History of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia

A Century of Russian Orthodoxy in the Diaspora


The Church Abroad: A Century of Life and Mission in the Diaspora

Our Diocese is devoted to the heritage of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR, also known as the ‘Church Abroad’), which has maintained the traditions of pre-revolutionary Russian Orthodox practice for the past century in various regions of the Diaspora.

It behoves every child of the Church Abroad to know something of her history, and especially of the lives and pastoral works of her First Hierarchs, who from the founding of the ROCOR have directed her in the maintenance of wholehearted fidelity to the ascetical, spiritual, liturgical and theological heritage of ancient Russian Orthodoxy, and to whom the present generation of Orthodox Christians in the Diaspora maintains a deep devotion.


How was the Russian Church Abroad formed? In November 1920, following the godless revolution in the Russian lands, many Russian Orthodox peoples, though politically defeated, did not surrender. They left their beloved nation’s borders: hundreds of thousands of officers and soldiers, Cossacks and peasants, landowners and workers — all went into exile following the captivity of their Fatherland. Departing with them were the clergy who nourished them; and those archpastors and clergymen did not depart from their homeland in disarray. Before their departure, with the blessing of the Holy Hierarch St Tikhon, Patriarch and Confessor of All Russia, they formed what was first known as the ‘Provisional Supreme Ecclesiastical Authority of South-Eastern Russia’.

Finding themselves abroad, what could these representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church do? Guided by love for the persecuted Mother Church and by Canon 39 of the Sixth Ecumenical Council (which addresses a similar situation, when part of the population of Cyprus had to leave their country, having ‘been freed from heathen slavery’), the Russian hierarchs formed the Supreme Ecclesiastical Administration Abroad. Moreover, after this, the Holy Hierarch St Tikhon and the Holy Synod over which he presided sent the departed émigré masses the famous Directive № 362, dated 7th / 20th November 1920, which proved to be God-inspired. The hierarchs abroad took the first steps of their unique service in Constantinople, having received a blessing from the Locum Tenens of the Ecumenical Throne, Metropolitan Dorotheos (Mammelis), who at the time respectfully wrote to Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of Kiev & Galicia thusly: ‘The Patriarchate permits any undertaking under your direction, for the Patriarchate knows that Your Eminence will commit no uncanonical act.’ Later, this Supreme Ecclesiastical Administration Abroad, re-formed into the Russian Church Abroad, was transferred to Serbia, where it found itself under the truly fraternal aegis of the Serbian Orthodox Church, with whom we now share a host of fathers and teachers and maintain the closest fraternal and spiritual relationship.

In 1924, when Patriarch Gregory VII of Constantinople declared his support for the ‘Living Church’ schism and demanded that the Holy Hierarch and Confessor St Tikhon ‘immediately depart from administration of the Church’, many understood the fervent desire of the hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church living abroad not to merge into the existing Local Churches, but to strive in every way to preserve their living and organic ties to the persecuted Church in Russia. Since that time, the Russian Church Abroad has followed the life of the Church in the homeland with a keen, loving, and devoted eye, rejoicing in her successes, sorrowing in her tribulations, and loudly bearing witness to her sufferings, piously reverencing the ascetic and martyric struggles of those who fearlessly went to their deaths for the name of Christ. At the same time, she has become a truly ‘local’ Church for those in the Diaspora, extending her original mission of caring for Russians abroad into a much wider mission of bringing the ancient, yet vibrant, Russian Orthodox Faith and traditions to the local peoples of the many lands in the Diaspora in which she has now lived and worked for more than a century.


The year 2020 thus marked precisely 100 years since the beginnings of the Church Abroad, and throughout all our Dioceses we prayerfuly marked this glorious anniversary. In doing so, we celebrated neither the terrible events that resulted in so many Russian Orthodox peoples finding themselves on foreign soil, nor the bitter division of the Mother Church which was for so long subjected to persecutions; rather, we lifted up our joyful thanksgiving to God, Who bountifully poured out upon us His abundant mercies, and prayerfully honoured our forebears, who in complex conditions abroad held aloft the standard of our Holy Russian Orthodoxy and relayed to us this great inheritance. May the lamps on their graves never be extinguished!

Every anniversary must cause each of us once more to take interest in our history, and consider the individual people whom we commemorate. Only this approach to the jubilee celebration, combined with prayer and a humble hope in God’s aid, will grant us a renewal of our hearts, of all of our strengths, and of all of the paths of our modest service to God and man.

May our holy fathers among the saints: John, Archbishop of Shanghai, Wonderworker of San Francisco (who for eleven years was Ruling Bishop of this Diocese); Jonah, Bishop of Hankou in Manchuria; the Holy Hierarch Seraphim (Sobolev) and the Martyr Alexander Schmorell of Munich, as well as the multitude of ‘everyday saints’ among our forebears, be our intercessors in this renewal! We invite all faithful to grow more deeply familiar with the names and lives of our First Hierarchs, who have guided — and continue to guide — us in lives of holiness.


Even as we marked the centenary jubilee in 2020, our precious Church Abroad simultaneously stepped into the second century of her existence. Though the political and cultural circumstances of the world have changed greatly since 1920, we find ourselves faced with no less a call to the preservation and expansion of our mission in the Diaspora, especially as the world continues to face new temptations, trials and struggles.

The signing of the ‘Act of Canonical Communion’ in May 2007 brought into renewed fraternal communion the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church that had been separated since the time of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia — restoring the bonds of fraternal love between the church within Russia and the many hundreds of parishes of the Church Abroad, scattered across the world, which remain ever within her autonomous structure. In 2022 we celebrated fifteen years since this God-provided restoration of spiritual and eucharistic unity, and marked with joy the strong fraternal relationships that now exist between our Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) and the parishes and dioceses of the Patriarchate of Moscow, also located throughout the world.

Our Church Abroad is, within Russian Orthodoxy as a whole, a self governing church with its own Synod of Bishops, headquartered in New York. Its First Hierarch is His Eminence Metropolitan Nicholas of Eastern America and New York, and the ROCOR includes Dioceses in the United States of America, Canada, Central and South America, Australia and New Zealand — and of course our own Diocese of Great Britain and Western Europe, together with our sister Diocese of Germany, which also covers Austria and the Scandinavian nations. In all our territories, the Church Abroad bears witness to traditions inherited from Holy Russia’s pre-revolutionary history, with its own liturgical and pastoral customs that form an important, unique part of the vibrant witness of Orthodox unity throughout the world. Its century-long history as a church in the Diaspora means that we are wholly committed to the life of Orthodoxy that embraces the cultures in which we live in various parts of the world, as a local Orthodox presence in each place. The Church Abroad has always had, and continues to have, a vibrant missionary spirit, and seeks both to support Orthodox Christians outside Russia, and to spread the Gospel of Christ to the peoples of a wide range of countries, drawing all people into the Church of Christ, the Faith of the Apostles, and the Life of the Holy Fathers.


First Hierarchs of the ROCOR

Information on the First Hierarchs who have governed the Church Abroad since its founding

ROCOR Liturgics

Information and resources on the precious liturgical heritage of the Church Abroad

ROCOR Statutes

The statutes governing the life of the Church Abroad in all its dioceses

The 'Act' of 2007

Complete text of the Act of Canonical Communion that restored full fraternal unity within the Russian Church

The Holy Synod

Website of the Holy Synod of Bishops, with latest news, publications and announcements

The majority of the text on the present page has been drawn from the Jubilee Nativity Epistle of our late First Hierarch, His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion of blessed memory, modified and slightly expanded for the purposes of its usage here. The original can be read in situ on the Synod’s web site.

First Hierarchs of the Church Abroad

The following are the First Hierarchs who have governed the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia since its foundation one hundred years ago.

Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky)

Ruled 1920-1936

Metropolitan Anastasiy (Gribanovsky)

Ruled 1936-1964

Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky)

Ruled 1964-1985

Metropolitan Vitaly (Ustinov)

Ruled 1986-2001

Metropolitan Laurus (Škurla)

Ruled 2001-2008

Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral)

Ruled 2008-2022

Metropolitan Nicholas (Olhovsky)

Current First Hierarch (since 2022)

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