The Orthodox Church in America (OCA) and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) share a single origin – the local Church of Russia – and a long history on the North American continent. It was the Russian Church that first sent missionaries to America, established the first parishes, sent the first bishops and established the first dioceses. Prior to the Bolshevik Revolution, the North American Diocese of the Russian Church was the principal canonical ecclesiastical authority here, and although there were clergy and parishes of differing cultures and languages, many were in the archpastoral care of the bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church. Therefore, there is no question that the formation of multiple jurisdictions on this continent was largely due to the ecclesiastical chaos that ensued after the Revolution of 1917.
The life and witness of the Russian Orthodox Church in the 20th century was marked by violent persecution at the hands of the totalitarian atheist Bolshevik regime brought to power by the communist revolutionaries in 1917. The decades of persecution included the martyrdom of bishops, priests, monastics, and lay people in overwhelming numbers and in numerous killing fields and gulags. Thousands of churches and monasteries were desecrated and destroyed. The voice of the church was silenced in the public arena. Charitable and educational ministries were made illegal. In the midst of massive anti-religious campaigns and by means of unjust laws religious believers, both clergy and lay, were deprived of their rights and put on the margins of society as objects of derision and discrimination.
The decades of persecution were a time of human suffering and genocidal cruelty. These years were also a time of witness to Christ and faithfulness unto death. What the Russian Orthodox Church endured during Soviet rule affected Church life outside Russia.
In the Diocese of the Aleutians and North America, the loss of contact with the Church of Russia and the loss of support from Russia created confusion and even chaos in the midst of uncertainty. From this turmoil emerged the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church in America (popularly known as the North American Metropolia), which is today the Orthodox Church in America.
For the millions of refugees fleeing from revolution and civil war in Russia and settling in the Balkans and Western Europe, in Asia and the Americas and Australia, there was need to find comfort and support within Church life under new circumstances.
With regard to the situation of the clergy and parishes of the Russian Church that were found abroad, there were two distinct directions that evolved. The first was the striving for a unified central Church Administration which could oversee the ecclesiastical life abroad until conditions would change in the homeland and the Patriarchate, independent of Soviet control, could be restored. The second was the striving toward the establishment of a completely independent self-administered Orthodox Church in North America.
These two directions are the essence of the conflict between the bishops, clergy and parishes which would become the Orthodox Church in America and the bishops, clergy and parishes which would remain part of a central Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.
However, even after the rupture of relations that occurred at the 7th All American Sobor in 1946, there were periods of close collaboration and mutual support between the North American Metropolia and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. Even when the close collaboration faltered, support and welcome to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia was offered by the American Metropolia in the period when the Synod of ROCOR bishops moved from Europe to the United States.
On December 11, 1950, a joint meeting of the Metropolitans Anastassy and Leonty and bishops of the Metropolia and ROCOR was held in New York. As noted in the official Minutes of ROCOR’s Council of Bishops, the Metropolia and ROCOR hierarchs had during their meeting “unanimously recognized that the sad fact of ecclesiastical separation causes significant damage to the holy cause of Christ’s Church: it weakens the preaching of Orthodoxy, undermining Church discipline and a sense of responsibility among clergy of the Church, is a temptation for the faithful, diminishes the prestige of the Church in the heterodox world and makes more difficult its struggle with militant atheism. It was unanimously determined that the Church's unity is necessary.”
Those Minutes also note that: “after the discussion of practical ways for achieving Church unity the hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in conjunction with the bishops of the American Metropolitan See, accordingly recognized that the most appropriate path for that time was the preservation of the existing organizations of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and the American Metropolia, which will exist in parallel, but will be in close fraternal cooperation between themselves, periodically calling meetings of hierarchs of both Church organizations to resolve common or contentious issues with a firm hope that further ways to more closely achieve canonical unity with God's help will be provided by life itself.”
After the meeting of the two first hierarchs and members of their Synods, the Great Council of Bishops of the North American Metropolia issued an Archpastoral Epistle dated December 2/15, 1950, which included the following statement:
“Let enmity between brothers be abolished and let mutual respect be established on the basis of our mutual acceptance of the co-existence of two paths for the Church in this country, one permanent and one temporary, which are the result of the exceptional sufferings of our time, full of terrible events, and forebodings, imperiously demanding from all the greatest submission to the Lord, the greatest brotherly love and moral support for each other. This does not break, but further strengthens the historical path of our Metropolia.
“What happened after the close of the Council on December 11, i.e. Metropolitan Anastassy twice visiting our newly elected primate at the Holy Protection Cathedral, and the talk that we bishops had which took place the same evening with the hierarchs of the Russian jurisdiction Outside of Russia who visited us, determines the possibility of peaceful life in parallel, subject to internal mutual respect and clear delineation of our canonical rights and historical foundations. The Russian Church Outside of Russia has its own flock in America as well. She has spread her wanderers’ tent in this country, too. Let the peace of God be with its zealous hierarchs, its kind shepherds and its laity!
“Let brotherly love prevail, and let mutual forgiveness of past wrongs be accomplished. The American Metropolia wishes to live in peace with these brethren as well, based on the temporary presence of their hierarchical administration on the territory of America until the future free All-Russian Local Council.
“No treaties or agreements protect this decision of our Church coexistence. It rests upon the requirements of life itself and the clear precepts of the Savior: "By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if ye have love for one another" (John 13:35).
“The clear and unconditional definition of our own canonical path, made at the 8th All-American Sobor, requires us to have an attitude of brotherly love toward those who, while wishing to preserve their temporarily separate ecclesiastical administrative organization next to ours, are our brothers in Christ.”
Despite these mutual efforts toward establishing brotherly relations, the paths of the Church Outside of Russia and the American Metropolia continued to be separate.
In 1970, by recognizing the self-governing status of the Metropolia with the granting of the Tomos of Autocephaly, eucharistic communion between the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) and the American Metropolia was restored and reconciliation was achieved.
At the beginning of the 21st century, the deep and extensive changes in Russia with the renewal of church life, the restoration of thousands of churches and monasteries, the freedom to bear public witness to the Gospel in Russian society, a process of dialogue between ROCOR and the Moscow Patriarchate led to the restoration of canonical unity through the Act of Canonical Communion in 2007.
It is now time for the Orthodox Church in America and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia to declare together in the spirit of mutual repentance and mutual forgiveness that we are committed to living together as brothers in Christ and as sister Churches, and to sharing a common witness to the Gospel of Christ and the Holy Orthodox Faith. This common witness should most clearly and most fully be expressed in eucharistic communion.
In addition, we see the need to work together in harmony on joint projects, such as pastoral education, parish schools, student outreach, translations of services, ministering to the poor and needy, and missionary efforts. To work in harmony we will need to reflect together on theological, pastoral, and liturgical issues which we face in our ministry in North America. We also affirm the need to examine together and develop a common understanding of the historical record concerning our churches. These hopes and endeavors can be encouraged and advanced through periodic meetings of our first hierarchs, bishops, clergy and laity to discuss matters of mutual concern, including those theological, liturgical and pastoral issues.
We are committed to the processes and goals expressed in the Chambesy accords of June 2009, specifically the active participation of both our Churches in the regional Episcopal Assembly as we strive to achieve Orthodox unity on this continent.
The following text from the Epistle of the Holy Apostle Paul to the Ephesians is addressed to us, and therefore to the believers of the Orthodox Church in America and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia: “I … beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in you all” (Ephesians 4: 1-6).
We ask for the intercession and blessing of the Holy Hierarch Tikhon, Patriarch and Confessor of Moscow and Enlightener of North America and all the saints who have shone forth on this continent as we labor “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4: 12).
Bishop TIKHON of Philadelphia
and Eastern Pennsylvania (Chair)
Archpriest Leonid Kishkovsky
Archpriest Alexander Garklavs
Archpriest John Erickson
Igumen Alexander (Pihach)
Alexis Liberovsky (consultant)
Bishop GEORGE of Mayfield (Chair)
Archimandrite Luke (Murianka)
Archpriest Alexander Lebedeff
Archpriest David Moser
Priest Peter Jackson
Archpriest Seraphim Gan (consultant)