In a continent that speaks of Christianity in three categories—Protestant, Catholic and “Other”—Eastern Orthodoxy is clearly “Other.” Eastern Orthodox Christians have been the great exceptions in North American history and North American religion. In countries that expanded from east to west, the Orthodox entered from the west and moved east; in lands that encourage innovation, Orthodoxy in North America has remained largely unchanged; and in nations whose religious cultures have been accommodating to Catholic, Protestant and Jew, the Orthodox have remained aloof. It is no surprise, therefore, that the presence of millions of Orthodox Christians in North America has been largely overlooked, or worse, ignored. With few exceptions their historical experiences remain unrecorded, their documents untranslated, their personalities, institutions, and activities unknown.
There are an estimated 150 million Orthodox Christians throughout the world today. While more than 100 million are in the lands of the former Soviet Union (Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and the Baltic States), Orthodox are also a majority in the Balkans (Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro and Cyprus), as well as the majority Christian body throughout the largely Muslim Middle East (Israel, Jordan, Palestine, Syria, Egypt and Lebanon). Orthodox Christians form significant minorities throughout much of Europe (for example, the Orthodox Church is recognized as an official State Church in Finland), in Australia and New Zealand, and in South America. The Orthodox are in East Africa—with large numbers in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Zaire—and a growing presence in West Africa, especially in Ghana and Nigeria. Orthodox churches also support missions in Asia, with growing communities in South Korea, Japan and Indonesia. United in faith, ministry and sacraments, but administered independently on a regional basis, Orthodox Christians worship in their own languages and witness to the Gospel through their unique cultures. Thus one may speak of the Orthodox Church as a whole, or of its more familiar constituent parts (“The Greek Orthodox Church,” “The Russian Orthodox Church,” “The Orthodox Church of Japan,” etc.) with equal validity.
There are two million Orthodox Christians in the United States. In externals, Orthodox Christians in North America most closely resemble Roman Catholics. They share a similar sacramental view of life; a threefold ordained ministry of bishops, priests, and deacons; liturgical forms of corporate worship; traditional forms of piety such as fasting, prayer, monasticism, etc.; highly developed forms of religious art (iconography) and sacred music (chants); and generally “conservative” positions on contemporary moral issues.
In administration the Orthodox in North America most closely resemble Protestants. Like American Lutherans of fifty years ago, the Orthodox in North America are at present splintered into 32 distinct administrative “jurisdictions,” divisions based largely on ethnic origin and politics, both secular and ecclesiastical. In self-identity, however, Orthodox Christians in North America are most like Orthodox Jews; a people apart, unable, and at times unwilling, to separate the claims of race, religion, and politics: people for whom the Greek term “diaspora” (literally, “dispersion”) has been an expression of enduring meaning.
Building on an earlier pioneering historical work, Orthodox America (compiled for the 1976 American Bicentennial), the present work seeks to provide the reader, both Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike, with a popular narrative account of two hundred years of Orthodox Christianity on this continent. Unfortunately, the very diversity of Orthodoxy in North America precludes, in this brief work, a fully adequate presentation or even mention of each Orthodox jurisdiction, organization, significant personality, or major event in its 200 year history.
Rather, Orthodox Christians in North America focuses specific attention and reflection on the institutional, social, and theological history of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) as the paradigm for much of the Orthodox experience in North America. The choice, however, is not arbitrary; for the OCA is the direct continuation of the efforts begun by the first Orthodox missionaries to North America in 1794. Within its two hundred years of uninterrupted existence, the OCA carries all the challenges of the Orthodox experience in North America: life on the Alaskan frontier, immigration, revolutionary upheaval, schism, struggles over cultural and linguistic identity, theological renewal, missionary outreach, ecumenical concern, and charitable endeavor. Clearly, in this bicentennial year of celebration, the story of the OCA is uniquely representative of the past and present of all Orthodox Christians in North America.
Moreover, if the cultural history of previous Orthodox missions is taken as a guide, a new and unique form of Orthodox Christianity is presently emerging: American Orthodoxy. In whatever form this nascent American Orthodoxy continues to develop, the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) will be the crucible in which this new Orthodox style is forged.
 This number does not include the 30 million members of the Oriental (or pre-Chalcedonian) Orthodox Churches in Egypt, Ethiopia, Armenia, Syria, India, and North America. These Churches formally separated from the Eastern Orthodox Church in a dispute following the Fourth Ecumenical Council in AD 451. In 1992, after decades of official discussions, the theological grounds of the schism were largely resolved. A return to full unity between the two families of Orthodox Christians—Eastern and Oriental—is presently awaiting official administrative action by regional leaders. Given their generally smaller numbers and present theological diversity, discussion of the Oriental Orthodox has been omitted from the present work.
 With estimates as high as five, six, even as many as eight million Orthodox Christians in the United States, many might question this smaller figure. In reality the number of Orthodox Christians has been, and remains, greatly exaggerated. The regular decennial governmental Census of Religious Bodies in America reported some 250,000 Orthodox Christians in the United States in 1916. Only five years later, at the founding of the Greek Archdiocese, the Greek Archbishop inadvertently spoke of “the two millions” of Orthodox in America. This figure, perhaps based more on cultural pride than sociological fact, became widely disseminated. In 1927, an Arab archbishop increased this number to “three million”—although Orthodox immigration had effectively halted in 1924. Ethnic and religious politics encouraged the use of increasingly inflated figures, so that the Russian archbishop spoke of “five million” Orthodox in America in 1944. In fact, the last Census of Religious Bodies (1936) placed the actual figure at less than one tenth of that number (400,000). Ethnic rhetoric aside, government surveys of ethnic origins (1976), yearly national religious surveys by independent pollsters (1970-1993), and the most recent census data (1990) all suggest that less than 1% of the American population identifies itself as Orthodox Christian. Two million, therefore, may be seen as a reasonable current estimate.
 Orthodox America 1794-1976: Development of the Orthodox Church in America, Constance J. Tarasar and John H. Erickson, eds. (Syosset, NY: The Orthodox Church in America, Dept. of History and Archives, 1975).