The Bear thinks he ought to publish a brochure, like you find in your doctor's office. "So, You're Going to Die?" (stolen from The Simpsons.)
However, conversion from Catholicism to Orthodoxy is too big a topic for a brochure, or even for one of the Bear's articles. (Although if you want to be Orthodox, a long attention span helps.) So he is going to divide this up and try to give both a positive and a negative based on his own personal experience as a convert to Orthodoxy / revert to Catholicism.
At the outset, the Bear will say not a day goes by that he doesn't smack himself up the side of his fuzzy head and go (like the old V8 commercial) "I could still be Orthodox!" The Bear continues to admire Orthodoxy and does not mean to be overly critical, and certainly not to criticize Orthodox people, who are, after all, born that way for the most part.
However, the Bear believes most converts are not aware of the actual "convert experience" before they, like one of the Bear's goats, crawl under the fence for greener pastures. Grass - fence: you know the saying. So, in the typical irreverent Bearish style, these are some things you might wish to think about.
So, You Want to Convert to Orthodoxy?
The Barque of Peter careens around the waters of the bay, the sun catching thirty-foot high rooster tails in beautiful rainbows. At the helm, a grinning Pope Francis wears a cap like the Skipper from Gilligan's Island at a jaunty angle. Meanwhile, you're behind, in the wake, down to one ski, facing ramp after ramp, hanging on for dear life.
That's when you notice a stately vessel of ancient and ornate design. It rests serenely at anchor. Naturally, you're tempted to let go of the bar and swim for dear life.
Rest assured, Catholic, these feelings are natural. Orthodoxy has much to offer and may seem like the best of Catholicism without loopy churchmen and a 60's council that smells a bit like joss sticks, weed and hippie funk today. If Orthodoxy is afflicted with anything, it's Ancientism, not Modernism.
But is Orthodoxy really right for you?
Here are some things you might wish to consider in making this important personal choice.
Orthodoxy and Nationalism
|Patriarch and Putin|
What you think Orthodoxy is, Catholic friend, and what Orthodox think Orthodoxy is are two different things.
For example, the Russian Patriarch blesses ICBMs whose capability is to flash-incinerate you and your family in a million-plus degree fireball. Orthodoxy cannot be separated from ethnicity and/or nationalism. To bring it home in a way you can really understand, imagine the following.
Imagine Billy Graham as the head of the official "American Church." Americans all pretty much belong to this American Church because it's part of Americanism, but don't pay all that much attention to it in their lives. The U.S. Navy's aircraft carriers are named things like, "USS Jerry Falwell" and "USS Beth Moore." It is well known that during the McCarthy era, American Church pastors reported un-American sentiments to the authorities and some of your neighbors just never showed one morning. The Elder of the American Church (Billy Graham) toes the administration line, as do nearly all of the American Church pastors.
Now a Russian wants to join your American Church. You're like, "Well, okay, I guess, but you're Russian, so I don't really get it." The Russian convert will be unofficially expected to become a baseball fan and, if she sticks around, the secret of the perfect apple pie crust will be imparted.
The Russian may secretly think this American role-playing is a bit silly, but will go along to fit in. Every Independence Day, your local church will host "American Days" and sell apple pies, hotdogs and entertain immigrants with square dancing.
Is Americanism a religion? Yes. Maybe it's a great religion. Is it also an expression of ethnicity and/or nationalism? Yes. Should that make a difference to you? That depends on a lot of things, but it is something most converts don't even think about. Your Mileage May Vary. But, in general, most white bread Americans just aren't into being white bread Americans per se. It would seem weird, if not sinister.
Not so your Orthodox friends, Catholic, not so.
It is really not even correct to speak of "Orthodoxy." There is no "pure" test tube Orthodoxy that does not come in some nationalistic wrapper. Major cities have more than one bishop, one for each jurisdiction (Russian, different sort of Russian, Greek, Bulgarian, etc., which is a heresy all its own.)
While the liturgy may be the same, your experience of a Greek Orthodox church and a Russian Orthodox church (and also depending on what flavor of Russian) will be different. To give just one example, Greeks scandalize Russians by having organ music. Russians scandalize Greeks by - well, Bear doesn't know, but you can bet it's something.
There's an old joke that goes like this. A Russian was shipwrecked on a deserted island. Ten years later, he was rescued by an English ship. They noticed he had built two churches. Naturally, they asked him why two, and this is what he said, after spitting toward one of them:
"This is church I go to. That is church I don't."
The Antiochians are known as the most convert-friendly and make an effort to start missions and churches made up mostly of converts. They also do not have nuclear missiles. A Russian church might seem a bit more of an ethnic club and encourage more role-playing. The best advice is the most obvious. Try before you buy and give it time. (Just don't try to take communion, which is not permitted for non-Orthodox.)
Play your cards right, though, and you can learn to make the greatest cabbage rolls ever.
|Typical Orthodox Beard|
Is the Bear being funny? No. At least in the Russian Orthodox Churches, men will sprout facial hair. It is a known side effect. Orthodoxy is a virile, confident religion, and is the one instance where it is more likely that the husband is dragging the wife into conversion.
One of the problems with the Catholic Church today is the overall sense of feminization. We got women totally out of control, prancing around in who knows what quasi-liturgical vestments when they're not actually dancing or sidling up to the ambo to give "guest editorials" in lieu of the homily.
We have created a problem even St. Paul never had to worry about: "The Eucharistic Ministrix of Communion Cleavage Crisis."
Bear knows never again to mention any sort of head covering (which he thinks is a good idea for more than one reason). You know where St. Paul talks about women covering their heads? That's the one page normally sensible Red Death tore out of his Bible. She sent Bear to the ER for forty-two stiches the last and only time he brought it up. Catholic women get very upset about this. Tell her anything. Tell her her dress makes her butt look big. But never suggest so much as the skimpiest chapel cap or your lawfully wedded will come unglued.
You may see heads covered more in a Russian Orthodox Church where women wear the stylish pashmina, but there are some things most women just won't do.
If Orthodoxy causes an increase in testosterone in males, Catholicism is so estrogen-soaked that Catholic men develop man boobs. But say goodbye to unsightly man boobs forever the instant you trade damp-handed, mincing Father Dave and the Altarettes for bearded and unabashedly patriarchal Father Sergei with nine kids, who splits a cord of wood in the back yard every week because the parish council is too cheap to buy central heating for the one-room shack they provide him and his ten kids. (It was nine, but that was a while ago).
Orthodoxy does tries to keep its women in check. All the strict fasts and constant "fast food" cooking without ordinary ingredients like meat, cheese, butter, eggs, vegetables, grains, oil or water, weaken them into compliance. There are only so many things you can do with shellfish, which Orthodox classify as "rocks." Chasing their virile Orthodox husband's stair step "Russian octuplets" will also take a lot out of them, so protesting taboos associated with their periods of "impurity" just won't seem that important.
So, if you're a Catholic man who envies Orthodox manliness, convert, grow your beard and be a man among men. But there are no guarantees. Even Orthodoxy has its out-of-control women dancing around behind the iconostasis just to prove they can without getting struck by lightning. Such behavior is recognized as an aberration, at least, and overall culture is decidedly less feminine.