D. Oliver Herbel


IN 1870, NICHOLAS BJERRING, A Danish immigrant to America, who had already converted to Roman Catholicism in Europe, decided to become an Eastern Orthodox Christian.1 His conversion was met with much fanfare. One reason for the attention was Bjerring’s open letter to Pope Pius IX, in which Bjerring claimed he once understood the Church of Rome to be the institution graced with the vocation of fulfilling social ministries, such as education. At one time, Bjerring believed that the Roman Catholic Church existed as «the only Catholic and Apostolic Church,» but his mind had changed. He viewed the Roman Catholic Church's response to modernism as defensive and was concerned that the Church had distanced itself from social issues and concerns of the day. At the same time, he was reaching these conclusions, he had personally experienced the failure of his own attempt to establish a minor seminary in Baltimore. This led him to write to Pius IX:

St. Paul, the great convert of Damascus, said in his Epistle to the Galatians: «Though an angel from heaven preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.» I do not go as far as is permitted by St. Paul. I do not anathematize you, Holy Father, but I pray God to bring back your truly angelical soul to the truths of the gospel.2

Bjerring journeyed on to St. Petersburg later that year, where he was brought into the Orthodox Church, was ordained, and earned a doctorate from the St. Petersburg Academy. Upon his return to New York, Bjerring served a small chapel that sought to present Orthodoxy to America, especially to the Protestant Episcopal Church members in America because of the generally friendly relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Anglican Communion. Bjerring published sermons and gave lectures on a regular basis and his career embraced the Social Gospel Movement in America at the time. He later became a Presbyterian pastor when the Russian Orthodox Church decided to save money and close the small chapel. Shortly before his death in 1900, he returned to the Roman Catholic Church, ironically noting that the papacy was best suited to address various social concerns.

Although Bjerring did not remain Orthodox, many converts to Orthodoxy have retained their newfound faith. Furthermore, many have engaged the American society around them, as Bjerring had. A few intra-Christian converts to Orthodoxy have acted as exemplars, leading and inspiring whole groups of people to follow them into the Orthodox Church. Their journeys touched on concerns shared by many non-Orthodox Christians in America and served as inspirational examples to thousands of fellow converts who followed them into the Orthodox Church. These converts serve as the focus of my study here. Specifically, I shall examine Alexis Toth (1853–1909), Raphael Morgan (ca. 1869–1916), Moses Berry (1951-present), Peter Gillquist (1938–2012), and the converts who have followed after them.

As leaders of movements of people, their conversions have been seen as iconic and theologically normative in America. This monograph shows that what has occurred in these intra-Christian American conversions to Orthodoxy can be best understood as a turn to tradition, one that occurred through a unique kind of restorationism, an Eastern Christian ecclesiastical restorationism.3 Their cases show that non-Orthodox Christians are using the very American context of religious choosing and religious novelty-creation to make what might seem a very un-American choice in favor of an unbroken tradition, which they find in Orthodox Christianity, in a very American way.

Furthermore, this turn toward tradition has inspired a direct engagement of the American context on the part of the Orthodox, challenging the standard sociological narrative of the ghettoization and defensiveness of Orthodox Christianity. Through intra-Christian converts to Orthodoxy, this engagement is circular: the Orthodox have engaged potential converts, potential converts have become Orthodox, and these new Orthodox converts have both evangelized and directly engaged American societal, religious, and political questions.

In many respects, the idea that such a traditional church in America would attract outsiders seems counterintuitive. In Western culture in general, «intellectual discourse... remains on a movement forward.»4 What is more, «it is rare to encounter persons who pride themselves on the espousal of a tradition, call it that, and regard it as a good thing.»5 For some, there is even the fear that they might be «encumbered by something alien.»6 Paradoxically, what one encounters in the West, then, is a tradition of change, or an anti-traditional tradition, as found in the scientist, whose duty it is to find a flaw in the tradition that has gone before.7 The point is not that an exemplar of the anti-traditional tradition will reject any and all aspects of what went before, but rather that he or she may select some individual part of the preceding tradition in order to enact something entirely new or at odds with the tradition itself.8 American religion is also characterized by an anti-traditional tradition. As a phenomenon within American religion, it is denoted by a long tradition of mavericks who engage in religious choosing and novelty-creation by selecting and emphasizing a part of the religious tradition they inherited in order to create something new. The result over the last two centuries has been that the American religious scene has become ever more diversified and complex.9 Indeed, here one ought to think of the many restorationist movements dedicated to restoring, or re-embodying, the early Christian Church.10

Yet, as a sign that such diversification itself has become a tradition, one might note that the architectural structures of worship buildings for Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Scientists, and Mennonites are very similar, and recent church structures across denominations have tended to resemble secular schools and office buildings.11 This architectural similarity supports the observation that even those who could be perceived as religious outsiders have, in some way, lived out this tradition of change by utilizing individualistic self-sufficiency and creativity to demonstrate their Americanness.12 This use of architecture has often accompanied a rhetoric intending to demonstrate a patriotic Americanness. The paradox here is that in American religious history, groups that could be considered outside the American Protestant mainstream have often devoted energy to showing just how American they were. The anti-tradition tradition has also found a religious expression in American millennialism.13 This particular tradition of change derived from a Protestant effort to reach back and reclaim the Book of Revelation.14 The reclamation of Revelation was progressive, linking America with the millennial Kingdom of God.15 Such notions developed out of (1) the view of the Reformation as spiritual progress, and (2) the need for a country to further protect the people of God who have sought to overthrow the tyranny of the ages. This view of American history runs deep through the country's history and can be traced from the colonial era to the present day.16 For example, the belief that America is the biblical «city on a hill» has existed for over three hundred years, from John Winthrop's sermon in 1630 to Ronald Reagan's speech in 1980.17 The anti-traditional tradition remains thoroughly American.

In the converts studied here, their conversions demonstrated their Americanness in two different (though overlapping) ways: as a response to oppression and as an ironic species of the anti-traditional tradition. For Toth, the turn to tradition was a theological response to an ecclesiastical problem, the perceived and experienced Roman Catholic prejudices and abuses toward Eastern Catholics. His conversion was enacted as a reclamation of the faith of his ancestors, exemplified in an Eastern Christian praxis and dogmatic purity. As America could be the city on a hill, the Russian Orthodox Church was called to unite all the Slavs under the banner of Orthodoxy. For Morgan, the turn to tradition proved to be a means of addressing the struggles of African Americans within American churches at the time (especially the Protestant Episcopal Church). In the examples of Morgan, Berry, and Gillquist, the turn to tradition actually becomes an ironic species of the anti-traditional tradition. Though intended as a break from the anti-traditional tradition, by utilizing restorationism, the turn to tradition becomes an expression of religious identity creation in a very novel way. The conclusion (Eastern Orthodoxy as the Christian Tradition over and against a diversified, fragmented American Christian landscape) may at first appear rather un-American, since it is not the creation of a new subset of Christianity, much less a new religion, but the road to that conclusion is, ironically, precisely an expression of the anti-traditional tradition. Furthermore, inasmuch as these converts are seen as exemplars for other converts, these conversion patterns themselves establish a tradition, one more tradition built out of the anti-traditional tradition.

In a country denned by a tradition of anti-tradition, Orthodox Christianity may be one of the starkest examples of traditional Christianity, but it consistently draws new American converts. All of the converts studied here are exemplars of this phenomenon because they have been followed and/or imitated by many other Orthodox converts. Although both the questions asked and the concerns raised varied from convert to convert, there were a few shared general concerns that, when taken together, suggest that intra-Christian conversions to Orthodoxy in America occur in such a way that the Orthodox Church is understood to be the «Christian Tradition» itself and not merely one tradition among many. This view developed when each convert prioritized a period in church history as the standard and sought its continuous institutional existence on the basis of doctrinal and spiritual characteristics important to the convert, which he or she found within the Church of the previous period. Tradition, then, has been understood as the ongoing life of the Church, of a structured community, or institution, down through history in full continuity with the early Church. Tradition, therefore, is an ecclesiological reality.

Incidentally, understanding these conversions as ecclesiological conversions arguably means reassessing Lewis R. Rambo’s influential view of the assigned role for theology in the religious conversion process, which is «the creation of norms for what is expected in the conversion process and the shaping of expectations and experiences of converts.»18 Although each convert studied here began with restorationism, theology did much more than provide behavioral norms for these four representative converts. Theological reflections led to conclusions that propelled the converts not only to look to what they took to be a historical standard in the history of Christianity, but then also to seek that church in her current existence, and eventually to enter the Orthodox Church. Contrary to Lewis's view, only later did the converts accept certain theological norms in the sense of patterns for behavior during the conversion itself. In fact, many of these converts would not have previously considered what they had to go through (such as extensive catechesis and a sacramental chrismation to complete their baptism) if theological arguments had not already changed their views. For example, the converts following Gillquist into the Orthodox Church were brought in by chrismation, an anointing that is seen as the completion of baptism, as the bestowing of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in a fuller way. Yet, the Orthodox theological norms that justify this approach would not appear normative or acceptable to evangelical Christians unless they had already worked through prior theological arguments.

That said, in the cases of three of the four converts studied here, one could argue their conversions actually pioneered theological norms for intra-Christian conversions to Orthodoxy, becoming a tradition of conversion. As will be seen below, Raphael Morgan’s efforts led only to a small fraternity of African Americans interested in Orthodoxy, and though he inspired the later work of Patriarch McGuire and the African Orthodox Church, which later led to thousands of conversions to Orthodoxy in Africa, he did not inspire a large number of conversions during his ministry in America. The exemplary status of the other three converts (Toth, Berry, and Gillquist), however, have led not just to groups of people following them with interest, but to groups of people who converted for reasons that patterned themselves after the conversions of those three converts. The point here is not that other converts copied the conversions of Toth, Berry, and Gillquist exactly, but that the pattern of conversion, the kind of conversion that these men exemplified, resonated deeply with others who undertook similar conversion journeys. Those following Toth used the American freedom found in the anti-traditional tradition to follow his conversion to the Orthodox tradition as a return to the safe haven of the faith of their ancestors. Those looking to Berry and Gillquist have expressed an ironic twist on the anti-tradition tradition by breaking from the anti-traditional tradition itself.


Indeed, the numbers of converts who have followed in the footsteps of people such as Berry and Gillquist suggest this tradition of conversion is worthy of investigation. The percentage of growth of Orthodox Christianity in America was higher than any other major classification of Christianity mentioned by the Encyclopedia Britannica in 1995.19 Despite the prevalence of anti-traditional approaches, including restorationism, within American Christianity, Orthodox Christianity continues to show signs that some Americans are taking the time to trouble themselves with Orthodoxy.20

Admittedly, it is difficult to establish whether such growth creates a net gain. The 2008 US Religious Landscape Survey suggested that if there is growth, it is statistically insignificant. According to the survey, the number of people claiming they were Orthodox in childhood stands at .6 percent of the American population, while the current number of Americans claiming to be Orthodox is also .6 percent.21 Nor can one gain clarity from the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey because it included the Orthodox together with the mainline Protestant bodies, populations that are much larger, thus obscuring Orthodox details.22

Despite the question of whether the attraction to Orthodox Christianity has created a net gain, the US Religious Landscape Survey showed that nearly one quarter (23 percent) of the American Orthodox population had previously not been Orthodox. The phenomenon of turning to the Orthodox tradition as a means of responding to the novelty-creation inherent in the presence of the anti-traditional tradition in the American Christian scene has clearly benefitted the Orthodox Churches in America numerically. Moreover, a number of these converts are having a significant effect upon the Orthodox. Currently, 12 percent of the clergy in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North America and 59 percent of the clergy in the Orthodox Church in America are converts.23 Moreover, converts constitute 29 percent of the laity in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and 51 percent of the laity in the Orthodox Church in America.24

Amy Slagle has insightfully and convincingly argued that, ironically, it is the American «spiritual marketplace» that has enabled many converts to Orthodoxy to utilize the individualistic self-sufficiency and creativity so common in America in order to become Orthodox.25 For the converts she studied in her ethnographic work, Orthodoxy became seen as a steady, stable response «forged in narrative opposition to a variety of cultural "isms» »26 Yet in her study, she also noted that although the American context remains important, such conversions can neither be reduced to that context nor simply expressed as a reaction to that context. The converts she interviewed were often drawn by theological reasons and were especially influenced by the early Christian period and the idea of tradition.27 The importance of theological reasons to an attraction to Orthodoxy is precisely the focus of my investigation here – the theological influences and decisions at play, how the converts» turn to tradition is both typical and atypical of the American religion scene, and how this theological outlook has inspired direct engagement with American society.


As noted above, this work uses the theological concerns of exemplary intra-Christian converts to Orthodoxy in order to demonstrate how through this turn to tradition converts to Orthodoxy are making what may seem to be a very un-American conclusion (the Eastern Orthodox tradition) in a very American way (by means of restorationism). Each of these men saw Orthodox Christianity as being the tradition of Christianity, and each inspired and led groups of converts and/or prospective converts. I examine the reasons for each representative convert's conversion, using both their own given reasons and their additional writings and surrounding context. In the cases of Berry and Gillquist, other prominent Orthodox converts who followed their lead are brought into the discussion in order to provide an overview of their influence on such converts and on the groups themselves. Each of these four converts had a unique background and influenced different groups.

Toth (1853–1909), covered in Chapter 1, was born in Slovakia and arrived in the United States in 1889 in order to serve the growing Carpatho-Rusyn immigrant population. After a falling out with Bishop Ireland later that same year, Toth and his Minneapolis parish sought assistance from Bishop Vladimir, the Russian Orthodox bishop in San Francisco, and entered into the Russian Orthodox Church in 1892. Upon his reception into the Russian Orthodox Church, Toth began a mission of evangelization. He traveled to many Carpatho-Rusyn and Galician Eastern Catholic parishes, leading to the conversions of several thousand Eastern Catholics to Orthodox Christianity. His missionary zeal even affected communities in his homeland. Throughout the course of his life, he held rigidly to the conviction that as Eastern Christians, he and his fellow Carpatho-Rusyns should be able to live according to the Eastern Christian tradition of his ancestors, a freedom he found only in the Russian Orthodox Church. Theologically, Toth looked to the Eastern Orthodox Church, prior to the movements among the Slavs for union with Rome. His primary point of reference was the Orthodox Catholic Church prior to the ninth century. For his missionary endeavors, the Orthodox Church in America canonized Toth on May 24, 1994.

Morgan (ca. 1869–1916), the subject of Chapter 2, was a contemporary of Toth’s, but moved in different Orthodox circles. He was a Jamaican, served briefly as a missionary in Africa and a deacon in Delaware in the Protestant Episcopal Church. In each case, his ministry was to Africans or African Americans. When, after a spiritual journey, he became Orthodox, he maintained that emphasis, being appointed an apostolic-vicar to America by the Patriarch of Constantinople with the express purpose of evangelizing fellow African Americans. Although he established a religious fraternity in Philadelphia, his true religious effects may be found in his connection to the African Orthodox Church. Morgan inspired George Alexander McGuire, who formed the independent African Orthodox Church in 1921; a large portion of its African contingency later entered into the Orthodox Church through the Greek Orthodox Church in Alexandria Egypt.

Chapter 3 assesses Berry (1951-present), who has also led African Americans, but has been more successful in directly influencing converts to Orthodoxy. Berry upheld an emphasis on otherworldly Christianity and ancient African Christianity as well as a desire to lift up African American suffering, prayers, and worship to God and sought racial healing. This approach to Christianity led him to believe that African American concerns were best addressed in the Orthodox Churches, whose faith he has continued to believe resonates with African American spirituality. His convictions and experience inspired him to found the Brotherhood of St. Moses the Black, a pan-Orthodox community dedicated to reaching out to African Americans in North America with the purpose of informing them of their spiritual roots and the Orthodox Church.

Gillquist (1938–2012), the focus of Chapter 4, was a contemporary of Berry, but has been influential primarily on white Evangelicals. Gillquist helped form what became the Evangelical Orthodox Church, a sectarian group that combined a zeal for evangelizing nonbelievers with a desire for continuity with the apostolic faith. In fact, the Evangelical Orthodox Church established itself precisely as a restoration of the New Testament Church, which they believed the Orthodox Churches also represented. Thus, they believed they were one of the Orthodox Churches, albeit a restored, superior expression thereof. Because of that belief, the Evangelical Orthodox Church engaged in several dialogues with actual Orthodox Churches, which led them to converting to Orthodoxy. Upon becoming Orthodox, Gillquist not only understood himself to be entering fully into that apostolic faith he so desired, but redirected his evangelical intensity, becoming the director of missions for the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.28 He also authored works intended to further this cause and has served as a guest speaker in numerous settings. His evangelism came to include not only the message of Jesus Christ, but a message of where to find the Body of Christ – in the Orthodox Church. Gillquist saw it as part of his calling (and indeed the calling for all the former members of the Evangelical Orthodox Church) to bring Orthodoxy to America.

For the former members of the Evangelical Orthodox Church (EOC), however, their journey included several post-conversion events that serve to highlight the extent to which they were a restorationist movement but also uncover an ongoing deconversion from that restorationism. These events are discussed in Chapter 5. One of the paradoxical components to conversions to Orthodoxy that Gillquist and the EOC raise is just how it is Protestants could come to accept a church with chanting, incense, the invocation of saints, and other things generally considered anathema. As we shall see, restorationism had to be connected to Eastern Orthodoxy specifically in order for this to work (at least in their cases). This deconversion was needed because the EOC converts were, in some ways, just as ignorant of Orthodoxy in America as a lived tradition as the larger American public.


It is not difficult to demonstrate that Orthodoxy is a relatively unknown form of American Christianity. One conclusion drawn from the religion results from the General Social Survey, 1973–1996, conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, was that «Orthodox Christianity is also invisible despite its relative prevalence.»29 A significant factor is that the survey includes the categories Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, None, Other, Don't Know, and No Answer, which results in Orthodox Christians comprising about 19 percent of the «Other» category.30 Furthermore, «despite the attention directed to such groups, wiccans, pagans, and other neo-pagan expressions comprise only 2% of the "other» category in the 1989–1996 period, and are virtually invisible before then.»31

Often, the Orthodox themselves are blamed for their relative obscurity on the American religious scene. Peter Berger, noting that the United States is a pluralistic society, claimed that the Orthodox witness has been «defensive» and «negative,» demonstrating that there is a Christianity other than Protestantism or Roman Catholicism.32 Having mentioned that Orthodox Christianity is similar in size to Judaism but not nearly as effective in influencing American culture, Berger called upon the Orthodox to «engage American pluralism» with «aggressive self-assertion.»33 A key component to this, Berger believed, could be the fact that Orthodox Christianity had a trend of conversions to Orthodoxy, something Judaism did not have to nearly the same degree. Berger believed this ought to provide the context for Orthodox changing from a defensive posture to an aggressive posture.

Nor is Berger alone. Elizabeth H. Prodromou has noted a distinction between Orthodox Christianity's «potential versus its performance in engaging in the theoretical and the practical enterprise of paradigm building with regard to denning limits for religion in the American public sphere.»34 She has specifically noted that by the time the Protestant Christian paradigm had created the Judeo-Christian construct during World War II, Orthodox Christians had reached «more than negligible numbers,» but that none of this produced «a meaningful engagement of Orthodox Christianity with the theoretical and practical formulation of the Judeo-Christian construct» a construct intended to show that America was inclusive of all faiths.35 In fact, Prodromou went so far as to claim that excepting the clergy-theologians John Meyendorff, Alexander Schmemann, and Georges Florovsky, Orthodox engagement «was absent.»36 Alexei D. Krindatch, in his demographic survey of American Orthodoxy, and Victor Roudometof and Alexander Agadjanian shared this assessment of American Orthodoxy, the latter claiming Orthodoxy has not been «self-adjusting.»37

Certainly, there is some legitimacy to the blame-the-Orthodox prognosis. Initially, when Orthodox immigrants arrived in America, they sought to reconstruct their particular cultural expressions of Orthodox Christianity. In these cases, the local parish became the place where one could worship as one had previously and could gather with others who shared the same language and cultural assumptions. One movement in this regard was the Greek American Progressive Association (GAPA), which promoted the preservation of Greek language, customs, and traditions, including Orthodoxy.38 Similarly, various lay societies, such as Slavic brotherhoods and Greek lay organizations, acted as fraternal societies for early Orthodox Christian immigrants.39 Having their historical roots in Europe, the brotherhoods affected Orthodox immigrant life at the local level by raising parish funds, providing financial assistance, and searching for clergy. Such societies were important to the new immigrants, who were often subject to abuse and hostilities, especially in situations where labor issues came to the fore.40 Although the days of prominent lay societies have passed, Orthodox Christianity in America has continued to exist in administratively separate jurisdictions resulting from Orthodoxy's earlier American history.

True as this «defensive» posture may be, I have already noted Slagle's cogent argument that American Orthodoxy actually exists squarely within the American «marketplace» of religions. In a similar vein, the stories explored here likewise question the accuracy of reducing Orthodoxy to a defensive posture. Indeed, within theses conversion movements, one finds that the conversions themselves demonstrate an active engagement of America on the part of the Orthodox, even if often through the efforts of lead converts. That is to say, large groups convert to Orthodoxy and become Orthodox through an ecclesiological conversion, a turn to tradition. This turning to tradition occurs in a very American way, in the context of religious novelty and the spiritual marketplace, but provides a very un-American answer – a tradition, rather than a novelty, continuing the anti-tradition tradition. For some, this turn to tradition has been a response to experienced and perceived oppression while to others, especially the more recent converts, it has acted as an ironic subspecies of the anti-tradition tradition: a turn to «tradition» itself becomes not just an intended break from the anti-tradition tradition but also an intended expression of a more legitimate religious identity. This very dynamic, however, continues the process, whereby these same converts directly engage the American context, perpetuating additional intra-Christian conversions to Orthodoxy. In so doing, they promote the turn to tradition as a tradition expressing that very American anti-tradition tradition.


Given both Orthodoxy's relative inconspicuousness and its importance as the bearer of the Christian Tradition to intra-Christian converts to the Orthodox Church, it may be useful to provide a brief synopsis of Orthodox Christianity and what Orthodox Christians mean by «tradition.» In its details, tradition is a multivalent reality for modern Orthodox theologians, though a general pattern may be seen, which functions as a usable definition.

John McGuckin, in a work concerning Orthodoxy as «living tradition,» highlighted the Orthodox Church's «fidelity to the continuing guidance of the Holy Spirit,» claiming this could be seen through «the manner in which it [the Orthodox Church] joins in the divine process of sanctifying and healing the tormented world of its day»41 He made his case by taking a historical examination, in which he sought to account for various facets of tradition, as seen through the works of early Church Fathers and then important modern Orthodox theologians. For example, he highlighted whether tradition was used as a verb or noun, whether it referred to an oral or written tradition, and so forth. This inner ability to sanctify and heal led many modern Orthodox theologians to make a distinction between outer manifestations and the inner tradition, or between «traditions» and «Tradition.»42 One of the issues raised by modern Orthodox thinkers, and often discussed within the Tradition/traditions framework, has been how to respond to the Bible/Tradition dichotomy that arose from the Reformation. This is often addressed directly by speaking of Orthodox tradition as an inner life of the Church, as a guidance of the Holy Spirit for the proclamation of the Gospel.43 In addition to the Bible/tradition question, tradition is connected to the liturgical life of the Orthodox Church. Here, again, one sees a Tradition/traditions type of distinction, wherein the liturgy has an «essence,» as a «living tradition,» but also has sources that act as a deposit, as well as particular practices.44

Although one could easily enough write a monograph on what tradition (that essential «Tradition») means for Orthodox Christianity, at the risk of oversimplification one may note that modern Orthodox theologians emphasize tradition as «living» and ongoing in some sort of way. This living reality has an internal core, or essence («Tradition»), which is surrounded by practices, teachings, and opinions that might change («traditions») and has sources to which one might appeal. It was this dynamic conception of tradition that confronted the converts and caused some tension from an anti-traditional, restorationist perspective, especially in the case of Gillquist and his fellow Evangelical converts.

This understanding of tradition (a «lived» Tradition core surrounded by traditions) can be useful in outlining a brief introduction to the Orthodox Church itself. The Orthodox Church is (numerically) the second-largest Christian church in the world, after the Roman Catholic Church. Though the numbers are difficult to ascertain accurately, the worldwide Orthodox Christian population numbers somewhere around 200 million.45 If one includes the Oriental Orthodox Churches, the numbers increase to about 350 million.46 These 200 million Orthodox believers comprise a global communion of churches spread across the world, though concentrated in Eastern Europe, Northern Asia (in areas of the former Soviet Union), and the Middle East. Indeed, the following countries are predominantly Orthodox: Russia, Ukraine, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, and Cyprus. Significant Orthodox populations reside in Palestine, the other various countries that once made up the Soviet Union, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Albania, Japan, and Finland. Perhaps unexpectedly, a number of Orthodox believers (around 1.5 million) reside in the United States, and in the late twentieth century, growth has been seen in Africa. Significant Oriental Orthodox populations may be found the Middle East, India, Armenia, Egypt, and Ethiopia, with a steadily increasing presence in North America as well.

The Orthodox Church traces its spiritual heritage, its «Tradition,» down through the centuries, through the modern, Byzantine, and early Christian periods to the apostles and their successors. In so doing, it upholds tradition not only as a noun, but also as a verb, as something that is continually «handed on» through prayer, worship, study, and love – though on well too many occasions the Church has failed to live up to its own standards. For Orthodox Christians, then, the historical date of origin would be the Annunciation, when the Archangel Gabriel proclaimed to Mary that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and she would bear Jesus, the Son of the Most High, to which Mary wholeheartedly assented.47 It is here that Orthodox Christians see an image of the Church (in Mary).

As a community, the Orthodox Church looks to the Seven Ecumenical Councils, gatherings of bishops that produced dogmatic statements and canon law important to the Orthodox Church to this day. In fact, it was a division at the fourth of such councils (in Chalcedon in 451) that led to the distinction between what we now call the Orthodox Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches. The Oriental Orthodox Churches disagreed with the council's findings, though headway has been made in the mid to late twentieth century. An earlier group of (largely Syrian and Persian) Christians had left the larger Christian community at the prior council in Ephesus in 431. Today, that church is known as the Assyrian Church of the East and comprises a little under 200,000 members, mostly concentrated in Syria, Iran, and Iraq. Orthodox praxis and ethos includes not only a determination to hold to apostolic dogma as expressed in those seven councils, but also a focus on correct worship, a commitment to asceticism, an emphasis on the mystical aspects of faith, and flexibility on teachings and opinions within the confines of the dogmas of the Church.

Orthodox ecclesiology (governing structure) is hierarchical and male-dominated, as only men may be ordained as priests and bishops, but the Orthodox Church does not answer to a single bishop as Roman Catholics relate to the Pope, the bishop of Rome. The Orthodox Church maintains a collegial governing structure. This recalls Acts 15, where the apostles, the leaders of the Church, gathered to discuss and decide upon the tensions between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christian converts.

Within the history of Orthodoxy, this ecclesiology has undergone its own journey (its own changing «traditions»). Following the transfer of the Roman government from Rome to Constantinople (under Constantine the Great), the bishop of Constantinople took on a prestige not held before. In the early Byzantine Empire, the bishops of five major sees (Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, and Rome) became known as «patriarchs» and oversaw vast territories and important ecclesiastical decisions. The bishop of Rome (now called the Pope) was treated as the «first among equals,» with important prerogatives such as often serving as a final court of appeals and holding the right to give the final arguments before a decision was made at an Ecumenical Council. In the West, the prerogatives of the Roman patriarch became increasingly defined by tensions with secular rulers such as the Merovingians and Carolingians. At the same time, linguistic differences (between the Greek East and Latin West) grew increasingly problematic. Cultural differences also began to show and in the ninth century a theological controversy over whether the filioque (translated as «and the Son») should describe the Holy Spirit's «procession» from God the Father brought all of these factors together. The disputes were settled with a council in 879–880, which included papal legates, and declared that no additions should be made to the creed and that Rome and Constantinople needed to recognize one another's governing decisions. Although the controversy did not lead to a permanent split between the two halves of the Christian Church, it prefigured the eventual split that would occur in the eleventh century, in which the issues became raised again and a crusade (which ended up targeting Eastern Christians as well as Muslims and Jews) solidified a split that produced the separate Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches as we know them today. To this day, the Roman Catholic Church does not recognize what the Orthodox Church sees as the full import of the 879–880 council (both in terms of the Trinitarian theology expressed in the creed and in terms of church governance). The Roman Catholic Church continues to include the filioque in the Nicene Creed and has developed a monarchical form of ecclesiology centered upon the bishop (Pope) of Rome.

Through the Eastern Church's own unique and complex ecclesiological history, the collegial approach to church governance has developed into a system of «patriarchs,» bishops who oversee large, self-governing (autonomous), and self-led (autocephalous) churches. Because of Rome's separation, the seat of honor as «first among equals» now resides with the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople. Within this system, metropolitans and archbishops, bishops of large territorial areas, oversee large archdioceses or even self-governing churches. For example, the Russian Orthodox Church maintains a patriarch in Moscow and is, thus, both self-governing and self-led. On the other hand, the Orthodox Church in Finland is an autonomous (self-governing) church, whose archbishop is appointed by the patriarch of Constantinople/ Istanbul. For this reason, scholars and Orthodox Christians themselves will sometimes refer to the Orthodox Church as «the Orthodox Churches,» a practice I will continue here. At other times, I may follow colloquial conventions and simply use the word Orthodox in place of Orthodox Christians.

In America, immigration fostered an interrelation between ethnicity and Orthodox Church jurisdiction. Because the Orthodox Churches developed governing structures along certain national lines, immigrants looked to their homelands for clergy and ecclesiastical support. While the Russian Orthodox Church had a mission in North America beginning in the last decade of the eighteenth century, it was initially concentrated in Alaska, with only a nominal presence in the lower 48 states at the end of the nineteenth century. The other immigrating groups of Orthodox, with only a few exceptions, neither formally joined the Russian mission nor understood themselves to be part of such a mission. Even when immigrating groups did join the Russian Orthodox mission, they did not do so en masse, but in clusters. This led to a situation where many Orthodox Christians looked to the churches of their homelands for guidance. Thus, the Russians were initially part of the Russian Orthodox Church, while the Greeks, with a few exceptions, looked to Constantinople, then to the synod of Greece, and then to Constantinople yet again. Eventually, each national Orthodox Church had a governing structure in place for its respective immigrants in America.

This assortment of Orthodox governing structures in America has served as the bearer of tradition for the intra-Christian converts studied here. It might seem that having diverse administrative bodies would preclude seeing Orthodox Christianity as having a unified tradition (that essential «Tradition»), but Orthodoxy's emphasis upon dogma and worship has created a vision of a spiritually united faith in continuity with the Byzantine church of the Seven Ecumenical Councils and the early Church prior to that. The chapters that follow present just how four exemplary intra-Christian American converts to Orthodoxy have seen these Orthodox Churches as the bearers of the Christian Tradition. For them, conversion has been a turn to tradition situated in the American anti-traditional tradition. In each case, the reader will find that a rather un-American decision (turning to tradition) has occurred in a very American manner. For the earlier two converts (Toth and Morgan), this meant turning to tradition served to help solve the problem of suffering under oppressive power structures (ecclesiastical and racial). For all of the converts, however, the turn to tradition occurred through the doorway of restorationism, with Morgan, Berry, and Gillquist each first joining a restorationist before then entering the Orthodox Church.

* * *


For a detailed assessment of Nicholas Bjerring, see my article, «A Catholic, Presbyterian, and Orthodox Journey: The Changing Church Affiliation and Enduring Social Vision of Nicholas Bjerring,» Zeitschrift fur Neuere Theologiegeschichte/Journal for the History of Modern Theology 14:1 (2007), 49–80.


Bjerring, «Which the True Church: A Roman Catholic Savant Renounces Rome,» The Sun, January 12,1870.


I realize that restorationism and primitivism are often used interchangeably, but for my purposes here, I distinguish between those movements that seek to restore, or re-embody, an ancient order versus those that maybe seeking a nostalgic retreat into the past.


Edward Shils, Tradition (1981, rpr., Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 2.


Ibid., 3.


Ibid., 10–11.


Ibid., 115.1 am indebted here to Shils» phrase «anti-traditional tradition.»


Martin E. Marty, «Tradition,» Religion and Intellectual Life 2:1(1984), 14–16. Marty himself accepted this, arguing for change based on looking at the tradition like a giant Rubik Cube, from which one may choose a square to propel change.


Wilbur Zelinsky, «The Uniqueness of the American Religious Landscape,» Geographical Review 91:3 (2001), 571.


On this, see Richard T. Hugh and C. Leonard Allen, Illusions of Innocence: Protestant Primitivism in America, 1630–1875(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988); Richard T. Hughes, ed., The American Quest for the Primitive Church (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988); and Theodore Dwight Bozeman, To Live Ancient Lives: The Primitivist Dimension in Puritanism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988).




R. Laurence Moore, Religious Outsiders and the Making of Americans (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), xi.


Ernest Lee Tuveson, Redeemer Nation: the Idea of America's Millenial Role (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980).


Ibid., 2.


Ibid., 7. «The movement of the Revelation is in its way progressive."


Conrad Cherry, ed., God's New Israel: Religious Interpretation of American Destiny. Rev. ed. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998).


Larry Witham, A City Upon a Hill: How Sermons Changed the Course of American History (New York: Harper Collins, 2007),19, 282.


Lewis R. Rambo, Understanding Religious Conversion (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1993), 171.


Britannica Book of the Year 1995 (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1995), 275. Orthodox growth was 2.41% and next was evangelical Protestantism with a growth rate of 1.33%. However, it must be noted that not all jurisdictions in America have experienced this. At a 2004 evangelization conference, Fr. Jonathan Ivanoff noted that the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) had declined in membership. Papers from the conference maybe downloaded from http://www.oca.org/DOdept.asp?SID=5&LID=5 (accessed February 14, 2009).


In this way, the converts studied here may serve as yet one more example questioning the «secularization» thesis so popular not too long ago. See, for example, Peter Berger, «Some Further Thoughts on Religion and Modernity,» Sociology 49 (2012), 313–316; Rodney Stark, «Secularization,» Sociology of Religion 60:3 (1999), 249–273; Craig Calhoun, Mark Juergensmeyer, and Jonathan VanAntwerpen, Rethinking Secularization (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).


«2008 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey,» The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, accessed January 22, 2011, available at http://religions.pewforum.org/pdf/report-religious-landscape-study-full.pdf.


«2008 American Religious Identification Survey,» Trinity College, accessed January 22, 2011, available at http://wwwamericanreligionsurvey-aris.org/reports/ARIS_Report_2008.pdf.


Alexei D. Krindatch, «The Orthodox Church Today,» Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute, accessed January 23,2011, available at http://www.hartfordinstitute.org/research/OrthChurchFullReport.pdf.




Amy Slagle, The Eastern Church in the Spiritual Marketplace: American Conversions to Orthodox Christianity (DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 2011). On this, Slagle's work resonates with some earlier work on female converts to Orthodox Judaism. See Lynn Davidman, Tradition in a Rootless World: Women Turn to Orthodox Judaism (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1991); and Debra Renee Kaufman, Rachel's Daughters Newly Orthodox Jewish Women (New Brunswick: Rutgers, 1991). Davidman outlined the importance of individual choosing, describing ways in which two Orthodox synagogues had reached out to individuals and sought to make Orthodox Judaism more appealing. Although one synagogue stressed choice making within a pluralistic culture, the «tradition» of Judaism as a response to feminism within late twentieth-century America was something highlighted by both communities. Kaufman described her subjects as «post-feminists,» who found a feminine identity within Orthodox Judaism.


Slagle, 87.


Ibid., 8–9, 87, 90.


The Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America (AOCANA) is an Orthodox jurisdiction in America that has its roots in early Syrian and Lebanese Orthodox immigrants to America.


Darren E. Sherkat, «Tracking the «Other»: Dynamics and Composition of »Other» Religions in the General Social Survey,1973–1996,» Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 38:4 (1999), 557.


Ibid., 553, 554.


Ibid., 555.


Peter L. Berger, «Orthodoxy and the Pluralistic Challenge, «in the Orthodox Parish in America: Faithfulness to the Past and Responsibility for the Future, edited by Anton C. Vrame (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2003), 39.


Ibid., 41.


Elizabeth H. Prodromou, «Religious Pluralism in Twenty-First-Century America: Problematizing the Implications for Orthodox Christianity,» Journal of the American Academy of Religion 72:3 (2004), 742.


Ibid., 744. Concerning the inclusivity of the Judeo-Christian construct, Prodromou cited Mark Silk, «Notes on the Judeo-Christian Tradition in America,» American Quarterly 36:1(1994), 65–85.


Ibid., 745.


Alexei D. Krindatch, «Eastern Christianity in North American Religious Landscape: Ethnic Traditionalism versus Civic Involvement and Social Transformations,» Report for Research on Orthodox Religious Groups in the United States, Hartford Institute for Religion Research, available at http://hirr.hartsem.edu/research/krindatch.pdf (accessed October 12, 2011); Alexander Agadjanian and Victor Roudometof, «Introduction: Eastern Orthodoxy in a Global Age – Preliminary Considerations,» in Eastern Orthodoxy in a Global Age: Tradition Faces the Twenty-First Century, ed. Victor Roudometof, Alexander Agadjanian, and Jerry Pankhurst (Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 2005), 9.


See Saloutos, 100 and Scourby, 42. GAPA was a reactionary response to the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association, a Greek-American effort to help immigrants adjust to their American life.


See Nicholas Ferencz, American Orthodoxy and Parish Congregationalism (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2006), 167–186.Ferencz discussed Greek Catholic societies as well since many Carpatho-Rusyn Greek Catholics converted to Orthodox Christianity in America.


See for example Alice Scourby The Greek Americans (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1984), 33–34; Theodore Saloutos, «Cultural Persistence and Change: Greeks in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain West, 1890–1970,» Pacific Historical Review 49(1980), 85–88 and Karel D. Bicha, «Hunkies: Stereotyping the Slavic Immigrants, 1890–1920,» Journal of American Ethnic History 2:1 (1982), 16–38. For the religious dimension to such situations, see Peter Carl Haskell, «American Civil Religion and the Greek Immigration: Religious Confrontation Before the First World War,» St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 18:4 (1974),166–192. A similar occurrence may yet be seen in recent Orthodox immigrants to Canada. Canadian Orthodox immigrants appear to hold endearing views of iconography that relate to cultural branding in order to further cohesion among the immigrants themselves. See Mariana Mastagar, «Icons and the Immigrant Context,» Fieldwork in Religion 2:2 (2006), 146–169.


John McGuckin, «Eschaton and Kerygma: The Future of the Past in the Present Kairos, The Concept of Living Tradition in Orthodox Theology,» St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 42:3–4 (1998), 228. The concept of «living tradition» is actually drawn from German Romanticism. See Brandon Gallaher, «"Waiting for the Barbarians»: Identity and Polemicism in the Neo-Patristic Synthesis of Georges Florovsky,» Modern Theology 27:4 (2011), 669. The concept was largely adapted from the Slavophiles, with Aleksei Khomiakov (1804–1860) a prime example. The Slavophiles were heavily dependent on Johann Adam Möhler (1796–1838) of the Catholic Tübingen School.


On this latter point, one should consider Vladimir Lossky, Of the Image and Likeness of God (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1974), 141–168. Lossky sees tradition as «the unique mode of receiving the revealed Truth, of recognizing it in its scriptural, dogmatic, iconographic and other expressions and also of expressing it anew» (168). Of course, this distinction between Tradition and traditions raises the issue of criteria for determining the difference. See John Behr, The Mystery of Christ: Life in Death (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2006), 49.


See, for example, John Breck, Scripture in Tradition: the Bible and its Interpretation in the Orthodox Church (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2000), 4, where he describes the relationship as «Scripture in Tradition» (emphasis in the original). Behr offers, instead, that «Tradition is the continuity of the interpretive engagement with the scriptures in the contemplation of Christ, as delivered ("traditioned») by the apostles »{The Mystery of Christ, 68).


See, for example, Thomas Fisch, ed., Liturgy and Tradition: Theological Reflections of Alexander Schmemann (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1990).


See, for example, the numbers given in Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church (London: Penguin, 1997), 6. Numbers of adherents in the United States of America may be readily found at http://hirr.hartsem.edu/research/orthodoxsummaryhtml (accessed March 8, 2008). Global figures may also be found in Ronald Roberson, The Eastern Christian Churches: A Brief Survey 7th rev. ed (Rome: Orientalia Christiana, 2007). Another source for global information is the database available through the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at http://www.globalchristianity.org, the database of which is continually updated.


As noted below, the Oriental Orthodox are those churches that have their roots in disagreeing with the Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon in 451. Although this disagreement led to schism, there has been some recent rapproachement between the two groups.


See Luke 1:26–38.

Источник: Oxford University Press 2014

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