One of the topics which has drawn together the founding members of SOCHA has been the question of the nature of Orthodox administrative unity in late 19th and early 20th century America. This is perhaps one of the most fascinating questions being asked in the study of Orthodox history in America. Is it really the case that all Orthodox in America looked to the Russian archdiocese for leadership prior to the revolution in 1917 (or, alternately, prior to the founding of the Greek Archdiocese in 1921-22)? The evidence most often seems to point away from the affirmative.
Here’s a bit I discovered recently from the 1919 Journal of the General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church:
The first of the Orthodox Churches to establish its work with full organization of Bishop, Priests and Deacons was the Russian. They therefore sometimes make a claim of jurisdiction over the other Orthodox churches in this country which the various Orthodox bodies do not seem willing to grant. Of course with such matters we have very little to do. We might claim that we are the original Orthodox body in this country holding jurisdiction, and that all the others who come are simply our welcome guests whom we are pleased to befriend and aid in ministering to people of their own church, race and language with co-ordinate jurisdiction.
The Episcopalians were much interested in Orthodoxy at the time and maintained fairly close relations with all the jurisdictions in America, including inviting their clergy to Episcopal conventions, giving monetary aid, lending church buildings, etc., mainly in hopes of receiving recognition for their sacerdotal orders. This quote is interesting in that it not only includes the comment from the Episcopalians suggesting themselves as the original American Orthodox body, but it also quite fascinatingly notes that the Russians “sometimes make a claim of jurisdiction over the other Orthodox churches in this country which the various Orthodox bodies do not seem willing to grant.”
Of particular amusement is the offhand remark in the wit common even in official writing of the early 20th century: “Of course with such matters we have very little to do.”