“When the Orthodox Christian Church is transformed by the pandemic, can "the Church that never changes" adapt yet stay true to its core teachings and practices? ”
Imagine a church that focuses on complex multisensory services with many physical interactions, fosters intergenerational communities with abundant social gatherings, and demands unwavering adherence to ancient Christian religious practices.
Overnight, it is compelled to go into an online mode and introduce numerous innovations affecting both worship and other aspects of church life. This study examines the potential long-term effects of the pandemic for such a religious tradition, the Orthodox Church, “the original Christian church that never changes.”
• On the one hand, will increasingly popular virtual services and other “church made simple” transformations undermine the future of a religious tradition that worships in highly embodied ways, vigilantly guards its centuries-old practices, and is intentionally change-resistant?
• At the same time and most importantly, how have some congregations emerged from the crisis even stronger? What lessons can we learn from the congregations that adapted resourcefully to new realities while carefully preserving what is core to Orthodox Christianity? Does cultural and social diversity in membership or the strong presence of converts from other faith communities influence congregational resilience and creativity?
The study employs mixed methods. First, a two-wave national survey of clergy and then laity will examine post-lockdown Orthodox Church life in America. It will also identify congregations strengthened by the crisis. Second, using the “portraiture” method, the unique journeys of five such rejuvenated congregations will be described. The combination of two approaches will yield readily shareable insights based on solid survey findings while yet brought to life by colorful portraits of individual congregations. The resulting outcomes will be highly accessible and helpful to many constituencies within and beyond the Orthodox Church