Autocephaly (17 of 20)

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


Is it not really the case that the Metropolia has always been a national jurisdiction like all of the others, and that even today, no matter what it calls itself, it is still a Russian Church with Russian bishops?


First of all it has to be seen that the Orthodox Church in America has not only Russian-born bishops, but bishops born in America, Poland, Latvia and Romania. The entire episcopate of Archbishop Valerian of Detroit is of Roumanian descent, and virtually every parish in the church has a great number of communicants who have absolutely nothing to do with the Russian nation. Also it may well be the case that as you read these words other people who were originally formed as a national church jurisdiction in this country are now becoming members of the Orthodox Church in America.

On this same point it should be understood that a church is to be judged on its policies and actions and not on the national origin of its members. To identify a church by the nationality of its priests and people is to introduce a racist principle which is totally opposed to Christian faith and life.

This does not mean that language, traditions and customs of other lands have no place in the Orthodox Church in America. Such things certainly do have a role since they are of the very essence of life and have great pastoral and spiritual significance. In a word, these elements of life exist for the Church and its mission; but the Church and its mission do not exist for these things. This is a subtle, but critical and essential distinction.

As to the historical position of the Metropolia, it should be enough to demonstrate, as we have already, that this church never yielded to the temptation either to remain as a diocese of the Moscow Patriarchate or to pretend to be the one true Russian Orthodox Church outside of Russia. Even in those days when Russian Nationalism was at its height in America because of the tragedy of the Bolshevik Revolution in the homeland, the Metropolia did not turn from its essential American destiny. On these points it is best to let history speak for itself.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the Russian American Mission developed liturgical and scriptural texts in both Alaskan and English languages, with bishops and priests using these languages living in Alaska and in the lower forty-eight states.

The early twentieth century already saw bishops and priests of national origins other than Russian living and working within this same church. In 1905-1906 Archbishop Tikhon, the American primate from 1899-1907, and later Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, realized the need for the eventual self-support and self-government of the American Church and officially called for its autonomy, with such adaptations in church life as the use of English in the services and the adoption of the revised calendar for church usage.

In 1913 Father Leonid Turkevich, later Metropolitan Leonty, while affirming the factual Russian character of the Seminary in Minneapolis of which he was rector, wrote the following:

A final consideration which arises as we consider the “naturalization” [i.e. Americanization] of our school is the formation of a specific “American National Orthodox Church” separate from Russian, Greek, Syrian, and other Orthodox Churches. [...] So far, however, Orthodoxy is still represented by those who have come from old Europe. [...] It means [for the present], not rejecting the idea of the “naturalization” of the school and the whole Church, but doing everything possible for the emergence in life of the idea “in its own time” (Russian Orthodox American Messenger, Vol. XVII, Number 19).

This exact same sentiment was formally expressed in 1922 by Meletios IV, Patriarch of Constantinople and in 1944 by Bishop Nicolai Velimirovich of the Serbian Orthodox Church. (See St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly, Vol. 5, No. 1-2 1961 and The Orthodox Church, Vol. 5, No. 2, 1969.)

After the Russian Revolution the church situation in America became chaotic. The separate national, ecclesiastical jurisdictions appeared. The Metropolia declared itself self-governing in 1924. A heavy pressure of Russian Nationalism swept the American Russian Church because of the tragic events in the homeland. Emigres arrived to the country who had no desire to be here but longed for home. Among these were not only simple people, but ranking bishops and priests. In the forties while attempts on the one hand were made to settle the church rupture with Moscow, the so-called Synod in Exile, the Russian Church Outside Russia, wet up its headquarters in the United States. The Metropolia was pressed on every side, with great temptations to lose its churchly self-consciousness and to plunge headlong into national-political activities. At the Eighth All-American Church Council (Sobor) in 1950, Archbishop Leonty, then of Chicago and soon to be Metropolitan, spoke the following words:

We love our homeland, but—in our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren—we love our new homeland as well. We love, we venerate, we respect our Mother Church of Russia, but as the adult daughter we are naturally tied, we love and we give ourselves to those children whom God has given us, just as we love as well, and value, and respect the Grandmother Church of the Greek East…

According to our capabilities; objectively, carefully and without hasty conclusions, but yet emphatically, we will continue our historical line to the very end—the establishment of the administratively-autonomous existence of the Orthodox Church in America.

In the near future our generation and the generation of the new immigrants (i.e., the postwar Russian refugees) will merge together into one Orthodox American Church on the soil of the New World. The Synod in Exile is not in exile for us, they are in America. Whether the new Orthodox Sion will be founded here—this is the question of the future. (The Life and Work of Metropolitan Leonty [in Russian], New York, 1969. Speech opening the Eighth All-American Church Council, p. 33 ff.)

The last twenty years saw the movement for the one Orthodox Church in America grow within the Metropolia. We know how the Thirteenth Council in 1967 was ready to declare itself into this position. Divine Providence saw the Fourteenth Council of this church become, with the full blessing of the Mother Russian Church, the First Council of the Orthodox Church in America.