Chapter 3 -- From Russian Bishops to the HEOCACNAWe will trace the history of the Church (which we will herein call the HEOCACNA) from her founding in February 2, 1927 by Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church in America (the bishops called herein Metropolia) until May 6, 1998 when the HEOCACNA was finally incorporated for the first time as the Russian Orthodox Church in America by its present First Hierarch, Metropolitan SYMEON of Denver. To do so, however, you must understand that there are two conflicting notions of what a Church is. One is the governmental idea of legal entities. The other is the spiritual concept of the Church is the gathering (Synodia) of her bishops.
If you attempt to trace the history of the HEOCACNA as an entity, you will not have much success and will need to twist the facts to meet whatever your own agenda is. However, if you follow the acts of a clearly discernable ongoing Synodia of Bishops not associated with any other National Orthodox Church, there you will see the ongoing identity of the Russian Orthodox Church in America (ROCIA) as the direct descendent of the Church first chartered by the Russian Orthodox Bishops in 1927.
The Holy Eastern Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church in America has perfect continuity and apostolic succession from the founding of the Church on the first Pentecost until today. Our roots go back to our Lord Jesus Christ and His Holy Apostles. The Apostle Andrew evangelized ancient Scythia (now Ukraine) and accurately prophesied the future site of a Church in Kiev, in Ukraine.
Over the centuries, Eastern Orthodoxy became the dominant expression of the Christian Apostolic Faith in Greece, Russia and the Russian Territories, the Balkans, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania, and the Oriental Orthodox Churches in the Middle East, this would include, the Armenian, the Coptic and the Ethiopian Orthodox Churches. All these Orthodox Churches are independent of each other, each with its own Synod and/or hierarchy, including a primate who is called, depending on culture and history, Patriarch, Catholicos, Pope, Metropolitan or Archbishop. All of these churches espoused generally the same Holy Traditions (teachings) and Holy Mysteries (sacraments) and Apostolic heritage of the undivided Church. They all acknowledge the Patriarch of Constantinople as Primus Inter Pares (first among equals among the independent sees) following the schism with the West. Orthodoxy, therefore, is divided in language, national politics, and old-country loyalties. However, Orthodoxy is also united in faith, theology and for the most part, worship.
The Holy Eastern Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church in North America (American Orthodox Church) is the indigenous and autocephalous Orthodox Church for all of North America. Founded in 1927 by Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church in America. Although the Holy Eastern Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church in North America (American Orthodox Church) has filial and brotherly ties to the Holy Patriarchate of Moscow and All Russia, nonetheless, we are the canonical Orthodox Church for all North Americans. The Holy Eastern Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church in North America (American Orthodox Church) is in communion with the other autocephalous Churches and Patriarchates of the Holy Eastern Orthodox Church throughout the World.
The first of the Orthodox Churches of the East to bring the message of Orthodoxy to North America was the venerable Russian Orthodox Church. In 1794, eight monks from a Russian monastery founded an Orthodox mission on Kodiak Island, which then belonged, together with all the lands of Alaska, to Russia. By 1840, a Russian Orthodox Bishop had been consecrated for the lands in Alaska. In 1872, his seat of authority was moved to San Francisco, and, in 1905, the Russian Orthodox Church moved its Diocesan and administrative headquarters to New York City.
In 1905, the American Archbishop Tikhon (future Patriarch of Moscow) presented to
the Russian Synod of Bishops the project of an autonomous, or
autocephalous, Church of America, whose structure would reflect the ethnic
pluralism of its membership. He also foresaw the inevitable
Americanization of his flock and encouraged the translation of the liturgy
into English (editor: this was not some reworking of the Book of Common
Prayer, but rather a translation of the Eastern Liturgy of Saint John
Chrysostom by Isabel Hapgood). The will of Patriarch Tikhon was also
expressed again in 1921 towards the foundation of the same ecclesiastical
On May 13 (O.S.), 1917, Archbishop Evdokim (Basil
Mikahailovich Mischersky), the Russian Orthodox Archbishop for North
America, assisted by Bishop Alexander (Nemolovsky) of Canada and by Bishop
Stephen (Dzubay) of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, consecrated in Saint
Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral in New York City, *** Aftimios Ofiesh,
a Syrian Archimandrite under the jurisdiction of the *** , as Bishop of
Brooklyn, New York. Was the validity of Bishop Aftimios (Ofiesh)'s
episcopate recognized by Patriarch Tikhon? Let us look at one of several
examples that clearly prove that it was:
An Act of the Bishops of the American Dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church:
"Now we, the Synod of Bishops of the Dioceses of the American Russian Jurisdiction, believing ourselves called of Christ and moved of the Holy Spirit in behalf of Holy Church and Her children in the Americas and being fully authorized through the above letter by the highest Authority in the Church to which we owe and maintain strict obedient loyalty." A brief description of the letter mentioned above would be useful at this point. The letter referred to is one written by Metropolitan Sergius, Acting Patriarchal Locum Tenens of the Russian Orthodox Church, under the date of September 12, 1926 (new style) addressed to the Russian Bishops outside of Russia and of which the excerpt was felt to be relevant to the founding of the new American Orthodox Church. "In countries which are not Orthodox, autonomous groups, even Churches, could be organized, whose members need not all be all Russians. Such separate and individual life can sooner save you misunderstandings and friction that an effort on the part of all to stay together under the authority of an artificially created center." The Synod of Bishops of the American Dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church stated: "we hereby, on this 2nd day of February (new style) in the year 1927, charge one of our number, His Eminence, the Most Reverend Aftimios, Archbishop of Brooklyn and we do hereby permit, empower, authorize the said Archbishop of Brooklyn to found, organize, establish, head, conduct, control and maintain a distinct, independent, and autonomous branch of the Orthodox Catholic Church to be known and legally established and generally recognized as the American Orthodox Church. Statement #2 stated that: "it is derived from and canonically founded by the Church of Russia and while the American Orthodox Church is entirely autonomous and independent in its organization, constitution, administration, jurisdiction and authority, it shall preserve at all times its brotherly and filial relationship to the Patriarchate of Moscow and All Russia". The completed Constitution was dated December 1, 1927 and stated: "that the American Orthodox Church is independent (autocephalous) and autonomous in its authority in the same extent as the Orthodox Patriarchates of the East and the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches now existing."
"Furthermore, the American Orthodox Church has original and primary jurisdiction in its own name and right over all Orthodox Catholic Christians of the Eastern Churches and Rite residing or visiting in the U.S. and Alaska and the other territories of the U.S., in Canada, Mexico and all North America".