A running commentary by a former Anglican priest who was baptized Catholic,

kidnapped from the Church in his youth,

and found his way back through the blessings of Anglican spirituality.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

One Man's Experience

A friend recently left the Eastern Orthodox Church and joined the Catholic Church. He told me, that he spent years studying Eastern Orthodoxy more deeply than the vast majority of Orthodox Christians. He said that this was the case because he studied the broad spectrum of Eastern Orthodoxy, and (especially) compared the Orthodoxy of today, with what it looked like a millennium ago, as well as what it looked like in the first few centuries of the Church. In examining Orthodoxy today, he said that he intentionally looked beyond his own branch of Orthodoxy (Russian) to others and compared them to one another.

His conclusion was that he could not, in good conscience before God, remain Orthodox. He told me that he felt "compelled" to return to what Orthodoxy was in the first few centuries when it was in full communion with the barque of Peter. He also said that he expressed these things to his Orthodox priest as well as to the laity, but that they told him "he did not really understand Orthodoxy". Over time, he realized that he could not escape the fact that what they were telling him appeared to be only a modern and fabricated Orthodoxy that is expounded by the clergy in spite of the historical facts. He struggled not to behave in a rebellious way about things, so it took him many years before he respectfully and humbly asked to be allowed to go home to the Catholic Church.

Here were his particular reasons for his reconciliation with the Catholic Church:
1. No central authority in Orthodoxy means no clear authority at all--He said that the expressed unity of Orthodoxy ignores the essential (and detrimental) divisions that exist within her ecclesiastical authorities. Not having a central papal authority has caused the Eastern Orthodox to develop into a confused and jumbled group of jurisdictions that speak loudly about their unified nature, while it has little to no real substance. Admittedly, there are "Bishops" and "Archbishops" (yes, I know they use different terms), but since only a Pope can call a proper council, there is no means for Orthodoxy to solve its problems until they humble themselves and submit to the successor of Peter. His assessment is that the reason Orthodoxy rejects the recent doctrinal affirmations of the Catholic Church is more because they reject the Pope than because they reject the doctrines themselves. He believes that this is actually one of the things that attracts people to Orthodoxy over Catholicism: rejection of the papacy and its authority.

2. Orthodox unity was spoken about (often with a certain braggadocio according to him), but had no real substance since many of the jurisdictions within the Eastern Churches do not get along with each other very well. This is actually distinct from the issue of the lack of an Eastern Pope, though it does connect closely to it. Orthodoxy claims that authority rests in the collected "Bishops" who are in communion with one another; similar to the conciliarism movement. There is nothing, however, within the concept of conciliarism to enable it to overcome the difficulties of disunity. It is the same problem that rests in Protestantism: no central authority means no source to draw the faithful together. If everyone sticks with his "branch" and wants his "branch" to stand above the others, then it becomes clear that schism breeds more schism. He said that he discovered that there is a good deal of disagreement between the different branches of Eastern Orthodoxy, but that it is usually kept quiet.

3. No unified approach to theology or the study of theology--His exposure to this was quite interesting. He told me that there is often an outward conformity to the general understanding of theology, but that this is only on the surface. When you dig deeper (as he said few Orthodox laymen ever do) you find that there is a wide divergence in how doctrine is understood, and an even wider divergence in how it is studied. This leads to the current acceptance of certain sins that the Catholic Church has stood firmly against (artificial contraception, remarriage after divorce, etc.). Yes, there is a general unified understanding of a few things, but those are mostly on the surface. His priest often told him how theology in the Orthodox tradition has never changed whereas Catholicism has. Yet, in my friend's examination of the history of Orthodox opinions, it was clear to him that once it broke away from unity with the Holy See it had lost its moorings to help it respond to new challenges in theology and Christian ethics.

In summary, he explained that he believed the only way for Orthodoxy to overcome these problems is to return into communion with the successor Peter. That one issue, more than all others combined, is what cripples the Eastern Churches and prevents them from moving forward into the future. Knowing that our Eastern brethren have retained legitimate Orders and Sacraments, let us pray for them that they will overcome their schismatic stance and return to the fold of true unity with the one vicar of Christ on Earth.

15 comments:

  1. You/he might be interested in this post showing how the EO have seriously caved in to many of todays moral sins: HERE

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  2. One thing I never understood with orthodoxy was the question of unity. where WAS the true church? If the bulgarians, greeks and russians were not in communion for any reason, who was right? what external mark of the true church was there for all to see, and what was it? When posed the question, circular reasoning was used. Basically, that scenario would never happen.

    From an outsiders perspective, how would you know who to cling to in a dispute? "whoever held the faith as always taught of course!" Well, who's to say?

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  3. The Logic of the Catholic Church in communion with the see of Peter is impeccable.

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  4. Glory to Jesus Christ!

    Father, I would like to respond to a couple of the points you made. I myself am in communion with Rome for reasons including the ones you mentioned, but I believe that they need to be nuanced slightly.

    There are certainly jurisdictional problems within Orthodoxy - one can point to the three separate "canonical" Ukrainian jurisdictions alongside the UGCC and the plethora of "non-canonical" jurisdictions, as well as the three separate Russian jurisdictions without any mutual communion within the sphere of "canonical" Orthdoxy before the fall of the Soviet Union, the two Ruthenian jurisdictions (OCA and ACROD), and the reaction of Moscow to the presence of the Estonian Orthodox at the Rimini Conference. Yet it is not quite true to say that in Orthodoxy "no central authority means no clear authority at all" in the same sense as this statement would be true of Protestantism. There is a clear authority in Orthodoxy - tradition, the faith handed down to us and proclaimed by the God-illumined Fathers. This is true in Eastern Catholicism just as much as Orthodoxy, where there is no clear consensus as to which Councils after the Seven are "Ecumenical" (the Melkites only recognize the first seven) or which doctrinal developments of the Latin Church are even relevant to us. But our tradition, including those post-1054 developments like Palamism, is quite clear and quite authoritative. There is no picking and choosing what we want to believe like there is in Protestantism; what is different about Eastern Catholicism from Orthodoxy is the final appellate authority in jurisdictional issues.

    It is also not really true that there is no unified theology in the East. If anything, it is more unified, because we do not have any "scholastic" theology isolated or separated from monastic theology. What the West calls "mystical and ascetical theology" is all of theology for us. Aside from deviations during our "Babylonian Captivity" or "Latin Captivity" during the Baroque, including some quite interesting ones (which I don't necessarily have a problem with - see the Catechism on the Divine and Sacred Liturgy by Nicolaos Boulgaris, for example), there are no systematic theologies in the East. The "Systematic Theology" of Fr. Dumitru Staniloae is anything but that in the Western sense, and was wisely retranslated "The Experience of God" in the English edition.

    Orthodoxy is less developed in some ways. That is why there is not necessarily uniformity on things like contraception or the mytarstva (purgatory). But the West is less developed on the doctrine of theosis and the dormition of the Theotokos. I accept the fullness of Catholic (universal) dogma defined everywhere, not just in the West or in the East.

    Our Orthodox brethren (I cannot say "our Eastern brethren", for I am myself Eastern) have indeed retained legitimate Orders and Sacraments. They have also retained the Orthodox Faith, which is an important thing to remember. We are not "Catholic" and them "Orthodox" - so-called "Eastern Catholics" are no less Orthodox, and yes, the word Orthodox is capitalized in our service books.

    Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory to Him forever!

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  5. Thank you Father for taking the time to share some thoughts.

    The Papal issue is an interesting one. Here, in Utah I have met up with a group of Eastern Armenians, who are of the Armenian Apostolic shade. When asked about it, they simply nodded, "Yes. Of course Pope Benedict is the leader of all Christianity. He is the successor to Peter. And, he is very intelligent."

    It's too bad Catholics don't see eye to eye with many of the Orthodox on the Papal issue. If more Catholics did Catholics would be listening to what he has to say.

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  6. Responding to Seraphim above:

    Thank you for the added info; it is greatly appreciated. My friend was merely speaking from his own experiences (mostly from questioning Orthodox priests and reading Orthodox writers from previous centuries).

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  7. QUESTION: WHICH RITE DID YOUR FRIEND ENTER?

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  8. He said he looked for one of the Eastern Catholic Rites, but there was nothing near to him. He joined a very traditional Latin Rite parish and feels blessed to be there.

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  9. Which jurisdiction was he under as Orthodox? He should probably talk to an Eastern Catholic priest of the equivalent Catholic jurisdiction, because canonically he is an Eastern-rite Catholic now, even if he is practicing Latin. It's something to be worried about, because without either a dispensation or canonical transfer he is subject to different Holy Days of Obligation and a much severer fast (and fast on different days - the big fast day to open Lent with is the Monday before Ash Wednesday, for example, when as a Latin he wouldn't have thought to fast).

    He is very blessed to have a traditional Latin Mass, though. If I could bilocate on Sundays, I would go to both that and Divine Liturgy. Unfortunately, I cannot.

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  10. All I know was "Russian Orthodox", but I will mention your suggestions to him the next time I speak to him. Thank you!

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  11. I would like to know what is the name of your friend so that I can talk with him becuase I am witnessing to some Antiochian Orthodox people.Please answer on your blog.Is there any way that I can contact your friend ?

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  12. So sorry, he asked that I keep his name out of this. He has a situation that makes this a sensitive issue for him and he did not want to get involved more than through my short post.

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  13. The Antiochian Orthodox are very, very, very close to proclaiming themselves in communion with Rome - they and the Melkites have mutually promised union with each other, with all the details worked out including where eparchial boundaries wil lie once the jurisdictions are merged, etc. The Antiochians asked for a five-year waiting period which ends this year, and may ask for an extension, but they have promised that they will come into union with Rome soon. I was told this by an Antiochian Orthodox gentleman who cantors at the local Melkite church, already living the union our bishops are in the process of hammering out.

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  14. Seraphim,

    This is very exciting! Is there a web-link where others can read more about this? I know many people who would like more specifics. If not, please keep us updated.

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  15. At the moment I can't find anything current on the web - it's also late and I have to get to bed so I'm not looking in a whole lot of depth. However, here is one article by the current bishop, but from 1997:

    http://www.cnewa.org/default.aspx?ID=753&pagetypeID=4&sitecode=US&pageno=1

    And here is another:

    http://www.cnewa.org/default.aspx?ID=753&pagetypeID=4&sitecode=US&pageno=1

    Unless I am confusing him with another Bishop Nicolas whom Father prayed for at Liturgy (I went to the Melkite temple this morning), he is the current bishop in the eparchy of Newton, PA. Until recently the bishop of Newton was Bishop Cyril Bustos who is now archbishop of Beirut, having moved there to work on achieving this unity. I was very blessed in that the first Melkite Divine Liturgy I ever went to was celebrated by him (a fortuitous accident - I just walked into the church looking for a place to go to Liturgy on a Sunday while I happened to be traveling and he was there).

    What is holding it up is the desire of the Antiochians (and the Melkites) to bring all Christians in the Middle East under a single united Patriarch of Antioch. There are currently 9 Patriarchs of Antioch (the tenth, the Latin Patriarchate, was abolished by Pope Paul VI), most of whom are not in communion with each other (Syrian Jacobites not in communion with Antiochian Orthodox not in communion with Melkites not in communion with two different Armenian Apostolic Patriarchs, who in turn are not in communion with each other, etc.) It's the usual Orthodox jurisdictional mess, with debris from the old non-Chalcedonian heresies stirring the pot.

    This forum (http://www.byzcath.org/forums/ubbthreads.php/topics/89578/Melkite%20Catholic%20and%20Antiochia) also claims that there is a pastoral agreement for intercommunion in the Middle East, which I don't have any documentation for. In practice, there is a lot of intercommunion between Catholics and Orthodox anyway, on an unofficial level. I've seen Orthodox priests receive Holy Communion in Eastern Catholic churches.

    Hope this is of some help. Glory to Jesus Christ!

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