Orthodox Church in America

* One diocese in Canada

The Orthodox Church in America traces its roots to the arrival in Alaska in 1794 of missionaries from the monastery of Valamo in Karelia (in the Russian empire). Among these was St Herman, who was also the first saint to be canonized by the American Church (in 1970). In 1840 a bishop's seat was established at Sitka, Alaska. In 1867 Russia sold Alaska to the United States. The first parish church beyond Alaska was established in San Francisco in 1868. The diocesan seat was moved to San Francisco, and from there to New York in 1903. The diocese of the Aleutians and Alaska, which had been formed in 1870, became the diocese of the Aleutians and North America. By the turn of the century there were a large number of Orthodox Christians in the northeast of the United States, many of whom had previously been Eastern Catholics. Many of the texts for public worship were translated into English, and in 1905-06 the American archbishop projected the goal of self-government for the now multi-ethnic church in America.

The Russian Revolution of 1917 had a deeply unsettling effect on the Orthodox Church in America, which was still formally a diocese of the Russian church. In the ensuing confusion seminaries were closed and the stability and unity of the diocese were severely undermined. In 1921, for the first time, different ethnic Orthodox ecclesiastical jurisdictions appeared within the same geographical area. In the 1930s, with the Moscow Patriarchate under severe persecution by the communist regime, political "loyalty" to the USSR was seen as a condition for the restoration of church relations with what was now known as the American Metropolia. This was a condition that could not be accepted in America, and relations remained strained. During the 1940s the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia arrived in America. While the metropolitan see tolerated its presence, and in many cases fostered close relations with it, it did not unite with it, stressing rather its own identity as a multi-ethnic American church. The struggle over the identity and the status of the American metropolia was resolved in 1970. The Russian Orthodox Church granted complete self-government to the metropolia whereby it became an autocephalous, or fully independent, local Orthodox church. Its jurisdiction extends over the whole of America and Canada, and in 1972 an exarchate was established in Mexico.

The holy synod, a conference of bishops to which all diocesan hierarchs belong and which is presided over by the archbishop of Washington, meets twice a year, in spring and autumn. When necessary a special session can be convened. A church-wide assembly of bishops and clergy and lay delegates, "The All-American Council," is convened every three years. Clergy and lay leaders are educated in St Vladimir's Seminary near New York, at St Tikhon's Seminary in Pennsylvania and in St Herman's Seminary, in Alaska. Founded in 1905, St Tikhon's Monastery, South Canaan, PA is the oldest Orthodox monastic community in North America; the Orthodox Church in America also maintains some 20 other monastic communities for men and women.

The Orthodox Church in America, as an expression of its commitment to Orthodox unity in North America, is a member of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA), which brings together eight "jurisdictions" for coordination and cooperation. Under the aegis of the SCOBA, several agencies and commissions work "as if" Orthodoxy in America is fully united in mission and administration. Among these are International Orthodox Christian Charities, the Orthodox Christian Mission Center, the Orthodox Christian Education Commission, and the Orthodox Christian Fellowship (a ministry to college students).

Clergy and lay leaders are educated in St Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, Crestwood, NY, at St. Tikhon's Orthodox Theological Seminary, South Canaan, PA, and in St Herman's Seminary, Kodiak, Alaska. The Orthodox Church in America also maintains some 20 other monastic communities for men and women.