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Orthodox Church Growth/Decline


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#1 RomanSee

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Posted 09 January 2013 - 09:28 PM

Hello Everyone! I am new to the forums but I have been popping in now and again and decided to finally make an account. I guess you could say that I am a Muslim though I don't pray the Salat every day as I should, and haven't been to the Masjid (mosque) in a few weeks now. I feel a strong desire to investigate Orthodox Christianity and find myself returning to it time and time again.

That being said I would like to hop right into a question!

Have you seen an increase in the number of recent converts to your local parish? To Orthodoxy in general? If you have, what reasons do you attribute this to? If you have not, do you think this is any indication of a potential failing on the part of the Church? Do numbers even matter?

I'm reading "The Reason for God" by Timothy Keller and it's really great. But I wonder if these new age churches are going to dominate the scene and the really beautiful and ancient traditions such as Orthodoxy will be left in the dust. Obviously Islam is growing but it is certainly not without its problems...

I could not for the life of me find an appropriate place for this question, I hope one of the moderators could move it if I choose incorrectly. :P Looking forward to your responses!

Peace.

#2 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 09 January 2013 - 10:34 PM

Anecdotally, our parish is growing, slowly but surely. Many people are becoming disillusioned with the shallowness of the "New Age" and mega-churches and are wandering into Orthodox churches more and more. Then again, many of the more ethnically oriented parishes (except the Greeks) are growing smaller, especially in the Rust Belt, although that is probably as much or more an economic thing (people moving out of the area) than anything else. There is some interesting information at this website on research on the topic: Research on Orthodox Christian Communities in the United States

#3 RomanSee

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Posted 09 January 2013 - 11:10 PM

Hi Herman! Thanks for your speedy response.

I think you make an excellent point with regards to the shallow nature of the New Age movement. God willing, I am hoping to visit the local Greek Cathedral on Friday. Are you a member of the OCA?

Thanks for the link. I live in CT, and had no clue there was a seminary only a stones throw from my house.

Looking forward to what others have found as well.

#4 Lakis Papas

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Posted 10 January 2013 - 12:06 AM

I live in Greece, which is an Orthodox Christian state with a Christian tradition of many centuries. I understand that the Orthodox Church of Christ is evangelical and apostolic and ecumenical. Evangelical means to give testimony to the world about Church's Life and Church's Experience of Truth. Apostolic means that Church is sent on a mission. Ecumenical means that Church is destined to unite the world in a single body.

In some chapters in the New Testament it is reported that Christ made miracles in front of thousand of people, and that on the day of Pentecost three thousand converts were baptized, and how St Paul and all other apostles dedicated their entire lives to attract people to the Christian faith.

Having said that, I think that "numbers do matter", but in a peculiar way. There were times that Christ was alone. Especially after His arrest He was truly abandoned. At the Holy Cross He said “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Christianity is about following Christ and carrying the cross as He did. When Christianity spread in large population areas in Egypt and Syria, some zealous Christians felt the need to isolate themselves in the wilderness away from the Christian crowds, to rediscover the authenticity of the Christian life, thus monasticism was born. Since then, monasticism is the ark which preserves the Orthodox Christian faith.

What matters is that Orthodoxy has a relatively small number of saints in every historical period, although after twenty centuries in overall it has a large number of saints. This small number of saints living on earth is the holy ark that preserves the apostolic, the ecumenistic and the evangelistic status of the Church on earth. The sideeffect of the presence of saints on earth is that their prayers and their love in Christ attract other people to join the Church. (The presence of saints on earth is the presence of the Holy Spirit on earth)

As the centuries pass, sometimes less, sometimes more newcomers come to Church. There are historical, anthropological and ecclesiastical explanations that illustrate the fluctuation of the newly baptized, for each historical period. For this, "numbers do matter". But there is no analysis to explain the respective variation of presence of saints on earth as centuries pass.

#5 Nina

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Posted 10 January 2013 - 12:51 AM

Umm Orthodoxy is never left in the dust - that expression made me giggle though. And superlative epithets fail to describe Orthodoxy. :)

#6 Eric Peterson

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Posted 10 January 2013 - 05:30 AM

Dear Anthony,

May God and St. Anthony assist you on your quest!

Orthodox Christianity is growing globally, as is Islam. I think the reason for this growth is that the faiths have certain expectations of their adherents, answer questions and longings, and provide a stable framework in which people can live with God and their neighbors. Of course, I believe that Orthodox Christianity offers more to people than does Islam or other forms of Christianity or Judaism or any other relgion--namely because Orthodoxy is the fullness of the truth, but also because of its message, the Holy Gospel, that God, in His love for mankind, became a man to save the world, to defeat sin and the devil, and to put an end to death. I think there are converts who see this and converts who don't. Not everyone converts to Orthodox Christianity for the right reasons. Some stay in the Church only a short time and then leave. However, they may come back at any time.

#7 Effie Ganatsios

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Posted 10 January 2013 - 06:40 AM

Because of the monstrous economic measures that are being forced on the Greek people - NOT the rich and the tax evaders but on the wage earners and pensioners - we have lost our political resistance. But, something wonderful is happening here. Something that can only be described as being from God.

In the hearts of just about all the Greeks, all pious Orthodox, a tide of compassion for those not merely hanging on by their fingertips as we are all doing but not having even enough to eat, has flowed generously. I would never have believed that something so glorious could have been born from so much misery. We have homeless people - something that, just a few years ago - we saw only in American films. We have children in primary school fainting because they are so undernourished. We have had so many suicides that it is difficult to believe. We are not like the Swedes who have nearly always come first in world suicide rates, we are Greeks who love life and the sun and our beautiful country. But desperation makes people do strange things. We are being forced inch by inch, month by month into an economic disaster, until the country is ripe for the special economic zones with starvation wages being paid by the international corporations who intend to build factories here - a new Mexico, or Pakistan etc.

But the Orthodox Church in the past has led us to victory (although its priests back then weren't public servants) and the faith of the Orthodox people will do the same this time.

I agree with the poster who said that numbers do not matter. What I am interested in is the fact that through misery a huge ray of hope is shining. I am really proud that I am a Greek and that I am Orthodox because I can see what fruits are growing on the trees. Words are nothing. Our Lord said "You will know a tree by its fruit".

And the fruit of Orthodoxy is love and compassion and a generous giving to others from our now meagre supplies. Glory to God.

We draw people to Orthodoxy by our example and the example of the Greek people is unsurpassed.


Effie

#8 Ilaria

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Posted 10 January 2013 - 07:26 AM

What I can tell, dear Anthony, from an orthodox country, Romania, is that I find it really amazing the fact that many of our people, who have left our country in order to settle in the United States, who did no pay much interest in their orthodox way of living before, after a period of time, discover their orthodox roots. I do not know how to explain this. When they come back, they have such a thirst of orthodoxy!

#9 Kusanagi

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Posted 10 January 2013 - 02:20 PM

What I can tell, dear Anthony, from an orthodox country, Romania, is that I find it really amazing the fact that many of our people, who have left our country in order to settle in the United States, who did no pay much interest in their orthodox way of living before, after a period of time, discover their orthodox roots. I do not know how to explain this. When they come back, they have such a thirst of orthodoxy!


Not just the US but also in the UK, there are many more parishes opening up here in the UK.

a friend of mine who is a Romanian priest has now combined his Romanian parish with the Greek one where he lives!:)
The reason for combining had other factors that lead to this.

In the UK I noticed it is mostly the Russians and Romanian parishes that are growing the most.

#10 Herman G.

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Posted 10 January 2013 - 02:57 PM

The U.S. South is growing at a very healthy rate. I attend a mission parish, that is to say, it's centrally located to serve several rural counties. We constantly have new Inquirers every month and we've got a nice stream of Catchumens. We have a 90% "convert" rate because we're in the OCA, although a few Russian families do attend. In speaking with most of my fellow parishioners, I found that the main reasons were to leave the shallowness of American Protestantism, to find the fullness of the faith, and to be challenged in their faith. We're certainly filled with an eclectic bunch! We have former Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Southern Baptist, Presbyterian, and so much more. We even have a Bible Church pastor attending the Divine Liturgy during the week.

#11 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 10 January 2013 - 04:39 PM

Not just the US but also in the UK, there are many more parishes opening up here in the UK.


There has just been established a new parish here in Essex with a small mixed community of British, Romanian, Cypriot and Russian folk. They have been blessed to have found an empty 13th century church to use.

#12 Owen Jones

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Posted 10 January 2013 - 04:55 PM

Glory to God for your inquiry into Orthodoxy, Anthony! Hopefully this does not sound too pedantic, but I'm not sure the term ecumenical, mentioned above, means that the Orthodox Church is destined to unite the world in a single body. The term refers to the unity of belief and action of the Christian Churches acting through their bishops. But this concept precedes the many schisms that have occurred so it carries less meaning today. A more important symbol would be the Church acting as the world's suffering servant, pointing the way to salvation for all by suffering in the same manner that Christ suffered. The Church makes its witness as suffering servant on behalf of all the inhabited world (ecumene), as the words of the Eucharist proclaim. So the essential teaching of the Church is to train us to willingly take on suffering voluntarily, by fasting, prayer, alms giving and charity, confession of our sins and taking on a spirit of repentance, and crucifying our self-centered nature and taking on a new nature, which is Christ incarnate.

#13 RomanSee

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Posted 10 January 2013 - 11:54 PM

Thank you everyone for your kind posts. I am planning on visiting a local Orthodox church soon. :)

The reason I ask is because numbers are very big in Islam. The imams never stop talking about numbers numbers numbers. A typical dialogue with a potential convert goes as so:

"So many are turning to the message of Allah subhana wa'tala (the sacred and the mighty) and his messenger peace be upon him. This in itself speaks to the purity of Islam!"

I'm not bashing Islam at all I just don't feel close to the loving entity that is represented by the Orthodox teachings.

Do you feel that the numbers of the church are any testament to the truthfulness of Christianity? Some have touched upon this but I was wondering how others feel.

God bless us all. Thanks again for your guidance.

#14 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 11 January 2013 - 02:01 AM

"Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it." (Matthew 7:13-14)

These are the words of Christ our Lord. According to Him, numbers are not of much use in determining "truth". The Truth is the Truth, no matter how many choose to believe or not believe, and generally many more people seem to prefer untruth to Truth.

#15 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 11 January 2013 - 03:29 AM

As Bishop Irenaeos used to say, only oysters with grit in them make pearls.

#16 Eric Peterson

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Posted 11 January 2013 - 05:16 AM

I don't think we can measure the success of spreading Orthodoxy based on numbers. Orthodoxy is a lifelong commitment with the purpose of going to heaven. It is about the transformation of souls. It involves processes, some of which continue into eternity. Conversion isn't just about accepting a set of beliefs and being baptized, but about continual participation in the life of God and His Church, prayer, repentance, an unending ascent. So, maybe a lot of people come into the Church and numbers go up, but what is their spiritual progress? How are they growing? We are much more concerned with that.

#17 RomanSee

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Posted 11 January 2013 - 05:54 AM

Wow, so many great responses. Thank you Herman for that quote. You could have not found a more appropriate passage. It's truly hard to unprogram the whole emphasis on numbers concept because it has been such a central component of my beliefs for some time. I look with wonder at how so many of you are comfortable knowing that numbers are not what is important. I hope to carry that same kind of spirit myself one day.

I very pleased to hear that your local parishes seem to be growing! Thank God for that.

I will keep you updated on my progress and I will continue to pose more questions if and when they arise. Thanks again to all those who responded.

I still welcome any further comments or pieces of insight that you could offer. Any and all guidance is appreciated.

Peace be with you all.

#18 Ilaria

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Posted 11 January 2013 - 07:22 AM

Dear Anthony,
I would suggest an alternative to 'numbers' : facts. If you will try to look deeper in the Orthodox faith you'll find some figures to meditate on - only starting from the holy martyrs, followed by the Great Fathers (and the mark of their holiness - the holy relics); try to observe the way they lived their lives.

#19 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 11 January 2013 - 02:06 PM

Anthony, ultimately it is not about numbers, it is not about being comfortable, nor even about "right" belief systems. It is about encounter with the Living Christ. Once that happens, you will KNOW and all the rest will be simply details.

Not everyone wants to meet Christ. It is an awe-full thing to stand in the presence of the Living God. Not everyone is "up for it". It changes you. It forces you to make choices. That is seldom "comfortable". Pray you NEVER become too comfortable, because then you become complacent. As Eric and Owen imply, this is only the beginning of a life-long journey. Conversion happens every single day as we strive to become perfected by Christ, through suffering and participation in His Life through His Bride the Church.

Many groups and belief-systems are appealing because they often offer "easy" answers or can be tailored to whatever we want, without having to change ourselves in any way. They offer "comfort". Quite simply, Orthodoxy doesn't. The Peace of Christ which surpasses understanding is not always comfortable, although it can be comforting. It is about strength to endure, not how to avoid. Such things are not often appealing to many. It takes effort; a lifetime of it.

Anthony, like your name-sake--the father of the Desert Fathers--may you meet the Risen Christ and come to know Him in Truth and in Love.

#20 Kusanagi

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Posted 12 January 2013 - 03:58 AM

The reason I ask is because numbers are very big in Islam. The imams never stop talking about numbers numbers numbers. A typical dialogue with a potential convert goes as so:

"So many are turning to the message of Allah subhana wa'tala (the sacred and the mighty) and his messenger peace be upon him. This in itself speaks to the purity of Islam!"


I read an interview of a convert from the UK from Islam to Orthodoxy. He was supposedly very close to his community and high profile and he said it is not true that Islam is growing.

At most I see girls converting if they are dating a muslim man. Or as I once witness on the tube in London a female convert to Islam was bashing Christianity saying us Christians in the UK do not know the first Archbishop of Canterbury. Like that is important to the faith.




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