Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | June 28, 2011

Just how small is Orthodoxy?

Listening to all the gripers leaving the Orthodox Church for the mailroom, the ballroom, and/or the saloon… I heard over and over how small we are as a church. See… the thing is, I guess it helps when you’re dissatisfied… and an American… if you can skewer the unloved with… well… being unloved. So our accepted number of 2,000,000 gets skinned down to 300,000 by these reports.

Only the thing is, why stop with skinning us to that number? Episcopalian were proud to run in the 2 million range (many years ago) and acknowledged they got only a third on any given Sunday.  Somehow, that has Episcopalians turning up in twice our numbers… and that was hardly my experience. I have no idea how Roman Catholics are doing, but they seem to be doing fine by these same accounters… who of course ignore Europe where they’d positively kill to get 10% on any given Sunday… or so the case seems where Chartres and other great monuments stand empty on Christmas and Easter. Bear in mind, that I am dismayed by poor attendance in all these places… not just ours. Notre Dame du Chartres should be filled with joyous worshippers! And my sense is that their numbers are increasing from this base… and no longer declining.

All of which is to say, I think The Ebb has Ebbed, but I could be wrong.

But perhaps we’re looking at the wrong model. I think instead the model of our fathers in the faith, the Hebrews… isn’t all that bad. The demographic sources I checked estimate about 13.3 million Jews worldwide with half in the USA. Orthodox Jews account for about 1.5 million worldwide and about 600,000 in the USA.

We’re both a breed apart. Is there a branch of christendom that has been more severely persecuted in the last 100 years than Orthodox Christianity? Is there a branch whose history, whose diaspora, whose character seems to follow a more similar course? Okay… perhaps the Mormons whom scholars often referred to as the American re-invention of the people apart. Surprisingly, dig up the numbers of Latter Day Saints for the world and the USA…. and they are spot on with the Hebrews. But I don’t know much more about the Mormons than that they took good care of my aunt in her time, and they don’t seem to have been persecuted all that badly… and I’m not suggesting anybody start something either.

No, all I’m thinking is that the history of the Hebrews in America may be a better model for us. Maybe even we should pay attention to Orthodox Jews. Fact is, long ago when asked by a muslim leadership council at a local temple how to get ahead, I suggested they study the Jewish model for assimilation. As I put it, they came in from everywhere to the bottom and rose to the top in short order. Our fathers in the faith have done a wonderful job in just about every way you look at it. Fact is that you look at the record, and have to conclude, “Why is it a people who do so much for the countries in which they’ve been given to take up residence find themselves so often persecuted and even chased out by their peers…. why is it that they keep pushing back the darkness only to find the darkness pushed back at them?” I don’t get it. What do folks think is gained by this? No… we don’t want those hospitals and all the rest.

So we should be brave and do likewise… to share what grace we have with our surrounding culture, to do for others by doing for ourselves and sharing as we go, by offering humor over our quirkiness, by offering art, writing literature, offering worship, sharing cuisine and all the rest to one and all.

And I gotta say I like the Roman Catholic notion that unless a prospective saint evidence true joy… the investigation is over and done. Let us go and do likewise! Then… I don’t care how small our numbers are… we’ll have joy… even the joy of Jesus Christ… and that’s what matters… matters a whole lot more than numbers. Then no matter how small you are, you have size! you have charisma… and you fill the room.

Me? I’m still over here in the corner.


  1. I’ve never put much stock in numbers. Christ said the road is narrow and few will find it. If it became popular (and populous), then I’d start worrying. But, you also said: “Listening to all the gripers leaving the Orthodox Church for the mailroom…” Really? You must spend your time in some depressing online Orthodox forums.

    • Deb: First Orthodox priest I ever ran into (linked on my sidebar) made it very clear from the beginning, “It’s not a numbers game…” but apparently the American Way can find it hard to resist the numbers. Ergo the Mega Church thing. And BTW, I’ve spent most of my life in small to mid-size… St. Marks is normal to me.

  2. I could say something really snarky like “size only matters to sluts who’ll get in bed with anyone sooner or later”, but I won’t. I never got the issue with “census” except that God told David to not do it or else. David did and it cost him his people. Christianity in any form is not a numbers game, so who cares? Apparently someone…. sigh.

  3. Regardless of numbers, the Orthodox Church is bereft ol quality leadership which is weird given the claim of apostolicity.

  4. JD:
    Thanks for visiting!

    Maybe it’s the leaders selected for us are not the ones among whom Christ selects? I dunno. I’m just “the new guy”. But what I see.. everywhere… not just the church… is that without Christ’s scaring off the pretenders, the courage tends to shrink from the real sort of martyrdom and leadership it might take to pull this place together by its bootstraps.. and get it going. Lots of folks are ready to be caretakers… but real get down and do the real thing? Not many.

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