Autocephaly (19 of 20)

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


If autocephaly was really so important to the Metropolia, why did the bishops negotiate secretly and make the decision by themselves without discussion with the church or the convocation of an All-American Church Council (Sobor)?


To say that autocephaly was negotiated by the bishops alone without reference to the will of the church in its priests and people is absolutely false. The most superficial examination of the Orthodox press in the months prior to April 10, 1970 will reveal how “secret” the plans for autocephaly were!

First of all, we have seen the position of the Metropolia throughout its history, from its beginning, through the events of 1924, down to the “straw vote” of the All-American Council of 1967. This history in itself would provide the unquestionable mandate of the church to its hierarchy to accept the blessings of Russia upon its self-governing status any time the Russian Church would offer it.

As to the events leading up to the formal proclamation of autocephaly, this is exactly what happened. The first approach of representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate to members of the Metropolia about the possible settlement of the difficulties between the two churches was casual and even accidental. When it was agreed to discuss the whole matter formally and officially, the Metropolia administration assigned Archbishop Kiprian of Philadelphia, and Fathers Joseph Pishtey, Alexander Schmemann, John Skvir and John Meyendorff to represent the American Church. This delegation was in constant contact with the Metropolitan and the Synod of Bishops as well as with the Department of External Affairs of the Metropolia and the Metropolitan Council.

When it appeared that this time, at long last, something might really come of the discussions, the question was opened for the final testing and consensus of the whole church. Letters were sent. Articles were printed in publications, both ecclesiastical and secular. In the Fall of 1969, members of the negotiating team were sent to every diocesan assembly to explain the exact state of the matter. Parishes held their own community discussions on the issue. Anyone with any question was free to write to the church administration directly or to air his view through the open press. In New York the entire Synod of Bishops was gathered together with members of the church administration and the Metropolitan Council with its representatives from every diocese in the church plus those elected directly by the All-American Church Council, both priests and laymen.

The decision for autocephaly was truly that of the whole church acting in traditional Orthodox communal (sobornal) unity. Anyone who would deny this would not only have to deny the facts of a century and a half of Metropolia history, but would have to deny the concrete events of church life from the famous “straw vote” of 1967 to the overwhelming reception of autocephaly by the vote of 301 to 7 (with 2 abstentions) through which the Metropolia became officially the Orthodox Church in America.