This post was originally published here where the original comments are retained. It was written in 2012 when I was Eastern Orthodox, but before I had come to the conclusion that I was in schism (and there are other views expressed I may no longer hold). For an explanation of why I reject the Greek schism entirely, see my article I Left Eastern Orthodoxy for the Church Led by Pope Francis, and I Don’t Regret It.
In Nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti, amen. Suscipe, Sancte Pater.
“When Christ calls a man, He bids him to come and die.”
—Lutheran martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer
executed at Flossenbürg concentration camp, 1945
From my youth my father taught me that “if you could choose just one book of the Bible, you should choose Proverbs.” Later I realized that he was absolutely right. The book of Proverbs, I think, can be summed up in these few precepts:
(1) The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.
(2) Wisdom is attained by listening to (and being corrected by) the wise (i.e. humility)
(3) Wisdom is the source of life.
The seventeenth verse of chapter ten seems to sum this up nicely: he who heeds discipline shows the way to life, but he who ignores correction leads others astray. This is what my father taught me. But it would take many years for me start to comprehend this. This brief essay is an attempt to summarize what I’ve learned so far.
Coming to grips with folly
As I grew older, as is often the case, I began to ask questions about the faith I grew up with (which happened to be ELCA Lutheranism). Why could our faith only be traced back five hundred years? What was happening during those hundreds of years in between? Was God asleep? Also, why is the Old Testament so shunned? Why does there seem to be a huge disconnect between the Old and New Testaments in terms of worship, hierarchy, priesthood, sacrifice, etc.? Why, moreover, are there so many divisions? What are these “denominations?” I questioned many about such matters and others but found few who provided satisfactory answers.
But as I read the Holy Scripture and pondered on these difficult questions, I began to feel enormous sorrow above all for the pervasive division among Christians. I became ever more deeply broken in spirit by the countless divisions of Christian brethren against Christian brethren. It was unbearable, excruciating. How could all of us say we loved our Lord Jesus, and hate our brother? Praise God with our lips yet with those same lips curse our brother, who has been made in God’s likeness? The only course of action that seemed justifiable to me was to seek out every Christian division in existence and learn from them and understand them. Could I affect any sort of unity? Could I help someone reconcile? I didn’t know what I was doing, but I knew that I must follow the shuddering of my soul and probe the darkness of this mess—somehow I was called to do it by God. I knew that much. All along the redolence of my father’s words echoed before me as I waded into the murky depths of abrasive rancor and bitter enmity.
And as I trekked out on my quest for Christian understanding, I began to see how right my father really was. I was starting to realize that the problem, as it seemed to me, was that no one had read Proverbs. Christians were not being humble, with the fear of God, they were refusing wisdom (they weren’t even talking to one another, much less learning from past wisdom!), and were thus hopelessly divided and dividing. Groups of Christians seemed to huddle around each other and create their own little world in order to indulgence in apathy for their Christian neighbor and the division between them. I was appalled.
Moreover, as time passed, I became disillusioned with Evangelical Protestantism. So few Protestants seemed to even care about unity. But even more importantly, I came to a grave realization about the Bible. I had always thought, like any good Protestant, that the Bible alone was sufficient to settle all the divisions and doctrinal controversies. But with so many divisions all claiming the Bible’s authority, I began to see the folly in this. The Bible wasn’t crystal clear in all things. It needed to be interpreted for a given situation, especially in these controversial matters. And when I claimed the “Bible Alone” I was actually claiming “my wisdom alone” to interpret. I was refusing to be guided from the wisdom of the past who could help me interpret. This, my dear brethren in Christ, is folly.
The reason is this: without the foundational truths of Proverbs, the rest of the Bible becomes no longer a two-edged sword cutting you to the heart, but you yourself begin to wield that sword to cut others. But like Nahab and Abihu, you offer strange fire before God, and in your desperate lunging with a holy blade not made of human hands you fall into the pit that you made for another. The divisions among Protestants has gotten to the point where it has made ecumenical reconciliation nearly impossible, since church structures no longer exist to unite them. Forty thousand divisions of Christians using “The Bible Alone” were all convinced that their doctrine was true. How could we be so blind to this? Oh wretched man that I am, who will save me from this body of death?
Encounter with the Body of Christ
Now back when I was an Evangelical Protestant, I was far more protestant than most Protestants. When I had come of age as a young man and thought I knew something, I became convinced of one thing. I hated the “whore of Babylon”—the Catholic Church—and the “tyrannical” pope who “usurped the place of Christ,” becoming “the antichrist” who was sending people to hell for their “Mariolatry” and Eucharist worship. But at the same moment as this disillusionment with Protestantism was setting in, God brought into my life pious Catholics (I had never met a pious Catholic before!) who were able to explain better the jarring doctrines of the Communion of Saints, the Liturgy, and the Holy Eucharist. I remember one Catholic friend saying, “When the Catholic Church has a problem, they work it out and stay united.” That sounded good to me! I began to appropriate Catholic devotional practices into my prayers, and since I was still immersed in my Evangelical Church groups, I told others how I had warmed up to Catholicism and tried to alleviate their fears (which were really just misunderstandings). For some reason, however, I never really contemplated the universal fatherhood of Papa.
Later, as I branched out in my search for understanding among Christians, I began to attend a local Arab church in my city. This Arab church was Antiochian Orthodox, and I began to learn more about Church history through their publications, many of which were written by converts to Orthodoxy. I read Ware’s classic The Orthodox Church, but also Gilquest’s Becoming Orthodox, Bernstein’s Surprised by Christ, and listened to Damick’s “Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy”and countless other podcasts on Ancient Faith Radio, and I poured over the many Conciliar Press booklets that you can find in most Orthodox parishes in the U.S. Their central thesis was very intriguing because I had never heard of such a claim: that the first Protestants were the Catholics, who, emboldened by the first individualist (the pope) broke away from the early Church by asserting the pope’s right to change (and invent!) his own doctrine apart from the consensus of the Church’s wisdom. So the answer to Christian unity was this: adhere to the “unanimous teaching of the Church fathers” through consensus, and then you’ll have unity. The Orthodox Christians told me that their church was completely unified in faith, and thus could call others “in all humility” to their church—the one true Church. This made sense to me because I believed in wisdom. It seemed that hearkening back to the wisdom of our holy fathers of the faith was the answer to unity. Perhaps this was the answer to the division of the Church!
But I was still deeply broken in spirit. Somehow this intellectual idea did not satisfy. There was a deeper pain that the intellect couldn’t touch. Then God brought me into the Divine Liturgy. When I was an evangelical Protestant, we liked to sing songs that affirmed us—“Your grace is enough for me!…Oh how He loves us!” For some reason I felt worn out by them. I had stumbled into the Divine Liturgy of the Arab church when I was particularly exhausted in spirit over the division of the Church and the apathy of Christians. It was then that I heard chanted “Let us pray to the Lord—Lord have mercy…Lord have mercy…Lord have mercy…Lord have mercy.” It was indelibly imbued with the life-giving grace of repentance. And God drew me into this reverent, majestic worship, and I was brought to my knees weeping as I understood for the first time the reality of the Eucharist—not just in my intellect, but deep down in my heart. God’s answer to the chaotic imbroglio of this tormenting thought of Christian division was this—take and eat, this is my body which is broken for you. I was gasping at the great love of God in Christ.
Then came Lent. Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great. The liturgical services of Lent in eastern Christianity are indeed mysterious and indeed great—for they penetrate the soul and speak powerfully to the spirit. My priest gave me specific guidance about how to pray during this time, and I began to learn how to pray the Prayer of St. Ephraim—the traditional Lenten prayer of Eastern Christians. As I struggled to put these things into practice, our God, who is rich in mercy, out of the whirlwind, came to me and spoke clearly to my spirit. In the midst of all my intellectual discovery and torment over the division of the Church, I suddenly knew, deep in my soul, that by my own obstinacy I was responsible for the division in the Church. Like Father Zosima I suddenly knew I was responsible for all men. I was spending all my time criticizing others for their lack of humility, calling down fire from heaven upon the wicked man who pilfered the pauper’s ewe lamb. But our Lord said to me clearly—you are the man! It was I who was responsible for the division of the Church. Get away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!
It was then that I began to finally understand that principle of wisdom, instilled from my youth but not yet ingrained. It was in accepting rebuke that I found wisdom, because in accepting rebuke I found humility—and humility is the fear of God. As it is written: Let a righteous man strike me, it is kindness. Let him rebuke me, it is oil on my head; and my head will not refuse it. Then I knew with sudden horror and relief, who is in me: the Righteous Man and the wicked man.
In me—the wicked man sits in the seat of the scornful
In me—the Righteous Man meditates on the Law of wisdom
In me—the wicked man is furious if someone rebukes him
In me—the Righteous Man accepts unrighteous scourging patiently
In me—the wicked man wishes to be free from his brother
In me—the Righteous Man empties himself for his brother’s sake
In me—the wicked man refuses to forgive
In me—the Righteous Man forgives his brother as he crucifies him
In me—the wicked man curses his brother to hell by his wrath
In me—the Righteous Man is willing to go to hell for the sake of his brother
In me—the wicked man is independent from every authority
In me—the Righteous Man is responsible to all men
In me—the wicked man will kill his brother to preserve his life
In me—the Righteous Man will die to save his brother
That is how I realized that my father was right—Proverbs is the foundational wisdom which must guide every Christian—wisdom through humility, fear of the Lord, and receiving correction from the wise. Suddenly I experienced a moment of clarity. And contrition. And it was as if I had never known God before that moment.
This knowledge of God and self had come within and through the majesty of the most holy sacrifice of the altar in an eastern Church, and so I resolved soon thereafter to become Orthodox. I now knew who the wise were—our holy Fathers, inspired by the Spirit, who have gone before us. But this was by no means an intellectual relationship. I had real communion with the saints who are living members of the Body of Christ. It was a relationship of filial piety and humble devotion—they were loving parents, guiding me on the way to union with “Christ our God.” The final exhortation of the litany in the eastern service always stirred up this devotion: Calling to remembrance our all-Holy, Immaculate, most-Blessed and Glorious Lady the Theotokos and ever-Virgin Mary, with all the saints, let us commend ourselves and each other, and all our life, unto Christ our God.
And thus it was through this communion with the Saints that I felt myself drawn into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. I could no longer keep myself from communion with the Immaculate Body and the Precious Blood of “our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ.” For He is the Righteous Man. He has to come and bind the strong man—the wicked man within me! For I had for the first time, it seems, seen his wicked face—and alas! What power he had over me! I wanted to hate him with a perfect hatred. I longed to curse him to hell—let his children be fatherless and his wife a widow, let his name be blotted out of the book of life—and let his infants be dashed against a rock. But oh how weak was I! How corrupted by sinful passions and desires! Oh wretched man that I am, who will save me from this body of death?
Entering the Church of Christ
In my days as an Orthodox catechumen, I was rather open to Roman Catholicism, especially since I had a western liturgical heritage, and I had been helped along the way by pious Catholics. Even after reading the anti-Catholic books mentioned above, I was always committed to Christian unity, and initially I believed that Catholics, with the Orthodox, were also a part of “the one true Church.” But very soon (God knows) I became flared up with wrath against Rome, in the same way as I had been as a Protestant. For the wicked man cannot bear for an instant to have any authority telling him what to do (and thus demand he be humble). Rather, he lusts after the unclean pleasure of myopic autonomy at any cost (that is, intransigently insisting that your view point is the only thing valid). In order to do this, the wicked man deceived me into condemning the Papa’s authority as unjust, thereby claiming a moral high ground for myself. It was a cunning trick: concealing pride by accusing of pride the one who claims the authority to rebuke your pride. It is the wicked man’s calculated, preemptive strike. It makes you hate evil (which is good), but become unwilling to hate the evil inside yourself. Thus the wicked man, with nefarious craftiness, used against me the good intensions the Righteous Man gave me. It’s simply Adam in the garden—blaming someone else for your own sin.
Now as an Evangelical Protestant, my critique against having a Father in Rome was rather shallow. “It’s not biblical.”The Body of Christ bears the marks of the folly that comes from trying to wield this two-edged sword. But the Orthodox—ah-ha! I was told that they had “the unanimous teaching of the Church Fathers” on their side! Well, now that’s a different story! When I read the stories of bishops rebuking Papa for his incursion into their business, my hatred was enflamed and the wicked man said through me—“The prideful pope of Rome! It’s his fault!” Besides of this, the most unassailable argument what undoubtedly this—the forgeries. Surely those Vatican notaries had doctored up this whole business about papal primacy! Yes, those evil, prideful, wicked bishops! They were craving power, and they took it all for themselves and divided the Church! I looked at the Holy Father with invincible distrust.
This solution gave me unclean, sinful pleasure—because I now had someone to hate. The wicked man inside me was satisfied, and I was so glad I didn’t have to let anyone tell me what to do. Because in The Orthodox Church, “infallibility resides solely in the ecumenicity of the Church…not of one hierarch but of all the people of the Church.” Thus the laity had a right to govern themselves, and nobody was going to domineer us—we just all submitted to the wisdom of Holy Tradition. Somehow I was hoping that the Orthodox Church would be a democracy.
Blinded by such passions (I had no idea about any of this at the time), I, like many Protestant converts to Orthodoxy in English-speaking lands, never bothered to truly understand Roman Catholicism before I rejected it. The very word “pope” was like a counter-argument in itself—its refutation was a fait accompli to a soul prostituted to the wicked man. I did not evaluate this according to Christian wisdom (even though I thought I had committed myself to the wise). I did not search the Church Fathers to confirm or deny the assertions of these Orthodox polemics. A few quotations was good enough for me, and good enough for my sinful nature—I could submit to wise men of the past, and selectively choose which wise men to listen to (which patristic interpretation), but I sure wasn’t going to be under the pope! I became an Orthodox apologist and polemicist, proving to everyone that the Orthodox Church was the one true Church, and that everything else was an impious derivation therefrom. I saw myself as a pious freedom fighter, liberating others from the tyranny of division, ushering them into the light of Orthodoxy. I was overjoyed to finally have the answer to the division in the Church.
The Sacramental Life
After I was chrismated on Pascha of 2010, I began to receive the Holy Mysteries and begin to live, with God’s help, a Sacramental life—Confession and the Sacrifice of the Eucharist. And like anyone who has entered into the Sacramental life from Protestantism can tell you—it is like night and day. Confession in particular became a crown of thorns to teach me the glory of Christ in humbling myself and piteously pouring forth all of my darkness before another human being: God’s priest. It is the path to humility and wisdom. Confession (thank God) is one of the most powerful weapons of the Righteous Man against the wicked man. I didn’t know it yet, but the Righteous Man was taking hold of a weapon and shield and arising to my help.
Because I had an authority over me. It was nothing more than Proverbs. He who heeds discipline shows the way to life, but he who ignores correction leads others astray. As I lived the Sacramental life, God’s grace began to open my eyes to see more of that wicked face—oh God, he was all around me! My wounds are loathsome and corrupt, Because of my foolishness. Mine eye wastes away because of grief; I have grown old because of all mine adversaries.
Under the direction of my confessor, I began reading from the lives of the Saints. I began to see their wisdom. They taught that obedience is the swiftest route to humility. I read the classical ascetical text of St. Ignatii Brianchaninov, The Arena. That changed my life. He related the patristic view that “the voluntary giving of advice is a sign that we regard ourselves as possessed of spiritual knowledge and worth, which is a clear sign of pride and self-deception.” The privilege of judgment and teaching should be reserved for those appointed to the task. I was also directed to read St. John Cassian, the greater founder of western monasticism. In his Institutions he writes:
It is dangerous to judge others because, being unaware of the need or the motive out of which they do things offensive to us but either correct or excusable in God’s sight, we put ourselves in the position of having judged them rashly; in this we commit no small sin by thinking of our brothers other than we ought.”
And again in the Conferences:
The knowledge of everything is attained by those who think well and with simplicity about all matters and who strive to imitate faithfully rather than to discuss everything that they see being taught or done by the elders. But whoever begins to learn by discussion will never enter into the reason for the truth, because the enemy will see him trusting in his own judgment rather than in that of the fathers and will easily drive him to the point where even things which are very beneficial and salutary will seem useless and harmful to him. The clever foe will so play upon his presumption that, stubbornly clinging to his own unreasonable understanding, he will persuade himself that only that is holy which he considers to be correct and righteous, guided by his erroneous obstinacy alone.
As I read these words my spirit was in ashes and my heart mourned for the multitude my sins. Mine iniquities are gone over my head: As a heavy burden they are too heavy for me.
I began to submit myself to my confessor, to other priests, to seek their advice and not my own. The grace of the Righteous Man began to penetrate my spirit. I saw my sin like the gaping horror it was, and my hatred for the wicked man was beginning to grow towards perfect hatred. At the same moment, an unspeakable joy began to enter my heart, as God soothed me into surrendering to obedience and humility. I began to understand the exhortation of Holy Scripture: submit to one another out of fear of Christ. I began to find great joy in submission and obedience. It was the path to humility! It was the wisdom of Proverbs. It was the beginning of repentance.
But as the Righteous Man was waging war against the wicked man inside me (and I was trying my best to not get in the way), I began to learn some disturbing truths. The Orthodox Church was not what I was told it was. I was told that Orthodoxy was completely unified with no need for a pope. But some mischief began to appear among the Orthodox episcopacy. One of our bishops was treated rather unjustly by his superior and I was told (by reliable sources) that racism was the motivation and bribery the means. In response, our bishop simply moved to another jurisdiction in order to be under a different authority. This struck me as deeply disturbing. Of course I was not going to be under the illusion that wicked priests did not exist. But even if all that was alleged was not true, there was still something there that didn’t sit right. In the early Church, didn’t bishops appeal to Rome to be vindicated from something unjust like that? Sure, sometimes the pope’s decision was not accepted, but at least a structure existed to judge between bishops. But as I read more and talked to other Orthodox Christians, I discovered a deep-seated rivalry between the Greek Orthodox and the Russian Orthodox. Two competing primacies. What was this? That didn’t seem right. I knew some Church history, and I knew that if the pope of Rome was in heresy, then Constantinople should be the new court of appeals. There must be, as Ignatii stated, the “one who is appointed to judge.” But from what I was reading, it seemed that many Orthodox—whole churches, and by far the largest one, Russia—would never submit to that authority. Where then, was the virtue of obedience? Of humility? This deeply disturbed me.
I began to think about the autocephalous organization of the Orthodox Churches. Were they all independent of one another? Was there no structure of obedience that could humble us all and unite us? I began to realize that there must be something to be said about Rome’s approach. To make matters worse, the Orthodox priests I knew were themselves divided on this issue. Some were favorable toward Rome, some were less than favorable.
Then something happened. Because of the sacramental grace given me by the Righteous Man in confession, I realized my own folly. I had completely dismissed the Roman Catholic view point. I had not investigated it as I had the Orthodox faith. I had not read their catechism, their apologetics, or their patristic evidence. I had not tried to look at Catholicism on its own merits. Everything I knew about Catholicism I learned from Orthodox sources (save of course, those basic things my pious friends taught me). Why did I do this? I had actually rejected something without first understanding it—and I had rejected it according my own wisdom, not the wisdom of our forefathers. I remembered telling this to an Orthodox convert friend who also treated Rome the same way. I said, “So are we still Protestants then?”
I realized that in my sinful desire to be without authority I had actually unconsciously wanted the Papacy to be heresy (the wicked man had deceived me, as I said above). That’s when I realized that the issue of universal fatherhood in the Church is really a spiritual issue. It’s like talking to an Atheist about God. You can argue with the most unassailable rhetoric and logic, and at the end of the day he’s not going to open his heart to God, unless he allows the Spirit to touch his heart. The reason is because his sinful nature values its own autonomy. If he were to believe in God, he would have to change his whole lifestyle. He would then be under an authority.
So too with the Papacy. Even the thought that an authority can be over me to ultimately check my autonomy immediately engenders a knee-jerk rejection from my sinful nature. Since obedience is the swiftest route to humility, our pride can never countenance such a thing. The wicked man will convince you unconsciously to believe anything but that.
So I began learning again. I spoke to Catholics themselves this time, and listened to how they understood their own faith. I met a learned Catholic online who stated that “I have never met an Orthodox Christian online or in person who actually understands the Catholic faith.” In the name of Christian unity I took him up on that, and we began to correspond. I began to uncover the massive army of Catholic straw men which Orthodox polemics were fond of conquering. It quickly became clear how deeply we had misunderstood (often intentionally!) Catholic doctrine, and not allowed it to speak for itself. Purgatory. Indulgences. “Satisfaction.” “Merits.” Immaculate Conception. How many of these things had I dismissed without any wisdom? The Righteous Man was opening me. In no wise speak against the truth; but be abashed of the error of thine ignorance.
I began reading again. I read The Early Papacy and Adrian Fortescue and Russia and the Universal Church by Vladimir Soloviev. Both of these authors deeply understood the Orthodox critique of Catholicism. Both of these authors radically altered my perception of the Church. Fr. Fortescue, while affirming the authority of Holy Tradition, also convinced me of the necessity of a living authority. It was a new concept I had never before considered:
To be obliged to hark back some fifteen hundred years, to judge for yourself, according to the measure of your scholarship, what the documents of that period imply, would be the end of any confidence in a living authority. It is a far worse criterion for religion than the old Protestant idea of the Bible only. We say that it is impossible for a plain man to make up his own religion out of the sixty-six (or seventy-three) books…written at different times, and not specifically for his difficulties now. It is even more obviously impossible if to these you add about a hundred volumes of Migne [i.e. the Church fathers]. All these methods of taking some early documents, whether the Bible or the Fathers, and making them your standard, mean simply a riot of private judgment…Good and learned men…disagree as to what the early Fathers believed…as much as they disagree about the teachings of the Bible. The only possibly real standard is a living authority, an authority alive in the world at this moment, that can answer your difficulties, reject a false theory as it arises and say who is right in disputed interpretations of ancient documents.
I was deeply moved in my spirit by this appeal to a “living authority.” This idea was revolutionary in my mind. I was open to it because I had tasted the joy of obedience to the priests in the Orthodox Church. But it also made sense to me historically, for the Church as a whole. During the period of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, the Orthodox Catholic Church responded to heresy by calling a universal council and defining dogma explicitly and exactly. Orthodox doctrine is the answer to heresy, and it claimed obedience: the decrees were sent to all the churches for them to obey. Could this living authority—the Papacy with the Ecumenical Council—be that which humbles and unites all? Was this not the work of the Righteous Man calling all to obedience to wisdom?
The Orthodox Christians around me were condemning Rome as heresy because of the Papacy, filioque, and other such things (the list is longer or shorter depending on who you talk to). But I realized something: it didn’t add up. If the filioque is a heresy, then what is the Orthodox doctrine of the Holy Spirit? They respond and say “The Orthodox Church teaches that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone.” Yes, this is the doctrine of St. Photios. But do you not know, my brother, that St. Gregory of Cyprus has a different doctrine? Does the Council of Blechernae (1285) represent the Orthodox doctrine of the Holy Spirit? Is it ecumenical? Why or why not? They respond, “We’re not sure which one is Orthodox, but we know the filioque is heresy.” But tell me, my Christian brother: if I cannot find which is the Orthodox dogma, how can I be an Orthodox Christian?
Further, in the local councils (at Jassy and Jerusalem) which responded to Protestantism, according to Kallistos Ware, “one does not find the Orthodox tradition in its fullness.” These canons were later modified because of their western influence. Which dogma, then, is the Orthodox dogma? If the council was modified, on what grounds? If it was accepted, on what grounds? If I claim that, for example, Aquinas’ transubstantiatio doctrine is the Orthodox one (since it was affirmed by Jerusalem, 1672), what will an Orthodox Christian tell me? “No, it’s a mystery. We don’t believe in that western scholasticism.” Why not? Because the current view rejects it? The ‘current view’ once accepted the Immaculate Conception, but now does not. The “consensus” once condemned the murder of life-creation, but now does not. What of the biblical canon? What is the Orthodox canon? The Council of Jerusalem affirmed the Apocrypha but St. Philaret’s catechism denies these books canonical status. “It is mystery,” I am told, “the Church works by consensus. You can’t hope for some papal responsa. Nothing is defined so exactly like the Papists, that’s what makes Orthodoxy beautiful.”
But tell me, my Christian brother, have you never read how “the 318 fathers of Nicaea…the 150 fathers of Constantinople…the 600 fathers of Chalcedon” defined indefatigably that “this [and not that] is the faith of the Fathers! The Faith of the Orthodox! The faith that has established the universe!” If the Orthodox Church fails to articulate exactly (just as the Ecumenical Church did) what Orthodox doctrine is and what it is not, then what can we say concerning the claim that the Orthodox Church alone constitutes the true Church?
Then Soloviev’s thundering words rang resoundingly clear to me:
Why has not the East set up a true ecumenical council in opposition to those of Trent or the Vatican? How are we to explain this helpless silence on the part of Truth when face with the solemn self-assertion of Error?…while the great assemblies of the Church continue to fill a prominent place in the teaching and life of Catholicism, it is the Christian east which has for a thousand years been deprived of this important feature of the Universal Church, and our best theologians, such as Philaret of Moscow, themselves admit that an ecumenical council is impossible for the Eastern Church as long as she remains separated from the West. But it is the easiest thing in the world for our self-styled Orthodox to confront the actual councils of the Catholic Church with a council that can never take place and to maintain their cause with weapons that they have lost and under a flag of which they have been robbed…Either we must admit, with our extreme sectarians [i.e. the Old Believers], that since a certain date the Church has lost her divine character and no longer actually exists upon earth; or else…we must recognize that the Universal Church, having no organs of government or representation in the East, possess them in her Western half.
I came to realize that the claim that the Orthodox Church was united was a fiction. While the Orthodox condemn the ecclesiology of Rome, our best theologians cannot replace it with something better. “Orthodox theology has not yet built up a systematic doctrine on Church government.” But if the alleged ‘heresy’ of the Papacy was condemned, what is the Orthodox answer? An honest look at the history of post-1054 Eastern Christianity will prove that there is no oriental answer. Are the Palamite councils of the 14th century ecumenical and thus infallible? Why is that? Is it because at this time the Orthodox sees was under Muslim domination, and thus the divine authority of the Imperial capital held sway? And after the fall of Constantinople, why did Moscow assume its primacy on political grounds at the Stoglav Sobor of 1551? And why is the council of 1666 not considered ecumenical, since it was convoked by the Emperor and included all the other Patriarchates? But it repudiated Stoglav and excommunicated millions of Russian Old Believers as heretics. My brother will say: “These things work by consensus, why are you getting so legalistic? That’s the western legalism talking.” But tell me, my Christian brother: did not the councils enact canons? Is not canon law the norm of the Church praxis? And if you speak of consensus, why then is the council of Chalcedon ecumenical? Or Ephesus? It was rejected by millions of Christians in Egypt, Armenia, Syria, and the whole of Asia into China. Where does consensus start, and where does it end?
From 1700-1917 Russian bishops were condemning as uncanonical the abolition of the Patriarchate by the Czar while the rest of the Orthodox churches (dominated by Turk-appointed Greeks) affirmed its canonical status. The whole of Bulgaria was in schism and heresy from the (Greek) Patriarchates of Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem for three generations, while in communion with Russia, by far the greatest Orthodox church. All the while, since 1453, the See of New Rome has accepted the self-aggrandizement given him by the Turks (in which all other sees were forcibly ruled by Greeks) and then in the 19th century each church, one by one, rebelled against him and created their own ‘canonical’ autocephalism. Again, on what grounds?
Rather, as the Orthodox Metropolitan John Zizioulas writes, the Orthodox communion continues to suffer from “autocephalism” as something like an ecclesiological heresy,
as a result [of which], relations among the ‘sister churches’ tend to resemble more and more the relations between sovereign states, all the more so as a strong dose of nationalism (condemned in 1872 as “phyletism,” which paradoxically all unanimously denounce as a heresy and many, at the same time, profess it in practice) is mixed with this notion of “independence.”
I discovered, moreover, that the Orthodox chronology usually given (that the schism began in 1054, for example), was actually itself a Greek suppression of Orthodox history. No one tells the story of Patriarch Peter of Antioch opposing the wicked intrigues of Michael Keroularios, who impiously desecrated the Blessed Sacrament because it did not contain yeast. No one mentions that the sack of Constantinople in 1204 was instigated by a Byzantine prince! Or, as the Orthodox scholar David Bentley Hart has it,
I eagerly await the day when the Patriarch of Constantinople, in a gesture of unqualified Christian contrition, makes public penance for the brutal mass slaughter of the metic Latin Christians of Byzantium – men, women, and children – at the rise of Andronicus I Comnenus in 1182, and the sale of thousands of them into slavery to the Turks. Frankly, when all is said and done, the sack of 1204 was a rather mild recompense for that particular abomination, I would think.
What has happened is that the political foundations of primacy which New Rome (Constantinople), Third Rome (Moscow) and Other Rome (Serbia) have dreamed up and attempted to build, have been the virulent voices which shout down the rest of less-nationalist Orthodoxy. They are filled with an unforgiving spirit, forgetting the words of the Righteous Man, that for this they will not be forgiven. There are millions of Orthodox who have accepted papal primacy (or at least are amicable to it) and are dismissed as unorthodox by the more nationalist shouts of Greco-Serbo-Russian nationalism. Our patriarchate of Antioch, moreover, was not definitely out of communion with the pope until the 18th century. As Orthodox scholar Fr. Laurent Cleenewerck put it,
The Orthodox are extremely distrustful of Roman Catholics and would almost like to forget that their calendar and theology is replete with ‘Popes of Rome’ whose teachings about their own authority is better left unmentioned. They also know that accepting a universal ministry of unity and arbitration—something called for by authentic catholic orthodoxy—would jeopardize their nationalistic and ethno-centric kingdoms. Sadly, everyone is trying to look busy doing nothing about it.
What this leads to is innumerable schisms based on things like celebrating Christmas on a different date, or nationalist rebellions like the one in Georgia. These self-styled Orthodox strain out the gnat of festivals, New Moons, and Sabbaths, and swallow the camel of hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, and factions. This is the massive division of Orthodoxy. As one Orthodox priest told me once, “We couldn’t organize…a birthday party.”
If we cannot organize a birthday party, how will we speak the truth to a dying world? How could we follow the commandment of our Lord to preach to all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Trinity, if we did not know who to baptize? This is the most troubling thing of all. How can I be sure about very fount of the remission of sins? I was baptized Lutheran, and the Antiochian Church only gave me chrism. Is my baptism valid or not? The Russian Church only chrismates, but Greeks rebaptize (and Mt. Athos will re-do everything). They respond and tell me that “this is only by oikonomia.” But why is this canonical concept of St. Nikodemos the correct one? Was this not a repudiation—in the face of the Arabs finally throwing off the Greek yoke for union with Rome—of the 1484 Constantinopolitan ruling that implied Catholics were still a part of the Church? Ware says St. Nikodemos is the “indefatigable saint.” But even Florovsky taught that oikonomia was highly dubious. I could see the folly in a Church without a living authority.
These two commands of Christ [Mk. 16:16], which must be fulfilled, the one, namely, to teach, and the other to believe, cannot even be understood, unless the Church proposes a complete and easily understood teaching, and is immune when it thus teaches from all danger of erring. In this matter, those also turn aside from the right path, who think that the deposit of truth such laborious trouble, and with such lengthy study and discussion, that a man’s life would hardly suffice to find and take possession of it; as if the most merciful God had spoken through the prophets and His Only-begotten Son merely in order that a few, and those stricken in years, should learn what He had revealed through them, and not that He might inculcate a doctrine of faith and morals, by which man should be guided through the whole course of his moral life.
I had believed in the authority of the Ecumenical Council for the Church. Now I saw the necessity for the Papacy for the first time—at least in theory. But I was not going to trust my own judgment again. I was going to follow the wisdom of the Saints. Did they teach Papal primacy, supremacy, and infallibility? He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm. I prayed to the Righteous Man to grant me humility and wisdom.
Our Holy Fathers
I found that two competing primacies were both the result of bishops claiming power: Rome and Constantinople (New Rome). However, there is a weightier sway of sanctity which more soundly solidifies the former claim. It is clear that the former claimed power based on Apostolic grounds at least since St. Stephen I (d. 257) which was affirmed by numerous individual saints and councils of bishops. They openly supported this universal primacy (including its infallibility) on both Apostolic and political grounds. These things were taught by saints. Witness the papal teaching of St. Leo:
In the whole world, Peter alone is chosen…so that, even if there are many priest and shepherds in the people of God, Peter may properly rule over those whom Christ also rules in an eminent way.
Even among the blessed Apostles, there was side by side with an equality of honor a distinction of authority; and though all were equally chosen, nevertheless pre-eminence was given to one over the others. On the same principle distinction is made between bishops, and the mighty design of Providence has ordered it that all may not claim every prerogative but that in each province there should be someone possessing primacy of jurisdiction over his brethren; and again that those presiding in the larger cities should receive a wider responsibility, that through them the care of the Universal Church might ultimately rest upon the one see of Peter and that no part should be anywhere be separated from the head.
Peter does not cease to preside in his see and his consortium with the Eternal Pontiff never fails. For that steadfastness with which he was endowed, when he was first made the Rock, by Christ Who is Himself the Rock, has passed to his successors, and wherever any stability is manifest it is beyond doubt the might of the supreme Pastor which is in evidence. Could anyone consider the renown of bless Peter and yet be ignorant or envious enough to assert that there is any part of the Church is not guided by his care and strengthened by his succour?
Or how did St. Leo act in reference to the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon, when by conciliarity the council declared that New Rome was elevated above Alexandria and Antioch?
The agreements of the bishops which are contrary to the holy canons of Nicea…we declare null and void, and by the authority of the blessed Aposle Peter we annul them completely by a general decree.
Shall we accuse St. Leo the Great of pride and an attempt to usurp the power of Christ? Even the preeminent Orthodox scholar Fr. John Meyendorff admits that St. Leo’s ecclesiology anticipates “in every way” the dogma of Vatican I. If this was true, what becomes of our claim of Vatican I being heretical? Moreover, what shall we say to any pope who will annul, by petrine authority, the acts of an Ecumenical Council? He is imitating St. Leo the Great. We find ourselves fighting against the man whose sanctity turned back the hordes of Atilla the Hun. The wise in heart accept commands, but the chattering fool comes to ruin.
Greater power was grabbed by Papa (starting with St. Gregory the Great, building upon the ecclesiological foundation laid by St. Leo) by necessity because of the Roman Emperor’s imperial ambitions (often heretical), and Papa turned to the Frankish kingdom to be his new Orthodox protector. This was the effort of Ss. Gregory II, Gregory III, and Zacharias (the latter two being Greeks). These were saints. Should I dismiss their wisdom?
The necessity of this action during Iconoclasm cannot be challenged except by claiming a nationalist Church where political loyalties become religious loyalties. The Roman Empire in the east took grave umbrage at this act by Papa, as if it were a heresy to not pledge allegiance to (heretical) New Rome. It would only be a heresy if nationalism had infected the Church of God to the point that New Rome was the only political allegiance a Christian could have. This is precisely what had happened. For the primacy of New Rome was grabbed not on apostolic grounds, but solely on political grounds (though an Apostolic mythos later developed). Betrayal of this primacy, then, became synonymous with political disloyalty, which confounds earthly politics with the Church of God. An unwise king will ruin his people.
This resulted in, as Tia Kolbaba’s works detail, a calculated effort by Roman patriots in Constantinople to destroy the religious (and thus political) credibility of the west by any and all means—including denouncing their patristic heritage of azymes, fasting rites, liturgical usages, and even the Latin language itself. Moreover, how many saints did this? Shall we pit St. Photios against St. Leo? How could I claim one as heretical over the other? Who am I to disagree with saints? And yet they disagree with each other.
But this petty bickering was tragically exacerbated when the western kings fell into this same base political game and responded in kind. To make matters worse, the Papacy, forgetting the wisdom of St. Leo III (in suppressing the filioque usage rather than the doctrine), allowed the filioque to be chanted in Rome, and the political schism began to coalesce. Then the hoped-for recovery of a Greco-Roman Christendom against Islam was destroyed in the Crusades, when the political loyalties imploded the Christian ones in the most terrible fratricide hitherto unknown. Is this not the most potent tool of the wicked man? The pride of kings and presidents and their ideologies and armies?
Despite all this, some of our Christian forefathers still held to the most salient point about wisdom. In the dialogue that occurred between Nicetas of Nicomedia and Anselm of Havelburg in 1136, we find this shown beautifully. These two great theologians disagreed vehemently on the doctrines of the filioque and such things, but they concluded that these disagreements did not impair salvation, and that they could be resolved by a consensus of the Latin and Greek Fathers. But here is what I discovered. No such consensus exists. Or at least, has certainly never existed in the east. East and west both lost the other’s language, but only the west reappropriated Greek. In the process, she became more open over the centuries to Greek theology, to the point that from the Roman perspective, the Orthodox Church is completely Catholic, and is welcome to communion, if they will only reconcile with the Holy Father.
The east, however, has never regained Latin and appropriated the Latin patristics. Why am I then surprised that the east rejects the Latin dogmas? Since at least St. Photios (who knew no Latin) the east had had a strong party of anti-Latins, who wanted to “cover the shame” of the Latin fathers by essentially conforming them to the Greek. St. Mark of Ephesos (who also knew no Latin) wrote an entire treatise against Latin customs that were taught by the Latin fathers. Instead of following their own fathers, the Latins should follow the Greeks! I could not bring myself to agree with this approach. How could God have inspired all the Latin tradition and let it be led so far astray, cut off from the Greek? It made more sense to me that they must have been unaware of these things at the time, and made a mistake out of ignorance and pious zeal, rather than malice and wickedness. How could I claim that these saints had not vanquished the wicked man within them? Who was I to judge them?
Myopia of Spirituality
Ultimately, the real test for orthodoxy of the west was not the filioque, not the Papacy, not even the catechism. It was the sanctity of their saints. The whole purpose, after all, of every one of these dogmas, doctrines, ecclesiastics and philosophies and whatever else—it is one thing: union with Christ. Heresy, moreover, is always connected with spiritual death. The reason is because it is a rejection of humility and wisdom. It is as Cassian wrote above: “trusting in your own judgment.” Arius. Macedonius. Luther. Calvin. Each one chose his own judgment over both the wisdom of the forefathers, and the living authority of the Ecumenical Council.
It seemed to me that I could read no end of books to the weariness of the flesh, but in the end I could still be trusting in my own judgment if I was not convinced by the sanctity of the western saints. Because to me, the most serious accusation one can lay to the west is that her saints are delusional. They could have all taught papal authority, but what if they were raving mad? I discovered that none other than St. Ignatii Branchininov, who had taught me so much, held this view, that all the post-1054 western saints suffered from spiritual “drunkeness.” Fr. Seraphim Rose made mention of this in his work Orthodoxy and Religion of the Future, in which he quoted St. Ignatii as saying of western spiritual classic, The Imitation of Christ that
There reigns in this book and breathes from its pages the unction of the evil spirit, flattering the reader, intoxicating him…the book conducts the reader directly to communion with God, without previous purification by repentance…from it carnal people enter into rapture from a delight and intoxication attained without difficulty, without self-renunciation, without repentance, without crucifixion of the flesh with its passions and desires(Gal. 5:24), with flattery of their fallen state.
I took these criticisms seriously. Fr. Seraphim Rose said that the Holy Fathers spoke of two types of spiritual deception—false miracles and false feelings. Both had one goal: prevent the soul from repenting. In other words, reject wisdom and humility. I knew from experience that various divisions of Protestantism did precisely this.
I decided that the only thing to do would be to read the life of every western saint, to see if any of them truly fell into this delusion. From a few years ago, therefore, I began to collect the summaries of each saint’s life—east and west—from various online sources. I created a collection for every day of the year. I studied the actions of each saint and highlighted every element that seemed suspect—stigmata, mystical visions, ecstasies, etc.
In the process, I was deeply moved by the piety of the western saints, and found that none of them failed to preach repentance. All of them, without exception (from my reading) preached bare contrition and penance. Moreover, they worked innumerable miracles, through faith conquered kingdoms, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and women received back their dead, raised to life again. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them.
Then I discovered something else: after Florence, numerous Orthodox saints admired western saints and translated their works. For example, the incorruptible St. Dimitri of Rostov prayed the Rosary, was devoted the passion and heart of our Lord, and filled his library with Bonaventure, Thomas àKempis, and Peter Canisius among others. He also spread a devotion to the sufferings of the Blessed Virgin, which originally was included in the (very conservative) ROCOR Jordanville prayer book, but was later deleted because it was too ‘western.’ Is this just another example of private opinion? Not against the Latin fathers alone, but even our own incorruptible father? If St. Dimitri is incorruptible, then how can these works be filled with such evil? Would St. Dimitri concur with the sentiments of St. Ignatii? And other Eastern saints were also attracted to western spirituality.
And I finally read The Imitation of Christ. I couldn’t believe that St. Ignatii could take offense at it. I could find no difference in spirituality to The Arena. I could find no instance of pursuing feelings over repentance, as was alleged. The following quotations from the work explicitly contradict St. Ignatii’s critique:
There is no other way unto life and to true inward peace, except the way of the Holy Cross and of daily mortification… For God will have thee learn to suffer tribulation without consolation, and to submit thyself fully to it, and by tribulation be made more humble…If thou wilt make any progress keep thyself in the fear of God, and long not to be too free, but restrain all thy senses under discipline and give not thyself up to senseless mirth…It is often better and safer for a man not to have many comforts in this life, especially those which concern the flesh. But that we lack divine comforts or feel them rarely is to our own blame, because we seek not compunction of heart, nor utterly cast away those comforts which are vain and worldly… Know thyself to be unworthy of divine consolation, and worthy rather of much tribulation. When a man hath perfect compunction, then all the world is burdensome and bitter to him.
I realized that what had infected many Orthodox was a ‘myopia of spirituality’—an obtuse concentration on the outward forms of spirituality without the good sense to look beyond the externals. A perfect example of this is an article at the quasi-schismatic site ‘Orthodox Info’ entitled “A Comparison: Francis of Assisi and St. Seraphim of Sarov.” It compares the spiritualities of these two great saints, but with a shallow prejudice against the former. In its dialectical approach, it reveals this myopia, essentially asserting that a spirituality that does not replicate 19th-century Ruso-Philokalian asceticism is necessarily heretical. It focuses closely on external manifestations of spirituality, rather than examining its inner substance. Why on earth should the spirituality of 19th century Russia look exactly the same outwardly as 13th-century Italy? This article, moreover, even distorts the eastern tradition, claiming, for example, that public penance is a sign of prelest, or that seeking visions is necessarily pride. Have you forgotten, my Christian brother, of the public penance of the Stylites? How much more public can you get than forty years on a three-story pillar in the middle of town? And the visions: have you forgotten St. Gregory Palamas’ prayer-mantra: “Lord, enlighten my darkness”? Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.
The Providence of God
In the end, I could not bring myself to conclude that the west was heretical, because of her saints. The saints had taught the Papacy, they had defeated the wicked man in their own bodies, and they could be nowhere else but Paradise, rejoicing in the all-Holy Trinity with all the saints from the east. It was because of this that I could not trust the Orthodox polemics anymore, because they challenged the Providence of God. They claimed that the Latin fathers were forged. If this is so, then prove it. But then we fall into endless historical debate. Where does this really lead? To accusations against brothers and distrust in the Providence of God. If they are not forged, then why did the Providence of God allow for a whole Latin tradition to develop, confessing the filioque, submitting to Papa, and make saints just the same?
Still, there remained one final recourse: prayer. I needed one final dewy fleece. I knew that I could read until my last breath and even then I would not have all the information (I couldn’t know all the saints). I turned to God. I made a vow. The first I have ever made. During the Triodion of this past year (the pre-Lenten season), I vowed to God that I would say a prayer fifty times a day to ask God to not lead me into temptation. This, in fact, was on the advice of St. Ignatii, who said that a monk should beseech the Lord to deliver him from deception. At the same time, I reexamined everything. I took a Master’s course called “Survey of the Eastern Tradition” as well as “Opposition to Ecumenism.” I read Florovsky, Lossky, Bulgakov, Louth, Meyendorff, Schmemann, Afanassieff, Staniloae, Zizioulas, Colliander, as well as Silouan, Arseny and Khomiakov, Philaret, Popović, Rose, Romanides, Kalomiros, and Cavarnos, and I also studied St. Photios, and translated some of the works of St. Mark of Ephesos. I prayed and prayed that God would manifest my error and my deception. I trusted that God wills all to come to salvation and the knowledge of the truth and would not allow me to be led into error. I besought Him with tears.
With God’s help, I fulfilled that vow. For the whole of Lent God did not speak a word to me. Then, during the last week, He brought great peace to my heart and showed me how to follow him. He lead me to the place I am now: an Orthodox Christian who has reconciled himself, in his heart, to the Holy Father, and to his western brothers, and to our holy fathers of the lands of the west. To put it more eloquently, I will affirm the words of my favorite Russian writer coming to the same conclusions from within his Orthodoxy:
The manifest impossibility of finding or creating in the East a centre of unity for the Universal Church makes it imperative for us to seek it elsewhere. First and foremost we must recognize ourselves for what we are in reality, an organic part of the great body of Christendom, and affirm our intimate solidarity with our Western brethren who possess the central organ which we lack. This moral act of justice and charity would be in itself an immense step forward on our part and essential condition of all further advance.
The Conclusion of the Matter
After reading this article, my Orthodox brethren will probably respond in one of the following ways:
- Accuse me of pride for not following the party of St. Photios or St. Mark of Ephesos, or for sharing publically my personal spiritual struggle
- Get into a historical debate which leads nowhere but to the mutual accusation of forgeries, which cannot be confirmed definitely
- Repeat wearisome prejudices and add ranks to the army of straw men that Orthodox polemicists triumphantly cut down with rhetorical flame throwers
- Introduce some new information I had not considered
- Ask (perhaps scornfully) “Why don’t you just become Catholic?”
As to #1 and #2, I repose ultimately on the Providence of God. The fact is that the Latin saints developed the Papacy, the filioque, and the rest. If they had true sanctity, then how could God allow all this to happen except by His providential guidance? And are we left to accusations of forgeries which leads nowhere but to distrust of brothers rather than faith in God? If my brother thinks that he knows me well enough to judge my pride from this brief essay, I will admit that he is not very far off the mark! I have, after all, attempted to admit that my own pride has been the obstructing factor leading to my own spiritual confusion. Nevertheless, let me stress here that I refuse to judge any saint. I have not refrained from honoring with the appellation “St.” those whom I can no longer agree with in all things. I would rather rest on the fact that whatever mistake a saint may or may not have made, must have been from his or her ignorance, rather than from any malice on their part. Far be it for me to think myself worthy to utter such folly! If my brother offers something new in #4, what shall I do? I am bound by my own words to listen humbly and be corrected as much as God gives me the power to do so. The way of the fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.
In regards to #3, what is most often misunderstood is the universal fatherhood of the Holy Father. Every Orthodox Christian I have ever talked to about this misunderstands the doctrine. The reality is that the fatherhood of Papa is within the Church and conciliarity in the same as a father’s authority is within the family. The Vatican II document Lumen Gentium beautifully elucidated this relationship. Moreover, we should admit that “the fact of primacy at the universal level is accepted by both East and West” but that the differences involve the exercise of that office and its foundation, “a matter that was already understood in different ways in the first millennium.”
The Church has adopted different ecclesiastical structures according to the time, but the Apostolic primacy of the bishop of Rome is the oldest and most universally recognized institution of ecclesiastical polity—excepting only the threefold episcopal structure witnessed in the New Testament and explicitly in St. Ignatios of Antioch. Bl. John Paul II himself said that the Papacy is “open to a new situation.” And Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger published the official statement in 1992: “the worldwide apostolic service [of the Papacy]…while preserving its substance as a divine institution, can find expression in various ways according to the different circumstances of time and place, as history has shown.”
Those who ask #5 betray their ignorance as to the current situation between Rome and the Orthodox. Since Vatican II’s Unitatis Redintegratio (and before), Rome has recognized the full catholicity of the Orthodox Church. In other words, the Orthodox Church is a part of the Una Sancta of the Creed and yet, insofar as it persists in refusing the invitation to communion and reconciliation with the Holy Father, it is schismatic. For the Orthodox part, our episcopally-blessed theologians in America have come to the same conclusion: we share the same Catholic-Orthodox faith of the Apostles. Moreover, the International Dialogue, which was created in 1979 by Pope John Paul II and Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrios I, agreed in 1993 that
On each side it is recognized that what Christ has entrusted to his Church – profession of apostolic faith, participation in the same sacraments, above all the one priesthood celebrating the one sacrifice of Christ, the apostolic succession of bishops – cannot be considered the exclusive property of one of our Churches…It is in this perspective that the Catholic Churches and the Orthodox Churches recognize each other as Sister Churches, responsible together for maintaining the Church of God in fidelity to the divine purpose, most especially in what concerns unity.
The document goes on to condemn “all proselytism” from both sides. This document was signed by official representatives from the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch, Russia, Romania, Cyprus, as well as by those representing the Church of Poland, Albania, and Finland. Moreover, it is becoming more clear to scholarship (especially as Eucharistic ecclesiology becomes embraced by more Orthodox) that this position on the schism is in fact the one of Holy Tradition and history, and those who oppose it, as Hart states “are in fact not defenders of tradition, but rank modernists.” Thus since I posses the Catholic faith by communion at my Orthodox parish, there is no reason for me ‘convert.’ Moreover, since I commune with the Body of Christ, and the same Sacramental reality is present at every Catholic communion, we are in fact in communion with one another.
At the same time, it imperative that we make as our identity the statement of our leaders: that we are ‘sister churches.’ Moreover, even a casual observer cannot fail to see the complimentarity of east and west. While the west struggles with a temptation of liberalism and modernism, the east struggles with a temptation of conservatism and legalistic-pharisaicism. As western Catholicism is reeling from a generation of iconoclasm, the Greco-Russian patristic and liturgical tradition of the Orthodox Church, as well as the more localized ecclesiastical structure can provide much needed balance to the current centralized structure of modern Catholicism. At the same time, the universal structure given in Catholicism is the antidote to centuries of nationalist ethnophylism rampant in Orthodox ecclesiastics from Moscow to Montana. Moreover, more Orthodox scholars are producing work against the continued schism with Rome. We have only a great need to engage in dialogue with Rome in order to re-form these structures along the lines that that Bl. John Paul II said in his famous encyclical Ut Unum Sint:
I insistently pray the Holy Spirit to shine his light upon us, enlightening all the Pastors and theologians of our Churches, that we may seek—together, of course—the forms in which this ministry may accomplish a service of love recognized by all concerned.
This search for good forms of the Petrine ministry must be pursued with earnest, in obedience to the will of Christ our Lord, knowing that we await a condemnation at His terrible judgment if we fail to build up the Church of God but rather continue to destroy it by our sins. Moreover, the Orthodox Church has already acknowledged, in some way, the Petrine primacy of Rome in the Ravenna document quoted supra. This mutual dialogue has brought about a deeper understanding of the Petrine ministry as emanating chiefly from the episcopal ministry of the Eucharist (Eucharistic Ecclesiology) in perichoretic relationship with the patriarchal-provincial structures and universal primacy of Rome. In the past, these different aspects of Petrine primacy have too often been exclusivised (on both sides) into an either/or polemic rather than a both/and mystery. This helps explain the universal patristic affirmation of the “princedom” of St. Peter, and yet the silence of some great Fathers as to universal Petrine primacy vis-à-vis Rome. Both sides must give up their exclusivism to some degree in order to come together. Why has the Church been plagued with so many ambiguities if not to teach us the necessity of love? This openness has already been begun by the west with Vatican II and numerous apologies and acts of public contrition for past atrocities. Except for the courage of Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I when lifting the anathemas with Paul VI in 1965, the unapologetic silence of our Orthodox bishops sometimes seems dreadfully obstinate.
The conclusion of the matter, in the end, is wisdom, humility, and the fear of the Lord. It is Proverbs. The annihilation of the wicked man and the triumph of the Righteous Man. This has been the beginning and the end of this struggle in my life, and I only hope these words are not too long-winded as to obstruct any edification they might engender. If we only have humility, I believe the problems in the Church will melt away. I leave you, dear reader, to consider this final example.
St. Chad was an Abbot in England who reposed in the later 7th century. He was a holy man who was made bishop of York during a long vacancy. But when St. Theodore, bishop of Canterbury, made a general visitation, he judged that St. Chad’s episcopal consecration had been somewhat invalid. What did St. Chad say to him? Did he attempt to evade correction by using some canonical technicality? Did he assert that “no one setteth himself up as a Bishop of Bishops, or by tyrannical terror forceth his Colleagues to a necessity of obeying…every bishop…can no more be judged by another than he can himself judge another,” or “The bishops are not to go beyond their dioceses to churches lying outside of their bounds, nor bring confusion on the churches”?
No. In the face of another bishop’s correction, he said this: “If you know that I have not duly received episcopal ordination, I willingly resign the office, for I never thought myself worthy of it; but, though unworthy, for obedience sake I submitted, when bidden to undertake it.”
This is the humility wherein the wicked man is put to death. This is the humility that fatherhood demands. This is the humility that will heal the Church.
Placeat tibi, Sancta Trinitas.
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Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic church and the Orthodox Church. Ecclesiological and Canonical Consequences of the Sacramental Nature of the Church Ecclesial Communion, Conciliarity and Authority, (“The Ravenna Document”). 2007. <http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/ch_orthodox_docs/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_20071013_documento-ravenna_en.html>,
_____.Uniatism, Method of Union of the Past, and the Present Search for Full Communion (“Balamand Statement”). 1993. http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/ch_orthodox_docs/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_19930624_lebanon_en.html
à Kempis, Bl. Thomas. De Imitatione Christi
Kohmiakov, Alexei. On the Western Confessions of Faith. https://www.archangelsbooks.com/articles/east_west/WesternConfessions_Khomiakov.asp
Kolbaba, Tia. The Byzantine Lists. Illinois Press, 2000
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Lodyzhenskii, M. V. “A Comparison: Francis of Assisi and St. Seraphim of Sarov.” Light Invisible: Satisfying the Thirst for Happiness. http://orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/francis_sarov.aspx
Meyendorff, Fr. John, Imperial Unity and Christian Division. St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1989.
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Soloviev, Vladimir. Russia and the Universal Church. Translated by Herbert Rees. London: Centenary Press, 1948.
Theophanes. The Chronicle of Theophanes. Translated by Harry Turtledove. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982
United States Conference of Bishops. The Catholic Church in Ecumenical Dialogue 2002. USCCB, 2002
Ware, Kallistos. The Orthodox Church. Penguin, 1993
Zizioulas, Metropolitan John. “Primacy in the Church: An Orthodox Approach.” Petrine Ministry and the Unity of the Church. Edited by James F. S. A. Puglisi. The Liturgical Press, 2002.
This is seen in such fundamental texts such as the Lutheran-Catholic Join Declaration on Justification (1999). Through this the Lutherans (if interpreting their Lutheranism through the Declaration) are no longer excommunicated by the Council of Trent. However, since no supra-ecclesial authority exists in Lutheranism, even an agreed statement like this cannot reconcile Lutherans as a whole to Catholicism, even if the Catholic Church can reconcile to them.
I have taken to use the original Latin title, as its English equivalent seems to me to alleviate the inherent prejudice that the name engenders. The word “pope” itself (because of our sin) is, in the minds of many, a curse word which refutes itself.
Cf. St. Cyprian (against Pope St. Stephen I), St. Basil (against St. Damasus’ ruling regarding Meletios), the Celtic saints resistance to Wilfrid’s vindication of Pascha via Papal Primacy at Whitby in 567, Photios’ excommunication of pope Nicholas I, etc. The Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs 1848, moreover, says that St. Irenaeus “boldly and victoriously opposed and defeated the violence of Pope Victor in the free Church of Christ” (13). On every issue, however, Papa’s ruling seems to have always won, despite opposition.
Constantinople did in fact claim this right in the synodal tomos of 1663, which attempted to block the ascendency of Moscow as Third Rome. This is cited in Laurent Cleenewerck, His Broken Body,133
Sergei Bulgakov flatly states, “The Orthodox Church does not accept the Catholic dogma of 1854” (Bulgakov, The Orthodox Church, 117). On what grounds does he make the claim that the Orthodox Church “does not accept” this or that? Which authoritative council or which consensus said so? On the contrary, Kallistos Ware admits that “in the past individual Orthodox have made statements which, if not definitely affirming the doctrine…at any rate approach close to it; but since 1854 the great majority of Orthodox have rejected [it]” (259). Moreover, the preeminent Orthodox scholar (and Catholic convert) Lev Gillet believed it, and published a solid study documenting its teaching by such greats a St. Photios and St. Gregory Palamas (which can be accessed here: http://eirenikon.wordpress.com/2008/07/31/the-immaculate-conception-and-the-orthodox-church-1/). Orthodox scholar Laurent Cleenewerck writes with characteristic erudition and irenicism: “There are many Orthodox Christians who make the sweeping statement that this Roman Catholic belief is a heresy ‘flatly rejected’ by the Orthodox Church. When asked to point to a local or Ecumenical Council of the Orthodox Church to justify this assertion, they reluctantly have to admit that there is no such authority—only one’s very private opinion” (His Broken Body, 45). Unfortunately Cleenewerck’s words can be applied to many Orthodox assertions of Latin ‘heresies’
Commonly known under the euphemism “contraception.” See this erudite study by Taras Baystar: http://www.orthodox-christianity.com/2011/11/orthodoxy-and-contraceptiona-change. As far as I know, no Church father ever taught that deliberately killing life-creation is acceptable. The most allowed is natural birth prevention, by abstinence.
Sergei Bulgakov writes in The Orthodox Church “The finished character of a religious system does not always proceed from an interior maturity, but sometimes from the fact that everything in it has been hastily forced into the shape of serviceable formulae. This makes things easy for the weaker brethren but it fetters the Christian spirit, for this spirit is ever striving onwards and upwards” (130). What does “onwards and upwards” mean exactly? How is this ambiguous statement to be understood in light of the Ecumenical Councils’ precise definitions? Do these “fetter the Christian spirit”?
David Bentley Hart, “The Myth of Schism,” Ecumenism Today (Ashgate, 2006). However, I cannot agree with Hart’s styling the atrocities of 1204 as a “mild recompense.” Nevertheless, his point stands.
The North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation published a fine study on this concept which puts to rest the claim of rebaptism: http://www.scoba.us/resources/orthodox-catholic/baptism-sacramentaleconomy.html. The Greek Orthodox Archbishop Spiridon of America, however, did not like this document and immediately fired all the official Orthodox theologians of the American Consultation. However, one month later he resigned and his successor, His Eminence Demetrios, reinstated all of them.
“The ‘economic’ interpretation is not the teaching of the Church. It is only a private ‘theological opinion’, very late and very controversial, which arose in a period of theological confusion and decadence in a hasty endeavor to dissociate oneself as sharply as possible from Roman theology” (Florovsky, “The Limits of the Church,” Church Quarterly Review, 1933).
Conspicuous examples in every century seem to be the following: the council of Nicea (325), Serdica (343), Pope St. Damasus I (d. 384) and St. Siricius (d. 389); the council of Chalcedon (451) and St. Leo’s papal ecclesiology (d. 461); the Formula of St. Hormisdas (517); St. Gregory’s papal power (d. 604), the papal ecclesiology of St. Maximos (d. 662) and St. Agatho I (d. 681), St. Wilfrid at the synod of Whitby and St. Bede’s witness of the same (664); papal power of St. Gregory II (d. 731), St. Gregory III (d. 741), and St. Zacharias (d. 752), and the papal ecclesiology of St. Theodore Studios (d. 826) among many others.
Ibid., I.1000 qtd. in Soloviev, 130; it is telling that an Orthodox layman uses this very quotation against the primacy of Constantinople: “Canon 28 and Eastern Papalism: Cause and Effect?” http://www.aoiusa.org/canon-28-and-eastern-papalism-cause-or-effect/
Fr. John Meyendorff, Imperial Unity and Christian Division (SVS Press, 2011), 153; Meyendorff relegates St. Leo’s papal ecclesiology to a “Janus complex.” Florovsky dismisses saintly deference to the “inviolable decrees” of the “Holy and Apostolic See” as “private opinions” (Bible, Church, Tradition, 84).
The Greek historian Theophanes himself states that at the time of the Iconoclasm of Emperor Leo, “Gregory, pope of Rome, caused Rome, Italy, and all the west to secede from both political and ecclesiastical obedience to Leo and his Empire” The Chronicle of Theophanes, Harry Turtledove, trans. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982), 408
As the racist comment of Emperor Michael III (d. 867) reveals when he said that “Latin is a barbarian and Scythian tongue,” and St. Photios also denigrates the Latin tongue (Mystagogy, 87). We should point out, however, that St. Gregory the Great expressed similar feelings toward Greek during his stay in New Rome (Andrew Ekonomou, Byzantine Rome and the Greek Popes (Lexington Books, 2007), 15). Fortunately for the west, this anti-Greek sentiment did not seem to become a pan-cultural policy. The same cannot be said of the east.
One might claim, however, that the attempted ‘Latinization’ of Russia, especially during the 19th century, as an example of this. Some one more learned in this time period should comment on this aspect, which I know little about.
For example, St. Mark’s treatise That not by the voice of the Lord’s words alone are the divine gifts sanctified, but because of the prayer and blessing of the priest, by the power of the Holy Spirit (PG 160:1080). This Consecration of the elements by the Voce Domini was taught by St. Ambrose in De Sacramentis, Bk. IV.23: “And before the words of Christ the cup is filled with wine and water; but where the words of Christ work, there is proved the blood which redeems the people. See, therefore, by how many great ways the word of Christ tranforms all things!” St. Mark is also opposed some centuries earlier by Greek theologian St. Nicholas Cabasilas in his work Commentary on the Divine Liturgy, which argues (in the face of Latin accusations) that the two consecration rites on substantially the same.
See the lecture of Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev,“The Patristic Heritage and Modernity,” (The Ecumenical Review, Vol. 54, No. 1-2); accessible here: http://www.thefreelibrary.com/The+patristic+heritage+and+modernity.-a087425979
This is the “Tale of the Five Prayers,” which was a revelation of our Lord Jesus to “one of the holy fathers” which included five meditations on the sufferings of the Virgin Mary, complete with spiritual promises attached to each one. Access the original prayer book here: http://www.myriobiblos.gr/texts/english/prayerbook/main.htm
For example, St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain, who argued that Catholics should be rebaptized, helped translate the western text of Spiritual Combat with St. Theophan the Recluse. These eastern saints removed words that were not in their spiritual vocabulary, like “merits” and “satisfaction.” But these were used by Latin fathers St. Benedict and St. Peter Chrysologus.
Soloviev, 81; Soloviev was an intimate friend of Dostoyevky, who based the characters of Ivan and Alyosha Karamozov on Soloviev. The latter, however, did not share his friend’s anti-Catholicism and slavophilism, and reconciled with the Holy Father. Bl. John Paul II read Soloviev’s works in Poland and helped to spread the name of this incredible Christian philosopher in the west. His classic text from which I have quoted here twice has been reprinted in an abbreviation under the name The Russian Church and the Papacy (Catholic Answers, 2002)
Those who understand it, however, do not object to it. When Orthodox polemics object that “pope Honorius was condemned,” or that “there is no list of infallible statements,” they often show that they are not searching for answers from the Catholics themselves, but rather seeking a reason to condemn something they already object to. We need to get past the polemics and actually engage in a dialogue like Christians should: speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15)
Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic church and the Orthodox Church, Ecclesiological and Canonical Consequences of the Sacramental Nature of the Church Ecclesial Communion, Conciliarity and Authority, (“The Ravenna Document”) (2007), accessed at <http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/ch_orthodox_docs/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_20071013_documento-ravenna_en.html>, 43, 41
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Some aspects of the Church understood as Communion (1992), 18; accessible here: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_28051992_communionis-notio_en.html
Some say this dialogue has progressed the farthest of all the world. See their website here: http://www.scoba.us/resources/orthodox-catholic.html. For a great introduction to the work of the American dialogue, listen to this lecture by one of the participants here: http://ancientfaith.com/specials/orientale_lumen_xv_conference/closing_session
Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, Uniatism, Method of Union of the Past, and the Present Search for Full Communion (“Balamand Statement”), (1993), 13, 14; accessible online here: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/ch_orthodox_docs/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_19930624_lebanon_en.html
Hart, “Myth of Schism”; for a thorough and lucid historical exploration of this compelling reality, see Chrysostom Frank, “Orthodox-Catholic Relations: An Orthodox Reflection,” Pro Ecclesia, VII, 1, Winter 1998.
Fr. Sergei Bulgakov actually made this point in his famous essay “By Jacob’s Well,” (Journal of the Fellowship of Ss. Sergius and Alban,1933): “Churches which have preserved their priesthood, although they happen to be separated, are not actually divided in their sacramental life. Strictly speaking a reunion of the Church is not even necessary here, although generally this is hardly realized. The Churches which have preserved such a unity in sacraments are now divided canonically in the sense of jurisdiction, and dogmatically, through a whole range of differences; but these are powerless to destroy the efficacy of the sacraments.”
Msgr. Magee said as much in his lecture at the Orientale Lumen XV conference in June 2011, along with Met. Jonah in his lecture entitled “Primacy and Autocephaly: a Contradiction or an Opportunity?” also from the same conference. You can listen to these lectures here: http://ancientfaith.com/specials/orientale_lumen_xv_conference
Three of note are Dr. Peter Gilbert, who works for the rehabilitation of John Bekkos who worked for the union of 1274. Here is his blog: http://bekkos.wordpress.com/. One cannot fail to mention David Bentley Hart, whose article “The Myth of Schism” (in Ecumenism Today (Ashgate, 2006) 95-106), still remains, to my knowledge, unanswered. Finally, Lina Murr Nehmé’s 2004 text Muhammad II Imposes the Orthodox Schism (Aleph Et Taw, 2004) argues that the schism is uncanonical since Florence was cancelled by the Turks and the Ecumenical Patriarchate coopted for their aims. She quotes the current patriarch of Antioch, Ingatios IV, as stating in 1984 that “There are no dogmatic differences between us…we are capable of reuniting.” For more objective studies by Orthodox scholars, see Olivier Clément, You are Peter (New City Press, 2003), Meyendorff, ed., The Primacy of Peter (SVS Press, 1992), and Laurent Cleenewerck’s recent text His Broken Body (Euclid Univ. Press, 2008)
This is beautifully expressed in Walter Cardinal Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in the 2002 document The Catholic Church in Ecumenical Dialogue 2002 (USCCB, 2002), 14-15: “Although every local church is fully the one Church (LG, nos. 26, 28), it is not the whole Church. The one Church exists in and out of the local churches (LG, no. 23), but the local churches also exist in and out of the one Church (Communiones Notio, nos. 9)—they are shaped in its image (LG, no. 23)…Taking both together, this means that the one Church and the diversity of local churches are simultaneous; they are interior to each other (perichoretic).”
It should be readily admitted from the Catholic side what Catholic scholar Yves Congor admited, that “the East ‘never accepted the regular jurisdiction of Rome.’ No evidence exists that the Eastern Tradition as whole ever admitted papal primacy as it was formulated in the West” (in Cleenewerck, 36), and other Catholic scholars have said the same.
A Library of the Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church (Oxford: Parker, 1844), The Epistles of St. Cyprian, The Judgments of Eighty-Seven Bishops in the Council of Carthage on the Question of Baptizing Heretics, 286-287