Is the Orthodox Church Catholic?
Revised from a Pamphlet, Know How to Defend Your Faith By The Very Rev. John Yurcisia, American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Diocese, 249 Butler Avenue, Johnstown, PA. 1957
Orthodox Church Denoted by Several Names
True enough, our Orthodox Church is denoted by various names but they all mean the same. This fact was pointed out in a government pamphlet on Orthodox Churches in America, published in 1936, which stated: "The Holy Eastern Orthodox Church is known historically as the Eastern Catholic, in modern times as Greek Catholic or the Holy Catholic Apostolic Church."
Orthodox Church is Catholic
It is correct in stating that although our Church is Orthodox it is also Catholic. The word Orthodox means in Greek the "true belief, the right belief," while the word Catholic is derived from a Greek word, which means universal. Our church then is Orthodox Greek Catholic: Orthodox because it is the right and true belief, Greek because we, through our forefathers, received it from the Greeks, and Catholic because our Church is universal. It theologically and historically has earned the full right to be called Catholic much more so than the Roman Catholic Church, which is a branch from the Mother Church of Christendom, the Holy Orthodox Catholic Church, which was instituted in Jerusalem on the first Pentecost Sunday when the Apostles received the Holy Spirit. We must remember that the Roman Catholic Church wrongfully claims this title for itself.
Such great and impartial church historians as Stanley, Potter, Warren and others write correctly when they refer to our Orthodox Greek Catholic Church as the "Mother Church of Christendom," "the Old Church," "the Church of the Ecumenical Councils," "the Original Christian Church," "the Church which is as old as Christianity itself," "the true Catholic Church." When comparing our Church with the Roman, they speak of her as the Mother and the Roman Church as the daughter.
The word Catholic does not denote a church that has the largest number of followers throughout the world. It, as one eminent theologian explains, when applied to the Church as a whole, means that at every period of her existence the Church has stood morally and consistently true to her doctrine, government and worship throughout the whole world and is the same everywhere. The Orthodox Church is Catholic because she is not limited to any one nation, race, place or time, but ministers to all people in all places for all time, teaching the same Faith entrusted by her Founder Jesus Christ to the Apostles and having the same government and worship. The Orthodox Church has preserved the teachings of Christ from Apostolic times without change and alteration, but this cannot be said of the Roman Catholic Church. Thus, the Orthodox Church properly uses the word Catholic. So never let anyone tell you that because you are Orthodox you cannot be a Catholic. The Romans Catholics do not have the patent on Catholicity.
Orthodox Church Original Christian Church
To better understand the relationship of our Church to the Roman Catholic Church, let us compare Christianity to a river, which at its mouth is muddy, but as we trace it back to its source we come to a place where the water is clear and pure. As we trace Christianity to its source, our beloved Savior Jesus, we come to the Orthodox Church, the Mother Church of Christendom, which has kept the teachings and character of Christ's Church pure and unchanged. We further can compare Christianity to a mighty tree, the main trunk of which is the Orthodox Church while the branches and limbs are the Roman Catholic Church, which split off from the main body of the Church of Christ, and the various Christian denominations that sprang from the Roman Catholic Church.
What do Roman Catholics Say about the Orthodox Church?
In the year 1948, Roman Catholic newspapers carried an article by the Very Rev. Francis J. Connell of the Catholic University of America, who stated: "The clergy of the Orthodox Church are true priests and bishops for the ceremony of ordination has been carried out validly in the centuries." Fr. Felic Rich, O.S.B. in a leaflet, "Defenders of the Faith," writes: "Eastern Orthodox Churches have real bishops who administer the Sacrament of Holy Orders in a proper manner and with the right intentions. The priests of the Eastern Churches therefore, are real priests with valid orders.
The leading Roman weekly, "Our Sunday Visitor," made this significant statement in its issue of August 24, 1947: "The so-called Eastern Church, has, therefore, a true priesthood, a true sacrifice of the Mass, and valid sacraments hence its claim to our attention. But it has another claim, which ought not to be passed by unnoticed here; its singular devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus." A similar statement appeared in the publication, "Our Missions," which stated: "We have within our borders millions of persons of Slav Origin and majority of them are Orthodox in faith. They possess a valid priesthood, valid sacraments, a high degree of reverence for the Mother of God and the Saints and practically unchanged Catholic teaching."
A significant assertion was made by Fathers Rumble and Carty, who in their booklet, "Quizzes," wrote: "Since the Greek Orthodox priests have valid orders, they possess the power of consecrating the Blessed Eucharist in the true sense of the word. The sacrifice of the Mass in their churches is, therefore, every bit as valid as the Mass in the Roman Catholic Church even though it is not celebrated in Latin.
Another very significant statement about our Orthodox, Church was that of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, chief Roman spokesman in America, who in one of his sermons in 1946 asserted: "It remains true that since the Russian Orthodox Church has a valid priesthood and episcopacy, every time a Mass is celebrated in Russia, Christ renews His Calvary in the midst of His executioners, every Baptism is the birth of a Christian, every tabernacle houses the Lord of the Universe among his enemies every time a priest takes the Lord on sick call past the Kremlin, the shadow of the living Christ falls on its walls ..."
Perhaps the most significant statement regarding the Orthodox Church is that of Father M. J. McBurney, who in the April 22, 1926 issue of "The Catholic Observer," official publication of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, Pa., wrote: "In case of necessity, if no (Roman) priest, or Greek Catholic (Uniate, Byzantine Catholic) priest is to be found, a priest of the Russian Orthodox Church can validly hear our confessions. Our Lord is truly present in their Mass for they have a real priesthood." By this Father McBurney means that in the case of necessity, such as approaching death, when a priest of the Roman Communion is not available, an Orthodox priest can give validly the sacraments to Roman faithful because the Orthodox Church possesses a real priesthood.
A similar statement appeared in the question and answer column of "The Tablet," famed Roman newspaper of Brooklyn, N. Y. The question was: "Can a Greek Orthodox priest lawfully administer the last rites to a Catholic who is in danger of death and cannot have a Catholic priest? The answer by the editors of "The Tablet" was: In danger of death, where no Catholic priest is available, the sick man may lawfully receive all the last sacraments from a Greek Orthodox priest."
Ancestors of Uniates were Orthodox
You probably wonder about the meaning of the word "Uniate." It is derived from the word "unia" or "union." Over three hundred years ago, the Jesuits became interested in getting millions of Orthodox Christians in the domains of the staunchly Roman Catholic Hapsburg kings to become Roman Catholics in order to fill the great void in the Roman Church caused by the Protestant Reformation when millions of Roman Catholics became Protestants. They finally devised the idea of a union or contract by which the Orthodox would submit to Rome yet outwardly retain the Liturgy, services and customs of the Orthodox Church. They hoped the "Unia" would serve as a bridge between the Orthodox East and the Roman Catholic West over which the entire Orthodox Church would come over and submit to Rome. With the help nobles, bayonets of the Hapsburg gendarmes, religious persecution and Orthodox renegades, at Brest-Litovsk in Galicia in 1595, and in Ungvar, they succeeded in having such a union signed in 1649 and later in Transylvania among Orthodox Romanians. In those days of the Feudal System when most of the Orthodox faithful were tied down by serfdom, there wasn't anything they could do but submit. Nevertheless, they retained an undying love toward their Eastern Church and transmitted it to their descendants. At the first opportunity, millions of Uniates in Europe and America left the Roman Uniate Church and returned to the fold of their ancestral Orthodox Church, the mother Church of Christendom.
Be Ready to Defend the Faith of Your Fathers
Keep in mind that we Orthodox Christians are against intolerance and desire to live in peace with our Christian brethren, regardless who they are. The Constitution of our Country grants religious freedom to all who live within its borders. We are not interested in proselytizing others against their will, but in keeping and perpetuating the Faith of our Fathers. The doors of our churches, nevertheless, are open to all who want to join with us in worship of God according to our ancestral Faith and to achieve their salvation in it. Our forebears for centuries heroically and successfully defended the True Faith and saved it for us. We, their descendants, should be ready and willing to defend and perpetuate it.
We should be thankful to God that we are members of His true Church, the Holy Orthodox Church, to which belonged such great Fathers of the Church and Pillars of Orthodoxy as St. Basil the Great, St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory and the Theologian, St. Nicholas, St. Athanasius the Great, St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Ephraim the Syrian, St. John Damascene, SS. Cyril and Methodius, the Apostles of the Slavs, and many others. Therefore, no matter where you are or what you are doing strive to be a good, practical Orthodox Christian. Never be ashamed to confess and manifest your faith. Always be ready to defend it. And what is most important; achieve your salvation in it.