The Orthodox Pages
INSTRUCTIONS FOR JOINING
THE ORTHODOX CHURCH
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE ORTHODOX CHURCH
AND OTHER CHURCHES
When converting from one church to another, one must be sure that the church one is joining teaches the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. When searching for the truth one must go to the very beginnings, but to get there, there is more that one route. The Protestants take Holy Scripture and say this is all we need, it teaches us pure Christianity as it was in the beginning before it was adulterated with various laws and doctrines made by men. But is Holy Scripture enough? The Gospels do not teach us everything for when the Lord was to leave this world He promised us another teacher: “And I will pray to the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever. Even the Spirit of Truth” (John 14: 16) and “the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, He shall teach you all things” (John 14: 26).
Evidently then, there is a Christian teaching, which supplements the Gospels, and this teaching is found in Holy Tradition. But here we need to explain what Holy Tradition is, especially for those coming from a Protestant background. For the Protestants have completely rejected Holy Tradition and because they do not have Holy Tradition to guide them in interpreting Holy Scripture, they have fallen into a plethora of erroneous teachings and have separated into hundreds of denominations and sects. What the Protestants seem to forget is that Holy Scripture, which they claim to be the only authoritative source, was compiled and handed down by Holy Tradition. The oldest Gospel of the New Testament that according to St. Matthew was written between 42-65 A.D. In other words, some years after our Lord Jesus Christ’s Resurrection and the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. The Last Gospel that according to St. John, was written between 85-95 A.D. Of the other books of the New Testament, the Book of Revelation being the last was written about the year 96 A.D. Until all these books [27 in all] had been written and the Canon [collection of books] of the New Testament compiled, the Lord’s teaching, and that of the Apostles’, were orally transmitted. Moreover, not all that the Lord taught, said or did is written in the Gospels and other books of the New Testament; as St. John writes, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written” (John 21: 25).
By mouth alone then, were such teachings transmitted by the Apostles to their successors, who in turn transmitted them to their successors and thus they have come down to us. St. Paul clearly writes this to the Christians of his time when he says: “stand fast and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle” [that is whether oral or written] (2 Thessalonians 2: 15). It was the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit that separated after careful examination, which books should be accepted as genuine and thus compiled the Canon of the New Testament. These unwritten and orally transmitted Apostolic teachings, along with the divinely inspired books written by the Lord’s disciples and Apostles, make up Sacred or Holy Tradition, which is the basis and the foundation of the doctrine of the Orthodox Faith. The multitude of Protestant churches would do better if they take a different route to the beginnings. They should first ask how they came into their existence, for they are without question the illegitimate children of the Reformation or the Anglican Church, who in turn are the illegitimate children of the Roman Catholic Church.
I think therefore that we can safely say that no protestant church holds the whole truth, for they were all created to appease someone’s idea or interpretation of how the Christian faith should be. This leaves us with the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. These two churches are much closer than one might believe. 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. The Orthodox Church shares the same Trinitarian Theology as the Roman Catholic Church or at least did until the Great Schism. This changed with the introduction of the “filioque”. The “filioque” is an addition to the Nicene Creed [Statement of Faith] made by the Roman Catholic Church. 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 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.
OTHER DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE ORTHODOX CHURCH
AND ROMAN CATHOLICISM
THE PRIMACY OF THE POPE
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.
In the ninth century, however, Pope Nicholas I (858-867), 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).