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So, why not Orthodoxy? That’s a hard question. It’s one I had to resolve, obviously, and hopefully I can give a few answers why.
The most pressing reason was my own weakness in failing to complete my catechumenate in the Orthodox Church. It was not as if I up and left Orthodoxy for Catholicism in one day. Almost a year passed between leaving the OCA parish for the last time and my first class in RCIA.
I hope to spend a few posts explaining why I entered that RCIA class rather than return to the Orthodox Church.
During the last few months of my attendance at the Orthodox Church of America parish, many of the walls that were in existence between myself and Catholicism began to crumble. To understand the crumbling, I suppose it’s better to first understand the walls. When I began the definitive move toward Orthodoxy, I thought I owed it to the ministers and pastors with whom I had worked, as well as my parents, to give an explanation of why I was making my decision. I wrote a letter, and below is a portion I’d like to share.
Most would be familiar with Roman Catholicism and some would compare the Orthodox Church with them. There are many, many similarities, but the split between the two Churches was in 1054 AD. The Orthodox do not hold the doctrine of papal supremacy/infallibility. They do not consider Mary a co-redemptrix (not that all Catholics do). They do not teach the immaculate conception of Mary, etc. In short, the Orthodox Church is not Roman Catholic.
I wanted it to be clear that I was not becoming a Catholic – anything but that . . . . In the churches I attended growing up, a strong anti-Catholicism exists. It’s definitely a form of ignorance, because there simply aren’t that many around here. I remember one Catholic kid in my graduating class from High School. The Baptist kids picked on the Pentecostals, and we all picked on the Catholic :)
I said all of that to say – I took a lot of that anti-Catholicism with me into Orthodoxy. It was a natural fit. It was a common narrative, so I was able to follow along more easily. I do know that not all Orthodox Christians are anti-Catholic, but there is a tremendous amount of anti-Catholic literature and sentiment among what we’d call serious Orthodox. I once had an Old Calendarist monk tell me that incorruptiple relics of Catholic saints were probably the result of demonic powers. Anything but Catholic . . . .
OK. I’ve explained the wall – briefly. And if you’ve read my conversion story you know that I was pretty ignorant of Church history for most of my life (still ignorant – still learning). However, when I began to investigate what Jesus truly meant when He said, “This is my body”, I soon discovered that the Early Church was not exactly the “Early Church” we were trying to recreate in the Pentecostal movement. So, I went on a journey that led me past Catholicism straight to Orthodoxy.
I remember briefly considering the Catholic Church. I would logon to PalTalk and visit the Catholic rooms and the Orthodox rooms. The Catholics were always nice and welcoming, very gracious and understanding – and clear defenders of the Catholic faith. The Orthodox were enigmatic, different, exotic. The music they shared in the room was beautiful. Soon I was doing plenty of self-study. The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware was my first read. It truly just felt right. The Orthodox arguments against the Catholic Church fit perfectly with my ill-formed perceptions: Rome was a usurper of power; corrupt beyond repair; the mother of heresies. Of course I visited the most Orthodox websites: OrthodoxInfo.com being one of the most frequented. I was a member of a theology discussion forum and several other members were making the journey to Orthodoxy, so I began learning from them as well. All of us were converts or potential converts, and all of us were eager to buy into all that the most orthodox of Orthodox could teach us. I would argue with Protestants. I would argue with Catholics. I was becoming quite the apologist for the Orthodox cause. All of this before I had even visited an Orthodox parish. Of course I eventually did attend a wonderful OCA parish, and my education continued apace.
These are the things of which I became convinced. All of them I learned from Orthodox Christians.
1. The Catholic Pope was always the first among equals – never considered anything more.
2. The filioque was an innovation in the West and a necessary cause for schism.
3. The Catholic Church were innovators of doctrine that found no basis in ancient, Christian thought. The Immaculate Conception is one of the best examples of this.
4. The reunion councils of Lyons and Florence were failures from the start and had no real support in the East.
5. The Catholic Church has a distorted view of the atonement.
And there’s so much more I could relate. These are just a few of the things I learned as I was coming into Orthodoxy. I will begin in the next post to examine how each of them, as portions of the wall between me and the papacy, fell (like the walls of Jericho) and became instead my path to Catholicism.
The papacy. When all is said and done, the issue of papal supremacy is the true issue behind all others in the debate between East and West. So, what do the Orthodox churches argue against, and do their arguments make sense historically and logically?
Until encountering Orthodoxy, I don’t remember having clearly defined opinions about the Catholic Church or the Pope. The Catholics and the Pope were enigmatic, dark entities that were anti-Christ. Orthodoxy used those fuzzy lines and drew a clearer picture – in the words of Photius (yes, he of the famous schism), Roman Catholics were “forerunners of apostasy, servants of Antichrist who deserve a thousand deaths, liars, fighters against God.”
I read everything I could get my hands on concerning the early Church, Orthodox ecclesiology, and other similar topics. Almost all of them were from the Orthodox perspective and contained not a little of anti-Westernism (if that’s not a legitimate term, it should be). Rome was “first among equals,” but with no real authority. Rome was only “first among equals” due to political circumstances, and not the will of God. When Rome abandoned Orthodoxy, her prerogatives (as they were) passed to the Bishop of Constantinople. Rome, in her lust for power and her knack for innovation, had split the Church.
All of these ‘facts’ were new to me. As I said, Rome was the bogeyman of my youth, but I never considered that the shadow would take shape. Yet it did, and I was confronted with the image of a monster – always seeking to undermine Orthodoxy. Her agents infiltrated nations. Her objective was subjugation. Her motives were lust for power and blind ambition.
But I started, around this same time, to pay attention to that other face of Rome. It was gentle. Meek. Strong. Holy. The face, of course, was that of Pope John Paul II.
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.
The filioque. It’s still used by anti-Western Orthodox as the number one cause for the schism. As I stated before, however, the underlying issue that still separates is the role of the papacy.
I am really, really busy with planning for an RCIA class and work, so I’ll leave you with some preliminary reading before I weigh in on the topic.
I promised I would weigh in on the filioque issue before I moved on in my series. I really don’t have much more to say than what the links I had previously provided surely show: the filioque is not a Church-dividing issue. Of course, the first to make it a Church-dividing issue was Patriarch Photius of Constantinople (wiki article/Catholic Encyclopedia article). I have said (and I’m not the first to say it, I’m sure) that Photius was Martin Luther before Martin Luther was cool. I am not saying that Photius created the animosity between East and West out of whole cloth. Surely the fissures were already beginning to form. But what Photius did do was to make the anti-Western sentiments into a clear movement, one that took hold in that most orthodox of Orthodox institutions – the monasteries. There the sentiment would fester and grow. The Latins were beardless. The Latins used unleavened bread. The filioque was an issue which this anti-Latin party could latch onto with fervor. I have one more link to provide, a brief quote from that link, and I will be done with the filioque.
De unione ecclesiarum is a blog I’ve recently begun reading. I would recommend it highly. The blog’s author is in the midst of studying Patriarch John Bekkos, the man who supported reunion at Lyon, and a man who has been anathematized by the Orthodox churches. I hope you will study more about Bekkos, as I find him a fascinating character. And while you are doing that, continue on several decades and study Demetrios Kydones, a brilliant Easterner who also wished for reconciliation between East and West. James Likoudis’ book, Ending the Byzantine Greek Schism : Containing The 14th C. Apologia of Demetrios Kydomes for Unity With Rome . . . is a wonderful place to start. Anyway, over at De union, the author has a blog entry entitled, Bekkos on Photius’ motives. Read it. Here is an excerpt.
As for the historical account, to speak of it concisely, the course of events went like this. The patriarchal throne was adorned by Ignatius, a man who had attained to such a state of holiness that, to this day, his memory is celebrated in the Church according to the dignity allotted to those who have been well-pleasing unto God. Photius had his eyes on the throne; but, although he was a man of eminent culture and not ignoble with respect to wisdom, still, he did not do well to thrust off him who sat upon the throne, and to install himself there. Ignatius refers an account of the violent act to Pope Nicholas, who at that time adorned the apostolic see. There followed the requisite defense of the wronged party by the holy defender, a defense of which the saint surely was in need. A letter came to Photius enjoining that he restore to the victimized man his honor and his see. The letter provokes Photius’s anger — and why wouldn’t it, since it did not allow him free enjoyment of the things he coveted? — he conceives a grudge against the Roman Church, but, nevertheless, he does not yet allow the birthpang to break forth, but he still holds the wicked embryo of dissention in his belly; and, while he remains suspended with hopes, he takes counsel with himself in this way: either, if he should attain his desires’ object, to let his heart’s embryo die unformed; otherwise, if he should fail of this, to let the baby loose and bring forth the offspring of strife unto the manifest division of the Churches — which in fact took place, to the destruction, alas! of our nation and our sovereignty.