As the decades passed, all Orthodox jurisdictions in North America began to show signs of internal strain. Canonically, the unresolved issues resulting from the devolution of the American diocese continued to cause turmoil within, and paralysis between jurisdictions. New theological understandings and liturgical reforms spread from seminaries into parishes, challenging established practices. Most importantly, both America and its Orthodox population underwent significant generational transformations between 1940-1990. As a result, religious faith and ethnic identity, once seen as inseparable, were increasingly less understood as such by the socially mobile, geographically dispersed, English-speaking second, third, and fourth generations of Orthodox in America, not to mention an ever-increasing number of converts.
Sociological Transformations (1940-1970)
With three major exceptions—some 100,000 Eastern European refugees in the wake of World War II, a 160,000-person Greek immigration in the wake of the Cypriot crisis, and an influx of Middle Eastern Orthodox in the wake of the Lebanese civil war—Orthodoxy in the United States has grown not through immigration as much as through the birth of American children to immigrant generations. Like all American immigrant “second generations,” the Orthodox “second generations” have had ambivalent attitudes towards the religion and ethnicity of their parents. Given a natural desire to assimilate with the dominant culture, many in the second generation (regardless of whether this “second generation” arose in 1920, 1940, 1960 or 1980) drifted away from the language, customs, and faith of their immigrant parents. The losses could be dramatic: an early study (1932) estimated that 75 percent of baptized Russian Orthodox children were inactive by age 16, and of those 25 percent that were active, almost one half were active in non-Orthodox Churches.
For the most part, this generational decline was a gradual fading away rather than an explicit rejection of the Church. As one Pennsylvania parish elder described it in the late 1930’s,
There was neither church school nor Sunday School. Church attendance began to wane and the roof began to leak. Attendance picked up. The leak was repaired. Attendance waned. Attendance went from bad to worse. Lighting struck the front cross and split the beautiful stone spire from top to bottom. The next Sunday the church was filled to overflowing! Attendance remained good until the spire was repaired. Attendance fell again.
Clearly, the ethnic churches could count on ethnic solidarity in times of trouble, but Orthodox Christianity, and above all the experience of its worship, was increasingly foreign to the American generations. This trend was accelerated by the disruptions of the Second World War, ever-increasing numbers of marriages of Orthodox with non-Orthodox from the 1950’s, and the suburbanization of the 1960’s. With the exception of the Greek community, whose initial size and continuing flow of immigration masked generational losses, the old ethnic communities, and their ethnic churches, have continued to slowly wane, both physically and psychologically, since the 1940’s.
Not all in the “second generation” rejected their heritage. Many wholeheartedly accepted ethnicity. In fact, wrote sociologist Will Herberg, “They often identified themselves with the ethnic language, culture, and nationality in a manner so passionate, that it baffled, even disturbed, their fathers.” They were “hyphenated Americans” (Greek-Americans, Ukrainian-Americans, etc.), who, like their ethnic churches, identified themselves patriotically and economically with America, but spiritually, culturally, and socially with an older heritage. The initial “second generation” of Orthodox in the late 1920’s established numerous ethnic organizations, such as the assimiliationist American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA), the Federated Russian Orthodox Clubs (FROC), or the Serbian Singing Federation (SSF), to bridge the gap between their two worlds. Indeed, as Herberg points out, “Ethnic nationalism and American politics became the two great preoccupations of the second generation..” It is no wonder then that the greatest public effort of ethnic churches throughout the 1950’s and early 60’s was a now meaningless drive to gain local, state, and federal recognition of Orthodoxy as the “Fourth Major Faith” in the United States.
The Third Generation
Following Hanson’s immigrant thesis (“What the son wishes to forget, the grandson wishes to remember”), the ethnic churches were revitalized by the “third generation,” which first appeared in the Orthodox churches during the general American return to religion in the 1950’s. By the early 60’s, the situation in the Pennsylvania parish mentioned above had greatly improved:
A Sunday School was started and grew and church attendance stabilized at an acceptable level. There were more and more young members on the church committee. They were not really young compared to the ages of our founders, but they were younger than we had before. They dared, with the priests’ permission, to have pews installed. They even dared to institute an envelope system, against vigorous objections. The Church prospered in attendance and funds ...
It was the “third generation” that encouraged the institutional changes required to combat ongoing generational losses. Some changes that might seem dramatic were not: the Greek Archdiocese, for example, introduced the use of organs in their parishes with little opposition. Likewise, the inclusion of women, heretofore excluded, on parish councils caused only minimal disruption. Other changes though, such as the Metropolia’s introduction of the revised Julian calendar (the “New Calendar”“), were seen by some as striking at the heart of ethnicity and Orthodoxy. Whatever the changes attempted, and regardless of when these changes were made—in the late 1950’s or only in the late 1980’s—change has remained a source of constant debate and tension in the ethnic churches.
Debates over Language
The move to reintroduce English into liturgical services was especially contentious. Debates over language arose in every Orthodox jurisdiction between 1950-1970. The largely Arab Antiochian Archdiocese was the first to begin widespread use of English in its services; as a result, it achieved an early reputation as the most “progressive” of Orthodox jurisdictions. It also became the jurisdiction of choice for many American converts to Orthodoxy, and for many non-Arab Orthodox who sought to move Orthodoxy beyond ethnicity. The Metropolia underwent language battles from 1955 until 1975. The Greek Archdiocese, for whom the very definition of Greek identity comes from the Greek language, has undergone continuous debate on the issue since 1962. After 1970, however, even the Greek Archdiocese became officially bilingual.
Beginning in the 1950’s, an ever-increasing body of liturgical texts in English was published to supplement the limited materials which had been produced at the turn of the century. Organizations such as FROC (Federated Russian-Orthodox Clubs) prepared English-language music books. The Metropolia’s Department of Religious Education published texts for feast days and individual services. In 1967, the Metropolia issued an official English translation of the Divine Liturgy, which has become the standard text in parishes of the Orthodox Church in America. Official church agencies, seminaries, and individuals, continued to produce materials in subsequent years.
Today (1994), many Orthodox parishes offer services only in English; a greater number offer bilingual services (English with Greek, Romanian, Church Slavonic, French, or Spanish); while a small number, increasingly fewer, offer services only in Greek, Church Slavonic or other languages. (The Ukrainian Church in Canada, alone among Orthodox jurisdictions in North America, explicitly rejected liturgical use of English as late as the 1980’s.) The steady progress of English as the administrative and liturgical language among Orthodox in America, however, is indicative of the continuing generational challenges facing the ethnic churches as they minister to the fourth, and even fifth, generations of Orthodox in North America.
At the same time that the ethnic churches were undergoing rapid sociological change, new theological trends arose that called the existing situation and received practices into question. Having first established for itself a reputation as an academic center under the internationally renowned Russian theologian, Fr Georges Florovsky, the Metropolia’s St Vladimir’s Seminary was to have a profound effect on future developments in American church life. The seminary’s three successive deans, Fr Florovsky (1950-1955), Fr Alexander Schmemann (1962-1983), and Fr John Meyendorff (1984-1992), stood in the vanguard of 20th century Orthodox theology. They were largely responsible for a patristic revival within Orthodoxy, a return to the “sources,” a rediscovery of Orthodoxy’s own voice—so necessary if Orthodoxy in the West was to survive. They were also among the chief proponents of an eucharistic ecclesiology, a traditional understanding that the church is realized, is fulfilled in the celebration of the eucharist. Under their leadership, St Vladimir’s Seminary Press was to publish over 175 books in English, which continue to explain Orthodoxy to believers and non-believers alike.
For centuries, frequent and regular reception of the eucharist had not been common among Orthodox. Yet, as a result of a rediscovered eucharistic ecclesiology, a new generation of church leaders began to promote frequent communion, and the ecclesiology such reception inferred. This eucharistic renewal, sparked by the preaching and writings of Frs Schmemann and Meyendorff, marked a gradual, but profound, shift in popular Orthodox piety in the 1960’s, beginning in the Metropolia, but eventually reaching other jurisdictions as well. Increasingly, educated parishioners began to question jurisdictional liturgical practices and parochial traditions, while looking beyond ethnicity for a broader and deeper understanding of the Orthodox tradition.
This theological revival had a profound effect on American parish life. Use of the vernacular was encouraged and made worship more accessible. Sermons became integral parts of the liturgy, no longer optional appendages. Congregational singing made its return, and liturgical music became more varied, drawing not only on the slow, elaborate, Italianate harmonies so popular in 19th century Russia, but on quicker, simpler, melodies based on monastic chants, as well as on different ethnic traditions, and even originally-composed melodies. Through the reforms encouraged by liturgical theology, participation in Orthodox worship became less an expression of ethnic solidarity than a means of entering into a cohesive and all-embracing context that could shape individual and communal lives.
The renewed focus on ecclesiology, with its stress on conciliarity, affected all aspects of American church life. The Metropolia, in particular, came to be marked by its strong emphasis on the church as a corporate body, with bishops, clergy, and laity all having a voice. At its church councils, held every three years, and defined as the “supreme legislative authority” in the church, clergy, and laity are equally represented, and share in the decision-making process. Individual dioceses and deaneries also meet in council annually, following a similar format. Indeed, the rise of an informed and educated laity has become one of the hallmarks of Orthodoxy in America. This has naturally led to changes in church governance. It has also led to considerable tensions between clergy and laity, as well as bishops and their clergy, particularly in those jurisdictions with less open, less conciliar modes of operation.
Canonically, the jurisdictional system of ethnic churches was never stable. New jurisdictions appeared every decade with disturbing regularity, existing jurisdictions separated from their canonical authorities and joined others. The notable exception was the Metropolia. Forced to declare itself temporarily “self-governing” in 1924 to preserve itself from Communist interference, the irregular status of the Metropolia was tacitly accepted by all Orthodox in America and abroad, with the exception of the Communist-controlled Russian Orthodox Church.
Through the decades that followed, the Metropolia made repeated attempts to make peace with the Russian Church. As the price of reconciliation, the Russian Church demanded the right to confirm or veto the election of the head of the Metropolia, and that the Metropolia officially abstain “from all political activities against the Soviet Union.” In an era of continuing Communist oppression of religion, such demands were clearly unacceptable.
This unresolved dispute clouded relations between all ethnic churches in America. Jurisdictions were continually forced to choose between cooperating either with the Metropolia or with the Russian Church. For example, an innovative 1965 proposal to create a synod of Orthodox bishops in America with the Greek archbishop as its primate, a synod that would include the Metropolia bishops, was vetoed by the Russian Church, and its loyal follower, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. An attempt in 1966 by the Metropolia to circumvent the problem by appealing to the Ecumenical Patriarchate to accept the Metropolia under its aegis, much as the Russian Archdiocese in Western Europe had done in the 1930’s, also failed. “You are Russians,” the aged Patriarch Athenagoras said, “Go back to your Mother Church. No one can solve your problem except the Russian Church..” In short, this dispute paralyzed any attempts to achieve greater cooperation or unity among the ethnic churches in North America for decades.
Although every ethnic church experienced these theological changes, sociological transformations, and canonical difficulties, the Metropolia was unique in the extent to which it was influenced by all three. Unlike the other Orthodox bodies, which continued to receive at least some immigrants on a yearly basis, the Metropolia did not. Alone among the ethnic churches, the Metropolia built only a handful of parishes between 1925-1950. Those Russians who immigrated to the United States after the Second World War, as “displaced persons” from Europe, or as refugees from Communist China by way of South America, by and large did not join the Metropolia, but chose instead the more vocally anti-communist Karlovtsy Synod. And whereas America generally respected expressions of ethnic heritage and culture, in the era of the Cold War all things Russian were suspect. Unique among the ethnic churches, the Metropolia became increasingly less connected to its ethnic past, and increasingly cognizant of a North American future.
As a result of these changes, the Metropolia, as well as the smaller Antiochian Archdiocese, began creating English-speaking mission parishes in the American suburbs, in the West, South, and Sunbelt states. Between 1950-1960, the Metropolia opened 20 new parishes; this number doubled to 50 between 1960-1970; and nearly doubled again to 90 between 1970-1990. Initially begun as a means of reaching out to lapsed, or lapsing Orthodox, these missions soon began to attract numerous converts to Orthodoxy. The increasing numbers of converts in the Metropolia (estimates range from 15-20 percent of the total membership in 1970) only magnified a growing sense of missionary vocation, and encouraged the trend away from ethnicity.
The combination of sociological change, theological renewal, continuing canonical uncertainty, and increasing missionary activity led many in the Metropolia to openly question its existence and future as an ethnic church. In December 1966, Metropolitan Ireney’s Christmas greeting to heads of churches made a significant call for unity in North America. In 1967, at the Metropolia’s 13th All-American Council, a proposal was made to change the official name of the church from the cumbersome “Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of America” to the more inclusive “Orthodox Church in America.” The proposed change represented a conscious break with the past 50 years of Orthodox Church history in North America in favor of a return to the older, multi-ethnic missionary perspectives of the former North American diocese from which the Metropolia had devolved. It was, in reality, a repudiation of both the jurisdictional solution and the ethnic churches.
The twelve bishops of the Metropolia, all but two foreign-born, vetoed the proposal as “premature.” They allowed, however, for a non-binding “straw vote” to gauge the depth of feelings of the assembled delegates on the issue. The vote was overwhelmingly in favor of the change.
 As quoted in Williard Sperry, Religion in America, p 98.
 Orthodox America, p 171.
 Will Herberg, Protestant, Catholic, Jew, p 29.
 Orthodox America, p 171.
 Orthodox America, p 263.