St. Apollinare in Classe built by TheodoricThe 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."

People prayingProposition 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 of Christians."

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 Us [top]

1. The Primacy of the Pope and Infallibility

Catholic Position

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 one another.

Orthodox Position

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.

2. The Indissolubility of Marriage

Catholic Position

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.

Orthodox Position

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.

3. Immediate Personal Judgment after Death

Catholic Position

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 fate eternally.

Orthodox Position

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.

4. The Exact Moment of the Consecration

Catholic Position

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.

Orthodox Position

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.

5. The Procession of the Holy Spirit

Catholic Position

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.)

Orthodox Position

The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son. No one has the right to add anything to the Nicene Creed.

6. The Immaculate Conception

Catholic Position

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.

Orthodox Position

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."

7. Confirmation and Holy Orders

Catholic Position

Once the sacrament is administered, the seal is always there. It cannot be repeated.

Orthodox Position

The Orthodox reconfirm converts, and lapsed Orthodox returning to their fold. They also degrade some clergy to a completely secular condition.

8. Unction of the Sick

Catholic Position

The sacrament is given only to those who are seriously ill.

Orthodox Position

The Orthodox administer it during Holy Week to well persons as a complementary sacrament to Penance and as a preparatory sacrament to Easter Communion.

9. Indulgences

Catholic Position

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.

Orthodox Position

Absolution delivers not only from the guilt of sin but also from all temporal punishment incurred by it. The efficacy of indulgences is denied.

The Disciplinary Differences Between Us [top]

The Resurrection1. 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 [top]

Festival at a monasteryArchbishop 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 [top]

Virgin Mary from Church of St. George at the Ecumenical Patriarchate Cardinal 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."

Conclusion [top]

Pope Paul VI and Athenagoras IThe 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 unity.

"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"' (Rom. 12:10).

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.

Dates of
Diocese they
belong to
1. Ukrainian (from the Ukraine in Russia) 1054 1652 Old Slavonic with Ukrainian Archeparchy of Philadelphia, PA (headed by an Archbishop)
        Eparchy of Stamford, CT (headed by a Bishop)
        Eparchy of Chicago, IL (headed by a Bishop)
2. Carpatho-Ruthenian (from Eastern Europe) 1054 1600 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 Jordan) 1054 1724 Greek with Arabic (parts in English) Apostolic Exarchate (headed by a Bishop)
4. Roumanian (from Roumania) 1054? 1701 Roumanian Local Latin Rite Diocese
Russian 13th C. 1905 Old Slavonic  
6. Italo-Greek (from Italy) Never separated   Greek, Italian Local Latin Rite Diocese
1. Syrian (from Syria and Lebanon) 451 1656 Syriac, Arabic Local Latin Rite Diocese
2. Maronite (from Lebanon) 650 1656 Syriac, Arabic Local Latin Rite Diocese
1. Chaldean (from Iraq and Iran) 431 1551 Syriac, Arabic Local Latin Rite Diocese


(from Russia and Turkey) 525 1742 Classical Armenian Local Latin Rite Diocese


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