Orthodox Christianity in Guatemala

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Although the dominant religion in Guatemala is historically Roman Catholicism, in recent decades other Christian denominations have gained adherents there. Orthodox Christianity in particular has been growing rapidly, as a number of schismatic Catholic groups have expressed their desire to become Orthodox and have been received under the jurisdiction of Orthodox bishops.

As of 2017, there are three distinct Orthodox groups within Guatemala. The Antiochian and Greek groups are part of the Eastern Orthodox Church, while the third group is part of Oriental Orthodoxy.


According to a Guatemalan Orthodox monastery, Orthodox Christianity arrived in Guatemala at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century with immigrants from Lebanon, Russia, and Greece.[1] In the 1980s two Catholic women, Mother Ines and Mother Maria, converted to Orthodox Christianity and established a monastery. In 1992 they were received into the Antiochian Patriarchate and in 1995 the Catholic Apostolic Orthodox Antiochian Church in Guatemala was formally established. The state orphanage of Hogar Rafael Ayau, established in 1857, was privatized and transferred to their care in 1996.[1][2]

The Orthodox Antiochian Church in Guatemala is part of the Antiochian Patriarchate's Archdiocese of Mexico, Venezuela, Central America and the Caribbean. Its first temple was dedicated in 1997.[3][2]


A different, mostly indigenous Mayan, group was accepted into the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in 2010. This had been a group which was part of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement and had rocky relations with the Roman Catholic Church. Eventually, the group's leader, Father Andrés Girón, who had previously served as a congressional representative,[4](p141) as a senator in 1991[5] and as an ambassador to the United Nations, left the Roman Catholic Church over tensions related to his support for land reform and their support for "liturgical reform".[a] Girón and his followers, who numbered between 100,000 and 200,000,[third-party source needed] first joined the Society of clerks secular of Saint Basil,[6][b] and later moved towards Orthodoxy, being received into the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in 2010. According to Father Peter Jackson, this may well be the largest mass-conversion to Orthodoxy since the Christianization of Kievan Rus' in 988.[third-party source needed] The Orthodox Church promptly sent missionaries to Guatemala to educate and catechize the newfound converts.[9][10][11][12]

The membership estimates for Girón's group vary widely. Various self-reported figures were published: 120,000 members in 2004,[5] then 550,000 members (of which 5,000 were Greek) in 2015.[12] Jesse Brandow, one of the Orthodox missionaries in Guatemala, estimates that there are "roughly 40,000 people and 100 parishes" and that "it is one of the largest mass conversions in the history of Orthodox Christianity."[13] He also reports that there is a great need for additional priests, and that "the people self-identify as Orthodox and are generally eager to learn, but they are still at the very beginning of a long process of transition."[13]


In 2013, the members of the "Renewed Ecumenical Catholic Church of Guatemala" (Iglesia Católica Ecuménica Renovada en Guatemala, ICERGUA) were received into the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch. Most of these converts are poor indigenous Maya.[14]

This movement is led by Eduardo Aguirre-Oestmann, a former priest of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Guatemala. In 2003, Aguirre formed ICERGUA as a charismatic independent catholic church.[15] In 2006, Cardinal Rodolfo Quezada Toruño, archbishop of the Archdiocese of Guatemala, excommunicated Aguirre and adherents of his group.[16] They were excommunicated for schism, and Aguirre also for distancing himself "from the communion and the norms of his priesthood" by founding the Comunión Ecuménica Santa María del Nuevo Éxodo in 2003.[17] In 2007, Aguirre was consecrated as bishop of ICERGUA by a bishop of the Brazilian Catholic Apostolic Church at the parish church in San Juan Comalapa.[18] ICERGUA was a member of the Worldwide Communion of Catholic Apostolic Churches.[19]

When ICERGUA was received into Syriac Orthodoxy in 2013, it became the "Central American Archdiocese of the Syrian Orthodox Catholic Apostolic Church of Antioch" (Arquidiócesis de Centro América de la Iglesia Católica Apostólica Siro-Ortodoxa de Antioquía, ICASOAC). As of 2015, ICASOAC has not published membership figures but includes a 2009 estimate of ICERGUA membership on its website, which gives figures between 50,000 and 350,000.[20][c] The Syriac Orthodox Church has announced that membership may be as high as 800,000.[14][third-party source needed]


  1. ^ Girón carried a pistol at his waist and "was thought to be a violent priest," but his family members were assassinated and he was assigned a four-man sub-machinegun armed bodyguard by president Vinicio Cerezo.[4](pp65–66, 279–280)
  2. ^ Girón was the nominal president of the Society Of Clerks Secular Of Saint Basil when it was incorporated in Louisiana in 2008.[7][8]
  3. ^ ICERGUA claimed to have an estimated 50,000 members in 2004;[21] an estimated 120,000 members in 2005;[21] an estimated 175,000 members in 2006 with one parish in San Juan Comalapa, Guatemala, and an unspecified number of oratories (las otras son casas de oración) in the Sololá, Quiché, Totonicapán, and Huehuetenango departments of Guatemala.[22] an estimated 300,000 in 2008,[23] and an estimated 350,000 in 2009.[24]


  1. ^ a b "History of The Orthodox Church and Monastery in Guatemala". Hogar Rafael Ayau. Retrieved 12 April 2015. 
  2. ^ a b "Who we are". hogarafaelayau.org. Villa Nueva, GT: Hogar Rafael Ayau. Archived from the original on 2015-09-10. Retrieved 2015-10-06. 
  3. ^ "Guatemala". iglesiaortodoxa.org.mx (in Spanish). Jardines del Pedregal, MX: Iglesia Ortodoxa Antioquena. Arquidiócesis de México, Venezuela, Centroamérica y el Caribe. Archived from the original on 2015-09-11. Retrieved 2015-10-06. 
  4. ^ a b Ujpán, Ignacio Bizarro (2001). Sexton, James D., ed. Joseño: another Mayan voice speaks from Guatemala. Translated by James D. Sexton. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 9780826323545. 
  5. ^ a b Emling, Shelley (1991-09-20). "Priest-congressman works for Guatelala's poor". apnewsarchive.com. Guatemala City, GT. Associated Press. Archived from the original on 2015-10-03. Retrieved 2015-10-03. 
  6. ^ "March 2006 Guatemala, consecration of Bishop Fernando Castellanos, and visits to numerous parishes, congregations, Mayan ruins and aviaries". reu.org. 2006-11-28. Archived from the original on 2007-06-23. 
  7. ^ "The Society Of Clerks Secular Of Saint Basil". louisianacorporates.com. Archived from the original on 2015-10-04. Retrieved 2015-10-04.   This tertiary source reuses information from other sources but does not name them.
  8. ^ "The society of clerks secular of Saint Basil". sos.la.gov. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana Department of State. 2015-01-15. 36652332N. Archived from the original on 2015-10-05. Retrieved 2015-10-05. 
  9. ^ Maddex, John; Jackson, Peter (2013-09-13). "150,000 Converts in Guatemala!". ancientfaith.com (Podcast). Chesterton, IN: Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. Ancient Faith Ministries. Archived from the original on 2013-11-09. 
  10. ^ "Guatemala". goarchmexico.org. Naucalpan, MX: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Mexico. n.d. Archived from the original on 2014-05-07. 
  11. ^ Brandow, Jesse (2012-08-27). "Seminarian witnesses 'explosion' of Orthodox Christianity in Guatemala". svots.edu. Yonkers, NY: Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. Archived from the original on 2012-08-29. 
  12. ^ a b Kuruvilla, Carol (2015-04-15). "The Greek Orthodox Church in Latin America is not very Greek". huffingtonpost.com. New York. Archived from the original on 2015-04-21. 
  13. ^ a b "F.A.Q". mayanorthodoxy.com. Jesse Brandow. Archived from the original on 2015-10-06. Retrieved 2015-10-06. 
  14. ^ a b "Syriac Orthodox Church receives as many as 800,000 new converts in Central America". scooch.org. Standing Conference of Oriental Orthodox Churches in America. 2013-05-06. Archived from the original on 2013-06-18. 
  15. ^ Thorsen, Jakob Egeris (2015). Charismatic practice and Catholic parish life: the incipient pentecostalization of the church in Guatemala and Latin America. Global Pentecostal and Charismatic studies. 17. Boston: Brill. p. 32. ISBN 9789004291652. 
  16. ^ "Sacerdote que fundó secta en Guatemala quedó excomulgado". aciprensa.com (in Spanish). Lima, PE: ACI Prensa. 2006-10-18. Archived from the original on 2015-10-01. Retrieved 2015-10-01. 
  17. ^ Peters, Edward (2014-12-03). "Excommunication blotter". canonlaw.info. Edward Peters. Archived from the original on 2015-09-22. 
  18. ^ "Ordenacion Episcopal". icergua.org (in Spanish). Archived from the original on 2008-10-07. 
  19. ^ "CICAM/WCCAC". icergua.org (in Spanish). Archived from the original on 2010-09-20. 
  20. ^ "Estadisticas actuales". icergua.org (in Spanish). June 2009. Archived from the original on 2015-10-09. Retrieved 2015-10-07. 
  21. ^ a b "Asamblea Nacional 2005". icergua.org (in Spanish). November 2005. Archived from the original on 2008-10-07. 
  22. ^ Catalán Deus, José (2006-10-20). "Un sacerdote excomulgado en Guatemala por crear una rama cismática que afirma contar con 175.000 miembros". periodistadigital.com (blog) (in Spanish). Madrid, ES: Periodista Digital. Archived from the original on 2007-11-17. Retrieved 2015-10-01. 
  23. ^ "Estadisticas actuales". icergua.org (in Spanish). June 2008. Archived from the original on 2008-10-07. Retrieved 2015-10-07. 
  24. ^ "Estadisticas actuales". icergua.org (in Spanish). June 2009. Archived from the original on 2010-09-20. Retrieved 2015-10-07. 

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