Eastern Catholics defending Orthodoxy vs Roman Catholics

So this will likely be a confusing post and I apologize in advance. I am a Roman Catholic actively working toward changing canonical Churches to becoming a Byzantine Catholic (Ruthenian). Are there good resources that Eastern Catholics have to share with Roman Catholics in defense of the Orthodox Church. I know many Eastern Catholics consider themselves Orthodox in communion with Rome (and while this is likely a simplistic characterization, I do not find fault with it). This said, I am on a traditional Catholic forum and am being derided for my defense of Orthodoxy. I make the claim that the Orthodox are indeed the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church just as much as we are (for Christ remains present in their Sacraments and still chooses to make Himself present on their altars). They bombard me with quotes from Church Fathers and Popes and different councils that condemn the idea that anyone who isn’t in communion with Rome can be part of the Church.

I know the branch theory (excluding Anglicanism since they haven’t had valid Holy Orders in centuries and centuries) is not popular among traditional Catholics or conservative Orthodox (especially the Russian Orthodox), but is becoming steadily more accepted, thanks to the work of JPII and Pope Francis as well as the Ecumenical Patriarchs over the last one hundred years.

I know that some EC communities practice inter communion with their Orthodox brethren (something Rome would likely freak out about if it was made known). How can we help our brothers and sisters in the Roman Church see the Orthodox as brothers in the faith and not schismatic/heretical/etc?

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Good question. I don’t know.

Myself, I’m confused on the subject. I think you’re either Catholic or you’re Orthodox. A Byzantine Catholic (in my mind) is a Catholic who expresses his faith differently than Western Catholics, but it’s the same faith.

So, I hope this becomes a fruitful conversation as I would like to better understand.

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No offense, but pretending we’re one when we’re not is counterproductive. Neither the Catholic Church nor any Orthodox Churches hold this to be true–it’s why we have so many ecumenical meetings trying to resolve the division. Better to use your time praying for true unity than trying convince others of a well-intentioned fiction.

“Branch theory” was been repeatedly ruled out, even during and after JPII’s pontificate.

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My experience with Eastern Catholics is that they fully identify themselves as 100% Orthodox, who just happen to agree with the things necessary for being in communion with Rome. So they are completely Orthodox Christians who choose not to remain separated in communion. That’s where I get confused why Roman Catholics tend to look negatively upon Eastern Orthodox but accept Eastern Catholics, when they two are essentially the same thing (not exactly the same thing).

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That’s where a definition of “one” must be made. Are we one in the sense that we share communion? No. Are we “one” in the sense that we are bound to Christ through the Eucharist and His life giving Sacraments? Yes, we are. So I argue that the Orthodox are just as much Christ’s One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church as we Catholics are. Eastern Catholics readily accept this position (at least all the ones I’ve talked to, read from, etc). It’s just the more conservative types of Catholic and Orthodox alike who reject this wholesale. JPII hit the nail on the head when he called the Orthodox the other lung of the Church. While there are theological differences keep the two out of communion, the only “real” issue is papal supremacy. If Rome could sit down with the Eastern Bishops and come to an understanding of what papal primacy means and looks like, then all the other issues would be quickly overcome and reunification could be had. But Rome will likely have to back off from its claims to supremacy and universal jurisdiction as this was never really how Rome operated prior to Vatican I. It’s rejected by the Orthodox and while the Eastern Catholics accept it for the sake of unity, I can assure you most if not all of these Churches would rejoice to see Rome abandon this superiority complex and return to a collegial model like the Early Church operated on (and the Eastern Churches continue to operate on).

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JPII called Eastern Catholics the other lung, saying it was important for the Church to breath with both such lungs in the hope of doing so in communion with the now-separated Eastern Churches:

Ecclesia in America

The Synod Fathers recalled the norms given by the Second Vatican Council, which recognize that the Eastern Churches “have the right and the duty to govern themselves according to their own particular discipline”, given the mission they have of bearing witness to an ancient doctrinal, liturgical and monastic tradition. Moreover, these Churches have a duty to maintain their own disciplines, since these “correspond better to the customs of their faithful and are judged to be better suited to provide for the good of souls”.(46) The universal Church needs a synergy between the particular Churches of East and West so that she may breathe with her two lungs, in the hope of one day doing so in perfect communion between the Catholic Church and the separated Eastern Churches.(47)

I’ll lay out the Catholic doctrine in the next post which defines from the Catholic perspective how the one Church professed in the Creed is identified.

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The Catholic Church teaches at Vatican II in Lumen Gentium that the Church of Christ on earth is “an entity with visible delineation” and the marks that visibly delineate it are “profession of faith, the sacraments, and ecclesiastical government and communion.” The Council’s decree on the Eastern Churches sums it up briefly in its opening: “The Holy Catholic Church, which is the Mystical Body of Christ, is made up of the faithful who are organically united in the Holy Spirit by the same faith, the same sacraments and the same government”.

Valid sacraments are not enough–being jointed in hierarchical communion (which includes the primacy of the Roman Pontiff, according to Catholic doctrine) is also necessary for the Church to be the Church–otherwise, there would be no such sin as schism.

Granted, we do acknowledge that “many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure.” In the case of the EOs we can go so far as to say they have particular Churches (ie valid bishops and the people attached to them celebrating a common Eucharist). But, they cannot be said to be the one catholic Church as professed in the Creed–that one Church of Christ, cannot be said to subsist in them.

Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium’s used the Latin phrase “subsistit in” to emphasize that permanent and unique identity of the Catholic Church alone as the one Church of Christ. Some tried to interpret this phrase as admitting a branch theory, with said “subsistence” being broader than the Catholic Church. As a result, Rome has had to intervene a few times recently.

Dominus Iesus

The interpretation of those who would derive from the formula subsistit in the thesis that the one Church of Christ could subsist also in non-Catholic Churches and ecclesial communities is therefore contrary to the authentic meaning of Lumen gentium.

CDF Resp. to Certain Questions Re. Doctrine on the Church

In number 8 of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium ‘subsistence’ means this perduring, historical continuity and the permanence of all the elements instituted by Christ in the Catholic Church, in which the Church of Christ is concretely found on this earth.

Nevertheless, the word “subsists” can only be attributed to the Catholic Church alone precisely because it refers to the mark of unity that we profess in the symbols of the faith (I believe… in the “one” Church).

CDF Comm. re same

In fact, precisely because the Church willed by Christ actually continues to exist (subsistit in) in the Catholic Church, this continuity of subsistence implies an essential identity between the Church of Christ and the Catholic Church…In choosing the word “subsistit” the Council intended to express the singularity and non “multipliability” of the Church of Christ.

Contrary to many unfounded interpretations, therefore, the change from “est” to “subsistit” does not signify that the Catholic Church has ceased to regard herself as the one true Church of Christ.

Certainly EOs in good faith, by virtue of their baptism, have a special bond with this Church and they receive their sacraments profitably. But they can’t be said to be the Church professed in the Creed.

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One possibility is to have an Eastern Catholic liturgy celebrated in the Roman Church from time to time.

Maybe. But most Orthodox don’t see it that way.

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I understand this is Rome’s position. I am only saying that this isn’t generally how Eastern Catholics understand it. To the Eastern Catholics I have talked to (including priests and those teaching at seminaries) there is no sin for a Roman Catholic to leave the Church to become Eastern Orthodox as they are both sacramentally the same faith. They also look at how in the Orthodox world, the churches can be out of communion with one another but still one in the faith (Russia and Constantinople are out of communion with each other yet neither denies the other as part of the Orthodox Church). Having begun the journey Eastward, I definitely see the merit of this. The Church is defined by Christ’s Sacramental presence more than earthly communion among churches (while it is still essential for unity).

The novus ordo was largely designed with input from Eastern Catholic priests and having attended the Divine Liturgy I see a lot of similarities beyond just using vernacular languages. Though I admit there are still very very many problems with the novus ordo as I don’t know of any parishes where it was faithfully implemented. But I believe exposure to the Divine Liturgy would help the reformers of the liturgy find how to proceed forward and make the novus ordo even better than it was originally drafted to be.

We have one every Sunday night.

I had no idea since I’m never at the Church on Sunday night. However, about a month before COVID They celebrated their rite on a Thursday night (I frequently attend Thursday night) & our priest told us about the Sunday night thing.

This is definitely an EO take–but it is clearly contrary to our common tradition (again, otherwise there would be no such thing as schism). Many EOs reject a “universal” ecclesiology, even going so far to consider it a corruption (cynically one might argue it is because they understand it logically to lead to the primacy, as some of their own theologians admit it does). Of course, the fact that “catholic” is in the Creed can’t be ignored. The word “catholic” is used by the Fathers to refer to the universal Church, rather than a specific Eucharistic Church, usually referred to by its geographic location.

The very thing you see as appealing, is the very thing that puts their ecclesiology at odds with that in the Creed–One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. They lack the one and the Catholic (“universal”), focusing in theory exclusively on the Eucharistic Church and in practice on the national Church.

As you note, they constantly get into situations where EO particular church A is in communion with B, B is in communion with C, but A and C are not in communion with each other (A=B=C≠A) (e.g. the current schism between Constantinople, Moscow, and some Ukrainian Churches and others; ROCOR’s situation generally; the Moscow-Contantinople schism in 1996; the Bulgarian schism of the 19th century when most patriarchates, but not Moscow, broke communion with the Bulgarian Churches; etc., etc.). How can one universal/catholic church simultaneously have some particular churches in communion with other particular churches, while other churches are separated from each other? That’s not unity in any meaningful way. This can only make sense if there is a plurality of Churches–the “one” of the Creed is lacking–and without this oneness, the very concept of one catholic/universal Church becomes untenable.

This was illustrated perfectly by the putative pan-Orthodox Synod in Crete a few years back (or whatever it ultimately was classified as). Without even getting into all the boycotts over jurisdictional differences, despite the EO doctrine about all bishops being equal, if you look at how that synod was explicitly organized and carried out, the bishops who participated in that synod did not do so as equal bishops of one Church, but as representatives of multiple, distinct, national Churches and patriarchates. What was sought was not a consensus of the bishops of one Church (or even a consensus of particular Churches), but rather a consensus of independent national Churches (which didn’t even happen anyway).

I really don’t mean this to be all negative EO bash-fest–we do have so much in common and they have many beautiful traditions, but Christ established His Church as we profess in the Creed and prayed for that one-ness. We need to truly seek all the baptized to be fitted into that unity in one catholic Church, not settle for something less.

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not the Chaldeans, SyroMalabars, and Maronites. As we don’t have a counterpart Orthodox church. OO or EO.

now in India, the average SyroMalabar laity calls themselves “Roman Catholic Syrian Christian”, just bcs they consider themselves to be that much Catholic.

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well IMO (and experience), RCs mostly view ECs as Roman with a different “Mass”/vestments . Any attempt at being Pro-Orthodox is shot down as being anti Catholic…I have one foot out the door and inching towards Orthodoxy mainly b/c of this and I know other ECs who have done that as well.

I don’t see their jurisdictional mess as a sign that they can’t satisfy being One, in relation to the Church. They are one in faith. They might break and re-enter communion over political squabbles (which is regrettable and a very poor witness) without breaking from the faith. The Russians and Greek churches have broken communion with one another yet both recognize in the other as the Orthodox church. Orthodoxy, and Eastern Catholicism for that matter, are about unity in diversity. This is how the Early Roman Church operated as well (we used to have so many more rites in the Roman Church-Gallican, Latin, Dominican, etc). But Rome has gradually accepted a conformist approach. While the East continued to emphasize diversity, the West narrowed the expression of faith down to uniformity. I don’t see these as contradictory to one another and I see value in both expressions.

For me, ultimately, if Jesus Christ sees fit to come down to their altars for the Divine Liturgy, and to give His life saving Body and Blood to them in Holy Communion, as well as to be present in all their Sacraments including absolving them of their sins in confession, how can we say that they are not the True Church as well? If we teach that Salvation can only be found inside the Catholic Church (which is the normative teaching of the Catholic Church) then this presents a contradiction. How can we say, on the one hand, Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus? Yet, on the other hand, that salvation is routinely being achieved through the Orthodox Churches due to their Sacraments being valid? Rome teaches that it is necessary to be Catholic in order to be saved. But the validity of Orthodox Sacraments suggests otherwise.

Rome does grant that while God instituted the Sacraments and the normal means of salvation, He is by no means limited to it and can save any soul individually as He sees fit. But this is on an individual basis, not on a communal basis. So there doesn’t seem to be an explanation that adequately accounts for the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches.

This is unfortunate then, as it only shows ignorance toward Eastern Catholicism. And to be fair, the vast majority of Roman Catholics “are” ignorant about Eastern Catholicism. We simply aren’t taught about them at all. I went through RCIA in 2013 and didn’t even know Eastern Catholics existed until about two years ago when driving by an EC Church. I was like…“St. Anne’s Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Church…the heck is that?” As far as I knew, Catholic was synonymous with Roman.

Eastern Catholics are not Roman Catholics with different Liturgies and vestments. They have a very different theology and entirely different spirituality. I know where you are at though. I myself have one foot in the Ruthenian Byzantine Church I mentioned and the other in an Antiochian Orthodox Church. Not sure how far East God is calling me.

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sadly some ECs are ignorant of their own history and spirituality. especially the heavily latinized ones. they are more or less a hybrid church- half Latin and half eastern.

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I am one of those weird Orthodox that considers myself Orthodox in communion with Rome. I’ve gone to confession with a Catholic priest and I’ve taken communion. There are circumstances that would make it difficult to go to my own priest for confession and I absolutely needed to go to confession so I did. However, I have not taken any sacraments in the Orthodox Church since doing this, because I know how this is viewed and the consequences of this. I would have to confess this in order to return to communion in the Orthodox Church and I don’t feel as if it is something I even need to confess. I have considered officially becoming Melkite- even though the nearest Eastern Catholic parish is hundreds of miles away and well over a four hour drive. I feel as if I’m in a difficult position right now.

To be honest, at this stage, I view it similarly to a guy on another board a few months ago who was ROCOR and was excommunicated for communing in GOA parish. He had to confess that as a sin. I found it ridiculous.

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reminds me of my friend who is a Syriac Orthodox (his mom is Catholic, dad Orthodox).
he always goes to the Novus Ordo Mass and receives communion; and also goes to confession to a Latin priest. I’m sure a Novus Ordo parish is probably close by since he is in the US. It’s almost like he mentally sees himself as Orthodox in some kinda communion with Rome.

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I’m in the reverse situation. While still a Roman Catholic, I am working toward becoming Byzantine Catholic. That said, the Byzantine Church is a couple hours away from us and we could never be active in the parish beyond irregular Sunday attendance. That said, there’s an Antiochian Orthodox Church half a block from our house that could allow us full and active participation in the life of the Church throughout the week. For now, my family is going to keep attending Divine Liturgy at the Ruthenian Church and be involved in the Orthodox Church for Vespers, community events, prayer groups, studies, etc. In the end, we may end up becoming Orthodox for practical reasons. I’m not there yet though, there are some positions the Orthodox hold that I can’t, at present, give intellectual assent to. It’s a difficult spot to be in and I sympathize with you wholeheartedly. Despite being told by countless Roman Catholics that I will be an “apostate” or “schismatic” for officially becoming Orthodox, I have been told by numerous Eastern Catholics (including priests, two of which have taught at seminary) that there is no sin of schism in becoming Orthodox (unless one’s intention is an active break from Rome).

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