Uniting Catholic and Orthodox Churches

While Mainstream Media spent the weekend dwelling on the evils of the NRA and the virtues of the Kardashian-West wedding, this Sunday marked a historic meeting in Jerusalem between Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual head to Orthodox Christians. The Church leaders took part in extended talks, during which they signed a Declaration of co-operation between their two Churches. Now, before I tell you why crossing the canyon between these two bodies, which jointly consist of 1.5 billion people, is a very, very good idea: let’s recall how we got here. The primary reason for the religious retreat in the region was to mark the 50thanniversary of the meeting between Pope Paul the sixth and Ecumenical Patriarch Athen-a-goras of Constantinople in 19-64. That embrace ended 900 years of mutual excommunication and estrangement sparked by the Great Schism of 10-54. The split in Christendom came when Pope Leo the nineth excommunicated the Patriarch of Constantinople over disputes such as papal supremacy (read: Constantinople wanting to be in charge of its own affairs) and the Nicene Creed, a liturgical profession of faith. Basically, Rome added a clause to the Creed, because of heresy in France and the Greeks got ticked ‘cos amendments to a Council document should be settled through another Council. Ask me? They were right, but I digress. Prior to 10-54, the Eastern and Western halves of the Church had their share of conflicts, see Eastern iconoclasm and the Photian schism for more on that. The final sacred straw, however, came after the capture of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade. The sacking of the Church of Holy Wisdom and establishment of the Latin Empire appeared to be an attempt to supplant Byzantium, the Orthodox Empire, and rancor around the period still rings today.  This, even after St. John Paull II extended a formal apology for the sacking of Constantinople to the present Patriarch of Orthodoxy.

But long before the apology, reunion was attempted twice: once in 12-74 at the Second Council of Lyon and again in 14-39 at the Council of Florence. On both occasions, the Orthodox people as a whole rejected the councils. Recent decades, however, have seen a renewal of ecumenical spirit and dialogue between the Churches.

And that’s a very good thing. Don’t get me wrong; I get the lack of will to amalgamate on the part of the Orthodox. They feel hurt and harmed post Papal excommunication, and plundering (everything from the relics found today in San Marco to the Shroud of Tourin), not no mention Byzantium’s subjugation for 70-some years (though, my read of history says the Venetians, not the Latin Rite are to blame—they simply wanted Byzantium tossed from trade). But, for a Church so deeply rooted in notions of history and tradition, perhaps it’s time they reclaim their true and oldest history—one under the Pope, as a “first among equals,” as it was before the Great Schism.

Full disclosure here: I was baptized in the Greek Orthodox Church but attend a Ukrainian Catholic Parish regularly. The move came after years of spiritual direction and scriptural tutelage. It was only after I examined the conflicts and common-ground that I grew to understand the term ‘Catholic’ was not synonymous with ‘contaminated.’  Simply put: Christ didn’t leave us with a Bible, no matter what some Protestants might tell you. He left us with a Church; namely, one formed on the rock of Peter, whose throne is inherited by our vicar in Rome.

See, unlike the Protestant churches, the Orthodox Church and Catholic Church have nearly all matters of theological and practical importance in common.

The Catholic Church recognizes the Orthodox have a valid priesthood, based on apostolic succession. And, the number and significance of their sacraments are also legitimate. Unlike the Protestant churches that profess and practice consubstantiation; when the Eucharist is consecrated by an Orthodox priest, transubstantiation takes place. That is to say, only in a Catholic or Orthodox Church, when a priest says, ‘Take, eat this is my body… This is my blood’, will the bread and wine change species to the Holy Body and Blood of Christ. So, what does that mean? Well, despite urban legend, there is no law disallowing a visiting Orthodox from receiving the Eucharist in a Catholic Church. Vatican II confirms Catholics, likewise, may receive the sacraments in the Orthodox Church but that’s not necessarily what happens in reality. Just this weekend I heard of two Catholics who attempted to receive communion in a European Orthodox Church but were turned away, called ‘Schismatics’.

Even still, the present dispute is not beyond dialogue or repair. The major disagreement, as far as I can tell, rests on two major issues and one minor ones.


Pope – Infallibility of

ORTHODOX: Papal Infallibility is rejected. The Holy Spirit acts to guide the church into truth through (for example) ecumenical councils. This Orthodoxy recognises the first seven ecumenical councils (325-787) as being infallible.

CATHOLIC: The Pope is infallible when, through the Holy Spirit, he defines a doctrine on faith and morals that is to be held by the whole church. This is a dogma and is therefore a required belief within Catholicism.


First, the infallibility of the pope—a doctrine that says the pope cannot be wrong on matters of theological importance, doctrines on faith and morals that are to be held by the whole church. To Orthodox Christians, papal infallibility is rejected. Here, the solution is simple: the Orthodox need to deal with the facts. The Pope has never been wrong or in need of correction on theological matters. Sure, there were three near misses, but mistakes were never made. Ever. Contrast that with the fact that Orthodox history which has seen the likes of Patriarchs subscribe to full blown heresies, such as an embrace of Arianism.


Holy Spirit

ORTHODOX: The third person of the Trinity, proceeding from the Father alone as in the original Nicene Creed. The Father sends the Spirit at the intercession of the Son. The Son is therefore an agent only in the procession of the Spirit.

PROTESTANT: The Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. The Nicene creed includes the filioque (Latin: ‘and the son’).

CATHOLIC: Agrees with the Protestant view.
Ambrose of Milan (340-397) wrote: ‘When the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, He is not separated from the Father, He is not separated from the Son’.



Second, the nature of the Holy Spirit, the catalyst to the original Great Schism. While Orthodox view the third person of the Trinity, proceeding from the Father alone as in the original Nicene Creed, Catholics view the Holy Spirit as proceeding from the Father and the Son but not separated from Them. While I am not a theologian, I consider myself qualified to comment on procedure. The Orthodox have a legitimate sense of grief in that the Creed, which was formed qua Council, was changed without one. Simple solution: call another Council as a form of peace talks with the Orthodox and proceed accordingly. God willing, language and theological terms agreeable to both sides will be reached.


Clergy – Qualification for

ORTHODOX: Priests and Bishops must be male, but deaconesses are permitted, though the order is dormant.
Priests and deacons may marry before ordination but not after. Bishops, on the other hand, must be celibate.

CATHOLIC: All clergy are required to be male. Priests and Bishops must also be celibate, with the exception of Eastern Rite Catholics and Anglican married clergy who subsequently convert to Catholicism. These groups are allowed to have married priests.



Now, with respect to minor differences, the main and glaring conflict is that of married clergy. While both Churches accurately accept only male priests and bishops, Orthodox clergy, but not bishops, are permitted to marry. Here, the Catholic Church might do well to revisit the issue of married priests. Until the 12th century, Catholic priests could marry, but this changed for two reasons, none of which were founded in scripture or tradition. First, following from problems with property. When a priest died, his wife and children were left in church property and were reluctant to leave. Secondly, there was a lack of good moral lives that were being led by married Roman Catholic priests. It took over three centuries to complete the transition from married clergy to celibate clergy. And even now, some Churches under the Vatican, such as the Eastern Rite have married priests, which have presented little to no problems as far as Rome is concerned. Ask me? The idea of marriage classes from a married priest is more appealing than the opposite. At the very least, the Orthodox Church can rest assured the likelihood bringing their married clergy under the helm of the Pope would be accepted, based on the precedent already set.


Today, the global war on Christians is at an all-time high. According to Vatican numbers, by some relation to their faith, over 100 thousand Christians are murdered every single year. Just last week, a Sudanese woman was sentenced to death simply for marrying a Christian. Even still, popular culture in the west appears only nominally aware of the endemic.


Common Declaration of Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

8. From this holy city of Jerusalem, we express our shared profound concern for the situation of Christians in the Middle East and for their right to remain full citizens of their homelands. In trust we turn to the almighty and merciful God in a prayer for peace in the Holy Land and in the Middle East in general. We especially pray for the Churches in Egypt, Syria, and Iraq, which have suffered most grievously due to recent events. We encourage all parties regardless of their religious convictions to continue to work for reconciliation and for the just recognition of peoples’ rights. We are persuaded that it is not arms, but dialogue, pardon and reconciliation that are the only possible means to achieve peace.


And yet, when the pope and patriarch this weekend expressed their shared concern for the situation of Christians in the Middle East, it made international headlines. Folks, there is a truth to the term strength in numbers. But, I am a realist. I remain doubtful that statist churches like that of the Russian Orthodox will amalgamate with Rome any time soon. That, keep in mind, is a church which embraces President Putin, despite his excommunication by the monks of Mt Athos, and once spied on it’s laity, relaying information gathered in the confessional to the Soviets, whilst they were in power. Should an Orthodox Church blanket itself with the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, it might likely be the Greek Church that leads the way. The Greek Orthodox Church is not nearly as extreme and doesn’t report to a state department about religious affairs, but to Holy Synods— they are moved by a spirit of faith and would do well to inform their flock about present truths. In the meantime, I continue to pray for unity of the Churches. And, even if unity is a long way off, popes and patriarchs need to keep plugging away.



Posted on by Faith Goldy in Uncategorized
  • Fr. Lukas

    Dear Faith,

    I would make one small but significant clarification in this article- Eastern Catholic and Orthodox priests can be married but not marry after ordination.
    Latin-Rite Catholicism has had priests taken from married men since the time of Christ (e.g. St. Peter), but upon ordination (to either the diaconate or presbyterate) they took on the vow of perpetual continence.

    Pope Gregory VII (born HIldebrand, pope from 1073 to 1085) made it a canon law that stated that those who are called to the priesthood also need to have been given the charism of celibacy.
    In both cases of married clergy and celibate clergy, (perpetual) continence was the tradition. The Easter-rite Catholicism has a different tradition which is somewhat complex.
    Fr. Christian Cochini’s book “Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy” is enlightening.
    Fr. Lukas

  • Anthony Quinn

    Can you site your reference for your assertion that Roman Catholics and Orthodox recognize equality of their sacraments. Catechism of Catholic Church seems to disagree with your “urban legend” assessment. Same goes for Orthodox as far as I can tell. Would like to to be true, so please point me to your source. Thanks,


    Well, despite urban legend, there is no law disallowing a visiting Orthodox from receiving the Eucharist in a Catholic Church. Vatican II confirms Catholics, likewise, may receive the sacraments in the Orthodox Church but that’s not necessarily what happens in reality. Just this weekend I heard of two Catholics who attempted to receive communion in a European Orthodox Church but were turned away, called ‘Schismatics’.

  • Nikos Dellas

    This article, while in tone and hope is great, makes a few small errors which further confusion. I will briefly discuss just one. The Patriarch of Constantinople is NOT the head of the Orthodox Church – Christ Is. All patriarchs are head of their independent Churches and all bishops for that matter (Patriarch, Metropolitan, Archbishop, bishop) ARE EQUAL in Orthodoxy. We don’t have and don’t want a pope UNLESS he returns to Orthodoxy in word and in deed. Orthodoxy has NOTHING to do with heresy and has not changed the faith once delivered to the saints while the papacy has done the opposite unfortunately.

  • Tevoyadar_chingasos

    Sounds like wishful thinking on the married priests subject on her part…or maybe for a friend.

  • ACV

    Faith, appreciate the heart to illustrate that we have more in common than otherwise but there are a few errors with this nice piece. The Holy Orthodox Church claim Apostolic succession back to St Andrew for a reason, the first of the disciples and the only student of St John The Forerunner who links old and new covenants together and produces the continuity of Faith. He is the one that came to the others including his brother and said, come we have found Him.

    It always amazes me how loosely the word petra is rendered.

    As for your commentary on Papal infallibility I really don’t know where to start, while apologetics may be offered on behalf of Latin Popes, articles of Faith that are not robust enough to defend Christendom morally or politically should philosophically be without use the word infallible.

    I’m always reminded of the solid foundation of the Patristic tradition that solves more problems than it causes unlike the protestant experiment which evolved out of the Latin Church not the Greek Church who were always charismatic to begin with.