Trying to understand how Orthodoxy works without an equivalent to the Pope

I want to make clear in advance that I’m not trying to attack or offend. I’m just sincerely trying to understand the orthodox position on things. It’s a real mental wrestling match for me XD. I’d like to get some input from actual Eastern Orthodox members :slight_smile:

Situation: There is a split/schism over some issue and the church is polarized; split right down the middle. The bishops on each side excommunicate the bishops on the other side.
Question: How do you know which church is the true one in this case?

In the Roman Catholic church the answer is papal primacy; the bishops in communion with the pope are still operating within Apostolic/Holy/Sacred Tradition while the bishops who dissent are heretics. The magesterium will hold a council and define some new canons and dogmas, clarifying the situation and making the split formal and decisive.

But I don’t know what the equivalent Eastern Orthodox solution is. From what I’ve read, the solution seems to be an appeal to collective common sense: The orthodox seem to me to be saying “Follow the church which has the correct doctrine”. And yes of course I agree we should do that :slight_smile: But that is the whole point of my question: how do I know which church has the correct doctrine? It all seems extremely vague and fuzzy: In Orthodoxy the true faith is what all the bishops agree that the true faith is, and bishops who disagree are heretics. This doesn’t work, especially when the church is divided down the middle. Half the bishops agree, half the bishops disagree.

Please help to correct my understanding :thumbsup:
(Again, this is not supposed to be a trap, I’m sincerely looking for an answer!)

PS. I bring this up in part because I am fascinated by Oriental Orthodoxy and other pre-reformation church splits. In these cases it isn’t a denial of tradition that divides the churches. There have been splits, and a new tradition is born every time there is a split. All pre-reformation churches claim that their tradition is the Holy tradition. The question for me is, who has the correct tradition? I choose Roman Catholicism because of the Papacy. I would love to hear from different Orthodox members what it is that gives them certainty that their tradition is the correct one when there are so many available to choose from.
On the Protestant side of things, there is a denial of the sacred role of tradition entirely (Prima scriptura doesn’t count). I’m personally convinced that tradition is as important as scripture (potentially moreso), so I just can’t understand sola scriptura and it is therefore a topic for another thread. I will also quickly note for any protestant readers that I DO understand the difference between sola scriptura and solo scriptura

Not sure, but a guess would be that they look at the tradition of the Fathers of the Church and the consensus of the bishops.

TIK #1
The question for me is, who has the correct tradition? I choose Roman Catholicism because of the Papacy.

Why should a Catholic question that Christ’s Church is does not have the fullness of truth which Christ assured by founding His Church on St Peter with His assurance of His presence until the end of time?

Perhaps you are unaware of Christ’s explicit words?

**All four promises to Peter alone: **
“You are Peter and on this rock I will build My Church.” (Mt 16:18)
“The gates of hell will not prevail against it.”(Mt 16:18)
“I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of heaven." ( Mt 16:19)
“Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven.” (Mt 16:19) [Later, also to the Twelve].

**Sole authority: **
“Strengthen your brethren.” (Lk 22:32)
“Feed My sheep.”(Jn 21:17).

Jesus warned dissenters: “if he refuses to hear even the Church let him be like the heathen and a publican.” (Mt 18:17).

St. Paul says also, “through the Church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places (Eph 3:10).” The Church teaches even the angels! This is with the authority of Christ!

Abu: Thanks for this, it is helpful and shows exactly why I choose to remain Catholic. I’m not questioning Roman Catholic church authority, but I AM asking how it is that the Orthodox get by without it:
Without a Pope by which to identify the correct tradition, how does an orthodox christian “know” which tradition is from God?

If you hadn’t noticed the splits among them? They are obviously not as visual as protestants but they are there.

To my knowledge, any splits in modern Orthodoxy are political in nature and don’t really have to do with the faith, so they get healed eventually.

We have the advantage of 2000 years of tradition (Scripture first and foremost, plus canons of councils, and the liturgy, hymnography and iconography that we’ve built up over the years) to appeal to, so if some bishop or faction tries to introduce an actual change in belief it will become apparent quickly.

They have their own Pope. They just do not call it as such. Similarly the Protestants. I guess they know that their tradition is from God like how we know ours, that is by believing that their leaders did the correct thing and chose the correct choice.

Sure we do! :smiley:

Your question is sincere and deserves a response to inquire about why God had developed two Churches into two different aspects of His authority. If Catholics and Orthodox would only see why the Lord had developed His Eastern and Western Churches differently they would see that our two Churches were ordained to become united. I believe we were looking at this the wrong way to determine how our Churches were to become united. In truth it was necessary for Rome and the Orthodox to go on there own paths. We thought they should not but God knows best and it was good that the two largest Churches had to separate for awhile. The Church of Rome needed to developed her Papacy into a first principal type of government or authority with the Pope as been given his authority to serve the Catholic Church with more authority than what a Patriarch would enjoy. The Popes authority is derived from the words of Jesus who would say ``who is greater the one who reclines (sits) at the table or the one who serves.`` The apostles said the one who sits and the Lord said yes you are right yet here am I, one who is serving. The point Jesus was saying that even though you enjoy this great position it is even greater to get up and to serve as the Lord had given them example to follow. That is how I see the role of the Pope, the servant of servants. This type of government which the Church of Rome enjoys must go through many hurdles before it become firmly established. I believe the Churches were still in what I call their immaturity mode in the past. Too many Bishops were arguing and it was like if you can say too many immature people who could not understand what developments were occurring in each others Churches. This immaturity was there on both sides. So God decided the next best thing for them is to go on their separate ways until this maturity will set in. I believe we have now presently are in the beginnings of this maturity which the Lord is seeking from us. The Eastern Churches did not based their authority and government on a first principal one like Rome but revealed a more conciliar type of government with the Patriarch as considered the first bishop among many bishops. This type of government was serving the Eastern Churches and it seemed to work on them since they had adopted it for the last 2000 years. The problem though between Rome and the Orthodox was how can we have a united Church with two types of governments. What can be done. This is why we are still divided upon what type of government best serves the whole Church. Perhaps what is important to both Churches can be important to all. What might happen if the Churches are to become united is the combination of the first principal which Rome enjoys to the conciliar principal which the Eastern Churches enjoy.

WOW. I love that response :slight_smile: Imagine if everyone on both sides of the schism saw it that way.

This is the first time I have seen it explained this way and thank you for taking the time to do it. I have heard the analogy that the Catholic and Orthodox Churches are like the left and right lungs of a body or left hand and right hand. From what I understand is that there is very little that keeps us apart and I wonder if it is pride or arrogance because of man’s weaknesses on both sides that is hindering the process. I would love to see the Catholic and Orthodox Church united in my life time.

Thanks. I am an Eastern Orthodox who sees Rome as just as important as the Eastern Churches and I had developed to learn both Churches to adopt them into my life. This “combo” orientation has given for me the basis to write my series of books on the Catholic and Orthodox Churches to see how we can become united with all these teachings we have inherited from the past 2000 years. It is to my understanding we can integrate Catholicism and Orthodoxy within each person. What I have written in my post was just a small sample of what my books are about.

Thank you for reading my post and commenting on it as you did. I am almost ready to publish my books on this subject, a catechism series of books combining the best of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. What I have written in my post was a small sample of what these books would give to the inquiry mind. Your quest to see the Churches to unite will come and it will involve a lot of work to help the youth of our Churches to see that contacts between our Churches will help begin this journey into our eventual unity. I do not know if it will come in our life time but I do know it is heading toward it. Yes I do believe it involves a lot of pride and arrogance to keep us disunited but when we come to discover each other without this pride and arrogance than all things are possible.

wynd #6
We have the advantage of 2000 years of tradition (Scripture first and foremost, plus canons of councils,

Fr Harrison:
“After the East-West rupture that hardened as a result of the mutual excommunications of 1054 and the brutal sack of Constantinople itself by Latin crusaders in 1204, two ecumenical councils were convoked by Rome for the purpose of healing the breach. They were held, respectively, at Lyons in 1274 and at Florence in 1439, with Eastern Christendom being duly represented at both councils by bishops and theologians sent from Constantinople. And in both cases these representatives ended up fully accepting, on behalf of the Eastern Church, the decrees, promulgated by these councils, that professed the true, divinely ordained jurisdiction of the Successors of Peter over the universal Church of Christ – something much more than a mere primacy of honor. And these decrees were of course confirmed by the then reigning popes.”

"…many Orthodox theologians and bishops have now severely qualified or even surrendered any serious claim to infallibility on the part of their Church. Also, there is no longer any unity, any identifiable “official” position of Orthodoxy as such, in regard to unnatural methods of birth control. Some authorities continue to reprobate these practices, while others – probably the majority by now – condone them. Increasingly, Orthodox married couples are advised just to follow their own conscience on this issue.

“…in recent decades, with more extensive cultural and ecumenical contacts, and with an increasingly large and active Eastern diaspora in Western countries, Orthodoxy’s underlying vulnerability to the same liberal and secularizing tendencies in faith, morals and worship that have devastated the West is becoming more apparent. That virus – an inevitable result of breaking communion with the visible ‘Rock’ of truth and unity constituted by the See of Peter – is now inexorably prodding Orthodoxy toward doctrinal pluralism and disintegration.”

So the errors which have been allowed by the Orthodox are unorthodox (irregular) – the grave errors of permitting divorce and remarriage, denying the reality of the infallibility of the Pope and His supremacy, rejecting the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, and allowing contraception – need to be renounced to be faithful to Christ.

It’s interesting also that Sir Arnold Lunn in* Now I See*, Sheed & Ward, 1955, could quote from the Anglican Vicar of Oddington, Rev S Herbert Scott, that St Peter and his successors were recognised as the supreme judges in matters of faith by a long succession of great Eastern saints, Ignatius, Irenaeus, Denys, Athanasius, Chrysostom, and others.

This is great food for thought and similar to my own thoughts on the issue :slight_smile: I personally suspect that any theological differences between Orthodoxy and Catholicism are in actual fact a matter of language and terminology misunderstanding. They are both saying the same thing from different angles, therefore the two churches could reunite as long as they approach each other in humility and love, willing to clarify their language and terminology in accommodation without compromisation.
However until there is full communion between them there are going to be two separate traditions: sacred tradition for the catholics and holy tradition for the orthodox. Until the two traditions converge into one, where does the “fullness of the truth” reside? I’ve still gotta side with Catholicism just cause there seems to be more of a guarantee that it has correct doctrine, whereas in orthodoxy there seems to be more potential for false teaching.

Again, I suspect that in actual fact both orthodoxy and catholicism are saying 100% the same thing and are not in conflict. However I don’t know that for sure. If I want a guarantee of truth, catholicism seems to provide more certainty by having the successor of Peter (Peter does scripturally seem to be given special attention by Jesus) as Pope.

So I’m still unclear about what would happen in my hypothetical situation. Given an orthodox church, if there is a split down the middle how do you decided which half to follow? What is the rule of thumb? Both sides would maintain conviction that they are in the right and have a handle on the truth.

Thanks to everyone who has responded so far, it has been enlightening to read your responses :slight_smile:

edit (minor optimistic rant): will also note how the idea that the Catholic sacred tradition contains “the fullness of the truth” is wonderful for ecumenism. There are so many traditions on this earth, and all of them might contain part of the truth, but they find their total fulfillment in Christ and Catholicism. So for example if we analyze the different Hindu traditions, we might find things that are related to Catholicism, but expressed in different ways, with different language. We can apply inculturation, take these things and show how they point to Christ. Same for Islam, Judaism, Daoism, Buddhism. Orthodoxy, Calvinism, Anglicanism etc etc etc. Anything which is true and beautiful in these traditions is from Christ. Anything which isn’t true and beautiful in these religions can be conquered through inculturation just as Christ turned the cross and suffering from something horrible into something beautiful. Christ makes all things new! :slight_smile:

Yes, but remember the alternative Protestant interpretation of Peter…that the reference is not to Peter the man, but to Peter’s tremendous faith. It is that faith on which the whole church is built. Peter is the first head with much authority built into him. The interpretations both overlap, and actually can coexist if real tolerance was evident by all. My point though here is different. The span of the topic from absolute “man based” to “faith based” leaves much for Orthodox to consider, I suspect. AND, most importantly, if the Holy Spirit is guiding the Church either through Peter the man (and decendants) or Peter’s faith (and those leaders that came afterward) the same surety of doctrinal teachings will result

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