In August 1920, Patriarch TIKHON and the Holy Synod of the Russian Church were finally able to approve the election of Archbishop ALEXANDER as ruling hierarch of the North American Diocese. However, despite his courageous efforts, Archbishop ALEXANDER was by 1922 overwhelmed by the continuing crisis in the diocese engendered by the consequences of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. He decided that, for the good of the Church, he should remove himself as ruling hierarch. Before leaving for Europe, he asked Metropolitan PLATON (Rozhdestvensky), who had previously ruled the diocese from 1907 to 1914 and was now in America as a refugee, to take over as ruling hierarch. Although Patriarch TIKHON himself suggested this change in ecclesiastical leadership in America and approved it once it had occurred, several factions disputed Metropolitan PLATON’s position as ruling hierarch of the diocese. Bishop STEPHEN (Dzubay), as the senior auxiliary bishop to Archbishop ALEXANDER, claimed that he, and not Metropolitan PLATON, should succeed him as ruling hierarch. John Kedrovsky, as head of the “Living Church” schism in America, had been claiming jurisdiction over Orthodox parishes and continued to proclaim himself the lawful ruling hierarch in North America.
The Third All-American Sobor was convened in Pittsburgh on November 7-9, 1922 to firmly establish Metropolitan PLATON as the canonical Primate of the Church by conciliar decision. This council duly elected Metropolitan PLATON, esteemed and trusted both in Russia and throughout North America, as the canonical ruling Primate of the American Church. At the time of this election, he was given the title “Metropolitan of All America and Canada.” This is still the title of the Primate of the Orthodox Church in America today. In order to challenge the primacy of Metropolitan PLATON and to get himself elected as head of the diocese, Bishop STEPHEN convened a “counter sobor” in Philadelphia on December 5, 1922. Early the following year, Bishop STEPHEN and those clergy who had supported him repented and were received back into the canonical diocese. Increasingly disenchanted with his role in diocesan life, Bishop STEPHEN returned to the Unia shortly after the Fourth All-American Sobor in 1924.
This council is an example of the North American Church appealing to her conciliar conscience to overcome critical challenges, and also firmly establishes the practice of electing the Church’s ruling Primate by the All-American Council.
Written by Alexis Liberovsky
OCA Archivist, Director of the Department of History and Archives.