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August 31, 2013




August 31, 1980

Prof. Alexander Bogolepov, a 20th century luminary of Orthodox Theology, who had been the last elected rector of St. Petersburg University, was a teacher of canon law at St Serge Institute in Paris and later at St. Vladimir's Seminary, when it was located at Union Seminary in the 1950's. In 1963 he published his book, Toward an American Orthodox Church: The Establishment of an Autocephalous Orthodox Church, pointing to autocephaly as the only feasible realistic solution for the Metropolia. stating that the 1924 declaration of "temporary self-government" made by the Council of Bishops under Metropolitan Platon (Rozhdestvensky) in the face of militant atheism and religious persecution in Russia, actually "meets all the necessary requirements for the establishment of an independent Autocephalous Church".

Its thesis was as follows: inasmuch as the fullness of the church is where the bishop, as head of a church community, celebrates the Eucharist, and three bishops of a given region must be present at the ordination of another bishop (since according to Orthodox canons, it is necessary to have three bishops to ordain a fourth), it follows that any church district that has three dioceses, with a minimum of three bishops, and a theological seminary for educating the clergy, could be considered ecclesiastically self-sufficient and in this sense ready for autocephaly or self-administration.

In the American Metropolia the presence of six bishops who could ordain new bishops, as well as the existence of theological seminaries to educate the clergy, meant that the American church had the practical prerequisites for autocephaly. The practical application of the principles of Eucharistic theology has given the Metropolia its ecclesiastical-canonical basis for demanding legal recognition of its independence, which it was constrained to proclaim in 1924, and then to defend. The request for autocephaly was finally presented in a discussion with representatives of the Moscow patriarchate.

As a result of negotiations, the Moscow patriarchate arrived at the conclusion that granting autocephaly to the American Metropolia was only a matter of time, since it had already been independent, i.e., de facto autocephalous, and its return under the authority of the Moscow patriarchate impossible. That the Kremlin did not obstruct this act by Moscow patriarchate may be attributable to the relative political uncertainty that prevailed in the early years of the Brezhnev regime.

Hence, the Moscow patriarchate granted autocephaly to the American Metropolia in April 1970. Patriarch Aleksii signed the Tomos of Autocephaly six days before his death. A delegation led by Theodosius, then bishop of Alaska, went to Moscow to accept the document after the death of Patriarch Aleksii. That same year the fourteenth all-American Sobor of the Metropolia convened and officially proclaimed its autocephaly, taking the name Orthodox Church in America. This sobor thus became the first council convened by the territorial American Orthodox church. The birth of the OCA caused a great furor in the American Orthodox diaspora, with its ethnic jurisdictions, and in the entire Orthodox world. However, several church groups in America, such as Albanian, Bulgarian, and Romanian dioceses had chosen to join the OCA, while preserving their ethnic character. Their bishops became members of the synod of the OCA.

Most Orthodox churches, those who acknowledge the right of the mother church (in this case the Russian church) to grant the self-governing status to its daughter-church, welcomed the OCA, as a newly born authocephalous church, into their family. But the patriarchate of Constantinople, and the Greek patriarchates of Jerusalem and Alexandria, that closely ally with it, have refused to acknowledge the "autocephaly" of the OCA on the alleged ground that the exclusive right to grant or withdraw autocephaly to or from any local Orthodox church belongs to the patriarchate of Constantinople. The latter, however, maintains communion with the OCA, and actually agrees to acknowledge its "self-governing" status, resisting merely to apply the technical term "authocephalous" to it. But since the "self-governing" is the English translation of the Greek word "autocephaly" (to be self-headed, or self-governed), this acknowledgement amounts to the actual recognition. Thus, the OCA practically enjoys acceptance and equality in the family of Orthodox churches today.

From the middle of the 1950s the Russian metropolia entered into the accelerating process of Americanization. English became the official language of all its publications, academic endeavors, and liturgy. The awareness of the new generation of the faithful and the clergy was turned toward missionary work. Since the mid-1950s there has also been a rising flow of Americans converting to Orthodox Christianity. This flow has increased significantly since 1970 and the grant of autocephaly, which opened the doors of Orthodoxy not only to individual persons but also to ecclesiastical communities: parishes and monasteries. Even the entire Old Catholic diocese in Mexico converted to Orthodoxy and joined the OCA. On the basis of this diocese, a Mexican exarchate of the OCA was created. A survey of five hundred OCA members who had converted to Orthodoxy in the thirty years between 1950 and 1980 showed that about 60 percent of those who joined the OCA did that according to the degree that the OCA as a territorial church, became known to American society. Thus the establishing of a territorial church opened the doors of Orthodoxy to Americans, who converted from other religious and cultural traditions, or came from atheism or secular background. The propagation of Bogolepov's book had a major impact on the consciousness of the former Metropolia, galvanizing it for rapprochement and the grant of autocephaly and the founding of the Orthodox Church in America.

Memory eternal! (Sources; christthesaviornyc.org, svots.edu)

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