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Things Roman Catholics often


dont understand
about Eastern Orthodoxy
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: The Orthodox tradition

Why arent you under the Pope?


RTHODOX believe the Church in its fullness is present wherever the faithful are gathered round their
bishop a successor to the apostles holding the true faith celebrating the Eucharist. (Priests in the
thinking of the early Church are ordained to stand in for the bishop at the local communitys offering of
the Holy Sacrifice.) Therefore national or autocephalous (self-headed) churches (under their own
patriarchs some of these patriarchates date back to the apostles) are each the Church in its fullness. (The
patriarch of Constantinople is not the Orthodox Pope or the spiritual head of the worlds Orthodox
Christians as is often wrongly reported.)
The word Church often is used in four ways: the one true Church (the universal or Catholic Church) is made
up of Churches (particular autocephalous or autonomous churches) in communion with each other. These in
turn are made up of local churches each gathered round a bishop, and these are made up of local
congregations (including, for example, geographical parishes).
Roman Catholicism agrees with much of this Orthodox understanding but it holds that communion with only
one patriarch, the Pope of Rome (who indeed was pre-eminent in the pre-schism Church), is necessary to be
fully the Church. He is regarded as both the patriarch of his particular Church, the Roman one, and a kind of
super-patriarch, the vicar of Christ, of the entire universal Church. This implies (but doesnt actually say) that
the Roman Church (its rite, its theological schools of thought), of which the Pope is patriarch, is somehow
superior to the Byzantine and other Churches: more Catholic, as if Roman equalled universal. Many
Roman Catholics at least unconsciously take this as a given. Unfortunately, this in practice relegates the
Eastern Churches to second-class status. This is unacceptable to all Orthodox.
Before the Schism, the historic, apostolic Orthodox Churches of the East, which like Rome accepted the
Council of Chalcedons teaching on the two natures of Christ, were in communion with the Pope but never
were under him as parts of his patriarchate.
What it boils down to really is: is and has the Pope always really been the head of the whole church on earth
with immediate jurisdiction everywhere (so why bishops then?), the RC position today, or is the Pope simply
one of several man-made ranks, like other patriarchs, metropolitans and archbishops, in the divinely instituted
episcopate, the apostolic ministry? (To hold to the latter is not to hate the papacy or Western Catholicism,
believe theyre graceless heretics and so on, which is where I think I and many/most Orthodox sharply part

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ways.)

The Catholic Church has the Eastern rites. Why dont you all just
join those?
Roman Catholicism holds the Orthodox have real bishops and real
sacraments and therefore that corporate reunion with the Orthodox as
whole Churches, not as individual converts, is possible. (This is not true
of Protestants.) This in part makes the existence of the Eastern Catholic
Churches (also called the Eastern rites or the Oriental rites) possible.
But:
The creation of the Eastern Catholic Churches from the late 1500s
onwards reflected a thinking among many Catholics that identified the
Church in its fullness with the Roman Rite. Rather than seeking
corporate reunion, Roman Catholics sought to gain individual
conversions at the Orthodox expense, angering and hurting the
Orthodox to this day. The Eastern-rite Catholic churches were set up as
vehicles to steal people and local churches from the Orthodox and also
with the long-term goal of making the converts Roman Catholics, with
the Eastern rites tolerated as an interim measure. While Roman
Catholicism (including the Popes) did not officially sanction this
latinisation, it did view its Eastern rites as some sort of substitute or
replacement for the Orthodox: a strategy called Uniatism.
Today, one of the few good outcomes of Roman Catholicisms Second
Vatican Council (1962-65) otherwise a dbcle of mistakes in
prudential judgement in favour of that counterfeit of Christianity called
liberalism is that this approach to the Orthodox has been dropped,
and again, corporate reunion a restoration of communion between
the Churches, not the liquidation of the Orthodox is the goal. (The
late Metropolitan Joseph (Slipyj) of the Ukrainian Catholic Church
agreed.) The Balamand Statement signed by officials from both sides in
1993 reaffirmed this. Here is a list of the Orthodox signers.

...because Catholicity cannot be


truly Catholic universal
without you, without the other
authentic and apostolic half of
Christs Church, we have no
intention of replacing you in this
Church, for you are the only one
capable of preparing us a place in
it. Only as the Catholic Church
opens and affords you a loving
home within its fold, on an equal
basis with the Latins, will we be
able to feel at home in it
ourselves.

Roman Catholicism today defends the right of the present-day Eastern


Metropolitan Joseph (Slipyj), who
Catholics to exist in communion with Rome, but has discarded the use
spent nearly 20 years in Soviet prisons
of these churches to solicit conversions from the Orthodox. Also, the
Eastern Catholics are being told to remove latinisations and for not breaking with Rome to serve
the Communists
become as much like the Orthodox as possible more
traditional! to prepare for an eventual reconciliation of
Roman Catholicism with Orthodoxy. Here is a more in-depth article on the Eastern Catholics
by my acquaintance Archimandrite Serge (Keleher), a Russian Catholic priest. Still more from
Fr Serge.
May an Orthodoxy that is holy and strong, not broken or vanquished, be the saving medicine for what ails
many in the Roman Church today, sweeping the whole Catholic Church clean of Modernism (the religious
version of liberalism).

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The terminus ad quem of all legitimate ecumenical dialogue and the goal of this site: One Catholic
Church under the Pope much as it was in the first millennium A.D. with an equality of rites, including a
restored Roman Mass and office, and the Christian East not in the diminished state of the present-day Eastern
Catholics but rather as Metropolitan Andrew (Sheptytsky), Blessed Leonty (Leonid Feodorov) and Pope St
Pius X (nec plus, nec minus, nec aliter: no latinisations) envisaged it with full Orthodox usage.
OOK down, most merciful Lord Jesu, our Saviour, upon the prayers and sighs of thy sinful and
unworthy servants falling down before thee and unite us all in one, holy, Catholic and apostolic church.
Pour thine ineffable light into our souls. Resolve religious differences so that we as thy disciples and
beloved children may glorify thee with one heart and one voice. Most merciful Lord, quickly fulfil thy promise
that there be one flock and one shepherd of thy church and grant that we may worthily glorify thy holy name
now and ever and unto endless ages. Amen. Blessed Leonty

Is Russian Orthodoxy the same religion as Greek Orthodoxy, etc.?


Russian Orthodoxy is the same religion as Greek, Antiochian (Arab), Romanian, Bulgarian and Serbian (etc.)
Orthodoxy. Remember that in Orthodoxy, the Church is a family of Churches in communion with each other,
and that these Churches are independent of each other in government, even though they hold the same faith.
So, in Europe and the Middle East, each country or ethnic group has its own Church, usually geographical,
that is communion with the rest of the Orthodox community worldwide.

If youre all one religion, why are you in different churches in


America?
In America before 1917, all Orthodox of whatever ethnicity were under one
Church jurisdiction, the Russian mission, otherwise made up mostly of
Slavic former Eastern Catholics from the Austro-Hungarian Empire
(reacting to the bad treatment they got from the Roman Catholic bishops in
the US see the note below) and some immigrants actually from Russia.
But after the Russian Revolution, communication with the Church in Russia
became difficult and unreliable so the various ethnic groups started their
own jurisdictions, asking the Churches in their homelands for help. (The
Russians themselves split into three groups to deal with this problem.)
Today, the Orthodox in America recognise that their multiplicity of
jurisdictions is an historical anomaly that is uncanonical and needs
correction, especially since the original reason for the proliferation of
separate Church groups Communism in Russia no longer exists. (The
apostolic ideal is one bishop per city; Americans live simultaneously in at
least five Orthodox dioceses.) All of the divisions are superficial and
temporary, and have nothing to do with the essence of Orthodoxy. All
Orthodox can cross jurisdictions and receive the sacraments at other canonical Orthodox churches. Click here
for more on the divisions among Eastern churches. Right: Fr Alexis Georgievich Toth, originally an Eastern
Catholic from what is now far eastern Slovakia. His ill treatment by Archbishop John Ireland in Minneapolis,
for being a married priest (widower), caused him, and consequently many churches along the US East Coast,
to join the Russian mission in the 1890s and early 1900s. (The Russian archbishop had to move from San
Francisco to New York to oversee his new flock.) Today, about 60% of Russian Orthodox in America are

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really ethnic Ruthenians (more) like Fr Alexis, whom one Orthodox Church has declared a saint. (In
Orthodoxy, local Churches can glorify their own saints, whom all Orthodox recognise.)

Why are some of your priests married?


In the early Church, priests often were married, and the Orthodox have maintained this discipline, confirmed
by the (non-ecumenical) Quinisext Council in trullo, which also ruled that bishops must be celibate (a
discipline, not a doctrine). Orthodox bishops are either widowers or longtime monks. Except in places where
Rome banned it (including the US), the Eastern Catholics also ordain married men. The rule is a married man
can become a priest but a priest cant get married. In the Roman Catholic Church, there are deacons and
former Anglican priests who are married; these follow the same discipline as the Orthodox. They were married
before ordination to major orders (starting with the diaconate) and when the wife dies they cant marry again
except by dispensation.

Why do your churches have those paintings and not statues?


Why dont you have Stations of the Cross?
Byzantine Rite churches most Orthodox churches and some
Catholic churches under Rome are full of special paintings
called icons, which are more than decoration, teaching tools
though a lot of theology is behind their designs, and they do
teach theology or devotional aids. They are more like a
sacrament, halfway between pictures and having the Sacrament
in the room with you. The person shown in the icon is
mystically present. However, icons are not idols the prayer
passes through the icon to the person represented and so the
wood and paint arent literally worshipped or adored. Icons
arent meant to be lifelike or realistic, but instead are painted
following strict rules, an elaborate language of colours and
symbols. They are blessed by a priest before being used in
church or at home. Early and medival Western religious
paintings, before the Renaissance, resembled icons.
Also, using paintings instead of statues is partly cultural. In the
early Church there was controversy over whether one could use
images in worship the Jews say it violates the First
Commandment and the Muslims have adopted this position. For about 100 years, enforced by the Byzantine
emperor, the anti-images faction in the Church, called iconoclasts (Greek for image-smashers), won. But
then the whole Church had a council, the second Council of Nica, which restored the use of images the
fact that God has become man means we can show His face in figural art. But in the East there was and still is
a compromise: instead of statues, which look like the figures of Greek and Roman gods in pagan temples,
Christian images are flat, or at most bas-relief.
Every year, on the first Sunday of Great Lent (the fasting period before Easter), called the Sunday of
Orthodoxy, the Byzantine Rite celebrates the Churchs teaching on icons.
The Stations of the Cross is a medival devotion spread in the Roman Catholic Church by the Franciscans,
who based it on the route Jesus took on the way to His crucifixion. Because the Byzantine Rite evolved
separately from the Roman Rite, there are no Stations in Orthodox churches. Also, Orthodox devotion tends

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to emphasise the glorified, transfigured, risen Christ more than His earthly sufferings, but the latter are not
ignored. Orthodox use and venerate the crucifix.

Why dont you pray the rosary?


Using beads to count prayers is a nearly universal religious practice older than Christianity. Eastern Orthodox
do it monks and nuns count prayers this way and the beads are part of their habit, worn on the left wrist
but the rosary was introduced to the Roman Catholic Church by St Dominic after the Schism. Again, the
Byzantine Rite evolved separately from the Roman. The rosary is a wonderful practice but not native to the
Orthodox tradition, and with all the akathists, canons and molebny to choose from in their tradition you can
argue that the Orthodox dont need it!

Why dont you kneel?


In the Roman Rite kneeling is a posture of adoration; in the Byzantine its penitential so its not done in church
on Sunday, a joyful day celebrating Jesus rising from the dead.

Why do you cross yourselves backwards?


Why do you? (Only joking.)
Those who follow American football might remember Bernie Kosar, who
played for the Cleveland Browns and would cross himself the Orthodox way
on the field. (He is an Eastern Catholic.) Actually, the way people make the
sign of the cross in the Byzantine Rite used by the Orthodox and some
Eastern Catholic Churches using the fingers of the right hand, touching
the forehead, below the chest, right shoulder, then left shoulder (like this:
actually a bigger, fuller gesture than whats done in the Roman Rite)
is the original way of doing it. The Roman Catholics did it this way too! The
Byzantine way also uses the fingers
symbolically, holding the thumb,
index and ring fingers together to stand for the Trinity, and the fourth
and little finger folded against the palm to stand for the two natures,
human and divine, of Christ. Sometime in the 11th century, starting in
Italy, Roman Catholics began touching the left shoulder first. Nobody
really knows why.

Why do some of your crosses have extra


bars like the slanted one on the bottom?
The top bar is the sign placed on the cross that said Jesus of
Nazareth, King of the Jews. The bottom bar is the piece of wood to
which Jesus feet were nailed. (On Byzantine crucifixes, the feet are
side by side, each with a nail through it; on Roman ones they are

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crossed, with one nail going through both.) There are several stories
to explain why the bottom bar is often slanted. One identifies it with
the X-shaped cross on which St Andrew later was killed. (St Andrew the apostle is a patron saint of Byzantine
Churches legend has it he visited Scythia, which later became the Ukraine.) Another is a legend that says
the bar tilted like a scale to show the good thief crucifed next to Jesus, St Dismas, joined Him in paradise
while the thief who mocked Him was lost. Still another explanation simply says Jesus was in such pain He tried
to move His legs, causing the bottom board to shift. Most often identified with the Orthodox and particularly
with the Russian Church, the three-bar cross pre-dates the conversion of the Russians in 988. In Byzantine
iconography it has been used as a symbol of martyrdom. Click on the Russian three-bar crucifix at right for a
more detailed explanation of its symbolism.

Why do some of you celebrate Christmas on a different day? Why is


your Easter later than ours?
The churches in some Orthodox countries didnt adopt the modern Gregorian calendar and still use the Julian
one, which is now 13 days behind the Gregorian or civil calendar. So when Russians celebrate Christmas on
the 7th January its because according to the Julian reckoning its the 25th December!
The Orthodox date for Easter is a different issue. Sometimes its the same as the Western date but more often
is later because of an ancient church rule not followed by the West that says Easter cant coincide with or
come before the Jewish Passover.

What do you believe about Roman Catholic saints who lived after the
split between the churches?
My understanding is the only limit to recognition of the other sides post-schism saints is theyre not
commemorated liturgically, that is, in church. Entirely fair and in a way humble the bishops dont claim the
authority to rule either way on phenomena outside their church.
Private devotion, however, is free: at home you can venerate anybody from the other churchs post-schism
saints to your deceased relatives.

What Orthodox often dont understand


about Roman Catholicism
Roman Catholicism fell away from the Church in 1054.
False. What happened in 1054 was the result of political rivalry between the western Holy Roman empire
(started when the Pope crowned Charlemagne) and the Byzantine or eastern Roman Empire (the continuation
of the Roman Empire). Here is an excerpt from Bishop Kallistos (Timothy Ware) book The Orthodox
Church on the Schism. Papal legates excommunicated the patriarch of Constantinople and vice versa in 1054,
but neither Church at the time saw this as a permanent break. In fact, the Slavic Byzantine churches remained

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in communion with Rome after that year, which is why the Russians commemorate the moving of St
Nicholas body to Bari, Italy, and the Greeks dont: it happened after 1054.
The Schism was a gradual estrangement in the Middle Ages, exacerbated by the rise of Islamic power in the
Middle East, which cut off contact between Latin Christian western Europe and the Greek Christian
Byzantines, and by the sacking of Constantinople by soldiers of the Latin Fourth Crusade in 1204, and
narrowed with attempts at reconciliation (the councils of Lyons and of Ferrara-Florence). Some Orthodox
sees, like the metropolitanate of Kiev in Rus (now Ukraine) and the patriarchate of Antioch in Syria, tried at
times to maintain communion with both Rome and Constantinople during the medival years. The reunion
effected at Florence was broken in 1473 after the Turks destroyed the Byzantine Empire (conquering
Constantinople in 1453).
So there was no great falling away in 1054. The Russians schismed because they were angry at Poland for
stealing Galicia (the southwestern Ukraine) in the 1300s and the Turks restarted the Greek schism in 1473
because like the Communists 400-some years later (who banned and persecuted the Eastern Catholics for the
following reasons) they didnt want their Christian subjects in a church they couldnt control they didnt
want them in a church with a foreigner in charge. Theology really had nothing to do with it differences in
method were used as excuses.
Some say the Schism wasnt final until the creation of the Eastern Catholic Churches by Rome outraged the
Orthodox.

Catholics believe the Pope isnt a sinner... they believe he is


automatically a saint.
(Actual quotations from eastern European Orthodox.)
False. Papal infallibility isnt nearly as broad in its powers as non-Catholics think!
Roman Catholicism teaches that this dogma (defined in 1870) is a specific
application of Church infallibility, something both sides believe in. It says the
Pope can at times act as a one-man ecumenical council to defend and interpret
Holy Tradition, not invent new dogmas that contradict Tradition. It is a function
of the Popes office, not a personal power of the man. In his opinions as a man
the Pope is as fallible as everybody else (he cant predict the weather, for
example) and can even be a private heretic (which takes care of Pope Honorius,
condemned posthumously for heresy). St Robert Bellarmine explained that if a
Pope tried to teach heresy in his function of infallibility, he ipso facto wouldnt be
Pope anymore, because by so doing he would have put himself outside the
Church: The manifestly heretical Pope ceases per se to be Pope and head as he
ceases per se to be a Christian and member of the Church, and therefore he can be
judged and punished by the Church. This is the teaching of all the early Fathers De Romano Pontifice
(Milan, 1857), vol. II, chap. 30, p. 420. (Orthodox may understandably ask why only the patriarch of the
West is blessed with this gift, since again it seems to place the Eastern churches in the role of supporting
players to the Roman Church, but the first-millennium Church believed in Roman primacy.) In about 900
years only three Popes have been canonised as saints (including St Peter Celestine, a holy monk but a disaster
as Pope, the only one who has had to resign!). John Paul II was said to go to Confession often, so obviously
he didnt think he wasnt a sinner! Here is an article by Jonathan Tuttle, a Roman Catholic, explaining that
Catholicism is not the cult of the Pope.

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What about the filioque?


To refute the heresy of Arianism, which teaches Jesus is less than God, Latin
theologians starting in Spain began to add the word filioque Latin for and the Son
to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (... and in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and
Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father [and the Son]) adopted by the Church
at ecumenical councils. (An idea found in the writings of some of the Church Fathers,
who individually were, of course, fallible.) By this the West did not teach that there is a
double procession, or two Holy Spirits, one from the Father, the other from the Son!
Still, the Creed shouldnt have been altered (one of the Popes at the time agreed!),
except by another ecumenical council. At the medival reunion Council of
Ferrara-Florence, it was agreed that filioque means that the Holy Spirit proceeds from
the Father through the Son.

And the Immaculate Conception?


First of all, the Immaculate Conception is not the Virgin Birth of Christ. Both Roman Catholicism and Eastern
Orthodoxy hold that Mary is sinless, and indeed the Byzantine Rite calls her immaculate. The post-schism
(1854) Roman definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception (the concept dates back to John Duns
Scotus in the Middle Ages and even before him to Paschasius Radbertus in the 800s) refers to Our Lady being
free from original sin from the moment of her conception. Some object that this rules out her redemption by
her Son, but since Jesus is God, His acts arent bound by time or space. So by prevenient grace she was,
retroactively if you will, redeemed by Him.
The thinking behind this definition is very bound up in western Catholic thought about original sin. Since the
East doesnt use this theological framework to describe the faith, perhaps the wording of the Immaculate
Conception isnt necessary for the Orthodox to describe the purity of Our Lady.

Doesnt Orthodoxy teach that Roman Catholicism is heretical or


without grace?
Orthodoxy has never dogmatically taught either thing. (Conversely, Roman
Catholicism does not teach that postschism Orthodox are heretics.) All it holds to
dogmatically is that Orthodoxy is the Church and has grace in its
sacraments: the Church is one, her mysteries (sacraments) are
one. The rest is a matter of opinion, and actually one that the
Orthodox arent particularly interested in. Some Orthodox, like
Archbishop Vsevolod (left) in Chicago, hold a view that
reciprocates Romes toward Orthodoxy; others, like the late Fr
Seraphim (Rose) (right), hold the opinion that only Orthodoxy has
grace. Both positions are allowable as Orthodox, but neither are
what Orthodoxy definitively teaches. In fact, the 19th-century Russian thinker
Vladimir Soloviev took this to an unusual extreme, holding that since Russia never
formally had broken communion with Rome and because Orthodoxy never had condemned postschism Roman
Catholicism in an ecumenical council, one could hold everything Roman Catholicism teaches yet remain in the
Russian Orthodox Church! (Roman Catholics today agree with him.) Such views are very rare, however. Most

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Orthodox simply dont speculate about grace outside Orthodoxy.

The walls which divide us... do not reach up to heaven. Paraphrased from Metropolitan Platon of Kiev

That they all may be one


This page is dedicated to Archbishop Vsevolod of Skopelos, Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, 1927-2007

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