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I've never had a male friend who would not have expended serious effort to avoid meeting someone who looked like that." Though drawn to Jesus Christ as a teen, "I felt ashamed of this attraction, as if it were something a red-blooded American boy shouldn't take that seriously, almost akin to playing with dolls." A priest writes: "Christ in Orthodoxy is a militant, Jesus takes Hell captive. (Males can relate to this.) In Holy Baptism we pray for the newly-enlisted warriors of Christ, male and female, that they may 'be kept ever warriors invincible.'" After several years in Orthodoxy, one man found a service of Christmas carols in a Protestant church "shocking, even appalling." Compared to the Orthodox hymns of Christ's Nativity, "'the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay' has almost nothing to do with the Eternal Logos entering inexorably, silently yet heroically, into the fabric of created reality." Continuity.
Many intellectually-inclined Orthodox converts began by reading Church history and the early Christian writers, and found it increasingly compelling.
The men who wrote me expressed hearty dislike for what they perceive as a soft Western Jesus.
"American Christianity in the last two hundred years has been feminized.
But most churches want us to behave like orderly gentlemen, keeping our hands and mouths nice and clean." One man said that worship at his Pentecostal church had been "largely an emotional experience. I am basically a do-er, I want to do things, and not talk about or emote my way through them!
As a business person I knew that nothing in business comes without effort, energy, and investment. " Another, who visited Catholic churches, says, "They were conventional, easy, and modern, when my wife and I were looking for something traditional, hard, and counter-cultural, something ancient and martial." A catechumen says that at his non-denominational church "worship was shallow, haphazard, cobbled together from whatever was most current; sometimes we'd stand, sometimes we'd sit, without much rhyme or reason to it.
Their responses, below, may spark some ideas for leaders in other churches, who are looking for ways to keep guys in the church. The term most commonly cited by these men was "challenging." Orthodoxy is "active and not passive." "It's the only church where you are required to adapt to it, rather than it adapting to you." "The longer you are in it, the more you realize it demands of you." The "sheer physicality of Orthodox worship" is part of the appeal. It is about mercy, but it's also about overcoming oneself. It is rigorous, and in that rigor I find liberation. Several mentioned that they really appreciated having clarity about the content of these challenges and what they were supposed to do.
Regular days of fasting from meat and dairy, "standing for hours on end, performing prostrations, going without food and water [before communion]... The fact that you must 'struggle' during worship by standing up throughout long services is itself a challenge men are willing to take up." A recent convert summed up, "Orthodoxy is serious. "Most guys feel a lot more comfortable when they know what's expected of them." "Orthodoxy presents a reasonable set of boundaries." "It's easier for guys to express themselves in worship if there are guidelines about how it's supposed to work—especially when those guidelines are so simple and down-to-earth that you can just set out and start doing something." "The prayers the Church provides for us — morning prayers, evening prayers, prayers before and after meals, and so on — give men a way to engage in spirituality without feeling put on the spot, or worrying about looking stupid because they don't know what to say." They appreciate learning clear-cut physical actions that are expected to form character and understanding.
This regimen of discipline makes one mindful of one's relation to the Trinity, to the Church, and to everyone he meets." A Goal.In a time when churches of every description are faced with Vanishing Male Syndrome, men are showing up at Eastern Orthodox churches in numbers that, if not numerically impressive, are proportionately intriguing.