“The Problem of the Orthodox Diaspora”: The Orthodox Church between Nationalism, Transnationalism, and Universality

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In the diaspora, Orthodox Christians do not unite as the canons prescribe; instead, they tend to establish branches of their home churches. Consequently, there are parallel jurisdictions, i.e., congregations belonging to the Russian Church, the Serbian, etc., everywhere. This is what church leaders describe as the problem of the Orthodox diaspora, which they deplore as heresy. Transferring Orthodox ecclesiology to the diaspora has turned out to be difficult, but why? There is a widespread notion that nationalism represents a particularly serious problem in the Orthodox Church, and the problem in the diaspora is likewise often explained as a consequence of nationalism. But is this really the case? In this article I will focus on how the problem is perceived by laypeople. Based on interviews with Orthodox Christians in Norway, I will argue that laypeople’s transnational needs must be taken into account. The majority are immigrants struggling with the double process of settling in a new country while still remaining in touch with their home country. I will argue that religious institutions may serve an important role in such processes, and that the intertwining of religion and ethnic identities may support people’s efforts to adapt. This appears to be the case for the Orthodox Christians in Norway, although at the expense of their canons. The lack of organizational unity does not, however, mean that laypeople are not concerned about the Orthodox Church’s claim to universality.

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