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DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE ORTHODOX CHURCH AND ROMAN CATHOLICISM - THE GREAT SCHISM

 

ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΑ ENGLISH

 

by Ms Irene Economides,
Bachelor of Theology and Political Sciences -
Guide lecturer of the Greek Tourism Organization

 

Christianity was identical in the East and West until the IX c. A.D. The Christian faith, confessed and explained by the Seven Ecumenical Councils (Synods), was the same without any deviation on both sides. In other words, Occidental Europe was Orthodox till the end of the VIII c. as the Bishops of the West and the Bishops of the East had participated at the Seven Ecumenical Councils on the same level and no one among them had pretended to a superiority or primacy. The Christian West had agreed to all the decisions of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. It was only from the early IX c. that the West began to introduce innovations concerning dogmatic and ecclesiological principles.

 

The juridical primacy of the Pope

The principal cause of the Schism was the unfounded claim of the Pope Nicolas I (858-867), Bishop of Rome, to have juridical primacy and to be considered superior to all the other Bishops of the East and the West. This monarchical claim, indeed, had been disputed in those days by the Archbishop of Reims Hincmar, assisted by arguments based on Canon Law (Vlas. Phidas, Ecclesiastic History, Athens 1973, p. 75).

This claim of the Bishop of Rome since the IX c. is not based on the Apostolic tradition. Actually, since the first days of the Church, when the Apostles had to decide about an important problem, they gathered at a Synod (Council), they fasted, they prayed and decided all together, inspired by the Holy Spirit (Acts 15.22 and 15.28): “Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church”. “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us”.

This system, called synodic or conciliar, has remained intact in the Orthodox Church until now. No bishop is over the others. The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople is considered first in honour, but he has no right to decide separately from the other bishops, and he has not the infallibility, which rests only in the Ecumenical Council recognized by the whole Church (laymen and clergy) according to the text mentioned above: “Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church”.

So the first and most important, and the most difficult to overcome, of all the differences which separate the Orthodox Church from Roman Catholicism is this position of the Bishop of Rome based on the principle of his primacy and infallibility. Since the IX c. the Primacy of the Pope in the West has been based on a biblical text (Matt. 16.15-18) which was wrongly interpreted, and moreover no Ecumenical Council had ever propounded this later interpretation.

The exact interpretation of this text is the following: Jesus Christ had asked the Apostles: “Whom do men say that I, the son of man, am?” Simon Peter answered, being more spontaneous, in the name of the others: “Thou art the Christ, the son of the living God”. Jesus added: “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed unto thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church”. The stone on which He should build His Church was not Peter as a person, (who had denied Him later three times), but Peter᾽s confession of faith. That faith is that Jesus is Christ, the Son of the living God. For the cornerstone of the Church is not Peter as a person, but Christ Himself. As St. Paul says to the Corinthians: “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3.11).

Christ does not need a curate, or a unique delegate on earth, because as He promised: “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28.20). The sacrament of the Holy Eucharist is operating continuously in the world. St. Paul says to the Corinthians: “And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of the spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10.4).

The Text of the Acts of the Apostles informs us that the history of the Church starts on the day of the Pentecost at Jerusalem and not in Rome. That day three thousand Jews repented and were baptized. So the first Christian community was in Jerusalem. We must also not forget that St. Paul had founded the Christian community in Philippi and Corinth in Greece before the arrival of St. Peter at Rome.

Moreover, the practice of the Church had never granted a juridical primacy to the bishop of Rome during the first eight centuries. He enjoyed only a primacy of honour until the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451), which by its 28th canon granted the same primacy of honour to the Pope of Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople (Second Rome). This primacy of honour was not addressed to the bishop as a person, but to the importance of the Church that he represented, on the basis of the number of their members and her works of charity. The nature of this primacy is called in Latin “PRIMUS INTER PARES” which means: “first among equals”.

This later innovation (the juridical primacy of the Bishop of Rome) was the cause behind all the harm done by the Western Church. As the Papacy assumed worldly power in order to counter the Western Emperors, it became monarchical and thus there ensued the religious wars, the Crusades, and the Inquisition with all its horrors. Such events never took place in the Orthodox Church which guarded her profound spirituality. She followed the advice of St. Paul, who writes to Titus in order to give advice about the heretics: “A man that is a heretic after the first and second admonition reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth” (Titus 3.10-11). He did not give him advice to kill or to burn as the Medieval West did by deforming the spirit of the Church.

 

The infallibility of the Pope

The doctrine of the infallibility of the Bishop of Rome, proclaimed only in 1870 by the Vatican Council, represents a complete deformation to the Synodic or conciliar system, according to which the infallibility lies in the Church as a whole. The Seven Ecumenical Councils (Synods) had been accepted by the body of the Church (clergy and laymen) according to the first example of the Apostolic Council in Jerusalem: “Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church” (Acts 15.22).

This juridical primacy and “infallibility” of the Pope creates pressure and destroys the democratic spirit of the Church, hindering the unity of the world, for the big majority of the people revolt against this wrong doctrine. If the Pope really desires Christian unity, he must return to the apostolic tradition.

 

Deformation of the sources and the practice of the Church

The Orthodox Church is based on two sources: the biblical source (The Old and New Testaments) and the Holy Tradition (the apostolic teachings and practices, written and oral), which is followed according to the commandment of St. Paul: “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle” (2 Thess. 2.15). This Apostolic tradition, written and oral, has remained intact until our days only in the Orthodox Church, which is the real Universal Church. Roman Catholicism deformed this tradition and Protestantism denied it completely. This Christian tradition which lives continuously in the Orthodox Church, during almost two thousand years, was defended by the Canons of the Seven Ecumenical Councils (Synods) and by the Canons of various local Councils, which were adopted and approved by the Ecumenical Councils. All these Canons (rules) of the Church constitute the correct practice of doctrine in the life of the believers; that is the truth presented in the Gospel, as it was transmitted by the Apostles and their successors, and as it was defended forever by the Seven Ecumenical Councils. These Canons (rules) which settle the life of the faithful and the clergy do not constitute a human work, but a divine one, as the Ecumenical Councils were inspired by the Holy Spirit: “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us”, according to the first Apostolic Council in Jerusalem.

The decisions of the Ecumenical Councils (Synods) are considered as unchangeable as the Gospel, according to the 2nd Canon of the Council in Trullo (692), because they constitute the plenitude of the life in Christ, and lead to salvation. To those who revolt against the canons of the Church we can answer with the words of St. Paul, who tells us that everything must be done “with dignity and order” (l. Cor. 14.40). And this is how the Greek professor J. Carmiris analyses this practice: “As the Church is a divine institution, she possesses her own constitution equally divine, because it derives directly from Christ, her founder, and His Apostles and their successors inspired by the Holy Spirit. This is why the Church is not submitted to a human arbitrary will, she possesses an absolute authority” (J. Carmiris, Orthodox Ecclesiology, p. 520).

(Letters of Jeremiah II Patr. of Const. to Luther German Sum. in “Wort und Mysterium”. Luther - Verlag - Witten).

 

“Filioque”

The Roman Catholics have not only rejected many of the canons of the Church᾽s practice, but they also dared deform the Nicene Creed, which contains the fundamental articles of the Christian faith. Since the time of Charlemagne the Western Church distorted the article about the Holy Spirit. Actually, at the Council of Aix-La-Chapelle (809) the Franks officially inserted the “filioque” into the Nicene Creed. This innovation meant that the Holy Spirit does not proceed only from the Father, as is written in the Gospel, but from the Son as well. This insertion into the Nicene Creed is a heresy, as it distorts the biblical text: “The Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father” (John 15.26). In accordance with this biblical text, the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council (Synod) of Nicaea (325) and of the 2nd (381) established the Creed, which has since then remained intact in the Orthodox Church. This insertion (“filioque”) into the Nicene Creed is so wrong, that Pope Leo III had actually protested at that time (809) by having inscribed intact the Nicene Creed (without the “filioque”) on silver plaques and set up in Saint Peter᾽s church with these words: “HAEC LEO POSUI AMORE ET CAUTELA ORTHODOXAE FIDEI”: (I, Leo, place here for the love and the protection of the Orthodox faith). This very important reference is in VITA LEONIS, LIBER PONTIFICALIS, (Ed. Duchesne, T. II, p. 26) (Greek ref. Vas. Stephanides, Ecclesiastic History, Athens 1970). But this protest of Pope Leo III was not sufficient. In a little while all the West gradually adopted the wrong teaching of the “filioque” (that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son).

This doctrine is wrong, because it contradicts the biblical text: (John 15.26), because it distorts the decision of the 1st and the 2nd Ecumenical Councils which were inspired by the Holy Spirit, as were all the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils. It is also wrong because it distorts the function of the persons of the Holy Trinity by creating two sources of procession of the Holy Spirit, a doctrine which leads to absurdity. By the doctrine of the “filioque” the Son-Word of God receives the same function with the Father, that is the procession of the Holy Spirit, and in this way becomes in His turn Father, thus He should give birth to another Son-Word, who in His turn gives birth to another Holy Spirit endlessly, which is completely absurd and leads to the non-existence of God. This explanation of the heresy was for the first time mentioned by St. Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople (during whose reign this problem arose in the West), in his Encyclical Letter to the Patriarchs and Bishops of the Eastern Church.

That is why the West has difficulty in understanding the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Saint Athanasius the Great, Patriarch of Alexandria, who had participated at the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea (when he was deacon), explained this mystery by a comparison: The source – the river – and the water of the river.

The source of the river is the Father from whom proceeds the Holy Spirit.

The river is the Son, who sends the Holy Spirit after His voluntary sacrifice on the Cross and His glorious resurrection. He had said to the Apostles before His Passion: “It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter (the Holy Spirit) will not come unto you, but if I depart, I will send Him unto you” (John 16.7).

The water of the river that we drink is the Holy Spirit who distributes grace and “gifts”. So the three persons (entities, who have a real and individual existence), of the Holy Trinity are indivisible as this comparison shows: The source, the river, the water: all three are of the same essence, like the river᾽s water. (The divine essence is incommunicable to the human beings. It is only the non-created “energies” of the Holy Trinity that are communicable to those who are sanctified by doing the will of God in their life, by believing in the right way and by participating correctly in the correct celebration of the Holy Sacraments).

The insertion of the “filioque” by Charlemagne was due to a wrong interpretation of Saint Augustine. But Saint Augustine had never learned Greek and he was never able to read the Greek Fathers who wrote before him, such as Saint Athanasius the Great, who wrote so much about the decisions of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea. The Council of Nicaea that established the Creed, took place in 325, and the conversion of St. Augustine to Christianity in 386. So he was not a contemporary of the Council of Nicaea, and as he did not know Greek he could not read the correct interpretation of the Fathers who had attended the Council, as could St. Athanasius the Great for instance. However, we cannot consider this wrong interpretation of St. Augustine (AUGUSTINI, EX LIBRO XV DE TRINITATE) above the biblical text or above the Ecumenical Council, which as we have already said is unchangeable. So the West should not hesitate in correcting the dogmatic error, and do what Pope Leo III had done in protesting against the “filioque”, that is to write the Creed correctly and recite it as was done before the council of Aix-La-Chapelle (809).

These two innovations, the juridical primacy of the Bishop of Rome and the insertion of the “filioque” in the Nicene Creed, led to the final Schism of the XI c. (1054), as the Apostolic Church could not admit these contradictions against the Gospel and the Holy Tradition which were defended by the Ecumenical Councils (Synods).

So after the VII Ecumenical Council (the last one) in 787, there were no more Ecumenical Councils at which Bishops of the West and Bishops of the East would participate at the same level according to the apostolic tradition. A gradual estrangement followed, which led the Western Church to other diversions, as the denial of the doctrines᾽ purity leads inevitably to other denials (e.g. the protestant confessions).

 

DISTORTIONS OF THE CELEBRATION OF THE HOLY SACRAMENTS

 

Baptism

The word baptism derives from the Greek word “vaptizo” which means to immerse. Thus baptism must be an entire immersion in water as the practice of the Church was from the beginning. This immersion symbolises the burial in the death of Jesus Christ as St. Paul says to the Romans: “Therefore we are buried with him into baptism by death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection” (Rom 6.4-5). According to this teaching all the body of the candidate must be in contact with the water in the font, which is the visible matter of the sacrament, in which the Holy Spirit is invisible. The ancient baptisteries dispersed all over Western Europe prove this fact, that baptism was celebrated by immersion and not by pouring a little water over the candidate᾽s forehead. It is only since the XIV c. that the sprinkling of water was generalised in Western countries, whereas originally this use was adopted only for ill people when necessary.

In the Orthodox Church the sacrament is not accomplished by the priest, but the presence of the Holy Spirit that the priest invokes by special venerable prayers. The priest does not say: “I baptise you” as the Roman Catholics do, but “the servant of God is baptised”.

As our Lord was immersed in the water of the Jordan (Matt. 3.16), the Orthodox baptism is celebrated by a threefold immersion in the name of the Holy Trinity. This threefold immersion symbolises the burial of the “old man”, and the threefold emersion symbolises the resurrection of the “new man”.

 

Chrismation or Confirmation (Chrisma in Greek)

Another important sacrament is the Chrismation (Confirmation in the West) which grants us the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Since the early days of the Church this sacrament was celebrated just after baptism. The ecclesiastic writer of the Church Tertulianus (II c.) says: “After the baptism of salvation we receive immediately the Holy Chrisma according to the old usage”. Nevertheless, in the West after the Schism they separated the baptism from the chrismation and they give it to the baptised children only at the age of 7 to 10 years old. In this way they deprive the child from the gifts of the Holy Spirit during childhood, and they deprive it also from Holy Communion. Consequently if the child dies before confirmation, it passes away without Holy Communion. In the old days of the Church the believers received communion just after their Baptism and Chrismation. So the Orthodox Church following the old tradition gives Holy Communion to the baptised babies, remembering the words of the Lord: “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not” (Luke 18.15-16).

These distortions are due to the rationalistic Western mind which requires that the child must have the reasoning in order to receive confirmation, whereas Orthodoxy believes in the revelation and the power of the grace of God given as a gift. This rational way of thinking did great harm to the West, because it tried to explain the mysteries of God by means of Artistotelian logic, which is impossible. Logic has a certain field of activity. Beyond that we have the immensity of God᾽s love and His eternity, something that human logic cannot attain. It is by the gift of grace that man can live this immensity with gratitude, without trying to grasp this mystery intellectually. This was the attitude by which the Fathers of the Church approached the mysteries of God, as St. John Chrysostom did, for instance.

 

The Holy Communion (Eucharist, from the Greek Eucharisto: to thank)

After the Schism, the West distorted the sacrament of the Holy Communion. Instead of giving to the faithful the body and the blood of the Lord in the form of bread and wine, as He had given it Himself during the Last Supper, they deprive them of the blood and they give them only the body, and that not even in the form of leavened bread, as was the old practice, but in the form of a host (unleaven wafer).

The biblical text informs us how the Holy Communion was given in apostolic times: “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink of it all of you; for this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26.26-28).

“Then Jesus said unto them, verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father, so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me” (John 6.53-57).

St. Paul also tells us: “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lords death till he come... Wherefore, whosoever shall eat this bread and drink this cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lords body” (1 Cor. 11.23-30).

So we must use for the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist (Communion) leaven bread, because the Last Supper took place on Thursday evening, which was not yet the day of “azymes” of the Hebrew religion. The use of normal bread was the practice of the ancient Church, and it was only in the X c. that some heresies influenced by Judaism started to use unleavened bread or “azymes”. Even from the West we have the information that they used normal leavened bread for the sacrament of the Holy Communion: (Mark 14.1) (The Last Supper on Thursd.). “Panis usitatus” (DE SACRAMENTIS Cap. IV, 14).

The change (“metavoli”) of bread and wine into the body and blood of the Lord is fulfilled by the priest᾽s invocation of the Holy Spirit, which operates the transformation, and not by the priest himself. In the Orthodox Church the loaf of bread and the wine are offered by the faithful on the eve of the liturgy.

Christ offers us in the Holy Chalice “life” that is Himself, and thus the bread used for the sacrament must have “life” (with leaven) and not be dead (unleavened).

This sacrament is very important; it is the very heart of the Church as it unites us to the Lord as “the branches to the vine”. It is He who says: “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same brigeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15.5). And He adds: “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you” (John 15.6-7). In other words, if we do not participate in this sacrament which sanctifies us, we are like dry branches which do not bear any fruit, (fruit of sanctification) and are good only for fire.

 

Repentance - Confession

This sacrament is a preparation in order to approach the Holy Chalice. The liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (written in the IV c. and based on the most ancient liturgy ever written, that of St. James, first bishop of Jerusalem, (1st. c. A.D.) contains the following sentence pronounced by the priest: “The Holy Gifts to the Saints”.

We cannot then approach the Holy Chalice if we have not first purified our souls by the tears of repentance. That is why the sacrament of repentance is also called second baptism or “baptism of tears”. St. Paul speaks with severity about this preparation in his epistle to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 11.27-29), in the passage mentioned above.

The sacrament of repentance is based on the following biblical text: When the Lord after His resurrection appeared to His Apostles through the closed doors, He told them: “Receive ye the Holy Spirit; whosoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosoever sins ye retain, they are retained” (John 20.23).

This power given by the Lord to the Apostles was transmitted to the Bishops by the sacrament of the ordination, and to the priests who are authorized by the Bishop. In the Orthodox Church there is no confessional. One may confess in any convenient place in the Church, or elsewhere and there is no grille separating confessor and penitent. Thus, advancing from one confession to the other, the soul is fortified and can better resist temptations; for an Orthodox Christian is completely responsible on this earth. The absolution he receives is a consequence of his sincere repentance and it is not due to the intermediating prayers of the saints or to another factor.

The Saints are honoured in the Orthodox Church, because they glorified God by their martyrdom and their saintly life (“God is glorified in the life of the Saints”: Ps. 67 (68), 35 and Ps. (89).7), and we entreat their mediating prayers, because, as is written, “The Lord heareth the prayer of the righteous” (Prov. 15.29). Nevertheless, the Saints have no power to pardon sins. The absolution is given only through sincere personal repentance, which is a free action that gets its efficacy in the redeeming work of the Lord on the Cross.

In this way confession is considered as a training of the soul in order to become more and more powerful. The sacrament of repentance expresses a change of thinking and a resolution to walk according to the will of God. This sacrament is a healing, not a judgment.

As confession is a preparation of the soul to approach the Holy Chalice, fasting is a preparation of the body. The periods of fasting and the way of fasting have been arranged by apostolic rules since the beginning and they are still respected. In Western countries this old tradition has been too much relaxed. Fasting was a commandment of God to the first couple in paradise.

(Clement of Rome, 1st c. “The Teaching of the Apostles” VIII, I. P.G. Migne).

 

Holy Orders

Ordination as a sacrament is based on the biblical text about the choice of the Apostles by the Lord (Matt. 10.1) (Luke 10.1) (John 6.70) (Acts 2.1). In the Acts of the Apostles many passages show how the Apostles used to choose their successors: (Acts 6.6) (Acts 13.3) (Acts 20.28), as well as the Epistles of St. Paul (1 Tim. 4.14) (1 Tim. 5.22) (2 Tim. 1.6). The following text clearly shows this: “And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away” (Acts 13.3). The text of the first Epistle of St. Paul to Timothy shows that this “laying of the hands” produced a certain gift: “Neglect not the gift that is in thee which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery” (1 Tim. 4.14). This gift produced by the “laying on of the hands” gives the priest the power to celebrate the Holy Sacraments, which are not valid if the priest is not properly ordained.

The Orthodox Church has married priests “presbyteros” (the elders), usual parochial clergy, and unmarried priests among whom the Bishops are selected. This double possibility of the Orthodox Church is a decision of an Ecumenical Council: (VI Council, XII canon). Those who are prepared for the Episcopate do not marry. Those who belong to the parochial clergy marry before their ordination. After ordination marriage is not permitted, although a widower priest is allowed to become bishop, because as widower he is liberated from family obligations.

The Orthodox Church has three main grades of the Holy Orders according to the text of the Acts: the deacon, the presbyteros (parochial clergy), and the Bishop. The Cardinal᾽s grade of Roman Catholicism is a later innovation. It does not exist in the biblical text. The Cardinals grade weakens the Episcopate, as Cardinals are considered superior Bishops.

The marriage of the presbyteros (parochial clergy) is mentioned in the Epistle of St. Paul to Titus: “Ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: if any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children” (Titus 1. 5-6).

(According to the VIth Ecum. Council (692) the Bishops must be unmarried).

 

Marriage

Marriage is not a human institution, but divine. In the biblical text of Genesis we read: “And the Lord God said, it is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him” (Gen. 2.18). And a little further on we read: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh” (Gen. 2.24). So marriage founded by God has a double purpose: the life in common (psychosomatic union), and childbirth.

In the New Testament this divine institution becomes a sacrament, “a great mystery” as St. Paul says in his Epistle to the Ephesians in which he compares the sanctified union of a man and a woman to the mysterious union of Christ with the Church (the body of the believers) (Ephes. 5.32). This sacrament is a figure of the Holy Trinity.

Since the beginning of Christianity marriage was a religious ceremony, as we are informed by archeological findings of early Christian art and the works of the Fathers. On the surface of a cup found in a catacomb in Rome, we see a priest crowning and blessing a new couple. St. Ignatius of Antioch writes to St. Polycarpus (II c.): “Marriage must be celebrated according to the bishop᾽s opinion, because this union must be based on the will of God and not on physical desire”. And St. John Chrysostom says: “It is not the physical union, but the benediction of the Church which constitutes marriage”.

It is the presence of the Holy Spirit (present in all the sacraments) which gives the benediction to the couple and transmits to them grace. The grace of God sanctifies the physical union transforming it into a centre of moral perfection. Thus we are not allowed to dissolve this spiritual centre. This is the environment in which will be born and raised new Christians. It is the cell, which has the power to sanctify little by little the society.

The indissoluble character of marriage was given by the Lord Himself. When the Pharisees asked Him if divorce is permitted, He answered: “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matt. 19.6). And He added further on: “Whosoever shall put away his wife – except it be for fornication – and shall marry another, commiteth adultery” (Matt. 19.9). This is why the Orthodox Church permits the divorce in the case mentioned by the Lord, in case of infidelity.

In the same biblical passage about marriage, there is a question about celibacy: “And there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven᾽s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it” (Matt. 19.12). So celibacy in Christ is not for everybody, but for those who are able and who “receive” it in freedom. It is a gift of God to those who would accept to be detached completely from wordly things, in order to devote themselves completely to God. As St. Paul says to the Corinthians: “He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: but he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife” (1 Cor. 7.32-33). And he adds a little further on: “And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction” (1 Cor. 7.35).

This chaste celibacy is based on a fervent faith and on a spiritual asceticism, which is able, by the helping grace, to calm the instincts and passions, to make the soul more able to be united with God, and to receive the greatest gifts of the Holy Spirit. This is why the greatest ascetics of the Orthodox Church became very often the fighters for, and fervent defenders of the Church᾽s truth against heresies of all kinds. So to take a vow of celibacy, without taking a vow of chastity, as happens in the West, has no meaning. The celibacy in Christ cannot be but a celibacy of chastity.

For the Orthodox people there are only two solutions to this subject: either the marriage is blessed by God, or chastity is accepted in a free way, a supernatural life, which is a gift of God. “He that is able to receive it, let him receive it”.

The celibacy in Christ is not necessarily a monastic life. This asceticism can take place in society, according to the example of the Apostles and other saints of the Church. However, in the Orthodox Church there are no monastic orders of laymen active in the material world. Asceticism is biblical (1 Kings 19) (Matt. 3.4) (Matt. 4).

 

The anointing of the sick

The unction in olive oil is mentioned as a sacrament in one of the apostolic epistles. But this sacrament was offered to the sick for any illness, and it was not a preparation for death, as it was later in the West. Here is the biblical text: “Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the Church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5.14-15) And also in the Gospel of St. Mark we see the Apostles in activity: “And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them” (Mark 6.13). So the “extreme unction” of the Roman Catholics is not of the apostolic tradition.

 

OTHER DOGMATIC DIFFERENCES

 

Purgatory

The conception of Purgatory is a later innovation of Roman Catholicism. It did not exist at all in the apostolic tradition: The robber went directly from the cross to Paradise (Luke 23.43) and (John 5.29). The idea of Purgatory takes the responsibility from the Christian on the earth. The truth is that we will be judged according to the acts we committed in full freedom and responsibility (Matt. 16.27) and (Rev. 22.12).

 

The immaculate conception of the Holy Virgin

The Holy Virgin was not conceived without original sin, as was decided in the West in 1854 (by Pope Pius IX). The correct doctrine is that at the moment of the Annunciation, due to her great humility and her total obedience to the will of God she was liberated from the original sin by the Holy Spirit which covered her. “And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: Therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1.35). And a little further on: “And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1.38). This is why in the Orthodox Church the Holy Virgin is called “Panaghia” (the All Holy), and “Theotokos” (Mother of God). She gave birth to Christ, God-Man, the Saviour (IIIrd and IVth Ecumenical Councils in the Vth c. A.D.). And being His Mother she prays for us constantly. She is our ambassador by her mediating prayers.

 

* * *

 

Let us hope that after the contacts in a spirit of charity which began on the 7th of December 1965 (the lifting of the reciprocal excommunication of 1054), we shall proceed towards an honest dialogue in a spirit of truth, which will lead to “the glorious day” of intercommunion. For we cannot approach the holy Chalice if we do not have the same faith, as the Acts of the Apostles inform us: “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul” (Acts 4.32).

Amen.

 


 

(Source: Differences between the Orthodox Church and Roman Catholicism, Athens 1992)

 


 

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