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Inspired by the Confederacy and Czarist Russia, “Ortho Bros” Are on the Rise

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This article was originally posted on TexasMonthly by Meagan Saliashvili.

On a recent Sunday morning, parishioners shuffled into St. Jonah Orthodox Church, a beige clapboard building topped by a blue onion dome. Tucked down a wooded lane far from road noise in the Houston suburb of Spring, the house of worship drew a crowd of congregants, many of them sporting floral headscarves, chest-length beards, and cotton or gingham dresses that fell past the knee. Beeswax candles flickered in a blast of air-conditioning that dispersed an invisible cloud of incense. 

As the Reverend John Whiteford, wearing a ceremonial cape, stood with his back to the congregation, a small choir chanted three times, “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.” Parishioners crossed their foreheads, shoulders, and chests with three fingers and then bent down to touch the ground. As the service continued, the crowd swelled to one hundred or so worshippers, who stood shoulder to shoulder. 

The choir sang “Glory to thee, O Lord, glory to thee,” and then the music tapered off into a reverent silence peppered with the coos of babies and the impatient fussing of toddlers. Elderly parishioners and pregnant women seated themselves on benches lining the walls. Everyone else sat on the wood floor, looking up as their priest approached the altar and began his sermon. Whiteford, who doesn’t shy away from speaking about
contentious current events, directed their gaze to the war in Gaza… 

Not all recent converts to Orthodoxy are far right, but ideological conversions have become more prominent over the past two decades, said Sarah Riccardi-Swartz, an assistant professor of religion and anthropology at Boston’s Northeastern University who researches Orthodoxy in the U.S. She traces much of the problem to online platforms where many converts seek out education and stumble into radical Orthodox forums. 

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