WATCH: 12 Main Differences Between Catholicism & Orthodoxy, Explained by a Popular Russian Bishop

Having been separated from the Orthodox Church for the past 1000 years, what are the main ways in which Roman Catholics have altered their teachings?


Orthodox Christianity and Roman Catholicism - 12 Main Differences

The Orthodox and the Catholic Churches were once one church. The schism between them occurred in 1054. What are the main differences between the two traditions?

First, the Catholic Church regards the Pope of Rome as the Supreme Bishop for all Christians, the Vicar of Jesus Christ on Earth, the origin of any ecclesiastical authority.

The Orthodox Church is not headed by one supreme bishop. Instead, each Orthodox Church is autocephalous, that is, independent of the others, and is led by an Episcopal Synod, presided over by the Primate (the Patriarch, Metropolitan or Archbishops). All Primates of Local Churches (there are fifteen as of today) are equals. They do not report to each other.

Second, the Catholic Church propagates the dogma of papal infallibility — absence of error, to be exact — when the Pope speaks ex cathedra, defining a doctrine of faith. Any Episcopal Synod decrees, including those on theology or dogmas, become binding only after confirmation by the Pope.

The Orthodox Church has no one with infallible authority, and final judgments on theology are made by Episcopal Synods. These decrees are not to be confirmed by any authority individually.

Third, Catholics believe that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. They made an addition to the [Nicene] Creed relating to this — to the so-called Filioque

The Orthodox believe that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, which is based on Jesus Christ’s words in the Gospel of John, on the Spirit of truth that “proceeds from the Father” (John 15:26).

Fourth, Catholics believe that in addition to heaven and hell, there is "purgatory" – an interim state between the happiness of heaven and torment [in hell]. They say the torment of purgatory is of a temporary nature, and that the tortures experienced there are of a purifying nature.

The Orthodox do not believe in purgatory, acknowledging only two destinations after death, in line with Christ’s words, “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matthew 25:46).

Fifth, the Catholic Church propagates the dogma of the "Immaculate Conception" of the Virgin Mary. This dogma states, ”from the first instant of her conception, the Blessed Virgin Mary was, by a most singular grace and privilege of Almighty God, and in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the human race, preserved from all stain of Original Sin”.

The Orthodox Church does not acknowledge this dogma. However, we do believe that the All-Holy Mother of God was preselected by God to become His Mother. And we do refer to God’s Mother as All-Holy, Immaculate, and Most Blessed.

Sixth, the Catholic tradition believes there have been a total of 21 Ecumenical Councils, convened from the 4th century to the 20th century.

The Orthodox tradition acknowledges only seven Ecumenical Councils, convened from the 4th century to the 8th century.

Seventh, the Catholic and the Orthodox Churches follow different calendars. The main holidays are the same for both churches. However, their celebrations fall on different dates. Pascha (Easter) is sometimes celebrated by the Orthodox and the Catholics on the same day, but more often on different days.

Eighth, in the Latin Catholic tradition, celibacy is required for both bishops and priests.

Priests of the Orthodox Church may be celibate, or may be married.

Ninth, the Latin Catholic Church has a widespread practice of granting communion to the laity in one form — the Body of Christ only.

In the Orthodox Church, the laity receives communion in two forms — both the Body and the Blood of Christ.

Tenth, the Latin Catholics use unleavened bread for the Eucharist.

Orthodox use leavened bread.

Eleventh, the Latin Catholics make the sign of cross from left to right with all five fingers.

The Orthodox cross themselves from right to left with three fingers, and Old Ritualist Orthodox use two fingers.

Twelfth, in the Catholic tradition, infants are not confirmed [chrismated], and they do not receive communion after baptism. Children are admitted to communion, as a rule, at the age of seven, and to confirmation at an older age.

In the Orthodox Church, the sacrament of chrismation [confirmation] is conferred on the infant at the time of the sacrament of baptism, and all baptized infants are admitted to communion.

Of the 12 differences mentioned above, the first 6 relate to the creed, and the other 6 have a ritual nature.

For more detailed information about the Orthodox tradition, refer to the book, “Catechism: A Short Guide to The Orthodox Faith”. In this book, I write about the basics of faith, morals, and the order of divine services in the Orthodox Church.

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