Thus, WSJ readers were given a quite nuanced look at what is happening:
Alexei D. Krindatch, national coordinator of the U.S. Census of Orthodox Christian Churches, said the practicing Eastern Orthodox population in the U.S. was 675,000 in 2020, down from 816,000 a decade earlier, and most parishes lost members after the outbreak of the pandemic. But Krindatch said about 13% of Orthodox parishes have experienced a “surge in vitality” since 2020, measured not only by growth in membership but by other indicators including church attendance, financial giving, enrollment in religious education and participation in parish activities beyond worship. Prominent among the characteristics of these parishes, he said, is a higher-than-average share of converts.
Some say it is no coincidence that the pandemic, with all its social and economic disruption, ushered in newcomers drawn by the ancient faith’s traditional teachings and the beauty of its worship, which prominently features the veneration of icons.
“We’ve all experienced a world where the ground has shifted underneath our feet,” said the Rev. Stephen Mathewes, pastor of a church in Bluff City, Tenn. “A lot of people … want something that is going to stand the test of time, no matter what happens in the world.”
A few paragraphs later, Krindatch was quoted again making a crucial point:
Converts to Orthodoxy tend to be more conservative on social and moral issues, for instance in their opposition to same-sex marriage and the ordination of women, than those who were born in the church, Krindatch said.
The Rev. Jonathan Ivanoff, pastor of a church in Shirley, N.Y., on Long Island, says that many converts have abandoned denominations that have taken a more liberal line on such matters and have come to Orthodoxy, in which liberals are still very much in the minority, as a kind of refuge.
Dr. Colette Hoilman, 29, a medical doctor and new mother in Kingsport, Tenn., who formerly attended an evangelical church, became Orthodox shortly before her marriage to a fellow convert in 2020. She said one of her Protestant friends asked her how she could join a church in which only men can be priests; she replied that it wasn’t a problem for her.
“The Orthodox Church reveres women. We venerate the Mother of God more than most saints,” Hoilman said.
I would stress that, in my experience, Orthodox believers who actively attend primarily “ethnic” congregations tend to be quite conservative when defending centuries of Orthodox doctrines and traditions. Those who are less active? Not so much.
Is that a factor in the growth of the “convert-friendly parishes,” which stress seasons of the celebration of all holy days and feasts, fasting, confession and other “Big T” Orthodox teachings and traditions? I think the evidence says, “Yes.”
Is all of this linked to the Donald Trump era, latent racism and other current demons?
Well, that certainly wasn’t the case in the 1980s, ‘90s, ‘00s, etc., when these same trends were clearly visible (also look for parishes that are producing new priests, as well as converts), but not receiving as much mainstream ink.
Read the NPR piece. If you can work around the WSJ paywall, read all of that piece.
Contrast the two. What other differences do you spot, in terms of the basic reporting and sourcing?
FIRST IMAGE: Uncredited illustration of the inside of an Orthodox church sanctuary featured at the Journey to Orthodoxy website.
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