Source: Orthodox Reformer
Orthodox Christians have one of the lowest rates of retention across Christian and non-Christian denominations. Only 53% of adults who were raised in the Orthodox Church still identify themselves as Orthodox Christians. Compare that to Hindus (80%), Jewish (75%), Mormon (64%) and Catholic (59%).
– Courtesy Go Truth Reform , data from pg. 39 of the PEW Report
The past month has been a whirlwind for the GOA. The recently published Pew Report and informal reports coming from GOA insiders portray a general decline in our churches nationwide. Unrest has been spreading around the internet and a leadership shakeup has been called for by over 760 faithful.
In this tumult, it can be difficult to discern the specific problems. The reality is that there are many, coinciding problems that are occurring across vastly different areas of the Church. To make matters worse, these matters are occurring across the “political spectrum” of the Church. This makes finding the truth all the more difficult. Our GOA, in many ways, is becoming too liberal. It is also becoming too conservative. Loose dogma and strict dogma are simultaneously gaining ground rapidly. Therefore, many casual observers pigeonhole themselves into one of these camps.
The camps are, of course, part of the problem. I was recently at a function and happened to run into a major leader of St. Vladimir’s Seminary. We spoke at some length about the issues within the GOA and Holy Cross. He said that the two institutions are divided into two camps: the “Anglicans versus the Ephraimites”, a metaphor that is both amusing and troubling.
Orthodoxy is just that…Ortho Doxy. Right Belief. There can be no camps within Orthodoxy because there is only one Truth, that revealed to us by our Lord Jesus Christ and carried to us through Apostolic Succession. There can be no liberal versus conservative. That, however, is what we have. Unfortunately, some of our dioceses have split into these two camps. Over the past 30 years, some of the GOA has become more conservative while a very different group has become more liberal. They are both wrong.
According to the Pew Report, most Orthodox are leaving the church and identifying as “none”. In other words, they are leaving the church for secularism. Our hierarchs are prone to blaming this issue on globalization, and they do have a small point. It seems that this immigration to America has had a profound impact on our Greek culture. They forget, however, the long history of the world and Church. The human race has been on a steady path to globalization for its entire existence. While we Greeks find ourselves in a foreign culture that can be hostile to our faith, this is not the first time this has happened to the Orthodox. Our faith has survived the rise of Islam, the Ottomans, the Communists, and more. Our Church exists in a world where multiple variables are always at play. If the Church wants to survive, it must open its eyes to the other variables.
In America, Liberal churches are experiencing a common decline. This trend is well known and has been extensively studied within academia for decades. Liberalism and the rise of leniency reduces personal investment in church. Liberal churches are on the decline, because there is no real impetus to stay. When church loses its importance, it becomes a cultural relic whose only strong connection is to Holiday traditions…thus the rise of Christmas/Easter Catholics and Orthodox. Orthodoxy in its fullest expression is a strong and serious relationship with Christ and with the Church. The trend toward liberalism weakens this relationship. The blame, for this, lies largely in our leaders, both priests and hierarchs. The priests push loose Orthodoxy while the hierarchs set forth bad examples through their financial impropriety, broken commitments, and failed celibacy.
At this time, the Church needs to double down on its systems. Our priests need to be living examples of this strong and serious relationship. This, effectively, is why the Ephraimite movement has gained ground in the past 20 years. Through Ephraim’s monasteries, Orthodox faithful have been able to forge that strict relationship. Monasticism is, and will always be, a beautiful expression of a true commitment to God.
So, what went wrong? Unfortunately, as Ephraimite priests began to preach, they did not express the beauty of a strong relationship with God. Instead, they preached theology that raised massive questions from their audiences. They spewed hate towards other religious groups, both Christian and Non-Christian. Finally, they demanded an immense level of dedication to specific monasteries.
The rise of American monasticism has the potential to revitalize the Church, but it never will because of its attachment to Heretical theology. Many websites have spoken out against this theology, and their authors are painted as anti-monastic or liberal. These detractors only further turn the Orthodox Church into the bifurcated two camp mess that it has become. Our leaders are supposed to be protectors of Orthodoxy, the Right Belief. Right now, they are failing.
Summary of Liberal and Conservative Problems
– Reduced importance of church attendance, fasting, and prayer
– Reduced administration and involvement in Sacraments
– Failed celibacy of unmarried priests and hierarchs
– Weakened relationship with God
– Weakened moral code similar to many Gnostic Heresies
– Rise of Pentecostal Protestant style Charismatic leadership by Priests and Monks
– Aerial Tollhouse theory removes Christ from the Judgement Seat
– Repeats of the Donatist Heresy – EX: loss of “unfaithful” is a good thing, rebaptism, only certain priests are valid
– Repeats of the Euchite Heresy – EX: Strict guidelines of prayer to achieve salvation
– Repeats of the Manichaeism Heresy – EX: Massive power of evil over humanity, Satan as a dual power to God
– Creation of new religious laws. Similar, but not identical to the Ebionite Heresy
– The idea that priests and monks supersede previous Apostolic teachings is a very similar repeat of the Montanism Heresy
Remember, Orthodoxy has been around a LONG time. New ideas do not just pop up out of nowhere. We have seen these issues before. We have dealt with these issues before.