The first Orthodox missionaries to reach Alaska traveled with the early Russian explorers and, in 1794, a party of monks established the Orthodox Christian Mission to America.
"Before the 1920s, there was only one jurisdiction in North America — that of the Russian Orthodox Church, which, as we know, was open to ... the widest variety of ethnic communities," said Archbishop Justinian of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, during last week's Episcopal Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Hierarchs in North and Central America.
"Much has changed since that time. The tumultuous events of the 20th century forced many citizens of traditionally Orthodox countries to leave their native homes and seek refuge in other countries, which led to the rise of large ethnic Orthodox communities beyond the boundaries of corresponding local churches."
But the key to conditions today, he stressed, is the fact that an "increasing number of our faithful belong to the Orthodox Church not as the result of their ethnic background, but of a conscious choice in favor of Orthodoxy's truth."
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