Orthodox-Catholic Church of America

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
The Seal of the OCCA

The Orthodox-Catholic Church of America (OCCA) is an independent and self-governing Orthodox jurisdiction based in the United States, with clergy also in Mexico. As of July 2010, the denomination's online directory listed 27 affiliated parishes or missions, and two religious communities.[1] The Church celebrates predominantly a version of the Western Liturgy (Roman Rite) though some priests also celebrate the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (Byzantine Rite) or the Liturgy of Addai and Mari (East Syrian Rite).[2] The OCCA is not associated with any mainstream Orthodox church.

The denomination is governed by a synod of diocesan bishops (currently seven) and a metropolitan archbishop. The current metropolitan is Robert Zahrt, known as Archbishop Peter. The ecclesial purpose of the OCCA is the worship of God in the Holy Trinity; the proclamation and continuing of the Orthodox faith as taught in holy scripture, the apostolic tradition and the seven ecumenical councils of the undivided and ancient Church of Christ. The OCCA is one of a number of churches seeking to blend Orthodoxy in an American setting. Its worship and beliefs are influenced by eastern and western and western orthodox traditions, and considers itself to be one "self-governing" church out of many in the Orthodox tradition.[3] The OCCA is a standing member of the International Council of Community Churches (ICCC).[4]

Clergy and sacraments[edit]

The clergy ordained by the denomination operate their ministries independently from the denomination. According to a statement on the OCCA website:

"The relationship between the Church and the congregation, consisting of its priests, deacons and members, is based upon their shared beliefs. There is no legal relationship between the Church and the congregation."[5]

Thee OCCA accepts both men and women, married and unmarried, as candidates for ordination to all three orders of the apostolic ministry (deacons, presbyters, and bishops). The OCCA ordains openly lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual persons as clergy and blesses their unions as it does those of heterosexual couples. Access to the seven sacraments is offered to all individuals regardless of sex or sexual orientation. The OCCA has two monastic (religious) communities. Monasticism within the jurisdiction takes either a Western, Eastern or Oriental form just as the liturgical identity of the church as a whole represents herself.


The Orthodox-Catholic Church of America was established in the United States in 1892 under the mandate of the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch, Ignatius-Peter IV. The founding archbishop, Joseph René Vilatte (ordained as Mar Timotheus) had been ordained priest by Bishop Ernst Herzog of the Old Catholic Church in Bern Switzerlandon June 7, 1885.[6] Working in the Great Lakes area, predominantly in Wisconsin, Fr. Vilatte sought to bring about the return of a Western Rite of Orthodoxy. Fr. Vilatte received both support and opposition in this attempt, but eventually he was consecrated as archbishop for North America, in Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka)[7] by Archbishop Francis Alvarez with the permission of the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch in 1892. The history of the OCCA is grounded, therefore, both in the East and West.

In the 19th century, the Indian branch of the Syrian Orthodox Church had begun ordaining local priests for the western rite in order to supply ministers for their western rite congregations. Among these were Bishops Julius Alvarez, Paul Athanasius, Paul Evanious, and George Gregorius (the latter later canonized as St. Gregorius Geverghese). Father Vilatte was ordained by them as Mar Timotheus and appointed as metropolitan for the newly formed American diocese. The synod of the American archdiocese declared itself autocephalous (self-governing) in 1910.

Soon after his return to the United States Vilatte formed a synod of bishops with himself at its head. When Vilatte retired his co-adjutor, Frederick E.J. Lloyd, was elected Archbishop and Metropolitan. The following year Vilatte consecrated George Alexander McGuire to the episcopacy.

In 1928 McGuire consecrated one of Lloyd's priests who was serving in New York City, William Tyarks, as bishop; he also joined the synod but Archbishop McGuire deposed him in 1932 and consecrated Clement Sherwood as the new archbishop of his American Orthodox Catholic Church, which functioned as an eastern-rite diocese of the joint synod. Sherwood, who had been ordained presbyter by Archbishop Lloyd, was originally consecrated bishop by Tyarks, but after the latter's deposition, requested that McGuire conditionally reconsecrate him. The following year Archbishop Lloyd died and Sherwood became his successor. Sherwood remained a member of the AOC synod until he died in 1969.

In 1957 he consecrated George Augustine Hyde to the episcopacy. 1970 Archbishop Hyde was elected and enthroned as metropolitan archbishop. Archbishop Hyde was the first cleric in the United States to establish a parish (in Atlanta in 1946) for lesbian and gay Christians. He retired in 1980 with the subsequent election of Metropolitan Archbishop Alfred Louis Lankenau (1930–2010). Under Archbishop Lakenau the synod of the church agreed to the ordination of women. Archbishop Lakenau retired in 1999 and was succeeded by Metropolitan Archbishop E. Paul Brian Carsten who died in March 2009. On June 1, 2009, Bishop Peter (Robert Zahrt) was elected and enthroned as the metropolitan archbishop of the jurisdiction. Upon the retirement of Archbishop Peter in 2016, Bishop Paul (Ken Waibel) was elected as metropolitan in 2016.

Wider connections[edit]

In 1921 Vilatte ordained the first African-American bishop, George Alexander McGuire, for the African Orthodox Missionary District of New York, which later became the African Orthodox Church.


The OCCA canonized two saints: St. David Edwards, a former priest of the OCCA, and St. Fr. Mychal Judge, O.F.M., a Catholic Franciscan friar and firehouse chaplain who was the first identified victim of the September 11 attacks in 2001.[8]


In May 1891, Bishop Vladimir (Sokolovsky), the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in the United States, referred to Fr. Vilatte's flock as "true Old Catholic-Orthodox Christians [now] under the patronage of our Church."[9] This concept that the church was truly both Old Catholic (Western) and Orthodox was translated by this jurisdiction into the name "Orthodox-Catholic". The concept is that of a church with Western liturgy and Eastern (Orthodox) spirituality and theology.


See also[edit]


  • A.C. Terry-Thomas, The History of the African Orthodox Church (1956) [no place of publication; I assume, but it's not stated, that the AOC itself was the publisher]
  • Azevedo, Carmo, *Patriot & Saint: The Life Story of Father Alvares/Bishop Mar Julius I* (Panjim: 1988).
  • Attwater, Donald. Churches in Communion with Rome. The Christian Churches of the East, Revised ed. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: The Bruce Publishing Co., 1961.
  • Churches Not in Communion with Rome. The Christian Churches of the East, Revised ed. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: The Bruce Publishing Co., 1961.
  • Duncan, Rev. Stephen, DMA. A Genre of Hindusthani Music (Bhajans) as Used in the Roman Catholic Church. Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press 1999 (Original dissertation published in Memphis, TN and Bandra, India. 1992.)
  • This We Believe: Basic Tenets of the Orthodox-Catholic Church of America, second edition. Galveston, Texas: OCCA Archdiocese, 2005.
  • Conciliar Press. What on Earth is the Orthodox Church. Ben Lomond, CA: Conciliar Press, (No date given).
  • Fortescue, Adrian, The Lesser Eastern Churches. New York: A.M.S. Press, 1972; reprint, London: Catholic Truth Society, 1913.
  • Hyde, Most Rev. George, (ret.) (Rev. Gordon Fisher, OCCA, ed.).Genesis of the Orthodox Catholic Church of America. Indianapolis, Indiana: Orthodox Catholic Church of America,1993.
  • Joseph, John. The Nestorians and their Muslim Neighbors. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961.
  • Pothan, S.G. The Syrian Christians of Kerala. Bombay, India: Asta Publishing House, 1963.
  • Taft, Rev. Robert, S.J. The Liturgy of the Hours in the Christian East. Kerala, India: K.C.M. Press, 1983
  • Theriault, Serge A., "Msgr. Rene Vilatte: Community Organizer of Religion, 1854-1929 (Berkeley: Apocryphile Press 2006,
  • Trigg, Rev. Michael, ed. et al. An Introduction to Western Rite Orthodoxy. Ben Lomond, CA: Conciliar Press, 1993.
  • Ware, Kalistos. The Orthodox Church. Revised edition. Penguin. 1993
  • http://syrcom.cua.edu/Hugoye/Vol7No2/HV7N2Kiraz.html, accessed 11/11/11.

Photographs of the original Syriac bull of consecration for Mar Julius, and also translations of his and Mar Timotheus�s certificates, can also be found in this article.


  1. ^ "Missions and Communities within The Orthodox-Catholic Church of America". Copyrighted 1998 - 2012, The Orthodox-Catholic Church of America. Last modified Last Modified: July 28, 2010; Accessed: July 19, 2012.
  2. ^ http://www.orthodoxcatholicchurch.org/about.html
  3. ^ Orthodox-Catholic Church of America -- About Us Copyrighted 1998 - 2012 by The Orthodox-Catholic Church of America. Last Modified: 12 Dec 2009. Accessed 19 July 2012
  4. ^ International Council of Community Churches
  5. ^ E. Paul Brian Carsten, Metropolitan Archbishop. "Relationship Between the Othodox-Catholic Church of America and Its Membership". Dated 27 July 2002. Accessed 19 July 2012.
  6. ^ First Independent Catholic Prelate in North America
  7. ^ theriault, serge A., "Msgr. Rene Vilatte: Community Organizer of Religion, 1854-1929 (Berkeley: Apocryphile Press 2006,
  8. ^ http://www.orthodoxcatholicchurch.org/saints.html
  9. ^ Theriault, Serge A., "Msgr. Rene Vilatte: Community Organizer of Religion, 1854-1929 (Berkeley: Apocryphile Press 2006)

Further reading[edit]

  • Theriault, Serge A., "Msgr. Rene Vilatte: Community Organizer of Religion, 1854-1929 (Berkeley: Apocryphile Press 2006

External links[edit]