Monday, August 27, 2012

The explosive growth of Orthodoxy in Guatemala

(SVOTS) - Whenever someone speaks of “American Orthodoxy,” there is usually an unspoken understanding that the term refers to North American Orthodoxy: the United States, Canada, and sometimes Mexico. This way of speaking is indeed convenient, considering that the majority of Orthodox parishes in the Western Hemisphere are still located in North America. However, in the past few years a great change has occurred in Latin America that makes it increasingly inaccurate to focus on North America as the western outpost of Orthodoxy. Just two years ago, in 2010, the Orthodox Church received a large group of Guatemalan converts numbering in the hundreds of thousands. Now Guatemala, and possibly all of Latin America, holds tremendous promise of becoming fertile ground for the Orthodox Christian Church.

The seed of Orthodoxy in Guatemala was planted by the nuns of the Hogar Rafael Ayau, an Orthodox orphanage in Guatemala City. Many people are familiar with the incredible work of Mother Inés, Mother Ivonne, and Mother María. In fact, just this year a group of seminarians from St. Vladimir's Seminary traveled with the seminary Chancellor/CEO Archpriest Chad Hatfield to see the work of the nuns and to assist at the orphanage. It is through these nuns that the Guatemalan soil was first prepared for the Orthodox Church.

Now, with the recent chrismation of a new group of Guatemalan converts that numbers between 100,000 and 200,000, the Orthodox Church is ready to blossom in Guatemala. The magnitude of the event cannot be overstated. Almost overnight, Guatemala has become the most Orthodox country in the Western Hemisphere (by percentage of national population). Furthermore, the Orthodox communities in Guatemala continue to grow rapidly and attract attention throughout Guatemala. There is still, however, little information available to the broader Orthodox world on the history and character of these new communities. For this reason, I traveled to Guatemala this summer, spending two months visiting many of the Orthodox parishes, meeting the leaders of the communities, and accompanying the bishop of the Guatemalan Church—His Eminence, Metropolitan Athenagoras—as he made his historic first visit to the new parishes in Guatemala. I returned to the United States with the desire to share what I saw and the conviction that the Holy Spirit is at work with power in Latin America...
Complete article here.


  1. Praise God! Thank you for sharing this!

  2. According to the Sandopolos blog of a couple of years ago, they had 527,000 converts in 2010, with another 800,000 catechumens. I hope and pray it is true, but I'm having trouble digesting those numbers, particularly with only 14 clergy.

  3. This group keeps coming up in the news with unsubstantiated figures of the number of converts. Where is the proof please? Who are the 14 clergy and where did they attend seminary and when and by whom were they ordained?

  4. Fr. Marty and Steve Barrie,

    I wrote this article, which can be found in its complete form at I spent two months in Guatemala this summer in order to gain a clearer picture of the things that you mentioned: how many people are actually in the Guatemalan Orthodox Church, what is their history, and how can the clergy serve so many people. No real study has been done on the numbers at this point, so there is no "proof," but the estimates that I give in my article are based on the numbers that were given to me this summer by Fr. Andres Giron (the priest who oversees all the communities) and Fr. John Chakos (the OCMC missionary who is serving the communities), and the estimates were informed by my own visits to the communities. The early estimates of around 500,000 were far too high, as both Fr. Andres and Fr. John confirmed this summer. They estimate that there are anywhere from 100,000 to 200,000 people (closer to 200,000 according to them). These are the best numbers anyone has to go on, and they are within reason based on my visits. There are 7 priests in Guatemala, and this number is not an estimate; I have met them all, know them well, and their pictures can be found in the complete article on These seven priests are able to serve the communities (approximately 300 communities altogether) by traveling almost daily from one community to the next to offer the Eucharist. In addition to the priests, there are several hundred lay leaders who lead lay services in the communities when the priests are not available.

    I hope that answers some of your questions. Please see the complete article on, which also contains a link to my blog posts. On my blog there are many more details to answer your questions.

    God bless!