An Orthodox parish in America.
Image source: Bridesmaid Dresses
The Eastern Orthodox Church is not exactly a well-known Communion outside its boundaries in Eurasia and Eastern Europe. But some have actually gone as far as America in spreading the Orthodox faith. The Orthodox Church in America is an autocephalus (meaning: self-headed) Church in the far western part of the world.
With over 700 parishes and communities all over the U.S. as well as in Canada, one could say that the OCA is rather widespread.
It’s been said that the first Orthodox diocese in America was established in 1868. Throughout the 19th century, many Orthodox parishes began to sprout. The Church expanded to Alaska through the efforts of the then Bishop Tikhon who, in 1905, relocated the seat from San Francisco to New York due to the great wave of faithful immigrants from the east.
The American diocese later became the largest in the country by 1917, funded by the Russian Church. However, its ties between the Orthodox Church in Russia were severed following the October revolution. But through the approval of the global Orthodox community, the OCA gained its autocephaly in 1970.
The church buildings of Orthodox parishes are mostly found in urban areas. 38% of Eastern Orthodox churches are within the vicinity of downtown places and 26% are in suburbs around cities. The use of different languages outside English is also more common in Orthodox Churches than Roman Catholic or Protestant Churches in the U.S. alone.
The official canonical body which governs the OCA is the Synod of Bishops, composed of episcopal authorities of different dioceses. The Metropolitan of All-America and Canada holds the primacy and is considered by all bishops to be the first among equals.
The autocephaly or independence of the Orthodox Church in America is officially recognized by some Orthodox Churches like the Russian and Bulgarian Communions, but others like the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople refuse to recognize its autocephalus title.
Apart from the OCA, other branches of Orthodoxy also exist in the U.S., such as the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.
The Orthodox Church indeed has a long history, from the establishment of Christianity in the ancient world, to its gaining of foothold in a far-flung place such as America. Regardless, it's the development of its eastern ways that makes the Orthodox Church truly distinctive.