What, exactly, is the OCA?


My understanding is that it is its own independent Church, not falling under any external authority. If that is true, that begs the question what its liturgical and other traditions comprise of and how the OCA was created and developed. What countries traditions did it borrow from, etc.? Its easy enough to under stand the idea of Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, etc. but American Orthodox? That doesn’t make a whole bunch of sense to me.

I’m not looking to start anything here, this is an honest attempt at learning.

Yes, as is true of every autocephalous (i.e. totally independent) Orthodox church. The entire Eastern Orthodox Church is a communion of 15 autocephalous churches, just as our Catholic Church is a communion of 23 autonomous churches (the 23 Catholic churches are not autocephalous).

The 15 autocephalous Orthodox churches are, though distinct, in full communion with each other and together comprise the whole Orthodox Church.

It gets its traditions and such from the Russian Orthodox, I think. Orthodox Christianity came to America via Russian Orthodox missionaries, so the origins of the OCA lie there. The Russian Orthodox Church granted autocephaly to the OCA a few decades ago.

Why not? It makes sense to me.

Fone Bone answered this well.

The synod is self governing. It began as a mission and has been granted it’s own self-determination. There are Alaskan natives, Russian descendants and Carpatho-Rusyn ( who often self-identify as Slovaks or Ukrainians) descendants as well as a lot of newer American converts from every racial background.

Within the OCA there are also Bulgarian, Albanian and Romanian dioceses. Polish Orthodox come to the OCA when they immigrate, but they have never needed a diocese.

The ideal was to have just one Orthodox church in north America, but that fell apart after the Bolshevik revolution, so one can see a lot of other jurisdictions presently which are not part of the OCA.

The long range plan is to regather the Orthodox, and the meeting in Chambesy Switzerland has begun setting the guidelines. Hopefully there will be one Orthodox synod for north America, and it will be self governing. The OCA is expected to be a participant in this new assembly.


Thanks, both of you.


A bit of an expansion:

The OCA ultimately originated in the Russian Mission to North America. When the Tsarist government fell and the communists came to power the Patriarch of Moscow declared that those churches outside of Russia should break off communication (note: Not Communion) with Russia until such a time as it was safe for them to resume it.
In response to this move almost all Russian churches outside of Russia did so, leading to two autonomous churches, one was simply known as the Metropolis of North America, and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. It is also at this point that other Orthodox Churches began to be established in North America.

Later the Metropolis would be augmented by a group of break-away Eastern Catholics and would rename itself the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church.

In late '60s, tensions were cooling in the Cold War and negotiations between the ROGCC began. By 1970 the two groups announced a Tomos of Autocephaly. This document granted the ROGCC autocephaly under the name “Orthodox Church in America”, and handed over the bulk of Russian diocese over to the OCA (I live in one of the areas that was exempted from this, so you can find Churches under the Moscow Patriarchy in the little towns around here).

One issue that often causes confusion is that a number of Orthodox Churches don’t recognize the autocephaly of the OCA. They all recognize it as Orthodox, they just disagree on whether it falls under the description of Autocephalous, or Autonomous. This is not a distinction that should really matter to anyone outside of Orthodoxy. It is Orthodox.

But that has been always the “model” of the Church, to establish independent Churches that are in communion with one another. It was only the Roman Church that didn’t do their missionary like this, perhaps because of the political conquest of Rome that the Roman Bishop extended his territory along with the political extension of the Emperor. So when the Empire broke apart, all these other countries belonged to the Bishop of Rome regardless. Then when these nations expanded via colonization, Rome still laid claim to those territories.

In the East it was different because there were strong pagan kingdoms. Eventually these kings/emperors became Christians but they will not bow down to a bishop of another foreign ruler. So they had their own bishops and they had their own independent Church. Similar to Prince Volodymyr or Rus who we celebrate today.

Also, Rome ended the possibility of creating new Churches with Trent. So there will never be an American Catholic Church. But for the Orthodox, they can still continue to create new jurisdictions. So the OCA is a testament to this, especially as the Church itself grows.


Although Louis Riel did try to make one. :smiley:

It is rather unique, in that it’s the only Eastern Orthodox church that has no formal ties historical or otherwise to the government of the country in which it exists. To answer your question, it was a kind of complicated thing that happened during the Cold War when Russian Orthodox outside of Russia were cut loose (autpcephaly is a word that I should probably use here) in a way that was somewhat irregular and wound up being a permanent thing. It went through a number of name changes on the way to what it is now, and it’s basically become the Orthodox church that has the most American identity. If memory serves, I believe they also have the highest percentage of converts of any Orthodox church in America- and I think that figure is around half. With a lot of help from those converts and relatively little from immigrants joining the ranks, they’ve become the second largest rep of Eastern Orthodoxy in America, right after the Greek Orthodox. And unless American is a single ethnicity, it’s also become the most ethnically diverse Eastern Orthodox church…probably in the world.

Edit: I failed to mention that some Russian Orthodox outside Russia were involved in what eventually became OCA, and others were not- I think they are still known as ROCOR, or Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. Nine_Two explained it well; all I’m going to say is it’s complicated and slightly irregular, but ultimately not so much as to be a problem.

I don’t think the OCA is the only one without some sort of official government sanction. I’d be surprised if the Polish Orthodox, Czech and Slovak Orthodox, the Japanese Orthodox, Korean Orthodox, etc. had any.

A little more expansion :slight_smile: … The origin of Orthodoxy in American traces to 8 Orthodox missionaries’ arrival in Alaska in 1794. Russians occupied areas as far south as Fort Ross, a couple of hours up the coast from San Francisco. This year marks the 200th anniversary of the founding of Fort Ross.

Traditionally ROCOR celebrates DL at Fort Ross on Memorial Day and OCA on July 4th. The 200th Anniversary will include August 25 DL with both ROCOR and OCA, and Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk (MP), amongst others. It promises to be quite a day. :slight_smile:

There is a fair amount of “History & Archives” on the OCA website and on Wikipedia and Orthodoxwiki.

Nice post 5Loaves! I did a quick wikipedia search to see what the history of Russians are in British Columbia. Interestingly, while they frequented our beautiful province travelling from what is now Alaska down what is now the Pacific Northwest and onto California, they never established any colonies in BC.

I found that interesting studying the life of St. Innocent recently. He established himself in Alaska, travelled all over the place, and then went down to the San Francisco Bay Area, but skipped pretty much everything in between.

And by pretty much I mean completely.

I wonder why? Is it to avoid war with the First Nations after a bad experience in Alaska? There are not a lot of inhabitable places in the West Coast of BC, and the inhabitable places are already taken by the First Nations Tribes. Would have been interesting had they actually settled here. Could have changed the landscape, maybe we could have been more Christian?

Metr. Jonah mentioned something about the uniqueness of the OCA vis a vis secular government in a speech he gave ten days after becoming a bishop. I can’t remember exactly what he said, so that was my attempt at a paraphrase.

Edit- The exact quote- “We are the only non state Orthodox church. In other words, we are the only orthodox church that does not exist under the thumb of a state, whether friendly or hostile.” He could be wrong, I guess.

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