Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Why I am not Eastern Orthodox

When it comes to examining Christianity, and especially which path to follow upon careful study and prayer, the three "top choices" are: Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestantism. Protestantism is the least likely candidate, and is to be rejected on various grounds (e.g. no historical continuity before Luther). This leaves Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. The following ten reasons (not necessarily exhaustive) are why I'm not Eastern Orthodox, while not forgetting there is much good in the Orthodox Churches and that they are very close to Catholicism in many ways:

(1) Their leading Bishoprics, Constantinople and (now) Moscow, have no Apostolic Roots. (Where as the Roman Church was founded by the "two most glorious Apostles," Saints Peter and Paul.)

(2) They cannot agree upon a Canon of Scripture - nor does there appear to be a means of infallibly defining one. (e.g. The EO at the Council of Jerusalem in 1672 affirmed the same Canon as Catholics, though I've seen other EO sources denying some of those books.)

(3) They have manifestly defected from basic Christian principles, caving into worldly pressure, for example they allow Divorce and Contraception.

(4) They cannot agree as to whether Catholics have valid holy orders or other valid sacraments - some EO say 'yes', others say 'no'. Some re-baptize Catholics, others do not. And, again, there appears no way of 'officially' settling the issue.

(5) They cannot agree as to whether decrees such as the Council of Jerusalem of 1672 was universally binding - moreover, those EO who deny the authority of the Council of Jerusalem (often because it sounds too "Latin") wont go as far as to condemn it as manifest heresy and an abomination (which it logically should be *if* it teaches heresy and other abominable things).

(6) They cannot agree as to whether "Latin" figures such as Augustine are "saints," or "venerable," or merely confused Christians, or even arch-heretics (nor have I seen any 'official' EO pronouncements for the last option). Further, they generally don't give the Western Fathers as much respect or recognition as they do the Eastern Fathers.

(7) They have not had an Ecumenical Council in over 1,000 years, and this is apparently because they have no objective means of calling and establishing one.

(8) They downplay into virtual irrelevance the strong testimony (be it in Scripture, Tradition, or Patristics) for the Papacy.

(9) They have backed out of agreements, such as the Council of Florence, often with individual bishops overturning the 'votes' of other bishops and Patriarchs.

(10) They have had little influence in terms of evangelization outside of Eastern Europe, where as the Catholic Church originally evangelized (and still dominates) North and South America, Africa, and Asia all centuries ago.

In my experience, when Protestants leave their own denominations for Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy, those choosing the latter are often primarily driven by anti-Catholic bias more than a fair and balanced look at the facts and which side offers the better arguments. Though I am Catholic, in fairness I cannot brush aside worthy candidates for the title of "One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church," and that is why I felt it necessary to give some reasons for my choice. I believe the above reasons are sound and decisive in making the right choice. I realize there are major issues such as the Filioque not (directly) addressed above, but that is because the acceptance of such issues is largely dependent on which side has the true Authority to decide such matters.


EricBrooks said...

I agree, this is quite a difficult choice. It was made especially difficult for me because, as I was in the process of conversion, I was being taught during the week by Catholic priests who went against even the teachings of the relatively liberal Catechism of the Catholic Church, whereas the Greek Orthodox Deacon I occasionally visited was always serious about doctrine and well-read in the Fathers. Needless to say, as I became Catholic, the real arguments ultimately outwayed all such incidentals.

I think what really did it for me is #7. I've heard EO argue that they haven't had a council either because they haven't had a need, or because the first 1000 years set everything in stone so well that there are no longer serious questions recommending a universal judgment. Frankly I find that hard to believe. Certainly if the west did fall into heresy it seems to me that a crisis overtaking at least half of the Christian world would have been reason enough for a council to be called. The same point goes for the oriental churches which accept only the first 3 or 5 Councils, as well as for some of the older Protestant Churches that accept the earliest creeds.

Let me add one more point to your list. EO often implicitly accept Roman authority. A good example of this is the list of seven sacraments. I heard an orthodox Bishop on the radio once say that, while he personally accepts the list of seven sacraments, we should remember that many things such as tonsuring and the coronation of a king were considered sacraments early on and that technically there is no official ruling. It seems to me this places EO in a problematic position. If they accept the list of seven sacraments they implicitly accept the authority of Rome. If they reject it, then they admit that 2000 years in they still aren't sure what is and is not a true sacrament.

#8 is a half-truth. Many EO now admit the primacy of Rome in the early Church, but do not believe this primacy was the same as the authority we now believe is held by the Pope. This is where we get the idea of Constantinople as the second Rome or Moscow as the third Rome. The problem is that there doesn't seem to be any intelligible way to decide where this primacy moves to after Rome falls into heresy (or Constantinople is overtaken by Muslims). The standard seems to be simply "who's the biggest and most politically influential," but that hardly seems to be a theologically grounded principle.

Jae said...

Primarily EO have no central figure as Head that characterized UNITY and thus being as ONE that Jesus Christ had ordained His Church.

After they split from the Catholic Church in 1100's EO can't convened an Ecumencal Council to address any of her endeavors and problems with daunting secular challenges. They have no jurisdiction to one another nor any form of unity....sad if they only humbled themselves to the Will of Christ to be ONE.

Nick said...

I wouldn't say it was "quite a difficult" choice, because these issues are all pretty significant.

Also, another common danger that I've been told about by others is that while the EO might give off the impression of being 'conservative' and that the grass is greener on the other side, that's not a sure thing. I've been told there are significant strains of liberals and homosexuals and such among their group as well. I've been told in places like Greece it's not uncommon for people to sit and chat and smoke outside until communion time. So there's similar problems we face everywhere.

costrowski said...

I’d love to hear an Eastern Orthodox perspective on these points. It seems that one common denominator they use to respond to all questions of authority, or “how do you know...” is the term sobornost, which is the common acceptance of a belief by the Church. However this doesn’t seem to be acceptable since nearly the whole East fell into heresy a number of times. In our times, and ever since the breaking point of the East/West schism who can answer the question if Roman Catholic sacraments are valid for EO’s? Moscow accepts RC sacraments, but many other EO’s call them heretics. Can we attribute sobornost to the Russian Church alone since by itself it comprises over two thirds of all of Eastern Orthodoxy? That just doesn’t seem to work. Does any EO ecclesiology work regarding these matters?

costrowski said...

I can personally confirm what you've been told about EO's staying outside of the church until communion time. That doesn't just happen in Greece, but also at the Serbian Orthodox parish located just a few blocks from my home. However, I always assumed those people did that because of the very lengthy and repetitive liturgy. When it gets over 2 hours I would need a break too.

Marlee said...

I entered the Catholic Church in 1999 after studying Eastern Orthodoxy first--I was so anti-Catholic in my background that I would NEVER have considered Catholicism right off the bat...I'm convinced that many evangelical Protestants have turned first to Eastern Orthodoxy for this same reason--EO, for most Americans anyway, is a great "unknown"--and so they are more confortable heading in that direction rather than heading toward Catholicism..

Brent said...

While considering conversion, I considered a number of factors for not becoming EO:

1. I'm a westerner. A lot of EO converts do it out of western self-loathing. It's very en vogue to be "eastern"--Christian or otherwise.

2. No Petrine Office--couldn't get me out of my "no authority" dilemma in protestantism

3. If there is a movement to unite East and West, why join something (EO) just to becoming something else (C) later?

4. Last but not least, I'm not a fan of apophatic theology. Most "defense" books of EO fell short of the positive rigor of a St. Thomas, St. Bonaventure, etc. Don't get me wrong, the Eastern Church provides an important 'breath' of mysticism in the Church. However, sometimes the neo-platonism can be stomach-turning. Call the Angelic Doctor please!

Nick said...

I came across an official statement on the Russian Orthodox page about Contraception and Divorce, here is what it says:

"XII. 3. ... In defining their attitude to the non-abortive contraceptives, Christian spouses should remember that human reproduction is one of the principal purposes of the divinely established marital union (see, X. 4). The deliberate refusal of childbirth on egoistic grounds devalues marriage and is a definite sin.

At the same time, spouses are responsible before God for the comprehensive upbringing of their children. One of the ways to be responsible for their birth is to restrain themselves from sexual relations for a time. However, Christian spouses should remember the words of St. Paul addressed to them: «Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time...» (1 Cor. 7:5). Clearly, spouses should make such decisions mutually on the counsel of their spiritual father. The latter should take into account, with pastoral prudence, the concrete living conditions of the couple, their age, health, degree of spiritual maturity and many other circumstances. In doing so, he should distinguish those who can hold the high demands of continence from those to whom it is not given (Mt. 19:11), taking care above all of the preservation and consolidation of the family."

This seems to be a very flowery way of allowing Contraception, while maintaining a publicly "conservative" approach to it.


Nick said...


In regards to divorce, the RO Church teaches:

"The Lord pointed to adultery as the only permissible ground for divorce ...

... In 1918, in its Decision on the Grounds for the Dissolution of the Marriage Sanctified by the Church, the Local Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, recognised as valid, besides adultery and a new marriage of one of the party, such grounds as a spouse’s falling away from Orthodoxy, perversion, impotence which had set in before marriage or was self-inflicted, contraction of leper or syphilis, prolonged disappearance, conviction with disfranchisement, encroachment on the life or health of the spouse, love affair with a daughter in law, profiting from marriage, profiting by the spouse’s indecencies, incurable mental disease and malevolent abandonment of the spouse. At present, added to this list of the grounds for divorce are chronic alcoholism or drug-addiction and abortion without the husband’s consent.

... if a divorce is an accomplished fact, especially when spouses live separately, the restoration of the family is considered impossible and a church divorce may be given if the pastor deigns to concede the request. The Church does not at all approve of a second marriage. Nevertheless, according to the canon law, after a legitimate church divorce, a second marriage is allowed to the innocent spouse. Those whose first marriage was dissolved through their own fault a second marriage is allowed only after repentance and penance imposed in accordance with the canons. According to the rules of St. Basil the Great, in exceptional cases where a third marriage is allowed, the duration of the penance shall be prolonged.

In its Decision of December 28, 1998, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church denounced the actions of those spiritual fathers who «prohibit their spiritual children from contracting a second marriage on the grounds that second marriage is allegedly denounced by the Church and who prohibit married couples from divorce if their family life becomes impossible for this or that reason»."

This passage is a lot more power-packed, considering:

1) It (improperly) states Jesus only allowed ONE ground as an "exception".
2) It proceeded to list NUMEROUS grounds acceptable for divorce.
3) It uses similar flowery language to say the Church doesn't approve of a second marriage and yet goes onto say such is in fact permissible and fine.
4) It claims up to a third marriage is acceptable, under certain conditions.
5) Worst of all, it condemns those who teach divorce is not permitted at all.

This is a mish-mash of confusion, contradiction, arbitrary decisions, and plain falsehood.

Bezant said...


I know this is an old post, and I'm not Orthodox, but #10 is a very unfair criticism.

Firstly, is evangelism a contest between Communions to spread the Gospel in an area first? No; that is a shallow exercise, but that's what you imply.

Secondly, Catholic evangelism was not possible without historical luck. Most of the major colonising powers in the Age of Exploration were Catholic: France, Spain, Portugal. At the same time, most of the Orthodox world was under Ottoman and Islamic rule. It could not evangelise half-way around the globe and it was illegal to do so in the empire; could it really do much more than maintain itself against the social and economic motivations to convert to Islam?

Thirdly, what does Catholicism's 16th-century evangelisation of the Americas, Africa and Asia have to do with today? Catholcism is on the decline, with the possible exception of Africa, and it certainly never dominated Asia. In the Americas the Church is losing members drastically, from relativist thinking in the U.S. to the growing popularity of charistmatic evangelicalism in Brazil.

Nick said...

Hello Bezant,

I see your point. My #10 really stands together with the rest of the points, rather than a decisive point on it's own.

The purpose isn't about who spread the Gospel first, but rather about the fact Eastern Orthodoxy has made very slow strides and is frankly eclipsed by the evangelistic efforts and success of Catholicism. You can bet that if Eastern Orthodox had first settled those territories, they'd be trumpeting that day and night.

As for your claim that Catholic evangelism was only possible by "luck," that simply assumes there is no Divine component whatsoever and that Catholicism is a purely secular philosophy. If one is Christian, then it's not 'luck' at all, but Divine Providence and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Such is akin to saying Abraham was chosen as a unique vessel for God by pure luck of a divine lottery.

As to your third point, that has a lot to do with today, for those nations have been graced with Catholic presence, often lifting those areas out of spiritual and civil darkness. The only sense in which Catholicism is on the 'decline' is in the massive secularism (the next phase of charismatic evangelicalism) overtaking the globe, but that's all going to come to a halt as people realize they must pick whether they're going to live for Christ or for the world. But in terms of numbers, there are still thousands Baptized each year.

Bezant said...

Orthodoxy is less visible on the global level than Catholicism, perhaps due its own shortcomings are partly at fault, but again with the historical review shows Orthodoxy clearly did not have the same opportunities to spread the Gospel as Catholicism. They had an excuse -- back then.

On your second point; maybe a Christian, if he is a Catholic, would believe the Holy Spirit had to do with the conversion of Catholics in these regions, but my SDA relatives, not so much. I don’t reject the possibility of a Divine Hand in the Age of Exploration, but people never agree when God’s Providence is working in the world, particularly since many of the conversions and conditions in this age weren't honorable.

On your third point, indeed, the Church is always taking in new members and welcoming reverts; it is not a ‘dying’ Church. However, quantity must be weighed against quality. How many newcomers and cradle Catholics remain in the Church? How many are engaged with their parish? How many lapse into ‘cafeteria Catholicism’?

Anonymous said...

simply said : Jesus founded His Church on St Peter, the Rock. The Catholic Church continues to live standing on this Rock. The orthodoxe reject Jesus' will. They know better than God. Who is like God ?


Anonymous said...

On Nick, this is a testimony of saintness, you are very blessed by God who gave you these correct insights. But you also have the merit you were humble enough to accept this grace. And now you're so courageous to spread the light of truth.

Tout est grĂ¢ce ce qui arrive.
All what happens to us, is grace.
St Theresa of Lisieux.


Anonymous said...

Just one remark more : If modernism would not reign in our western churches and convents, Russia would convert. Now they see all the mess of modernism and they say : oh no, this can't be from God. They're right in this, but they're wrong to close their eyes for history. Before 1962-1965 the R. Catholic Church was still in order.


Anonymous said...

The Catholic Church is run by Freemasons, Communist Marxists and crypto J EWs.
At least 20 Popes have been J EWs and over 40 Anti Popes.
Pope Leo The Khazar was the 1st Jew Pope. Rothschild took over the Vatican Bank in the 1820s and the rest is certainyl history, making way for a Satanic 1 world religion.

I write this as a Trad Catholic mind you.

Denny Sellen said...

Annulment. n, "Divorce" in Catholic language.

Nick said...

I'm a guy who likes to joke around, but I also know that caricatures don't really help anyone. So unless you truly understand the real, substantial distinction between divorce and annulment, then you're not going to understand the seriousness of the Russian Orthodox saying that despite Christ allowing one grounds for divorce, that the RO none the less will allow for 15 grounds for divorce. That's no laughing matter.