In my novel What’s Left, Cassia is a member of a Greek-American family that lives at a distance for their Greek Orthodox church. While that faith shares practices and teachings with a number of other Eastern Orthodox denominations, some of its customs that she takes for granted do puzzle her classmates.

Here’s some perspective.

  1. Number of Greek Orthodox adherents in the United States: Between 440,000 to two million in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, depending on the counting method being used. They are spread among more than 500 parishes and served by roughly 800 priests. The Antiochian archdiocese has 83,700 adherents and 206 parishes.
  2. Number of followers in the Orthodox Church in America (evolving mainly from the Russian Orthodox): 115,000 estimated, with 456 parishes.
  3. Other Orthodox representation includes two Serbian archdioceses, plus Ukrainian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Albanian, Macedonian, Assyrian, Coptic, and two Armenian organizations.
  4. Date of Christmas: January 7, concluding the 12 days of Christmas.
  5. Date of Easter: Based on the Julian calendar, rather than the Gregorian calendar used in the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches, the Orthodox date can fall anywhere between April 4 and May 8 on the Western calendar. (The Greeks call it Pascha, for Passover.)
  6. The highest level of leadership: The Metropolitan, or archbishop. The Roman Catholic Pope was once one of them.
  7. Icons: The interior of the churches, especially, are replete in stylized depictions of Jesus, the Holy Mother, and many saints. Many of these are murals on the ceiling.
  8. The iconostasis: An icon-covered wall runs in front of the altar and has a large central door as well as two smaller doors at the far end of either side. During the service, the priest often passes through these.
  9. The priests are typically married.
  10. Fasting: It’s not a total avoidance of food but rather constrained by intricate limitations. The longest periods of fasting are Advent, before Christmas, and Great Lent.

Orthodox Advent began November 15.


  1. A minor detail, but the Copts are not Eastern Orthodox; they are Oriental Orthodox, and divided from the rest of us by the earliest schism; they rejected the Council of Chalcedon and its statement on the natures (divine and human) of Christ.

    To the eyes and ears of western Protestants, though, the differences may be difficult to detect!

  2. Hi… Just stopping by… As for the date of Christmas, it really depends on the jurisdiction and sometimes even the church. The Julian Calendar was the standard in Europe for many centuries. However, the Julian year is slightly too long, which is why the Gregorian calendar was adopted. (Think George Washington’s birthday, for example. However, the new style (Gregorian) wasn’t adopted in Russia or Greece until the 20th century, and only during huge political upheaval, resulting in the Russian and Greek churches not adopting the “new” calendar. Technically, they both still celebrate Christmas on December 25th, but the space between the calendars keeps sliding wider and wider. Until 1900, it was 12 days, now it is 13, and as of 2100, the space will be a full two weeks, resulting in these jurisdictions celebrating Christmas on December 8th (if they haven’t adopted the new calendar by then).

    1. I wasn’t aware of this angle.
      Doing genealogy, of course, has made me aware of the differences in the start of the new year, which in some periods didn’t start till mid-March.

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