What differentiates the various synods within the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia aka ROCOR?

I met someone who stated that their particular synod was in communion with ROCOR-A (ROCA), but not ROCOR-MP, because the latter was in communion with Moscow and Constantinople.

A quick google search told me that there were in fact multiple ROCOR groups that are distinct from ROCOR-A (ROCA) and who are not in communion with ROCOR-MP. Comments on those groups would be appreciated but not necessary to answer the question.

ROCOR merged with the Moscow Patriarch (MP) in the last decade and is now referred to as either ROCOR or ROCOR-MP.

I think that ROCOR-A is identical to ROCA, which is the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, which broke with ROCOR when the latter merged with MP. ROCA and ROCOR used the refer to the same thing, but now they refer to two distinct groups, the differences of which I would like answered in this question.

Edit - From Wikipedia:

Critics of the reunification [of ROCOR and MP] argue that "the hierarchy in Moscow still has not properly addressed the issue of KGB infiltration of the church hierarchy during the Soviet period." It has also been noted that "some parishes and priests of the ROCOR have always rejected the idea of a reunification with the ROC [MP] and said they would leave the ROCOR if this happened. The communion in Moscow may accelerate their departure."

The signing of the act led to yet another small schism from the ROCOR, this time taking with it Bishop Agafangel (Pashkovsky) of Odessa and Tauria, and with him some of ROCOR's parishes in the Ukraine, which refused to enter the jurisdiction of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Agafangel was subsequently suspended by the ROCOR synod for disobedience. Despite censure, Agafangel persisted with the support of ROCOR parishes inside and outside of the Ukraine which had also refused to submit to the Act of Canonical Communion. Agafangel subsequently ordained Bishop Andronik (Kotliaroff) with the assistance of Greek bishops from the Holy Synod in Resistance; these ordinations signified the breach between ROCOR and those who would refused communion with Moscow. At a Fifth All-Diaspora Council (composed of clergy who did not accept the Act of Canonical Communion), Bishop Agafangel was elevated to the rank of metropolitan; he now heads the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad - Provisional Supreme Church Authority (ROCA-PSCA) as Metropolitan Agafangel of New York and Eastern America.

  • They're what you might call the hardcore fundamentalists within Orthodoxy, ever vigil to reject the Branch Theory. More later when I have time.
    – Dan
    Mar 8, 2014 at 12:53
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    @Daи Don't most Orthodox and Catholics fundamentally reject Branch Theory on principle? Mar 9, 2014 at 2:19
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    @MatthewMoisen yes, but ROCOR would go so far as to not accept baptisms performed outside of Orthodoxy, while most Eastern Orthodox will receive someone baptized in a traditional/Trinitarian fashion through chrismation only. They go a lot further than most in what they consider to be acceptance of the theory (often accusing much of Orthodoxy of accepting the theory for various reasons - being somewhat separatist).
    – Dan
    Mar 9, 2014 at 2:50
  • @curiousdannii Someone unfamiliar with the acronyms is highly unlikely to be able to answer this anyway so i don't think it matters. A good answer on the other hand will naturally shed some light on what stands for what, so i think it's actually in the best interest of this question to stay specialized.
    – Caleb
    Mar 9, 2014 at 6:18
  • @Daи, I was under the impression that only Orthodox sect that accepted the baptisms of (what they deem) heretics was the Greeks under the authority of Constantinople. I thought that Moscow, Ukraine, Palestine, ROCOR, and all other Greek churches not under the authority of Constantinople refused to accept the baptism of heretics? Mar 9, 2014 at 6:46

3 Answers 3


Prior to the Russian Revolution there were two branches of Orthodoxy in Russia that I am aware of. The first and largest was the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) under the Moscow Patriarch (MP). The second was a schismatic group called Old Believers (OB) that split away from the MP due to differences over Liturgical forms. They are not relevant to the current discussion.

Until 1589, the Orthodox Church in Russia was governed by the Eastern Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople. In 1589, Russia was granted autonomy under its first Patriarch, Job. Tsar Peter the Great forced the ROC to abolish the office of Patriarch in 1721 as part of his overall political reforms. From that time until the time of the Russian Revolution, the ROC was governed by a Synod appointed by the Tsar that included both clergy and lay men (the "Most Holy Governing Synod").

One of the ironies of the Bolshevik Revolution was that it planted the seed for preservation of the Orthodox Church through Communism by ending all government involvement in the Orthodox Church. As a result, the ROC was able to reinstate the office of Patriarch in 1917, the office having been vacant for 196 years.

By 1922, however, the Bolsheviks had begun to seriously persecute and infiltrate the ROC. At that time there were very large number of Russian Orthodox clergy throughout the world, especially in Palestine and Serbia. Believing the MP to be under undue interference from the Soviet Government, a number of hierarchs in Serbia established on their own a Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCA). At some point the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad or Russian Church Abroad (ROCA) started to be called the "Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia" (ROCOR).

The situation with Russian Orthodox in America, as in other countries with diaspora, was complex. For some time, individual parishes under ROCOR coexisted with parishes that remained under the MP, known as the "Metropolia". ROCOR and the Metropolia had a tenuous communion in the United States.

In 1970, the MP granted the Metropolia "autocephaly" in the United States, thus establishing what is today known as the Orthodox Church in America (OCA). The validity of this autocephaly was contested by ROCOR and other jurisdictions within the Eastern Orthodox Church.

By 2001, ROCOR's concerns about government influence over the MP began to subside. In 2006, ROCUR returned to the MP, leaving the canonical status of the OCA in doubt.

Since 2010, an Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States has been working to resolve, among other things, the division between the MP and the OCA. It should be noted, however, that the individual jurisdictions are in communion with each other, despite the disputes over administration..


Letter to a priest concerning the origin and status of the Moscow Patriarchate By Metropolitan Vitaly

The following is extracted from a letter written by the Most Reverend Metropolitan Vitaly, President of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. It was written to a priest who had circulated a letter calling for a rapprochement with the Moscow Patriarchate, and also calling for our bishops to attend a Church Council jointly with the Moscow Patriarchate in order to decide the future fate of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia.

I have received your letter, which takes the form of a "pastoral letter" or "encyclical epistle." You would never have written such a letter if you had known all the facts. I presume that you do not know them all. However, the question of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia is one of such supreme importance in our days, that you can only presume to write about it if you are in possession of full information. From time to time the Lord allows temptations to arise in the history of the Church. We know of all the Ecumenical Councils, which were assembled as a result of heresies which were disturbing the souls of the faithful. What is the temptation facing us now? The European Christian religions or various sects? No. At the present time the principal trial and temptation facing us is the question of the Moscow Patriarchate and the question of whether we adopt the right, Orthodox attitude towards it or not, which amounts to the same thing as whether we adopt a right or a wrong attitude towards Christ, towards Truth Itself. This is why the Moscow Patriarchate is the most serious question for each Orthodox Russian, for on this depends our eternal salvation or our perdition. You probably do not know everything about this and this is your fatal error. You have not examined all the documents about what happened to the Moscow Patriarchate, beginning with Metropolitan Sergius. Without full knowledge you let yourself write your "pastoral letter" which was ill considered and unjust as concerns the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia which, for nearly 80 years, has been keeping to a straight path, without turning aside or losing its way. This is your sin, dear father.

Now let us look at the issue most closely. We do not have any communion with the Moscow Patriarchate, either in prayer or in the sacraments. This is not because we are critical of it, but because there are canonical rules on which the Church of Christ has stood since its very foundation by Christ our Saviour, which have been transgressed by the Moscow Patriarchate. And transgressing the canons is equivalent to destroying the Church. The breaking of canons by the Moscow Patriarchate amounts to a breaking of the Apostolic Succession. Clearly you are not aware of this and so have allowed yourself to write such an unworthy "epistle."

What is this all about? It is a very serious matter. From the very earliest years the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia has had no communion at all with the Moscow Patriarchate for very good reasons. Let us recall how, in a document dated 25th December 1924, Patriarch Tikhon appointed one of three Metropolitans - whichever of Metropolitans Kyrill, Agathangel or Peter of Krutitsa could manage to be present in Moscow - to replace him after his death until such time as a new Patriarch could be elected. Metropolitans Kyrill and Agathangel were not allowed to travel to Moscow from their places of exile by the Soviet government. The 58 bishops who assembled in Moscow for the funeral of Patriarch Tikhon examined the document left by the late Patriarch, and then recognized Metropolitan Peter of Krutitsa as locum tenens of the Patriarchal throne until the lawful election of a new Patriarch. He was loyal to the Soviet government in the sense that he did not speak out against it publicly, but he completely refused to make any untrue statements in support of it or to meet any of its demands which were unacceptable to the Church. On 27th November / 10th December 1925 he was arrested. At first he was imprisoned in the Butyrka Prison, in a large cell together with common criminals, and then he was exiled to a remote part of Asia. A few days before his arrest Metropolitan Peter appointed Metropolitan Sergius, who was then in Moscow, as his deputy, and indicated two other possible deputies - Metropolitan Michael, the Exarch of the Ukraine, and Metropolitan Joseph of Petrograd, who was then still Archbishop of Rostov.

At first Metropolitan Sergius Stragorodsky did not sign the "Declaration" and was put in prison, but he was let out very soon after. This seemed highly suspicious to all the faithful. It turned out that now he had signed the Declaration. In other words, he had betrayed the Church to the Bolshevik government. He thereby deprived it of its own internal freedom in spiritual and administrative matters. When Metropolitan Peter learned that Metropolitan Sergius had signed this Declaration - in other words, that he had changed the whole course of the life of the Church - he wrote him two letters from prison, copies of which have been preserved. In these letters he said, very politely, "You, your eminence, had no right to change the course of the Church" i.e. to betray it to the Bolsheviks. He received no answer to these letters. And he was the real authority over Metropolitan Sergius. Clearly Sergius had concluded that by being arrested Metropolitan Peter had also been deposed from his position of authority in the Church, which is completely contrary to the Orthodox canons. Then Metropolitan Peter sent a letter by hand, thinking that it was the postal service that was at fault, and even then Metropolitan Sergius made no reply to his ecclesiastical superior, who was still his superior, even though confined to prison! For no Bolshevik government authority can deprive a single bishop or a single priest of his spiritual authority. This is something which you should know. Despite this, Sergius decided that he need no longer reckon with him as someone in a senior position. When Metropolitan Peter returned from his exile, the Bolsheviks realized that Metropolitan Peter was senior to Metropolitan Sergius in the Church, and then they immediately arrested him and shot him. None of the ruling bishops (and there were about ten of them) submitted to Metropolitan Sergius as the successor to the Patriarch. So they were all arrested, sent into exile, and ultimately killed. The Bolsheviks did everything possible to smooth the way for Metropolitan Sergius. Thus Metropolitan Sergius set out on a path drenched in the blood of the martyred bishops of Russia. On one occasion Lenin said, "If you need a Church, we will give you one, we will even give you a Patriarch, but it is WE who will give you your Patriarch. And it is WE who will give you your Church." Of course, Father, you do not know this, and so you have allowed yourself to write your composition. At the moment when Metropolitan Sergius ceased to recognize Metropolitan Peter of Krutitsa as his spiritual authority he deprived himself of the Apostolic Succession and became a usurper. Such was the path taken by Metropolitan Sergius, and after him by all the other patriarchs and metropolitans up to the present day, which is why we do not have any communion with the Moscow Patriarchate. It is a pseudo-patriarchate with a pseudo-patriarch at its head. This is the fundamental reason. So we do not point at it and say there, look what it's turned into, because the very heart of the matter is, that the Moscow Patriarchate has lost the Apostolic Succession, which is to say, that it has lost the Grace of Christ.

We have not the slightest intention of taking part in a Bishops' Council, or Sobor, jointly with the Moscow Patriarchate, and based on your statement this means that we will turn into a sect. How, after asserting this, do you have the moral right to be a rector of a parish in a Church, concerning which you have no faith at all in its canonical foundation?

12 / 25 June 1998 Translated and adapted from the original letter with the approval of the author

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    Thanks for this! Is this letter, either the original or this English translation, available on a church website or in a book? If so, including the reference to it would be very helpful. Jun 1, 2016 at 2:23
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    Please use quote markup, to indicate which portions are quoted.
    – Flimzy
    Jun 1, 2016 at 7:18

ROCOR (Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia) and ROCA (Russian Orthodox Church Abroad) are two names for the same Church.

There is no canonical (by the standards of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops) body called ROCOR-A.

in Christ,

Fr. James Rosselli unworthy ROCOR (or, if you prefer, ROCA) priest

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    Welcome! Thanks for contributing. If you haven't already done so, I hope you'll take a minute to take the tour and learn how this site is different from others. This answer would be stronger if you explained what other, if any, misconceptions are in the question. Is there still a ROCOR-MP? Are there ROCA synods not in communion with ROCOR-MP? Sources would be great too. Thanks! Jan 12, 2016 at 21:50

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