Fr. Thomas Hopko, an advisor to AOI, delivered an address in late September for the 40th Anniversary of the Consecration of the Chapel at the Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration, a monastery for women in Ellwood City, Pa.
Fr. Tom observes that while a “sprinkling” of Orthodox Christians in academic circles have been known to the wider American public, “hardly any other practicing Orthodox Christian has been publicly recognizable in American society in the past forty years.” Among the clergy, the late Archbishop Iakovos is singled out for social witness in the civil rights movement. “Things are not much different today,” Fr. Tom says. “But there are some notable exceptions.”
He opens with a sobering assessment and then explores the accomplishments of the Church in recent decades:
A Spiritual Springtime for American Orthodoxy — Reflections on the last 40 Years
Membership in the Orthodox churches in North America in the past forty years has radically decreased. There are probably about half as many people in the churches today as there were four decades ago. It also seems that most adults who attend services in Orthodox churches today are “holding the form” of Orthodox Christianity while “denying the power of it” (2 Tim 3.5) as they ‘pursue happiness” according to “the American dream” as devotees of “the American way of life.”
Concerning the churches’ clergy during the past forty years, I believe that the task of finding, educating, appointing and supporting suitable candidates for the clergy, especially the episcopate, remains the greatest challenge in all Orthodox churches in North America today just as it was four decades ago when (as my friend, the late Fr. John Psinka would say), “few were called and all were chosen.”
Having stated the “negatives” — greatly reduced membership, inept leadership, nominal participation and widespread use of the church for secular purposes – the spiritual achievements in North American Orthodoxy during the past forty years are amazingly many and spectacularly significant. They were accomplished by a relatively small number of people, mostly converts to the Faith, people born abroad and clergy children. They are so remarkable that I am persuaded to call the past forty years a “spiritual springtime” for Orthodoxy in the United States and Canada.
I will comment on the accomplishments as I see them. They are not yet a bountiful “blossoming.” But they are a promising “planting” capable of producing, in due time, a rich harvest of spiritual fruits, including, we may hope, a company of committed and competent bishops, priests, deacons, monastics, church workers and lay leaders for the coming generations.
Read the full address on the Web site of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary.