Ask An Eastern Orthodox Christian: What’s the difference between the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church?

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Ask An Eastern Orthodox Christian: What’s the difference between the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church?

What would you like to know about the Eastern Orthodox Christian faith? Submit your question.

By Nicholas Damascus

I am on the journey of discovering God and Christ. My wife is a devout Roman Catholic and in better times, I went to Mass with her but I have had some fundamental issues with a few of the teaching. Could you briefly explain the changes made by the Roman Church that the Eastern Orthodox Church does not adhere to. Thank you in advance.

When Christ and the apostles established the church, He declared the gates of hell would not prevail against it. That church still exists today and is known as the Eastern Orthodox Church. For the first 1,000 years, this church consisted of five major historic patriarchal centers referred to as the Pentarchy — four Eastern Sees, Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, and the Western See of Rome.   

Seven major ecumenical councils occurred during the first thousand years. These councils are still considered valid by the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. They were held primarily to maintain the true faith and root out heresies that challenged and plagued the ancient original faith.   

The Start of the Great Schism of 1054

Rome was very much a part of the original root of the ancient Christian church and was the leading center of Christianity for the first couple of centuries. Then in 325 AD, Emperor Constantine moved the center of Christianity to his new city of Constantinople (Istanbul, Turkey today). From this point forward, the See of Constantinople (the New Rome) assumed the “first among equals” in the leadership of the whole of Christendom.  

However, in 1054, Rome, in an attempt to reaffirm itself as the leader of Christendom, excommunicated the Eastern part of the Orthodox Church, which consisted of the Sees of Constantinople, Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria. This attempt was unsuccessful when the Eastern part of Christendom excommunicated Rome, creating what we recognize as the Great Schism of 1054 AD. The See of Rome and its western territory broke away from the main body of the church, becoming what is known today as the Roman Catholic Church.   

Now the Eastern part of the original Church that Christ and the Apostles established become known as the Eastern Orthodox Church and continued maintaining the original teachings and doctrines. The difference between the two Christian churches was the Eastern Orthodox Church did not add too, subtract from, or alter any of the original teachings and beliefs of the original faith of Christ and the apostles to this day.  

The Protestant Reformation

However, in the West, the newly formed Roman Catholic Church added to the  original Christian faith in doctrine and beliefs. These changes would eventually give rise to the objection of many, causing a schism within the Roman Catholic Church itself known as the Protestant Reformation.  

The following are some of the changes of doctrines and decrees in the Roman Catholic Church that were added to the original faith. There are other theological differences between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church; however, for now, I will list some of the main issues that were added.    

  • The Filioque  
  • Purgatory 
  • Indulgences 
  • Institution of Celibacy for Priests 
  • The Papacy 
  • The Immaculate Conception 
  • Original Sin 
  • In Persona Christi 
  • Church governing structure 
  • Transubstantiation 
  • Annulment 
  • Mortal sin and menial sin 
  • Eucharistic ministers (laypeople) 

In 1521 AD, the official beginning of the Protestant Reformation or schism officially started with the declaration of the Edict of Worms, condemning the father of Protestantism Martin Luther, his ideas, and anyone that would follow him.  If one were to follow the Christian timeline, you would find that in western Christianity, there are thousands of churches that were formed as a result of the Protestant Reformation. As of 2012, 43,000 Christian denominations exist, according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. You can learn more here.


About Nicholas Damascus

Nick Damascus is one who seeks to discover and apply the proverbial question of what is truth and wisdom, to fill that gaping hole, to become complete and to become realistically and synergistically functional. In an attempt to live the Christian life, which he says is a definite work in progress, he has discovered that he's created the Christ that fits his lifestyle and agrees with his ego (and boy what an ego, he says), often finding himself avoiding what God intended him to be.

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