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Priest Igor Chitikoff

North America as the Canonical Territory of the Russian Church

Paragraph 1 of the “Regulations of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia” of 1956 states that our church exists temporarily on conciliar principles until the extermination in Russia of the atheist government, in accordance with the resolution of the Holy Patriarch, the Holy Synod and the Supreme Church Council of the Russian Church dated 7/20 November 1920, No. 362.

The persecutions of the Orthodox Church in Russia have ended, and so we, on the basis of the existence of the Church Abroad, must return to our historic homeland. A whole generation of Russian őmigrős has dreamed of the cessation of persecutions and of their return to Russia, preserving their Orthodox faith, traditions, language and culture. Over eighty years have passed, and we see that Russian people are not hurrying to Russia, but on the contrary, the flow of őmigrős from Russia to the West has increased. Our church leaders likewise are in no hurry to change their residences. On the other hand, Ukase No. 362 is only a necessary prerequisite of the existence of our Church. The blessing of the Local Churches of the territories where the Russian refugees found themselves is sufficient. We had such a blessing from the Ecumenical Patriarch on the territory of Turkey (decree No. 9044 of December 2, 1920), and from the Serbian Patriarch Dimitri in 1921. So the existing crisis of ROCOR is created by the contradiction between its de facto existence and these documents. It would seem that in order to resolve this contradiction, it is possible to enter into contact with the Moscow Patriarchate on the matter of discussing questions that divide us (Sergianism and ecumenism), and with their positive resolution, to establish Eucharistic communion with the MP, and receive their recognition of broad autonomy. This is the idea of Archbishop Mark. The idea is correct and logically sound--only if we ignore a single “however.”

Most of the parishes of the ROCOR are in North America (the Dioceses of Eastern America, Western America, Chicago and Canada). Here also is the administrative center of the entire Church Abroad. North America has always in the past been considered the canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church. Before 1921, the Russia Church, under its hierarchs, united all the Orthodox of America regardless of their nationality, which was recognized as valid by all the Local Churches. This changed in 1921, when the Ecumenical Patriarchate established the Greek Archdiocese in America without the knowledge and consent of the Russian Church. In 1970, the Moscow Patriarchate granted autocephaly to the Metropoliate in North America. The Orthodox Church in America was established. Incidentally, it is still not recognized by the senior Local Churches. It is important for us that the MP concede North America as its canonical territory, and, in accordance with its own document, the Tomos of 1970, that it does not create administrative church structures on the territory of the USA in the future.

Consequently, the existence of the ROCOR with wide autonomy within the jurisdiction of the MP on the territory of the USA is absolutely impossible, because this contradicts the Tomos of 1970 and will be viewed by the Orthodox world as the interference of one Local Church in the matters of another. Let us note that in Europe there is no such problem, and our dioceses there can freely hold negotiations with the MP on the topic of the creation of metropoliate districts proposed by the hierarchy of the Moscow Patriarchate.

On the other hand, we cannot join the so-called “Orthodox Church in America,” for this dubious jurisdiction, which calls itself an autocephalous church, does not unite the majority of Orthodox in America, and, as was already stated, it is not recognized by the majority of Local Churches. Let us add that it does not consider itself to be the Russian Church.

What are we to do? The answer to this question is found in the proposals made in 1970 by the heads of the senior Orthodox Churches. Only autocephalous churches, after consultation, may decide the question of Russians in the diaspora and declare an Autocephalous Church in America. Until then, when this matter is resolved, our dioceses in North America must form an independent Russian Orthodox Church in America.

In conclusion, I see the Local Church in America as a local autocephalous church comprised of national autonomies (metropoliates and/or archbishoprics): Russian, Greek, Arab, Ukrainian, Serbian, Rumanian, American… This church will be one of the most influential Orthodox churches in the world, uniting all Orthodox Christians living in America.

Priest Igor Chitikoff