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Role of the Pope of Rome: Catholic and Orthodox Approach

Among all the Christian churches in th world today, Catholic and Orthodox are the closest to each other when it comes to theology, traditions and even hierarchical structure. They recite the same Creed, they celebrate same seven sacraments (or mysteries), their hierarchy consist from Bishops, priests and deacons. Although more then one thousand years ago these two churches went their "separate ways" in the most part they adhered to the traditions of the apostles. While each side can make an argument to have adhered to the tradition of the Apostles, the arguments on either side are not absolute and can be scrutinized.

So what are the differences between these two churches? Unfortunately it will be impossible to go in to every aspect of this question just in one article. Also, while the differences exist, there are way more things that these churches have in common, and this article is in no way intended to accentuate the differences, but just by examining them to show that these differences can bee seen as "complimenting" each other.

One of the main difference that exists between Roman Catholic church and the Orthodox churches, is the way they see the role of the Pope. While every one agrees that the Pope of Rome is the successor of Peter, it is well known that the heads of the ancient patriarchal sees of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem claim to be successors of Peter as well. Therefore they would probably prefer to see the Pope as one "among equals". This issue mostly translates in the kind of jurisdiction the Pope of Rome would have should these two churches reunite again. While many of the Orthodox churches are governed by Holy Synods of bishops presided by primates that are either Patriarchs or Metropolitans, each bishop exercises his own authority within his own diocese. Having said this there are many Eastern Catholic churches that are in communion with Rome, but only Eastern Catholic Churches headed by the Patriarchs and Major Archbishops enjoy similar kind of interdependency. These churches two are governed by Holy Synods and the decisions of these synods are sent to the Pope for his consent rather than approval. Unfortunately in many instances these Eastern Catholic churches were influenced by the Roman Catholic Church and in some cases, mostly in the Western Europe and North America, under pressure of the local Roman Catholic Hierarchy have abounded their long standing traditions as in case of the married clergy. This probably is of concern to many Orthodox Bishops.

Another issue that is related to the Pope of Rome is the dogma of infallibility, that was introduced by the First Vatican council. While Orthodox Church believes that by the grace of the Holy Spirit the church will be spared from falling into error, they do not believe that a single person can be infallible. Also the translation of the word "infallibility" to other languages does not help. Fro example literal meaning of this word's translation into Russian relates to "sin" and is often understood as Pope is being protected from sin. But the teaching on infallibility of the Pope has more to do with "error" rather than "sin" and with the proper approach this difference can be reconciled.

Most recent issue of Bishop of Rome deleting the title of "Patriarch of the West" is raising some concerns among Orthodox due to the fact that at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 acknowledged five leading patriarchs of the church in the following order:

  1. The Patriarch of Rome.
  2. The Patriarch of Constantinople.
  3. The Patriarch of Alexandria.
  4. The Patriarch of Jerusalem.
While the role and the leadership of the Bishop of Rome is certainly one that divides these two churches, hoverer it is possible to reconcile over it. There is more benefit of being united rather than divided. Both churches are faced with increasing secularism and moral relativism that is affecting our world. Facing these two trends together will be much easier than facing them apart from each other.

Eugenia Brown is a writer for Everything Catholic!- website that promotes products from Ingatius Press, a Catholic Publisher. There you can find books and literature on variety of topics including Pope of Rome.

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