Unifying the Orthodox Church in America

Photo credit: Dimitrios S Panagos / GOA
Photo credit: Dimitrios S Panagos / GOA

I’ve got a new piece published today at First Things, where I discuss the problems and solutions of Orthodox Christian unity in America. Here’s an excerpt:

Are you Greek?” This is the question I get asked the most when I tell someone that I am an Orthodox Christian. At first, this question rankled, because I am not Greek. (I am, among other things, Lithuanian.) Mind you, I would have no problem being Greek. It’s a wonderful, ancient culture with much to recommend it. But what rankled was the sense that being Orthodox means being Greek.

It is a touchy subject for many Orthodox Christians in America, especially those who converted to the faith, because the implication of such a close identification of culture with faith implies that the faith is not really for people who aren’t from that culture. And no doubt it can also be touchy for the many Orthodox Christians in America who are from traditionally Orthodox cultures who are not Greeks. There are actually quite a lot of them—in America, there are Orthodox churches representing the Albanian, Antiochian, Bulgarian, Carpatho-Russian, Georgian (the Caucasian republic, not the southern state), Romanian, Russian, Serbian and Ukrainian traditions.

But I’ve come to see the question as mostly the fault of the Orthodox themselves, who have not quite figured out how to convey that Orthodoxy—being Christianity—is for everyone and doesn’t require a particular cultural identification. We eventually will figure it out, I think. Roman Catholics in America for a long time were pretty ethnicity-bound, as well (everyone knew which was the Polish church and which the Irish), but now hardly anyone expects a Roman Catholic to be from Rome. And it’s less than a century since the average American Lutheran church conducted services in German, Swedish, or Norwegian.

I also can’t blame the asker of that question too much, because recent demographic studies have shown that some 60 percent of Orthodox in America belong to the Greek Archdiocese of America. So, statistically speaking, “Are you Greek?” is a pretty decent guess, even if I wish it were irrelevant.

Full article here.


  1. Father,

    I’ve found that the tenacity of Ethnic-Orthodox identification is swept away by the laughter resulting by my response to questions reflecting that misconception, that being, “I’m an ORN”, which of course inevitably results in the further inquiry, “So what’s an ORN?” to which my obvious (isn’t it?!) reply is, “Why, can’t you tell by obvious ethnic profile? I’m an Orthodox Red Neck!”

  2. Good piece Fr Andrew. I would just add that the greatest benefit, to my mind, of uniting the jurisdictions is that we would see our bishops more than once in a blue moon! Hopefully, by overseeing a smaller geographical area, they would be able to visit their parishes more and focus more on their duty of teaching and preaching the word of God and really being fathers to their people rather than far-off administrators.

  3. Great article. Yes, being Greek, I also thought that all Orthodox Christians are Greek but know now that is not the case. The Orthodox Church has spread to all parts of the world and to all cultures and has grown in recent years to embrace and include all peoples. And I know this is what Jesus Christ taught and wanted.

  4. Did you ever see the scene in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding ” where the Protestant boy gets baptized
    in an Orthodox church and the parents gush..” Now you are Greek!”

  5. All baloney! All of a sudden the Greeks are announcing THEY have the solution. The OCA set the tone in 1970 of how a unified Orthodox Church of many nationalities can work and IT IS WORKING! No one wants a unified church under Patriarch Bartholomew; this is a fallacy.

    [This comment has been edited by the moderator to more closely conform to standards of respectful public discourse.]

    1. A few things:

      1. The Assembly of Bishops process was approved unanimously by all the Orthodox churches (and even though the OCA wasn’t directly represented at the Chambesy meeting, it is participating in the Assembly, which means it’s approved the process). As you are no doubt aware, most Orthodox Christians in the world are not Greeks. So it doesn’t make sense to call the Assembly process a solution announcement from Greeks.

      2. Even if it is the case that the OCA model is working, they are only about 10% of all the Orthodox in America. Perspective is important. Whether it’s working or not, I don’t know. I do know that they have had overlapping dioceses internally for more than 40 years now. Is there a reason why one small jurisdiction cannot solve that problem for itself?

      3. I am sure some people actually would indeed like a unified church under the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Indeed, somewhere around 70% of all Orthodox Christians in America are already under the Ecumenical Patriarchate. (60% of all Orthodox Americans belong to the GOA. And the the Ukrainians, Carpatho-Russians and a small Albanian diocese all come under the EP, as well.) Have you polled them? Anyway, the Assembly process doesn’t necessarily mean that the end result would be coming under Constantinople.

      4. If it is indeed “all baloney,” then that means that every autocephalous Orthodox Church in the world and indeed, all the active Orthodox bishops of the United States, have all signed on to a “baloney” process and are actually working it through. Is that really true?

      Personally, I think it is more like sausage. And I love sausage.

    2. What evidence is there that the OCA model “is working”? The fact that the OCA has (generally very small) ethnic jurisdictions (Bulgarian, Romanian, Albanian)? And that the largest of those — the Romanians — have recently been in discussions with the Patriarchate of Romania about rejoining it?

      The fact is that the OCA is fully supportive of the Assembly and is fully participating in it. You’re free to oppose the Assembly, but in doing so, you’re also opposing the OCA Holy Synod, which supports it.

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