Orthodoxy in America, Part Two: Other Orthodox Jurisdictions
The Greek Orthodox in America
The numbers of ethnic Greeks immigrating to America increased dramatically after 1890. Some 400,000 Greeks arrived from Greece in the years from 1891 to 1921, and another 200,000 Greeks came from Asia Minor. Most of these immigrants were single men eager to earn enough money to get married and support a family; many of them returned to the Old Country to marry and get established there after earning enough money in America to do so.
While most of these immigrants came to the United States for economic rather than spiritual reasons, they were very interested in maintaining their Greek identity and culture, which for most of them included the Orthodox Church (the same can be said for all the various ethnic immigrant groups coming from traditionally Orthodox lands). This interest strongly helped promote the efforts that led to the founding of about 150 Greek Orthodox parishes across the United States and Canada by 1918.
These parishes were almost all founded by laymen on their own initiative—organizing some kind of Hellenic society, buying property, building a church, and then seeking a priest. If most of the immigrants in any locale were from Greece, they would request a priest from the Church of Greece; if most of them came from Asia Minor, they would ask the Patriarchate of Constantinople to send them a priest. Apparently this pattern continued even after the Patriarchate of Constantinople officially gave authority over the ethnically Greek parishes in America to the Church of Greece through an official tomos issued in 1908.
The Greek Orthodox in America for the most part organized parishes without any reference to the already established Russian-American Archdiocese. The records in the OCA archives reveal only one instance when Greeks asked the Russian Administration for a priest, and only six times was a request made for an antimension (the “altar cloth” needed for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist). The official lists of parishes of the Russian Archdiocese in 1906, 1911, and 1918 include no churches of Greek ethnic background.
Many of the more traditionally-minded Greeks in America were disappointed that the Church of Greece never sent a bishop to organize the scattered, independent-minded, ethnically Greek parishes until 1918. Finally, in that year, Archbishop Meletios (Metaxakis) (1871–1935) of the Church of Greece came and began the organizational work which led to the official establishment of the Greek Archdiocese of North and South America in 1922. This development was given full ratification by the new Ecumenical Patriarch, who by then was the same Meletios (Metaxakis).
Four regional bishoprics were set up—centered in Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and New York City—all under the leadership of Archbishop Alexander (Demoglou) of New York. The regional bishops were to be elected by the local clergy and faithful, and to be approved by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople (by now, called Istanbul, Turkey)—hence making the Greek Archdiocese in America an autonomous jurisdiction.
However, there was much confusion caused by Metropolitan Germanos (Troianos) during his few years in America (he left in 1922) as he urged parishes to stay loyal to the Church of Greece. Several years later, Metropolitan Vasilios (Komvopoulos) did the same thing, but more effectively, as he established the Autocephalous Greek Orthodox Church of the United States and Canada, which had about 50 parishes by 1929. The other 133 Greek parishes at that time remained attached to the Greek Archdiocese of North and South America led by Archbishop Alexander.
All the feuding among the Greek-Americans was exacerbated by their differing intense political views, with some siding with the Royalists back in Greece (supporters of King Constantine I, King Alexander I, and King George II), and others supporting Eleftherios Venizelos, the Prime Minister (from 1910 to 1915, then from 1917–1920, then for one month in 1924, and finally from 1929–1932).
In 1930, Metropolitan Damaskinos of Corinth was sent as an exarch by the Ecumenical Patriarchate to bring to an end the feuding among the Greek-Americans. Through his strength of character and shrewd diplomacy, Metropolitan Damaskinos managed to unite nearly all the Greek parishes under the leadership of a new Archbishop from Corfu, the dynamic and visionary Athenagoras (Spyrou) (1886–1972), who was Metropolitan Damaskinos’s personal choice for the position. The regional bishoprics were eliminated (the bishops became auxiliaries to Archbishop Athenagoras), and the autonomous status of the Greek Archdiocese was lost, as all the Greek churches in America were brought under the direct supervision of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
In 1933, Archbishop Athenagoras approached Metropolitan Platon of the Russian-American Metropolia with the idea of founding a pan-Orthodox seminary in America. Metropolitan Platon was open to this possibility, but after his death in the next year, his successor, Metropolitan Theophilus, rejected the idea. With that, Athenagoras worked on his own to establish a seminary for the Greek Orthodox in America. Thus, in 1937, the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Theological School was opened in Pomfret, Connecticut. It was moved to a prime site in Brookline, Massachusetts, overlooking the city of Boston, in 1946.
Archbishop Athenagoras served in America until his installation as Patriarch of Constantinople in 1949. He did much to bolster the financial foundation of his Archdiocese, and to make Orthodoxy more visible in America. Other highlights of his period of leadership were the founding of the charitable organization called the Ladies’ Philoptochos Society, the establishment of a national periodical called The Orthodox Observer, and the founding of Saint Basil’s Teachers’ College in Garrison, New York, along with the founding of the theological school in Pomfret.
Archbishop Athenagoras was succeeded by Archbishop Michael (Konstantinides) (1892–1958; r. 1950–1958), who led the Archdiocese until his death in 1958. He founded the very successful Greek Orthodox Youth of America (GOYA) in 1951, and by 1958 there were some 250 member groups. Under his leadership, the annual income for the national church increased nearly six-fold. A national Sunday School program was established, with an all-English curriculum. And formal recognition was gained for Orthodoxy as being the “Fourth Major Faith” in America, along with Catholicism, Protestantism, and Judaism.
The Patriarchate of Constantinople appointed Archbishop Iakovos (Koukouzis) (1911–2005; r. 1959–1995) to succeed Archbishop Michael. The new primate of the Greek-American Archdiocese quickly established himself as the leading figure in Eastern Orthodoxy in America through his participation in the social and political affairs and the ceremonies of the nation.
Archbishop Iakovos was criticized by some in America for being inconsistent in his positions concerning Orthodox unity in the New World. A number in his own archdiocese—mostly recent immigrants—attacked him for his ostensibly pro-American, anti-Greek actions. In reality, the diplomatic Archbishop continued to foster the Greek identity of his archdiocese, following official instructions sent from Constantinople, while keeping close contacts also with the Church of Greece, enhancing the archdiocese’s presence in America, and fostering efforts towards Orthodox unity in America.
Along this line, Archbishop Iakovos maintained friendly relations with all the Orthodox jurisdictions in North America. He was one of the founders in 1960 of the Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops in America (SCOBA), and he was elected its first chairman.
Under his leadership the Archdiocese continued to thrive, and to become more visible on the American scene. He encouraged successful Hellenic-American professionals to become more actively involved in church affairs. He developed a property on the Greek island of Zakynthos into the renowned camping and retreat center known as Ionian Village. And through a new charter for the Archdiocese instituted in 1977, regional bishoprics again were set up, giving the formerly auxiliary bishops their own territories to care for, but with the entire Archdiocese still under the authority of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
Archbishop Iakovos led the Greek Archdiocese until his retirement in 1995. He was followed until 1998 by Archbishop Spyridon (Papageorge) (b. 1944), who was forced to retire due to his unpopular leadership. Archbishop Dimitrios (Trakatellis) (b. 1928) succeeded Archbishop Spyridon in 1999, and continued to lead his Church in 2013 as a much beloved hierarch.
The Greek Archdiocese is the largest of all the Orthodox jurisdictions in North America. Several small, Greek, schismatic Old Calendarist groups, however, also exist in America.
The Serbian Orthodox in America
In 1906 there were six Serbian parishes in America, overseen by Archimandrite Sebastian Dabovich (1863–1940) in cooperation with the Russian Missionary Diocese. In 1918, the list of parishes under the Russian Administration included 19 Serbian parishes. However, relations between the Serbs and the Russians had been tenuous during the preceding years.
As noted above, Archimandrite Mardary (Uskokovich) was elected by the Russian Missionary Archdiocese in 1919 to be an auxiliary bishop responsible for the ethnically Serbian parishes. But as the Russian Administration in America failed to receive approval for this consecration from the Church in Russia, the Serbian-Americans went ahead with their efforts to have their own diocese under the authority of the Church in Serbia.
Saint Nikolai of Zicha (1881–1956), then a priest of the Church in Serbia, traveled in Great Britain and the United States in 1915 and 1916, giving talks to raise support for the Kingdom of Serbia, which at that time was in the midst of the Great War (WW I). In 1921, Saint Nikolai, by then the Bishop of Zicha in Serbia, again came to America. He, along with Archimandrite Mardary as his deputy, was sent by the Serbian Patriarch Dimitrije. Saint Nikolai stayed about six months, again giving many public lectures, before returning to Serbia. After WW II, during which he suffered for about a year in the Nazi prison camp at Dachau, Saint Nikolai found asylum in the United States, as he was definitely not welcome in the new Soviet satellite state of Yugoslavia under the Communist government headed by Marshall Tito. This is how it happened that Saint Nikolai spent the last five years of his life at Saint Tikhon’s Monastery and Seminary in South Canaan, Pennsylvania, where he taught—in English—and served as rector of the seminary. He died in his cell there in 1956.
Father Mardary stayed on in America, serving as a parish priest in Chicago, and doing much of the organizational work for the emerging Serbian diocese in America, including purchasing with his own funds the St Sava Monastery site in Libertyville, Illinois.
In 1926, Archimandrite Mardary was called back to Belgrade to be consecrated by Patriarch Dimitrije as bishop and head of the Serbian Eastern Orthodox Diocese of America and Canada. Three weeks after his return to the U.S. in the following year, Bishop Mardary convened the first Church Assembly, in Chicago. Despite a gradually worsening case of tuberculosis, Bishop Mardary served the diocese well, until his death in 1935 at the age of 46. In May 2015, in recognition of his tireless efforts and pastoral care of his spiritual flock, Mandary was canonized a saint alongside Sebastian (Dabovich).
In 1963, the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Church of Serbia, under the new Patriarch Germanus, divided the Serbian jurisdiction in North America into three new dioceses (Eastern America, Western America, and Canada). In the following year three bishops were elected—Sava, Firmilian, and Gregory—to rule these dioceses, all under the authority of the Church in Serbia.
However, the ruling hierarch of the American Serbian Church, Bishop Dionisije (Milivojevich)—Bishop Mardary’s successor—regarded these developments as a Communist-inspired plot to keep the American Serbs under closer watch. So he broke all ties with the Serbian Patriarchate, which then defrocked him. Undeterred, he gathered together a large number of parishes that agreed with him, and thus the Free Serbian Orthodox Church in America was founded. The rest of the Serbian-Americans carried on as members of the three new dioceses, under the authority of the Church of Serbia.
A period of bitter strife between the two jurisdictions followed, lasting until about 1975. Preliminary reconciliation was achieved in 1988. The process was completed by 1992, after the fall of Communism in Yugoslavia, when Patriarch Pavle of the Serbian Orthodox Church visited North America and formally reunited the two groups.
In 1991, Bishop Christopher (Kovacevich) (1928–2010), head of the diocese of Eastern America and the first American-born bishop to serve the Serbian Church in America, was elected by the Assembly of Bishops of the Church of Serbia to be the Metropolitan of the Serbian Church in North America. In 2010, Metropolitan Christopher died, and as of the beginning of 2013 none of the five Serbian bishops in America had been made Metropolitan of the Serbian Church in America. By 2010, the American Serbian jurisdiction included two additional dioceses— Midwestern America, and Canada. The Serbian Church continued to support the Saint Sava School of Theology, a small coeducational school of theology in Libertyville, Illinois, which granted a B.A. in religious studies/priestly formation.
The Romanian Orthodox in America
The first parish in North America founded by Romanian Orthodox immigrants was organized in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, in 1902. The first Romanian parish in the United States was established by laity in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1904. In the next year, the Metropolitan of Transylvania sent Father Moise Balea to be the parish’s first priest and to minister to Romanian immigrants in other cities. Altogether he helped to establish about 20 Romanian Orthodox parishes in North America.
By 1918 there were about 30 Romanian parishes in the U.S. and Canada, but only three of these (in Hamilton, Ontario; Montreal, Quebec; and Rayville, Saskatchewan) were within the jurisdiction of the Russian Missionary Diocese. The others were associated either with the Metropolitan of Moldava or the Metropolitan of Transylvania in the Old Country.
In 1929, at a general congress of Romanian Orthodox clergy and laity held in Detroit, Michigan, an autonomous missionary episcopate was formed, to be under the canonical jurisdiction of the Church of Romania. This resolution was accepted in the next year by the Romanian Patriarchate, which officially established the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America. Then in 1935, the Holy Synod of the Church in Romania elected and consecrated Archimandrite Polycarp (Morusca) (1883–1958) as the first bishop of the new episcopate.
On July 4, 1935, Bishop Polycarp was enthroned during the Congress of the Romanian Episcopate, which was again held in Detroit. This congress also adopted a corporate statute for the episcopate.
During his four years in America, Bishop Polycarp was able to heal various factional disputes among the Romanian parishes. He also laid the foundations for many church organizations, and supervised the acquisition of the Vatra, a property northwest of Detroit, and the establishment there of the headquarters of the Romanian Episcopate.
In 1939, after formally dedicating the headquarters, Bishop Polycarp returned to Romania for a meeting of the Holy Synod of the Church there, but the outbreak of World War II prevented his return to the U.S. After the war, he was prevented by the new Communist government of Romania from returning to his ministry in the States. He was held as a political prisoner by the Communists until his death in 1958.
Meanwhile, the Communist government tried to take over the American Episcopate, but its efforts were thwarted, largely through the diligent work of Father John Trutza, pastor of Saint Mary’s Church in Cleveland from 1928 to his death in 1954. In 1951 the Episcopate, meeting in council, declared itself to be completely independent from the Church in Romania in both administrative and spiritual matters. The council then elected Viorel D. Trifa (1914–1987), a lay theologian, to be the bishop of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America.
In the following year, the bishop-elect was consecrated with the name Valerian in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, by three Ukrainian bishops who were not recognized by the other Orthodox. Under Bishop Valerian the Episcopate entered a new era of activity, even as he came under continuous attack, first in the media and then in the courts, for allegedly having conspired with the Nazis.
In 1960 the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America was received into the American Metropolia, the successor administration to the Russian Missionary Archdiocese, as an ethnic diocese. Archbishop Valerian was made a member of the Holy Synod of the Metropolia, becoming Archbishop of Detroit and Michigan. Then, in the next year, the bishops of the Metropolia consecrated Archbishop Valerian again, to remove any doubts about his priestly ordination or episcopal consecration. In 1970, when the American Metropolia gained its autocephaly from the Church of Russia, the Romanian Episcopate continued within the new OCA.
In 1982, because of the controversy surrounding him, Archbishop Valerian decided it would be best for his American flock if he left the United States. He found refuge in Portugal, where he died in 1987. He was succeeded by Archbishop Nathaniel (Popp) (b. 1940). In 2002, Bishop Irineu (Duvlea) (b. 1962) was consecrated as Bishop of Dearborn Heights to serve as an auxiliary bishop to Archbishop Nathaniel. Archbishop Nathaniel and Bishop Irineu were still leading the Romanian Episcopate within the OCA in 2013.
Not all of the Romanian parishes followed Archbishop Valerian in the fully autonomous Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America created in 1951. Some decided to remain within the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Romania, which in 1950 established the Romanian Orthodox Missionary Episcopate in America. The Romanian Patriarchate selected an American citizen, Father Andrei Moldovan, as the first bishop to lead the new Missionary Episcopate. After his consecration in Romania, Bishop Moldovan returned to the U.S. and organized parishes loyal to the new Missionary Episcopate. Subsequently, Bishop Moldovan was succeeded by Bishop Victorin.
By a decision in 1974 of the Holy Synod of the Church of Romania, the Missionary Episcopate was elevated to the status of an autonomous Archdiocese, along with the elevation of the ruling bishop, Bishop Victorin, to the dignity of Archbishop. The name selected for the new archdiocese was the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese in America and Canada. In 2002 Archimandrite Nicolae (Condrea) (b. 1967) was made the new Archbishop of this jurisdiction, with his headquarters in Chicago, Illinois. He was still serving in 2013.
The Syrian Orthodox in America
From 1895 to 1915, Saint Raphael (Hawaweeny) (1860–1915) served first as a priest, and then as a bishop in the Russian Orthodox Mission, taking pastoral care of the Arabic-speaking Orthodox in North America. His consecration as bishop in 1904 was the first Orthodox episcopal consecration held in the New World, as we noted above. During his 20 years of ministry in America, Bishop Raphael helped to organize 30 parishes. Two years after his death, he was succeeded by Bishop Aftimios (Ofiesh) (1880–1971; r. 1917–1931).
Bishop Aftimios’s authority was rejected by Metropolitan Germanos (Shehadi) of Seleucia and Baalbek in Lebanon, who had been in America since 1915. He falsely claimed that he had authority from the Patriarch of Antioch to gather and organize Arabic-speaking parishes to be governed directly by the Patriarchate of Antioch. In 1918 he incorporated his own new diocese as the Syrian Holy Orthodox Greek Catholic Mission in North America, which also included some Ukrainian parishes in Canada. Still, the majority of the Syrian parishes (at least 23 of them) remained faithful to Bishop Aftimios. Bishop Aftimios’s parishes became known as the “Russy” parishes, while Metropolitan Germanos’s were called the “Antacky” parishes.
In 1922, in response to the growing schism between the “Russy” and “Antacky” parishes, and with the Russian Archdiocese still in turmoil after the Bolshevik Revolution, the Patriarchate of Antioch sent a delegation to America consisting of Metropolitan Gerasimos (Messara), Archimandrite Victor (Abo-Assaley), and Archdeacon Antony (Bashir) (1898–1966) to help reorganize and reunite the Syrian factions. In 1924, Archimandrite Victor was consecrated as bishop to lead all the Syrian Orthodox in America, and this Antiochian Archdiocese came to be seen as the “legitimate” Syrian jurisdiction among a large number of the Syrians. Bishop Victor continued to lead this jurisdiction until his death in 1934.
A substantial number of the “Russy” Syro-Arab parishes, however, remained faithful to Archbishop Aftimios (Ofiesh). He remained at least the nominal head of these Syro-Arab parishes under the authority of the Russian Administration in America until 1931, when he was replaced by Bishop Emmanuel (Abo-Hatab), who had been consecrated as bishop of Montreal and auxiliary to Archbishop Aftimios in 1927.
When Archbishop Aftimios abandoned his episcopal rank and got married in 1933, and upon Bishop Emmanuel’s death in 1933 and Bishop Victor’s death in 1934, and with Metropolitan Germanos’s return to Lebanon in 1933, most of the Syro-Arab parishes gathered under the leadership of Father Antony Bashir, who in 1936 was consecrated as bishop of the Antiochian Archdiocese under the authority of the Patriarchate of Antioch. However, some of the Antiochian parishes—mostly the former “Russy” parishes—followed the newly consecrated Bishop Samuel (David) of Toledo (d. 1958) into a new, separate diocese that also operated under the direction of the Church of Antioch.
Metropolitan Antony (Bashir) was one of the most outstanding bishops in the history of the American Orthodox Church. Ordained a priest in 1922, he served as a missionary among Syrian Orthodox Christians for 14 years until he was made the Metropolitan of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese, which since 1931 had operated separately from the Russian mission. He was a pioneer in encouraging the use of English in liturgical worship, and was an outspoken supporter of jurisdictional unity among all the Orthodox in the New World. In 1960 he became a founder and leading member of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA).
Upon his death in 1966, Metropolitan Antony was succeeded by the youthful and dynamic Metropolitan Philip (Saliba) (1931–2014). In 1975, the schism with the Toledo group, then headed by Metropolitan Michael (Shaheen) (d. 1992), was healed, with Michael becoming Archbishop of Toledo and the Midwest within the united Antiochian Archdiocese.
In 1979 Metropolitan Philip purchased a property near Ligonier, Pennsylvania, that would become the elaborate camping and retreat center known as Antiochian Village. In 1987 he received nearly 2000 converts from the Evangelical Orthodox Church, led by Peter Gillquist, Jack Sparks, Jon Braun, Gordon Walker, and other former leaders of Campus Crusade for Christ.
In 2013, Metropolitan Philip still headed the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America, which in 2003 received “self-rule” status from the Patriarchate of Antioch. In addition to the metropolitan, the archdiocese was being guided by eight auxiliary bishops. And at that time, the Archdiocese had about 250 parishes and missions, compared with about 65 parishes in 1966, when Metropolitan Philip began his long tenure as metropolitan.
The Ukrainian Orthodox in America
The so-called American Metropolia of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC) had its beginnings in 1915, when Bishop Germanos (Shehadi) from Lebanon gathered under his care a number of parishes, mostly in western Canada, where thousands of Ukrainians had recently immigrated. From 1924 this group was led by Archbishop John (Theodorovich) (d. 1971), who had been consecrated by the non-canonical Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC) that had been formed in Ukraine in 1921. (This group on their own authority consecrated a number of priests to be their own bishops.) Archbishop John, a skilled administrator, was an ardent Ukrainian patriot who helped expand his church through appealing to the nationalism of Ukrainians who were delighted with the establishment in 1918 of an independent government in Ukraine, free from Russian control.
Another group of Ukrainians, more moderate and wanting to be part of canonical Orthodoxy, formed the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of America (UOCA) in 1929. These Ukrainians had been Uniates (Byzantine-rite Catholics) who left the Unia in large part due to the American Roman Catholic Church’s refusal to allow a married priesthood. Led by Bishop Bogdan (Spylka) (d. 1965), this jurisdiction came under the Ecumenical Patriarch in 1937.
Most of the parishes of both of these groups merged in 1950, forming the new, independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the U.S.A. (UOC-USA). This new jurisdiction was led by the then Metropolitan John (Theodorovich), who in 1949 had submitted to reconsecration as bishop. However, his jurisdiction was still not recognized as being canonical by the other Orthodox Churches. This was partly because one of the bishops who reconsecrated Bishop John, Bishop Mstyslav (Skrypnyk) (1898–1993), had been made a bishop in 1942 in Ukraine by the newly resurrected yet still non-canonical Autocephalous Orthodox Church in Ukraine (UAOC). Metropolitan John ruled the UOC-USA until his death in 1971.
Metropolitan John was succeeded by the then Metropolitan Mstyslav, who led the church until 1990, when he became Patriarch of the UAOC in Ukraine. The new metropolitan succeeding Mstyslav in America was Metropolitan Vsevelod (Maidansky). Also in 1990, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada (UOCC) was received into the Ecumenical Patriarchate, under the leadership of Metropolitan Wasyly (Fedak) (r. 1978–2005).
Metropolitan Wasyly’s successor, Metropolitan John (Stinka) (b. 1935), was elected at the Twenty-First Sobor (Council) of the UOCC held in 2005. Metropolitan John retired as the presiding hierarch in 2012, and was followed by Metropolitan Yurij (Kalistchuk) (b. 1951). The Metropolitanate also has one vicar bishop as an auxiliary, and two territorial bishops.
Back in 1950, however, Bishop Bogdan refused to join the newly unified UOC-USA, for it was still considered non-canonical by worldwide Orthodoxy. Along with about two dozen parishes, he remained loyal to the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Partly due to his advancing age, Bishop Bogdan’s group gradually lost more and more parishes to the UOC-USA. Nevertheless, he was a founding member of SCOBA in 1960.
After Bishop Bogdan’s death in 1965, he was succeeded in 1967 by Father Andrei Kuschak (d. 1986), who was elected as bishop by six parishes of the Ukrainians still under Constantinople. Father Andrei was consecrated to the episcopacy by Archbishop Iakovos (Koukouzis) and other bishops of the Greek Archdiocese of North and South America. Bishop Andrei then administered about a dozen parishes.
In 1996, the self-proclaimed autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA (UOC-USA) and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of America (under Constantinople since 1937) were finally united under the leadership of Metropolitan Constantine (Buggan) (1936–2012). For the first time, nearly all the Ukrainian Orthodox Christians in America were unified and in canonical Orthodoxy, within the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The name Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA was kept for the combined body.
In 2012, Metropolitan Constantine died, and was succeeded by Archbishop Antony (Scharba). In 2013, the UOC-USA had about 85 parishes, and a seminary, Saint Sophia’s, in South Bound Brook, New Jersey.
At the time of the merger in 1996, fourteen parishes of the UOC-USA refused to accept the reconciliation, and instead chose to reestablish ties with the Mother Church in Ukraine. These parishes came under the authority of the self-proclaimed autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church—Kyivan Patriarchate (UOC-KP).
The Carpatho-Russian Orthodox in America
Less than half of the Carpatho-Russian, Byzantine-rite Catholics (Uniates) immigrating to America had returned to their Orthodox roots by the late 1920s. Yet many who remained Byzantine-rite were still disgruntled at the Latinizing efforts of the Latin-rite hierarchy in the U.S.—especially the prohibition of married clergy. This was the context in which Father Orestes Chornock (1883–1977) led 37 Uniate parishes into Orthodoxy in the 1930s.
Father Orestes Chornock, born in the Transcarpathian area of central Europe, immigrated to America after his marriage and ordination to the priesthood. In 1911, he was installed as priest of Saint John the Baptist Carpatho-Russian Greek Catholic (Uniate) Church in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where he remained until 1947.
In 1924, the Vatican sent Bishop Basil Takach to enforce Latinization on the Greek Catholic Church in America, particularly in regard to the prohibition of married clergy. Various clergy and laity, led by Father Orestes, repeatedly protested against this attack on their religious heritage.
In 1936, with Father Orestes and his brother-in-law Father Peter Molchany providing leadership, the foundation was laid for a new Greek Catholic diocese independent of Bishop Takach, yet still loyal to Rome. But the Vatican refused to accept this arrangement, so by the fall of 1938 those in the new diocese declared their final break from the Roman Church. Two weeks later they were excommunicated by the Papacy.
The new diocese was accepted by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Father Orestes was made the first bishop of this new Carpatho-Russian diocese. He was consecrated in Constantinople, and installed in Bridgeport by Archbishop Athenagoras of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in America.
During his first year, Bishop Orestes supported the founding of a national Carpatho-Russian youth organization called American Carpatho-Russian Youth (ACRY), and convened the diocese’s first convention, in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. In 1940, Bishop Orestes led in the formation of a diocesan seminary in New York City; this Christ the Savior Seminary was moved to Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in 1951. The headquarters of the diocese were also moved from Bridgeport to Johnstown, in 1947.
In its first decade of existence, the diocese endured many lawsuits over church property. The Roman Church claimed ownership of its properties on behalf of those who remained loyal to the Unia. The results of these lawsuits depended largely upon how the original charters of the parishes were worded.
In 1965 the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate honored Bishop Orestes for his service by elevating him to the dignity of Metropolitan. Metropolitan Orestes died in 1977. He was succeeded by Bishop John (Martin) (1931–1984). Upon Bishop John’s death in 1984, Bishop Nicholas (Smisko) (1936–2011) became the third hierarch to lead the diocese. In 1997 he was elevated to the rank of metropolitan by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Then in 2011 Metropolitan Nicholas died; he was succeeded by Bishop Gregory (Tatsis) (b. 1958).
In 2013 the diocese had 72 regular parishes and 13 mission parishes, along with Christ the Savior Seminary in Johnstown.
The Albanian Orthodox in America
In 1908, Theophan (Fan) (Noli) (1882–1965) , an Albanian, was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Platon, Archbishop Tikhon’s successor as head of the Russian Missionary Diocese, to be the leader of the Albanian Orthodox community in Boston—which was the earliest Albanian immigrant community in North America. He translated the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom into modern Albanian, and conducted the services in that language for the first time anywhere in the world.
In the 1918 list of parishes of the Russian Diocese in America, we find four Albanian churches listed, with “Rev. F. S. Noli” given as the pastor of Saint George Church in Boston. In that year, Bishop Alexander, Metropolitan Evdokim’s successor, raised Father Theophan to the rank of mitred archimandrite and appointed him as Administrator of the Albanian Orthodox Mission in America. At the Second All-American Sobor of the Russian Diocese in America, held in Cleveland in 1919, Archimandrite Theophan was elected to be bishop over the Albanian parishes. However, approval for this consecration never came from the Church in Moscow, as we have noted.
In 1932, after about a dozen years spent in Albania (where he served for a short time as Prime Minister) and then in exile in Germany, Noli returned to the U.S. as a bishop, but without official authorization to oversee the Albanian parishes in America. As a result, several of the 15 parishes at that time stayed aloof from him. In 1949 these few parishes were accepted by the Patriarchate of Constantinople under the leadership of Bishop Mark (Lipa). This new jurisdiction was called the Albanian Orthodox Diocese of America.
Archbishop Theophan was soon generally accepted as the legitimate leader of the Albanian Orthodox parishes which stayed loyal to him. During his long tenure, until his death in 1965, Metropolitan Theophan translated eight service books from Greek into English for his flock, and he was one of the most outspoken of the Orthodox hierarchs in America for Orthodox unity here. He even called for the establishment of a patriarchate for the American Church.
Bishop Stephen (Lasko) was appointed by the Church in Albania in 1965 to be Metropolitan Theophan’s successor. In 1971 Bishop Stephen led his flock into the newly formed Orthodox Church in America (OCA), within which it became a distinct diocese. This move finally resolved the canonical status of the majority of Albanian parishes in America. In 2013, the Albanian diocese of the OCA, under the leadership of Bishop Nikon of New England, had about a dozen parishes.
Meanwhile, Bishop Mark’s diocese continued its existence within the Patriarchate of Constantinople. After the fall of the extremely atheistic Communist government in Albania in 1990, this very small group of parishes helped significantly with the restoration of the Church in Albania, which had been virtually destroyed by the Communists. In 2013 this jurisdiction was led by Bishop Ilia (Katre), who began his tenure in 1982.
The Bulgarian Orthodox in America
Bulgarian immigration to America became significant after 1903, when several thousand Bulgarians arrived as the result of an insurrection in Macedonia. Being quite scattered, they generally attended Russian churches, although as early as 1907 the first Bulgarian parish was established in Madison, Illinois. Gradually, other parishes were formed, and apparently, in 1909, a small Mission was organized for them within the Russian Missionary Diocese. However, in the 1918 listing of the parishes of the Russian Diocese in America there is only one parish that is designated as “Boulgarian”—in Toronto, Ontario.
In 1922, the five Bulgarian parishes in North America came under the care of the Mother Church in Sofia, Bulgaria. Bishop Andrey (Velichky) became the first bishop for this diocese in 1938.
In 1949, the Russian Church in Exile oversaw the establishment of several parishes for recent Bulgarian immigrants. In 1976, most of the parishes of this Bulgarian Church in Exile joined the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), becoming a constituent diocese of the OCA. Its hierarch, Bishop Kyrill (Yonchev) (1920–2007), became the OCA’s Bishop of Pittsburgh (r. 1976–2007). At that time the Bulgarian diocese consisted of about 15 parishes. In 2013, it had about 20 parishes under the leadership of Bishop Alexander (Golitzin) of Pittsburgh (b. 1948), who was consecrated as Bishop of Toledo and the Bulgarian Diocese of the OCA in 2012.
Those Bulgarian parishes that resisted coming into the OCA remained within the Patriarchate of Bulgaria. This jurisdiction, called the Bulgarian Orthodox Diocese of the United States, Canada, and Australia, had 29 parishes in the United States and Canada in 2013, having been enlarged by the addition of several parishes of the Christ the Savior Brotherhood that joined it in 2000. In 2013 this jurisdiction continued to be led by Metropolitan Joseph (Bosakov), with Bishop Daniil (Trendafilov) (b. 1972) as vicar bishop.
The American Orthodox Catholic Church
There was also an intriguing but very short-lived attempt beginning in 1927 to provide English-speaking Orthodox Americans with their own jurisdiction, called the American Orthodox Catholic Church. Technically this diocese was to be within the Russian Metropolia, but this connection proved to be very tenuous as its leaders actually foresaw an administratively independent Church, eventually to embrace all the Orthodox in America. This effort was led by Archbishop Aftimios (Ofiesh), who as Bishop Raphael Hawaweeny’s successor was the head of the Syro-Arab parishes under the Russian Administration (though some parishes had already accepted the leadership of Bishop Victor [Abu-Asaley]). Strongly encouraged and aided by two converts to Orthodoxy, Father Michael Gelsinger and Father Boris Burden, Archbishop Aftimios actually in some ways was building upon the “English work” initiated by Father Nathaniel Irvine back in 1905 under Archbishop Tikhon.
This “jurisdiction” was first brought into existence through “a solemn Act” signed by Metropolitan Platon himself, as well as by Aftimios, Archbishop of Brooklyn; Theophilos, Bishop of Chicago; Amphilochy, Bishop of Alaska; Arseny, Bishop of Winnipeg; and Alexey, Bishop of San Francisco.
For a short while the new jurisdiction published the Orthodox Catholic Review which ardently espoused Orthodox unity in America. However, this experiment never really had widespread support, and within a year or two it began to fade. It was brought to an end in 1933 when Archbishop Aftimios retired from the episcopacy and got married.
From an article in the Orthodox Catholic Review, April-May,
1927, by Archbishop Aftimios of Brooklyn
With a possible three million or even greater number of Her communicants residing in North America, the Holy Eastern Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church should be one of the major religious bodies in America. That it is not is due solely to the failure of its responsible leaders to come together as one Orthodox Catholic body for the organization of the Church in this country. Though the Orthodox Church boasts a litany in Her daily Divine Service beseeching God “for the peace of the churches and the union of them all,” She is Herself in America the most outstanding horrible example of the disastrous effects of disunion, disorder, secret strife, and open warfare that this country of divided and warring sects can offer.
It is true that She is at one and at peace on questions of faith, teaching, and liturgical practice. One would suppose that, therefore, She should find united ecclesiastical organization and administration an easy adjustment. It would seem that, given unity and uniformity of faith, teaching, rite, and practice, Orthodoxy in America ought to present a most edifying example of that Unity for which all Christian bodies are so loudly calling and for which they are so blindly seeking.
On the contrary, there is no central organization to which all the Orthodox of all racial, national, or linguistic derivation in America yield obedience. There are seven nationalities represented in American Orthodoxy, and these are divided into eighteen distinct groups of churches without any coordinating organization, and almost without any pretense of harmony or cooperation among them. It is time that Orthodoxy in America should take serious note of the causes and effects of its divided condition, and consider the steps necessary to bring about unity and progress for the future of the Holy Eastern Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church and Faith in the New World. . . .
The safety and salvation of thousands of the faithful committed to our trust rests with our defense of the Church and Faith in this country and abroad from the errors and disasters of internal division and external interference and false alliance. Let the Orthodox of America unite for their common Faith and Church at all costs and begin to do the work that lies before them in this land. In spite of all obstacles the Power and Grace of God in our Holy Eastern Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church can prevail.
Further efforts at Orthodox unity in America
Besides Archbishop Athenagoras’s overture to Metropolitan Platon about founding a single Orthodox seminary for all the ethnic groups in America, there were several other attempts to forge greater unity among the Orthodox in America. In 1937, the first proposal for a pan-Orthodox council of bishops in America was made by Metropolitan Anthony of the Antiochian Archdiocese, along with support from Archbishop Athenagoras, in a letter written to Metropolitan Theophilus of the Metropolia. Despite the merits of this proposal, however, Metropolitan Theophilus refused to accept it. His continued association with the Karlovtsy Synod (see “Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia,” below) apparently obstructed this collaboration.
In 1941, Archbishop Athenagoras proposed, in another letter written to Metropolitan Theophilus, that an all-English, pan-Orthodox magazine be started. But again, there was no positive response from Metropolitan Theophilus to this idea.
In 1943, the short-lived Federated Orthodox Greek Catholic Primary Jurisdictions in America was established, much through the efforts of Father Michael Gelsinger, who had joined the Antiochian Archdiocese, and Father Boris Burden, who had joined the Russian Patriarchal jurisdiction. The original impetus for this association was to assure that the religion of Orthodox servicemen would be officially recognized by the U.S. Armed Forces (which would entail a kind of official recognition of Orthodoxy by the whole American government). The association was comprised of Archbishop Athenagoras of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, under the Ecumenical Patriarch; Metropolitan Antony (Bashir) of the Syrian Archdiocese, under the Patriarchate of Antioch; Bishop Benjamin of the Russian Patriarchal jurisdiction; Bishop Dionisije of the Serbian Orthodox diocese, under the Patriarchate of Serbia; Bishop Bogdan (Spilka) of the Ukrainian diocese, under the Ecumenical Patriarchate; and Bishop Orestes (Chornock), head of the Carpatho-Russian diocese, also under the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Since the Metropolia was not in affiliation with a Mother Church in the Old Country, it was not part of this organization.
The organization faltered and collapsed for a variety of reasons, but according to Father Thomas FitzGerald, “its significance cannot be diminished. It was the first formal association of Orthodox bishops in the United States. The establishment of the federation was an indication that the old barriers of language, politics, and cultural suspicion could be overcome and that issues of common concern could be addressed. Bringing together in a consultative body the primates of six jurisdictions, the federation was an important association that indicated a growing recognition of the critical need for cooperation and the common resolution of problems. As we shall see, the federation provided a historical precedent for the establishment of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in America (SCOBA) in 1960.”
In 1956, the Orthodox Christian Education Commission (OCEC) was founded by Sophie Koulomzin (1903–2000) of the Metropolia, along with representatives from four other jurisdictions—Greek, Carpatho-Russian, Syrian, and Ukrainian—to coordinate Church school efforts among the various Orthodox groups in America. Having formal recognition by SCOBA ever since that body’s founding, this pan-Orthodox ministry was still active in 2013, continuing to produce educational materials for Orthodox church schools.
In March of 1960, Archbishop Iakovos, head of the Greek Orthodox in North America, hosted a meeting of the primates of all the canonical Orthodox jurisdictions in the United States to discuss the possibility of closer cooperation. On June 7 in the same year, the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA) was established. Although it was founded as a consultative group with no canonical jurisdiction or authority, SCOBA provided a symbol of Orthodox unity in the New World, and it gave a structure for the coordination of inter-Orthodox activities. The most fruitful of the projects carried on under the official auspices of SCOBA in its first 15 years were the Campus Commission for work among college students—supervising the organization known as the Orthodox Christian Fellowship—and the Orthodox Christian Education Commission.
In 1992, the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) was formed by SCOBA. This organization has proven to be remarkably effective in raising and distributing aid to the poor and suffering of the world, both Orthodox and non-Orthodox. By 2013, the IOCC had gained an outstanding reputation for effectiveness in this field, having efficiently distributed millions of dollars worth of aid in many areas around the world.
In 1994, the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC) was formed by SCOBA, incorporating the Mission Center of the Greek Archdiocese (founded in 1985), with headquarters in St Augustine, Florida. By 2013 the Mission Center was supporting up to about 20 full-time missionaries, in Africa, Eastern Europe, and elsewhere. It was also sending out up to 14 short-term mission teams every summer, in fields such as Christian education, construction of church buildings, and medical assistance.
The “Ligonier” Meeting
Also in 1994, for the first time, all the bishops of the canonical jurisdictions in North America met together, at Antiochian Village near Ligonier, Pennsylvania, at the initiative of SCOBA. This unprecedented meeting was hosted by Metropolitan Philip of the Antiochian Archdiocese, chaired by Archbishop Iakovos of the Greek Archdiocese, and moderated by Metropolitan Theodosius of the OCA.
During this three-day conference the bishops formally rejected the understanding of the Orthodox in North America as being in “diaspora,” and resolved to work concretely towards administrative unity. To proceed with their work on an ongoing basis, they resolved to meet annually as an ‘Episcopal Assembly.’ They also resolved to emphasize cooperative efforts to promote mission work in this land.
However, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew rejected the proceedings, with stern reprimands to the Greek Orthodox and other American bishops within the Ecumenical Patriarchate who participated. This halted any further efforts towards administrative unity on the part of the bishops in America, although they did meet again as a group in 2001 in Washington, D.C., and once more in 2006 in Chicago.
The vision for the establishment of jurisdictional unity in North America was rekindled in June of 2009 when Patriarch Bartholomew, meeting with representatives of all the worldwide autocephalous Churches, mandated that in each of 12 distinct regions around the world that have not been traditionally Orthodox lands, an “episcopal assembly” would be held, which would include all the canonical bishops in each area.
The bishops in North and Central America met in their episcopal assembly for the first time in New York City in May of 2010. This episcopal assembly established a variety of committees to work out various inconsistencies in pastoral practice among the jurisdictions. It also brought the various SCOBA ministries under its oversight. It requested that Mexico be placed with Central America in a separate episcopal assembly, and that Canada have its own episcopal assembly. And it agreed to meet annually, in preparation for the Great and Holy Council which, it is hoped, will finally bring an end to the jurisdictional confusion and discord in America.
This Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America held its second annual meeting in May of 2011, and its third annual meeting in September of 2012. Both of these conferences were held in Chicago.