People are leaving our church and are leaving in droves. My prediction is that unless we get another large convert movement into Orthodoxy, we will find our gains in the 1980s and 1990s were simply the “one step forward” to our “two steps back.” We even have a seminary of a particular jurisdiction with a monastery and I have been told that in terms of numbers and participants, it is a shadow of what it used to be (even while still functioning well enough over all for the moment). This is not just a Greek problem. It is an American Orthodox problem and the solution is not to make Orthodoxy an increasingly niche religion.So I asked Father Oliver, "You say your starting point is engaging the world so tell me, what does your religious sect offer the world that none of the other religious sects do?" His response:
Look, the focus of Orthodoxy is on Christ crucified and risen. That is expressed in our theology and our liturgics in a profound and beautiful way and it inspires much that is, as you note, phenomenologically similar to other religions, such as helping the poor, etc. At least, when done properly it does–and that’s what we’re discussing here–how can one develop the kind of place that does these things while keeping what is good and true about the Orthodox Church. There’s no need to have a long, drawn out exchange over this, much less one that could be read as defensive or snippy by others. I think you’re right that there is a general pattern of health, but we Orthodox seem unable to inculcate it deeply across the board. We’re losing people because of it. What I hope we can explore here, are ways that the patterns you mention can be applied to our parishes.In other words, he hasn't a clue.
The comments are as predictable as the OP: be loving, be devout, be charitable. Fast. Pray. Which is no different from what numerous Protestant and Catholic pastors are exhorting their flocks to do. For that matter, it's also what Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Zoroastrian clerics are exhorting their flocks to do. I know people from a number of religious backgrounds, even those awful Christian Evangelicals, and they put my pathetic praxis to shame. But really, all the devout (pardon my crudity) dick-measuring is irrelevant. The pious Muslim with his fear of God and defense of traditional family stacks up just fine against the Athonite monk. So what's the difference? And if your answer is, "the True Faith," well, they say the same thing. If your object is to grow the numbers of the Faithful in addition to being the communion of Saints, you will have to do better than that.
Let's get down to some brass tacks here. It's easy to lecture teenagers on the Orthodox view of chastity and marriage. It's easy to sign up bastard grandchildren for welfare when your teenagers don't listen. It's much harder to build a community from the ground up that gets horny young people into marriages before they ruin their lives over sex. It's much harder to provide jobs and status to young men and make sure young mothers aren't isolated and alone with a couple of screaming infants.
Christians imagine themselves as speaking the truth to power as St. Paul to Herod Agrippa or, much to be preferred, as advisors and counselors to Herod Agrippa. Merely carving out a space for Christians to be Christian is beneath everybody.