Questions about the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church (now OCA)

I come to display my ignorance. :blush:

My dad maintained that he was “Russian Orthodox,” although I went to a Roman parochial school and was raised Roman Catholic.

Recently, I was given my father’s Birth and Baptism Certificate (they are one in the same). It reads in part, "This is to certify that in the record book of of birth of The Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church, Order No. 46 for 1914. The following is recorded:…"which goes on to a chart listing his birth and baptism dates, his name, name of parents and godparents, and by whom he was baptized – in both English and Russian.

At the bottom is written the city, the state, and “Diocese of North America.” It is also signed by the rector. (I wish my scanner was working so I could link a picture.)

What is the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church? How did it start?

I ‘Googled’ and Wiki says,

The Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church in America was granted autocephaly by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1970, and was renamed the Orthodox Church in America. Although the autocephaly of the OCA is not universally recognized by all autocephalous Eastern Orthodox churches, it is in full communion with them. It also is a member of the Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops in America (SCOBA).

I don’t think that this Church is in communion with Rome. Is this true?

I found this website: but in my ignorance, I don’t quite understand a lot of what I was reading.

Is this Church Eastern Orthodox? Byzantine? Why was it both Russian and Greek when my father was Ukrainian (when/where his father and mother were born Ukraine was then Russia)?

I would welcome and online mentorship, if anyone has the time and would be so kind as to PM me. I am more than curious and a willing student. Thank you!

Wow that is really cool! You are lucky to have such a precious piece of family history.

As you stated that is what is now called the Orthodox Church in America

It was started by a group of Russian missionaries to Alaska at the end of the 18th century. It grew to eventually encompass most of North America and had many non-Russians under it’s care. In fact the first bishop consecrated in America was St Raphael of Brooklyn, an Arab. He was consecrated by the Russian diocese.

You are correct.

It is Eastern Orthodox. We use what Catholics call the Byzantine rite and our heritage is from the Byzantine Empire.

In this context the term “Greek” refers to the faith and spiritual heritage. Similar in some respects to being called “Roman” Catholic. Russian refers to the jurisdiction i.e. under the Russian Orthodox Church.

I am willing. Ask me anything you like. I will do my best.

In Christ

This is the OCA or Orthodox Church in America, which was known before 1970 by the other name you give, is Eastern Orthodox not Byzantine Catholic, and has been autocephalous since 1970. There is a complex history of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia [ROCOR] and the Russian Orthodox Church [Moscow Patriarchcate] and the Orthodox Church in America. The OCA did spring (~1892, Father Alexis Toth) from the Carpatho-Rusyn Greek Catholic Church, which also continued and became two Catholic Churches: Byzantine Catholic Church and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (1924).

Rusyn areas of the Carpathian mountains are in Slovakia, Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, and Romania. So that is the connection with Ukraine.


The Diocese of Sitka and North America predates St. Alexis; it dates to 1840. The oldest parishes are prior to Seward’s Folly (the Purchase of Alaska); there are OCA parishes some 150+ years old. Holy Assumption dates to 1844 (Yes, 166 years ago)… St Herman was dead before either the diocese or Holy Assumption were founded.

St. Alexis brought a lot of CRGCC (and some UGCC) priests under the Orthodox Omophor of St. Tikhon… but the Russian Orthodox Church was already present for them to come into; the autonomy of the ROGCC was a matter of practicality.

I’ve been to OCA parishes older than St. Alexis. There are no shortage of them in Alaska. Some even still use the original buildings… and centuries of incense is telling! (The wife commented on smelling it 15 feet from the narthex doors.)

This all reminds me of the posting I made recently of the Annual Pilgrimage to Ft Ross

… where the first Russian Orthodox church in the United Sates was built*. It is here that St. Innocent of Alaska and St. Peter the Aleut visited and prayed.

The ROCOR folks go over Memorial Day, and the OCA folks go over 4th of July, this year 3rd of July.

*I wonder if this isn’t the first south of Alaska. And maybe technically it was more of a mission chapel than a formal church.

May I ask what city this parish was in?

Do you have any information as to where in Ukraine his family was from?

If it was central or eastern Ukraine (from Kiev and eastward) , it is very likely that they came to the USA as Orthodox, already in the Russian Orthodox church.

Here is an interesting summary of Ukrainian history (sorry, I didn’t read it entirely through, so I can’t vouch for it completely).

If it was far western Ukraine, around Lemberg/L’viv or (at that time) in Austrian Galicia his family most likely would have been Greek Catholics under the Pope at the time they migrated, and became Orthodox sometime after arrival following Father Saint Alexis Toth (or Tovt).

“City of Boston, State of Massachusetts, Diocese North America”

His mother was from Kamel and his father was from Dyzwyn.

That is certainly true. Also of interest is that the name was “Russian Orthodox Church in North America” but due to the large number of faithful that came through St. Alexis, amounting to 25,000 Greek Catholics, mostly Lemkos from Galicia, that the name was changed to “Russian Orthodox** Greek Catholic **Church in North America”. That was in 1900 and at that time the episcopal seat moved to New York.

From 1916 on the history is even more complex. The Carpatho-Russian diocese of Pittsburgh was created in 1916 followed closely by the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917 which lead to the various Orthodox jurisdictions in North America .

So the baptism occured in 1914 is after the rename, but before the various Orthodox jurisdictions.


They must be small townships, I couldn’t find anything on them in English on the 'net.

My family from Poland comes from small towns too, all I know is that they were near Tarnow, which is in Galicia near Cracow.

On one deployment, I worked with Russian soldiers who pointed me to the website, “ShtetlSeeker.” I found Dyzwyn, and was able to map it. It is located in the Volhyn Oblast.

No luck with “Kamel,” though, but I found a village with a similar name about 14 miles away. It’s plausible that their villages were close enough to meet and marry / be matched up. “Kamel” is the “Ellis Island-ed” phonetic spelling, I am almost sure.

I hope the ShtetlSeeker website can help others here (put that term in Google for the link; I am using my Blackberry and I can’t open another window to give the link here.


The Volyn Oblast is definitely in western Ukraine. That makes it more likely (not certain) that the family considered itself Eastern Catholic when it arrived from Europe, and participated in the Toth return to Orthodoxy.

However, after the partition of Poland that area was not under the Austrian control but in Russia. This is significant because in that period many Greek Catholics in the region were returning to Orthodoxy.

Some interesting history:
In the Middle Ages Volhynia was an autonomous duchy. Its existence is attested to by maps which date back to the tenth century. The 15th edition (1980) of the Encyclopædia Britannica states that Volhynia “was a Russian principality (10th-14th century) and then an autonomous component of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The region became prominent during the 12th century, when many emigrants from the declining Kiev principality settled in Volhynia and its even more westerly neighbor Galicia. In 1199 Prince Roman Mstislavich of Volyhnia (died 1205) united the two territories into a powerful principality, which dominated Kiev; successfully battled the Poles, Lithuanians, Hungarians and Polovtsy (or Cumans); and was sought as an ally by Byzantium. Roman’s son Daniel (reigned 1221-1264) reunited Volhynia with Galicia in 1238 (the union had lapsed after Roman’s death), built cities (e.g. Lvov), encouraged a flourishing east-west trade through his lands, and fostered the development of the fine arts. In 1260, however, Volhynia and Galicia were devastated by a Mongol invasion and forced to recognize the Mongol khan as their overlord.

“In the course of the 14th century, Volhynia was absorbed by the Lithuanian state, [while Galicia was absorbed by Poland]. After the Polish-Lithuanian union of 1569, Volhynia was ceded to [the latter]. It remained a Polish territory until the second partition of Poland (1793) transferred most of it to Russia. After World War I it was divided between the Soviet territories and Poland.” … In the aftermath of World War II the entire region was absorbed into the Ukrainian S.S.R. and divided into three oblasti, Volyn, Rovno and Zhitomer.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia (See the section on the Diocese of Lutzk, Zhitomer and Kamenetz), Volhynia was at one time entirely of the Greek Orthodox Rite, “but with the conquest of Volhynia and Podolia by the Lithuanians in 1320, and the later conquest and union of Lithuania by the Poles in 1569[FONT=Arial Narrow] [Union of Lublin], the Latin Rite became well established, and accordingly Latin bishoprics were founded.”


[FONT=Arial]The Orthodox diocese of Lutzk, which seems to have included all of Volyn at the time, became Greek Catholic after it’s bishop signed on to the Union of Brest in 1702AD (two years after L’viv).

However, with the Second Partition of Poland in 1793, the Latin dioceses were suppressed …

[/FONT][LEFT][FONT=Arial]At this point the Greek Catholic population began to revert to the Orthodox church, except for the region of Galicia to the south and west, held by the Catholic monarchs of Austria[/FONT]

It may be Khmil’ Rivnens’ka, Ukraine which is spelled: Хміль

You can see it here,+Rivnens’ka,+Ukraine&sll=39.856573,-105.14157&sspn=0.861273,1.231842&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Khmil,+Rokytnivs’kyi,+Rivnens’ka+oblast,+Ukraine&z=12

Though the historic Volyn province (Volhynia) is in Western Ukraine, by the turn of the 19th century it was mostly Orthodox. Unlike Galicia/Halychyna (Lviv, Ternopil, Ivano-Frankivsk oblasts in modern Ukraine), Volhynia (Lutske and Rivne oblasts in modern Ukraine), after the Partition of Poland in the 1790s, was subjected to Russian Tsarist Rule in the 19th and early 20th century, while Halychyna became subject to Austro-Hungarian rule. Thus Greek Catholicism was allowed under Austrian rule where it flourished, while in Volyn Orthodoxy became the norm under Russian rule.

The other two western oblasts in modern Ukraine are Zakarpattia (Greek Catholic) and Bukovina (80% Orthodox, 20% Greek Catholic) statistically speaking at turn of last century probably.

What I find interesting is that if the OP’s grandparents immigrated before WW1, Volhynia, like many provinces in the Tsarist Empire, wasn’t a source of much emigration to North America. Most immigrants came from those parts of Ukraine ruled under Austro-Hungary: Galicia, Zakarpattia, and Bukovyna. There are also those ethnic areas outside of modern Ukraine’s borders, like Kholmshchyna, Priashivshchyna, Lemkivshchyna, which also provided many immigrants.

Those areas under Tsarist Russian rule provided little emigration to North America before World War One, apart from the Jewish population living under the Russian Tsars.

To complicate matters further, Volhynia, between WW1 and WW2, like Galicia, became subject to Polish rule, and then emigration from Volyn to North America picked up.

The easiest way to pin something down in these situations is to get the name of a town close to the grandparents’ birthplace (even if it is in cyrillic letters), and then all these territorial and religious fluctuations make more sense. I should know.

With much suppression of the Greek Catholic population as well. Not wishing to enter into turf wars, but by way of clarification, between 1793-95, with the help of Tsarist military garrisons and the Russian Military Institute, 2,300 Ukrainian (Ruthenian) Greek Catholic Churches, 2 monasteries, and 1032 Greek Catholic clergy went to Orthodoxy - some under force and duress while others went willingly in the newly annexed to Russia areas of Ukraine (like Volyn). Of course, this could go both ways, but I just wished clarification because the timing and nature of how each territory went Catholic/Orthodox and visa-versa can get quite complex. Indeed, Central Ukraine, not Western Ukraine was originally the most open to Greek Catholicism after Brest. The West of Ukraine didn’t crystallize fully Greek-Catholic until 1700 but after then more changes were to come.

And again, I realize coercion could be used by both sides, though in the end of ends, Ukrainian Greek Catholicism had no real de facto fully supportive “state sponsor” as did Russian Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism respectively.

I guess my amazement at Ukrainians emigrating from a Russian-ruled portion of Ukraine before World War One to the U.S. has been quenched. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians emigrated before WW1 of course but the mass was from provinces ruled by Austria (Galicia, Bukovyna, Lemkovyna) or Hungary (Zakarpattia or Subcarpathia - the “Rusyns” Ruthenians). However, the Encyclopedia of Ukraine states that later emigration before WW1 also came from several Ukrainian territories within Russia - Volyn, Kholm and Polissia - contributing 50,000 emigrants. Your father’s parents must have been part of this wave before WW1.

No luck with “Kamel,” though, but I found a village with a similar name about 14 miles away. It’s plausible that their villages were close enough to meet and marry / be matched up. “Kamel” is the “Ellis Island-ed” phonetic spelling, I am almost sure.

If that is the case I am guessing (and I mean guess) the town might have been what is today called Kovel in Volyn in Ukraine. Having emigrated from a Russian-ruled part of Ukraine, Kovel as place of birth would have been written on a certificate in cyrillic as “Ковел”. The “o” may have been pronounced “a”. At Ellis Island, these cyrillic letters may have become “Kamel”?

Up from Kovel in Volyn there is a town called “Kamin” (cyrillic “Камінь” in Volyn not far away, which name “Ellisized” may look Kamel from Камінь? Due north from Kovel there is also the village of “Dyvyn” not viewable on Google Maps.

Just some detective work, but I’m no Columbo. :slight_smile:

Vico makes a probable guess as well in his post on “Khmil”.

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