Valerian Trifa: „The Orthodox Church Today 1964“

(Continued from last issue) 

In 1945, the Metropolitan of Sophia, Stefan, was elected Exarch and soon after, the Ecumenical Patriarch recognized the autocephalous status of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church within the limits of the Bulgarian Republic.

The Bulgarian Church, like other Churches behind the Iron Curtain, was faced lately with the problem of adjusting itself to new conditions dictated by Communist governments. The Church became separated from the State religious instruction in the public schools is prohibited and any social services of the Church are outlawed.

The Bulgarian Church counts about 6,000,000 faithful. In 1940, there were 2,742 Parishes, 2,381 Priests and eleven Dioceses.

The supreme legislative authority in the Bulgarian Church belongs to the National Council composed of Bishops and elected representatives of clergy and laity. In its structure, the constitution of the Bulgarian Church is hierarchical and also democratic. Church leaders are elected, not nominated, but the Holy Synod of Bishops has the sole authority in all matters of strictly religious nature.

From May 10,1953, the Metropolitan of Sophia assumed the title of Patriarch. At the present time, the Patriarch is the former Bishop of Plovdiv, Kyril.

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With the Bulgarian Patriarchate, the list of Orthodox Patriarchates is concluded. The subsequent are the autocephalous Orthodox Churches, which means that they are fully independent from other units, but the Presiding Bishop is not called Patriarch. Some are called Primates, some Metropolitans, and still others Archbishops. 9. The Church of Greece Up to 1833, the Greek Church was under the direct jurisdiction and adminstration of the Ecumenical Patriarch. With the achievement of Greek independence, a Synod of Greek Bishops proclaimed the autocephalous status of the Church, motivating this act by the fact that the Ecumenical Patriarch, although Greek, was regarded as too much dependent upon Turkish control.

As usual in such cases, the Ecumenical Patriarch objected, but finally, in 1850, it recognized the existence of an autocephalous Greek Orthodox Church. Since that time, the Greek Church has been administered by a Holy Synod, presided by the Archbishop of Athens.

The Church organization and its relatior to the State were and still are under continuous change. Greece is at this time the only country where the Orthodox Church is a State Church and where the government has an important say in Church affairs.

Consequently, the Church in Greece underwent changes connected with political events in the life of the State. At times, the Church was even at odds with the government.

The Church of Greece numbers about 8,000,000 faithful.

Peculiar to the Church of Greece is the multiplicity of Dioceses. There are in all 81 Dioceses, so that each important community has its own Bishop. Administratively, this creates a huge bureaucracy and a splintering of Church unity.

For theological education, the Church of Greece has two Theological Faculties as parts of the Universities of Athens and Thessalonica. The graduates enter the Priesthood or become teachers of religions. For the training of Parish Priests, there are many minor Seminaries. Laymen have a voice in theological matters and some missionary organizations are quite active

The head of the Greek Church is Metropolitan Chrysostomos. His title is „Archbishop of Athens and Primate of All Greece.“

10. The Church of Georgia

The Georgian Church is one of the oldest branches of Christendom. It is in existence from the 5th Century. For a long period of time, it was under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Antioch and later Constan-tinople, but it achieved autocephalous status. It was governed by its own Patriarch called Catholicos, a title borne by heads of autonomous Churches outside the Byzantine Empire.

In 1801, the Georgian territory was annexed by the Russians and from 1817, the Church was governed by a Russian Exarch, a member of the Russian Synod in St. Petersburg.

Today, the Georgian Church regained autocephalous status,recognized by the Patriarch of Moscow in 1943. Officially, there are 15 Dioceses counting 2,250,000 faithful, but many Dioceses have no Bishop.

Under the Soviet regime, religious statistics are not available and there is little known about the Church constitution and activity.

The present Catholicos heading the Georgian Church is Ephraim II and his title is „Catholicos-Patriarch of all Georgia“ with his See in Urbani, Georgia, U.S.S.R.

11. The Church of Cyprus

The Church of Cyprus, the Greek Island in the Eastern part of the Mediterranean, gained independence by decree of the Council of Ephesus in 431.

The Island has undergone many turbulent times, being conquered by Arabs, by Latins, during the Third Crusade, by Venice, by the Turks and lastly by the British in 1878.

Under British occupation, the Church enjoyed freedom of organization and the Orthodox clergy preserved religious and some civil control over the membership.

The Archbishop of Cyprus was de facto the national head of the Greek Orthodox population (Ethnarch).

During the Cypriot rebellion against the British rule, the Archbishop Macarios was the leader, and after the formation of the Republic of Cyprus, he was chosen President. At this time, Macarios is Metropolitan of Cyprus and President of the Republic.

There are about 400,000 Greek Orthodox in Cyprus.

12. The Church of Sinai

On Mt. Sinai, there is a monastery built by Emperor Justinian in the 6th Century. The head of the monastery enjoys the rank of an Archbishop, and the monastery encompassing the monks and Bedouins around the monastery (in all about 1,000 souls) enjoys the status of an autonomous Church.

The present Archbishop is Porphy-rios who lives in the monastery, but has a residence in Cairo, Egypt, also.

13. The Orthodox Church of Albania

After the formation of the Albanian State as a result of the First World War, the Orthodox minority (about 200,000 souls) declared its autonomous status in 1922, but the Ecumenical Patriarch consented to this only fifteen years later in 1937. In the short period of its existence, the Albanian Orthodox Church suffered many setbacks. First it was a minority in a Moslem country; second, it suffered under Italian occupation during the Second World War; and then fell under the Communistic regime in 1945.

In 1949, the Archbishop was deposed and imprisoned by the government. The present Archbishop Paissi, was elected as head of the Church and recognized by the Patriarch of Moscow, but not by the Ecumenical Patriarch.

14. The Orthodox Church of Poland

The Polish State included after 1918 a large population of Ukrainian and Byelo-Russian Orthodox which until that time were under Russian jurisdiction.

Following the collapse of the Russian Orthodox Church organization in Russia in 1924, five Dioceses were organized under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch, after which the Church of Poland achieved an autocephalous status.

After the Second World War, many Polish territories were incorporated to the Soviet Union and only 350,000 Orthodox remained on Polish territory. The Polish Bishops were requested to renounce the Canonical jurisdiction of Constantinople, and the Metropolitan Dionysius was forced into retirement.

A new head of the Polish Orthodox Church was provided by the Russian

Patrarch. He was Macarios, and the Church was incorporated to the Russian jurisdiction, but was granted a relatively independent status.

There are about 160 Parishes active at the present time in Poland.

The present Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Polish Orthodox Church is Timothy.

15. The Orthodox Church of Czechoslovakia

The Orthodox minority in Czechoslovakia consists of two groups. One group of Romanian and Carpatho-Rus-sian minorities were provided with a Bishop in 1923. He was Sabbathios, jurisdictionally submitted to Constantinople.

In 1925 and 1930, the Czechoslo-vakian National Church (separated earlier from Rome) and the Carpatho-Russian Uniates, returned to Orthodoxy, forming the Diocese of Mukachevo under the jurisdiction of the Serbian Patriarchate in Belgrade.

In 1947, the Patriarch of Moscow intervened and united all the groups to form one Church with four Dioceses.

In 1951. the Orthodox Church of Czeciioslovakia was granted an autocephalous status by the Patriarch of Moscow which was recognized by the Patriarchs of Constantinople and also, Belgrade.

The Archbishop is Metropolitan John, of Russian origin.

The Church numbers about 400,000 members and has at its disposal a Seminary and a theological publication.

16. The Orthodox Church of Finland

After Finland won independence from Russia in 1918, the Orthodox, under the leadership of Archbishop Germanos Aab, placed themselves under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch which recognized their Church as autonomous.

The Patriarchate in Moscow protested the intervention from Constantinople, but he also recognized the autonomous status of the Finnish Orthodox Church in 1958.

There are about 75,000 Orthodox in Finland.

The present Archbishop is the Most Reverend Paavali. His title is „Archbishop of Karelia and All Finland“ with the See in Kupio.

17. The Orthodox in Diaspora

In addition to the constituted Orthodox Churches enumerated above, there are small groups of Orthodox minorities throughout the world.

Those religious groups living as a minority among other beliefs are generally called Orthodox in Diaspora. The word Diaspora is of Greek origin, meaning dispersion.

The largest group of Orthodox in Diaspora lives in North America. A special chapter will be dedicated to them. Other Orthodox groups in Diaspora are:

a) Japan (40,000)

b) China (25,000)

c) Hungary (50,000)

d) Australia (75,000)

e) Korea (15,000)

f) Western Europe (50,000)

g) South America (100,000) 


The first Orthodox Christians to reach the continent of North America were Russians coming to Alaska. Russian explorers discovered Alaska in 1741. The first Christian to be baptized on Alaskan soil was an Aleutian by the name of Andrev Islands in 1743. Laymen tried to spread Christianity among the natives, but real missionary work started in 1794 and was undertaken by seven missionary monks coming from the Valaam Monastery on Lake Ladoga. They opened the first school for the Eskimos and together with some Russian settlers, the foundation of the Russian Orthodox Church in America was laid. During the Winter of 1794, the first Orthodox Church was consecrated in St. Paul’s Harbor. Within a few years, more than 12,000 natives were baptized. In 1841, even a Seminary for the training of clergy was in operation on the Aleutian Islands.

The United States purchased Alaska from Russia in 1868, and the Russian Orthodox Mission became a Diocese administratively autonomous but under the Russian canonical jurisdiction.

Later in 1872, the Seat of the Bishop was transferred to San Francisco and then to New York in 1905.

In addition to the Russians on Alaskan Territory, during the 19th Century and in particular during the beginning of the 20th Century, many immigrants came to the United States from Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Greece. They were Orthodox, and as soon as they settled, they organized communities, chartered parishes and built churches.

Typical for the Orthodox immigration in the United States and Canada are the following:

1. With the exception of the Russian Mission, the absolute majority of the parishes were organized by the immigrants on their own initiative and not by planned missionary work from the Mother Church.

2. For more than a century, most of the Orthodox Priests serving the American Churches were trained and came from the Old Country.

3. The Parishes and Dioceses organized on a nationalistic basis, mostly without any ties with the neighboring, sister Orthodox Churches.

4. Many Orthodox communities received canonical assistance from the Russian Bishops in the United States and Canada.

5. Due to the scarcity of relations with the Mother Church, particularly during the two World Wars, and sometimes due to political circumstances, all Orthodox communities in the United States developed a strong feeling of independence in relation to the Churches in the Old Country.

At this time, there are nine National

branches of the Orthodox Church in America:

1) Albanian Orthodox Church

2) Bulgarian Orthodox Church

3) Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church

4) Greek Orthodox Church

5) Romanian Orthodox Church

6) Russian Orthodox Church

7) Serbian Orthodox Church

8) Syrian Orthodox Church

9) Ukrainian Orthodox Church

The Albanian Orthodox Church The first Albanian Orthodox Parish in America was organized in 1908 in Boston, Massachusetts, under the leadership of Dr. Fan S. Noli. The same year, Dr. Fan Noli was ordained into the Priesthood by the Russian Metropolitan Platon. Called to Albania, Father Fan Noli went to his native country in 1920 and took active part in the political life, becoming Prime Minister in the Albanian government.

In 1923, Father Fan Noli was consecrated Archbishop of Durazzo, but due to the Moslem political domination of Albania, he could not carry out his mission. Therefore, in 1930, he returned to the United States and organized the Albanian Orthodox Church as a self-governing group without any connection with any Church abroad.

For many years, Metropolitan Fan Noli resided in Boston and dedicated himself to the translation of Orthodox literature into English.

Under his jurisdiction, there are about fifteen parishes in the United States.

At the present time, Metropolitan Fan Noli is living in Florida.

In all, there are about 16,000 Albanian Orthodox Christians in the United States.


A few years ago, the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople ordained a new Albanian bishop with the mission to organize an Albanian Orthodox Church in America under the Greek jurisdiction. The new Bishop is His Grace Mark E. Lipa. He resides in Boston and lists under his jurisdiction two parishes with regularly priestly services and five missions without a Priest.

The Bulgarian Orthodox Church

Bulgarian immigration to the United States started about the turn of the century.

The first Bulgarian Orthodox Church in the United States was built in 1907 in Madison, Illinois. Today, there are 23 Bulgarian Orthodox Parishes in the United States and Canada.

In 1938, a Bulgarian Diocese was established with jurisdiction over all the Bulgarian Orthodox Parishes.

The first Bishop elected was the Most Reverend Andrei who found himself in the United States as a refugee from Bulgaria.

For a long period of time, the Bulgarian Diocese in the United States was practically in a status of autonomy, without ties with any other Church.

(To be continued)


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