I’m no Fr. Al Kimel, Ochlophobist, or Michael Liccione. I do not have degrees in philosophy or theology. So, I hope everyone can forgive me if my exploration of these topics does not reach the level of some other internet considerations.
I am a regular person who, through God’s grace began to see the value of historical Christianity. I was looking for stability (though at the time, I didn’t have that realization). Orthodoxy seemed to provide the answer for that search. It was ancient, constant, and beautiful.
Yet for some reason (grace?), the animosity for the papacy that had been fomented in my soul began to erode. I can’t pinpoint the moment. Perhaps it was the months I spent following (and sometimes participating in) the discussions at Pontifications. Or maybe it was my own research, which had led me to some fairly confusing facts. Much of it certainly had to do with Pope John Paul II – especially his interest in the East and his desire for reconciliation. There did not seem to be a reciprocation of his sentiment from EO quarters.
For brevity, let me list a couple of historical facts which became stumbling blocks on my way to Orthodoxy. First is the Acacian Schism (484-519). This schism is a very interesting period of history. It gives us a glimpse into the emerging cracks in East-West unity, and how the Popes of this era viewed themselves and their prerogatives. Go here for more on the schism. Let me give an example of the type of language used by Pope Hormisdas in his formula for reconciliation, which should be read from the perspective of those Eastern bishops who were urged to assent:
The first condition of salvation is to keep the norm of the true faith and in no way to deviate from the established doctrine of the Fathers. For it is impossible that the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, who said, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church,” [Matthew 16:18], should not be verified. And their truth has been proved by the course of history, for in the Apostolic See the Catholic religion has always been kept unsullied. From this hope and faith we by no means desire to be separated . . . .
Following, as we have said before, the Apostolic See in all things and proclaiming all its decisions, we endorse and approve all the letters which Pope St Leo wrote concerning the Christian religion. And so I hope I may deserve to be associated with you in the one communion which the Apostolic See proclaims, in which the whole, true, and perfect security of the Christian religion resides. I promise that from now on those who are separated from the communion of the Catholic Church, that is, who are not in agreement with the Apostolic See, will not have their names read during the sacred mysteries. But if I attempt even the least deviation from my profession, I admit that, according to my own declaration, I am an accomplice to those whom I have condemned. I have signed this, my profession, with my own hand, and I have directed it to you, Hormisdas, the holy and venerable pope of Rome.
I would encourage anyone to read the link provided above which gives a more detailed account of the schism.
Along with this incident in history, another (a bit later) also gave me pause. It too involved heresies in the East (a common theme throughout history), and the mediation of St. Maximos the Confessor. It seems that many in the East were already uncomfortable with the language expressed by the West in describing the eternal procession of the Holy Spirit. St. Maximos came to the defense of Rome. I will bypass (for now) his particular defense of the Western understanding, and produce a quote which I found very telling.
I was afraid of being thought to transgress the holy laws, if I were to do this [write this letter to Peter] without knowing the will of the most holy see of Apostolic men, who lead aright the whole plenitude of the Catholic Church, and rule it with order according to the divine law . . . . If the Roman See recognizes Pyrrhus to be not only a reprobate but a heretic, it is certainly plain that everyone who anathematizes those who have rejected Pyrrhus also anathematizes the See of Rome, that is, he anathematizes the Catholic Church. I need hardly add that he excommunicates himself also, if indeed he is in communion with the Roman See and the Catholic Church of God . . . . Let him hasten before all things to satisfy the Roman See, for if it is satisfied, all will agree in calling him pious and orthodox. For he only speaks in vain who . . . does not satisfy and implore the blessed Pope of the most holy Catholic Church of the Romans, that is, the Apostolic See, which is from the incarnate of the Son of God Himself, and also [from] all the holy synods, according to the holy canons and definitions, has received universal and supreme dominion, authority, and power of binding and loosing over all the holy churches of God throughout the whole world — for with it the Word who is above the celestial powers binds and looses in heaven also. For if he thinks he must satisfy others, and fails to implore the most blessed Roman pope, he is acting like a man who, when accused of murder or some other crime, does not hasten to prove his innocence to the judge appointed by the law, but only uselessly and without profit does his best to demonstrate his innocence to private individuals, who have no power to acquit him. (Maximos, letter to the patrician Peter, ca. AD 642)
I don’t have the space to list the number of similar incidents and quotes from the pre-schism years. The period where the Roman See was “merely first among equals.” I will simply leave it at this – all was not as Orthodox anti-Westernism would have me believe.