During the Annual Memorial Day Pilgrimage at Saint Tikhon’s Monastery, on Monday, May 29, 2023, His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon, Primate of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) will welcome His Eminence Metropolitan Nicholas, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) for a joint celebration of the Divine Liturgy. This will mark the first time in the hundred years of ROCOR’s existence that the Primate of the OCA or the Russian Metropolia – as the OCA was popularly called before being granted autocephaly in 1970 – and the First Hierarch of ROCOR will have concelebrated Liturgy at a church of the OCA or Metropolia.
To fully appreciate the significance of the concelebration, some historical reflection is necessary. Both the OCA and ROCOR have their roots in the Russian Orthodox Church. The OCA is the direct descendant of the Orthodox Mission in Alaska initiated by the Russian Church in 1794. By the early 20th century, the Mission had spread throughout North America and in the 1920s, it became informally known as the Russian Orthodox Metropolia, as its head by that time had the high episcopal rank of Metropolitan. Meanwhile, ROCOR was organized in the early 1920s by hierarchs who had fled Russia in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution as a provisional ecclesiastical governing body to tend to the pastoral and spiritual needs of the nascent Russian diaspora. Initially, ROCOR established its headquarters in Serbia. Complex historical circumstances throughout the 20th century that are beyond this article, often caused difficulties in the relations between the OCA (formerly, Metropolia) and ROCOR. Metropolitans Platon (Rozhdestvensky) and Theophilus (Pashkovsky) visited the ROCOR hierarchy in Serbia, but concelebration of the First Hierarchs did not then take place. In spite of the strain in inter-jurisdictional relationship precipitated by events surrounding the 7th All-American Sobor in 1946, when the First Hierarch of ROCOR relocated to America in 1950 to set up his residence and Synodal chancery in New York, he was warmly welcomed by Metropolitan Leonty (Turkevich), Primate of the Metropolia, with the hope for fraternal collaboration. Over the next decades, the relationship of the Metropolia and ROCOR was often problematic, and at times, acrimonious. This was most acutely evident when the Metropolia was granted autocephaly by the Church of Russia in 1970, an action that was viewed with wariness and suspicion by ROCOR due to state control of the Church in the Soviet Union. Concelebration of hierarchs and clergy of the two Churches was unknown, although the Metropolia/OCA never took a formal decision to suspend communion with ROCOR.
Relations began to warm in the new millennium with a decisive breakthrough in the ROCOR-OCA relationship after the Act of Canonical Communion reuniting ROCOR with the Church of Russia was signed in 2007. Almost immediately, concelebrations among ROCOR and OCA hierarchs and clergy began to take place with regularity. In order to clearly define a joint perspective on the past, present and future of the relations between ROCOR and the OCA, ROCOR suggested that dialogue should take place. For this purpose, each side established a Commission chaired by a bishop, consisting of four priests and a consultant. The Commissions held two days of joint meetings in October 2010, producing a statement issued jointly by the Synods of Bishops of the OCA and ROCOR in December 2010. As a visible sign of the unity expressed in the statement, two concelebrations of then OCA Primate, Metropolitan Jonah (Paffhausen), and the late ROCOR First Hierarch, Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral) took place in 2011. This statement and concelebrations were the felicitous culmination of years of rapprochement following what had at one time been a trying coexistence. On May 24, they served the Divine Liturgy together at the historic Saint Nicholas Cathedral in New York, at the invitation of Archbishop Justinian, Administrator of the Patriarchal Parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church in the USA. A second concelebration took place at ROCOR’s Cathedral of the Sign in New York on December 10, with the participation of most members of the Synods of both Churches. Several years later, on June 3, 2018, His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon was invited to concelebrate the Divine Liturgy with Metropolitan Hilarion at ROCOR’s Novo-Diveevo Stavropegial Convent of the Holy Dormition in Nanuet, NY and to participate in the blessing of a new monument there dedicated to Saint Seraphim of Sarov.
The upcoming Liturgy at Saint Tikhon’s Monastery on Memorial Day with Metropolitan Tikhon and Metropolitan Nicholas (Olhovsky), who succeeded the reposed Metropolitan Hilarion last year, is, therefore, a significant historical milestone. It is especially poignant that the concelebration is taking place at the monastery founded by Saint Tikhon, Enlightener of North America, Patriarch and Confessor of Moscow, whose holy life and witness to the Gospel continues to shine as an illuminating beacon for both the OCA and ROCOR, whose archpastoral ministry was instrumental for the founding of both Churches and who is fervently venerated by the hierarchs, clergy and faithful in both ecclesial bodies. May the intercessions of Saint Tikhon and all the Saints of North America bring increased prayerful communion between the OCA and ROCOR with more frequent concelebrations and greater collaboration in ministry for the Glory of God and the growth of His Holy Church in North America.