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.
- 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.
- Number of followers in the Orthodox Church in America (evolving mainly from the Russian Orthodox): 115,000 estimated, with 456 parishes.
- Other Orthodox representation includes two Serbian archdioceses, plus Ukrainian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Albanian, Macedonian, Assyrian, Coptic, and two Armenian organizations.
- Date of Christmas: January 7, concluding the 12 days of Christmas.
- 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.)
- The highest level of leadership: The Metropolitan, or archbishop. The Roman Catholic Pope was once one of them.
- 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.
- 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.
- The priests are typically married.
- 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.