1054 Bull of Excommunication

In 1054, what were the reasons listed for the excommunication of the Eastern Orthodox Church?

The bull of excommunication only excommunicated Michael Cerularius, the Patriarch of Constantinople.  It was not intended to be a blanket excommunication of the entire Eastern Orthodox Church.

The “official” reasons listed on the bull of excommunication were:

1. Simony, the selling of Church offices, which was actually a major problem in the West at the time as well.

2. Rebaptizing Latins, which was a false charge.

3. Allowing priests to marry, which technically speaking, doesn’t happen in the Orthodox Church. Married men are ordained as priests, but once ordained priests cannot marry.

4. Removing the Filioque from the Nicene Creed… this charge is particularly incredible, as the papal legate Cardinal Humbert (who composed the bull) appears to have been unaware that the Filioque wasn’t in the original text of the Nicene Creed.

Unfortunately, when compiling this bull the Cardinal demonstrated a tragic ignorance of Eastern Christian customs, which resulted in a schism that has never been healed.

Leavened and Unleavened Bread

Why do the Eastern Churches use leavened bread for communion?  Why does the Roman Catholic Church use unleavened bread?

This difference is primarily cultural, although liturgical historians believe that there are theological reasons for the difference.

Originally, both the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Churches used leavened bread, leavened with yeast. Midway through the first millennium the practice of using unleavened bread became increasingly common in the Latin Church, until it became the general custom. This change was prompted by a desire to more closely associate the celebration of the Eucharist with Christ’s final Passover meal, the Last Supper.

The Eastern Churches, in contrast, preferred to continue using leavened bread. This is because in the Byzantine empire unleavened bread was associated with lifelessness, while the rising of leavened bread was associated with resurrection. There is one notable exception to this: the Armenian Church, which according to some sources used unleavened bread since the early centuries and continues to do so.

Unfortunately, this difference became a subject of hot controversy at the end of the first millennium, and was one of the factors behind the schism of 1054. Today this is no longer an issue, and everyone recognizes that both leavened and unleavened bread are capable of being consecrated as the Body of Christ.

When did the East/West split on the use of leavened/unleavened bread occur?

Most liturgical scholars believe that both the Eastern and Western Churches used leavened bread until the seventh century. However, the use of unleavened bread seems to be an ancient practice in the Armenian Church.

Is it true that in 1054, one of the reasons listed for the excommunication of the Eastern Orthodox Church from the Roman Catholic Church was that the Eastern Orthodox Church uses leavened bread for Holy Communion?

This was not one of the official reasons listed for the excommunication. Actually, it was the Patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius, who made a big fuss over the use of UNLEAVENED bread by Roman Catholics. No major authorities on the Latin side seriously attacked the Eastern use of leavened bread, although some minor polemicists may have.

Why does the Eastern Orthodox Church insist on the use of leavened bread?

In the Byzantine tradition the rising of the leavened bread is symbolic of the resurrection of Christ. Moreover, the use of leavened bread emphasizes that the Eucharist is something more than the Jewish Passover. As “Judaizing” Christian factions were a major problem throughout the East for quite some time, this was an important factor.

Standing vs. Kneeling

I would like to know the origin of the Eastern practice of standing throughout the Divine Liturgy. Do they consider standing to be the most reverent posture? I have heard some people say that the Easterners started standing during the Divine Liturgy as they became more “prideful” and disobedient toward the Pope. Is this true?

This is completely and utterly false. Whoever said that is guilty of historical revisionism. In early Christianity standing was always the preferred posture for prayer. In fact, early artwork depicts Christians in the “orans” posture, standing with their hands turned upward. This was the normal posture for worship in both the East and the West throughout much of the first millenium. The practice of kneeling for Sunday Mass in the West was a later development.

In the East standing was always regarded as the most reverent posture. Kneeling or making prostrations was always regarded as a sign of penance and repentance. Thus, kneeling was prescribed for certain liturgical services that emphasized turning away from sinfulness. But kneeling was strictly forbidden during Sunday liturgy. For evidence of this you need only to look at the Council of Nicea (325 A.D.):

“Forasmuch as there are certain persons who kneel on the Lord’s Day and in the days of Pentecost, therefore, to the intent that all things may be uniformly observed everywhere (in every parish), it seems good to the holy Synod that prayer be made to God standing.” [Canon 20, Council of the 318 Fathers Assembled in the City of Nicea in Bithynia.]

I was recently reading an Orthodox book that said kneeling is completely unacceptable on Sundays, but on a visit to an Eastern Catholic Church I found they DO kneel. Why is this?

The traditional practice is to stand during the Divine Liturgy on Sundays. In the Eastern Churches standing is considered be a greater sign of reverence than kneeling. For us kneeling is associated with penance, not worship.

However, some Eastern Catholic parishes in America have adopted the practice of kneeling during the anaphora (Eucharist prayer) out of imitation of the Latin practice. Surprisingly, some Eastern Orthodox parishes in this country have also adopted the practice of kneeling. There is currently a movement to restore the Eastern tradition of standing, but it hasn’t reached every part of the country.

I’d like to ask how experts have determined that standing was the the posture for prayer in the early Church? You once wrote that there are ancient frescoes on which people are depicted as praying standing. In my Bible, however, Acts chapter 10, Peter kneels to pray before Tabitha is cured. I would imagine that the book of Acts is more ancient than any early Christian fresco.

No one claims that in the ancient Church standing was the ONLY posture for prayer. However, it was the common posture for liturgical worship on Sundays at that time. This has been determined by examining descriptions of ancient liturgical worship, which typically indicate that the congregation was standing on Sundays. Tertullian, to name one example, says as much:

“We consider it unlawful to fast, or to pray kneeling, upon the Lord’s day [Sunday]; we enjoy the same liberty from Easter day to that of Pentecost.” [Tertullian, De Corona Militis, s. 3,4]

This was formalized (in the East) by the Council of Nicea:

“Forasmuch as there are certain persons who kneel on the Lord’s Day and in the days of Pentecost, therefore, to the intent that all things may be uniformly observed everywhere (in every parish), it seems good to the holy Synod that prayer be made to God standing.” [Canon 20, Council of the 318 Fathers Assembled in the City of Nicea in Bithynia.]

Both of these quotes indicate that kneeling was also a posture for prayer. However, at that time standing was deemed to be most appropriate for Sundays and the fifty days after Easter, while kneeling was permitted on weekdays. This is still the normative tradition in the Christian East, although the development of kneeling on Sundays in the West is equally legitimate.

Introductory Questions

What are the Eastern Catholic Churches?

Although it is not widely known in our Western world, the Catholic Church is actually a communion of Churches. According to the Constitution on the Church of the Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, the Catholic Church is understood to be “a corporate body of Churches,” united with the Pope of Rome, who serves as the guardian of unity (LG, no. 23). At present there are 24 Churches that comprise the Catholic Church. The Code of Canon Law uses the phrase “autonomous ritual Churches” to describe these various Churches (canon 112). Each Church has its own hierarchy, spirituality, and theological perspective.

Because of the particularities of history, there is only one Western Catholic Church, while there are 23 Eastern Catholic Churches. The Western Church, known officially as the Latin Church, is the largest of the Catholic Churches. It is immediately subject to the Roman Pontiff as Patriarch of the West. The Eastern Catholic Churches are each led by a Patriarch, Major Archbishop, or Metropolitan, who governs their Church together with a synod of bishops. Through the Congregation for Oriental Churches, the Roman Pontiff works to assure the health and well-being of the Eastern Catholic Churches.

While this diversity within the one Catholic Church can appear confusing at first, it in no way compromises the Church’s unity. In a certain sense, it is a reflection of the mystery of the Trinity. Just as God is three Persons, yet one God, so the Church is 24 Churches, yet one Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes this nicely:

“From the beginning, this one Church has been marked by a great diversity which comes from both the variety of God’s gifts and the diversity of those who receive them… Holding a rightful place in the communion of the Church there are also particular Churches that retain their own traditions. The great richness of such diversity is not opposed to the Church’s unity” (CCC no. 814).

Although there are 24 Churches, there are only six “Rites” that are used among them. A Rite is a “liturgical, theological, spiritual and disciplinary patrimony,” (Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, canon 28). “Rite” best refers to the liturgical and disciplinary traditions used in celebrating the sacraments. Many Eastern Catholic Churches use the same Rite, although they are distinct autonomous Churches. For example, the Ukrainian Catholic Church and the Melkite Catholic Church are distinct Churches with their own hierarchies. Yet they both use the Byzantine Rite.

Are the Eastern Catholic Churches the same thing as Greek Orthodox Churches?

No, they are not the same thing. The Greek Orthodox Church, and the other Eastern Orthodox Churches, are not in communion with the Pope of Rome. In contrast, the Eastern Catholic Churches are in full communion with the Pope of Rome.

This having been said, it is important to note that the Eastern Catholic Churches have a great deal in common with the Eastern Orthodox Churches, and are virtually indistinguishable. In most respects there are no differences between them. This is because the Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches share a common heritage, which colors all aspects of Church life. The average visitor cannot tell the difference between a Byzantine Catholic parish and a Greek Orthodox parish, for instance. This is because we share so much in common, and have almost identical liturgical, spiritual, and theological perspectives.

Is the Pope the head of the Eastern Catholic Churches in addition to being head of the Roman Catholic Church?

The Pope, in his role as head of the Universal Church, is in an indirect way head of the individual Eastern Catholic Churches. But each of the Eastern Catholic Churches have their own specific heads, either a Patriarch or Metropolitan.

Pope John Paul II explained it as such:

“In harmony with the tradition handed down from the earliest centuries, the Patriarchal Churches have a unique place in the Catholic communion. One need only think that in these Churches the highest authority for any action, including the right to elect Bishops within the borders of the patriarchal territory, is constituted by the Patriarchs with their Synods, without prejudice to the inalienable right of the Roman Pontiff to intervene.” (WE EXTEND OUR ARMS IN BROTHERHOOD, no. 5)

In a very direct way, the Pope is head of the universal Catholic Church, which is comprised of the Eastern Catholic Churches together with the Latin Church.

How did the Eastern Churches start and was the Roman Catholic Church started first by Jesus Christ?

In the early centuries every community of believers gathered around a bishop was considered a Church. We see this in Paul’s epistles to the various Churches. For example, St. Paul begins I Corinthians with “To the church of God which is at Corinth…” (I Cor. 1:2).

Eventually these local Churches found themselves uniting around certain prominent centers. Naturally large cities and sees established by Apostles had a certain prominence, and the bishops of these cities took on a leadership role. Thus, these groupings of local Churches also became known as Churches. As Christianity continued to spread and evolve, different customs and even theological perspectives arose. In time these groupings could accurately be called distinct ritual Churches (in today’s language).

All of these Churches can trace their founding to Jesus Christ and his commission to the Twelve to go out and make disciples of all nations.

Orthodox in Communion with Rome?

Some Eastern Catholics claim to be “Orthodox in Communion with Rome.”  How is this possible?  Don’t many Catholic doctrines (such as purgatory, the Immaculate Conception, Papal Infallibility, etc.) directly contradict Orthodox theology?  To be Orthodox is to reject such beliefs.

To answer your question, I will first express my personal preference.  I have never been a fan of the term “Orthodox in communion with Rome.” Why? Primarily because it is potentially offensive to Orthodox Christians. It carries the implication that we are trying to replace them in the Catholic Church, or at least many Orthodox take it that way. Personally, I believe it is more appropriate to speak of the Eastern Catholic Churches as “Eastern Churches in communion with Rome.”

That being said, I understand the reasoning behind using this expression.  Eastern Catholics are bearers of the legacy of Orthodoxy within the Catholic communion.  And furthermore, the theological differences that you mention are not insurmountable.

If the will is there, common ground can be found. The root of most of these differences go back to the first millennium, during which communion was maintained in spite of these differences. Those voices that say that “we are too different” – on both sides – want to emphasize the difference. And usually the reason that they want to emphasize the difference isn’t really about theology, but something else.

Also, I have known many Eastern Orthodox Christians – including priests and theologians – who do not reject the Immaculate Conception, Papal Infallibility, Purgatory, etc. as being heretical. While they do not embrace these beliefs as part of their theology, they believe that they can be reconciled with Eastern Orthodoxy.

What I will say is this: if the will is there, it is possible to reconcile Eastern and Western beliefs. Both traditions grew out of the same deposit of faith. Also, the Western Catholic tradition recognizes the development of doctrine. The Latin Church is open to the exercise and understanding of the papacy being further refined, so that it is more consistent with the theology and praxis of the East throughout the first millennium. Numerous popes and magisterial documents have said as much.

But aren’t the theological, soteriological, and ontological differences between Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism so profound that they cannot be easily reconciled?  It’s not possible to be both Orthodox and Catholic simultaneously while remaining intellectually honest.

Regarding the differences that you mention, I can see why they appear so problematic. But if both sides approach them with goodwill, and a willingness to consider the other viewpoints from a patristic perspective, they are far more compatible than they appear. I do understand your frustration, though. It takes a lot of work, prayers, and mutual humility to see through these differences to the common truth within.

I was always told that Eastern Catholics are Eastern in liturgy, but must be Catholic in dogma.  Saying that you are “Orthodox in Communion with Rome” contradicts that.

To say that Eastern Catholics are to be “Catholic in dogma,” and Eastern in liturgy, etc., is a gross oversimplification. Vatican II also calls us to be Eastern in theology. The liturgy, and everything that comes with it, is nonsensical without the Eastern theology that underpins it. And all of the dogmas of the Catholic Church can be interpreted and understood according to an Eastern theological lens. There is no conflict or contradiction.  It’s the reality of who we are, and what we are called to be.

There is no contradiction in being fully Orthodox, and in communion with Rome, unless someone defines Orthodoxy in opposition to Catholicism. Such a person makes opposition to papal primacy and rejection of western theology the defining feature of Orthodoxy. Such a position is a distortion of true Orthodoxy.

When I tell Latin Catholics that I’m “Orthodox in Communion with Rome,” I’m told that I must accept all Latin doctrines — as taught by the Catholic Church — or I am not truly Catholic.  How do I reconcile this?

I think that you are missing an important point of nuance. Being in communion means that we are united. It does not mean theological uniformity. There is a distinctive Eastern Christian theological tradition that Eastern Catholics have a duty to maintain. Vatican II emphasizes this.

As Eastern Catholics, we aren’t required to adopt Latin theological expressions as our own. In fact, we shouldn’t. At the same time, we should not outright reject Latin theological expressions simply because some Eastern Orthodox Christians do. There is a way to reconcile these Latin expressions with Orthodox theology, if one is willing to look for it. Since we are in communion with the Latin Church, we owe them the courtesy of demonstrating how their beliefs can be reconciled with ours. At the same time, we are doing a disservice to our Latin brothers and sisters if we simply reject their beliefs outright.

But Roman Catholics insist that I understand and embrace Latins Catholic doctrines exactly as they do, with the same language and terminology.  Otherwise, I am not really Catholic.

The Pope doesn’t feel this way. Neither do the vast majority of Latin bishops or priests. Now, if I were to get in their face, and say that these beliefs are FALSE, that would be problematic. But when I explain them in terms that are compatible with Eastern theology, and embrace the Eastern expression, reasonable Latins are perfectly fine with that.

This is confusing and frustrating.  I’m having a hard time reconciling being Orthodox and Catholic simultaneously.  Doesn’t one side or the other have to be right?

I understand and empathize. I take solace in the fact that God is a mystery that surpasses human understanding. We can only know so much. At some point, we have to come to terms with the mystery. This is an ongoing struggle for most of us.

Charismatic Renewal

Is the charismatic renewal present in the Eastern Churches?

It depends on how one defines the Charismatic Renewal. In the minds of some the charismatic renewal is (mistakenly) associated only with guitar praise and worship music. Obviously, we don’t have that.

However, the deeper aspects of the renewal, including a personal intimacy with the Holy Spirit and charismatic gifts, are found in Eastern Christianity. Eastern Christian spirituality has always placed a tremendous amount of emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, some would argue that the charismatic renewal was necessary in the West because the role of the Holy Spirit was obscured in some of the popular piety. Eastern piety has always focused on the Holy Spirit.

The renewal, as a movement, has had an impact in some of the Eastern Catholic Churches. I have been told that in the Maronite Church (primarily in Lebanon) there are numerous charismatic prayer groups. I also know at least one charismatic Byzantine Catholic priest.

Eucharistic Adoration

I would like to know if the Eastern churches practice Eucharistic Adoration, reserve the Eucharist in a tabernacle, or have other similar practices?

The Latin devotion of Eucharistic adoration is generally not practiced among the Eastern Churches. We place less emphasis on visually seeing the Eucharist, and a greater emphasis on physically consuming it. The primary Eastern understanding of the Eucharist is as the “medicine of immortality.” A medicine is most effective when consumend and ingested.

Also, the exposition of the Eucharist really isn’t in harmony with our Eastern sensibilities. We refer to the sacraments as the “Holy Mysteries,” and it isn’t in keeping with our spirituality to visually expose a mystery. Rather, we believe that a mystery is to be concealed and guarded.

Of course, while we do not have Eucharistic adoration we ALWAYS show the utmost respect for the Eucharist that is reserved on our altars. Praying before Him is always encouraged.

Also, I personally think that Eucharistic adoration is very beneficial for the Western Church. For many centuries the West has had to battle against a denial of the Real Presence, and Eucharistic adoration helps to counteract this heresy. In Eastern Christianity there has never been a denial of the Real Presence.

St. Photius

I noticed that Photius is an Orthodox Saint. Now, from what I read Photius was not the greatest person and it seems to me that some of his actions didn’t do much to serve Christ and his Church. So on one hand I wonder, why is he a saint?

The Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic Church also venerates St. Photius, and he is on the calendar of saints.

Please be advised that most of the literature written against him is highly polemical in nature, and distorts the facts of his case. Francis Dvornik, one of the greatest Church historians of modern times, has demonstrated that many of the charges against Photius are simply myths with no factual basis. I would recommend reading his book on the subject, “The Photian Schism.”

Some of Photius’s theological opinions were somewhat reactionary, but he was not canonized because of his theological reasoning, but because of his personal holiness. In particular, Photius had a zeal for evangelization, and it was him who sent SS. Cyril and Methodius on their mission to the Slavs.

Significance of Icons

Does the Eastern Catholic Church believe that it is wrong to use statues in Church and that flat icons are to be used in religious services?

Eastern Catholics would not go so far as to say it is “wrong” to have statues in a parish. We respect the traditions of our Latin brothers and sisters. But traditionally, Eastern Catholics only use flat images during religious services for a multitude of reasons.

First, icons are written according to specific canons. Every color, shape, and object in an icon means something. They speak a theological language, and hence convery doctrine.

Second, icons are always “unrealistic,” and do not depict earthly realities. They try to depict heavenly realities, which we cannot fully comprehend.

Third, icons in and of themselves are not objects of devotion. Rather, we understand them to be windows into heaven.

Role of Women

As you know, for sometime the Latin Rite has utilized female lectors, ushers, altar servers and Eucharistic Ministers. What, if any, functions are open to women during Eastern Rite services?

In the Eastern Catholic Churches women can (and do) serve as cantors, lectors, and ushers/greeters. Some of our very best cantors are women, and in the Eastern Churches cantors play a crucial role. It is difficult to celebrate the liturgy properly without a trained and experienced cantor.

Is a true that a woman cannot approach the sanctuary except during church cleaning?

In the Byzantine tradition women are generally not allowed to go behind the icon screen (there are exceptions). However, this isn’t a judgement against women or anything of that nature. It is simply that the sanctuary (which we call the altar) is a sacred area, and no one is allowed in there unless they have a specific reason to be there. I, as a layman, am forbidden to enter there unless I have been told to do so. Even the priest only enters the sanctuary when he is carrying out a liturgical function, or is making preparations to do so. Since in our tradition we do not have altar girls, there usually isn’t a reason for a woman to enter into the altar.