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2 Ecclesiastic Status
Formation and Early Years
In 1920, the Soviet government had revealed that it was quite hostile to the Russian Orthodox Church. Saint Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow, issued an ukase (decree) that all Orthodox Christians currently under the authority and protection of his Patriarchate seek protection and guidance elsewhere.
Among some Russian Bishops and other hierarchs, this was interpeted as an authorization to form an emergency synod of all Russian Orthdox hierarchs to permit the Church to continue to function outside of Russia. In May of 1922, the Soviet government proclaimed the Living Church as a "reform" of the Russian Orthodox Church.
On September 13, 1922, Russian Orthodox hierarchs in Serbia established a Synod of Bishops of the Russian Church Abroad, the foundation of ROCOR. In November of 1922, Russian Orthodox in North America held a synod and elected Metropolitan Platon as the primate of an autonomous Russian exarchate in the Americas. This led to a three-way conflict in the United States among the Exarchate, ROCOR (sometimes known as "the Synod" in this period), and the Living Church, which asserted that it was the legitimate (Russian-government-recognized) owner of all Russian Orthodox properties in the USA.
The Church of the Refugees (1922-1991)
In 1927, ROCOR declared "The part of the Russian Church that finds itself abroad considers itself an inseparable, spiritually united branch of the Great Russian Church. It does not separate itself from its Mother Church and does not consider itself autocephalous.", indicating that ROCOR considered itself to speak for all of the Russian Orthodox outside of Russia.
After the end of World War II, the Patriarchate of Moscow broached the possibility of reunification between Moscow and ROCOR. This was not deemed possible at that time by ROCOR, given that Russia was still under bolshevik dictatorship.
After the Soviet Fall
Since the end of the Soviet Union, ROCOR has strived to maintain its independence from the Russian Orthodox Church. One ground cited is that the Church inside Russia had permitted itself to be unacceptably compromised. Some accusations go so far as to claim that the entire hierarchy within Russia were active KGB agents. ROCOR has attempted to set up missions in post-Soviet Russia, which has not improved relations.
This has not prevented all communication. In 2001, the Synod of the Patriarchate of Moscow and ROCOR exchanged formal correspondence. The Muscovite letter held the position that previous and current separation were purely political matters. ROCOR's response is that they were worried about continued Muscovite involvement in ecumenism as compromising Moscow's Orthodoxy. Nevertheless, this has been far more friendly a discourse than previous decades have seen.
Unfortunately, this possibility of rapprochement has led to schism within ROCOR.
ROCOR is currently still in relative Eucharistic isolation from much of the Eastern Orthodox world, not exchanging full communion with the majority of Eastern Orthodox jurisdictions. But it is in full communion with the Serb Orthodox Church and the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem.