Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia

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Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia
Jurisdiction Russia
Diocese type Semi-autonomous
Founded 1922
Current bishop Nicholas (Olhovsky), First Hierarch
See(s) New York
Headquarters New York, New York
Territory United States, worldwide
Liturgical language(s) Church Slavonic, English, German
Musical tradition Russian Chant
Calendar Julian
Population estimate 480,000[1]
Official website ROCOR

The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (also called the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, ROCA, ROCOR, the Karlovsty Synod, or the Synod) is a semi-autonomous jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate originally formed in response against the policy of Bolsheviks with respect to religion in the Soviet Union soon after the Russian Revolution. The ROCOR exists overlapping with previously existing dioceses of the Moscow Patriarchate throughout the diaspora.


Formation and early years

In 1920, the Soviet government had revealed that it was quite hostile to the Russian Orthodox Church. Saint Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow, issued an ukaz (decree) that all Russian Orthodox Christians abroad currently under the authority and protection of his Patriarchate organize and govern themselves independently of the Mother Church, until such time that the Patriarchate would again be free.

Among most Russian bishops and other hierarchs, this was interpreted as an authorization to form an emergency synod of all Russian Orthodox hierarchs to permit the Church to continue to function outside Russia and provide spiritual care for nearly three million Russian emigres. To add urgency to the synod's motives, in May of 1922, the Soviet government proclaimed its own "Living Church" as a "reform" of the Russian Orthodox Church.

On September 13, 1922, Russian Orthodox hierarchs in Serbia gave their blessing to the establishment, in Serbia, of a Synod of Bishops of the Russian Church Abroad, the foundation of ROCOR. In November of 1922, Russian Orthodox in North America held a synod and elected Metropolitan Platon as the primate of an autonomous Russian exarchate in the Americas (also known as the Metropolia, which eventually became the Orthodox Church in America). Although the hierarchs of the Metropolia participated as full equals in the Synod Abroad, eventually a three-way conflict in the United States erupted between the patriarchal exarchate, ROCOR (sometimes known as "the Synod" in this period), and the Living Church, which asserted that it was the legitimate (i.e., Russian-government-recognized) owner of all Orthodox properties in the USA. (See: ROCOR and OCA)

The Church of the Refugees (1922-1991)

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In 1927, ROCOR declared "The part of the Russian Church that finds itself abroad considers itself an inseparable, spiritually united branch of the Great Russian Church. It does not separate itself from its Mother Church and does not consider itself autocephalous," indicating that ROCOR considered itself to speak for all of the Russian Orthodox outside of Russia. The Church Abroad also considered itself to be the free voice of the enslaved Mother Church in the Soviet Union.[2]

After the end of World War II, the Patriarchate of Moscow broached the possibility of reunification between Moscow and ROCOR, presumably at the behest of the Soviet government, which had adopted a more conciliatory attitude towards religion during the war and was presumably trying to capitalize on its wartime alliances to win a more respectable position internationally. This was not deemed possible at that time by ROCOR, given that Russia was still under communist dictatorship and the Church was still persecuted and controlled by the atheist authorities.

Holy Transfiguration Monastery and ROCOR

In the 1960s, ROCOR took under its care Holy Transfiguration Monastery (Brookline, Massachusetts) (today the principal monastery of HOCNA) after the latter had broken communion from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. At some point later, they gradually assumed responsibility for much of ROCOR's external communications and publications. (The monks of Holy Transfiguration were English-speaking and the ROCOR bishops in America mainly were not.)

It is believed by many that the allegedly sectarian spirit of ROCOR came into its flowering during this time and under the influence of this monastery, which frequently misrepresented the official policies and views of the Synod of Bishops. In the early 1980s the hierarchs of the Synod began to correct and censor the narrow-minded and incorrect views of the followers of Holy Transfiguration Monastery. Subsequently this group broke communion with ROCOR (regarding allegations of sexual abuse by the monastery's leadership), styling themselves the Holy Orthodox Church in North America (HOCNA). They became affiliated with the True Orthodox Church of Greece, a Greek Old Calendarist group which broke from the Church of Greece. According to Fr. Alexey Young (author of The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia: A History and Chronology), the association of ROCOR and Holy Transfiguration Monastery resulted in deep damage to ROCOR.[3]

After the Soviet fall

After the end of the Soviet Union, ROCOR maintained its independence from the Moscow Patriarchate on the grounds that the Church inside Russia had been unacceptably compromised. Some accusations went so far as to claim that the entire hierarchy within Russia were active KGB agents. ROCOR also attempted to set up missions in post-Soviet Russia.

This did not prevent all communication, however. For many years there had been unofficial and warm contacts between the two groups. In 2001, the Synod of the Patriarchate of Moscow and ROCOR exchanged formal correspondence. The Muscovite letter held the position that previous and current separation was over purely political matters. ROCOR's response expressed concern over continued Muscovite involvement in ecumenism, which was seen as compromising Moscow's Orthodoxy. Nevertheless, this was far more friendly discourse than had been seen previously.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia continued to establish itself in its homeland, although today, all of those parishes are either reconciled with the Moscow Patriarchate, or have gone into schism with one "Free Russian" group or another.

Views on the Moscow Patriarchate

After the declaration of Metropolitan Sergius of 1927, there were a range of opinions regarding the Moscow Patriarchate within ROCOR. A distinction must be made between the various opinions of bishops, clergy, and laity within ROCOR, and official statements from the Synod of Bishops. There was a general consensus in ROCOR that the Soviet government was manipulating the Moscow Patriarchate to one extent or another, and that under such circumstances administrative ties were impossible. There were also official statements made that the elections of the patriarchs of Moscow which occurred after 1927 were invalid because they were not conducted freely (without the interference of the Soviets) or with the participation of the entire Russian Church.[4] However, these statements only declared that ROCOR did not recognize the Patriarchs of Moscow who were elected after 1927 as being the legitimate primates of the Russian Church -- they did not declare that the Bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate were illegitimate bishops, or without grace. There were, however, under the umbrella of this general consensus, various opinions about the Moscow Patriarchate, ranging for those who held the extreme view that the Moscow Patriarchate had apostatized from the Church (those in the orbit of Holy Transfiguration Monastery being the most vocal advocates of this position), to those who considered them to be innocent sufferers at the hands of the Soviets, and all points in between. Advocates of the more extreme view of the Moscow Patriarchate became increasingly strident in the 1970's, at a time when ROCOR was increasingly isolating itself from much of the rest of the Orthodox Church due to concerns over the direction of Orthodox involvement in the Ecumenical Movement. Prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, there wasn't a burning need to settle the question of what should be made of the status of the Moscow Patriarchate, although beginning in the mid 1980's (as the period of Glaznost began in the Soviet Union, which culminated in the ultimate collapse of the Soviet government in 1991), these questions resulted in a number of schisms, and increasingly occupied the attention of those in ROCOR.

There are certain basic facts about the official position of ROCOR that should be understood. Historically, ROCOR has always affirmed that it was an inseparable part of the Russian Church, and that it's autonomous status was only temporary, based upon Ukaz 362, until such time as the domination of the Soviet government over the affairs of the Church should cease:

"The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia is an indissoluble part of the Russian Orthodox Church, and for the time until the extermination in Russia of the atheist government, is self-governing on conciliar principles in accordance with the resolution of the Patriarch, the Most Holy Synod, and the Highest Church Council [Sobor] of the Russian Church dated 7/20 November, 1920, No. 362."[5]

Similarly, Metropolitan Anastasy wrote in his Last Will and Testament:

"As regards the Moscow Patriarchate and its hierarchs, then, so long as they continue in close, active and benevolent cooperation with the Soviet Government, which openly professes its complete godlessness and strives to implant atheism in the entire Russian nation, then the Church Abroad, maintaining Her purity, must not have any canonical, liturgical or even simply external communion with them whatsoever, leaving each one of them at the same time to the final judgment of the Council (Sobor) of the future free Russian Church."[6]

ROCOR viewed the Russian Church as consisting of three parts during the Soviet period: 1. The Moscow Patriarchate, 2. the Catacomb Church, and 3. The Free Russian Church (ROCOR). The Catacomb Church had been a significant part of the Russian Church prior to World War II. Most of those in ROCOR had left Russia during or well before World War II. They were unaware of the changes that had occurred immediately after World War II—most significantly that with the election of Patriarch Alexei I, most of the Catacomb Church was reconciled with the Moscow Patriarchate. By the 1970s, due to this reconciliation, as well as to continued persecution by the Soviets, there was very little left of the Catacomb Church. Alexander Solzhenitsyn made this point in a letter to the 1974 All-Diaspora Sobor of ROCOR, in which he stated that ROCOR should not "show solidarity with a mysterious, sinless, but also bodiless catacomb."[7] The fact that the catacomb Church had essentially ceased to exist was de facto recognized when, as Communism was about to finally collapse in Russia, ROCOR began to establish "Free Russian" parishes in Russia, and to consecrate bishops to oversee such parishes, and never recognized any alleged Catacomb bishop as having a legitimate episcopacy.

Finally, the collapse of Communism in the Soviet Union precipitated a crisis in ROCOR, because the very reason that had initially resulted in its separation from the Moscow Patriarchate had been removed, and so the basis of the consensus that had previously united ROCOR began to unravel. There were those who did not believe that the Moscow Patriarchate was yet free from the control of the KGB, and that in any case they had not sufficiently renounced the policies of Metropolitan Sergius. There were also those who believed that regardless of the political situation in Russia, that the question of Ecumenism had become sufficient grounds for continued separation. But after the August 2000 All-Russian Sobor of the Moscow Patriarchate, in which the MP officially condemned the Branch Theory of Ecumenism, and also renounced in principle, if not in name, the policies of Metropolitan Sergius, the question of reconciliation with the Moscow Patriarchate become an unavoidable question that had to be resolved, one way or another.[8]

Rapprochement with Moscow

The signing of the Act of Canonical Communion by Patr. Alexey II and Metr. Laurus

After the election of Metropolitan Laurus as First Hierarch of ROCOR in 2001, a steady process of rapprochement occurred between ROCOR and the Moscow Patriarchate. Multiple official visits were been exchanged between hierarchs and other clergy of both churches, and the date for restoration of full communion was officially announced by both sides.

In October 2001 Patriarch Alexei II and the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate sent a letter to the Bishops' Council of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia calling for reconciliation, but without immediate success. However, there was mutual recognition of grace in the sacraments of each church. Then, in November 2003, a delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia consisting of three bishops and two priests paid an official visit to the Moscow Patriarchate. This signaled a warming in relations, and in May 2004 for the first time since the foundation of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, the First Hierarch of ROCOR, Metropolitan Laurus, visited Moscow and met with Patriarch Alexei. The two church leaders established a joint committee to examine ways to overcome the division between their churches. This committee met successfully on several occasions, working out the details of intercommunion between the two Church bodies.

This possibility of rapprochement led to a small schism from ROCOR, taking the self-retired Metropolitan Vitaly (Metropolitan Laurus's predecessor) with it (regarded by many in ROCOR as having been abducted by the schismatics). The resultant body refers to itself as the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile (ROCE/ROCiE), though it often still uses the ROCOR name. A few other communities have also broken off from ROCOR, some joining with Greek Old Calendarist groups.

On June 21, 2005, it was announced simultaneously by both the ROCOR and the MP on their respective websites that rapprochement talks were leading toward the resumption of full relations between the ROCOR and the MP and that the ROCOR would be given the status of autonomy.[9]

In May 2006, the ROCOR met in its IV All-Diaspora Council, which was held at Most Holy Theotokos Joy of All Who Sorrow Cathedral in San Francisco, California. The council consisted of clergy and lay delegates from all dioceses of the ROCOR, and adopted a resolution, expressing "great hope that in the appropriate time, the unity of the Russian Church will be restored upon the foundation of the Truth of Christ, opening for us the possibility to serve together and to commune from one Chalice."[10]

Following the IV All-Diaspora Council, the Council of Bishops of the ROCOR was held. According to sources close to the council, it generally agreed with the text of the proposed "Act of Canonical Unity," but remitted it back to the Committee for Dialogue with the Moscow Patriarchate to rework certain aspects of the document.citation needed The exact nature of the elements to be worked out is unclear, but, according to sources close to the Synod of Bishops, it involved, among other things, property issues in the Holy Land.citation needed

On September 6, 2006, the Synod of Bishops of ROCOR decreed their confirmation and approval of the revised Act of Canonical Unity and instructed the Commission on Discussion with the Moscow Patriarchate to work jointly with the Moscow Patriarchate to work out details of the official signing of the Act.[11] Subsequently on September 11, 2006, the Synod of Bishops of ROCOR published on ROCOR's website a clarification of their decision to confirm and approve the Act.[12] Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia acknowledged the work of the commissions and declared that the act of reunification, while moving in the right direction, will take time.[13]

Both the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia published on their respective websites the final full text of the Act of Canonical Unity [14] with all relevant supporting documents [15] on November 1, 2006. The Act having been approved by both the Moscow Patriarchate and ROCOR, was formally signed in Moscow on May 17, 2007, followed by a concelebration of the Divine Liturgy, bringing the ROCOR into the Moscow Patriarchate.


ROCOR currently has 349 parishes and 21 monasteries for men and women in 32 countries throughout the world, served by 462 clergy. The distribution of parishes is as follows: 152 parishes and 8 monasteries in the United States; 42 parishes in Germany; 31 parishes and 4 monasteries in Australia; 21 parishes and 3 monasteries in Canada; 22 parishes in Indonesia; and a handful of institutions in France, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, South America, and New Zealand.[16]

There are twelve ROCOR monasteries for men and women in North America, the most important and largest of which is Holy Trinity Monastery (Jordanville, New York), to which is attached ROCOR's seminary, Holy Trinity Orthodox Seminary.

In concert with the Church of Jerusalem, ROCOR also oversees the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem, which acts as caretaker to three holy sites in Palestine, all of which are monasteries.

Ecclesiastical status before 2007

Until the reconciliation with Moscow in 2007, the ROCOR was in relative Eucharistic isolation from much of the Orthodox world, not always exchanging full communion with the majority of Orthodox jurisdictions. It maintained good relations, intercommunion, and concelebration with the Church of Serbia, the Church of Jerusalem, and the Church of Sinai.

Before the reconciliation, ROCOR's status with regard to full communion was not entirely clear-cut. There was never a formal declaration of a break in communion made between ROCOR and most other Orthodox churches, though in many dioceses concelebration had been suspended. In others, concelebration was active. A formal declaration of breaking communion with the OCA was issued by the ROCOR Synod after the Moscow Patriarchate issued the Tomos of Autocephaly to the OCA. (See: ROCOR and OCA.) Generally Orthodox Christians from all local Orthodox churches were welcome to the chalice in ROCOR churches. There was never a declaration from the ROCOR synod that grace did not exist in the New Calendar jurisdictions, in spite of statements to the contrary by the followers of Holy Transfiguation Monastery in Boston when they were still with the Synod.

ROCOR formerly maintained communion with a few Old Calendarist jurisdictions, including the Holy Synod in Resistance (True Orthodox Church of Greece, so-called "Cyprianites"), the Old Calendar Orthodox Church of Romania (Synod of Metropolitan Vlasie), and the Old Calendar Orthodox Church of Bulgaria (Bishop Photii). In 2006, communion with the Holy Synod in Resistance was suspended, after the ROCOR Synod received a letter from Metropolitan Cyprian of Oropos and Fili stating that Metropolitan Laurus' name had been "struck from the diptych."[17] Relations with the Synod of Metropolitan Vlasie and with Bishop Photii of Triaditza were subsequently severed as well.

As of 2007, with the reconciliation with Moscow, the ROCOR is now in communion with all of mainstream Orthodoxy by virtue of its incorporation into the Moscow Patriarchate.

The Episcopacy

See List of bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia

The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia currently has thirteen bishops serving nine dioceses throughout the world, along with one retired bishop.

Ruling bishops

Vicar bishops

  • Bishop Theodosius (Ivashchenko) of Seattle of Seattle, Vicar of the Diocese of Western America
  • Bishop George (Schaefer) of Canberra of Canberra, Vicar of the Diocese of Australia and New Zealand
  • Bishop Nicholas (Olhovsky) of Manhattan of Manhattan, Vicar of the Diocese of Eastern America
  • Bishop Alexander of Vevey, Vicar of the Diocese of Western Europe
  • Bishop Luke of Syracuse, Vicar of the Diocese of Eastern America
  • Bishop James of Sonora, Vicar of the Diocese of Western America

Retired bishops

First Hierarchs

See also


  1. Cleveland Plain Dealer: Metropolitan Laurus, helped reunify Russian Orthodox Church, Thursday, March 20, 2008
  2. For more on how ROCOR viewed its relationship to the Mother Church, see Is the Moscow Patriarchate the "Mother Church" of the ROCOR? by Protopresbyter Alexander Lebedeff, December 28, 2007
  3. For more on the history of this schism, see Articles for those who wish to know the Truth about the Panteleimonite Schism and the so called "Holy Orthodox Church in North America", December 28, 2007
  4. See, for example, Resolution of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia Concerning the Election of Pimen (Isvekov) as Patriarch of Moscow, September 1/14) 1971, December 27th, 2007
  5. Regulations Of The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, Confirmed by the Council of Bishops in 1956 and by a decision of the Council dated 5/18 June, 1964, first paragraph, December 28, 2007
  6. The last will and testament of Metropolitan Anastassy, 1957, December 28, 2007
  7. The Catacomb Tikhonite Church 1974, The Orthodox Word, Nov.-Dec., 1974 (59), 235-246, December 28, 2007.
  8. Status Quo, ROCOR?, December 28, 2007.
  9. Documents Developed at the Joint Sessions of the Commission of the Moscow Patriarchate on Discussions with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and the Commission of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia on Discussions with the Moscow Patriarchate.
  10. Resolution of the IV All-Diaspora Council of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia
  11. The Synod of Bishops Makes a Decision on the "Act on Canonical Communion"
  12. Clarifications on the Negotiation Process and the "Act on Canonical Communion"
  13. Unification of Orthodox Church with its branch abroad will not be fast - Alexy II
  14. Act of Canonical Union
  15. Addendum to the Act of Canonical Communion, Summation of the Joint Work of the Commissions of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and the Moscow Patriarchate
  16. Source: Official ROCOR parish directory
  17. A Regular Session of the Synod of Bishops is Held

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