Worldwide, the Eastern Orthodox church, with 240 million members, is second in size only to Roman Catholicism.
But in the United States, it’s a small segment of the Christian church: It has approximately 1.2 million adherents, of which about 84,000 attend Antiochian churches, according to the Hartford Institute of Religious Research.
However the tiny Antiochian denomination in North America has doubled in size during the past 20 years, growing to more than 200 churches and missions, according to the denomination’s Web site http://www.antiochian.org. Most of St. James’s members are converts from other branches of Christianity, Yelovich said.
The Antiochians are affiliated with Greek, Russian, Ukrainian and other Orthodox churches. Until 1054, the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches were united, but differences between the two branches led each to go its separate way.
For Tim Barkley of Mount Airy, who was searching for a denomination where, in his words, the truth didn’t change every other day, the Roman Catholic Church offered a haven, but he was never comfortable with the notion of papal infallibility.
He was told he could dissent personally from whatever he disagreed with in Roman Catholicism but that he could not teach that dissent.
That became a problem when his daughter was born, because he was unwilling to teach her that the pope was infallible.
He was drawn to Orthodoxy, because, like Catholicism, it offered a long, unbroken tradition. The Bible is interpreted as it has been for 2,000 years, he said. He mentioned that James, the brother of Jesus, wrote one Orthodox liturgical service in the year 63.
Barkley, a St. James chanter or singer, was attracted by the church’s bottom-up theology, which he contrasted to the top-down theology of Catholicism, where the pope and the cardinals decide policy, which is then transmitted to the people.
The Orthodox tradition teaches that the Holy Spirit, active in the hearts of the people, drifts up to the priest and bishops.
“I felt that was much more consistent with Scripture and tradition,” he said.
Judd, who’d been raised as a Lutheran, also sought a consistent belief system.
When he became an active Christian, he tried nondenominational churches, but felt something was missing. Then he learned that the early apostles were Orthodox Christians.