Orthodoxy and Catholicism

I promised this blog wouldn’t be very negative or controversial, but with the Pope of Rome visiting Istanbul, Turkey, including a visit to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, for the Feast of St. Andrew the First-Called Apostle (Nov. 30), traditional founder of the Christian community at old Byzantion and, as the Patriarchate’s publicity notes more than once, St. Peter’s elder brother(!), it’s appropriate to mention what exactly is the relationship between Orthodoxy and Catholicism. There’s some confusion about this relationship, even among some Orthodox.

Let’s point out first that since the beginning of the Modern period, “the Catholic Church” colloquially denotes a communion of Churches acknowledging, in varying ways, the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, Italy, commonly known, of course, as THE Pope.

(The Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt, also has Pope as one of his titles, as does the primate of Egypt’s Coptic Church, the well-known Pope Shenouda III. Also, many priests in Eastern Churches are called pope, since it ultimately only means father, even papa in Latin and Italian. In fact, the not-uncommon Russian surname Popov originally meant the son of the priest. In addition, the Orthodox Church frequently refers to itself as Catholic, as I believe I’ve discussed previously. But colloquially, especially in the West, THE Catholic Church, of course, is used to refer to the Roman Communion.)

Besides the Latin Church, the one headquartered in Rome, the Pope is honored by a couple dozen Eastern Catholic Churches, most if not all of which broke away from a local Orthodox, Oriental, or Assyrian Church in the last few centuries. Among Orthodox these are frequently called Uniates (sometimes spelled Uniats) because in some languages their Unions with Rome are called Unia. Sometimes it is said they consider the term Uniate offensive, but sometimes not. They comprise about two percent of the Roman Communion, so that would be around 20 million worldwide. Many of their bishops are appointed by the Pope, but with some ECCs the Pope merely “extends communion” to their patriarch upon his election by their synod of bishops, and they function pretty autonomously otherwise. Significant numbers of “diaspora” ECs live in countries where they don’t yet have their own bishops, and so they are subject to the local Latin (usually) ruling hierarch, even if they have their own parishes and clergy; conversely, Latins living in some areas of high EC concentration are subject to the local EC ruling hierarch.

Whether Latin or Eastern, theologically Orthodoxy does not distinguish between Catholics. Orthodoxy and the Catholic Church are out of communion with each other. Some ECCs claim to be in communion with Orthodoxy, but whatever warm feelings or cooperative arrangements (other than Communion) may exist in some isolated cases, Orthodox can only be in communion with other Orthodox, that is, the 14 universally-recognized Autocephalous Orthodox Churches (including any Autonomous Churches they may have affiliated with them), and the Orthodox Church in America (OCA).

The five ancient Patriarchates, ie, major regional Churches, of the Christian Church within the Empire of the Romans were Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. Within the Empire there was also the ancient autocephalous Church of Cyprus. Outside the Empire there were Churches in Armenia, Georgia (Caucasus), Persia, India, Ethiopia, and Ireland. From time to time one or more of these Churches, bishops, or patriarchs broke communion with each other temporarily. This might happen because of actual, perceived, or alleged heresy (ie, false doctrine), Church politics, or even secular politics.

The first lasting break in communion followed the affirmation by the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus of the o/Orthodox doctrine that Mary is the Birth-giver of God or Theotokos, among other things. The Church of the East (often called Assyrian, usually called Nestorian despite their objections), which had previously declared its autocephaly from the Patriarchate of Antioch without permission or recognition, also denied the Ephesine teachings.

The next lasting break in communion followed the affirmation by the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon of the o/Orthodox doctrine of Christ being a hypostasis in two natures, human and divine. This affirmation was denied by the Church of Armenia, most of the Patriarchate of Antioch, and most of the Patriarchate of Alexandria (Copts and Ethiopians). The latter two Churches experienced schisms, wherein the majorities formed Oriental patriarchates and the minorities formed Chalcedonian patriarchates, each party claiming to elect the rightful Patriarch of that city. The Oriental Churches deny they’re Monophysites or Eutychians, the heresy with which they’re commonly associated by others, and in fact usually use the name Orthodox (except the Armenians, who call themselves Apostolic); the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch also rejects the nickname Jacobite by which they have been historically known by others. Dialoguing Orthodox and Oriental theological scholars have in recent years agreed they have always held the same beliefs about the humanity and divinity of Christ, merely using different language. But this agreement is not being received enthusiastically among the Orthodox at-large, in fact it is greeted with some controversy. Furthermore, the Orientals continue to refuse to embrace Chalcedonian language, nor subsequent Orthodox Councils (headlined by the condemnations of Monothelitism [the belief that Christ did not have two distinct wills, human and divine], Monoenergism [the belief that He didn’t have two distinct energies or operations or activities, such as eating and working miracles, respectively], and Iconoclasm [the belief that Christians are barred from producing or venerating icons]). Be that all as it may, the Orthodox and Oriental patriarchates of Antioch and Alexandria have come to pastoral agreements Orthodox critics say almost amount to reunion.

During the first Christian millenium various Churches from time to time temporarily broke communion with Rome or vice-versa, also, including Constantinople, for various reasons. In AD 1054, the usual dating for “the Great Schism,” a final break occurred between these two, when bishops from each excommunicated the others. The immediate spark was a dispute over the Latinization of Byzantine parishes under Rome’s jurisdiction (and Norman rule) in southern Italy, and the subsequent closure of Latin parishes in Constantinople. But issues had been brewing for years over Rome adding the filioque to the Creed (saying the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son), asserting papal power over Eastern Churches, and Easterners resisting such papal claims. To add insult to injury, Latin Crusaders (without papal authorization, let it be said) sacked Constantinople in barbaric fashion in 1204 and established a Latin Empire there for much of that century. Before then, effects of the break had spread only slowly through the West and the East, but afterward Orthodox were pretty clear that adherents of Rome were no longer to be considered o/Orthodox Christians. There were at least two serious attempts to restore communion, the latter – the Council of Ferrara-Florence, Italy – on the eve of the 1453 Turkish conquest of Constantinople. In fact reunion was achieved between Rome and Constantinople, almost entirely on Rome’s terms because the Emperor hoped for Western military help against the Turks. All other Orthodox bishops who signed the Florentine Union recanted as soon as they got home, except the ethnic Greek metropolitan of Moscow, whom the Russians promptly deposed and the Pope eventually made a Cardinal. In any case, the Western military aid was not forthcoming, and a few years later the Patriarchate of Constantinople, too, renounced the Union. As one staunch Orthodox had said prior, “Better the Muslim turban in The City [as they called Constantinople] than the Cardinal’s red hat” – meaning at least under the Turks they expected to be able to retain their o/Orthodoxy…or suffer for it.

And there things stayed between Orthodoxy and Catholicism for 500 years until the 1960s detente between the Popes and the Patriarchs of Constantinople. But none of the words spoken, gestures undertaken, or documents signed, from the Orthodox perspective, has restored communion yet. Rome has decided unilaterally to allow Orthodox to receive Roman sacraments in cases of need, “recognizes the validity of Orthodox sacraments,” and “apostolic succession.” But Orthodox are not permitted to receive Catholic “sacraments,” non-Orthodox are not permitted to partake of Orthodox Mysteries, and converts from the Latin Church are usually received by Chrismation (ie, “confirmation”).

It’s common even among Orthodox to reduce the differences with Catholicism to a checklist of complaints, usually including the filioque, papal claims, purgatory, the “immaculate conception” of the Theotokos and her subsequent non-death, Original Guilt, legalism, unleavened wafers for Eucharist, Uniatism, mandatory celibacy for priests, the wrong kind of consecration prayer during the liturgy, and so forth. For Catholicism’s part, they usually perceive us as closer to them than we do. But some Orthodox see Western Christianity as a whole as having largely degenerated from the experiential knowledge of the Truth, to mere human speculation about the truth, or from (big-T) Theology to philosophy-of-religion. To these, the list-items above are just symptoms of forgetting that Churches need prophets, and the spiritual, ascetical way they usually come about – that is, those who have seen God’s Uncreated Energies, the Uncreated Light, the Light of Mt. Tabor, the Glory of God, the Shechinah, and spoken or written out of that experience/lifestyle, or at least relied on other prophets’ experience and words, humbly. An important aspect of Latin reflection on Christianity is the principle, “If it’s reasonable, God did it.” But this doesn’t take into account that human reason unaided by the experience of God’s Revelation of Himself, and human self-discipline, is faulty, mired in the sin of the world. Furthermore, even if a Pope were to agree to wholly Orthodox doctrine, that wouldn’t make his Church Orthodox. Western Christians have gotten so used to relying on the Pope – or a Reformer, or the preacher du jour, or themselves – to guard their Faith instead of guarding Orthodoxy themselves – maybe starting as far back as Augustine of Hippo – that especially in an environment rife with heterodoxy “in head and members,” there may seem little else to do than the hard work of bringing each and every Westerner back to Orthodoxy one by one. As for Western “sacraments” and “apostolic succession,” some Orthodox are starting to question whether the heterodox “successors” of Orthodox bishops forced out of office and martyred, as the Franks and Normans did throughout Western Europe, can even be said to possess Apostolic Succession, especially apart from Christ’s Orthodox Church – like the West asserts.

This more radical critique, based in the writings of Orthodox such as Fr. John Romanides, Metropolitan HIEROTHEOS (Vlachos) of Nafpaktos, Greece, St. Symeon the New Theologian, and others, may be slowly growing within Orthodoxy.

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  1. Anonymous

    Hi people
    I do not know what to give for Christmas of the to friends, advise something ….

  2. Anonymous

    Hello. Good day
    Who listens to what music?
    I Love songs Justin Timberlake and Paris Hilton

  3. Leo Peter O'Filon

    Well, speaking for myself (and I’m gonna go ahead and take these posts seriously, what does it hurt?!!), I actually don’t listen to alot of music in recent years. Maybe I should. It’s nothing ideological, just that I end up doing other things. Also, I find it hard to read, even the WWW, with noise around me. In school I never studied with music on! When I did listen to music more, it ranged from classical to Irish trad and modern, to Celtic rock to Classic Rock to New Age to Progressive/Alternative Rock (the old WDRE Long Island, and Seattle’s The Edge – Am I dating myself?!!!) to Blues to Adult Contemporary to PDQ Bach(!) to Irish Catholic liturgical music and, once in a blue moon, Top 40 (this was the late ’90s, whatever was on the radio).

    As for Nativity gifts, why not Timothy Ware’s* book The Orthodox Church, available just about everywhere? It’ll share with them this (obvious!!!) interest of you two(?) in Orthodoxy. (*-aka Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia, Auxiliary Bishop to the Greek Archbishop of Britain; convert from Anglicanism)




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