[ CONTENTS | BACK]
OUR RELATIONS WITH THE ORTHODOX
dissidents call themselves "Orthodox" (and often they add the term "Catholic")
because they consider themselves the only ones who have upheld the True Faith.
Catholics could, of course, apply this term to their own Church also. Through
usage and custom the two designations refer to two different Churches.
We should know just what separates us: to know the Catholic position and the
Orthodox position clearly; and we should respect one another's beliefs; lack
of sincerity and petty interests on both sides only engender misunderstanding
and separate us all the more. Unity can only be a work of love. Proposition
Twenty-Four of the Decree on Eastern Rite Churches insists on "a greater knowledge
of each other, by collaboration and a brotherly regard for objects and feelings."
The Catholic and Orthodox Churches have a common heritage of 1,000 years of
life together, until the schism in 1054 A.D. After the schism (which took centuries
to be imbedded firmly in the Near East and Eastern Europe), the Orthodox retained
their acceptance of the first seven general councils of the Catholic Church,
the basic faith of the Nicene Creed, and a complete and valid sacramental system.
Devotion to the Blessed Mother and the saints (with a common ascetical theology),
still form a link between the two Churches. We cannot deny that Catholic and
Orthodox are the two closest religious Christian communities. They are so close
that the Decree on the Eastern Churches (Proposition Twenty-Five) states that
if a separated Eastern Christian joins himself to Catholic unity "no more should
be required of him than what a bare profession of the Catholic faith demands"
(cf. the chapter on Determination of Rite). Proposition Eighteen of the same
Decree has already tried to eliminate invalid marriages, when Eastern
Catholics marry baptized Eastern non-Catholics, by insisting on a Catholic priest
blessing the marriage only for lawfulness; "for their validity the presence
of a sacred minister is sufficient, provided that what is by law to be
observed is observed."
Twenty-Six provides for a mutual partaking of the sacraments under certain conditions:
providing that there is no formal acceptance of error or danger of scandal and
indifferentism…where the needs of the salvation of souls and their spiritual
good are impelling motives." Proposition Twenty-Seven goes on to state: "Eastern
Christians who are in fact separated in good faith from the Catholic Church,
if they ask of their own accord and have the right dispositions may be admitted
to the sacraments of Penance, the Eucharist and the Unction of the Sick. Further,
Catholics may ask for these same sacraments from those non-Catholic ministers
whose churches possess valid sacraments as often as necessity or a genuine spiritual
benefit recommends such a course and access to a Catholic priest is physically
or morally impossible."
Proposition Twenty-Eighth goes on: "Further, without prejudice to the truth
of those same principles, common participation by Catholics with their Eastern
separated brethren in sacred functions, things, and places is allowed for a
good reason." There is nothing in principle against a Catholic visiting an Orthodox
church out of friendly curiosity, interest, for information, or in some passive
lawful capacity, e.g., showing respect at a funeral or marriage either in or
out of service time, provided that there is no danger to his own faith and that
no scandal is given to his neighbor.
The practical point of whether a Catholic should bow before the reserved Sacrament
arises only in Orthodox Armenian and Syrian churches (the other dissidents no
longer reserve); obviously he will make an act of worship in his heart. Should
a Catholic meet a dissident priest carrying the Blessed Sacrament, he should
bow and worship. A Catholic who for a good reason is present at a dissident
Eastern liturgy must make suitable reverences at the Consecration. Moreover,
Catholic moral theologians like Vermeersch and Noldin state that a Catholic
may enter a dissident Eastern Church out of service time to privately pray before
the Blessed Sacrament and the holy images.
Proposition Twenty-Nine leaves the care and control of this common participation
in the sacraments with the local Catholic and non-Catholic bishops so that "they
may by timely and effective regulations and directives direct the intercourse
Is it little wonder that we both should desire the union of past centuries?
There are over one hundred sixty million Orthodox in the world, and five million
are here in the Americas. We can see then that this problem of the union of
the two churches is a gigantic one, and has repercussions all over the world.
The Dogmatic Differences Which Separate
The Primacy of the Pope and Infallibility
Catholics believe that in order to maintain a one and undivided episcopate,
St. Peter was chosen the head Apostle by our Blessed Lord and that his
successor (the bishop of Rome, the Pope) is the head bishop and visible
head of the Catholic Church. Christ instituted in him a permanent and
visible source and foundation of unity of faith and communion. Together
with all the bishops, the Pope forms a magisterium or teaching body infallible
in matters of faith and morals; forming one apostolic college, they govern
the "House of the living God." This authority is exercised in a solemn
way at an ecumenical council and derives its teaching from two sources:
Sacred Tradition and Holy Scripture which are of equal value and complete
Orthodox assert that all the Apostles were equal (St. Peter, and consequently
his successor, was an honorary spokesman for them — the first among equals)
and their successors, the bishops, are all equal in power and jurisdiction.
There is only one invisible head of the Church — Christ. All the bishops
when meeting together and speaking as one body are infallible when they
are teaching matters of faith and morals. "The Orthodox Church consists
of a federation of independent hierarchies, believing the same
Faith and upholding the same morals. The Orthodox Church derives its teaching
likewise from Sacred Tradition and Holy Scripture.
The Indissolubility of Marriage
A valid marriage, sacramentally consented to and consummated, can only
be broken by death. Separation is allowed in certain cases; the marriage,
however, still binds. The priest who blesses a marriage simply witnesses
the marriage contract of the couple, who administer the sacrament to themselves.
Adultery breaks a marriage and gives the innocent party the right to
divorce and remarry. Adultery can be extended to any other serious matter,
e.g., desertion, apostasy, etc. The bishop of the parties involved decides
if there are grounds for divorce. The priest who blesses a marriage administers
the sacrament to the couple.
Immediate Personal Judgment after Death
A soul is judged by Christ, immediately after death; his fate
is decided then. He goes to heaven or hell. If he is not entirely purified
of imperfections and venial sins, he enters a spiritual state we call
purgatory (in the Church Suffering); here he atones for these sins and
is helped by the prayers of the Church Militant (those of us on earth)
and the Church Triumphant (the saints in heaven). At the second and Last
Judgment, his body will be reunited to his soul and he will endure his
The soul remains in a sort of spiritual "suspended animation" and awaits
its fate on the day of the Last Judgment where body and soul will be reunited.
(However, in practice, the Orthodox pray for their dead and have Masses
celebrated for their repose.) Some Orthodox theologians make a distinction
between a Particular Judgment (immediately after death) and a General
Judgment (the final one at the end of the world). In the intermediate
state between the two, the soul is conscious and exercising all its faculties
and has a foretaste of reward or punishment.
The Exact Moment of the Consecration
The priest's words "This is my body …" "This is my blood …" through the
operation of the Holy Spirit, effect the transubstantial change of bread
and wine into the body and blood of Christ.
The priest's words must be reinforced by an invocation of the Holy Spirit
to change the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. This invocation
is called the Epiclesis.
The Procession of the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. (Eastern Catholics
although believing this, are not obliged to add "and from the Son" to
the Nicene Creed as in the Latin Rite.)
The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son. No one
has the right to add anything to the Nicene Creed.
The Immaculate Conception
Mary, the second Eve, was redeemed by Christ in anticipation of her role
as the Mother of God. Consequently, she was free from the stain and effects
of Original Sin from the first moment of her conception; she was as Eve
was before she fell.
Mary, redeemed by Christ, is "all holy" because of her Divine
Motherhood. When she became "all holy" is not known (many hold
it was at the Annunciation); Orthodox claim that St. Anne was sterile
because of her age but through a special privilege of God, she and St.
Joachim became the parents of the Blessed Virgin. This inaugurated the
idea of a special feast: "The Conception of St. Anne."
Confirmation and Holy Orders
Once the sacrament is administered, the seal is always there. It cannot
The Orthodox reconfirm converts, and lapsed Orthodox returning
to their fold. They also degrade some clergy to a completely secular condition.
Unction of the Sick
The sacrament is given only to those who are seriously ill.
The Orthodox administer it during Holy Week to well persons as a complementary
sacrament to Penance and as a preparatory sacrament to Easter Communion.
Absolution delivers the penitent from the guilt of sin, but he must atone
for the temporal punishment incurred by it in doing penance. In fulfilling
certain conditions, a penitent may draw from the treasury of the Church,
temporal satisfaction for such sin, by means of indulgences.
Absolution delivers not only from the guilt of sin but also from all
temporal punishment incurred by it. The efficacy of indulgences is denied.
Differences Between Us
The Orthodox do not accept the reform of the Julian Calendar, made by Pope Gregory
XIII in 1582 for the date of Easter. They rarely celebrate Easter with us, e.g.,
we celebrated Easter together only in 1970 and 1974. Proposition Twenty of the
Decree on the Eastern Rite Churches laments this fact and looks forward to a
common celebration of the greatest feast of all Christians.
This makes for a lack of
social harmony, and provokes criticism on the part of our common adversaries.
The need for agreement on the date of Easter certainly needs to be discussed
and decided. Certain Eastern Catholics still follow the Julian Calendar; most,
however, follow the Gregorian Calendar under the guidance of their Patriarchs.
2. The Orthodox need
to have their spiritual duties more defined, e.g., their obligation as concerns
the assistance at Mass, and fasting.
3. Some Orthodox
do not confess all their serious sins integrally. They maintain that in certain
cases, the seal of the Confessional could be broken (at one time in Russia,
the seal could be broken for the welfare of the State).
4. The Catholics
seem to be too centralized juridically. The Orthodox seem to have little juridical
cohesion and allot too much influence to the laity. Often the laity has so much
control in the parishes, that it can force a Pastor to resign, and try to control
episcopal elections. Some Catholics would say the opposite is true in the Catholic
Church, i.e., that the laity does not have as much say as it should in the administrative
functions of the Church.
5. Acceptance of
married candidates for Major Orders does not really constitute a disciplinary
difference, as the Eastern Catholics follow the same discipline as the Orthodox.
However, in the United States, this discipline is interfered with by the American
hierarchy. Celibacy is still the ideal for the clergy as is revealed by the
fact that the Orthodox who are in Major Orders may not marry, and only celibates
are acceptable for the episcopate. Monks, of course, have to be celibate.
6. The use of the
vernacular in the Byzantine Rite is not a disciplinary difference, as Catholics
of the same rite are allowed to do the same. It is hoped that common translations
will be worked out for the two Churches, especially here in the United States.
Differences Of Mentality
Andrew Szepticky once wrote in The Commonweal (Oct. 8, 1930): "There
is a deep difference of religious mentality between the East as it has remained
throughout the ages and the West as affected by the Renaissance, the Reformation
and the age of Revolution. This difference narrows down very noticeably as one
retraces the course of history. It makes one sick at heart to see how nearly
related were the two Christian civilizations of earlier times, till the line
of cleavage is lost in the perfect unity of primitive Christianity."
Differences of mentality can sometimes cause identical beliefs to be viewed
in such a light that they appear mutually and subtly opposed.
Catholics and Orthodox must admit they had a mutual share in the causes of
schism. Catholics scholars such as Dvornik and Jugie do not excuse the Latins
historically from all blame. Catholics in true humility must not look at their
Orthodox brethren in a spirit of condescension or arrogance — aggressively trying
to proselytize them. They must not oversimplify the problem of Church union
nor disregard the learned scholars in the Orthodox Church. Soloviev, the great
Russian convert, stressed the method of unity which encouraged the Orthodox
to be faithful to their own traditions. Union can be accomplished only between
good Catholics and good Orthodox.
On the other hand, the Orthodox must not always be on the defensive, attributing
to their Catholic brethren ulterior motives when they show interest in them.
The Orthodox should be less nationalistic and clannish. If they
really believe that they possess the truth, they should try to share it with
others in missionary progress, not simply maintaining a status quo.
They should be interested in Western Catholic customs objectively, not with
a subjective superiority complex. The Orthodox should try to work together collectively,
exerting a genuine influence in the religious affairs of this country. Petty
interests isolating their jurisdictions into separate units can never achieve
this; on the contrary this shortsightedness only disintegrates the vital forces
that should be channeled together.
Mary Our Common Mother
Suenens of Belgium once said: "Mary offers herself to us as the connecting link
between Eastern and Western Christianity. She is a common blessing, a priceless
treasure … Mary will lead her children with a sure and gentle hand to the one
fold where the whole Truth is to be found, the fullness of life, Jesus Christ
our Lord" (Leo Cardinal Suenens, "Theology of the Apostolate," p. 121).
Centuries ago St. Augustine called the Virgin Mary Mater Unitatis (Mother
of Unity) and said that all the faithful are born into the Church through her
love. At Vatican II, the bishops of the Church decided to present the Catholic
teaching on the Blessed Virgin Mary as a chapter in the document on the nature
of the Church. By this, they wished to teach clearly that the vocation of the
Blessed Virgin belongs to the history of salvation through which God, in His
mercy, has designed to reconcile all men to Himself. Our Lady, the Mother of
God the Son made man, is closely linked to the three stages of this history
of salvation, i.e. the age of expectation in the Old Testament, the age of fulfillment
in the New Testament, and the age of glory in Christ's heavenly Kingdom. Patristic
studies of the last decade have encouraged the understanding of Mary as a type
or figure of the Church. From the things God has done through Mary, we
can perceive the destiny of the entire people redeemed by Christ. It
was most fitting therefore that Pope Paul VI proclaimed Mary, on November 21,
1964, truly the Mother of the Church.
A similar trend of thinking can be found in modern Orthodox theology. Vladimer
Lossky (d. 1958) wrote: "If in the person of the Mother of God we see the highest
peak of Old Testament holiness, her own holiness is not limited thereby, for
she also surpassed just as much the highest peaks of the holiness of the New
Covenant, and realized the greatest sanctity which the Church can attain…
"What degree of holiness, able to be realized here below, could possibly correspond
to the unique relationship of the Mother of God to her Son, when as head of
the Church He dwells in heavenly places? Only the entire and total holiness
of the Church, the complement of the glorified humanity of Christ, containing
the plenitude of deifying grace, communicated ceaselessly since Pentecost to
the Church by the Holy Spirit. The members of the Church can enter into a family
relationship with Christ; they can be His 'mother, brothers and sisters' in
the measure of the accomplishment of their vocations. But only the Mother of
God, through whom the Word was made flesh, will be able to receive the plentitude
of grace and to attain an unlimited glory, by realizing in her person all the
holiness of which the Church is capable" (cf. The Mother of God-1949, pp. 30,
31, and 34).
Another Orthodox theologian, George Florovsky writes: "Again there must be
a Mariological chapter in the treatise on the Church. But the doctrine of the
Church itself is but an 'extended Christology,' the doctrine of the total Christ"
(cf. Eastern Churches' Quarterly --1949, supplement "Nature and Grace"—
p. 52). He continues: "The Church does not dogmatize much about these mysteries
of her own existence. For the mystery of Mary is precisely the mystery of the
Church. Mater Ecclesia (Mother, the Church) and Virgo Mater (Virgin
and Mother) both are birth givers of the New Life."
Decree on the Eastern Rite Churches ends with a stirring exhortation: "The Sacred
Council feels great joy in this fruitful zealous collaboration of the Eastern
and the Western Catholic Churches and at the same time declares: All these directives
of law are laid down in view of the present situation till such time as the
Catholic Church and the separated Eastern Churches come together into complete
"Meanwhile, however, all Christians, Eastern as well as Western, are earnestly
asked to pray to God fervently and assiduously, nay, indeed daily, that, with
the aid of the most holy Mother of God, all may become one. Let them pray also
that the strength and the consolation of the Holy Spirit may descend copiously
upon all those many Christians of whatsoever Church they be who endure suffering
and deprivations for their unwavering avowal of the name of Christ.
" 'Love one another with fraternal charity, anticipating one another with honor"'
Certainly these words must have been in the hearts of Pope Paul VI and the
Patriarch of Constantinople, Athenagoras I, when they met historically in Jerusalem
on January 6, 1965, the holiest city in all Christendom. May they also be in
the hearts of all men seeking the truth and the one Church of Christ.
CATHOLICS IN THE UNITED STATES
|1. Ukrainian (from the Ukraine in Russia)
||Old Slavonic with Ukrainian
||Archeparchy of Philadelphia, PA (headed by
||Eparchy of Stamford, CT (headed by a Bishop)
||Eparchy of Chicago, IL (headed by a Bishop)
|2. Carpatho-Ruthenian (from Eastern Europe)
||Old Slavonic with Ruthenian, Polish, etc.
||Eparchy of Pittsburgh, PA (headed by a Bishop)
||Eparchy of Passaic, NJ (headed by a Bishop)
|3. Melkite (from Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and
||Greek with Arabic (parts in English)
||Apostolic Exarchate (headed by a Bishop)
|4. Roumanian (from Roumania)
||Local Latin Rite Diocese
|6. Italo-Greek (from Italy)
||Local Latin Rite Diocese
|II. SYRIAN RITE OF ANTIOCH
|1. Syrian (from Syria and Lebanon)
||Local Latin Rite Diocese
|2. Maronite (from Lebanon)
||Local Latin Rite Diocese
|1. Chaldean (from Iraq and Iran)
||Local Latin Rite Diocese
|(from Russia and Turkey)
||Local Latin Rite Diocese
[ CONTENTS | BACK]