Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia

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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 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.

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.

This possibility of rapprochement has however led to schism from ROCOR. The resultant body refers to itself as the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile (ROCE), though it often still uses the ROCOR title.

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 certain other Orthodox churches, though concelebration has been suspended.

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