could we benefit from standardizing? Yes, of course, and we are working on that one too. Externally, our churches are filled with icons and sweet smelling incense, we sing "Glory to Thee O God" and depending on the location we may wear either eastern or western vestments depending on if Eastern or Western rite is sung.
So I hope, my dear brother, that I have answered your questions to your satisfaction. We are truly Orthodox Americans and American Orthodox who hold out our hands to you in the peace and the love of Christ.
THE HOLY EASTERN ORTHODOX CATHOLIC
THE NORTH AMERICAN HOLY SYNOD
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