Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Papism


Basic Points of Difference between the Orthodox Church and Papism


By the Reverend Metropolitan of Nafpaktos, His Eminence Hierotheos Vlachos

       Translated from Greek by Fr. Patrick B. O’Grady

The bishops of Old Rome, beside small and non-essential differences, always held communion with the bishops of New Rome (Constantinople) and the bishops of the East until the years 1009-1014, when, for the first time, the Frankish bishops seized the throne of Old Rome.  Until the year 1009 the Popes of Rome and the Patriarchs of Constantinople were unified in a common struggle against the Frankish princes and bishops, already even at that time heretics.

The Franks at the Synod of Frankfurt in 794 condemned the decrees of the Seventh Ecumenical Synod and the honorable veneration of the holy icons.  Likewise in 809 the Franks introduced into the Symbol of the Faith the “Filioque” (Latin: “and the Son”); namely, the doctrine concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit both from the Father and from the Son.  Now at that time the Orthodox Pope of Rome condemned this imposition.  At the Synod of Constantinople presided over by Photios the Great, at which also representatives of the Orthodox Pope of Rome participated, they condemned as many as had condemned the decrees of the Seventh Ecumenical Synod and as many as had added the Filioque to the Symbol of Faith.  However, the Frankish Pope Sergius IV, in the year 1009, in his enthronement encyclical for the first time added the Filioque to the Symbol of Faith.  Then Pope Benedict VIII introduced the Creed with the Filioque into the worship service of the Church, at which time the Pope was stricken out from the diptychs of the Orthodox Church.The basic distinction between the Orthodox Church and Papism is found in the doctrine concerning the uncreated nature and uncreated energy of God.  Whereas we Orthodox believe that God possesses an uncreated nature and uncreated energy and that God comes into communion with the creation and with man by means of His uncreated energy, the Papists believe that in God the uncreated nature is identified with His uncreated energy (acrus purus) and that God holds communion with the creation and with man through His created energies, even asserting that in God there exist also created energies.  So then the grace of God through which man is sanctified is seen as created energy.  But given this, one cannot be sanctified.

From this basic doctrine proceeds the teaching concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and from the Son, the cleansing fire, the primacy of the Pope, etc.

Beside the fundamental difference between the Orthodox Church and Papism, in the theme of the nature and energy of God, there are other great differences which have given rise to topics of theological dispute, namely:


--the Filioque, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and from the Son with the result that the monarchy of the Father is diminished, the final equality of the Persons of the Holy Trinity is compromised, the Son is diminished in His own character in having been born, if there exists a oneness between Father and Son then the Holy Spirit is subordinated as not equal in power and of the same glory with the other Persons of the Holy Trinity, with the result that He is shown as the “unproductive (steiro) Person,”

--the utilization of unleavened bread in the Divine Eucharist which transgresses the manner with which Christ accomplished the Mystical Supper,

--the consecration of the “precious Gifts” which takes place not with the epiclesis, but rather with the proclamation of Christ’s words of institution, “Take, eat . . . drink of it, all of you . . .,”

--the view that the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross satisfied the Divine justice, which presents God the Father as a feudal lord and which overlooks the resurrection,

--the view about the “merits” of Christ which the Pope dispenses, along with the “superabundant” grace of the saints,

--the alienation and segmentation placed between the mysteries of Baptism, Chrismation, and the Divine Eucharist,

--the doctrine concerning the inheritance of guilt from the ancestral sin,

--the liturgical innovations in all of the mysteries of the Church (Baptism, Chrismation, Ordination, Confession, Marriage, Anointing),

--the practice of not communing the laity in the “Blood” of Christ,

--the primacy of the Pope, according to which the Pope is “episcopus episcoporum (Latin: the bishop of bishops) and the origin of the priesthood and of ecclesiastical authority, that he is the infallible head and the principle leader of the Church, governing it in monarchical fashion as the vicar of Christ on the earth” (I. Karmires).  With this concept the Pope views himself as the successor of the Apostle Peter, to whom the other Apostles submit themselves, even the Apostle Paul,

--the non-existence of concelebration in the praxis of worship services,

--the infallibility of the Pope,

--the dogma of the immaculate conception of the Theotokos and the development of the worship of Mary (mariolatria), according to which the All-Holy Virgin is elevated to Triune Deity and even becomes a concept leading to a Holy Quaternity (!),

--the views of analogia entis (analogy of being) and analogia fidei (analogy of faith) which hold sway in the West,

--the unceasing progress of the Church in the discovery of the recesses of revelatory truth,

--the concept concerning the single methodology for the knowledge of God and of creatures, which leads to a blending of theology and epistemology.
Moreover, the great difference in practice, which points out the manner of theology, is found also in the difference between Scholasticism and Hesychastic theology.  In the West Scholasticism was expounded as an endeavor to search out the meaning of all the mysteries of the faith by means of logic (Anselm of Canterbury, Thomas Aquinas).  However, in the Orthodox Church hesychasm prevails; namely, the purification of the heart and the illumination of the mind (nous), towards the acquisition of the knowledge of God.  The dialogue between St. Gregory Palamas and Barlaam the scholastic and uniate is characteristic and shows the difference.

A consequence of all the foregoing is that we have in Papism a decline from Orthodox ecclesiology.  Whereas in the Orthodox Church great significance is given to theosis which consists in communion with God, through the vision of the Uncreated Light, then those who behold the Light gather in an Ecumenical Synod and accurately define revelatory truth under conditions of confusion.  But in Papism great significance is given to the edict of the Pope; indeed, the Pope even stands over these Ecumenical Synods.  Consistent with Latin theology, “the authority of the Church exists only when it is established and put in good order by the will of the Pope.  Under a contrary condition it is annihilated.”  The Ecumenical Synods are seen as “councils of Christianity that are summoned under the authenticity, the authority, and the presidency of the Pope.”  Whenever the Pope leaves the meeting hall of the Ecumenical Synod, it ceases to have power.  Bishop Mare has written, “There would be no Roman Catholics more accurate as those exclaiming, “I believe also in one Pope” than who say “I believe also in one . . . Church.”

Furthermore, “the significance and role of the bishops within the Roman church is no more than a simple personification of the papal authority, to which also the bishops themselves submit just as also do the simple faithful.”  Towards this papal ecclesiology it is essentially maintained that “the apostolic authority left off with the apostles and was not passed on to their successors, the bishops.  Only the papal authority of Peter, under which all of the others are found, was passed on to the successors of Peter; namely, the popes.”  Along with the foregoing it is maintained by the papal “church” that all the churches of the East are secessionist and have deficiencies.  It receives us as sister churches into communion by dispensation (kat’ oekonomian), since she sees herself as the mother church and sees ourselves as daughter churches.

The Vatican is an earthly power (kratos) and each pope is the wielder of the power of the Vatican.  It is a matter of a man-centered organization, a worldly, indeed an especially legalistic and worldly organization.  The earthly power of the Vatican was instituted in the year 755 by Pepin the Short, the father of Charlemagne –even in our own time he was recognized by Mussolini, in 1929.  The source of the proclamation of papal worldly power is significant, as Pope Pius XI maintained, “the one who stands in God’s stead on earth cannot be obedient to earthly power.”  Christ was obedient to earthly power, the pope cannot be!  The papal authority establishes a theocracy, since theocracy is defined as subsuming both worldly and ecclesiastical authority into one concept.  Today we can see theocratic-worldly power in the Vatican and in Iran.

Pope Innocent IV (1198-1216) maintained the characteristic nature of these things in his enthronement speech, “He who has the bride has the bridegroom.  However the bride herself (the church) has not been coupled with empty hands, but brings therein an incomparably rich dowry, the fullness of spiritual goods and the expanses of the world’s things, the largesse and abundance of both. . . . Your contributions of the worldly things has given me the diadem, the mitre over the priesthood, the diadem for kingdom and it has established me as His representative (antiprosopo), in the garment and on the knee of which it is written: the King of kings and Lord of lords.”

Consequently great theological differences exist, which have been condemned by the Synod of Photios the Great and at the Synod of Gregory Palamas, just as it appears in the “Synodikon of Orthodoxy.”  In addition also the Fathers of the Church and the local synods down to the 19th century condemn all the deceits of the Papacy.  The issue is not mollified or improved by a certain typical excuse which the pope would give for an historical error, whenever his theological views were outside of the revelation and the eccesiology is moved into an enclosed course, since of course the pope presents himself as leader of the Christian world, as successor of the Apostle Peter and the Vicar-representative of Christ over the earth, as if Christ would give His authority to the pope and He cease ruling in blessing in the heavens.


Article published in English on:  12-07-2005.

Last update: 20-9-2019.