Hey Vic, Jamie, and Jon,
Thank-you for the warm welcome. I’m definitely willing to share my faith with you guys. Certainly there are many things that we hold in common with Roman Catholicism, but there are also many differences. I just want to make it clear, that in discussing these differences, that I’m not commenting on the salvation of anyone. One thing we’re taught as Orthodox Christians is that Salvation is a mystery, and that only God sees the heart. Secondly, my views may not be the views of others, but I hope you’ll allow me to express them with honesty.
So….where to start? ” title=”Very Happy” /> This is not going to be nice and outlined, I think I’m just going to jump in and hopefully I’ll do a decent enough job.
The Orthodox Church believes that the teaching of Christianity does not change from time to time. Rather, we confess that the Faith, the One Faith, is that which was ONCE DELIVERED to the saints (Jude 3). Surely, the Church recognizes external changes, like vestments, moving out of catacombs and houses, and into churches, new feast days, new Ecumenical Canons, regional councils, etc., but the tenets of the faith cannot be added to nor subtracted from. The Roman Catholic Church, has a doctrine of “doctrinal development” that is lacking in the Orthodox Church. According to Cardinal Henry Newman, what this means is that Christ gave the Church an original “deposit” of faith, which grows and matures through the centuries. While the Church externally changes, the Faith and its tenets are not changed. The Ecumenical Councils, Orthodox believe, do not add new teachings to Faith, but rather, defend from heresy what HAS ALWAYS BEEN that ONE FAITH (Ephesians 4:4).
With regard to St. Peter, the Orthodox Church to this day believes he was called to be the leader of the Apostles after the Lord’s Ascension. However, according to the Orthodox Church, St. Peter was leader AMONGST the Apostles, not ABOVE the Apostles. He took on the reigns, but not as one above any of the other Apostles. Certainly Roman Catholics will say, but, didn’t Christ say He’d give him the keys to the Kingdom? What does that expression illustrate? It illustrates the authority that Christ was just endowing St. Peter with–the ability to loosen and bind on earth and in heaven. St. Peter, having this authority, had an “entry” into what is held and loosed in the Kingdom of heaven. To be sure, he was not the only Apostle to receive this apostolic authority. Christ gave it to the other Apostles as well (Matthew 18:18). Catholics will say, yes, but why is he called the Rock upon which the Church will be built. Orthodox have always seen the Rock, (and many Catholics I’ve shared this with have suggested that it is a Protestant belief, but I assure you, it is a Patristic belief) that the ROCK is Peter’s confession. It is Peter’s confession that brings on Christ’s blessing. It is St. Peter’s confession to what has been revealed to him by the Father, that Christ lauds here. Moreover, Christ says upon this rock, I will build my Church. With subsequent confessions of Christ–confessing Who He truly IS–will build up the Church, and people will be added to the community of the faithful. One need never forget, that the cornerstone of the Church is not St. Peter, but Christ Himself (Ephesians 2:20). And in the Apocalypse, St. Peter is called one of the twelve foundations (along with the other Apostles, of the heavenly Jerusalem. Even if we entertained the idea that with St. Peter came a PETRINE AUTHORITY, were would that PRIMACY and AUTHORITY GO? According to Fathers, like St. Gregory the Great, Pope of Rome, and the Holy Tradition, St. Peter founded the See in Antioch and was there SEVEN YEARS, and was only in Rome to be martyred. He founded the Sees of Caesarea, Tripoli, Laodicea, Corinth….ALL before he was ever in Rome. Who would hold his primacy? According to papal argument, all these Sees, and more, would have claim to it. And if Matthew 16:16 was always interpreted as Peter being the ROCK, why did these other Sees never make the same claim, or challenge the claim that only Rome sought to make? And more than this, what about Jerusalem for a claim to authority, where not St. Peter, but CHRIST HIMSELF taught? Should the bishops of Jerusalem begin claiming they are the final say? Should they refer to their see as the Apostolic See, suggesting that there are not others? It is these undeniable facts that cause the argument of Petrine authority to crumble for Orthodox Christians. (Forgive the rhetorical questions…i’m not trying to spart a debate, but rather, to illustrate my point…so that you’ll better understand why Orthodox believe what they believe).
With regard to Petrine authority, one need only point to the First Ecumenical Council at Nicaea, 325, where 318 Holy Fathers determined the Canonical books of the New Testament, and set them in sequence. If there was an authority in St. Peter that the other Apostles lacked, why were his catholic epistles placed not first, but behind St. Pauls, even behind St. James’ epistles? This is not written to belittle the all laudible St. Peter…I’m just saying, it sounds rather difficult to suggest that the belief in a primacy would exist in the Church, and the epistles of the Apostle Peter would be placed even behind Paul and James. The same Fourth Ecumenical Council that set New Rome as second in honour after Rome, honoured the holder of the See of Rome, with the title of “Universal”, because of the illustriousness of the city where Sts. Peter and Paul were martyred. Many Catholics will argue that the “universal” refers to supremacy in the Church. What does St. Gregory the Great say when he is conferred this title? “The title of “Universal” was OFFERED US BY THE HOLY SYNOD OF CHALCEDON to the bishop of the Apostolic See, which by God’s grace, I serve. Nevertheless, NONE OF MY PREDECESSORS WOULD USE THIS IMPIOUS WORD, because in reality, if a Patriarch is called ‘universal’, he takes from all the others the title of Patriarch” (Letters of St. Gregory, Book V, Letter 20). So, not only does St. Gregory reject this title because it negates the role of the other bishops, but so did those before him. Something changes drasticallly when the Germanic popes, like Gregory VII write his DICTATUS PAPAE–a completely different Pope from those who held the episcopal throne before.
According to Orthodox Christianity, when Rome was still Orthodox, the bishop of Rome held the special status as FIRST AMONGST EQUALS. Again, the bishop was first among the bishops, but not above the bishops. The Patriarchate of Rome (or See if you prefer) held primacy of influence, not because the See was founded by St. Peter, but because it was the Capital of the Roman Empire. This is why Constantinople is later given the title of second seat of influence, because she became the New Rome, the new capital of the Empire when the Emperor St. Constantine, moved the capital in the 4th century. Even after the move, Rome still held her seat as first amongst equals. Canon 28 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council in Chalcedon says: “We too decree and vote the same things in regard to the privileges and priorities of the most holy Church of Constantinople, the New Rome. For to the throne of Old Rome, AS THE IMPERIAL CITY, the Fathers gave suitable privileges. Motivated by the same aim, the 150 most God-beloved bishops have accorded the like priorities to the most holy throne of New Rome, rightfully judging that the city being honoured by a monarchy and a senate, and EQUAL TO OLD ROME IN RESPECT OF OTHER PRIVILEGES, should be magnified also, as she is in respect of ecclesiastical affairs, COMING NEXT AFTER HER (ROME), OR AS BEING SECOND TO HER.” So, clearly Rome was first amongst equals, and continued to be even after the move of the Imperial Capital. Orthodox Rome still retained her primacy as first amongst equals until she began to take on what was for Orthodox, heresy. This is Orthodox belief on that.
The Ancient Patriarchates of the East–Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, and other ancient Sees like Smyrna, Ephesus, etc. could keep each other in check if one of the Patriarchates began to heap up too great an influence to itself. The Problem was that Rome was the only Patriarchate in the West, and it eventually began to develop an EXAGGERATED SENSE of its own authority–partly because there was no nearby Patriarchal See to counter its claims. As the West was taken down by invading barbarians in the 5th century, the Church became the central social structure. When the Germanic peoples came and eventually were Christianized, this was the same time when the Carolingians (who were not legitimate Emperors, as the imperial line in the West had ruptured) started to lay claims after they were crowned “Holy Roman Emperors” with Charlemagne in 800. The legitimate Emperor of the Roman Empire continued to rule, unscathed, in the new capital of Constantinople. Charlemagne demanded the legitimate Eastern Emperors in the Eastern Roman Empire, Byzantium, yield to his authority. This wasn’t the political authority only, as around this time, the See of Rome began its teaching of UNIVERSAL PAPAL JURISDICTION, which was a clear opposition to Ancient Church Practice.
The set precedent, the Jerusalem Council in the Book of Acts, tells us that Sts. Peter, Paul and Barnabas spoke, but it was St. James, as bishop of Jerusalem (Apostolic Tradition tells us this) who spoke the unanimous decision of all in attendance. The decision that one could be a Christian without first being a circumcized Jew, was come to in collegiality….it was not St. Peter deciding what should be done, with the remaining Apostles in a seat of inferiority. The letters say “It seemed good to US and the Holy Spirit”. The only infallibility the Orthodox Church confesses is the Infalliblity of the Church in collegiality of bishops, when the Holy Spirit guides them unto all truth.
The filioque is an innovation that only further alienated the East from the West. Despite the fact that all Ecumenical Councils had canons forbidding the adding and subtracting to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, the West went ahead and added the word “filioque”, or “and the Son”. Not only was this a canonical violation, not only had the Church in the West completely disregarded the collegiality spoken of earlier, the teaching that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son is theologically INCORRECT. Concerning the Holy Spirit, the Lord Jesus Christ says that He proceeds from the Father (John 15:26). By suggesting that the Son also sends the Holy Spirit disrupts the monarchy of the Godhead–Orthodox have always confessed that the Father eternally begets the Son and eternally breathes out His Spirit before all time. Catholics call this “the doctrine of the double procession”. Orthodox call this heresy. The Creed was come to COLLEGIALLY–neither the See at Rome, nor ANY OTHER SEE, has any business changing it UNILATERALLY. This undermines the precedent of the Apostolic Council. Canon VII of the Third Ecumenical Council forbids the use of any other Creed than the Symbol of Faith. To be sure, all Seven Ecumenical Councils re-affirmed the teaching that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. Pope Leo III (795-816), at the Council of Aix-la Chapelle (Aachen), heard the teaching of filioque and censured it. The same Pope Leo had the Creed inscribed in silver plaques in Greek and Latin, and they were hung outside the doors of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, with the inscription “Haec Leo posui amore et cautela fidei orthodoxae”, translated “These words, I, Leo, have set down for th elove and as a safeguard of the Orthodox Faith”. The Franks, at the Council of Frankfurt (793), approve “filioque”, but this council, which the Orthodox saw as heretical, also condemned the Seventh Ecumenical Council’s defense of the holy images. The Franks, seeing all the Fathers of the Church subordinate to the Blessed Augustine, accepted the false personal teaching in his ON THE TRINITY, that says that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son also. Charlemagne tries to get Pope Hadrian I (772-795), to accept the filioque, and Pope Hadrian refuses. Once the Germans took the papal throne, filioque was imported–the rest is history. According to Kelly, author of the Oxford Dictionary of Popes, it was Benedict VIII who accepted the demand of Henry IV to add filioque to the Creed. Patriarch Sergios of Constantinople removed Benedict’s name from the diptychs at Constantinople. In accepting the filioque, Rome had changed the beliefs that she once held. This is the Orthodox view to this day.
Concerning Purgatory, the Orthodox do have prayers for the departed, and they do believe in a particular judgment–a foretaste of blessedness or torment before the Final Judgment. However, having said that, we don’t believe that this judgment is a particular place. Catholics teach that after forgiveness, one has to serve a temporal punishment, and should they die without having served it, they have to serve time in purgatory before going to heaven. In the Middle Ages, this temporal punishment was abused as it was suggested it could be expiated by a gift of the Church, an indulgence. Orthodox believe that when you are forgiven, you are forgiven–there are no sub-clauses or residual debts. The penance you do is to retrain the soul’s humility, but it’s not to give satisfaction. God is good to forgive our sins if we confess them. The Orthodox Church cites St. Paul, who prays for the departed Onesiphorus, saying “The Lord grant to him that he may find mercy from the Lord in that Day” (2nd Timothy 1:18). St. Paul never mentions purgatorial fire, legalistic justifications, but offers prayers for God’s mercy, which is what the Orthodox believe and practice.
In 1854, Pope Pius IX declared the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary a new dogma of the Roman Catholic Church in the bull Ineffiblilis Deus. Catholics argue that simply because it was made a dogma in 1854 doesn’t mean that it wasn’t always believed by the faithful. If it was believed, however, it was not by all the Catholic faithful. Saints of the Roman Catholic Church, Thomas Aquinas, and Catherine of Siena, condemned it. The Domenicans, largely through the ministry of Duns Scotus, and Bridget of Sweden preached it. There was no unanimity, and even up to the day of its pronouncement, it was being debated. The teaching says that because of the merits of the future works of Christ, the Virgin Mary was held inviolate of Original Sin, and was kept in a state of purity, where she could not sin. The Orthodox Church teaches that the consequences of Ancestral Sin is mortality. The Virgin Mary, being mortal, was born with Ancestral Sin. She did not receive a body from heaven, but by the joining of a man and a woman–Sts Anna and Joachim. In being the first to receive Christ the Godman in her womb, the Blessed Virgin became “the first of the redeemed”, receiving first the blessing of salvation now available to all. If we, as Christians believe that the Virgin was preserved of Ancestral Sin, while no other humans were, this makes God unjust. This however could not be done, not even to the Mother of God, because it would be an infringment on the FREEWILL the Lord God had given her. The argument of Immaculate Conception means that the Blessed Virgin didn’t struggle against sin and grapple against temptation to FIND FAVOUR WITH GOD. Rather, she was IMMUNE TO IT?! So a teaching that initially sets out to honour the Virgin ends up belittling Her great virtue–she didn’t attain this virtue, it was an innate innability to sin. This goes against Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition. St. John of Damascus writes concerning the Dormition of the Mother of God, “O Pure Virgin, sprung from MORTAL LOINS, thine end was CONFORMABLE TO NATURE” (Matins of Dormition, Ode Three, Tone 4). The Virgin COULD SIN, but she cared for her salvation and REJECTED ALL TEMPTATIONS TO SIN. For this reason, She is and will be for Orthodox Christians, the MOST EXALTED OF ALL CREATION. Furthermore, to suggest that unclean cannot come out of clean, and that the Virgin had to be without Original Sin to give birth to Christ, is to suggest that St. Anna, in order to give birth to a sinless Mary, had to be born without Original Sin too, and a continuum of Immaculate Conceptions, so that clean can be born from clean. The Blessed Virgin was cleansed, according to Orthodox belief, the second She had found that favour from the Triune Lord God, and heard the Salutation of the Archangel Gabriel.
In 1870, the Universal Papal Jurisdiction hit what was for the Orthodox Church, the pinnacle of egoism and pride. One-third of the Cardinals at Vatican I walked out, forming the sect of Old/Traditional Catholics, when the Pope gave the bull of Pater Aeternus, and the new dogma–the Pope, when discussing ex cathedra, or in his role or seat as Bishop of Rome (and, according the RCC “episcopus episcoporum” bishop of the bishops), could not err. No where in the Bible does St. Peter ever make a claim that he cannot err. It is on St. Peter that the Pope makes his claims, this teaching is perhaps the most difficult for Orthodox to ignore. Vatican I stated, on January 9, 1870, that “The Pope is Christ in office, Christ in jurisdiction and power…we bow down before thy voice, O Holy Father, as we would bow before Christ Himself”. Any bishop in any see holds the place of Christ, according to the teaching of St. Ignatius of Antioch, and not just the bishop of Rome. But it doesn’t stop there. No! In an Encyclical dated June 20, 1894, Pope Leo XIII stated, “We hold upon this earth the place of God Almighty”. This is blasphemous for Orthodox, because God is not limited to heaven, but is in all places and fills all things. NO BISHOP< NO MAN PERIOD, is God, either on EARTH, or ANYWHERE ELSE. Pope Pius X declared that the pope is not only the representative of Jesus Christ, but he is Jesus Christ Himself, hidden under the veil of the flesh. Where does this claim of papal infallibility come from? Is it the Faith once delivered to the saints? No, it’s not, because amongst other things, Pope Honorius was condemned as a Monothelite heretic from the 6th Ecumenical Council. A bishop, no bishop, is infallble. According to Orthodox Christianity, the bishop of Rome, like all bishops, receives the same consecration, as had other bishops, from the Apostles. St. Nektarios the Wonderworker, a saint of the Orthodox Church, sums up our position, “His Beautitude the Pope sinned greatly when he proclaimed himself infallible. Infallibility abrogates synods, takes away from them significance, importance, and authority, and proclaims them incompetent, disturbing the confidence of the faithful in them. The proclamations of the infallibility of the Pope disturbed the foundations of the Western Church, because it provided ground for suspicion about the authority of the synods, and secondly it made her depend on the intellectual and spiritual development of a single person, the Pope…Since every Pope judges concerning what is right as it seems to him, and interprets Scriptures as he wills, and lays down the law as he considers right, in what respect is he different from the multifarious dogmatists of the Protestant Church?” The reason for collegiality is that so the decisions aren’t on the shoulders of one. By calling the Pope infallible, it is saying that he can speak by himself, CORRECTLY all the time. The history of the Church already has shown us that even bishops spread heresy. Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople, condemned for his birthing of Nestorianism. Pope Honorius, was condemned a heretic who supported the Monothelite heresy. How can we say any bishop is INFALLIBLE…it is in COLLEGIALITY, when the bishops test and keep one another in check, and egotism isn’t encouraged, that buffers inner heresy. As Christians, we are definitely called to be OBEDIENT…however, we are also called to be RESPONSIBLE. For this reason, the Orthodox see Papal Infalliblity as another heresy of the Roman Church.
In another area, the Orthodox Church disagrees strongly with the fact that henceforth, the Bishop of Rome will always be a spiritual leader, and a political leader. He is the Bishop of Rome, but also the Sovereign of the now independent state of The Vatican, with Vatican City as capital. In accordance with the 83rd Apostolic Canon, Orthodoxy teaches that clerics are never to hold political offices. “For the the things of Caesar belong to Caesar, and those of God to God”.
Concerning baptism, the Orthodox teaches TRIPLE IMMERSION, in accordance with the Apostolic Canon 50. Catholics, some of them do IMMERSE, but many more use AFFUSION/INFUSION (water poured over the head), or ASPERSION(sprinkling). The Greek word, baptizo, literally means to IMMERSE. Both Orthodox and Catholics practice infant baptism, and it is not exactly reasonable to suggest that there is not enough water to immerse an infant. The Didache, does say that where, in lack of water, where there is not enough water, aspersion or affusion can be used, or other baptisms where there is no water. However, where there is water available, the baptism should always be triple immersion. This is a difference.
Orthodox do not use azymes in the Holy Eucharist, but always leavened bread. According to the Apostolic Canon 70, Christians are not supposed to feast with unleavened bread. With regard to the Holy Eucharist, the Roman Catholics believe that the gifts are consecrated by reciting Christ’s words, while the Orthodox believe in the EPICLESIS, or INVOCATION of the Holy Spirit to change the offered gifts into the Holy Blood and Holy Body. We believe this, because according to the Scripture, Christ took the bread, BLESSED IT, and broke it (Matthew 26:26, Mark 14:22). He took the cup, and GAVE THANKS. (Matthew 26:27, Mark 14:23). Christ blessed the gifts by thanksgiving and prayer. If I understand Latin Sacramental theology correctly, it is the priest who acts in Christ’s stead and consecrates the host by his repetition of Christ’s words. The Orthodox Church, the priest does not dare to speak in Christ’s person, but rather supplicates, that the Holy Spirit will bless and change the Gifts. Concerning communion, for a long time, and even now in many areas, Catholics only commune in one species–receiving only the host. Granted, this is not true in all places. But for a long time, the West, despite Christ’s call that ALL DRINK IT (Matthew 26:27), Roman priests ONLY communed the Chalice. It’s really in Vatican II, and the RESTORATION OF RITES, that the Cup is brought back to the lay people. Roman Catholics refuse communion to children until they have their first communion at their 7th year, and I think the argument is that they don’t understand it and can’t possibly commune it. The Orthodox Church has no such teaching, arguing that Christ called the children to come to Him. As for the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist, it is just that–a mystery. The adult who thinks that he knows even has a stumbling block in his own sense of knowledge, then the child who comes innocently and realizing that they may not know all there is to know. According to Orthodox belief, it is not by accident that the Lord Jesus Christ tells us in matters of faith to come as LITTLE CHILDREN.
The Mystery of Anointing with Oil, is not just performed by the Orthodox Church as a VIATICUM before death. Rather, as the Scripture says, it is practiced whenever the body or soul needs healing.
While recognizing the Mysteries of Baptism, Chrismation, Confession, Communion, Priesthood, Marriage, and Anointing with Oil, Orthodox Christianity is not limited to seven sacraments, as I’m pretty sure the Catholic faith isn’t either. We, for example, also have things like the Blessing of Water, the Tonsure of a Monk or Nun, the Consecration of a church, etc. Just thought that was worth mentioning.
This next issue–one of Ecumenism–is also a difference between Orthodox and Catholics. In accordance with Vatican II’s Unitatis Redintegratio, it is decreed to Roman Catholics to support Ecumenism, and to reintegrate to Rome all those outside of Rome. The Catholic Church makes it no secret that she believes that those not with her are separated from her. The Orthodox Church, not having accepted canonical violations, not having accepted theology that contradicts Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition, is dubbed the schismatics. I’ll tell you, this is one makes me personally very sad. The Orthodox Church, with the exception of various Orthodox Ecumenists, do not support the idea of Ecumenism…most Orthodox see it as pan-heresy. And they see it in this light for the following reasons. To suggest that there is such a thing as more than one Church, is to deny the Creed. The Church is one because Christ is One. Altered, innovated beliefs of sectarian groups are not Churches. This may sound a little harsh, but if we believe the Nicene Creed, this is what we confess as Christians. Christ’s Church is One because Christ is One. To suggest that the Church somehow lessens because innovators go off on their own, is to call Christ a liar when He said that the gates of Hell shall not prevail against her. I personally think, that even for Roman Catholics, who believe that the Catholic Faith, is the ONE FAITH of Ephesians 4:4, Ecumenism is an insulting philosophy. As Orthodox Christians, we believe and confess that the Orthodox Church is the Church, the Ark of Salvation. Orthodoxy is the Ecumenical Church, she does not need Ecumenism. Ecumenism, a theology of RELATIVISM, asks Orthodoxy to set aside Her absolute Truths. It’s just something she cannot do. Are heterodox in the Church, according to Orthodox. No, no they are not. Yes, this includes Roman Catholics too. I don’t say this in a air of arrogance, permit me to be honest with you. If the Church at Rome has added innovation upon innovation, than Rome is not in the ONE FAITH—this is not to say that Catholics are lost. There are many Catholics who love Christ, God alone sees the heart, and judges perfectly, what we could only judge imperfectly. Many people believe that we Orthodox are against Ecumenism just out of spite, but its’ not true. We are against it because the very definition of the Church as catholic (whole, complete) precludes the possibility of a second Church, let alone many Churches.
Orthodox theology in general is a little different than Roman Catholic theology. For the Orthodox Church, theology is an attempt to express as much as humanly possible, the great ineffible MYSTERIES of the Church. Roman Catholic theology (not all of it, because there are Roman Catholic mystics post-Schism) has a great stress on Aristotlean logic and reason, and reconciling human minds to Christian faith. To paraphrase St. Gregory of Nyssa, if a thirsty man comes to a pool of water, he’s not going to sit beside it and analyze the properties of its existence, volume, liquidity, but rather, he is going to drink and thank God for providing.
I didn’t mean to ramble, and truly there is more we could say about the differences. I certainly did nto mean to offend, and forgive if I did. With these issues that are so close to the heart of all involved, I think it’s impossible to not hurt someone, even when you don’t mean to. For many Orthodox and Catholics, there is the beliefs that we are not in communion because of political reasons. The arguments above were posted to illustrate to you guys that there is a lot of difference between us, and it’s not enough to say “Oh, Orthodoxy is Catholicism without the Pope” as many are all too happy with saying. Or it is “the Eastern version of Catholicism”. It is quite different. And again, please take this in the spirit I give it–I don’t mean to comment on anyone’s salvation, for who can judge the heart of the theif on the Cross? Or who can see the heart of any ardent follower of Christ? I just heeded the invitation, and shared with you a few of the things I could think of.
Sorry to tire you all! God be with you.