Eastern Orthodoxy was one of the last major Christian denominations to be established in the United States. Nevertheless it has a long and rich history that dates back to before the American Revolution. Although first introduced by Russian Orthodox immigrants in Alaska and the West Coast, it was by the Greek Orthodox immigrants to the East Coast that the Orthodox Church really got a foothold, especially in New York and Florida. Because of this most of the relevant sites in the east have a strong connection to the Greek Church rather than the Russian, and have since become some of the most important Orthodox pilgrimage destinations in the United States.
St. Photios Greek Orthodox National Shrine
St. Augustine, Florida
The first Greek Orthodox colonies in what would later become the lower 48 states immigrated to Florida in 1768. Attracted by the climate and Mediterranean cultural influences, they became established at St. Augustine where they worked as fishermen and merchants. They acquired a building, the Avero House, to be used as a place of worship. This first Greek Orthodox Church in America was later renamed in honor of St. Photios the Great, a 9th century patriarch of Constantinople.
The Avero House, located in the historic center of St. Augustine, is now honored as the Mother Church of Greek Orthodoxy in the United States. Officially known as the St. Photios Greek Orthodox National Shrine, it houses a chapel to St. Photios as well as a museum with exhibits on the early Greek colonists to America.
Antiochian Village Camp
The Antiochian Village Camp is a religious retreat which serves the various churches of the Eastern Orthodox Communion. Not strictly a Greek Orthodox site, it is run by the Antiochian Orthodox Church. However, the camp is a pilgrimage destination by all Orthodox churches in America as it is home to the gravesite of Father Raphael, the first Orthodox bishop to be consecrated in the United States. Father Raphael, a prominent theologian, was sponsored by Tsar Nicholas II to help spread the Orthodox faith in the United States.
Raphael is credited with helping the Church become established in and around New York City. He was also instrumental in relocating the archdiocese from the West Coast, where it had been set up by Russian explorers, to the East Coast. He died in 1915 and was canonized in 2000. His remains were moved to Ligonier in 1989. Also on the site of the Antiochian Village Camp is the St. Ignatius Chapel, where bits of St. Herman and St. Moses the Ethiopian are preserved.
Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity
New York, New York
The Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity is the largest Orthodox church in the Americas. An archbishopric, it is also one of the most important Orthodox churches outside of Europe. It traces its roots back to 1891, when the first Orthodox church was founded in Manhattan. Although there were older congregations in Alaska, Florida and California, the Orthodox population of New York exploded at the end of the 19th century, and the American patriarchate was established here in 1905.
The cathedral was built in 1931. The cornerstone was laid by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Patriarch of Constantinople personally travelled to New York to consecrate the magnificent new building. The enormous structure is home to the headquarters and offices of the Greek Orthodox Church in America.
St. Nicholas Cathedral
St. Nicholas Cathedral in Washington DC is the seat of the Orthodox Church in America, the metropolitan seat of one of the fifteen autocephalous churches of the Eastern Orthodox Communion. This technically makes it the highest ranking Orthodox cathedral in the Western Hemisphere, although it is more of an umbrella over other senior churches in the Americas which report to their own respective autocephalous organizations.
The cathedral was founded as a parish of the Russian Orthodox Church, and the building was inspired by Russian church architecture. It boasts some of the finest iconic paintings in the world outside of Europe. St. Nicholas is home to the Archbishopric of Washington who is the de-facto primate of the United States.
St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church
Tarpon Springs, Florida
St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church is one of the most famous Orthodox churches in the United States thanks to its association with the annual Christmas festival known as the Dive for the Cross. It was founded by Greeks who relocated to the West Coast of Florida who specialized in diving and harvesting the area’s sponges. By the turn of the century Tarpon Springs was home to one of the largest Greek communities outside of Europe and New York.
The church was constructed in 1907 and became an important cultural center for the community at large. The Dive for the Cross, part of the annual celebration of Epiphany, is a rite of passage for young Greek men who chase after an iconic cross that has been tossed into the Gulf of Mexico. The winner receives a year of bragging rights. It is attended by pilgrims and other enthusiasts from all over the world.