In 1794, the foundation of a mission on Kodiak Island in Alaska by the Orthodox monks from Russia has marked the entrance of Orthodox Church in America. Two centuries later, the presence of over 2 millions faithful gathered into 2,400 local parishes witnesses the firmly establishment of the Eastern Christianity in this country. Nevertheless, in the USA, in a nation whose religious culture has accommodated Catholics, Protestants, and Jews, the Orthodox Christians and Orthodox Churches have been largely ignored and overlooked in the religious, ethnic and sociologic studies.
The estimates of the total number of Orthodox Christians around the globe vary from 180 million [Stokoe, 1995] to 216 million [Barrett, 2001]. As of Church-organization, in the worldwide dimension, the Eastern Christianity consists of two ecclesiastical families of the independent - the so-called autocephalous and autonomous Orthodox Churches:
1) The Eastern (also known as the Byzantine) Orthodox Churches.
These are the Patriarchates of Constantinople, of Alexandria, of Antioch, and of Jerusalem; the Orthodox Churches of Russia, of Serbia, of Romania, of Bulgaria, of Georgia, of Cyprus, of Greece, of Poland, of Albania, of Czech and Slovak Republics, of America, of Finland, of Japan, of Mount Sinai and of China.
2) The Oriental (also known as the Not-Chalcedonian) Orthodox Churches.
These are the Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian, Syrian, Malankara, Eritrean Orthodox Churches. The common element among Oriental Orthodox Churches that distinguishes them from the Eastern Orthodox Churches is their rejection of the christological definition of the 4th Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451), which asserted that Christ is one person in two natures, undivided and unconfused.
The Churches in each family share in common the faith, the doctrine and the sacraments, and they are in full communion with each other. At the same time, they are fully independent in administrative terms, vary greatly in size and possess many distinctive liturgical traditions and features.
In addition to these widely recognized Eastern and Oriental groups, there are numerous Orthodox Churches of irregular status. They are of Orthodox origin, but because of various reasons the other Orthodox Churches do not recognize their legitimacy, qualifying them as uncanonical or schismatic. The Orthodox Churches included in this paper belong both to the Eastern and Oriental groups as well as those of the irregular status.
The notion of "one state – one Church" was historically a very characteristic of the Eastern Christianity. Therefore, when Orthodox Church is mentioned, one tends to think of its ethnic aspect. The Orthodox Christians being asked about religious affiliation almost always add an ethnic qualifier: Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, etc. Consequently, many Orthodox Churches which have faithful in U.S. have organized in North America their own jurisdictions (first, the individual separated parishes that were later united into dioceses) with a purpose to minister to the religious needs of the corresponding ethnic communities of immigrants from the Old World: the Greeks, Russians, Serbians, Romanians, Armenians, Copts, etc. It should be pointed out, there is no doubt for the first generation of immigrants the national Orthodox jurisdictions have brought a big measure of order and unity to ethnic groups that otherwise would have remained fragmented and enfeebled in an "American melting pot".
Today, most of Orthodox jurisdictions in the USA are still related or even directly subordinated to the one of "Mother" Orthodox Churches in the Old world (Tab. 1a). Therefore one could liken the institutional composition and administrative structure of Eastern Christianity in America to a layered cake, as the networks of dioceses and parishes belonging to the independent Orthodox jurisdictions co-exist and overlap on the same territory (Tab. 1 b).
2) THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE ORTHODOX CHURCHES IN USA DURING 20th CENTURY: PREMISES, TRENDS AND CHALLENGES.
With the exceptions of Russian and less so of Greek, the first parishes of the most of Eastern Orthodox jurisdictions have been founded in North America around the turn of the 19th century, during the period prior WWI. The unifications of these initially autonomous parishes into centrally administrated dioceses with the USA based headquarters have occurred 20-30 years later, mainly, between WWI and WWII. As of Oriental Orthodox, with the exceptions of Armenians and Syrians, they came to USA and organized their religious life in this country several decades later (columns 1 and 2, Tab. 2).
20th century was a period of dynamic and multi-faced development of ethnically diverse communities of Eastern Christians in North America.
First. The several stages of immigration originating in former Soviet Union, in Eastern Europe and in Middle East have increased dramatically the total number of Orthodox faithful. In 1903, there were no more than 50.000 of Eastern Christians in USA [Erickson, 1999], [Summary, 1999]. Today, with estimates sometimes as high as 5-6 million ([Barrett, 2000], [Directory, 1998]), most of experts and scholars agree on smaller but still impressive number of 2 million Orthodox believers living in the United States [Stokoe, 1995].
Second. The institutional and ecclesiastical compositions of the Orthodoxy in North America have become much more complex. At the beginning of 20th century, in 1906, the Eastern OCs were represented by 74 parishes (including 16 – on Alaska) united in what was called at times the "Missionary diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church in North America". Missionary diocese has included 7 parishes of the Syro-Arabian mission serving specifically for the Orthodox Christians from the Middle East and 6 parishes of the Serbian mission [Summary, 1999]. In addition to the Russian missionary diocese there were a handful of dispersed autonomous Greek (5 – in 1900) and Romanian (the very first was founded in 1904) Orthodox parishes [Erickson, 1999]. Of Oriental Orthodox Churches, only Armenian Apostolic Church was present in the USA at the turn of the century numbering 5-6 parishes united (in 1898) into diocese. Today the Eastern Christianity in the North America represents a phenomenon of a great jurisdictional diversity. More than 20 major Orthodox jurisdictions have above 50 dioceses consisting of 2,400 parishes and monastic communities (Tab 1b.). The "religious infrastructure" of 7 North American Orthodox jurisdictions (Orthodox Church in America, Greek Archdiocese, Serbian dioceses, Carpatho-Russian diocese, Russian Church Outside of Russia, Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Armenian Church/Catholicossate Etchmiadzin) includes also theological educational institutions to train American-born generations of Orthodox clergy (column 4, Tab. 4).
Third. From the geographically limited areas of Alaska (Russian colonists, native Alaskan converts to Orthodoxy), of California (Russians and Greeks in San Francisco, Serbians in Jackson, Armenians in Fresno), of the coal mines and steel centers of Pennsylvania (Serbians, Carpatho-Russians – also known as Ruthenians, Rusyns - who immigrated to United States from the Carpathian mountain regions of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire), of Massachusetts (early Armenian settlements in Cambridge, Watertown, Worcester) and of the few further urban centers (Greek communities in New York, Chicago, Boston; Arab Orthodox community in New York; Romanian community in Cleveland, Ohio; Albanians in Boston; etc.), the Orthodox have spread all across the country. During last 20 years the most dynamic growth of Orthodox ethnic communities and parishes was characteristic for the South and, especially, for the West of USA. This was because of continuing immigration from the Old World and due to a new pattern of settlement of the children and grandchildren of the old Orthodox immigrants.
Fourth. The ethnic diversity of Orthodox immigrants living in the United States has increased greatly during last century and this process still continues. With exceptions of early-settled Carpatho-Russians, Greeks, Romanians, and less so, Serbians, Orthodox Arabs and Armenians, the Orthodox immigrants began arriving in USA in large numbers on the eve of WWI and later (specifically, in early 1920’s, in the wakes of WWII and of the civil war in Lebanon). The newest groups of Orthodox Christians in this country are the Copts (the Arabic speaking Orthodox Christians from Egypt) and the Malankara Orthodox Christians from India (mainly from Kerala state). Whereas in 1971 there were only three compact Coptic communities in USA (in New Jersey city, in Los Angeles and in Brooklyn, NY), by the beginning of a new millennium more than 115 parishes of the Coptic Orthodox Church were organized all across the country. They are divided in two dioceses (with headquarters in Los Angeles and in Colleyville, TX) and an archdiocese (headquarter in Cedar Grove, NJ). Similarly, whereas thirty years ago two small Malankara Orthodox parishes existed in the USA (both in New York area), today 81 parishes belong to two various Malankara Orthodox jurisdictions with the headquarters in Nanuet, NJ and in Bellerose, NY.
Indeed, the patterns of development of the Orthodox jurisdictions in North America are closely connected with the history of ethnically diverse communities of Orthodox immigrants who came to USA because of various reasons, at different times and from many countries of Central and Eastern Europe and from the Middle East. Because of this and due to the linkage to the Mother Churches overseas, the Orthodox jurisdictions in the USA were always affected by the political, social and religious transformations in the Old World.
The Communist revolution of 1917 in Russia resulted in the formation on the USA territory of the three various Orthodox jurisdictions that all have historic roots in the Russian Orthodox Church. These are the Orthodox Church in America (until 1970, it was a Metropolia of the Russian Orthodox Church), the Russian Orthodox Church outside of Russia and the Patriarchal parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church. The establishment of the Communist regime in Armenia, one of ex-USSR republics, caused in 1933 a political split among Armenian Orthodox parishes in North America. Some of them have remained true to the Mother Church in Armenia and formed two American dioceses subordinated to the Catholicossate of Etchmiadzin (Armenia). Other Armenian parishes maintained that the Church and its leaders were manipulated by the new Communist authority to the point that the integrity and freedom even of the Armenian American diocese were in danger. They have replaced themselves under spiritual supervision of Armenian Catholicossate of Cilicia (Lebanon). Following the publication of a 1929 Papal Decree that limited the freedom and independence of the Uniate Greek-Catholic Churches, a large number (25, 000) of Uniates based in Johnstown, PA, left the Greek-Catholic Church and convert to Orthodoxy. These Carpatho-Russians have formed their own independent Orthodox jurisdiction – the Carpatho-Russian Greek Catholic Diocese of USA. WWII brought sweeping political changes in Eastern Europe that had important consequences for the OCs in the USA. The Communist governments in Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Romania have strictly limited and supervised all church activities. This has led to the political breaks among Serbian (1963), Bulgarian (1963) and Romanian (1951) Orthodox parishes in USA, whose membership was increased at that time significantly by refugees and displaced persons fleeing from the Communist takeover in Eastern Europe. Similarly to Russians in 1920’s, the Serbian, Bulgarian and Romanian dioceses would also divide in 1950-60’s into hostile factions. At that time a majority of parishes have denounced their resident bishops and the Patriarchates they represented as "tools of Communism". The dissident parishes would then form the new, independent jurisdictions of their own. Another part of parishes, however, has remained faithful to the Mother Church overseas – to the Patriarchates of Belgrade, Sophia and Bucharest. In 1958, in former Yugoslavia, the Macedonians separated from Serbs to form their own "Macedonian Orthodox Church". Subsequently, starting from 1963 an increasing number of the Macedonian Orthodox parishes would appear in the American religious landscape. The persecution in Greece during the 1950’s of the so called "Old Calendarists" – the members of the radical conservative and anti-ecumenical "True Orthodox Church of Greece" – and general resumption of large-scale emigration from Greece in the late 1960’s brought a significant numbers of the Old Calendarists to the USA. They have founded in North America several Orthodox jurisdictions as, for example, Holy Orthodox Church in North America or Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Vasiloupolis (both included in the study).
There are valuable books on the history of major Orthodox jurisdictions and of the correspondi