Chaos is coming, so brace yourselves.
This was the warning that – four years ago – iconographer and YouTube master Jonathan Pageau issued to leaders of the Orthodox Church in the South American diocese.
The French-Canadian artist was reacting to the cracks in “cultural cohesion” after Donald Trump came to power, with crazy reactions left and right. And business leaders, especially in big tech, threw their “awakened” weight in battles over gender, racism, schools, religious freedom and other issues. Fear and angst boiled in media messages about zombies, fundamentalist maids, and angry demands for “safe spaces”.
Pageau did not predict a global pandemic that would lock church doors.
But that’s what happened. Thus, he doubled his message of “chaos” several weeks ago, while addressing the same body of priests and parish leaders of the OCA.
“If some of you didn’t believe me then, I imagine you are more willing to believe me now,” he said.
Pageau has focused, in part, on the waves of online conspiracy theories that have rocked many herds and the shepherds who rule them. Rumors and wild questions, he said, often reveal what people think and feel and, most importantly, whether they trust authority figures.
“Even the craziest of the conspiracy, what they say is not arbitrary,” he said at a meeting in Miami of the Southern Diocese, which I attended as a delegate. from my parish in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. “It’s like a wake-up call. It’s like an alarm bell that you can hear, and you can understand that the person sounding the alarm might not understand what’s going on. … They may think they have an inner lead based on what they have heard, and think they know what is going on. But the alarm is not necessarily a false alarm.
The chaos is real, Pageau said. There is chaos in politics, science, schools, technology, economic systems, family structures and many issues related to sex and gender. It’s a time when conspiracy theories of vaccines containing tracking devices echo decades of sci-fi stories, as millions of people navigate everyday life with smartphones in their pockets that allow Big Tech leaders to research their every move.
This chaos will lead to change, one way or another, he said. The goal for church leaders is to listen and respond with images, themes, and Bible stories – as opposed to more acidic chatter about politics. The pandemic has been particularly difficult for the bishops and priests of the old liturgical churches, as life in their parishes is based on intimate sacramental acts, including confession, holy communion and anointing of the sick.
In the Eastern Orthodox herds, the rulers also try to make sense of two contradictory tendencies. A census for 2010-2020 found that the number of Orthodox Christians in America fell by 17%, with the great Greek Orthodox Church declining by 22%. Other jurisdictions, including the OCA, posted slower declines, while the number of new parishes increased.
Meanwhile, Father Andrew Stephen Damick, an Antiochian Orthodox priest specializing in online ministries, recently interviewed priests across the country about anecdotal accounts from a growing number of “investigators and catechumens showing up” in their parishes. during the pandemic. Only three priests said this was not the case in their churches, while 28 affirmed the reports.
“A number said they noticed the newcomers were younger,” Damick wrote on his Ancient Faith Ministries blog. “Several said it was more than they had ever had – in some cases double.” In his own parish in Pennsylvania, the number of newcomers last year topped the previous decade’s total.
The great majority of the priests of the meetings of the diocese of the South reported the same phenomenon. Several reported a pattern commonly seen online, with young men turning to orthodoxy after following the writings and YouTube posts of University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson. This led them to online dialogues between Peterson and Pageau, which then took them to Pageau’s “The Symbolic World” YouTube channel and other Orthodox online outlets.
“All these guys… These young men in their twenties and early thirties, they’re out there urgently looking for something,” Pageau said. “I sympathize with the warlike and mad-aggressive energy of these young men – this mad ball of warlike energy.
“You can change the world with 2,000 guys like that. It’s happened before.”
Terry Mattingly runs GetReligion.org and lives in Oak Ridge, Tenn. He is a principal investigator at the Overby Center at the University of Mississippi.