On the third day of Easter, I stood in front of the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Kiev, Ukraine. With me was a prominent scholar of American religion who was visiting Eastern Europe for the first time. We were watching a priest and his flock process around the cathedral with icons, incense and crosses. "Have you heard that more Americans are becoming Orthodox?" she asked me, smirking slightly. "Smells and bells. One more way to have someone tell you what to do and what to think."
Her remarks touched on a question of increasing importance in American Christianity. With trends toward mega-churches and worship as entertainment, and with heated debates in some denominations about the ordination of homosexuals, American Christianity seems to be moving in a less orthodox rather than a more orthodox direction. In the United States, Eastern Orthodox Christianity remains a very small religious group (just 1.3 percent of the population). To many American Christians, Orthodoxy is an obscure and foreign type of religion.
But the observation of the visiting scholar was not incorrect. The past several decades have seen an increase in conversions to Orthodoxy in the U.S. Frederica Mathewes-Green writes that nearly half the students in Orthodoxy’s two largest American seminaries -- Holy Cross and St. Vladimir’s -- are converts. The number of Antiochian Orthodox churches in the U.S. has doubled -- to over 250 parishes and missions -- in 20 years. The Antiochian Church, unlike most Orthodox organizations in the U.S., has committed itself to seeking converts in North America and sees itself "on a mission to bring America to the ancient Orthodox Christian faith." The missions organization of this branch of Orthodoxy estimates that 80 percent of its converts come from evangelical and charismatic orientations, with 20 percent coming from mainline denominations.
Read the whole thing here.