5-Part Series on Why One Must Be Catholic (Part 5: The Major Problem With Eastern Orthodoxy)

This article will focus on the major problem that has haunted the Eastern Orthodox churches since their departure from Rome.  Before discussing this problem, however, a few distinctions should be noted.  First, the Oriental Orthodox churches and the Eastern Orthodox churches are not in union with one another and are not in union with the Catholic Church, though they were all united before A.D. 451.  The Oriental Orthodox churches rejected the Council of Chalcedon’s (A.D. 451) Christological language that affirmed Christ’s human nature and divine nature and, consequently, broke from mother Church.  Second, in A.D. 1054, the eastern side of mother Church rejected the western side’s addition of the filioque clause (the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son) to the Nicene Creed.  Although the western side of the Church added a true statement to the Creed, the Eastern side rejected the authority used to accomplish this, namely papal authority, and maintained that any additions to the Creed should be done via ecumenical councils.  Consequently, the eastern side of the Church and the western side entered a state of schism. 

The eastern side of the Church became known as Eastern Orthodox and western side became known as Roman Catholic.  Although the Eastern Orthodox recognized, and continues to recognize, the pope’s (Bishop of Rome) authority as being equal to the other bishops, they reject what the west upholds as his universal authority.  The Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches accept the infallible teachings of the first seven ecumenical councils.  They also share a common teaching on the seven sacraments and other doctrines, and they acknowledge the apostolic succession of each other’s bishops.  Third, during the schism, some eastern churches left the Catholic Church, only to later reunite with them.  Additionally, some churches (e.g. The Maronite Church) that were geographically east, remained with the Catholic Church.  These churches are typically referred to as Eastern Catholic and they are in communion with Rome.  Now, let us examine the problem of infallible authority in the Eastern Orthodox churches.

Orthodox churches believe ecumenical councils made up of bishops from all the original churches must convene in order to render an infallible teaching (https://www.oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/doctrine-scripture/sources-of-christian-doctrine/the-councils).  Unfortunately, this means they cannot authoritatively and universally teach that contemporary issues such as embryonic stem cell research, in vitro fertilization, human cloning and other issues are immoral because councils cannot convene due to the aforementioned schism.  This directly contradicts Christ’s teaching that if your brother sins against you “take it to the church.”  Taking an issue to the Church implies an issue will be resolved without error.  If you are Orthodox, to which Orthodox church do you take your problem?  Further, Christ teaches that the gates of hell will not prevail against his church and St. Paul states, “the church…is the pillar and bulwark of truth.” 

Now, if all bishops from the original churches must convene to render an infallible teaching, and the Orthodox Churches cannot convene such a council without the Catholic Church, then to which church does a Christian take his complaint about a brother’s sin.  Further, if the gates of hell cannot prevail against Christ’s church and the church is the pillar and bulwark of truth, why can the Orthodox churches not give an infallible teaching on contemporary sins?  By asserting that all churches must convene to promulgate a universal teaching, yet being unable to do so for 1000 years, the Orthodox Churches implicitly admit they are not the pillar and bulwark of truth.  The same goes for Protestant churches, which is evident from the previous article.  Therefore, you are left with one church…the Catholic Church.

There is a major difference between the Eastern Orthodox and Protestant churches, however.  Protestant churches completely reject all Catholic authority, take the Bible out of the Church that gave us the Bible and render contradictory teachings.  Conversely, the Eastern Orthodox churches accept apostolic succession and its accompanying authority, share many of the same teachings as the Catholic Church and interpret the Bible according to the traditions laid down by the Apostles.