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Orthodox American Realities

Sober Realities

Many years ago, in the early 1980s, I met a Uniat bishop with some responsibility for the Ukraine. He was just returning to France from the Vatican and I asked him how many Ukrainian Uniats there actually were. He told me 700,000, but then informed me that the policy was to add a zero to the end, that is, to report 7,000,000 to the Vatican, ‘or else we will not be taken seriously’. I thought this tenfold inflation rather dishonest and then I met exactly the same reflex among Orthodox. Thus, with regard to statistics for Orthodox Church members in the USA, I have heard figures varying between three and six million for the Greek Archdiocese and between one and two million for the OCA (‘Orthodox Church in America’).

These figures, obviously inflated by Cold War or nationalist bluster or sheer fantasy, are still repeated today. With US statistics collected by Alexei Krindatch in 2010 and now published in ‘The Atlas of American Orthodox Christian Churches’, we seem to be closer to reality. Admittedly, some have raised doubts about these figures, since they are sponsored by the Greek Archdiocese and may therefore be biased. Also they are also peculiar inasmuch as they include statistics for Non-Orthodox groups (Copts, Ethiopians, Armenians etc) and nationalist or sectarian schisms of Ukrainians, Macedonians, Greek Old Calendarists etc. However, if these figures can be trusted, they are as follows, rounded to the nearest hundred:

Firstly, overall there are fewer than one million Orthodox in the USA, that is, Orthodox are fewer than 0.3 of the US population. The largest group, with 477,000, is the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, secondly comes the OCA with 84,900, then the Antiochian Archdiocese with 74,500, next the Serbian Orthodox with 68,800, ROCOR (Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia) with 27,700, the MP (Moscow Patriarchate) with 12,400, the Romanian Church with 11,200 and the Carpatho-Russian Diocese with 10,500. Other Orthodox Churches were represented by even smaller numbers, well under 10,000, some under 2,000.


In the light of the sobering reality about the statistical insignificance of the Orthodox Churches in the USA, it is good to hear that the head of the OCA, Metropolitan Jonah, and the head of ROCOR, Metropolitan Hilarion, have at last concelebrated. Such an event, would have been normal in other parts of ROCOR, for example in Western Europe, years ago. We can remember how only a few years ago, in about 2004, one ROCOR priest from London concelebrated with a priest of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in Dublin. We all thought this normal, until an American-trained ROCOR priest in the UK, who later left ROCOR, created a scandal out of it. In Western Europe we always offered others concelebration with us. The fact that they often refused, intimidated by Cold War politics, is on their consciences, not on ours.

That this long overdue concelebration has taken four years after the reconciliation of the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROCOR and MP) in 2007 demonstrates the extent of the polarisation of the OCA and ROCOR in the USA. Thus, it is true that tiny groups of individuals, either politicised émigré groups who had been bishopless for years or else tiny groups of ungrounded converts, left ROCOR rather than accept the fact that the Cold War was over, that the Church in Russia was free and that ROCOR was not the only canonical Orthodox Church in the world. However, once these small numbers had left ROCOR in 2007, leaving it free to act on behalf of the vast majority, in its wake the same process did not happen in other émigré groups, for example in the OCA, a Cold War conglomerate in North America. With their Metropolitan Jonah at last in communion with both parts of the Russian Church, it seems as though the OCA, will in its turn have to shed its sectarians, especially its Russophobic and anti-Tradition elements.

Of course, Metropolitan Jonah’s concelebration with both canonical parts of the Russian Orthodox Church, does not solve the many other problems which dog the OCA. First of all, there is its status, which the MP (which granted it forty years ago during the Cold War) now agrees is uncanonical. Its autocephaly will have to be withdrawn and it will be made dependent either on the MP or else on ROCOR. This will disturb the various interest groups within this conglomerate. Apart from this, there are various internal problems regarding finance and personal morality, caused by weak monastic life. Nevertheless, a start has been made and it must be welcomed as the OCA’s first step on the road to achieving canonical status and recognition and this example from the top will certainly stop name calling.

The Assembly of Local Canonical Orthodox Bishops

The recent gathering of 45 (there were several absentees) canonical Orthodox Bishops in North America is also to be welcomed. At present, this is very much a talkshop, but it does mean that Orthodox bishops are at last are meeting one another and are obliged to listen to one another in the same language. It is vital that Orthodox bishops in each territory of the Diaspora meet, speak and present a united front to the dying heterodox world. In a globalised and secularised world, Orthodox Christians have to be united in and by authentic Orthodoxy. Not to be so would be a grave error when our missionary witness is so vital. It is sad that it could not be done until twenty years after the Cold War.

Those concerned about such meetings and the threat of an ‘Eighth Oecumenical Council’ should note that the Assemblies of Orthodox Bishops, taking place all over the Diaspora, can decide on nothing. There must be a consensus. There is no more political domination and manipulation (as there used to be on the standing committee of Orthodox bishops in France, for example, by one particular Patriarchate). These are not ‘Pan-Orthodox’ (code for ‘Not Pan-Orthodox’) Assemblies, but All-Orthodox Assemblies. In other words, they are inclusive, not exclusive, as they used to be before.

As regards an Eighth Council itself, this is not going to happen until all Orthodox bishops have met and until their meeting has been hallowed by the Holy Spirit. Until then there will only be ‘meetings’, ‘conferences’, ‘assemblies’, not Councils. Nobody can call an episcopal meeting a ‘Universal’ (Oecumenical) ‘Council’ until the Orthodox clergy and people have accepted its decisions and rulings afterwards. In any case, the only themes for an All-Orthodox Conference are administrative and not dogmatic, meaning that any such ‘All-Orthodox Episcopal Conference’ can never be a ‘Universal’ (Oecumenical) ‘Council’, because it has no dogmatic decisions to take. However, with the Local Assemblies taking place, it does seem as though the day of the possible formation of Local Metropolias of Orthodox in various parts of the Diaspora is now dawning.

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