Catholic Culture Podcasts
Catholic Culture Podcasts

The Father William Most Collection

Orthodox Theology

[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]

(Data taken from The Stand of the Orthodox Church on Controversial Issues by Rev. Stanley Harakas, Th.D. Holy Cross school of Theology)

1. Methods to find truth: There are two, only two, basic methods for getting answers in doctrine. First ,the Roman Catholic method, which depends on the teaching authority of the Church and Pope. (More on this below). Second, there is the protestant method, which recognizes no final teaching authority. Which basic method do the Orthodox resemble?

On p. 1: Even after a decision by a general council:

After the seven ecumencal councils: "At the center of this process stood the Ecumenical Councils, which constituted the final and most authoritative agent for the formulation of doctrine, pending acceptance of their decrees by the entire Church [emphasis added]. For the Orthodox Church, this meant that such issues could not, and should not, be solved by appeal to a single bishop or leader, no matter how honored and respected he might be. It meant, rather, that the Church set its mind to resolving the issue through a corporate approach [even after a Council] which drew on the whole tradition of the records of God's revelation. In practice this means references to the Bible and to the living Tradition of the Chuch by persons seeking to comprehend how the tradition spoke to the new questions being raised.... In some cases the controversial issues can be addressed from long-standing doctrinal ethical and canonical traditions. Where thiis is the case, there be little or no debate in the Chuch."

on p.3: "Very few claims to uncontroverted teachings can be made. Most positions of the discussion should be understood as the current consensus, sincerely and widely held, and representing the mind of the Orthodox Church on issues discussed."

2. Catholic Method: Before examining the Orrthoedox position on specifics, we wish to add a clearer and fuller picture of what the Roman Catholic Church follows: We will see what the earliest followers of Christ understood to be His will and teaching:

Pope St. Clement: About 95 AD he wrote to Corinth, where some rebels had ousted the lawful

authorities. He said: "Because of the sudden and repeated calamities and misfortunes, we think our attention has been slow in turning to the things debated among you." "If some are disobedient to the things He [Jesus] has spoken through us, they should know that they are enmeshing themselves in sin,and no small danger."

St Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.2.2: "Since it would be very long, in a volume of this sort to go through the succession [of Bishops] in all the churches, by showing it in the most ancient one, known to all, founded by the most glorious Apostles Peter and Paul at Rome, which holds the tradition and faith announced by the Apostles, coming down by the succession of Bishops even to us - in this way we confound all those who in any way hold illicit assembles. For it is necessary that every church, that is, the faithful who are everywhere, agree with this church, that is, the faithful who are everywhere, agree with this church because of its more important principality --this church in which the tradition coming from the Apostles has always been kept by those who are from every place."

Council of Ephesus in 431: Although the error was an Eastern one, St.Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria, went west to Pope Celestine. The Pope sent delegates to the Council who asserted without any contradiction by anyone at the Council: "There is no doubt, it has been known to all centuries, that the holy and blessed Apostle Peter, the prince and head and pillar of the faith and foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ.... He [Peter] lives even to this time, and always in his successors gives judgment" (DB 112 cf. DS 3056).

Twenty years later, the Council of Chalcedon, again dealing with an Eastern heresy, accepted the decision of Pope Leo that in Christ there is one divine Person and two natures, human and divine. When this was read to the Council, the Bishops exclaimed: "This is the Faith of the Fathers, this is the faith of the Apostles. We all believe thus....Anathema to him who does not so believe, Peter has spoken through Leo." (cf. J. Harduin, Conciliorum Collectio,Paris,1715; 305-06).

In 680 AD the Third Council of Constantinople wrote to Pope Agatho: "And so we leave to you, the bishop of the first See of the whole Church, what is to be done, acquiesce in your letters of true doctrine... which we acknowledge as prescribed divinely from the supreme peak of the Apostles... Peter spoke through Agatho." (J. D. Mansi Collectio Conciliorum 11.665, Florent. et Venett. 759-98.

3.Some specifiics of Orthodox teaching:

a) Baptism, p. 4: "... when a newborn reaches its fortieth day, he or she is brought to the Church by the parents for 'churching;' ... Baptism introduces the believer into the life of the Kingdom. Holy Anointing or Chrismation grants the gift of the Holy Spirit for growth in the image aned likeness of God."

b) Marriage, p. 5: "the church will permit up to but not more than three marriages.... The Church grants 'ecclesiastical divorces' on the basis of the exception given by Christ to his general prohibiton of the practice.. the spiritual well-being of Christians caught in a broken and essentially nonexistent marraige justifies a divorce, with the right of one or both of the partners to remarry. Each parish priest is required to do al lhe can to help couples resolved their differences. If they cannot, and they obtain a civil divorce, they may apply for an ecclesiastical divorce in some jurisdictions of the Orthodox Church. In others, the judgment is left to the parish priest when and if a civilly divorced person seeks to remarry.... Only after an ecclesiastical divorce is issued by the presiding bishop can they apply for an ecclesiastical license to remarry."

c) Abortion, p. 7: "It condemns all procedures purporting to abort the embryo or fetus whether by surgical or chemical means. The Orthodox Church brands abortion as murder.... The only time the Orthodox Church will reluctantly acquiesce to abortion is when the preponderance of medical opinion determines that unless the embryo or fetus is aborted the mother will die."

d) Contraception, p. 8: "...of late a new view has taken hold among Orthodox writers and thinkers on this topic [contraception] which permits the use of certain contraceptive practices within marriage for the purpose of spacing children, enhancing the expression of marital love, and protecting health."

e) Church-state, pp. 9-10: "As a general principle the Orthodox Church has held a position on the ideal of Church and State relations which may be called 'the principle of synergy'. It is to be distinguished from a sharp division of Church and State on the one hand, and a total fusion of Church and State, on the other hand. It recognizes and espouses a clear demarcation between Church and State, while calling for a cooperative relationship between the two." [Compare Vatican II, Dignitatis humanae ยง1: "does not mean the submission of the State to the Church, but rather the acceptance by the State of the God-like principles of justice, equity, genuine service and care, and mutuality."]

f) Women, pp. 16-17: "the Orthodox are adamantly opposed to the ordination of women as liturgical clergy.... At present thee is no movement within Orthodoxy for this innovation.... Women are now being trained in theology in Orthodox seminaries both in Europe and the United States where women have been degree candidates and graduates.... One of the topics of discussion is the reconstitution of the ancient order of deaconesses. Theological studies have been undertaken on the topic in Greece and a school for deaconesses has been established, but the formalization of the institution is yet to be realized."



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