By Nathaniel Torrey
During the Eastern Orthodox Laity’s (OCL) 25th Anniversary laity conference this past weekend, a series of panels focused the history, present state, and future of Eastern Orthodoxy in North America. The OCL, founded in 1988, “is committed to establishment of an administratively and canonically unified self-governing Orthodox Church in the United States.”
On Saturday, October 27 the OCL’s conference took place in the form of three panels at George Washington University-Mount Vernon campus entitled, “Our Orthodox Past,” explaining the history of Orthodox peoples in the Americas, “Our Orthodox Present,” on the state of the church and the issues it faces today, and “Our Orthodox Future,” a panel on the future of Orthodoxy in America and how it can surmount the problems ahead.
Though all the Eastern Orthodox dioceses are in America and are in communion with one another as the groups share the same liturgics. However they have varying allegiances to different hierarchs throughout the world. This causes confusion not only for inquirers into Orthodoxy, but also between bishops when there are many overlapping archdioceses in a single city. Multiple bishops in one city not only leads to pastoral confusion: it is simply uncanonical. The OCL seeks to rectify this problem with all bishops in the United States under one autocephalous church.
Two speakers in the “Orthodox Future” panel, Nicholas Gvosdov, Professor at the United States Naval War College, and John Sitilides, Principal Trilogy Advisors LLC, pointed out the number of regular church attendees, chrismation of converts, and marriages in the Orthodox Church in North America are down. The archdioceses in American can all be said to be in some form of decline. Both used data collected by Alexei Krindatch, the research coordinator with the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North America.
Growth in American Orthodoxy is still currently due to immigration, mostly from Russia and other Eastern European countries. However, due to the radical secularism of these former Soviet republics, Orthodoxy is just as alien to them as it is to many people in the United States. “How do you strike the balance,” asked Gvosdov, “between keeping the people that we have, making outreach to converts and reverts to come back, and at the same time incorporate new waves of migration coming so those people don’t flow out of Orthodoxy? I think we have a real challenge.”
Education, Pan-Orthodox co-operation, transparency, and laity and clerical accountability, will be essential if Orthodoxy is to gain more traction in the United States. However, what is most important is that we speak the Truth in love.
In closing, Stilides said, “This all has to be done in the spirit of genuine Christian love, following Christ’s teachings of the two greatest commandments, so that we live and embody that love, humility and respect for one another and exemplify what Christ has asked us to do in our conduct. This way we can truly comprehend and transmit our Orthodox faith with strength and purpose into the daunting decades to come.”