The upside of down
I’ve learned a beautiful term: Distillation.
Churchgoing in America has been going down for a long time, and the process is accelerating — not something to be happy about. Orthodox churches are no exception to the general trend.
I would love to see everyone, everywhere, gathered into the Orthodox Church, the Ark of Salvation, so the decline in attendance at our churches saddens me. But I’ll admit that, rightly or wrongly, lukewarmness and nominalism sadden me even more. So many of us come to church because it’s part of our heritage, because we’ve always done it, because it feeds our image of ourselves as good people — not because we pant for the living waters that can only be found there.
CNN’s Belief blog ran a politically-oriented but useful piece on the supposed “Catholic vote”, and made the obvious point that there no longer is such a thing: “Catholics” are not a monolithic bloc but fall into several distinct groups that vote in distinct ways. I’m not interested in the political aspect of this, but was grabbed by these lines:
An important social phenomenon for understanding intentional Catholics is what’s sometimes referred to as distillation. A study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life last year found that one-third of those raised Catholic have left the church. Fully 10% of the American electorate is formerly Catholic.
Because of assimilation, the glue of tradition and culture that previously inclined many to adhere to the church has lost its stickiness. Leaving is easy, whether by decision or atrophy, and little shame results…
But as a result of disaffiliation, many Catholics who remain with the church are “distilled.” More and more of those who remain are those who actively choose to embrace the church and its teachings. These “intentional Catholics” are the second of the three important groups of Catholic voters.
I hope that the implication for us is that, as the world draws more people away from the Church, a kind of purification takes place, and those who remain may be able to partake of a Church that is more visibly what it has always been mystically: the Body and Bride of Christ.
Russian Christians who held fast to the life of the Church through the Soviet persecutions often remember the years of oppression as times of special blessing: the nominal believers had left, and a kind of refining fire — distillation — strengthened the remnant of the faithful. Miracles were common, and a paradoxical joy suffused the Church.
It’s a cause for thanks that we have never had to face anything close to the persecutions that Orthodox Christians in other lands have endured. But I like to hope that, as the slow-motion persecution of modernism sweeps so many people out of the Church, a similar kind of purification will affect our churches, and that this will in God’s time draw back all those who are seeking the narrow gate that leads to Life.
First of all ,let me say that I do like your blog and I try to follow as much as I can . Thank you. On this topic, you are making some very valid points.However, Orthodoxy in America is not suffering a decline , but a new Pentacost. The presence of monasteries is an indication of that. There is slow but study new awakening and a new hope for the future. People are looking , searching and they do find a way back to the Church , a way to the Confessinal , new meaning in their lives. God works in mysterious ways.
Theodoros, Thanks very much for your comment. I agree completely that Orthodoxy in America is experiencing a “new Pentecost”, and I’m especially grateful that monasticism is *finally* taking hold in this country. So really I think we agree. But it’s a fact that the number of Orthodox Christians in America has been declining for awhile now. I was trying to say that this “decline” might paradoxically be part of the renewal that we’re seeing.
In XC, Rdr John B.