In the troubled and turbulent 1920’s, an administrative pattern of ethnic jurisdictions was a practical solution in the face of overwhelming canonical, political, financial and ethnic difficulties. Subsequent events have not altered this pattern, but merely increased the number of jurisdictions.
Following the publication of a 1929 Papal Decree that further limited the freedom and independence of the Greek Catholic Church, a large number (25,000) of Uniates based in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, left the Greek Catholic Church for Orthodoxy, much as their kinsmen had done 40 years earlier. Although the “Metropolia” would have seemed to be their logical home in Orthodoxy, these Carpatho-Russians, fearing “russification,” asked for, and received, their own “Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic” jurisdiction from the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1938.
The Second World War brought the Estonian Orthodox Church in Exile to America, as well as an exiled Belarussian jurisdiction. It also extended one American jurisdiction overseas. In an effort to prevent a Soviet presence in Occupied Japan through the Japanese Orthodox Church, the American military authorities encouraged the Japanese Orthodox to seek episcopal oversight not from Russia as it had in the past, but from the Metropolia. This episcopal oversight continued until 1970.
In 1949 small groups of Albanians, Ukrainians and Belarussians left their older, already-established ethnic jurisdictions in America to form competing ones under the aegis of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Like the Russians before them, the Bulgarian, Romanian and Serbian jurisdictions in America would also divide in the 1950’s and 60’s into hostile factions. Typically, controversy would lead a majority of these immigrant parishes to denounce their resident bishop, or the patriarchate he represented, as “tools” of the Communists. These dissident parishes would then form a new, independent (and often militantly anti-communist) jurisdiction of their own. Generally, only a minority of these American parishes remained “faithful” to the overseas patriarchates.
In the 1960’s, additional jurisdictions appeared in America, reflecting further divisions in Europe. In 1967, Macedonians separated from the Serbs to form their own “Macedonian Orthodox Church.” The resumption of large-scale emigration from Greece in the late 1960’s brought significant numbers of “Old Calendarists,” that is, Greek schismatics who continue to reject the Greek Church’s 1922 adoption of the revised Julian, or “new” calendar. Although small in numbers, their presence contradicts the appearance of Greek ethnic unity, while their public and unremitting criticisms of the larger, canonical Greek Orthodox Archdiocese remain a persistent thorn in the latter’s side.
More recently the administrative trend has been not to create additional independent jurisdictions, but to create autonomous “vicariates” for new groups within established jurisdictions. The Antiochian Archdiocese includes two: a “Western Rite Vicariate” (composed of some 20 former Episcopal and Roman Catholic parishes that do not use the Byzantine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, but a revised Western “Mass”); and the “Antiochian Evangelical Orthodox Mission,” composed of 2,000 former Evangelical Protestants who as a group joined the Orthodox Church in 1987.
The Effects of Jurisdictionalism
The “jurisdictional solution” was not without grave cost. Even as it attempted to preserve Orthodox communities, the development of separate ethnic jurisdictions in America warped the traditional structure and administration of the Orthodox Church. In direct contradiction to its theological teachings and canons (which mandate one, and only one, reigning Orthodox bishop in any given city), it was not uncommon for large American metropolitan areas, such as New York or Chicago, to have two, three, even as many as six resident Orthodox bishops. Similarly, it was not uncommon to see two, three, or even as many as four Orthodox parishes, all belonging to competing jurisdictions, built within walking distance of each other. Although such overlapping administrations and ethnic-based jurisdictions are officially condemned as “heretical” by all Orthodox Churches, the situation remains unchanged to this day. The result was and remains a de facto denial of the universal character of Orthodoxy.
Secondly, Orthodoxy all but abandoned its missionary vocation in America, and more pointedly, its missionary vocation to America. As parishes struggled they did not attempt to evangelize, but to preserve. Liturgical services in English, where they had since existed, were replaced by services in ancient Greek or Slavonic. The older, typically multi-ethnic parish devolved into smaller, ethnic parishes. Worse, no single jurisdiction could support the institutions created by the emerging “Immigrant Church.” By 1923 all the seminaries, schools, and social agencies and services established since 1895 had closed. They would remain shut for a generation.
Administrative and financial loss was paralleled by spiritual destruction. The creation of jurisdictions extracted a terrible spiritual price on all, but none so great as that paid by the clergy. Bishop fought bishop, priest fought priest. As a result of the unending turmoil, the status of the Orthodox clergy in North America diminished in the eyes of many lay people. Anticlericalism, that is, a pervasive distrust of bishops and priests by those still faithful to the church, a prejudice still smoldering in some areas from the time of the “trustee” parishes, became a harsh reality again for many. Parish after parish passed resolutions formally reducing their bishops and priests to the status of “employees,” responsible only for “spiritual advice” to otherwise “independent” parish corporations. Relations to central and diocesan administrations, whether to the Metropolia, the Greek Archdiocese, or to other ethnic jurisdictions, never strong, became nominal. The depth of this parochial mistrust is shown by the fact that a statute governing relations between parishes, dioceses, and the central administration of the Metropolia, first proposed in 1924, was not fully adopted until 1963, almost forty years later.
Finally, the collapse of the emerging “Immigrant Church” led to a far-reaching change in the theological and canonical language of Orthodoxy itself. In the North American diocese clergy spoke of “Orthodox cooperation.” In the new era, they speak of “inter-Orthodox” or “pan-Orthodox” cooperation. The emerging “Immigrant Church,” divided as it had been, possessed a consciousness of belonging to the One Church. Sadly, in the difficulties of the 1920’s that consciousness was lost. After 1921, the Orthodox in America belonged less to an emerging “Immigrant Church” than to a denominational family of “Ethnic Churches.”