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Research on Orthodox Religious Groups in the United States

Alexei. D. Krindatch (Krindach)
Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute
Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA



In 1794, the foundation of a mission on Kodiak Island in Alaska by the Orthodox monks from Russia has marked the entrance of Orthodox Church in America. Two centuries later, the presence of over 2 millions faithful gathered into 2,400 local parishes witnesses the firmly establishment of the Eastern Christianity in this country. Nevertheless, in the USA, in a nation whose religious culture has accommodated Catholics, Protestants, and Jews, the Orthodox Christians and Orthodox Churches have been largely ignored and overlooked in the religious, ethnic and sociologic studies.

The estimates of the total number of Orthodox Christians around the globe vary from 180 million [Stokoe, 1995] to 216 million [Barrett, 2001]. As of Church-organization, in the worldwide dimension, the Eastern Christianity consists of two ecclesiastical families of the independent - the so-called autocephalous and autonomous Orthodox Churches:

1) The Eastern (also known as the Byzantine) Orthodox Churches. 

These are the Patriarchates of Constantinople, of Alexandria, of Antioch, and of Jerusalem; the Orthodox Churches of Russia, of Serbia, of Romania, of Bulgaria, of Georgia, of Cyprus, of Greece, of Poland, of Albania, of Czech and Slovak Republics, of America, of Finland, of Japan, of Mount Sinai and of China.

2) The Oriental (also known as the Not-Chalcedonian) Orthodox Churches. 

These are the Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian, Syrian, Malankara, Eritrean Orthodox Churches. The common element among Oriental Orthodox Churches that distinguishes them from the Eastern Orthodox Churches is their rejection of the christological definition of the 4th Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451), which asserted that Christ is one person in two natures, undivided and unconfused.

The Churches in each family share in common the faith, the doctrine and the sacraments, and they are in full communion with each other. At the same time, they are fully independent in administrative terms, vary greatly in size and possess many distinctive liturgical traditions and features.

In addition to these widely recognized Eastern and Oriental groups, there are numerous Orthodox Churches of irregular status. They are of Orthodox origin, but because of various reasons the other Orthodox Churches do not recognize their legitimacy, qualifying them as uncanonical or schismatic. The Orthodox Churches included in this paper belong both to the Eastern and Oriental groups as well as those of the irregular status.

The notion of "one state – one Church" was historically a very characteristic of the Eastern Christianity. Therefore, when Orthodox Church is mentioned, one tends to think of its ethnic aspect. The Orthodox Christians being asked about religious affiliation almost always add an ethnic qualifier: Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, etc. Consequently, many Orthodox Churches which have faithful in U.S. have organized in North America their own jurisdictions (first, the individual separated parishes that were later united into dioceses) with a purpose to minister to the religious needs of the corresponding ethnic communities of immigrants from the Old World: the Greeks, Russians, Serbians, Romanians, Armenians, Copts, etc. It should be pointed out, there is no doubt for the first generation of immigrants the national Orthodox jurisdictions have brought a big measure of order and unity to ethnic groups that otherwise would have remained fragmented and enfeebled in an "American melting pot".

Today, most of Orthodox jurisdictions in the USA are still related or even directly subordinated to the one of "Mother" Orthodox Churches in the Old world (Tab. 1a). Therefore one could liken the institutional composition and administrative structure of Eastern Christianity in America to a layered cake, as the networks of dioceses and parishes belonging to the independent Orthodox jurisdictions co-exist and overlap on the same territory (Tab. 1 b).



With the exceptions of Russian and less so of Greek, the first parishes of the most of Eastern Orthodox jurisdictions have been founded in North America around the turn of the 19th century, during the period prior WWI. The unifications of these initially autonomous parishes into centrally administrated dioceses with the USA based headquarters have occurred 20-30 years later, mainly, between WWI and WWII. As of Oriental Orthodox, with the exceptions of Armenians and Syrians, they came to USA and organized their religious life in this country several decades later (columns 1 and 2, Tab. 2).

20th century was a period of dynamic and multi-faced development of ethnically diverse communities of Eastern Christians in North America.

First. The several stages of immigration originating in former Soviet Union, in Eastern Europe and in Middle East have increased dramatically the total number of Orthodox faithful. In 1903, there were no more than 50.000 of Eastern Christians in USA [Erickson, 1999], [Summary, 1999]. Today, with estimates sometimes as high as 5-6 million ([Barrett, 2000], [Directory, 1998]), most of experts and scholars agree on smaller but still impressive number of 2 million Orthodox believers living in the United States [Stokoe, 1995].

Second. The institutional and ecclesiastical compositions of the Orthodoxy in North America have become much more complex. At the beginning of 20th century, in 1906, the Eastern OCs were represented by 74 parishes (including 16 – on Alaska) united in what was called at times the "Missionary diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church in North America". Missionary diocese has included 7 parishes of the Syro-Arabian mission serving specifically for the Orthodox Christians from the Middle East and 6 parishes of the Serbian mission [Summary, 1999]. In addition to the Russian missionary diocese there were a handful of dispersed autonomous Greek (5 – in 1900) and Romanian (the very first was founded in 1904) Orthodox parishes [Erickson, 1999]. Of Oriental Orthodox Churches, only Armenian Apostolic Church was present in the USA at the turn of the century numbering 5-6 parishes united (in 1898) into diocese. Today the Eastern Christianity in the North America represents a phenomenon of a great jurisdictional diversity. More than 20 major Orthodox jurisdictions have above 50 dioceses consisting of 2,400 parishes and monastic communities (Tab 1b.). The "religious infrastructure" of 7 North American Orthodox jurisdictions (Orthodox Church in America, Greek Archdiocese, Serbian dioceses, Carpatho-Russian diocese, Russian Church Outside of Russia, Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Armenian Church/Catholicossate Etchmiadzin) includes also theological educational institutions to train American-born generations of Orthodox clergy (column 4, Tab. 4).

Third. From the geographically limited areas of Alaska (Russian colonists, native Alaskan converts to Orthodoxy), of California (Russians and Greeks in San Francisco, Serbians in Jackson, Armenians in Fresno), of the coal mines and steel centers of Pennsylvania (Serbians, Carpatho-Russians – also known as Ruthenians, Rusyns - who immigrated to United States from the Carpathian mountain regions of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire), of Massachusetts (early Armenian settlements in Cambridge, Watertown, Worcester) and of the few further urban centers (Greek communities in New York, Chicago, Boston; Arab Orthodox community in New York; Romanian community in Cleveland, Ohio; Albanians in Boston; etc.), the Orthodox have spread all across the country. During last 20 years the most dynamic growth of Orthodox ethnic communities and parishes was characteristic for the South and, especially, for the West of USA. This was because of continuing immigration from the Old World and due to a new pattern of settlement of the children and grandchildren of the old Orthodox immigrants.

Fourth. The ethnic diversity of Orthodox immigrants living in the United States has increased greatly during last century and this process still continues. With exceptions of early-settled Carpatho-Russians, Greeks, Romanians, and less so, Serbians, Orthodox Arabs and Armenians, the Orthodox immigrants began arriving in USA in large numbers on the eve of WWI and later (specifically, in early 1920’s, in the wakes of WWII and of the civil war in Lebanon). The newest groups of Orthodox Christians in this country are the Copts (the Arabic speaking Orthodox Christians from Egypt) and the Malankara Orthodox Christians from India (mainly from Kerala state). Whereas in 1971 there were only three compact Coptic communities in USA (in New Jersey city, in Los Angeles and in Brooklyn, NY), by the beginning of a new millennium more than 115 parishes of the Coptic Orthodox Church were organized all across the country. They are divided in two dioceses (with headquarters in Los Angeles and in Colleyville, TX) and an archdiocese (headquarter in Cedar Grove, NJ). Similarly, whereas thirty years ago two small Malankara Orthodox parishes existed in the USA (both in New York area), today 81 parishes belong to two various Malankara Orthodox jurisdictions with the headquarters in Nanuet, NJ and in Bellerose, NY.

Indeed, the patterns of development of the Orthodox jurisdictions in North America are closely connected with the history of ethnically diverse communities of Orthodox immigrants who came to USA because of various reasons, at different times and from many countries of Central and Eastern Europe and from the Middle East. Because of this and due to the linkage to the Mother Churches overseas, the Orthodox jurisdictions in the USA were always affected by the political, social and religious transformations in the Old World.

The Communist revolution of 1917 in Russia resulted in the formation on the USA territory of the three various Orthodox jurisdictions that all have historic roots in the Russian Orthodox Church. These are the Orthodox Church in America (until 1970, it was a Metropolia of the Russian Orthodox Church), the Russian Orthodox Church outside of Russia and the Patriarchal parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church. The establishment of the Communist regime in Armenia, one of ex-USSR republics, caused in 1933 a political split among Armenian Orthodox parishes in North America. Some of them have remained true to the Mother Church in Armenia and formed two American dioceses subordinated to the Catholicossate of Etchmiadzin (Armenia). Other Armenian parishes maintained that the Church and its leaders were manipulated by the new Communist authority to the point that the integrity and freedom even of the Armenian American diocese were in danger. They have replaced themselves under spiritual supervision of Armenian Catholicossate of Cilicia (Lebanon). Following the publication of a 1929 Papal Decree that limited the freedom and independence of the Uniate Greek-Catholic Churches, a large number (25, 000) of Uniates based in Johnstown, PA, left the Greek-Catholic Church and convert to Orthodoxy. These Carpatho-Russians have formed their own independent Orthodox jurisdiction – the Carpatho-Russian Greek Catholic Diocese of USA. WWII brought sweeping political changes in Eastern Europe that had important consequences for the OCs in the USA. The Communist governments in Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Romania have strictly limited and supervised all church activities. This has led to the political breaks among Serbian (1963), Bulgarian (1963) and Romanian (1951) Orthodox parishes in USA, whose membership was increased at that time significantly by refugees and displaced persons fleeing from the Communist takeover in Eastern Europe. Similarly to Russians in 1920’s, the Serbian, Bulgarian and Romanian dioceses would also divide in 1950-60’s into hostile factions. At that time a majority of parishes have denounced their resident bishops and the Patriarchates they represented as "tools of Communism". The dissident parishes would then form the new, independent jurisdictions of their own. Another part of parishes, however, has remained faithful to the Mother Church overseas – to the Patriarchates of Belgrade, Sophia and Bucharest. In 1958, in former Yugoslavia, the Macedonians separated from Serbs to form their own "Macedonian Orthodox Church". Subsequently, starting from 1963 an increasing number of the Macedonian Orthodox parishes would appear in the American religious landscape. The persecution in Greece during the 1950’s of the so called "Old Calendarists" – the members of the radical conservative and anti-ecumenical "True Orthodox Church of Greece" – and general resumption of large-scale emigration from Greece in the late 1960’s brought a significant numbers of the Old Calendarists to the USA. They have founded in North America several Orthodox jurisdictions as, for example, Holy Orthodox Church in North America or Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Vasiloupolis (both included in the study).

There are valuable books on the history of major Orthodox jurisdictions and of the corresponding ethnic communities in North America (Tab. 6). At the same time, there is no studies exploring the particular subjects of the social and cultural integration of OCs in North America and, consequently, of their changing nature – the two processes that have become obvious during last 20-30 years.

It is of importance that during 20th century nearly all-major waves of Orthodox immigration from Old World were forced by the nature. For instance, after WWII, the largest groups of Orthodox immigrants to USA were:

- Some 100,000 Eastern European refugees and displaced persons in the wake of WWII (Romanians, Bulgarians, Serbians, Ukrainians, Albanians);

- About 160,000 Greek immigrants in the wake of the Cypriot crisis;

  • The Orthodox Christians from the Middle East in the wake of the Lebanese civil war (Arabs, Armenians and Syrians) and of the Iran-Iraq war (Syrians) [Stokoe, 1995, p.87];

  • The refugees who came to USA from the former Yugoslavia after break-up (1991) and the following bloody conflicts in this country and who increased and renewed essentially the membership in old Serbian, Mazedonian and Albanian Orthodox parishes;

  • The Armenians from Soviet republic of Armenia who started to arrive in large numbers in the USA (specifically to Los Angeles area) after major earthquake in North Western Armenia and after beginning of war in Mountainous Karabagh (both in 1988).

Because of this forced pattern of immigration, it had become common for Orthodox in USA to view themselves as the ethnic communities dispersed from the motherland. The same perspective historically colored the understanding of the nature of the OCs in North America. Each jurisdiction came to see itself as a "diaspora" Church and/or as a geographic extension of the mother church.

Consequently, instead of being a Church serving to American people, the purpose of each Orthodox jurisdiction was to care for "its people". Their parishes have become the centers not only of a religious but also of a social life. Firstly, they have served to attract and to consolidate in the certain geographic areas the newly arriving immigrants. Secondly, their functions transcend by far the religious needs and include, for instance, financial aid for the needy paid by the richer members of the ethnic community, help in finding of first job and of place to live, legal assistance, organizing of free English language lessons, etc. At the beginning of a new millennium, these "immigrational services" are still an essential part of the social work of many OCs in the USA (column 1, table 5).

As a result the "ethnarcy" – the combining of priestly vocation and of socio-ethnic leadership – has become a characteristic feature of the Orthodox jurisdictions in the USA.

Side by side with social assistance intended to help the newcomers to begin a new life in USA, many Orthodox jurisdictions gave a high priority upon the preservation of the ethnic culture and identity among their members. This was done in several ways.

1) By retaining in the churches of the language of the mother country (for data on current proportions between English and traditional liturgical language used in services in each Orthodox jurisdiction see column 1, table 3).

2) By setting up of the all-day schools (also called "parochial" schools) for children of immigrants born in the USA as an alternative to the regular American public schools. The large number of all-day schools is especially characteristic for Greek and Armenian ethnic communities (column 6, table 4).

3) By organization of a system of one-day schools that exist separately from the religious Sunday-schools and that are intended to teach the language, history, literature and geography of the mother country during one day in a week. Today the parishes of the Greek, Ukrainian, Syrian, Armenian (both jurisdictions), Malankara OCs and of the Russian Orthodox Church outside of Russia have the densest networks of one-day schools (see column 2, table 5).

4) By establishment and by maintenance of the America-wide Orthodox Women and Youth organizations (they can be called associations, leagues, guilds, etc) with a network of the local branches attached to the individual parishes of each Orthodox jurisdictions. With the few exceptions, all OCs in the USA have such Women and Youth associations.

5) By restrictive policies with regard to the mixed inter-Christian marriages (the current proportion of religiously mixed weddings in each jurisdiction is indicated in column 4, table 4). True, today only few Orthodox jurisdictions require unreservedly from the Roman Catholics or the Mainstream Protestants to change their religious affiliation and to become Orthodox in order to be married canonically (lawfully) with the members of these jurisdictions. These are, for example, the Old Calendarist "Holy Orthodox Church in North America", the Assyrian Church of the East and the Coptic Orthodox Church. At the same time, recognizing "de-jure" the rights of their members to marry with Non-Orthodox Christians (especially with the Roman Catholics) some Orthodox jurisdictions require first to sign an agreement to baptize the future children in the Orthodox faith. These are, for example, the Old Calendarist Archdiocese of Vasiloupolis or the Syrian Orthodox Church. The inter-Christian and interethnic marriages are generally discouraged in the parishes of the Oriental Orthodox churches. On the contrary, some Eastern Orthodox jurisdictions (especially Greek and Antiochian Archdioceses) maintain the policy of encouraging of conversion to Orthodoxy of the "Non-Orthodox" part of a couple.

The common situation of ethnically diverse Orthodox jurisdictions in the context of American society in 20th century was brilliantly characterized by contemporary Orthodox historian Mark Stokoe as follows: "In externals, Orthodox Christians in North America resemble Roman Catholics. They share a similar sacramental view of life; liturgical forms of corporate worship; traditional forms of piety such as fasting, prayer, monasticism; and generally "conservative" positions on contemporary moral issues. In administration the Orthodox in North America resemble Protestants and are splintered into distinct administrative "jurisdictions", divisions based on ethnic origin and politics, both secular and ecclesiastical. In self-identity, however, Orthodox Christians in North America are like Orthodox Jews; a people apart, unable and at time unwilling to separate the claims of race, religion, and politics: people for whom the Greek terms "diaspora" ("dispersion") has been an expression of enduring meaning [Stokoe, 1995, p.2]. "

A pronounced ethnocentric approach, which was typical for the most of Orthodox jurisdictions for the most part of 20th century, has had threefold consequence:

a) The movements toward greater ecclesiastical and administrative unity of the different jurisdictions were discouraged by those who saw Orthodox Church as an instrument to preserve not only religious faith, but also the particular ethnic identity, culture and language.

b) There was little concern for mission. The ethnic emphasis of Orthodox jurisdictions and the concerns with survival and preservation appeared to be incompatible with a commitment to the reaching out to others who were not a part of their jurisdiction.

c) There was no question of the responsibility of Orthodox Church to the wider society, because each jurisdiction tended to see itself as composed of people who were not really part of American society.

Starting in the 1970’s, it has become obvious that the fundamental changes in the demographics of the membership of OCs (the dominance of the second-third American-born members and an increasing numbers of converts who came to the Orthodoxy mainly through the inter-Christian marriages), the new developments in the area of religious education and liturgical life, and the grassroots movements encouraging greater Orthodox unity for the sake of mission have changed essentially the standing of the OCs on the American religious scene. During last decades the Orthodox jurisdictions are increasingly struggling with the issue of the changing identity and the mission of Orthodox Church in this country.

The first serious controversies and difficult discussions were over the granting of autocephaly – the full independence from the Mother Church - to the former Russian Metropolia. In 1970, it has become eventually the "Orthodox Church in America" with headquarter in Syosset, NY. In the same year, the disagreements among hierarchs and clergy of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese on the question of usage of the English instead of Greek language have paralyzed and almost split this largest of American Orthodox jurisdictions. Later, in 1988, mass conversions of two disparate groups, the Protestant "Evangelical Orthodox Church", an offshoot of the Campus Crusade for Christ (with some 2.000 members in 12 communities), to the Antiochian Archdiocese; and the New Age "Holy Order of Mans" (with some 3.000 members in 20 communities) to an Greek Old Calendarist jurisdiction testify to Orthodoxy’s growing evangelical appeal presented to American audience and in English language. In 2000, the persistent request of the delegation of the "Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in North America" to the bishop Council of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople to change the Archdiocesan charter and to provide the Archdiocese with the higher level of the administrative independence from Constantinople has confirmed the deepening indigenousation of OCs in the USA. Most recently, in summer 2001, the assembly of North American Antiochian Archdiocese has voted almost unanimously to request the Mother Church in Syria to grant to their parishes in North America the status of autonomy. Once this happens, the second national "American" Orthodox Church will come into life along with currently existing "Orthodox Church in America."

Parallel with the new developments in the sphere of Church’ internal affaires and policies, the other tendency related directly to lives of ordinary Orthodox believers in this country has become obvious. Religious faith and ethnic identity once seen as inseparable, were increasingly less understood as such by the socially mobile, geographically dispersed, English speaking second, third and fourth generations of Orthodox in America, not to mention an ever-increasing number of Orthodox converts raised in other religious traditions.



The establishment of «Standing conference of the canonical Orthodox bishops of the Americas» (SCOBA) in 1960, and of «Standing conference of Oriental Orthodox Churches in America» (SCOOCA) in 1973 was viewed by many as an expression of a growing Orthodox unity in the United States. Both SCOBA and SCOOCA are the national church bodies that brought together the leaders of nearly all major Eastern and Oriental Orthodox jurisdictions in the USA (column 6, table 3).

Both conferences have became significant associations which began to oversee many of the grassroots Pan-Orthodox organizations in North America that had come into existence in the meantime. In 1992, SCOBA has formally sanctioned the establishment of "International Orthodox Christian Charities" (IOCC) founded initially by the group of laypersons from a number of Orthodox jurisdictions with a purpose to organize the shipment of food and medical supplies to Eastern Europe and to the ex-USSR republics. When IOCC was affiliated with SCOBA, it became an official humanitarian aid agency of Orthodox Christians in USA and an organization that provided a new means through which Orthodox in America could co-operate in charitable endeavors. Today, IOCC works for local communities in Serbia, Georgia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Russian Federation, Greece, Albania, West Bank of Jerusalem. It assists worldwide in the programs for orphans, refugees and displaced persons, elderly, children, hospitals and schools.

The Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC) in St.Augustine, (Florida) was originally established as the Mission Center of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, and it has focused for many years on missionary work in Africa. In 1993, OCMC has become the center supervised by SCOBA. It co-ordinates SCOBA’ unified program of Orthodox missions and evangelism worldwide. The programs of OCMC function in Guatemala, India, Kenya, Indonesia, Congo, Philippines, Madagascar, Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Albania, Romania, Ghana, Uganda, and Tanzania.

Also at a time when the ecumenical movement was peaking in USA, SCOBA and SCOOCA were instrumental in organizing of a unified Orthodox witness in North America. Although Orthodox involvement in the National Council of Churches of Christ has remained weak and problematical, as a general rule the Orthodox laity and clergy participate in local inter-Christian associations intended both for theological dialogue and for local philanthropic activities.

Nevertheless, both SCOBA and SCOOCA began as, and have always remained, no more than the consultative bodies and the voluntary associations of bishops who are the heads of the particular jurisdictions. Each presiding hierarch maintains his own ultimate autonomy to other SCOBA/SCOOCA bishops. Each jurisdiction maintains its own distinct independence and characteristic features. Finally, most of jurisdictions associated with SCOBA/SCOOCA are the overseas provinces of Mother Churches in the Europe and in the Middle East. Therefore, the common goals of the members of SCOBA/SCOOCA come often into conflict with the policies of the Mother Churches [Fitzgerald, 1999, p.95].

Consequently, neither SCOBA nor SCOOCA have any authority over individual jurisdictions that constituted them. Any decision made by SCOBA/SCOOCA had to be approved by each of jurisdictions and in many cases by the Mother Churches. Neither SCOBA nor SCOOCA were able to bring together clergy and laity from various jurisdictions to discuss common concerns or to establish a national association of American Orthodox clergy. To the contrary, whereas relationships between various jurisdictions had frequently been strained because of the differences arose over the qualification for ordination, over the requirements for inter-Christian marriages, and over the manner in which new parishes are established, SCOBA and SCOOCA were always hard pressed to deal with these points of discords. Finally and most importantly, SCOBA and SCOOCA were not able to speak in the name of the Orthodox Church in the United States, to express the position of Orthodox Christianity in relationship to other religious and ecumenical bodies, to charitable institutions, or to governmental agencies. In fact, the current abilities of SCOBA or SCOOCA to function effectively even as the consultative bodies are very limited. Thus, it is also very unlikely that the Orthodox jurisdictions in America will be reorganized into a unified structure in the near future [Erickson, 1999, p.126], [Fitzgerald, 1999, p.98].

Indeed, at the beginning of a new millennium, the notion of jurisdictional distinctiveness remains a basic characteristic of Orthodox Christianity in the USA. Consequently, the major goal of author’s empirical study was creation of the uniform databases on the major Orthodox jurisdictions that allow for analysis and for comparisons of different OCs in several aspects, namely:

A) Membership: actual membership (column 5, table 1b), tendency of its development during last decade (column 3, table 2), current proportion between various demographic sources of Church-growth (column 4, table 2).

B) Administration and religious infrastructure: administrative-territorial organization (columns 1 & 2, table 1b), number of parishes and monasteries (columns 3 & 4, tables 3), density of a network of Sunday schools (column 2, table 4), most recent tendencies of Church’ institutional expansion (column 3, table 2), Church-based theological educational institutions (column 4, table 4), US-wide Church’ periodicals (column 5, table 4).

C) Degree of cultural integration with wider American society: proportion between English and traditional liturgical languages of the Mother Church used in North American parishes (column 4, table 3) and on the pages of US-wide Church periodicals (column 5, table 4), proportion of clergy raised, educated and ordained in the USA (column 3, table 3), proportion of the mixed "Orthodox – Not Orthodox" marriages (column 4, table 3), missionary policy and openness for Anglo-American converts (column 5, table 3), the availability of chaplains representing the Church in American military forces and police (column 6, table 4).

D) Ecumenical openness and involvement: proportion of the mixed "Orthodox – Not Orthodox" marriages (column 4, table 3), participation in interfaith organizations and activities (column 6, table 6).

E) Social (not religious) functions: Church’ based social institutions and programs (column 2, table 5), parochial all-day schools for children (column 6, table 4), programs of assistance for newly arriving immigrants (column 1, table 5).

As of author’s major findings three subjects must be mentioned in particularly, as they are in a certain contradiction with the spread stereotypes and commonly accepted notions.

1.Actual membership.

The number of their members has been and remains greatly exaggerated by the North American Orthodox jurisdictions. Historically, ethnic and religious politics encouraged them to use the increasingly inflated figures [Stokoe, 1995, p.2]. The obvious discrepancies between membership’ figures claimed by the OCs and realities can be found sometimes even on pages of the academic books on Eastern Christianity in North America. According to professor of the Holly Cross Greek Orthodox school of Theology, Dr. Thomas Fitzgerald: "By 1994, there were over 1, 500 Orthodox parishes in the United States, serving over 3 million parishioners. Some of these parishes include over 1, 000 members. Others, considered to be missions, may include about 50 members. The vast majority of the parishes average anywhere from 200 to about 500 members" [Fitzgerald, 1999, p.120]." One can wonder how it is possible to get 3 million parishioners in 1, 500 parishes even by assumption that each parish numbers at least 1, 000 members.

A particular purpose of author’s research on OCs in USA in the framework of a nationwide "Religious Congregations Membership Study" was an expert estimation of the number of adherents in each Orthodox jurisdiction. The "adherents" were defined as those baptized Orthodox adults and their children, who are known to the Church (i.e. – to its local parishes) and attend church services at least by major celebrations (Easter, Christmas, etc.). Thus, "adherents" represent a rather inclusive category in comparison to legal (dues paying) members or to those parishioners who attend church services on a regular base (column 5, table 1b). Given common lack of accuracy of a church statistic (or even its full absence) in most of OCs, the procedure of the estimation of the number of adherents was individual for each jurisdiction. Basically, it was based on the comparisons of the number of households on the Church’ mailing lists with the nationwide circulation of the major Church’ periodicals combined with consultations with Church’ senior officers (chancellors) in order to interpret and to multiply correctly these figures. The multiplying factors were also verified through the case-studies on individual parishes, when the number of households on parish’ mailing list was compared with those known to the local priest in person and with the actual church attendance on a regular Sunday service and with attendance at time of the major Church festivals.

According to obtained results, the real membership (number of adult adherents and their children) in all Eastern Christian Churches in the USA can be estimated at about 1, 200, 000 persons in comparison with the commonly accepted estimations as high as over four millions [Erickson, 1999, p.129], [Yearbook, 2001, p.346] or even with most pessimistic but still exaggerated figure of two millions Orthodox living in the USA [Stokoe, 1995, p.2].

The greatest disproportions between "claimed" and actual memberships were found in the cases of the largest Orthodox jurisdictions: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese (typically claimed 2, 000, 000 members versus 440, 000 actual adherents), Orthodox Church in America (1, 000, 000 versus 115, 000), Antiochian Archdiocese (450, 000 versus 83, 700) and two Armenian Orthodox jurisdictions (800, 000 versus 70, 000).

The common "excuse" adopted by the OCs explaining this disproportion is an approach, when the claimed membership is equated with the total number of representatives of corresponding ethnic groups including second-third American generations of their descendants independently from their actual relation to the Orthodox Church and religion.

2. Major demographic sources of growth of the OCs in the USA nowadays. There is a widely spread notion among the Orthodox scholars that after WWII with the few exceptions the Orthodoxy in the United States has grown not through the immigration as much as through the birth of American children to immigrant generations [Stokoe, 1995, p.87]. The results of our survey (column 4, table 5) indicate, however, that of three possible demographic sources of the Church growth (newly arriving immigrants, the growing children of Church members, Anglo-American converts) in nearly all Orthodox jurisdictions the immigrants form at least no less important segment of the new members than the growing children, and in many cases they still can be seen as a major source of the Church growth (this is a case of Serbian, Romanian, Albanian, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Coptic Orthodox jurisdictions as well as of the Russian Church Outside of Russia).

As of children of the Orthodox immigrants, the natural desire to assimilate with the dominant American culture has drifted away from the language, customs and to a large extent from the Orthodox faith of their parents many of the Orthodox second-third generations (regardless whether this "second generation" arose after WWI, after WWII or nowadays). The results of author’s expert interviews with the heads of North American Orthodox jurisdictions show that the crucial point for a decision to stay with the Orthodox Church or to go out of it (either into other Christian denomination or, more frequently, into secular society) is a time, when the youths enter college age and, thus, depart from the home of parents leaving there also parents’ style of life and the habit of the Church-attendance.

3. Level of cultural assimilation and of integration with the wider American society. One may assume that the extent of Americanization of the different Orthodox jurisdictions should correlate first of all with the duration of their presence in the USA and, consequently, with the number of American-born generations of their members. The results of author’s survey indicate, however, that the line dividing categories of obviously "ethnic" and of more or less "Americanized" OCs correspond largely with major ecclesiastical division between the groups of Eastern and of Oriental Orthodox Churches. According to the indicators defined above in the point C), all Oriental OCs – either historically rooted in the USA Armenian and Syrian or only recently established Coptic and Indian Malankara jurisdictions – can be considered as ethnic or immigrant or "diaspora" Churches. To the contrary, with a few exceptions, the Eastern Orthodox jurisdictions in North America demonstrate a high proportion of English used as a liturgical language, a high proportion of "native" clergy educated and ordained in the USA, a big share of inter-Christian marriages and a general openness for Anglo-American converts.

The reason for such distinction between Oriental and Eastern Orthodox jurisdictions is in the different situations of their members and Mother Churches in the countries of origin in the Old World. The Oriental Orthodox came to the USA from the countries with the dominant Muslim societies (exceptions are Armenians from ex-Soviet Armenia). Consequently, although in a different way than in the USA, back in the homelands the Oriental Orthodox have got accustomed to live as a religious minority and elaborated with generations the mechanisms protecting religious, cultural and linguistic borders of their closed communities. For centuries, the Church served for Oriental Orthodox a center of people’s life organizing and administrating Christian diasporic society within Islamic state. For centuries their identity was double-faced and its ethnic and religious components were inseparable. For instance, if the member of Syrian Orthodox community in Turkey or in Iraq converts to Islam, he will be no longer considered a Syriac, but a "gentile".

To the contrary, most of Eastern Orthodox came to the USA from the traditional Orthodox countries (exception are Christian Arabs from Syria – the members of the Antiochian Church). Consequently, once in a diaspora situation and in an American "melting pot", their ability to keep and to maintain their ethno-cultural identity brought from the Mother country was much lower than in the case of Oriental Orthodox.



Two contradictory processes affect largely the situation of the Orthodox Christianity in the North America at the turn of a millennium. On the one hand, historically, the Orthodox jurisdictions in the USA have maintained the link between the ethnic and denominational identities in a particularly strong way. On the other hand, today, the slow but inevitable process of indigenousation of the OCs in America, and the growing proportion (or even dominance) among their members of the 3-4th American-born generations combined with an increasing number of Anglo-American converts (through mixed marriages first of all) who were raised in different religious traditions have challenged this linkage.

Consequently, today, even for Orthodox theologians, the use of the term "diaspora" began to appear inappropriate and pernicious when used in reference to the nature of the Orthodox Church in this country. According to Fr. Leonidas Contos, a prominent theologian of the Greek Archdiocese: "Our numbers, relative to the strength of the Mother Church, are so great, our life so ordered, our organizations so articulated, our identity so well-defined, our aims so coherent, above all our roots are so deeply thrust in this congenial soil, that to regard ourselves as a "dispersion" at least, tends in very subtle ways to distort our sense of self. For so long as we are conditioned in our polity and our cultural life, by the diaspora complex, however subconsciously, we will be inhibited in the fullest realization of our "church-hood." [Contos, 1982, p.24].

The future of OCs in the USA and the "niches" they will have in the context of the changing American religious landscape depend on their ability to articulate clear policies and strategies with regard to the four major problems:

  • The dichotomy between religious and ethic identities of their members;

  • The relationship to the Mother Churches in Old World;

  • The understanding of their missionary work in North America;

  • Their social responsibility to the American society at large.


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