Why Eastern Orthodoxy is Not the True Religion:
A Brief Overview
Beautiful externals belie the essence of this false religion:
The “Orthodox” are not orthodox — good intentions notwithstanding
May 29, 2018
“Judge not according to the appearance…” (Jn 7:24)
The main objective of Novus Ordo Watch is to allow, first and foremost, those people who unhappily find themselves in the Novus Ordo Sect (Vatican II Church) to come to understand that the religion they are adhering to is not, contrary to what is generally supposed, the Roman Catholic Church founded by Jesus Christ in 33 AD but in fact a Modernist-Masonic counterfeit that God has permitted to eclipse the true Catholic Church for a time before Christ returns: “Therefore God shall send them the operation of error, to believe lying: that all may be judged who have not believed the truth, but have consented to iniquity” (2 Thess 2:10-11). Filled with “false apostles [who] are deceitful workmen, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ” (2 Cor 11:13), this pseudo-Catholic church is part of the “mystery of iniquity” (2 Thess 2:7) that has existed in the New Covenant from the beginning (cf. Mt 2:13,16; Jn 5:18), and that God will permit, for a time, to appear to prevail, just as our Lord appeared to have been defeated in His Sacred Passion, only to rise again gloriously on Easter Sunday. Thus Jesus Christ proved that what had appeared to be His ultimate defeat was in fact an integral part of His ultimate Victory, and in perfect accordance with His Divine Will (see Jn 10:18; Lk 24:25-26).
The apparent triumph of the mystery of iniquity over the Catholic Church at the end of time is part of the Deposit of Faith Christ handed on to the Apostles:
The prophecies of the Apocalypse [book of Revelation] show that Satan will imitate the Church of Christ to deceive mankind; he will set up a church of Satan in opposition to the Church of Christ. Antichrist will assume the role of Messias; his prophet will act the part of Pope; and there will be imitations of the Sacraments of the Church. There will also be lying wonders in imitation of the miracles wrought in the Church.
(Rev. E. Sylvester Berry, The Church of Christ: An Apologetic and Dogmatic Treatise [St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Co., 1927], p. 119; italics given.)
So great would this deception, this assault on the Faith, be at the end of time that only the elect would escape the seduction, and solely by the grace of God: “For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders, insomuch as to deceive (if possible) even the elect” (Mt 24:24). Hence Christ warned that only very few would still have the true Faith when He returns to judge the living and the dead: “But ah, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith left on the earth?” (Lk 18:8; Knox translation).
For those who are interested in exploring this topic in greater depth, we recommend the following:
- The Pope and the Antichrist: Cardinal Manning (d. 1892) explains the Great Apostasy
- The Papacy and the Passion of the Church
There are many pre-Vatican II apologetics materials out there for those who knowingly reject Catholicism, notably the excellent Radio Replies series (disregard vol. 5, called Questions People Ask, which was published in 1972), Mgr. Joseph C. Fenton’s Laying the Foundation (formerly entitled We Stand with Christ), Fr. Sylvester Berry’s The Church of Christ, Cardinal James Gibbons’ The Faith of Our Fathers, St. Francis de Sales’ The Catholic Controversy, Fr. John O’Brien’s The Faith of Millions (only the pre-Vatican II editions, of course), Fr. Francis Doyle’s Defense of the Catholic Church, Canon John Bagshawe’s Credentials of the Catholic Church, David Goldstein’s What Say You?, and many others. People who are looking for apologetics information to help souls convert to Catholicism may wish to turn to these resources.
In this current post, however, we will make a bit of an exception and address the religion typically known collectively as Eastern Orthodoxy (including Russian Orthodoxy, Greek Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, etc., but not to be confused with the Eastern Catholic churches).
The reason for this exception is that, worn out from the intense spiritual battle, a number of people — especially recent converts — are struggling in their Catholic Faith and are being tempted to turn to Eastern Orthodoxy, which presents itself as an appealing alternative. Tired of having to worry about which church to attend, which sacraments they ought to consider valid or invalid, what to tell their children and where to send them to school, whether they have a valid marriage annulment or not; doctrinal confusion to no end, doubts about this or that putative Pope being true or false; fear of excommunication and/or schism, annoying Feeneyites undermining trust in the true Church, and so forth. In their confusion and struggle, people may easily be tempted to ask themselves: Maybe we should give Orthodoxy a try? Isn’t it almost the same as Catholicism anyway? Add to that a shrug, a sigh, and an exasperated “whatever!”, and the “almost the same” quickly becomes “good enough”.
Most Latin-rite Catholics know little about Eastern Orthodoxy, and this can contribute to making Orthodoxy appear as a refreshing escape from all the madness we Catholics must work through. Reminiscent of the tree with the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, Orthodoxy tempts the weak in Faith with its beautiful externals: “And the woman saw that the tree was good to eat, and fair to the eyes, and delightful to behold” (Gen 3:6).
We live in an age where many good-willed people — wittingly or unwittingly — make judgments based on emotion rather than on reason. Many people nowadays tend to feel rather than to think, and so when they see impressive photographs of beautiful Orthodox ceremonies, they are quickly swayed: the solemn processions, the gorgeous vestments, the incense pouring forth from thuribles in abundance, the overall awe-inspiring atmosphere! Could something that worships God so reverently and beautifully be so wrong?
The short answer is: Yes, it could; and it has been many times throughout Church history, including during the Anglican schism. Moral theologian Fr. Thomas Slater, S.J., explains how one sins by worshipping God in a manner contrary to His Will:
…[T]he sin of superstition may be committed by worshipping the true God in the wrong way or by worshipping false gods….
1. God may be wrongly worshipped either by false worship or by superfluous worship being paid him. Worship of God is false when its meaning is not in accordance with fact, or when the falsehood is in the person who performs the act of worship, as when a layman performs the duties of a priest, or when someone tries to gain credence for false miracles or false relics….
2. Anything in the worship of God which does not tend to his honour and glory, or which is against the ordinances and practice of the Church, to whom the regulation of religious worship exclusively belongs, is superfluous worship and superstition. This sin is committed by attributing an infallible effect to a fixed number of prayers or acts of piety, or to the mere material wearing of the scapulars or medals, or by unwarrantably acting against the rubrics while saying Mass or administering the sacraments or sacramentals of the Church.
(Rev. Thomas Slater, A Manual of Moral Theology, Vol. 1, 5th ed. , p. 140; underlining added.)
We find examples of this in Sacred Scripture. For example: In his divinely-inspired epistle, St. Jude the Apostle warns of those who “have gone in the way of Cain: and after the error of Balaam they have for reward poured out themselves, and have perished in the contradiction of Core” (Jude 11). The “contradiction of Core” is described in Numbers 16:1-40, where Core (also known as Korah) rebelled against the authority and leadership of Moses and Aaron. Core offered incense to God without and against proper authorization. Beautiful and reverent though it may have been in terms of outward ceremony, God was very angry at this outrage, and divine punishment came swiftly: “And they went down alive into hell the ground closing upon them, and they perished from among the people” (Num 16:33).
In his excellent scriptural commentary on this incident, the 19th-century Fr. George Leo Haydock notes:
The crime of these men, which was punished in so remarkable a manner, was that of schism, and of rebellion against the authority established by God in the Church; and their pretending to the priesthood without being lawfully called and sent: the same is the case of all modern sectaries. (Challoner) — Let them dread a similar punishment; not only the authors of such wicked pretensions, but those also who consent to them, Romans i. 32. For we find that Core and all his adherents were buried in hell; (ver. 33,) and those likewise who complained that their punishment was too severe, fell victims to the raging fire, ver. 49. With what earnestness ought we not, therefore, to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints! (Jude 3.) For if those be so severely punished who rise up in opposition to lawful superiors, either in church or state, what swift destruction do they not bring upon their own heads who deny God, who bought them, and make him a liar, by calling in question his most sacred truths? (2 Peter ii. 1.) (Haydock) — Core and his companions impugned not the law directly, but resisted Moses and Aaron. (St. Ignatius of Antioch, ep. ad Magnes.) They believed in the same God; yet, because they took upon themselves to sacrifice, they were forthwith punished by God, and their unlawful sacrifices could do them no service. (St. Cyprian, ep. i. 6.) Thus we are warned to keep in the true Church, and to obey those who are set over us; and never, for any temporal consideration whatever, to encourage, by our presence, the sermons or meetings of heretics, or of schismatics, lest we perish with them, ver. 26. (Worthington)….
(Haydock Commentary on Numbers 16:2; italics given.)
Below we are making available Fr. Benedict Hughes’ succinct summary of the case against the so-called Eastern Orthodox religion, which he recently published in The Reign of Mary magazine. It is by no means meant to be an in-depth refutation; it is merely to provide an overview, a general outline and summary, of the history and errors of Orthodoxy.
Those who are interested in more thorough apologetics against Orthodoxy may wish to consult the following additional sources:
- Against the Errors of the Greeks by St. Thomas Aquinas
- Russia and the Universal Church by Vladimir Soloviev
- The Primacy of the Apostolic See Vindicated by Bp. Francis Patrick Kenrick
- Encyclical Letter Quartus Supra by Pope Pius IX
- “The ‘Orthodox’ Russian, and the Schismatic Greek Churches” in Some Lies and Errors of History by Fr. Reuben Parsons
- The Orthodox Eastern Church by Fr. Adrian Fortescue
- Photius: Patriarch von Constantinopel (vol. 1, vol. 2, vol. 3) by Cardinal Joseph Hergenröther (German only)
But now, on to Fr. Benedict’s article, which we are publishing with the kind permission of the author.
THE EASTERN ORTHODOX SCHISM:
Why the Schismatic Orthodox Churches Are Not Truly Orthodox
by Rev. Fr. Benedict Hughes, CMRI
Why the Schismatic Orthodox Churches Are Not Truly Orthodox
by Rev. Fr. Benedict Hughes, CMRI
Many Catholics are bewildered by the crisis in the Church today. Did not Christ found His church upon the Rock, upon Peter? They know what the catechism teaches about the papacy. They have studied the teachings of theologians and Vatican Council I regarding the authority and infallibility of the successors of Saint Peter. Yet, looking to the Vatican today, they cannot dispute the evident heresy that is being promulgated in the name of Catholicism.
Various Protestant preachers, members of denominations that have long considered the popes to be the “Antichrist” predicted by the Apocalypse, gleefully point out these inconsistencies as proof that they have been right all along. They throw the scandals of Francis and his Vatican II predecessors in the face of Catholics, saying that this certainly cannot be true Christianity. You have been deceived, they claim, into believing that the Catholic Church is the true Church of Christ.
Disillusioned, many cradle Catholics don’t know what to think. They know that Protestantism is wrong. Based on their Catholic upbringing, they easily recognize the errors of Martin Luther and his fellow Protestant “reformers.” But, on the other hand, how can they explain the contradictions posed by the juxtaposition of traditional Catholic teaching with the teachings of Vatican II? In a search for answers, not a few have opted for the claims of the Orthodox.
Now just who are the Orthodox? Under this heading I include not only the large Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox churches, but also the smaller national churches of the East that follow the basic ideas of these larger churches. This article has for its purpose an explanation of what the Orthodox churches teach and how Catholics must regard their claim of being authentic Christianity. First, let us look at the origins of the Orthodox churches.
The History of the Orthodox Schism
Let us begin with an examination of the meaning of the word orthodox. Simply put, the word means dogmatically correct. The opposite of orthodoxy is heterodoxy, which means heresy. So an orthodox Christian is one who adheres to the correct doctrines revealed by Christ. Interestingly, the “Orthodox” are actually not so orthodox after all, as we shall point out. In other words, they have hijacked a term for their position, just as Luther hijacked the term “reformation,” when his movement was anything but a true reform. While we must question the claim of the Orthodox to having a monopoly on true Christianity, we will nevertheless, for the purpose of this article, use that term to denote all those groups who are in agreement with the basic tenets that led the Christian Church in Constantinople to break from the Roman Catholic Church in 1054 AD.
In order to understand the causes that led to the rupture between Constantinople and Rome, let us first take a brief look at the origins of the city of Constantinople. Constantine became emperor in 312, after his defeat of Maxentius at the battle of the Milvian Bridge. Eventually, he became sole ruler of the Roman Empire, and in order to unite its eastern and western parts, he decided to move his residence to the east. The ancient Greek city of Byzantion (or Byzantium), which had been founded on the European side of the Bosphorus in the 7th century before Christ, was chosen as the sight of the new capital. Since the city had been razed to the ground by Emperor Septimius Severus in 196, it required a complete rebuilding, a project which took 6 years. Finally, the completed city was dedicated in 330 and renamed Constantinople.
After the Barbarian invasions of the western part of the Roman Empire, Constantinople achieved greater prominence. Yet members of Christ’s Church always knew that the Pope in Rome was the successor of Saint Peter, and recourse was always made to the Roman pontiffs in time of doctrinal questions. In fact, the East became a hotbed of heresy. Various Catholic (and truly orthodox) bishops of Constantinople were persecuted or exiled for opposing the various heresies, perhaps the most famous of them being Saint John Chrysostom. And while the Orthodox claim that their church represents authentic Christianity, Constantinople became the center of nearly all the early heresies to afflict the Church, such as those of Arianism, Nestorianism, Monophysitism, Monothelitism, Inconoclasm, etc.
Although doctrinal issues—especially the Filioque controversy, which shall be discussed below—cannot be underestimated, it would be a mistake to believe that they were the sole reason for the schism of 1054. Some of the other causes were the gradual estrangement of East and West, given the difference in language and rite, and the geographical distance between Rome and Constantinople. But more importantly, there was the resentment by many in the East to the prominence of Rome in authority. They reasoned that the Faith had begun in the East (in the Holy Land) and from there spread westward, and that the early councils of the Church were in the East. Moreover, there were the great Eastern doctors of the Church. (Yet it remains a fact that the bishops of the East had always recognized the preeminence of the successor of Saint Peter in authority, especially when deciding doctrinal disputes.) To summarize, resentment—caused by pride—eventually led to the schism.
Catholics recognize the fact that Saint Peter was made the indubitable head of the apostles by Christ. There are a good number of references to this preeminence of Saint Peter in the Gospels and in the Acts of the Apostles, which we will not take the time to enumerate here. Saint Peter, upon leaving Jerusalem as the Church began to grow and spread, first set up his seat of authority in Antioch. Recognizing, however, that Rome was the center of the Empire at that time, he wisely moved his seat of authority to Rome. His successors in the bishopric of Rome have always been recognized as the vicars of Christ—as having the authority of Peter. Many quotations could be given of the Eastern writers of the early centuries acknowledging this fact.
Although there had been some earlier schisms, the first great schism was that of 867. Ignatius, the rightful patriarch of Constantinople, had reigned as its bishop for eleven years. In 857, however, he was compelled to refuse Communion to a man guilty of open incest—a man who happened to be a government official. In response, the government of the city, anxious to defend one of their own, claimed to depose Ignatius and install a man named Photius as the new patriarch. Naturally, the pope (Nicholas I) defended the good bishop Ignatius against this unjust usurpation of his authority, a fact that did not sit well with either Photius or the government officials. As a result, they refused to submit to the authority of the pope. Fortunately, a council restored Ignatius to his rightful see two years later, with the other patriarchs of the East declaring that they had accepted the pope’s decision from the start. The schism was healed, but it had sown the seeds of rebellion.
Sadly, this first major schism was followed two centuries later by a lasting schism. The protagonist this time was the patriarch Michael Caerularius, who began an open rebellion against the pope in 1053. It would be hard to find reasons to explain the vicious attitude of this man toward Rome and the pope, unless one realizes that resentment had been building for a long time—a resentment that started centuries before and later was greatly fomented by Photius—a resentment that finally boiled over. Caerularius shut the Latin churches at Constantinople, hurled a string of wild accusations against the pope, struck the pope’s name from his diptychs, “excommunicated” the papal legates, and showed in other ways that he wanted a schism. This time, however, all the other Eastern patriarchs took the side of Caerularius against the pope. The schism could not be healed. Although there were later attempts (at the Council of Lyons in 1274 and the Council of Florence in 1439) to heal the schism, these were not lasting. That schism has persisted to this day.
Finally, in 1453, Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks, and its position as a principal city of Christendom was gone forever.
The Filioque Controversy
If you have studied the Eastern Schism, you have likely learned that a major accusation of the Eastern Orthodox against the Catholic Church revolves around the Filioque controversy. This is a Latin word from the Nicene Creed which means “and from the Son.” It occurs in the latter part of the creed when we profess our faith that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and from the Son. The Orthodox believe that the Holy Ghost proceeds only from the Father, and they claim that the Catholic Church added this word later to the creed. So what is the story here?
The Council of Nicaea, the first general council of the Church, was called by the emperor Constantine to resolve the contention of the Arian heresy. The council convened in the eastern city of Nicaea to decide the issue, and after condemning Arius as a heretic and defining the true doctrine that Jesus is divine, it issued its famous creed in 325. Later, the Council of Constantinople in 381 added two articles, so it is sometimes called the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed. But since this creed describes the Holy Ghost as “the Lord and Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father, Who together with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, and Who spoke through the prophets,” the phrase was later added “and the Son” immediately after the underlined words.
This final addition was made in the sixth century to counteract the belief of some that the Holy Ghost proceeds only from the Father, and not also from the Son. After this final addition had been made, no one complained until Photius conveniently used its insertion as an argument to support his schism. To this day, the Orthodox deny the procession of the Holy Ghost from the Father and from the Son, asserting that the Holy Ghost proceeds only from the Father.
But what do the Scriptures say? Saint Paul in several places indicates this procession of the Holy Ghost from the Son. He says the Holy Ghost is “the Spirit of the Son” (Galatians, 4:6), the “Spirit of Christ” (Romans, 8:9), the “Spirit of Jesus Christ” (Philippians, 1:19). Again, according to Sacred Scripture, the Son sends the Holy Ghost (Luke, 24:49; John, 15:26, 16:7, and 20:22; Acts, 2:33; and Titus, 3:6). Of all these references, however, I will quote just one, which clearly indicates this doctrine. It is found in the discourse of Our Lord to His apostles at the Last Supper. Saint John narrates the words of Jesus:
“Cum autem venerit Paraclitus, quem ego mittam vobis a Patre, Spiritum veritatis, qui a Patre procedit, ille testimonium perhibebit de me—When however the Paraclete shall come, whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness concerning Me” (John 15:26). “Whom I will send you from the Father…” clearly indicates to an honest person that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and the Son.
But Jesus did not leave His followers in doubt as to the meaning of Sacred Scripture, for we have the consistent teaching of His Church on this subject. It can also be demonstrated that many Greek Fathers, such as Saint Gregory Nazianzen, Saint Gregory Thaumaturgus, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, and Saint Cyril of Alexandria, among others, taught this doctrine. Rather, the accusation that the addition of Filioque to the Creed was heretical, was an argument used by Photius and Caerularius to bolster their case against the pope and Rome.
More than a Schism
The sin of schism is the refusal to submit to the lawful authority of the Church. Usually, however, every schism includes at least some heretical ideas. And indeed this is the case with the Eastern Schism. Not only do the Orthodox reject the doctrine of the procession of the Holy Ghost from the Father and the Son, they also reject papal authority and papal infallibility. To them, the pope is the bishop of Rome and can only be entitled to a distinction of honor—a sort of first among equals—at best. But the successor of Saint Peter has authority over the entire church and all its members. For Jesus said to Peter “feed My lambs” (the faithful); “feed My sheep” (the bishops). He also said to Peter: “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren” (Luke, 22:32). Saint Peter is always given first place in any list of the apostles in Scripture and was always acknowledged by the other apostles to be their head. For he is the rock, upon which Christ built His church.
Moreover, since they reject papal infallibility, the Orthodox also reject the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary—because this truth was solemnly defined by Pope Pius IX. But what is particularly curious among their heresies is that they allow divorce and remarriage. One would think, after the clear words of Our Lord (“What God has joined together, let not man put asunder”) that the permanence and indissolubility of marriage would be a “no-brainer” for a true Christian. And we are not speaking here of marriages that were clearly null and void, due to an impediment, but rather of marriages that are acknowledged to have been valid. In this heresy of theirs, the Orthodox can perhaps find some common ground with Francis, after his infamous Amoris Laetitia!
These are the primary heresies taught by the Orthodox. Quite obviously, they do not deserve to use the term “orthodox,” since they promote heretical notions along with their schism. We must pray that the blindness that afflicts them be removed, and that they humbly submit to the one Church founded by Christ.
Let us return to our original question: Could the Orthodox Church be the true church after all? Considering the evident heresies emanating from Rome over the past 50 years, might the claim of the Catholic Church to be the true church of Christ be mistaken? Such is the reasoning toward which some disillusioned Catholic have been gravitating. I know personally of at least one case where a Roman Catholic converted to the Greek Orthodox Church, and of others who are being tossed with doubts along these lines.
For readers of this magazine, however, this question does not present a dilemma. We know that the papacy was founded by Christ and that the true popes have always preserved the faith pure and undefiled. The Roman See has never subscribed to any heresy, but rather has been the pillar and ground of truth for the faithful. We can read a consistent line of truly orthodox teaching in the writings of all the popes from Saint Peter up to and including Pope Pius XII. The problem, then, is that these modern “popes” are not truly popes at all. They cannot be, else Christ’s promise has failed. The Eastern Orthodox churches, as we have seen, are not only schismatic but also heretical. They do not represent the glorious history of the great Eastern fathers and doctors of the Church, but are rather different churches.
Truly, we are in unprecedented times… times which try men’s faith. Yet if we remain firmly attached to the teachings of the popes before Vatican II, we are compelled to reject the modern impostors who have lived in the Vatican wearing white cassocks. As a great Eastern doctor of the Church (Saint Athanasius) would have phrased it: “They may have the buildings; they may use the names (“catholic” or “pope”); but they are not true successors of Saint Peter.” Let us hold firmly to that faith and reject the claims—whether of the Eastern Orthodox or anyone else—who would seek to draw us away from the church that Jesus Christ established to lead us to heaven.