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Why I Did Not Become Roman Catholic — A Sort of Response to Jason Stellman

Hagia Sophia – Church of Holy Wisdom

I recently read Jason Stellman’s explanation for why he decided to head towards Rome.  As I read through his “I Fought the Church, and the Church Won” I was struck by the absence of any mention of the Eastern Orthodox Church.  It is as if he had no awareness of the other major non-Protestant option – the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Rather than critique Stellman’s reasons for becoming Catholic, I will be describing a side story of my journey to Orthodoxy.  I did not default to Roman Catholicism simply because it was convenient, or because it was a readily accessible option, or because of the persuasive arguments presented by a brilliant convert to Catholicism. By God’s patience and gentle mercies, I slowly and carefully explored both the Roman Catholic and Orthodox possibilities. I took my time – 7 years — to really understand them both, before committing myself to the Orthodox Church.


Early Encounters with Catholicism

Early on as an Evangelical I found myself caught up in the controversy over the baptism in the Spirit and the charismatic gifts.  I was uncomfortable with the extremes of Pentecostalism, but found much of the Evangelical anti-charismatic arguments unconvincing.  But when I read the literature from the Catholic charismatic renewal I found there a spiritual balance and theological sophistication lacking among Protestants.

As a curious and voracious reader I read spiritual classics like John of the Cross’ Ascent on Mt. Carmel, Augustine’s Confession, and St. Francis’ Little Flowers.   As my interest in Catholicism grew I began to look into the official teachings of the church, e.g., Documents of the Vatican II edited by Walter Abbott and John Hardon S.J.’s The Catholic Catechism.  While I found the literature interesting, I also found them alien and exotic.  It was like looking over a high wall and looking into a strange house next door.  I continued to be happy to remain an Evangelical.

The 70s and 80s were a time when divisions between Protestantism and Catholicism began to soften.  I found myself subscribing to both Christianity Today, the leading magazine for Evangelicals, and New Covenant, the flagship magazine for the Catholic charismatic renewal.  In New Covenant I found articles about personal conversion to Christ, life in the Spirit, and faithfulness to the church.  I found much to admire in the newly elected Pope John Paul II.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading his encyclical Dives in Misericordia Dei (Rich in Mercy) which I thought could have been written by an Evangelical theologian.

The 80s was also a time when John Michael Talbot, a former Evangelical musician turned Franciscan friar, released several albums that spanned the musical worlds of Evangelicalism and Catholicism.  These included his Light Eternal, The Lord’s Supper, and Troubadour of the Lord.  The Lord’s Supper was the Catholic Mass set to contemporary folk music.  It highlighted the beauty and dignity of liturgical worship, something I rarely experienced as an Evangelical.  This was before the ancient-future worship movement emerged within Evangelical circles.

So why didn’t I become a Roman Catholic?  One reason was that I didn’t want to abandon friends in the Evangelical circles.  Another reason was my study of Mercersburg Theology which turned me into a Catholic and Reformed Evangelical.  I innocently and sincerely believed I could be rooted in the Reformed tradition while exploring the riches of the early Church and ancient liturgies.  With Mercersburg Theology I could enjoy the best of both worlds on my own terms.  This was a time of childlike innocence before I came to grips with the radical and costly discipleship taught by the early Church.


Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

When I came to Gordon-Conwell in the early 1990s, the theological and spiritual currents running through Protestant Evangelicalism were already shifting in subtle and surprising ways.  In my first week at seminary I was surprised to see an icon of Christ hanging on a student’s door in Main Dorm.  Later I met a fellow seminarian who converted to Catholicism while at Gordon-Conwell!  Gary and I met for coffee to discuss his conversion.  When I asked him for his reasons for the supremacy and infallibility of Pope I found his answers less than compelling.

While at Gordon-Conwell I was deeply involved in the Evangelical renewal movement in the United Church of Christ.  Soon after I arrived at seminary I was invited to a meeting of UCC pastors.  I remember standing with the pastors and being slightly bewildered by the dark mutterings about some guy named Scott Hahn, apparently he did something terrible like becoming a Roman Catholic.  I have never met Scott Hahn but I am deeply indebted to him.  Once when I was wrestling with the doctrine sola scriptura, the question popped into my head: Did the Bible ever teach sola scriptura?  I couldn’t come up with a convincing answer which led to the question: So how did the leading Evangelical theologians deal with this?  A few days later I bought a tape by Scott Hahn and got my answer; none of the leading Evangelical theologians have been able to answer this question!  [See my blog posting on the biblical basis for Holy Tradition.]


Catholicism in Liberal Berkeley

UC Berkeley

After Gordon-Conwell, I headed to Berkeley to do doctoral studies in history of religions at the Graduate Theological Union.

I came to Berkeley a post-Evangelical open to change.  By then I had become weary of the fluidity and superficiality in Evangelical theology. During my first year, I found myself drawn to the rich liturgical tradition of Roman Catholicism.  This attraction to Roman Catholicism held my attention for a short while until I was providentially introduced to Eastern Orthodoxy.



Taize style worship

Taize style worship

In my first year, the candlelight Mass at the Newman Center was my regular place of worship.  It was a moving sight seeing the church filled with UC Berkeley students singing songs of worship in the soft glow of candles around the room.  It was also profoundly edifying to be at a church where the center of Sunday worship was the Lord’s Supper.

But I also found it a jarring and sometimes disturbing experience.  After becoming familiar with the pattern of worship, I noticed priests would drop parts of the Mass like the Nicene Creed and the Confiteor (the Prayer of Confession) which according to the official rubrics is not supposed to happen.  Keep in mind that the Mass is not just a Sunday ritual but a powerful means of shaping the faith and spirituality of the Catholic masses.  According to the theological principle of lex orans, lex credens (the rule of prayer is the rule of faith), the Mass forms the church in its faith and worship of God.  But here it seemed that the Mass had become a flexible tool that reflected the individual whims of priests.  In other words a have-it-your-way mentality among the Catholic clergy will eventually trickle down to the Catholics in the pews with devastating results.  And when the service was over, I was often surprised to hear announcements for upcoming meetings for the Gay-Lesbian fellowship.  I was coming face to face with the fact that real Catholicism was quite different from the official Catholicism I had been reading about.  Cafeteria style Catholicism was a very real and uncomfortable reality I had to face up to in Berkeley.

In my third year, I rented a room at a Benedictine retreat house near the university.  The monks there frequently talked about the need to unite Protestants with Catholics, and how they offered Holy Communion to Protestants as a gesture of unity.  Once when I attended their service they gave me the opportunity to receive the Host but I declined.  The reason I declined was because I had read an article by Fr. Edward O’Connor who explained that receiving Holy Communion in the Mass meant two things: (1) that one accepted the Catholic dogma of Transubstantiation and (2) that one accepted the teaching authority of the Pope, that is, one was willing to come under the Pope.  My Catholic friends thought church unity easy to pull off, but I was very conscious of the big price tag attached to the Communion wafer.  [See the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd edition) §1354, §1369, and §1374.]

In my second year in Berkeley, I discovered a tiny Bulgarian Orthodox Church that met across the street from the university.  For nearly two years I attended the Orthodox Liturgy.  It was good that the Liturgy was all in English.  Up till then I had found mixed language liturgies to be off putting and incomprehensible.  At Saints Kyril and Methodios I found myself drawn by the Liturgy.  After a long hard week of intense studying, I found it soothing and healing to stand during the Liturgy and let the ancient prayers flow over my soul.  It was a formative time for me spiritually.  I became immersed in the flow of the Liturgy and after a while became familiar with the pattern of the Liturgy.  There were no surprises like at the Newman Center.  I came away with two powerful impressions: (1) what I saw at this tiny Orthodox parish matched what I was reading and (2) Orthodoxy was capable of withstanding the liberal ethos of Berkeley.


From Post-Evangelical to Orthodoxy

I very much appreciate my time at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.  Having studied there I can say that I know firsthand the best of Evangelical scholarship.  However, my time there was when fine hairline cracks began to appear in my Evangelical theology.   In time the tiny cracks became major fissures leading to a theological crisis especially over sola scriptura then sola fide.  Yet as my Protestant theology began to fall apart I found myself increasingly drawn to Eastern Orthodoxy instead of Roman Catholicism.  Below are some of my reasons:

  • There is no evidence of the Bishop of Rome as the supreme head and infallible magisterium in the early Church.  The current form of a supreme and infallible Pontiff is a recent innovation!
  • The Papacy’s autonomy from the ancient Pentarchy violates early Christian unity.  The Rome versus Constantinople frame falls flat in light of the fact that the other major patriarchates sided with Constantinople.
  • For all the elaborate rationales advanced by Catholics to justify the Filioque, it is an indisputable fact that the Papacy’s unilateral insertion of the Filioque into the Nicene Creed runs contrary to the conciliarity intrinsic to the seven Ecumenical Councils.  Canon VII of the Council of Ephesus instructs:

When these things had been read, the holy Synod decreed that it is unlawful for any man to bring forward, or to write, or to compose a different (ἑτέραν) Faith as a rival to that established by the holy Fathers assembled with the Holy Ghost in Nicæa. (Source)

  • What we understand to be the Catholic Church is really the Medieval Catholic Church, a product of the Middle Ages and the Scholastic movement.  The doctrines of purgatory and indulgences are medieval innovations that have no basis in patristic theology.  This helped explain the gap between the Roman Catholic Church and the early Church.  It also helped me to view with sympathy Protestants as innocent victims of Rome’s willful aberrations.
  • The dogma of Transubstantiation is a doctrinal aberration that is at odds with the patristic consensus.
  • The Novus Ordo Mass (the Vatican II Mass) marks a major break in the Catholic Church’s liturgical continuity with the early Church.

In addition to the above theological issues were the practical issues based on what I mentioned earlier.  The liberal Catholicism in Berkeley was not a fluke but part of larger struggle taking place in Catholicism.  Ralph Martin’s A Crisis of Truth describes in some detail the attempt by priests, theologians, and laity to redefine the Catholic faith.  As an Evangelical in a liberal Protestant denomination, I did not want to go through that painful experience again.  I was also struck by the fact that while Catholicism claims to be one church, what I had seen pointed to a church that operated on two quite different parallel realities.


Protestants at the Crossroads

An Evangelical who finds himself in the midst of the rubble of a shattered Protestant theology needs to consider carefully what his options are.  There exist not one but two options.  The Church of Rome may claim to have been founded by the Apostles Peter and Paul, but the same claim can be made by the Church of Antioch (see Acts 13:1 for Paul and Galatians 2:11 for Peter and Paul).  So while the Church of Rome may seem to be most obvious option there is another option. But there is another historically and biblically sound option: the Church of Antioch, that is, the Eastern Orthodox Church.  The Church of Antioch can claim a chain of apostolic succession that is equally valid and older than Rome’s.  The early Councils did not assign the Bishop of Rome an authority greater than the other bishops.  Rome’s claim to supremacy over the other bishops and patriarchates is a later development and is at odds with the canons of the Seven Ecumenical Councils.

Two Peas in a Pod?

CC7FF5E3-E542-1280-C75510D9603A3580As the crisis in Evangelicalism intensifies, many Evangelicals will find themselves in a state of vertigo and confusion.  They must not make the mistake of thinking that Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy are two peas in a pod.  The two may look superficially similar but under the surface are profound differences.  One crucial difference is the way they do theology.  The Roman Catholic Church bases its theology on the infallible Pope.  The Pope is the monarch of the Catholic Church.  According to Catholic theology the Pope can unilaterally amend the Nicene Creed, order sweeping changes in the Sunday Mass, and issue dogmas — essential and non-negotiable doctrines binding on all members of the Catholic Church.

The theological method of Eastern Orthodoxy is based on Apostolic Tradition. Both clergy and laity have been entrusted with guarding and passing on Holy Tradition (II Thessalonians 2:15, II Timothy 2:2).  The Orthodox theological method is based on Christ’s promise that he would send the Holy Spirit to guide the Church into all truth (John 16:13).  Unlike Catholicism which rests on one man (the Pope), Orthodoxy does theology collegially, that is, as a body working in unity.  In Acts 15 we read how the early Church came together and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit resolved a major theological crisis.  There was no evidence of a unilateral papal decree here!  Acts 15 provides the biblical basis for the Seven Ecumenical Councils, a key component of Orthodoxy.  It is important for Evangelicals to remember that they owe their core Christological and Trinitarian doctrines to the Ecumenical Councils.  The Bishop of Rome collaborated and supported these Councils.  He exercised authority with the Ecumenical Councils, not over them.  The theological unity of the early Church was conciliar, not papal.

One thing that struck me about Orthodoxy was the continuing relevance of the Seven Ecumenical Councils to current debates within Orthodoxy.  One example is Canon 28 of the Council of Chalcedon and the role of Patriarch of Constantinople with respect to the modern Orthodox diaspora.  When I read Roman Catholic literature the overall sense I got was that the Ecumenical Councils belonged to an earlier stage of development and that the Catholic Church had evolved to another level.  I sensed a subtle disconnect between the Catholic Church and the early Church.


Advice for the Lost — Retrace Your Steps

My advice to Protestants standing at the crossroads looking at the Catholic and Orthodox options is to do what people often do when they realize they are lost – retrace your steps.  Read the book of Acts, then the Apostolic Fathers and Eusebius’ Church History.  Study how Irenaeus of Lyons combated the heresy of Gnosticism.  Also study the Arian controversy and the making of the Nicene Creed.  Become familiar with the early Church before the Schism of 1054.  I also recommend they read the fourth century Catechetical Lectures by Patriarch Cyril of Jerusalem which describe the Holy Week services in Jerusalem.  When I read Cyril’s lectures I was struck by how much they can be used to describe the Holy Week services of Orthodoxy today.  I don’t think the contemporary Roman Catholic approach to Lent and Easter much resembles the liturgical celebrations of the early Church.

My advice to Protestants in the middle of a theological crisis is this: Don’t rush, take your time.  Carefully study the Church Fathers, learn the ancient liturgies, and unlearn the modern habits of thought which have entangled the minds so many Protestants and Evangelicals.  Then ask yourself which church today bears a closer resemblance to the early Church.


You Must Give Up Your Catholicism

A Protestant ran up eagerly to an Orthodox priest and asked: “Father, what must I do to become Orthodox?”  The priest answered: “You must give up your Roman Catholicism.”  That anecdote made a powerful impression on me for it illustrated how much Protestantism has in common with the Roman Catholic Church.  Protestantism has its origins as a reaction to medieval Catholicism.  This probably explains why modern day Protestants who seek to recover a historic and sacramental theology have started wearing Roman Catholic collars and white robes.  Many will incorporate the “ancient” Nicene Creed into their church services, not realizing that they are using the version that has been tampered with by the Pope.  The Nicene Creed endorsed by the Ecumenical Councils did not have the Filioque clause (“…and the Son”).  These small “c” catholic Protestants have unwittingly biased themselves towards Roman Catholicism.

If one wants to go beyond medieval Catholicism to the early Church Fathers one must study the Church prior to the Schism of 1054.  A Protestant who lays aside not only their Protestant innovations but also the accretions from medieval Catholicism will be able to accept Holy Tradition as given by Christ to his Apostles and which has been faithfully safeguarded by Eastern Orthodoxy for the past two millennia.  This is the Pearl of Great Price.  It is recommended that the reader read Prof. Jaroslav Pelikan’s excellent The Vindication of Tradition which explores the value of tradition for the Christian faith and his five-volume The Christian Tradition which is likely the best work on historical theology today.


The Tragedy of the Best Kept Secret in America

Ethnic Festival

So, why did Jason Stellman make no mention of Orthodoxy?  Sadly, I believe that he has not taken the time needed to become acquainted with the Orthodox Church by attending her Liturgy (Sunday worship services), sitting down with her priests, talking things over with former Protestants who became Orthodox finding out from them how the wisdom of the ancient Church can be found in Orthodoxy today.

It is also a sad fact that many Americans have no awareness of Orthodoxy’s presence in America.  Much of this ignorance can be attributed to Orthodox Christians themselves.  We need to increase Orthodoxy’s public profile.  We need to go beyond ethnic festivals and ethnic parishes with Sunday services in incomprehensible languages.  We need Orthodox priests who like John Wesley have an evangelistic outlook:

I look on all the world as my parish; thus far I mean, that, in whatever part of it I am, I judge it meet, right, and my bounden duty, to declare unto all that are willing to hear, the glad tidings of salvation.

Orthodoxy in America needs to take our candle out from under the bowl and put it on a lamp stand for all to see.

You – the Orthodox Church – are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. (Matthew 6:14-15 paraphrased).


Metropolitan Philip

We need bold visionary Orthodox hierarchs like Metropolitan Philip who proclaimed: Come home America!  His Eminence also rebuked the Orthodox for making “Orthodoxy the best kept secret in America” because of their laziness and their being “busy taking care of their hidden ethnic ghettoes.”

It is time for Orthodoxy to stop being the hidden option for inquiring seekers.  People need to see the light of our Faith and to find a welcoming hand of greeting at the doorsteps of our churches.

Robert Arakaki





See also:

Michael Whelton’s journey from Roman Catholicism to Orthodoxy.

The Orthodox Christian Information Center’s page “Orthodoxy and Western Christianity: For Roman Catholic.”



  1. Outlaw Presbyterian

    I wonder if Stellman has dealt with major issues like Filioque and Absolute Divine Simplicity, both of which the Papacy is predicated on.

    That was why I read Orthodoxy so seriously and why I could never conceive of going Roman (though I am part Italian).

    • robertar


      It is good that you read Orthodoxy so seriously and carefully. Let us pray for Jason Stellman and others in similar situations like his.


    • Paul

      I think to answer the question about Absolute Divine Simplicity, you need to read what Thomas Aquinas actually said in Summa Theologiae about the Simplicity of God (and all the questions he raises in his analysis), as opposed to what Protestant theologians have incorrectly labeled as Absolute Divine Simplicity. They are not the same thing.
      I am not Catholic, but I do find Aquinas’s work interesting and spiritually challenging. I also remember that at the end of his life, he noted that all he had written was straw. He came to see his searching as futile in the face of the mystery that is God, a God we can know but a God we can never comprehend. Trying to do so is pointless.

  2. Lyn

    Robert, as an Anglican (by way of the Methodist and Presbyterians), who can not turn to Rome for the same reasons you cite, I long for the growth of the Western Rite Orthodoxy. I can not be Roman, but I am also not ‘Eastern’. The roots of Anglicanism go deeper than Medieval Catholicism and are found in the undivided Church of Saints Alban, Patrick, David, Brendan, Columba, Bede, Hilda and Bridget. For now my parish and diocese remain faithful and orthodox, I don’t know what the future holds, so we soldier on. Thanks for you blog.

    • robertar

      Dear Lyn,

      Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge! You are not alone in feeling the way you do. In less than two weeks there will be a Western Rite Vicariate conference in Shawnee, OK, sponsored by the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese. I would recommend that you attend the conference if you can. Both the Antiochian Archdiocese and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia support Western Rite parishes.

      I have experienced Western Rite services at the Antiochian Village and have no problem with it. I also have a good friend, Peter Winson, who is a member of a Western Rite parish, Our Lady of Walsingham Orthodox Church, near Dallas, TX. Peter grew up Roman Catholic and has found a good church home for his family in Orthodoxy.

      Hope this helps you.


      • Outlaw Presbyterian

        I’ve been curious about Western Rite. I’ve always been attracted to it. Lyn has a good point: CHristianity’s origins in Britain are VERY old and as John said in a previous post, predate many missionaries to England. Western Rite would be the (only) obvious solution.

        Still, when I researched Orthodoxy I noticed a lot of suspicion, if not downright hostility, to Western Rite. Some of it was warranted (e.g., quasi-liberal Anglicans simply wanting more Tridentine masses because they didn’t like the Clown-Mass Novus Ordo), but with others it seemed an opposition to “anything Western.”

        Schmemann’s essay on Western Rite, if I recall, wasn’t that favorable.

        But since Orthodoxy is an incarnational faith, and incarnates itself in different cultures, doesn’t it make more sense to have a STRONG push towards WR in America? Yet I don’t see a lot of that.

        • robertar


          I’m open to the Western Rite because I believe there is a strong historical precedent for it. I also believe that Orthodoxy is the Catholic Church professed in the Nicene Creed; it is neither Eastern nor Western but Catholic encompassing the whole.

          There is as yet no settled consensus among the Orthodox faithful regarding Western Rite. I take the Gamaliel approach to Western Rite. It’s like a small plant that can grow into a tall fruitful tree. In the face of the growing crisis of a post-Christian society Western Rite has much to offer. The thing to keep in mind is that those who support Western Rite and those who oppose it are sincere Orthodox who have different understandings about the application of Tradition. We agree on many things but this is one area where we respectfully disagree with each other. We need to be patient with each other and ask for the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

          The bottom line is that Orthodoxy is a lived faith. I would recommend that you and others who are curious about Western Rite attend the upcoming conference, spend time with Western Rite Orthodox parishes, and then report to the rest of us what you have learned. Is this something you can commit your family to?


          • Outlaw Presbyterian

            I can’t do that. I have to take care of my family and can’t take off for trips. There are no WR parishes within hundreds of miles of my house.

          • Archpreist John Morris

            The reason why many Orthodox do not feel comfortable with the Western Rite is that it is different. One thing that Orthodox do not like is change. In a sense this is good because it protects us from such travesties as those seen in many Roman Catholic parishes. As more and more Orthodox become more familiar with the Western Rite it will gain more acceptance. It is officially approved by two Patriarchates Moscow and Antioch. Therefore it is Orthdoox.
            However, I also take issue with those who argue that the Byzantine Rite is too foreign for Americans. I am just as American as anyone else and I have served as a Byzantine Rite priest for almost 33 years. The Antiochian Archdiocese is filled with converts who have found a home in the Byzantine Rite.
            Therefore, the Western Rite is Orthodox. It is a restoration of the Church as it was before the Roman schism which had both Eastern and Western Rites. However, do not belittle the Eastern Rite as too foreign for Americans, because it is not.

        • Carson

          Schmemann’s essay on Western Rite, if I recall, wasn’t that favorable.

          I’m speaking from memory, but my impression was that while it wasn’t “favorable,” it wasn’t necessarily unfavorable either. More a sense that pastors and archpastors should careful that those who ask for a Western rite should really be Orthodox, converted, and not just Roman-Catholic-without-the-Novus-Ordo, or whatever. But as I say, that’s on memory, so perhaps I’m mistaken.

          • robertar


            Thank you for sharing your thoughts about the Western Rite. Thanks to the St. Stephen’s Course of Study sponsored by the Antiochian Archdiocese I have met several former Roman Catholics and Episcopalians who are now involved in Western Rite parishes. I can assure you that these men are dedicated to Orthodoxy. Having said that, your concern is appreciated. People should become Orthodox in order to be Orthodox, not use Orthodoxy to advance some other agenda. This puts a heavy responsibility on our priests. They need our prayers.


          • Outlaw Presbyterian

            I suppose that’s true. And you are correct to note that such people should be Orthodox, and not simply discontented Anglicans. (I think twenty five years ago Rome and Orthodoxy let a bunch of discontented Anglicans in who weren’t necessarily conservative as much as troubled by the sodomy in the Episcopal Church).

            And to be fair, a lot of Orthodox liturgists watched the train wreck that was Vatican II and decided, perhaps not justly, that all changes in liturgy would end up like that. That’s false, of course, but entirely understandable.

          • Carson


            Your comment system doesn’t appear to allow me to reply to your response to me, so I’m replying to myself.

            I apologize if it sounded as though I were casting aspersions on anyone following a Western rite—I certainly didn’t intend to! I only wanted to correct what I believed (again, from memory) was a not-quite-correct statement of what Fr. Alexander wrote. So it was not “[my] concern,” but his. I personally don’t concern myself with such questions, as I’m too far removed from any actual data (my parish and all the other Orthodox parishes in my area use the Eastern rites); and while I’ve read through the Liturgies of St. Gregory and St. Tikhon, I’ve never attended them.

            For the record, however, I believe a Western rite Orthodox liturgy is fully legitimate where episcopally approved, and I and my family would gladly attend such a liturgy if we happened to be somewhere where it was used.

          • robertar


            What you did was fine. I think my blog software allows for only so many comment on a comment on a comment then stops giving the reply link.

            Regarding your last comment about a Western rite needing to be episcopally approved, that goes for any and all liturgy.


        • Outlaw Presbyterian

          I’ve been reading Moss for about three years now. Most of what he writes is quite excellent–but it illustrates my point: how come we don’t see more of this hard-core, old-school Western Rite in the US?

          • Raphael

            I’m not sure outlaw…perhaps that is a question to ask the folks in the Western Right. At least opening io some dialogue may be fruitful. Check out
            There is an email link for Father John there.

          • Jason

            Although not yet Orthodox, but on the journey there (which could take the same 7 years Robert discusses above or longer), I find the topic of Western Rite interesting.

            I frequently visit the Orthodox England site (ROCOR) to read the Journal and peruse some of Fr. Andrew’s resources. One of his answers in the “Ask Fr. Andrew” section states:

            “Since Orthodoxy died out here nearly 1,000 years ago, all Western people have to ‘imitate’ (that means assimilate) Orthodoxy from other countries, Russia, Romania, Greece etc. We need everything from there, because everything, including Orthodox Church architecture, liturgy, vestments etc, has been lost. All the living native traditions have died. There is no other way than to assimilate from elsewhere in order to revive. As regards a specific ‘English Orthodoxy’, this will only grow up with generations of English Orthodoxy. For example, at the beginning, the Russians did exactly as the Greeks, but with time and assimilation, Russian customs grew up and today we have Russian Orthodoxy. This is essentially the same as Greek Orthodoxy, but different in outward customs etc. Eventually, Orthodoxy will become native, with the help of the prayers of the ancient Orthodox saints of the West.

            All the early (Orthodox) Western liturgies have been lost. The dead weight of the Vatican after 1,000 years is very heavy! ”

            While on the surface that might seem hostile to Western Rite sympathies, further thought shows that this is potentially what ROCOR and the North American Antiochian Church are attempting – to sow the seed of a Western Rite with proper guidance. Robert is correct with the analogy that it’s a small plant that needs cultivation, time, and of course Saintly intervention to grow.

          • robertar

            Thank you Jason for your insight! May God richly bless your pilgrimage to holy Orthodoxy!

            Your fellow pilgrim in Christ,


    • john

      Have you heard of the british orthodox church?It is an english speaking church under the coptic orthodox church.

      • john

        britishorthodox.org/ They use the ‎The Liturgy of St James .

        • robertar

          The Liturgy of St. James? That’s old!! I heard that it goes back to the first century. I’m impressed. In light of all the changes in the Church of England lately, it’s good to know that there’s a witness to the ancient Church in Britain. Thank you the link!


      • robertar


        No, but I am acquainted with the Coptic Orthodox Church. There’s one near my house. I enjoy visiting them. Thanks for the info.


        • john

          Its ok i found the coptic orthodox church very welcoming.

  3. Raphael

    For those of us who belong to Antioch we are blessed to have the leadership of his Eminence Metropolitan Philip. Thank you for this article Robert. It states the position of The Orthodox Church quite clearly and was an edifying read.
    Also…good point outlaw…that was my take as well when making my journey.

  4. Adam S.N.

    Perhaps he will yet find the Church. I’ve known Protestats who became Roman Catholics before finding Orthodoxy.

    • robertar

      Thanks Adam. Let us be patient and kind to those looking into Orthodoxy. And let us work towards making Orthodoxy the worst kept secret in America. 🙂

  5. david

    Good article/blog Robert. I’m reminded of the FB comment on a friend’s status about the so-called ‘unified-voice’ of Roman Catholicism because of the Pope. Here it is.

    “There would not be space here to provide all the links to demonstrate my point…
    but between “liberation theology,” the modern-day Jesuits, the bishop who
    recently disciplined a priest for not giving holy communion to a woman
    proudly living in a long-term lesbian union, the Charismatic Catholic movement
    (the videos I recently saw on YouTube from the Philippines were especially
    nauseating), the revisionist scholars and textual critics, etc., etc., it seems
    that the [Roman] Catholic Church is anything but monolithic and consistent.
    From hyper-fundamentalists to sedevacantists to liberals to charismaniacs to
    “emergent church” antics… yeah, it sure quacks like a duck… I mean, it sure
    has all the same earmarks of the chaotic and diverse Protestant world.”
    [Chaz Mchan…on Jamie Bennett’s FB 4/10/12 status]

    • Carson

      the bishop who recently disciplined a priest for not giving holy communion to a woman proudly living in a long-term lesbian union,

      To be fair, under Roman Catholic canon law, the bishop did exactly what he should have (as the priest in question did not—as far as I am informed, the facts are not quite as simple as you present them). I am no canonist, but Dr. Edward Peters is, apparently well respected by the Vatican, since he was appointed a Referendary of the Apostolic Signatura (essentially, an advisor on canon law to the Vatican’s canonical court). He deals with the incident in several of his blog posts at http://canonlawblog.wordpress.com

      I’m Orthodox, but little legal systems, including canon law, fascinate me for some reason—when I was on active duty, I learned all about the Uniform Code of Military Justice (which still prohibits dueling, by the way).

  6. Lyn

    to Jason re: “Ask Fr Andrew” – I’ll have to check out this site, but my first reation to this one quote is: I’m not sure we can say that *all* the tradition is extinct, many buildings (Bath Abbey, for example that brough tears to my eyes this May) that predate the Schism (~1054) and the Norman invasion (1066, which is when I think much of the Latin rite was imposed, but I could be wrong on this) do exist, there are records and liturgies (Sarum & St Tikhon’s). I just don’t think you have to start from bare ground, I think there is a cultural memory for a Celtic/Anglican Orthodoxy. some of the Anglican devines were trying to revive it, but it has been swamped by events of history, politics, the Enlightenment and secularism. I have hope that it can be revived, but I don’t think it is a totally dead ember.

    • lyn

      Ok, I have to correct myself….places like Bath Abbey, the current building did not pre-date the Schism but, people have been worshiping there since at least 632AD. That just blows me away, being American and all .

      • Jason

        I consider that site a treasure, and have lost countless productive hours to reading the Journals. Fr. Andrew’s documentation of Orthodox English ruins from centuries ago, such as the Innishmurray monastery (Journal Vol 11, no. 2), 4th-7th century Irish “beehive” monasteries (Jrn. Vol 15, no 1) and rebuilt structures such as St. Lawrence’s Church in Bradford-on-Avon, originally built by St. Aldhelm in the 7th/8th century and subsequently rebuilt 2 centuries later (Journal Vol 12, no. 1) is remarkable. I think Fr. Andrew here is lamenting the fact that overall, the rich Orthodox history of England was largely destroyed and replaced by the Normans and Roman Catholics, of which Orthodox inspired architecture was a victim. Indeed, England even managed to completely wipe away its Christian heritage during its historic montage opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, choosing instead to celebrate its secular milestones.

        In Journal Vol. 15, no 2, Fr. Andrew highlights the Guild of St. Eadmund, which is a historical society attempting to reclaim this ancient Christian heritage and “De-Normanize” the country. While not *all* has been lost, the Orthodoxy that remains has scant influence on England and little to no importance, which is what I think Fr. Andrew is trying to rebuild.

  7. Lucian

    We need to go beyond ethnic festivals and ethnic parishes with Sunday services in incomprehensible languages.

    Like English, you mean ? 🙂

    • robertar


      The main thing is that we worship in our mother tongue, for most Americans, that would be English. If you are a recent immigrant, like from Russia, of course you would prefer the Liturgy to be in Slavonic. The priest of the local Russian Orthodox Church is keenly aware of this and goes out of his way to accommodate this need when he serves the Liturgy.



  8. David Meyer

    I found many problems in this post, most of which will be seen easily by those Reformed, like I was, who give each side a hearing from it’s own point of view, and from their own best sources. But here is one quibble that shouldn’t elicit much argument, and which I see as fairly representative of the whole post.

    “This probably explains why modern day Protestants who seek to recover a historic and sacramental theology have started wearing Roman Catholic collars”

    Just simply wrong. The collar is a Protestant invention, and in no way was it originated with Catholics. As I said, this sort of obvious (though I am sure unintentional) mistatement is representative of the post.

    Also, you forgot the best reason of all for a convert from Prtoestantism to go Orthodox instead of Catholic:

    Catholic clergy don’t have beards!!! (cue scary music) 😉 Kidding, Kidding. Although believe it or not I have heard this as a serious complaint from a few Orthodox guys.

    My hope is that we can fairly represent the other view in this discussion, whether we are Catholic or Orthodox. Having recently been in “no-man’s-land” between the two, and wanting to get the best information on both sides, wanting them to “make their case”, I can say that it is often quite hard to sift through, and many times the discussion (on both sides) is on throwaway side issues like beards and celibacy, (many of which you unfortunately mention here) rather than the central issues that divide us, and which must be resolved for unity to take place.

    As just one more example:

    “The doctrines of purgatory and indulgences are medieval innovations that have no basis in patristic theology.”

    “No basis”? You mean insufficient or unconvincing basis, right? Because Catholics have what they believe to be a solid a basis for them from patristics. This is the kind of strange language that is unhelpful. You make it sound (particularly with the use of the word “wilfull” when you say “Rome’s willful aberrations”) as if Catholics know there is no good reason for a doctrine but just plug away with it anyway. “Oh, well, this isnt in the Tradition, but hey let’s just make it up”. That is just an uncharitable caricature.

    If we boil the doctrine of “purgatory” down to it’s essential elements, (to what we must believe as Christians, and particularly I as a Catholic,) it is no stranger or foreign to the Tradition that the doctrine of aerial tollhouses which is an acceptable belief for the Orthodox. The fact is that Catholic and Orthodox believe the same fundamental things about our destinations after death, otherwise Orhthodox would not pray for the dead. You simply do not pray for someone who must either be in the binary choice of heaven or hell. Call the third option what you will, describe in various ways (I actually like the tollhouses view, what a great image), but in pointing fingers at Catholics for believing something not in the Tradition you point at yourself. From a Catholic point of view, we see it liberally strewn about in the Tradition. And I see it strewn about in post schism Orthodoxy as well. St. Seraphim’s belief is in perfect accord with Catholic belief on Purgatory. He would not have to afirm or deny anything for his belief to be accepted by the Pope himself.

    “The dogma of Transubstantiation is a doctrinal aberration that is at odds with the patristic consensus.”

    I encourage anyone reading that statement to read the link you offer within it. It shows how the Orthodox have used the exact same language, even the words Transubstantiation, substance, and accidens to describe the Eucharist. There is absolutely nothing about what for Catholics is dogma concerning transubstantiation that Orthodox can’t believe wholeheartedly.
    With Orthodox descriptions of the Eucharist, there is nothing missing from a Catholic perspective, nothing at all needed to complete the description. This fact alone should show that we believe the same thing.

    I hope Catholic and Orthodox can understand each other better. The unity we both desire cant happen if we don’t at least frame the others point of view in a way they would agree with.

    Peace to you,

    David Meyer

    • robertar

      Dear David,

      Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge! Thank you for your observations and insights.

      One, the “Roman” collar — I did some looking around found that you are right that it was invented by a Protestant, a Presbyterian no less in the mid 1800s! I would have to disagree with you that the mistake was an obvious one. Many people today associate the clerical collar with liturgical churches. All Roman Catholic clergy are expected to wear the clerical collar. In the US many Eastern Orthodox clergy are expected to wear the collar. Many Protestants today on the other hand shun the collar. This shows the curious twists and turns in church history. I admire your meticulous knowledge of church history.

      Two, purgatory and indulgences — I agree that both the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholic traditions affirm an intermediate state after death. But there are some significant differences in how we understand them. Bishop Kallistos Ware notes that “most if not all Orthodox theologians reject the understanding of purgatory as a place souls undergo expiatory suffering, and so render ‘satisfaction’ for their sins” (The Orthodox Church p. 255). The concept of indulgence is based on the understanding that the Pope having the power to bind to loose has the authority to transfer from the treasury of merits, the remission of temporal punishment for the living and the dead (those in purgatory). (see Jaroslav Pelikan’s Vol. 4 Reformation of Church and Dogma, pp. 135-136) These understandings for the Orthodox go beyond what the church fathers taught and for that reason Orthodoxy has problems with the Roman Catholic teachings on purgatory and indulgences. I checked the Orthodox site on tollhouse and found no evidence of expiation or of the Pope’s remitting sins among the citations taken from the church fathers. For this reason, I believe that my earlier statement that the Roman Catholic teachings on purgatory and indulgence are medieval innovations still stands. While they build upon the earlier patristic teachings, I don’t think they can be considered a continuation of the patristic consensus, not in light of the introduction of the concept of expiation and the treasury of merit and the Pope’s authority extending to the souls in purgatory.

      Three, the real presence in the Eucharist — the Orthodox Church describes the real presence in the Eucharist as a Mystery. This is quite different from the Roman Church which made the doctrine of transubstantiation, which relied on the Aristotelian categories of substance and accidents, into a dogma. The Orthodox confessional statement, the Confession of Dositheus, did use similar language but did not mandate this language. It’s important to keep in mind that a one time occurrence of an idea does not make it an Orthodox tradition. The main thrust of the Confession of Dositheus was the rejection of Calvinism. I’m sure that as a good Roman Catholic you would affirm that the categories of substance and accidents are necessary and required for explaining the real presence in the Eucharist; this is something that I could not affirm as an Orthodox Christian.

      I appreciate your insights and I learned something in writing this response, but overall your criticisms have been nitpicking at minor issues. The fundamental issue that separates Roman Catholicism from Eastern Orthodoxy is the issue of papal authority and Tradition. I brought up that issue in the subsection “Two Peas in a Pod?” Until the issue of papal authority and Holy Tradition are dealt with the likelihood of union is dim. Unless the Bishop of Rome repents and apologizes for the unilateral alteration of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed with the unauthorized insertion of the Filioque, I believe that inquiring Protestants are faced with two stark choices. I will be optimistic about the prospects for the restoration of the ancient Pentarchy if I see the Bishop of Rome affirm autocephaly as an ecclesial principle in place of papal supremacy.



      • Ryan Close

        I am an Orthodox Christian who thinks the doctrine of Transubstantiation is an entirely adequate way of explaining the Change.
        You say you cannot affirm this way of pointing at the Mystery of the Change that occurs in bread and wine during the Divine Liturgy. But why? The only reason you give is that the Orthodox describe ” the real presence in the Eucharist as a Mystery.” But so does St Thomas Aquinas, and so does the whole tradition of the Roman Catholic Church. These very “Aristotelian categories of substance and accidents” point out the mystery and cause it to stand out in sharp relief against the inability of the ordinary human intellect to understand for the very idea of transubstantiation is utter nonsense in Aristotle’s metaphysics.
        What is it about the doctrine of Transubstantiation that you actually disagree with? Stated simply, it teaches that the bread and wine undergo a change such that what is actually on the altar and what the faithful receive is truly the Pure Body and Precious Blood of our Lord, despite the incidental appearance of bread and wine remaining. Substance answers the question “what is it?” while accidents answers “what does it look like?” except it is more general so it also applies to all other properties, such as, “what does it taste like?”, “what does it smell like?”, etc… Do you disagree that the Eucharist truly “is” the Body and Blood of our Lord or do you disagree that the Eucharist retains outward “properties” of bread and wine? That’s all that its saying.
        Denying any part of this is clearly heretical because it is clear that the “what it is” that we receive in Holy Communion “is” the Body and Blood of Jesus while it still “looks like”, “smells like”, and “tastes like” bread and wine. The Confession of Dositheus is not the only source that uses the word. Other councils, catechisms, and works of dogmatic theology use the word. The Holy Fathers and bishops and priests who wrote these books and presided at these councils were not ignorant men. They were not ignorant of what the word truly meant. They were not using it in an approximate manner. It is an exact word used by men we normally think of as being clear and precise thinkers who use words very intentionally. We don’t need to “re-invent” the faith. We need to acknowledge our dependence on these great teachers, not pretend to be able to judge them and find them simple minded and sloppy.
        I know you might be able to find quotes from contemporary Orthodox writers purporting to be “extra-patristic” and I think they are just as guilty of disregarding our great tradition.

        • robertar


          If I met an Orthodox Christian who liked the Roman Catholic teaching on transubstantiation, I would respect that person’s approach to understanding the real presence. I would not be comfortable if that person attempted to get me to explain the mystery of the real presence the way he does. I would prefer to affirm the real presence using the pre-Communion prayer of Saint John Chrysostom: “I believe O Lord and I confess . . . .” I think the Roman Catholic approach to explaining the real presence in the Eucharist is allowable within Orthodoxy but not normative. Do you think that it should be normative for all Orthodox Christians?


          • Ryan Close

            Dear Robert,

            I am thankful you took the time to reply. Thank you. I am currently deep into a project to address common caricatures concerning and magnifying the differences between EOC and RCC. ( I admit that there are certain core differences.) I have just been listening to an amazing lecture by Marcus Plested, author of ‘Orthodox Readings of Aquinas,’ which shows that many of the anti-unionist and the pro-Palamite Orthodox churchmen and theologians of the 14th century, including Palamas himself, quite admired St Thomas Aquinas! Please read this little article (by my friend Robin) and if you have the time listen to the video!

            You ask me, “Do you think that it [transubstantiation] should be normative for all Orthodox Christians?”. Thank you for asking. In a way, I have already asked you the same question.

            First, let me be clear. “Substance” just means the “what it is” of something. If I point at a wooden table and a wooden chair and ask a child what is it that both these things are made of, the child naturaly say, “wood.” And this is just what the word “substance” means here. If I point to a dimond and ask “What is this?”, you might say, “carbon atoms shaped dimond-wise.” Carbon atoms are the substance of the dimond.

            Now, I ask you, “IS” the Communion we receive the Body and Blood of the Savior? If you say no, then you deny the “real presence.” If you say yes then you agree that what we receive in Holy Communion “IS” in substance the Body and Blood of the Lord. Don’t use the word “substance” if you wish. Say, “What IS here before us, what I am about to partake IS the most precious Body and Blood of the Divine Savior.” It amounts to the same thing. “I believe, O Lord, and I confess that Thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the Living God… And I believe that this IS Thy pure Body and Thy own precious Blood…” The “Is it?” question is all that I mean by “substance.”

            Assuming you agree that the Communion we reverently receive in the Divine Liturgy is the Body and Blood of the Savior, I further ask you, “does it look like, taste like, smell like actual flesh and blood?” If you answer yes, then, well, I wouldn’t know what to say. So I am assuming you will say that it does not look like, taste like, or smell like flesh and blood, but that it is nonetheless the pure Body and precious Blood of our Lord Jesus. So you are assenting to the fact that while it “IS” one thing in the most importantce sense, that nonetheless it does not appear to have the properties of that thing, namely looking like, tasting like, or smelling like flesh and blood.

            Our holy fathers thought that this word was “normative” enough to put it into the The large Russian Catechism of St Philaret: “338. What is the most essential act in this part of the Liturgy? The utterance of the words which Jesus Christ spake in instituting the Sacrament: Take, eat; this is my body. Drink ye all of it; for this is my Blood of the New Testament. Matt. xxvi. 26, 27, 28. And after this the invocation of the Holy Ghost, and the blessing the gifts, that is, the bread and wine which have been offered. 339. Why is this so essential? Because at the moment of this act the bread and wine are changed, or transubstantiated, into the very Body of Christ, and into the very Blood of Christ.” This catechism was accepted by all the Patriarchs. The word is used in “Orthodox Dogmatic Theology” by Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky.

            You have been told that western theology is rational at the expense of mystery, that the west, and Aquinas in particular, tries to explain everything because they don’t do mystery like we do. That’s the standard anti-western line. But even St Gregory Palamas read and admired Thomas Aquinas!

            To think that St Thomas Aquinas teaching on transubstantiation is actually Aristotelian is to utterly misunderstand Thomas. As Fr Robert Baron says, that while Thomas uses certain vocabulary of Aristotelian Metaphysics, such as “substance” and “accidents”, what he uses them to say would be utter “gobbly gook” to Aristotle. Aristotle would never have accecpted that something’s substance could change while its incedental properties, such as the appearance of the bread and wine, remained the same. That is totaly impossible in Aristotelian Metaphysics yet Thomas teaches it. In fact if we understood Thomas we would see that he is always pushing the limits of human language, very much like a poet writting a poem, pointing us to ineffible mysteries while simultaniously demonstrating the thoroughgoing weakness and total inability for the human intelect to grasp or comprehend the sacred mysteries.

            Robert, thank you for tollerating me.



          • Ryan Close

            The fact is that the west does mystery just as well and the east does reason just as well.

          • Ryan Close

            I also resent my position being called the “Roman Catholic approach.” I am simply say admitting a change occurs in which “what it is” changes from the “what it is” of bread and wine into the “what it is” of the Body and Blood of Christ even though it does not look like, taste like, nor smell like flesh and blood. That’s all that transubstantiation means.

        • Aaron


          With all respect to your desire not to unnecessarily focus on differences….

          Your approach confuses me. Here’s why.

          Why do we need an “adequate” way to explain the process of the mysteries of Christ in the Eucharist at all?

          You then put the onus on Orthodox Christians to be the ones to accept such teachings which have no bearing on anything to do with faith (pistis = trust) that such things are what they are by the promise of Christ and the invocation of the Holy Spirit.

          We (the Orthodox)have not made this an issue of division. We didn’t introduce it. We are simply forced to respond to it. It is made an issue my the RCC – and please hear me very clearly here – because in the doctrine of transsubstantiation the RCC promotes papal authoritarianism and Through that doctrine denies the the valid celebration of the Eucharist by the Orthodox.

          How? Transubstantiation allows the RCC to justify anointing the power of he act in the preist himself. I quote from Aquinas and a roman catholic theologian;

          In the Summa St. Thomas affirms: The minister’s “intention is required, whereby he subjects himself to the principal agent; that is, it is necessary that he intend to do that which Christ and the Church do.” (Part III, q 64, a 8).
          The one who confers a sacrament must truly intend to confer it. He must employ the determinate matter or sign. He must mean the words [the form] which make the sign sacramentally significant. If the intention of the minister [that is, the person who administers the sacrament] is amiss, the sacrament is not validly conferred”

          The Orthodox Church maintains and teaches that the invocation of the Holy Spirit and the change that occurs is not vested in the minister serving the Eucharist. In is not a mediators role that he possesses. The adequacy and intent of the preist cannot affect the power of the Holy Spirit to change the mysteries into to what they are.

          This is why when the donation schism occurred the Orthodox Catholic Church called their Eucharist valid, but not necessarily efficacious.

          The power of the change in the Eucharist lies in the Holy Spirit, which is the manifestation of love at the in gathering of ALL the people of God, and is therefore what sanctifies them in the partaking. Those partaking of e Eucharist in opposition to that Truth, do so eating and drinking condemnation upon themselves.

          The doctrine of Transubstantiation is a mechanism of clericalism by which the RCC can deny the Eucharist. In the Orthodox faith because under the doctrine, a minister must not have “amiss” intentions and must be in submission the “principal agent” – the “vicar of Christ.”

          In this way the RCC can proclaim power over the Eucharist by stating that any minister not aligned with the Roman See’s “authority” is not administering he sacraments with with the “intention” of being subject to Rome, then the sacraments are “invalid”.

          You see, Transubstantiation is the vehicle for magisterial power and temporal authority over what is accomplished not by a preist or a bishop alone, but by the whole of a church body in communion of love. The power of the change is a power of the collective work of the Holy Spirit within the whole body, not in the power or intention of one person. The orthodox bishop is only responsible for ensuring that the mysteries and traditions of the church are protected and prserved – and in this office he holds a role of service and vested authority from the whole. The bishop does not retain IN HIMSELF the power of Transubstantiation, though without his blessing, a Eucharistic assembly cannot be acceptable to God as worship because Eucharist worship must be predicated on love and unity- the image and likeness of the Trinitarian God in the Church. Thus, again with the donatist schism- the sacraments may be valid…but not efficacious because the body is not fulfilling the law of love in communion, but in actuality- eating and drinking condemnation upon himself.

          I understand you heartfelt desire to create paths of unity between our two Churches. That is commendable. It seems to me however that daily prayer may be a more effective endevour in this regard than speculating over something that is a clearly expressed reality in the Orthodox faith that is explained by the power of LOVE in the Holy Spirit.

          Trying to determine when love becomes love…or analyzing when sexual Union actually becomes sexual Union and by what and WHOSE power that takes place is a trap. Rome has set this trap up for us to fall into under the guise of rationality.

          Aquinas can be admired for his mind and work, but that does not make his work any less damaging for its implications and for the purposes by which it was formularized….which is to claim power for the RCC magisterium.

          I’ve attached a link to a funny video below which gives you the jist (in a slightly different light) of the sleight of hand under way in the doctrine of Transubstantiation.

          Hope this helps engage your desire for an orthodox objection to this innovation and divisive doctrine.


          • Karen

            Thank you, Aaron, for that added insight about the political aspect of the development of this RC doctrine.

            Ryan, I admit even without Aaron’s explanation, I’m uncomfortable for intuitive reasons with parsing the meaning of “transubstantiation” in philosophical terms of “substance” and “accidents.” It simply does not ring quite true and provoke the same sense of awe, reverence and piety for me that simply acknowledging that the consecrated Bread and Wine (as “symbolon” truly bringing two realities–spiritual and material–together and uniting them) truly become the Body and Blood, while also remaining Bread and Wine, though no longer ordinary bread and wine. This is how I understand St. John of Damascus’ treatment quoted elsewhere in this thread:

            St. John Damacene says “Wherefore with all fear and a pure conscience and certain faith let us draw near…..let us pay homage to it in all purity both of soul and body, for it is twofold. Let us draw near….with our hands held in the form of a cross and let us receive the body of the crucified one…..Isaiah saw the coal but coal is not plain wood but wood united with fire: in like manner also the bread of the communion is not plain bread but bread united with divinity.” On The Orthodox Faith Book IV ch13.

            RC language seems to suggest to me a sort of magical switch whereby one thing becomes something completely different and only *seems* to still retain something of the original. This doesn’t seem to be quite what is being said by St. John. Rather, two realities come together and are united (the literal meaning of “symbolon”) where the spiritual is incorporated into the material “symbol” whereby the material still subsists, but in a changed manner.

            It is also notable to me and seems important that St. John’s analogy (picking up on the Scriptural OT “type” of the Eucharist in Isaiah) for the nature of the change of the Bread and Wine of the Eucharist is very similar to the analogy used by the Fathers to help us understand the change which takes place in our humanity through theosis where they employ the metaphor of the sword in the flame. The sword remains truly a sword (our human nature is fully retained) while also taking on the properties of the flame (heat and light, God in His energies). Meanwhile, all that is alien to the metal of the sword, the dross (our sin), is utterly consumed by the flame such that the metal of the sword is purified and strengthened. This makes use of the familiar language of the Scripture for the process of our purification from sin often being described as the refining of precious metals. The Aristotelian categories and language, in contrast with the patristic analogies and types I cite here, are completely alien to Scripture. I’ve read its more recent use in Orthodox catechism, etc., is just an attempt in accommodation to modern Western theological terms to affirm the reality of the change that takes place in the Eucharist, but borrows philosophical categories from RC basically alien to classical patristic Orthodoxy and can’t be given the same kind of authority as the latter.

          • Ryan Close

            Aaron, I never once said that “transubstantination” was about explaining the processes behind the mystery of the Holy Eucharist! You put words in my mouth. Read what I have said before presuming to tell me I empty the mysteries of mystery. I go to great lengths to demonstrate just the opposite. Please read my posts again. Read them, just don’t read your presuppositions into them. Talk to me. Not your straw man. Please.

          • Ryan Close


            1. While this whole theory about papal domination is quite interesting it’s not what I am talking about. If that is what transubstantination means then of course you win, cause of course it just isn’t Orthodox. Obviously.

            2. The RCC acknowledges that the Orthodox has valid sacraments, so from their point of view we do partake of Christ in our Divine Liturgies. So this whole conspiracy theory just isn’t so. And since that’s not what I’m talking about any way it’s either a straw man or a non sequitur.

            3. If I put “onus” on anyone, it’s just to ask if you think that the bread we eat and the wine we drink is actually the Body and Blood of our most holy Savior? And if it looks like or smells like or tastes like flesh and blood? That doesn’t commit you to any system of processes. It’s dishonest to imply that’s what I’m asking. This question is just the basic confession of all Christians going back to the Apostles as we see in Justin Martyr and Ignatius of Antioch and Irenaeus. And the one little observation that every Christian who has ever recieved the holy mysteries is aware of, namely, that it does not taste like flesh and blood. But you never even tried to address these questions. Why? In our communion prayers we say, “and I believe that this is truly thy most pure body and precious blood.” Is it the body an blood of our Lord or not? Why are you afraid to confess to the world what Christians have died to defend!

            4. You keep saying that “we Orthodox” just don’t mess with this stuff, but I can find you and have already supplied plenty of sources where you can find Orthodox saints and Church Fathers and official declarations and catechisms of the Orthodox Churches where this word, transubstantination, is used. If you insist on calling it a “Trojan Horse” then you don’t have an argument with me but with saints and patriarchs and centuries of Orthodox theological tradition. I don’t have to argue you about this based on these conspiracy theories because you condem yourself by attempting to overthrow the teaching authority of the bishops that they use for the well being of the Christians they care for. You take our fathers for fools, presuming that they unknowingly fed the church poison for centuries.

          • Ryan Close

            Devisive? Really? Maybe in your conspiracy theories. Transubstantination merely says that after the change the bread and wine actually ARE the body and blood of The Lord. But that they don’t have the outward appearances of flesh and blood. It’s not even rational. The whole meaning of the doctrine is to show the utter inadequacy of human philosophical categories! “Transubstantination” is a one word magnification of the mystery. And our Orthodox Church Fathers used the word! You know what, in a contest between our holy Fathers as you, I’m going to trust the fathers. And going against our fathers, well, that’s just divisive, don’t you think.

            Lastly, Aquinas was a mystic and a hymnogtapher, better compared to St John of Damascus than to this “rationalistic” straw man. Are St John of Damascus and St Maximus the Confessor to rational for you?

          • robertar


            Let’s bring this particular discussion to a close. You’re welcome to join in other conversations but this particular one has gone on too long.


          • Ryan Close

            Thank you Karen, I like that comment. It’s an intelegent response. I agree with your quote from St John. I also agree with Robert, it’s time to end the conversation for good. Thanks again.

        • Aaron


          The first thing I want to do is apologize. I was not trying to come off the way that I must have to you. It was not my intent to put you on the defensive. I also must be a “bad communicator” then if the message you got was attack. I have a viewpoint – which is in line with Tradition….and I expressed it. I understand you think it’s anti-Western diatribe. Be that as it may, I was not trying to cause offense…and I will explain that it my reply to your other post.

          You said ***”Aaron, I never once said that “transubstantination” was about explaining the processes behind the mystery of the Holy Eucharist! “

          I must have been confused by this statement of yours. “I am an Orthodox Christian who thinks the doctrine of Transubstantiation is an entirely adequate way of explaining the Change.

          I’m not sure what you meant then… I’m sorry. I get what you are saying in the rest of your post. But it was all predicated on this statement as a summary…which says exactly…”adequate way of explaining the Change.”

          Again, I’m sorry if you think I misrepresented your statement, and I will be willing to admit I “put words in your mouth…” out of misunderstanding of this statement…which seems identical to what I said. But I don’t know…perhaps those words mean something different to you.

          You say “Read what I have said before presuming to tell me I empty the mysteries of mystery. I go to great lengths to demonstrate just the opposite.

          Please show me exactly where I said that? I re-read the posts and somehow I keep missing that I said that. Are you talking to someone else?

          I actually believe that the Church could accept such doctrines and formularies as Transubstantiation but ONLY in Ecumenical dialogue and in deference (within the bounds of) Holy Tradition and in defense of a specific heresy. And this is primarily why Rome promulgated this doctrine was to place Orthodoxy at a further distance from it as a heretic group whose mysteries were invalid.

          You say “Please read my posts again. Read them, just don’t read your presuppositions into them. Talk to me. Not your straw man. Please.

          I’m sorry again Ryan. Honestly, I’m not trying to be polemic. I went back and re-read them. I don’t feel like I either misrepresented you (See the quote above) nor do I feel like I’m offering a straw man. I am really confused here and again I’m sorry. I don’t know how we can communicate better moving forward but I am honestly trying…and what has felt like an attack to you…was not my intent. I will attempt to be more careful and gracious in how I respond.

          Peace be to you in Christ our Lord…

          • Ryan Close

            Aaron, accept my apology as well. I’ll try to be more carefull. So I said, early on, that I thought the word “transubstantination” adequitly explained the change. I did not say anything about the “processes” there of as if one could tame the mystery by showing how the molecules of bread transmutate in a certain way. Given the tenor of your comment accusing me of “rationalism” and “thinking”, saying that you think I empty the mystery of mystery seemed a valid way of expressing the typical caricature. It really feels like just because I don’t nitpick the RCC for every little thing and attack a “word” for its obvious papal heterodoxy that you must think I’m a “thinker” and “rational” and I don’t even know why that aught to be an insult. Like I said above, if the word transubstantination actually means what you speak about papal domination, then of course I agree with you, but I was clear from the beginning what I thought it meant and I have it on good authority, Fr Robert Baron. Yes he is a Roam Catholic, but does that mean he has an interest in misinforming the public about Catholic doctrine. He is a well informed apologist with a scholarly reputation to defend, he can’t just make stuff up. And I am sorry that I have to stand by everything else I have said because I see this as insurrection against our churches saints and fathers. I defend their honor. I listen to them.

          • Aaron

            “saying that you think I empty the mystery of mystery seemed a valid way of expressing the typical caricature. ”

            I never said this Ryan. I’m sorry.

      • Ryan Close

        I am genuinely interested in “what” it is exactly that you disagree with the doctrine. I am writing a series on these caricatures and would like as robust a defense of them as possible before I defend the contrary.

        • David


          While I do appreciate your gracious spirit in all this, it seems what you call “caricatures” most of us call the very specifics you ask for. Canadian’s comment just below here have several specifics. I’m copping it anyway just in case it’s hard for you to find.

          “Vat 1 claims about the pope just are not evident in spite of flowery quotes by various father’s and Council’s. This is made evident by the Acts and statements of the 5th Ecumenical Council regarding a sitting pope Vigilius. The Council removes his name from the diptychs and rejects his “Constitutuum” which was written with papal authority. He refused to attend the Council and the Council fathers threaten him that “he will condemn himself by his own writing” if he continued to support the 3 chapters heresy. 6 months after the Council is over, he accepts the Council’s judgements. The Council did not think he had immediate, absolute, universal authority. The lofty language comes when a pope is Orthodox. Just as with Leo, the Chalcedon father’s first read the tome and then cry out “Peter has spoken through Leo.”
          Another occasion is when Rome renegged on what it called the 8th Council from 879 to 869 and 2 Popes there commanded the creed to remain unchanged:

          These specifics above are clear historic occurrences (among others unmentioned)…not caricatures. It seems to us that RCs make a decided choice to obfuscate these with much verbage…but it does not make them less true.
          warmest regards,

          • Ryan Close

            Thanks David, but I don’t think what you say about Vatican 1 is under dispute from an Orthodox perspective. I am asking about transubstantiation. It’s used by patriarchs, councils, and catechisms. All it is saying is that after the change the “what it is” on the altar in no longer bread and wine but the body and blood of the Savior, while at the same time it does not look like, taste like, or smell like flesh and blood. Consider the “transfiguration” or “metamorphosis” in Greek. Jesus’ outward appearance or “morphos” changed while what or who he IS remained the same. The opposite occurs in the Holy Sacrament. The outward appearance or “morphos” remains the same, but the underlying “what it is” become something wonderfully new. And that’s not at all subordinating the mystery to rationalism, it’s just a straight forward description of what happens. It’s nonesense from actual aristoltian metaphysics. The concept is poetically exploding philosophical concepts! Wow. So what do you think about the “essence and energies” distinction, isn’t it “subordinating” the mystery of the Holy Trinity to philosophical categories rather than just saying, “hey, we’re fine with mystery.”

          • Ryan Close

            I used to attend a CREC parish. The CREC was a Federal Vision micro denom founded by Douglas Wilson and co.

        • David

          Hey Ryan,

          I too was PCA then CREC (as were others) and if you’ll look around a bit you will see we interact with CREC men a good bit. Another dear friend here left our CREC Church (a Deacon) for Anglicanism, then pretty soon Rome. Was/is a great blessing and encouragement to me. We do not argue, but I sense from him, your comments here with others that RCs like to minimize differences with Orthodoxy as somewhat semantic if not trivial…while most serious Orthodox see the Pope’s claims, the Filioque or other issues as simply heterodox. Blessing to you brother. 😉

          • Ryan Close

            I don’t want to minimize actual differences. There are reasons why I am Orthodox and not Roman Catholic. But there is no reason to magnify the differences unnecessarily. It is a fact that the most pro-Palamite and anti-reunionist churchmen loved Thomas Aquinas, they loved his method, his summa, and they did not blame him for what they considered his “few” latin errors! Check iut the article and video I linked to above!

            It was not until first Bulgokov and then Florovsky and then Romanides and Yaneras that an extreem anti-western and more-anti-western-than-thou mentality swept the Orthodox Church. Orthodox historians are uncovering this history little by little. And they are not unOrthodox or heretics or modernists for reporting the truth of history.

            Let’s say you have a fight with your wife. As long as you continue to multiply the number of your complaints, nitpicking every little thing, you will never find common ground. You must find out exactly what it is that you are actually arguing about instead of continuing to bicker about how she folds your socks! What are the real important issues?

            Papal infallibility and the Filioque issue are of great importance. Great importance!

            But do you know any Catholics or Orthodox that even know that the Vatican recently issued a document explaining that dispie the addition to the creed they don’t intend to modify the Churches dogmati. Teaching issued at Constantinople in 381. They say they confess the original faith of the Church, that the Father is the one alone source of the Divne Son and Spirit! If that was the war you were thinking we were still fighting then you just missed the end of the war! Look it up, be responsible. If it is important enough for you to argue about then do a little research.

            Now that’s not to say that there are not other major problems. Like the atrocious and impious implementation of the Novos Ordo Mass, the Charismatic renewal, and the cults that the pope alows to operate within the church because he is afraid of loosing millions of adherents.

            We must become more fully Orthodox rather than shrinking back into comfortable reactionary caricatures. Orthodoxy is the faith of our fathers not something we make up in order to be much more unlike something we dispise. Please forgive me. I was a rabid anti-western zealot when I converted. I know all about the anti-western mentality.

          • Ryan Close

            What do you have to say about my arguments above concerning transubstantiation? No one has yet to offer me a defeater to my point of view, that the word simply says that after the change the “what it is” on the Ltar is now Jesus not bread and wine, while he appearances or morphos of bread and wine remain. Is the opposite of what happened on MtTabor when the “what of who it was” Jesus remained he same but the outward appearance or morphos changed. The word transubstantiation does not diminish the mystery but causes it to stand in stark relief by demonstrating the extreem weakness of human philosophical categories. Lastly, if you object to this word our holy fathers used because it is too philosophical, then how do you justify using the “essence energies” categories to “explain” the doctrine of God. Doesn’t using these philosophical categories empty ou the mystery of theosis?

            I am really genuinely interested in hearing objections to my arguments, but I am disappointed not to have heard any yet.

          • David

            Agreed Ryan, differences need not be magnified unnecessarily. But someone else will have to answer your specific arguments per transubstantiation…since I’ve no zeal to sparse them out. I’m content that the Fathers and Counsels of the Church have clearly been content to say “we don’t know exactly how or when” bread & wine become body and blood… and that it is error to make dogma of such things. Suppose the Pope in a few yrs decides the “How & When” of the conception of Christ in the womb of the Theotokos must be elucidated and made dogma? I’ll be content once again for the Church to reply the same. Maybe that’s lazy, but I’ve never had great zeal for such things…regard them as “secret things” that belong to God. (Dt 29:29) Man’s pride most always pretends to know more than he does. Sorry to disappoint…but then someone else might give you what you’re looking for? cheers good man. where’s the Makers 😉

          • Ryan Close

            Thanks David, I am going to take a break from this for a few days. But think about this, you said you are content to not know exactly “how and when.” So am I. So am I. Yes I am content.

            Transubstantiation isn’t about that is it? Or you are not reading what I write over and over again. Transubstantiation is not about how or when. It’s about, “Wow, we know this IS the Body and Blood of The Lord but it don’t look like it! That impossible! But it’s true! And we’ll use this word, it doesn’t explain anything, it just points to how we don’t understand the mystery. It’s a poetic word, a word that explodes human philosophical categories! Wow!”

            If you go away from this conversation thinking I am trying to prove as normative that dogma of “exactly how and when,” then, wow, I must be a really bad communicator, cause, I know I said over and over again, that that’s not what it’s about. This is about realizing that we don’t have it all figured out, man. Cause somebody misinformed us and we think we know what a word is so we take sides against it but the word actually stands for the opposite all along.

            And which fathers are you using as sources because I have fathers too, they use the word, they knew what it meant, and they weren’t stupid. And they did not mean by the word what you mean by it so you are making a straw man that’s easy to knock down. We are Orthodox, we are better than that. So, yes, I am content with the mystery! And I resent being told that I hold to a non-existant Catholic dogma that empties out the mystery when the opposite is true. We need to think through our faith, the faith of our fathers and not to presume that we are better than they and redefine it to suite our own wants. The fathers DO used the word transubstantiation. It’s in the orthodox catechism and in Orthodox Dogmatic Theology by Fr Pomazansky! Opposition to Aristotle and Aquinas was part of the Protestant sola scriptural project that required the reformers to totally dismantle the intelectual foundations of European civilization in order to justify their heretical overthrow of the Church.

        • Aaron


          The poetic Form or philosophical draw of minds like Aquinas is clearly attractive two to “Thinkers” such as yourself. I have no doubt that you find beauty in aquinas’s works. The key objection for me is the recognition that particularly between the seventh and 12th centuries, Roman Catholic theology was consistently and systematically Taught and used as a vehicle for solidifying dominance in subjection to the See of. Rome. In modern society it is difficultto understandthat theology had-especially among heretical movements- A religiopolitical and social purpose. This is and. Has been has been a defining characteristic of Roman Catholic theology since the seventh century. We don’t mess around with these doctrines as Orthodox Christians because they are Trojan horses. If Rome ever is able to repent and wishes to formulate such doctrines within the ecumenia – awesome. But the doctrine itself is sugar coating for a bitter pill and is directed towards satisfying “itching ears” and minds.

          • Ryan Close

            First of all, I meant to shock you by saying Thomas Aquinas was poetical because that is the main thing people think he is not and that Orthodox theologians are. And I am now shocked that you think the greatest Greek Fathers like St Basil the Great, St Maximus, and St Gregory Palamas didn’t “think” and make use of philosophy. What do you think the essence an energies distinction is? And I suppose if the poetical / philosophical nature of St Isaac or St Symeon the New Theologian attracts me that makes am a “westerner.” Anything I say will be held against me.

            It isn’t that I am attracted to Aquinas. That’s irrelevant. What does it prove to attack me. It is a fact that most of the 14th century Greek Fathers found much in Thomas that was commendable. You are entitled to your own “socio-political philosophy” but you are not entitled to your own facts.

            For example, Patriarch Georgios Kourtesios Scholarios, the leader of the pro-Palamite anti-union party, author of such works as “Syllogistic Chapters against the Latins” and who famously said “O unhappy Romans [Byzantines], why have you forsaken the truth? Why do you not trust in God, instead of in the Italians? In losing your faith you will lose your city [Constantinople],” when escaping the city brought one book with him. That book was St Thomas’ Theological Summa. He loved Thomas, saying, “O Thomas, that you were born in the east.” He thought that on the main Thomas was simply representing the church fathers but in a clear way and on a magesterial scale. He excused the few places where Thomas “got it wrong” from an Orthodox perspective.

            I don’t presume to judge myself superior to my fathers in the faith. If they thought there was much to commend Thomas then I don’t judge them, condescendingly inventing a new religion of vagaries that Patriarch Georgios or St Gregory Palamas would not even recognize. This isn’t even about Thomas anymore. It’s the whole tenor of your system.

            This is the most dangerous part of the anti-western attitude. It seeks to develop a whole new system of theology alien to the faith of our fathers based on the writings of a handful of twentieth century writers like Florovsky and Schememan and Myandorff. And on this basis casts doubt on our entire theological tradition of modern church fathers like Met. Phileret, St Ignatius, St Tikhon, the Orthodox Catechism, and Fr Michael Pomazansky. You look down on these men as fools for being “thinkers” and being “too western” and “systematic” while you hide your own position behind an irrefutable cloak of imprecision and vagueness.

            I even read an Anti-westerner on a forum, so eager not to be “western”, that he denied that a change even occurs to the bread and wine in the Divine Liturgy, protecting himself only by saying that unless you have had a transformation of theological vision “you just wouldn’t understand.”! And the world looks on and wonders what exactly we actually believe! And you would refuse to tell them because to tell them clearly would be too systematic and western. The anti-westerner can say that Orthodoxy is anything at all and justify it by appeal to theological vision while our fathers took great pains to be quite precise.

            You think you insult me by calling me a “thinker.” Yes. I am insulted by the lack of charity you show to me and to our fathers in the faith, like St Tikhon who had the catechism of Met. Phileret translated into English for religious instruction in the United States. Disparaging what I have to say because I take time to think about what is true and what is false is the worst kind of rhetoric because now I don’t have any reason to take anything you have to say seriously because I know you haven’t thought of any of it before you started talking!

            Based on the nature of these comments I can see that polite and gentlemanly conversation and intelligent discourse isn’t possible on this forum.

          • Aaron


            I was not shocked at all by your description. As a former Calvinist myself I can clearly see a kind of poetry in philosophical and intellectual thought of the West. I even value it in some ways….and yes…you are correct it EXISTS in the East. What is the difference then between the two? I hope I can elucidate that from my own viewpoint.

            You said “ And I am now shocked that you think the greatest Greek Fathers like St Basil the Great, St Maximus, and St Gregory Palamas didn’t “think” and make use of philosophy.

            I did not say they didn’t. But they did it within bounds of Holy Tradition. Aquinas, Anselm et al. threw off those bounds for a new “Catholic” mindset which was concerned with raising and defending the dignity and supremacy of the Papal See. That’s a historsophical assessment. Again, I’m not saying they were evil — they were serving the interests of Roman Catholic tradition. But there were clear political motives in doing so.

            John of Damascus and ALL of the Fathers are always quite clear that philosophy and reason were tools that must be subject to Holy Tradition in order to be truly rational. Rationality for its own sake was suspect. Without being subject to Tradition and in line with the consensus of Patristics, Liturgy, Dogmatics and Ecumenical dialogue they became “bare knowledge” – i.e. speculation – traditions of men. Philosophy unfettered from Tradition is a runaway mustang. Used within the bounds, checks and balances of Tradition it becomes a thoroughbread. Every single great Father stipulated such and made it clear that where their ideas overstepped tradition, they must be discounted. Thus it was at the end of his life, Augustine began to write a book called “Retractions” to correct his statements issued in polemical debate to comport with Holy Tradition. He never completed the book…but it is available.

            John of Damascus states this truth clearly;

            God, however, did not leave us in absolute ignorance. For the knowledge of God’s existence has been implanted by Him in all by nature. This creation, too, and its maintenance, and its government, proclaim the majesty of the Divine nature. Wisdom 13:5 Moreover, by the Law and the Prophets in former times and afterwards by His Only-begotten Son, our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ, He disclosed to us the knowledge of Himself as that was possible for us. All things, therefore, that have been delivered to us by Law and Prophets and Apostles and Evangelists we receive, and know, and honour , seeking for nothing beyond these. For God, being good, is the cause of all good, subject neither to envy nor to any passion. For envy is far removed from the Divine nature, which is both passionless and only good. As knowing all things, therefore, and providing for what is profitable for each, He revealed that which it was to our profit to know; but what we were unable to bear He kept secret. With these things let us be satisfied, and let us abide by them, not removing everlasting boundaries, nor overpassing the divine tradition

            This was in his preface to a book in which he DID use philosophy and reason…but again…WITHIN the bounds of tradition and revelation.

            And I suppose if the poetical / philosophical nature of St Isaac or St Symeon the New Theologian attracts me that makes am a “westerner.” Anything I say will be held against me.

            I’m not sure what’s going on here? I didn’t attack you.

            It isn’t that I am attracted to Aquinas. That’s irrelevant. What does it prove to attack me.

            I’m not attacking you. I find Calvin HIGHLY Attractive. I like reading Luther! I actually think Aquanas was a genius. You assume that I am making a negative assessment on their minds. I’m not. What I’m trying to say is that we must be discerning about what we are trying to import or accept from those who have left the Tradition and push the bounds of “reason” outside of Tradition. That’s my viewpoint. I’m sorry.

            It is a fact that most of the 14th century Greek Fathers found much in Thomas that was commendable. You are entitled to your own “socio-political philosophy” but you are not entitled to your own facts.

            Where have I made up my own facts? I have just supported my viewpoint. The Fathers made philosophy and rationality subservient to Divine revelation and Tradition and sought not to push beyond those bounds.

            This isn’t even about Thomas anymore. It’s the whole tenor of your system.

            You know nothing about me Ryan…nor my system nor can you divine who I am from one post here. Please sir, I beg you to reconsider how it is you are approaching me. Somehow I’m being lumped into a category with a bunch of others because I have a viewpoint that differs from yours? I said it before and I’ll say it again. I like minds like Thomas Aquinas. That does not mean that I think we ought to import their ideas because they were part of a system which began promulgating theology like a factory that would get approved or disapproved by the way it comported with the interests of one regional Church, – instead of formulation and consiliarity throughout the entire Ecumenia.

            You look down on these men as fools for being “thinkers” and being “too western” and “systematic” while you hide your own position behind an irrefutable cloak of imprecision and vagueness.

            Ugh. Ryan. I don’t look down on “thinkers.” I’m one uf dem der thinkers…and I suppose I should have stated that when I called you one. But ALL the Fathers are also very clear that thinking is what often gets us in trouble. We hem in our thoughts by be subject to the whole. This is why we can have both mystical and philosophical and rational thinkers…because if THEY ALL submit in humility to one another in consilarity they can provide the checks and balances through the Spirit of Love which guides the Church. Mystics are balanced out by Rationalists, and vice versa….but the Roman Catholic traditions does not know those bounds in the same way because they reject Ecumenicity and promulgate doctrines for themselves and their interests alone.

            You think you insult me by calling me a “thinker.” Yes. I am insulted by the lack of charity you show to me and to our fathers in the faith, like St Tikhon who had the catechism of Met. Phileret translated into English for religious instruction in the United States. Disparaging what I have to say because I take time to think about what is true and what is false is the worst kind of rhetoric because now I don’t have any reason to take anything you have to say seriously because I know you haven’t thought of any of it before you started talking!

            I really don’t know what just happened. I did not mean to have “thinker” become a derogatory term. It wasn’t loaded….at least not for me…but clearly your experiences with someone have made it mean much more than I meant it to mean. I’m sorry this touched a nerve.

            Based on the nature of these comments I can see that polite and gentlemanly conversation and intelligent discourse isn’t possible on this forum.

            Again, my apologies….I really did not intend for what has occurred to occur. Whereever I have been a bad communicator – forgive me.

            I would ask that you re-read all of this exchange as well and see perhaps where it was that maybe you misinterpreted or placed some bad experiences you had with others on me.

            You said you were “genuinely interested” in what people objected to. I provided you my viewpoint…and somehow I offended you. Again, I am so terribly sorry. If you will re-engage with this – I will be more sensitive to your viewpoint – and would ask you to be more sensitive to mine.

    • Canadian

      Hi David,
      Welcome. I remember you from CTC and occasionally reading your blog. I nearly became Catholic but a couple major things slammed the door.
      Vat 1 claims about the pope just are not evident in spite of flowery quotes by various father’s and Council’s. This is made evident by the Acts and statements of the 5th Ecumenical Council regarding a sitting pope Vigilius. The Council removes his name from the diptychs and rejects his “Constitutuum” which was written with papal authority. He refused to attend the Council and the Council fathers threaten him that “he will condemn himself by his own writing” if he continued to support the 3 chapters heresy. 6 months after the Council is over, he accepts the Council’s judgements. The Council did not think he had immediate, absolute, universal authority. The lofty language comes when a pope is Orthodox. Just as with Leo, the Chalcedon father’s first read the tome and then cry out “Peter has spoken through Leo.”
      Another occasion is when Rome renegged on what it called the 8th Council from 879 to 869 and 2 Popes there commanded the creed to remain unchanged:

      One more…..when it took what Rome calls and Ecumenical Council (Constance) to determine a pope when there were three claimants at once to the chair.
      Anyway, just sharing from another perspective. Thanks for commenting here with us bearded ones. (Except you Karen :-))

  9. Archpriest John W. Morris

    I think that you miss the major problem with Purgatory. Rome teaches that to be fully forgiven of our sins, we must offer God acts of satisfaction, penance. If we do not do enough penance to earn forgiveness of our sins before we die, we must suffer in Purgatory for our sins. Orthodox believe that when we repent, our sins are forgiven without the necessity of works of satisfaction, because there is nothing that we can do that can add to what Christ has done for us.
    The idea of “toll houses” is at best a theological opinion that has no official status as an Orthodox doctrine. It is only a metaphor for the particular judgment, and is nothing like Purgatory.
    We pray for the departed as an act of love, not to earn merit to get them out of Purgatory and into Heaven. When my father and mother died, I did not stop praying for them because I did not stop loving them.
    The problem with Transubstantiation is that Rome teaches that the bread and wine are changed into the sacred Body and Blood of Christ when the Priests says, “…this is my body…this is my blood…” Orthodox believe that the change is done not by what the Priest says, but by the work of the Holy Spirit who is invoked to “make this bread the Body..and that which is in this cup the Blood…”
    There is no doubt that the papacy is a medieval innovation. It is not possible to reconcile the canons of the Seven Ecumenical Councils with the modern papacy.

    Fr. John W. Morris

  10. John

    Re: Purgatory.

    Can I suggest a book that might help with this discussion on Purgatory.

    Jaques Le Goff (Tr. Arthur Goldhammer), The Birth of Purgatory, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1984.
    ISBN 0-226-47082-2 (cloth), ISBN 0-226-47083-0 (pb).
    LC number: BT842.1.413. Dewey 236.5’09.

    Originally published as: La naissance du Purgatoire, Editions Gallimard, 1981.

    At the time of publication, Jaques Le Goff was the director of the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris, and codirector of the Annales -Economies, Societes, Civilizations.

    Book Review by Brian Stock, Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies:

    “A magisterial study, which not only traces the origin and growth of the Western idea of purgatory, but illustrates its complex interrelationships with the social and economic structures of the feudal age.”

    + + +

    This book is in my library. I will not comment further until readers on this blog have had time to digest its contents.

    I trust that this assists.


  11. Sid Ontai

    Hi Robert!
    Stacey sent me here as she was confused about the Filioque. I love a good 30 Years War, so long as only error gets killed rather than people.

    You write:
    “For all the elaborate rationales advanced by Catholics to justify the Filioque, it is an indisputable fact that the Papacy’s unilateral insertion of the Filioque into the Nicene Creed runs contrary to the conciliarity intrinsic to the seven Ecumenical Councils.”

    I dispute your assertion as non factual. No decision of any Ecumenical Council is authoritative in the Catholic Church until ratified by the Pope, so it is a tautology that nothing the Papacy inserts or deletes, whether unilaterally or multilaterally, can be contrary to conciliarity.

    Whether or not Jesus Christ decided to build his Church on Cephas, (Mt 16:18), against which the gates of hell would not prevail, is another discussion. But the unity and leadership of the Papacy has been the practical sine qua non which operationalized continuation of the great tradition of Ecumenical Councils in the Catholic Church, 14 since Nicea II. The Holy Spirit, working through Vatican II inspired Catholics such as Pope John Paul II and Lech Walesa, mastered existential challenges of the modern world, such as Communism and mutually assured nuclear destruction, just as Christ predicted in John 14:12-18, (which also supports the Filioque by the way).

    • robertar

      Hi Sid,

      Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge!

      I’m open to listening to what you have to say. You made the claim that my argument agains the Filioque was factually incorrect but you what you provided was an eloquent exposition of the Roman Catholic understanding of the Filioque. The factual evidence I need from you are citations from the Church Fathers or the canons of the seven Ecumenical Councils. Can you find any supporting evidence from Athanasius, Augustine, Irenaeus, Leo the Great, Ambrose of Milan, Gregory the Great, John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nyssa, Basil the Great, or John of Damascus?

      Specifically, you will need to show that the Bishop of Rome exercised a universal magisterium independent of the Councils early on (AD 200 to 800). My reading of the early Church taught me about the high respect people had for the Church of Rome early on but not the Bishop of Rome as the Vicar of Christ exercising a universal and infallible magisterium. My research has led me to the conclusion that what the Papacy was a result of a gradual evolution and transformation of the Church of Rome. In light of that I believe that the ecclesiology of the Orthodox Church is much closer to that of the Seven Ecumenical Councils than the post-1054 Western Church.

    • P. McCoy

      Such pretentious essentially that is so common among Catholics and in Catholicism makes the prayer of the Phrasee , pale in sinfulness. These people refuse to recognize the blood of countless Orthodox Christians that was shed and how their faithful prayed to these martyrs to be freed from the Communist yoke. It is these prayers not Mr. Walensa nor the Koran kissing Pope that liberated and freed the Orthodox faithful.

  12. Sid Ontai

    My claim was not that your argument against the Filioque was factually incorrect. My claim was that your argument about conciliarity, which pertains to church governance, was factually incorrect. You are asserting that the Councils head the Church, when in fact the Bishop of Rome heads the Church, and therein lies the counterfactual nature of your assertion, and is separate from the Filioque question. Whether Council or Pope has ultimate authority in the Church is a governance issue, quite separate from your theological concerns over the timing and detail of every Early Church Father’s position on the mystery of the Holy Trinity.

    I also pointed out the irony of the Orthodox claim that Ecumenical Councils have authority over the Papacy, when the Orthodox Church has not convened an Ecumenical Council (there have been Orthodox regional synods, but no Ecumenical Councils), precisely because they lack the kind of Papal leadership that might command the myriad, fiercely independent Orthodox metropolitan and arch bishops to cooperate and all agree on the need for an Ecumenical Council. The absence of any Orthodox Ecumenical Councils for more than 1200 years is an indisputable fact. Surely the Body of Christ needs a visible head that can issue a coherent thought more often than once a millennium? This proves operationally and practically the natural authority of the Pope over Councils, that Christ’s Body might be healthy, nimble, and relevant in its service to God in the world.

    Practical norms for Church governance are not to be found in theological tracts, which were not written to address the nitty gritty political reality of curbing ambitious Emperors, greedy Kings, and marauding barbarians, which constantly morphed into new threats to the Church over the millennia. Rather, attention to the Holy Spirit speaking through the facts of ecclesial history helps us discern those governing structures that advance Christ’s mandate to go forth and baptize all the nations (Mt 28:19), while realizing Christ’s deep yearning that all His disciples might be one as He and the Father are one (Jn 17:21).

    The Orthodox Church’s need for the leadership of the Bishop of Rome is quite evident from the numerous schisms between Constantinople and Rome prior to the Great Schism of 1054; the Patriarch of Constantinople was a heretic about of 1/3 of the 721 years between Constantine and the Great Schism. Usually the Byzantine Emperor imposed heretical beliefs through a court appointed puppet Patriarch; in each case the Bishop of Rome excommunicated the Patriarch of Constantinople; and in each case the Byzantine Emperor backed down, died, or became bored and orthodoxy was re-established with a Patriarch of Constantinople in communion with the Bishop of Rome. The Orthodox Church does not dispute that the Bishop of Rome correctly suppressed these heresies (Arianism, Miaphysitism, Monophysitism, Monothelitism, Iconoclasm) .

    Specific historical facts relating to governance of the Eastern Church:

    1) 343-360: Arian Heretic Patriarch of Constantinople Macedonius I installed by Byzantine Emperor Constantine II, excommunicated by Bishop of Rome Julius I

    2) 360-370: Arian heretic Patriarch of Constantinople Eudoxius, also excommunicated by the Bishop of Rome

    3) 370-380: Arian heretic Patriarch of Constantinople Demophilus, also excommunicated by the Bishop of Rome, succeeded by non Arian Maximus I, but only because Byzantine Emperor Theodosius I deferred to Bishop of Rome Damasus I

    4) 381-397: non-Christian (unbaptized) Patriarch of Constantinople Nectarius, installed by Byzantine Emperor Theodosius I, finally succeeded by Saint John Chrysostom in 397

    5) 404-405: Byzantine Empress Aelia Eudoxia exiled Patriarch John Chrysostom in favor of puppet Arsacius of Tarsus, but the bishops and christians of Constantinople supported by Pope Innocent I rose up and successfully reinstated John

    6) 482-519: Acacian schism begun by Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Acacius’ advice that Byzantine Emperor Zeno issue the Henotkon edict to placate Monophysite heretics, resulting in excommunication by Bishop of Rome Felix III. The schism was prolonged by Miaphysite heretic Byzantine Emperor Anastasius I until he died in 518, when Emperor Justin I appointed John II the Cappadocian as Patriarch of Constantinople as recommended by Bishop of Rome Hormisdas.

    7) 640-681: Monothelite Schism, formulated in Byzantine Emperor Heraclius’ edict “Ecthesis” with help from Patriarch of Constantinople Sergius I, designed to placate the non Chalcedonian Monophysite heretics. Monothelitism was condemned a by Bishop of Rome Serverinus and his successor John IV. In 649 Bishop of Rome Theodore I excommunicated Patriarch Paul II of Constantinople for refusing to recant Monothelitism. The schism ended when Emperor Constantine IV called the Third Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (which the Orthodox Church recognizes) in 680, which condemned Monothelitism once and for all, an error corrected in part through the blood of martyred Pope Martin I.

    730-787: 1st Iconoclast period: Byzantine Emperor Leo III or some agent influential in the Imperial Court ordered the removal of the image of Christ at the entrance to the Great Palace of Constantinople, resulting in an uproar, the resignation of Patriarch of Constantinople Germanos I, and the condemnation of iconoclasm by Pope Gregory III after holding two synods on the issue. The Council of Hieria, attended by 330 Bishops of the Eastern Church, defied the Pope and decided “the unlawful art of painting living creatures blasphemed the fundamental doctrine of our salvation.” Irene, the regent/mother of Byzantine Emperor Constantine VI, was less iconoclastic, convened the Second Council of Nicaea (which the Orthodox Church of course recognizes) and restored the icons.

    I am flattered that you are open to listening to what I say. Better still, though, listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit as He speaks through the facts of the life of His Church. Time and again, the Eastern Church fell into heresy, and the papacy acted as a corrective. Catholics yearn to be at one with their Orthodox brethren again, just as Jesus yearns for all his disciples to be one, but only he Jesus and his Father are one. We must be wary of Arianism; Father and Son are indeed one–consubstantial–and highlighting a difference between Father and Son as they relate to the Holy Spirit invites mischief.

    • Canadian

      Your position is undermined by the occasions I alluded to in my comment above.
      You have the spanking of Vigilius in the 5th Council and it’s full completion 6 months before Vigilius ends his promotion of heresy and submits to the decrees the Council.
      The renegging on what Rome first claimed as the 8th Ecumenical Council, along with 2 popes who forbade the filioque addition of the creed during that period.
      And Rome required a Conciliar act, the council of Constance, to create one pope out of three and then claim that that act is not valid until ratified by said pope…..dog chasing tail here.

    • robertar


      I agree with you that the issue between us is church governance, i.e., conciliarity vs. the papacy. I am not comfortable with your phrase: “heads the Church.” Orthodoxy understands the Church to be founded on the Tradition the Apostles received from Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit. Your language seems to imply that the Church is a singular administrative structure that requires a central figure to lead it. If that is what you had in mind, then this is at odds with the canons of the Seven Ecumenical Councils and with the Church Fathers. Nowhere do the canons teach the Bishop of Rome exercising primacy of authority. It does teach that the Bishop of Rome enjoys primacy of honor among the other patriarchs. See Canon III of Council of Constantinople (381) and Canon XXVIII of the Council of Chalcedon (451). If we examine Canon VI and VII of the Council of Nicea (325) what we find is the Pentarchy — the five pariarchates: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. The Pentarchy is the administrative structure of the early Church, not the Papacy exercising universal authority. The Patriarchates stepped in when the other jurisdictions encountered difficulties. This explains the historical events you recounted in your comments.

      To say that the Eastern Church fell into heresy is strong language. It reminds me of how Protestants view the early Church — it started off pure and holy, then fell into heresy and apostasy, but the true faith was restored once again. You seem to be saying — the Eastern churches started off well, then fell into heresy, but thank God the Papacy stepped in. Some of the early patriarchs may have adopted heretical views but they were deposed and replaced by an orthodox patriarch. So the churches as a whole never fell into heresy. One thing I admire about Orthodoxy is the consistency between Orthodoxy today and the early Church back then.

      As far as your need for frequent Ecumenical Councils and a “visible head that can give coherent thought,” the Orthodox response is that we have the Tradition that the Apostles received from Christ. I’m not bothered by the absence of councils that update the church because we have Holy Tradition which was once and for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).

      It is good that Catholics are seeking unity with the Orthodox but two things need to happen before that can happen: (1) the Church of Rome would need to repent of the Filioque and return to the original Nicene Creed of 381 and (2) the Pope would need to accept the principle of autocephaly as understood by the other ancient patriarchates: Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. I don’t see that happening in the near future so I’m willing to recognize you as a fellow believer in Jesus Christ.

      Regarding your closing remarks about Arianism, I suggest you read my posting TULIP (3) for a discussion of how Western Christianity and Orthodoxy approach the Trinity. Let me assure you that in no way does Orthodoxy separate the Father from the Son. Every Sunday just before we recite the Nicene Creed we confess the Trinity one in essence and undivided. I invite you to visit and Orthodox Liturgy and see how we are faithful to the Nicene Creed.

      • Sid Ontai

        Popes like Vigilius come and go, and some of them sin and become antipopes, just as have the many excommunicated Patriarchs of Constantinople (which the Orthodox Church agrees were heretical). The sins of particular Popes and Patriarchs, just like the sins of of Saint Peter (“get thou behind me Satan!”) do not change the fact Christ chose Cephas as the rock upon which He built his Church, and the gates of Hell have not and shall not prevail against it.

        The Orthodox Council of Heiria, which wrongly pronounced icons blasphemy, was spanked just as soundly as Vigilius, but that fact does not “undermine” the overall authority of Councils.

        It also does not change the fact that the Church is not a Hydra, it has but one head (Christ) who decided to give the keys of the kingdom and the power to loose and unloose to Peter.

        It also does not change the fact that organizations need leadership to thrive, and Ecumenical Councils that never meet does not constitute leadership.

        Unity with between Catholics and Orthodox could just as effectively occur if the the virtue of obedience shown forth in the Orthodox Church and the primacy of the Bishop of Rome were again accepted.

        Heresy is indeed strong language, but it is not my language, it is the language of the Council of Nicaea which pronounced Arianism a heresy, of Second Nicaea, which did the same for iconoclasm.

        • Canadian

          But if you read the 5th, the Council refused a sitting pope’s commands and teaching (his Constitutum) and said that he would condemn himself by his writing. A sitting pope!
          They removed his name from the diptychs. The attitude of the Council is what is important. They did not think he had universal, supreme, and immediate authority. The Council was finished and they were not waiting for his approval. Those Bishop’s went home to their churches with the authoritative position already in hand.
          You changed your 8th from the 879 to the 869 Council under Frankish influence. 2 popes wrote with authority against a change in the creed. And you needed a Council to create the situation of papal infallibility with one pope instead of 3.
          More could be said about Pseudo Isodore decretals and papal enforcement of geocentrism, etc.

        • robertar


          I have never heard of the Council of Heiria that you claimed to be Orthodox. Perhaps you can give us some more information?

          I noticed that your apologia so far failed to mention the canons of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. Nor have you cited the Church Fathers. Until you can make your case from these sources I’m afraid you won’t make much progress in convincing me of the Roman Catholic understanding of the Papacy.

          And I urge you to reconsider your applying the term heresy to Orthodox Christians, it doesn’t help build better relations between Catholics and Orthodox.



          • Canadian

            See a bit here from Schaaf about Hieria. It is noteworthy to highlight a couple things, one from the following link to an excursus on the Hieria council and one from the excursus on the reception of the seventh Council in the same volume.
            Sid would have us believe the Hieria Council was “Orthodox” and later the pope saved the day, but it is stated in the link that “The Patriarchates of Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem were not represented.”There was nearly universal monastic resistance and many suffered great persecution.
            And here is an important note from that second excursus:
            “No historian pretends that the iconoclastic opinions had any hold over the masses of the people. It was strictly speaking a court movement, backed by the army, and whenever the images were laid low and their veneration condemned it was by the power of the State, enforcing its will upon a yielding and (as we would call them to-day) Erastian clergy.”

          • Canadian

            Forgot the link……


        • Jnorm


          There is a difference between Papal Primacy and Papal Supremacy.

          It is my belief that modern Rome holds to Papal Supremacy, not Papal Primacy.

  13. Karen

    Sid writes: “It also does not change the fact that the Church is not a Hydra, it has but one head (Christ) who decided to give the keys of the kingdom and the power to loose and unloose to Peter.”

    Sid, you didn’t forget about this, did you?:

    Matthew 18:18 “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

    In Matthew 18, Christ grants authority to “bind and loose” to the whole group of His disciples. If what you were saying were really supported by the Petrine passage in Matthew 16, why did Jesus not instruct Peter to bestow the authority to bind and loose upon the rest of the disciples here, since it follows Jesus’ bestowal of that honor upon him? Do you believe the “keys of the Kingdom” and the power to “bind and loose” are two different things? Rather, the language of binding and loosing merely illuminates the meaning of having the “keys of the Kingdom.” This becomes more clear when you consider that “binding and loosing” are analogous to locking and unlocking. Does not St. Ignatius of Antioch (the disciple of the Apostle John, and appointed a Bishop of Antioch by St. Peter himself) describe all the Bishops equally as images of Christ and the as the locus of “the Church” in each of her regional locations?

    Your description of the Orthodox Church as a “Hydra” having many heads would be more convincing if all of her various local Churches didn’t actually hold to an identical Creed, identify the same Ecumenical Councils as binding, and hold to substantially identical Liturgy (not to mention the consistency of the expression of her monastic spirituality) over all her Patriarchiates. There is indeed only one Head of the Church–that is Christ Himself. There was only one Head of the local Churches addressed in the NT epistles, as well, but they nevertheless had many disorderly, sinful situations, as well as false apostles and Judaizers infiltrating their ranks. Yet, here we are 2,000 years later, still holding to the same apostolic faith in the Orthodox Church. I trust Christ to hold things together in His Church, even when they look messy from the perspective of outsiders.

  14. Sid Ontai

    You seem stuck on the fact that some Popes (and Patriarchs) have failed miserably as paragons of virtue. Why pick on Vigilius? Alexander VI was a far greater sinner, as not one but two miniseries documented in excruciatingly accurate detail last year.

    The fact remains that the Office is not the man. Richard Nixon resigned because he was a crook, Clinton was impeached because he was a lying philanderer, but that does not change the fact the the President of the United States is statutorily Commander in Chief of the armed forces per the US Constitution. When he says nuke ’em, they will. Similarly, Peter is Cephas, the Rock upon which Christ built his Church, even after he denied Christ thricely.

    Again, it is not I who invented the labeling of Arians and iconoclasts as heretics. To quote from Second Nicaea, Canon 7 (see, I’m mentioning a Canon of the Seven Ecumenical Councils!):

    “Just as those heretics removed the sight of venerable icons from the church, they also abandoned other customs, which should now be renewed….”

    But it serves no good purpose to gratuitously irritate you. What language would you like me to use to describe those baptized Christians who willfully and persistently reject an article of faith, be they Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox? I’d be willing to bet the overwhelming majority of h******* (insert Robert’s term here) in history have been Catholic, not Orthodox (there have been more Catholics, it’s a pretty safe bet).

    Would you describe the difference between Papal Supremacy and Papal Primacy? Thanks!

    Your trust that Christ will hold things together in His Church is one that I share, AMEN! The Gates of Hell SHALL NOT prevail against it.

    Catholics also believe that the Apostolic succession holds true throughout the Orthodox Church, which is why Catholics believe that Christ is truly present in the Orthodox Eucharist at Orthodox liturgies. Catholics are allowed to receive the Orthodox Eucharist, although Orthodox ministers are not allowed to share it with Catholics. That explains in part why Catholics believe the Great Schism wounds the Body of Christ so deeply and painfully and why we sincerely yearn for reunion.

    • Canadian

      By the way, welcome here, and please don’t feel like we are piling on when we…….pile on 🙂
      No, I understand the Catholic position on sinful popes. And we have had our sinful bishops’s as well. What I am addressing is not that. The occasions I have brought up reveal your papal dogma was not the faith of the fathers, yet you have not discussed them. Listen, when a pope is Orthodox, we have extended all the lofty language of his honored position. But supreme, universal, immediate authority is something entirely different and how the 5th handled Vigilius shows this. Vigilius commanded the Council not meet….she met and delivered a Council which Rome herself is obligated to, and which Vigilius submitted to 6 months after the fact. Vigilius, you would say, had the power of the keys yet his commands and writings were dismissed by the Council and his ratification wasnot needed.

      • Jason

        I’m enjoying this debate, but am having difficulty with your term “5th” – please help:

        Do you mean the “5th Council of Constantinople” – which would be technically the Ninth Ecumenical Council? Or are you referring the the “4th Council of Constantinople” which would technically be the Eighth Ecumenical Council that more closely aligns with Vigilius’ time?

        Or am I still off and you mean something else entirely? Great points by the way on the Frankish influence of the Papacy.

        • Canadian

          Sorry, The 5th Ecumenical.

          • Jason

            Well that makes sense. Thank you!

    • P. McCoy

      Orthodoxy does not need nor desire union with those who in the recent past think Serbia and Ustashi, who have used violence wars and outright deceit-the Unia churches are the height of deceit to try to bring about not unity based on truth but rather the raw naked imposition of Papal Supremacy on to the Orthodox faithful.

  15. Karen


    The divisions in Christendom are indeed painful for those of us who share the heart of Christ in John 17 and His prayer for the unity of His Church. From an Orthodox perspective, that prayer has been answered (in part) in the preservation of the Orthodox faith in its fullness within the Eastern Orthodox communion for 2,000 years. Of course, until Christ is fully “all in all” at the summing up of all things and because of our sin, full unity between members of Christ’s Body will be an ongoing struggle (like the struggle for holiness for us all). Some schisms from Christ’s Body cannot be healed until heresy is renounced. Of course, perhaps you understand that from an Orthodox perspective, Apostolic Succession is broken when a Bishop excommunicates himself from the Body of Christ and enters into heresy (or when he enters into heresy and is thereby excommunicated). The Orthodox do not follow the theories of Blessed Augustine in this matter.

  16. Sid Ontai

    Like I said, religious wars don’t bother me as long as the only casualty is error, not people. I’m like that silly guy in the Monty Python skit who pays to get into an interesting argument and ends up getting bopped on the head.

    As I understand it, Vigilius was kidnapped by Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, kept under house arrest in Constantinople, and pressured to sign on to a condemnation of Nestorians. Vigilius feared might weaken the force of the Council of Chalcedon and held out for years, but eventually gave his blessings to the the Second Council of Constantinople in exchange for his freedom and the possibility of food and military aid for Rome, which was at the time was besieged by Goths and in no position to protect the Pope. After Second Constantinople ended, Vigilius ratified it, as his fears about conflict with the Council of Chalcedon were mollified. So the Pope validated Constantinople II, although like many of our politicians he was against it before he was for it. What is the scandal here, other than that the Byzantine Emperor was a very effective bully and the Pope lacked cojones (and food and soldiers) at that moment in history? Are you proposing that Vigilius shouldn’t have ratified Second Constantinople, and if so, why not? Purely to spite Justinian? That’s something I would have done in a heartbeat, being the vindictive, quixotic, self important person that I am, but in hindsight that seems a decision that would have been neither charitable, wise, nor in the interests of either Western or Eastern Church. Seems that it all turned out rather well in the end, except for hapless Vigilius, who died en route back to Rome. It’s as if Christ were holding things together.

    I HAVE been to several Orthodox liturgies and still marvel at how beautiful they are and how at home I feel at them, just as at high Mass. Hearing “Theotokos!” so lovingly proclaimed reminds me that Catholics and Orthodox share a deep reverence for our Mother whom Christ gave to us all, dying on His Cross. The transcendant purity of antiphonal chanting make it easy to see why the Catholic magisterium gives the chant “pride of place” in our liturgical music. It felt like entering the cozy house of a long lost relative, surrounded by the solemn dignity of the icons, with the wedding supper of the Lamb–the Eucharist–at the emotional center of the celebration, just as with the Roman rite. The Great Schism leaves in me (and, I imagine Pope Benedict XVI and John Paul II and many, many Catholics) that little heartache one gets when not invited to the wedding feast of a Groom you know and love so well.

    • Canadian

      That’s ok, I am more akin to Monty Python’s Black Knight. 🙂

      I will leave you with some succinct but biting statements of the Council fathers.
      Session VII:
      “If your blessedness (Vigilius) is willing to meet together with us and the most holy Patriarchs, and the most religious bishops, and to treat of the Three Chapters and to give, in unison with us all, a suitable form of the orthodox faith, as the Holy Apostles and the holy Fathers and the four Councils have done, we will hold thee as our head, as a father and primate……We invited him (you) to meet together with the most blessed patriarchs and other religious bishops, and with them in common to examine and judge the Three Chapters. But since you have refused to do this, and you say that you alone have written by yourself somewhat on the Three Chapters; if you have condemned them, in accordance with those things which you did before, we have already many such statements and need no more; but if you have written now something contrary to these things which were done by you before, you have condemned yourself by your own writing, since you have departed from orthodox doctrine and have defended impiety. And how can you expect us to receive such a document from you?”…….”concerning the name of Vigilius, that it be no more inserted in the holy diptychs of the Church, on account of the impiety which he defended. Neither let it be recited by you, nor retained, either in the church of the royal city, or in other churches which are intrusted to you and to the other bishops in the State committed by God to his rule.”

      Schaaf’s historical introduction shows how Vigilius issued his “Judicatum” against the heresy of the 3 Chapters in 548, but the the bishops of Africa, Illyria, and Dalmatia along with two of his own deacons withdraw from his communion as a result. In 550, the African bishops anathematize Vigilius and the pope immediately withdraws his “Judicatum”!?!? While the 5th Ecumenical is sitting, which Vigilius refused to attend, the pope issues his “Constitutum” in which he states ““We ordain and decree that it be permitted to no one who stands in ecclesiastical order of office, to write or bring forward, or undertake, or teach anything contrary to the contents of this Constitutum in regard to the Three Chapters, or, after this declaration begin a new controversy about them. And if anything has already been done or spoken in regard of the Three Chapters in contradiction of this our ordinance by anyone whomsoever, this we declare void by the authority of the Apostolic See.”
      Yet this is precicely what the 5th Council father’s rejected! And as Schaaf points out, “Pope Vigilius died on his way home, but not until, as we have seen, he had accepted and approved the action of the [5th Ecumenical] council in doing exactly that which he “by the authority of the Apostolic See” in his Constitutum had forbidden it to do.”

      So, as we can see, this is much more than just a weak pope. Twice he writes with the authority of the Apostolic See and twice he withdraws them. I say the infallibility of the Council is evident while the infallibility, and universal, supreme and immediate authority of the pope, is not. Remember, the father’s earlier stated that IF Vigilius met with them in Council they would hold him as father and head, but if he wrote something un-orthodox, he would condemn himself.

    • robertar


      I’m glad you find the Orthodox Liturgy beautiful but the important to keep in mind is that the Liturgy is a fundamental part of Holy Tradition. It plays a key role in the regulation of Orthodox doctrine and practice. The Liturgy regulates what Orthodox Christians believe and confess. When I was a Protestant I relied on systematic theology books or long statement of faiths for organizing my doctrine but as an Orthodox Christian I find the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil extremely useful for knowing what the Church teaches. I much prefer the ancient liturgies over the more recent Novus Ordo Mass which was promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1969.

      As far as being excluded from the wedding, don’t forget that it was the Roman Catholic Cardinal Humbert who placed the Bull of Excommunication on the Altar of Hagia Sophia in 1054. You guys left us! We didn’t leave you guys. You’re more than welcome to come back; just lay aside your innovations and return to your roots.

  17. Sid Ontai

    I find the Orthodox Liturgy not merely beautiful, but true; Heaven truly touches earth, Christ truly becomes one with his people, when the Orthodox priest calls upon the Holy Spirit to descend on the bread and wine that it might become His Body and His Blood.

    I would quote Hilarion Alfeyev, The Metropolitan of Volokolamsk and Head of External Relations for the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, who points out that Christians agree on “such issues as abortion, the family, and marriage” and that there should be “vigorous grassroots engagement” between Christian communions on such issues. Not so much on a bunch of Bulls from a millenium and a half ago.

    But since you bring up Saint John Chrysostom, whose golden sermons regularly grace the Liturgy of the Hours that all Roman Catholic clergy and religious are required to read daily, let me quote him regarding Christ’s Church having one visible Head, that it might be One as the Father and Son are one:

    “Peter, that head of the Apostles, the first in the Church, the friend of Christ, who received the revelation not from man but from the Father…this Peter, and when I say Peter, I mean the unbroken Rock, the unshaken foundation, the great apostle, the first of the disciples, the first called, the first to obey.” (De Eleemos III, 4, vol II, 298[300])

    “Peter was to be entrusted with the keys of the Church, or, rather, he was entrusted with the keys of heaven, and he was to be entrusted with the multitude of the people….Thus Peter, the head of the apostles, the unshaken foundation, the unbroken rock, the first in the Church, the unconquerable port, the unshaken tower…he who was to be entrusted with the Church, the pillar of the Chruch, the port of the faith, Peter the teacher of the whole world…Peter, that column, that bulwark. “(Homily of SS Peter and Elias, vol II 727[731])

    “In the Kingdom, therefore, the honors were not equal, nor were all the disciples equal, but the three were above the rest, and among these three again there was great difference, or God is exact to the last degree; ‘for one star differeth from another star in glory.’ And yet all were apostles, all will sit upon the twelve thrones, and all left their possessions, and all were with Christ. And yet he selected these three. And again, among the three, He said that some must yield or excel. For, ‘to sit on My right hand and on My left,’ He said, ‘is not Mine to give, but to them for whom it is prepared,; And he set Peter before them saying: “Lovest thou Me more than these?'”
    (Hom 32, in Rom 4, vol IX, 672[750]).

    Christ meant for the Church to be alive, vigorous, and growing, that it might master the new threats against Her, such as atheist totalitarianism. Pope John Paul II did much in conjunction with soul mates Thatcher and Reagan, but much remains to be done (there is still China). Christ commanded the Church to innovate (Rev 21:5; Jn 14:12); Catholics are just doing His will.

    • Canadian

      Appreciate your heart for unity, and good quotes from St. John but nothing there about Rome. And even when the father’s do use the lofty language of “honor” concerning the bishop of Rome, it is when he is defending the faith handed down and when he is orthodox. We eagerly wait for the day to again bestow on the patriarch of the west (Ratzinger removed this title a couple years ago) the honor of a defender of orthodoxy.

      • John

        I too noticed nothing about Rome, or Antioch for that matter where St. Peter was first long before Rome. That connection between Rome and St. Peter was never mentioned in anything you quoted, unless you left it out (assuming here that you did not).

        All I can say, Sid, is thank you for proving our point. We Orthodox also give such lofty phrases to this most blessed apostle of Christ.


  18. Sid Ontai

    Canadian and John:

    What am I allegedly proving? That the visible sign of unity for the Roman Catholic Church is a plot of dirt? That Christ gave the Keys of the Kingdom to a collection of buildings? I’m not quite understanding what you’re getting at. The Keys to the Kingdom were not given to a GPS coordinate, they were given to an Apostle, specifically Peter.

    Peter’s bones lie under the altar of the extraordinary basilica named after him, refurbished by Michelangelo with such huge cost overruns that Pope Julius II had to cook up the ill advised indulgence that caused the Protestant Reformation.

    Peter could have been martyred in Antioch or Jerusalem where he also lived, but he died in Rome. So his successor was not the Bishop of Antioch or Jerusalem, but was Saint Linus, who was Bishop of Rome.

    Here is St. John Chrysostom again on Peter as coryphaeus (the leader) of the Apostles, including St. Paul and St. James the Bishop of Jerusalem:

    “So that even though John, though James, though Paul, though any other whatsoever, appears to perform any great deed after this, yet Peter excels them all, he that was the first to make way for their boldness, and open the entrance, and to enable them to enter with great confidence, like a river carried in mighty flood…. Was he such after the Cross? Before the Cross, also, was he no more fervent than all? Was he not the mouth of the apostles, did he not speak when all were silent, etc…. And much more might he have said about Peter, to show his ferver, his courage, and his love for Christ.” (In illud, ‘in faciem ei restiti’, 376-7[365-7])

    And although he was born in Antioch and took justifiable pride in his homeland, St John Chrysostom states the obvious about St Peter, Antioch, and Rome:

    “In speaking of Peter, …this is the one great prerogative of our city [Antioch], that it received the coryphaeus of the apostles as its teacher in the beginning. For it was right that she who was first was adorned with the name of Christians [cf. Acts 11:26] before the whole world, should receive the first of the apostles as her pastor. But though we received him as teacher, we did not retain him to the end, but gave him up to Royal Rome. (Hom in inscr Act II, 6, vol III, 86[70]) ”

    Saint John Chrysostom, 37th Patriarch of Constantinople, also explains why he considers Rome so “royal”:

    “And for this it is I love Rome: though I might praise her on other grounds, for her greatness, her antiquity, her beauty, her numbers, her power, her wealth, her victories in war; but passing over all these I bless her because Paul, when living, wrote to the Romans, and love them so much, and was among them, and spoke to them, and there ended his life.
    “Whence also the city is more renowned for this than for all else; and like a great and mighty body, she has two eyes, the bodies of those two saints. The heaven is not so bright when the sun shoots forth his rays as the city of the Romans, shedding forth the light of these two lamps throughout the world. Thence shall Paul be caught up, thence Peter shall rise. Consider and be amazed! What a sight shall Rome then behold, when Paul sudden shall arise with Peter from the tomb, and be caught up to meet the Lord. What a rose shall Rome send forth to Christ! What diadems are those two, with which the city is crowned, with what chains of gold it is girded; what fountains it hath! It is for this that I admire the city, not for its much gold, for its columns, or any other fantasy, but because of these two pillars of the Church. Who will grant me to embrace the body of Paul, to cling to his sepulcher, and to see the dust of that body which ‘filled up what was wanting’ to Christ, which bore His stigmata, and sowed His teaching everywhere! … This body fortifies that city more surely than any tower or than ten thousand circumvallations, and with it the body of Peter; for while living he honored him: ‘I went up to visit Peter.’ Therefore when Paul left this world, grace vouchsafed that he should share Peter’s resting place.” (Hom 32 in Rom 2, vol IX, 678[757])

    This connection between Peter and Rome will last until the Second Coming of Christ.

    • Canadian

      Sure, that’s all fine. Nicea affirms Rome’s primacy among the patriarchates.
      But why did the 5th Ecumenical Council not submit to the supreme authority of the Roman pontiff as the Principium Unitatis? Why did they not cry out “Peter has spoken through Vigilius”?

    • John


      Again, this says nothing of the Pope’s so-called universal jurisdiction or papal supremacy. The connection you are making is fabricated by something other than the words of St. John. Why you can’t see that is beyond me. Giving lofty language to Rome is, as Canadian mentioned, “truly meet and right” (words from a hymn to the Theotokos, actually) so long as the apostolic see espouses orthodox dogma. St. John never says she shall never err, but rather speaks of the saints themselves and of their glory. While it does give Rome honor to have their relics, it doesn’t, and nor does St. John insist, bequeath to Rome universal jurisdiction. I, too, as a faithful Orthodox Christian repeat the words of this saint and not be condemned a heretic or excommunicated. The glory of any place will be magnified by the saints who dwell there bodily and St. Peter most of all (though an argument might be made for St. John the Forerunner as “most of all” by Christ’s words in the gospels as the greatest man born of woman) as the first of the apostles.

      There is nothing to preclude that the martyrdom of Sts. Peter and Paul in Rome thereby gives his, that is St. Peter’s, successors what Rome now claims for itself. If such a connection exists between St. Peter and the PAPACY, it does not exist in the texts of St. John Chrysostom. St. Peter’s successors in Antioch receive nothing less from their ordination by St. Peter merely because he wasn’t martyred there. And no canon of any council gives preeminence to Rome on account of St. Peter, but rather on account of it being the (first) capital of the empire.

  19. Tawny

    “The dogma of Transubstantiation is a doctrinal aberration that is at odds with the patristic consensus.”
    “Three, the real presence in the Eucharist — the Orthodox Church describes the real presence in the Eucharist as a Mystery. This is quite different from the Roman Church which made the doctrine of transubstantiation, which relied on the Aristotelian categories of substance and accidents, into a dogma. The Orthodox confessional statement, the Confession of Dositheus, did use similar language but did not mandate this language. It’s important to keep in mind that a one time occurrence of an idea does not make it an Orthodox tradition. The main thrust of the Confession of Dositheus was the rejection of Calvinism. I’m sure that as a good Roman Catholic you would affirm that the categories of substance and accidents are necessary and required for explaining the real presence in the Eucharist; this is something that I could not affirm as an Orthodox Christian.”
    After reading the link you supplied on Transubstantiation and comments concerning this topic, it sounds to me that Orthodox and Catholics believe exactly the same thing in regards to the Eucharist and what’s really happening is a fight over the word to describe the act. It sounds as if the Orthodox simply want to maintain their independence and so they argue over the use of a word. They insist that a change is happened but they don’t explain the manner of this change but use the word which means to “turnabout” “change” “alter”. “”It is true that in the seventeenth century not only individual Orthodox writers, but Orthodox councils such as that of Jerusalem in 1672, made use of the Latin term ‘transubstantiation’ (in Greek, metousiosis), together with the Scholastic distinction between substance and accidents. But at the same time the Fathers of Jerusalem were careful to add that the use of these terms does not constitute an explanation of the manner of the change, since this is a mystery and must always remain incomprehensible.”
    So Orthodox want the “manner of the change” to remain a “mystery” and are upset that the Catholic Church has tried to clarify to the mind so that it no longer seems a colossal contradiction or impossibility?

    • robertar

      Hi Tawny,

      Thank you for joining the discussion! Orthodoxy wants the manner of change to remain a mystery because that is how the Church Fathers approached the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. We do not object to the Roman Catholic Church’s clarification as to its making this “clarification” into a dogma required of all Christians. If I understand the nature of Catholic dogma, if one refuses to accept the dogma then one is anathematized by the Catholic Church. Our theology follows the patristic consensus, not the pronouncements of the Pope. The patristic consensus approach is based on the assumption that the Church Fathers as successors to the Apostles taken as a collective whole reflect Apostolic Tradition. One individual bishop may have an idiosyncratic or mistaken but taken as a whole the Church Fathers faithfully taught the Apostolic Tradition to the Church. So to summarize Orthodoxy follows the teachings of the Church Fathers while Roman Catholics follow the teachings of the Pope.


      • Tawny

        Hi. Thanks for the response.

        Wasn’t Saint Peter the first Pope(head of the church or Bishop of Rome) and didn’t Jesus build his Church on this Rock? So wouldn’t it make sense for him to have a successor?

        If you are all Christians shouldn’t you be one body in unison proclaiming the same philosophical thoughts instead of 35,000-40,000 different interpretations? Wouldn’t you be stronger unified instead of watered down, using the unity to push back against the cultural rot that is pervasive throughout the World. Is there evidence from a link or a book which lays out that the early Fathers wanted the change to remain a mystery?
        Did the Pope do this for power? Was he purposely ignoring the Early Fathers? If I don’t believe it’s a mystery but I believe in Transubstantiation can I join the Orthodox church or does that make me Catholic and I’d have to join the Catholic Church?

        Thanks for your help.

        • Tawny


          Why do Calvinists say they believe in the Real Presence and then call the bread and wine a symbol that when they eat then the Jesus Christ enters them if they are faithful Christians? It doesn’t make sense to me. How could something be a symbol and yet the body of Christ? It sounds like circular logic but maybe I’m missing something can this be explained?

          • Bayou Huguenot

            All turns on the term “real.” Was Christ really a wooden door in John 6? And the problem isn’t limited to Calvinists. Henri Cardinal de Lubac wrote a book (Corpus Mysticum) showing how Rome never could satisfactorily answer the question, and he was a Catholic.

            You mentioned circular logic. I don’t really see how that follows. That would have made sense had you demonstrated that Calvinists’ premise and conclusion are the same term, which I haven’t seen Calvinists accused of that.

            When Christ said ‘the cup was his blood,’ and also, that ‘the cup was the new testament,’ doesn’t everyone commit “symbolic” interpretation at that point? Was the spatially-extended wood or metal actually identical with his “blood?” In other words, did solid = liquid at the same place in the same time? Everyone uses symbolism when they interpret his words at the supper.

            Further, it seems that Rome is actually making Christ’s words to say, “This bread is [changed into] my body,” which is an entirely different set of terms from “This bread is my body.”

          • Canadian

            The Calvinists do not believe Christ is present in the elements at all. Calvin believed that because Christ was bodily in heaven, that only worthy partakers of the sacrament soared into heaven spiritually to partake of Christ there and this only by faith. The partaking is spiritually “real” in their view, but Christ was not bodily or materially present. This was a novel idea and doesn’t comport with the scripture or the historical church. St. Paul makes clear that the “blessed” cup (obviously the contents and not the cup itself) and bread is a “participation” in the body and blood of Christ. Notice in 1 Cor 11 that the unworthy partakers receive judgement rather than blessing in the act of eating and drinking, “not discerning the Lord’s body” in that act, and are “guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.” Remember, this is no ordinary flesh and blood, but the deified body and blood of the Lord himself.

  20. Tawny


    Thanks for clearing this up. A Calvinist was telling me they believed in the Real Presence and they gave me to read Short Treatise on the Supper of Our Lord. I had been reading about the Real Presence as regarded in the Orthodox and Catholic Church and when reading The Treatise I was confused with statements like this:

    ” it follows that in order to have our life in Christ our souls must feed on his body and blood as their proper food. This, then, is expressly attested in the Supper, when of the bread it is said to us that we are to take it and eat it, and that it is his body, and of the cup that we are to drink it, and that it is his blood. This is expressly spoken of the body and blood, in order that we may learn to seek there the substance of our spiritual life.”

    I did not understand the spiritually “real” concept as the man I spoke with insisted their belief in the Real Presence in regards, I thought, to my understanding of it.

    In regards to my comment on circular logic I said I might be missing something and that seems to be the case.

    “All turns on the term “real.” Was Christ really a wooden door in John 6?”
    Yes, he did use phrases such as “I am the door” and “I am the true vine” and they are obvious and unavoidable symbols in that he was describing himself as the door to paradise and a vine through which we obtain spiritual sustenance. Yes, bread can feed a person, but blood is not a usual means of quenching thirst, and to the Jews, drinking blood would be an unpardonable act. Jesus pretty much insists that his followers eat, chew his flesh something substantially different from using a gentle and appropriate metaphor of a door or a vine.
    In the synagogue at Capernaum when his Jewish followers asked Jesus to give them a sign so they could fully believe in him and his teaching. They referred to their history how when Moses led them in the desert they were hungry and Manna appeared to feed them. Jesus said that the real heavenly bread comes from God, and when his followers asked for this bread he told them what he meant.
    “I am the bread of life” “whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst”. At this point they understood him to be speaking metaphorically. Then he continues ” I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The reaction of his devout Jewish followers was important and cannot be dismissed. They said “this is a hard saying, who can listen to it” and began to argue. It was not another parable. He then goes on to repeat this and is more insistent. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, YOU HAVE NO LIFE WITHIN YOU; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has 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 WHO EATS MY FLESH AND DRINKS MY BLOOD ABIDES IN ME, AND I IN HIM.”
    Because of this “many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him.”
    Jesus doesn’t stop any of them and try to explain he meant something else.
    The historical evidence is available and shows how literally the early church understood this concept.
    Further, it seems that Rome is actually making Christ’s words to say, “This bread is [changed into] my body,” which is an entirely different set of terms from “This bread is my body.”———

    Which is entirely different than “This bread (is a symbol)of my body”

    • Canadian

      In addition, Rome insists dogmatically that there is no longer any bread or wine left on the table only the appearance of such. We would not insist on such surmisings of the molecular level. The deified body and blood is substantially present on the table and partaken of either to blessing or to judgement, that is all we know.

      • Tawny

        If it is only the appearance of bread and wine wouldn’t it make sense that the substance would have to be the body of Christ? It can’t be the substance of bread and the body, can it?

    • Karen

      Tawny writes, “Which is entirely different than, “This bread (is a symbol) of my body”

      Yes, quite. Except that it is helpful to understand that the modern sense of “symbol” as only picturing the reality to which it points in a metaphorical way, not making it truly present, is quite different than the literal meaning in the ancient world, which (if I remember correctly) meant to bring two realities together (in this case, the material and spiritual). Materially, we have bread and wine in the Eucharist, but by the action of the Holy Spirit, these become spiritually the deified Body and Blood of our Lord. For those for whom the term “spiritually” may have the unbiblical connotation of “conceptually/mentally” or “metaphorically,” it may be important to point out that from an Orthodox perspective, the “spiritual” represents a more truly substantial and weighty reality than the merely material–it is related to the Presence of Christ/God Himself.

      • Tawny

        Neither does he say” This bread is (like) my body. ”

        “). Materially, we have bread and wine in the Eucharist, but by the action of the Holy Spirit, these become spiritually the deified Body and Blood of our Lord. For those for whom the term “spiritually” may have the unbiblical connotation of “conceptually/mentally” or “metaphorically,” it may be important to point out that from an Orthodox perspective, the “spiritual” represents a more truly substantial and weighty reality than the merely material–it is related to the Presence of Christ/God Himself.”

        I’m a little confused at what you are trying to get across? That you believe it is symbolism bringing two realities together (material and spiritual)? Because he there “spiritually” the substance of bread and wine need not change? Doesn’t this all mean that it is merely a symbol to you? I’m a little confused and if you can clear it up, great.


        • Karen


          If I understand correctly, Orthodox teach that the consecrated Bread and Wine, remain materially Bread and Wine, but no longer *ordinary* bread and wine. They are changed and become the Body and Blood of Christ in the form of Bread and Wine. I’m not versed in the philosophical implications of using the terms “substance” and “accident,” and I think Orthodox are not comfortable trying to define how this change occurs (as if our philosophical categories can really capture that Mystery) but insofar as these are intended to mean there is a true change, I accept the Orthodox teaching.

          My point, speaking as a former low-church Protestant, was to try to get across the difference between the impression I had as a Protestant of the meaning of this ritual and what I now understand as an Orthodox. For a low-church Protestant, to say the cracker and grape juice are “symbols” of Christ’s Body and Blood means they are *not* “really” His Body and Blood, but rather were props for a sort of mental object lesson only, and the rite amounted to a mental exercise in remembering the historic event of Christ’s sacrifice. For an Orthodox, to say something symbolizes another thing in the sense the Eucharist symbolizes Christ’s Body and Blood is to acknowledge that it also actualizes that thing and makes it present. In the Eucharist this means that I am bodily (as well as spiritually) feeding on Christ when I receive the Bread and Wine of the Eucharist and am being constituted as a member of Christ’s Body.

          Does that help?

          • Tawny

            Yes, it does. Thanks for your response.

    • Bayou Huguenot

      If you read Protestant dogmatics you will see a repeated emphasis that Christ is really there–however it may be understood–and that the faithful to *feed* on him, albeit not in a carnal manner.

      Now, you may say that’s wrong and novel and yada yada yada. Fine. Perhaps it is. I am simply explicating the Protestant view while clearing up some misunderstandings.

  21. Bayou Huguenot

    Let’s ask the question a different way:

    “On what grounds do you worship/venerate/adore (I gave up trying to distinguish those terms) the bread and wine?”

    • Canadian

      We don’t. It would be idolatry to adore bread and wine. As expected of us by St. Paul, we “discern the Lord’s body” and consciously and intentionally adore Christ our God.
      St. John Damacene says “Wherefore with all fear and a pure conscience and certain faith let us draw near…..let us pay homage to it in all purity both of soul and body, for it is twofold. Let us draw near….with our hands held in the form of a cross and let us receive the body of the crucified one…..Isaiah saw the coal but coal is not plain wood but wood united with fire: in like manner also the bread of the communion is not plain bread but bread united with divinity.” On The Orthodox Faith Book IV ch13.

      The eucharist is not reserved for veneration in Orthodoxy. As you can see above, reverence is given as the communicant is approaching to partake.

    • Tawny

      If the Eucharist is the body of Christ why would you not raise it up and adore as you are about to abide in Christ and he in you?

  22. Sid Ontai

    A lot of the Orthodox/Catholic conflict still seems to turn on the notion that it is silly to think the Bishop of Rome could be infallible in matters of faith and morals, but perfectly sensible to think that a whole bunch of Bishops (that is, an Ecumenical Council, which hasn’t met in 1200 years) could be infallible in matters of faith and morals. I’ll let someone way more knowledgeable and articulate than I (Roman Catholic Bishop Brom of San Diego) lay out the Catholic position on Papal Infallibility:

    The Catholic Church’s teaching on papal infallibility is one which is generally misunderstood by those outside the Church. In particular, Fundamentalists and other “Bible Christians” often confuse the charism of papal “infallibility” with “impeccability.” They imagine Catholics believe the pope cannot sin. Others, who avoid this elementary blunder, think the pope relies on some sort of amulet or magical incantation when an infallible definition is due. 
    Given these common misapprehensions regarding the basic tenets of papal infallibility, it is necessary to explain exactly what infallibility is not. Infallibility is not the absence of sin. Nor is it a charism that belongs only to the pope. Indeed, infallibility also belongs to the body of bishops as a whole, when, in doctrinal unity with the pope, they solemnly teach a doctrine as true. We have this from Jesus himself, who promised the apostles and their successors the bishops, the magisterium of the Church: “He who hears you hears me” (Luke 10:16), and “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven” (Matt. 18:18). 
    Vatican II’s Explanation

    Vatican II explained the doctrine of infallibility as follows: “Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they can nevertheless proclaim Christ’s doctrine infallibly. This is so, even when they are dispersed around the world, provided that while maintaining the bond of unity among themselves and with Peter’s successor, and while teaching authentically on a matter of faith or morals, they concur in a single viewpoint as the one which must be held conclusively. This authority is even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church. Their definitions must then be adhered to with the submission of faith” (Lumen Gentium 25). 
    Infallibility belongs in a special way to the pope as head of the bishops (Matt. 16:17–19; John 21:15–17). As Vatican II remarked, it is a charism the pope “enjoys in virtue of his office, when, as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith (Luke 22:32), he proclaims by a definitive act some doctrine of faith or morals. Therefore his definitions, of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church, are justly held irreformable, for they are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, an assistance promised to him in blessed Peter.” 
    The infallibility of the pope is not a doctrine that suddenly appeared in Church teaching; rather, it is a doctrine which was implicit in the early Church. It is only our understanding of infallibility which has developed and been more clearly understood over time. In fact, the doctrine of infallibility is implicit in these Petrine texts: John 21:15–17 (“Feed my sheep . . . “), Luke 22:32 (“I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail”), and Matthew 16:18 (“You are Peter . . . “). 
    Based on Christ’s Mandate

    Christ instructed the Church to preach everything he taught (Matt. 28:19–20) and promised the protection of the Holy Spirit to “guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13). That mandate and that promise guarantee the Church will never fall away from his teachings (Matt. 16:18, 1 Tim. 3:15), even if individual Catholics might. 
    As Christians began to more clearly understand the teaching authority of the Church and of the primacy of the pope, they developed a clearer understanding of the pope’s infallibility. This development of the faithful’s understanding has its clear beginnings in the early Church. For example, Cyprian of Carthage, writing about 256, put the question this way, “Would the heretics dare to come to the very seat of Peter whence apostolic faith is derived and whither no errors can come?” (Letters 59 [55], 14). In the fifth century, Augustine succinctly captured the ancient attitude when he remarked, “Rome has spoken; the case is concluded” (Sermons 131, 10). 
    Some Clarifications

    An infallible pronouncement—whether made by the pope alone or by an ecumenical council—usually is made only when some doctrine has been called into question. Most doctrines have never been doubted by the large majority of Catholics. 
    Pick up a catechism and look at the great number of doctrines, most of which have never been formally defined. But many points have been defined, and not just by the pope alone. There are, in fact, many major topics on which it would be impossible for a pope to make an infallible definition without duplicating one or more infallible pronouncements from ecumenical councils or the ordinary magisterium (teaching authority) of the Church. 
    At least the outline, if not the references, of the preceding paragraphs should be familiar to literate Catholics, to whom this subject should appear straightforward. It is a different story with “Bible Christians.” For them papal infallibility often seems a muddle because their idea of what it encompasses is often incorrect. 
    Some ask how popes can be infallible if some of them lived scandalously. This objection of course, illustrates the common confusion between infallibility and impeccability. There is no guarantee that popes won’t sin or give bad example. (The truly remarkable thing is the great degree of sanctity found in the papacy throughout history; the “bad popes” stand out precisely because they are so rare.) 
    Other people wonder how infallibility could exist if some popes disagreed with others. This, too, shows an inaccurate understanding of infallibility, which applies only to solemn, official teachings on faith and morals, not to disciplinary decisions or even to unofficial comments on faith and morals. A pope’s private theological opinions are not infallible, only what he solemnly defines is considered to be infallible teaching. 
    Even Fundamentalists and Evangelicals who do not have these common misunderstandings often think infallibility means that popes are given some special grace that allows them to teach positively whatever truths need to be known, but that is not quite correct, either. Infallibility is not a substitute for theological study on the part of the pope. 
    What infallibility does do is prevent a pope from solemnly and formally teaching as “truth” something that is, in fact, error. It does not help him know what is true, nor does it “inspire” him to teach what is true. He has to learn the truth the way we all do—through study—though, to be sure, he has certain advantages because of his position. 
    Peter Not Infallible?

    As a biblical example of papal fallibility, Fundamentalists like to point to Peter’s conduct at Antioch, where he refused to eat with Gentile Christians in order not to offend certain Jews from Palestine (Gal. 2:11–16). For this Paul rebuked him. Did this demonstrate papal infallibility was non-existent? Not at all. Peter’s actions had to do with matters of discipline, not with issues of faith or morals. 
    Furthermore, the problem was Peter’s actions, not his teaching. Paul acknowledged that Peter very well knew the correct teaching (Gal. 2:12–13). The problem was that he wasn’t living up to his own teaching. Thus, in this instance, Peter was not doing any teaching; much less was he solemnly defining a matter of faith or morals. 
    Fundamentalists must also acknowledge that Peter did have some kind of infallibility—they cannot deny that he wrote two infallible epistles of the New Testament while under protection against writing error. So, if his behavior at Antioch was not incompatible with this kind of infallibility, neither is bad behavior contrary to papal infallibility in general. 
    Turning to history, critics of the Church cite certain “errors of the popes.” Their argument is really reduced to three cases, those of Popes Liberius, Vigilius, and Honorius, the three cases to which all opponents of papal infallibility turn; because they are the only cases that do not collapse as soon as they are mentioned. There is no point in giving the details here—any good history of the Church will supply the facts—but it is enough to note that none of the cases meet the requirements outlined by the description of papal infallibility given at Vatican I (cf. Pastor Aeternus 4). 
    Their “Favorite Case”

    According to Fundamentalist commentators, their best case lies with Pope Honorius. They say he specifically taught Monothelitism, a heresy that held that Christ had only one will (a divine one), not two wills (a divine one and a human one) as all orthodox Christians hold. 
    But that’s not at all what Honorius did. Even a quick review of the records shows he simply decided not to make a decision at all. As Ronald Knox explained, “To the best of his human wisdom, he thought the controversy ought to be left unsettled, for the greater peace of the Church. In fact, he was an inopportunist. We, wise after the event, say that he was wrong. But nobody, I think, has ever claimed that the pope is infallible in not defining a doctrine.” 
    Knox wrote to Arnold Lunn (a future convert who would become a great apologist for the faith—their correspondence is found in the book Difficulties): “Has it ever occurred to you how few are the alleged ‘failures of infallibility’? I mean, if somebody propounded in your presence the thesis that all the kings of England have been impeccable, you would not find yourself murmuring, ‘Oh, well, people said rather unpleasant things about Jane Shore . . . and the best historians seem to think that Charles II spent too much of his time with Nell Gwynn.’ Here have these popes been, fulminating anathema after anathema for centuries—certain in all human probability to contradict themselves or one another over again. Instead of which you get this measly crop of two or three alleged failures!” While Knox’s observation does not establish the truth of papal infallibility, it does show that the historical argument against infallibility is weak. 
    The rejection of papal infallibility by “Bible Christians” stems from their view of the Church. They do not think Christ established a visible Church, which means they do not believe in a hierarchy of bishops headed by the pope. 
    This is no place to give an elaborate demonstration of the establishment of a visible Church. But it is simple enough to point out that the New Testament shows the apostles setting up, after their Master’s instructions, a visible organization, and that every Christian writer in the early centuries—in fact, nearly all Christians until the Reformation—fully recognized that Christ set up an ongoing organization. 
    One example of this ancient belief comes to us from Ignatius of Antioch. In his second-century letter to the church in Smyrna, he wrote, “Wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church” (Letter to the Smyrnaeans, 8, 1 [A.D. 110]). 
    If Christ did set up such an organization, he must have provided for its continuation, for its easy identification (that is, it had to be visible so it could be found), and, since he would be gone from earth, for some method by which it could preserve his teachings intact. 
    All this was accomplished through the apostolic succession of bishops, and the preservation of the Christian message, in its fullness, was guaranteed through the gift of infallibility, of the Church as a whole, but mainly through its Christ-appointed leaders, the bishops (as a whole) and the pope (as an individual). 
    It is the Holy Spirit who prevents the pope from officially teaching error, and this charism follows necessarily from the existence of the Church itself. If, as Christ promised, the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church then it must be protected from fundamentally falling into error and thus away from Christ. It must prove itself to be a perfectly steady guide in matters pertaining to salvation. 
    Of course, infallibility does not include a guarantee that any particular pope won’t “neglect” to teach the truth, or that he will be sinless, or that mere disciplinary decisions will be intelligently made. It would be nice if he were omniscient or impeccable, but his not being so will fail to bring about the destruction of the Church. 
    But he must be able to teach rightly, since instruction for the sake of salvation is a primary function of the Church. For men to be saved, they must know what is to be believed. They must have a perfectly steady rock to build upon and to trust as the source of solemn Christian teaching. And that’s why papal infallibility exists. 
    Since Christ said the gates of hell would not prevail against his Church (Matt. 16:18b), this means that his Church can never pass out of existence. But if the Church ever apostasized by teaching heresy, then it would cease to exist; because it would cease to be Jesus’ Church. Thus the Church cannot teach heresy, meaning that anything it solemnly defines for the faithful to believe is true. This same reality is reflected in the Apostle Paul’s statement that the Church is “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). If the Church is the foundation of religious truth in this world, then it is God’s own spokesman. As Christ told his disciples: “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16). 

    NIHIL OBSTAT: I have concluded that the materials 
presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors. 
Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004 
    IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827
permission to publish this work is hereby granted. 
+Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004

    • robertar


      Your comment is excessive in length. Please try to keep it to a more moderate length.

      It’s fine to cite Roman Catholic authorities like Bishop Brom but keep in mind that many of the visitors here are Protestants or Orthodox. It’s important to find common ground like Scripture or the early Church Fathers prior to the Schism of 1054.

      Keep in mind the image of the bridge where individuals from different traditions can meet and talk about Jesus Christ and his Church. It’s okay to reference Bishop Brom but lengthy quotes from him is almost like a Protestant pasting his pastor’s sermon on the issue on this site. We want to hear your unique voice, not some “tape recording” message of another person. That way we can have a real conversation among real individuals. Of course if Bishop Brom wants to personally comment on this site he is more than welcome to do so.


    • Prometheus

      The way I understand Orthodoxy at this point (please correct me if I am wrong) is that even council’s are not authoritative or infallible unless they are accepted by the whole church (specifically with agreement of the pentarchy, if I follow what seems to be Robert’s description). In theory it sounds messier than the Catholic view, but it seems to make sense of the data better than either papal primacy or the conciliar model (at least as misunderstood by many). To those of us outside the Catholic Church, papal primacy seems to have been undermined on several occasions. Hence the need for Catholics to explain how the pope is the uniting principle of the church while we have much evidence that collegiality a) creates the pope b) decides between rival popes c) can contradict the authoritative pronouncements of a pope d) can anathamatize a pope. Also, your arguments, Sid, that there is a need for more ecumenical councils and an individual leader are not obvious to all of us. Communion between autocephalous churches in faith and practice seems reasonable to some of us. Why is this a problem? While there has not been an ecumenical council in the Orthodox Church since the great schism, there has been a consensus within the church as a whole over various issues. One of the most famous is the hesychastic controversy and the definition of energies and essence. Another example would be the rejection of Calvinism. Both constitute definitive definitions that were not promulgated through an ecumenical council. Neither the pope nor a council in-and-of itself is infallible (as far as I can tell), but rather the consensus of the church as it is led by the Holy Spirit. It just so happens that, pre-schism, many of the infallible teachings of the church were defined by certain councils and in communion with the bishop of Rome. Many other infallible teachings have been passed on without being defined by a council or with official agreement of the bishop of Rome (even sometimes out of communion with him) which are nonetheless affirmed by the church.

  23. Sid Ontai

    Had you read his very tightly argued post, which is shorter than some of my others and than yours which started this thread, you might have noted Bishop Brom’s numerous quotes from early Church Fathers prior to the Schism of 1054 and from Scripture. Since Sacred Scripture is a sort of a “tape recording” of Jesus Christ, or at least the best 1st century technology had to offer, I suppose I am banned from your blog until I get Him to personally post a comment, to keep it real: none of this pasting the Bible stuff? I get it.

    Parting comment: I am totally in solidarity with you on rejecting the cafeteria Catholicism of your Berkeley Newman center experience; I think it was (and is) a terrible malady in our Church that has much to do with the scourge of sex abuse in our clergy. Peace, Robert! Stacey really enjoyed talking with you.

    • robertar


      You misunderstand me. I have not banned you from this site. I just want you to speak in your own voice.



      P.S. Tell Stacey I said hi.

  24. Canadian

    Most of your quote is straw man slaying. I have not brought up issues with misunderstandings of Catholic dogma. I know about sinful popes, or popes speaking personally and not authoritatively etc. But you guys can’t even agree on how many solemn official teachings the popes have over the years.
    Your post stated: “Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they can nevertheless proclaim Christ’s doctrine infallibly. This is so, even when they are dispersed around the world, provided that while maintaining the bond of unity among themselves and with Peter’s successor, and while teaching authentically on a matter of faith or morals, they concur in a single viewpoint as the one which must be held conclusively. This authority is even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church. Their definitions must then be adhered to with the submission of faith” (Lumen Gentium 25). ”
    Infallibility is given to the bishops in an Ecumenical council but only when in communion with the Bishop of Rome, but I have shown you that this did not play out this way for the 5th Ecumenical. Vigilius wrote and spoke with the authority of the apostolic see and it was shot down INFALLIBLY by the INFALLIBLE Council.
    Again you quoted from Vatican II: “Therefore his definitions, of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church, are justly held irreformable, for they are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, an assistance promised to him in blessed Peter.”
    Vigilius’ authoritive definitions were overruled by the conciliar consent of the Council by the assistance of the Holy Spirit, as you also hold that Council to be infallible. Your bishops of Constance were not in communion with any of the 3 popes when they had to exercise an “infallible” Council (on Rome’s terms) to select a new pope.

    The 869 Council which you now call your 8th Ecumenical was annulled by Pope John VIII:
    “Pope John VIII’s Commonitorium or Mandatum ch. 10, which was read by the papal legates at the third Session of the same [869] Council, we find the following: “We [Pope John VIII] wish that it is declared before the Synod, that the Synod which took place against the aforementioned Patriarch Photios at the time of Hadrian, the Most holy Pope in Rome, and [the Synod] in Constantinople [869/70] should be ostracized from this present moment and be regarded as annulled and groundless, and should not be co-enumerated with any other holy Synods.” The minutes at this point add: “The Holy Synod responded: We have denounced this by our actions and we eject it from the archives and anathematize the so-called [Eighth] Synod, being united to Photios our Most Holy Patriarch. We also anathematize those who fail to eject what was written or said against him by the aforementioned by yourselves, the so-called [Eighth] Synod.”

    No, this is not a missunderstanding of Catholic dogma, but an expose of it.
    Albeit, not an infallible one 🙂

    • Canadian

      Oooops. The above quote:
      “Pope John VIII’s Commonitorium or Mandatum ch. 10, which was read by the papal legates at the third Session of the same [869] Council…..”
      should be [879] and not [869]. The rest of the dates in brackets are in the original quote and are correct.

  25. Jeff

    I came across this article at a great time in my life. Through a process too long to explain in this post, I am a Protestant who has come to a catholic understanding of Christianity. I’ve been assuming that I would eventually become Roman Catholic, but I plan to take your advice to not rush and take my time. I have been reading the early church fathers.

    I have found Newman’s idea of the development of Christian doctrine convincing. How would Orthodoxy view Matthew 16:18-19?

    • robertar

      Hi Jeff,

      I’m glad you found the article helpful. One useful resource is the Orthodox Study Bible. The note for Matthew 16:18 says that the rock refers to “the faith of his confession.” This note is based upon John Chrysostom’s commentary. I also have a commentary by Ambrose of Milan. He’s the bishop who brought Augustine to faith in Christ. Saint Ambrose wrote: “Your Faith is a rock, and faith is the foundation of the Church. If ye will be a rock, ye will be in the Church, because the Church is upon a Rock.” (from Exposition of the Holy Gospel According to Saint Luke, p. 229. Translated by Theodosia Tomkinson.)


      • Jeff

        Is there any website that lists all of the Orthodox churches in the US, not just those from one group? Are all of the various Orthodox…groups “in fellowship” with one another basically?

        • robertar


          One good site is the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central Americas. This site has a listing of canonical bishops, priests, parishes, and monasteries.

          Yes, these groups are in communion with each other. Recently in Hawaii there was an OCA (Orthodox Church in America) priest who was assigned to a ROCOR (Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia) parish. He would also fill in for the priest at a nearby Greek Orthodox church when that priest went on vacation. We are making progress towards an American Orthodox Church!


          • Jeff

            Thanks! The nearest Orthodox church to where I live is more than an hour from where I live.

            There is a church in the group below just a few miles from where I live. I guess it isn’t Orthodox, but it seemed similar.


          • robertar


            I visited their website and was impressed by how similar their beliefs are to the Orthodox Church. But you’re right they are not canonically Orthodox. I went to the website for the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishop and typed in the location for pittstate.edu.

            My suggestion is that you visit the nearest canonical Orthodox church and tell the priest there about your interest and your current circumstances. You could also contact the Orthodox Christian Fellowship about starting a student group at your school.

            God bless!


    • Canadian

      Welcome to the journey and be careful to not dismiss the deeply spiritual and mystical life that is preserved in Orthodoxy compared to Rome’s “development”.

      What is important to note is that the fathers and the Council’s are not afraid to give lofty praise to popes, not as infallible guarantors of truth but as heirs of the highest apostle when defending the apostolic truth in accordance with Rome’s position as “first see of the Universal church.”
      You may have noticed in comments above how the 5th Ecumenical council viewed the un-orthodox, sitting pope Vigilius. Here are a couple portions of the 6th Council in relation to pope Agatho’s orthodox theology: [text in brackets mine].
      “Thereafter being inspired by the Holy Ghost [the Council], and all agreeing and consenting together, and GIVING OUR APPROVAL to the doctrinal letter of our most blessed and exalted pope, Agatho……”
      “But the highest prince of the apostles [Peter] fought with us, for we had on our side his IMITATOR and the successor of his see, who also SET FORTH IN HIS LETTER the mystery of the divine word. For the ancient city of Rome handed thee A CONFESSION OF DIVINE CHARACTER…..and Peter SPOKE through pope Agatho” Prosphoneticus to the Emporer.

      “Therefore to thee as to the bishop of the first see of the Universal Church we leave what must be done, since you WILLINGLY [not automatically] take for your standing ground the firm rock of the faith, as we know FROM HAVING READ YOUR TRUE CONFESSION IN THE LETTER sent by your fatherly beatitude to the most pious emporer; and we acknowlege THAT THIS LETTER WAS DIVINELY WRITTEN AS BY THE CHIEF OF THE APOSTLES.”
      Letter of the Council to St. Agatho.

      The pope was not seen to have supreme, universal, full and immediate authority automatically, but when defending the faith of Peter, the apostolic and Orthodox faith, he is showered with honor as the first see of the universal church. We long to be able to do this once again, God willing.

      • Jeff

        Thanks, Canadian.
        I was reading on some Orthodox website recently and it mentioned the importance of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving in Orthodoxy. I was reminded instantly of the Sermon on the Mount: when you give alms, when you pray, when you fast.

        Would you say that this emphasis is normative for Orthodox churches and Christians?

        • robertar


          Let me answer that the emphasis on prayer, fasting, and almsgiving is normative for Orthodox Christians. The best way to find out is to ask the local Orthodox priest.


          • Charlie

            — and, to be sure ‘the Breaking of Bread’: (Acts 2,42)

  26. David Brent


    This has been a good post and the replies have been worth reading. I learn a lot just from the replies. Thank to all.

    I’m curious. What would it take for the Holy Catholic Church Anglican Rite that Jeff mentions above to be considered canonically Orthodox? If they:

    1. Have preserved Apostolic Succession
    2. Have accepted/maintained the doctrines of the ancient Church, which have been ‘believed everywhere, always, and by all”
    3. Practice a liturgy devoid of heresy
    4. Hold to Tradition
    5. Rightly handle the Eucharist

    What more is there? I know I’m still learning.

    Is it because the Church of England (pre schism and pre Henry VIII) had not properly submitted to the Patriarchs of one of the Episcopal sees of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, or Jerusalem?

    Is it because of questions/concerns about the legitimacy of their apostolic succession claim?

    In the true sense of the word Orthodox, what makes these people not Orthodox?

    Thanks Robert.

    • robertar


      Great question! The missing element seems to be apostolic succession. I know that is first on the list you made but apostolic succession is really about relationship and communion. Their bishop has to be in communion with other bishops who stand in apostolic succession and who are part of the Church catholic.

      I visited the Wikipedia article “Holy Catholic Church – Western Rite” and for “Anglican Catholic Church” and from what I can tell it seems they are part of a continuing Anglican group that broke of from the Church of England. The problem with continuing Anglican churches is that their claim to apostolic succession suffers from several disruptions: the 1054 Schism between Rome and the other patriarchates, and the more recent break with the Church of England. If you are interested you can see my posting on apostolic succession.

      But let’s say I was driving through the neighborhood one weekend stopped by at one of their churches. I walk in and meet the parish priest and ask, “Are you an Orthodox priest? and Is this an Orthodox parish?” He could say, “Yes, we are Orthodox” but that is not enough. He could go through the list you mentioned and I would be very impressed but that still would not be enough.

      To cut to the chase, I would ask: “Who is your bishop and is he in communion with Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople?” If the answer is “Yes” I would quite likely stay for the Liturgy and receive communion from the priest. Then when I get home I would check with my priest saying I went to such-and-such church that claims to be Orthodox and claims so-and-so is their bishop and that he is in communion with the Patriarch of Constantinople. If I was misinformed and acted in contradiction to Orthodoxy then the priest can give me a word of advice or a little scolding. I don’t think I would be disciplined because it was not my intention to receive Communion outside the Church and I did my best to ascertain that it was an Orthodox Church.

      Bottom line, a congregation cannot just label itself big “O” Orthodox and adopt all the beliefs and practices of Orthodox Churches. This is all very admirable but Orthodoxy is ultimately receiving Holy Tradition from those who have it received from others who received it from the Apostles. An Orthodox parish is one that is under the authority of a bishop who is a successor to the Apostles. This is the story of a group of Evangelicals who adopted the practices of the early Church and in time realized that to be truly Orthodox they needed to come under the authority of Orthodox bishops. You can read about it in Peter Gillquist’s “Becoming Orthodox.” There are some old videos on YouTube about the Evangelical Orthodox you might find interesting.


  27. David Brent

    Thanks for taking the time to answer!

  28. David Brent

    . . . and thanks for helping me dig out of ignorance without telling me that I’m ignorant.

  29. Kristofer Carlson

    Bishop Jonah, former Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church of America, addressed the ACNA Assembly in 2009, and stated what it would take for full communion between the ACNA and the Orthodox:

    “Full affirmation of the orthodox Faith of the Apostles and Church Fathers, the seven Ecumenical Councils, the Nicene Creed in its original form (without the filioque clause inserted at the Council of Toledo, 589 A.D.), all seven Sacraments and a rejection of ‘the heresies of the Reformation.”

    His Beatitude listed these in a series of ‘isms’; Calvinism, anti-sacramentalism, iconoclasm and Gnosticism. The ordination of women to the Presbyterate and their consecration as Bishops has to end if intercommunion is to occur.

    • H. Kelley

      Yup, those women must get back in the place that men decided they must hold. It would be very interesting to find out from God how He really feels about females serving in the Church, since originally He created both male and female to have dominion. To think that God has no place for His daughters to serve in the Church apart singing, cooking, serving on the local church council and contributing their money to the care of the Church. Could it be that God promotes misogynism, or did some of the early church fathers? Or could that just be one of the many ‘isms that His Beatitude wrestles with? When we all stand before God I firmly believe that many of our firmly established boxes will be dealt a deathblow.

      Also I have visited several Orthodox Churches–Antiochian, Greek, OCA, Coptic. Apart from the OCA, I experienced such coldness and a feeling of not being wanted, which makes becoming Eastern Orthodox a real challenge. Having studied Orthodoxy for the past 7 yrs, I so appreciate and value its beauty of liturgy and Tradition. However, it’s ethnocentr’ism’ makes it hard to feel a part of the Church. Western Rites (if there was one in the State I live in) might prove to be more inviting to anyone who is not originally from one of the ethnic countries (Russian, Serbian, Romanian, Armenian, Albanian, Carpatho-Russian, etc.).

      • robertar

        Dear H. Kelley,

        Thank you for being open with your feelings. I’m sorry to hear about your negative experiences with Orthodox parishes. I pray that one day soon you will find a warm welcoming Orthodox parish.

        As for the women having a limited role, I think Frederica Mathewes-Green is a good example of the active role women can and do have in the Orthodox Church. Perhaps you should visit her site Frederica.com and write her.


  30. John Lorenz M. Magat

    Hey dudes, whatever your “crossroads” tell you, one thing is important… Jesus is the way, the truth and the life… what matters is the HEART. Worship is something you do everyday in honor of him. Not in how servicea are conducted, not in rites, not who to follow, or the weirdness of practices. Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship. Forget about calvinism, or lutheranism, or roman catholocism or whatever. What matters is JESUSM. Emphasize and exalt God and fear him only and nothing else, not how you conduct your rites, not how you venerate images, not how you are a part of an “ism” (Evangelicalis, Protestantism, Orthodoxy, Catholicism) Check the condition of your hearts with God because that matters most

    • robertar


      Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge! I appreciate your sincerity but your version of Christianity is a disembodied form spirituality that will in the long run result in a weak faith in Christ. We need the Church and we need to be under the care of the pastors. As I read through your comment I found missing any mention of obedience to the leaders of the church. In Hebrews 13:17 we read: “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give an account.” We need spiritual leaders. We can’t do it by ourselves. To paraphrase a common saying: He who pastors himself has a fool for a pastor. I would urge you take a more balance approach to Christianity.



      • Mahndisa

        There is a growing movement among people who are sick of ‘churchianity’ but long for Yeshua every single moment of every single day. How can you tell them to follow leadership that any child can see is corrupt? That is what is so hard. I think your blog is a wonderful resource and am happy to have found it. This searching for organic Christianity is something that I’ve been going through since last year when I rededicated my life to Christ. What I can honestly tell you is that when I heard a homily in the parish, I’d then leave to a charismatic Pentecostal church and hear the same message often times! This is because the Holy Spirit doesn’t care about denominations; what matters is that we have faith, perform works indicative of the faith and submit ourselves fully to the will of the Father. And I’ve noticed that the unction of the Holy Ghost is in people across denominational lines.

        HOWEVER…the fullness of the faith is best represented by Eastern Orthodox churches. I was raised as a progressive ecumenical Baptist (Black church), so I heard strong Bible based sermons rooted in the conception of Yeshua as a liberator of yokes of oppression. The Baptists are very Word centered and I have to admit that the Pentecostals tend to be faithful to the Word too, generally this is true among seminary trained preachers. BUT the cannon is so narrow that much of the fullness of the prayer life is non existent, so it makes me want more. Also the cultivation of interior silence isn’t emphasized among Protestants like it is among Orthodox and Catholics.

        Lately the Ethiopian Tewahedo church seems to call me due to the expansiveness of their cannon and the non chaldecean interpretation of the nature of Christ. I ramble but can relate to what you’ve written. My biggest hope is that the charismatic delivery of the Black American orator affects more Orthodox homilists because people are drawn to the emotive exposition of the WORD and it sticks to them. I go to Mass during the week, but on Sundays (and Wed Bible Study night) I worship with Pentecostals. Interestingly enough I’ve met quite a few Catholics who do this because they want a deeper relationship to the WORD itself, and they aren’t getting it in their parishes. They want the homilies to be over in like seven or ten minutes which is rarely enough time to develop a scripture in context. But the Pentecostal preacher goes on and on for sometimes over an hour and we are riveted in our seats because our souls and spirits are engaged. Even Paul was said to preach all night on occasion. If we can merge the two types of worship, I think we really will have a universal church. The Divine liturgies are exceedingly important, the Holy Eucharist is bar none but faith comes by hearing the Word, so I hope that the Orthodox people start to evangelize more and focus on the WORD when they do outreach.

        • robertar


          Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge! Your interest in the Ethiopian Tewahedo church is most interesting. I love Ethiopian style crosses. And I wish I could read Amharic. But I’m not sure what to make of the expansive nature of their canon. You’re right that Orthodox Christians need to preach Scripture clearly and with passion. We need a new generation of preachers like St. John Chrysostom.


  31. David


    Could not find this Blog-post in the archives. But, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have enough wealth to give away several thousand copies of this excellent book over the next few weeks? Maybe a special print edition? Perhaps you should review it on a blog.

    Two Paths: Papal Monarch – Collegial Tradition by Michael Whelton

  32. Brian Van Hove

    “In my second year in Berkeley, I discovered a tiny Bulgarian Orthodox Church that met across the street from the university.”
    Let me tell you another story about a tiny Bulgarian Orthodox Church. I will not mention the geography involved, but the priest was a refugee from Communist Bulgaria. This is some years ago when I was in studies at a large university. The priest and his wife had suffered much but managed to get out of Bulgaria and resettle in the United States, only to find that the Church Board of their parish was dominated by hostile Freemasons. A local Jesuit professor, a priest with a background in political science who taught a course in Marxism and who had traveled to the East Bloc during the Soviet Period, was the only consolation in the life of the Orthodox pastor. The Jesuit Father would drive over to the town and visit his Bulgarian friend and try to keep his hope alive. The Bulgarian refugee got no other earthly comfort to my knowledge, and he needed his paycheck. Both men are now deceased and I have not followed the life of that Orthodox parish recently.
    But let me remind the young man who discovered the romantic “tiny church” in Berkeley, California about this traditional Latin hymn. The hymn might be his meditation tomorrow morning: Ubi Caritas et Amor Est, Deus Ibi.

    • robertar


      Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge! And thank you for that reference to the beautiful Latin hymn.

      I’m not sure I would describe Ss. Kyril and Methodios as “romantic.” The point I wanted to make about that tiny parish was how faithfulness to the Liturgy can open a door into Orthodoxy. It had its struggles and eventually was closed down. But I am grateful for what I learned there. The Liturgy I encountered there was the same as the Liturgy I encountered elsewhere. This is part of what I found attractive about Orthodoxy.


  33. Travis

    I thought it appropriate to post this observation here in light of the Popes visit to South America.

    Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy did a piece on their site about the dancing Bishops of Rome, another reason why people should consider Orthodoxy.


    • David

      Good article and apropos Travis. Among other things, it seems the Roman Catholic/Orthodox contrast might be a classic: Over Promise/Under-Deliver…(rather than Under Promise/Over Deliver). I even feel sorry for my RC friends who champion their Hiearchy…but refuses to protect the solemnity of its Holy Liturgy. It’s embarrassing.

  34. Justin

    Helpful. Thanks!

  35. P. McCoy

    I converted to the Russian Orthodox Church in my 20s I left because of the racism against African Americans (am this). Instead of denouncing this racism as sinful, these Russians were far more concerned about not letting any marriages with such as I defile their pure blood. Indeed, their racialist attitudes were seen as my podvig to bear, rather than something for them to get rid of. Even a Russian Church in liberal Berkeley had this problem-I met an older Russian woman quite nuttier than a filter to due to the pain of being ostracized for marrying a Black man and having a son that no one would accept. By then despite loving the liturgy, it was a deal breaker for me. Also I realized that one did not need to be a vegan two thirds of the year to be holy. I look at the hatred and gay bashing endemic in Orthodox countries just this 2013 Pascha Gays were in danger of being blinded by nettle throwing Georgian Orthodox Christians, so what passions are being controlled or asked to control. The vegan monks of Mt. Athos do no hide nor discipline their hatreds. So it seems that only SEX yeah that which makes people mellow is a the ONLY passion that Orthodoxy is interested in controlling. Well, 30 years later I’m happy to say if I were to join a church now it’s the Episcopalians for me no excuses for racism, no fasting, no Gay bashing and one gets to enjoy the Sunday joint – meat, meat, MEAT year round. Works for THIS girl.

    • robertar

      P McCoy,

      I’m so sorry to hear about your experience with the Russian Orthodox Church. I anticipate I will be visiting Berkeley in the near future. When I’m there, I’ll ask the priest there for a response to your comment.

      I also want to share that things are changing in the Orthodox Church in America. Just today John Gresham posted on his site “The Modern Monastic Order of Saint Simon of Cyrene “My First Orthodox Pilgrimage (Part 5): Wisdom From New Friends.” The opening paragraph reads:

      During lunch, we had round table discussion about race and the church. Sure enough, there are some Orthodox congregations who are not receptive to black converts. One of the things that has crippled the spread of the Orthodox church was the various ethnic groups kept their faith closed and did not evangelize to others of any race. Except for St. Herman and the other Russian missionaries to Alaska in the 18th century, the church made no major effort to win converts. In 1987, the Antiochians threw the doors of Orthodoxy open to all who sought the faith. But because of traditional ethnic bonds and good old American racism, there are still some Orthodox churches that keep their doors closed to African-Americas who may want to convert.

      May I suggest you contact John Gresham. Also, a new Facebook group “Black Orthodox Christians” was started earlier this year. If you are interested, I can enroll you.

      There’s a similar problem in Hawaii where many Orthodox Christians including the priests have not been fulling accepting of Hawaii’s Local culture and its unique language Hawaii Pidgin. A member tried to get the Lord’s Prayer in the Hawaiian language part of the Liturgy but eventually that was dropped. It can be very frustrating but as Peter said to Christ when Christ asked if he was going to leave: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69)

      Thank you again for writing. I hope you will be open to talking with Orthodox Christians. And I hope that Orthodox Christians will be open to learning from you. We need to make Orthodoxy in America a place where people’s lives are transformed and sins like racism are repented of. Racism has inflicted deep spiritual wounds on both the Blacks and the Whites. There is need for healing on both sides.


      • P. McCoy

        Thank you for your response. To clarify, I need to state that these events happened in the following time frames. Berkeley occurred in the mid 1990s and the priest an elderly man who by now might even be deceased did not know this was occurring,.. nor did I mention it to him; I was more conservative and less outspoken than I am today. The earlier incident happened in San Francisco ; at the ROCOR church, The Joy of All who Sorrow. Archbishop Anthony could not be faulted for this – it was the laity themselves. Sadly, even in Platina where I used to see Fr Seraphim died before he could help another Russian of Black ancestry, a youth from having a complete nervous breakdown due to the ostracized he suffered. Oddly enough it came from the young people, ages 20 and so forth ; very sad too. It might lastly be off topic but the same treatment was meted out to me by the SSPX as well as St. Pius V, where the priest did not like my Orthodox baptismal name of Alexandra and accused me of being some sort of Russian spy for what I don’t know. I was harassed and publicly humiliated until I quit going there. In turning to a Black elder she simply and plainly said that those Whites don’t want you in their church. We have to remember that in America the most segregated hours are on Sunday mornings when people go to church. I have put this behind me since my views on Gays and Contraception as well as abortion do not agree with conservative Christianity. I like Silent Unity but would only now consider being Episcopal if I was to ever become a part of a church community again. Even Russia itself is notorious for its racist acts of violence against Blacks and has been so for decades. No, one can only go forward not back and outside of being the most casual visitor orthodoxy is my past, not my present nor future.

        • Jnorm

          P. McCoy,

          I’m an African American too, and I know that we all go through changes in life, especially when isolated and alone. I know you said Orthodoxy was part of your past and not future, but never say never! I’m not concerned with your views about abortion, contraception and LGBT for it’s expected to go with the flow of mainstream secular culture when you drift. Thus you shouldn’t allow these things to keep you away from being re-connected again.

          Where ever there are people there will always be problems to overcome. As you know, there is no such thing as a perfect Parish, but you need to be reconnected! Don’t give up on us, instead try again! The next brotherhood conference will be in Lima, Ohio and after that there will be a good chance that it will be in LA, California. For more info just check out the website:


          This conference started in 1993 and so you probably left shortly after, but whatever the case we would like you to check us out, we love you, we understand your experience because some of us had similar experiences. Come talk to us! Connect with us!


          We are not perfect but we’re at least trying to do stuff! The most recent of which is trying to start more local chapters all across the country!

  36. P. McCoy

    Jnorm: Thanks for your response. If you would like to know, I do seem to think as I like to put it on Orthodox time in that I remember the calendar and feel more attuned with Nativity in January and of course Pascha which is why I was so scandalized by the Georgians’ attack on Gays- I mean you want to BLIND someone
    because they are marching for their rights. I suppose that is part of the problem. My values right now resonate with the Episcopalian Church more and despite its appearance as Catholic it’s where I should be. I do miss DL I don’t like musical instruments in church but I figure if I go in the week, that there will be less of that and it will be bearable.

    because you don’t like them marching in the street. You see it puts me at odds. Right now, Orthodoxy is at odds with my values even though they do not personally apply to me

  37. john

    Hi everyone just wanted to add alittle about how i became orthodox. I am a gypsy~irish traveler in the uk, i come from a very strong roman catholic family.When i first found the holy spirt leading me to the orthodox church i went to a coptic church with over 300 copts there.However they were very welcoming and the priest fr mina told me about the british orthodox church a sister church, he also imformed me that they hold an english mass every saturday i grew to know about the faith and church and was brought into the faith.I did not except the roman catholic church teachings for a long time.my family knew nothing about the orthodox faith, so when i found my self on the road to the orthodox faith they thought i was joining a cult and would not talk to me .i had a cousin attact me because of my faith.But now they know about the orthodox faith they still say i am in the wrong church .But talk to me now.I am married to a pentecostal lady and our children are orthodox my family think that this is wrong, but i cannot be without the true church and its scarments. Yours in christ john

  38. Nick

    Well as a Catholic I learned from our religious authority that the Eastern Orthodox teaches no wrong and they do recognize that Eastern Orthodox have legitimate Apostolic succession.

    • robertar


      Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge! Thank you for sharing.


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