N.B.: The following article is posted with special permission granted by Mr. James Likoudis.
It is interesting that all Christian communities believe themselves to be "orthodox" in faith as faithful to the Scriptures or the Apostolic tradition or both. Certainly, the Catholic Church claims to be the faithful inheritor of the ancient Church which fought vigorously to preserve the orthodox faith confided to it by Christ the Lord. The ancient Roman Canon of the Mass explicitly prays for "et omnibus orthodoxis, atque catholicae et apostolicae fidei cultoribus" ("and all orthodox believers who cherish the Catholic and Apostolic Faith").
It may be said that all other Christian communities preserve aspects - in different degrees - of Catholic belief, but not completely. The Catholic Church alone is perfectly orthodox in belief because of its indefectible and infallible Magisterium grounded in the Petrine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome.
Contrariwise, there is the claim of the Eastern Orthodox to be exclusively "orthodox" and the sole historic continuation of the Church of the seven Ecumenical Councils. They may claim to be the Catholic Church, but the world knows otherwise, as well as many Orthodox themselves who engage in denouncing the "innovations" and "new dogmas" of the Catholic Church. It is significant that the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed nowhere speaks of the "Orthodox Church" and that the Fathers of the Church such as St. Augustine and St. Cyril of Jerusalem constantly refer to the Catholic Church as the one safeguarding the orthodox faith.
As my own experience with the Orthodox claim may be of interest to Wanderer readers, I submit the following reflections.
"Orthodoxy is my Doxy, Heterodoxy is your Doxy" is the slogan and rallying cry of the most acerbic Eastern Orthodox critics opposed to Unity with Rome and the ecumenical efforts of the Catholic Church. To be sure, the slogan is not vocalized by reputable Eastern Orthodox theologians and apologists, especially by those engaging in serious ecumenical efforts. The slogan is rather hurled by those pseudo-apologists and pseudo-theologian – mainly E.O. lay people and some clerics also – who in their fiery zeal heap invectives and vitriol at the Pope and reject ecumenical overtures.
Indeed, when confronted with Catholic arguments and historical facts, I have found that these militant defenders of Orthodoxy resort to their last verbal weapon at their disposal – "I am orthodox, you are not !" This is often accompanied by a one-sided, antagonistic, and belligerent polemic. It would be easy, of course, to turn the table and respond "Orthodoxy is my Doxy, Heterodoxy is your Doxy" to one's E.O. counterparts, for in saying that, one would be on far more solid theological grounds. Catholic apologists tend to refrain from that, being mindful of Christian Charity and admonitions on fraternal correction.
The conversion of a soul is a very serious and personal business. A convert to Catholicism may go through a great deal of mental anguish, especially when he leaves the church or community that he has known since childhood. It cannot be accomplished simply by reviewing historical events or documents or someone triumphantly exclaiming: "Orthodoxy is my Doxy, Heterodoxy is your Doxy". One may acknowledge that it can be extremely difficult and painful (mentally and emotionally) for any member of the Eastern Orthodox communion of national Churches (so close to us in many ways) to have a change of heart and re-enter the visible Unity of the Catholic Church. Such a change would entail abandoning a cherished culture linked to a national identity, and loyalty to their own ethnic bishop or Patriarch; it would require obedience to the Pope (Peter) as the visible head of the Church and assent to all Catholic Dogmas and Doctrine.
The serious seeker of the truth, whether layman or cleric, will grasp the vicious circle in Eastern Orthodox polemics:
- Q. "Where is the true Church?"
- A. "Where there is the orthodox faith."
- Q. "Where is the orthodox faith?"
- A. "With the Orthodox Church."
- Q. "Which is the Orthodox Church?"
- A. "The Church with the orthodox faith."
The major difficulties proposed by Orthodox writers, however, can be overcome by diligently and "objectively" considering:
- the history of the Church of the first Millennium;
- the unfortunate events that led to the Schism;
- the fundamental cause of the present sorry state of Eastern Orthodoxy's internal divisions - namely, the obstinate maintenance of Schism.
However, facts alone cannot change one’s heart; faith in God and complete trust in His Word are the basic ingredients that illuminate one's mind to the truth. For a seeker of the Truth above all, longs to hear at the end of his earthly life, the sweet words of the Master saying "enter the kingdom of my Father, you good and faithful servant".
Let us now examine the question as to whether Eastern Orthodoxy's claim to be fully orthodox is in accord with the truth...
First of all, the Church of the first Millennium was ONE in faith, united by the same doctrine and teaching, governed by Patriarchs in the East and by the Pope in the West, with the Chair of Peter at Rome reigning with supreme authority over all the Churches of God.
With regard to the Great Byzantine Schism, there is one certainty, however, that history has made clear: It is Constantinople that chose to break communion with Rome and the West, for all the vain and baseless reasons Michael Cerularius invoked in 1054. We well know who did or said what, to compromise the visible Unity of the Church. At the heart of this deplorable division was Byzantine Orthodoxy's denial of Peter and his successor's supremacy as Vicar of Christ in the earthly Church. This Orthodox denial of the Petrine prerogatives of the Bishop of Rome is incongruous and runs contrary to the very words of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and the cumulative history and tradition of the first Millennium.
No "truly" orthodox Christian would dare deny the import and meaning of the words of Christ-God, for He IS NOT a liar or deceiver when He took steps to arrange for the future government of His Church; therefore, when the Incarnate Word said to Peter:
"Thou art Rock... I will give thee the Keys of the Kingdom... and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against the Church built on thee..." and "Confirm thy brethren...", "Rule, feed My sheep..."
Jesus commissioning the Apostle Peter
these are assuredly the verbal foundations for the Dogma of the Petrine
In other words, <<<the Papacy exists because of the words of Christ, and no other.>>>
Divine words are NOT meaningless or futile - witness the uninterrupted testimonies of Fathers, Saints, and Councils to the universal authority and jurisdiction of the Bishops of Rome.
Contrary to the interpretations of some Orthodox polemicists, all Bishops were NOT to be the Rock of the Church; all were Not given the Keys of the Kingdom to bear as the Chief Vicar of Christ; all were Not given the solemn charge to confirm the brethren; all were Not given the stupendous charge to be the Chief Shepherd to feed all the lambs and sheep of the Master. Rather all Bishops were to be one with Peter in confessing the Apostolic faith and in obedience to Peter's successor, the Bishop of Rome. If not to the Pope, then to whom is obedience due when matters of faith are in question?
With regard to the present Schism of the Orthodox Churches in communion with Constantinople, it is to be recalled that at the Last Supper Jesus prayed to His Father for the visible and spiritual unity of His Church. Assuredly, current divisions among those who profess to love Christ, frustrate the Prayer and the Will of the Savior. Are we to infer, however, that Jesus' Prayer was ineffectual? That would be blasphemous. Rejecting that Petrine unity required for the One, Holy, Catholic (Universal), and Apostolic Church to fulfill its mission of evangelization of the nations is equivalent to rejecting God's Word...
Being orthodox, above all, means to give assent with heart and mind to the very words of the INCARNATE WORD and to accept the teaching of those that Jesus commissioned for His ministry, namely, Peter and the bishops in communion with him. Thus, "True orthodoxy" consists not in a self-professed label, but rather in a state of mind which freely accepts and conforms to the teaching and will of the Master concerning the visible and spiritual unity of His Church.
Moreover, orthodox thinking conforms to the will of God as regards His Bride (the Church). Christ willed His Church to have an indefectible visible center of unity and to be free and independent from secular temporal rulers and worldly influences so that she can spread unhindered the Gospel to the ends of the world. It is striking that we don’t see this among the 14 or so independent (autocephalous) Orthodox Churches. It is indisputable that most, if not all, of these national autocephalous churches are under local government controls. It seems they prefer to remain under the yoke of nationalistic civil rulers than the paternal guidance of the Vicar of Christ.
The history of
Byzantine Christianity reveals that
too much of Christ's legacy has been surrendered to Caesar.
The civil-secular overseers imposed on the separated Eastern national Churches is the sad consequence of rejecting Peter. But it doesn't end there, for the Eastern Orthodox are seen to be internally fractured and splintered, witness, for example, the spectacles of the Patriarch of Moscow accusing Constantinople of "Papist tendencies"; Constantinople accusing Moscow of claiming supremacy in pan-Orthodoxy; Patriarchs distrusting each other and at times breaking communion with one another; witness the conflicting territorial claims by Russian and Greek churches over the Churches in North and South America, Ukraine, Estonia, etc.
These internal disorders are also the consequence of theological discord and disorders contrary to the teachings of the Greek and Latin Fathers of the Church. Thus, Catholics have been confronted with the interminable quarrels and torrents of abuse regarding the Petrine primacy, the Filioque, Azymes, Original Sin, the Immaculate Conception, the Particular Judgment, Purgatory, and the Beatific Vision. Some Orthodox even continue to deny the validity of Catholic Sacraments. There are also deviations from patristic moral doctrine such as the Orthodox acceptance of contraception and divorce and re-marriage (which, interestingly, some Catholic dissenters now seek to see adopted in Catholic doctrine and practice).
What is to be said concerning all these theological issues which for centuries have proved obstacles to the long-hoped for Reunion of the Churches? The one intractable issue has been, of course, the Papacy as dogmatically professed by the Catholic Church. For Catholics, the Chair of Peter was instituted by the express words and direct will of God to preserve the visible unity of the Church's faithful. Therefore any Christian sincerely wishing to be orthodox would embrace the Papacy as a precious gift of our Blessed Lord.
Regarding all other doctrinal issues: the Filioque, Azymes, Original Sin, the Immaculate Conception, the Particular Judgment, Purgatory, the Beatific Vision , the validity of Catholic sacraments, which have been contested by Orthodox bishops, theologians, and writers, none of these need impede the Reunion of the Churches. For as James Likoudis has shown in various articles in "The Wanderer", there have been and are Orthodox theologians and writers who on each controversial issue have supported the Catholic teaching or have not viewed the issue as a doctrinal obstacle to future Unity.
For example, with respect to the Filioque dispute, over which oceans of ink have been shed over a thousand years, the well known Orthodox theologian Metropolitan Kallistos Ware has admitted that there are "theological doves" in the pan-Orthodox world who:
"Do not consider that the Latin doctrine of the Double Procession is in itself heretical."
Similarly, the Greek Orthodox theologian Fr. Theodore Stylianopoulos has written:
"The Filioque question does not signal a 'great divide' between the Eastern and Western Churches... the Filioque marks not a decisive difference in dogma, but an important difference in the interpretation of dogma..."
With respect to the Immaculate Conception, the Greek Orthodox theologian Christopher Damalas of Athens, at the time of Blessed Pius IX's dogmatic definition, declared:
"We have always held and taught this doctrine. This point is too sacred to give rise to quarrels."
The Russian Orthodox theologian Fr. Lev Gillet noted that:
"From the Middle Ages to the 17th century the Russian Church has, as a whole, accepted belief in the Immaculate Conception... There is a continuous line of eminent Orthodox authorities who have taught the Immaculate Conception."
Among them was Dimitri of Rostov canonized as a saint by the Russian Church.
As regards the Catholic doctrine on Purgatory, the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Kallistos, author of the classic work "The Orthodox Church", noted that despite Orthodox teaching:
"not being clear about the condition of souls in the period between death and the Resurrection of the body at the Last Day... It is undeniable that a number of 17th c. Orthodox writers - most notably Peter of Moghila and Dositheos in his Confession - upheld the Roman Catholic doctrine of Purgatory or something very close to it."
The same phenomenon of conflicting authorities can be seen with respect to the controversies regarding Azymes, Original Sin, the Particular Judgment, and the Beatific Vision, and the validity of Catholic Sacraments. Alongside prelates and theologians thoroughly rejecting the Catholic doctrine in question, there can be found eminent voices who either espouse the Catholic doctrine or leave the question open.
The growing realization among the Orthodox that the negations of Catholic teaching ARE NOT on the level of dogma is of immense significance since they can not be said to remain fixed barriers to organic reunion. More importantly, the disclosure of the variations and basic incoherence in Orthodox teaching, starkly reveals that the theological grievances of the past can not be utilized to justify continued separation from their Catholic brethren.
The results of centuries of Schism are clear:
- a deep-seated hatred of the Papacy among too many Orthodox;
- the spread of doctrinal confusion among them;
- their sorry servitude to civil governments;
- and chaotic canonical divisions crippling apostolic missionary work.
None of these has the mark of orthodoxy!
In the Providence of God, since the Ravenna Conference (2007) preparatory to the holding of a Pan-Orthodox Council, discussions have taken place between Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theologians regarding the notion of a Universal Primacy in the Church. This is a remarkable development though the Orthodox may intend, thereby, to pursue a universal primacy for the Patriarch of Constantinople. However, there is the possibility that the Petrine Primacy as Catholics understand it may undergo a serious reassessment by Orthodox prelates and theologians who may be led to see that the Papacy is not incompatible with their own understanding of Collegiality/ Synodality for a more efficient government of the Church.
May the intercession of the All-Holy Mother of God (the Theotokos) hasten the end of our sorry divisions and help our separated brethren to understand that orthodoxy demands Papal primacy as an essential feature of the Church's hierarchical structure. May the prayers of the Mother of the Church assist Orthodox bishops and Patriarchs to view the Petrine ministry of the Pope in the context of our Lord Jesus's singular words to the Chief of His Apostles and His High-priestly prayer that "All May Be ONE" that the world may believe.
Only in their
communion with the See of Peter
will our separated Eastern brethren be truly ORTHODOX.