Orthodoxy and Heterodox Theological Issues

The Orthodox Church has remained unchanged from what the Orthodox believed from the first. External alterations (vestment changes, new feast days, canons, translations) do not add or take away the everlasting landmarks [Prov. 22:28]. We have been exhorted to contend for the Orthodox Faith, which was once for all delivered to the saints [Jude 1:3]. Christ admonished the apostles to teach all nations to observe all things whatsoever He commanded them [Mt. 28:20]. Roman Catholicism maintains a development of its doctrine in stages, such as the dogmas of papal infallibility and the immaculate conception. They contend that Christ gave only a deposit or seed that required maturity and cultivation. Orthodoxy uses the sciences and philosophy, taking only the honey from it, to defend and explain her Faith; whereas, Roman Catholicism builds and relies on human reason and wisdom.

Roman Catholicism believes that, in the future age, the essence of God will be seen. The Orthodox believe that it is not possible to see God. God speaks to us through the Son, Who is the effulgence of the glory and impress of His hypostasis [Heb. 1:1-3]. The Orthodox make a distinction between God’s essence and His uncreated energies. For the Latins, grace was created by God. For the Orthodox grace is uncreated.

The purpose of the incarnation is also viewed differently. Western theology, generally legalistic, propounds that God became man and died on the Cross that He might satisfy the divine justice that was offended by Adam’s transgression. They put forward that Adam’s sin displeased the infinite God, a transgression that had infinite consequences. Finite man could not make amends. The sin of Adam, that is, what the papists call “original sin” or “inherited guilt,” passed on to all his progeny. Only the God-Man Christ could remit this debt by dying on the Cross. Jesus’ death propitiates Adam’s sin. Consequently, by Jesus’ death, the offended Father is no longer angry with man. Little concern was given by the papacy to the virtue of man’s striving for divinization or theosis.

The Orthodox, on the other hand, believe that Christ gave His life a ransom for many [Mt. 20:28], even as He says in the Gospel; but the ransom was paid to deliver us out of the power of Hades and redeem us from death [Hos. 13:14]. For Christ, through death, brought to nought the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, so that He might set free those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage [Heb. 2:14, 15]. Death reigned from Adam, even over those who did not sin in the likeness of Adam’s transgression [Rom. 5:14]. The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law [1 Cor. 15:56]. When we were in the flesh, the passions of the sins, which were through the law, were energizing in our members to bear fruit to death [Rom. 7:5]. Saint Paul saw another law in our members, warring against the law of our mind, and taking us captive in the law of sin which is in our members. It was death, for which he asks, “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” – to which he replies, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then on the one hand with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but on the other hand with the flesh the law of sin [Rom. 7:23-25].” We then are called upon to mortify our members [Col. 3:5]. Hence, Christ suffered and was buried to conquer the devil and death, not as a vicarious atonement as explained by the west. Christ’s was a voluntary death. It was not that we loved, but that “He Himself loved us, and sent forth His Son to be an expiation for our sins [1 Jn. 4:10; cf. Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17; 1 Jn. 2:2].” Death and Hades could not hold Him Who rose on the third day. “The many” from Whom Christ died were ransomed from the grave and the devil. Sin reigned in death [Rom. 5:21]. The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus freed us from the law of sin and death [Rom. 8:2]. We now have the possibility to become like God (divinization). The difference in views between the Latins and the Orthodox is seen in the naturalism of Latin statues as opposed to the Orthodox view that the icons depict the saints as transfigured and glorified.

As for the Mystery of Baptism, Roman Catholicism believes that “original sin” is sprinkled away. Orthodoxy does not recognize the idea of “original sin.” For the Orthodox, all those who have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ [Gal. 3:27]. We have been baptized into His death, so that even as Christ was raised from the dead, thus also we should walk in newness of life [Rom. 6:3, 4]. We who have been buried with Him in the baptism, were raised with Him through faith in the energy of God, Who raised Him from the dead [Col. 2:12]. But also by one Spirit were we all baptized into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free – and were all given to drink into one spirit [1 Cor. 12:13].

With regard to the head of the Church, the Roman Catholics acknowledge the pope as that visible head and Christ’s vicar. He speaks for the whole Church (ex cathedra). Other bishops, subordinate to him, look to him as their unity. Orthodoxy maintains that the bishops are equal, though there do exist different distinctions between the bishops (patriarch, archbishop, metropolitan, bishop) with regard to Church administration. The Latins assign each local church as part of the universal Church. The head of the local church is then both its bishop and the pope, that is, two heads, with the pope as supreme. The bishop for the Orthodox is the living icon of Christ. His flock constitutes the Church. Canon law for the west is also in continual change, so as to regulate human relationships and rights. The canons for the Orthodox are not abrogated over time. They were and they are tools for building up the Church of Christ and for bringing about the new man and putting off the old through obedience to them.

Both the Western and the Eastern Churches acknowledge at least seven Sacraments or Mysteries. The eucharist of the Roman Catholics is effective by means of the priest who acts in the person of Christ. The Orthodox teach the invocation of the Holy Spirit (epiklesis) for the changing of the bread and wine. While the Roman Catholic receives only the bread or wafer, the Orthodox receives the immaculate Mysteries, both the body and the blood. The west holds Extreme Unction as the final sacrament, preparing one for death, Purgatory, and the future life. The Orthodox deems the administration of this Holy Oil to be for healing, for which Confession and Communion generally follow.

Purgatory is a condition which the Roman Catholics believe is for the departed awaiting the final judgment. They also acknowledge the accumulated merits and grace of the saints who can grant indulgences and shorten one’s stay in Purgatory. The Orthodox do not believe in any new doctrine, such as purgatorial fire which burns away sins. The Orthodox believe that some have a foretaste of the glory to come, whereas others have a foretaste of suffering until the particular Judgment. At Christ’s second coming, the soul will be united with the risen body for judgment. The work of each shall become manifest; for the day shall declare it, because it is being revealed in fire; and the fire shall put to the test the work of each, of what sort it is [1 Cor. 3:13]. Some will inherit eternal life, some will inherit eternal damnation.

Source: The Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church, May. Holy Apostles Convent, 2006.

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