Russian Orthodox Church, 
Orthodox Church America, American Orthodox, Orthodox U.S.A.

Chapter 2 -- The Revolution and Rival Russian Bishops

Much (but not all) of the confusion throughout the whole of the Orthodox Church in the Western Hemisphere is directly traceable to the events taking place in the largest of the Orthodox Churches an ocean away (regardless of whether you go East or West). Orthodoxy on this Continent had always been shepherded (usually wisely) by Russian Bishops, or by ethnic Bishops part of the Russian Synodia in the USA. Much of the funding of Churches and other Religious Institutions had also been funded by the Tsarist Church of Russia. With first the ‘White Revolution’ and then the bloodier ‘Red Revolution’ and the abdication of the Tsar followed by the abolition of the Russian monarchy, 900+ years of Church support from the state came to an abrupt end. While the effects of this were, of course, harshly felt in the now USSR, the effects in parts of Europe and on the North American continent were none the less spiritually disastrous.

In 1965, on the occasion of the funeral of Metropolitan Anastasii (Gribanovskii), the second First Hierarch of the ROCOR (often called the Karlovci Synod, the Synod Abroad or just the Synod) Metropolitan Philaret gave this statement:

Who was most remarkable, greatest, most illustrious in the history of the Russian Orthodox Church (outside Russia – ROCOR) during all these years and decades of our sorrowful and terribly evil times? Three names come to everyone’s mind. The first of these, of course, is the name of the All-Russian Benefactor, pastor of all Russia, who was able, under completely incredible conditions . . . to preserve the Church’s freedom. I am referring to His Holiness, Patriarch Tikhon, unforgettable Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia.

The history of the ROCOR is primarily the histories and personalities of her memorable First Hierarchs, for the unique character of each has affected the development of this jurisdiction – particularly in the U.S.

As spiritually beneficial to the Russian Church outside Russia as the administrations of the ROCOR First Hierarchs was, their eventual presence on the North American continent, which had heretofore been the hegemony of the Russo-American Bishops and at the end was pledged by them to the Russo-Antaki Administration created a climate of confusion which led to the establishment of the ethnarchies of the various foreign Orthodox administrations which are the plague of the American Church up to this very hour.

No sooner had the ever-memorable Patriarch TIKHON instructed the Russian Church (both inside and outside the territorial boundaries of Russia) to establish the now famous ‘local administrations’, for the sake of resisting the influence of the God-less Russian government, but two competing administrations began to fight for control of the Church in America.

In 1907, Archbishop PLATON had been appointed the head of the American Dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church (this was before the revolution). He was replaced by Archbishop Evdokim in 1914 and in turn by Archbishop Alexander in 1919 (this, of course, at the time of the revolution). These changes in administrations had been going on for years, as the American dioceses were seen as a mission field and the Moscow Synod (and later the Patriarch) would place at the head of the American dioceses whomever was best able to promote growth and stability for a given period of time. However, with the revolution, and a growing desire in North America for national Churches (a thoroughly un-canonical concept) Archbishop PLATON was recalled by the Synod of the Church Abroad, to lead the American dioceses, in an effort to use his earlier popularity to stave off the growing movement towards disunity.

Then, in the early 1920s, under the supervision of Archbishop Alexander, the American Church came under the jurisdiction of the Administration Abroad (Archbishop PLATON having taken the See of Edessa, Ukraine), which took an active administrative role in overseeing its American dioceses - particularly on disciplinary questions such as divorce and the establishment of a new See in Alaska. However, with the revolution, and a growing desire in North America for national Churches (a thoroughly un-canonical concept) Archbishop PLATON was recalled by the Synod of the Church Abroad, to lead the American dioceses, in an effort to use his earlier popularity to stave off the growing movement towards disunity.

Unbeknownst to his fellow bishops in the Synod, Archbishop PLATON was at the same time seeking official appointment directly from Patriarch Tikhon himself. This was not a desire upon Abp. PLATON’s part to circumvent the Synod, but rather a desire for reinforcement of his legitimate claim in serving the American dioceses, due to the relatively unprecedented nature of both the concept of ‘local administrations’ and the great unrest between the ethnic groups comprising the American Church. The Patriarch at first refused to interfere in the decision of the Church Abroad, saying that “he did not wish to go over their heads”(remember, of course, that it continued to be the will of the Synod for Abp. PLATON to head the American dioceses. PLATON later produced an ukaz from Tikhon, appointing him as “sole and independent head of the Church in America". This action was well within the scope of the desire of the Patriarch to establish ‘local administrations’ and was in the best interest of the American Church. The ROCOR synod accepted the decree in good faith, but its authenticity was later called severely into question when in 1924 a decree from the Patriarch in Moscow deposed PLATON for having engaged in public acts of counter-revolution directed against the Soviet government.

Of course, this second decree was at odds with the Patriarch’s revealed wish to stay out of the administration of local Churches specifically so that he could not be used as a tool of the Soviets. An American court nevertheless ruled subsequently that the ukaz first produced by Archbishop PLATON was a forgery. To deal with the confusion created by all of this, PLATON convoked the Detroit Sobor in April of the same year, with the purpose of declaring the Russian Church in America 'temporarily autonomous'—that is, ‘free of both Moscow and Karlovci’ (yet another action entirely consistent with the decree on ‘local administrations’. This sobor is listed in the archives of the Metropolia as the ‘4th All-American Sobor.’

In 1926 in Karlovtsy, Serbia, the ROCOR bishops met together. Archbishop PLATON was present and asked to renounce the ‘local administration’ of the American Church that had been proclaimed by the sobor in 1924. Upon his refusal, the assembled bishops condemned the Detroit sobor as ‘extremely dangerous and harmful for the interests of the Russian Church in America’ (although its primary danger was to the financial well-being of the Karlovtsy Synod, which had ever increasing numbers of its faithful choosing to emigrate to the United States and Canada).

Archbishop PLATON, understanding that the actions of the Russian-minded bishops of the Synod were about to cause both schism and great confusion in the American Church, responded with another sobor in America in January of 1927 which labeled the ROCOR actions as ‘un-canonical.’ This sobor also, to safeguard the ever increasing fragile unity of the American Church, established the Holy Eastern Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church in North America (American Orthodox Church) with the express purpose of being the Orthodox Church, on the North American continent, for all English speaking Orthodox as well as for all converts to Orthodoxy on this continent.

One of the American bishops, Apollinary, dissented, proclaiming his loyalty to the Karlovtsy Synod, and was expelled from the Archbishop PLATON’s ‘local administration’ of the Russian parishes of America, but not before voting in favor of the new American Orthodox Church.

In the end, the controversy over Church administration continued between the ROCOR (the Karlovtsy Synod) and the Metropolia (Metropolitan’s Platon’s American sobor) until 1946, which history will be better served by other authors, since by that time the American Orthodox Church had been firmly established on a separate course of its own.

From Russian Bishops to the HEOCACNA

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