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715"Orthodox Church Today:" New Research Reveals Some "Not-So-Obvious" Facts about American Orthodox Christianity

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  • Christopher Orr
    Oct 27, 2008
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      *"Orthodox Church Today:" New Research Reveals Some "Not-So-Obvious" Facts
      about American Orthodox Christianity **
      *

      BERKLEY, CA [PAOI] -- The "Orthodox Church Today" study released by the
      Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute [PAOI] in Berkeley, CA [
      www.orthodoxinstitute.org] disproves many stereotypes and provides
      groundbreaking insights into the today's life of American Orthodox Christian
      community.

      With its historical roots in nineteenth century Russian Alaska, today
      Orthodox Christianity in the USA accounts for about 1,200,000 � 1,300,000
      faithful worshipping in 2,200 � 2,300 local parishes spread all across the
      nation.

      The "Orthodox Church Today" is the first national survey-based study of the
      ordinary parishioners in the two largest Orthodox Churches in the USA: the
      Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA) and the Orthodox Church in
      America (OCA). Combined, the GOA and the OCA account for more than half of
      all Orthodox Christians and parishes in the USA. Therefore, to a significant
      degree the study reflects the "profile" of the entire American Orthodox
      community.

      Here are some interesting facts about today's American Orthodox
      Christianity.

      1. The common stereotype is that the Orthodox Churches in the USA are
      "ethnic" Churches of the certain immigrant communities. The study shows that
      this not the case anymore. Nine out of ten parishioners in both GOA and OCA
      are American-born. Further, today, more than one-quarter (29%) of the GOA
      and a majority of OCA (51%) members are converts to Orthodoxy � persons born
      and raised either Protestants or Roman Catholics.

      2. Not all Orthodox are equally "Orthodox." The study found that the gaps
      between the "left" and the "right" wings in American Orthodoxy are wide and
      that American Orthodox Christians are deeply divided among themselves in
      their personal "micro-theologies." Answering question "When you think about
      your theological position and approach to church life, which word best
      describes where you stand?" the relative majority (41%) of church members
      preferred to be in the safe "middle" and described their theological stance
      and approach to church life as "traditional." At the same time, quite
      sizeable factions identified themselves as being either "conservative" (28%)
      or "moderate-liberal" (31%).

      3. Orthodox Christians have a strong sense of their religious identity
      and clear preference for the Orthodox Church. Nine in ten parishioners said
      that they "cannot imagine being anything but Orthodox." For an overwhelming
      majority of parishioners, "Christianity" essentially means "Orthodox
      Christianity." Indeed, eight out of ten respondents think that "there is one
      best and true interpretation of the meaning of the Christian faith and the
      Orthodox Church comes closest to teaching it." The study compared GOA and
      OCA members with the US Roman Catholics and found that in various measures
      American Orthodox Christians adhere more strongly to their Church than do
      Roman Catholics.

      4. The strong Orthodox identity does not mean that "people in the pews"
      view their religious obligations exactly the way it is expected by the
      institutional Church. In reality, most parishioners make personal choices
      among various norms of Church life, holding firmly to what is central for
      their faith and approaching the rest as desirable but not crucial. The
      beliefs in Jesus' resurrection and actual presence in Eucharist are
      perceived by the Orthodox laity as the most fundamental criteria of being a
      "good Orthodox Christian." To the contrary, regular Church attendance,
      obeying the priest and observing Great Lent are seen by majority of
      parishioners as non-essential for being a "good Orthodox Christian."

      5. Only three in ten parishioners would support women being altar servers
      or deacons, and only one in ten think that women should be eligible to the
      Orthodox priesthood. It is a historical fact that in the past the Orthodox
      Church had a female deaconate which "died out" in the Middle Ages. Today,
      however, a vast majority of American Orthodox Christians do not favor the
      idea of ordination of women. Male and female respondents expressed the same
      opinions on the ordination of women.

      6. More than two-thirds of the respondents say that they wanted to belong
      to parishes that "require uniformity of belief and practice and where people
      hold the same views." That is, American Orthodox Christians have quite
      different ("liberal-moderate," "traditional," "conservative") personal
      approaches to Church life, but they prefer homogenous "like-minded"
      parishes. Only one in four respondents favor "big-tent parishes that
      tolerate diversity of beliefs and practices, where people hold different
      views and openly discuss their disagreements."

      7. Orthodox Christians have various opinions on compatibility of
      evolutionism and creationism. With regard to public education, American
      Orthodox laity are divided in three almost equal groups: those who favor
      teaching creationism instead of evolution in American public schools (33%),
      those who reject this idea (35%) and those who are unable to take one or
      other stand on this matter (32%). Almost equal proportions of them either
      agreed (41%) or disagreed (38%) with the statement "Evolutionary theory is
      compatible with the idea of God as Creator." More than one-fifth (21%) of
      respondents were unable to evaluate this statement and said that they are
      "Neutral or unsure."

      8. Being a professional clergyman in 21st century America is, probably,
      not seen as a "dream choice" of occupation by most people. Yet, the study
      found that more than three quarters of the respondents "would encourage
      their sons to become priests."

      Respondents from more than 100 randomly selected Orthodox parishes situated
      in the various parts of the country participated in this study. The
      questionnaire focused on personal social and religious attitudes of Orthodox
      parishioners and on the patterns of the everyday church life in their local
      parishes. Special attention was paid to the "image" of the Orthodox clergy
      through the eyes of the "people in the pews" and to the issues dealing with
      "Democracy and Pluralism in the Church," "Changes and Innovations in the
      Church," and "Religious 'Particularism' and Ecumenism." Numerous comparisons
      with the US Roman Catholics and Protestants make study results especially
      interesting for the wider audience.

      The Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute is an affiliate member of the
      Graduate Theological Union, an ecumenical consortium of nine independent
      seminaries and eight affiliated centers based in Berkeley, California. PAOI
      exists to educate, communicate and promote the traditions and culture of
      Orthodox Christianity. The Institute's major programs include:

      - Two-year Master of Arts in Orthodox Studies � the only graduate program
      in Orthodox Studies in the United States west of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania and
      the only one not offered by an Orthodox seminary;
      - InterOrthodoxPress publishing company;
      - Parish Life Project � an ongoing program to study the inner realities
      of the Orthodox Church life in the US through sociological surveys and other
      research methods.

      Downloadable copies of the complete "Orthodox Church Today" study report are
      available on the web-site of the Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute
      at: http://www.orthodoxinstitute.org/orthodoxchurchtoday.html

      http://www.oca.org/news/1677


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