Yandex Metrika
The Largest Orthodox Churches in the United States of America

Popular Orthodox Churches in America

Orthodox Churches in America

From its inception, Orthodoxy in America has seen significant growth from the arrival of a modest group of missionaries on Kodiak Island, Alaska. Today, the Orthodox Church boasts over two million faithful, with some of the most beautiful Orthodox churches in America. Approximately two-thirds of these adherents are part of the OCA, Greek, and Antiochian jurisdictions, making the OCA the largest Orthodox Church in the United States. The remaining members are spread across various other jurisdictions. What are the oldest, most significant and largest orthodox churches in America? Find out from this article.

Kodiak Island, Alaska

Kodiak Island, Alaska

The genesis of the Eastern Orthodox Church in America can be traced back to the rugged wilderness of Alaska, marking a unique beginning as it was introduced by Russian explorers from across the Pacific, rather than missionaries from Europe. This journey into Orthodoxy began with Russian merchant Grigory Shelikhov's exploration in the 18th century, leading to the establishment of Russian Orthodox colonies on Kodiak Island and the Kenai Peninsula. Here, the first Orthodox church on American soil was constructed, laying the foundation for what would become the Mother Diocese of the Orthodox Church in the Americas.

The Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Church

The Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Church

The inaugural Russian settlement on Kodiak Island, named Three Saints Bay, was established in 1784, laying the groundwork for the first Orthodox congregation in North America. By 1791, the Russians expanded onto the mainland, establishing a fort in present-day Kenai. It was here, in the early 19th century, that the first Russian Orthodox clergymen set foot, founding the first Orthodox parish on the territory and constructing the first permanent church at Kenai. The Holy Assumption Church emerged as the pioneering Orthodox church building on the North American mainland, serving as a vital religious hub for Russian merchants, seamen, and as a mission to the local Native American population.

Even after the United States acquired Alaska in 1867, the small Russian Orthodox community continued to thrive in Kenai. In the 1890s, the original church was replaced with a new structure. Today, The Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Church stands as a beacon, widely recognized as the Mother Diocese of not only Russian Orthodoxy but also for all Eastern Orthodox churches in America.


This modest wooden edifice marries traditional Russian Orthodox architecture with design elements typical of the American frontier. Encircled by trees and a quaint white picket fence, the church's whitewashed exterior, crowned with blue onion dome caps atop its bell towers, unmistakably showcases its Russian heritage.

Inside, the church's compact space radiates beauty, with iconic paintings of saints adorning every inch of its walls. The main altar, positioned directly above the gravesite of Hegumen Nikolai Militov, the parish's first priest, adds a sacred depth to the church's interior.

Located on the west side of Kenai's Olde Town and roughly seventy miles southwest of Anchorage, The Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Church welcomes visitors daily, standing as a testament to the rich tapestry of Eastern Orthodox churches in America.

The Cathedral of the Mother of God “Joy of All Who Sorrow”

The Cathedral of the Mother of God “Joy of All Who Sorrow” (San Francisco, California)

Following their establishment in the Alaska Territory, Russian settlers gradually made their way south, bringing Orthodoxy with them. By 1803, immigrants in the US had acquired the constitutional right to establish their own churches, paving the way for Orthodox Christianity to reach California by 1812, coinciding with the eastward movement of American settlers.

In 1961, after a century and a half of growth, the Orthodox community in San Francisco embarked on the construction of its first cathedral. The following year, St. John (Maximovitch) was appointed as the bishop of San Francisco, dedicating the final years of his life to the cathedral's completion and significantly strengthening the Church's presence in California. St. John passed away in 1962 during a visit to Seattle, and his relics were interred at the site of the Holy Virgin Cathedral, to which he had devoted so much effort. His canonization as Saint John of Shanghai and San Francisco transformed the cathedral and his shrine into the foremost Orthodox pilgrimage site west of the Mississippi.

The Holy Virgin Russian Orthodox Cathedral stands as a landmark in San Francisco and the spiritual heart of the Russian Orthodox community on America’s West Coast. It ranks among the few Russian Orthodox cathedrals outside Russia and is a prominent, significant site, housing the tomb of John of Shanghai, one of the most venerated Russian Orthodox saints in America. Despite its construction in the late 20th century, the cathedral features traditional Orthodox architectural elements, including majestic onion domes, and is celebrated as one of San Francisco’s most beautiful church buildings. The cathedral is arguably the most significant Eastern Orthodox pilgrimage destination on the United States' West Coast.

Completed during the lifetime of St. John, the Wonderworker of Shanghai & San Francisco, and adorned with frescoes by the esteemed iconographer Archimandrite Kiprian of Jordanville, the Cathedral of the Mother of God “Joy of All Who Sorrow” is alive with vibrant liturgical life. It hosts three choirs, operates a full-time Orthodox Academy, and a Russian High School. The Holy Virgin Cathedral has been the venue for many pivotal church events, including the glorifications of St. Herman of Alaska and St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, as well as the Fourth All-Diaspora Council of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in 2006.

Other “Pioneer” Orthodox Churches in America

The late 19th century witnessed the burgeoning of the Orthodox Church across America’s “Lower 48,” as thousands of immigrants, particularly after 1880, arrived from Orthodox lands in search of economic opportunities. This era led to the formation of Pan-Orthodox communities in cities like Galveston, Texas; New Orleans; San Francisco; Pittsburgh; and elsewhere. Concurrently, a significant movement saw nearly 29,000 Uniates, under the guidance of St. Alexis Toth, transition into Orthodoxy, enriching 17 parishes across Pennsylvania, New York, and Connecticut.

The Holy Trinity Church in New Orleans

The Holy Trinity Church in New Orleans, established in 1866, stands as the first Greek Orthodox Church in both North and South America. Initially a modest endeavour by the local Orthodox community, it featured a small cottage for the priest, later expanded to include a parish house and library. In 1950, the original structure was replaced by a brick cathedral that now serves as the diocesan headquarters. The cathedral today is a bustling hub of activity, safeguarding a rich heritage and historic relics, including a holy epitaphion adorned with 12 invaluable icons illustrating the Paschal death and resurrection of Christ, an icon of the Mother of God presented by the Russian imperial family in 1872, and a unique Greek Orthodox Bible from the Hagia Lavra Monastery.

Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Trinity

New York City’s Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, the second Greek Orthodox parish in the Americas, laid its cornerstone on September 14, 1931, with Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt in attendance. Known for its stunning Byzantine architecture, the cathedral's interior boasts exquisite Byzantine mosaics, Italian stained glass, marble embellishments, and iconography, making it the biggest Orthodox church in the USA.

St. Sava Church

In Jackson, California, St. Sava Church, built in 1894 by miners from Herzegovina, Montenegro, and the Bay of Kotor during the California gold rush, became the first Serbian Orthodox church in America. It houses the relics of the Venerable Sebastian (Dabovic), a key missionary figure and the founder of America’s first Serbian parish.

St. Nicholas Cathedral

St. Nicholas Cathedral in Brooklyn, NY, founded by St. Raphael Hawaweeny in 1895, served as the inaugural parish for the Syrian immigrant community, laying the groundwork for what is now the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America, often referred to as the “mother parish.”

Reflecting on the query, "how many orthodox churches in America", one finds that these historical parishes represent only a fraction of the diverse and expansive Orthodox presence in the United States, each with its unique heritage and spiritual contribution to the fabric of American Orthodoxy.

St. Tikhon's Orthodox Monastery

St. Tikhon's Orthodox Monastery

Founded in 1905 under the auspices of the then Bishop of North America, who would later become the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, St. Tikhon (Belavin), St. Tikhon's Orthodox Monastery stands as the oldest operating Orthodox monastery in North America. It enjoys the saintly patronage of St. Tikhon of Zadonsk, reflecting a deep spiritual lineage and commitment to the Orthodox faith. The monastery is located in South Canaan, Pennsylvania, and is closely associated with St. Tikhon's Orthodox Theological Seminary, one of the three seminaries affiliated with the Orthodox Church in America.

The monastery was the brainchild of its founder, Archimandrite Arseny (Chagovtsov), who would later be known as the Archbishop of Winnipeg, Canada. He envisaged the monastery as a “mother house” for monastics dedicated to mission work across North America, offering them a sanctuary for periodic spiritual renewal amidst their evangelical endeavours.

Today, St. Tikhon's Monastery is celebrated for its pivotal contribution to Orthodox theological education in North America, nurturing generations of clergy and lay leaders within the Orthodox tradition.

What is the Most Famous Orthodox Church in the USA?

Constructing a house of God transcends the mere physicality of the building, no matter how grand or ornate it may be. It's not the structure itself that declares the sovereignty of God to onlookers or benefactors but the integrity with which we, as believers, become “living stones, being built into a spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:5), thereby affirming Christ’s authority “as the chief cornerstone in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (Eph 2:20-21).

The narrative of Orthodoxy in the United States spans nearly two centuries, a period marked by the convergence of hundreds of saints and devout followers who have embodied these “living stones” in the spiritual edifice of contemporary American Orthodoxy. This legacy includes both canonised saints like St. Herman of Alaska, St. Tikhon of Moscow, and St. Nicholas (Velimirović), as well as revered figures such as Elder Ephraim (Moraitis) and Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose).

Today, the Orthodox churches established across the United States stand as a testament to the vibrant faith of these individuals. Each church has its unique narrative and spiritual significance, contributing to the list of Orthodox churches in America and representing some of the most popular churches in America. Throughout this article, we have offered snapshots of these sacred spaces, inviting our readers to discover the church that resonates most profoundly with their spiritual journey.

In the spirit of this exploration, we encourage each reader to select the church that holds the deepest meaning for them, guided by their personal spiritual experiences.

February 14, 2024
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