The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia eventually emigrated to New York, and created a new Orthodox culture in America, eventually developing convert parishes and institutions from and by Americans. The ROCOR throughout American history continued and maintained the old Russian culture in America, bringing knowledge of Russia to a culture previously ignorant of it. The ROCOR became, through this process, one of the most important props to the Russian and Slavic anti-communist movements outside of Russia.

            This paper, using primary source documents for the most part, will trace the history and ideology of the royalist emigre group, the Russian Orthodox Church outside of Russia (ROCOR), sometimes known as the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCA) as an element in American history. This is easily justified in that the ROCOR was, from World War II onward, headquartered on east 93rd Street in New York City, and became the major element of Russian emigre opinion against the Soviet Regime. Its seminary is located in upstate New York in the town of Jordanville, itself the heart of the ROCOR worldwide. Both the New York organization and its Jordanville seminary and book printing shop will be the main focus of this paper as the focus of Russian emigre politics and emigre ideology in the post World War I and World War II worlds. In short, the purpose of this paper is to describe the ROCOR as the center of emigre politics in the second half of the 20th century in the sense that it served as the center of anti-communist resistance on the one hand,  and the preservation of the Old Russian Orthodox traditions on the other.

            After the fall of the Russian monarchy in 1917, the recently elected Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, Tikhon (Bulavin, who had formerly been a bishop in America), issued his famous Ukaz (or order) no. 362. Knowing that the church was under attack from the communist government starting from its takeover in 1921, this ukaz was designed to permit bishops, in the event they became out of contact with the Patriarch in Moscow, to form their own temporary church organizations that would function independently, even if it meant that one bishop, in isolation, could then take over all church functions alone (sec 2 and 4). The Bolsheviks, due to the Marxist loathing of religion, sought to destroy the Orthodox church and eliminate its clergy through execution, conversion or death through the forced labor camps Lenin had alrady set up as part of his “war communism.”

            Using this ukaz as their base, several bishops of the Russian church, in exile in Serbia (but in reality spread throughout the world), under the Metropolitan of Kiev, Antony (Khrapovitsky) created the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile, and claimed that it and it alone was the only free element of the Russian church and can now speak for it. Needless to say, the communist dominated hierarchy in Russia after the death of Tikhon wanted no part in this, and, under pressure from the Cheka, anathematized the new church organization. Realizing that the rump church under Soviet control was not a free organization, ignored the orders from the Kremlin and continued to build itself into a substantial, global organization.

            Making matters worse, however, was that after World War I and the Bolshevik coup, the other national Orthodox churches in Greece, Romania, etc, sent bishops to preach in the native language. Many parishes that had heretofore been under Russian supervision were now independent, each answering to their own ethnic movements in America. This meant that there was no longer any kind of united Orthodox front, and that Orthodoxy in America was split into many ethnic groups, each speaking their own language and each having its own political agendas and preferences.[1] The ROCOR was a large organization, but now, far from the only one.

            As far as America is concerned, many Russians realized the substantial emigration that had taken place before the war, and that the Russian community in America was large. It was the Archimandrite Constantine, one of these immigrants, a former sugar factory worker in Chicago, who scraped together the money to buy a plot of land in Jordanville, NY. Several monks from the Russian seminary in Pennsylvania, named for St. Tikhon of Zadonsk, also pitched in helped buy the land, some animals and farm equipment to build a functioning and self-sufficient monastic institution.[2] This institution became the center for Russian anti-communist resistance in the free world, and was soon, thanks to some emigre money from wealthy exiles, became a large institution owing hundreds of acres of land, advanced book printing equipment and a seminary.

            The later brains behind this operation was the Bishop Vitaly, himself appointed bishop in America by Metropolitan Antony, the aforementioned head of the Synod in Serbia. Vitaly, while in Russia before World War I, was the head of the nationalist group called the Union of the Russian People, highly mythologized by English speaking writers as a “fascist group,” was in fact an Orthodox organization founded to fight the movements of atheism and materialism in Russia. They built schools and offered farmers low interest loans to expand their holdings. Once the Bolsheviki took over, any member of that organization was marked for death, and Vitaly himself had been arrested twice by the Cheka, and escaped both times in the confusion of the early years of Soviet power. Hence, Vitalty was forced to move to Yugoslavia, where he met the famed Antony Khrapovitsky, tonsured a monk and then bishop and sent to New York in 1934 to oversee the emigre movement there. Hence, the two major figures in the early year of the New York resistance center were Constantine and Bishop Vitaly. It was the latter who built and staffed the seminary, which was fully functional by 1948.[3]

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            Vitality also bought, again with the help of a handful of exiled Russian nobles, more land in upstate New York, this time at Mahopac, where another monastery was formed and staffed with Russian immigrants from all over the country. Hence, by the time the ROCOR officially moved to New York City in 1950, the base of the resistance operation was created, both institutionally, spiritually, and financially; making the move to the US a foregone conclusion. It was the charisma and organization skill of Constantine and Bishop Vitality that made it so.

            The problems among the Orthodox in America were daunting. In the 1920s and 1930s, confusion reigned supreme. All Orthodox parishes in America prior to the communist takeover in Russia were under the Russian bishop in Alaska, later, San Francisco. From 1922 to 1926, all of these parishes (regardless of their ethnic background) were under the exile organization in Serbia. In 1924, in Detroit, the Orthodox there used Tikhon’s famed Ukaz to form an independent Russian group in America that would retain its loyalty to the ROCOR.  However, Soviet agents were already operating within the diaspora in America (and elsewhere) promoting the “living church” idea, the idea of a liberal church created by the USSR for the sake of keeping the church under communist control.[4] By 1946, this group, the so-called American Metropolia , declared itself independent both of the Soviet hierarchy (which it will join officially in 1970) and the ROCOR in Cleveland, OH, thereby creating an independent group that answered to no one, but vaguely recognized the soviet authority.

            It is probably not an accident that the ROCOR officially moved to the United States in 1950, when the main cathedral church of the Jordanville seminary was consecrated (and burnt down the very same day from an unknown cause). In 1959, the Cathedral dedicated to the Theotokos of the Sign was built and consecrated on the east side of New York City. It is likely that Antony’s successor, Metropolitan Anastassy, sought the New York location to keep a close watch out on the American situation, where the Soviet Union was active infiltrating parishes, promoting pro-Soviet ideas under the guise of “Russian patriotism,” and seeking to join American parishes to its own organization. Such infiltration was well known to the Russians in exile, and the Orthodox resistance in America was important, especially, after World War II, when the Cold War began, it was clear that the NKVD was active in America, among the Russian emigration, and hence, the ROCOR needed to be officially headquartered there, to speak fort the Russian church and the Orthodox resistance more generally.

            At this point, it makes sense to bring in some scholarly opinion on these matters, and the two standard articles are that from Gregorieff (1972) and Kesich (1961). The former is the most detailed in dealing with this period of transition and establishment. He holds that the church was as much a social institution as a religious one. That people of the local ethnic group saw the church as a club where they can meet others who spoke their language and held their basic religious and political views. But that idea was not foreign to the ROCOR either, as will be seen below. The anti-communist movement was meant to be a spiritual one, not just a social or political one. Defeat and destruction of the Russian  homeland bred despair, and the church was seen as a place of solace and community: as a form of rebuilding.[5]  For Grigorieff, there were three options for the Russian diaspora in America, and these were the following:

            (1) Anti-communism: for the most part, the diaspora saw the Soviet Union as a bandit state, an illegitimate government which took power in a coup, was un-elected, and had nothing to

do with Russia, Russian history or its culture. This was the view of the ROCOR, though the latter was heavily part of the old nobility and saw the return fo the monarchy as the only true solution of Russian problems. Early on, this group saw the USSR as a temporary aberration, but after World War II, many took a more realistic view, that the USSR was here to stay, and the practical result was a slow move to the English language and a missionary project for the Russian Orthodox church in the English speaking world. Prior to this, the basic view was that the USSR was soon to fall, and then the diaspora would reunite in Russia. When it became clear that the communists were not going anywhere, a new missionary consciousness took over.

            (2) A Russian patriotism that eventually became “pro-Soviet.” While these were a small minority, they were a vocal one, and had a certain force due to the fact that the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia (not recognized b the ROCOR) continually stated that it was the continuation of the Old Russian church prior to the revolution. In 1933, a man named Benjamin Fedchenkoff, an archbishop under the Soviet Church and a former White Army officer, came to America on a Soviet sponsored lecture tour. This however, was merely a ruse to get a visa, as his real purpose was to convince the Russians living in America and Canada that the Soviet Church was the true church of all Russians, and that all Russian patriots should support her “all Russian Church.” He had limited success, but it alarmed the ROCOR and brought home the lengths to which the NKVD would take to remove Russian support from the ROCOR.[6]

            (3) The last option, that of neutrality, was eventually taken by the aforementioned American Metropolia, which received its official independence from Soviet Patriarch Alexis in 1970 through the agencies of the World Council of Churches, the YMCA and, significantly, the American Ambassador to the USSR, Jacob Beam.[7] Hence, this idea became the official stance of the Orthodox Church in America (formed from the metropolia in 1970), that did not like the Patriarch in Moscow, but accepted him as the head of the church and a legitimate bishop. They received their letter of independence from the patriarch himself, which was considered a true coup in KGB circles, since it showed a large plurality of Russians and Ukrainians in America accepted the ministrations of the Moscow church. Needless to say, the ROCOR refused to accept the OCA or the letter from the patriarch. The ROCOR was being marginalized.

            On the other hand, Vaselin Kesich’s (1961) work, “The Orthodox Church in America,” is more conceptual rather than historical, and his rather well known work in this subject can be reduced to five major points about the Russian Orthodox experience in America.

            (1) As many of the early leaders of the anti-communist diaspora realized, an “immigrant church” could not function for long. If the USSR was going to be a permanent feature of the political landscape, then the Russians need to learn English and begin spreading the message to Americans. The slow but sure move to English was an important feature for the post-world War II ROCOR, and many parishes became bi-lingual and sought converts from Americans[8]. This policy meant that the ROCOR became a part of American life, and the Orthodox world became more and more known to American Christians, politicians, and scholars.[9]

            (2) The “immigrant church” issue became more and more important to the Russians in the 1950s. Converts were needed, and the Russians already living in America needed to be educated on their own heritage. The Russian school system was set up in San Francisco and New York City, and the move to the east side of that city was also a part of the policy to set up its organization in the midst of America’s largest city, with a highly conspicuous building with large gold domes.

            (3) The new Russian church in America needed to be self-supporting. Previously, the church was a part of the state, and hence received protection and income. Hence, church membership and income was a matter of life or death. Early on, the ROCOR received money from the old Russian nobility, but as that generation died off, new forms of income were needed. This was a part of the new missionary movement. While it is true that the ROCOR wanted to make converts to Orthodoxy, they wanted to expand their base, both spiritually and financially. The Jordanville seminary and other institutions printed book sin English and Russian, giving Americans, for he first time, a glimpse  into the life of Old Russia, and an ancient Christian tradition that few English speaking Americans knew anything about.[10]

            (4) For the Orthodox world more generally, the specific mission of the ROCOR meant that the late 19th century explosion of Russian Orthodox publishing continued under the Jordanville banner. English language publications and translations came pouring out of Jordanville. Without them, the Orthodox world would be little known in the western universe. The ROCOR saw itself as an intellectual and scholarly institution as well as a socio-religious one, and Jordanville was the basis of that. Russia was basically a blank spot on most American’s minds (including many historians’) and the ROCOR in America sought to remedy that.

            (5) For the first time in many centuries, the Russian church was exposed to alien ways of life, materialist Americans and non-Orthodox Christians in large numbers. This intimidated the small Russian church, but it also proved an opportunity: Orthodox apologetic works exploded, making the Russian faithful a stricter organization in its new found strange home. The reality of American life for the ROCOR was bipolar: on the one hand, they saw America as a materialist wasteland of purposeless, alienated beings that should be avoided. On the other hand, they saw America as a land of opportunity, the fighter against Soviet imperialism and a large mission field full of vaguely Christian people thirsting for the true, ancient and tested Christian vision of Orthodoxy.[11]

            But regardless of the historical events among the Russo-Americans, what was the basic self-image of the ROOCR? This is another important element of this paper, and the primary source documents from ROCOR’s founders and major leaders tell us much in this department.

            St. John Maximovitch was a student of Antony Khrapovitsky, and, after years of traveling in exile, ended up as bishop of San Francisco just prior to his death in 1966. His vision of the ROCOR is nicely summarized in his essay (only published in 1971, he wac canonized in 1994), and this primary source work summarizes the major concerns of the Russian exile church.

            These major issues can be reduced to four. For St. John, there is the question, central to all Russians in America, of the relation between “Russian-ness” and Orthodoxy. For the ROCOR as a whole, they cannot be separated: for a Russian who abandons his Orthodoxy, he abandons the fulness of his Russian heritage. There could be no third way. St. John sought, however, to build alliances with all Christian anti-communist groups of whatever background with the ultimate aim of overthrowing the Soviet government and installing the monarchy. Third, St. John rejected the Soviet church and its agenda. And lastly, his objective as far as American is concerned was to maintain a Russian identity that was integral to that of Orthodoxy. He accepted the necessity of the English language in terms of both publishing and liturgics, but this was never to affect against the basic Russian orientation of the synod as a whole.[12]

            Another major work, “On the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad”  this time from Averky the Bishop of Jordanville and Syracuse NY, also rector of the Seminary at Jordanville, spelled out the mission of the ROCOR as part of the anti-communist resistance and as the representative of the post-Tikhon Orthodox Church of Russia. For him, the freedom of the church was paramount, and, like many ROCOR leaders, saw the exile as providential, to provide the Orthodox truth to those in the west who knew little or nothing about it. The exile was God’s way of foreign Russians to come out of their shell and begin preaching the word to the alienated, materialistic westerners.[13]

            In his essay on Jordanville, Averky calls it “ A Little Corner of Holy Russia,” speaking to the need to preserve the ancient cultural treasures of a country now under the genocidal rule of the KGB and the Red Army. For him, like St. John, Russian and Orthodox were synonymous terms, but he makes it clear that he rejects “nationalism” in the sense of chauvinism, which is a stranger to the Orthodox mind.[14]

            By way of conclusion, the best way to summarize the purpose of the ROCOR in America can be found in the (2001) lecture from the archives of the ROCOR by Prof. Alexander Kornilov, “The Ideals fo the Russian Diaspora.” This work is of immense importance in that it summarizes much of the primary documentation that came before it in terms of the Russian Orthodox Church’s purpose in America and western Europe. It is also the perfect conclusion to this brief historical survey, in that it recapitulates many of the ideas and events seen above.

            First of all, the revolution and subsequent exile of many pious Russians led to a greater strictness in religious and social observances. This is because the church was something that can not be taken for granted. Second, that the “historical Russia” school is the primary scholarly contribution of the Jordanville seminary, in that the history of Russia must be told parallel to its religious history, and the religious history of other Orthodox countries. In other words, Russia is primarily a religious entity, in addition to whatever else she is. Thirdly, that Marxism and liberalism come from the same root: the materialism fo the western Enlightenment and the reduction of man to a set of nerve endings, or economic determinism. In other words, the issue is not between Marxism and “democracy,” but between materialism and the spiritual, ascetic life. Hence, the purpose of the ROCOR in exile can be seen this way: the ROCOR in her American exile self-consciously sought to rebuild old Russia, repent of the sins of the Russian past (including the sordid murder of the Tsar and his family), make up for the failures of the church in the 19th century, where skepticism and materialism were rife in Russian life, and lastly, to seek the restoration of the Russian monarchy. This is the purpose and mission of the ROCOR, then and now.


Many of the primary sources below do not have any systematized dating or publication information.

Primary Source Documents from the ROCOR’s Archives:

Shcshugin, Sergei Fr. “A Brief History of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.”


Tikhon, Patriarch St. Ukase No. 362 The Resolutions of His Holiness the Patriarch [Tikhon], of the Sacred Synod and Higher Ecclesiastical Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, 20/7 November 1920 http://www.russianorthodoxchurch.ws/english/pages/history/ukaztikhon.html

Averky, Archbishop. “A Corner of Holy Russia.” nd http://www.russianorthodoxchurch.ws/01newstucture/pagesen/sermons/svrus.html

ROCOR. “The History of Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville: Parts I, II and III.”


Other Primary Sources:

____. “On the ROCOR.” in Stand Fast in the Truth: The Collected Works of Archbishop Averky of Syracuse. St. John of Kornstadt Press, 1976.

Kornilov, Alexander. “The Ideals of the Russian Diaspora.” Pravoslavnya Rus, (2001)

(Translation here: http://www.russianorthodoxchurch.ws/english/pages/legacy/idealsofrocor.html)

Constantine, Archimandrite. “Our Chosenness.” Pravoslavnya Rus, (1972.)

Maximovitch, St. John. “The Russian Orthodox Church outside of Russia.” The Orthodox Word, 7, (1971.)

Secondary Sources:

Kesich, Veselin. “The Orthodox Church in America.” Russian Review 20 (1961): 185-193

Grigorieff, Dimitry. “The Orthodox Church in America: An Historical Survey.” The Russian Review, 31 (1972): 138-172

[1]Grigorieff, Dimitry. “The Orthodox Church in America: An Historical Survey.” The Russian Review, 31 (1972): 144.
[2]ROCOR, “History of Jordanville,” ROCOR Official Archives.  nd.
[3]ROCOR, “History of Jordanville,” ROCOR Official Archives, nd. http://www.russianorthodoxchurch.ws/01newstucture/pagesen/articles/jvillehist01.html

[4]Sergei Shchukin “A Brief History of  the ROCOR” ROCOR Official Archives, 1972. http://www.russianorthodoxchurch.ws/english/pages/history/briefhistory.html
[5]Grigorieff, 147-8
[6]Grigorieff, 148
[7]Grigorieff, 141
[8] This effort was successful, to the extent that many parishes of the ROCOR by the 1970s were completely American, including a convert priest and other clergy. This process continues to this day.
[9]Veselin Kesich. “The Orthodox Church in America.” Russian Review 20 (1961): 186
[10]Kesich, 189-90
[11]Kesich, 190-193
[12]Maximovitch, St. John. “The Russian Orthodox Church outside of Russia.” The Orthodox Word, 7, 1971.
[13]Averky, Archbishop. “On the ROCOR.” in Stand Fast in the Truth: The Collected Works of Archbishop Averky of Syracuse. St. John of Krondstadt Press, 1976.
[14]Averky, Archbishop. “A Corner of Holy Russia.” ROCOR Official Archives


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