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Michael Cicero wrote:

Hi, guys —

  • What exactly is the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church(es)?
  • Is it something like fraternal twins as opposed to identical twins?
  • Can a Catholic participate in Orthodox sacraments and vice-versa?
  • If (0) is total separation and outright hostility and (100) is total union, how far along are both churches toward total unification?
  • If both churches are so similar would converting from Orthodoxy to Catholicism be a bit pointless or not?

I'm interested in this subject and would appreciate a reply.

Thank you!


  { What exactly is the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church(es)? }

Mike replied:

Hi, Michael —

Thanks for the question.

We agree on almost everything with the primary difference being the Papacy. Orthodox Churches have no icon of unity as the Catholic Church does.

They have groups of patriarchs, who many times agree on faith issues, but sometimes disagree. The Catholic Church and Orthodox churches have made great strides toward unity over the past few years.

Converting from Orthodoxy to Catholicism or vice versa, would not be an issue to take lightly, seeing we still have our disagreements in some key areas of doctrine, like the Papacy and having a mutual understanding of the term Filioque.

Nevertheless, because we recognize that they have a valid Eucharist, if a Catholic cannot make it to any Catholic parish for any given Sunday, they may, for that week, go to an Orthodox Church.

Here is a list of postings from our knowledge base, which deal with related questions.

Hope this helps,


John replied:

Michael —

Mike's answer is certainly doctrinally orthodox.

The only thing I'd say is that our disagreements on doctrine are not about substance, rather about expression and approach.

Theology develops based on the questions that are asked. In the East and West we've asked different questions. So we've come up with different explanations.

For example in the East, no one really asked how and when the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. So they never got to transubstantiation. Indeed their approach rejects the question as silly and the product of rationalism. Hence they reject the definition because as they put it, it's using philosophy to explain a mystery. Of course that's how we defined the Trinity! but there is something to be said about the approach of accepting mystery, rather than trying to over explain it.

The disagreement over Pope, is over the nature of Papal Primacy and its jurisdiction. Believe it or not there has been some interesting discussion on the subject. I saw a video by an Orthodox Bishop, talking about an interesting formula that could lead to an acceptable understanding for both sides. It needs work . . . but it's a good start.

That said, the papacy issue is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to ecclesiology. The Orthodox developed an ecclesiology that includes Temporal Human Government. So for example, in their system, it actually takes an Emperor to call an Ecumenical Council. Umm . . . so they haven't been able to call such an Ecumenical Council for centuries. Unless, as some would argue, the Russian Tsar could have and that's one of the reasons Moscow claimed Primacy over Constantinople. (Eric can correct me if I'm wrong on that.) So in Orthodox Ecclesiology, Primacy belongs to the city that has the Emperor which is why the Patriarch of Constantinople claimed primacy after the schism. However, their notion of Primacy is much more limited than the Catholic view.

There are other doctrinal differences. Their view of original sin is totally different. Therefore the Immaculate Conception is a problematic definition yet they believe the Blessed Mother was sinless. They pray for the faithful departed, but haven't defined why. Some believe in purification after death . . . others believe we pray for the faithful departed because the faithful departed encounter accusing demons on their way to Heaven that bog them down in arguments. They call this Toll Houses . . . like on a highway . . . You're on your way to Heaven and a demon stops you. Meanwhile Christ is visible to you, calling you forward, while the demon tries to distract your focus from Christ.

Conversion to Catholic from Orthodox is relatively easy. It's a simple profession of faith in the Church. The Orthodox, as I was told from an Orthodox priest, require that Catholics receive their sacrament of Chrismation. It's kind of weird. On the one hand there is a mutual recognition by both Churches of the seven sacraments in each other's Churches but officially on another level, they only recognize our Baptism. This is extremely odd, because there have been agreements in past. Such as was the case during World War II.

The Orthodox and Catholics agreed to allow their faithful to go each other's priests for Confession. This was particularly helpful to the Russian Orthodox that were in Japan, where there were no Orthodox priests but there were Catholic priests.


Paul replied:


Mike gave you a good answer.  I might have added that Catholicism is the fullness of the faith and that the papacy and doctrines springing from Councils after 1054 A.D. are important.


Michael replied:

Thank-you all for your replies!


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