The American Orthodox Church at a Crossroads

George Michalopulos, frequent contributor to the AOI blog and author of several articles on the AOI website, is this week’s guest on The Illumined Heart, a program on Ancient Faith Radio.

In June 2009 leaders of all autocephalous Orthodox Churches – excluding the OCA or any representatives from North America – meet in Cyprus or Geneva (undetermined at the date of this posting), at a meeting convened by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholemew I. This meeting is being called to discuss “the so-called Orthodox Diaspora, with a view to overcoming every possible influence that is foreign to Orthodox ecclesiology.” The American Orthodox situation and its disunity is at the top of the agenda. In this edition of The Illumined Heart, host Kevin Allen and author George C. Michalopulos discuss this meeting, the history and state of Orthodoxy in North America and possible outcomes of this potentially pivotal convocation.

Listen to Part 1

Listen to Part 2



  1. George is quickly positioning himself as one of the fresh new voices in support of American Orthodoxy! Bravo George!

  2. cherokee steve :

    I think George gave a very good view of the orthodox church here in American both past and present. I think we are at a crossroads here in American and we will see what will happen here in the next few months.

  3. George Michalopulos :


    You are too kind! I’m nobody special. Just trying to look at things as they are and ask “why”? Thank you for your support.

  4. What is so fresh about swallowing and regurgitating, swallowing and reguritating the same old OCA autocephaly creation myth?

    For a fresh voice and a new start for all Orthodox Christians in America with the debunking of said creation myth, I’m looking forward to the book form of Fr. Oliver’s historical research (using primary sources) on the history of the Orthodox Christians in America, highlights of which can be read here:

    and here:

  5. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Joe, Fr. Oliver’s essay does no such thing as debunk a “creation myth.” Maybe his book will, but the essay doesn’t. You are overselling it.

    Further, I’m not so sure either if your implied assumption, that first claim to presence in the Americas translates into jurisdictional supremacy, has as much currency in the present inter-jurisdictional disputes as you think it has. Your entire polemic, as meager as it is, assumes that the OCA “creation myth” needs debunking. Well, creation myth or not, the historical record, which ever way the scholarship takes us, isn’t going to change the debate very much. Other factors are at work.

    It’s vitally important that the historical record is clear, but you are not adding anything to Fr. Oliver’s credibility by promoting his book using ideas the book will ostensibly debunk. He should rein you in a bit.

    Language like this:

    What is so fresh about swallowing and regurgitating, swallowing and regurgitating the same old OCA autocephaly creation myth?

    …does not help either.

  6. George Michalopulos :

    Fr Hans, it seems that the “creation myth” has many people on the run. I think I know where this very real fear comes from. By way of background, let me state the money line: I was told in a sermon years ago that the MO for Orthodox mission-planting is “whichever church comes here first, stakes the claim.” This was told to me by a GOA priest in a sermon (I alluded to this in my interview.)

    The answer of course is that the Sitka mission was established in 1794. In order for many GOA partisans to dismiss the Russian planting, some have latched on to a legend of a certain “Theodoros” who came to America in 1495 or thereabouts as a sapper on one of Amerigo Vespucci’s ships. Therefore this Greek sailor became the first Orthodox Christian to set foot upon the New World, hence, the EP is the primary jurisdiction.

    Of course this is laughable on its face. Let’s just go down the list:

    1. There was no proof that there ever was a Theodoros,
    2. There is no proof that even if he was Greek he was Orthodox (many Greeks at this time were Uniates, especially if they lived in the West),
    3. Even if he was Orthodox, he was not a cleric or monastic but a sailor.

    I first heard this story when I was eight. When it was later told to me again by EP partisans and that it trumped the Russian founding at Sitka, I couldn’t help but laugh.

    I’m curious, since the Phanariotes seem to be reading this blog and acting on some of its criticisms, whether they will resurrect the old “Theodoros myth.”

    What astounds me further is the length to which some people will go to invalidate the original Russian mission. And to dismiss the Metropolia because of its influx of Carpatho-Russians. I can’t for the life of me understand how people entering an existing church somehow causes a new church to arise, one that was discontinuous with the older one.

    This gets me to thinking that the newer spin to come out of the OCA critics will be to shift from emphasis on the original mission, to the illegitimacy of the Toth/Mlinar influx of Carpatho-Russians. That seems to be what is happening. Of course, this too will likely fail for historical reasons, but also political ones as well: I can’t help but believe that the Carpatho-Russian and Ukrainian element are going to be gratified knowing that the Phanariote partisans are using their history to denigrate the history of the Church in America. This could result in fissures in their respective eparchies which are under the EP here in America.

    This leads me to another prediction: the next arrow in the anti-OCA quiver will be the myth that the OCA is NOT the same thing as the Metropolia. Fr Oliver hints to this when he states that the ROC broke off communion with the Metropolia in 1924. As I mentioned in my own reply, Fr Oliver never mentions certain salient facts:

    1. The ROC was under the Soviet jackboot,
    2. Patriarch Tikhon was imprisoned when this diktat was issued, and
    3. The Bolsheviks, through their ecclesial puppet, was actively trying to seize the Metropolia’s properties in America. (And succeeding to an extent.)

    Anyway, it seems that the OCA’s “creation myth” is now being countered with another creation myth, one that is more rabid in its intensity and far more mythical.

    Of course, I’ve long given up hope of a reasoned discourse so all my questions at this point to certain correspondents will be rhetorical. Here’s one: If the Metropolia is a new creation in America because the Soviet-occupied ROC forced an excommunication upon them, then what makes ROCOR legitimate, since this same ROC excommunicated them for decades? (Remember, I’ve been a staunch supporter of ROCOR and am still very gratified that I can finally go into a ROCOR church and commune.)

  7. cherokee steve :

    My problem is if there were say Greeks here in the US that long ago where at the churches at? If they have been truely here that long ago how come there are no indian orthodox around here. If they had been here as long as some say they have then most of us Cherokee’s would be orthodox. Or at least heard about them.

    Where if you look to Alaska for example. The orthodox came and converted the local population. The built churches and reach out. Now the natives are priest and help out their own people. I have also notice that the OCA dioces of Alaska says it is the mother diocese of all North American because that is where the first orthodox in America where at.

    How come no other diocese is saying that?

  8. Re: “…it seems that the ‘creation myth’ has many people on the run.”

    The gentleman protests too much!

    George, I sympathize with the heat that you are taking as one who is taking a bold stance in defense of the the myth. It’s a bold stance but also rather a last stand.

    The work of Fr. Oliver is tremendously important to advancing the dialog among the Orthodox in America. Surely as a member of the OCA, you are aware of the growing impact of Fr. Oliver’s work, particularly among the converts who were brought into (or should that be “taken in by”) the OCA with the myth as a part of their catechesis?

    We are literally having or have had blinders, removed from our eyes by this careful and balanced work that relies on primary sources rather than recycled OCA propaganda pieces.

    Fr. Oliver’s work is timely (God’s good timing) as it is good preparation (due diligence) and starting point for the majority of the OCA faithful to understand the point of views of the Autocephalous Churches who do not recognize OCA autocephaly, points of view that they have never been given before.

    Many thanks should be given to Mark Stokoe and his OCANEWS site for spreading the word on Fr. Oliver Herbel’s work.

    Let the American Orthdox dialog begin!

  9. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Joe, the book isn’t published yet. Not much to discuss here except your assertion that “…blinders…(will be) removed from our eyes by this careful and balanced work.” Without any proof to back it up however, your post is just pre-publication promotion. I don’t mind the promotion, but let’s be clear that promotion and defense of a position are two different things.

    For that reason, discussion about a “creation myth” is now closed. We can revisit this once the book is published.

  10. FYI:

    Interesting developments on the ROCOR-Metropolia front…

    A regular session of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia was held on May 5-7, 2009, in New York, in the presence of the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God, presided over by His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion.

    During this session:

    “It was also decided to form a commission to study the relationship with the Orthodox Church in America and to hold joint meetings to discuss the sources of the division between the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and the American Metropoliate. Included in this commission are Bishop George, President; Archimandrite Luke (Murianka); Protopriest Alexander Lebedeff, Secretary; Protopriest David Moser and Priest Peter Jackson. The commission is to study and present findings on the reasons for the division and to evaluate the mutual accusations, and propose methods of healing the separation.”

    Full Story Here:

  11. It looks like Fr. Oliver and George are going to have to write a new chapter in their respective books.

    The ROCOR is going to “re-visit” the creation my…, I mean the OCA’s creative accounting of its origins and autocephaly from the perspective of a historical and extant Russian Orthodox Church in America.

    I’m more looking forward to the findings of the ROCOR commission than to Fr. Oliver’s work!

    What will happen if the ROCOR legitimately claims to be the true successors and continuation of the original Russian Orthodox mission of 1794, thus undermining the OCA’s claim to be the exclusive heir to said Russian Orthodox mission?

    ROCOR said, OCA said. Uh oh, we have a jurisdictional dispute among two canonical Orthodox Christian bodies in America. To whom should these bodies appeal for judgement? The Ecumenical Patriarch? The Moscow Patriarchate?

    What would the Ecumenical Patriarch say? Which “daughter church” would the Moscow Church favor?

  12. George Michalopulos :

    Joe, forgive me. I will accept the Lord’s will. I pray that +Kirill’s good offices will be used for this endeavor.

  13. George,

    God forgives. I forgive.

    To George and the rest of the AOI community, please forgive my mean spiritedness and indiscretion…also my bad grammar and poor spelling.

    Thank you for being such kind and patient hosts. It’s been fun!

    In Christ,

  14. George Michalopulos :

    Indeed, let us put aside the past acrimony and heal these wounds in the body of Christ.


  15. Say, sorry to step in, here, as it is dying down, but I want to clarify one point:

    My forthcoming book examines intra-Orthodox converts and conversion. I referenced it in one of the OCANews essays only with respect to St. Alexis Toth’s conversion.

    I also want to note that everything I wrote in the essays on OCANews is credible and can be referenced. Interestingly, Mark removed my footnotes, for whatever reason, perhaps to make things more readable, but it’s all referenced and defensible from the primary sources. To contradict those points, one has to contradict those points, not state an argument I did not make and then argue against the argument I did not make. For those interested in reading more on this topic, Matthew Namee will be giving a paper at SVS in June on this and he and I have begun discussing collaboration on a book that would concentrate on early American Orthodoxy, mostly beyond Alaska, which one can get from Fr. Michael Oleksa and Sergei Kan. We have no contract or manuscript at this time, however, and so it will be several years in the making. So, the kind of book Joe would like to see will happen, but it will take time. As Joe correctly suggests, it will make significant use of historical sources, not just select secondary sources.

    Finally, for the record, Fr. Hans, Joe is no one for me to reign in. I don’t think I know him and I hadn’t even known of his postings until a friend said my essays had come up again. Seems to me that Joe is simply able to read evidence when he sees it and formulate conclusions and opinions therefrom and made the further step to post them on a blog. I think you should be kinder to those who do disagree with you and Mr. Michalopulos. Joe is right. Mr. Michalopulos has taken a last stand. This issue is well beyond me pulling strings with some friends to get them to post on blogs.

    Anyway, happy blogging you all. You may now ignore me or lob more grenades! ๐Ÿ˜€

  16. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Seems to me that Joe is simply able to read evidence when he sees it and formulate conclusions and opinions therefrom and made the further step to post them on a blog. I think you should be kinder to those who do disagree with you and Mr. Michalopulos.

    Actually no evidence was posted on the blog. That was my point. As I mentioned then, I don’t mind the early promotion for the book, but promotion and evidence are two different things. There is, then, no disagreement, just a clarification of terms. You can see the response in note #9 above.

    Keep in mind, having not read your book I am in no position to talk about it. For the same reason I am in no position to judge whether or not Joe’s or your assertions are true. I am however, fully supportive of the historical record where ever it leads and await the publication of your book. Until then though, there’s not much more I can say about it.

  17. Fr. Hans,

    I think there is prudence in waiting to see the finished product. In the interim, I have posted a couple of essays on ocanews, none of which has been contradicted with evidence, though perhaps that is what Mr. Michalopulos is in the process of doing–searching for evidence. If so, that is good. Census records are easily searchable as one method to address the issue of numbers, which is what I think was mentioned above. In the mean time, unless and until someone can actually refute the historical record I posted on ocanews, Joe is within his epistemic rights to demythologize the myth of unity. Both of your positions seem warranted to me–one of waiting, one of noting what the evidence thus far indicates. As I also noted, Matthew Namee will be giving a relevant paper at SVS in June. That should also further the discussion. In the interim, I, myself, would be curious to learn what causes you to pause, other than your friendship with Mr. Michalopulos (a reason I find natural, by the way, I am not ridiculing you).

  18. George Michalopulos :

    Fr Oliver,

    Christ is risen! You have me at a disadvantage, the likes of which Fr Hans aptly demonstrates; i.e. there is no book out upon which to make a judgement. I have taken the time to respond your original assessment and you did the courtesy of rebutting my arguments. Since then, I have taken a more careful look at your original essay, my response, and your rebuttal. If all goes well, my re-rebuttal (excuse the neologism) will posted soon on the OCL website.

    Please understand that I’m not one to take “last stands,” but try to look at the historical record to the extent that I have access to records. I also have a very skeptical nature and I try to look at events in such a light; sometimes I get rather obtuse when I try to get to the point.

    One of my favorites is your’s and Mr Namee’s contention that Bishop Raphael viewed himself as a bishop loyal to two different sees (i.e. Moscow and Antioch). I don’t doubt that for one minute. However in the world we live in such a neither-fish-nor-fowl identity is not realistic. St Raphael was consecrated as a suffragan bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church. I dare say that this is no different than the m.o. that most priests operate under: that is loyal to one bishop most all priests are loyal to one bishop in one jurisdiction. I could go on, but my latest rebuttal will speak for itself.

  19. George Michalopulos :

    Fr Oliver, for the record I have never met Fr Hans.

  20. Mr. Michalopulos,

    I look forward to your essay. The fact that you have a forthcoming rebuttal explains why ocl did not post my rebuttal but skipped over it as they posted other material. They were waiting for you to make sure you had “the last word.” You are at no disadvantage.

    With regard to there not being a “book,” there is history. You are as free to research as I. Again, no disadvantage, unless you choose to place yourself at one by not researching.

    I will have a friend with an ocl account send me the piece when it is posted. I am interested in reading it and providing me one of your “favorites” has wetted my appetite ๐Ÿ™‚ I would encourage you, however, to get into the historical facts themselves in this rebuttal. Avoid the temptation of making up an argument, attributing the made up argument to me, and then arguing against the argument you made up. Your rebuttal will be stronger if you avoid this temptation and would, therefore, help the conversations and reflections proceed.

    Whatever you choose to do and write, I am sure your latest rebuttal will speak for itself.

    I have turned the bulk of my attention toward more serious publication endeavors. If I do not respond to your latest OCL listing, take neither offense nor capitulation from that. My main reason for jumping on here at AOI was simply to note what my forthcoming book on American Orthodoxy covers: intra-Christian conversion, not early disunity, but St. Alexis Toth does receive serious attention. My other forthcoming book is on the fourth century bishop, St. Sarapion of Thmuis. I know no one will mistake that for American history ๐Ÿ˜€ Future research and papers will include early American Orthodox history, amongst other things (such as the 9th c. filioque debate).

    Again, I look forward to reading your ocl piece.

  21. Mr. Michalopulos,
    The context of your friendship with Fr. Hans is duly noted. Thank you for the clarification.

  22. George Michalopulos :

    Fr, with all due respect, I am board member of OCL and I can honestly say that there has been no collusion to make sure I “had the last word” on this matter. We don’t work that way on the OCL, we’re all actors in good faith who merely want one thing: an administratively united American Orthodox Church. We come from all backgrounds.

    If you would permit me to be so bold, the logic of your line of reasoning escapes me: if there had been collusion, then I would not have tipped you off to the fact that it was going to be posted in the first place. Please understand Fr, I’m not looking for any “gotchas!” I have way to much respect for the priesthood and the fine work that y’all do. As far as I’m concerned, you guys are on the front lines.

  23. Mr. Michalopulos,
    You are correct that the conclusion did not necessarily follow. It simply looked eerily suspicious to me and I’ve been around the block in Orthodox politics enough to know that laity are hardly above such tactics (and much worse!–it’s not just evil hierarchy preventing Orthodox unity). I apologize for posting a possible conclusion as the definitive one.

    On another note, I believe I have just spurred on the publication of your piece. Whatever you’ve said and however you’ve treated me is the way it is. I have no plans on responding. I really only hope you argue based on the history and don’t make up arguments and attribute them to me again, and I hope you read my essays more closely this time, but even if none of that happens, I am moving on.

    As I’ve said, I will be turning to more serious publications I have to work on. One book (on St. Sarapion) is coming out later this year and the dissertation on conversions to Tradition needs to get to a publisher and under contract. Then, it’s on to the 9th century filioque dispute and work on future chapters for the book that Joe and perhaps others would like to see on early disunity in America. There are a couple other projects after that on the back burners, but that’s largely where they’ll remain for now.

    This is my last comment on this blog, so I bid you farewell.

    Christ is risen!

  24. George Michalopulos :

    Fr Oliver, Christ is risen! I will take your comments to heart. Again, I meant no offense, in either of my replies. I look forward to reading any historical works you write from now on. As I have explained in my reply (yet to be published), I have a “forensic” writing style that for those who don’t know me (and the fact that I don’t take myself seriously), can be off-putting. I just get very direct at times, try to sweep away the clutter, and get to the point. Again, please forgive me for my diction.

    I too hope that this will be the final word on this subject as I have intention of antagonizing you or anybody in the priesthood. As I’ve already said, you guys are on the front lines, often caught between secular parish councils and worldly bishops who are not above accepting bribes to silence those priests who “make trouble.”

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