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.