Debates on unity: three issues

In various places on the Internet, there have been debates and discussions concerning the question of Orthodox administrative unity prior to 1921. Often, people seem to be talking past one another. The issue of “Orthodox unity” actually encompasses a variety of areas, some of them historical, some not. I thought I would try to summarize just what those areas are.

The Historical Question: What was

Some, including myself and Fr Oliver Herbel, have made the argument that early American Orthodoxy was not administratively united. This is simply an expression of the reality on the ground, so to speak. The once-common (but increasingly rare) claim that all Orthodox in America were members of the Russian Mission prior to the foundation of the Greek Archdiocese in 1921 is simply untrue. Rather, all the evidence points to a chaotic, confusing administrative situation well before that.

I should also note that the only way to answer this question is to delve into the sources. One must engage historical evidence to be able to answer the question, “What was it like?”

The Canonical Question: What should have been

Whether everyone was a part of the Russian Mission is one question. Whether they all should have been a part of the Russian Mission is another issue entirely, and one to which historical facts are only somewhat relevant.

Some say that, because the Russian Mission was the first Orthodox Church to establish itself on the North American continent, it had de jure jurisdiction over the entire land, from Alaska to Florida and all points in between. Following this logic, any priest, parish, or parishioner who was not a member of the Russian Mission was “uncanonical.” Others contend that the Ecumenical Patriarch has jurisdiction over all “new territories” anywhere in the world.

Regardless of where you stand on this issue, it is only somewhat “historical.” More significant are the canonical presuppositions that underlie the argument. Is it in fact true that the first Church to “plant its flag” on a piece of land “gets” that entire land, from a canonical standpoint? Or is it true that the Ecumenical Patriarch has authority over all “new territories”?

I’m not a canonist, but for what it’s worth, my own answer is, “Neither.” I would argue that America presents an entirely new situation for Orthodoxy, and one for which there is very little guidance in the canons. Our corpus of canon law was mostly set down in the Byzantine era, a time when the world was smaller and the Church was very closely aligned with the State. It doesn’t seem to me that church leaders in the fourth or the fourteenth centuries were thinking about an entirely undiscovered hemisphere and how it would be governed. Because America presents a new problem for Orthodoxy, I believe we need to come to a new consensus, and possibly produce new canons to ensure that Orthodox ecclesiology is preserved in this unusual situation. The recent meetings in Chambesy are an extremely positive step in this regard.

In any event, this is a matter less for historians than for canon lawyers.

The Present Question: What should be

It seems to me that many who engage in debates regarding Orthodox unity in America confuse the historical and canonical questions with this, the question of what should be. This is not a directly historical issue. Should we all join the OCA? Should we all be under the Ecumenical Patriarch? Should SCOBA (or, now, the new Episcopal Assembly) become the new model for American Orthodox unity?

Just before I presented my paper, “The Myth of Unity,” at St Vladimir’s Seminary in June, another presenter warned me that, while I did not necessarily intend it, my arguments would be co-opted by the Ecumenical Patriarchate and used to justify an EP agenda in America. This presenter seemed to feel that, if the facts were inconvenient, they were best ignored.

The thing is, I am an historian. The purpose of my paper was to explore what was. What should be is a question that must be answered by the hierarchs, canonists, and American Orthodox faithful today. It is important for us to know how things were in the past, because such knowledge is essential in understanding how we got where we are today. That said, the past does not have to be a model for the future. It certainly should not be a bludgeon with which we batter our ecclesiastical “opponents” into submission.

Bottom line, the argument that there was not, in the past, a period of administrative unity under the Russian Church, is not a threat to unity today. And as an historian, I refuse to cater to the agendas of anybody, be they the OCA, the EP, or some other acronym. Historians are at their best when they deal with history, which is why people like Fr Oliver and I have focused so much attention on the first (historical) question. The canonical question — what should have been — is a bit of a minefield, and it has only partial relevance to the present day. And as for that present day, I am personally quite encouraged by recent developments, and I look forward to a future when American Orthodoxy will, at long last, be administratively united.

20 Replies to “Debates on unity: three issues”

  1. Though you are correct in stating three seperate questions, how much they can be disentangled is another question.

    Take for instance the issue of periodization: you have worded the question on administrative unity before 1921 (the incorporation of the GOANSA). Why not after 1867 (the sale of Alaska, the treaty of which safeguards the Orthodox and their Churches)? 1870/1872 (formation of Diocese of Alaska/Translation of See to SF)? 1900/1904/1905 (reformation of Diocese as that of All North America/consecration of St. Raphael as first in the New World, and for a non-Russian group and an auxilary bishop/translation of the See to NYC and foundation of the first Orthodox Seminary)?

    Arb. Meletios had come in 1919 and found a mess. On top of the division between those Churches looking to Greece and those looking to Constantinople was placed the division between the Royalists and the Venizelists, and then the shift of jurisdiction from Arb. Meletios to EP Meletios. Such chaos was still reigning when Meletios’ secretary Met. Athenagoras was sent to bring order in 1930’s. Only until the close of that decade can we speak of a united GOANSA, at least in the US.

    Which is to say, 1921 draws its importance only in retrospect, because from before that date and until the end of Archb. Athenagoras’ tenure here, the GOANSA suffers from the same questions that may be raised about the OCA claims. It amazes me, for instance, that those who take issue from Russia claiming North America from Alaska, think nothing of a deposed hiearch (which at the time, Meletios was) claiming both continents from New York (in particular given the meagre Greek presence in South America, and the almost non-existent one in Central America). And of course, retrospect comes only from the lens of what happened afterwards.

    Which story is still being written, which brings up your second and third questions. If the EP’s interpretation prevails, and his episcopal assembly becomes the Holy Synod of America (and in particular if it does so without imput from the OCA), then 1921 will stand as a watershed, and the Russian Mission (and hence the OCA) will appear only slightly more than the Leif Ericson of Orthodoxy, next to the GO Columbus. If, however, the other jurisdictions coalesce around the OCA (which has not been officially invited nor informed of the Episcopal Assemblies) to the point at which the GOA eventually joins it, then 1921 will pretty much lose all its relevance, as it stood outside of, and in opposition to, the functioning hiearchy the Russians left which will have become the American Orthodox Church.

    (btw, for a primary sourse, I believe Thomas Burgess’ “Greeks in America: an account of their coming, progress, customs, living and aspirations” does, in part, vindicate the OCA account of the origins of the GOANSA. Predating (1914) the arrival of the first Greek bishop (a situation he describes in some detail) can illumine what was an informed outsider’s view of the period in question).

    It would also help to recognize that jurisdiction disputes are not unique to the New World. Antioch and Jerusalem, Alexandria and Rome, Rome and Constantinople, Moscow and Constantinople (e.g. over the Orthodox of the Polish Kingdom), etc. the established patriarchs had their chaos. How can we expect less in lands oceans away?

    I would suggest, rather than 1921, 1904 be taken as the watermark year, the year an Orthodox Bishop was first consecrated in the Americas for the flock in the new world, amidst the other organization of the Russian Missionary Diocese, AND the reaction of the Greek (both Athens and Constantinople) to it, which (looking at the account of St. Raphael’s consecration) may have led to the Tomos of 1908, the arrival of Meletios etc. It is an event of importance for ALL the Orthodox, as it was evidently at the time, no matter the outcome of the present jurisdiction disputes, and thus a less “charged” date.

  2. If I may, the reason why 1921 is mentioned so often on this site is not because we necessarily regard that as a watershed date in the history of Orthodoxy in America. Rather, it is because it is the watershed date of the “common wisdom,” when a pristine American Orthodox unity was supposedly shattered. The claim has been made again and again that the establishment of the GOA was what ruined previous unity.

    By contrast, much of our work here has been to show that there was no such pristine unity existing before that date. So, to be fair, 1921 is not a date that we picked, but it’s one a number of historians have picked, so it’s an issue that has to be addressed. It’s been one of our prime subjects here.

  3. Fr. Andrew is right — the only reason I refer to 1921 is because it (along with 1917) is commonly cited by others as the date when unity was “broken.” It would be great if people could get away from drawing lines in history, because history isn’t nearly so cut-and-dried.

    Isa, just a correction regarding the new Episcopal Assembly. You refer to it as “his [the EP’s] episcopal assembly.” In fact, it was mandated not by the EP alone but by the pan-Orthodox committee meeting in Chambesy, with representation from all the Old World Churches. Also, the OCA will indeed be a part of the Episcopal Assembly, and Metropolitan Jonah himself discussed this in his recent podcast on Ancient Faith Radio (in which he fully endorsed the world of the Episcopal Assembly).

    The new Episcopal Assembly has, in my opinion, a better chance of success than any other attempt for unity in American Orthodox history. This is because it includes all the Orthodox in America (rather than only some), and it has the full endorsement and support (and, indeed, the mandate) of the Old World (which is unprecedented).

  4. I agree that the 1921 date was imposed on, rather than chose by, this site. Those who did choose it, however, unwittingly not only bolster the legitimacy that they wish to undermine (the GOA itself had no unity until well after that date, so they advance the GOA claims by projecting it as a monolith in opposition to the Russian mission, and give the GOA deeper roots as THE hierarchy/jurisdiction of North America) but also concede the importance that the GOA narrative gives to the 1921 charter. In fact, historically speaking, the Tomos of 1908 has far more importance as the beginning of the jurisdiction question, and was so seen at the time, judging from the words of the squabbling of the primates at the time.

    I do believe that history justifies the 1904 date more, with a minimum of coloring by jurisdictional mythmaking and narrative.

    I am wondering just how pristine unity could have been at the time in the New World, as the Old World Churches themselves were disunited in their own jurisdiction. In some ways, they still are: witness the late Archbishop of Athens being stricken from the EP’s diptychs over Thessalonica and other sees just 5 years ago.

    As to attributing the Episcopal Assembly to the EP, I have argued that elsewhere, and do not believe this is the place. Suffice it to say, it they succeed, the EP’s stock is the one which will go up. If they fail, it is his that will go down. As to it including all the Orthodox in America, one major player, namely the OCA and Met. Jonah had no involvement in it, and-as of August 15 this year-NO official invitation to it, nor any official information on it, had been extended to Met. Jonah.

    I’d have to know which specific podcast you refer to, to comment on Met. Jonah’s “full” endorsement.

  5. Isa, Met Jonah’s podcast is here: (See the August 10, 2009 episode.)

    If a line is to be drawn with regard to jurisdictional pluralism, I would put it at 1892, the year when the Church of Greece established a parish in New York City. This was also the year when St. Alexis Toth and his Minneapolis parish joined the Russian Mission. Before 1892, there were only two Orthodox parishes in the contiguous United States — New Orleans and San Francisco. After 1892, many parishes were formed, both Russian and otherwise. It was in this post-1892 period that the Russian Mission itself shifted its focus from Alaska and its native missions to the Eastern U.S. and the conversion of the Uniates. This also marked the beginning of the mass immigration of Orthodox Christians (Greeks, Serbs, Syro-Arabs, and others) to the East Coast.

    It seems like we will have to agree to disagree on Chambesy, for now. I am sure we can agree that an Episcopal Assembly in which the OCA plays a major role would be a welcome development. I, for one, am optimistic that this will happen. Time will tell.

  6. The claim has been made again and again that the establishment of the GOA was what ruined previous unity.

    It would be true that 1921 was the date in which a de facto disunity was made de jure by the creation of a diocese in ‘competition’ with an already established diocese for the region. Parishes and priests are one thing that can be chalked up to individuals who know more or less about canons, dioceses and bishops bring local churches into the debate and more substantive, official positions. There was episcopal if not diocesan unity in American prior to 1921.

  7. Orrologion,

    1921 simply marks the date on which the present GOA was formally incorporated. It was not actually accepted by the EP until 1922. However, the GOA was actually founded in 1918, by the Church of Greece. That would mark the first time that a Church other than Russia had a diocese in America.

    But, in 1908, the EP transferred its jurisdiction in America to the Church of Greece. Obviously, the EP here is claiming jurisdiction. So then I suppose 1908 would be the dividing line.

    But of course, in its 1908 Tomos, the EP was assuming that it already had jurisdiction in America. When did this begin? A year earlier, in 1907, the EP sent a black missionary to America. This would suggest some level of “jurisdiction,” at least in the EP’s eyes. The first EP parish was established in America in 1894. Before that, in 1892, the first parish under the Church of Greece was founded in America.

    After 1892, whether rightly or wrongly, the EP and the Church of Greece were acting as if they had jurisdiction in America. If EP and COG bishops send priests to America, independent of the Russian Church, doesn’t that imply jurisdictional pluralism?

    So, if you want to draw a line, I would argue that 1892 is the place for it. I personally don’t like drawing lines like that, because I think they can be very misleading, but 1892 does mark the beginning of the proliferation of EP and COG parishes in America, with priests sent by EP and COG bishops.

    Another way I would approach this is to ask the question, “When did things change?” Did something change in 1921? Not really. 1918 is a watershed because it marks the arrival of the first resident Greek bishop in America; however, Greek parishes didn’t suddenly start leaving the Russian Mission and joining the new GOA. The Russians weren’t losing parishes to the Greeks; the Greeks were organizing themselves (and, as Isa said, that was a tumultuous process that lasted quite a long time). You could say that change began in 1892, but before 1892, there were hardly ANY Orthodox in America, be they Greek or Russian or otherwise. That is one reason I have said that there was never “administrative unity” in American Orthodox history — once you had something that was recognizably “American Orthodox,” you had jurisdictional pluralism.

  8. “1921 simply marks the date on which the present GOA was formally incorporated. It was not actually accepted by the EP until 1922. However, the GOA was actually founded in 1918, by the Church of Greece. That would mark the first time that a Church other than Russia had a diocese in America.”

    Actually, this paragraph encapsulates the problem of canonical claims of Archb. Meletios, who had received Athens from his close assoication (nepotism?) with (the excommunicated by the CoG) Venizelos, with the expulsion of the king and the deposition of the Archbishop of Athens (an act of revenge for Venizelos’ excommunication). In 1920 he submitted a report “Concerning the Situation of the Church and What Needs to be Done” which argued for the emmancipation from the bonds of the state, which ring rather hallow given his route to the Metropolitan Church. When Venizelos fell from power in the general election, on Nov. 17, 1920 Meletios was informed that the deposition of his predecessor was unconstitutional and invalid. Meletios resigned amid letters of protest. On Dec. 3, 1920 the hierarchy of the CoG, for the first time in its history, convened and condemned the deposition of Meletios’ predecessor and other acts as “anticanonical, invalid and nonexistent.” Archb. Theocletus was restored.
    (Eleftherios Venizelos: The Trials of Statesmanship By Paschalis Kitromilides)

    Which is to say, “Archb.” Meletios actions were void. Met. Alexander, his exarch was recalled. He was defrocked when he refused and went into schism, declaring the autonomy of the GOA.

    Meletios, however went on to organize the Greek parishes (founded decidely along phyletist lines, and hence excommunicate according to the EP’s synod of 1872 against the Bulgarians) as the (deposed) Archbishop of Athens to transfer them to himself as the (elected) EP. That’s once you get past the congregational ecclesisology of the Greek parishes:

    “And now for the position of the priest, the pastor (ephemerios) of the community. He has no power as far as the written constitution goes. Thus we find a most anomolous condition in the Greek churches in America. It works something like the worst side of the vestry system of the Episcopal Church parishes, without the legal rights of the rector, nor the possibility of intervention by the Bishop; or another analogy might apply in some instances,-Congregationalsim run wild in a mission of the Apostolic, Catholic, Eastern Church! From afar the Metropolitan Archbishop of Athens (note: The Patriarch of Constantinople has ceded to the Holy Synod of Athens the charge of the Greek Orthodox missions in America) rules without the possibility of settling anything, much as the Bishop of London had charge of the Anglican parishes in this country before the Revelotion. So the Greek priest is hired, and often “fired,” by a parish committee composed usually of poorly educated peasants. And thus come the wranglings and disputes and divisions into two rival church communities of a city; and thus the poor priests, sent out by the Holy Synod in response to the cry for spiritual help, sometimes find themselves as office boys at the mercy of their employers. Moreoever, there are also some priests who have no right here; these are Macedonians, mostly of little education, who, coming to America, have slipped their bishop’s jurisdiction and are ministering without authority wherever they can make the most money, sometimes underbidding and ousting the priests sent by a bishop. Of course, conditions are not everywhere bad in communities, but the system is sadly irresponsible. The only solution seems to be a resident bishop for America; may his advent be soon! ”

    Unfortunately, that bishop (besides the ones of the RM, which they ignored) was Meletios. How a phyletistic jurdiction set up by a deposed Archbishop and deforcked Metropolitan, in spite of the existence of a well established hiearchy, passes the muster of canon 8 of Ephesus is problematic.

    If we were talking of Protestants, this would not be a problem. But we are talking about clergy who are not allowed to pass or send clergy to another bishop’s diocese, priests who only stand in a bishop whose antimens they must have, bishops who must acknowledge their primate, who must be in communion with and on the diptychs of the other primates. So we must take into account what the canonical understanding was at the time, and how everyone justified their actions, whether Russian or Greek.

    Now, of course, if the EP’s interpretation is correct of canon 28, the Russians created jurisdictional pluralism in 1794, 1867 at the latest.

  9. Isa, I have no issue with your fundamental points. I am certainly no fan of Metaxakis, and I agree that the situation with the Greek parishes was highly irregular. I fully intend to flesh all these things out in future posts here at

    That said, this discussion is precisely why I wrote the above post, on the three “questions” (as I see them) surrounding American Orthodox unity. My only argument, as an historian, concerns what was. To those who claim that there was once a united American Orthodox Church under Russian jurisdiction, which encompassed all the various ethnic groups, I have responded that this was not so. Some (not you, but some) have mistaken this to mean that I somehow support the irregular status of the early Greek parishes, or the irregular nature of the founding of the GOA. I don’t; all the same, I don’t feel qualified to entirely condemn them, either. I’m not even sure what the point would be in condemning them, as I don’t feel it very productive today, in 2009, to debate too much about what people should have done 100 years ago.

    The fact is that we have the GOA today, and to argue that the present GOA is somehow illegitimate is, frankly, unproductive and silly. We need to deal with the practical reality of the present, and any true American Orthodox Church absolutely must include the GOA.

  10. Just a further thought… Let’s set aside Metaxakis for a moment, and Alexander, and all the political machinations surrounding the GOA’s establishment. In 1918, the Russian state was in turmoil. The government, which only recently had funded the operations of the Church, was now replaced with one hell-bent on destroying it. Funding to the American Mission was cut off. American Orthodox priests were without their paychecks. Soon thereafter, the Bolshevik government set up a puppet church and tried to take control of properties in America. Regardless of its status before 1917, the Russian Mission after 1917 was hardly in a position to lead American Orthodoxy. It wasn’t even clear who was in charge: Archbishop Evdokim traveled to Russia and never returned, and Archbishop Alexander soon left for Europe. Metropolitan Platon took the lead, but he was opposed by various challengers, and he was never the undisputed Russian hierarch in America. Yes, he may have been the rightful one (morally, if not canonically), but the Russian churches in America were divided.

    The proponents of the myth of unity are wrong about what the pre-1917 situation was like, but they’re right that 1917 was a watershed year. After that point, it was really impossible for the Russian Mission to be THE American Orthodox Church. And it didn’t really try to be; it welcomed the founding of the GOA, if correspondence from the era is any indication (see Paul Manolis’ The History of the Greek Church in America in Acts and Documents).

    In the long run, the GOA succeeded in uniting the warring factions of Greeks in America. It was more successful than the Russians, even; they have been divided up to the present, between the OCA, the Moscow Patriarchate, and ROCOR (which, present good relations notwithstanding, are three separate, overlapping jurisdictions). While the GOA may have been founded badly, it was a needed entity; the alternative was utter chaos.

    What should have been? The Bolsheviks shouldn’t have overthrown the Tsar. The Russian Church, back in 1867, should have taken St. Innocent’s advice and “penetrated the United States,” which would have made this whole discussion moot. Maybe the Greeks should have bought into the Russian Mission back in the 1890s, but they didn’t, and I can fully understand why. And beyond St. Tikhon, it’s not even clear whether the Russian archbishops really cared about the Greeks at all. Bottom line, America presented an unprecedented mess for Orthodoxy. I’m just trying to sort through that mess.

  11. I understand the question you are asking: I just don’t think the GOA is a good candidate for that investigation, given its other issues. A better group to look at for those answers would be the Serbs.

    The first native born cradle priest was a Serb (just barely, his mother bore him as they were coming through the Golden Gate!), ordained and attached to the RM cathedral, the oldest parish founded my residents themselves, SS Constantine and Helen in Galveston, ended up in the Serbian Archdiocese. Serbs pop up all over the RM/OCA narrative. There was plans to ordain a Serb bishop, as the Arabs had theirs. And yet on the eve of that happened, the Serbs asked canonical transfer to the Patriarchate in Serbian, and the RM granted it. Why did they ask? Why was it granted? Since no canonical questions (at least at the time) attach to the Serbs’ actions, their situation might give a better picture of how “jurisdiction” was viewed in the New World.

    The Romanians I might add come too late, and the Bulgarians had too many jurisdictional questions in Bulgaria itself to approach this question.

    Btw, I just came across this interesting bit on the Serbs, from a 1912 work, “The people of the Eastern Orthodox churches, the separated churches of the east, and other Slavs; report of the commission appointed by the missionary department of New England to consider the work of co-operating with the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the seperated churches of the East, and other Slavs”:
    There are about 150,000 Serbs in America at the highest estimate, and of these 10,000 are not in the United States. It is impossible to tell from the immigration reports from what countries the Serbs have come. Most, however, are probably from the Hungarian provinces. They have settled principally in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana, and in Kansas, Montana, and California. A very interesting development came about in Alaska. Formerly there were a number of Russians in Alaska, and the Russian Church carried on a successful mission work among the Indians and Eskimos. After the annexation to the United States many of the Russians returned to Russia, and the see of the Russian Bishop in America was removed from Sitka to San Francisco. In 1905 the see was again removed to New York City, as the great bulk of the Russians in this country were now in the eastern states. In that very year Serbs from Montenegro and Servia were immigrating to Alaska, and there were now more Serbs in California and Montana than there were Russians in all the states west of Pennsylvania. Consequently the center of the Servian Church was placed in California with an archimandrite as special administrator, and the orthodox work in Alaska was transferred from the Russian Church to the Servian. The Servian Church in America is under the protection and supervision of the American Archbishop of the Russian Church…

    Btw, the report repeats the last clause for practically all groups in America, except the Greeks “they will have naught, nor will they in any way affiliate with the Orthodox churches under the Russian hierarchy of New York, for the sad antagonism of Pan-Slavism and Pan-Hellenism is as rife in America as it is in the East….”

  12. Yes, the Serbs are a good group to study. I included a section on them in my paper “The Myth of Past Unity,” the video of which is on this site. If you would like, I can send you the latest draft. (We haven’t run it here, because it’s slated to be printed by SVS in one or two forums). You can reach me at mfnamee [at] gmail [dot] com.

    About Ss. Constantine & Helen in Galveston — the present parish was founded in 1895, by Fr. Theoklytos Triantafilides. I’ve read in various places that the parish has its origins in the 1860s, but I’ve never seen any evidence of this. It wouldn’t surprise me if there were Orthodox in Galveston that early, since it was a major port city (much like New Orleans), but I’m unaware of an actual organized Orthodox community until the 1890s. Do you have anything on this?

  13. This thread has been crossed referenced by Fr. Andrew:
    in which Fr. Andrew takes George Michalopulos to task for “a complete misreading of Matthew’s thesis, starting with “and thus.”

    Well, “thus” might be misleading in suggesting that Namee is arguing his case for the Phanar. He’s not, says he’s not, disclaims that he is not. That being said, as the English say, “In for a penny, in for a pound,” and the Germans “Who says A, must say B.” Namee’s thesis that there wasn’t a golden age of administrative unity does have consequences, if true. I think George hit that nail on its head:

    “The quarrel therefore is not with the facts, but with the interpretation of these facts. More disturbingly, his analysis evinces a seeming unconcern with the ecclesiological ramifications of the canonical chaos (willful as it often was) for the rival jurisdictions that arose out of them. It is my contention that the original thesis, that is to say, the primacy of the Russian Mission and its internal administrative unity still stands. Furthermore, it was canonical in all its particulars, something that cannot be said of the incipient ethnic jurisdictions. Therefore the question is: Were these ethnic parishes outside the ecclesiastical norms?”

    Now to ask about the canonicity of these ethnic parishes may fall under the rubric “to want everything to be about what “ought” to be and what “ought” to have been, who had the “right” and who can make the “claims,” but that desire constitutes “the situation on the ground.” The fact that Honcharenko arrived in America with neither canonical release (nor it seems ordination as a priest) and, after meandering among the ethnic communities-not-yet parishes (a status Holy Trinity of New Orleans did not yet achieve: the Church i.e. bishops make parishes in the Orthodox Church, not layman, even consuls, and it was not even incorporated it seems untl the 20th century. It does, however count as an Orthodox community, and HT can in reality state it dates back to the 1860’s), came to demand an antimens (without which, I am sure you know Father, no parish can exist, no DL celebrated) from the Russian Cathedral of SF only reinforces the primacy of the internal administrative unity of the Russian mission and undermines the undue recognition to chaos. We are not Protestants, and the Orthodox Church is not congregationalist.

    Case in point: NYC. Clear across the continent from AK, and even SF. And yet Russia opens up a chapel (which, as a recent post on says
    may have been instrumental in the introduction of Orthodox (with its canonical order) in Canada. It was not placed under the bishop of AK (btw, whose status was upgraded to a full diocese, bearing the American, not the Russian, name of the territory), whose predecessor, the auxhiary bishop to Kamchatka of Novoarkhangelsk/Sitka, nonetheless consecrated it on his way back to Russia. There may be a variety of reasons for that, including the suggestion of its former primate/then Met. Moscow and member of the Holy Governing Synod St. Innocent, that the mission be placed under the Baltic episcopacy, given that Alaska was now detached from Russia and would be no longer attached to the bishops of Siberia. There was also the issue of the relations with the Episcopalians, and the chapel may have been intended as a metochia, as the Episopalians looked with alarm at the arrival of the Russian bishop in San Francisco
    and had the correspondance between the Episcopalian Church-USA and the Orthodox Patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem and the Holy Governing Synods of Russia (and IIRC Greece) are reported 1870-3 (the importance of that date in a minute), where the activity of the Russian Mission, and more importantly its bishop, in North America are discussed. Be that as it may, since union was never achieved, the chapel never became a metochion. But it did establish, by default, Russian jurisdiction, a jurisdiction, as Namee himself has discovered, (see links above, and
    was planned even before the sale of Alaska to include all North America with sees in NYC, New Orleans and SF in addition to AK. It would seem that they intended to stay, as New York state deputised the Russian ambassador and consul as trustees of all Orthodox Churches/parishes incorporated in the state in 1871,+1871&lr=#v=onepage&q=Laws%20of%20the%20state%20of%20New%20York%20Passed%20January%2031%2C%201871&f=false
    Clearly New York State saw no jurisdictional disunity. As I posted in message 6 of the “three-bishops-for-america-in-1870” link above, Fr. Bjerring’s activities on the Eastern Seaboard were well known to both the Greek and Ottomona diplomatic core, having married the Greek ambassador in his chapale in 1870 (with the attendance of Demtrios Botassi,Greek consul and son-in-law of Nicholas Benachi, and with him fellow founder of HT Church in New Orleans) and aiding the Ottoman commmissioners to the American Centennial in getting a funding request to Pres. Grant. It would seem the state and ecclesiastical authorities of Athens and Constantinople knew of him. That didn’t change when the chapel was closed in 1883 and Fr. Bjerring apostacized: the Holy Governing Synod had erected a see in AK after only 2 years of the mission, a see that its only bishop never occupied, and waited 12 years to close it, only to erect another 29 years later which exists to this day and went on to become the primate of North America. Within 12 years of the closing of Bejerring’s chapel, the Russian bishop had consecrated both St. Nicholas cathedrals at NYC, one which became the primates cathedral a few years later, and the other which served as the cathedral of the Syrian mission, i.e. the Arab Diocese, the origin on the Self-Ruled Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.

    Which brings me to the central date of this question of jurisdiction of North America:March 13, 1904. On that date the Russian Holy Governing Synod exercised its right and jurisdiction in North America per canon VIII of Ephesus to consecrate St. Raphael Hawaweeny, the first Orthodox consecration in the New World, retaining jurisdiction of a territory they had ruled peacebly, as per canon XVII of Chalcedon. As Namee points out, the Greeks at the time realized the implications, as the contemporary sources on the situation on the ground shows:
    Now, ignoring the existence of an Archdiocese which one knows to be functioning in a territory might be costrued as a protest, but it can hardly count as pleading a cause, and by 1904 the Greek Church had know of the Russian episcopacy in North America over thiry years (the statute-or canon-of limitations), as the correspondence between the Greek Church, American Episcopalians and Russians (in Russia and North America) of the 1860s and 1870’s shows. As it was, the Greek episcopate didn’t take canonical notice of North America it seems until 1907, the planning synod of what ended up in the issuance of the infamous Tomos of 1908, where Constantinople committed acts it anathematized in its Synod of 1872, giving Churches it neither owned nor founded to the Church of Greece, which was, given the situation on the ground, in no position to oversee them. And that situation on the ground was that the congregations which refused to acknowledge the authority of the Russian Bishop did not acknowledge any authority but their own (meaning the trusttees): Meletios and Alexander (both deposed at the time) found that out as they tried to organize the Greeks of North America, a task not accomplished until the 1930 under Archb. Athenagoras of blessed memory. Hence why after St. Raphael’s consecration what became the Cathedra of the Exarch of Constantinople incorporated itself as “The The Hellenic Eastern Orthodox Church of New York,” a church in no Orthodox diptych, to legally (and officially) distinguish it from not only the Church of Russia, but also the Church of Greece.
    (btw, the incorporation was void on its face as unconstitutional). As I’ve pointed out, the situation on the ground was and is that

    “We have not such thing in the Orthodox Church as free lance parishes: parishes only exist in Dioceses, Dioceses only exist with a bishop, bishops exist only in synods, synods only exist with primates who are commemorated by their co-equals in the dipytchs. Seeking legal recourse to the secular authority (something strictly forbidden by canons IV and VI of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea I and XII of the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon, stating that a bishop must be deposed for mere attempt ) to take Holy Trinity out of administration of the Orthdoox Church, makes a nice Protestant parish, but not an Orthodox one.”,22981.msg374475/topicseen.html#msg374475

    But to get back to the original objection to George’s focus on “current ecclesiastical politics, the OCA and its autocephaly”: they are not without relevance, as Namee admits in his treatment of the New Smyrna Colony and the GOA tooting of it as “our Plymouth Rock,” and posted as the root on the GOA’s website:
    “…to say that this place is a landmark for American Orthodox history is misleading. The New Smyrnans did not have an Orthodox priest. They didn’t start an Orthodox parish. Their descendants didn’t go on to make a mark on the later history of Orthodoxy (or Hellenism) in America. The colony is an interesting story, and when that story is told well, it can be riveting. But as far as American Orthodox history goes, it’s largely irrelevant. It can’t be even remotely compared with the Russian fur traders in Alaska, since those traders kept their Orthodox faith, converted native Alaskans, and directly laid the groundwork for future Alaskan Orthodoxy. The New Smyrna Greeks didn’t lay the groundwork for Orthodoxy in America. They are people who happened to be Orthodox.”
    As my posted comment and source shows, they weren’t (except for a Demetrios Fundulakis) even that. As Namee sums up “I say that New Smyrna means next to nothing for American Orthodox history…New Smyrna, while interesting, is not a significant landmark in American Orthodox history” (adding “I don’t mean to disparage Greek Americans, the Greek Archdiocese, or the St. Photios Shrine, which I would love to visit one day.” I’ve been, btw, twice to New Smyrna and St. Augustine and recommend the trip). The independent parishes on which Namee is basing his narrative led to nowhere but results that the Russian Archdiocese, the Metropolia, OCA, Chief Secretary Elpidophoros and Chambesy (and Ligonier) are unanimous in decrying. Simply put, the Russian Mission had what Chambesy calls for, internal administrative unity canonical in all its particulars. If that is achieved in North America, it will come from the ongoing and continous influence of that Russian Mission, as the heritage of oxymoronic Orthodox congregationalists is a burden which, as Met. Philip warned, if we do “not bury [such] burdens of the past between certain autocephalous churches, such burdens will bury us, and Orthodoxy in this country and throughout the world will become an insignificant dot on the margin of history.”

    1. “In for a penny, in for a pound” is a nice saying, but it’s only applicable if we’re comparing two things that are fundamentally different only in degree and not in kind. This isn’t the case here.

      To say that there was not administrative unity does not mean that one is arguing for some particular canonical outcome or interpretation. Certainly, that plan of action or interpretation might well make use of that evidence, but defining and describing the evidence is not the same as suggesting a particular plan of action or interpretation.

      In a criminal trial, it may be established that a gun was found on the scene. That’s not the same as saying that the defendant is definitely a murderer or that he should be hung.

      Honestly, this really shouldn’t have to be explained. It seems to me a particular piece of either intellectual sloppiness or intellectual dishonesty to conflate these issues.

  14. “Honestly, this really shouldn’t have to be explained. It seems to me a particular piece of either intellectual sloppiness or intellectual dishonesty to conflate these issues.”

    Not really, just Orthodox honesty. You have to first establish that the gun was fired first and the ballistics match-if the victem died from stab wounds, the gun is perhaps irrelevant-before getting to the defendent. The guns presence might warrent searching the body for a gun wound, but might prove just a distraction: a smoking gun doesn’t always lead to fire. Witness the original El-Sayyid Nossair trial for killing Meir Kahane.

    The elevation of the renegade parishs to equality with the established Archdiocese as to describe early Orthodoxy in America distorts more than it focuses the hisotrical narrative. The errant parishes are a valid part of study, and an imporant part of the evidence and narrative of the history of the Orthodox Church in North America, but they should not distract from the main plot of that narrative.

    The Old Believers are an important part of the history of Russia and warrant study, but we do not conclude that Christ has withdrawn the episcopacy in the Age of the Antichrist, and cease to speak of a history of the Patriarchate of Moscow after 1666. The Old Calendarists Synods have a large following in Greece, but when we talk of the history of the Church of Greece we focus on the narrative of the Archbishop of Athens who is in the diptychs and his Holy Synod. Only in North America is it held that schismatics and other renegades from Orthdoox ecclesiology nullify a functioning diocese. Defining illegitimate acts as legitimate and describing congregationalist parishes as exercising jurisidction in a hierarchal Church indeed interprets as much as a history of the Russian Church from Old Believer sources and a history of the CoG from the pronouncements of the Old Calendarist bishops as they withdrew from the state Church. The Russian Archdiocese and the Greek trusttee parishes and itinerate “priests” of dubious credentials (such as the US government was getting involved at the turn of the last century, for fraud) are fundamentally different not in degree but in kind. That is the case here: conflating congregationalist principles with the history of a hierarchal Church precludes it from being a history of Orthodoxy. One could write a history of the Confederate States of America 1617-2010, as opposed to a history of the Southeastern United States of America, but needless to say, it would be rather odd, if not misleading.

    1. Okay, so you’re going on the record as saying that everyone not in the Russian-American archdiocese was in fact not Orthodox, based on alleged “congregationalism.” So did that make even the R-A archdiocese itself un-Orthodox when, in the wake of the Kedrovsky challenges, Metr. Platon urged all his parishes to incorporate independently in an attempt to shield them from possible takeover via the courts, which were inclined to rule that “hierarchical” churches must obey their proper hierarchies? Congregationalism was rampant in numerous parishes, both within and outside the R-A aegis. Given the distances between churches and communication at the time, most parishes in America were governed in an essentially congregationalist fashion and in many respects remain that way today. (See Fr. Nicholas Ferencz’s doctoral dissertation for the details on this.)

      It’s of course your prerogative to try to draw these kinds of technical lines and make declarations about who is and is not Orthodox, but that’s not really our concern here. Anyway, I’m not sure that any particular criterion would hold up under scrutiny that would make any particular jurisdiction happy.

  15. I would characterize the early Greek parishes (and other semi-independent parishes) as “irregular,” or “extracanonical,” rather than strictly “uncanonical” or “not Orthodox.” Certainly, the leaders of the Russian Mission didn’t uniformly treat these non-RM parishes as “renegades.” And, as I’ve demonstrated, the Serbian and Syrian parishes in the RM tended to be just as congregational and independently-run as their non-RM Greek and Romanian counterparts.

    I think it’s very important to consider what the Russian Mission leadership thought at the time. Otherwise, we risk falling into anachronism.

  16. “Okay, so you’re going on the record as saying that everyone not in the Russian-American archdiocese was in fact not Orthodox, based on alleged “congregationalism.” So did that make even the R-A archdiocese itself un-Orthodox when, in the wake of the Kedrovsky challenges, Metr. Platon urged all his parishes to incorporate independently in an attempt to shield them from possible takeover via the courts, which were inclined to rule that “hierarchical” churches must obey their proper hierarchies?”

    LOL. I remember the late great William F. Buckley making an analgoy of those who conflate two groups to those who, “because a boy scout pushes an old woman from out of the path of a bus and a homocidal psychopath pushes an old woman into the path of a bus, equate the two, because they both push around old ladies.” In view of Pat. St. Tikhon’s Ukaze 362, his anathematization of the heretical “Living Church” which Kedrovsky represented, and the fact that the “congregationalsits” were obeying, rather than trying to evade obedience to, their canonical bishop makes it an entirely different situation.

    As for criteria of Orthodoxy, I’m only asking (well, demanding perhaps) that North America be judege by the same criteria as the autocephalous Churches of the time in their claimed jurisdictions at home (where the Faithful perhaps had as little contact with their bishop as those in North America, but the bishop had considerably more legal standing and control if he needed it). Nothing more.

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