Primer 2 – B

A Basic Primer of Orthodox Catholicism and its difference with the Roman Jurisdiction of the Catholic Church


Orthodoxy and Twenty-first Century Ideology:

Through most of the twentieth century, the tragedy of the Orthodox Church has been to live, at least for a large portion of the faithful, under the new political framework of atheistic totalitarianism. Communism under the iron hand of the former Soviet Union was the latest in a long series of misfortunes – Arabic, Seljuk, Crusader, Mongol, Ottoman – with which it has had to cope in the last millennium and a half. As St. Paul stated: “it was given to us not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for him” (Phil. 1:29).  There was one significant difference between the communist boot and the oppressive regimes of the past: the previous non-Christian political regimes under which the Church was forced to live were rarely deliberately anti-Christian. Plainly put, there has never been an exact precedent for the communist catastrophe. None of the past regimes were ever as insistent as communism in its belief that religion must be tolerated. According to Vladimir Lenin, a communist regime cannot remain neutral on the question of religion but must show itself to be merciless towards it. There was no place for the Church in Lenin’s classless society.


The result of this militant atheism has been to transform the Church into a persecuted and martyred Church. Thousands of bishops, monks, clergy and faithful died as martyrs for Christ, both in Russia and in the other communist nations. Their numbers may very well exceed the number of Christians who perished during the days of the Roman Empire. What was just as frightening for the Church was communism’s indirect, but systematic, strangulation policy. In the Soviet Union, along with the methodical closing, desecration and destruction of churches, ecclesiastical authorities were not allowed to carry on any charitable or social work. Nor could the Church own any property. What few places of worship that remained were legally viewed as state property which the government permitted the Church to use. But even more devastating was the fact that the Church was not permitted to carry on educational or instructional activity of any kind. Outside of sermons during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy it could not instruct the faithful or its youth.


The Dispersion of Orthodoxy:

In modern historical Orthodoxy, one of the most striking developments has been the dispersion of Orthodox Christians to the West. Immigration from both Greece and the Middle East in the last hundred years has created a large Orthodox diaspora in Western Europe, North and South America, and Australia. Also, the Bolshevik Revolution forced thousands of Russian exiles to the West. All of this has resulted in the traditional frontiers of Orthodoxy to be profoundly modified. Millions of Orthodox are no longer “eastern” since they live permanently in their newly adopted countries in the West. Virtually all of the Orthodox nationalities – Greek, Arab, Russian, Serbian, Albanian, Ukrainian, Romanian, and Bulgarian – are represented here in the United States. The Greek Archdiocese of America is the largest of this group. The Archdiocese is under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople.


1768 historically marks the arrival of the first Greek Orthodox to the New World. They founded the Greek colony of New Smyrna about forty miles south of St. Augustine, Florida. A small group of New Orleans Greek merchants built the first church in 1864. The Greek Archdiocese of North and South America itself was officially incorporated in New York in 1921. The second largest group in the United States is the Russian Orthodox. One of the first Russian Orthodox Church communities in North America was in Alaska, where a number of Russian Orthodox missionaries had labored. In 1794, the Russian Orthodox Church established its first mission in North America, at Kodiak Island in southeastern Alaska. In 1799, the Russian Orthodox Church appointed the first American Bishop.


By 1808 the capital was moved to Novoarkhangelsk (Sitka), where the Cathedral of St. Michael was erected in 1848.  The “Golden Age” of the Orthodox Church in Alaska ended with the sale of Alaska to the United States in 1867.


The story of the many remarkable priests and monks who served the Church in Alaska, recounted in a number of valuable journals in the Church Archives, is one of incredible achievements against often overwhelming odds. They contended daily with bitter cold and deep snows, traveling by dogsled to attend their widely dispersed parishes. The constant lack of essential resources led them to sell candles and books, and to sometimes sacrifice their own salaries to meet parish expenses. Despite the sale of Alaska to the United States, and the incursion of other sectarian groups, Catholic and Protestant, the Russian Orthodox priests continued their mission, leaving an indelible mark upon the culture of the Native Alaskans, visible even today.


It was through the work of +Aftimios Ofiesh, a Russian Orthodox Archbishop of Brooklyn, NY, that the ground work was laid for the establishment of an American Orthodox Catholic Church, after receiving this charge in 1927 through an act of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church in North America (under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate and it's Patriarch, St. Tikhon).


After much infighting among various Orthodox groups and at least one failure (The Holy Eastern Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church in North America, with The American Orthodox Catholic Church as its "short name") in 1934, two separate churches emerged, the first being "The Holy Eastern Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church in North America" (THEOCACNA). This group has in many ways wandered away from “TRUE” Orthodox teachings. The second group is the American Orthodox Church/North American Orthodox Church.


In 1951, by Archbishop Michael of the Greek Archdiocese, a Toma (decree), was issued granting the American Orthodox Church/North American Orthodox Church autocephalous and autonomous standing. This grant was reinforced by a second Toma, issued in 1976 by Metropolitan Archbishop Ireney of the Orthodox Church in America. Today, the American Orthodox Church is governed by a Synod of Bishops headed by Metropolitan Archbishop +Joseph Thaddeus who strongly holds, as proven by his actions, to preserve and defend the faith, especially the Seals Of The Confessional because of the actions brought on by the numerous scandals in the Roman Jurisdiction of the Catholic Church in the later part of the 21st and beginning 22nd Centuries.


The Orthodox Christians View of Non-Christian Religions:

There is ongoing and numerous contacts among people of different faiths in today’s pluralistic society. Difficulties arise as each religion holds to its own claim to “truth”. A major challenge for Orthodox Christians is to articulate theologically correct approaches to people of other religious beliefs.


The Orthodox attitude toward non-Christian religions begins with the Christian understanding of God. The emphasis is on the mystery of divine reality, the essence of God, which exceeds human capabilities. That God’s essence is incomprehensible and inaccessible to the human mind, and that it is beyond all creaturely approach, is a basic truth of Orthodox Christianity.


While the essence of God remains beyond our human understanding, God reveals Himself through His Glory.  God’s glory (doxa, kaboth, shekhina) is revealed to mankind in their true intimate relation as an, end and fulfillment of the original creation of man. This revealed glory of God – His energies – penetrates all of creation and is the starting point for Christian life and hope, and our relationship to God.


There are three points of view that Christians have adopted with regard to non-Christian religions. The first view is that non-Christians will be damned because there is “no salvation” outside the visible body of Christ, the Church.  The second view is that the non-Christian may be saved in spite of the religion he/she practices, but only through the mercy of God. Lastly, the third view is that non-Christians may be saved by means of the very religion they practice, for non-Christian religions may also contain saving truths. These three views are in parallel with the three approaches of exclusivism, inclusivism, and cultural pluralism.


The claim of exclusivism has been rejected by many Orthodox scholars as untenable. Exclusiveness is rejected as a matter of truth, not in the interest of fostering world peace or facilitating missionary endeavors. The majority of Orthodox scholars would be or are open to inclusivism. As to cultural pluralism, there is a small percentage of Orthodox scholars who would espouse it but with qualifications. Relativism and syncretism are out. The view that Christianity is just one of the world religions that offers the blessing of salvation is unacceptable to the Orthodox Church. The focus of the Orthodox Church is on the Spirit of God, the Paraclete, who leads us “Into all the truth,” where in Christ all become one.


The issue of Christian Truth is of the utmost importance in the Orthodox view toward other denominations which were brought about from the Roman Jurisdiction of the Catholic Church and other religions. It was Pontius Pilate who asked “What is Truth?” (John 18:38).  He asked Jesus this question who was standing before him. Jesus remained silent. Orthodox Christians interpret this silence as Jesus’ reply that the Truth was standing before him - Christ is the Truth.


In Orthodoxy there is a fusion between the truth claim of Christianity and a mandate for tolerance. One can not be a Christian without embracing tolerance as a concomitant of Christian love, though this tolerance does not mean acceptance of that which violates the teachings of Holy Scripture and the ancient Seven Ecumenical Councils or breaking of the Seals of the Confessional which are a part of Holy Scripture in allegorical form but reinforces that which is required of all true Christians through the actions of Repenance by going to the priest for confession, doing penance, meditation, contemplation and prayer before seeking the soul cleansing Holy Mysteries of the Eucharistic celebration.


The ultimate salvation of all people, which includes non-Christians, is dependant on the great goodness and mercy of the Omniscient and Omnipotent God who desires the salvation of all people. Those who live in faith and virtue, though outside the Church, receive God’s loving grace and salvation. For, as St. Paul reminds us, “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!” (Rom. 11:33)




NEXT: Continuation of a Basic Primer regarding the differences of Orthodox Catholicism and the Roman Church