"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Friday, November 4, 2011

Counting Orthodox in North America

I have been listening to Ancient Faith Radio's coverage of the sixteenth All-America Council of the Orthodox Church of America. One of the presenters was Alexei Krindatch, editor of a volume I reviewed earlier. I thought I would re-post that review and also a new link, which he mentioned in his presentation: There is at that link a great deal of fascinating and useful statistical material on the numbers of affiliated and practicing Orthodox Christians in North America, number of monasteries, geographical distribution, and so on. All this data reveals a portrait of Orthodoxy on this continent that is far, far smaller than many imagined. (Krindatch says that average Sunday attendance in the OCA is 33,000.) For too long, when asked how many Orthodox there were in North America, one was often fobbed off with breezy figures wildly inflated. (As Robert Taft has said, "'Eastern' and 'statistics' is an oxymoron.") But the data also helpfully undermine the idea that Orthodoxy is overwhelmingly "ethnic." That is increasingly not the case, and has been so for some time. Orthodoxy on this continent is more catholic than in many other places.

The Atlas of American Orthodox Christian Churches packs an incredible amount of very useful data into a surprisingly affordable book. Given how affordable it is, no serious library--whether personal, parochial, or academic--should be without this book. 

After a brief introduction, including discussion of terminology and methodology, the book opens with a very helpful time-line tracing the presence of Eastern Christianity in North America from 1618-2010. A longer historical essay follows, fleshing out some of the dates and events in more detail. Then we have "Ten Interesting Facts about the History of Orthodox Christianity in the USA," which contains a few mild surprises. Then we move into what is, in my view, the highlight of the book: the maps. We have a series of maps tracing out Orthodox populations in each state, from 1906 to 2010. This data is presented in a variety of ways which is most helpful. 

After this, we move alphabetically through a series of overviews of each Orthodox Church (canonical and one or two of the uncanonical ones--e.g., Old Calendarists) present in the United States, starting with the Albanian Orthodox Diocese of America and ending with the Syriac Church of Antioch. Each of these presentations is standardized, and begins with basic data about where the church was founded, its current headquarters, contact information, chief hierarch, and basic numerical data: number of adherents, number of monasteries, average attendance rates, etc. A brief essay follows, tracing out the development of each church, and in some cases ending with a ''Further Information" section that often gives a handful of references to both books or websites. (These reference lists, not all of which are formatted properly, are the one weak part of the book because they often overlook major studies of real importance.) After the essay, we then come to the maps, showing the number of parishes and adherents in the various states, including on a county-by-county basis. These are laid out very lucidly and at a glance you can pick up major concentrations.

The authors and editors write without any apologetical agenda, and so do not shy away from presenting the unhappy parts of Orthodox history, e.g., mentioning the schism in the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese that lasted until 1975, or the current challenges that have arisen more recently in that jurisdiction and others. Equally impressive is the fact that membership figures, including average attendance, seem very credible and do not appear to suffer from the kind of inflation or guesswork I have seen elsewhere among some who would have us believe that there are scores of millions of practicing Orthodox in this country. 

Chapter 3 is devoted to monastic life. After a brief essay stressing its history and importance, it goes on to discuss the "more than 80 monasteries [that] function presently in the United States" (122). These are then detailed in a chart giving location, ecclesial affiliation, sex, and whether the monastery accepts outside visitors. There then follows a directory of monasteries, giving more detailed geographic and contact information, including websites and e-mail addresses, and how many outside visitors, if any, may be accepted and for how long. For those desirous of making a retreat, this is very useful information to have.

The fourth and final chapter is one long running table breaking down the data of the "2010 US National Census of Orthodox Christian Churches." This amasses in table form what has been presented earlier in cartographic form.

A two-page appendix concludes the book with a brief list of websites and books for additional reading.

Quibbles: the entry for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church sticks the definite article in front of the country: ''the Ukraine." It also makes use of ecumenically infelicitous terminology (''Uniates") for describing Ukrainian Greco-Catholics. And, as noted earlier, many of the reference lists for further reading are non-existent in some cases or otherwise dated and incomplete. But these are minor issues in what is an excellent achievement, long overdue. The Atlas of American Orthodox Christian Churches is a very welcome book and deserves a wide audience. 

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