Eastern Orthodox Churches


My personal photo

A few weeks ago I went to a Greek festival which was sponsored on the grounds of a local Greek Orthodox church.  Of course, the food was outstanding and the architecture was amazing.

It is worth noting that Eastern Orthodox are the closest thing to Catholics as you can get.  The biggest difference is actually the liturgy; the doctrinal differences and I will explain why that is.  For starters, the Eastern Orthodox — like us Catholics — have seven Sacraments: Baptism, Confession, Eucharist, Confirmation (Chrismation), Holy Orders, Matrimony and Extreme Unction (or simply Unction).  The Eastern Orthodox — like us Catholics — believe in the Most Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, the Ascension, the Assumption of Mary, the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist, the hypostatic union, baptismal regeneration, original sin (with some differences), prayers for the faithful departed, the sinlessness of Mary, the veneration of images, angels and saints, festivities, liturgical seasons, the deposit of faith consisting of both Scripture and Tradition, and apostolic succession.

Unlike the Latin Church, the Eastern Orthodox Churches don’t include the Filioque clause, but neither do the Eastern Catholic Churches.  But that’s okay.  Saint Maximus the Confessor explained both the Western and Eastern Creeds were legitimate expressions of faith regarding the Holy Spirit’s relation to the Father and the Son.  The problem between East and West was resolved at the Ecumenical Councils of Lyon and Florence, though the union of the See of Rome with the See of Constantinople would be short lived, as though the contemporary patriarch of Constantinople and a few of the future ones reunited with Rome, in addition to support from other Eastern Orthodox patriarchs and monarchs, the reunification was not so welcomed back in Constantinople.

Unlike the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Churches have not dogmatically defined the Immaculate Conception per se, but they do believe she was preserved free from personal sin.  They do not dogmatically define Purgatory as the Catholic Church has, but they agree that the Church on Earth can and should pray for those faithful departed so that they may someday enjoy the beatific vision of the Holy Trinity and all the angels and saints.  They do not believe a person has guilt from original sin though they believe in the doctrine itself.

Both the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches are Chalcedonian, meaning they embrace the Council of Chalcedon’s dogma that Our Lord Jesus Christ has two natures — human and divine — in addition to having two wills both human and divine.  This was back in 451 A.D. and as a result many had left full communion with Rome and Constantinople to become the Oriental Orthodox Churches which include such as the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church to name a few.  The Apostolic Sees of Rome and Constantinople continued to remain in full communion with each other for most of the time until 1054 A.D. when the patriarch of Constantinople refused to submit to the pope of Rome after he asked for help from the Byzantines when the Normans invaded.  The squabble was political and not really doctrinal; Patriarch Cerularius fiercely disagreed with the Latin Church’s use of unleavened bread for Holy Communion; in fact some Eastern Orthodox have employed use of the term Azymite, a derogatory term used in referenced to Latin Christians for use of azymite or unleavened bread in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; in turn some Latin Christians employed use of the terms Fermentarians and Prozymites to derogatively refer to Eastern Christians for their use of leavened bread in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  Michael Cerularius basically refused to submit to the Roman See (Old Rome) and after Saint Leo IX excommunicated Michael, the latter claimed to have excommunicated him; this became known as the East-West Schism.

Modern efforts have drawn the two Churches closer together and hopefully will lead to reconciliation.  I pray for their reconciliation every day I pray the Rosary.  Ecumenical relations have been very fruitful in better understanding the two are not so different doctrinally so that better understanding can lead to the Eastern Orthodox coming back into full communion with us.  The priest who spoke at the Greek Orthodox church said they know they can’t replace the pope of Rome.  I also have noticed how the Eastern Orthodox have not had an Ecumenical Council since before the East-West Schism.  Many have stated they recognize the primacy of Rome, but that some situations have impeded them from reconciliation such as clerical celibacy as married men can easily become priests in the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Churches, but not in the Latin Church, and as such feel the authority of the pope is too much and not that papal infallibility is wrong per se.

The Eastern Orthodox clerics at the Council of Florence agreed that “patriarch of Constantinople should be second after the most holy Roman pontiff, third should be the patriarch of Alexandria, fourth the patriarch of Antioch, and fifth the patriarch of Jerusalem, without prejudice to all their privileges and rights” (Session 6).  The Council of Chalcedon defined that “in ecclesiastical matters” Constantinople “is, and rank[s] next after” Rome (Can. 28).


Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and His All Holiness Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople


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