Why I’m Not an Orthodox Christian: Intermittent Orthodoxy

Intermittent Orthodoxy

SlypyjGalero1Continued from Part II.  And now we come to it.  When all is said and done, when we’ve argued theology and doctrine into the ground, the only issue that REALLY matters in the Catholic and Orthodox dialogue is the role, rights, and authority of the Bishop of Rome in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.  It took us a while to figure this out.  In the Middle Ages, the reunion council of Florence spent most of its time bickering over the Filioque and Purgatory, while the issue of Papal authority was a mere footnote.  In light of Vatican I and history, though, it becomes clear the the only really important difference between we Catholics and them Orthodox is the Pope.  The schism did not occur because of the Filioque or disagreement over Communion bread or Original Sin or any of that nonsense, though they certainly helped get the ball rolling.  No, when all the minutia is dusted out, the only hard brick wall left to full reunion is the issue of the Papacy.  And so I hope to address, though hopefully in an original way, my feelings about the Papacy and its role in a reunited Church.

When we look back through history at the ecclesiology of the first millennial Church, we notice it doesn’t look much like either the Catholic or Orthodox Churches.  It was nowhere near as centralized and Papal-centric as the modern Latin Church, but neither was it as chaotic and loosely governed as the modern Orthodox Church.  What is constant, though, is a special recognition of the See of Rome as the presidential See of the Universal Church.  As early as Pope St. Clement I, who is early enough to perhaps be mentioned in St. Paul’s letters, Christians were appealing to the Roman Pontiff to settle Church disputes.  St. Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of St. John’s, says that the Roman Church “presides in love”, and indeed throughout the first millennium that’s what we see.  Throughout all of the theological controversies and heresies which afflicted the East, Rome remained the stalwart defender of Orthodoxy.  The Orthodox would have us believe that after one thousand years of perfect loyalty to the true faith, that after Constantinople, Alexandria, and Antioch had fallen to Arians, Monophysites, and Iconoclasts over and over again, the Roman Church suddenly got too big for its britches and fell into heresy.  Forgive me if I find this a little far-fetched.

catholic_rites2The primacy of the Roman Church is derived from its founding by the Apostles Peter and Paul, especially Peter whose authority the Bishops of Rome inherit.  St. Peter’s primacy of authority was given to him by Christ because he was the first Apostle to openly confess the divinity of Christ, as is famously recorded in Matthew 16.  Though it is true that St. Peter founded several Churches, a fact the Orthodox are ever eager to reiterate, Rome was where he died for his faith and where the fulness of his authority is handed down to his successors.  The Latin Church believes that when the Pope teaches on faith or morals he is protected from error by virtue of his inheritance of the “Keys” given to St. Peter by Christ in the aforementioned Gospel.  From an Eastern perspective, one might say that, just as Metropolitan Archbishops can speak for their entire synod, and Patriarchs for the entirety of their respective Churches, the Roman Pontiff can, because of his “primacy of honor”, as the Orthodox love to put it, speak for the whole Universal Church and that since the Universal Church is protected from error, the Pope when he speaks for the Church is also preserved from error.  Thinking like this won’t make the Orthodox very happy.  It might not even be that amenable to the sensibilities of some Eastern Catholics, but it’s the closest thing I’ve ever heard to an Eastern formulation of the dogmas of Papal supremacy and Papal infallibility.

Christ-PeterFlyerAs much as I appreciate the more collegial structure of the Eastern Churches, and often wish the Pope would act more like a “first among equals”, I would be lying if I said I believed a conciliar model of ecclesiology to be sufficient for safeguarding the Faith of the Apostles.  We all know what happens when a group of Christians abandons Apostolic authority entirely.  We get Protestantism and all its chaos and warring factions.  Orthodoxy is no Protestantism, thank God, but its separation from the See of Peter has had extremely unfortunate results.  Though they have for the most part maintained Apostolic tradition through their Bishops, small but concerning errors have crept into the Church over the years.  Their allowance of divorce and remarriage, their constant waffling on the issue of contraception, and the insidious doctrine of the Aerial Toll Houses* are among the most unnerving.  True Catholic Bishops though they may have, they are doomed to loose Orthodoxy because the Bishops have no authority separated from the See of Peter.

St. Josaphat, Ukrainian Catholic Bishop and martyr

St. Josaphat, Ukrainian Catholic Bishop and martyr

Rome is the fount and safeguard of Orthodoxy, as are all Churches in union with it.  The Orthodox Church is an authentic Christian Church, but severely compromised.  Their rejection of the Papacy and the authority which Christ gave it** has given them up to innumerable problems.  When a reunion was briefly achieved after the Council of Florence, the Orthodox faithful rebelled against the Bishops who had been received into Communion with Rome.  I have heard it from the mouths of Orthodox Christians that if the Orthodox Church were to come into union with the See of Peter, they would join a schismatic group, as if schism from Rome were somehow essential to Orthodoxy.  What is this kind of disobedience to their pastors than a high church Protestantism or Eastern sedevacantism?  Let us pray then, for the return of all Churches to the Universal Church, that, as Father Robert Taft has put it, Catholics might become Orthodox and Orthodox might become Catholic, that we all may be one as Christ and the Father are one.


* The doctrine of the Aerial Toll Houses is a folk-heresy which states that after death souls are accosted by and accused by demons and that entrance into heaven is denied those who fail the tests.  I do not mean to suggest that all Orthodox, or even most Orthodox, believe such nonsense, but my point remains that the Orthodox Church has no way to formally put an end to the increasing popularity of such a ridiculous belief.
** Not that the modern Papacy is an exactly perfect embodiment of that authority.  One of these days I plan on writing a post detailing what changes, in my opinion only, the Catholic Church could make to its understanding of the Papacy that would make it more authentic to the tradition of both the Eastern and Western Churches.
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4 Responses to Why I’m Not an Orthodox Christian: Intermittent Orthodoxy

  1. John Cruz says:

    Excellent! Please keep writing! Can I ask whether you worship in a Byzantine Rite church?

    • It depends on the Sunday. I’m not currently in a situation where a Byzantine Church is particularly convenient. I try to go as much as I can, but most Sundays I wind up in the Latin Church. My entire prayer life is thoroughly Byzantine, though. Even in my daily Rosary I use the Byzantine versions of the prayers. The way I think about theology is almost totally Eastern. I even find it difficult to explain things in Latin terms the way I used to.

  2. John Cruz says:

    Thank you Cole. I enjoyed reading your posts because I myself have been on the fence in the past over whether to move to Orthodoxy. I’m very attracted to Byzantine spirituality and prayer and spent some years worshipping in Byzantine rite catholic churches, even seriously considering obtaining a canonical transfer to one of the Byzantine churches. More recently I again was considering Orthodoxy but for some of the same reasons you set forth in your posts and for others of a more personal nature I never really took any concrete steps in that direction. Most recently I’ve been attending a small Latin rite church community where I’ve tried to make a spiritual home although occasionally I will attend a Byzantine rite liturgy (Vespers or Divine Liturgy) in a nearby church.

    What do you mean when you say the rosary prayers in the Byzantine version? Do you mean you pray Rejoice oh Virgin Theothokos…..for you have borne the Savior of our souls? Or are there other prayers you add or changes you make in meditating on the mysteries? I believe in strict Byzantine theology one is not supposed to meditate as is done in the West. That is, one is not supposed to create or visualize any images while praying.

    Anyway, I recently made a 3 and 1/2 day walking pilgrimage to Fatima and it re-awakened in me a love for the rosary.


    • Yes, I do say the Byzantine version of the Angelic Salutation as you mentioned. The Eastern version of the Doxology at the end of each decade usually does not include the “as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be”. Just “Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.” Also, the Mysteries referred to by specifically Latin terms I usually announce in their Eastern counterparts i.e., the Assumption becomes the Dormition, the Presentation becomes the Encounter. And yes, focussing on the prayers rather than on imagery is extremely difficult. I honestly don’t know how the great Byzantine Fathers avoided using imagery in prayer. It is very difficult to keep such thought from your mind, but I try my best.

      To be honest, I’d love to be Orthodox. It is simply easier to be authentically Byzantine within the Orthodox Communion, but my intellect, what I know to be true about the Catholic Church will not permit it. Before the Truth makes you free, it usually makes you very uncomfortable.

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