Recently, in a discussion group, someone posted that they were upset because some Roman Catholic cardinal had posted that the Eastern Orthodox are really the Roman Catholics of the East. Mind you, he said it in the context of a joint meeting between some Eastern Orthodox hierarchs from the geographical region of which he is an Archbishop. In the context of his statements, it is clear that he was being complimentary. That is, calling the Eastern Orthodox the Roman Catholics of the East was meant to be a compliment. Here I need to make an editorial note. For the Eastern Orthodox, the Roman Catholic Church has fallen into heresy because of the way in which they view the role of the Pope. That he has the title of Pope is not a problem, as the Patriarch of Alexandria also holds the same title, as does the Coptic Patriarch, etc. Rather, the problem has to do in the way that the role of the Roman Pope is viewed. There are also other theological issues of importance, including original sin, the atonement, etc. But, it is important to note that no insult was intended, nor did the Orthodox hierarchs take any insult.
Ah, but such is not true of the Orthodox blogosphere. They took immediate, and totally self-righteous insult. I say self-righteous because apparently the mostly convert Orthodox blogosphere obviously knew better than our hierarchs. How do I know that? Well, because as the “discussion” progressed, the people involved began with excoriating the Roman Catholic cardinal, then moved on to fustigating the Orthodox hierarchs involved, then finished with declarations against ecumenism. Among the declarations against ecumenism, were declarations about how the Ecumenical Patriarch is mistaken in many of his stands, declarations about how the hierarchs around him are caught up in sinful ecumenism, declarations about how the Mount Athos monasteries would most certainly rise up in resistance, a resistance which all true Orthodox must join, etc. It was also obvious that should even an Orthodox Council declare some type of reconciliation, even if only partial, that these folk would righteously stand against any such declaration in order to uphold the “true” Orthodox faith against such false ecumenism. In fact, the lifting of the mutual excommunications back in 1964 was obviously a null act by an Ecumenical Patriarch who was every bit as mistaken as the current Patriarch.
Being Latino, I recognized some of the statements, because they are every bit the equivalent of those made by the “sedevacantistas.” Who are they sedevacantistas?
Sedevacantism is the position, held by a minority of Traditionalist Catholics that the present occupant of the papal see is not truly pope and that, for lack of a valid pope, the see has been vacant since the death of Pope Pius XII in 1958. A tiny number of these claim the vacancy actually goes back to the death of Pope Pius X in 1914.
Sedevacantists believe that there is at present a vacancy of the Holy See that began with John XXIII (1958–63) or at latest with Paul VI (1963–78), who, they say, espoused the heresy of Modernism and otherwise denied solemnly defined Catholic dogmas and so became heretics.
The term “sedevacantism” is derived from the Latin phrase sede vacante, which literally means “the seat being vacant”. The phrase is commonly used to refer specifically to a vacancy of the Holy See from the death or resignation of a pope to the election of his successor. “Sedevacantism” as a term in English appears to date from the 1980s, though the movement itself is older.
Here is the problem. Once we give up on the view that the Holy Spirit is guiding our hierarchs then how do we have any idea of what the truth is? Mind you, the idea that the Holy Spirit is guiding our hierarchs is that he is guiding them as a whole, not necessarily that each individual hierarch, or even each individual patriarchate, is holding to the Truth. Also, the view does allow for the possibility of some hierarchs holding on to the truth while the majority is inclined to falsehood. However, the Holy Tradition is that when the hierarchs speak as a whole, then Truth is being spoken. Even the case of Athanasius fits under that general rubric.
What does not fit under that general rubric is the discussion that took place on that board. What I read was Protestant converts bringing a Protestant mindset into the discussion. In fact, given the very American setting of that discussion, what I read was American libertarians bringing their mindset into the discussion. Does this mean that all their points were wrong? No! But, what it does mean is that their attitude was wrong. To be either an Eastern Orthodox or a Roman Catholic, one has to have a trust that, over time, the truth of the Holy Spirit will win out over heresy. What is even harder to hold on to is the idea that truth may not win out until you are dead. I would recommend that you read the Old Testament to see how often it took several generations for the Holy Spirit to ensure that truth would win. I would recommend that you read Church History to see how often it took several generations for the Holy Spirit to ensure that truth would win. I would recommend that you ensure that your viewpoint allows for the work of the Holy Spirit to take more time than your lifetime.
Sadly, Americans cannot stand to wait. Sadly, Protestants cannot stand to wait. Sadly, all too many converts bring in impatient attitudes and cannot stand to wait. If we are Orthodox, then we need to learn to wait patiently upon the Lord and upon his timing. However, there is a worse offense than the lack of patience. All the people arguing showed the very Protestant attitude that they know the truth better than the hierarchs. They also showed the very American attitude that no one can speak to my opinions and point out that I need to change them. Finally, they showed the revolutionary attitude that if the decisions made by the hierarchs do not agree with my opinions, then I will secede; I will revolt; I will refuse to obey. Ultimately, that is not an Orthodox attitude, that is just a convert playing at being Orthodox.