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Orthodox-Catholic Church of America

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Orthodox-Catholic Church of America
ClassificationChristian syncretic (Eastern Orthodox/Oriental Orthodox/Western Catholic)
OrientationWestern Christianity (Latin Rite)/Eastern Christianity (Byzantine Rite/East Syriac Rite)
AssociationsCommunion with Catholic Apostolic Church in North America[1]
RegionUnited States, Mexico, Brazil, Camaroon, Australia
United States
Separated fromSyriac Orthodox Church (1910)

The Orthodox-Catholic Church of America (OCCA) is an independent and self-governing Christian syncretic (Eastern Orthodox/Oriental Orthodox/Western Catholic) jurisdiction based in the United States (including the territory of the US Virgin Islands), with clergy also in Mexico, Brazil, and Australia.[2] 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 Syriac Rite).[3] The OCCA is not associated with the Orthodox churches whose bishops are members of the "Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America", the body which replaced SCOBA.

The jurisdiction is governed by a synod of diocesan bishops, currently six. The ecclesial purpose of the OCCA is to be a loving, welcoming and inclusive community where all people can attain the fundamental goal of the Orthodox Catholic faith, summed up by St. Maximos the Confessor (580-662 CE) as "All that God is, except for an identity in being, one becomes when one is deified by grace." Or, as St. Athanasius the Great (296-373 CE) puts it, "God became Human in order that human beings might become gods." This is effected through the worship of God in the Holy Trinity and the proclamation and living of the faith as taught in Holy Scripture, the Apostolic tradition, and the first three ecumenical councils of the undivided and ancient church. The OCCA is one of a number of churches seeking to practice Orthodoxy in an American setting. Its worship and beliefs are influenced by Oriental, Eastern, and Western 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]

The OCCA, while claiming to be Catholic ("universal") but existing in only a few countries, accepts both men and women, married and unmarried, as candidates for ordination to all three orders of the apostolic ministry (deacons, priests, and bishops). The OCCA (often called the LGBT Church) ordains openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender 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, gender identity, 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 itself.


The Orthodox-Catholic Church of America was established in the United States in 1892 under the mandate of the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch, Ignatius Peter IV. The founding archbishop, Joseph René Vilatte (ordained as Mar Timotheus), had been ordained as a priest by Bishop Ernst Herzog of the Old Catholic Church in Bern, Switzerland on 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 Syriac 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 Syriac 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 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 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. In 1970, Hyde was elected and enthroned as metropolitan archbishop. Hyde was the first cleric in the United States to establish a parish (in Atlanta in 1946) for LGBT Christians. He retired in 1980 with the subsequent election of Alfred Louis Lankenau (1930–2010) as metropolitan archbishop . Under Lakenau the synod of the church agreed to the ordination of women. Lakenau retired in 1999 and was succeeded by E. Paul Brian Carsten who died in March 2009. On June 1, 2009, Bishop Peter (Robert Zahrt) was elected and enthroned as the metropolitan Aachbishop of the jurisdiction. Upon his retirement in 2016, Bishop Paul (Ken Waibel) was elected as metropolitan in 2016.

On November 11, 2018, Archbishop Paul resigned from the position of primate and from the OCCA. As of 2018, the synod of bishops is working to discern whether or not a metropolitan archbishop is needed for church governance.

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 has 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".[7] 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]

Other articles of the topic Christianity : First Council of Constantinople, Think Big Ministries, Ang Dating Daan, Christian Church, Autocephaly, Association of Croatian Orthodox Believers (civic association), Full communion
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  • 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., 2006. Msgr. Rene Vilatte: Community Organizer of Religion (1854–1929). Berkeley: Apocryphile Press.
  • 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.
  •, accessed 11-11-2011.

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. "Affiliations of the Orthodox-Catholic Church of America". Orthodox-Catholic Church of America. Retrieved 2017-11-13.
  2. "OCCA Background – 3 Councils". Orthodox-Catholic Church of America. Retrieved 2017-07-31.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "About OCCA". Orthodox-Catholic Church of America. Retrieved 2017-07-31.
  4. International Council of Community Churches Archived 2011-09-04 at the Wayback Machine
  5. E. Paul Brian Carsten, Metropolitan Archbishop. "Relationship Between the Orthodox-Catholic Church of America and Its Membership". Dated 27 July 2002. Archived from the original on June 13, 2012. Accessed 2017-07-31.
  6. Joseph René Vilatte – First Independent Catholic Prelate in North America. Archived from the original on April 24, 2010. Retrieved 2017-07-31.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Theriault, Serge A., 2006. Msgr. Rene Vilatte: Community Organizer of Religion (1854–1929). Berkeley: Apocryphile Press.
  8. Saints of the Orthodox-Catholic Church of America. Archived from the original on June 29, 2010. Retrieved 2017-07-31.

Further reading[edit]

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

External links[edit]