Transcript:

After I became convinced by the historical claims of Christianity concerning the person of Jesus, I started looking for a church to call my own and as I did, I quickly became confused by the disorienting variety of teachings and practices among different denominations and this forced me to confront questions about the divisions that exist within Christianity.

I started studying Church history and I quickly narrowed my focus to the division between Catholicism and Protestantism. Eastern Orthodoxy didn’t, at that time, register as a contender for one very simple reason.

I’m an English speaking white dude in a British commonwealth country.

There is a universality to Catholicism that doesn’t exist in the Eastern Orthodox churches. For me to become Eastern Orthodox, I’d have to join a Church with a very specific ethnic or national identity.

When people ask me why I’m not Eastern Orthodox, I’m tempted to get into a theological throw down, but the easiest way to answer that is by pointing out that I’m not Russian, Ukrainian, Greek, or any other ethnicity that the Eastern churches in the city I live in serve.

A point of contention at all the major divisions in Christianity has been the focus on authority. So, the East-West split focused on the authority of the Pope vs. other bishops and patriarchs. The protestant reformation was about the authority of the Church and the Pope vs. the exclusive authority of scripture, and the English Reformation was about the authority of the Pope vs. the authority of the King. So, as you might guess, authority, how it’s defined, and where it resides, seems like a pretty essential component of the faith.

So in the case of the East-West schism, there were a number of controversies that they were stuck on, but arguably, the most significant one was the disagreement over the authority of the bishop of Rome vs. that of the other patriarchs and bishops. Rome insisted that the bishop of Rome had a unique and universal authority over the entire Church, without which there would be no universal Church, as inherited from the authority of Peter. The Eastern Orthodox side was arguing that the bishop of Rome was a first among equals but only in an honorific way which meant that he had the same authority as the other patriarchs. So that was their position going into the controversy. OK, how true were they to their positions after the controversy had led to an actual division and schism? Well, the West still maintained the conviction that the bishop of Rome had a universal authority over the whole Church. But the East, did not continue to treat the Bishop of Rome as a first among equals. In fact, they excommunicated him which seems like a clear violation of their own claim that no autocephalous patriarch has authority over another. The honor of first among equals has since been designated to the Patriarch of Constantinople.

Jesus wanted his followers to be one as a sign of his divinity to the world. Between East and West, from what little I know of it’s history, I only have ever seen major attempts from the West to realize that unity. Through the councils of Lyon and Florence, the East’s bishops conceded Rome’s position on Papal Supremacy, the Filioque, and purgatory, but the unity that was struck fell apart when the Eastern delegates went home and succumbed to political pressure there.

Rome has always been the initiator of ecumenical dialogue, from what I’ve seen. It was at the first Vatican Council that the mutual excommunications of 1054 were lifted. It was the second Vatican council that made ecumenism a high priority for the Church moving forward which paved the way for the joint theological commission of East and West.

It was Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI who recited the Nicene Creed with Eastern patriarchs without the filioque. It was the bishop of Rome who first visited the East. It wasn’t until 1995 when the Patriarch of Constantinople finally visited Rome.

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  2. Thank you for your reflections. I might add a quote from St. Maximus the Confessor who died in 662 AD and is highly esteemed in the Orthodox world. Like many other ancient Saints of the Orthodox Church he recognized the unique role of Peter. Just one example:”For he only speaks in vain who thinks he ought to persuade or entrap persons like myself, and 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 the Son of God Himself, and also 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. (Maximus, Letter to Peter, in Mansi x, 692).

  3. Loved the video! As you pointed out, in the Gospel of John, Jesus prays for all Christians “to be one”. From a human perspective, it is easy to think that the divisions in modern day Christianity…especially between the church of the east and the church of the west, can never be healed.
    I would invite you to investigate the mission given to one Vassula Ryden. I’ve included the link to True Life in God below. My wife and I heard her speak circa 2001, in New Jersey. Any doubt that I had in the authenticity of her mission vanished after attending that conference.
    God Bless you for the work that you do.

    • Reverend Deacon,
      In 1995, a notification from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was issued regarding the controversial mystic Vassula Rydén, a woman of Greek heritage who was born in Egypt. The notification said that her communications should not be considered supernatural. [18][19] The message said that, in Rydén’s writings, there were “a number of basic elements that must be considered negative in the light of Catholic doctrine”, that she had made “several doctrinal errors”, and calling upon Catholic bishops to prevent Rydén’s ideas from being spread in their dioceses. The CDF document is found here
      http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19951006_ryden_en.html

      In 2007, Cardinal William Levada confirmed that the 1995 Notification was still in effect; he recommended that Catholics should not join prayer groups organized by Rydén.

      The Ecumenical Patriarchate and other Eastern Orthodox Hierarchs have asked their faithful not to associate with Ryden and have condemned her teachings. These pronouncements are found here http://www.pseudomystica.info/tliggreekorthodox.htm#other

      Ryden claims that her “messages” from heaven (or other sources) come from “automatic writing” which is the claimed psychic ability allowing a person to produce written words without consciously writing. The words purportedly arise from a spiritual or supernatural source. It is a form of spiritualism and occult practice and is condemned by both Catholic and Orthodox teaching. No saint or anyone in the Tradition of the Church, including the Scriptural writers or Evangelists claimed this ability or practice.

      Also see, https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=10013

      Faithful Catholics and Orthodox Christians need to avoid her supposed “messages”.

      • The fact remains that her book called “True Life in God” does have a Catholic nihil obstat and imprimatur. At the end of the book, she answers the questions that were put to her by the Sacred Congregation (with their approval of publication). Basically she answers the questions by showing that the answers are in the book since she simply quotes the relevant sections. This was done when Cardinal Ratzinger was in charge. One might ask why the questions were raised (that can be answered by simple quotes) if the people working for the Sacred Congregation had actually read the book carefully. She never described her writings as “automatic writing” and the French exorcist of great renown, Fr. Curty, has denied that it is “automatic writing.” As we know, the orthodox churches have various jurisdictions. She was born in Egypt and thus that is the jurisdiction of her birth and therefore relevant to the discussion.

  4. I was raised a Roman Catholic and I am still Roman Catholic, but considering the Orthodox Christian Faith because of the long time Tradition of that Faith. It’s really not true that the Orthodox Faith only has churches for people who are of a certain ethnicity. Of the several Orthodox churches in my area, there is one which is predominantly Greek, but, even this one, is open to people of any ethnicity. There has been so many changes in the Catholic Church just in my lifetime, let alone throughout history. The Liturgy, which is the most important prayer of the people, has changed more than anything. The Church no longer emphasizes the sanctity of God’s House and His presence in that sacred space. People no longer keep the silence, women no longer wear veils over their heads, the actual significance of everything we do while in God’s Church is no longer spoken about. So, people go through the motions without even knowing the meaning behind those actions. It’s really sad, because the more you understand your Faith, the more you will grow in your love for the Lord and for His Word. I have always been in Music Ministry, and it breaks my heart to see almost the whole congregation disappear from the church before the recessional hymn is even complete. They’re only giving an hour per week of their time to Jesus, and they can’t wait to run out into this world that is so void of everything which is sacred. Even the music has changed entirely. I used to sing such beautiful music at a Carmelite Monastery in Philadelphia until our music director passed away. You just can’t find that kind of sacred music in the parishes anymore. A lot of the music sounds like something you would hear on the radio. And when there are problems in the parishes, no one down at the Diocesan office wants to hear about them. And if they do grant you time to state your case, nothing is ever resolved, just swept under the carpet. The church does not belong to the people, who are The Body of Christ, it belongs to the authority placed in position of that local area. And we’ve seen throughout history, that the authority is not always acting as the Good Shepherd which they were called to be. So, your argument as to which Church is more Traditional doesn’t hold water for me because of my own personal experiences. The Catholic Church also claims to be more transparent now in respect to the clergy and sexual abuse and other related subjects. But, it is easy to see how they still try to hide the sins of their priests. Just the other day, I heard that one of our local priests who has been in and out of ministry so many times, that I lost count…..is now back on the clergy list, but is reportedly staying at the Cathedral, “keeping a low profile”. This is what has become of the church. It’s so sad, because it’s such a beautiful and authentic Faith. But our leaders have watered it down to be more inclusive, than to stay True to God’s Word and be a shining light in the darkness.

    • I loved Brian’s video but I could also identify with a few statements and feelings expressed in your comment, especially those related to personal experience . I was baptized in an Orthodox Church in Romania like most Romanians; immigrated in the USA in the ’80s and converted/received into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church at Easter of 1993. Before this greatest event in my life I have searched for “home” and the closest was the Greek Orthodox Church in Salinas, California. I attended the mass and faithfully served and enjoyed the Greek festival each Fall for a couple of years. But Greek I could not be! “Home” was not there. On the Peninsula where we lived at the time, there was a tiny beautiful Russian Orthodox Church, a historical Monument situated in a park. Now, the music in a Russian Orthodox Church carries something of the “Greatness of the Mother Rusia” from the times of the tarzs to these days. It could lead to deep soul searching with no hopes in sight. So, no “Home” for me. I had numerous friends who belonged to different churches, some invited me to attend and have always enjoyed their friendship. But “Home” turned out to be found in the Mission of San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo. Wow! What a day, what an experience! But since it is so hard for so many of us to keep the Light on, to be always present to God’s Presence, this Easter I realized I was becoming more “Catholic” (my own experience) and was taking even God for granted. Back in Romania, a country overwhelming Orthodox, born of the Greek Orthodoxy- Byzantium- but also with strong Russian influences I thank God for the day He called. Catholics may not be “perfect” nor our Popes but every time there is something we may not fully agree with we know it could be a moment of growth, of overcoming, another “meeting” God, Jesus, and conversion. Only my experience.

  5. Your objections are not uncommon, however, the Orthodox Catholic Church has a canonical western rite, in both the Anglican and Roman traditions.
    https://www.orthodoxwest.com/

    Moreover, the Roman Church and western Christianity in general are also ethnically bound. Much of the surprising homogeneity in western culture is due to the very successful conquests of the imperial age and the imposition of Italian hegemony on large portions of Europe. From inside western Christianity though, this vast cultural sameness is almost imperceptible. But yes, despite having a much wider array of cultures, the Orthodox Church is Indeed largely missing English and Italo-European branches, just as the Roman Church is nearly absent from the middle east, northern Africa, and eastern Europe. This video will address your questions about universality.
    https://vimeo.com/proskomedia/theorthodoxwest

    This page will address your other apologetical arguments.
    https://shamelessorthodoxy.com/category/roman-catholicism/

  6. You are doing good work, may God bless you service.

    But Brian, please, please, please be correct in your history…It was the Latin Church through Cardinal Humbert, delegate of Pope Leo IX who on 16 July 1054, during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy (amazingly disrespectful, sacrilegious and uncharitable) laid a papal bull of excommunication of the Patriarch Michael Keralios on the altar of the Cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. This despite the fact that Leo had died and the excommunication was thereby invalid. Papally entrusted missions and ligatures end with the death of the pope who bestowed them. It was only after this that the Patriarch excommunicated Cardinal Humbert, not the pope. Your argument about the “how could one Patriarch excommunicate another” points to the lack of charity on the part of the Roman “legate”, not the Patriarch of Constantinople.

    Also, there are plenty of Catholic Churches that are unwelcoming, I know, I am a Catholic priest.

    Where would you be if you entered an Orthodox Church and were greeted with kindness and welcomed?

    To be fair and honest, Rome has called the Orthodox Churches, “Sister Churches” with valid Sacraments, hierarchy and spiritual traditions. The Orthodox have not responded to most “overtures” from Rome because Rome has a history of trying to assimilate other Churches and force her ways upon them. The Council of Florence is but one example.

  7. Luther actually DID have a “theological throw down” and basically had divorce proceedings from the church. You are right about Jesus wanting unity, but you will never get unity by attempting to dominate. That isn’t a “unity” of which I’d want to be a part.

  8. I myself have been Roman Catholic since I was 5 years old. I grew a little weak from the age of 19- 35. I say a little weak because I did what I needed to do but without full intention or deep thought. I became a Religion Teacher (Catechist) and later a Director of my Parish. It was then when I learned and got involved in RCIA that I began to take more seriously my wonderful Roman Catholic History and began seeing why people were either returning to the church or choosing It as their new home. Yes there is much history and mysticism in the Eastern Faiths but the true history is still held and protected through the Roman Catholic Church. Instead of me bragging about my faith, I love to hear why others are coming to it. That revitalizes my heart and my soul. Welcome, Welcome, Welcome. I have a niece who became Serbian Catholic, and several friends who are Greek. We don’t put each other down we share without the idea of conversions and that is ok. I am also proud to say I am the God mother of my mother who became catholic at 80 and a confirmation sponsor for my father at 86 years. I loved teaching them and hearing their stories as they began to see the Catholic Church as a place to be. They were never prodded, probed or forced to make this decision. My parents cried together as they celebrated on the same day having their marriage blessed in front of a group of people who embraced them after the ceremony. I know this can happen at any church but it began with a wedding gift of an Annulment that my father feared for 56 years. They both died at peace in 2006 and 2015.

    But you guys are right about Jesus wanting unity in His churches. Instead of all of the churches in the world focusing on what makes them unique or individual why not talk about our similarities. Once we agree in some small ways perhaps we could openly begin a dialogue on the Real Presence and Authority. Perhaps the world could learn a lot from Religion if we were all able to come together under Christ. How could war continue if 90% of us didn’t believe in fighting. Idealistic, perhaps but possible. BecausCarolinee anything is possible with God.

  9. When the ultimate authority is Christ Himself and our connection with Him, subordinate authorities fall into place. This is true in the Catholic Church. Vatican II says that everything in Christianity is regulated or ruled by Sacred Scripture; and V2 does not list anything else that regulates (Dei Verbum 21). It is not clear to me how this differs from the Protestant view on the place of Scripture. Ecclesiastical authority is subordinate to this. All subordinate authorities need to direct our attention to the Ultimate Authority, and not to themselves.

  10. I had an interesting conversation with the pastor of a Russian Orthodox Church Abroad during a vacation recently in South Carolina. It was most polite and quite enlightening. I was struck then by what I had already known but did not fully experience, that division brings about more division. I respected this pastor and his mission but it was clearly hampered by lack of unity in the apostolic churches and flies against reason that Peter and his successors were chosen without cause to the primacy of one Church even if with unified parts. The sins of the past in regard to actions taken by East and West do not invalidate the fact that Jesus established one way and one Church. The Catholic Church has shown itself quite comfortable with different rites and manifestations within the Church. The present state of disunity is a disgrace and those responsible should look deeply into themselves and work to end these unwarranted divisions.

  11. In response to the citation, allegedly of St. Maximos:

    It is not at all clear that that is the case. One reads St. Maximus’ Letter to Peter (c. 648) and one sees clearly that Maximus acknowledged “the blessed Pope of the most holy Church of the Romans, that is, the Apostolic See, which . . . has received universal and supreme dominion, authority, and power of binding and loosing over all the holy Churches of God which are in the whole world.” See Mansi, x, 692.

    This “Letter to Peter,” in fact, survives in bits and pieces only in Latin. It is, therefore, imprudent to use it as evidence for alleged belief of St. Maximos regarding the exercise of the papacy. If we had the original Greek, we could at least subject it to stylistic analysis in order to determine whether it belongs with the genuine works of the Saint. Whatever the case, he never attributed such authority to Rome. Those who choose to believe that St. Maximos equated St. Peter’s confession of faith to being the reason for Rome’s universal primacy are welcome to do so. However, they are ignoring the whole of the saint’s writings and ecclesiology which are not consistent with the quote from the supposed “Letter to Peter”. One certainly can hold that the oft offered spurious texts that the West consistently relies on to prove universal primacy and jurisdiction for the papacy are genuine. Needless to say, as quickly as the Latins use this text, equally quickly the Orthodox repudiate it as false. The “Donation of Constantine” and the “False Decretals” have caused Easterners to all but ignore these types of documents. Besides all of this St. Maximos or St. Theodore the Studite, could never have conceived of the Roman See with the power and authority she claims for herself to day. It you read the body of their works you would see that they held no such ideas. Contextual reading of their writings would prove this.
    The excesses of jurisdictional claims by Rome developed over time in the West and were certainly not held by even all the Latin Fathers of the first millennium. There was certainly no idea which the Roman See claims today; “… a full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered”. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 882) and in isolation from the other bishops.

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