The Orthodox Pages




 22nd OCTOBER 2009



































































































































If you followed the News reports on TV over the weekend you will probably have been confused by the demonstrations by certain priest, monks and laymen during the start of the talks between Orthodox and Roman Catholics held in Paphos. I think that today we should see what this trouble was all about and if they were justified. The Joint Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church began in Ravenna in 2007 where a document for process towards full unity was signed. The Ravenna document, is based on the ecclesiology of the first millennium, when the two churches were in full communion, although even then differences arose from time to time. The 2nd round of dialogue between Orthodox and Catholics began in Paphos on 16th October and ends on the Friday 23rd October. On the first day of the talks the protesters interrupted the meeting and demanded that the Archbishop put a stop to the talks. The protest in fact caused the cancellation of the programme. Why were there protests to these dialogues? The protesters claim that the dialogue between the two churches aimed in the submission of the Orthodox Church to the Pope. As far as the Orthodox are concerned the Seat of Rome has been vacant since the Great Schism of 1054. It doesn’t recognise any Pope or bishop of the Roman church after that date.

The main aim of the talks is to find common ground with the aim in restoring communion between the two churches. If this is to happen it will not be in the immediate foreseeable future, it will take many years of talks and will begin with joint prayers with the hope of leading to full communion. But to be realistic, this will never happen unless we recognise the Pope as a lawful bishop. So the protesters are partly correct in saying that the dialogues are aimed towards the submission of the Orthodox Church to the Pope. I say partly because even if that day was to come it doesn’t mean that anything will substantially change. The Pope will be given recognition as the leader of the Church in the west and the rest of the Orthodox will continue with their own church leaders without allowing the Pope to intervene in their territory. Some of our church leaders responded angrily with the protesters, and the world saw them as people full of hatred for the Roman Catholics, but this is an exaggeration. They were pious people who were concerned of what might happen to the Church if such agreements were reached and so used their democratic right to protest, which they did peacefully with banners: No violence was involved. If they did actually react with hatred it was not without precedence.

History tells a sorrowful story of the atrocities the Latins did to the Orthodox church not only in Constantinople but here also in Cyprus. During the Frankish and Venetian rules of Cyprus, the church suffered greatly under the Latin bishops. Her own bishops were reduced from 14 to 4 and the 4 remaining were forced away from their towns to small villages e.g the archbishop was moved from Nicosia to the region of Solia, near Morphou and the bishop of Larnaca was moved to the village of Lefkara. Each Orthodox bishop was under the Latin bishop of the area. The Roman Catholic church tried on occasions to force the Orthodox bishops to make concessions on the differences in doctrine and practices between the two churches, sometimes with threats and sometimes using violence and torture, as in the case of the 13 monks of Kantara. Moreover the properties of many monasteries were confiscated. The persecutions were many, especially during the Frankish period, but none succeeded in uprooting the faith of the Orthodox Greek Cypriots.
OK these were things in the past and as Christians who preach love we should be able to rise above these negative feelings and forgive. But forgiving is one thing and doesn’t necessarily mean to forget and definitely doesn’t mean to compromise on our differences. The Bishop of Paphos Georgios said everyone stresses that “there are differences, there are serious differences; a thousand years of division have increased our differences.” “But times today necessitate reconciliation, despite our Churches going through hate and animosity, today we understand that we need to cooperate.” The Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew commenting on the joint talks said “engaging in dialogue is our duty and obligation. Dialogue is a road of no return”. In truth there is no harm in dialogue and it is our duty as the True Church of Christ to bring about the union of all people that call themselves Christians which cannot be done without dialogue. But this union should in no way compromise the truth by which we proudly call ourselves; I mean the word Orthodox which means Right worship. The Bishop of Paphos said “today we understand that we need to cooperate.” What exactly does he mean by “the need to cooperate”? I hope he doesn’t mean to give and take on our differences.

So what are these differences that have kept us apart for a thousand years? We have seen many of them in the past, but it would be beneficial to look at them again and some that we didn’t examine before. When we are asked to explain the differences 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 placed was inserted centuries before the Schism. This is a subject that we have covered in depth at a previous talk and because it would take up most of our time, today we will pass it over to see the many other differences that exist between the two churches. Like the Filioque, a great many 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.
Both the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic church approach this understanding of God in different ways. The Orthodox Church does not seek to reconcile faith and human logic. She makes no effort to prove by logic or science what Christ gave His followers to believe. If physics, biology, chemistry or philosophy lend support to the teachings of the Church, she does not refuse them. However, Orthodoxy is not intimidated by man's intellectual accomplishments. She does not bow to them and change the Christian Faith to make it consistent with the results of human thought and science. Orthodoxy teaches that the knowledge of God is planted in human nature and that is how we know Him to exist. But who God is, is beyond our understanding and whatever we know of him is only what he himself has revealed to us and unless God speaks to us, human reason cannot know more. The saving knowledge of God comes by the Saviour. Speaking to His Father, He said, “And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, Whom Thou has sent”. (John 17: 3)
Roman Catholicism, on the other hand, places a high value on human reason. From the 13th century, the theologian-philosopher, Thomas Aquinas, blended Greek philosophy and Christian doctrine by suggesting that rational thinking and the study of nature, were valid ways to understand truths pertaining to God. According to Aquinas, God reveals himself through nature, so to study nature is to study God. The ultimate goals of theology, in Aquinas’ mind, are to use reason to grasp the truth about God and to experience salvation through that truth. Aquinas believed that faith and reason were both necessary for one to obtain true knowledge of God. From that period till now, the Latins have never wavered in their respect for human wisdom; and it has radically altered the theology, mysteries and institutions of the Christian religion. Roman Catholicism teaches, also, that, in the Age to Come, man will, with his intellect and with the assistance of grace, behold the Essence of God. The Fathers declare that it is impossible to behold God in Himself. Not even divine grace, will give us such power. The saved will see, however, God as the glorified flesh of Christ.
One of the things that distinguishes the Orthodox faith is that it has remained unaltered from the time of Christ and the Apostles. The Orthodox Church of the twenty first century believes precisely what was believed by Orthodox of the first, the fifth, the tenth, the fifteenth centuries. Of course there have been external changes like vestments, monastic habits, new feasts, canons of Ecumenical and Regional Councils, etc, also certain differences in religious customs are obvious from one Orthodox country to another, but nothing has been added or subtracted from her Faith, their has always been “one faith, one Lord, one baptism”. (Eph. 4: 4)
The teachings of the Church are derived from two sources: Holy Scripture, and Sacred Tradition, within which the Scriptures came to be, and within which they are interpreted by the divinely inspired Fathers of the Church, whether they be Greek, Latin, Syriac or Slavic. Their place in the Orthodox religion cannot be challenged. Their authority cannot be superseded, altered or ignored. Roman Catholicism, on the other hand, unable to show a continuity of faith and realizing how they have changed the apostolic doctrines over the centuries, came up with another doctrine in the 19th Century called “Doctrinal Development”.
Following the philosophical spirit of the time (and the lead of Cardinal Henry Newman), Roman Catholic theologians began to define and teach the idea that Christ only gave us an “original deposit” of faith, a “seed,” which grew and matured through the centuries. The Holy Spirit, they said, amplified the Christian Faith as the Church moved into new circumstances and acquired other needs. Consequently, Roman Catholicism, pictures its theology as growing in stages, to higher and more clearly defined levels of knowledge. The teachings of the Fathers, as important as they are, belong to a stage or level below the theology of the Latin Middle Ages (Scholasticism), and that theology lower than the new ideas which have come after it, such as Vatican II. The Catholic church thus believes that the Holy Spirit through the popes develops, changes, adds, and subtracts various aspects of Scriptural interpretation, early Christian analyses, and apostolic Tradition. They believe that each new system of doctrines and replacements of previous beliefs, such as Vatican I, Vatican II, etc., are superior in intellect and spiritual enlightenment to the previously-accepted church traditions and papal decisions. Furthermore, all future changes, according to this new dogma, will supercede Vatican II and minimize or nullify previous papal pronouncements on doctrine. All the stages are useful, all are resources; and the theologian may appeal to the Fathers, for example, but they may also be contradicted by something else, something higher or newer. On this basis, theories such as the dogmas of “papal infallibility” and “the immaculate conception” of the Virgin Mary are justifiably presented to the Faithful as necessary to their salvation.
Orthodoxy does not believe that Christ's New Testament Church should or can change arbitrarily by the Holy Spirit. The Bible and the early Church both taught that the written and oral traditions of the apostles must be adhered to without change or variation in any way. The Holy Spirit struggled with the Church against heresy and false doctrines for centuries and the early Christians suffered martyrdom for this Faith. This is the Faith that Orthodoxy has inherited and will continue to abide by and defend until the coming of Christ.
Let’s now see differences on how both churches understand Adam’s original sin and Christ’s death on the Cross. The Orthodox believe that when Adam sinned against God, he introduced death to the world. Death was the consequence of the original sin. We are not liable for Adam’s sin but since we are all born of the same human stock as Adam, we inherit the consequences of his sin which is death. Death means that man is no longer immortal as God created him, he has become mortal and the life of every human being comes to an end but also that death generates in us the passions (anger, hate, lust, greed, etc.), and brings disease and aging.
The Roman Catholic church differs on what we inherit from Adam. Following Augustine of Hippo, the Latins teach that Adam and Eve sinned against God. The guilt of their sin has been inherited by every man, woman and child after them. All humanity is liable for their “original sin.” Whereas the Orthodox believe that we only inherit the consequences of original sin.
These two different approaches to the understanding of original sin determine how we understand Christ’s death on the Cross. Following the holy Fathers, Orthodoxy teaches that Christ, on the Cross, gave “His life a ransom for many” as we are told by Matthew (Matt. 20:28) and “For even the Son of man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” according to Mark (Mark 10:45). The “ransom” is paid to the grave. As the Lord revealed to the Prophet Hosea, “I will ransom them from the power of the grave, I will redeem them from death.” (Hosea 13:14) In a sense, He pays the ransom to the devil who has the keeper of the grave and holds the power of death (Heb. 2:14). The man Christ voluntarily gave Himself on the Cross. He died for all “a ransom for many”. But He rose from the dead in His crucified body. Death had no power to hold Him. It has no power over anyone. The human race is redeemed from the grave, from the devil. Free of the devil is to be free of death and sin. To be free of these, we become like God and may live with Him forever.
Now according to Roman Catholic theology, God became man in order to satisfy the divine Justice which was offended by the sin of Adam. In other words, by his sin Adam offended the infinite God and God demands that justice is paid for. Since we are all guilty of original sin we are all liable to pay this debt of honour to God, but we did not have the power to make amends, for the “original sin” of Adam which passed to us, Only Christ, Who was God and man, could pay this “debt of honour.” He pays the debt by dying on the Cross. His death makes up for what Adam had done; the offence is removed. God is no longer angry with man. Thus, the Crucifixion has been understood by the Latins as Christ suffering punishment for the human race when, in truth, Christ suffered and died on the Cross to conquer the devil and destroy his power, to destroy death.
From what has been said so far, the differences could be interpreted as meaning that the two Churches worship a different God, but we still haven’t touched on the more serious differences like the papal claims to supremacy and infallibility, the dogmas of Purgatory and the Immaculate Conception. Let’s begin then with the papal claims of supremacy. This claim was in fact the beginning of the schism of the Church. In the ninth century, 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”. He claimed that he was the successor to St. Peter, who was appointed to that sacred position by the Lord Himself with the words, “Thou art Peter and upon this rock I shall build my Church . . .” (Matt. 16:18).
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.
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. The passage of the Gospel “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church” (Matth. 16: 18) on which the Papal claim is based was never interpreted to mean the church of Rome. All the fathers of the church understood this metaphorically. The rock upon which the Lord has built His own Church, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail, is understood 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 papal claims for supremacy gave birth to the dogma of infallibility. 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.
Let’s now look at the Roman Catholic’s dogma of the Immaculate Conception. 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.
For the Orthodox Church this dogma is totally ludicrous and even blasphemous. because then Mary would no longer belong to the human race. The dogma breaks Mary’s link to Adam and the rest of humanity and makes her a super person with the attributes that we ascribe only to Christ. We can even say that it makes her God incarnate, thus Joachim would not have been her father and Anna, her mother, would have been the Mother of God. God himself would not have needed to become man to save us, because if Mary was born outside of original sin or rather we should say without the consequences of the original sin, she would have been a perfect human being, thus not needing to be saved and we could all find salvation through her.
On the other hand, the Orthodox Church believes that Mary was born with the consequences of the original sin just like every other human being, but was cleansed of this the moment she accepted to become the Mother of God. How this was possible is not for us to ask, but remains one of the mysteries of salvation. All we need to know is that the Holy Spirit prepared the Virgin Mary for her role as the Mother of God. She was filled with the Uncreated Energy of the Holy Spirit of God in order that she might be a worthy vessel for the birth of Christ.
These then are 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.
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.
In the Orthodox Liturgy, the “bread” of the Eucharist is “leavened” in the Roman Catholic Mass it is “unleavened”.
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. 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. Thus with foresight to what might eventually happen, the protesters against the joint talks are justified, but they should also have more faith that God, who for two thousand years has protected his True Church from the many heresies, from threats, from submission by force and violence, will not abandon us to the enemies of the truth, but will continue to shield and protect the Orthodox Church by his grace and divine providence.