Eastern Greek Orthodox and Western Roman Catholicism:
by Rit Nosotro
Which is closer to 1st century Christianity?
Contrast the development of Eastern Greek Orthodox against Western Roman Catholicism. What led to the Great Schism? Which one appears closer to the church depicted in Acts and as defined by Pauline epistles?
While neither church truly resembles the church depicted in Acts and the Pauline Epistles, the Eastern Greek Orthodox runs somewhat closer to the Apostolic Church than Western Roman Catholicism. The word orthodox means conforming to the approved form of any doctrine. The word catholic means universal in extent, encompassing all, and wide-ranging. The two churches split over two chief issues in the Great Schism of 1054 AD when delegates of Pope Leo IX excommunicated the patriarch of Constantinople, and a council of the patriarch excommunicated the papal delegates. They disagreed on the filioque and the authority of the Roman Pope over Eastern churches.
The church in Acts, which started at Pentecost around the year 36 AD, proved very simple. The church contained no popes, cardinals, or bishops. At first the church met in homes and at the outer court of the temple under a large porch known as Solomon's Colonnade. Thousands of believers shared with each other in spiritual and physical possessions as they worshiped and looked for Christ's return. The jealousies of the Sanhedrin brought about the persecution which caused people to meet exclusively at homes, rather than public buildings. As the New Testament was being written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Christians learned from the teachings of those who knew Christ, and they passed it on to each other. In the epistles Paul wrote to the churches he founded, Paul gave instructions for operations of the church body. In this, he appointed elders, or overseers, to the churches. He explained the function of orderly worship in his first letter to the Corinthian church (chapter 14). In other letters to the church at Ephesus, or to Timothy and Titus, Paul explains the gifts, qualifications and duties of apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, deacons, and evangelists. The book of Acts shows elders working as equals locally with no one lording over other fellowships of believers. Although interpretations of Paul's letters have differed since the first century, Church hierarchy, Latin liturgy, and the lack of scriptures for the laity kept division to a minimum. As power centralized corruption increased through traditions of men.
By the time Emperor Constantine moved his capitol to the new city of Constantinople in 330AD, each of the major cities of the Roman world had a bishop overseeing the local church. The bishop at Rome claimed to be the most important based on the [erroneous] tradition that Peter had founded the first church in Rome. This began a one man rule rationalized from Matthew 16:17, "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church." Roman Catholics saw Peter as foremost among the Apostles and they believed that the Roman popes descended directly from him. The Bishop of Constantinople understandably disputed the dictatorial claim of the pope in Rome. In an effort to stop the bickering, Constantine called to order the Nicene Council. In that council, they laid out church doctrine called the Nicene Creed. Many of the eastern bishops disagreed with the western bishops concerning the wording of the Nicene Creed. Although this creed would form the basis of dogma for both the Orthodox and Catholic churches, the Eastern Orthodox Church disagreed with the last paragraph, which talked about the Holy Spirit.
In 589 AD, a council added the filioque. It stated that the Holy Spirit came from God the Father and God the Son, and the Eastern Orthodox disagreed with that. The Nicene Creed originally said that Holy Spirit came from God only, and that had suited the Eastern Orthodox Church. The strain on unity was set for the Great Schism and the formalization of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
The issue of leadership led to another reason for the Great Schism. A strict hierarchy existed in Roman Catholicism that was adhered to by all its churches. The rule of the pope was passed down through cardinals and bishops to the priest of a local church. This authority was held as ordained by God and could not be questioned. In many Eastern Orthodox churches, the clergy and laity shared the responsibility of leading the congregation. In some cases, the laity elected their clergy, which was not the case with the Roman Catholics.
The Eastern Greek Orthodox Church relied heavily on doctrine as historically interpreted. Under the yoke of such heavy traditions, each Orthodox Church functioned alone, with only remote reliance on the Patriarch in Constantinople.
Neither church followed the Biblical model of a church very closely due to the addition of man's tradition to the authority of Scripture. However, the Eastern Greek Orthodox Church seemed closer because of the issue of looser form of hierarchy. While in many other doctrines, such as icons, liturgy, priestly garments, and large ornate buildings, the churches presented many similarities, the role of leadership in the church set the Eastern Greek Orthodox Church apart from the Western Roman Catholic Church.
The reformation attempted to correct the built up corruption of papal abusive that had accumulated over centuries. As scripture was made available, truth revealed the priesthood of all believers and salvation apart from works. The Bible sheds light on true Christianity. There is "one lord, one faith, one baptism".
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