Orthodoxy and Catholicism

Not intending to stir up old embers for the Blowout department, this is a fine article – Distinctions between Orthodoxy and Catholicism.

Many of us Anglicans joke cynically about the “two one true churches”. I really am far beyond having scruples for not being Roman Catholic or not converting to one of the Byzantine Churches, even those offering some kind of Western Rite umbrella to refugees from Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism.

This article does go into some of the deeper issues touching upon human culture and the way Christianity has diversified since its origins. I have been tempted by Orthodoxy, especially in the late 1980’s at the time I met Dr Ray Winch and read about the American Antiochian vicariate. I never got as far as making any serious request. A couple of tentative letters of enquiry simply suggested that I should move to the USA (at my expense) and fit into one of their parishes. Fair enough – they never asked anything of me. It never went any further. The Russian Church (outside Russia) has allowed a number of “refugee” priests to set up groups that are in sociological and financial terms somewhat on a par with Continuing Anglicanism. The difference is that Church of England authorities “recognise” an “official” Church and lend their buildings.

I have already written articles on Western Orthodoxy and published an English translation of Jean-François Mayer’s critical article. It is obviously working out for some people, and I am happy for them. To me, Orthodoxy is a forbidding world. I would only consider it if I were to go and live in Russia or Greece, and attend church as a seeker taking his new world in over a period of several years. Human beings adapt to the changes of life. The expatriate in Greece or Russia, having gone there for reasons of work or life in general, might follow a more secular way of life. I do believe that converting to an institutional church for reasons of believing that it is the “one true church” is the worst possible motivation.

As for being a refugee from Roman Catholicism or Anglicanism, there are plenty of traditionalist groups and Continuing Churches for those of us who stay in our near our native countries. Why become Orthodox unless one is prepared to go all the way and adapt to the receiving community? Even as I ask that question, I have no problem with Western Rite Orthodoxy, but for reasons of de gustibus non est disputandum. Some have a taste for the exotic, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

Our author makes the point:

The private praxis of prayer is another matter. It is entirely possible to observe a Western prayer life in the Orthodox Church, and vice versa, so long as it is a matter of private praxis.

This is possible for all of us, whether we have “moved around” or stayed near our origins. We all have our nagging ideas and feelings, and we desire to rise above our church life that only concerns exoteric religion. Our secret gardens with our illuminations and tempting demons concern only ourselves. Many Christians are reluctant to accept this two-level spiritual existence.

It is perhaps in exploring the world within that we accord less importance to our outward ecclesial membership or even our ministries as priests. Both these are necessary and neglect of them is sinful – but there is something deeper and which attracts us, and gives us courage and energy in our “ordinary” life. A word of caution: attempts at institutionalising or even making a community based on that esoteric aspiration nearly always fail and are characterised by superstition and charlatanism. One thing I have learned in life is not to expect too much from a church or even from other people. The world owes us nothing.

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34 Responses to Orthodoxy and Catholicism

  1. Orthodoxy is a “forbidding world”? You need to get out more, I would suggest, to find the parishes, people, and clergy that are authentically welcoming. I must say I’m confused by your statement that converting to Orthodoxy because one believes it’s the truth church (meaning, I think, the true faith) is “the worst possible motivation.” What other motivation could there be? If one is drawn to the church because of icons, the architecture, a liking for the writings of Fr. Alexander Schmemann, or the rich food (when not fasting), well, that’s ok, but one should stay for the truth.

    • I thought I would probably get a comment like this. All those motivations are possible, but none have “sold” me. I respect and esteem your Church but I’m not budging.

      • Father Anthony, I wasn’t addressing your motivations but was trying to understand your meaning (about “forbidding”) and your reasoning (“worst possible motivation”). Whether you “budge” or not is your business. In any case, God willing, we can compare notes when we are in His Kingdom.

      • In my humble opinion, the best motivation is finding oneself living in an Orthodox country like Russia, Greece or Serbia and discovering the “natural” Church in place and which is a part of life. As for “getting out more” I last travelled to the USA in 2003 and visited a Greek church in Florida. Nice little place but not on my patch. I get out a lot, but I don’t meet many Christians in this once “sacred” country of France. There are a few Orthodox churches in Paris, but they are right off my radar.

        “In any case, God willing, we can compare notes when we are in His Kingdom.” – how condescending! I think Oscar Wilde would have called it “sanctimonious cant”…

  2. Dale says:

    Having for years and years listened to the fairly vicious rantings from the Orthodox against anything or anyone not Byzantine for a Byzantine to insinuate to a non-Orthodox “to get out more” is simply ludicrous.

    • Dale and Fr. Anthony: please forgive me. I don’t mean to be sanctimonious, condescending, or ludicrous, but apparently I’ve come off that way, and I am deeply sorry. Also, I’m not Byzantine. I’m an American, an Orthodox Christian, in a parish that is English speaking and comprises good people of faith from various backgrounds–“traditional” Orthodox and well as converts from a range of traditions. In my defense, I might suggest that visiting a Greek parish in Florida is not exactly sampling all that Orthodoxy in America has to offer (and I genuinely don’t think it points to the future). I’m also sorry for any “vicious rantings” from my co-religionists–that’s not right, and we have our share (perhaps more) of the wrong-headed and angry. May the Lord have mercy on us all.

      • I have nothing against people who are happy in the churches and communities they have embraced. I am happy for them. We all have our pathways in life. I have been running this blog and the late “English Catholic” for a long time and went through the events surrounding Archbishop Hepworth’s mistaken belief that the Ordinariates in the RC Church were to be set up for him. I recently had a troll attack from one of those people for whom the RC Church is the “true church” and everyone else is toast. Undoubtedly there are good RC and Orthodox parishes both sides of the Atlantic. I went through thinking about Orthodoxy in the 1980’s before I really knew what would be involved. In both the RC and Orthodox convert scenes: the rhetoric consists of applying pressure to the prospective convert, member of a “false church”, to convert. When the person is about to make a serious move, he is told to “stop right there” and make sure of his motives. When he fails to go all the way, he is just trash. So that is why I bristle when RC and Orthodox converts start coming into comment threads to “lay eggs” to put it politely.

        In other words, beware of schoolyard bullies, manipulators and gaslighters. Not all religious enthusiasts belong to these categories – but some do.

        The days of “true churches” vying against each other are over. It is a little bit like Constantinople the day before it was sacked by people like Daesh, ISIS and Al Qaida. The future presently looks like sadistic Islam slitting children’s throats and blowing up cultural treasures – and Orwellian globalist secularism. We can’t conquer. We will have to go into survival mode.

        Another aspect to consider is that we are not all Americans. On this side of the Atlantic most of us who are believers are profoundly jaded by those who represent churches and destroy their credibility through bad morals and hypocrisy. In the end, the only thing worth upholding is the spiritual view of life and the world against materialism and consumerism.

        All that being said, I’m ready to believe you are a good an innocent person who has blundered into a blog full of people who have seen it all before. Indeed, may the Lord have mercy upon all all!

    • J.V. says:

      I have yet to experience anything akin to what you’re alluding to. I entered by way of the Antiochene dioeses in New England, I haven’t seen this. Where is this? Online? A certain community? Particular branch of Orthodox? Where?

      • J.V. says:

        To Fr. Chadwick’s point, obnoxious piety and superstitious ecclesiology exists in both Orthodox and Roman forums which is inevitable when two traditions are mutually accusatory of the other for the last thousand years. It leaves other Western churches (Anglican and Lutheran) in an awkward place.

        In point of fact, if I found a continuing Anglican community in my neck of the woods, I would probably pay them a visit. I think they may appreciate the irony of “two one true churches.”

      • The expression “two one true churches” was to an extent coined by Fr Robert Hart of our Church in South Carolina. See Continuum. Fr Hart hasn’t always been kind with me or I with him, but many things have changed: I joined the ACC and am no longer defending Archbishop Hepworth’s untenable erstwhile position. I admire Fr Hart for his tenacity throughout that time, even if he remains much more Prayer Book and Articles than I.

      • Dale says:

        J.V., Dean Hallam in England is quite vicious (appointed by the present Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch), especially in regards to the use of the western rite in your own jurisdiction; your new Archbishop recently visited one of your parishes near where I live in the United States, one of the Arab ones, and gave a sermon that was simply racist and anti-Semitic stating the the chosen people were the Palestinians etc. and insinuated that the Jews were the anti-Christ. I have this last information from the son of an Orthodox priest who left the parish because of its racism. Dean Hallam I have dealt with personally. I am happy that your experience of the Antiochians has been positive.

      • J.V. says:

        Dale, you find the same things in Roman Catholicism, re: implied or explicit anti-semitism and superstitious nonsense regarding the non-ethnic/non-cultural liturgy. Ever read neurotic Western Christians (Catholics mainly) claiming the divine liturgy is a neo-platonic occult ritual (forgetting the possible links between the Western liturgy and the liturgy of Mithraism? The Orthodox who oppose the introduction of Western rites are at times superstitious. At other times, they make a point: for the better part of its history, Orthodoxy has left Western liturgy up to the Patriarchate of Rome. It is Rome’s responsibility to deal with the Western liturgy. Furthermore, the integration Western Rite often ignores, much like Rome’s red-headed stepchild approach to the eastern rites, the fact that one is dealing with two distinct religious systems which only in recent history have started to come to civil terms.

        Anti-semitism is rampant in Christianity – period. Ever listen to contemporary social justice type Catholics talk about the state of Israel and spout the same paranoid conspiracy themes as their early 20th century counterparts, just overlaid with basically technocratic language? Ever hear Traditionalist Western (Roman or otherwise) types do the same thing, or just pivot back to vintage pre-modern Christian conspiracy theories about the Jews?

        Regarding both of the examples you’ve cited, where are we not going to find something similar? Can you point me in the direction? In other words, can you find me a Christian church that doesn’t engage in a fair bit of nonsense?

      • Là où Dieu bâtit son Eglise, le Diable construit sa chapelle.

        Where God builds his Church, the Devil constructs his chapel. French proverb, meaning that anything that is good is blighted by the Devil, Demiurge, Archons (fill in your preferred name). We all have to belong to something, but we have to be free within ourselves. Then the problems matter much less.

        I think there is an analogy with all those people who want to immigrate into England from Syria, Irak and other hell-holes with all those nice men with rags round their heads ready to chop off their quota of heads before breakfast. The solution may be to help them for a time, but the real solution is sorting out their countries, trying and executing those guilty of crimes against humanity.

        The solution for western rite Christians is provision made for their peaceful existence. Ecclesia Dei and Summorum Pontificem were a start, but far from being satisfactory permanent solutions for those who are alienated by the Novus Ordo and the kind of “liberalism” that is far from liberal. Perhaps Rome would do something for a hell of a lot of money – I don’t know… The trouble is that they might take the money and fail to deliver.

        Our little Continuing Anglican Churches are still reasonably fresh, and have emerged from much of the nonsense of the 1990’s. The last major hiccup was the TAC and its Primate thinking that Anglicanorum coetibus was for him. It’s somewhat calm at present, but I suppose we too will go out of the window one day.

        The notion of “Church” needs a more interior and sacramental / liturgical meaning and be completely removed from the terms of politics, money and power.

      • Dale says:

        But, JV, in retrospect, I think that Byzantium is the only “true church” aficionados who seem to believe in salvation through folklore.

      • J.V. says:

        Dale, I respectfully disagree. I am not sure what you are looking for or what you hope to achieve, but I wish you all best in so doing.

      • Dale says:

        If you cannot perceive of where I am coming from after your posting stating that Byzantine nastiness cannot be found in the Antiochian Greek Orthodox church, I can only respond “whatever…”

      • ed pacht says:

        Dale, your previous comment, the one JV seems to be specifically replying to:

        “But, JV, in retrospect, I think that Byzantium is the only “true church” aficionados who seem to believe in salvation through folklore.”

        does require some explanation. I, for one, am entirely unsure what you are saying here. “Whatever…” does not seem an adequate response.

      • We do need to make the effort to understand one another – I’m not pointing any fingers. All Churches are means of salvation, as are the Sacraments, liturgy, the Scriptures, anything that speaks of God – also the beauty of nature, human goodness where it is found, etc. Some people cling onto their church being the “one true” church. I suppose when they die, St Peter will take them to a compartment where they can live their rigid illusion until they become spiritually advanced enough to discover a wider and more beautiful truth.

        There must be some positive points about the Antiochian Greek Orthodox Church as with us Anglicans and the Roman Catholics and every other Christian community!

      • ed pacht says:

        Amen!
        I can find plenty of bad things to say about my own church, and they are true, but it is the good that I see that keeps me here. I can also see bad things in other churches, but I hope that doesn’t blind me to the good that is there, and I hope I am not prevented from learning from that good, nor from loving those brethren with whom I don’t quite agree.

        I’m not at all sure that one church is more filled with holiness – or with evil – than another, for we are all fallen beings, struggling by God’s grace to become better

      • Dake says:

        My point is that to belong to the Byzantine Church demands the acceptance of certain folkloristic elements of mostly Eastern origin, and indeed many, especially converts, run around in 19th century costumes and adopt a bunch of strange, and exotic elements of eastern folklore. and such bizarre attitudes are actually considered necessary to be truly Orthodox by many. Although rarer in the Antiochian Archdiocese, it is not unknown but is almost a demand for membership in some of the Russian groups, Hence, my reference to “Salvation through folklore.”

      • ed pacht says:

        Thank you. Now we know what you are saying. It’s rather like converts in equatorial Africa feeling as though they have to wear dark suits and neckties. It’s an ordinary human thing (perhaps not good, but ordinary) to want to accept all the cultural baggage that goes with a ‘conversion’. We’re no less ‘ethnic’ than any of these other groups, the only difference being that it’s less noticeable because we are the majority ethnos.

      • Dale says:

        Ed, but in Anglicanism’s defense, we do not proclaim that we are the only true church outside of which all others are bereft of grace as do the Byzantines…it does make a difference.

  3. Stephen K says:

    Our secret gardens with our illuminations and tempting demons concern only ourselves. Many Christians are reluctant to accept this two-level spiritual existence.

    Indeed, Father! I’ve come to think it’s an inevitable condition of the spiritual journey, and the key to understanding how the ‘spiritual’ and the ‘religious’ dimensions can be so frequently divided and separate in one’s life, and then, paradoxically, and idiosyncratically, reconciled.

  4. J.D. says:

    I am a Roman Catholic and will probably always remain a Roman Catholic, but over the years I have flirted with Orthodoxy and have taken up a bit of the East in my spiritual life. While I pray a Western breviary and love Eucharistic piety I prefer icons to statues, the Jesus Prayer to the Rosary and a theology of light and Transfiguration to either St. Thomas Aquinas or the neo scholasticism of many in the trad set. I prefer the Latin Mass to the Pauline Mass or the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. I also find myself sonewhat drawn to Continuing Anglicanism but think I’m a bit too Roman Catholic to really feel totally at home there.

    The details of each of our journeys are different but I’m sure the sentiments are shared. We are all influenced by various things throughout our lives. Better to embrace these things and try to find integration where we are than try to keep church hopping or, if we do go elsewhere, to completely throw away everything from our past affiliation.

    When I was in my Orthodox phase I tried to throw out everything Western from my vocabulary,prayer life etc and it was harmful. I am who I am, to throw out the baby with the bath water can just bring harm. Perhaps many converts are like this in completely giving up who they are just to fit in some mold be it Roman or Byzantine.

    • Stephen K says:

      J.D. I think there is much wisdom and insight in what you say. It reflects what I have come to think, namely, that no tradition, no “Church”, no system, encompasses perfectly and wholly all Truth and Virtue. Thanks to the modern world, and some education, we may now be aware of many different sources of spiritual richness and be able to access and explore those which make sense or do us psychological and spiritual good. Not everything makes sense; not everything does us good in the long term. A common pejorative used by RC traditionalists is to accuse their “progressive” opponents(!) as “cafeteria Catholics”. The truth appears rather to be that in this modern world everyone is a “cafeteria” religionist: we all incline and indulge or practise what it is that we agree with or like, and nothing we don’t like, or like to agree with!

      But I say this is a good thing and a sign of maturity. We ought not to expect that we will all like the same things; understand the same way, respond or have the same reactions. At one time we are built up by solemn liturgy and “high” contemplation; at others we are grounded and developed in earthy charity and empathy and experience. It is, frankly, ludicrous, in my view, to expect that they must be simultaneous, or that they are mutually exclusive, and nothing but totalitarianism and injustice – as well as bad psychology – to insist on one model and regime for all at all times.

      I applaud Father Chadwick for having survived the expectations of his various erstwhile masters without a nervous breakdown; I deeply understand his cultural and emotional attachments to traditional Anglican Catholicism; and I admire his insight that enables him to see through the oppressiveness and false security of “true-church” theology to articulate a generous love of people as they are and where they find themselves. In that he is not apparently different from Pope Francis as he seems, from the general thrust of his comments, to be.

      For my own part, I believe a pot-pourri of things that appeal to my sense of logic and ‘harmony’. I think that’s how most people work. It may be that someone’s temperament and formation incline them to embrace whatever someone else says in toto, but if the modern pluralistic world has enabled anything for us, it is a sense that no-one can tell you what to think or feel as if your thoughts or feelings have no say in the matter!

      Thanks for your own thoughts.

      • I think it all depends whether we have been inspired by the positive points of the Enlightenment, especially the value of the human person and the freedom given us by Christ through knowledge of God and ourselves, our filiation and emancipation from the determinism of the Old Law. St Paul is full of this kind of talk. On the other hand, we might be inspired by the principle of absolute authority and the submission and obedience of the various levels under the Leader. In such a system, the human person is nothing and can be killed on a whim if he or she shows weakness. All must be in complete compliance to this totalitarian system. I am sure that many of the dictatorships of Europe and South America were inspired by the totalitarian Church, the SS by the Jesuits and the Gestapo by the Inquisition. Hitler’s Germany and the Third Reich were a parody of the Universal Church.

        I keep on insisting. It seems to be my vocation. One of the finest pieces of writing outside the Gospels is the Parable of the Grand Inquisitor by Dostoievsky, part of his Karamazov Brothers.

        The God we worship is the Father who is infinite in love as well as truth and every other good thing. Through Christ, he has set us free.

    • J.V. says:

      My experience is that you can’t ultimately throw everything out. You cannot sever yourself from your source of origin. Particularly as concerns one’s private prayer life, it is absurd to throw away a tradition.

  5. “The days of “true churches” vying against each other are over.”

    That is so true. I recently had this out with a Roman Catholic utterly and invincibly convinced of Rome’s claim to be the true church. There are no true churches anymore! All mainstream churches have become apostate in some obvious way. Rome is famous because of its completely failed liturgical experiments and gross inability to understand its own internal problems. The Anglican Communion has virtually no credibility anymore, even in Africa where the churches have salvaged some form of conservatism. Orthodoxy is far too ethnic for my taste. Roman Catholics have the arrogance to claim that their church is special because of its stances on sexual morality, women’s ordination, and such things but so what? These things may be a reality for them in books of doctrine but praxis is another matter. That the pope can greet Lutheran clergywomen in St Peter’s Square with his familiar smiling face or that he can give the Archbishop of Canterbury a pectoral cross seems to indicate that doctrine doesn’t matter much when it comes to ecumenical gestures and being polite. If Rome had a spine she would cut off the Anglican Communion. Will she? Of course not. She’s terrified of taking any of her fingers out of any of the pies. That’s been her problem for centuries – fingers in the pie syndrome.

    What is left? It seems to be that Christianity has been reduced to a conscious choice between competing mainstream liberalisms, doomed to be cast down by God as apostates all; or weird fringe renegade groups, which themselves are doomed to oblivion by the fact of their small numbers, limited reach and other things. As for me, I am quite comfortable with my own sense of doctrine and my own Bible.

  6. J.D. says:

    And I’m more and more comfortable with a Breviary, a prayer rope and a sort of spiritual ecumenism of trying to make connections with Christians of a more conservative liturgical and spiritual style regardless of what church they are affiliated with. These days the teachings on the communion of saints as all the faithful departed, the

  7. This “two one true churches” concept reminds me of something some Malankara Orthodox told me about the Malankara Catholics:
    “We and they are the same. We’re just under different bishops, that’s all.”
    It was pleasant.

    • During the Western Schism, Clement VII lived at Avignon in France and Urban VI in Rome. Vincent Ferrer, a Dominican, was loyal to Urban VI and Catherine of Siena, a Dominican nun, was loyal to Clement VII. Logically, the Church in union with the true Pope was the true Church and the “church” in union with the antipope was a schismatic sect. Both those Dominicans are canonised Saints, and one was outside the “true” Church. So salvation is possible outside the Church! Depends who says fiat… 🙂

      Conclusion: being a Catholic doesn’t depend on being under the Pope. I have gone on about this subject for long enough.

  8. May I suggest that the following words of Rudyard Kipling, though used originally for another, wholly different context, might be applied to the current internecine strife between the Greek East and the Latin West:

    Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
    Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;
    But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
    When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!

    Which is to say, when we, in our strength, stand openly, honestly, and in charity, to speak with one another, there might be some chance of reconciliation. Otherwise, no.

    • ed pacht says:

      Yes, “openly, honestly, and in charity,” not only speaking to one another, but, more importantly listening, for none of us has the whole of the truth and we have much to learn from each other. Firmness in what I believe to be true is a powerful virtue, but so is the humility to realize that I don’t know it all — and the kind of rigidity that builds walls of anger against my brethren is no virtue at all – quite the contrary.

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