Saturday, February 13, 2010

(Some) Orthodox views on the Catholic Church (?)

Over the past two weeks I have taken a greater interest in the Orthodox Churches. This was spurred by going a few weeks ago to a local Melkite Greek Catholic Monastery. Now, if you read my conversion "story" over on the right sidebar here you will note that there was a time when I didn't know whether to go East or West in the Catholic Church. I was very impressed with the Catholic East but ultimately settled for the Traditional Latin Mass. Since then reunion of the full East with the West has been a big prayer priority for me.

I bought a few "Orthodox" books to get the feel for them. They have a very rich spirituality to them which is very attractive and for the most part are compatible with the Catholic Faith. They depart only (as far as I can tell) by the histories of their authors.

All of this research and reading has spurred a great love in my heart for the Christian East. Yet I am feeling a little deflated by the whole thing. Reading the Catechism or listening to our apologists gives you the idea that we are within spitting distance of reunion. But I don't think that is really true, at least it may not be "humanly possible" without a serious and massive conversion.

In this post I am only going to focus on one area: Holy Orders. Let's take a look at an answer to a Q&A on the Orthodox Church in America's website. [My Emphasis and Comments]:

Concerning Roman Catholic orders: Within the OCA Roman Catholic clergy generally are received into the Orthodox Church through "vesting"; that is, they are not ordained anew. While there are some Orthodox Christians today who would not follow this practice, there is evidence that this was in fact the practice in Russia several centuries ago. [So in other words, Romans who convert are generally not re-ordained. But other Orthodox people believe they should be. The implications of this are huge for Orthodox Christians. Imagine if your parish got a convert priest. Half the congregation could leave if he wasn't re-ordained. They wouldn't believe he is a priest.] One must also keep in mind that the practice of the Orthodox Church on this issue has been subject to change from time to time and place to place, often depending on situations appropriate to the setting. [Do they know what a priest IS? Could you imagine if it was the practice of the Catholic Church to NOT conditionally ordain clergy from other confessions where a doubt regarding their orders existed...but only from time to time?!!]

Concerning the Eucharist: Many Orthodox Christians do view the Roman Catholic Eucharist as the Body and Blood of Christ; others today would not subscribe to this. [So is the doubt growing or shrinking?] The answer is linked to whether one believes that Roman Catholicism is "with grace" or "devoid of grace."

Concerning the "grace of the priesthood": This is partially answered in point 1 above. The answer to this is also intimately linked on whether the Orthodox view Roman Catholicism as a body that is "with grace" or "devoid of grace." [Read carefully here.] Some Orthodox would say that Roman Catholic priests do possess grace; others would say that they do not. And I have encountered still others who would say that, upon conversion to Orthodoxy, the Holy Spirit "heals all that is infirm," a phrase found in the prayers of ordination and other sacramental prayers of the Orthodox Church. [They seem to not have a clear idea of what makes a priest a priest. "Some" Orthodox believe a man can lose his priesthood if he falls away. So what happens if man awakes one day and doubts his faith and falls away. Later in the same day he believes again, but then falls away after dinner. Before going to bed he believes again. How many times in that day was he no longer a priest?] A thorough examination of this question would also require a preliminary discussion on the meaning of "grace," as the Orthodox definition of grace [At least they defined something, right?] is quite distinct from "grace" as defined in Roman Catholic circles.

Concerning sacramental absolution: Your question here is highly theoretical, inasmuch as one might ask why an Orthodox person would approach a Roman Catholic priest for confession and absolution in the first place. Again, a thorough discussion of this would necessarily involve a survey of the different understanding of Confession held by Roman Catholicism and the Orthodox Church. For example, does one confess to the priest, who personally has the "power" to offer absolution and forgiveness, or does one confess to Christ in the presence of the priest, with the priest proclaiming God's forgiveness at the conclusion. [This is theological double-talk. Both of these are within the Catholic viewpoint so I don't see the problem here. I have never heard a Catholic priest say "You are not confessing to Christ, only to me!" This is the type of misunderstanding that gets worked out in theological and ecumenical discussions. Or perhaps they could read one of our Catechisms....]

Concerning whether Roman Catholicism is considered a heresy: Orthodox Christianity in general would view certain aspects of Roman Catholic teaching as heretical. The filioque is the classic example of this, although the Vatican a few years ago has made this addition to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed an option even, if I am not mistaken, for Latin Rite Catholics. [I believe he is mistaken, at least in a liturgical sense.] Most Byzantine Rite liturgical books I have seen of late either do not include the filioque or include it in brackets, indicating that it is optional. Orthodox Christianity also rejects [Rejects? Or maybe they just have a different view of the same mystery?] such teachings as the Immaculate Conception, purgatory, and other uniquely Roman Catholic doctrines.

Source for the article:

The article goes on from there, but I think the point is made. The OCA website gives a good example of just how confusing Orthodoxy is. I for one, would never want to belong to a Church that couldn't tell me who did and who did not have the "grace of the priesthood". That would be a spiritual nightmare.

Perhaps I've been unnecessarily harsh on the Orthodox. If I have, leave a comment and let's discuss.


+JN1034 said...

You've not been "unnecessarily harsh" on us. You've posted some valid opinions that murky the waters between East and West. One significant difference is Orthodoxy does not have the legalistic, must-codify-and-categorize style regarding the Holy Mysteries often prevalent through Rome. These "some" Orthodox you refer to are, if we may be harsh on our own, the insignificant others. The only valid views expressing Orthodoxy's take on Catholicism is the one alive in Constantinople. The living-breathing-working rapport between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Vatican prescribes actual views. Your post is interesting, yet may mislead readers since you've cited from the least amongst us, the specious Orthodox Church in America, hence it's no surprise it "gives a good example of just how confusing Orthodoxy is." But the points you raise are important and are asked to us by Catholics and by our own congregations. Bottom line: Your Eucharist and our Eucharist is neither yours nor ours; it is God's, and is God, and is the true and complete Flesh and Blood of our Lord and Saviour; period. Your ordinations and clergy and our ordinations and clergy are true and complete by the grace and mercy of God and through Apostolic Succession; no confusion or need to re-hands-on anyone. For us both of the two-lung theory, the priest, as surrogate of the One and Only High Priest, is requisite for the dispensation of the Mystery of Confession; the greater onus is on us to remind ourselves as priest's that we ourselves are powerless, and are conduits of God's grace and mercy, and that we must remind our congregations that they must see Christ, not the priests, when before them. St John Chrysostom spoke on this saying people will see Christ when they no longer see the priest. The Filioque issue has been addressed by the Vatican and the Phanar; resolved and no longer an issue; those who constantly raise this as some sort of serious and important point of divergence between East and West do so either out of unawareness to the current state of things between Rome and Constantinople, or they do so simply to breach harmony, chill love, and sustain a divided Church. And the additional topics you touch upon (purgatory, Immaculate Conception) are theological topics specific to the Catholic family, and will be talked about with the Orthodox through proper venues (the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the official Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue), not by whispers and grunts and moans from myopic zealots and Pharisaic-finger-pointers of the Eastern of Western kinds.

If saddens us that you've posted "(Some) Orthodox views on the Catholic Church" and omitted the bulk of the good, of the historic, of the truly important pan-Christian strides (both theological and ecclesiastic) made by the sweat and pains of some of your greatest Popes (John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II) and of our modern-day Patriarchs. In your research, have you not found any good news, any spiritually-valuable citations of convergence?

Thank you for allowing us this lengthy comment. You needn't post this or respond. Yet working with the Vatican, and having had the blessed joy of knowing Pope John Paul II, of blessed memory, for many decades, we note many essential items absent on your page regarding the Holy Sees of Constantinople and Rome.

May you have a blessed Lenten Fast as we prepare to concelebrate the Holy Resurrection of the One God, the only and true head of the Church, under whom we are all reduced to equal humility.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

I think it's important to make some distinctions here. First the question of Catholic orders is bound up in the overall question of whether or not the Roman Church retains the grace of true sacraments. At present the Church is not of one mind on this matter. (I personally am agnostic on the subject).

When someone converts into the Church they are typically received by one of two methods (rare exceptions are made for Oriental Orthodox who generally need only make the Profession of Faith). Those two methods are...

1. Full Baptism and Chrismation followed by reception of Holy Communion.
2. Holy Confession followed by Chrismation and then reception of Holy Communion.

The first method is normative for converts. However, the second is permitted in certain cases where the convert is coming from a religious confession where they received a baptism which closely conforms in both form and intent to an Orthodox baptism. The minimum conditions generally required are that their heterodox baptism must have been by water employing the Trinitarian Formula and with a sacramental intent. When someone is thus received the Orthodox Church is not endorsing their previous baptism. Indeed the Church very clearly teaches that there are no Mysteries outside the Church. What the Church is dong is saying that their previous baptism was close enough that whatever it lacked could be repaired or made whole through the Mystery of Holy Chrismation.

In other words it is a mistake to say that some Orthodox jurisdictions recognize Catholic sacraments and others do not. Rather it would be more accurate to say that some Orthodox churches apply Oikonomia in receiving Catholic converts and others do not, preferring a more strict application of the church canons. Either method is considered canonically valid and permissible. In all but the rarest circumstances a convert received by means of sacramental economy is considered to be fully Orthodox even by those churches or jurisdictions which normally practice akriva (the strict application of church discipline as opposed to okonomia which is the power to relax rules for a good cause) when receiving converts.

In the case of the Roman Catholic Church, the same attitude generally applies to Holy Orders since Rome has been careful to preserve the external form of this sacrament along with a more or less Orthodox sacramental intent.

With respect to the permanency of Holy Orders; this is not accepted in the Orthodox Church. Your response to this was I believe a bit shallow. A priest does not loose the grace of his Orders through personal sin, even grave sin or heresy. That would fall under the heresy of Donatism. He looses that grace by separating himself from the canonical Church or being deprived of it by his bishop. There are no such thing as "vegante" priests in Orthodoxy because a priest not united to the Church through an Orthodox bishop ceases to have that grace which flows through the successor to the apostles.

Thus a priest generally would loose the grace of Orders only in the event of his being deposed by his bishop or committing some act that would have the effect of formally separating himself from the Church, i.e. a firm declaration of some heresy or apostatizing himself. A momentary weakness or doubt or even a brief embrace of heresy would not suffice. Schism also falls under this category if a priest is deposed by his lawful bishop.

I hope this clarifies some of your questions.


Matt said...

These are two great and interesting responses...and very different from one another.

I can't respond to you both tonight in detail. So I'll just say right up front that his wasn't intended to be my only thoughts on Orthodoxy.

+JN1034 said:

"It saddens us that you've posted "(Some) Orthodox views on the Catholic Church" and omitted the bulk of the good, of the historic, of the truly important pan-Christian strides (both theological and ecclesiastic) made by the sweat and pains of some of your greatest Popes (John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II) and of our modern-day Patriarchs. In your research, have you not found any good news, any spiritually-valuable citations of convergence?"

Yes, a great deal of good things actually. This was only meant to highlight some points on which I was disheartened. I have already been planning a post on the recently released Ravenna document, which I see as a tremendous good. I have in the past written positively on the relationship. It saddens everyone I think that we lack unity.

I also wrote a poorly written piece on the Pope's visit to Constantinople in 2006 which I watched closely. You could see the joy of the two men as they stood on the balcony of the Phanar. The image is still in my head.

ohn (Ad Orientam) said:

With respect to the permanency of Holy Orders; this is not accepted in the Orthodox Church. Your response to this was I believe a bit shallow.

My response was not intended to be shallow, but rather to be simple. However I admit I did not understand the loss of orders exactly as you explained. This is a point of disagreement. We Catholics believe that ordination leaves an indelible mark on the soul.

My follow-up question for you John is that once someone loses the "grace of the priesthood", may they again regain it and if so do they need to be re-ordained?

John (Ad Orientem) said...

My follow-up question for you John is that once someone loses the "grace of the priesthood", may they again regain it and if so do they need to be re-ordained?

Generally if a deposed priest is restored by his bishop to Holy Orders re ordination is not performed. In very extreme cases (such as apostasy) an individual may be re-Chrismated before being restored to full communion with the Church. But I have never heard of performing the rite of ordination a second time if the first time was believed valid.


John (Ad Orientem) said...

On a side note, I dislike disagreeing with other Orthodox Christians however I would take some of what +JN1034 wrote with a grain of salt.

The only valid views expressing Orthodoxy's take on Catholicism is the one alive in Constantinople.

My respect for His All Holiness is enormous, however he is not the Orthodox Pope no matter how much some wish to make him that. When we say we have no Pope, we mean it. HAH is the bishop of the See of Constantinople and New Rome. He holds the canonical position of Primus Inter Pares since the schism of Old Rome from Holy Orthodoxy. He is as such the head of a local (and the world's smallest) Orthodox Church which holds a position of great honor, but little canonical authority.
When he speaks, his words should be given the most careful consideration. But in the end each local Orthodox Church speaks for itself and is self governing within the bounds of the canons and tradition of the Church.

The status of the OCA is ambiguous although it is recognized as a canonical Orthodox jurisdiction by all including the Ecumenical Patriarchate. However its standing as autocephalous is not universally recognized. Sadly over the last few years relations between the OCA and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese (GOA) have become somewhat strained. In fairness there is blame to go around on this subject. The OCA is the daughter church of the Russian Church which prior to 1917 exercised unquestioned jurisdiction over N. America. Still it was probably inpolitic of the Russian Church to grant autocephaly to one of the smaller jurisdictions in N. America without consulting the other local churches.

For its part the EP has been attempting to assert jurisdiction over all of N. America and indeed most of the world outside of the national borders of the recognized local churches. This has met with general resistance from almost all of the rest of the local Orthodox churches. In the case of the OCA that strain has been especially acute. It must be admitted that the hopes that the creation of the OCA would lead to a unified American Orthodox Church have failed to yield much fruit.


+JN1034 said...

Thank you for your kind responses and acknowledging Ravenna, as surely you would the 1965 Lifting of the Anathemas of 1054. It's obvious anyone can fall below dignity and find cause to escalate (re-institute) darkness between the Vatican and the Orthodox Churches with issues like leaven-vs-unleaven, making the sign of the Cross left-to-right or vice-versa, 3-D statues vs icons, Rosaries or prayer ropes, and so on; the list can descend full, hard, and fast into demonic foolishness rather than, by the grace and mercy of the Holy Spirit, seek all ways possible, without distinction or theological opinions, hold firm to the dogma of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Tradition of our ancestors as given through the great Seven Ecumenical Councils, not through latter pietistic guesswork and ethnonationalistic aspersions.

As the Pope and the Curia oversee and coordinate the universal Church of Rome, the Ecumenical Patriarch holds the global privilege of honour to oversee and coordinate the Orthodox Churches on matters of the Faith, not of local jurisprudence or internal matters of national stakeholders. Thus the ongoing pan-Orthodox assemblies at Chamb├ęsy, under the aegis of Constantinople, provide the platform for Orthodox consensus, and, in turn, give a unified Orthodox voice to inter-Christian relations, in particular to the Holy Sees of Rome, Canterbury, and Geneva (not to omit the pan-Christian community of the WCC and throughout local/regional Councils of Churches).

In all, the Holy Spirit works as He will, and though we may be discomforted and made to reassess ourselves, the unity of the Church is paramount not only for Rome, or Constantinople, or Jerusalem, or Antioch, et al., but for the whole of humanity and creation.

It is this prophetic-eschatological vision of ecclesiastic reunification and of the cosmic restoration of the universe according to God's will that extremists and traditionalists fight against, much to their own harm. Hardcore, inflexible traditionalism means never having to say you're sorry. How sad. They've forgotten the whole of the Incarnation and the salvific life and work of the Church is of innovation, of newness, of things like never before, of the unprecedented and mysterious.

And so, the best we can do - East and West - is hold to two common prayers: Lord, have mercy. God to God!

Archpriest John Morris said...

I happened to stumble on your discussion of the priesthood and would like to make a few comments. The Orthodox and Catholic Churches do not share the same conception of the priesthood. A priest or a bishop has no individual special grace. He is only a priest or a bishop when functioning within the context of the life of the Church. I am a priest now, but if I were to leave the Church to go into schism or be deposed by my bishop, I would be a layman again. Thus, I have no power to change bread and wine into the Sacred Body and Blood of Christ. Because of my ordination, I have the responsibility to lead the local community of believes in prayers to God that the Holy Spirit will descend on the bread and wine and change them into the Sacred Body and Blood of Christ. I have no power to forgive sins. I do have the authority to pronounce God’s forgiveness on a repentant sinner. Apostolic Succession does not belong to an individual bishop, but is an attribute of a local Church and is manifested through Eucharistic Communion with the other local Churches of the Orthodox Church.
I do not believe that God turns away anyone who approaches him in a proper spirit of humility. However, I do believe that the fullness of the Sacramental Life is found within the Orthodox Church. I do not presume to judge exactly what is lacking in the ministrations of other Christian groups. I do believe, however, that whatever is lacking is provided when one is united to the Orthodox Church. Because the Sacraments are mysteries, there is some variety as to how Orthodox approach deal with situations involving non Orthodox. Some Orthodox receive Roman Catholics by a simple profession of faith. As instructed by my bishop, I receive them by a profession of faith and the Mystery of Chrismation, Confirmation. The question of the reception of Catholic clergy is somewhat complicated. If a man leaves the Catholic priesthood and then marries, he cannot become an Orthodox priest if he is received in his orders by vesting because according to Orthodox canon law a priest cannot marry. However, if he is received as a layman, because by his marriage, he is deposed by the Catholic Church, he can be ordained to the priesthood.
For want of a better term, the bending of the rules is a part of the Orthodox understanding of canon law. It is called economy. The principle is that the most important thing is the salvation of souls, not obedience to a particular canon. However, because we treat each case individually one exception does not void the canon in question by setting precedent.
I too hope and pray for Christian unity, but it will only be real if we resolve the very real differences between us. It is somewhat like a marriage. A couple that has separated will not have a successful marriage if they come together again if they do not resolve the problems that led to the separation.

In Christ,

Archpriest John W. Morris

"The whole truth is generally the ally of virtue; a half-truth is always the ally of some vice." - G.K. Chesterton