The Road to Rome? Why Eastern Orthodoxy Deserves a Second Look

The Symbol of FaithA few years ago, I came across a series of posts by Jason Liske, a convert to Roman catholicism.

In one such post, he laid out a few reasons why he had chosen Rome over the Orthodox Church. (For those interested, the full post can be found here.)

Before I respond to some of Jason’s thoughts, I will provide a few disclaimers:

  • There are likely millions of Roman catholics who are far more loving, charitable, and honorable people than I could ever hope to be. Because the Orthodox Church disagrees with them on a number of doctrinal issues does not mean I have no positive thoughts regarding people of the Roman faith.
  • While ‘schism’ and ‘heresy’ are often seen as insults, they are not in actuality. These are words with important, historical meaning.
  • My father’s side of the family is Roman catholic. And every Sunday, during the Great Entrance, I pray for my grandfather when making intercessions for the reposed. (May his memory be eternal.)
  • We can—and should—love people, even when we disagree with them. The differences between Rome and Orthodoxy are both serious and real, but they should not hinder our prayers for their health, peace, and salvation—as with all of the world.

I will now interact briefly with a few of Jason’s points.

Expressing his love for “our eastern Christian brethren”—duly noted—Jason writes:

The first issue is the attitude of many Orthodox toward the Catholic Church, which in my experience can be described as reactionary and overly suspicious.  While the West views the Eastern Orthodox in a very sympathetic and conciliatory fashion, the East seem to view the West much in the same way that hardline Protestants might – as a bastion of error, as “papists”, heretics, the antichrist, and the like.  It is truly saddening, but in my experience, I have found it to be somewhat true. Catholic saints such as St. Francis of Assisi, St. Therese of Lisieux, and St. John of the Cross are viewed as heretical figures overcome by imagination in their spiritual lives, and tainted by “Romanism”.  A truly sad thing, as the West views many of the great saints of Eastern Orthodoxy with admiration and a willingness to learn from their teachings.  While such figures as Photios and Gregory Palamas may still be viewed in a negative light, they are venerated in Eastern Catholic rites as saints.  Seraphim of Sarov, a truly remarkable and saintly figure, has become an object of much veneration and love amongst Catholics, and Catholic scholars are starting to truly acknowledge the profound writings and thought of such Eastern Orthodox saints as Symeon the New Theologian, Theophan the Recluse, Tikhon of Zadonsk, Nectarios of Aegina, Mother Maria Skobtsova, Nicodemus the Hagiorite, and many others.  But the East does not return the favor, instead acknowledging the greatest saints of the West to be, at best, in error and whose salvation is also at best uncertain.

I admit that there are Orthodox Christians excessive in their condemnation of ‘the West’ in general, and of the Roman church in particular. I cannot speak for everyone, nor should the entirety of the Orthodox Church be held responsible for extremists—no more than I would associate all Roman catholics with child molesters or clown masses.

However, the fact remains that there are heresies that separate the Orthodox Church from the Romans.

In mentioning Ss. Photius and Gregory Palamas, Jason is acknowledging that the Roman church, too, sees some of our revered saints “in a negative light.” Along with St. Mark of Ephesus, these three Saints have made it plain that certain errors of the Latin church are not only schism, but also heresy. It does us no good in ecumenism or interfaith dialogue to pretend this isn’t the case.

But in a more problematic (and inconsistent) sense, Jason’s church also receives a whole host of dioceses under the Eastern or Byzantine Rite, which also venerate these men—although any veneration of St. Mark of Ephesus would be mere lip service.

Jason continues:

Secondly, their is a certain sense of insularity in terms of ethnocentrism within the Orthodox Church – simply take note of the titles of Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Ukrainian Orthodox, American Orthodox, and the like. Once, when I inquired of an Eastern Orthodox friend of mine why he did not go to just any Orthodox church, he replied matter-of-factly that “We go where the Russians go” (for he is Russian). But Catholics go where a Catholic Church is, whatever rite it may happen to fall under. In other words, the catholic (universal) nature of the Church is lacking in Eastern Orthodoxy.

I fear a lack of familiarity with the Orthodox Church has led Jason to this perspective.

The local (not ‘ethnic’) boundaries within the Orthodox Church are established for the sake of shepherding a Church throughout the world. After all, this is how there came to be a Church of Rome. But the Roman See and the now fourteen other, local Orthodox churches are now separated. These Orthodox churches are not ‘different churches’ or denominations, but are all part of the one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. This is how the Church functioned even in the first century.

While Jason’s friend is certainly wrong about his church-selection decision making—unless he lives in Russia, then it makes perfect sense—the Orthodox Church has condemned phyletism as heresy (Synod of Constantinople, A.D. 1872). Of course, Jason’s friend should not be taken as representative of the entirety of the Orthodox Church on this (or any) matter.

Despite his insistence, a Roman Christian will too go to their preferred church, if there are options available. The seemingly unstoppable revolution brought by Vatican II has only made this more and more necessary, I would imagine. In the earlier part of the twentieth century, there was a considerable amount of ‘ethnic divisions’ in the Roman church, as well. Irish people only went to the Irish church; French to the French; and so on.

It should also be noted that, according to Roman canons, one cannot simply transfer from one Rite to another within the Vatican communion. It is a far more complicated—and lengthy—process than in Orthodoxy, where a Baptized, Orthodox person is welcome in every canonical church at all times (throughout the world).

And its worth noting here that ‘catholic’ does not simply mean ‘universal.’ The Orthodox Church claims to be the Catholic Church, as She uniquely preserves the fullness of the apostolic faith.

Jason then writes:

Thirdly, the objections against the papacy brought up by the Eastern Orthodox are incredibly difficult to overcome at first, for as I have noted, they too have apostolic succession.  So, I endeavored to dig through the Fathers and the history of the Church to find out who in fact was right.  I especially dug through the writings of the Eastern Fathers (the Cappadocians, St. John Chrysostom, St. Maximus the Confessor, and the like) to see what they in fact said.  The answer was seemingly unanimous, and in agreement with the Catholic Church.  This I could not ignore, despite any accusations of selective quote-mining that might occur from this point on.  Even St. John Chrysostom’s understanding of Matthew 16:18, which I have treated earlier, is in accord with the Catholic understanding of the Papacy and the chair of St. Peter.  I cannot ignore this.  Even Gregory Palamas states that St. Peter is ‘the leader of the apostles and foundation stone of the Church.’

There is obviously a lot of material both in print and online on this issue. But the Ecumenical Councils—when discussing both Old and New Rome (Constantinople)—never mention the apostle Peter as a point of discussion. What they mention, rather, is that Constantinople was “the Imperial City.”

And yet, no one in the Orthodox Church would dispute the importance of Peter in the foundations of the apostolic Church, nor would we make light of apostolic succession and its importance. Both Antioch and Alexandria also claim Petrine foundations, and the greatest Pope in the history of the Roman church—St. Gregory the Great—claims himself that the chair of Peter is in three places: Rome, Antioch, and Alexandria. Peter (and Paul) laid the foundations for the Antiochian Church decades before his martyrdom in Rome.

Jason continues:

Now, let me state here, somewhat controversially no doubt, that I consider the rift between the East and West to be based more in language, politics, and crimes on both sides, than on anything theological.  The filioque controversy is not something that is hard to overcome, as the statements of ‘proceeds from the Father through the Son’ and ‘proceeds from the Father and the Son’ mean essentially the same thing.  Though many disagree with me, I see no reason to separate the Body of Christ over this trifling semantic issue.

Controversial, indeed.

This is another topic that has been discussed at length over the centuries. It is also one of the reasons Saints such as Mark of Ephesus have called the ‘Latins’ heretics.

However, Jason must clarify that while “proceeds from the Father through the Son” is a potentially orthodox description, the Latin Filioque is not. In recent statements, the Roman church has backtracked and even softened their perspective on this debate, conceding a considerable amount of ground to the East.

We must also remember that they include within their communion millions of Eastern Rite Christians who refuse to confess the Creed with the Filioque. So any honest ‘Roman catholic’ stance on this issue must also take them into consideration.

Jason’s historical revisions here also contradict the Catechism of the Catholic Church (246), where it makes plain the ‘eternal’ nature of the Holy Spirit’s procession from both the Father and the Son in the Roman view:

The Latin tradition of the Creed confesses that the Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son (filioque).”

The Council of Florence in 1438 explains: “The Holy Spirit is eternally from the Father and the Son; He has his nature and subsistence at once (simul) from the Father and the Son. He proceeds eternally from both as from one principle and through one spiration… And, since the Father has through generation given to the only-begotten Son everything that belongs to the Father, except being the Father, the Son has also eternally from the Father, from whom he is eternally born, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son.” —Council of Florence [1439]: DS 1300-1301

Certainly language and other political barriers led to a number of schisms between the East and West during the late Middle Ages, but that does not explain the entirety of our continued division. Rather, a continuation in heresy, an abundance of innovations, and the addition of new dogmas must be our real focus in meaningful East-West dialogue; we can’t blame politics, the Franks, and historical circumstances for everything.

Jason concludes his article with a summation of his main arguments:

  1. A certain sense of suspicion held by the East towards the West, as well as what I note to be an uncharitable attitude by some towards the great saints and theologians of the Catholic Church.  I found the Catholic understanding of Eastern Orthodoxy to be far more fair, conciliar, and loving.  The West holds their saints in high regard, and they are venerated in many of the Eastern rites of the Catholic Church.  Of course, this attitude has not always been held by the West – this is true.  But I find the move by the Church towards unity with the Orthodox is by far the more charitable than the still current attitudes held by some in Orthodoxy towards Catholics.
  2. Concerning Orthodox and Catholic claims about the papacy, I found the evidence from both the Eastern and Western Fathers to be in support of the Catholic claim far more than the Eastern Orthodox claim.
  3. The sense of insularity and lack of catholicity in the Eastern Churches – here I speak of the varying groups of Orthodox Churches (Russian, Greek, Ukrainian, American, Coptic, Oriental, etc.)

And here are my (summarized) thoughts in response:

  1. Jason—and other Roman catholics—must understand that we do not find joy in the reality of our schism, but remain faithful in our beliefs as Orthodox Christians. This is not an affront to unity, but is rather the only means by which it can truly come about: mutual agreement on key, doctrinal issues, not pretense towards ‘understanding’ or contrived concessions. Pretending that there are no differences, or that there is no real schism, accomplishes nothing.
  2. Apostolic succession is central to Orthodox ecclesiology (and Christology). However, the later beliefs of Rome regarding their patriarch and archbishop are neither tenable nor acceptable. Even the greatest Pope of all time agrees. Peter was foundational, but he was foundational for three different Sees—not Rome alone.
  3. I believe that Jason—and other Roman catholics—misunderstand the historical use of the term ‘catholic.’ They also misunderstand how the organization of the Orthodox Church really works, ignoring too their own ethnic divisions of recent memory.

He also lists a few positive things (from his perspective) regarding the Orthodox Church, and this is appreciated.

I have no doubt that Jason is a devoted and serious person, seeking to find rest in Christ’s one, true Church. I only wish that he (and others) would give the Orthodox Church a second look before ‘swimming the Tiber,’ as I believe many of his primary concerns are both confused and groundless.

Also, many of Jason’s concerns are ‘pastoral’ and have no real bearing on whether or not the Roman church is the one, true Church—or whether the Orthodox Church is wrong on specific, historical, and doctrinal issues. Many of his concerns (misguided or not) are such that they can be changed or improved over time, wherever warranted.

On the other hand, the errors within the Roman church—e.g. the Filioque and papal supremacy—are so foundational to Roman dogma, expecting reform or correction on these long-standing errors is far less likely.


  1. pianoteachersuzanne says

    On point no. 2, it is good to remember that until about fifty years ago, there was a lot of ethnocentricity in Roman Catholic parishes in the U.S. An Irish Catholic did not go to an Italian Catholic parish, and vice versa. There may not have been the name of an ethnicity in the official name of the parish, as is currently the case with most Orthodox parishes in the U.S.; but everyone locally knew which parish was Irish, which was Italian, which was Polish, etc. Recently, in just the last few days, I heard on a podcast (sadly, I don’t remember which one) on Ancient Faith Radio that the speaker had seen an old parish bulletin from an ancestor’s parish (in the New York area, if I recall correctly): One half of the bulletin was printed in Italian, while the other half was a translation in English.

  2. David Jones says

    The Road to Rome?

    I am fully Eastern, I am Melkite Greek Catholic.  As a former Eastern Orthodox (OCA), someone who crossed the Bosporus, not the Tiber, because of the lack of unity within Eastern Orthodoxy here are my initial thoughts and response to these comments.

    Christ is in our midst!

    I would encourage folks to explore the thought and works of the Orientale Lumen Conferences, Orientale Lumen TV (OLTV), and Eastern Christian Publications.

    In particular, you find the following items to be of interest:

    Who Are Eastern Catholics? (video)What is Eastern Theology? (video)

    Orientale Lumen XV Conference – Rome and the Communion of Churches: Bishop, Patriarch, or Pope?

    The Ratzinger Formula: A Catalyst for the Unfolding Dialogue Between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches on “Conciliarity and Primacy” by Richard A. Mattiussi.

    The Formula itself was originally articulated in a lecture given by the then Fr. Joseph Ratzinger at an ecumenical gathering in Graz, Austria in 1976 … In sum, he proposed that the Catholic Church must not require any more of an adherence to the Roman Primacy from the Orthodox Churches than had existed in the first millennium. On the other hand, the Orthodox must not condemn as heretical the developments that took place within the Catholic Church during the second millennium… Hence, “the Ratzinger Formula” will hopefully provide a fundamentally dynamic starting point where sister churches from two distinct ecclesial worlds may seek common ground in search of a concrete model that will express full and complete Eucharistic Communion.—Richard A. Mattiussi, taken from the General Introduction

    Eastern Fathers on Involuntary Sin by Father Maximos Davies

    Talk 1 – St. Augustine and St. Maximos
    Talk 2 – St. Maximos the Confessor
    Talk 3 – St. Dionysius the Areopagite
    Talk 4 – St. John of Damascus
    Talk 5 – St. John of Damascus (continued)
    Talk 6 – Practical Applications
    Talk 7 – Specific Involuntary Sins

    Unseen Warfare: The Spiritual Combat and Path to Paradise of Lorenzo Scupoli by Theophan the Recluse and Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain

    Russia Cristiana

    It aims at spreading knowledge of the riches of the spiritual, cultural, and liturgical tradition of Russian Orthodoxy, fostering ecumenical dialogue, and contributing to the Christian mission in Russia. The site contains links to the magazine La Nuova Europa and “La Casa di Matriona” publishing house, valuable bibliographical information, addresses of specialized libraries, information on the iconographic school, Byzantine liturgy, and organized trips to Russia.

    Christianity Divided: The Divorce between Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism by Marcellino D’Ambrosio, Ph.D.

    Dr. D’Ambrosio shows that the split between East and West, Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, was not the result of one crisis but of a long process of drifting apart that made mutual understanding and forgiveness difficult. He makes clear that Roman Catholic beliefs and Orthodox beliefs are not essentially different, but points out how different ways of living out the same faith and celebrating the same sacraments are often erroneously interpreted as doctrinal differences.

    The Wellspring of Worship by Fr. Jean Corbon

    Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry by Hans Boersma

    You should also engage the thought and works of Archbishops Elias Chacour and Elias Zogby.

    I would encourage Fr. Damick (and others) to go more deeply into this topic of dialog with Catholics, both Eastern and Roman. In Fr. Damick’s book he constructs a tower of cards simply to blow them down. History, theology, and our (past and current) reality are more nuanced and complex then he portrays them to be. Look toward His Excellency, the Most Reverend Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) as a model. Maybe you guys should consider attending the Orientale Lumen Conferences?

    Lastly,  let us pray together with Our Lord this prayer.

    • says

      Well, that is an impressive array of links. I’m not sure what all this is meant to convey in toto other than that you reject what is being posted here vis-a-vis Rome.

      I’m certainly aware that Christian history is far more complex than is portrayed in O&H. It wasn’t intended to be a complete compendium, though, just a summary—explicitly from an Orthodox point of view, at that. There are far more detailed studies published that refute Rome’s historical claims. My work in no sense is meant to replace them.

      As for the assertion that Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism really have the same doctrine, that really is rubbish, and even most Roman Catholics prior to the last few decades would call it rubbish, too. At the very least, all of Orthodoxy is under anathema from Rome for not believing that the Pope of Rome is infallible. There are many other major bits, too, of course, but waving such things away is really just a lot of smoke and mirrors. There are official doctrinal statements considered by Rome to be infallible pronouncements of an “ecumenical” council that the Orthodox reject, therefore placing them under Rome’s anathema. How does that actually work out to our really having the same faith?

      In any event, even today, none of the people that Rome herself puts forth for theological dialogue with Orthodoxy actually buys into this notion that we really are the same but for a few misunderstandings. So while it may seem conciliatory, etc., to say such things, it’s not Rome’s official position but simply the opinion of some Catholics. Such people, not representing Rome, cannot really be relied upon for real theological dialogue, because they are not being faithful to the teachings of their own communion.

      My apologies to Eastern Catholics who believe this sort of thing (“Orthodox in communion with Rome,” etc.), but that is really not what y’all signed onto. You are in subjection to Rome and therefore to all of her teachings. Rome accepts nothing less and having the idea that she would is just nonsense.

    • John says

      Regarding the Ratzinger formula of “don’t condemn us, and we don’t condemn you”, I fail to see how it is workable. I mean for one thing, the western attitude to the east is enshrined in canon law, and is presumably one of their “developments” that the east has to accept as legitimate. However it in itself is contrary to the premise of the east only accepting what was accepted in the first millennium. I mean, look at this canon law below, and tell me if this is Ratzingers idea of 1st millennial papal power:

      There is NO restriction to the Pope’s authority over the Eastern Catholic
      Churches. Their own canon law guarantees his supreme power.

      Canon 43 (of the Eastern Catholic Churches):

      The Bishop of the Church of Rome, in whom resides the office (munus)
      given in special way by the Lord to Peter, first of the Apostles and to be
      transmitted to his successors, is head of the college of bishops, the Vicar
      of Christ and Pastor of the entire Church on earth; therefore, in virtue of
      his office (munus) he enjoys supreme, full, immediate and universal ordinary
      power in the Church which he can always freely exercise.

      Canon 45:

      1. The Roman Pontiff, by virtue of his office (munus), not only
      has power over the entire Church but also possesses a primacy of ordinary
      power over all the eparchies and groupings of them by which the proper,
      ordinary and immediate power which bishops possess in the eparchy entrusted
      to their care is both strengthened and safeguarded.

      3. There is neither appeal nor recourse against a sentence or decree of the
      Roman Pontiff.

      Now look at the history of the church in the first millennium and tell me if people acted like the pope has “full immediate and universal power” which he can “always freely exercise”. Of course not!

    • Jason says

      Does not the Ratzinger Formula – specifically the second part – go against those efforts made by Fr. Georges Florovsky and Fr. John Romanides where they appealed to the first 1000 years of the Church as the focal point of recovering unity?

    • says

      Are you familiar with Ressourcement or Communio school of thought within the Catholic Church? Are you familiar with the thought and works of Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Jean Daniélou, Yves Congar, and Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI? For example, how about their work on Origen, Maximus the Confessor, The Bible and the Liturgy, Prayer, etc. That is where you will find Hans Boersma’s work to be extremely helpful, it is an accessible introduction to their thought. It might serve as a good starting point for a productive and fruitful discussion about why we have the problems that we do in the West.  I honestly believe you would be presently surprised by engaging the work of Dr. Boersma.

  3. says

    One small nitpick. You said “especially not an Antiochian Orthodox Christian like myself, whose very Church was founded by the apostle Peter, and years before he ever ventured to Rome.”

    The traditional chronology is that Peter has three sojourns in Rome (42AD-47AD, 54AD-56AD and 63AD-65AD) and his time in Antioch was between the first and second sojourn (47AD-54AD). Peter’s third period in Rome is largely unquestioned by anyone. However, Protestants have typically denied the first two stints (I’m not sure this is based on any actual evidence).

    For more detail, see Edmundson’s book The Church in Rome in the First Century, and in particular this chart: . Lectures III and IV contain the most relevant information.

    • says

      Thanks for the feedback on this. I don’t know enough on the history of the Apostle in Rome to comment further, but I have certainly seen/heard arguments that question his presence there before AD 54 (and before heading towards his martyrdom, even).

      • Nathaniel McCallum says

        All the arguments I’m familiar with are argumentum ex silentio. It boils down to no mention of Peter by Paul in either Romans or the other captivity epistles. Edmundson deals with these objections in his book. Particularly important is the presence of periphery characters in earliest Rome, especially Mark. I won’t attempt to reconstruct Edmundson’s excellent and freely available book here. But in short, we have no strong evidence against his presence in Rome and we have some, albeit incomplete, evidence for it. The end result is that opinions on the first two sojourns largely mirror one’s commitment to Papal claims. However, there is no necessary connection between these two.

        Particularly interesting in Edmundson’s book is his thesis that Luke/Acts are the first two parts of a trilogy which was supposed to end with the ministry of Peter, but was never completed. Anyway, go read the work, it is at the least interesting and a fair compendium of modern scholarship.

      • Nathaniel McCallum says

        I should mention the important point in Edmundson’s book that he believes Peter is in fact mentioned in Romans. But I’ll commend you to the book to find out where… :)

  4. Stephanus says

    As a Roman Catholic I find it enlightening to read what is written here, and elsewhere, about Orthodoxy. At times I have considered what it would be like to be Orthodox but I keep coming back to the same reservation.

    To paraphrase Chesterton, I believe that the (Western) Church has shown itself to be a “truth-telling thing”, a thing worthy of trust (or “faith” if you like), in part because it consistently and distinctly teaches things that I do not hesitate to agree with, e.g. Marian dogmas, transsubstantiation, and yes, the filioque. This is not the basis of my Faith in the Roman Church, but what it does is not leave me with any private reservations.

    It is not that I discern that the Orthodox Faith is false. It is not that the Orthodox Faith seems to me to have something that is outside what is the True Faith. It is more that I find the visible unity of the Orthodox Churches less convincing than the unity of the Western Church. Past the first seven ecumenical councils, I can never seem to get a straight answer in regard to things that the whole Orthodox Church believes. Maybe this is because I am biased by having the notion of “development of doctrine” (cf. Newman) and the Magesterium, which are explicit expressions of the Faith of my church, and that the Orthodox can get along just fine without such dubious notions. It is just that there are lots of things that make sense to me in an exlusively Catholic theological context which the Orthodox tend to *reject*, which I cannot countenance abandoning even if I shared the Orthodox view of the true place of the Bishop of Rome. In the end, it really comes down to who, if I am uncertain about the theology of issue X or dogma Y, who I trust the most.

    PS. I always felt the filioque issue was rooted in language and translation problems. It should be noted again that the Greek formula for “and the Son” is expressly forbidden during recitation of the Creed because of the differences in what “procession” means in Latin versus Greek. I think it is almost exactly the same kind of problem as with the Orientals and the meaning of “physis.” I hope that being able to flush out the differences in English we can come to a greater understanding of first what both of us mean, even if we actually do end up believing something different.

    • says

      It seems that you’re appealing to feelings and the “ethos” of the Latin church more than any specific doctrinal and/or historical issue, with the exception of the “Marian dogmas,” transubstantiation and the Filioque. I certainly respect your opinion and “feelings” about your faith, but that doesn’t really speak to Truth itself, who is Christ. On the other hand, I certainly would disagree with you (and Rome) regarding the novel Marian dogmas, transubstantiation and the belief that the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from both the Father and the Son.

      You are implying that the Orthodox Church is gelatinous when it comes to later doctrinal beliefs, but there are no Orthodox people today that would accept any of these three things.

      Also, I think Florence makes it clear (along with the CCC) that the Orthodox and Rome are not “on the same page” with regards to the eternal procession of the Holy Spirit, no matter how much historical revisionism continues on the Latin side.

      • Stephanus says

        I will reiterate that my “feelings” about my faith are not what speak to Truth, but what I do not have even the slightest private reservations about. In other words, it’s just a set of things that “make sense” independent of their magesterial/de fide definition.

        I do not intend to imply that the more recently defined western dogmas are accepted by some in the Eastern Orthodox communion (though I must give a special mention to transsubstantiation, from which I do not see how “metaousiosis” is substantially different). Rather that if I were given, tabula rasa, a choice between the Catholic Church and Orthodox Church, and to see which communion was more “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic,” I would have reservations about the “oneness” of the Orthodox over the Catholic. I have friends, some Greeks, some OCA, some ROCOR, and even several Coptics (though I know that’s another matter), and I do not observe the oneness (among sacramental theology, the Canon of Scripture, and especially on how to deal with “schismatics” like myself) that I see in the Catholic communion. I am not trying to say that the Orthodox should sacrifice the integrity of their deposit of faith for unity, far from it. My point is that I do not, in my study of the Fathers and Scripture and ecclesiastical history, see anything contradictory to western dogmas that would otherwise make me abandon the Catholic Church.

        PS. I perhaps write with a lot of bias, and I’m not trying to convince you to become Catholic or anything. I see Orthodox sacraments and orders to be completely real and valid and if I were raised Orthodox instead of Catholic but everything else staying the same, I would very likely remain Orthodox. I’m simply saying that I don’t feel a calling to suddenly forsake the Catholic Church to become Orthodox because the Catholic Church is wrong.

  5. Canadian says

    I am a recent convert to Orthodoxy but nearly became Catholic. I understand your sentiment about how things “feel” with Rome, I felt it too initially. However, there are a number of glaring things that slammed the door for me. I will highlight just one.

    You said: “Past the first seven ecumenical councils, I can never seem to get a straight answer in regard to things that the whole Orthodox Church believes. Maybe this is because I am biased by having the notion of “development of doctrine”.

    Immediately after the 7 Councils stands Rome’s 8th Ecumencial. It seems as though there was some real “development” of doctrine going on because the 869 Council which you now call your 8th Ecumenical was annulled by Pope John VIII:

    “Pope John VIII’s Commonitorium or Mandatum ch. 10, which was read by the papal legates at the third Session of the same [879] Council, we find the following: “We [Pope John VIII] wish that it is declared before the Synod, that the Synod which took place against the aforementioned Patriarch Photios at the time of Hadrian, the Most holy Pope in Rome, and [the Synod] in Constantinople [869/70] should be ostracized from this present moment and be regarded as annulled and groundless, and should not be co-enumerated with any other holy Synods.” The minutes at this point add: “The Holy Synod responded: We have denounced this by our actions and we eject it from the archives and anathematize the so-called [Eighth] Synod, being united to Photios our Most Holy Patriarch. We also anathematize those who fail to eject what was written or said against him by the aforementioned by yourselves, the so-called [Eighth] Synod.”

  6. David Jones says

    Fr. Damick,

    Christ is in our midst!

    The links are for you and others to see and to verify the various serious dialog which has occurred and is occurring between our two Churches, at both the official levels as well as at the regional or local levels. The Orientale Lumen Conferences are amazing events that even Ancient Faith Radio itself promotes and have been for years. I encourage folks to listen for free to both the conferences and to OLTV. Great work by both leading Orthodox and Catholic figures are there for your listening and viewing pleasure.  The links will allow folks to make their own judgment(s) and verify them with their own experience(s).

    To state the Holy Father, the Vatican or Rome are not serious about healing this sin of disunity is simply false and inaccurate. Look no farther then the records published on the official Vatican website itself. More importantly read the actual documents themselves.

    “Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church (as a whole)”

    To claim that Catholics officially teach to know the salvation of any individual Orthodox or condemns the entire Orthodox Church is simply a false and erroneous. What the Catholic Church officially teaches about the Orthodox Church is rather the opposite. Catholics recognize the validity of your orders via apostolic succession and the validity of your sacraments. Catholics officially recognize that the Orthodox Church is a real Church, and not an eccesial community and that my friend is no small or irrelevant matter. We recognize Orthodox as being Catholic but we also recognize the reality that you are not in full union with Rome on all matters.

    Have you seriously engaged the thought and works from Balamand, Ravenna, etc? Have you engaged the many years of serious work from the Orientele Lumen Conferences? Have you engaged the thought or writings of Archbishops Raya or Zoghby?  Have you engaged the thought and writings of Fr. Jean Corbon, who was a leading author of the new Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC)?  What Hans Boersma has to say to the West, specifically to his Protestant brothers, directly relates to the East.  Have you engaged his important work? 

    Are you and others personally digging with a pike and shovel so that our disunity is deepened or are you working to heal the divide and wounds? Are you more interested in polemics and debating stick figures of your own creation or dialoging with real humans who share the same faith, the baptism, etc? 

    Maybe you should have a (private or public) conversation with holy (Eastern) monks like Father Maximos Davies and others like him.  I can help to coordinate that if you so desire.

    • says

      Pretty much all the things you’re claiming here that I’ve said I haven’t actually said. Such dishonesty does not become someone apparently concerned for reunion with Orthodoxy. I will try not to be insulted by the condescension of your final comment, though one can really put this both ways, of course—have you considered a private conversation with some holy Athonite monks on this matter?

      If Rome and those subject to her wish for unity with Orthodoxy, it means nothing less than repentance for heresies such as the filioque, the immaculate conception, papal supremacy, papal infallibility, purgatory/indulgences, etc., and a return to Orthodoxy. That is, Roman (and other) Catholics have to become Orthodox Christians. This is what Fr. Georges Florovsky (not exactly an isolationist) said during all of his many years of engagement in the WCC and other theological discussions with Roman Catholics and others. He also was no slouch in terms of reading pretty much everything there was on such subjects.

      In any event, I never said Rome wasn’t serious about communion with Orthodoxy. But the truth is that Rome isn’t pursuing it in terms of “Come now; we’re really the same,” and neither are the Orthodox. Rome wants universal subjection to Rome; her ecclesiology requires it. Orthodoxy wants a repentance for heresy and a return to Orthodoxy; her basic sense of integrity and faithfulness to the truth requires it. For Rome, unity is about structure. For Orthodoxy, unity is about faithfulness to the apostolic deposit of faith given by Christ.

      Asserting anything else is disingenuous. No more game-playing, please. I’ve read Rome’s anathemas, you know, and I can say for certain that they apply to me and to all the Orthodox.

      • Stephanus says

        At the end of the day, Fr. Damick, you are entirely correct regarding what would constitute full communion with Rome (and correspondingly, what it would take for the Latin Church to be in communion with Eastern Orthodoxy) and what that entails ecclesiologically. It does indeed come down to “Rome is correct because it is Rome” versus “Orthodoxy is correct because it is correct”. I however maintain my faith in the authority of the Bishop of Rome and everything that comes along with it, and make no pretensions about the size of the gulf that separates us dogmatically.

        It will take a truly miraculous act of God for us to be reunited and one side will have to capitulate without reservation. I do not believe that I am wrong, but I do know that I will find out with certainty how “extra ecclesiam nulla salus” applies to me one way or another when I am dead.

      • David Jones says

        Fr. Damick and others,

        Christ is in our midst!

        I can only speak for myself but in no way am I trying to be insulting or condescending to you or anyone who follows this site including the author of this post.  I am not playing games or trying to be dishonest.  I was honestly just trying to have a good discussion.  I apologize if you or anyone else took it any differently. 

        Frankly, I think you or anyone could have a beautiful discussion with someone like Fr. Davies if your heart was open to it.  Let us pray this might be possible someday.  Fr. Davies or Fr. Abbot Nicholas are a priest like you.  They are well studied and understand the history, as well as the problems, between the East and West.  For example, why not discuss what your understanding of anathemas are with them?  That would be one humble suggestion of something to consider in your discussion if you are serious about really understanding what divides us. 

        I for one am in a serious dialog with an Anthiochian Archpriest and have been for over a year.  I have known many, many Orthodox priests over the last decade which includes a priest/monk from the Holy Mountain. I deeply appreciate my Orthodox friends and value our friendship.  I hope to make new friends here.  

        • says

          Why are you always trying to get us to take up dialogue with other people? You’ve essentially been asked this question by multiple folks here. Why insist that we go and do homework before you’ll engage the issues here yourself? Is it really even polite (or fruitful) to show up and then try to get others to take the conversation offsite? Also, if we cannot engage with Rome’s official statements on these questions but instead have to go to your preferred anathema-masseurs, then how can we be assured that your folks are the real spokesmen for Rome? How does “anathema” not actually mean “anathema”?

          And, let us be honest with one another: “If your heart was open to it” is essentially code here for “You are simply big meanies if your minds are already made up.” I mean you no disrespect, but some of us really have looked into these things thoroughly and made up our minds. Indeed, some of us here actually were committed Roman Catholics and conscientiously departed those shores.

          Is your heart open to the idea that your apostasy from the Orthodox Church was wrong? If not, then how can you expect others essentially to assume the inverse regarding themselves?

  7. Andrew says

    Vincent, thank you for the thoughtful article.

    “especially not an Antiochian Orthodox Christian like myself”

    Could you explain why, condemning phyletism, you choose to belong to a geographic patriarchate far away from your own country instead of the OCA? I have been trying to understand why people with no ethic connection to the Church choose between these two options.

    • says

      I can’t speak for him, but one reason I imagine might be that the nearest OCA parish to him is 70+ miles away, while the Antiochian one is relatively more local.

      Also, phyletism is not the proper word for the uncanonical arrangement of Orthodoxy in America. Phyletism (properly ethnophyletism) is a racial check at the door, i.e., you officially must belong to a particular ethnicity or race in order to participate in the parish. I don’t know of any jurisdiction in America that does that (cold shoulders don’t count). Do you?

      In any event, even the OCA itself has overlapping jurisdiction within it—for well over 35 years, it has maintained Romanian, Albanian and Bulgarian dioceses that overlap with its other dioceses.

    • says

      Fr Andrew covered most of the bases here. The OCA is “A” in name only, as it is merely another Russian Orthodox manifestation here in north America. In fact, I’ve heard such parishes referred to in passing as “a Russian parish” (and there’s usually no Russians there! ha!).

      Currently, there is no avoiding being attached to an ancient patriarchate from the old countries as an Orthodox Christian in the United States (and I’m fine with that, honestly).

      Eventually, an American manifestation of the Orthodox Faith will emerge here in the west, but I’m not sure we’re ready to be “let loose” yet. But that’s just my personal opinion.

      • says

        Also worth noting is that a number of OCA parishes actually use the word Russian in their name, such as a parish here in the valley where I live. Their “Russian Days” is also one of their big annual events there.

        That said, there are more “ethnic” OCA parishes and others that are less so. And some just retain the name more out of a sense of brand loyalty than any living cultural connection.

        In any event, whatever place the OCA occupies in terms of Orthodoxy in America, it is numerically so small (a bit over 10%) as not even to be on the radar for the vast majority of Orthodox Christians in America.

  8. Joel Haas says

    Fr. Andrew,
    I am very confused by the sentiments in your last comment. The link you provided reveals that the OCA is the second biggest Orthodox jurisdiction in North America in terms of people, and the *largest* in terms of parishes. How does this lead us to say that it is “not even … on the radar for the vast majority of Orthodox Christians in America?” Please forgive me if I am reading the information wrong.

    • says

      Orthodox demographics in America goes something like this: There’s the massive Greek Archdiocese and then there’s everyone else who combined don’t match the Greek Archdiocese. “Second largest” might be important if it were a close second, but it’s not really even close. More than half of Orthodox Christians in America belong to the GOA. Another 40% belong to non-OCA jurisdictions. The OCA may be second in numbers and first in parishes, but it is only about 10% in terms of real numbers.

      Having the most parishes doesn’t mean most Orthodox have heard of the OCA. The average parish size is pretty small (154) and smaller (about 60) when you look at the actual number of regular attenders. Heck, even in just the valley where I live, not everyone is even aware of all nine Orthodox churches in the valley.

      This is not to denigrate the OCA. My own jurisdiction is, by several measures, even smaller. It’s simply to point out that, while some may have a big vision for what the OCA ought to be, most Orthodox Christians in America are barely even aware of their existence. Internet Orthodoxy should never underestimate the ongoing isolation between the jurisdictions that exists. Anecdotally, I remember when a Greek friend of mine wanted to marry a Romanian who belonged to an Antiochian parish. It took forever for her to convince her mother that her fiancé was the same religion she was! This sort of thing is actually quite common.

      • Joel Haas says

        Thank you for the clarification, Father. The OCA parish in which I am worshipping as a catechumen has about twenty folks Sunday to Sunday. And the only other two parishes within an hour are GOA. So I see what you mean…

  9. says

    What’s really interesting is that, despite my approach of being as respectful of Eastern Orthodoxy as possible, despite my praise of certain things associated with it, all I seem to have really gotten is labelled as either a traitor to my own Church, or as a false ecumenist, or whatever else, by both sides. Hurtful, but I can deal with that – I am human and make errors. The post was a subjective take on why I chose the path I did (heresy and hellfire apparently). I cannot help my observations, foolish and uninformed as they are.
    I meant no insult to the Orthodox, nor to anyone else. My apologies for conflating the two sides as the same – I meant it in the most positive way possible, without trying to sacrifice any difference between the two traditions.

    Vincent, thank you anyways for being respectful to me. I do appreciate it. Sorry for taking your time.

    Pax Christi.
    Jason @ AMC

    • says

      and sorry if this reply comes off badly – it`s tough stuff we are talking here. I wrote a selection of retractions and an apology on my website for my errors.

      God bless you in the meantime Vincent.

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