Early Russian Orthodox presence in the Americas
Russian traders settled in Alaska during the 18th century. In 1740, a
Divine Liturgy was celebrated on board a Russian ship off the Alaskan coast. In 1794, the
Russian Orthodox Church sent missionaries—among them Saint
Herman of Alaska – to establish a formal mission in
Alaska. Their missionary endeavors contributed to the conversion of many Alaskan natives to the Orthodox faith. A diocese was established, whose first bishop was Saint
Innocent of Alaska. The headquarters of this North American Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church was moved from Alaska to California around the mid-19th century.
It was moved again in the last part of the same century, this time to New York. This transfer coincided with a great movement of Uniates to the Orthodox Church in the eastern United States. This movement, which increased the numbers of Orthodox Christians in America, resulted from a conflict between
John Ireland, the politically powerful Roman Catholic
Saint Paul, Minnesota; and
Alexis Toth, an influential
Ruthenian Catholic priest. Archbishop Ireland's refusal to accept Fr. Toth's credentials as a priest induced Fr. Toth to return to the Orthodox Church of his ancestors, and further resulted in the return of tens of thousands of other Uniate Catholics in North America to the Orthodox Church, under his guidance and inspiration. For this reason, Ireland is sometimes ironically remembered as the "Father of the Orthodox Church in America." These Uniates were received into Orthodoxy into the existing North American diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church. At the same time large numbers of
Greeks and other Orthodox Christians were also immigrating to America. At this time all Orthodox Christians in North America were united under the
omophorion (Church authority and protection) of the Patriarch of Moscow, through the Russian Church's North American diocese. The unity was not merely theoretical, but was a reality, since there was then no other diocese on the continent. Under the aegis of this diocese, which at the turn of the 20th century was ruled by Bishop (and future Patriarch)
Tikhon, Orthodox Christians of various ethnic backgrounds were ministered to, both non-Russian and Russian; a Syro-Arab mission was established in the episcopal leadership of Saint
Raphael of Brooklyn, who was the first Orthodox bishop to be consecrated in America.