American Orthodox Christianity Series 1: Orthodoxy’s Insignificance For American Religion And Culture, Post 4

In continuing this series, I thought I’d mention another factor that has kept Orthodox Christianity to the margins of American religion–our immigration numbers.  It was common for priests and parishes without priests, to exaggerate their numbers when writing back home to their bishops.  This exaggeration has had an ongoing effect.  I remember reading a pamphlet while still a Lutheran that claimed Orthodoxy had 5-7 million members in America.  I had also encountered more realistic numbers by then, however, and so I was skeptical.  As it turns out, there is good reason to be skeptical and, indeed, downright critical of such exaggeration.  For example, if we look here, we see a claim of 2-3 million Carpatho-Rusyns alone (!):

Greek Catholic Union, Opportunity Realized: The Greek Catholic Union’s First One Hundred Years, 1892-1992 (Beaver, PA: Greek Catholic Union of the U.S.A., 1994), 5.

In reality, there were about 200,000:

Bohdan P. Procko, “The Establishment of the Ruthenian Church in the United States, 1884-1907,” Pennsylvania History 42 (1975), 139, 143 n26, 149 n48, 150, and 152.

I do not mean to pick on Carpatho-Rusyns, here.  I just happen to have these sources handy due to my research work on St. Alexis Toth, but this example could be repeated for the other ethnic groups.  In the case of the Carpatho-Rusyns, it’s easy to see as well that the more conservative number is more accurate, for many of the Carpatho-Rusyns became Orthodox (under St. Alexis’ guidance) and led to what we now know as the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), of which our parish is a part.  Were there 2-3 million, his conversions would have numbered in the millions and the OCA would be much bigger than it is today.

So, one of the reasons we have had a negligible impact is because our numbers were never very large to begin with.  Next Monday, I’ll have the next post in this series.  My goal is to make these American Orthodoxy series a Monday series.  Other days will then be open for other posts.

5 Responses

  1. Felix G. Kuehn

    Dear Friend,

    I wonder if you could comment on how accurate the estimation is that 90 percent of Orthodox Christians in the USA of Slavic descent are descendents of former Greek Catholics. I recall having heard this a number of times, but have not been able to locate any specific statistical information on the Net. I would very much appreciate any sources regarding this question.
    Felix G. Kuehn

    1. I don’t think anyone has detailed statistics of that and to be honest, I doubt that number. What I think that number is trying to get at, though, is that many Carpatho-Rusyns and Galicians became Orthodox in the early twentieth century. The OCA would not be the OCA without them. That much is true. It might be possible to look at the number of parishes, rather than people. I haven’t tracked those down specifically, but that’s probably an easier stat to track. One starting point, if you’re interested in this story, would be the first chapter of my book, Turning to Tradition. You can get to it from the “Our Books” page. Some of the articles I cited mentioned parishes that converted and gave a partial list as well. What can be said is that a lot of Eastern Catholics became Orthodox in America and it wasn’t just an American phenomenon. It happened in Britain, South America, and back in their homeland, too.

  2. Felix G. Kuehn

    Dear Fr. Oliver,

    Thank you very much for your very prompt reply – you must be in a time zone an hour ahead of us even though we are almost neighbours. I live in Winnipeg and very much appreciate your suggestions.

    With every good wish,
    Felix g. Kuehn

    1. We’re just south of Winnipeg. It’s been a while since I’ve been there, but one of these days I need to get back up there. It’s only a little farther to Winnipeg (going north) than it is for us to go to Minneapolis/St. Paul (going East).

  3. Felix G. Kuehn

    Dear Fr. Oliver,
    My wife and I have made two pilgrimages to St. Mary’s Cathedral in Minneapolis, once last spring for the Sunday of Orthodoxy services and once last fall for our 40th wedding anniversary. (We are converts to Orthodoxy from Greek Catholicism.) Perhaps next time we can stop in for a coffee with you. If you would be so kind as to send me you personal Email I would like to send you a copy of a drawing of St. Alexis Toth which I did for the cathedral library.

    With every good wish,
    Felix g. Kuehn

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