Well as of a few days ago I've decided I have to take a step back in regards to my inquiry into Orthodoxy, and wait until I've gotten a chance to think things over more. This is for a number of reasons.
Right now I'd probably just consider myself a "mere Christian", to quote Lewis. I believe the Church exists; I'm not a Protestant who believes only in Me+Bible. In terms of my ideal "churchmanship
" (as the Anglicans would say) I'd probably consider myself evangelical catholic
(in the Neuhaus sense) and mid-to-high. The most at home I've ever felt in a church service was on Christmas Day in Florence, Italy, at a high Anglican service (I have yet to be physically present at an Orthodox service, partly because several times I tried to go to one, I ended up having some sort of panic attack due to the novelty and was too frightened to enter).
Theologically I'm closer to the East, who I view as having been right on the filioque controversy and the essence-energies distinction, and I also think the RCC did a lot of bad stuff after the schism (the reformers had a point, although they
weren't really great people either, and of course I agree with the common view that they threw the baby out with the bathwater).
I'm open to the possibility that the EO or OO church (or both) is the
Church, but I just haven't been able to convince myself totally yet. The other day I thought of an interesting contrast between the RC and EO ecclesiologies. The RC are very centralized in terms of space
(since the pope has jurisdiction over everyone in the world while he is in office) but less so in terms of time (having a living breathing pope in charge of everything actually gives the church some flexibility in being able to adapt to changing circumstances; so the church today is heir to the past but not slave to it).
In contrast, at least some EO view the ecumenical councils in pope-like fashion, viewing them as having universal jurisdiction over the entire church throughout all of space and time. In one way this is actually even more centralizing than papalism is. It didn't occur to me before, but I first realized this the other day when I thought of the adage "the past is another country". I would agree with this view (change is inevitable, just like cultural differences between peoples in the same time period). If the past is another country, then the "high conciliarism" (my term) of these EOs is analogous to ultramontanism, except across time
rather than space. And therefore it isn't necessarily any better. I agree a lot with the concept of subsidiarity
or decentralism, both in the church and in other contexts, and I also think "decentralism across time" is good too. Another problem with high conciliarism is that it compromises the (also Orthodox) teaching that the local church is
the Church in its fullness, rather than merely a part of it, and all bishops are successors of St. Peter which means there really shouldn't be any offices above that of bishop. Fortunately the EO church hasn't dogmatically defined the high-conciliarist view of the councils. Still, the EO's themselves love to say "you are what you're in communion with", and I do have a problem with high conciliarism. Furthermore, I've realized it'd be hypocritical for me to discount the RC as an option due to ultramontanism, while turning a blind eye to analogous ideas within the EO.
The other thing I have a problem with is the tendency to view the councils as part of the essential structure of the Church, or even foundational to it, to the extent that I've even heard the phrase "the church of the seven councils" used. The ecumenical councils were actually emergency
measures called to deal with heresies that threatened to overtake the entire Church. Had the heresies not popped up, the councils would not have been necessary. It would be a bit like the United States defining itself by the wars it's won, or using said wars as a justification for martial law during peacetime; I wouldn't want to pledge allegiance to a country that did so. Again, though, not all EO believe this. But some do. Also, when you look at the Orthodox churches both in the US and abroad, many of them have a standing conciliar structure which to me seems like papalism-lite. Whenever I read the phrase, "Ukrainian Orthodox Church under
the Moscow Patriarchate", part of me wants to respond with, "well, no wonder there's been a schism!" I guess I'd prefer it if all dioceses were autocephalous, and if there were more bishops with each being responsible for only a few parishes. This might actually be the best way to solve the overlapping-jurisdictions problem in the USA, but I don't see it or any other solution to the problem happening soon, which is discouraging. It looks as though the status quo will persist.
Neither of these things is as big a problem with the OO (they aren't quite as council-centric). But the OO have their own obstacles including cultural strangeness, and being even more static than the EO in some ways. I used to think "never changing" was a good thing, but that was because of Asperger's rather than principle. Now that I realize this, I see there are bad things about being stuck in the past too (note that being stuck in the past is not the same as maintaining a link to the past; I'm fully in favor of the latter).
The other reason why I've decided to take a step back is because I've come to realize that my initial reasons for inquiring into Orthodoxy weren't necessarily the best ones. For starters, there was the whole escapism/exoticism angle. When I was younger I felt like I really didn't fit in (due to Asperger's) and I thought maybe this was because I was really a non-Westerner or non-American at heart. But I still wanted to be a Christian so I ended up looking at Orthodoxy. In this respect, I was a bit like the hippies from the '60s who looked into Buddhism and Hinduism; because it was exotic and countercultural. The thing is, that really isn't a good reason to convert to a religion.
Also, as I've grown older I've changed in my views. I used to hold some views that might be called quasi-reactionary (I was never a racist, and in fact I am physically repulsed by bigotry, but I did get some dislike for American culture, history, and capitalism after visiting Italy, and after that I tended toward the view that all cultures were better than America's because the latter was crass and materialist. This was also linked to a dislike of evangelical Protestantism I had back then. I now view evangelicals more charitably although I couldn't be one).
Since then I've been "mugged by reality", just like Irving Kristol was, and now I'm more of a Sam Eagle neocon. I guess I'm as much a "normie" as a person with a non-normal neurology can be. So nowadays, whenever I see that kind of anti-Americanism/anti-modernity/anti-Westernism (it's all the same to me regardless of whether it's coming from tankies or alt-right/rad-trad types), I'm rather repulsed, in part because I myself almost became that kind of person.
Because of this, I no longer have a desire to "de-assimilate" from American culture like I used to. Besides, I've come to realize that I really wouldn't adapt all that well to a different culture anyway. So If I did became Orthodox, it would have to be because I believe it is true, not because of escapism or wanting to "de-assimilate".
The third reason why I was looking into Orthodoxy is because I thought my parents might be more open to it than they would be to my becoming Catholic, given their Protestant background (my mom was raised Lutheran and the Lutherans have as much historical baggage vis-a-vis Rome as any Protestant can). I myself felt the same way they did, because there are the sordid aspects of the Vatican's history to deal with. I didn't want to be Protestant anymore but I did think that what the reformers were rebelling against was no better. But again, becoming Orthodox because Orthodoxy isn't Rome isn't a good reason either.
On top of all that, I'm not sure whether the Orthodox Church is ready for me
. One thing I've noticed is that Orthodoxy in the US seems to be rather clannish and secretive (probably due to the ethnocentrism thing; the convert-dominated parishes that do exist on the other hand are often fanatically separatist or rad-trad, which again is not my thing). It also doesn't seem to have a lot of resources for people with disabilities. I've e-mailed a lot of parishes in my area, both EO and OO, and several times I've asked if there were any parishioners who can give me a ride, since I can't drive. Half the time they haven't responded to my e-mails. I'm not saying there should be a canon requiring priests to answer every e-mail they get, but sometimes I just get the feeling that the Orthodox Church is a tent that's not big enough to accomodate me. I'm not sure if it's because they don't have experience with dealing with people with special needs, or what. Say what you will about evangelicals, at least they will go out of their way to bring as many people as possible to church, including busing people in if they can't drive. That at least is one thing I admire about evangelicals; Catholics are like this too, albeit to a lesser extent. The Orthodox don't seem to actively seek people out, instead they just wait people to show up and the door, and then
half the time the door seems to be shut if they don't like the look of the person! People with disabilities don't like having doors closed on them, but it's something that happens to us a lot ("all my life has been a series of doors in my face"), and I would hope the Church of all places would we different.
I guess I'm feeling a bit "spiritually homeless" myself now. I'm want to follow Christ but am not sure where he wants me to go. Maybe sometime in the future there'll be some big breakthrough, like the EO and OO reestablishing communion, or decentralizing reforms in the structure of either or both, combined with some more flexibility and pragmatism on a local level to make the church friendlier and more inclusive, especially towards people like me. (I'm not saying I want an Orthodox Vatican II; Vatican II forced a centrally planned reform
on everyone, whereas I'd prefer more autonomy for local churches in liturgy, finances, evangelism strategies, etc, and less centralization). If there was a mass influx of converts from evangelical or mainline churches, that might help too since I wouldn't stick out like a sore thumb among them and I could fit in with the church culture better.
But at the moment, all I can say is I don't know. I just don't know. So I'm going to step back for now and focus on living my daily life for a while. I'm about to turn 27 but I still feel like a kid in some ways. I haven't fully mastered adulting yet. That's something I need to work on.
Sorry about the long post. I just needed to get this stuff off my chest.