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American Autocephaly

Author: Alex. Nemoianu
December 18, 2009
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About the American Autocephaly- an historical perspective

In Orthodoxy, Autocephaly is the status of a Church whose Senior Bishop does not report to any higher-level Bishop.  The original Orthodox Churches of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem were followed by those of Cyprus and Georgia, and for the most part, Orthodoxy stayed this way until the second millennium.  Newer autocephalous Churches then started being formed, and they all recognized a basic Orthodox tenet, that these Churches have to be local, an expression of the fact that the Church is the Body of Christ, the totality of the faithful.

It was also a recognition that the Body of Christ is not a “theocracy”, that some people muse about, but the totality of the clerics and faithful, “the people of God”, the guarantors of Faith, united by the bond of love; a bond that is contrary to any form of “theocracy”. (In fact the dictionaries define “theocracy” as being a “form of government in which authority is exercised by clergy”. Such “theocracies” are Iran and the state of Vatican and, in the past, Tibet.  The Body of Christ is anything but “a form of government” and in the Church, authority was never exercised by the clergy alone, but by the clergy and faithful - the entire people of God.)

The first such “newer” church body was the Bulgarian Patriarchate whose autocephaly was recognized by the See of Constantinople in the Xth century. This opened the historical process of establishing local, autocephalous bodies all over the world: in Russia, in Romania, in Serbia, in Poland, in the Czech lands and finally in the New World.

It is a historical fact that the movements for autocephaly, be they in Russia, Romania, Balkans or wherever, were always bitterly and fiercely opposed by the See of Constantinople, and the canonical jurisdictions under its control.  Up to a point, that reactionary attitude has an explanation. These reasons were and are essentially political and personal. The See of Constantinople, who still claims to be a sort of Orthodox “Vatican”(?!), cannot accept the fact that it was reduced to a tiny Greek enclave in Turkey. It is a distorted self image and an almost pitiful attempt to act as the descendant of the Byzantine Empire; an Empire which ceased to exist more than five hundred years ago. At the same time we witness a typical case of “anachronism”, the projection in the past of a contemporary concept and ideology, i.e Greek nationalism. The case of Romania is used to illustrate and prove the aforementioned.

The Romanian Synod proclaimed the autocephaly of the Romanian Orthodox Church in 1872. Only in 1885 did the See of Constantinople recognize this autocephaly, but the Romanian Patriarchate was recognized only in 1925.  It is far from being an ancient body.  Even so, in order to continue to play a role in the fantasy game of Constantinople, the Primate of the Romanian Church, to this day, has to carry the title of “locum tenens of the Archbishop of Caesarea in Capadocia”. That title is pretty much the equivalent of being called “locum tenens of the President of Atlantis”.

In such a context the effort to create an autocephalous canonical body in the New World is huge but necessary. In wisdom and in a responsible manner in 1970, the autocephalous Orthodox Church of America came into existence.  In the same year the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America, “Vatra”, irreversibly joined this autocephalous body.  The Orthodox Church of America, that is its autocephaly, was and is recognized by the Orthodox Churches of: Russia, Georgia, Bulgaria, Poland and the Czech Lands and Slovakia.  This autocephaly is not recognized, but nor is it opposed, by the Churches of: Antioch, Serbia, Romania and Albania. The autocephaly is opposed by the See of Constantinople and by the Greek jurisdictions of Greece, Cyprus and Jerusalem.  As such, the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of America is recognized by approximately 80% of the Orthodox faithful in the world, and recognized or not opposed by approximately 90% of them. If this is not an overwhelming majority, what is?

In this context it is obvious that the movement toward autocephaly in North America was natural and historic. What happened a few centuries ago in the Old World was happening in 1970 in the New World.  The arguments used against the autocephalous movements in the past are also used today, almost verbatim, in a rather sad and unconvincing form of ecclesiological mannerism. It  is embarrassing that those “arguments”, used against autocephaly in the New World,  are exclusively ethnocentric and based on phyletism.  Those “arguments” were unable to stop the movements for autocephaly in the Old World and they will be unable to stop the same movement here, in the New World.

Alexandru Nemoianu

9 Comments to “American Autocephaly”


  1. Administrator Says:

    Will the OCA become the Patriarchate that includes all Orthodox from across North America, recognized as autocephalous by all Orthodox Churches worldwide, or will it be just a part of that new North American Church, depends on many more pan-orthodox meetings. What is certain is that when there will be such a Church in North America, the OCA will be at the centre, as the only Orthodox grouping here created for that purpose.

    Se va vedea daca OCA va deveni acea Patriarhie care cuprinde pe toti ortodocsii din America de Nord, recunoscuta ca autocefala de catre toate Bisericile ortodocse din lume, sau daca OCA va deveni numai o parte din acea Biserica, depinde de mai multe sedinte pan-ortodocse. Un lucru este clar: cand va fi o astfel de Biserica in America de Nord, OCA va fi la mijloc ca singurul grup ortodocsi aici creat pentru acest scop.


  2. (Mr.)Carmen D. Valentino Says:

    I hope that all Romanian-American Orthodox clergymen from both jurisdictions, ROEA and ROAA - archbishops, bishops, priests and monks will read carefully and study these words which precisely explain the natural purpose and future autocephalous development of the Orthodox Church in America.

    Romanian-Americans either newly arrived or of older immigrant stock, as well as numerous converts, are American citizens here to stay and not some imagined ethnocentric diaspora in need of supervision by a power hungry prelate and his sycophants who are a part of a neo-communistic state.

    (Mr.) Carmen D. Valentino
    Descent of the Holy Spirit Romanian Orthodox Church, Greater Philadelphia (1913), Societatea Banatiana-V.Alecsandri (1906)


  3. Stavros Says:

    Why is the 2010 Episcopate Congress being held at St. Mary’s (Cleveland) instead of the Vatra and at the end of September instead of the end of June?


  4. Administrator Says:

    Stavros, the Archbishop and the Episcopate Administration will have to answer your question.


  5. Anonymous Says:

    But of course you know, right? Mr. Administrator. Was anyone asked for the date and place of the congress to be suddenly changed? You talk about BOR, that ‘we don’t want them to do whatever they want with us (ROEA), for us to be under their wing;’ but it seems ‘somebody’ is already doing anything he/she darn well pleases. But you don’t object to that right? Unde e corectitudinea? (Where is the correctness?)


  6. Admininsrator Says:

    In our Episcopate, the Archbishop and the Episcopate Administration are responsible for calling the Episcopate Congress and announcing the upcoming session. They must have their reasons for the date and place change. Why don’t YOU ask them and let us know what you were told? Please do not insinuate that we know the reasons– WE DO NOT.


  7. Anonymous Says:

    Mr Administrator, the Archbishop was asked this very question (about the congress change) at the last Episcopate Council meeting when he announced the change. His answer was “because I’m the bishop and I can do it.” If that’s the best answer he’ll give to the Episcopate Council, what more do you think he’ll give any of us? Many people are very upset by this. Why do we fight for Vatra if we now just toss it aside? Maybe as “Guardians of the Vatra” this website and those associated with it need to stand up and protest. I don’t see any articles about this serious situation yet. Why not? Let’s truly fight for our Vatra. What good is fighting over theological theories, when we won’t even fight FOR keeping our Vatra traditions????


  8. Admininsrator Says:

    You do have “interesting” sources. It seems that the Archbishop only announced the Congress change at the Episcopate Council meeting and little discussion took place on the topic at the meeting, other than the suggestion that the Archbishop announce the change as soon as possible, so that delegates could realign their vacation days accordingly.


  9. Anonymous 2 Says:

    Or, he set it [Episcopate Congress] up only in October [in Cleveland] because he knew many priests will have weddings to officiate and many delagates will not be able to attend because they will not have off [work] like they would have had on labor day weekend. Personal agenda? Of course. This is especially obvious since he doesn’t seem to give any real reason for the change.


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