Greek Orthodox rolls grow through marriage, converts
July 29, 2006 12:50 am
By ROSE FRENCH
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER
NASHVILLE, Tenn.--Membership in the Greek Orthodox church has
increased over the last several years, thanks to the growing number
of interfaith marriages and non-Greeks converting to the Christian
It hasn't hurt either that Greek culture has been celebrated in
events like the 2004 Olympics in Athens and box office hits like "My
Big Fat Greek Wedding," say church members, who were in Nashville
recently at a gathering of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
Nearly 2,000 people from across the country attended the Greek
Orthodox Clergy Laity Congress, which is held every two years for
members to worship and discuss finances and other church issues.
Unlike other Christian denominations such as the Southern Baptists--
the nation's largest Protestant denomination--the Greek Orthodox
Archdiocese is not facing sluggish membership growth. The number of
its clergy members has also remained steady, church officials say.
There are 540 parishes, 800 priests and about 1.5 million faithful in
the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese.
His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, 78, the chief spiritual leader of
Greek Orthodox church members in the U.S., said there's been about a
12 percent increase in membership each year over the past decade.
Most newcomers are young people in their 20s and 30s who converted
after marrying spouses who are Greek Orthodox, while others are non-
Greeks who joined the religion on their own because of its deep roots
in early Christianity and its emphasis on tradition.
The archbishop said converts are also impressed by the nearly 2,000-
year-old church's survival amid wars and other trials throughout its
"There is this kind of humility in Orthodoxy," Demetrios said. "It's
a church that has struggled with difficulty."
The Greek Orthodox Church is among more than a dozen Orthodox faiths
that include Albanian, Russian, Serbian and Ukrainian and share the
same international spiritual leader, the ecumenical patriarchate of
The Orthodox Church numbers over 250 million members worldwide and is
mainly composed of self-governing churches, but united by a common
faith and spirituality.
The Rev. Robert Stephanopoulos, who teaches eastern Christianity at
St. John's University in New York, said the establishment of the
Greek Orthodoxy in the U.S. began in the early 20th century when
great numbers of Greek immigrants arrived here.
Much of the church's growth today, however, has been mainly dependent
on interfaith marriages and new non-Greek converts intrigued by Greek
history and culture and the religion's long-held traditions.
Stephanopoulos said movies like the 2002 surprise hit "My Big Fat
Greek Wedding" and the 2004 Olympics in Athens have helped to make
people more aware of Greek culture.
Demetrios said several people have told him they converted to the
Greek Orthodox faith after seeing the movie and becoming interested
in the religion.
"People like this atmosphere, the ambiance that surrounds the faith,"
Demetrios said. "You can't describe it, but it's there."
The Rev. Mark Arey, who leads Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in
Nashville, a congregation of about 130 member families, said about
half of his church's members are converts.
Many are the result of interfaith marriage but also non-Greeks who
chose the faith because of its use of traditional church sacraments
and ceremonies that date back to the church's beginnings.
They're also interested in participating in Greek events associated
with the church, learning Greek dances and attending the church's
annual Greek festival, he said.
"We're seeing more of that now," Arey said. "Especially among young
people, which I've found most profound. There are many people within
our culture who yearn for and seek a substantive experience with the
The Rev. Alexander Leong, who leads the St. Constantine and Helen
Greek Orthodox Church in Vallejo, Calif., said he and his family are
of Asian descent and converted from Catholicism to the Greek Orthodox
faith when he was a teenager.
"You really use all five senses in the church," said Leong, 42, whose
family converted after a Greek Orthodox priest helped his father
understand a prayer he did not understand. "To me it felt like real