Orthodoxism Is Declining In the Overall Christian Population

(Brett Ziegler for USN&WR)

Leaders in the Orthodox Church say the religion may need to adapt to contemporary times to remain relevant.

A season of religious holidays around the world moves into higher gear on Wednesday with the observance of one of the most important saints in the Orthodox Church, a person whose gift-giving legacy is partially tied to the birth of the Santa Claus legend in the U.S. and Father Christmas in the U.K.

But with the arrival of St. Nicholas Day – observed on Dec. 6 in Western Christian nations but on different December days elsewhere – also come questions about the future place Orthodoxy will occupy in the larger Christian world, say analysts.

Orthodox Christians exist in greater numbers today than in the past, yet represent a diminished share of Christians worldwide. Confined primarily to an aging Europe and strongly tethered to tradition, Orthodox Christianity may need to change its ways to remain relevant, say some practitioners.

“People are sending out a signal that they don’t identify with structures of the past anymore and look for new forms of spirituality,” says the Rev. Cosmin Antonescu from the Saint Andrew Romanian Orthodox Church in Potomac, Maryland.

Around 260 million people in the world today identify themselves as Christian Orthodox, double the number registered a century ago, according to a report from the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan think tank. Russia alone has more than 100 million followers, while more than 95 percent of people in predominantly Orthodox countries such as Moldova, Georgia, Romania and Greece report keeping icons at home.

Yet, as popular as Orthodoxy is in Eastern Europe, this branch or Christianity seems to be losing ground in the overall Christian population. Today, Orthodox Christians represent only 4 percent of the world’s population. Additionally, Orthodox followers account for 12 percent of Christians worldwide, down 8 percentage points from the levels in 1910, according to the Pew report.

The reasons for this decline are many, and experts say they have to do with history and a more rigid administrative structure of the overall Orthodox community.

After the East-West Schism of 1054 between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, Orthodoxism was left isolated in a declining Byzantine Empire. As countries broke away from the empire, Orthodoxism developed in a more decentralized way. “All nations identifying themselves as Orthodox have their own independent ruling,” Antonescu says.

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SOURCE: U.S. News and World Report
Sintia Radu