Part Two from the “Becoming Orthodox” blog.
A fellow convert recently asked us this question. It took me by surprise. No, we did not come anywhere near the consideration of Roman Catholicism. There’s a multitude of reasons why it was never even on our radar:
- Both of us have fathers who were raised RC and subsequently left the church to become Protestant
- My interactions with my staunchly RC grandparents were always less than stellar
- The Papacy always seemed like a fraud (though admittedly – I grew up in a biased environment)
- We both knew enough about the Protestant Reformation to know that there were many problems within the RC church – too many problems for us to take it too seriously
- Personally I have never known any serious Catholics other than my grandparents – and note comment above
- I was told that Catholics worship Mary and that always seemed strange
Looking back on what I thought about Catholicism even just six months ago, I see a major shift in my views. I can now share much more meaningful reasons for why I would not consider Roman Catholicism:
- Again, the Papacy – but I now know more about the history of this issue. I see a grossly misplaced concentration on the Bishop of Rome.
- The filioque.
- The doctrine of transubstantiation, and other similar rationalistic approaches to what is mystical.
- The doctrine of the immaculate conception of Mary.
- Clergy who are not allowed to marry… and too many cases of abuse that seem somehow related to this rule.
- Much too much change within the church
- Too many varying interpretations within the church (on the last two points, my husband recently pointed out that you wouldn’t expect this given that the RC church is under centralized leadership. The Orthodox on the other hand have a leadership that is comparably more decentralized and do not experience this same problem within the church).
At the same time, there are some things that RC and Orthodox Christians have in common. Unfortunately this is very confusing to your average Protestant who doesn’t know much about Orthodoxy. Commonalities include:
- Belief in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist (though Orthodox Christians don’t try to explain how this happens – it is simply accept it as mystery)
- Crossing oneself (though in a slightly different way than RCs)
- Venerating Saints
- Praying to Saints (no different really than asking a fellow Christian to pray for you)
- Asceticism, incense, monasticism, observance of the liturgical calendar
Some of these things may be of great concern to my Protestant friends. Before investigating Orthodoxy I also thought that these things were “too Catholic” so I understand any concerns. Please stick around, I will explore these in greater depth at some point.
Can you tell me your oppinion on the use of the word catholic in the Creed as well as in the Church Fathers? It confuses me sometimes. It seems to be used everywhere. Also, Orthodox is usually not written with a capital letter at the beginning. It is usually written as orthodox, like in Sophronius of Jerusalem, the Eclleciastical History of Evagrius, etc. Do you think Universal would be a better word? Some people also write John of Damascus’s name as John Damascene too! Also, they (publishers, like ante-Nicene and post-Nicene Fathers, which is very Protestant) write Gregory Nazianzen instead of Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory Nyssen instead of Gregory of Nyssa, etc. They also write Holy Ghost instead of Holy Spirit. It is a little confusing to me. I always thought we were Eastern Orthodox. Sometimes, even some saints say that we are defending the “catholic” Faith by the consensus of the Fathers. I thought we were defending the Eastern Orthodox Christian Faith. Though I have heard that catholic means universal and whole, though, but it concerns me that almost every single publication company, even Eastern Orthodox ones like Saint Vladimir’s Press, sometimes even capitalize Catholic, but not orthodox. I know I am probably being silly, but I am trying to find a way to understand this all better. I am not trolling. It just makes me doubt my faith a bit, thinking maybe that the Church Fathers are saying we are Catholic, but not Orthodox, since I rarely see the word Orthodox in the Chuch Fathers. Even Wikipedia says Theodosius was catholic, which is strange, considering he was a Byzantine Emperor (ruled 379-395 A.D, convened 2nd Ecumenical Councl in 381 A.D in Constantinople.) And if you click the word catholic, it sends you to a link for the Roman Catholic Church. I am not doubting my faith completely, and know only God knows to the fullest about everything, and who am I to judge Him, but it is honestly very confusing, and makes me feel slightly nominal in my Christianity, which I do not want.
Can you give me any reflections to understand this all a bit better at least?
Fr. John says
‘Catholic’ is a word which means universal, whole and complete. A Roman “Catholic” uses it to define themselves as part of the church of Rome.
Orthodox use it in it’s classic, and proper sense – the whole, universal faith once and for all delivered to the Saints.
We also use the term “Orthodox” to define our faith (meaning true) as well as an identifier for the Church we belong to. These competing claims as to whom teaches the True Faith and is, in fact, the True Church, are clear. For my part, once I realized that something as basic as the Nicene Creed used to be universally recited and taught in the Orthodox manner said just about everything I needed to know about other claims.
Just remember, before there was a “Roman Catholic Church” there was the Church Catholic (Universal) which taught the Orthodox faith. We are still doing that.
Interesting that even the Romans refer to us as the Orthodox, isn’t it?