A friend recently left the Eastern Orthodox Church and joined the Catholic Church. He told me, that he spent years studying Eastern Orthodoxy more deeply than the vast majority of Orthodox Christians. He said that this was the case because he studied the broad spectrum of Eastern Orthodoxy, and (especially) compared the Orthodoxy of today, with what it looked like a millennium ago, as well as what it looked like in the first few centuries of the Church. In examining Orthodoxy today, he said that he intentionally looked beyond his own branch of Orthodoxy (Russian) to others and compared them to one another.
His conclusion was that he could not, in good conscience before God, remain Orthodox. He told me that he felt "compelled" to return to what Orthodoxy was in the first few centuries when it was in full communion with the barque of Peter. He also said that he expressed these things to his Orthodox priest as well as to the laity, but that they told him "he did not really understand Orthodoxy". Over time, he realized that he could not escape the fact that what they were telling him appeared to be only a modern and fabricated Orthodoxy that is expounded by the clergy in spite of the historical facts. He struggled not to behave in a rebellious way about things, so it took him many years before he respectfully and humbly asked to be allowed to go home to the Catholic Church.
Here were his particular reasons for his reconciliation with the Catholic Church:
1. No central authority in Orthodoxy means no clear authority at all--He said that the expressed unity of Orthodoxy ignores the essential (and detrimental) divisions that exist within her ecclesiastical authorities. Not having a central papal authority has caused the Eastern Orthodox to develop into a confused and jumbled group of jurisdictions that speak loudly about their unified nature, while it has little to no real substance. Admittedly, there are "Bishops" and "Archbishops" (yes, I know they use different terms), but since only a Pope can call a proper council, there is no means for Orthodoxy to solve its problems until they humble themselves and submit to the successor of Peter. His assessment is that the reason Orthodoxy rejects the recent doctrinal affirmations of the Catholic Church is more because they reject the Pope than because they reject the doctrines themselves. He believes that this is actually one of the things that attracts people to Orthodoxy over Catholicism: rejection of the papacy and its authority.
2. Orthodox unity was spoken about (often with a certain braggadocio according to him), but had no real substance since many of the jurisdictions within the Eastern Churches do not get along with each other very well. This is actually distinct from the issue of the lack of an Eastern Pope, though it does connect closely to it. Orthodoxy claims that authority rests in the collected "Bishops" who are in communion with one another; similar to the conciliarism movement. There is nothing, however, within the concept of conciliarism to enable it to overcome the difficulties of disunity. It is the same problem that rests in Protestantism: no central authority means no source to draw the faithful together. If everyone sticks with his "branch" and wants his "branch" to stand above the others, then it becomes clear that schism breeds more schism. He said that he discovered that there is a good deal of disagreement between the different branches of Eastern Orthodoxy, but that it is usually kept quiet.
3. No unified approach to theology or the study of theology--His exposure to this was quite interesting. He told me that there is often an outward conformity to the general understanding of theology, but that this is only on the surface. When you dig deeper (as he said few Orthodox laymen ever do) you find that there is a wide divergence in how doctrine is understood, and an even wider divergence in how it is studied. This leads to the current acceptance of certain sins that the Catholic Church has stood firmly against (artificial contraception, remarriage after divorce, etc.). Yes, there is a general unified understanding of a few things, but those are mostly on the surface. His priest often told him how theology in the Orthodox tradition has never changed whereas Catholicism has. Yet, in my friend's examination of the history of Orthodox opinions, it was clear to him that once it broke away from unity with the Holy See it had lost its moorings to help it respond to new challenges in theology and Christian ethics.
In summary, he explained that he believed the only way for Orthodoxy to overcome these problems is to return into communion with the successor Peter. That one issue, more than all others combined, is what cripples the Eastern Churches and prevents them from moving forward into the future. Knowing that our Eastern brethren have retained legitimate Orders and Sacraments, let us pray for them that they will overcome their schismatic stance and return to the fold of true unity with the one vicar of Christ on Earth.