Theological Insights from a Modern Perspective

This part will not be done in chronological order, it would be far too confusing with everything happening on two (or three) continents and over hundreds of years, the only way to handle this is by using a time machine to pop from one time to another and back, and from one place to another. So, come aboard with me, my favorite time traveler, and his TARDIS.

After the fall of Byzantium to the Turks the Ecumenical Patriarch was cut off, for all intents and purposes, from the rest of the Orthodox Church. As I said in the prior post the Turkish overloads were mostly benevolent, at least in comparison to other times when one group displaced another: the Church of England and Catholicism; America (Canada, U.S., and Mexico) and Native Americans; and the Spanish Conquistadors and the Incas, as examples. This is not to say they were wonderful overlords, take the sacking and desecration of Hagia Sophia as an example (similar to if Germany in WWII had taken over St. Peter’s Basilica and transformed it into their headquarters). This alienation of the Ecumenical Patriarch led to disarray among the other Orthodox Churches, especially with regards to the future missionary expansion into North America.

At this point Russia steps in as the only free Orthodox Church and expresses its desire to be the new Ecumenical See of the Orthodox Church, this, of course, did not happen and the Ecumenical See remained in Constantinople (modern Istanbul). Russia also began its expansion across all of Russia, into Siberia then, ultimately, into North America in 1741 with the first missionary church being established in Kodiak, Alaska, in 1794. Expansion continued with churches in Sitka in 1799 and the first Orthodox Church being established in the United States in either 1857 or 1862 in San Francisco, soon after the first Orthodox Church in Canada was established in 1897 in Wostok, Alberta.

The Greek Orthodox Church established its first church in New Orleans in 1864. Other Orthodox churches followed establishing Ukrainian, Serbian, and a host of other ethnic Orthodox Churches all across the New World. This is unique among the Orthodox Church, prior to this the first church to establish a mission in a country would claim it as its territory, following this North American (Canada and the US) would belong to the Russian Orthodox Church, but the isolation of the Ecumenical Patriarch prevented this from occurring, so we have a mishmash of Orthodoxy on this continent.

Confused? Just hang in there, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Along with the assortment of Orthodox churches in America the creation of the Soviet Union made things even more confusing. America now had two Russian Orthodox churches – the OCA (Orthodox Church in America) and ROCOR (Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia), both exist to this date and differ, primarily, on their association with the Russian Orthodox Church. The history between the two is very complex, and beyond the scope of this history, for more information I direct you to the Orthodox Wiki on this subject.

Now, if matters in America (continent, not country) enter the pre- and post-WWI immigration to the Americas from Eastern Europe – peoples brought here to work in mines (cheaply) to supply the coal and ores needed to feed the steel mills. Followed by refugees escaping Eastern Europe and Russia to escape Nazism and the Soviet Union. All of these people coming to America brought their religion with them, creating new churches, and establishing Orthodox diocese without a Patriarch overseeing its creation. Yes, this was unique in the history of Orthodoxy – churches started by the people instead of by missions.

And this is just the start of the confusion; there’s more to come, but first we must hop back into the Tardis and return to Ottoman Europe. The Ottoman Empire conquered the dying Byzantine Empire in Constantinople (modern Istanbul) then slowly continued to move west from there. Out of fear some of the Eastern Orthodox churches began talks to seek help from the Holy Roman Empire, the only military force that might be able to help them fight off the invading Ottomans. Rome agreed to help only if the Orthodox Churches agreed to come under Papal Authority. Some of these Orthodox churches agreed, with few other options available to them.

After the fall of the Ottoman Empire many other Orthodox Churches found themselves in disarray with governments having collapsed, wars breaking out to establish new borders, and many Orthodox finding themselves now in Catholic territory – such as the expansion of Poland’s territory into previous Ukrainian lands. Many of these Orthodox Churches (such as those in Poland) were forced by the king to accept Papal rule. As the centuries rolled by and many wars changing the political maps in this section of Europe (Napoleon, Hungarian Revolution, Balkan Wars, etc) many of the Papal and Orthodox Eastern Churches found themselves in and out of friendly territory. Particularly the area around the Carpathian Mountains (from Austria to Romania and Eastern Serbia) where the Rus people frequently change from pro-Rome to pro-Orthodox governments.

Once again we jump in time, this time back to the semi-modern era of 1890’s-1900’s America. When Orthodox Christians fled to America both groups were included – those united with the Ecumenical Patriarchate and those united with Rome. Here we have an interesting conflict arise – between the existing Roman Catholic Church and the Greek Catholic Exarchate. The Roman Catholic diocese strenuously objected to the Rites (church services and doctrines) and sent a letter to Rome demanding the new Eastern Rite churches fall under their domain and cease allowing their priests to marry. Pope Pius X agreed to their demands and issues an apostolic letter ordering all future priests be celibate. An immediate battle in the churches and courts began (court battles were over control of church property) and a major schism started. Many of the Greek Catholic churches broke the union with Rome and formed the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese and was granted union with the Eastern Orthodox Church. After the schism settled down the Roman Diocese, now in charge of the remaining parishes, began a campaign of Latinizing the churches: changing the language to English, forcing RC Holy Days in place of EO Holy Days, and making doctrinal changes. These changes remained in effect, more or less, until 2014 when Pope Francis began backing off and allowing Eastern Catholics priests to marry. Prior to that Pope John Paul II encouraged Eastern Catholics in America to return their Rites back to their Orthodox roots.

We’re not done yet, enter the influence of the Soviet Union. With the creation of the Soviet Union a conflict arose here in the United States. The Russian Orthodox Church had two simultaneous groups here – Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) and the Orthodox Church of America (OCA). ROCOR is a semi-autonomous of the Moscow Patriarchate, this was in response to Patriarch Saint Tikon who issued a decree that all churches outside of Russia begin self government until such time as the Patriarchate was again free. They have been operating in this mode ever since. With the fall of the Soviet Union there have been several meetings with the Russian Patriarchs, but none has resulted in successful unification.

We now come to our last topic – the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) an autocephalous church operating in Canada and the United States. Unlike ROCOR (who began with immigrants from Russia) the OCA claims its origins go back to the original missionary church in Alaska, having expanded naturally into Canada and the United States. Like ROCOR, when Patriarch Saint Tikon issued his decree the OCA re-organize itself into a self-governing church. In 1970 the OCA re-established communion with the Russian Patriarchate and was granted a writ of autocephaly from the Russian Orthodox Church. While they are in communion with all autocephalous churches their independence is not fully recognized. HISTORICAL NOTE: To be completely accurate the church was, from its time in Alaska, know as the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church in America, today the church, along with its original Alaskan roots, is composed also of the churches of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate, the Albanian Orthodox Archdiocese, and the Bulgarian Orthodox Archdiocese, which is also the reason for the name change to the Orthodox Church in America as it is now compose of more than just Russian churches. The OCA has also accepted English as its church vernacular for Liturgical Worship.

Next time I will wrap this history up with a brief, and quick, look into the post-1054 Western church. I make this brief for two reasons: first, I feel most readers are familiar with Western church history; and secondly, because there is simply too much that happened (all of the schisms from 1054 thru to today) to be able to do it justice. I seriously doubt all of the divisions could be covered in a multi-volume treatise as there is simply too many schisms happening even today. From personal experience I see the Western Churches unable to form a cohesive body as in the Eastern and Oriental Churches.

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