Two years ago in the summer of 2019, I began to notice a lot of Catholics, weary from the barrage of corruption and confusion under the Francis pontificate, thinking that the grass might be greener if they became Eastern Orthodox. Having come from Eastern Orthodoxy myself, I wanted to help encourage Catholics in their faith and look at the claims of the east objectively. To try to address this, I wrote the article “I Left Eastern Orthodoxy for the Church Led by Pope Francis, and I Don’t Regret It.”
At the time, one Orthodox friend said to me that I had told the truth about Orthodoxy, but that few Orthodox would admit this. The reality is that it’s hard to see these things looking on the outside of Orthodoxy, and even if you are Orthodox, it’s easy to ignore them or be isolated from these things at the parish level. Some Orthodox have never experienced these issues, and some converts never consider them.
As a result Eastern Orthodoxy presents Catholics with a very tempting claim to spiritual and doctrinal stability and orthodox liturgy, especially when compared with the iconoclasm and pornocracy currently dominating the west.
This is not a new issue to 2019, either. A few years after the first big wave of abuse crisis came to light in the early 2000s, Rod Dreher left communion with the Holy See for Eastern Orthodoxy. Ten years ago he wrote about it with these words:
I came to Orthodoxy in 2006, a broken man. I had been a devoutly observant and convinced Roman Catholic for years, but had my faith shattered in large part by what I had learned as a reporter covering the sex abuse scandal. It had been my assumption that my theological convictions would protect the core of my faith through any trial, but the knowledge I struggled with wore down my ability to believe in the ecclesial truth claims of the Roman church.
We can all sympathize with our brother here. Who among us has not felt that brokenness that Rod describes here? If we have not experienced or investigated the darkness of sex abuse, many more of us have experienced the Passion of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, as wicked priests pile sacrilege upon sacrilege and spiritual abuse reigns down on us from our spiritual fathers.
But we can not only sympathize with Dreher, we can also truly call the Eastern Orthodox our “separated brethren.” We have a centuries old dispute with them, which we hope and pray will be resolved, by the grace of God. More than any other communion of Christians, Catholics share so much in common with the eastern churches that we can find in them some share of Christian fraternity. And this is not some modern invention of false “ecumenical dialogue,” the traditional view actually treats the Greeks as brothers, as they were treated at Lyons and Florence. The same cannot be said of the Protestant heretics who deny the most basic of Christian dogmas, like Apostolic Succession and the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.
Furthermore, in the dispute between east and west, ours is not a glorious triumph of Rome over our eastern brethren. Roman Catholicism wins the debate only after a great deal of concessions to the legitimate concerns of the east, and the admission that the blame for the schism goes both ways.
Thus in charity I say to our brother, Rod Dreher, I respect your work and welcome a private correspondence, if you are interested in speaking more on this: editor [at] onepeterfive.com
Nevertheless, having said all that, we must be honest about what we are talking about: schism. The essence of schism is a lack of charity for your brethren of the same faith. It is a virtue to separate from heretics, but it is schism to separate from orthodox Catholics.
But there’s something more to consider here: universal fatherhood.
This is one of the things I realized when I converted from Eastern Orthodoxy to Rome: the primacy of Rome is an ecclesiastical reality which binds all Catholics in charity with one another.
One flock. One shepherd.
St. Ignatius of Antioch (d. 108) said that the Roman See is that See which “presides in charity.” This is an ideal to be reached by every bishop of Rome, and many popes as we know have utterly failed in this ideal, causing great scandal and loss of faith for souls. Yet this charity is also a reality which his office manifests. Ultimately as Catholics we are bound to Rome, whether we like it or not. We are forced, as it were, by ecclesial bonds, to keep charity with the Holy See and with one another. “This is the reason why anyone who does not submit to Rome risks his eternal salvation” I wrote in 2019, “rejecting Rome is an objective denial of charity.”
It’s like the members of your family. You can’t choose your family. You are born out of the union which symbolizes charity, and from this is formed a biological bond which can never be broken.
This is why charity endureth all things (I Cor. xiii. 7).
I may suffer from my abusive father, and may even resist him, or shelter my brothers from him, but I cannot ultimately break his fatherhood, or pretend it doesn’t exist.
At OnePeterFive we want to help our brethren to resist the abusive father, shelter our brothers from his abuse, but ultimately convert him to true fatherhood. Eastern Orthodoxy offers Catholics an imaginary world where we can deny that the abusive father is our father.
Eastern Orthodoxy promises Catholics that you can choose your family.
For me, I realized when I was Eastern Orthodox that I was trying to remove universal fatherhood from the Church.
And if you deny the Roman primacy, you then not only have Eastern Orthodoxy, but your choice of three eastern churches (besides their various traditional groups) which claim to be the one true Church of Christ.
Thus Eastern Orthodoxy is indeed extremely tempting, because it says to charity: you need not endure all things. Put down the cross that you have taken up. Break the bonds of charity with that father, for this fatherhood does not exist. Indeed, Constantinople and Moscow are currently in a schism with each other over this universal fatherhood which is claimed by the former. For centuries, they were able to ignore this issue between them, but not anymore.
Against the Greek Schisms
Now I understand I have not proved my case here in this article on doctrinal or historical grounds. That is because this will be an ongoing series to address the various claims of Orthodoxy. But I want to present these underlying spiritual issues, because I believe they are at the very heart of this. For more on the doctrinal matters, you can go to that original article from 2019, or stay tuned for more in this series. I have a collection of articles on this topic, as well as a few videos. I would also recommend the work of Michael Lofton or Erick Ybarra, who have done good work on this subject. I will be writing in this series why I still don’t regret my conversion to Rome, and other writers will as well. We welcome all submissions of Catholics grappling with these issues, whether you’ve found solid ground or not.
Most of all, we emphasize at the outset that only an abundance of charity will conquer the schisms with our brethren in the east, but also give us the strength to endure the abusive father, resist him, and save the family. To obtain this great grace of charity, we trust in the intercession of Mary, Mediatrix of All Graces and Mother of the Church, whose charity never left her Son, even when He was crucified, died and was buried.
We read in the Apocalypse: And the dragon was angry against the woman: and went to make war with the rest of her seed, who keep the commandments of God, and have the martyrdom of Jesus Christ (Apoc. xii. 17). If we wish to be sons of Mary, we must face the war of the dragon, even to the shedding of our blood. This is the cross of every Catholic in our time, and it is heavy cross. But if we look to our fathers before us, we realize it is also a glorious cross.
Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us.
T. S. Flanders
St. Bibiana, Virgin and Martyr
 καὶ ἐχόντων τὴν μαρτυρίαν Ἰησοῦ. My translation. Other translations bring out μαρτυρίαν as “testimony of Jesus” but the Greek retains this meaning.
Timothy Flanders is the editor of OnePeterFive. He is the author of City of God versus City of Man: The Battles of the Church from Antiquity to the Present and Introduction to the Holy Bible for Traditional Catholics. His writings have appeared at OnePeterFive and Crisis, as well as in Catholic Family News. In 2019 he founded The Meaning of Catholic, a lay apostolate dedicated to uniting Catholics against the enemies of Holy Church. He holds a degree in classical languages from Grand Valley State University and has done graduate work with the Catholic University of Ukraine. He lives in the Midwest with his wife and four children.