Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann

Report on the preliminary negotiations concerning the establishment in America of the Autocephalous Church

Russian Orthodox Church of America



59 East Second Street, New York, N. Y. 10003

CHAIRMAN:                                                 OFFICE OF THE SECRETARY

His Grace, Bishop Kiprian                         Telephone 212-477-7836


Rev. Cyril Fotiev


on the preliminary negotiations concerning the establishment in America of the Autocephalous Church

1). Background.

In order to understand the full meaning and the implications of the present attempts by the Metropolia to end its "temporary" autonomy and to attain a permanent and clear canonical status, one must bear in mind the following facts:

a). It is beyond any question that Orthodoxy was planted in America at the end of the 18th century by the Church of Russia. Following a Mission, the first diocese of the Russian Church on the American continent was established in Alaska in 1848 to be later moved, first, to San Francisco and, in 1906, to New York City. The territory of that Diocese covered the entire North American continent (Alaska, United States, Canada) and until 1922 its jurisdiction included Orthodox faithful of all ethnical backgrounds: Greek, Syrian, Serbian, Bulgarian, Romanian etc. Thus, for example, it was the Russian Church which established a special vicariate for the Syrians with a Cathedral in Brooklyn. In canonical terms it means that the Russian Church established its jurisdiction in America and, conversely, that the entire American territory was in the jurisdiction of the Russian Church.

b). The catastrophe of the Russian Revolution of 1917 transformed into chaos this clear canonical situation. On the one hand, the American Diocese of the Russian Church deprived of normal communications with the Mother Church proclaimed, in compliance with directives issued by Patriarch Tikhon, its "temporary self-government", until the normalization of its relationship with the Mother Church (Detroit Sobor, March-April 1924). This was the beginning of a de facto independent life of our church which after the tragical crisis provoked by the Russian Revolution, not only recovered but gradually grew into a well established national church with 8 Dioceses, a stable, canonical and truly "soborny" system of government, theological schools, missionary work etc. But, on the other hand, the long and forced silence of the Church of Russia and the initial weakness of the Metropolia in the Twenties, incited other national and autocephalous Churches simply to ignore the jurisdictional rights of the Russian Church on the American territory, to consider the latter as a canonical "no man's land" and to establish here a number of parallel, and this time, purely "ethnica1" or national jurisdictions. The territorial unity of the church required by the Orthodox canonical tradition was thus broken and there began the harmful jurisdictional chaos which in turn led to conflicts, competition, subsequent divisions etc. It is this chaos which makes Orthodoxy in America so weak and fills with despair and even cynicism our younger generations unable to comprehend why there is room in America for every imaginable brand of Orthodoxy but not for American Orthodoxy.

c). Of this chaos our Metropolia was and still is the main victim. Whatever our progress inside, we are not officially recognized by any Autocephalous Church as a canonical jurisdiction. On the map of the Church Universal we simply do not exist. When in 1967 our Metropolitan journeyed to the Holy Land he was not granted permission to celebrate at the Holy Sepulchre. We are excluded from all pan-Orthodox consultations, we have no voice in the solving of urgent problems facing the entire Church. Each time we have difficulties with any of our parishes they simply "change jurisdictions" which weakens Church discipline and prevents the much needed peace and progress. The same situations impedes all moves towards greater Orthodox unity at the Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops where all our proposals are vetoed by the Moscow Exarchate as emanating from a non-canonical jurisdiction.

d). And yet all we want, and we have been consistent and unanimous on this point, is peace and communion with all Orthodox Churches and the possibility to manage our Church affairs without interference from outside. For it is abundantly clear to us that the situation in America, being very different from that in Russia or anywhere else in the "old world", the Church here must be independent in government and administration. This is what we claimed in Detroit in 1924 and again in Cleveland in 1946 but at that time our claims were not accepted.

2). First contacts with the patriarchate — 1963

It is obvious to everyone that no permanent solution to our problems can be found without an agreement with the Russian Church. Whatever her situation at home, in U.S.S.R., she is the canonical Church of Russia and is recognized as such by the entire Orthodox Church. As long as such an agreement is not reached, the Russian Church by maintaining her Exarchate here, will always make our position vulnerable and open to conflicts, court cases, controversies etc. On the other hand all our efforts to work at a pan-Orthodox solution through the Standing Conference will also remain doomed, for no church will recognize our Metropolia unless she, first, clears her difficulties with the Church of Russia. Such was and still is the stand of the patriarch of Constantinople and all other Autocephalous Churches.

Against all expectations an offer to discuss the problem and its possible solution reached us in 1963 from the Russian Church herself. During a visit to U.S.A., Metropolitan Nikodim met with our late Metropolitan Leonty and a group of his advisers. He suggested that instead of discussing the past, when mistakes were made, as he conceded, on both sides, we discuss the future of Orthodoxy in America and he agreed that this future could only be thought of in terms of an Autocephalous Church. This in itself was a tremendous step forward and established a framework for all subsequent negotiations. Another encounter took place in the fall of 1963 in Rochester, N.Y. but, in spite of the initial agreement, these first conversations led nowhere, because not of any radical misunderstanding, but of the obvious lack of direct channels of communication.

3). Syosset — February 1969

In November 1967, while again in New York City, Metropolitan Nikodim made it known that contacts could be resumed. At an informal meeting with representatives of the Metropolia, all he asked for was a "sign" from the Metropolia expressing its willingness to enter into negotiations. Such a "sign" took the form of a greeting sent by our Sobor of Bishops to the Moscow Patriarchate on the occasion of the 50 th Anniversary of the enthronement of the late Patriarch Tikhon celebrated in Moscow in May 1968. This greeting stressed the fact that Patriarch Tikhon is one of the true fathers of American Orthodoxy, since as early as 1906 he communicated his vision of a united and supra-national American Church to the Synod of the Russian Church.

The sign was well received in Moscow and officially acknowledged during the May solemnities. And thus when Metropolitan Nikodim met in August 1968 our delegates to the Uppsala Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Sweden, he informed them that the Patriarchal Synod is ready to enter into official negotiations with the Metropolia.

In September 1968 our Sobor of Bishops in San Francisco reorganized our Department of External Affairs. Bishop Kiprian was appointed chairman, new members appointed and the Metropolia thus acquired an official organ for orderly and responsible negotiations, for in a way it was precisely the absence of such an organ and the "private" nature of all contacts, that explains the lack of success in 1963.

With the blessing of the Metropolitan, the Department informed the Moscow Patriarchate (through its own Department of Foreign Relations) that we accept the principle of preliminary conversations. To this Metropolitan Nikodim replied that he planned to be in New York early in 1969 and that such conversations could take place then.

On January 21, 1969 the members of our Department led by Bishop Kiprian met at the Hotel New Yorker with Metropolitan Nikodim to prepare the agenda of conversations. It was decided to meet on February 3, 1969 at the Metropolitan's Residence in Syosset, Long Island.

The meeting at Syosset must be considered as the first major "break through". Our delegation consisted of Bishop Kiprian, Fr. Joseph Pishtey, Fr. Alexander Schmemann, Fr. John Skvir and Fr. John Meyendorff. Metropolitan Nikodim was assisted by the Exarch Archbishop Jonathan and his secretary, Fr. Matthew Stadniuk. For the first time the agreement took form of a written document signed by Metropolitan Nikodim and Bishop Kiprian. It included the following points:

1).      the termination by the Patriarchate of its jurisdiction in America.

2).      the granting by the Patriarchate of the autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of America.

3).      the transfer to the Autocephalous Church of all property and rights hitherto belonging to the Patriarchate, with the exception of St. Nicholas Cathedral in New York City which is to remain property of the Patriarchate with the status of "podvorie", i.e. with no jurisdictional rights attached.

4).      the securing by the Moscow Patriarchate of the recognition by all Orthodox Churches of the new autocephaly.

All this, of course, represented infinitely more than what we asked for in Cleveland in 1946. It outlined a clear, canonical and permanent solution of a crisis which lasted for half a century. At the end, of the meeting it was decided that upon acceptance and approval of this agreement by the Patriarchal Synod and our Sobor of Bishops, the official meeting of representatives of both Churches will take place in Geneva, Switzerland in the summer of the same year.

4). Geneva — August 1969

Both approvals having been secured (our Sobor of Bishops met in March) the two delegations met in Geneva on August 24 and 25, 1969. Our delegation consisted of persons enumerated above. The Patriarchal delegation included, besides Metropolitan Nikodim, Archpriest Vitaly Borovoy, representative of the Patriarchate at the W.C.C., Archpriest Livery Voronoff, Professor at the Theological Academy of Leningrad, and Hieromonk Kirill, of the same Academy. In his opening remarks Metropolitan Nikodim stressed the historical character of the meeting which, in the unanimous opinion of our delegation, was marked from beginning to end by an obvious desire on both sides to reach a realistic agreement and to achieve the goal set at Syosset.

Both delegations unanimously approved a set of canonical presuppositions drafted by Fr. Schmemann. These include:

1).      the canonical principle of territorial unity of the church.

2).      the canonical principle of the jurisdictional unity of the church.

3).      the recognition that prior to 1922 both the territorial and the jurisdictional unity of the Orthodox Church in America belonged to the Church of Russia which de jure if not de facto has never waived her canonical rights in America.

4).      the recognition that the jurisdictional pluralism in America, if it could be explained by external factors and in terms of "economy", is obviously contradicting the canonical norms and cannot be the basis of the permanent organization of the Church in America.

5).      the recognition that it belongs to the Mother Church, and to her alone, to proclaim autocephaly on a territory hitherto under her jurisidiction.

6).      the recognition that the growth of the Church in America into a native Church warrants its proclamation as an Autocephalous Church.

7).      the recognition that the Metropolia because of her historical continuity with the Russian roots of Orthodoxy in America and in spite of her de facto separation from the Mother Church, is the self-evident focus of the American Autocephalous Church.

The delegations also agreed on the modality of the proclamation of Autocephaly. Once all remaining problems solved and the agreement signed, the Metropolitan will petition the Patriarch and His Synod. A Synodal Tomos issued by the Patriarch and His Synod will officially proclaim our Church as autocephalous. The acceptance of that Tomos will take place in the U.S.A.

Two questions, although thoroughly discussed and in principle agreed upon, were left open simply because our delegation was not authorized by the Sobor of Bishops to finalize any concrete solution: 1) Japan and 2) the status of some priest or laymen of the Exarchate who may have personal objections to joining the new Autocephalous Church. It was agreed to have both questions on the agenda at the next meeting to be held, with the approval of both Churches, in the fall in Japan.

5). Approval by the Episcopate

On September 5, 1969 our delegation presented a full report on the Geneva meeting to Metropolitan Ireney and to the members of the Church Administration. Also present at the meeting was Archbishop John of San Francisco.

The Metropolitan decided to convene the Great Sobor of Bishops for September 17, but, prior to this, to request Fr. Schmemann to go to Japan and to brief Bishop Vladimir and his clergy on the state of negotiations so that the Church of Japan could freely express her views on problems involving also her own future status.

On September 19, 1969 the Great Sobor of Bishops unanimously accepted and approved the report of the delegation as well as the report of Fr. Schmemann on his mission to Japan and the written document signed by the entire clergy of the Church of Japan. It also authorized the next meeting of our delegation with the representatives of the Patriarchate to be held in Tokyo in November, and instructed the delegation to give preliminary reports on the state of negotiations to all Dioceses of the Metropolia.

6). Informing the Church

On September 22, Fr. Schmemann reported to the Diocesan Assembly of the Chicago-Minneapolis Diocese and on October 3 to the Diocesan Assembly of the New York-New Jersey Diocese. On October 21, Fr. Pishtey gave the same report to the Eastern deaneries of the Archdiocese of Canada and Bishop Kiprian addressed the deaneries of his Diocese of Eastern Pennsylvania. On November 20 and on December 8 reports will be given, respectively, to the Diocese of New England and California as well as to the Archdiocese of Pittsburgh and West Virginia. On October 4 a full briefing of the Metropolitan Council took place. We must add that everywhere the report was received with great joy and accepted as truly announcing a major clarification in the life of our Church on this continent.

7). Informing other Churches

Conscious of the necessity for all Orthodox in America to be as close to one another as possible and of the need for constant cooperation, the Metropolitan instructed the Department of External Affairs to give reports on the negotiations to Archbishop Iakovos, Chairman of the Standing Conference, and to Metropolitan Philip, Vice-Chairman. Both expressed their gratification at this possibility to diminish and clarify the jurisdictional confusion in America.

8). Conclusion

This is a progress report, not a victory bulletin. There still remain important problems to be solved, difficulties to be met and removed. In conclusion however,we want to stress the positive, indeed invaluable, meaning of all this, should it, by the grace of God be brought to fulfillment.

If achieved and fulfilled this project will mean:

1).      the canonical stability of our Church.

2).      the termination of a constant fight between our church and the Exarchate, a fight draining so much of our resources, energies and money.

3).      the possibility finally for all those who seek a permanent Orthodox home in this land to have it and to live their Christian life in peace and unity.

Some undoubtedly will say: "and what if Moscow deceives us?" Our answer is: Our conscience is clear. Everything we have done, we have done it openly, honestly, without any reservations or secret thoughts. The record is self-explanatory and sealed by signatures. If the pact is broken, we shall have to be ashamed of nothing. We labored in this direction not for ourselves, but that our children and grand children may live and save their souls in the great, prosperous and spiritually fruitful Orthodox Church of America and Canada.

May God Help Us!

Prepared on behalf of the Department of External Affairs by

Fr. Alexander Schmemann

October 1969.