The Future of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR)

The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in 2010. Photo: Orthodox Wiki. The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in 2010. Photo: Orthodox Wiki.     

Fr. John Whiteford discusses a question that often arises:  "Since the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR), and the Moscow Patriarchate (MP) have reconciled, why is it that we still have three jurisdictions of Russian origin in the US? We still have ROCOR, we have parishes that are still part of the MP, and we have the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) which was granted a Tomos of Autocephaly by the MP. Aside from all of the historical past disagreements and associated negative “reasons" for why these jurisdictions came into being, is anything being done to unite these three jurisdictions?"

To understand why these three jurisdictions are not already united into one jurisdiction, you do need to understand the history of why we ended up with three Russian jurisdictions in the first place. Prior to the Bolshevik Revolution, there was only one united jurisdiction in North America. The Bolshevik Revolution put militant atheists in a position to cause divisions in the Church, and they did not fail to take advantage of that power.

Foreseeing the difficulties the Russian Church would be facing under a militant atheist regime, Patriarch Tikhon did two things to enable the Church to continue to function. He issued Ukaz 362, which allowed for bishops separated from communication with the Mother Church to form their own temporary ecclesiastical authorities to govern the Church. He also appointed three locum tenentes (temporary administrators, pending the election of a new Patriarch) who were to take his place, because he feared that the Church might not be able to appoint a locum tenens when the time came, and he appointed three so that if the first one was not able to take office, the second one would, and if he was unable, the third one would. To make a long story short, the Soviets imprisoned all of the locum tenentes, and we ended up with a deputy locum tenens in charge, Metropolitan Sergius. So we had an unprecedented situation, with two other unprecedented solutions piled on top.

The acting head of the Russian Church, Metropolitan Sergius, was forced by the Soviets to issue a declaration of loyalty to the Soviet Union, which even clergy outside of Russia were expected to consent to. Most of those clergy did not go along with this, however. At first the bishops outside of Russia were all united under the auspices of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, but disagreements about how to proceed, and how those outside of Russia should be related to the Church inside of Russia, under Metropolitan Sergius, led to divisions. There is a fairly well done, but brief, history of the relationship between ROCOR and what became the OCA (originally known as the American Metropolia) here: But to sum it up, there were two periods of time when ROCOR and the American Metropolia were united: first 1921-1926, and then again from 1935-1946. In the late 60's, they almost united united a third time, but the Moscow Patriarchate offered the American Metropolia a Tomos of Autocephaly, which brought those discussions to an end.

During these years, there were also a number of parishes in North America that came under the authority of the Moscow Patriarchate directly, and were neither ROCOR nor OCA, though the number was always the smaller of the three by far.

One important thing to understand about the Tomos of Autocephaly given to the OCA is that it specifically stated that this Tomos did not invalidate any other Orthodox jurisdiction (such as the Antiochian and Greek Archdioceses) in North America, and provided for the continued separate existence of Moscow Patriarchal parishes that did not want to be part of the OCA. And so this Tomos is clearly not a Tomos of Autocephaly in the usual sense, because normally, an Autocephalous Church has exclusive jurisdiction over their own territory, by definition. And so in reality, what this Tomos did was it allowed the OCA and the MP to reconcile, without the OCA having to submit to the MP at a time when the MP was still under severe persecution by the Soviets, and as such, were subject to manipulation by the Soviets (which is why the OCA did not reconcile sooner, when that would have meant becoming a part of the MP). You could also say that the Tomos had the hope that eventually all the other jurisdictions in North America would come together, and make the OCA a truly united and autocephalous Church in the usual sense of the term.

So when ROCOR and the MP reconciled in 2007, it certainly was a topic of some discussion about whether the three Russian jurisdictions in North America would unite, but I think most people understood that this was not possible at the time. The practical pastoral issue is that for many decades, the relationships between these jurisdictions have often been strained. You also had clergy and whole parishes that went from one jurisdiction to the other, and not always because of reasons of principle, but simply because of problems with particular bishops. We are now able to have cordial relations with each other, and there has been a growing level of cooperation between the jurisdictions, but there are issues that remain.

There were some hopes that the Assembly of Bishops might not only bring these three jurisdictions together, but all the others in North America as well, but any such hopes of that happening in the foreseeable future have been dashed by the Ecumenical Patriarchate's recognition of the schismatics in Ukraine. So it is more likely that there would be some merger of these three jurisdictions before there would be anything on the larger scale, but even this has obstacles.

I think it is likely that down the road there will be a unification of MP parishes in Western Europe with ROCOR. I could see there being a Metropolitan of Australia and New Zealand, and that becoming its own entity. And it is certainly possible that some merger could happen in North America, but while there are parts of the OCA that are very close to ROCOR in terms of their ethos, there are also elements that have embraced a modernist spirit that is quite foreign to us, and so I think the OCA would need to deal with that before any serious talk of a merger in North America would be possible. The OCA does have many positive things going for it, and many things it does well, and ROCOR is certainly not without its own problems. We don't know what the future holds. Future developments may help bring us all together. There is much upheaval in society today, as well as in the Church, and we can pray that as God shakes things up around us, that He will lead us all closer to Him, which would inevitably bring us all together.

See also
Archpriest Victor Potapov: “I Believe that the Reunification of the Church Was the Result of the Prayers of St John of Shanghai” Archpriest Victor Potapov: “I Believe that the Reunification of the Church Was the Result of the Prayers of St John of Shanghai”
Archpriest Victor Potapov
Archpriest Victor Potapov: “I Believe that the Reunification of the Church Was the Result of the Prayers of St John of Shanghai” Archpriest Victor Potapov: “I Believe that the Reunification of the Church Was the Result of the Prayers of St John of Shanghai”
Archpriest Victor Potapov
Then they decided to have a recess, and to go to the cathedral and pray to St John of Shanghai before his very relics. A draft resolution was placed on his chest, along with a list of names of the delegates of the Council. Fervent prayer then instilled in us the confidence that everything will happen according to God’s will.
"The Spiritual Unity of Our Church Already Exists—Structural Unity is a Matter of Time."
An interview with Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral)
"The Spiritual Unity of Our Church Already Exists—Structural Unity is a Matter of Time."
I think that potentially, a merger can occur, for instance, of two parishes in a single city, as has already happened in Australia, in the city of Newcastle, New South Wales. The believers of the already-united St Nicholas Parish live together, and, I should note, live amicably. As far as the proposed unification of separate parishes in Germany, I believe that this decision is entirely in the hands of the ecclesiastical authorities. With time, of course, discussions can be held on this matter. At the same time, it is my opinion that there is no need to hurry in this direction. Such complicated matters must be decided upon peacefully, cautiously, and most of all, with love.
Act of Canonical Communion Act of Canonical Communion
His Holiness Alexey II, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia; Metropolitan Laurus of New York and Eastern America, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia
Act of Canonical Communion Act of Canonical Communion
Being guided by the effort towards reestablishing blessed peace, Divinely-decreed love, and brotherly unity in the common work in the harvest-fields of God within the Fullness of the Russian Orthodox Church and her faithful in the Fatherland and abroad, taking into consideration the ecclesiastical life of the Russian diaspora outside the canonical borders of the Moscow Patriarchate, as dictated by history; Taking into account that the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia performs its service on the territories of many nations; By this Act declare:
Ernest Padilla2/8/2021 3:10 am
Can someone explain to me what's all this mess ? I'm a Roman Catholic, but deeply in love with the Eastern Churches. I'm more lost and confused than Adam on Mother's Day ????????
Paul F MD12/3/2020 1:16 am
The arrogance of the practitioners who are supportive of the OCA in this comment section is phenomenal!
Paul F MD12/3/2020 12:12 am
For decades the OCA did everything within its hierarchy to divorce itself from Russian Orthodoxy, both in beliefs and in culture. The OCA believed/believes they need to question everything in Orthodoxy and to change Orthodoxy to conform to their modern American needs and conveniences and to conform to the comforts of their practitioners and clergy. The OCA succeeded in doing all the above. Presently, I say; "'Let sleeping dogs lie".
Анна8/29/2020 5:15 pm
The title of the article and the content do not correspond. The content is about the history of ROCOR, OCA and MP, while I was hoping to read about the future, as the title promised. “Future is unclear, let’s pray and hope”. Definitely. Any one can say that.
Peter8/28/2020 8:14 pm
@ Jacob, I think that ROCOR is the shot in the arm that the OCA needs. It would be good for the ROCOR phronema to be apart of the OCA. I am only familiar with the OCA Diocese of the South, which is much more in lock-step with ROCOR, I can't speak of the other OCA diocese's, but, if what I have heard is true then the OCA hierarchy may need a much needed kick-up from ROCOR hierarchs
Joseph Lipper8/27/2020 3:48 pm
Jacob, you're right. "Parroting" sounds derogatory. My bad, and please forgive me. My point is that ROCOR is not autocephalous. What choice in the matter does ROCOR's Holy Synod really have regarding their relations with the Greek Archdiocese? They don't. The decision comes directly from Patriarch Kyrill. Meanwhile, the OCA continues to have warm relations with both Patriarch Kyrill and the Greek Archdiocese, and it's because of their autocephaly.
Jacob8/27/2020 11:56 am
JL: A rather derogatory statement from you, that Met. Hilarion is "parroting" Pat. Kirill. You obvious don't know Met. Hilarion. I am not going to continue this fruitless conversation, I will only say that it is probably people like you and commentor David that are the greatest hindrance to any sort of merger. In Orthodoxy, the faithful decide very much. We are not top-down like the Catholics. David, just look at the many new ROCOR parishes that are almost all converts. Yes, they are now in communion with their beloved Russia. But Russia is not beloved by the OCA, which is also a big hurdle. And although there are some old calendar parishes in the OCA, they are tolerated and not encouraged. How many times have OCA bishops tried to make Alaska new calendar, answer me that? No, let's just say that a merger is not coming soon barring a miracle. But remember, all in God's time. Unions must never be forced, that always ends badly. Don't forget--we are a Church, we are Christians. And how did Christ say we are supposed to be known? By our love for one another.
David8/27/2020 2:13 am
The global structure vs local structure issue that Michael mentions is probably the biggest hurdle, that of simple logistics (and you can't just force communities to go places they may not want to go). I also think the backhanded slap against the OCA for "modernism" is unfair, all things considered. There is this subtle disdain towards the OCA on the part of some ROCOR partisans, decrying them as a "pastiche" Church and a dumping ground for "modernist" Russian Orthodox. The Antiochians were also held in similiar contempt, although that has changed because they have the "right opinion" on Ukraine. There is this unspoken arrogance that rivals anything "the Greeks" could be accused of. "Holy Rus" and "Romiosini" are not so far apart, and for many, Russification is a necessary element of Orthodoxy (as the "Greek Churches" are all modernist, anyway). All in all, very unhelpful.
Joseph Lipper8/26/2020 11:45 pm
Jacob, the OCA has taken a hardline stance regarding the schism in Ukraine, and it only recognizes Metropolitan Onuphrey as the canonical Metropolitan of Kiev. There's nothing timid there. The fact that Metropolitan Tikhon concelebrates with Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Elpidophoros is just an example of the OCA's autocephaly. Patriarch Kyrill doesn't criticize him for doing this either. Metropolitan Tikhon and Patriarch Kyrill maintain very warm relations to this very day. The actual reason why ROCOR clergy are not allowed to concelebrate with the Greek Archdiocese is because ROCOR is not autocephalous. The order and "headship" actually comes from Moscow. Patriarch Kyrill will not allow ROCOR clergy to concelebrate with the GOA. That order is simply parroted by ROCOR's Metropolitan Hilarion.
Jacob8/26/2020 9:10 pm
JL: Considering that the Moscow Patriarchate has quite a lot of territory directly under it, it is no surprise that it doesn't involve itself in encouraging a merger in North America. And it doesn't seem realistic at all for the MP to tell them what to do. It's clear to everyone that there are, at the present time, insurmountable differences in worldviews. For example, while ROCOR immediately came out with a statement against what the Constantinople Patriarchate did in Ukraine, the OCA was timid about it at best, and Met. Tikhon almost immediately starting serving with Arbp. Elpidiphoros upon his arrival in New York. No, the hierarchies are too different to merge right now, that is obvious. To place the blame on the Moscow Patriarchate, saying it is not interested in Orthodox unity in North America, is rather low, considering that under the Moscow Patriarchate there once was Orthodox unity in North America, but the Orthodox people themselves broke up that unity.
Joseph Lipper8/26/2020 4:00 pm
Jacob, the way the OCA is structured, ROCOR could even keep its hierarchy mostly intact (at least in U.S. and Canada). I actually really like ROCOR. I think it's a shame though that Moscow Patriarchate is not interested in encouraging an OCA-ROCOR merger. It tells me that Moscow Patriarchate is not interested in Orthodox unity in the U.S.
Michael8/26/2020 9:56 am
Re: Joseph Lipper - There is a very simple and straightforward reason why ROCOR could not simply join the OCA even if it wanted to: ROCOR has parishes all over the world (as its name implies), while the OCA is only for North America (as its name implies). In the event of a merger, what happens to the ROCOR parishes in Europe, Asia, Australia, etc.? It's unlikely that they would want to be part of an explicitly *American* Church. This worldwide nature of ROCOR is the reason why it can't simply merge into anything right now. There would need to be a rather complex web of agreements, whereby the American part of ROCOR does one thing, the Australian part does another, and so on.
Jacob8/26/2020 9:32 am
Joseph Lipper: Do you really think that Fr. John is going to go into all the details here of why the ROCOR does not "join" the OCA? You are either naive or one of those OCA true believers who can't own up to the fact that the OCA synod is very problematic. Or you have a chip on your shoulder against the ROCOR.
Joseph Lipper8/26/2020 5:17 am
Father John writes that there are OCA parishes very close to ROCOR in ethos, and others that are not. In other words, it's entirely possible for a ROCOR parish to function inside of the OCA. There are Old Calendar and Slavonic parishes in the OCA, and the current OCA hierarchy has no interest in trying to "modernize" them. I would say it's currently quite the opposite. Father John has provided no concrete reason for ROCOR not joining the OCA, except that they don't want to.
Reader J8/25/2020 6:02 pm
Fr. John: clear and concise as ever.
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