On Owen White to Orthodoxy

Despite many requests, I have never finished drafting a piece concentrating on why I chose to leave Eastern Orthodoxy for the Catholic Church four years ago. Some of my reasons have been woven into various blog posts, comboxes, e-mail exchanges, and Facebook threads, though I have kept several things to myself. When asked, either in person or privately online, to say a few words on the topic, I am usually willing to do so unless I get the sense that it’s nothing more than an invitation to a pointless back-and-forth. There may come a time when it is appropriate to write in more detail on what happened during Lent 2011, just as there may come a time to engage the more complicated questions about why I fell away from Catholicism in college, how I came back to Christianity, and what brought me to the Orthodox Church in the first place. The only reason to discuss those matters at all is if it might be of benefit to someone who is struggling to hold on to their faith amidst a storm of understandable, though ultimately unpersuasive, doubts. As for the question of choosing Rome over Constantinople (or Moscow), that’s harder to engage in a fair-minded manner. Most conversions occur for reasons which are neither easily explained nor objectively clear. Some compensate by peppering their tales with store-bought piety. Others opt for boldness, claiming that their intellectual rigor has brought them to the indisputable truth of Catholicism (or Orthodoxy). Maybe that’s happened a few times since the Great Schism, but I have my doubts.

It should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed my blogging endeavors over the past decade that I was rather stunned to learn last week that my good pixel friend, Owen White (a/k/a the Ochlophobist), is returning to the Orthodox Church. What began as a startling but heartfelt act of repentance was soon revealed as part of a sudden and profound conversion experience that many individuals I interact with online are still sorting out. Rod Dreher, a frequent target of Owen’s criticisms, commented on the matter over at The American Conservative. Numerous people have asked for my take, assuming perhaps that I had some inside knowledge which Owen has failed to disclose. The truth is that I have none, and even if I did, I wouldn’t share it. Although Owen left Orthodoxy for Catholicism roughly around the same time I did, our reasons—as best as I can tell—were distinct. Based on various public statements made over the past few years, I believe it is safe to say that Owen never fully found his footing back in communion with Rome. (Then again, finding my own place back in the fold hasn’t exactly been easy either.) However, if anyone had asked me two weeks ago what sort of churchyard I expected Owen (and myself) to be buried in, I would have answered, “A Catholic one.”

This is not to say that I am questioning the sincerity of Owen’s decision to leave even if I disagree with it in no uncertain terms. If I didn’t disagree with it, why would I stay Catholic? I’m certainly not here for the liturgical glamour, rigorous discipline, and coherent leadership. There is much which is attractive in Eastern Orthodoxy and, really, the Christian East as a whole which I miss dearly. My debts to the Eastern patrimony are manifold and I have always striven to defend Eastern Christianity from some of its more foolish Western detractors. Still, as I discovered growing up and then confirmed when I entered Orthodoxy, it is much easier to be Orthodox in America than Greek Catholic (Melkite, Ukrainian, Ruthenian, etc.). In fact, it is probably easier to be Orthodox in most parts of the world, not only because of raw numbers but because the Eastern churches in communion with Rome are continually treated like red-headed stepchildren by their mother Church. The choice to be Orthodox rather than Greek Catholic—as I also discovered after many years of soul searching—should not be made on the basis of ease, which is one reason (albeit a small one in the grand scheme of things) why I left. There is nothing leading me to believe that Owen is parting ways with the Catholic Church for the purposes of ease; his choice appears to have a far more powerful impetus behind it. I respect that and so, too, should everyone else, regardless of their confessional commitments.

I write these words and post them publicly in order to close off any more inquiries into this matter. Those who wish to know more about what is going on in Owen’s heart and mind should consult his blog; he has made his private contact information available on it. As for me, I won’t be discussing Owen’s ecclesial orientation any further. In fact, I have barely discussed it at all, and I would like to keep it that way. Owen White and his family, along with my own friends and family who are Orthodox, are fixed in my prayers. I hope I remain in theirs as well.