Beginner question- Greek Orthodoxy

Ok, I understand this is probably a little outside the scope of this forum, but I am a Roman Catholic looking for a place to start in learning about Church history, in particular with respect to Greek Orthodoxy. I’m rekindling a friendship with someone from high school who is Greek Orthodox, and I would like to be able to converse intelligently because I have a feeling the subject will eventually come up. I have probably better than average chatechesis within the Roman Catholic Church, but little background in Eastern Catholocism and Church History. I tried starting with a few recent threads, but quite frankly, even the vocabulary is beyond my knowledge, let alone the subject matter.

My foggy recollection from Confirmation class decades ago is that the Greek Orthodox Church is considered NOT to be in communion with the Roman rite, but that it is acceptable for a Greek Orthodox person to receive the Eucharist in the Roman Catholic Church. I cannot remember if it is acceptable for a Roman Catholic to receive at a Greek Orthodox Church, nor whether a Greek Orthodox Mass (do they even call it a Mass??:blush:) fulfills our Sunday obligation. I know there is a group of churches considered to be “in communion” with Rome, but I couldn’t name them if my life depended on it. I really don’t have any knowledge of what differentiates the churches that are considered ‘in communion’ with those that are considered not yet reciprocate receipt of the Eucharist, vs what churches have differences severe enough to be considered schismatic. I do remember a JPII quote about breathing with 2 lungs. What I’ve written here is the extent of my knowledge of the subject.

Specifically, my friend once asked me awhile back, basically something to effect of, Why did the [Roman] Catholic Church arbitrarily decide that some of the patriarchs were no longer considered figures of authority or not part of the church? I think he could tell from my deer-in-the-headlights look I had NO clue what he was talking about because he quickly dropped the subject. Before that, I hadn’t even heard about patriarchs and all that, and I haven’t sought to increase my knowledge further than that until now.

PS- I am a former regular in the Catholic Life Forums, but have been away quite awhile because the forums became a bit of an addiction for me. I may not be back for a few days, but I am definitely going to be checking back in and appreciate the help.

PPS- Would it be appropriate to have a sticky that listed the churches considered to be ‘in communion’ as part of the Eastern Catholic Church? Just a suggestion.

A few quick answers.

  1. Eastern Christians (whether Orthodox or in communion with Rome) use the term Divine Liturgy rather than Mass - the latter term derives from the Latin phrase “Ita missa est” which the priest says at the very end of the Mass, literally this means “It is sent” or more roughly, “We are sent forth” but in English this is translated “The Mass is ended”.

  2. No, Catholics and Orthodox are not permitted to receive the Eucharist at one another’s liturgy/Mass, except in very unusual cases.

  3. The nature of the question your friend posed to you suggests that he doesn’t understand some of the issues very well either. The Catholic Church did not just suddenly decide to cut off the Eastern churches at some point and reject their patriarchs. The schism developed very gradually over the course of many centuries. At first it was just a matter of legitimate divergence in practices, but as doctrinal development occurred (especially in the West) there emerged doctrinal differences as well. It is actually difficult to pinpoint a single point in time and say that is when the schism occurred. Many people refer to an incident that occurred in the 11th century (I think) when the reigning pope excommunicated the Patriarch of Constantinople (who is “first among equals” among the Orthodox patriarchs and he has a primacy of honor, although he does not have direct governing authority over, say the Greek or Russian Orthodox churches). But that excommunication only affected one person, not the whole Eastern body of churches.

It is tempting for me to write more but I should leave that to others on the forum who are really experts, I am just a dabbler in these issues.

Point 2 needs some clarification. The Catholic Church permits Orthodox faithful to receive Holy Communion, and not just in “very unusual cases”; however, the Orthodox Church generally forbids her faithful to receive Holy Communion anywhere other than in an Orthodox Church. The Catholic Church permits her faithful to receive Holy Communion in an Orthodox Church when they are unable to attend a Catholic Church; however, the Orthodox Church does not generally admit non-Orthodox to Holy Communion.

Why not? Do we not both (Latin Rite and Orthodox) believe in Transubstansiation?

Both the Catholic Church and the Orthodox have basically the same beliefs about the Eucharist (although the Orthodox do not use the term “transubstantiation”), but are not in communion with each other, and are not in agreement on some matters of the faith. For these reasons, the Orthodox generally do not admit non-Orthodox to Holy Communion.

As I said, I am just a dabbler. :slight_smile: Thanks for the clarification. Now that you mention it, the statement issued by the US bishops on inter-communion explains why Protestants are not invited to receive communion at Mass; but regarding the Orthodox it only says that they are urged to follow the laws of their own Churches.

If you want to learn about early Church history I recommend The First Seven Ecumenical Councils (325-787): Their History and Theology by Leo Davis.

The difference which is best-known pertains to the role of the Papacy. The Orthodox believe that the Bishop of Rome (i.e. the Pope) should be only “first among equals” and not have governing authority over the other Patriarchs (Constantinople, Moscow etc.)

However there are other differences as well, not often mentioned but which would probably pose more serious obstacles to reunification. These include the question of divorce (which the Orthodox allow as possible, although only in cases of last resort) and of contraception - on which they have no clear teaching.

The fact is that the differences between Catholic and Orthodox Churches are more political than theological. The Patriarch of Constantinople has been under Turk rule since the 16th century and cannot offend them. The Russian Orthodox Church, by far the largest Orthodox Church, is closely tied to the Russian government.

Thank you, this is exactly the type of start I was looking for. Do keep the responses coming.

And thanks, especially, for the clarification regarding pt 2 about Communion. I was SURE I remembered correctly that he and I both looked it up separately when we were out of town and he planned to attend Mass with my family (nothing inappropriate, promise- it was a group of my friends joining my family at my parents’ lakehouse).

It’s funny, I’ve gotten so used to having this type of forum conversation on Facebook that I keep looking for the LIKE button, haha.

Do the Orthodox Churches generally consider themselves to be in communion with one another, or is that also a point of contention among the Orthodox Churches?

What is meant by the statement about the Patriarch of Constantinople not offending the Turks? I don’t follow.

And with respect to the Patriarch of Moscow’s ties to the Russian government, is it being implied that the government has inappropriate influence over the Patriarch, or the Patriarch has influence over the government, or more generally that the political issues of being tied to the government would prevent unification per se, or something else altogether? Another way to ask, In what way is the patriarch tied to the government? I hope none of that sounds offensive; it is not intended that way at all. I’m just trying to understand the statement, because the first thing that popped into my head was the Russian mob. :o I don’t think that was the point, but that’s the first thing I thought of.

Isn’t the issue of married priests another difference (aside from the liturgy, obviously)?

And, stupid question, is the Patriarch of Constantinople the authority figure for the Greek Orthodox? I thought the Greeks and Turks didn’t get along? My world history and international political knowledge is also very weak, if you can’t tell. (I’m an engineer- science and technology are more my thing.)

There’s Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox… no others come to my mind, but are there? And are there Catholic counterparts to both of those, like Greek Catholic and Russian Catholic (even if they have some other name), and what is the status of relations within those pairings, if that is even a valid way to describe the situation. Would those pairings, assuming they do exist, be called more contentious or less than those between the Orthodox and Catholics?

Not a stupid question at all. The Orthodox churches are organized along national boundaries. Since Constantinople (now called Istanbul) is now part of Turkey, which has a tiny Christian minority, the Patriarch (or Ecumenical Patriarch to give him his full title, it is an honorary thing referring to his primacy among the patriarchs) is actually the leader of a very small church in terms of the number of adherents. However, the office retains its historic status and dignity. The Greek Orthodox church has its own hierarchy.

Can someone define metropolitan and patrimony? I’m trying not to make people repeat lots of stuff that is in other threads already, but like I said, being unfamiliar with the vocabulary makes it extremely difficult for me to follow some of the relevant or related discussions that sound very interesting. I don’t want to interrupt those conversations with my very basic questions.

Yes, it is. The Orthodox do not allow a priest to get married, but a man who is already married can be ordained. This was the practice of the Western church from earliest times until the Council of Trent. However, in the Western church, the man in question would have to renounce marital relations with his wife after ordination. After Trent, to help enforce clerical celibacy, it was decreed that a man had to be unmarried at the time of his ordination.

Also, bishops in the Orthodox churches must be unmarried.

Quite a few - there is a Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Romanian Orthodox, and others. Basically any country that has a sufficiently large population of Orthodox Christians will have its own Orthodox hierarchy.

Yes, they do. Any Orthodox Christian can receive communion at the Liturgy of any Orthodox church. There may be a few fringe churches whose status is in doubt, I don’t know, but the major ones are all in communion with each other.

  1. You really should go to an Orthodox source for learning about Orthodoxy. If you PM me I can recommend a good forum.

  2. Roman Catholics say we can receive their Communion. Orthodox do not say Roman Catholics can receive Communion in our churches, and for an Orthodox to receive Communion in a Roman Catholic Church can be a very grave sin. We are not supposed to receive Communion in non-Orthodox churches.

  3. All Eastern Orthodox churches are in Communion with one another.

  4. The statements about his All Holiness (The Patriarch of Constantinople) and the Patriarch of Moscow are meant to imply (IMO) that Orthodoxy would be in Communion with Rome if it were not for two secular governments which don’t want us to be. That is absolutely and patently false.

  5. The Orthodox Church is organized by “local” churches where a “local” church can cover an entire country. All the bishops of a local church sit on the same council. Thus The Church in Greece is called “The Greek Church” and the bishops in Greece all sit on the Greek Council of Bishops. The first among them, the guy who would do a tie breaker and who sits at the head of the table, is the Patriarch of Constantinople. He doesn’t have the right to declare dogma, move bishops, depose bishops, or any of the many other powers the Bishop of Rome does. The Russians have the same: the Patriarch of Moscow is the “CEO” as it were of their church. There are many others, including Polish, Serbian, Bulgarian, Ukrainian, Japanese, Antiochian, Georgian, and the list goes on.

  6. Relationships between the Orthodox and Eastern Catholics are often very strained, to put it mildly, especially historically.

I think you would get a good answer on an Orthodox Christian website.

I’m not sure how true it is today, but historically, the divisions between the churches tended to coincide with political divisions. For example, the geographic split between the Catholic and Orthodox churches corresponded to the split between the Eastern and Western parts of the Roman Empire, after Constantine created a new capital in Byzantium. A similar situation occurred with the Monophysite churches - there’s a story in itself. They split even longer ago than the Orthodox.

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