Bilingual Orthodoxy

Orthodox in America sometimes suffer from a self esteem problem, feeling they don’t get proper media recognition.     So it probably was with some pride that the Orthodox could point out that the June 2008 Pew Forum poll on religious beliefs in America actually shows that Orthodox Christians made up .6% of those who were polled.    If this can be extrapolated to the entire U.S. population it would mean that there are almost 1.8 million Americans  who identify themselves as Orthodox Christian.  This also should lay to rest any of most outrageous claims by OCA leadership that the OCA alone is 2 million or 1 million strong.   It also lays serious challenge to Greek Orthodox claims of how many Greek Orthodox are in America.

The momentary pride the Orthodox might feel for being singled out at all in the poll, will really get dampened when the details of the poll are studied.

Only 49% of those who identified themselves as Orthodox say they believe in a personal God.

For a Church which is so totally theologically dominated in its thinking, this would suggest we are not communicating well with our members.  We probably have the most purely theological hymns of any of the Christian churches, including hymns which denounce various heresies, and yet the expressed views of our members shows an anemic theological conviction.  We may claim to have the most true, perfect and apostolic theology in the world, but it is not being conveyed to our members.  All the beautiful liturgies and exquisite theology but only half of our members are embracing  it.

Orthodoxy prides itself on its beautiful, theologically correct, and unchanging liturgies which still proclaim the Faith of the Fathers.  Yet only

One third of the Orthodox say they attend church at least once every week, while Mormon and Jehovah Witnesses claim that  75-80%  of them attend church at least once a week.

 Certainly these statistics should be alarming to all Orthodox and to our leadership.  If we are relying on the liturgies to convey the truth and beautiful of Orthodox theology, note well that two thirds of the members do not attend even once each week to drink of these waters.   And if we assume our theology is perfectly expressed in our liturgical loquaciousness, the membership isn’t there to hear it all that often.   And with the theological beliefs being expressed by the Orthodox half of our membership doesn’t personally embrace our theology.   If we are not speaking to, teaching, communicating with our own members,  how can we evangelize the world?

 Yet the Orthodox have shown a total disdain for rethinking their liturgical life and how members participate in it or what they take from it into their personal lives.     We have been far more concerned about preserving ancient texts and rites and customs, then in communicating with real people and their assumptions and needs.  We assume that they must change and learn to hear or understand what we say rather than we finding ways to communicate with them.  So priding ourselves on having liturgies in the vernacular, does not translate into truly being concerned about communicating with 21st Century Americans.    If “they” aren’t interested in entering into the world of Fourth or Ninth Century theological debates, we apparently see no need to speak to them in their 21st Century world.   In Acts 15 the Church actually set a pattern for dealing with new people and cultures when it decided that Gentile converts do not have to become First Century Jews in order to be Christians.  We need to revive that lesson and realize neither do 21st Century Americans need to become 18th Century Russians for 12th Century Greeks or 1st Century Jews in order to be fully Orthodox.  The Church in every generation and nation has to be bi-lingual,  speaking the Word of God in terms, symbols and worship that can be understood by and can inspire the people of that time and place.  That is part of the Church’s evangelical outreach to teach the nations all that Christ has commanded us.

One thought on “Bilingual Orthodoxy

  1. Christ is among us!

    Father Ted,

    Yes, only a third of the Orthodox faithful are in church on Sunday. Add to that over half simple to not believe as the Church believes and you’re right, we have to acknowledge that we simply are not reaching our people. It would be interesting to see if these stats accurately reflect the situation among converts–I suspect that they do.

    We devote so much energy into making new Orthodox Christians and yet we are failing to make Christians out of the vast majority of even the minority of people who come to Liturgy on Sunday morning.

    Regarding the theological debates of the early Church–I have found them to be of great value and interest to people–but you re right, these debates require translation and application.

    Ah well, thanks for the post–I hope to post on the report myself in the next day or so.

    In Christ,

    Fr Gregory

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