Rev. RAY RYLAND, Ph.D., J.D.
EAST MEETS WEST
Among Catholic apologists, James Likoudis brings rare insight into the separated Eastern traditions. He grew to maturity in the Greek Orthodox Church and, after being received into the Catholic Church, has spent a lifetime of study and writing about what we call "Eastern Orthodoxy".
In giving an overview of the dozen-and-a-half independent national churches designated by the generic term Eastern Orthodox, Likoudis reminds us we should never speak of the "Eastern Orthodox" as the "Eastern Church". In addition to the various Eastern Orthodox ethnic churches, there are perhaps 10 million Christians in the Middle East and Africa not in communion with the Eastern Orthodox churches. Moreover, there are perhaps 17 million Eastern Catholic Christians who make up part of the "Eastern Church".
An early prodding of the Holy Spirit led Likoudis to ponder the authority of bishops. From his study he knew there were hundreds of bishops who embraced heresy in the early centuries of the Church. He wondered which bishops or groups of bishops held the truth. The study of history gave the answer: those bishops who remained in communion with the successor of Peter. He also began to be troubled by the fact that while his Church was called "Greek Orthodox", both Western and Eastern Fathers for long centuries consistently referred to the Church as the "Catholic Church". Eventually, he recognized the Catholic Church as the true Church, and was received into her communion.
In his chapter on "The Agony of Separation", Likoudis discusses cæsaroapism, control of the Eastern churches by the emperor, as a major factor in fomenting the schism between West and East. Another factor in the schism is phyletism, an ecclesiastical form of nationalism, basing the Church’s structure on ethnicity. Though condemned as heresy in 1872 by a synod of Constantinople, phyletism remains a determining characteristic of Eastern Orthodox churches throughout the world.
Both Pope Paul VI and John Paul II have used the term "sister churches" in referring to relations with the Eastern Orthodox churches. The phrase can easily be misunderstood as implying that there are two churches, East and West. To correct that error, in the year 2000 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith defined the correct meaning of "sister churches". It can be applied to particular churches or groups of churches. The particular Church of Rome and, say, particular Eastern Orthodox or Eastern Catholic churches can be called sister churches. But there is only one "Church". The Catholic Church is not "sister" but rather "mother" of all the particular churches. Likoudis carefully preserves this distinction in speaking of sister churches.
Eastern Orthodox apologists contend that an ecumenical council, recognized by the whole Church, is the final authority in the Church. Likoudis points out some of the many problems in this claim. To begin with, none of the seven ecumenical councils to which Eastern Orthodoxy clings as definitive was ever accepted by the "whole Church". How does one determine which bishops have a right to sit in such a council when they are doctrinally divided? Who has authority to call such a council? How can bishops who are not individually infallible become collectively infallible without "a head and center of unity whose supreme authority is acknowledged?"
Eastern Orthodox apologists declare that Orthodoxy has never accepted the universal jurisdiction of the pope. This is true only in the sense that "Orthodoxy" here designates the separated Eastern churches after they broke away from Rome. It ignores the fact that from the beginning all Christians were subject to that jurisdiction. To make this claim is tantamount as saying that the United States has never accepted the rule of the king of England. This, too, is true only in the sense that "United States of America" refers to this country after it became independent of England.
Likoudis calls our attention to a seldom-mentioned fact and sees in it "great hope" for the reconciliation of the separated Eastern Churches with the Catholic Church. The fact is this:
No Eastern Orthodox' rejection or questioning of Catholic doctrine, not even by their rejection of papal supremacy, is "binding in conscience on all Eastern Orthodox".
Why? Because not a single Eastern Orthodox variation from Catholic teaching has ever been taught by what they claim as their final authority, an ecumenical council. For this reviewer, the implication is clear : The entire Eastern Orthodox apologetic - insofar as it deviates from Catholic teaching - on its own terms is necessarily and purely private opinion.
The Church’s Magisterium has charged us all with concern for restoration of communion with the separated Eastern churches. Readers of this book will be greatly indebted to Likoudis for giving us rich insights into the issues involved in this enterprise of the Holy Spirit.
Rev. Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D.
Chaplain of the Coming Home Network.
This Review appeared in "CRISIS" magazine, December 2006.