Rod Dreher: What’s So Appealing About Orthodoxy?

Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher

Source: Washington Post

I came to Orthodoxy in 2006, a broken man. I had been a devoutly observant and convinced Roman Catholic for years, but had my faith shattered in large part by what I had learned as a reporter covering the sex abuse scandal. It had been my assumption that my theological convictions would protect the core of my faith through any trial, but the knowledge I struggled with wore down my ability to believe in the ecclesial truth claims of the Roman church (I wrote in detail about that drama here). For my wife and me, Protestantism was not an option, given what we knew about church history, and given our convictions about sacramental theology. That left Orthodoxy as the only safe harbor from the tempest that threatened to capsize our Christianity.

In truth, I had longed for Orthodoxy for some time, for the same reasons I, as a young man, found my way into the Catholic Church. It seemed to me a rock of stability in a turbulent sea of relativism and modernism overtaking Western Christianity. And while the Roman church threw out so much of its artistic and liturgical heritage in the violence of the Second Vatican Council, the Orthodox still held on to theirs. Several years before we entered Orthodoxy, my wife and I visited Orthodox friends at their Maryland parish. As morally and liturgically conservative Catholics, we were moved and even envious over what we saw there. We had to leave early to scoot up the road to the nearest Seventies moderne Catholic parish to meet our Sunday obligation. The contrast between the desultory liturgical proceedings at Our Lady of Pizza Hut and what we had walked out of in the Orthodox parish down the road literally reduced us to tears. But ugliness, even a sense of spiritual desolation, does not obviate truth, and we knew we had to stand with truth – and therefore with Rome – despite it all.


Read the entire article on the Washington Post website.


  1. Geo Michalopulos says

    Rod certainly has a way with words. Excellent summation of what is right about Orthodoxy. But let us not be fooled: the progressive tendency is a very real threat, and once it insinuates itself as an “option to orthodoxy” within the Church, then we’ll be right where the Catholics are. The RCC did not get this way overnight. What they are struggling with is the “tyranny of tolerance,” where you are allowed to believe in Orthodox theology, you are even allowed to live it, but you are not allowed to expect it of the Church. It (“optional orthodoxy”) is in fact, the basis of the reason for the recent coup attempt against +Jonah.

  2. Rod Dreher says

    Thanks George. The Post asked me yesterday morning if I’d be interested in writing an essay about why Orthodoxy is appealing to converts, and I said yes. I turned that one around in one hour, so I necessarily had to elide over some things. I largely agree with your assessment of the Jonah situation, though I take seriously, or try to, the complaints from the other side that His Beatitude has made some fairly serious administrative and political mistakes. I think he can probably correct that sort of thing, and expect that he will. I saw that my friends at OCATruth made reference to Neuhaus’s Law, which holds that whenever orthodoxy is considered optional, it will eventually be proscribed. I think that’s true in our case, though we Orthos are so much better off than the Catholics in this regard. There seems to me to be something about Orthodoxy — and I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I recognize it — that makes it harder for the bishops to screw it up. Then again, we mustn’t downplay the fact that we live in a time and place in which culture is extraordinarily fluid, and if the laity don’t understand these things, and how important it is to defend orthodoxy within Orthodoxy — and how quickly we can lose what we have — then what gives Orthodoxy its particular strength can be lost in a generation.

    I would have written that had it been on topic. Maybe I can write that in an essay somewhere else.

    • Geo Michalopulos says

      Rod, on my own blog, I catalogued some of HB’s missteps. Still, the viterperation of the charges levelled by the Brownshirts over at OCANews against him make me wonder about the their sanity.

    • Eliot Ryan says


      There seems to me to be something about Orthodoxy — and I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I recognize it — that makes it harder for the bishops to screw it up.

      The Church is governed by the Holy Spirit through Councils of Bishops. The mere survival of the Orthodox Church is proof that it is governed not by individuals with their opinions, but by the Holy Spirit. The Communist regimes, with an unparalleled effort of will and of brute force, attempted to ‘unroot’ us from our faith and trust in Christ; they tried to remove Christ from people’s hearts and minds. Since brute force failed, the only option left is false diplomacy.

      • Eliot Ryan says

        The Orthodox Church continued its survival because of the miracle of the Holy Fire.

        The Holy Fire is the most renowned miracle in the world of Eastern Orthodoxy. It has taken place at the same time, in the same manner, in the same place every single year for centuries. No other miracle is known to occur so regularly and so steadily over time. No other miracle is known to occur so regularly and so steadily over time. It happens in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the holiest place on earth[2], where Christ was crucified, entombed, and where He finally rose from the dead.
        One can ask the question of why the miracle of the Holy Fire is almost unknown in Western Europe. In Protestant areas it may, to a certain extent, be explained by the fact that there is no real tradition of miracles; people don’t really know in which box to place the miracles, and they rarely feature in newspapers. But in the Catholic tradition there is vast interest in miracles. Thus, why is it not more well known? For this only one explanation suffices: Church politics. Only the Orthodox Churches attend the ceremony which is centered on the miracle. It only occurs on the Orthodox date of Easter and without the presence of any Catholic authorities.

    • Rod,

      The “Our Lady of Pizza Hut” comment is pretty low if you ask me especially during Lent. Do you really need to bash Catholics like that? It is certainly deserving of an apology if you ask me. How would you feel if I made fun of St. Seraphim’s in Dallas or Holy Cross in Baltimore like that? It would not be that hard to do.

      Do you really to bash Catholics to define your Orthodoxy? Is this the face you want to show the many readers of the Washington Post? Our Lady of Pizza Hut? Come on……

      • Geo Michalopulos says

        Andrew, if I may come to Rod’s defense for a minute. His love for the Roman Church is apparant. So is mine. Both my sons attended Catholic schools and my wife and I have attended dozens of masses over the years and know many Catholics. They are among the finest people I’ve met and I wish that we had just five bishops in America who are as stalwart as the American RC ones on the issues that matter. Believe me, if it wasn’t for the local diocese where I live our annual March for Life would be a non-starter.

        That being said, Rod’s characterization of many of their places of worship is spot on. In fact, I’ve heard more than a few Catholics despair over the appalling architecture that has descended like a pall on them. (And hundreds who have decried the liturgical changes.)

        • Rod Dreher says

          Andrew, it’s not “Catholic bashing” to point out that modern Catholic architecture, like modern Catholic hymnody, is atrocious and ugly. I wrote that many times when I was a Catholic (you can check this on the web), and it had something to do with moving me toward Orthodoxy — just as my first experience of the (Roman Catholic) cathedral at Chartres drew me in to Catholicism. Many of my Catholic friends agree with me on this; if you’ve never read a great polemic, written by a Catholic, called “Why Catholics Can’t Sing,” you should. Also, Michael Rose’s writings on church aesthetics are really inspiring. If I were to see an Orthodox church as ugly as Our Lady of Pizza Hut, I would denounce it too. Beauty is important. Besides, if a Catholic wanted to criticize something about Orthodox belief and practice, I wouldn’t consider it to be Orthodox bashing on its face. I mean, it might be Orthodox bashing, but only overly sensitive people consider all criticism to be “bashing.”

          • Eliot Ryan says

            Roughly two years ago this site was a place where the Orthodox were being constantly bashed, while the Catholics were praised. Now here comes Rod, a convert from Catholicism (Praise the Lord!), praising Orthodoxy, and some Orthodox simply can’t take it.

  3. Fr. Johannes Jacobse says

    George, tone it down a bit.

  4. Wonderful article Rod, thanks for bearing witness to the truth in the public square.

  5. Fantastic article, Rod! You expressed so much of my own journey so well. (In fact, the shock of recognition was indeed . . . shocking.)

    At the risk of wading into a tangential controversy, my experience of both Catholic architecture and liturgical “renewal” parallels your own. I attended Catholic elementary school in a facility that sought to faithfully replicate 17th Century Spanish Church architecture. It had a profound affect on me, giving me a visceral connection with the history of the Church. (It powerfully reinforced the claim of historical connectedness.) Since then, the 60s and 70s crowds largely produced insipid changes: sterile (if not repugnant) buildings and puerile liturgical changes. (Both seemed to be rooted in the “it’s all about us” “relevance-driven” nature of that generation’s desire to reshape the world in its own image. Even today, every time I pass by a church that advertises “casual worship,” I experience a moment of revulsion, of “they just don’t get it.” For while God does indeed want us to come to Him as we are, and our leisure should indeed be sanctified – as everything else – just one moment of experiencing the Presence of the Holy will reveal such notions as “casual worship” for the ego-accommodations they are.) Had the parishes embodied a living community of historical faith, these could probably have been endured, but – like you – that is not what I found. Likewise, for the dedication and dynamism that was indeed present, more than ten years of sojourning in Evangelical and Pentecostal circles led me to the same appreciation for the necessity of connecting with the rich, living history of the Church. Being introduced to that wide and incredibly deep history can explode one’s very (VERY) myopic (and again self-serving) view of faith. Thus I arrived at the same conclusion that you did. In the Orthodox Church, I found and find the living faith in its fullness. In retrospect then – and perhaps as a warning for us – the challenge for both the Catholic and Protestant traditions as I found them was the same: without the dynamic presence of a vibrant, historical faith – rooted in a demanding sacramental asceticism (which is the way that faith is lived) – there is little in ANYONE can do resist the current fads shaping how we live our lives, and our views of ourselves and the world.

    As I said – and think I just proved – you gave much better expression to my own journey than I can.
    Thank you.

  6. Thank goodness that the spirit of ugliness is finally being chased from the Roman Church (mainly due to the “biological solution” that conservative RCs mention). Consider the new chapel (well, the whole campus, really) of Thomas Aquinas College in California. Things are turning around.

    Mr. Dreher’s “Our Lady of Pizza Hut” reminds me of my friend’s name for the Austrian chapel in the National Basilica — “Our Lady of Deep Space 9.” My school’s chapel was horrible, as well, and some folks called it Our Lady of Taco Bell. Such comments do not indicate anti-Roman bigotry but rather humorous disgust at the aesthetemachy within the Roman Church since Vatican II. As people mentioned above, this disgust is felt primarily by Roman Catholics who want their temples and liturgies to be beautiful rather than appear as high school auditoriums and campfire singing.

    • Well said. The new chapel is indeed a welcome return. It seems that there is a widespread recognition that the functionality (if that is what it was) of the 60s and 70s was unpleasing on many levels. (Some would say soul-less.) You can see the return to traditional aesthetics in a wide range of recent architectural efforts from corporate headquarters to ball parks, as well. And, yes, even to Orthodox Churches. (And these images are just from the Pittsburgh area.) I suspect that the increase in both technology and wealth since the 70s has allowed people to re-create the beauty that they apparently also valued and which indeed plays an important (and increasingly recognized) role in the way we experience how we work, play or pray.

      • Fr. Johannes Jacobse says

        Chrys, ever read Tom Wolfe’s From Bauhuas to Our House? Great read about dehumanizing architecture.

  7. Fr. Johannes Jacobse says

    When I was a seminary (SVS) they were finishing the interior of the chapel. It’s not a bad chapel except for the chandelier that, without too much effort, looks like a wagon wheel with globes that you might see hanging in a Cracker Barrel. It was installed on the day Barbara Stanwyck, the star of TV western “The Big Valley,” died. The chandelier became known as the “Barbara Stanwyck Memorial Chandelier.”

  8. Rod Dreher says

    I had a short rant about ugly churches on my old Beliefnet blog. You have to go to it to see a photo of the church that looks like an ottoman mating with an armchair.

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