Although I still attend the liturgy and still intend to become Orthodox, I am rather cynical about Orthodoxy in some regards. Here is an overview of some stumbling blocks. Some of my objections and criticisms are theological in nature while others tend to concern attitudes more than dogmas or doctrines. If this reads too much like a rant, I’m sorry, but that’s because it is. All of it is based on personal experiences, observations and research.
1. For one thing, there is a serious lack of clarity on a number of theological issues as there seems to be no center of authority that serves as a litmus test for Orthodoxy. This would be fine were it not for the fact that certain patriarchs, bishops or communions tend to put forward their interpretations as authoritative.
2. To illustrate the above point, let me give the example of capital punishment, which is often said to be opposed by Orthodoxy, e.g. by the OCA (or just check the Orthodoxwiki entry). Yet there is no authoritative condemnation of capital punishment binding all Orthodox to reject it. Similar story with the issue of contraception, the statements from various communions having changed in recent decades yet not really having any binding authority. Not to mention the whole calendar issue.
3. Speaking of contraception and capital punishment, there is also the Orthodox attitude to divorce. I honestly think both Roman Catholic & Orthodox approaches to divorce are deficient and not mutually exclusive, but while I have no problem with permitting remarriage to the party not guilty of adultery, I can’t agree with any reasons other than adultery being valid grounds for divorce. How annulments are so much worse is rather beyond me. Rather, I'd say they’re more or less equally valid if imperfect approaches to dealing with divorce.
4. This leads me to the issue of ekonomia. I have noticed a tendency of some to rationalize their conforming to worldly standards on issues like premarital sex in the name of ekonomia, saying the Church is like a Mother giving advice and not a set of absolute laws (which of course supposedly is what the West is all about, and God forbid Orthodoxy sound too much like Roman Catholicism or Protestantism, even if some Western approaches were never truly considered grounds for schism in the first millennium). No matter how much mystical mumbo jumbo some come up with to make excuses for sin sound intelligent, spiritual and sophisticated, it's still hogwash. Let me explain why I think it is in the following point.
5. Let’s talk about The Law. What exactly is so abominable about the Law that many Orthodox need to dismiss it with such ferocity? Is it just a knee-jerk reaction to Evangelicals who adopt Judaic elements or is something amiss in Orthodox theology on this point? Now, I agree we are not bound by the Law, but if the ceremonial laws can serve as an inspiration to or source of the Liturgy, who are we to brush aside the moral laws found in the Law in the name of ekonomia, with some saying it’s barbaric, and no better than Sharia law? Why contrast Christ with the God of Moses? If Christ is God, are you saying Christ is opposed to Himself? Christ fulfilled the Law but the Law was never essentially wrong. Certainly, the underlying fundamentals of the Law apply even to this day and we live by God’s natural law through the Holy Spirit. Nobody would argue bestiality is now permissible just because we’re no longer under the Law that condemned it. To put Christ in opposition to the God of the OT is to deny God’s unchangeable nature and the Trinity.
6. Related to the above issue is the issue of capital punishment I mentioned earlier. Throughout Christian history, capital punishment has generally been regarded as a permissible practice by civil authorities. Those Orthodox who today claim Orthodoxy is absolutely opposed to capital punishment seem to reject a valid tradition within Christianity, and I have reason to believe antinomianism must have something to do with it. Basically I believe opposition to or support for capital punishment should not be dogmatized as it is by no means a matter of salvation. In a similar fashion, I must say I am quite appalled by some Orthodox’ support for vegetarianism for whom fasting rules become more important than the revelation to St. Peter that the dietary laws are no longer applicable. Likewise the “environmental theology” of the Green Patriarch. When did nuclear power plants become sinful? These are merely human opinions that don’t matter to our salvation. It’s certainly not wrong to look at the environment from a Christian perspective but there is a thin line between this sort of “theology” and activism. Where is the Gospel in all this?
7. “We’re not out to win souls”. That’s what my priest said. He's also not too sure whether homosexuality is a sin, but that's another matter. I sure don’t approve of certain types of aggressive evangelization campaigns either (mostly because of the blatant heresies they spread), but seriously, when did Christianity become a non-proselytizing religion? Is it a knee-jerk reaction to Pentecostalism, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses or not wanting to be equated to zealous proselytizing Muslims? It seems that much of Orthodoxy has become very insular when it would never have existed were it not for the preaching of the Apostles and Martyrs in the first place – all of them fine “winners of souls”, or as Christ would say, “fishers of men”. How about giving up on whining about Islam all the time and go out to evangelize them instead of indulging in self-pity and continuously evoking national grievances and grudges? None of us approve of Kosovo independence but for the love of God let's also not forget Christ’s command to love our enemies.
8. Related to this is the issue of interdenominational and interreligious dialog or “ecumenism”. Now, some forms of ecumenism, dialog and “diplomatic relations” are undoubtedly good (I long for Catholic-Orthodox reconciliation as long as it's done properly) and well-intentioned but it seems it often goes at the expense of “winning souls” for Christ. I've witnessed this among many Orthodox Christians. Their relativistic mindset reminds me of Buddhists who care more about their own spiritual development by seeking inner enlightenment and vain utopias of world peace and harmonious relations between religions (which sounds more like setting up the stage for the Antichrist to me) rather than seeking God’s Kingdom (which is not of this earth, as I recall). Maybe these activists need to be reminded of Luke 12: 51-53.
9. It is also very unclear what the status of Christians is outside of the Orthodox Church. It’s religiously incorrect for Catholics to become Orthodox or vice-versa, for instance, because it implies one is “better” than the other. Except when Orthodoxy is seen as just another equally valid type of Christianity which happens to have a superior “spirituality” and therefore merit “converts”. Yet others won’t admit former Catholics without them being baptized again into the Orthodox Church. And btw, I'm not Catholic, I'm merely using Catholicism as an example.
11. That said, I don’t quite like the word “spirituality”. Too many people seem attracted to Eastern Orthodoxy because they are fascinated by mystical practices and like to draw parallels between, say, meditation/mantras and the Jesus Prayer. This does not seem to be conversion of repentance of the heart but rather one out of appeal - it's different, it makes you stand out. Orthodoxy, it seems, has also turned itself into something of a caricature. As if modern Eastern Orthodoxy is not culturally biased. To distinguish itself from all-out evil, corrupting, heretical or otherwise misguided Western Christianity, even biblical concepts of a wrathful, angry and judging God are brushed aside. Laws, rules, commandments and punishment are somehow incompatible with a supposedly “Eastern” conception of a loving God. Sin cannot be a breaking of God’s law, it has to be a disease only. Christ’s substitutionary atonement is rejected on grounds of its supposed legalism and St. Augustine becomes an all-out heretic to some. Salvation is reduced to deification and, it seems, deification alone. I have noticed even “sin” being something of a dirty word. Yet people all too readily accept and promote speculative theological opinions like the toll houses of Fr. Seraphim Rose which may be interesting but are irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. People get lost in mysticism and “spirituality” at the expense of the fundamentals of the Faith. This is not necessarily a condemnation of Orthodox mysticism and theology as such (though at times I'm unsure of Hesychasm), but rather of people not getting their priorities straight.
12. Ecclesiology. If according to Eucharistic ecclesiology each bishop is Peter and every church in communion with that bishop is in that sense a catholic church in its own right, why does every church absolutely need to be connected to and obey a patriarch in addition to their local bishop? I know there are good reason for this but then I wonder why Constantinople is still first among equals in this day and age when nothing remains of Constantinople? And does the Moscow Patriarchate really have such a strong claim to authority in the Ukraine when it was arguably in Kiev that “Rus” and Russian Orthodoxy was born, rather than Moscow, which came later? Why Autocephaly for some and not for others? Maybe these superstructures really need some adjustment to suit the geographic realities of the 21st century. They were never divinely instituted to begin with and emerged for organizational/administrative/political reasons. Maybe inflated egos and insularity are to be blamed.
13. This brings me to a criticism of an attitude among some Orthodox to glorify and idolize “Holy Mother Russia” and brand it an exemplary Orthodox nation in contrast to the wicked, liberal, capitalist pigs in the West. Now I am by no means anti-Russian, and I agree the West is in a miserable state, but these propagandistic musings of an odd hybrid of Orthodox hubris and Soviet nostalgia are cartoonish and laughable. The more so when you consider all the societal ills Russia and most if not all “Orthodox” countries are plagued with, and the general lack of importance of religion to most inhabitants of these supposedly exemplary countries. These "Russia[n] Supremacists" make Orthodoxy look stupid and reduce it to a political tool and a mere national symbol rather than a living faith, which I still suppose it ought to be. This is no more ridiculous than, say, 21st century Spain or France being upheld as protectors and defenders of Roman Catholicism.
None of this is intended to dismiss Orthodoxy as I have had and no doubt will continue to have many good experiences. These are just some of the issues that really get under my skin. Some of these issues do make me have second thoughts on whether Orthodoxy really is that one holy catholic apostolic Church. Input is welcome, but if you do comment, please do so on each point separately.