In the last Christian forum meeting, many things were discussed. One part of the discussion that came about began with the comment: “No offence, Father, but few people in America have even heard of Orthodoxy.” Another comment by one of our ministers followed: “even though it is the second largest Christian body in the world" and another comment "and one of the three main types of Christianity.” More discussion ensued, and the main point that these wonderful men of good will who I meet with in the Christian forum was that in dialogue, it is important for people to realize that there is not just “Protestant” and “Catholic,” but also that there is “Orthodox,” a third perspective that was never tied up in the “Reformation” or “Counter-reformation” so to speak, and that it is my job to make it known. So, I am doing so here. For those unaware of what I am referring to, here is an encyclopedia definition of the Orthodox Church:
"official name Orthodox Catholic Church one of the three major doctrinal and jurisdictional groups of Christianity. It is characterized by its continuity with the apostolic church, its liturgy...and has a worship service that is theologically and spiritually rich" (Eastern Orthodoxy (Christianity) -- Britannica Online Encyclopedia
Orthodox Christianity is neither Roman Catholic nor Protestant. It is not a denomination. Denominations came in the protestant reformation, and have been multiplying ever since. I WANT TO MAKE IT CLEAR that the ONLY ONE OF THE THREE FORMS OF CHRISTIANITY, the youngest form, Protestantism, has produced “denominations.” Neither Orthodoxy nor Roman Catholicism are “denominations,” in that this was something that did not exist before the protestant reformation. Some of you judge Roman Catholicism based on a preconceived caricature of it and have never set foot inside a Roman Catholic Church (others of you left, and of course, I am not referring to you). But most of you, as already mentioned, have not, before this forum, even heard of Orthodoxy, nor did you know that it was distinct from both Protestantism and Roman Catholicism.
It should be said that the following writing of Timothy Ware may not be as applicable as it once was, in that Roman Catholicism is in the process of rediscovering its ancient eastern roots, and the dialogue between Roman Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity has drawn closer. Nonetheless, it gives the view that Orthodoxy had for centuries on the “Protestant-Catholic” debates:
“‘All Protestants are Crypto-Papists,’ wrote the Russian theologian Alexis Khomiakov to an English friend in the year 1846. ‘. . .To use the concise language of algebra, all the West knows but one datum a; whether it be preceded by the positive sign +, as with the Romanists, or with the negative sign -, as with the Protestants, the a remains the same. Now a passage to Orthodoxy seems indeed like an apostasy from the past, from its science, creed, and life. It is rushing into a new and unknown world.’ Khomiakov, when he spoke of the datum a, had in mind the fact that western Christians, whether Free Churchmen, Anglicans, or Roman Catholics, have a common background in the past. All alike (although they may not always care to admit it) have been profoundly influenced by the same events: by the Papal centralization and the Scholasticism of the Middle Ages, by the Renaissance, by the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. But behind members of the Orthodox Church—Greeks, Russians, and the rest—there lies a very different background. They have known no Middle Ages (in the western sense) and have undergone no Reformations or Counter-Reformations. ; that have only been affected in an oblique way by the cultural and religious upheaval which transformed western Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Christians in the west, both Roman and Reformed, generally start by asking the same questions, although they may disagree about the answers. In Orthodoxy, however, it is not merely the answers that are different—the questions themselves are not the same as in the west. Orthodox see history in another perspective. Consider, for example, the Orthodox attitude toward western religious disputes. In the West it is usual to think of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism as opposite extremes; but to an Orthodox they appear as two sides of the same coin.” (Ware, The Orthodox Church, p. 2).
Again, this statement of Khomiakov is certainly less applicable today, as T. Ware later points out that Orthodoxy has in the recent past (first part of the 20th century) had a very cordial relationship with traditional Anglicanism, and also has, in the even more recent past, found very much common ground with Roman Catholicism, and the two have drawn especially close in the past few decades as Roman Catholicism has been rediscovering both its ancient roots in the east and west, and the two have been in a very cordial and open dialogue, discovering less differences in thinking than what has been previously thought. Nonetheless, Orthodoxy also sympathizes with the Protestant reformation on a few points. Much of the Reformation came about because of innovations of the Roman Church such as indulgences, the “temporal fires” of purgatory, limbo, papal infallibility, the de-emphasis on Scripture (for a time, but NOT applicable today) etc. [note, to be fair, from the Orth. point of view they are innovations, from the Roman Catholic point of view they are doctrinal developments
]. However, also to be fair, we must acknowledge that Rome also has some of the same sympathies for the past.
But once again we return to a difference on approach. Although Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism have much in common, from an Orthodox perspective, Protestantism and Roman Catholicism have far more in common with each other than what they think. The very thing that Orthodoxy finds objectionable to the “new dogma” of the “immaculate conception” is the only thing that Protestants would agree with about the dogma: Original Sin. For the Christian East, original sin has never been about a transferred “guilt” of Adam, but rather about a transferred corruption and death of the sin of Adam. From the Orthodox point of view, a baby is not guilty of Adam’s sin, but does inherit the “original” or “ancestral” sin, that is, death and corruption, and thus a tendency toward personal sin. The Creed of Nicea-Constantinople speaks of “one baptism for the remission of sins.” For Orthodox, there is a clear distinction between forgiveness and remission. The inherited ancestral sin requires remission (such as the remission of cancer), whereas personal sin requires both forgiveness and remission; forgiveness is found in repentance, remission in union with God.
I myself have made a long journey, but one that brought me full circle. I believe that we must take a deeper look to be able to find ourselves in a place of reversing the divisions. I therefore urge all of you who despise denominationalism, and have only known protestantism or groups with a post reformation history (historically speaking) to take a closer look, without the prejudices of the past, without your “baggage” of preconceived notions or emotions against what you heretofore understood as “church,” to look at those other two forms of Christianity that predate denominationalism: Orthodox Christianity and Roman Catholicism. I, of course, believe firmly in Orthodoxy, but I also find it to be good to be knowledgeable about the whole picture of Christianity and Christian history, about the good things not only of Orthodoxy but also of Roman Catholicism that perhaps you did not know, and to make an informed decision about where one is rather than just being complacently ignorant of the possible road that the Lord has set before you. I also believe that that gaps of the past are closing between the two, in that we are learning to see more of each other in each other.
In order to reverse the divisions of the past, we have to not look at creating a new thing, but on getting back to the well-founded thing that existed right from the beginning. The only way to do that is to look honestly at the newly created doctrines of the past several centuries invented by individuals that have resulted in yet further denominationalist divisions and individualist separations; to look at some of the valid things said by some, but to reject the innovated garbage which sounds nice but distracts us from the otherwise true teachings that many now misunderstand (or reject under false pretenses or misunderstandings), that were held by the undivided Church in the first millennium. For those of you who find yourselves rebels to the end, although you may be nice people, this may not be the website for you. You have considered the “what if those are wrong.” But I ask you to ask yourselves, “what if one of these are right? What am I doing about it?”