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The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (also called the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, ROCA, ROCOR, or the Synod) is a jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church formed in response against the policy of Bolsheviks with respect to religion in the Soviet Union soon after the Russian Revolution.


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 ukase (decree) that all Orthodox Christians abroad currently under the authority and protection of his Patriarchate seek protection and guidance elsewhere.

Among some 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. 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 established 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. This led to a three-way conflict in the United States among the 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.

The Church of the Refugees (1922-1991)

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.

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.

Holy Transfiguration Monastery and ROCOR

In the late 1970s, 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 following sexual abuse scandals regarding the monastery's leadership. At some point later, the members of this monastery were given responsibility for much of ROCOR's external communications and publication.

It is believed by many that the alleged sectarian spirit of ROCOR came into its flowering during this time and under the influence of this monastery, which has subsequently broken communion with ROCOR (again regarding allegations of sexual abuse by the monastery's leadership), styled itself the Holy Orthodox Church in North America, and 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.

After the Soviet Fall

Since the end of the Soviet Union, ROCOR has strived to maintain its independence from the Russian Orthodox Church. One ground cited is that the Church inside Russia had permitted itself to be unacceptably compromised. Some accusations go so far as to claim that the entire hierarchy within Russia were active KGB agents. ROCOR has attempted to set up missions in post-Soviet Russia, which has not improved relations.

This has not prevented all communication. 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 were purely political matters. ROCOR's response is that they were worried about continued Muscovite involvement in ecumenism as compromising Moscow's Orthodoxy. Nevertheless, this has been far more friendly a discourse than previous decades have seen.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia began to establish itself in its homeland. It now has about 100 worshiping communities in Russia and the other countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Currently four bishops oversee these parishes. Two of them broke with Metropolitan Vitaly in New York in April 1994, founded their own temporary administration called the Free Orthodox Church of Russia, and ordained three additional bishops. They were reconciled in November 1994, and the ordination of the three new bishops was declared invalid, but some tensions remain.

Rapprochement with Moscow

Since the election of Metropolitan Laurus as First Hierarch of ROCOR in 2001, a steady process of rapprochement has been occurring between ROCOR and the Church of Russia. Multiple visits have been exchanged between hierarchs and other clergy of both churches, and it is generally believed that the restoration of full communion is imminent.

In October 2001 Patriarch Alexei and the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church sent a letter to the Bishops' Council of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia calling for reconciliation, but without success. However, 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 Metropolitan Laurus himself 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 possibility of rapprochement has led to 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), though it often still uses the ROCOR title.


ROCOR currently has over 400 parishes and monasteries in 40 countries throughout the world, served by nearly 600 priests. In North America, it has approximately 133 parishes in the US and 22 in Canada. There are five ROCOR communities in the United Kingdom and 21 in Australia and New Zealand. There are also roughly 100 communities in Russia and the other nations of the former Soviet Union which owe allegiance to ROCOR.

There are also several ROCOR monasteries in North America, the most important of which is Holy Trinity Monastery (Jordanville, New York), attached to which is ROCOR's seminary, Holy Trinity Orthodox Seminary.

Ecclesiastic Status

ROCOR is currently still in ambiguously relative Eucharistic isolation from much of the Orthodox world, not exchanging full communion with the majority of Orthodox jurisdictions. It maintains good relations with the Church of Serbia and the Church of Jerusalem.

ROCOR's status with regard to full communion is not entirely clear-cut. There was never a formal declaration of a break in communion made between ROCOR and other Orthodox churches, though concelebration has been suspended.

The Episcopacy

The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia currently has 14 bishops serving 10 dioceses throughout the world.

Ruling Bishops:

  • Metropolitan Laurus (Skurla) of New York, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, Ruling Bishop of the Syracuse-Holy Trinity Diocese, Locum Tenens of the Eastern part of the Diocese of Montreal and Canada
  • Archbishop Alypy (Gamanovich) of Chicago and Detroit
  • Archbishop Mark (Arndt) of Berlin, Germany and Great Britain
  • Archbishop Hilarion (Kapral) of Sydney, Australia and New Zealand
  • Bishop Kyrill (Yonchev) of San Francisco and Western America, Locum Tenens of the Western part of the Diocese of Montreal and Canada
  • Bishop [[Ambroise (Cantacuz