I’ve been studying the Orthodox Church for a little while.
I don’t understand why there are both hierarchies in North America that answer to their home authorities back across the ocean and why there is a separate Orthodox Church in America. How does this work, and are the relations between the Orthodox Church in America, the Greek Orthodox Church in America, and other jurisdictions amicable?
Has there been any effort to consolidate all Orthodoxy in North America into one organization? Would that be a good thing?
Orthodox Christianity came to North America in 1794 when missionaries arrived in Kodiak, Alaska. They were sent by the Russian Orthodox Church. As time went on the Russian Church organized a missionary diocese for North America. Almost all Orthodox Christians were nominally under this united jurisdiction, regardless of ethnic background.
In 1917 the Russian Revolution broke out and communications with the Mother Church in Russia were greatly limited and, by the early 1920s, almost non-existent. Patriarch Tikhon had been placed under house arrest. The Church in North America organized itself as an administratively-independent entity until such time as “normal” relations with the Mother Church could be reestablished.
In the meantime, Orthodox of other ethnic backgrounds—Greek, Serbian, etc.—organized their own separate jurisdictions, usually under the administration of the Church hierarchies in their respective countries of origin. This explains the break-up of the original Orthodox diocese in North America into separate, ethnic-based entities.
In 1970 the Russian Orthodox Church granted autocephaly, or self-governing status, to its former North American Diocese, which had been renamed the “Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of America” during the earlier part of the 20th century. At a Church Council which met at St Tikhon’s Monastery in 1970 the name of the Church was changed to “The Orthodox Church in America.”
Within the OCA are the former Russian parishes, as well as the Romanian Episcopate, Albanian Archdiocese, and Bulgarian Archdiocese. The OCA today has nearly 200 parishes (out of over 600) that are of no ethnic background—many of these were formed after the granting of autocephaly in 1970.
The OCA is a full member of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA).
Yes, it would be wonderful if administrative unity were to occur among the various Orthodox jurisdictions in North America, and much work has been done to this end. The Standing Conference, mentioned above, has met for many, many years and is currently under the presidency of His Eminence, Archbishop Spyridon of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. The Conference maintains a variety of inter-Orthodox agencies which coordinate educational, charitable, and other ministries. Hopefully in the near future, administrative unity, for which Orthodox Christians fervently pray, will become a reality.