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Eastern Right

Since the Second World War, Roman Catholicism has had enormous influence on American intellectual conservatism. The postwar rebirth of conservatism had two sources: libertarianism—a reassertion of classical liberalism against statism—and cultural traditionalism. For Russell Kirk and other leading traditionalists of the era, the Roman Catholic church, with its soaring intellectual edifice and unitary vision of faith and reason, matter and spirit, was the natural conservator of Western civilization and the sure source of its renewal after the catastrophes of the 20th century.

The Catholic contribution to conservative intellectual life has been hard to overstate. It is impossible not to notice the steady stream of right-of-center intellectuals into the Roman church: Kirk himself, his libertarian sparring partner Frank Meyer, early National Review luminaries such as L. Brent Bozell Jr. and Willmoore Kendall, and many more. One does not—or should not, at least—convert to a religion for any reason other than one thinks it is true. But there is something about the intellectual culture of Catholicism that draws thoughtful conservatives, even amid an exodus of rank-and-file American Catholics from the church.

Prominent intellectual conversions have been notable among Evangelicals, many of whom find in the Roman church a more solid theological, philosophical, and historical grounding for their faith. As the Baylor University philosopher and former Evangelical Theological Society head Francis Beckwith told Christianity Today after his 2007 return to the Catholicism of his youth, “We have to understand that the Reformation only makes sense against the backdrop of a tradition that was already there.”

Much less well known is the small but growing group of American conservative intellectuals who embrace Christianity, but not in its Western forms—who are neither Catholic nor Protestant. There is a distinct set of conservative converts to Eastern Orthodoxy, which depending on your perspective either left, or was left by, Roman Catholicism in the Great Schism of 1054.

Since then, Western and Eastern Christianity developed separately, under very different social and cultural conditions. It is often wrongly assumed that Orthodoxy is little more than Catholicism without a pope, plus an ethnic gloss—typically Greek, Slavic, or Coptic. In fact, the differences with Catholicism are substantial and to a significant degree account for why these tradition-minded conservatives have found themselves looking past Rome to the churches of the ancient East, whose theology and liturgy centers on the thought and practice of Christianity’s first 500 years.

When I left Roman Catholicism for Orthodoxy in 2006, an intellectual Catholic friend said he couldn’t understand why I was leaving a church with such a profound tradition of intellectual inquiry—Scholasticism and its descendants, he meant—for one so bound up with mysticism. The comment was unfair, in that my friend didn’t understand that the Orthodox are not Pentecostals with incense and liturgy. Orthodoxy is about far more than religious experience; its theology is extraordinarily deep.

But his remark was accurate in that Orthodoxy is deeply skeptical of rationalism in religion. Orthodoxy always keeps before it the primacy of the mystical encounter with God, both through the sacraments and through the early church’s practice of hesychasm, or inward prayer.

University of South Carolina theologian James Cutsinger says that the point of all religion is “not only to experience God, but to be transformed into His likeness”—a process called theosis. For Cutsinger, a convert from Protestantism, the mystical theology of the Orthodox Church is far more important than Orthodoxy’s historical claims to be uniquely faithful to the apostolic tradition.


“Orthodoxy is alone among the Christian possibilities in offering its adherent the ancient treasures of a contemplative method, in the form of hesychasm,” Cutsinger has written. “Not that there aren’t Catholic and even Protestant mystics and sages, to say nothing of saints. That’s not in question. But which of them is able to tell the rest of us how to attain to his vision, let alone transformation? Where is there a step-by-step, practical guide to theosis outside the Christian East?”

Hugh O’Beirne, a corporate attorney in Princeton, NJ, was once an enthusiastic Catholic and fellow traveler of the conservative Opus Dei movement. He came to believe, though, that Latin Christianity is too bound up in legalism and philosophical speculation—a legacy of the Middle Ages. Though he remains an admirer of Catholicism, O’Beirne converted to Orthodoxy 12 years ago.

“Catholicism’s strong analytic ability overshadowed the primal religious experience,” O’Beirne says. “I think that’s a canard Protestants often level against Catholics, but there’s something to it.”

“I reject the idea that because you can talk about religious truths more exactingly that you have gained any more intellectual insight into them,” he continues. “Remember the mystical experience Aquinas had at the end of his life, which made him describe all that he had written as ‘straw’? After that, how can Catholics complain about our hesychastic approach?”

For most converts, Orthodoxy’s claim to be alone in its unbroken succession with the church of the Apostles—a claim also made by the Roman church—is a significant factor in conversion. Like Catholicism, Orthodoxy has an episcopal structure. Unlike Roman Catholicism, the Orthodox churches are not governed centrally, with power flowing downward from an ecclesial monarch (the Pope) at the center, but are run collegially, by bishops in council. The Orthodox view papal primacy as a Latin innovation driven by Frankish politics. As one Orthodox professor told me, “It’s not true that Catholicism is conservative. It is, in fact, the mother of all religious innovation, and has been for more than a millennium.”

Orthodoxy’s deep conservatism, for better or worse, has much to do with its ecclesiology. Little can change in Orthodoxy’s doctrinal teachings outside of an ecumenical council—a gathering of all the bishops of the church. Though there is some controversy among the Orthodox about when the last ecumenical council was, the last one everyone agrees on was in the year 787. Though some contemporary Orthodox theologians lament that Orthodoxy has no effective mechanism for updating doctrine, others see what innovation has done to Western Christianity—the chaos following the Second Vatican Council, for example, and the endless multiplicity of Protestant denominations—and count this procedural stasis as a blessing.

Baltimore writer Frederica Mathewes-Green, perhaps the best-known American convert, contends that Orthodoxy’s stability in this regard appeals to conservative Christians weary of doctrinal and liturgical tumult within their churches and traditions.

“The faith stays the same, generation to generation and from one continent to the next,” she says. “It’s kept by community memory, grassroots, rather than by a church leader or theological board. So someone who wanted to challenge it doesn’t have any place to start, nobody with whom to lodge a protest. I think this is a resource within Orthodoxy, a really central and indelible one, that helps it resist the winds of change.”

This is not to say that Orthodoxy exists in a bubble untouched by the cultures in which Orthodox Christians live. In fact, there is widespread agreement among believers that the worst problem Orthodoxy faces is phyletism—a heresy that makes the mission of the church perpetuating ethnic culture. This has a particularly troubling effect in the United States, blocking Orthodox unity and reducing parish life in some places to the tribe at prayer.

On a practical level, any conservative who believes he can escape the challenges of modern America by hiding in an Orthodox parish is deluded. All three major branches of Orthodoxy in America have suffered major leadership scandals in recent years. And while Orthodox theology does not face the radical revisionism that has swept over Western churches in the past decades, there are nevertheless personalities and forces within American Orthodoxy pushing for liberalization on the homosexual question. And in some parishes—including St. Nicholas OCA Cathedral in Washington, D.C.—they are winning victories.

Orthodoxy does, however, have certain advantages over both Protestantism and Catholicism. Men who convert often say that Orthodox worship and practice –especially the ascetic rigor—feels more masculine than the more emotional, consumer-driven atmosphere in the churches they left behind. “When I go to Russian churches, I see men; when I visit Protestant churches, I see a lot of men crying and holding each other,” says one convert. “And we don’t have Dunkin Donuts in the narthex.”

Although Orthodoxy lacks the administrative unity and strong teaching authority (Magisterium) of Catholicism, the theological and liturgical atmosphere in Orthodox parishes is usually far more traditional than in contemporary American Catholic parishes. Converts from Catholicism fed up with post-Vatican II liberalism frequently observe that Orthodoxy is what Catholicism once was.

When Frederica Mathewes-Green and her husband, now an Orthodox priest, realized that they could no longer remain in the fast-liberalizing Episcopal Church, they assumed Rome would be their new home. They were put off by the drab modern Catholic liturgy, which struck them as too irreverent. But there was more.

“We were also concerned that so much of American Catholicism, in practice, was theologically and socially liberal,” she says. “We were told that that was not important, the important thing was that the doctrine taught by Rome was correct. But it wasn’t enough for us. We could see that things every bit as strange as current Episcopalian doctrine was being promoted and taught all over American Catholicism. It did not look like a safer place for our kids to grow up.”

Though many vote Republican, nearly all the conservative intellectuals I spoke with for this essay express gratitude that Orthodoxy avoids the “Republican Party at prayer” feeling that pervades some Evangelical churches.

“Kirkean, Burkean conservatism finds its paradise in Orthodoxy,” says a professor who teaches at a Southern college. “It is non-ideological and traditionalist to its bones. It collects and preserves and quietly presents the organically grown wisdom of the past in a way that’s compelling and, literally, beautiful.”

Alfred Kentigern Siewers, a literature and environmental studies professor at a mid-Atlantic college, says the social teachings of the church fathers, as adapted by modern Russian Orthodox theologians, taught him to think of society “more as an extended household, and less as an impersonal economy, whether free market or socialist.”

“Orthodoxy taught me how Christian notions of human dignity are more central to being authentically human than impersonal notion of rights by themselves alone,” says Siewers. “I think Orthodoxy encourages an awareness of the importance of living tradition and community and the need for caution in embracing either free market or socialist economic models as social models.”

In part because Orthodox countries did not undergo the Enlightenment, the Orthodox way of thinking about social and political life is so far outside the Western experience that it can sometimes seem barely relevant to American challenges. On the other hand, Orthodoxy’s pre-modern traditionalism can be a rich new source of spiritual and cultural renewal.

Pope Benedict XVI, who has made generous and well-received overtures to Orthodox Church leaders, has said that the regeneration of Western civilization will depend on a “creative minority” of Catholics willing to live the Gospel in a post-Christian world. Whatever role Orthodox Christians in America have to play in this drama, it will certainly be as a minuscule minority. In worldwide Christianity, Orthodoxy is second only to Roman Catholicism in the number of adherents. But in the United States, a 2010 census conducted by U.S. Orthodox bishops found only 800,000 Orthodox believers in this country—roughly equivalent to the number of American Muslims or Jehovah’s Witnesses.

[1]Yet converts keep coming, and they bring with them a revivifying enthusiasm for the faith of Christian antiquity. One-third of Orthodox priests in the U.S. are converts—a number that skyrockets to 70 percent in the Antiochian Orthodox Church, a magnet for Evangelicals. In the Greek Orthodox Church, around one-third of parishioners are converts, while just over half the members of the Orthodox Church in America came through conversion. For traditionalist conservatives among that number, Orthodoxy provides an experience of worship and a way of seeing the world that resonates with their deepest intuitions, in a way they cannot find elsewhere in American Christianity.

“From the outside, Orthodoxy seems exotic,” an Orthodox academic convert tells me. “From the inside, it feels like home.”

Rod Dreher is a TAC senior editor. His blog is www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher. 

79 Comments (Open | Close)

79 Comments To "Eastern Right"

#1 Comment By Jim N. On June 6, 2012 @ 10:32 pm

Interesting piece, although, I think the bishops census of only 800,000 Eastern Orthodox adherents in the USA seems off by several million… And, more importantly, aside from the admittedly compelling, ancient beauty of its churches and liturgies, there can only be a tiny minority of Orthodox adherents or converts who experience or understand the church and its teachings at the level discussed in this piece. One wonders where the author and some of those commenting here are plugging into Orthodoxy. It cannot be solely from their experiences attending services or bible classess, can it?
Having grown up in a large Catholic enclave, and judging from what we constantly see going on in the headlines, on contraception, gays and gay marriage, abortion, sexuality in general, etc., I’ve always experienced the Orthodox church to be relatively liberal and non-doctrinaire, particularly when compared to Catholicism and many other US Christian denominations. I know Orthodoxy has largely conservative, unchanging views on all of these “values” issues, which do not substantively differ from those flowing from Catholic or Evangelical doctrine, but Orthodoxy does not seem to spend much energy on any of it, at least not here in the US. It has always felt more like “don’t ask, don’t tell”, its all good, do the best you can with your personal circumstances, God is with you just the same.
And, we’ll never see any Orthodox clergyman in the US refusing an Orthodox politician Communion because the politician commits to enforcing the laws of the land even if they may conflict with his personal views or the teachings of his church. We’re also not very likely to see any Orthodox clergyman suing the government…

#2 Comment By Greg On June 7, 2012 @ 12:00 am

This is a truly awful article. The reason to “become Orthodox” should be straightforward: belief in the God-man Jesus Christ and the desire to be joined to Him in mystical union through His Body, the Church. Conservatives, liberals, centrists are all human beings in need of Salvation – in that sense the Church is a spiritual hospital to which they are all invited for healing. In each case, I daresay, our political idols will be challenged, though none of us sinners are likely to fully abandon idol worship in this life.

Having said that, it’s particularly difficult to imagine how someone dedicated to the peculiar doctrines of American conservatism will find much to resonate with in Orthodoxy as it is so inimical to the classical liberal tradition. The absurdist union of free market ideology and scholasticism that one sees from time to time in RC libertarian convert circles is unlikely to be reproducible in a Tradition that holds so strictly to the teachings of the early Church Fathers.

I also have a hard time believing that those that identify with the Anglo-Catholic affectations of the old National Review/Kirk set are going to find much to like in Orthodoxy. Maybe they could find a home in a Western Rite parish, but that is such a minority within a minority within a minority position that one can’t properly call that anything other than a posture.

The swipe at the OCA Cathedral was particularly distasteful, by the way, especially given the author’s own personal dark history of conspiracy in the context of that community.

#3 Comment By Orthodox in Philadelphia On June 7, 2012 @ 11:45 am

Interesting article, though if it is an appeal to help non-Orthodox Americans become interested in Orthodoxy, I’m not sure of its effectiveness.

Having lived in all corners of this country and having worshipped at many different Orthodox parishes in many of our “jurisdictions,” there is such a wide variety of Orthodoxy in America: from the uber-“conservative,” mostly-convert, long-dress-wearing and all-female-head-covered parishes out west, to the attempting-to-be-normal-American-Christian Orthodox parishes in the southeast, to what is so prevalent here in the northeast — Orthodox parishes made up primarily of families who’ve been Orthodox for centuries, for whom it may be a cultural thing. Metropolitan Kallistos Ware appropriately calls this “Orthodox by inertia.”

And then the protestant “American” Christian who’s aware of Orthodoxy’s existence but who is not interested in pursuing the faith. I’ve known several folks like this who simply say that Orthodoxy is “too foreign,” and who prefer their American-style Christianity. They want churches with large Sunday school programs, with hundreds of children involved. They want child care, nice buildings in nice parts of the city. Most of our Orthodox parishes cannot and do not offer that.

Father Andrew Stephen Damick astutely points out that doctrine matters so much, but most American Christians aren’t interested in doctrine. They want a faith that makes them feel at home, welcome, and that offers good child care. For most, evaluating what the faith teaches (i.e., doctrine), is purely secondary, if it matters at all. Our era is the pietistic era, where doctrine simply isn’t a concern for most Christians.

Orthodoxy is always counter-cultural, and attempting to make it appeal to a conservative, “Republican” American crowd is ill-fated, even if it is a noble attempt. Even in Greece and Russia and Serbia and Romania, Orthodoxy is counter-cultural, though most Americans would not understand that.

Yes, true Christians searching for Christ will certainly eventually find Him in Orthodoxy, even if it is not in this life, but in the next. But Orthodoxy has always had its share of “intellectuals” who follow the faith. I don’t understand why this would be a new phenomenon.

#4 Comment By Greg On June 7, 2012 @ 1:54 pm

Here is the kind of conservatism the Orthodox world understands:


This may appeal to some TAC readers but for the Republican set drunk on war and greed, there will be little to no synergy or appeal.

#5 Comment By David On June 8, 2012 @ 9:35 am

Four years ago I resigned as the Rector of an Episcopal Church, left a decade long priesthood, renounced my orders, and along with the rest of my family became Eastern Orthodox. The particular jurisdiction that we became a part of was the Orthodox Church in America. I was sent by my Archbishop to an Orthodox Seminary in Pennsylvania for a year.

My family gave up a great deal so that we could become Orthodox, and we didn’t expect to be congratulated for that, but didn’t expect the cold reception that we got from many quarters either. We were ready to embrace Orthodoxy wholeheartedly, but never really felt like we were embraced back. The Sacraments that I had administered during my ten years of priestly ministry in the Episcopal Church were repeatedly characterized as being without any validity for the people I served. But, despite the arrogance, we found the OCA to be every bit as dysfunctional an institution, in it’s own way, as is the Episcopal Church. There seemed to be a disconnect between the sublime theology of the Church Fathers and our actual experience in the OCA. The reality we found in the OCA as an institution included an ethnocentric insularity and xenophobia among a great many ethnic Russians; anti-Semitism; a latent fundamentalism among a great many of the converts; shocking corruption and abuse of power in the hierarchy; and a good deal of hateful anti-Americanism among immigrant priests and monks, and even some American ones, that caused some members of my family to struggle with their faith in ways that they never had to do while we remained Anglican. That is perhaps the most pertinent reason that we decided to return to the Anglican Communion. But still it was a gut wrenching decision to make.

I was drawn to the Orthodox Faith because of it’s faithfulness to the ancient understandings of the Faith. My theology is very heavily informed by the theology of the Orthodox Church. I understand sin as bondage and sickness rather than as transgression. As a result, I have an Orthodox transformative understanding of salvation rather than a judicial one, meaning that the real object of salvation is God effecting an inner change in us. Again, the model of atonement I have is an Orthodox one of recapitulation, rather than appeasement. In other words, the need for the atonement was not to satisfy a need God had for punishment, but rather to recreate in us the image of God that we had lost, and to free us from the bondage of sin. I also share with the Orthodox church the focus on theosis – our participation in the divine life which changes us into the likeness of Christ. In that sense I see salvation not as a one time act, but as a growing relationship with God. I also am certain that the Orthodox church is right in their understanding of original sin, not as inherited guilt, but as our inheriting the consequences of living in a sinful world.

There is nothing keeping me from believing as I do and being Anglican. The Orthodox Church is however, at least as I have encountered it in the OCA, very defensive and aggressively anti-Western whenever talking about differences that exist between the two, no matter how small, no matter how long ago. I’m sorry but I’m simply not interested in nursing some old grudge about the Fourth Crusade, or about Eastern-Rite Roman Catholicism in the Ukraine. The Eastern Orthodox can be very enthusiastic grudge-holders.

I found that I needed to return to the Anglican Communion because I am culturally a Western Christian, and I see more clearly now than I did two years ago that the Western culture I was raised in is an inseparable part of who I am. It cannot be set aside without setting aside some things basic to who I am. Some might say, “What profit is there in saving your culture only to lose your soul?” However, I think that would be a false dichotomy. As I look around at the mostly eastern European congregations that are gathered in any Orthodox Church during the Divine Liturgy, I see that it is most often said at least partly in Slavonic, Greek or some other eastern language. It is obvious to me that, for those congregations, their ethnic identity and their being Christian are practically co-terminus. And perhaps that is not entirely a bad thing. The Christian Faith is fundamentally incarnational, and thus it naturally incarnates itself in a culture — be it Russian, or Greek, — or American, or British, or Chinese, or whatever.

I do not now belong to the Eastern Orthodox Church because I am not culturally Eastern, and I am unwilling and unable to live my life as a pretend Russian, or a pretend Greek. The faults of the Western Churches are the faults of Western culture. Eastern Orthodox Churches suffer from the faults of Eastern cultures. In the words of John Henry Newman, ”the Nation drags down its Church to its own level.”

Simply put, I was born and raised in the West so I am a Western Christian, I don’t think that I have any real option to be anything other than that. I have returned to trying to live out the ancient faith as best I can in the place in which I was raised and live. The Eastern Orthodox world, despite the things that it has to commend it, nevertheless has it’s own profound problems and I don’t think that running to it is the answer to what is wrong in the Western Church.

#6 Comment By Rev. Fr. Leonid Derek Schmidt On June 8, 2012 @ 12:35 pm


While I certainly don’t know everything about your experience at St Tikhon’s, I will admit that people were hesitant to accept you.

But it was not because of your American upbringing, or your previous time as an Episcopal priest. No, David, it was because you were Chrismated a week before seminary began.

Surely, this wasn’t your choice–it was under the direction of the late–and beloved–Archbishop Job.

Nevertheless, it seemed like the whole thing for you was a formality–I get Chrismated, I finish one year, then I’m ordained. But it was clear, when you looked like a deer in headlights during Clean Week, that your time in the Orthodox Church would not end well. What would Archbishop Job say now?

Whenever your name comes up, I can’t help but think of an elderly priest attached to my home parish in Philadelphia. Like you, he became disillusioned with the Episcopal Church. As he neared his retirement, he rediscovered the Orthodox Church, and began attending Vespers on Saturday evenings.

Shortly after he retired, he became Orthodox. He faithfully served his people in the Episcopal Church and was without blame in his ministry; yet he still thinks of himself when he hears the parable about those who come at the 11th hour.

He didn’t petition to be ordained; he didn’t feel he had the “right” to be recognized sacramentally. He began serving in the altar at the rector’s request. Think of it! A 70-year old man, serving in a role we usually think of as reserved for children and teenagers.

This, too, he did with love an enthusiasm, never hoping or asking for anything more. Yet our rector petitioned for him to be ordained, and when he was, he saw it as a precious gift from God, totally unexpected, totally undeserved.

His health does not permit him to serve as often as he would like. But every now and then, he will hear confessions, if asked, and if he is blessed by the rector to do so. In those confessions, I have personally experienced the grace that comes as a result of a lifetime of dedication to Christ.

Yes, he sometimes misses the Anglican hymns, and certain selections from the Book of Common Prayer. But he learned the few Slavonic hymns we sang, never once complaining that the parish was too ethnic–even though most people there are cradle Orthodox.

David, I have no desire to discredit you personally in a public forum. But you *publicly* criticized the Church, and used your experience at the seminary I love to do so.

I hope someday you will realize what an incredible gift you were given when you were ordained to the diaconate. I hope someday you realize that your limited experience of the Orthodox Church has just as much, in not more, to do with you, than it does with the Church.

Fr. Leonid

#7 Comment By Kevin Shaw On June 8, 2012 @ 3:01 pm

A well written article which has obviously motivated a number of good and bad comments.

Is it a coincidence that the commentators who write the most inflammatory and inaccurate comments almost always hide behind hidden names? For example, “ochtophobist”, “jackorlando” and “reflectephemeral”. Are you afraid to be accountable for your rants? Perhaps you recognize how absurd your arguments are and you don’t want to embarrass yourself? If you really mean what you say, then have the courage to stand up and be identified!

To @Kenneth Wolfe – I think you have the cart before the horse. There were 5 ancient patriarchs and for almost 1000 years they guided the one, universal (Catholic) church. There were no changes unless decided by the church councils or by the unanimous agreement of all 5 patriarchs. Just because Peter was the first Patriarch of Rome, this did not give the Roman Patriarchy predominance over the other 4. Peter also started the Patriarchy of Antioch – since it started before Rome, then why wasn’t the Patriarch of Antioch in a superior position? By most logic, when the vote is 4 against 1, and the 1 who lost decides to take his football and go home – it is NOT the other 4 which are the schismatics. The original church for 2,000 years was and is the Catholic church – Orthodoxy has not given up that name. However, the name “Roman” was tacked onto the Pope’s version of Catholicism to delineate it from the original Catholic church which still exists in Orthodoxy. These are the documented facts and no amount of ROMAN Catholic propaganda can change them. As we Orthodox correctly say, “the original heretics were the Romans and the Protestants are the heretics of the heretics.”

By the way, the Russian Orthodox Church is flourishing. A recent announcement was made that 250 new churches will be built to handle the demand – in just the Moscow region!!

#8 Comment By Chris On June 8, 2012 @ 4:45 pm

I certainly applaud anyone who is earnestly seeking the truth. That said, this article exposes basic problems with our very approach to faith. Simply stated, the truth of the Christian faith cannot be mapped against modernist political coordinates. It is entirely innapropriate to speak of political conservatism or liberalism as if they are psuedonym’s for orthodoxy and heterdoxy. This is because conservative liberalism (as with liberalism in general,)despite its putative adherence to tradition, arises from profoundly post-Christian concepts and truth claims. It is only conservative in as much as it is a more traditional variant of liberalism, which as it turns out, is far from traditionally Christian. For instance, the idea that private vice can equate to common good (i.e. the “Fable of the Bees”, and modernist free market theories) or the notion that religion is essentially a private affair etc. So for politically conservative Americans to select a Christian church because it seems to adhere best to their secular political perspectives puts the cart before the horse. This can be, in effect, little more than church shopping, which as I understand it, is common for Protestants. This is precisely why Catholicism’s claim to the Deposit of Faith matters: the things I should believe about God should start with God. Doctrinal orthodoxy will not be judged by the issues and outlooks of American politics. In effect, this means that all of us must be prepared to feel very far from home, as God’s reasons are not man’s reasons.

#9 Comment By John On June 8, 2012 @ 10:06 pm

@David why shouldn’t the Divine Liturgy be said in Greek? The original one was (and I don’t care to listen about translations. When anything is translated away from its original, the meaning is lost). I am sure you also knew that the lingua franca during the Roman Empire was Greek? Right. and since you are somewhat implying that the Orthodox sects are “national” driven. You probably don’t even know that the Name “Greek” Orthodox is not used to describe Orthodox Christian peoples of Greece and other Greek speaking people. Rather it is used to describe the Christians who originated from the Greek speaking early Christian Church, which also used Greek thought to find appropiate expressions of the Faith.

#10 Comment By Renverseur On June 9, 2012 @ 7:50 pm

The article failed to include one extremely practical advantage which the Eastern Church has over the Roman Church, which is that it allows the clergy working at the parish level to be married. Universal priestly celibacy is one of the heresies committed by the Roman Church which breaks with the original Christian tradition, and it is now paying the price in declining priestly vocations and an out-of-touch clergy.

#11 Comment By Louis On June 12, 2012 @ 5:07 pm

Does Mr. Dreher have an opinion of the book


This would seem a good place to move the discussion. Good Comments. I hope Orthodoxy becomes a regular feature in TAC.

#12 Comment By MartinR On June 15, 2012 @ 9:27 am

Dear sir, you wrote that “Greek, Slavic, or Coptic” make up the Orthodox church. I have been wondering lately whether this is correct. Roman Catholics, Orthodox churches and Protestants recognize that Jesus was both God and human. Many Eastern (or Oriental) churches, however, do not recognize this dogma. They either, such as the Nestorians, consider Jesus to be human but not divine, or, like the Copts or the Armenians, as divine but not human. Is it correct to refer to these Christian groups as Orthodox?

#13 Comment By Louis On June 15, 2012 @ 11:40 am

People in Russian may be flocking to Orthodox churches again, but as Russia’s population ages the Orthodox will begin to dissappear. The Orthodox and Catholics must quit bickering and embrace what each other lack.

#14 Comment By Fr. John W. Morris On June 15, 2012 @ 11:45 pm

My experience is nothing like David’s. I have been an Orthodox Church for over 32 years and do not feel unaccepted because I am not an Arab. It is true that different parishes have different characters. Some with more recent immigrants are more ethnic than others. However, the fact that about 70% of the clergy of the Antiochian Archdiocese are converts alone shows that we accept converts. If converts did not feel at home in the Antiochian Archdiocese, we would not have so many converts in our parishes and among our clergy. I attended a deanery meeting today. Not one of the priest was not a convert. My parish worships entirely in English, has non Lebanese on the Parish Council and if it has any ethnic flavor, it is Mississippi ethnicism.
I am sorry that David had a bad experience, but do not condemn a whole Church on the basis of the bad experience of one person. My experience is very different.

Fr. John W. Morris

#15 Comment By Aaron On June 22, 2012 @ 10:09 pm

Those that feel drawn to an Eastern Christian spirituality like the author references, but still believe in the Catholic Church , may want to consider attending a Byzantine Catholic parish.

#16 Comment By The Embryo Parson On June 26, 2012 @ 12:09 am

Interesting article, and even more interesting comments. Glad to see Mr. Dreher recognizes the burgeoning liberal-leftism manifesting itself in the Orthodox Church under the traditionalist veneer. I spent 13 years in the Orthodox Church and saw the very same thing. So does Orthodox priest Gregory Jensen (OCA), whose worries I discuss here:


I identify with David’s story above (June 8, 2012 at 9:35 am), though I found my Catholic home in Continuing Anglicanism and not the Anglican Communion. That Orthodox “phronema” just never took with me. Like David, I discovered that I was an incurable Westerner. Over time, therefore, I became disgusted with (among other things) Orthodoxy’s rabid and undying anti-Westernism, concluding that if this anti-Westernism was a major component of this “phronema”, the Orthodox could keep it.

A second “Amen”, therefore, to R. Jackson, who writes, “As to Americans going to Russian or other Orthodox churches, I would have thought that men deserving of the name would stay and fight for what is theirs. Not slink off to someone else’s church, except under the sort of conditions that led to so many Protestants coming to this country in the first place. Until such conditions obtain here the rubric should be ‘I’ll take my stand’ rather than ‘I’ll stand over there instead’.” Why be a Western Christian? Because, to springboard from something Bill Bennett said about Western culture in general, “it is good, and it is ours.”

#17 Comment By Greg On June 30, 2012 @ 4:02 pm

“Why be a Western Christian? Because, to springboard from something Bill Bennett said about Western culture in general, “it is good, and it is ours.””

Puzzling – the reason ought to be “because it is the fullness of truth.”

#18 Comment By The Embryo Parson On July 2, 2012 @ 2:01 am

“Puzzling – the reason ought to be ‘because it is the fullness of truth.’”

Subsumed under “good.”

#19 Comment By The Embryo Parson On July 2, 2012 @ 2:07 am

P.S., Orthodoxy isn’t the “fullness of truth.” It is simply Byzantine Christianity. We’re not Byzantines.

#20 Comment By nubiansistuh On July 22, 2012 @ 11:37 pm

Interesting Article! I am a coptic orthodox christian and proud ofcourse, I love my faith and the historic teachings that have contonued over thousands of years. We are the only church that havent changed anything and have stuck to our roots! Also i noticed people only referring to a few orthodox church, we are sisters to the ethiopian orthodox church, we always attend eachothers churches, as you move up out of africa you have syrian, armenian, serbian, greek, russian and theres even indian orthodox. im just saying theres lots of orthodox out there but people keep referring to russian or greek, how about the rest?? the coptic church i attend has alot of converts which are not coptic or ethiopian but out of our north and east african cultures and languages. they seem to love it and are so dedicated! anyway interesting article, hope you have attracted more orthodox converts out there 🙂

#21 Comment By cynthia curran On August 6, 2012 @ 8:13 pm

Closed to occupy Wall Street, if that’s the case then why was Byzantium a land aristocracy through out its history. Orthodox history is pre-industrical and the Occupy Wall Street crowd is pure-Anabapists who were the first communist. The Anabaptists hated the shop keepers of early modern Europe and the Land aristocracy. They did a communists experiment in the 16th century in Germany.

#22 Comment By Andy Holland On August 17, 2012 @ 11:06 am

I was Orthodox for 10 years and I experienced the same sort of thing David experienced. There is something wrong spiritually in the Orthodox Church; we went to Roman Catholicism, as much as we love the Eastern Liturgy and the people.

Jesus made His will known very pointedly, very explicitly in blood and sweat and prayer: “And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.”

and elsewhere:

“For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.”

The theology of this phrase, the theology that Christ is truly present in the Holy Eucharist, is the theology that unites the Eagles of Theology East and West. Look at the Icon of St. Catherine for example. The Lord said so and so it is to those who live it. It does not mean slavish belief in reductionism, or acceptance of St. Thomas Acquinas self admitted “straw”, but rather the truth of the real presence.

The will of Jesus is made explicitly known in the Holy Gospel of St. John, the beloved Evangelist and Theologian. It is made known in all the Gospels and is very simple, very direct and very approachable – and all the ancient Fathers proclaimed, ‘On this Rock I have built my Church.’ It doesn’t matter whether the Rock is faithful; Jesus called St. Peter Satan and St. Paul opposed St. Peter to his face and boasted about it; it matters that God, Jesus Christ, is faithful.

Truly desire what Jesus desired and work for it in prayer.


#23 Comment By Ryan Hunter On August 24, 2012 @ 1:13 am


I very much enjoy reading your thoughtful and often illuminating essays and postings. This one inspired much positive discussion between myself and fellow Orthodox and Eastern Catholic friends, so thank you for that. Raised Roman Catholic, I identify and agree with everything you wrote on that subject.

I wish to express my concern with regard to your one sentence comment alleging the acceptance or promotion of homosexual behavior/lifestyle at St Nicholas, the DC OCA primatial cathedral. This comment strikes me as completely unrelated to the rest of your piece. I attend St Nicholas regularly almost every Sunday and many Saturdays and have never seen you there, so I wonder off of what information do you base this sentence?

For full transparency, I am a rising senior at American University who has been attending St Nicholas for almost two years since fall 2010. In December my spiritual father Metropolitan Jonah received me by Chrismation at the Cathedral into the Orthodox Church. In all my time there I have never heard or witnessed anything which could be somehow construed as opposing or violating the Church’s ancient witness on human sexuality. Rather, time and again I heard priests as well as Metropolitan Jonah emphasize the importance of all people living in chastity outside marriage, and that the Church loves all people but cannot condone or validate homosexual lifestyles.

So, with respect, I would ask you either to provide a source for your sentence about St Nicholas, or prayerfully consider that such an unsubstantiated inference wrongfully harms and impugns the Cathedral’s credibility and the fidelity if its clergy to the Gospel teachings. It also gives the misleading impression that the Cathedral parish community might condone or support heterodox changes to Church teaching, and this is untrue.

I look forward to reading more of your articles. Prayerfully in Christ,


#24 Comment By Orthodox In America On November 4, 2012 @ 9:39 pm

Interesting article. I’d like to offer my experience for those who care to read my comments. Unlike some converts to Orthodoxy, I am a cradle Orthodox Christian who left the church during college because I faced head-on ethnicity that was difficult to stomach at that time in my life. I became an Episcopalian with my husband and vowed I would never return to the Orthodox Church. Twenty-five years later, we find ourselves back, attending an Orthodox Church on some Sundays and an Episcopal Church on some Sundays. And I wrestle with the ethnicity and bull-headed cultural aspects of the Orthodox Church. When I see the American flag being carried during the procession of the Episcopal Church service, it brings tears to my eyes.

However, now that I am older and, hopefully wiser, I have decided that it must be God’s will that all is as it is. Is it perhaps the stubborn ethnicity of Orthodoxy that has kept it preserved and untouched for thousands of years? If we did not have the “closed” environment in the Orthodox church, perhaps she would have been vulnerable to Roman or Protestant efforts to change her originality and trueness to Christianity long ago. And all would have been lost forever.

Either way, I have decided that Orthodoxy is the way it is because God wants it this way. And those of us who enter the doors of the Orthodox Church must bring with us a tremendous willingness to forgive and accept. And we must realize that the gifts we will receive are far greater than those things we must leave behind.

Orthodoxy is, in its purest form, the truest expression of the Christian faith. Many of us yearn for an Orthodox Church that is culturally American. But, this dream seems so far away and out of reach. Some days this makes me immensely sad. On other days, I am ok with it. I learn to accept. In the meantime, I will remain steadfast in my practice of saying the Prayer of the Heart without ceasing, I will dedicate myself to teaching my children how to cross themselves correctly and to say the name, “Jesus” whenever they feel fear. And I will pray every minute of every day for myself, my husband, my children and the world. And I will receive tears when I utter those words, “come and abide in me,” each night before I go to sleep.

#25 Comment By William Corey On November 19, 2012 @ 5:20 pm

Humans being just that, meaning, prone to sin, there really is a grain of truth in the various criticisims of the Orthodox Churches, including a pre-disposition towards an ethnic nationalism that looks backward. But, of course, these are generalizations and need to be recognized as such. And, as others have pointed out, this “pride of place ( national origin) isn’t necessarily bad, when done right. I was raised Irish Catholic, and the the ethnic aspect facilitated the community spirit and sense of belonging and family in a positive , Christian manner. But, I still recall the Polish and the French church in the same small town; all Roman Catholic, but apart in a way that was questionable. Like most things in life, it comes down to a matter of balance and open hearts, to “get it right”. A Christian faccepts a stranger into their home with open arms, and supports their neighbor with acceptance and understanding.

In respect to Western Orthodoxy, which I lean towards heartily these days, being a “minority within a minority”, so be it! A small seed is planted, and 2000 years ago, such was the case with early Christianity. I think the western Church before the schism and before the reformation, can be rediscovered. The history is still there to point the way towards a renewal that is actually a warm and rich journey back home. The orthodox Anglican and orthodox Celtic paths are valid, even if there have been disruptions and changes over the centuries. It may be a case of “old is new again”, but I’m convinced that looking back can be the best way to move forward even if the fellow travelers are few and far between. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but ‘little by little’ can produce remarkable results in time.

#26 Comment By Harry On July 15, 2013 @ 5:30 pm


I am also a convert to Orthodoxy. I left Rocr a year ago and some of it was my fault as well as ethnic issues you mentioned.

Please don’t give up on Orthodoxy. Throughout the churches history, there have been serious struggles with each new nation it goes to.

I would like to let you know that there are Western rite orthodox churches that are very close to Episcopalian in nature. Please look them up.

#27 Comment By Paul Stetsenko On September 26, 2013 @ 1:14 pm

Thank you for the article! I first found it on a Russian website, in a good translation.

I am a cradle Orthodox, but most of our parishioners are converts, and they know more about Orthodoxy than I do (shame on me).

It is true, I do find many of these converts to be politically conservative. Perhaps, seeking Orthodoxy, they were looking for a better version of Roman Catholicism, mainstream Protestantism, Anglo-Catholicism, Evangelicalism… But it is not what they have found. And gradually, if they stay with the Church, their political conservativism wanes away.

I also know quite a number of political liberals who became Orthodox; their political liberalism has also got gradually replaced with something else.

In both cases, what it is, I cannot even define – perhaps, I just don’t have a vocabulary to it.

The Americans are “bi-polar”, meaning they only have two poles, the political right, and the political left, and some think that the political center is the third option (which it isn’t, for it is still on the same line, from right to left and back). In terms of spiritual lives, the Americans only know the religious right and religious left. What Orthodoxy offers is not something in between but a radically different way of life. And it shows to its adherents that both “left” and “right” are dead wrong.

Just recently, I spotted a paradox: Liberal theology breeds political conservativism. Wisdom… let us attend.

#28 Comment By Dale On October 1, 2013 @ 11:36 pm

I very much enjoyed Fr. Leonid’s self-righteous rant. Gee…the only converts we like are the self-abasing, self-loathing kind who hate their own heritage to such an extent that their only hope is to be regulated to singing some hymns in Slavonic and forgetting and hating the heritage of their own ancestors. The lack of catholicity in Byzantium is simply mind numbing. it seems that Fr. David’s only real sin was his inability to become a pretend Russian. The only thing missing was to refer to all non-Byzantine traditions as “baggage’ (why do you people so hate a tradition as ancient as St Gregory the Great? Must be ethnic).Very sad.

One wonders how many Russians would stick around if they had to attend services in a foreign tradition, even if it was that joke of a western rite Orthodoxy?

#29 Comment By Zack Shenouda On November 16, 2017 @ 7:40 pm

“Dear sir, you wrote that “Greek, Slavic, or Coptic” make up the Orthodox church. I have been wondering lately whether this is correct. Roman Catholics, Orthodox churches and Protestants recognize that Jesus was both God and human. Many Eastern (or Oriental) churches, however, do not recognize this dogma. They either, such as the Nestorians, consider Jesus to be human but not divine, or, like the Copts or the Armenians, as divine but not human. Is it correct to refer to these Christian groups as Orthodox?”

This is false. Oriental Orthodox including Copts and Armenians have always believed that Christ is fully human and fully divine.

Below is what Dioscorus of Alexandria confessed in the minutes of Chalcedon 451

Dioscorus the most devout bishop of Alexandria said: ‘Clearly Flavian was deposed for this reason, that he spoke of two natures after the union. But I have quotations from the holy fathers Athanasius, Gregory and Cyril saying in numerous passages that one should not speak of two natures after the union but of one incarnate nature of the Word.

Dioscorus the most devout bishop of Alexan- dria said: ‘I accept “from two [natures]”; I do not accept “two”. I am com- pelled to speak brashly: my soul is at stake.’

It’s no different than Cyril of Alexandria

“For we are composed of body and soul and we perceive two natures; there is one nature of the body, and a different nature of the soul, and yet one man from both of them in terms of the union. This composition from two natures does not turn the one man into two, but as I have said there is one man by the composition of body and soul. If we deny that there is one single Christ from two different natures, being indivisible after the union, then the enemies of orthodoxy will ask: “If the entirety amounts to one nature then how was he incarnated or what kind of flesh did he make his own?”

” Given that we understand this, we do no harm to that concurrence into union when we say that it took place out of two natures. After the union has occurred, however, we do not divide the natures from one another, nor do we sever the one and indivisible into two sons, but we say that there is One Son, and as the holy Fathers have stated: One Incarnate Nature of The Word.”

‘In respect of the elements from which is the one and only Son and Lord Jesus Christ, as we accept them in thought, we say that two natures have been united, but after the union, when the division into two has now been removed, we believe that the nature of the Son is one’.

“This is why the two are no longer two, but through both of them the one living creature is rendered complete.”

Now in terms if the question of why Chalcedon was rejected by the Oriental Orthodox in 451? See details are here. It explains why Chalcedon was rejected. It’s rejection was not an embracement of monophysitism but a rejection of Theodore’s christology & the acceptance of documents that conflicted with what was accepted in Ephesus 431(12 chapters) [4]