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THE ORTHODOX CHURCH
DIFFERENCES WITH THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH
The Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church are titles adopted to distinguish the two churches after their separation. If we take away their titles we can simply call them the Church in the east and the Church in the west and that’s how it was in the very beginning: one Church, one faith until the Great Schism of 1054. Everything before the Great Schism was common to both east and west. They shared the same Holy Scripture, the same Church Fathers, the same Saints, the same doctrines, the same priesthood, the same Sacraments. Until the Great Schism, the Orthodox Church shared the same Trinitarian Theology as the Roman Catholic Church. This changed with the introduction of the “filioque” (SEE BELOW “THE FILIOQUE”).
When we are asked to explain the differences between the two churches, we usually mention the Pope, the insertion of the Filioque and certain dogmas like purgatory and the Immaculate Conception, but the differences are in fact far more numerous and quite profound. The main reason for the schism is usually considered to be the insertion of the Filioque in the Creed which in some places was inserted centuries before the Schism. Like the Filioque, a great many other differences existed long before the Great Schism of 1054 and many more developed after. Also, in modern times, since Vatican II, that major, if not tragic attempt, to “update” Roman Catholicism, the differences between Orthodoxy and the followers of the Pope have widened. Some of these differences are external practices which can easily be rectified or ignored because they are not based on dogmas such as how we cross ourselves. Whether we cross ourselves from right to left or left to right, whether we use one, two, three or four fingers is not something that would keep us apart. To be fair we also have changed the way we cross ourselves over the centuries. Originally from the times of the Apostles we used only our thumb making the sign of the cross on our foreheads, then we used two fingers and it was only in the ninth century that we adopted the use of the three fingers. The things that have kept us apart for a thousand years are more serious because they have to do with faith, dogmas and our relationship with God and how we understand who God is.
The “filioque” is an addition to the Nicene Creed [Statement of Faith] which the Roman Catholic Church accepted and sanctioned in her liturgical use.. In its original form, preserved by the Orthodox Church, the Creed states: “And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, Who proceedeth from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified”. The Roman Catholic Church added the words: “And from the Son” so that it now reads: “Who proceedeth from the Father and from the Son”. These few words contributed to the already unstable and fragile relationship between the Churches of Rome and Constantinople, and was one of the main reasons for the Great Schism. The Orthodox Church very correctly anathemised the new Roman Catholic creed on the grounds that Canon law strictly forbade any change to the Nicene Creed, but also because the “filioque” caused a change in the relationship between the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity by indirectly suggesting that the Holy Spirit is subordinate to the Father and the Son. It destroyed the monarchy of the Father, for having never been begotten and not proceeding from any other Person, He is the Source of the Godhead, but if the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son as well as the Father, then the Son also becomes a source of the Godhead and therefore could not be begotten before all ages. This may seem difficult to understand, but any change in Trinitarian Theology, has consequences on the whole of the Christian Faith, because the dogma of the Holy Trinity is at the very heart of it.
The Filioque was the only dogmatic cause, of the breach between East and West. Other dogmatic issues have certainly arisen since the separation, but the Filioque was the only dogmatic difference at the time of the schism.
The Second Ecumenical Council had the Macedonion heresy to deal with, which taught that the Holy Spirit was not a person (hypostasis) of the Holy Trinity but simply a power or energy of God. Faced with this new heresy, the Council used the Scriptural description of the Holy Spirit as found in the Gospel of St. John. The Creed was consistently endorsed by subsequent Ecumenical Synods who specifically forbade any changes to be introduced into the Creed. The Creed was and is the common possession of the whole Church, and no one in the Church had a right to tamper with it. With the insertion of the “Filioque”, against the directives of the Ecumenical Councils and without consulting the East, the Roman See was guilty of sinning against the unity of the Church. For Western theologians this addition might seem trivial, but in Orthodox Trinitarian theology it has enormous consequences. With the addition of the Filioque the relationship between the three Persons of the Holy Trinity becomes confused and clearly subordinates the Holy Spirit making him less that the other two persons.
The history of the Filioque can be traced back to St. Augustine of Hippo who died in 430 AD. His writings put forth the teaching of the double procession of the Holy Spirit and regardless of the fact that others before him may have invented the double procession; it is his influence that made known the Filioque in the west. The insertion of the Filioque into the creed seems to have happened as early as 400 at a council of Toledo in Spain. By the Third Council of Toledo in 589 it became the accepted form for Spain and they even believed that this was the original form of the Creed. The Council went as far as to anathematize those who did not profess that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. Again ironically, they also anathematized all those who did not accept the decrees of the first Four Ecumenical Councils: without being aware they were anathematizing themselves. From Spain the introduction of the Filioque spread fairly rapidly through the West and before long it was received practically everywhere, except at Rome, who still recited the Creed in its original form until the start of the 11th Century. The Pope even had the Creed, without the Filioque, inscribed in Greek and Latin on two silver plaques and set them up in Saint Peter’s at Rome. The Filioque first became an issue of controversy by Charlemagne and the Council of Frankfurt in 794. They accused the Greeks of heresy because they reciting the Creed without the Filioque.
From the first days of the Church, when the Apostles had to decide about an important problem, they gathered at a Synod [council], they fasted, they prayed and decided all together, inspired by the Holy Spirit: “Then pleased it the Apostles and elders, with the whole Church” (Acts 15: 22 and 15: 28), “For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us” (Acts 15: 28). This system called synodical or conciliar has remained intact in the Orthodox Church up to the present day. No bishop is over the others. The Church catholic never granted rights to a bishop of a larger province to interfere in the matters of another Church. Every local Church was self-governing and responsible for her region. The only thing the Church recognized was the primacy of honour, as to who would sit or be mentioned first in a council etc. Thus the Second Ecumenical Synod defined by its third canon that the bishop of Constantinople should have “the primacy of honour after the bishop of Rome, for Constantinople is New Rome”. The Church recognizes only a primacy of honour and seniority and not of authority over the rest of the bishops in the Church, and in this way and with this spirit; she proceeded during the first eight centuries.
As already seen above in the Photian/Nicholas dispute, Pope Nicholas I (858-867) in the ninth century, surprising not only the bishops of the East, but even those of the west as well, tried to present himself as “sovereign of the Church and the whole world, by divine right”. With such monarchical tendencies, the Pope tried to interfere in a clearly internal question of the Church of Constantinople during the time of the patriarchs Photius and Ignatius.
Thus the unity of the Church received the first blow from the monarchical aspirations of the Pope. The Pope ignoring the fact that the head of the Church is only He who sacrificed Himself for her, the Lord Jesus Christ, whom the Father made “the head over all things to the Church, which is His body” (Eph. 1:22-23), wanted to become the visible head of the Church and to have supreme authority; he even claimed to be “the successor of the Apostle Peter, the most eminent among the Apostles” and “vicar of Jesus Christ on earth”. This teaching, however, is absolutely contrary to the spirit of the Bible and of the fathers of the Church, and its only foundation is the egotistical and absolutist aspiration of the Pope to become leader and despot, judge and sovereign of the whole world.
If we study the early fathers and the Ecumenical Councils of the Church from the first nine centuries, we are fully persuaded that the bishop of Rome was never considered as the supreme authority and infallible head of the Church. Indeed, every bishop is head and president of his own local Church, subject only to the synodical ordinances and decisions of the Church universal, as being alone infallible. Our Lord Jesus Christ alone is the Eternal Prince and immortal Head of the Church, for “He is the head of the body, the Church” (Col. 1: 18) who said also to His divine disciples and Apostles at His ascension into heaven, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matth. 28: 20).
Moreover, the papists themselves know well that the very passage of the Gospel on which they base their claims “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church” (Matth. 16: 18) is in the first centuries of the Church interpreted quite differently, both by tradition and by all the divine and sacred fathers without exception. The rock upon which the Lord has built His own Church, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail, is understood metaphorically as being Peter’s true confession concerning the Lord that he is “Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matth. 16: 16). Upon this confession and faith, the saving preaching of the Gospel by all the Apostles and their successors rests unshaken.
The divine fathers, respecting the bishop of Rome only as the bishop of the capital city of the Empire, gave him the honorary prerogative of presidency, and considered him simply as the bishop first in order, that is, first among equals; which prerogative they also assigned afterwards to the bishop of Constantinople when that city became the capital of the Roman Empire.
If it is true that the Lord Jesus Christ placed Peter above all the other Apostles, why was the First Apostolic Synod in Jerusalem presided over by James the Lord’s brother and not by Peter? And why, eventually, did the opinion of Paul prevail, being adopted even by Peter himself?
Besides, it is an undoubted historical fact that the founder of the Church of Rome was Paul and not Peter. The fact that Peter preached in Rome does not constitute a right for papal primacy. It is equally known, as described in Holy Scripture, that Peter stayed for a long time in Antioch and preached to the Christians there. Why then, did he not give such a privilege to the bishops of Antioch? Is it not clear by this event that the claim of the Pope to be successor of the Apostle Peter is not based upon Holy Scripture, but it is only an invention of the Pope in order to support his monarchical aspirations, which are so contrary not only to the spirit, but also to the letter of the Bible? The Pope, abandoning the Spirit of Christ, and losing His grace, claimed the primacy, forgetting the words of Christ to the Apostles John and James, when they asked Him for the first place: “Ye know not what ye ask” (Mark 10: 38)
The Church believes that the Truth is identified with Christ “I am the way, the truth and the life” and is expressed in His Church, which is “the pillar and the ground of the truth” (Tim. 3: 15). The truth that Christ delivered to us is preserved in and expressed by the Church of Christ: infallibility belongs to the Church. The fathers of the Church never trusted in themselves or in any single person as an authority, for occasionally even the greatest fathers erred in some matter or diverged somewhat from the consensus of the faithful. Rather they trusted only in the Church as expressed by the Ecumenical Councils. Even the promise of Christ, “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matth. 18: 20), proves that Christ is present not where one person decides, but where two or more consult and ask for the enlightenment of God. Nowhere in the New Testament is it mentioned that Christ gave to any person special privileges and rights, not even to Peter, whose exclusive successor is supposed to be the Pope, but on the contrary, the synodical system is manifest everywhere.
In the nineteenth century, the Roman Church, proclaimed, to the astonishment of the Christian world, that the bishop of Rome is infallible. The Orthodox Church knows of no one infallible upon earth, with the exception of the Son of God who was ineffably made man. Even Peter himself thrice denied the Lord and Paul twice rebuked him for not walking uprightly according to the truth of the Gospel.
When the question arose whether the Christians should keep the decrees of the Mosaic Law, the Apostles and the elders came together in synod to consider the matter. (Acts 15: 6). They did not consult Peter as the only bearer of the truth and Vicar of Christ on earth as the Pope would have him be. Is this not proof that the truth is declared only by the Church and that only the Church must decide in questions concerning the salvation of her members? And is it not blasphemy to set the Pope over the Synods when even the Apostles themselves never claimed such a privilege?
Observe carefully the way the Apostles expressed the results of their disputes during that Apostolic Synod: “For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us” (Acts 15:28). During their consultations the Holy Spirit was present and directed the thoughts of the members of the synod who sat and conversed as equals. None of them claimed infallibility or primacy, which the Pope so insistently demands, thus proving how much he has strayed from the spirit and tradition of the Apostles.
Moreover, how can we accept the doctrine of infallibility or primacy from history, when so many Popes have been anathematised or deposed by councils of bishops? It is well known that Pope Liberius, in the fourth century, subscribed an Arian confession, likewise Zosimus, in the fifth century, approved a heretical confession denying original sin. Virgilius, in the sixth century, was condemned for wrong opinions by the Fifth Council; Honorius, having fallen into the monothelite heresy, was condemned in the seventh century by the Sixth Ecumenical Council as a heretic and the Popes who succeeded him acknowledged and accepted his condemnation.
By this novel dogma, unprecedented in ecclesiastical history, the Roman Catholic Church abolished the authority of the Ecumenical Councils, because their power and infallibility were surrendered to the bishop of Rome, who on this account is no more a bishop of the Church. He has become some fantastic and inconceivable being who stands above the bishops and above the Church, which could not exist without him. In other words, the Church has been replaced by the Pope of Rome. No impartial Christian, searching for the truth, can doubt the error of the Pope in this matter, or deny the non-ecclesiastical and worldly reasons that motivated his grasping such authority.
Another novel and un-orthodox teaching of the Roman Catholic Church is the superabundance of the good works of the saints. It teaches that the good works or merits of the Holy Virgin and the saints are more that they need to save themselves and therefore, the rest of them can be used for the forgiveness of the sins of other men. Of course, the Pope himself, who invented many ways to gather money through the administration of this supposed right to forgive sins, has assumed the dispensation of these merits.
The Bible, however, is clear in this matter and warns us that every man will be judged “according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (II Cor. 5: 10). Each man’s sins can be cleansed only by sincere repentance and by his conformation to the divine commandments, and not by the surplus merits of the saints’ good works.
An equally un-orthodox and un-scriptural dogma is that of the purgatorial fire wherein the sinful souls stay for a shorter or longer period, in proportion to the number and weight of their sins, in order to be cleansed and purified from guilt. The Lord, however, spoke about an eternal fire only, which the sinful and unrepentant will suffer, and about an eternal life, which the righteous and the repentant will enjoy. Nowhere did He speak about a middle condition where a soul must be purified in order to be saved. The Church believes the words of the Gospel, that both the righteous and the sinful await the resurrection of the dead, and that they enjoy in advance Paradise or Hell, in proportion to their good or bad works, before the final placement. The Apostle Paul says: “And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise; God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect” (Heb. 39-40).
Both Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism believe Mary is “the Mother of God” “The Theotokos” and “the Ever-Virgin Mary.” On the 8th of December 1854 Pope Pius IX presented the “dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary” This dogma holds that from the first instant of her conception, the Blessed Virgin Mary was, by a most singular grace and privilege of Almighty God, and in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the human race, preserved from all stain of Original Sin. It is a doctrine revealed by God, and therefore to be firmly and steadfastly believed by all the faithful. As the Pope is infallible and cannot err then the dogma must be true.
One can try to explain this cleansing of original sin with the Mystery of Baptism. When we are baptized, we are immersed into the water, which signifies the death of the Old Adam, the death of the body that inherited the fallen nature. When we are raised from the water, we are joined to the Resurrection Body of Christ. In a similar manner, with the annunciation story where the angel Gabriel tells Mary that the Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee, one can interpret this as a form of baptism that cleansed Mary from the inheritance of the fall and prepared her to receive God in her womb. What is definite is that God could not have taken His abode in Mary’s womb if her body still had the scars of original sin, because God can have no part with sin.
The Roman Catholic Church’s use of unleavened bread in the Eucharist was also seen by the Orthodox Church as an innovation and a breaking away from the Apostolic traditions. The Church had always used leavened bread in the Eucharist and it had nothing to do with whether or not Christ used leaven or unleavened bread at the Mystical supper. The Jewish Passover is not in any sense a feast or celebration, but rather a remembrance of that night the Lord passed over and smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt. The “Passover” meal was the lamb which had to be eaten on that night with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. There was no time to wait for the dough to rise, they had to eat it quickly and be dressed and ready to go. Unleavened bread is referred to as the ‘bread of affliction’, recalling the affliction they suffered in the land of the Egyptians and the haste in which Israel fled Egypt.
Unleavened bread is connected with mourning and fasting, something totally inappropriate in connection with the Lord’s Day. The Eucharist is about the Resurrection as much as the Crucifixion, which is why fasting is forbidden on Sundays and liturgies are festive. Unleavened bread is a fast. Leavened bread is a feast. The Church has always considered Sunday to be a feast day, not a fast day. On this account the Church used leavened bread in the Eucharist.
All the above can be considered as the main differences between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. There are still a great many smaller differences which although small are not trivial because they also contribute to how we understand our relationship with God.
The Orthodox do not fast on Saturday (except Holy Saturday) or Sunday because of the Joy of the Resurrection. Roman Catholics experience no such restriction.
For the same reason Orthodox do not kneel on Sunday; Roman Catholics do.
Orthodox presbyters and deacons may marry before ordination; Roman Catholic clergy are celibate. The Pope did not accept the canons of the Quinisect Council because it ruled against the Church of Rome which practiced celibacy among the clergy and even if someone was married, if he wished to enter holy orders then he had to promise that he would not enter into intercourse with his wife after ordination. The Quinisect Council disagreed with this practice and stated that marriage ties should continue and remain solid and inseverable.
Orthodox worship towards the East; for Roman Catholics it is not necessarily.
The Orthodox Baptise with three immersions; the Roman Catholics only pour water on the head.
After Baptism the Orthodox are immediately Chrismated; the Roman Catholic equivalent called confirmation is received at the age of seven.
At Baptism the Orthodox receive their first communion, the Roman Catholics at a much later age.
The Orthodox faithful receive both the “body and blood of Christ” in Holy Communion; Roman Catholics receive only a wafer.
The Orthodox see the canons of the Church as guides for governing The Church whereas the Roman Catholics consider them as the law.
The list is endless. In our times, talks between the two churches are constantly being held with the hope of finding common ground that will lead to a restoration of mutual communion. If there ever is to be a unification of the two churches, many of these differences, even those that seem trivial, will have to be resolved. There cannot be one church with two faiths, two types of baptisms, two types of Eucharist, etc. Understandably many Orthodox today see the attempts of the Ecumenical movement for reconciliation as a new threat because to reach an agreement both sides will undoubtedly have to give and take and compromise in some area of faith. For the moment the majority of our Orthodox bishops are not in a willing position to sacrifice the Truth for the sake of reconciliation. Any such tendencies will have consequences with violent protests from the defenders of Orthodoxy which will eventually cause another schism within the Church.