Here’s a question: Is it stranger that Roman Catholics, ostensibly informed by a social tradition which has, for well more than a century, rejected the core tenets of free-market capitalism, embrace such tenets in open defiance of their magisterium or that Orthodox embrace such tenets as well? The Orthodox “defense,” which isn’t much of a defense at all, goes something like this. Because communism had such an undeniably disastrous impact on the lives of millions upon millions of Orthodox Christians, it not only makes sense, but is in fact fully justifiable, that they should see in capitalism, with its apparent nod toward “freedom,” a safe haven, nay, a glowing alternative to the communist system which, in practice, oversaw the nailing of priests to church doors and the violent oppression of those who would dare to live out their ancestral faith. The problem with that line of argument — one of many problems — is that it’s simplistic to the point of being worthless. For while it is true that communist rule over Eastern Europe brought with it unimaginable persecution against the Church of Christ, it is not necessarily true that such persecution came as a result of pure economic ideology. That is to say, whatever satanic violence dwelt at the core of 20th Century communism was not generated out of anti-capitalist animus per se. Something else was at work, and that horrific violence could very well have flowered under an apparently “free” economic system as it did under one that was largely command planned.
The problem with contemporary Orthodoxy, at least in the way it manifests itself in these Western lands, is that it more easily succumbs to the temptation to appear neither alien nor threatening to the dominant culture that surrounds it. Catholicism, for better or worse, made its peace with America some 50 years ago, and that peace carried the price of conformity with a worldview, even a lifestyle, that is, at its core, antithetical to Catholicism. No. It is antithetical to Christianity properly lived. What has kept Catholicism’s head above water is that it has never been without teachers who were willing to say otherwise. Perhaps those teachers weren’t always popes — a real shame in the age of the “celebrity papacy” — but they found a way to be authoritative to a faithful band of Catholics nevertheless.
Orthodoxy in America has never had such teachers who could give more than a fraction of their lives to the perennially fraught question of how to be in the world, but not of it. For whatever one can say of Catholicism and its social magisterium (and there are many, many wonderful things to say about it), there is, at its core, a sense that it is important, maybe even imperative, for Christians to find a way to live here first and seek Heaven second. If that sounds insulting, I apologize in advance. It is not mean to. Catholics on average, no less than Orthodox on average, desire to unite themselves to Joseph of Arimathea: They are seeking the Kingdom of God. The question which vexes them is how to do so while existing, for a time, in the kingdom of this world. In days gone by, which didn’t pass away all that long ago, there still existed the possibility (some might say “illusion”) that there is no conflict. Abide by what the Church says and life in this world, difficult though it may be, will present innumerable opportunities to work out one’s salvation. It doesn’t seem the Orthodox have ever been given such surety — certainly not now, and certainly not in the centuries following Mehmet II, Peter the Great, Vladimir Lenin, and so on and so forth.