In my dealings with Orthodox writers, bloggers, apologists, and clergy I have formed a very personal opinion about Eastern Christianity in general that will perhaps come as a surprise to some, but not to all: I wish that Western Christianity could be more like it. Because this is a very personal, intuitive attitude, it is difficult for me to explain, in quasi-technical terms or philosophical jargon, just what it is, exactly, that I am reacting to, but here are a few thoughts about ways in which the West could benefit from being more like the East.
1. Spirituality. Whether clergy or layman, young or old, scholar or punk blogger, the Orthodox whom I have encountered manifest a life of deep faith guided by prayer, communal liturgy, and lectio divina that is both striking and admirable. Obviously there are always exceptions to such things, and I certainly can't claim that my sample is either large or representative, but I do think that the contrast class differs in some obvious ways with what I have felt from my Orthodox brethren.
2. Separation from the world. As I watch our culture slide ever more thoroughly over the edge of materialism, hedonism, and secularism, one cannot help but notice the numbers of folks calling themselves Christians who either will not or cannot fight the prevailing tide. Again, my experience is limited, but the Orthodox whom I have met are not so timid about rejecting the values of the world. Western Christianity certainly has its representatives in this struggle, but - - again, in my limited experience - - there seems to be a greater density of resistance from the East.
3. Theological insight. Metaphor can be a wonderful thing, and Orthodox theology is filled with wonderful metaphor. Very often I think this reflects a deep insight intot he ineffability of certain truths: we cannot say what such-and-such is, but we can say what it is like, and thereby come to have some form of experience of it that is communicable in some small degree. The West can be so analytic that some of these insights are lost.
4. Charity. Christian charity requires two things: love of God and love of one's fellow men. We cannot say that we love God if we do not love our fellow men, nor can we say that we love our fellow men if we do not love God. Putting the two together means that our love cannot be compromised by ungodly ideals: when our fellow men are in need of fraternal correction, we have a duty to offer it, and when we stray from God, we have a right to receive it (correction) ourselves - - charitably - - by our fellow men. The Orthodox whom I have met appear to know, more deeply than many, precisely what this cardinal virtue requires. It is easy to point out the errors of others, less easy to point them out charitably, with love and Christian fellowship, in a spirit of guidance and fraternal care. Again, there are always exceptions, but for the most part I have to say that I am impressed with the degree to which charity informs the lives of the Orthodox whom I have encountered.
Of course, all of these virtues are also present in some degree among Western Christians, and I don't mean to imply otherwise. I'm talking about an intuitive feeling based on my own, personal, and limited experience, an experience of a community that seems admirable and good, and one wants very much to share in what is good to the extent that one can. For this reason I have particularly enjoyed my recent inquiry into Maximos, Palamas, and the essence/energies distinction, because it has afforded me an ample opportunity to see these virtues up close, and spread out over the course of history. It is wonderful and inspiring.