America, Karlovci, and Moscow (1947)

By Ralph Montgomery Arkush, Legal Advisor to the Metropolitan Council of the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of North America
The Living Church (Milwaukee), April 27, 1947, pp. 15-16.

A BREAK in the administrative relations between the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of North America, headed by Metropolitan Theophilus, and four of his bishops has been officially announced by the Bishops’ Council and the Metropolitan Council of the Church. The hierarchs named are Archbishop Tikhon of Seattle and Western America, Archbishop Vitaly of Jersey City and Eastern America, Archbishop Ioasaph of Canada, and Bishop Ieronim of Detroit and Cleveland. (It is reported that recently Bishop Ieoronim was promoted to the frank of Archbishop by action of the Munich Synod, taken without the approval of Metropolitan Theophilus.) For the time being the Metropolitan is taking on himself the duties of the four former diocesans. Plans for filling the vacancies permanently are under way, an additional bishop having been recently consecrated [The Living Church, April 20th], and the consecration of a second bishop having been announced for May 11th.

The immediate cause of the rupture was the refusal of the four bishops to accept the decision of the All-American Sobor held at Cleveland on November, 26-29, 1946. That body was convened for the express purpose of giving all of the 300 or more parishes in the Church, through their clerical and lay delegates, the opportunity of expressing their views on the relationship between the North American Church and the Moscow Patriarchate. It was the first All-American Sobor that had been held since 1937. Every parish delegation was given time to present its views to the assembly. The Metropolitan presided. All of the bishops, including the four above named, were present and most of the bishops participated in the discussion. The pre-Sobor Committee, which was in an advantageous position to control the proceedings to some extent, was headed by Archbishop Vitaly. Considerable criticism was heard among the delegates of the tactical advantages of the position: for example, the leading exponents of the view that no connection should be had with the Patriarchate because of political conditions in Russia were given a preferred position on the agenda. The speeches made at the Sobor and the written declarations which had been adopted at parish meetings and were read to the Sobor reflected a wide divergence of views, from the bitter anti-Patriarchites to those who were for reunion with the Patriarch on any terms.

A separate but related question, which was of primary interest to the delegates, was that of the relationship between the American Church and the Russian Church abroad. On paper the American Church was a constituent part of the Russian Church abroad, the temporary statutes for the government of that body having been approved at the All-American Sobor held in New York in 1937. The connection, however, aroused little enthusiasm among the rank and file of the American clergy and laity.


The organization of the Russian Church abroad was an attempt to unite in one body all parts of the Russian Orthodox Church outside of the Soviet Union. When civil war separated the dioceses in the southern part of Russia from the central Church administration, headed by Patriarch Tikhon, a temporary administration was organized in Stavropol. After the defeat of the White armies, four bishops who had been members of the Stavropol and of the Crimean Church administrations fled to Constantinople where they created a Bishops’ Synod. Later they moved to Sremski Karlovci in Yugoslavia where they were taken under the protection of the Serbian Patriarch. At this time Europe was filled with Russian refugees and the effort of the Karlovci group to bring order into the ecclesiastical situation was justified. However, when the Karlovci Synod began sending bishops who attempted to set up a jurisdiction parallel to that of the Russian Orthodox Church then existing in America, the position of the Synod was indefensible. The Russian Orthodox Church of North America has had a continuous existence on this continent for over 150 years, first as a mission, then as a missionary diocese, then as a regular diocese, of the Russian Orthodox Church, and finally as an autonomous body. The administrative autonomy of the American Church was declared at an All-American Sobor held at Detroit in 1924, and was expressly based on the political conditions then existing in Russia. The language of the resolutions expressly preserved spiritual communion with the Patriarchate. This condition of autonomy was affirmed at the All-American Sobor held at Cleveland in 1934 when Metropolitan Theophilus was elected. The autonomous character of the American Church has been upheld by the civil courts and declared by statutes enacted by or now pending in the legislatures of a number of states.

The peace and unity of this self-governing body was broken by the arrival of four bishops sent by the Karlovci Synod, precisely the same four mentioned in the recent announcement. They succeeded in attracting to themselves or founding a very few parishes consisting mostly of the so-called “White” refugees. But, although attracting few followers, they constituted a source of confusion and unrest in the American jurisdiction. Accordingly Metropolitan Theophilus went to Karlovci in 1935 and agreed to the scheme of organization of the Russian Church abroad. This contemplated four metropolitan districts: North America, Western Europe, the Near East, and the Far East. The late Metropolitan Eulogius, who was to head the Western European district, also assented. His flock, however, refused to ratify, so that the district of Western Europe was placed under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch. This defection and the comparative paucity of Russian Orthodox parishes in other parts of the world resulted in the North American district’s being by far the largest component of the Russian Church abroad. The temporary statutes provided for an annual council of all the bishops of the constituent districts and for a permanently sitting bishops’ synod consisting of one delegate from each district; the distant districts such as the North American and the Far Eastern might appoint as their delegates bishops residing in Europe. It was stipulated that the first president of the council and synod should be Metropolitan Anthony, formerly of Kiev and Galicia. At his death Metropolitan Anastasius became president.

Upon the signing of these temporary statutes the four Karlovcian bishops in North America submitted to the jurisdiction of Metropolitan Theophilus, so that he, at least apparently, reaped the reward of his trip to Karlovci. The connection with the Karlovci Synod, however, was irksome and eventually, during World War II, became absurd. By reason of military or political conditions the existence of the Near Eastern and Far Eastern districts, or at any rate the connection of the Synod with those districts, was practically eliminated. A very few parishes in Western Europe, South America, and other parts of the world recognized the Karlovci Synod. Consequently, in practical effect, this Synod had become a mere paper superstructure on top of the North American Church. All sensible reasons for the continuance of this administrative connection had terminated. Nevertheless Metropolitan Theophilus loyally went through the form of submitting to Metropolitan Anastasius and his Synod, which eventually moved to Munich, the minutes of meetings of the Council of Bishops, the promotion of bishops to the rank of archbishop, etc. One phase of the connection with the Karlovci-Munich Synod and the North American Church which caused almost universal resentment among the Church membership was the alleged political activity of members of the Synod or its staff. In the early days of the Synod prior to the organization of the Russian Church abroad various manifestos issued from Karlovci indicating the hope for the restoration of the czarist regime. At a later stage it is alleged that persons connected with the Synod uttered expressions of a pro-Hitler character although this charge has been denied. (At least it is certain that Archbishop Vitaly on his own responsibility joined in a telegram to President Roosevelt urging that the United States refrain from giving military assistance to the Soviet Union after the attack by Hitler.) The charges that the Karlovci-Munich Synod and its adherents have unjustifiably embroiled themselves in political activity have not endeared them more to the American Church membership.


Finally, when Archbishop Alexy of Yaroslav and Rostov came to this country in 1945-1946 he made it clear that a sine qua non of restoration of spiritual communion between the American Church and the Moscow Patriarchate was the termination of the relationship with Metropolitan Anastasius. Whatever differences of opinion there were at the Cleveland Sobor last November on the exact nature of the relationship to the Patriarchate, there was only a minute fraction of the delegates who insisted on the continuance of a connection with Metropolitan Anastasius. The vote of 187 to 61 which finally recorded the action of the Sobor is not a mathematical indication of the division of views on the question, since the resolution on which the vote was taken combined the questions of both the Patriarchate and the Russian Church abroad. Several resolutions in different form had been submitted to the assembly and many of those who voted against the resolution actually adopted did so in the expectation that if the resolution was defeated the prevailing sentiment of the meeting could be expressed in a different manner. For several days prior to the taking of the vote an attempt was made by the committee on resolutions and many of the leading delegates to prepare a resolution which would bring to an end the absurd situation in which the Munich tail was wagging the North American dog, but at the same time would provide a framework of Church government in which all of the Russian Church bodies outside of the Soviet Union and its sphere of influence would normally fit. Such a scheme was particularly suitable at the moment when many of the DP’s and other Russian Orthodox people in Germany and Austria were being ministered to by bishops and priests of the Munich jurisdiction. A form of resolution to this end was reported by the committee on resolutions but never came to a vote.

The resolution adopted requested the Patriarch to continue as spiritual head of the American Church conditioned on the continuance of its administrative autonomy and terminated the administrative connection between the American Church and the Synod of the Russian Church abroad [The Living Church, December Sth]. Archbishop Vitaly and the three other Karlovcian bishops had and took the opportunity of influencing the delegates to vote against this resolution. They raised no question as to the legal or canonical power of the Sobor to pass on the two questions covered by the resolution until the results of the secret ballot had been announced. Only then did Archbishop Vitaly make a spirited protest.

The main body of Church membership, particularly the younger people whose influence is being more and more felt, and whose interest is indispensable to the life of the Church, are insistent that matters of vital Church policy are to be passed on in a constitutional and democratic fashion. The four bishops who have refused to concur in the decision of an assembly in the preparation for which and in the deliberations of which they actively participated have thereby repudiated the principle of constitutional and democratic church government. Their withdrawal from the Church will doubtless result in greater harmony in Church councils. It is believed that not more than 5 or 6 parishes at the most will follow them.

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