Primer 2 – C

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


The Orthodox View on Papal Primacy:

From an Orthodox perspective it is imperative to study the primacy of Rome in the context of the primacies of the patriarchs of the East and their role in the universal Church.


It would be impossible to reach any sort of agreement on the significance of the bishop of Rome if we were to start our debate with a comparison of classic Roman Catholic and Orthodox views of the papacy.


If we define “primacy” as a form of power, then that brings up the question of whether in the Orthodox Church there is a power superior to that of a bishop (a power over the bishop) and hence the church of which he is head. Theologically and ecclesiologically the answer would have to be a resounding NO: there is no power over the bishop and his church. In the canonical and historical life of the Church, such supreme power does exist and it is conceived as the foundation of the Church; it is the foundation of its canonical system


The 1974 Orthodox statement on the nature of the Church and the Munich statement of the international Orthodox-Roman Catholic dialogue have indirectly rejected the idea of a universal ecclesiology in which the Church is the sum total of all local churches, which all together makes up the Body of Christ. This type of thinking would mean that each local church is only a part, a member of the universal Church that participates in the Church only through belonging to the whole. Therefore if the Church is a universal organism, it must have as its head a universal Bishop as the focal point of its unity and as the organ of supreme power. Consequently, this model of ecclesiology makes imperative the necessity of universal primacy as divinely instituted for the essential being of the Church. This is the kind of thinking which, together with other historical causes, gave birth to the image of papacy defined by Vatican I in 1870.


Eucharistic ecclesiology affirms the catholicity of the local church, and allows no room what-so-ever for the categories of “parts” or “whole”. The very essence of this ecclesiology is that the universal Church subsists in toto in the local church.


The communion of local churches, which are identical in faith, order and charisms of the Holy Spirit, bear witness to their unity when they come together through their bishops, in synods.


It should be remembered that the synod is not “power” in the juridical sense of the word, since there can exist no power over the Church, the Body of Christ. Rather the synod is a witness to the identity of all churches as the Church of God in faith, life, and “agape” (Christen Love).  If in his own church the bishop is priest, teacher and pastor, the divinely appointed witness and keeper of the Catholic faith, it is through the agreement of all bishops, as revealed in the synod that all churches both manifest and maintain the ontological unity of tradition.


In times of discord the synod becomes the common voice, the common testimony of the ontological unity of several or all churches. For the Orthodox Church, the truth that a synod affirms makes the synod an authority in the life of the Church. This authority or primacy of the synod cannot and should not be conceived as power over the local church but rather as a charismatic instrument through which the churches of God witness and express their ontological unity in the truth of the gospel. The primacy of the synod, through which the local churches witness and express their unity in the salvific truths of Christ, does not exclude the primacy of the first bishop or the metropolitan. In the regional synods, in which all the bishops of the area must take part, the primacy of the first bishop must be acknowledged and respected as the thirty-four Apostolic Canon states: “The bishops of every nation must acknowledge him who is first among them and account his as their head, and do nothing of consequence without his consent… but neither let him (who is the first) do anything without the consent of all; for so there will be unanimity…From this canon, it is evident that the regional primacy can be conceived not as power or jurisdiction but only as an expression of the unity and unanimity of all the bishops and therefore of all the churches of an area.


We must understand the universal primacy of the Roman Church in the same way. Based on Christian Tradition, it is possible to affirm the validity of the Church of Rome's claims of universal primacy. Orthodox theology, however, objects to the identification of this primacy as a "supreme power" which transforms Rome into the principium radix et origio of the unity of the Church and of the Church itself. The Church from the first days of its existence undeniably possessed an ecumenical center of unity and agreement. In the apostolic and Judaeo‑Christian period this center was first the church of Jerusalem and later the Church of Rome ‑ "presiding in agape" according to St Ignatios of Antioch.


For the Orthodox, the essence and the purpose of this primacy is to express and preserve the unity of the Church in faith and life; to express and preserve the unanimity of all churches; to keep them from isolating themselves into ecclesiastical provincialism, losing the catholicity, separating themselves from the unity of life. It means ultimately to assume the care, the solicitude of the churches so that each one of them can abide in that fullness which is always the whole of the Catholic tradition and not any one "part" of it. The idea of primacy thus excludes the idea of jurisdiction but implies that of an "order" of Church which does not subordinate one church to another, but which makes it possible for all churches to live together this life of all in each and of each in all.


Orthodoxy does not reject Roman primacy as such, but simply a particular way of understanding that primacy. Within a reintegrated Christendom the bishop of Rome will be considered primus inter pares serving the unity of God's Church in love. He cannot be accepted as set up over the Church as a ruler whose diakonia is conceived through legalistic categories of power of jurisdiction. His authority must be understood, not according to standards of earthly authority and domination, but according to terms of loving ministry and humble service (Matt. 20:25‑27).


Please bear in mind, that the question of primacy is not the only barrier to reunification between East and West, which must be overcome. There is also the question of the various innovations and non-biblical teachings that has crept into the Roman Jurisdiction of the Catholic Church over the years since rome's schism. Some of these are:


A) Rome’s insistence of enforced celibacy of the priesthood;


B) The matter of the filioque;


C) The teaching of indulgences;


D) The latest teaching by Rome that Mary (the Theotokos) is the co-redemptrix with Jesus Christ.


Unless these problems can be resolved, no true Orthodox Christian will ever accept any reunification with Rome.



Orthodox Worship:


From the office of Vespers comes a beautiful invitation that marks the start of each day for the Orthodox Church, and it expresses the attitude that is at the very heart of Orthodoxy. This invitation reads:


O Come let us Worship and bow down before our King and God.
O Come, let us worship and bow down before Christ, our King and God.
O Come, let us worship and bow down to Christ Himself, our King and God.


The Worship of God – the father, son, and Holy Spirit, - is fundamental to the life and spirit of the Orthodox Church.


Being that worship is of the utmost importance to Orthodoxy, the best introduction to the Orthodox Church is for the non-Orthodox to attend the Divine Liturgy. A new comer, at first may be overwhelmed by the singing, the smell of incense, and the ceremonies, but it is in that very Worship that the rich traditions, as well as the living faith of Orthodoxy are truly experienced.


Worship is an experience which involves the entire Church. When each of us comes together for Worship, we do so as members of a Church which transcends the boundaries of society, of time and of space. Although we gather at a particular moment and at a particular place, our actions reach beyond the parish, into the very Kingdom of God. We worship in the company of both the living and the departed faithful.


There are two dimensions to Worship in the Orthodox Church which are reflected throughout the many Services of the Church.


First, Worship is a manifestation of God's presence and action in the midst of His people. It is God who gathers His scattered people together, and it is He who reveals Himself as we enter into His presence. The Worship of the Orthodox Church very vividly expresses the truth that God dwells among His people and that we are created to share in His life.


Second, Worship is our corporate response of thanksgiving to the presence of God and a remembrance of His saving actions - especially the Life, Death, descension into hell to break the bonds, gates and chains of its captives, Resurrection of Jesus Christ and ascension into Heaven.


Orthodox Worship is centered upon God. He has acted in history, and He continues to act through the Holy Ghost (Spirit). We are mindful of His actions and we respond to His love with praise and thanksgiving. In so doing we come closer to God.


Expressions of Orthodox Worship:

Worship in the Orthodox Church is expressed in four principal ways:


1. The Eucharist, which is the most important worship experience of Orthodoxy. Eucharist means thanksgiving and is known in the Orthodox Church as the Divine Liturgy.


2. The Sacraments, which affirm God's presence and action in the important events of our Christian lives. All the major Sacraments are closely related to the Eucharist. These are: Baptism, Chrismation, Confession, Marriage, Holy Orders, and Anointing of the sick.


3. Special Services and Blessings, which also affirm God's presence and action in all the events, needs and tasks of our life.


4. The Daily Offices, which are the services of public prayer which occur throughout the day. The most important are Matins, which is the morning prayer of the Church, and Vespers, which is the evening prayer of the Church.


Although Orthodox Services can quite often be elaborate, solemn, and lengthy, they express a deep and pervasive sense of joy. This mood is an expression of our belief in the Resurrection of Christ and the deification of humanity, which are dominant themes of Orthodox Worship. In order to enhance this feeling and to encourage full participation, Services are always sung or chanted.


Worship is not just simply expressed in words. In addition to prayers, hymns, and scriptural readings, there are a number of ceremonies, gestures, and processions. The Church makes rich use of non verbal symbols to express God's presence and our relationship to Him. Orthodox Worship involves the whole person; one's intellect, feelings, and senses.


Worship services in the Orthodox Church follow a prescribed order. There is a framework and design to our Worship. This is valuable in order to preserve its corporate dimension and maintain continuity with the past. There are elements that remain unchanged; and there are parts which change according to the Feast, season, or particular circumstance. The regulating of the Services by the whole Church emphasizes the fact that Worship is an expression of the entire Church, and not the composition on a particular priest and congregation.


Another very important purpose of Worship is the teaching of the Faith. There is a very real and close relationship between the Worship and the teachings of the Church. Faith is expressed in Worship, and Worship serves to strengthen and communicate Faith. The prayers, hymns, and liturgical gestures of Orthodoxy are important mediums of teaching. The regulating of the Services also serves to preserve the true Faith and to guard it against error.


Since Worship in Orthodoxy is an expression of the entire Church the active participation and involvement of the congregation is required, however, the celebration of the Divine Liturgy and the Sacraments is always led by an ordained clergymen. In the local parish, this will generally be a priest who acts in the name of the bishop, and who is sometime assisted by a deacon. When the bishop is present, he presides at the Services. The vestments of the clergy express their special calling to the ministry as well as their particular office. This strong sense of community is expressed in the prayers and exhortations which are in the plural tense. The congregation is expected to participate actively in the Services in ways such as: singing the hymns; concluding the prayers with "Amen"; responding to the petitions; making the sign of the Cross; bowing; and, especially, by receiving Holy Communion at the Divine Liturgy. Standing is the preferred posture of prayer in the Orthodox Church. The congregation kneels only at particularly solemn moments, such as the Invocation of the Holy Spirit during the Divine Liturgy.


Orthodox Worship has always been celebrated in the language of the people. There is no official or universal liturgical language. Often, two or more languages are used in the Services to accommodate the needs of the congregation. Throughout the world, Services are celebrated in more than twenty languages which include such divers ones as Greek, Slavonic, Arabic, Albanian, Rumanian, English, and Luganda.




NEXT: A continuation of the Basic Primer regarding the differences of the Orthodox Catholicism and the Roman Church