Responses to OCA autocephaly

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The Byzantine response to the autocephaly of the OCA consisted primarily in a number of letters and statements made in the early 1970s by the ancient autocephalous patriarchates of the Orthodox Church—the Churches of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem—along with the Church of Greece. Like most autocephalous Orthodox churches worldwide, the Byzantine churches rejected the grant of autocephaly by the Church of Russia to the American Metropolia (the former name of the OCA), and with the leadership of Patriarch Athenagoras I (Spyrou) of Constantinople, issued various responses detailing canonical, historical and practical arguments against the grant.

The primary documents detailing these churches' response were published initially in the Orthodox Observer, the official publication of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, and published in 1972 in book form as Russian Autocephaly and Orthodoxy in America: An Appraisal with Decisions and Formal Opinions. The book also includes an introductory essay by Archbishop Iakovos (Coucouzis) of America, a Prolegomena Fr. Nicon D. Patrinacos, and an appendix by Metropolitan Emilianos, permanent representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate at the World Council of Churches.

Arguments in favor of OCA autocephaly

The Russian-American arguments (also based on canonical, historical and practical grounds) being refuted by the Byzantine Orthodox world may essentially be summed up as follows:

  • Each autocephalous church has the right to grant autocephaly to its ecclesiastical daughter communities.
  • The grant of autocephaly served to regularize relations between the Church of Russia and the Metropolia and gave the latter much-needed self-governance.
  • The Church of Russia had sole canonical jurisdiction in North America prior to 1970 because:
    • Russians were the first Orthodox Christians in America.
    • It was the first to establish a diocese in America.
  • Recognition of autocephaly normally takes time but eventually always comes.
  • The OCA's autocephaly promotes Orthodox unity in America.

Arguments against OCA autocephaly

In the summary of refutations that follows, the following coding will be used to indicate the source of the argument or quotation, followed by the page number in the book: I=Abp, Iakovos (Coucouzis) of America, P=Fr. Nicon D. Patrinacos, C=Patr. Athenagoras I (Spyrou) of Constantinople, Al=Pope Nikolaos of Alexandria, An=Patr. Elias IV of Antioch, J=Patr. Benedictos of Jerusalem, G=Abp. Ieronoymos of Athens and All Greece, E=Metr. Emilianos. In many cases, an argument is made by multiple writers. If a quotation is included, it belongs to the first source listed.

Canonical arguments

  • Decisions regarding autocephaly belong to "a Synod representing more generally the entirety of the local Autocephalous Orthodox Churches, and especially to an Ecumenical Synod" (C, I, P, p. 38).
  • "Specific canons exactly characterizing autocephaly are not to be found in ecclesiastical legislation" (C, p. 36).
  • The Moscow Patriarchate kept dozens of parishes on North American soil even after the proclamation, thus not truly recognizing the OCA's territorial claim (P).

Historical arguments

  • Autocephaly normally proceeds along secular boundaries only because Orthodoxy has been the established Church in those nations (I).
  • Autocephaly has been proclaimed multiple times, but always failed without the assent of the whole Church (C)

Practical arguments

  • The Metropolia was already self-governing and had been for decades (P).
  • The grant creates an overthrow and upheaval of ecclesiastical order (P, C, p. 31).
  • Obsessive focus on jurisdictional issues obscures the true work of the Church, especially regarding its youth (I, P).
  • Russian Orthodoxy remains disunified on American soil, remaining under three jurisdictions; the OCA's autocephaly failed to produce unity even for the Russians (P).


  • Russian Autocephaly and Orthodoxy in America: An Appraisal with Decisions and Formal Opinions. New York: The Orthodox Observer Press, 1972.