What difference does it make to the EP if the OCA is autocephalous? What difference does it make to the OCA?
Can somebody explain it to me because I don't see how anything changes.
It makes a difference to the EP because it has a very large number of parishes in the United States. If the OCA were to be recognized as autocephalous in the full canonical sense of the term then it would rightfully be the canonical authority by which all Orthodox in the country would be measured. All of the EP parishes and all parishes from the other canonical jurisdictions would then have to be under the omophorion of an OCA bishop (excepting special arrangements).
There are also a number of political ramifications that would have consequences well outside of the US.
I would add, the manner in which the OCA's autocephaly was granted, and the circumstances in which the Eastern Orthodox Churches in North America existed at the time it was granted, are just as objectionable and, regretfully, offensive to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOAA) and its associate eparchy's that are under the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as is the information included in Reply No. 19.
So let's look at the history and general circumstances that existed prior to the issuance of the Tomos of Autocephaly by the Patriarchate of Moscow in 1970. The OCA's predecessor, the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Metropolia (Metropolitan District), had been under an "anathema" from the Church of Russia for the 46 years, (+/) proceeding the issuance of the Tomos of Autocephaly. But the GOAA, and I think most, if not all of the other eparchies in North America (not including the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia [ROCOR], and the Moscow Patriaarchate's archdiocese, of course), maintained Communion with the Metropolia during that period, considering the "anathema" to be more political than ecclesial, from a church that was under the control of the Communist government of the Soviet Union. (In fact, one prominent cause of the rupture in relations between the daughter archdiocese of the Church of Russia, was the failure of the Metropolia to agree to signing a loyalty oath to the Soviet Union, an agreement prohibiting the clergy and laity of the Metropolia from criticising the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (the Soviet Union).
The Church of Russia implanted Orthodoxy into North America via its missionary work in its territory of Alaska, beginning in 1794. Upon the sale of Alaska to the United States, it transferred its ecclesiastical administration in the New World to San Francisco thus, claiming the United States and Canada its canonical territory in 1870. It had a chapel at the Russian Empire's trading post of Fort Ross (Rus) sometime in the 1830's. It is the Greeks who established the first parish in the U.S. with the Holy Trinity Church in New Orleans in 1864, but the Greeks did not establish an episcopal presence in Western Hemisphere. The Russian bishop of San Francisco attempted to provide spiritual oversight over the Orthodox communities in the United States, offering gifts for instance to the Holy Trinity Church, but this church secured its priests mostly from the Church of Greece or the Ecumenical Patriarchate. There were pan-Orthodox communities under the Russian-American bishop, in this era, the late 19th and very early 20th centuries. It's mission to the Syro-Arab communities was the most successful Russian-American organization of non-Russian communities, though, some Syro-Arab communities did not associate with the mission. Unfortunately, it should be understood that during this era, while there were parishes established by the Russian diocese, most of the Orthodox communities in the U.S. including Russian-Americans, were ethnic fraternal organizations that included worship among it responsibilities. That pattern caused problems for decades in this country because priests were secured from the mother land and were hired by these fraternal boards of trustees, to whom they were responsible. They were not responsible to a bishop. It should be noted too, that the Russian-American mission was overwhelmed with the returning so called Byzantine Rite church's of the Roman Catholic Church, i.e. lots of law suites. In summary, there were Russian parishes under the Russian Bishop, and there were Syro-Arab parishes under the Russian diocese, and rather loosely administered missions for Serbian, Romanian, and Albanian parishes. But there were many communities of these groups, who had engaged priests for worship purposes, who were not under the Russian Bishop. Notably, the large Greek immigrant communities were not under the Russian bishop, nor any ecclesial authority. Never-the-less, in this era, 1873 to 1918, several of the Russian bishops, but certainly not all of them, commendably went out of their way to be the canonical authority for all Orthodox Christians in the U.S., especially Saint Tikhon, a humble and holy hierarch who would serve liturgies in Church Slavonic, Greek, and English. But as can be seen, a good deal of chaos reined in terms of diocesan administration. It should also be noted that the Russian Empire, through the Holy Synod, provided $500,000.00 annual support to its North American Mission. This among seemed no where nearly adequate, as in 1905 (+/-) Saint Tikhon had asked the Synod to double this allotment; however, it never did so.
In 1908, the Ecumenical Patriarchate decided to take action to assure that the Greek communities were not associated directly with it, because the Turkish government, the Young Turks, were demanding they exercise control over Greek-American immigrants who were actively using forums in the U.S. to protest Turkish treatment of the Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman Empire. The minutes of the Synodal discussions acknowledge the presence of the Russian Orthodox bishop of America, but noted that the Greek-American immigrants were not following him. (In defense of this lack of support for the Russian bishop, there was a perception that Russia would impose Pan-Slavism among the faithful under it.) So, the Ecumenical Patriarchate unilaterally transferred its responsibilities to the Church of Greece. However, the Church of Greece did not appoint a bishop for America. Perhaps Russian diplomatic influence was responsible for this lack of action by the Church of Greece. It should also be noted that during this period of the early 20th century, Patriarch Joachim III of Constantinople, sent a letter to a Russian parish priest on the American West coast, thanking him for the services he was conducting for Greek immigrant faithful.
All of this was to change in 1917 when the Church of Russia's support was cut off due to the socialist upheaval and the Communist Revolution. The Russian Archdiocese was plunged into chaos, resorting to mortgaging church properties to save itself financially. Coincidentally, in 1918, the Church of Greece, with prompting by the republican government of Eleftherios Venizelos, elected a dynamic and bold hierarch to the Throne of the Chruch of Greece, Metropolitan Meletios (Metaxakis), the former Bishop of Kition in the Church of Cyprus. +Meletios was an Anglophile, taking a great interest in the West. He visited America and reported to the Greek Holy Synod that ecclesiastical chaos reined among the Greek immigrant communities who were engaging priests to provide religious services to their members. Using the authority of the Ecumenical Patriarchat's Tomos of 1908, the Holy Synod established the Holy (Greek Orthodox) Archdiocese of North and South America, to function as a diocese of the Church of Greece, in 1918. He was named Exarch. +Meletios retained the canonical ruling respsonsibilites for the new archdiocese, and appointed a Synodal Representative, Bishop Alexander of Rhodostolon, to organize the Greek-American communites ecclesiastically. In 1921 +Meletios was elected Ecumenical Patriarch and the following Spring, the Ecumenical Patriarchate established the G.O. Archdiocese of North & South America, electing +Alexander (Demoglou) the first Archbishop of America. This action sparked other of the Holy Orthodox Chruches to establish jurisdictions in America, the Churches of Serbia, Romania, and Antioch, at first.
The church was in such chaos that the matter of pan-Orthodox organization was bearly even considered, given the need by all groups to rein in these fraternal communities and bring these churches and their clergy under the authority of the diocese or archdiocese. In the meantime, the Russian-American parishes were amending their by-laws to distance themselves from the Central Church Administation, due to law suites from the so called "Living Church" which was attempting to legally demonstrate its ligitimacy in America. The Metropolia lost its cathedral in New York, built during the tenure of St. Tikhon, to these schismatics, due to a court ruling. The Patriarchate of Moscow and later the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia established jurisdictions in America, compounding the Russian problem. Even as late as the 1960's, in pan-Orthodox conversations, when asked about the prospects for unity, typically which Russian jurisdiction to recognize was a stumbling block, as the Holy Orthodox Churches were in Communion with the Patriarchate of Moscow; the Metropolia and ROCOR were not.
During World War II, there was a pan-Orthodox national venture, the Federation of Orthodox Catholic Primary Jurisdictions that did not even include the Metropolia; the smaller Moscow Patriarchate parishes would not permit admission of the larger Metropolia.
Finally, in 1960, soon after the election of Archbishop Iakovos of America of the GOAA, the leadership of the numerous dioceses and archdiocese of the Orthodox Churches formed the Standing Conference of (Canonical) Orthodox Bishops of the Americas (SCOBA). The Metropolia's leading clergy representatives (Fathers John Meyendorff and Alexander Schmemann) were an intrical part of SCOBA's Study and Planning Commission, SCOBA's working strategic committee. Close collaboration and friendship existed among the GOAA, Metropolia, and Antiochian Archdiocese representitives, along with the other jurisdictions. There was excitement among the Orthodox diocesan entities in America that SCOBA's work would succeed in unifying the work of the church on the continent and for formulating a plan for unified administation. During Christmas of 1965, the newly enthroned primate of the Metropolia, Metropolitan Ireney, sent a letter to the heads of the Holy Orthodox Churches pleading for pan-Orthodox intervention to correct the canonical chaos in America. There was no response to this plea, not from any of the primates. In 1966, Fr. Alexander traveled to Constantinople for an informal visit to The Phanar to meet with Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras; His All Holiness would not meet with Metropolitan Ireney, out of deference to the Patriarch of Moscow. Upon Fr. Alexander's plea, His All Holiness is reported to have said, "You are Russians, you must first go to your Mother Russian Church for reconciliation." (+Athenagoras devoted much energy to the work of pan-Orthodox unity and he would do nothing to offend the Russian Church. In fact, in this era, he disolved the Ecumenical Patriarchate's Russian Exarchate for Western Europe in Paris, advising them to return to their Mother Russian Church.) In 1968, the GOAA's Chancellor, Fr. George Bacopoulos, the General Secretary of SCOBA, attended the Pan-Orthodox Pre-Concilliar Commission meeting at Geneva, Switzerland, and on behalf of SCOBA, asked consideration for recognition of SCOBA as a "Provisional Synod," a first step toward administrative unity. However, the Patriarchate of Moscow and the Ecumenical Patriarchate colaborated to reject the proposal, as "the agenda had already been prepared." In actuality, the Moscow Patriarchate would not permit any organization of the church of America, that included the Metropolia. However, it was generally accepted that pressure could be brought upon the Holy Orthodox Churches and that this process would ultimately succeed in bringing about unified administration.
Thus, it can be imagined the reaction of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America when, in late 1969, the Chancellor of the Metropolia issued a statement that the Metropolia had been meeting privately, or it could be said secretly, during the proceeding few years, with the Director of External Affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church, and that the ROC was preparing to grant autocephaly to the Metropolia? Part of the agreement would be for the Meropolia to release the church in Japan, of which it had temporarily assumed spiritual protection. Notice, the Russian Church granted autonomy to the Church of Japan. In fact, in Fr. Alexander's report published in "Orthodox America," he explains that when the Russian Church's Metropolitan asked what were they to discuss, the Metropolia replied, "autocephaly, for that is all we have the authority to to discuss." A grant of automony, a form of self-governance, but one that would require approval from Moscow of a primate's election, is my guess what the Russian Metropolitan intended to negotiate. I'm assuming that autonomy was what Moscow would have preferred to be negotiating, but the Metropolia felt (I'm guesing) it could not accept the interfearace of a mother church which was controlled by the Soviet Communist government. I would also submit that a grant of autonomy would have been welcomed by the GOAA and the EP, seen as a long needed reconciliation, but not intruding on the rights of many other duely established dioceses and archdioceses, while canonically anomoulos.
The following is summary of the circumsances that existed in Orthodox America, when the prospects of "autocephaly" being issued unilaterlly by the Church of Russia became known. Keep in mind that the Orthodox Church is ultimately governed by a consensus of all the Holy Orthodox Churches, a conciliar church---"concillarity," "sobornost" in Russian; that at some risk to upseting the largest of the Holy Orthodox Churches, the Russian Church, the GOAA and, most if not all, jurisdictions in America maintained communion and relations in general with the Metropolia; that the Metropolia's national church administration had substantially fallen apart after the Russian Revolution--it could not even secure passage of a governing statute until the mid-1950's; and that the leadership of the Metropolia was closely callaborating with SCOBA members and GOAA leadership toward the "Provisional Synod" system for SCOBA.
These circumstances contibuted to the rebuff the Ecumenical Patriarch wrote of to the Patriarch of Moscow upon Moscow's issuance of the Tomos of Autocephaly, declaring the Metropolia the "Orthodox Church in America." There is more involved in terms of pan-Orthodox reaction to Moscow's unilateral action, which had foundation in the canons in that the Russia Church was the first to establish jurisdiction in America, even though that jurisdiction broke down in 1917. There are canons that can be debated in this context, another elablorate discussion, along with the reaction of the Holy Orthodox Churches, but really, I think the propriety of the imposition of an autocepahalos church, unilaterlly, upon a continent with many long time established dioceses and archdioceses, had as much to do with the Ecuemical Patriarchate's rejection of the Tomos, as any of the arguments about precedent which were made pubilically. As ROCOR had published at the time in its rejection of the Tomos, "the [GOAA] is larger and better orgnaized," not to mention much more significantly supported financially; this too had to play into the EP's thinking in this matter, along with the fact that the Tomos allowed the Russian Patriarchal parishes to remain under the Russian Patriarch--a stuation that exists among these over 50 parishes even to this day--what kind of an autocephalos church is it, if it didn't even facilitate reconciliation of the Russian jurisdictions. And yet, the Ecumenical Patriarchate only threatened to break communal relations, it never did so, thankfully.
Finally, note too that upon the fall of the Soviet government in 1991, rumors were emanating that there were moves within the Church of Russia to withdraw the Tomos of Autocephaly. Where did the OCA turn to at that time? To the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Led by their former chancellor, the OCA met with the EP. The EP would not acquies to accepting the OCA's autocephaly, but did publish its support of the canonicity of the OCA and that it understood it as a self-governed church, but not as a sister among the Holy Orthodox Chuches. (Patriarch Alexeii II of Thrice Blessed Memory, visited the OCA leadership in Alaska subsequently, and assured it that he would not permit the recission of the Tomos.)