Eastern Orthodox – Roman Catholic ecclesiastical differences

For theological differences between the two churches, see Eastern Orthodox – Roman Catholic theological differences.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem - a centre of pilgrimage long shared and disputed between the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox churches.

Catholic–Orthodox ecclesiastical differences are differences between the organizational structure and governance of the Eastern Orthodox Church and that of the Roman Catholic Church. These are distinguished from theological differences which are differences in dogma and doctrine. A number of disagreements over matters of Ecclesiology developed slowly between the Western and Eastern wings of the State church of the Roman Empire centred upon the cities of Rome (considered to have "fallen" in 476) and New Rome/Constantinople (c.330-1453) respectively. The disputes were a major factor in the formal East-West Schism between Pope Leo IX and Patriarch Michael I in 1054 and are largely still unresolved between the churches today.

Papal authority

A lot of the issues that currently separate the two churches are ecclesiastical. Principal among them is the content of papal primacy within any future unified church. The Orthodox insist that it should be a "primacy of honor", as in the ancient church and not a "primacy of authority",[1] whereas the Catholics see the pontiff's role as requiring for its exercise power and authority the exact form of which is open to discussion with other Christians.[2]

The declaration of Ravenna in 2007 re-asserted these beliefs, and re-stated the notion that the bishop of Rome is indeed the protos ("first" in Greek), although future discussions are to be held on the concrete ecclesiastical exercise of papal primacy. Hierarchs within the Russian Church have condemned the document and reassert that Papal authority as is held in the West is not historically valid.[3][4] As the Orthodox view of the Papacy would be Primus inter pares without power of jurisdiction.[5][6]

Canonical territory

Main article: Canonical territory

A canonical territory is a geographical area seen as belonging to a particular patriarchate or autocephalous Church as its own. The concept is found not only in the Eastern Orthodox Church, but also in the Roman Catholic Church, and is mentioned extensively in the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches.[7]

The issue of canonical territory has proven to be a significant point of dispute in Russia, with the Moscow Patriarchate being opposed on one hand to the influence of the Patriarch of Constantinople in Ukraine, and on the other to perceived Roman Catholic influence within Russia itself.[8]

Celibacy of the priestly order

Celibacy of the clergy is also a dividing point. Although the Catholic Church does allow married men to be ordained in the Eastern Catholic Churches, it does so only rarely in the Western Church.[9] Celibacy is based on the notion that the priest is In persona Christi and that Jesus-Christ was himself celibate all his life. However this is not a doctrinal matter for the Catholic Church, and the rule of celibacy was gradually introduced in the early medieval period.

The Catholic Church's practice of not allowing married men to become priests is not a tradition in Eastern Christianity. In Eastern Orthodoxy, priests cannot marry after ordination,[10][11][12] but married men may become parish priests. Unmarried and widowed clergy in Eastern Orthodoxy are most important to the ascetic community. Also, higher level clergy are chosen solely from unmarried or widowed (for positions like Bishops and above for example).

Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which has married as well as celibate clergy, has said that neither the numbers nor the quality of the clergy of the Latin Church would be automatically advanced by abolishing its rule of celibacy.[13]

Ecclesiological economy

A major sticking point was the style of church government. The Orthodox Church has always maintained the position of collegiality of the bishops. The Orthodox Church has also emphasised 'economia', or a certain amount of flexibility in the rules depending upon the exigencies of a particular situation. The administrative structure of the Orthodox church is closer to a confederacy in structure with no functioning centralization as a constant.

The Orthodox do have synods where the highest authorities in each Church community are brought together, but unlike the Pope in Roman Catholicism no central individual or figure has the absolute (and "infallible") last word on church doctrine and administration. In practice, this has sometimes led to divisions among Greek, Russian, Bulgarian and Ukrainian Orthodox churches, as no central authority can serve as a rallying point for various internal disputes.

However, in contrast to the picture presented by the Russian religious poet Aleksey Khomyakov more than a century earlier,[14] the Roman Catholic Church's Second Vatican Council reasserted the importance of collegiality, clarifying that "primatial authority is inseparable from collegiality and synodality" and that "the Bishop of Rome is a brother among brothers who are sacramentally all equal in the episcopate.[15]

Rejection of Eastern Catholic Churches

At a meeting in Balamand, Lebanon in June 1993, the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church[16] declared that these initiatives that "led to the union of certain communities with the See of Rome and brought with them, as a consequence, the breaking of communion with their Mother Churches of the East ... took place not without the interference of extra-ecclesial interests";[17] and that:

At the same time, the Commission stated:

Apostolic succession and sacraments

Some of the Orthodox Churches unofficially acknowledge Apostolic succession within the Catholic Church and admit the validity of its episcopal ordination. The relationship between the Antiochian Orthodox and the Maronite Catholic bishops is a case in point. Some Orthodox Churches do not require baptism in the case of a convert already baptized in the Catholic Church. Most Orthodox Churches allow marriages between members of the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. For example, the Church of Greece would allow an Orthodox man to marry a Roman Catholic bride in its church, providing the wife vows the children will be baptized Orthodox.

Because the Catholic Church respects their celebration of the Mass as a true sacrament, intercommunion with the Eastern Orthodox in "suitable circumstances and with Church authority" is both possible and encouraged.[19] The Catholic Church allows its clergy to administer the sacraments of Penance, the Eucharist and Anointing of the Sick to members of the Eastern Orthodox Church, if these spontaneously ask for the sacraments and are properly disposed.[20] It also allows Catholics who cannot approach a Catholic minister to receive these three sacraments from clergy of the Eastern Orthodox Church, whenever necessity requires or a genuine spiritual advantage commends it, and provided the danger of error or indifferentism is avoided.[21] Catholic canon law allows marriage between a Catholic and an Orthodox only if permission is obtained from the Catholic bishop.[22]

The Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches authorizes the local Catholic bishop to permit a Catholic priest, of whatever rite, to bless the marriage of Orthodox faithful who being unable without great difficulty to approach a priest of their own Church, ask for this spontaneously.[23] In exceptional circumstances Catholics may, in the absence of an authorized priest, marry before witnesses. If a priest who is not authorized for the celebration of the marriage is available, he should be called in, although the marriage is valid even without his presence.[24] The Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches specifies that, in those exceptional circumstances, even a "non-Catholic" priest (and so not necessarily one belonging to an Eastern Church) may be called in.[25]

See also


  1. as can be seen in the words of Archbishop Nicetas of Nicomedia of the Twelfth Century: “My dearest brother, we do not deny to the Roman Church the primacy among the five sister patriarchates and we recognize her right to the most honorable seat at the Ecumenical Council. But she has separated herself from us by her own deeds when through pride she assumed a monarchy which does not belong to her office... How shall we accept decrees from her that have been issued without consulting us and even without our knowledge? If the Roman pontiff seated on the lofty throne of his glory wished to thunder at us and, so to speak, hurl his mandates at us from on high and if he wishes to judge us and even to rule us and our churches, not by taking counsel with us but at his own arbitrary pleasure what kind of brotherhood, or even what kind of parenthood can this be? We should be the slaves not the sons, of such a church and the Roman see would not be the pious mother of sons but a hard and imperious mistress of slaves.”The Orthodox Church London by Ware, Kallistos St. Vladimir's Seminary Press 1995 ISBN 978-0-913836-58-3
  2. In 1995 Pope John Paul II wrote: "With the power and the authority without which such an office would be illusory, the Bishop of Rome must ensure the communion of all the Churches." He invited "Church leaders and their theologians to examine with me in a patient and fraternal dialogue on this subject, a dialogue in which, leaving useless controversies behind, we could listen to one another, keeping before us only the will of Christ for his Church and allowing ourselves to be deeply moved by his plea 'that they may all be one ... so that the world may believe that you have sent me' (Encyclical Ut unum sint section 96). The Ravenna document of 13 October 2007 is one response to this invitation.
  3. is a more correct translation of the document
  4. Eastern Orthodoxy in a global age: tradition faces the twenty-first century By Victor Roudometof, Alexander Agadjanian ISBN 978-0-7591-0537-9
  5. Examples of canons of this code that speak of the canonical territory of an autonomous Church are 57, 78, 86, 102, 132, 133, 138-140, 143, 146-150, ...
  6. "Canonical Territory in the Russian Orthodox Tradition".
  7. The Times, A married father of four ordained as a Catholic priest
  8. Holy Orders
  9. Orthodox priests
  10. The Orthodox Church of Greece
  11. Ukrainian cardinal says married men not answer to vocations crisis
  12. Quoting Aleksey Khomyakov pg 87 The legal formalism and logical rationalism of the Roman Catholic Church have their roots in the Roman State. These features developed in it more strongly than ever when the Western Church without consent of the Eastern introduced into the Nicean Creed the filioque clause. Such arbitrary change of the creed is an expression of pride and lack of love for one's brethren in the faith. "In order not to be regarded as a schism by the Church, Romanism was forced to ascribe to the bishop of Rome absolute infallibility." In this way Catholicism broke away from the Church as a whole and became an organization based upon external authority. Its unity is similar to the unity of the state: it is not super-rational but rationalistic and legally formal. Rationalism has led to the doctrine of the works of superarogation, established a balance of duties and merits between God and man, weighing in the scales sins and prayers, trespasses and deeds of expiation; it adopted the idea of transferring one person's debts or credits to another and legalized the exchange of assumed merits; in short, it introduced into the sanctuary of faith the mechanism of a banking house. History of Russian Philosophy by Nikolai Lossky ISBN 978-0-8236-8074-0 p. 87
  13. James F. Puglisi (editor), Petrine Ministry and the Unity of the Church (Liturgical Press 2005 ISBN 0-8146-5936-5), p. 190 (emphasis in the original).
  14. "Orthodox Christian Information Center - Full text of the Balamand Statement (section 8)".
  15. "Orthodox Christian Information Center - Full text of the Balamand Statement (section 12)".
  16. Paragraph numbers 1399–1401 (1994). "Catechism of the Catholic Church". Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Retrieved 12 May 2008.
  17. Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, 125; cf. Code of Canon Law, canon 844 §3 and Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, canon 671 §3
  18. Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, 123; cf. Code of Canon Law, canon 844 §2 and Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, canon 671 §2
  19. Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, canon 813 and Code of Canon Law, canon 1124
  20. Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, canon 833
  21. Code of Canon Law, canon 1116 and Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, canon 832
  22. Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, canon 832
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