By Father Rumble and Father Carty - celledoor.com
1254. What is the Greek Orthodox Church?
There are some 16 different Orthodox Churches existing independently of
one another. After the first really definite break with Rome when
Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople, left the Catholic Church in the
ninth century, the Eastern Church followed in the path of all
schismatical Churches, splitting up into further divisions. Eight of
these separate sections of Orthodoxy have their own Patriarchs, namely,
Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, Bulgaria, Rumania,
Russia, and Servia. The others lack definite rule. The term "Greek
Orthodox Church" is popularly applied to any or all of these Churches;
but strictly speaking it should be reserved for that section of
Orthodoxy which acknowledges the Patriarch of Constantinople. This is
really one of the smaller sections, for the Bulgarians, Rumanians,
Russians and others of Slav nationality, are Greeks in no sense of the
word. But it is clear that there is no one united Orthodox Church at
all, any more than there is one united form of Protestantism. However,
since the schismatic Orthodox Churches began with the rebellion of the
Patriarchate of Constantinople against Rome in the ninth century, we can
allude to all the Orthodox Churches as belonging to the Greek Schism.
1255. Was the Christian Church governed from the beginning with the
Bishop of Rome as supreme and infallible head, or by a Council of
The Church from the very beginning was governed by the Bishops,
including the Bishop of Rome, all the other Bishops being in union with
and subject to the universal jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome. At
times the Bishops met together in Councils for more important
deliberations, and the decisions of these Councils were acknowledged as
binding provided they were approved and sanctioned by the Bishop of Rome
as supreme head of the Church.
1256. Did the Patriarchs of the Greek Orthodox Church at any stage
after the death of Christ recognize the Pope as supreme and infallible
head of the Church?
We cannot speak of the "Patriarchs of the Greek Orthodox Church" prior
to the Greek Schism commenced by Photius in 867 A.D. Until then there
were simply Patriarchs of Constantinople, presiding there and subject to
the Pope. Dr. Orchard, when a Congregationalist, wrote, "An examination
of the circumstances of the Great Schism shows that the Eastern Church
did then repudiate a supremacy which it had previously been in the habit
of conceding to the Roman Patriarchate." The First Council of
Constantinople in 381, which only Eastern Bishops attended, demanded
that the Bishop of Constantinople should rank next after the Bishop of
Rome, and before the Bishops of Alexandria and Antioch. The Council of
Chalcedon in 451, attended by the Eastern Bishops, ended its discussion
with the unanimous cry, "Peter has spoken by Leo," when the Pope's
decision was given. A century and a half later Pope Gregory I could
still write, "Who doubts that the Church of Constantinople is subject to
the Apostolic See?" No one then doubted it; and no one disputed it
until Photius came along in 867 to plunge the East into schism. The
Patriarch of Constantinople, and all the Eastern Bishops signed the
formula of Hormisdas, who was Pope from 514 to 523. That formula
contained these words, "We follow the Apostolic See in everything and
teach all its laws. I hope to be in that one Communion taught by the
Apostolic See in which is the whole, real, and perfect solidity of the
Christian religion." Dean Milman writes, "Before the end of the third
century the lineal descent of Rome's Bishops from St. Peter was
unhesitatingly claimed and obsequiously admitted by the Christian
1257. What reasons led to the breakaway of the Greeks?
The reasons were chiefly political. According to the most recent
research work of Jugie, Grumel, Amann, and Dvronik, the schism commenced
by Photius in 867 would never have happened had it not been for
political rivalry concerning jurisdiction over Bulgaria. In 861 the
Bulgarians were converted by missionaries from Constantinople. In 866
Pope Nicholas I appointed Bishops for the Bulgarians in order to bring
them under the jurisdiction of the Latin Patriarchate of the West rather
than have them under the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The motive to
maintain Rome's political authority over Constantinople was not absent,
and from this point of view the move was a grave political mistake. The
Greeks resented it, and Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople, wrote a
reprehensible letter to the Pope in 867 in which he condemned the
Catholic Church, and made various charges against her even from the
doctrinal point of view. The undeniable provocation did not justify his
The Pope excommunicated Photius, who retaliated by excommunicating the
Pope, and the schism commenced. Photius made peace with Pope John VIII,
and was duly recognized as Patriarch of Constantinople; and the
reconciliation endured so long as Photius lived. But trouble had been
set on foot; and intermittent difficulties with Rome continued until
1054 when Michael Cerularius, the then Patriarch of Constantinople,
renewed the break with Rome, moved by sheer ambition to be universal
Patriarch over the whole Church. He won the Emperor to his side by
appealing to national pride in the political importance of
Constantinople. From that time on, no Patriarch of Constantinople has
sought confirmation of his appointment from Rome, nor submitted to the
jurisdiction of the Pope. Greek Delegates to the Second Council of Lyons
in 1274, and again at the Council of Florence in 1439, admitted that
they should do so, and return to unity with Rome. But on each occasion
on their return to the East their admissions were repudiated through
national interests. So the Greek Churches continue in their schismatical
state. Political quarrels and personal antagonisms, with faults on both
sides, were the original cause of the schism, not dogmatic differences.
But from a doctrinal point of view, the Eastern Churches are gradually
drifting from orthodoxy, and yielding to the inroads of modernist
1258. I have been told that Greek priests have power to consecrate the Eucharist.
Priests of the Greek Orthodox Churches have valid Orders, and when they
offer the Sacrifice of the Mass, they consecrate validly.
1259. As the Greeks are schismatics and heretics also, how can you admit their Orders while denying Anglican Orders?
The Greek Orthodox Churches are separated from the Catholic Church by
schism, or division from its authority; and also by heresy, insofar as
they refuse to admit certain Catholic dogmatic teachings. But these
things do not necessarily affect the question of Orders. If, after
leaving the Catholic Church, such ecclesiastical bodies retain the
correct form of ordination, and administer the Sacrament of Holy Orders
with the right intention, then the priests will be truly ordained, even
though in a schismatical and heretical Church. This is the case with the
Orthodox Greeks. And since Greek priests are truly ordained, they
cannot be reordained should they seek admission to the Catholic Church.
Even in the Anglican Church, after its separation from Rome by Henry
VIII, in 1534, the ordinations continued to be correct for the first
sixteen years, until 1550. But in 1550, during the reign of Edward VI,
the form for ordination was altered, and the intention of ordaining
priests in the Catholic sense of the word was repudiated. From then on,
Anglican Orders have been simply invalid, and converted clergymen from
the Anglican Church must remain either as Catholic laymen, or be
ordained as Catholic priests without any allowance being made for their
previous ordination as ministers in the Church of England.
1260. If a married Greek priest became a Roman Catholic, would he be
allowed to officiate as a priest and still live with his wife?
He could not do so if he adopted the Latin rite. But he could do so if,
as would probably happen, he joined one of the Uniate Greek Churches
which retain their Greek customs and Liturgy even while subject to the
1261. Do the Greek Churches believe that Christ is really present in the Eucharist? If so, do they celebrate a valid Mass?
The Greek Churches believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the
Eucharist; and since their priests have valid Orders, they possess the
power of consecrating the Blessed Eucharist in the true sense of the
word. The Sacrifice of the Mass in Greek Churches is, therefore, every
bit as valid as the Mass in the Catholic Church, even though it is not
celebrated in Latin.
1262. May a Catholic hear Mass, then, in a Greek Church?
He may do so in a Uniate Greek Church, but not in any of the
schismatical Orthodox Churches. Those Churches are not part of the
Catholic Church, but are in a state of schism and of protest against the
authority of Christ in His true Church. Churches separated from the
unity of the Catholic Church are not according to the will of Christ,
who demands that His followers should form one flock under one shepherd.
No Catholic therefore may take part in, or sanction in any way, the
services of the Greek Orthodox Churches.
1263. I have heard that, when a Catholic priest is not available,
Catholics may receive the Sacraments from Greek Orthodox priests. Is
When no Catholic priest is available, the Catholic Church permits a
dying Catholic to receive one Sacrament only from a Greek priest, and
that is the Sacrament of Confession. The very law of the Catholic Church
forbidding participation in Greek rites during life is to preserve a
Catholic from danger of schism, and within the true Church, for the sake
of his very salvation. And if, at the hour of death, that salvation can
be the better secured by the reception of absolution from a Greek
priest rather than go without such absolution, the Church wisely and
mercifully permits it. But, as is clear, this exception avails only in
the case of extreme necessity, when no Catholic priest is available, and
on condition that the Catholic merely accepts absolution from the Greek
priest as a priest, and in no way approving his position as a
1264. In what doctrines do the Greek Orthodox Churches differ from the Roman Catholic Church?
They differ on many essential points, although they are much nearer to
Catholicism than they are to Protestantism, insofar as they retain the
bulk of original Christian doctrine, and a valid priesthood. They
acknowledge the doctrine of the Trinity, but deny that the Holy Ghost
proceeds from both Father and Son. They deny the supremacy and
infallibility of the Pope; the right of the Church to baptize by pouring
the water instead of by completely immersing the subject; the right to
give Communion under one kind only; the Catholic doctrine of the
particular and general judgments; also the Catholic doctrine on the
nature of purgatory, although they admit the existence of purgatory.
While believing that Mary was quite sinless, and maintaining a great
devotion to her as the Mother of God, they deny the doctrine of the
Immaculate Conception. This, however, is a more recent denial. The Greek
Churches believed in the Immaculate Conception until the advent of
Protestantism. Under pressure of Protestant opinion they wavered without
denying it. The denial came when the Pope defined the doctrine in 1854,
but merely because they were opposed to the Pope and wished to manifest
their opposition. They have nothing against the doctrine in itself. The
Greeks also differ from Rome concerning the nature of original sin, and
of justification. These are the chief differences, some of them
rendering the Greek Churches heretical as well as schismatical.
1265. I belong to the Greek Orthodox Church, and regard my religion
as identical with the Roman Catholic except for the fact that you
acknowledge the Pope as head, while we acknowledge the Patriarch of
Even were that true, you are confronted with a great problem. Christ
declared definitely that His Church would be one fold under one
shepherd. And your duty would be to inquire as to the relative merits of
the Pope and of the Patriarch of Jerusalem in their claims to be head
of the Church. Both cannot be. But, as a matter of fact, you cannot
speak of one Greek Orthodox Church with the Patriarch of Jerusalem as
its head. The Rev. C. J. MacGillivray, in his book, "Through the East to
Rome," 1931, says that, as an Anglican clergyman, he spent some years
in the East amongst the Greeks and Syrians, working for the reunion of
Greeks and Anglicans. He found it impossible, and in the end became a
Catholic. On page 91 of his book he writes: "To begin with, there is no
such thing as the 'Orthodox Church.' There is a group of some 15 or 16
independent Churches, recognizing no common authority, but loosely
connected as being all 'Orthodox.' And again, if you leave out Russia,
the whole number of the Orthodox is exceedingly small; and the Russian
Church was only held together by the power of the State. Compared to the
Roman Catholic Church the so-called Orthodox Church is just a
collection of fossilized and moribund fragments of what was once a great
and living Church. Indeed it seems to me to be a great object lesson in
the disastrous consequences of abandoning the rock on which the Church
of Christ was built. The Orthodox Church has ceased to be a living
teacher. It is incapable of any sort of development, or of that constant
advance in thought and undying vitality which are characteristic of the
Roman Catholic Church. It is not, indeed, carried about with every wind
of doctrine like the Protestant Churches. It has, in the main, kept the
old Faith, but only at the cost of ceasing to think. On all the vital
questions which have been discussed, and in many cases settled in the
West, it neither has, nor can have anything to say." Such is the
impression formed from first-hand knowledge by the Rev. C. J.
MacGillivray during his sojourn amongst Eastern Christians as an
Anglican clergyman. You cannot, therefore, speak of the Greek Church as
one Church; and not all the groups comprising it acknowledge the
jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Jerusalem by any means.
1266. Even though in schism, the Greek Orthodox Church is at least an Apostolic Church.
That cannot be admitted. The word "Apostolic" in general signifies the
identity of a present Church with the Church of the Apostles. This
identity can be either adequate or inadequate. Adequate apostolicity is
present when a Church of today has not only the same doctrine and
worship, and the same episcopal constitution, but also the same
uninterrupted and lawfully transmitted jurisdiction or authority.
Without this latter requirement, any vestiges of apostolicity are
inadequate, and useless as a mark of identification. The chief thing,
therefore, is the continued juridical succession of apostolic authority.
Now this element precisely is missing from the Greek Orthodox Church.
By the mere fact of being in schism, apostolic authority is forfeited.
In addition, the Greek Church has not preserved the Faith intact in many
points. The Greek Church cannot therefore be called apostolic in the
technical sense of that word.
1267. Do you deny the Greek Church to be truly Catholic?
Yes. By Catholic we mean a given Church, i.e., one united Church, which
remains everywhere essentially the same, and inherits the commission of
Christ to teach all nations as a right, exercising that right by
constantly propagating itself in continual expansion. Now, in the first
place, there is no one Greek Orthodox Church. For example, there is no
authoritative bond of union between the Greek Churches of
Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Russia, Servia, Rumania, Bulgaria,
Ukraine, and Estonia, etc. Moreover, these Greek Churches are not even
conscious of a Divine commission to teach all nations. They consent to
be national in their outlook, and show no sign of the expansive power
which seeks to propagate itself amongst all peoples. The Greeks declare
the Latins to have fallen into schism, yet make no effort to convert
them back to "Orthodoxy." Is it not significant that, while no Latins
ever followed the Patriarch of Constantinople, many in the East,
including many Patriarchs of Antioch and Alexandria, remained in
Communion with Rome after the schisms of Photius and Cerularius? It is
impossible to regard the Greek Orthodox Churches as Catholic in the true
sense of the word.
1268. Since Greek Orthodoxy is so near to Roman Catholicism, why change from one to the other?
The mere fact that they are not identical is sufficient reason for a
change from Greek Orthodoxy to Catholicism. It is necessary to be
subject to the right authority. Obedience is the very heart of religion.
We went from God by disobedience; the road back is by obedience. And
the authority of the Pope is that of Christ. Of him Christ said, "He
that heareth you, heareth Me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth Me." Lk 10:16. Again, Christ said, "If a man will not hear the Church, let him be as the heathen." Mt 18:17.
Our Lord could never have commanded men to obey two conflicting
authorities. That would spell chaos. The very reasons the Greeks urge
for not becoming Catholics show that they do not really believe their
Churches to be as near to Catholicism as they pretend. Moreover, Greek
priests are getting more and more into the habit of fraternizing with
Protestants in common services. But no Greek Orthodox priest would be
allowed to participate in any Catholic rites. The Greeks acknowledge a
bond with definitely heretical Churches; but they have no real bond with
the Catholic Church. They are outside Catholic unity.