The American Orthodox Church
A History of its Beginnings
by George C. Michalopulos and Herb Ham

The American Orthodox Church
The American Orthodox Church
Item# ISBN# 1-928653-14-6
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Product Description


We all know the Orthodox Church here in North America is a mess. Our church is divided into jurisdictional factions. Our bishops often do not lead. Our laity is often ignorant of our faith. One scandal seems to follow another. The "language issue" and ethnic pride have lost the Church several generations. What went wrong? What can be done?

The answer is in THE AMERICAN ORTHODOX CHURCH – A HISTORY OF ITS BEGINNINGS. This book courageously illumines our past and points a sane way to a better future. THE AMERICAN ORTHODOX CHURCH – A HISTORY OF ITS BEGINNINGS will challenge the Orthodox Church in America to actually become Orthodox! THE AMERICAN ORTHODOX CHURCH – A HISTORY OF ITS BEGINNINGS is the most up to date and complete history of the Orthodox Church as She has manifested Herself in North America. The authors masterfully trace the checkered past of Orthodoxy in North America from the eighteenth century to our own day. This wonderful book looks deep within our church as no other volume has. Examining the beginnings of all the various "jurisdictions" and their triumphs and failures, the authors bring the reader to a real understanding of how, why, where and when Orthodoxy entered American culture. Most importantly, the authors look honestly at the challenges facing Orthodoxy and lay out a sensible road map to a brighter future.

THE AMERICAN ORTHODOX CHURCH – A HISTORY OF ITS BEGINNINGS is a very important and well-written book. It must be studied by all Orthodox who hope to effect much needed changes in the life of the Church. It will shock some, dismay others and turn the bright light of self-examination on the Orthodox Church. Perfect for group study, young adult and up!


  • The Archdiocese of the Aleutians and North America 1794-1918
  • From Sitka to San Francisco
  • The American Crucible
  • The Calm Before the Storm: 1898-1918
  • The Bolshevik Revolution
  • The Church as Ghetto:
  • The Creation of the Exarchates 1918-1960
  • Moscow and the Church Abroad
  • The Greek Archdiocese
  • The Antiochian Archdiocese
  • The Other Jurisdictions
  • The First Steps Towards Unity:
  • SCOBA, Ligonier and the Emerging Orthodox Consciousness 1960-1994
  • The Post-War, Cold War and SCOBA
  • The Secularist Challenge Ligonier and the Challenge to the Old World
  • Towards an American Orthodox Church


Herb Ham is an Adjunct Professor of History at the University of Central Oklahoma. He embraced the Orthodox Faith in 1990. He was ordained a Subdeacon in 1999 and serves as the Administrator of St. Elijah Orthodox Church in Oklahoma City.

George Michalopulos was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he has been active in church affairs throughout his adult life. He is a registered pharmacist engaged in private practice in his hometown where he lives with his wife, Margaret, and his two sons, Denny and Mikey.

Sample excerpt from book:

...The Greeks were the last of the three largest ethnic jurisdictions to ordain an American-born bishop, John of Thermon in 1972. The ties that bound the Greek-Americans to their Hellenic culture were so strong that when Archbishop Iakovos (himself Greek-born) declared that the liturgies of the Church should be celebrated in English, he was widely pilloried by many in the Greek jurisdiction. The massive erosion of support that followed this uproar caused him seriously to consider tendering his resignation. Patriarch Dimitrios of Constantinople counseled him against such a move.

Although Iakovos was pressured to retract his earlier suggestion, in private meetings with priests over the years he exhorted them to try and include as much English as possible. The reluctance to introduce English was understandable given that the majority of the priests and all of the bishops were themselves foreign-born and usually spoke English in a broken fashion. More to the point, some translations being tried in the parishes were atrocious. Some of the hymns were jarring to the ears when heard for the first time.

Very often, those Greek-Americans who viewed themselves as Americans first or who requested the liturgy be elebrated in English were labeled yannitseri (“jannisseries” or race-traitors) by their compatriots, both here and abroad.

Until Iakovos, no one in authority had suggested anglicizing the entire liturgy. The average first generation Greek-American had absolutely no stomach for this innovation. Unfortunately, they fought the wrong battle. While they busily defended the use of Greek, they surrendered on a number of critical fronts such as church architecture, Westernized iconography, the use of organs, mixed choirs and polyphonic hymnody. Because of limited funds and a far-flung archdiocese, hierarchs simply could not oversee the construction of each and every parish and whether it conformed to Orthodox norms. For this reason, more and more parishes installed pews and organs, whereas others bought existing Protestant churches that already had them as part of their furniture. In essence, the Greek jurisdiction felt that, as long as the Greek language was intact, everything would be fine.

One change for the better that took place was the integration of the sexes. Before the Second World War, Orthodox parishes, regardless of jurisdiction, continued the practice of men standing (or sitting) on one side and the women and children on the other. The main force driving this change, according to one source, was returning veterans who had missed being with their wives during the war. This is not to say that Greek-Americans were going to accept the status quo regarding the language issue forever. As early as the 1940’s, many younger Greek-Americans and even a few of the immigrant generation had questioned the continued use of Ecclesiastical Greek in the liturgical services, especially when their own knowledge of Greek was the common, everyday, demotic Greek. Of course, this same question was asked by many second and third-generation Slavic-Americans who likewise had trouble understanding Church Slavonic, a language that more closely resembled medieval Bulgarian, rather than the Slavic languages spoken by their parents.

Following the lead of the Antiochian archdiocese in the 1950’s, the Metropolia issued directives allowing the use of English in the services of the OCA. Archbishop Michael, the successor to Athenagoras, seeing the increasing apathy of the younger generation, issued an encyclical that stated the Epistle, Gospel, Creed and the Lord’s Prayer could be said in both languages, as could the sermon. This was merely a stop-gap measure that ultimately pleased no one: the die-hard Hellenists thought this was the camel’s nose under the tent, while those who heard these parts of the liturgy for the first time in English only wanted more. Iakovos, cognizant of the relative ease with which the Arab and Russian hierarchs had anglicized their liturgies, overestimated his authority and underestimated the negative reaction of his people. An unlikely source, the Roman Catholic Church provided ammunition to those who opposed using English in the services.

During the early years of Iakovos’s tenure, the Roman Catholic Church underwent a radical reassessment with Vatican II. One of the great reforms pushed by this council was allowing the Roman mass to be celebrated in the vernacular. When Pope Paul VI mandated that the so-called “New Rite” be celebrated all over the world, the convulsions that racked the Roman Catholic Church in America had a curious spillover into the Greek archdiocese. Angry Catholics told horror stories of electric guitar masses (as opposed to electric organs) to any and all who would listen. In reality, however, Vatican II had done more than change the language of the Mass; it had in fact radically changed the Mass itself. Many Greek-Americans, ignoring the fact that the Orthodox liturgy had remained intact even after being anglicized in the other jurisdictions, used the Catholic situation as an excuse not to use English.

In time it became apparent that the Greek language had not protected the Greek church. Because the Greek archdiocese had not taken a proactive approach, widely-divergent hymnodies – in Greek no less – were celebrated all over America, leading to a cacophony of diverse practices, precisely what the Greek-Americans (who feared the reforms of Vatican II) had said the use of Greek would prevent.

Parishes that used only Greek were subjected to variations in several of the hymns of the Church. Examples included parishes that commemorated the King of Greece in the Great Litany, whereas others would mention the name of the President of the United States; others mentioned both names. Still others would sing the hymn “The Exaltation of the Holy Cross” with the word eusebeis (“respected people”) substituted for the more correct basileusi (“kingdom”) if they were made up of Venizelists. In several of these parishes, these changes were often done at the whim of the congregation.