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'More Orthodox' than the Orthodox

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  • emrys@globe.net.nz
    Published by The Christian Century, December 2004 http://www.orthodoxnews.netfirms.com/157/Orthodox.htm More Orthodox than the Orthodox by John Dart It s
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 1, 2005
      Published by The Christian Century, December 2004

      'More Orthodox' than the Orthodox

      by John Dart

      It's commonly observed that converts to a faith are the most ardent
      defenders of it. That seems to be the case with American converts to
      Orthodoxy. The large number of converts attending Orthodox seminaries
      prompted Alexey D. Krindatch, a sociologist of religion, to wonder whether
      an "Americanization" of Eastern Orthodoxy might lie ahead. His conclusion:
      "Probably not."

      Responses from students at three seminaries of the Greek Orthodox
      Archdiocese and the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) - the two largest
      Orthodox bodies in the U.S. - confirmed, he said, "the widespread notion
      that Protestant and Catholic converts tend to be 'more Orthodox' than
      persons who were born and raised" as Orthodox.

      The converts expressed more conservative attitudes than Orthodox-born
      seminarians did on, for instance, accepting the authority of bishops and
      discouraging ecumenical worship and religiously mixed marriages. Krindatch
      reported his findings at the annual meeting of the Society for the
      Scientific Study of Religion.

      Asked why the tradition-bound, liturgically intricate Orthodox churches are
      attracting converts, Krindatch suggested in an interview that many of the
      former evangelical Protestants studying for the Orthodox priesthood see a
      "discrepancy" between their strong personal faith "and the fact that their
      churches have no historical roots in original Christianity, no apostolic
      succession and no liturgical atmosphere."

      In the case of former Catholics and Episcopalians, however, converts are
      attempting to "return to their churches" religious experiences of 20 to 30
      years ago, when their churches were more "traditional."

      While both Orthodox-born seminarians and the converts were relatively
      similar in religious upbringing, education and family income level, the
      former evangelicals "come from much wealthier families" that were very
      active churchgoers. The ex-evangelicals were more likely to have a higher
      level of secular education as well as businessmen fathers, and they "were
      more definite in their plans to be ordained and serve as priests" than were
      their classmates.

      Krindatch surveyed seminarians at Holy Cross (Greek Orthodox) Seminary in
      the Boston suburb of Brookline, where 25 percent of the students are
      converts, and at two OCA seminaries, St. Vladimir's in Crestwood, New York,
      and St. Tikhon's in South Canaan, Pennsylvania. The majority of the students
      at the latter two are converts, he said.

      Krindatch recently was named director for campus ministry and church growth
      at the Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute, which is part of the
      Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. Krindatch, a faculty
      member at the Institute of Geography in Moscow, had been doing his research
      as a visiting scholar at the Institute for the Study of American Religion in
      Santa Barbara, California.

      The institute in Berkeley previously has dealt mainly with theological and
      historical issues, said Krindatch, but it "hopes to concentrate its future
      studies more on the contemporary situation and social changes within various
      American Orthodox churches."

      Change has been slow by Western standards. In his survey, Krindatch found
      that 57 to 64 percent of convert seminarians agree that while most Orthodox
      Christians "are socially integrated into American society, the Orthodox
      churches as institutions are still perceived by the vast majority of
      Americans as 'immigrant communities'," compared to 46 percent of
      Orthodox-born who say that. At the same time, the proportion of the most
      pessimistic seminarians - those who say "the Orthodox churches still are and
      will remain 'strangers' to American society" - is higher among "cradle
      Orthodox" than among convert seminarians.

      Cradle Orthodox students are also more pessimistic than the converts that
      the ethnically oriented Orthodox churches eventually will gain autonomy from
      mother churches abroad, or that a unified American Eastern Orthodox Church
      will emerge in decades to come.

      Ex-Protestant seminarians may hope for ecumenical progress within Orthodoxy,
      but they tend to reject joint ecumenical prayers or services with
      non-Orthodox. Also, a significant proportion of both ex-Catholic (34
      percent) and ex-Protestant (36 percent of ex-mainliners and 52 percent of
      ex-evangelicals) seminarians say that Orthodox priests should try hard to
      discourage mixed marriages. Seminarians raised in Orthodox churches are
      somewhat more lenient on the issue, though not as accommodating as current
      priests in Orthodox parishes.

      A separate survey of priests in Greek and OCA parishes found that two-thirds
      take a more liberal position on mixed marriages, but stay within church
      guidelines. In other words, priests would conduct such weddings when they
      are held in the Orthodox Church, and would encourage the non-Orthodox
      partner to join the church. "Only a minority of all seminarians (31 percent
      of OCA seminarians, 48 percent of Greek Orthodox seminarians) share the same
      view," Krindatch said.

      Krindatch acknowledged that the seminarians' conservative stances, even if
      reflective of a generational trend, may evolve during "actual work in the
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