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As Leon Podles wrote in his 1999 book, "The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity," "The Orthodox are the only Christians who write basso profundo church music, or need to." Rather than guess why this is, I emailed a hundred Orthodox men, most of whom joined the Church as adults.What do they think makes this church particularly attractive to men?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.This may be the only church which attracts and holds men in numbers equal to women.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.A catechumen wrote that he was finding icons helpful in resisting unwanted thoughts.
(The warfare is against self-destructive sin and the unseen spiritual powers, not other people, of course.) One contrasted this "robust" quality with "the feminized pictures of Jesus I grew up with.Instead, the further down I went, the weaker everything seemed.I realized I had only acquired the ability to manipulate the Bible to say pretty much anything I wanted it to. If the Bible was meant to say anything, it was meant to say it within a community, with a tradition to guide the reading.Men also appreciate that this challenge has a goal: union with God. " Orthodoxy preserves and transmits ancient Christian wisdom about how to progress toward this union, which is called "theosis." Every sacrament or spiritual exercise is designed to bring the person, body and soul, further into continual awareness of the presence of Christ within, and also within every other human being.One said that in a previous church "I didn't feel I was getting anywhere in my spiritual life (or that there was anywhere to get to — I was already there, right? As a cloth becomes saturated with dye by osmosis, we are saturated with God by theosis.