Moscow clarifies its position on Orthodoxy in America

Source: Yahoo! Groups

[From the December 2009 Orthodox Christian Laity newsletter, vol. 5, Number 2]

The following letter translated from the Russian dated November 13, 2009 was received at the OCL Office via fax November 16. It is addressed to former OCL President Peter Petkas. It is from the Moscow Patriarchate, Russian Orthodox Church Holy Synod, Department for External Church Relations, Danilov Monastery. The letter relates to the recently published “Orthodox Christianity at the Crossroad A Great Council of the Church – When and Why”

Dear Mr. Petkas,

On behalf of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, I would like to thank you for the series of essay[s] devoted to the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church.

The Russian Orthodox Church, since the 1961 Rhodes Meeting has been a permanent participant in the Pan-Orthodox Pre-Council Conferences. The latest, 4th Pan-Orthodox Pre-Council Conference was devoted to the diaspora, and the Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Commission to meet in December 2009 will consider the problems of autonomy and autocephaly.

The vision of the future of Orthodoxy in America you have presented is consonant in many ways with the position of the Moscow Patriarchate on this matter. We in the Russian Orthodox Church are well aware of the specifics of Orthodox presence in America conditioned by the cultural, political and ethnic peculiarities of the region. As far back as the early 20th century, St. Tikhon, a future Patriarch of Moscow who for ten years headed the first Orthodox diocese in North America which took pastoral care of various ethnic groups, saw sufficient reasons for granting it an autonomous status. In 1970, the Russian Orthodox Church deemed it timely to grant the (autocephalous) status to its metropolia in North America. In this way, it continued the cause of St. Tikhon for building an independent church structure in the North American continent to be based on local rather than ethnic principle[s].

I would like to wish you good health and spiritual and physical strength in your service of the unity of Orthodoxy in America.

Archpriest Nikolay Balashov
Department for External Church Relations
Moscow Patriarchate


  1. Wesley J. Smith :

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t this statement go beyond confirming the OCA’s autocephaly? Indeed, does it not contend that it is properly seen as the American Church, as envisioned originally by St. Tikhon, which would have occurred in due course long before 1970 but for the Soviet pogrom against the Russian Church, which prevented its proper administration and nurturing of the American Church?

  2. George Michalopulos :

    Wesley, I believe it does. Be on the lookout for other developments.

  3. So why then does the Moscow Patriarchate have a vicar bishop, four deaneries, thirty parishes and a monastery in the US?

  4. Why does the EP still have the “New Lands” in Greece and Crete? (and the Serbian Patriarch parishes in Timisoara Romania,…). History and pastoral concerns.

    That the vicar bishop is titular, i.e. has no see in America, is specified by the Tomos of Autcephaly. He takes care of the Patriarchal Parishes until they go to the OCA, per the Tomos.

    It doesn’t stop the OCA: Met. Jonah comes from one of those Patriarchal Parishes.

  5. George Michalopulos :

    David, I agree it sounds goofy. Isa’s explanation is the best one I’ve heard yet. But let’s be honest: until the autocephalous churches start respecting the boundaries of each others’ nations, then such tomfoolery will continue. In respect to the Phanar, it’s simply because of pride. As far as the MP is concerned, it’s clear that the MP parishes will be brought into the OCA.

    They’re keeping for the time being to increase to their vote share against the machinations against the EP here in North America. Makes sense.

  6. Ah, the workings of providence!

    I agree that the Moscow Patriarchate handled those parishes not ready to cut the apron strings yet from Mother Russia. It worked out: because of them, the PoM regained his seat in SCOBA just before Chambesy.

  7. At least there is more of an intention for the MP to transfer those parishes to the OCA. This is a bit a contrast to the EP trying to get American property transfered to the Patriarchate, not to mention having no intention of supporting a unified American Church outside his grasp.

    • David,

      The actions and implications of the EP go far beyond the latest request.

      As viewed against the backdrop of the other Orthodox jurisdictions in America, the EP and the GOA have been moving in retrograde motion for years.

      For example, the initial charter of the GOA, from 1922, defined an autonomous church. From that point forward, each successive rendition of the GOA charter has done nothing but tighten the grip of the EP on the GOARCH.

      Meanwhile, most other jurisdictions have moved in the opposite direction, from an eparchy toward autonomy. In the case of the OCA, it obviously went beyond autonomy.

      It’s been that way for years.

      Best Regards,

      • It may not be out of place to post something giving the prehistory of the GOA.

        Met./Archbp (EP/Pope) Meletios came to the US on the authority of the Tomos of 1908. I recently came across a contemporary account on the issuing of that document:


        With the Jews and the modern ITALIANS, no people has ever migrated as far as the Greek people. From time immemorial, the Allure of the sea, the taste for commerce and love of adventure had pushed the Greeks to emigrants, to scatter throughout the Shores of the Mediterranean lake Prosperous colonies, which gradually supplanted the Phoenician and Carthaginian competitors and created for long one of the most brilliant civilizations. The cities in the interior, Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt, to Persia and Arabia, they were also inhabited by Greeks and Hellenized very quickly.

        The same phenomenon of immigration is reproduced before our eyes. Each year, especially before the age of military service, young Greeks by the thousands abandon the heaven so laughing so thin and the soil of the Fatherland, to go seek his fortune elsewhere. The human tide is going today in preference to the United States. The year 1902 saw from 11, 490 Greeks to the port of New York. The years 1903, slightly more than 13.700. For the general census of Hellenic subjects worldwide, which the government of Athens is in the process of conducting at this time, if I am well informed, America sends a registration sheet 130.000. No doubt this figure is well below the number of people to register.

        The United States is not the only ones containing Greek colonies. Not mentioning the Greeks living on Ottoman territory, one meets everywhere, mainly in large industrial and commercial centers, even some of their colonies, such as Venice, which already has several centuries of existence. However, if, from the civilian point of view, the emigrants very easily adopt their new country-without abandoning the rest, not any more than the Jews, of their own race-under the religious-relationship it is not the same. Orthodox in religion, they do not want at any price, with very few exceptions, to go to the Catholic and Protestant churches of the countries that Deign to receive them. They therefore have churches and chapels for them for the celebration of their offices and their liturgy, they possess the Greek Priests for them as if they were still living in the Hellenic Kindgom or the Ottoman Empire.

        Who governs these Priests, these churches and the faithful, from the canonical point of view? A serious issue, which has been studied for a long time, no one has come to be any solution. There is, in effect, outside the Hellenic kingdom of the church, the four old patriarchs and the church of Cyprus, Greek Orthodox constituted no hierarchy.

        The Russians definitely have in North America the Diocese of the Aleutian Islands, whose primate lives in San Francisco and is also assisted by two Auxiliary Bishops: they possess even a bishop in Japan and is going to establish another in Rome for the West [ern Europe ], but while being brothers in religion, while having the same liturgical rite, the Greeks never eight to attend the Russian offices and especially to be dependent on the Muscovite Bishop.

        With the Russians, we must further except the Church of Cyprus, which does not count any more, those of Jerusalem and Alexandria, which hardly count, at least for the topic at hand, that of Antioch, who already has an Arab bishop, Raphael , Auxiliary of the Russian Bishop of San Francisco. All these churches once set aside, there remains at presence the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Holy Synod of Athens.

        Between these two churches that struggle is incurred, on the subject of jurisdiction exercised over the Greeks of the diaspora or dispersion. Athens wants everything, Constantinople, although very disposed to concessions, Desiring, however, to keep something. Who will win?).

        On October 30/November 12, 1907, was read before the Holy Synod of Constantinople of the report presented on this matter by the Metropolitan of Nicomedia Pelagonia and Grevena. He concludes, Based on the holy canons-which one does not quote-that all churches and Greek communities abroad, not included in the constituency of an autocephalous Orthodox Church is dependent on the Ecumenical Patriarchate. For the success of this project, the Commission over has been of the opinion that one should write to the sister autocephalous Churches to ask the Ecumenical Patriarchate for formal consent for the appointment of the Ecclesiastical [authorites], charged with their annexes abroad. In this case, the Ecumenical patriacat would have no right to refuse, it would, in short, be a mere formality, but that still imposes the recognition of the Patriarchal jurisdiction over all Greek communities of the dispersion [ie Diaspora].

        His All-Holiness Patriarch Joachim III has not been of this opinion. He proposes that, in Europe at least, things remain in the [present] Member, communities continue to depend throughout on their own churches. Regarding the Greek communities in America, they would come directly under the Holy Synod of Athens. After a discussion engaged on this idea, it was decided that the Commission report and the opinion of the Patriarch would be reproduced and distributed to members of the Holy Synod, which should study the question in their privacy.

        The next day after the reading of the minutes, the Patriarch clarified his ideas and requested that the Venetian colony come under the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as it still intends to establish there a high school of theology for young people who have completed their studies at the Seminary of Halki. [That is how] things are for the moment.


        Interesting, as this says, the Tomos of 1908 alluded to but did not cite the canons.

        The same issue shows Meletios otherwise involved at the highest levels of Church governance in the Ottoman empire at the time.


        • George Michalopulos :

          Isa, I admire your research! We can take quite a few things out of this, but one that springs instantly to mind is that sovereignty over dispersed Greeks was not based on any sound canonical authority. (As he states, “which he does not quote”.) Also, he recognizes the precedence of the ROC and its bishops in North America. It seems he’s fishing around, not know what to say or do because the situation was too fluid in North America.

          I’m sure others could glean other things. Those two sprang instantly to my mind.

  8. George Michalopulos :

    DAvid, the differences are stunning. One patriarch is acting in good faith and in accord with Orthodox ecclesiology, the other is not. That is what needs to be kept in mind.

  9. George Michalopulos :

    Dean, excellent insights. The GOA was far more autonomous in the 40’s than it was in my lifetime.

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