Dear Thaddeus P.
Perhaps I can be of assistance in understanding the Orthodox stance on Freemasonry. I am not a Mason, but my brother is, as was my father, several uncles and great uncles and both my grandfathers (Scottish Rite). I'll grant you that in may areas Masonry seems like a great Christian friendly civic organization…and to an extent it is…in certain places. My elder relatives joined it at a time when the lodge was a good connection to have in hard times. They looked after their own, helped members find jobs, gave assistance in time of trouble, helped with educating the kids, many good things. Indeed where I grew up its reputation was so positive that most of the deacons of the Southern Baptist Church I grew up in were numbered among the Masons. I did have one uncle who moved up North though, and the Baptists up there felt very differently, they would not let him become a member unless he left the Masons. They had no dealings with secret societies and did not believe them compatible with the Christian faith as they understood it. At the time I had no desire to join the Masons, but had no animas against them either. It made me curious, and over the next few years I snooped around to find out what I could.
During this time I encountered two things that gave me particular pause. The first was some of the oaths Masons make as they are initiated at various stages of the way…a few of them included things clearly of a sort no Christian should ever bind himself to, things like if he should betray the secrets of the organization his tongue should be cut out, then be murdered in some gruesome fashion on a river bank… ick. In fact the first political party in the US was organized as an anti freemasonry party, and one of the inciting incidents in its formation was some group of Masons taking that oath very seriously and actually murdering a former loose lipped member in that matter. Granted that was one of few and last time such a deed was heard of…but still it is indicative that at least once not too far in our past, such dreadful oaths were taken seriously. How could once make an oath to God subjecting yourself to be mutilated and murdered or binding yourself to murder and mutilate another who had proven unfaithful…that is not an oath worthy of Christ who gave Himself for us while we were faithless, and who ever condescends to us though we remain inconstant and forgetful. If, however, these oaths, are just seen as a bit of gruesome fun, it is no less a thing inconsistent with the Christian teaching to be sober minded, one's yea being yea and one's nay, nay. If we vow things to God things we don't really mean, how is that good, especially if those vows are not lawful?
The second thing I encountered was at a friend's house who had been at one time an active Mason. He had a book of the Scottish Rite on his bookshelf and one time while over there I picked it up and began to thumb through it, spot reading here and there. At one point my eye fell on a paragraph discussing mystic powers and it quite explicitly equated those powers and the powers shown by Christ with magic. That surprised me.
Still, questionable things aside, every Mason I knew was a decent and honorable man, many devout Christians of one stripe or another.
Some years later a third thing happened. I joined the Navy and traveled to Rhode Island for my training command while there…at a hotel I think, I came across some Masonic literature, a lodge news magazine of sorts..perhaps a regional one. Anyway I began to read it and found myself more and more repelled by what I found. I don't quite know how to describe it…but it was like Masonry that had few if any remnant cultural ties to Christianity, that its various rites and ceremonies had supplanted those things in the lives of it members. It was like it was it's own religion separate from other belief systems by in large…or viewed itself as superior to them in some way. It was nothing like the Masonry I grew up with down South. The Masons I knew would not have recognized the Masonry I had encountered in that publication.
As I read more from Masonry's critics I learned that it has a chameleon aspect. Where a culture has strong religious character, it morphs to fit into that culture, keeping its rites and ceremonies yet interpreting and experiencing them (for most) in the context of that culture…but where faith was weaker, its particulars expressed themselves more strongly and without dissimulation.
Since then I've become Orthodox (and am becoming)…and it makes some pretty exclusive truth claims…claims that cannot be superseded by any others' no matter how much civic good they may do in different places. Though we rejoice in good will and mercy whoever communicates these things, we no admit that these other conventicles, and communions participate in the fullness of what Christ delivered once and for all unto the Saints. In Christ is the fulness of grace and Truth, and St. Paul said of the Church, His Body, that it is the pillar/foundation/bulwark of the Truth. We cannot serve two masters, we cannot make exclusive oaths to Christ such as we make at our Baptisms and Chrismations and keep oaths to other institutions elsewhere that set themselves higher than the bonds of the Spirit in Christ.
Consider the Masonic oaths to look after lodge brothers and their families. In itself this is not a bad thing, but look at how those oaths are structured…they place loyalty to the lodge and its brothers above any obligation outside the lodge. If one man had claim in Christ on a Masonic member and another nonChristian…or even Christian Mason having an unjust position made a similar and exclusive claim, the Mason in the middle is honor bound by his Masonic oaths to prefer his Masonic brother over his Christian brother even if the Masonic brother's cause is less just…even antithetical to the Christian faith. Now, granted people are not machines, and things may not always work that way in practice, but it is part of what it means to be a Mason, exercised or not.
For now, while you are inquiring, learning, it may not be much of an obstacle…talk to a priest. But if you desire at some point to enter the Orthodox faith, then you will be require to make exclusive oaths of allegiance to Christ that supersede and nullify those of the lodge. It is not to worry though, the service of Christ is better, and nothing precludes you from doing good to or for anyone that is in your hand to do, either singly or with others. You will have to make a choice though. That choice however need not be rancorous. The Lodge is not the Temple, nor can it be…but I think, perhaps for certain ones it may point to the temple. If you had a good Lodge, with good people, they can be remembered with thanks, the good you received likewise can be remembered with thanks, but it's not a place you can stay and become an Orthodox Christian, for all the good you may find, there is still too much incompatible and inconsistent with the Orthodox Christian faith.
And you may rest assured whatever you lay aside that is in part will in time be met with a fullness that you never dream existed. Just read the lives of holy souls like St. Seraphim of Sarov, Mother Gavriella, Elder Paisius, Elder Cleopas, Elder Paisios, Elder Porphyrios….they will make your heart leap and sorrow at the same time…leap for in them grace was abundantly poured out upon the earth in our own era and times…that such lives could exist outside the pages of the Bible is wonder…and a proof of Orthodoxy if you will have it (seed reproduces in kind). It is also a sorrow for in the light of their sacrifice and accomplishment we see how far we really have to go before we even set our feet to the foothills of holiness.
I once had a correspondence with a Pagan woman who was friendly, but not convinced about Christ or any of that. I recommended her the story of Elder Porphyrios, and the next time I talked with her, she was convinced by him to follow Christ….and having read his life I can surely believe it…some stories too incredible to be believed except that many of their witnesses still live. There are wonders, Thaddeus, wonders to behold…but the path there travels through hard lands…the seekers will find, hard though the way may be.