Autocephaly (8 of 20)

The answers in this section on autocephaly were provided by a seminary faculty member in a 1970 OCA publication.


How did the autocephalous Orthodox Church in America come into existence?


The Church in America began in Alaska in 1794 as a mission of the Russian Church. In 1812 there were already churches in California. In 1858 there was a bishop stationed in Sitka, Alaska. In 1870 the Diocese of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska was formed, which in 1900 became the Diocese of the Aleutian Islands and North America.

Until 1921 all Orthodox Christians in North America were members of this diocese regardless of their national origins: Greeks, Syrians, Serbian.

Because of the chaos brought to the American Church by the Russian Revolution, various Orthodox national ecclesiastical “jurisdictions” were formed in America as colonies of the old world churches, virtually all of which, as time went on, came to be divided among themselves for various political or personal reasons. Thus by 1970 there came to be about twenty independent and separate “Orthodox jurisdictions” in North America.

During these chaotic years the extension of the original mission of the Russian Church in America was reduced almost exclusively to its Slav element, and included only those who did not separate themselves for nationalistic, sectionalist, political or personal reasons.

In 1924 the 4th All-American Church Council (Sobor) of this Church held in the city of Detroit formally proclaimed itself temporarily self-governing. It was, at that time, unavoidable to free oneself from all ties with the Church of Russia which was at the time torn apart by the tragic events of national upheaval.

Because this church, normally referred to now as The Metropolia, was originally a diocese of the Church of Russia and was factually reduced solely to those who were, however loosely, of Russian heritage, it finally adopted the official name of the Russian Orthodox Greek-Catholic Church of America.

Although there was a great surge of Russian nationalism in this church because of the events in Russia and the arrival in America of many refugees, displaced persons and political emigres, the church always held to its traditional conviction of being a church in and for America with a strictly American vocation and destiny.

The fact that the Metropolia consistently resisted the temptation either to remain an extension of the Moscow Patriarchate with formal submission to the Soviet state, or to unite itself to the Synod of Bishops of the so-called Russian Church in Exile (the Russian Church Outside Russia) which was founded and continues to exist with the expressed conviction that it is not only a Russian Church, but the only one, and true Russian Church, is proof that the Metropolia did not deny its original American mission. On April 10, 1970 the Russian Orthodox Church of Russia formally recognized, blessed and proclaimed this reality.