Let's Keep Our Distance

For Orthodox leaders to engage in dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church is both futile and dangerous

Until the Orthodox get good answers to two questions we have no reason to even consider reunion with Rome. These questions are: What authority will the pope have within a newly "unified" church? And what would our worship be like after reunion?

Our Orthodox day-to-day relationship with the Roman Catholic community should be the same as it is with all other people of goodwill, one of love and shared common human aspirations. But this love and these shared goals must be rooted in an honest recognition of the very real differences we have. I do not believe Christian love needs to be expressed by formal declarations of reunion. We have the right to ask, reunion with what?

Roman Catholic identity is bound up with papal authority. Talk of the church having "two lungs" (East and West) aside, the truth is that at no time in the foreseeable future is Rome about to relinquish its claim to headship of the Universal Church. (For a complete study see

"Two Paths: Papal Monarchy-Collegial Tradition"

by Michael Whelton.)

Speaking of union without addressing the issue of papal authority is like two governments trying to negotiate union when one is a democracy and the other a dictatorship. Rome is not about to renounce the bishop of Rome's authority to pronounce "infallibly" on matters of faith and life, a dogma not adopted till 1870. Indeed, as the pope uses his authority to call for unity between Catholics and Orthodox, he handily illustrates our biggest difference: papal-monarchy vs. collegial tradition. What Orthodox bishop could presume to speak for all the bishops, or be in a position to impose "unity" on the whole Orthodox community? We make decisions as a collegial body, in council; no single leader holds exclusive power.


"Reunion" is a misleading word to use anyway, because it implies we Orthodox would be "coming back" to something we left. But the Roman church today is not the one that separated from us in 1054, over this very issue of papal monarchism, as well as the pope's authority to add a new doctrine to the Nicene Creed. Even Western Christians of 1054 would not recognize their church today. Ironically, they would feel more at home in the Orthodox Church than their own, particularly when it comes to worship. This is because Orthodoxy, despite its diverse jurisdictions, has done a far better job of maintaining liturgical integrity and historic practice than have the Roman Catholics within their centralized papal monarchy.

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