On this day fifty years ago, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, under the Presidency of His Holiness Patriarch Alexis I, granted autocephaly to the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church in America, the “Metropolia”, and confirmed and proclaimed the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church in North America as an Autocephalous Church named “The Autocephalous Orthodox Church in America”. While the Tomos was signed on April 10, it was communicated to His Beatitude Metropolitan Ireney via telegram three days later on April 13, 1970.
This momentous event in the life of the church in North America, one that Father Alexander Schemann described as the “starting point in the liberation of the Orthodox ecclesiastical consciousness from political, national and ethnic “reductions”, was very much the natural progression of a Church, established in 1794, that had grown into a spiritually and administratively mature and independent Church, providing a missionary witness, and ministering and preaching the Gospel to immigrants and North Americans alike.
In his letter to the clergy and laity of the Metropolia, in December 1969, Protopresbyter Joseph Pishtey, Chancellor of the Metropolia, characterized the desire for autocephaly as being, “guided exclusively by Orthodox teaching and the good of the Church, having no other aim but the possibility to have for our Church a solid and firm canonical foundation, and the possibility for our children and grandchildren, whose home is America, to live, grow and seek eternal salvation in their own native, free and independent church.”
Now, fifty years later, with the same spirit exhibited by the members of the Church then, the Holy Synod in their proclamation issued last fall, reminds us that the autocephaly was given to the Church in America, “with the hope that this Tomos and the autocephaly it gave ‘might serve the good’ of Orthodox Christians in North America.” And, always guided by the words of Saint Tikhon of Moscow, spoken in 1903 from his cathedral in San Francisco who instructed the faithful, “to share our spiritual wealth, our truth, light, and joy with others who are deprived of these blessings,” the Holy Synod in their proclamation put forward this anniversary of the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in America as a “reason for all the Orthodox Churches in North America to celebrate. There is one flock because there is one Church. With this in mind, the Holy Synod of Bishops welcomes all Orthodox Christians to celebrate together with the Orthodox Church in America by recommitting to Orthodox unity in North America.”
Today we especially remember especially those departed Bishops, Priests, Churchmen and the laity of the Metropolia and Orthodox Church in America who labored so diligently and are themselves the founders of the Orthodox Church in America. May their memory be eternal.