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Why arent you under the Pope?
RTHODOX believe the Church in its fullness is present wherever the faithful are gathered round their bishop a successor to the apostles holding the true faith celebrating the Eucharist. (Priests in the thinking of the early Church are ordained to stand in for the bishop at the local communitys offering of the Holy Sacrifice.) Therefore national or autocephalous (self-headed) churches (under their own patriarchs some of these patriarchates date back to the apostles) are each the Church in its fullness. (The patriarch of Constantinople is not the Orthodox Pope or the spiritual head of the worlds Orthodox Christians as is often wrongly reported.)
The word Church often is used in four ways: the one true Church (the universal or Catholic Church) is made up of Churches (particular autocephalous or autonomous churches) in communion with each other. These in turn are made up of local churches each gathered round a bishop, and these are made up of local congregations (including, for example, geographical parishes).
Roman Catholicism agrees with much of this Orthodox understanding but it holds that communion with only one patriarch, the Pope of Rome (who indeed was pre-eminent in the pre-schism Church), is necessary to be fully the Church. He is regarded as both the patriarch of his particular Church, the Roman one, and a kind of super-patriarch, the vicar of Christ, of the entire universal Church. This implies (but doesnt actually say) that the Roman Church (its rite, its theological schools of thought), of which the Pope is patriarch, is somehow superior to the Byzantine and other Churches: more Catholic, as if Roman equalled universal. Many Roman Catholics at least unconsciously take this as a given. Unfortunately, this in practice relegates the Eastern Churches to second-class status. This is unacceptable to all Orthodox.
Before the Schism, the historic, apostolic Orthodox Churches of the East, which like Rome accepted the Council of Chalcedons teaching on the two natures of Christ, were in communion with the Pope but never were under him as parts of his patriarchate.
The Orthodox communion today is a collection of churches independent of each other and often nothing to do with each other, not only with no Vatican but not even a Lambeth Conference as a sign of communion, yet in communion, in agreement on essentials and remarkably alike. Not liberal Protestant like you might think but Catholic.
Unlike Rome, Orthodoxy runs on very little defined doctrine: Trinity, hypostatic union, Mother of God and icons, and youre done. That said, it also runs on lots of custom. For example theres no defined doctrine about the Eucharist because there were no heresies about it to fight, but its clear from custom such as the services what Orthodoxy teaches about it (complete, lasting change of the elements into Christ, just like Rome).
What it boils down to really is: is and has the Pope always really been the head of the whole church on earth with immediate jurisdiction everywhere (so why bishops then?), the RC position today, or is the Pope simply one of several man-made ranks, like other patriarchs, metropolitans and archbishops, in the divinely instituted episcopate, the apostolic ministry? (To hold to the latter is not to hate the papacy or Western Catholicism, believe theyre graceless heretics and so on, which is where I think I and many/most Orthodox sharply part ways.)
The Catholic Church has the Eastern rites. Why dont you all just join those?
Roman Catholicism holds the Orthodox have real bishops and real sacraments and therefore that corporate reunion with the Orthodox as whole Churches, not as individual converts, is possible. (This is not true of Protestants.) This in part makes the existence of the Eastern Catholic Churches (also called the Eastern rites or the Oriental rites) possible. But:
...because Catholicity cannot be truly Catholic universal without you, without the other authentic and apostolic half of Christs Church, we have no intention of replacing you in this Church, for you are the only one capable of preparing us a place in it. Only as the Catholic Church opens and affords you a loving home within its fold, on an equal basis with the Latins, will we be able to feel at home in it ourselves.
Metropolitan Joseph (Slipyj), who spent nearly 20 years in Soviet prisons for not breaking with Rome to serve the Communists
The creation of the Eastern Catholic Churches from the late 1500s onwards reflected a thinking among many Catholics that identified the Church in its fullness with the Roman Rite. Rather than seeking corporate reunion, Roman Catholics sought to gain individual conversions at the Orthodox expense, angering and hurting the Orthodox to this day. The Eastern-rite Catholic churches were set up as vehicles to steal people and local churches from the Orthodox and also with the long-term goal of making the converts Roman Catholics, with the Eastern rites tolerated as an interim measure. While Roman Catholicism (including the Popes) did not officially sanction this latinisation, it did view its Eastern rites as some sort of substitute or replacement for the Orthodox: a strategy called Uniatism.
Today, one of the few good outcomes of Roman Catholicisms Second Vatican Council (1962-65) otherwise a débàcle of mistakes in prudential judgement in favour of that counterfeit of Christianity called liberalism is that this approach to the Orthodox has been dropped, and again, corporate reunion a restoration of communion between the Churches, not the liquidation of the Orthodox is the goal. (The late Metropolitan Joseph (Slipyj) of the Ukrainian Catholic Church agreed.) The Balamand Statement signed by officials from both sides in 1993 reaffirmed this. Here is a list of the Orthodox signers.
Roman Catholicism today defends the right of the present-day Eastern Catholics to exist in communion with Rome, but has discarded the use of these churches to solicit conversions from the Orthodox.
Also, the Eastern Catholics are being told to remove latinisations and become as much like the Orthodox as possible more traditional! to prepare for an eventual reconciliation of Roman Catholicism with Orthodoxy. Here is a more in-depth article on the Eastern Catholics by my acquaintance Archimandrite Serge (Keleher), a Russian Catholic priest. Still more from Fr Serge.
May an Orthodoxy that is holy and strong, not broken or vanquished, be the saving medicine for what ails many in the Roman Church today, sweeping the whole Catholic Church clean of Modernism (the religious version of liberalism).
The terminus ad quem of all legitimate ecumenical dialogue and the goal of this site: One Catholic Church under the Pope much as it was in the first millennium A.D. with an equality of rites, including a restored Roman Mass and office, and the Christian East not in the diminished state of the present-day Eastern Catholics but rather as Metropolitan Andrew (Sheptytsky), Blessed Leonty (Leonid Feodorov) and Pope St Pius X (nec plus, nec minus, nec aliter: no latinisations) envisaged it with full Orthodox usage.