Orthodox EP Soft Like Anglicans on Abortion

It’s not just about the filioque or the Immaculate Conception, folks. Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have encouraged Catholics to reach out to Orthodox Christians, to respect them and learn their traditions. Catholics by and large have accepted that the Orthodox really are very close to Catholicism in many areas. But many would be surprised to learn that some Orthodox hierarchs (and Oriental Orthodox hierarchs) are soft, even permissive on the issue of abortion–soft like Anglicans.

His Holiness, Patriarch Karekin I of Etchmiadzin of Armenia (Oriental Orthodox) who came on a pastoral visit to the US had this to say about the Oriental Orthodox Church’s position on abortion-

“We don’t issue dogmatic statements and impose dogmatic principles. That is intervening and invading on the freedom of the conscience of the people. When a person is Christianity nurtured and his conscience is shaped by Christian principles, that person should have the freedom to manifest his or her attitude toward specific problems such as abortion or the forms of abortion. The church does not get involved in that kind of detail. Jesus never, never imposed anything upon his followers. If you want to inherit the Kingdom of God, do this, do not do this. if you want, that is the greatest characteristic feature of Christianity. (The Washington Post – 1/20/96 p. B6)

His Holiness, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople when he visited San Francisco in 1990 made the following statement on the Orthodox position on abortion-

Although the Orthodox Church believes the soul enters the body at conception and, generally speaking, respects human life and the continuation of the pregnancy,” Barthlomew said, the churchalso “respects the liberty and freedom of all human persons and all Christian couples . . . . We are not allowed to enter the bedrooms of the Christian couples,” he also said. “We cannot generalize. There are many reasons for a couple to go toward abortion.” (San Francisco Chronicle-7/20/90p.A22)

Another important quote of the Ecumenical Patriarch from his book, Conversations with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, page 128, is also very telling. Notice the weasel words he uses so as to be sure not to say anything too definitively:

“As for abortion, this is always profoundly dramatic for a woman and deeply injures her femininity. For this reason, abortion for the sake of convenience is, we cannot deny it, extremely serious and must be strongly discouraged. But there are situations of extreme distress when abortion can be a lesser evil, as, for example, when the life of the future mother is in danger.”

Language such as “profoundly dramatic” are a real betrayal here. How about “profoundly sinful?” “Strongly discouraged?” How about “strongly condemned?” “Situations of extreme distress?” So if you are distressed, you may crush, chemically incinerate or dismember the body of an innocent infant? “Future mother?” Did he really say future mother? If life is really human and sacred from inception, then she is already a mother. To deny that she is already a mother is to deny the personhood of the infant, which is to deny its value, and dignity. If she is not yet a mother, then this “thing” is not yet a human being. This is the language of the pro-abortion lobby. It is exactly this kind of language which, wink, wink, makes abortion kinda sorta okay, wink, wink. Please remember to be distressed before your abortion. The above paragraph could easily have been written by the Dr. Rowan Williams.

Dr. Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Anglican Church had this to say last year about abortion:

We begin with clear, perhaps absolute, principles and, as we honestly confront a hugely complex world, we recognise that clear principles don’t let you off the hook. There is no escaping the tough decisions where no answer will feel completely right and no option is without cost. But when do we get to the point where accepting the inevitability of tough decisions that may hurt the conscience has become so routine that we stop noticing that there ever was a strain on the conscience, let alone why that strain should be there at all?

In Rowan’s world everything is so complex and filled with confusing shades of gray that apparently no clear moral teaching is possible on abortion–or perhaps anything, for that matter. Notice that nowhere in an essay on abortion does he actually decry this evil act. He only decries the lack of moral compunction over it. Apparently, it is okay to have an abortion in Rowan’s world as long as you have some strain of conscience over it.

Notice the legislation of the Episcopal Church:

1988: “All human life is sacred. Hence it is sacred from its inception until death.”
1994 “unequivocal opposition to any … action … that [would] abridge the right of a woman to reach an informed decision about the termination of her pregnancy, or that would limit the access of a woman to a safe means of acting upon her decision.”

Life is sacred, but it can still be snuffed out at the whim of the mother.

See also: Orthodox Metropolitan Soft on Sacred Tradition


78 Responses to Orthodox EP Soft Like Anglicans on Abortion

  1. Rob says:

    Wow. I can understand how one might make an argument for birth control. But abortion is simply untenable philosophically. Sad.

  2. Elias says:

    The Orthodox tradition is bigger than a statement of the Ecumenical Patriarch. He’s not the pope, so what he says is not authoritative. No Orthodox Christian is permitted to have an abortion and the church teaches that abortion is a very serious sin and very damaging to everyone involved. The EP is wrong when he says this.

  3. Fr. J. says:

    Well, it was not just the EP, but also the Patriarch of Armenia. That’s two Patriarchs.

  4. Fr Gregory says:

    You might want to look at the Greek Oorthodox Archdiocese’s web page for an explanation of the Church’s position on abortion. Press report are notoriously innaccruate.

    On the GOARCH web page we read that

    “the Twenty-Third Clergy-Laity Congress held in Philadelphia in 1976. The Orthodox Church has a definite, formal and intended attitude toward abortion. It condemns all procedures purporting to abort the embryo or fetus, whether by surgical or chemical means. The Orthodox Church brands abortion as murder; that is, as a premeditated termination of the life of a human being. The only time the Orthodox Church will reluctantly acquiesce to abortion is when the preponderance of medical opinion determines that unless the embryo or fetus is aborted, the mother will die. Decisions of the Supreme Court and State legislatures by which abortion, with or without restrictions, is allowed should be viewed by practicing Christians as an affront to their beliefs in the sanctity of life.”

    You can find the above here: http://goarch.org/en/ourfaith/articles/article7101.asp

    In Christ,

    +Fr Gregory Jensen
    Holy Assumption Orthodox Church (OCA)
    Canton, OH

  5. Fr. J. says:

    There is no shortage of strong words among some Orthodox on the abortion question…but when push comes to shove, it is a different story.

    See: “Romanian Orthodox Church authorities refuse to condemn abortion in case of pregnant minor” at http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2008/jun/08062610.html

    One is left with the question. Is life sacred or not in the Orthodox Church?

  6. Fr Gregory says:

    Fr. J. forgive me please, but the refusal of a spokesman for the Romanian Orthodox Church to condemn an abortion in the case of a pregnant minor is not the same as the Church supporting abortion or not holding life as sacred. Certainly I would judge the Catholic Church based on the words of a spokesman for the US Catholic Conference of Bishops or an article in the New York Times. Why then do you do so with us?

    I’m curious, what kind of evidence are you looking for to ease your heart about us?

    Like the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church condemns abortion. What more would you like from us? I’m not trying to be argumentative, but I’m not sure what you are looking for.

    Again, forgive me, but you seem to me predisposed to criticize us and to do so not based on what we teach, but on secular news reports and anecdotal statements. Forgive me, but how well would the Catholic Church do based on such evidence?

    Please, as one priest to another, what can I do so that there may be peace between us?

    More so than you, I am aware of the sins and shortcomings of Orthodox hiearchs, clergy and faithful. By profession I am a psychologist. With this background, now that I am a priest I often see some of the worst that there is in my own Church.

    So please, in Christ’s Name, what is it that you wish from us beyond our word?

    Your brother in Christ,

    Gregory, priest

  7. Fr. J. says:

    Fr. Gregory,

    Thank you again for your comments.

    As for my predisposition toward Orthodoxy, I have long had a very positive predisposition toward Orthodoxy as my Church teaches me to do. If anything, this predisposition has been severely challenged by the anti-Catholic polemics which are common among the Orthodox who do not share the kindness toward Catholicism that Catholicism seeks to extend toward the Orthodox.

    I agree with you about seeing the shortcomings of ones Church up close. I see Catholic shortcomings as surely as do you those of Orthodoxy. But that is not the topic of discussion here.

    What is at issue here is that Orthodoxy presents a mixed message on abortion. While I do not trust the New York Times to write a straight article on Catholicism, I do trust what it writes between quotes. A direct quote, while it may be taken out of context, should always be reliable even if the general thrust of the article is not. We have direct quotes here in my post by two Patriarchs giving the “pastoral” answer regarding abortion. I accept this as given.

    Now, regarding the Orthodox teaching on abortion itself when stated most boldly, it still provides exemptions for cases of rape and the health of the mother. Well, how can a life be truly regarded as sacred if it is snuffable when inconvenient? I believe that the Orthodox Church did condone the snuffing of this child’s life in Romania, because it is consistent with what the Orthodox Church, in fact, teaches. It is the teaching itself that is flawed. For how can a life be both sacred and so worthless that it may be crushed with the Church’s approval? What kind of people condone this? What kind of Church will choose the emotions of one over the life of another?

    I am not here to persecute the Orthodox Church as you seem to think, Father. But, I will point out where the Orthodox Church fails to care for the most innocent and vulnerable among us. As a Catholic, I take the defense of all human life absolutely seriously, and it is part of the sacred mission of the Catholic Church to cry out whenever anyone cheapens that life–whether a California liberal or an Orthodox Patriarch.

    I pray that one day the Orthodox Church will recant its exemptions and “pastoral practice” on abortion, and state the truth about human life clearly and without reservation. And, I pray that such a day will draw Catholics and Orthodox closer to the unity that Christ himself desires for his Church.

    Your brother in Christ,
    Fr. J.

  8. Fr. J. says:

    Fr. Gregory,

    You will notice that I have updated the post with an additional quote of the EP in his book. It does not help your case.

  9. Fr Gregory says:

    Fr J,

    Thank you for your kind words. As for the words of His All-Holiness, they are shameful and not consistent with the teaching of the Fathers of the early Church or of the Orthodox Church today. I cannot defend his words, I can only say that he does not speak for the Church in this matter.

    As for the exemption for the mother’s life–I cannot defend it, nor will I pretend that it wasn’t said. Those among us who hold to this are simply wrong. Because of course they that hold this are mine, even as I am their’s, the fault in mine as well.

    Pray for us that those who stray come to their senses and that I, and others who understand the error of our co-religious, can bring them to repentance.

    I am deeply sadden by all of this.

    In Christ,

    Gregory, priest

  10. Erick says:

    Wow! What a misinterpretation of the Orthodox position… and I’m Catholic. Frankly, although I find that the Catholic way of giving a strong emphatic message on any issue refreshing, isn’t the words of the Patriarch quoted here very reflective of Jesus.

    It is Jesus’ way in the Bible. He doesn’t force. He lets you know what it takes to be His disciple, and it is up to you and your free will to make the decision. And that is all I hear in the Orthodox message.

  11. First of all, I have to say, my reaction to the post and to Fr J’s comments are the same as Fr Gregory’s: I do not perceive a willingness to understand, but a willingness to condemn.

    I also see a failure to make appropriate distinctions. The teaching of the Orthodox Church and it’s disciplinary canons are clear on the matter of abortion: it is wrong. That one or another hierarch, be he bishop, metropolitan or patriarch, may fail to faithfully adhere to that teaching, or may even condone the condemned practice, should come as no surprise. The same Church history that Catholics and Orthodox share are replete with stories of such hierarchs.

    Further, I find Fr J’s unwillingness to allow distinctions a bit disingenuous, since it is a matter of Catholic moral teaching, under the rubric of double effect, that so long as the telos and the means of a particular act are Christianly justifiable, then if the act also has the effect of bringing about something that could not be justifiable on its own, then the act is still permissable. Thus, Catholic teaching does allow for the termination of the life of the unborn for the sake of saving the life of the mother. In moral categorical terms, this would not be abortion simpliciter, assuming the rest of the matter is licit. I would argue that much of what Fr J is objecting to with regard to Orthodoxy’s purported “pastoral provision” on abortion, falls under the same sort of teaching that Catholics espouse.

    That said, I also agree with Fr Gregory, assuming there is nothing else with regard to context that would qualify the above statements, what has been said by two hierarchs does not appear to be defensible on Orthodox teaching.

    And that, I must emphatically observe, is just the point. The fact that the Orthodox can, on the grounds of Orthodox teaching, condemn the apparent meaning of these statements is surely evidence that Orthodox are not soft on the matter of abortion.

    I would urge Fr J to turn toward us with a heart that is more willing to understand than to condemn. After all, there is much in Roman Catholic practice that violates its own teaching–I’ll refrain from the news headlines–but I will not be on solid ground to say that Rome fails to hold x, y or z doctrine seriously because Catholic clergy and hierarchs “get away” with indefensible statements.

    And if it isn’t clear, yes, I am Orthodox, and a layman.

  12. Fr. J. says:


    You are referring to the one case of ectopic pregnancy. The removal of a diseased fallopian tube is permissible because 1. it is diseased and 2. because the baby could never survive anyway. This in no way is similar to the case of the Romanian abortion condoned by the Orthodox Church. The Romanian case is not one of mis-statement by this or that bishop. Rather, it is fully consistent with Orthodox moral doctrine which does allow for the abortion of the unborn in cases of rape, incest and threat to the life of the mother.

    Threatening to bring pedophilia or other scandals into just any topic with a Catholic shows bad faith and a lack of confidence in your own arguments. But, if you wish to pursue cases of pedophilia in various Churches we can do that. But, I dont see how this has anything to do with the flawed stance of the Orthodox on the matter of abortion. Your call.

  13. Fr. J. says:


    I dont find the words of either Patriarch adequate for articulating Church teaching on a grave evil. The soft sell approach to church teaching comes too close to giving an excuse.

    In the pastoral moment, however, a priest does have to be gentle with the faithful. No doubt. Using harsh language will not be helpful in that moment. But these statements are not words to a particular woman in her moment of crisis. These are words for a general audience which soft pedals a hard teaching. In an age of relativism, the Church has to speak with clarity and boldness in the public sphere.

  14. diane says:

    Amen, Father J!

  15. Fr Gregory says:

    Fr J,

    I would agree with you that there are many Orthodox who take a harsh and polemical attitude toward the Catholic Church. I would also admit that there are some Orthodox Christians who have failed to uphold the teaching of the Church on abortion. In the latter case I am reminded of St John Chrysostom’s observation that more priests have fallen from compassion than lust. As to the former, I am reminded of St Isaac the Syrian’s teaching: “Someone who has actually tasted truth is not contentious for truth. Someone who is considered by people to be zealous for truth has not yet learnt what truth is really like; once he has truly learnt it, he will cease from zealousness on its behalf.”

    Reviewing your own words, I do not call into question your sincerity, but I confess a certain confusion.

    Your respect for us seem grounded more in obedience to your own Church than affection, or even accurate knowledge, for my own (the Armenian Church is part of the Oriental Church it is not part of the Eastern Orthodox Church).

    I must confess as well a growing impatience with the fruit of that lack of charity and knowledge. Specifically your insistence in ascribing to the whole of the Church the errant teaching of a few. That you do so in the face of assurances of the content of the tradition and readily acknowledgment of the manifest error of those who hold such contrary positions is for me a source of great sadness.

    By your own logic, I would be justified in arguing–as you have here–that the Catholic Church is soft on pedophilia and homosexuality. After all look at the consistency with which any number of your bishops and brother priests ignored the misconduct, colluded with the crimes committed, or worse justified the sins themselves. Yes certainly we could have that conversation–I lived in Dallas TX throughout the 1980’s and am intimately familiar with the issue and the personalities involved,

    But to hold the whole Catholic Church responsible for the shameful deeds of some is a gross violation of charity, to say nothing of justice or even elementary logic. Doing so is the basic trick of the polemicist to who compares his best to my worst. Why you do this here is beyond me, but this is what you are doing.

    Again, I don’t in anyway doubt or reject your criticism of those Orthodox who have as you rightly said, soft pedaled the Church’s position on abortion. I would in fact, as I have above, join you in your criticism. But to ascribe to the whole the sins of the few is a lack not only of charity but honesty.

    Over the years I have heard the confessions of many women who have had abortions. I have also heard the confession of men who paid for abortions. So common was the sin in the part of the world where I was then serving that for several years I simply asked people as a matter of course making their life confession about abortion. But clarity of position needs to be balanced with a gentleness that encourages repentance. If the balance is not always maintained, well that needs to be pointed out and corrected.

    You have pointed out what your view as a lack of balance, for that I thank you. But you have allowed very little room for repentance–indeed you have offered no word of consultation or guidance for those among us who agree with you that our brothers have erred.

    Father, your words here as polemical as any written by Orthodox anti-Catholic zealot. Your words create divisions unnecessarily. While I agree with your criticism of us I reject the zealotry with which it is pursued.

    In Christ,

    +Gregory, priest

  16. Fr. J. says:

    Fr. Gregory,

    Thanks for visiting the Black Cordelias.

    I regret I lumped the Armenians in with the Eastern Orthodox. That correction is fair, and I will adjust my text.

    If I am being polemical somewhere, just point that out in the text. Let’s deal in facts, not in sweeping generalizations.

    As I see it, I am dealing in facts. I have used quotes of not minor figures but of Patriarchs. These are not just “some bishops or some priests” but the highest authorities in your churches.

    Since you brought up scandals in the Catholic Church quite gratuitously, as it was off topic, allow me to point out that there is a Metropolitan going to jail: http://www.pokrov.org/display.asp?ds=Article&id=728

    I, too, have heard many confessions of abortion. And I assure you that I am very gentle with the women and men who have come to confess. I have also had many come to confess who were not Catholic. They come to confess in the Catholic Church because it is the only relief they can find. To receive the Lord’s forgiveness (though we cannot absolve in the strict sense those who are not Catholic) through the ministry of those who most ardently defend His Gospel of life, is truly a relief for them.

    As for the charge that I ascribe to the whole the errors of the few, well, let’s look at that. Orthodoxy does not have an explicit and defined set of formal teachings. It does not have something like the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It does not have such formal teachings because of its institutional divisions and jurisdictional jealousies. So there is no real magisterium or official text one can point to and say “this is what we teach.” It is just some authorities versus other authorities. A pan-Orthodox council could achieve much to correct this lack, but such a council is almost impossible because of the constant bickering between jurisdictions.

    Also, I would add that if the EP doesn’t get the teaching right, as you seem willing to admit, then it is either not very clear or somewhat in dispute. There does also seem to be a general misconception about the seriousness of the Orthodox position as demonstrated by the lack of criticism of Governor Dukakis for being pro-choice. As some have said about Orthodoxy, “it is all about mystery, not legalism.” (See: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=940DE0DC1539F934A3575AC0A96E948260) If the Orthodox Church has a firm stand on abortion, it needs to communicate that more clearly to the general public.

    As for Catholic bishops or priests who dissent, there are many on topics of liturgy and other things. (But, I defy to to find one Catholic bishop in office who is soft on abortion). But the dissenters can never claim that their position is the teaching of the Catholic Church. They can only say that they want that position to be changed. This is because the Catholic position is made abundantly clear on virtually every topic. But Orthodox teaching is not this way. It cannot be set apart from what an Ecumenical Patriarch says, because there is not higher authority to give that teaching. If the EP is soft on abortion, then the best one can say to the contrary is that some or most Orthodox have a clear teaching. But the lack of a magisterium always means that Orthodox teaching can be undermined, that it is provisional and mutable.

    You say that I have left little room for repentance. Well, whatever repentance may be due, it is owed by the Ecumenical Patriarch, not participants in an obscure combox.

    I am not sure what guidance or consultation you are looking for or even what you mean by this. It is not my place to give the Orthodox advice, but if I were to do so, I would say they need to have a pan-Orthodox council to clear up their many squabbles, the very least of which is the soft tone of the EP’s comments on abortion.

    This is not about being anti-Orthodox. It is about being Pro-Life.

  17. Father J:

    No, I am not referring simply to ectopic pregnancy. I have taught a basic medical ethics class over the past few years, and in that class we engage the rubric of double effect, which, unless my studies were grossly in error, are not limited simply to instance of ectopic pregnancy. Either the principle of double effect holds for all moral issues or it does not. As to whether various actions fit the characteristics of licit or illicit within the rubric of double effect, that, of course, is the whole debate.

    Further, when you say to Father Gregory that because we don’t have a Catechism to which direct reference can be cited, and because we don’t have a Magisterium like Rome, and because there exist “institutional divisions and jurisdictional jealousies”–that is to say, because of these reasons we do not have formal teaching on the matter of abortion . . . well, the mind boggles, as they say, at the brazen polemic.

    Simply because our formal teaching doesn’t take the form that it does in Rome doesn’t mean that we lack it. To argue that will take a bit more than what you’ve done here, and in any case just begs the question in spades. Our formal teaching is found in our Liturgies, our hynmography, the Scriptures, the Canons, the lived Tradition of our Faith. That this teaching is not codified according to the rubrics of Rome makes it no less formal. It’s form is just different. But having form, it is formal.

    And, again, you have failed to make your case that simply because two hierarchs depart from the teaching of the Orthodox Church on abortion, does not mean that the Orthodox Church has no such teaching. You are polemicizing, and not dealing with us in charity.

    I made no “threat” to bring in to the discussion the failures of Roman hierarchs to uphold the teachings of Rome. In fact, I explicitly refrained from so doing, nor am I going to in the future. Such would not make my argument, just as it isn’t making yours. I simply indicated such failures to illustrate what you are doing to the Orthodox.

    But it is now clear that you cannot defend your position. It is clear that all you have is a polemic. We’ve pointed it out. It’s just too bad charity didn’t take control here.

  18. Fr Gregory says:

    Forgive me please Father, I have failed to be clear.

    A poor witness, even a prominent one, does undermined the integrity of a tradition. “The poor preacher, by his stumbling speech, does not subtract from the Tradition anymore than an eloquent speaker adds to it.” (St Ireneaus).

    That EP has failed to give the voice to the tradition in the case of abortion is unfortunate. Also unfortunate is your willingness to his failure to misrepresent the Tradition of the Church.

    Whether you are being Pro-life and not anti-Orthodox, I have only your word for it. That you will not take mine…well I’m sorry but I cannot convince someone who does not wish to be convinced.

    If there are any Catholic commentators here who can explain my position to FrJ I would be grateful.

  19. Fr. J. says:


    I am not doing anything to the Orthodox. I am pointing out what they have done to themselves.

    My only position here is that the Orthodox present a soft position on abortion. They have done this through the weak words of the Ecumenical Patriarch himself. If he is not an authority on Orthodox doctrine, who is? If he gets it confused, I will guess that it is confusing. All the protests by the Orthodox that they are not legalistic like the Romans comes home to roost here where a clear and bold presentation of doctrine is required.

  20. Father J:

    This is where you demonstrate your lack of understanding with regard to the Orthodox. The EP is NOT a spokesman for us as the Pope is for you. He is one voice among many Patriarchs. This is one of the differences between Orthodox and Roman Catholic polity. Orthodoxy operates from collegiality and consensus. Not that Rome does not, but we do not utilize the universal jurisdictional mechanism that Rome does. We believe that our model of collegiality is an icon of the Trinitarian communion.

    This is also why if one Patriarch steps out of line, we have the collegial mechanisms to deal with that.

    So, again, it’s clear that you misunderstand, and, truthfully, misrepresent the Orthodox. And instead of responding to my substantive defense and counterarguments, you avoid them. That’s what a polemicist does.

  21. Fr. J. says:

    So, if the EP was out of line on his message on abortion, where was the outcry from the other bishops? Why has this not been corrected?

    Calling me a polemicist doesnt help your argument at all, and does not predispose anyone toward charity.

    What arguments have I ignored?

    To accommodate your position, I have changed the title here to reflect that it is the EP that is soft on abortion.

  22. Fr Gregory says:


    Not ever public misrepresentation is prudently responded to with a public chastisement. But yes privately the EP has been corrected and no I will not tell you how I know.

    Please remember that unlike you or me, the EP is surrounded by an extremely hostile population. As a cultural matter, it is unlikely those closet to His All-Holiness would risk shaming him by publicly correcting him. You and I may disagree with this, but this is Greek culture.

    While I hesitate to speak for Benedict, I am not asking you to accommodate my position. I am asking you to tell the truth. I am asking you this because you have not been truthful.

    There are authoritative statements in the Tradition of the Orthodox Church–the Fathers, the canons, our liturgical tradition, recent statements by the Moscow Patriarchate and the Friend of the Court Brief to which you linked. All of these set out the position of the Orthodox Church and none of these figure in your comments.

    In answer to your question about what you have ignored, I would answer all of these you have ignored. Whether intentionally or not, by ignore these source you have misrepresented the position of the Orthodox Church.

    Let me ask you directly then Father, have you read any of these sources? Have you gone to Orthodox scholars or clergy to discuss the matter? Or did you simply collect a few quotes and then make your allegations that the Orthodox Church does not measure up?

    Is polemical a fair description of your presentation? Given your post here fails to demonstrate even the most rudimentary knowledge of who is and isn’t Orthodox combined with your demonstrated willingness to explain Orthodox theology to an Orthodox layman and priest without your even having a basic understanding of Orthodox theology or polity, I think Benedict’s characterization of your words is accurate.

    Father, if you are interested in learning about the Orthodox Church, I am happy to have that conversation with you privately. If you want to demonstrate that you are right and I am wrong, I’m not interested. Such conversations are well beyond my pay grade.

    The ball is in your court–I’m willing to drop this and move on to more fruitful conversations with you if you are willing to do the same.

    What do you say?

    Your brother in Christ,

    +Fr Gregory

  23. Fr. J. says:

    Fr. Gregory,

    As I said before, I made the changes to the article that your comments have warranted. So what’s the problem. What else do you want?

    Yes, I have read up on the Orthodox position on abortion. Sometimes it includes the exceptions for rape and health of the mother and sometimes it doesnt. It depends on who is doing the talking, which again shows the ongoing weakness of Orthodox doctrine. It varies depending on who one is talking to.

    I am quite willing to have a conversation on any topic on its merits. But, the constant hurling of personal attacks is really unnecessary and unhelpful for a decent conversation. So, yes, I am willing. Are you willing to have a conversation without all the drama and posturing? It is up to you.

  24. Fr Gregory says:

    Fr J,

    Thank you for making the changes. Forgive me please if I gave personal offense or attacked you. Such was not my intent.

    As for a conversation with you would be a great joy. And I am more than willing to have a conversation without all the drama and posturing.

    About what shall we speak?

    In Christ,


  25. I am thinking you two would do well to talk on the phone – I suspect you woudl get along famously. Over the phone, Father J is a kitten.

  26. Fr. J. says:

    SS, you are too funny.

  27. Fr Gregory says:

    A kitten priest?

    Good gravy! what is the world coming to? :)


  28. Rob says:

    That was brave, SS. I was afraid to step in between two priests.

  29. Fr. J. says:

    Hey Rob, nice to see you around.

    Dont worry about Fr. G. and me. As long as he’s not a mouse, we’ll be fine. :)

  30. AMB says:

    Fr. J,

    I think you may be too hastily concluding that the Eastern Orthodox Church has gone soft on abortion. The Ecumenical Patriarch is given much honor in Orthodoxy, but he doesn’t possess anymore-doctrinal authority than other bishops/patriarchs. In fact, several of my Orthodox friends are quite critical of Bartholomew I’s liberal stances, including his weak position on abortion. A surer source of what the majority of Orthodox believe is to look to where the majority of Orthodox Christians are. You may not know this, but the Russian Orthodox Church comprises nearly 75% of Eastern Orthodoxy. Thus, what they say on an issue says a lot about what Orthodoxy believes. In the 2000 document, “On the Social Bases of the Russian Orthodox Church”, the bishops of the ROC said regarding abortion,

    “The Church sees the widely spread and justified abortion in contemporary society as a threat to the future of humanity and a clear sign of its moral degradation. It is incompatible to be faithful to the biblical and patristic teaching that human life is sacred and precious from its origin and to recognize woman’s «free choice» in disposing of the fate of the foetus. In addition, abortion presents a serious threat to the physical and spiritual health of a mother. The Church has always considered it her duty to protect the most vulnerable and dependent human beings, namely, unborn children. Under no circumstances the Orthodox Church can bless abortion. Without rejecting the women who had an abortion, the Church calls upon them to repent and to overcome the destructive consequences of the sin through prayer and penance followed by participation in the salvific Sacraments. In case of a direct threat to the life of a mother if her pregnancy continues, especially if she has other children, it is recommended to be lenient in the pastoral practice. The woman who interrupted pregnancy in this situation shall not be excluded from the Eucharistic communion with the Church provided that she has fulfilled the canon of Penance assigned by the priest who takes her confession. The struggle with abortion, to which women sometimes have to resort because of abject poverty and helplessness, demands that the Church and society work out effective measures to protect motherhood and to create conditions for the adoption of the children whose mothers cannot raise them on their own for some reason.”

    As you can see, the only dispensation regarding abortion is in applying the full canon of repentance to mothers who have an abortion due to health reasons. Even here, abortion is still condemned and is to be repented of. If this is what 75% (and even more because the ROC is virtually the leader of world Orthodoxy) of Orthodox believe, they have definitely not gone soft on abortion. In fact, with their strict canons on repentance for this sin, they are stricter in discipline than we Catholics are.

  31. AMB says:

    Correction: The name of the document I quoted from is the “Bases of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church” and can be found online at “http://orthodoxeurope.org/page/3/14.aspx”

  32. People in glass houses should not throw stones. First, outsiders usually misunderstand Orthodox patroal language. Second, one swallow does not a spring make. However weak the EP or others may be in the press, this doesn’t amount to a formal policy or alteration of church teaching or practice. Third, the statements from Williams and the EP are hardly comparable on a conceptual level. This is nothing but smear.

    And besides, I suggest you clean up all of the Roman bishops and priests whop are openly pro-abortion, not to mention pro-gay. Been to a Barney Mass lately? How are those altar girls coming? Hos is Jesus’s life in a Tortillia? is this the kind of “dialog” Catholics wish? If I were you I’d be worried far more of how to actually implement what the Orthodox have preserved liturgically.

  33. Ahh the defensive must always become offensive!

    And besides, I suggest you clean up all of the Roman bishops and priests whop are openly pro-abortion, not to mention pro-gay. Been to a Barney Mass lately? How are those altar girls coming? Hos is Jesus’s life in a Tortillia? is this the kind of “dialog” Catholics wish? If I were you I’d be worried far more of how to actually implement what the Orthodox have preserved liturgically.

    So it goes when you belong to a member of a HUGE church that is on all seven continents, spread to the four corners and going forth to teach all nations!

    How the tortilla remark is relevent in any way shape or form makes your level of charity evident and mars whatever point you were attempting to make. Dare we dig up the odd folk pieties found in the East?

    Only fitting I suppose that any and or almost every defense against criticism ends with a criticism.

    Welcome back Perry.

  34. asimple,

    Yes, they found a few continents. Prior to that, they were french, german and Italian club. And when will we stop getting the we’re-so-big-we-can’t-help-it excuse? Would it actually be so hard for the Pope to actually DO something substantial and lop off a few ecclesiastical heads openly to bring others in line? The fact is that he can’t without opening up a vast schism and we all know it. There’d be a revolt in the “Catholic” universities alone, not to mention various episcopal jurisdictions that would make your head swim.

    And the offensive nature of the comment was exactly the point. This post was aimed at smearing and trying to stear people away from Orthodoxy to Catholicism as it aims to lump the Orthodox with Anglicans, which is rather laughable. And then we get the all too typical anti-Orthodox apologetic line that on the one hand, there is no formal and clear teaching and who speaks for Orthodoxy line (as if the writer is the world’s expert on Orthodox canon law and theology) and on the other, such and so Patriarch or bishop gives the clear but mistaken teaching of Orthodoxy. You can’t have it both ways. In point of fact church history is replete with examples where the Ecumenical Patrairch and some other bishop, say the bishop of Rome agreed on such and so heterodox doctrine and were in fact wrong. So even if the smear were true, so what? it hardly amounts to the wholesale sell out of Christianity in Anglicanism or mainline Protestantism. The comments do not likely share the same cause in any case as in Anglicanism, which are the product of liberal biblical scholarship and post-enlightenment philosophy, which has permeated both Protestantism and Rome, but not in the same large measure Orthodoxy.

    Furthermore, it would be helpful to think of the statements not in light of moral legalism or methodism but moral particularism. Rather than forming a general definition under which to subsume some particular act, but the other way around. Along the lines of virtue theory then the statements above do not amount to an approval per se of abortion. This will help explain why the Orthodox don’t have a document which nails down everything to a specific principle. And it is not as if the Canons on abortion in the various councils of the church need updating. There is plenty of clear teaching on abortion to be found. People just need to read. If people would just TRY to give a charitable read rather than jump on what they think is some great failure, they could further dialog rather than score convert points.

    As for the supposed openness and charity of Catholicism towards the Orthodox, this requires a very short memory. Fifty years ago this wasn’t the case and besides this strategy has been used in the past as a tool for converting Orthodox. And there is no shortage of anti-Orthodox Catholic apologetics as well. So please spare us the, we’re so loving and you’re so mean stuff.

    If you don’t like to be treated as above, then don’t treat other people this way. If you really respect the Orthodox, then stop with the we’re so much better than you game or let me expose this practical defect over here. If you wish to have a principled discussion, then elevate the discussion from the get go to that of dispassionate principle. Mike Liccone has given clear examples of this on his blog. I’d invite you to follow suit. Otherwise you’re just exposing Noah’s nakedness.

  35. AMB says:


    The examples of liturgical disobedience, which you cited are not the same as doctrinal compromises. Rather, they are in the realm of praxis. While the argument can be made that bad praxis flows from bad doctrine, I don’t know of any bishops who openly teach abortion or approve the homosexual lifestyle (whatever their personal sentiments may be). Please don’t misunderstand me – I’m not saying that Orthodoxy is supporting either of this sins. In fact, I believe just the opposite. I’m just trying to nuance your comment so that people won’t get the wrong impression of Catholicism.

  36. AMB says:


    I don’t see any merit in bringing up the wide geographic scope of our Church in discussions with Orthodox Christians. Perry made a correct point when he said that we are around the world as a result of Western colonization, no more or less. Placing too much emphasis on this wide geographic presence is incompatible with the fact that this only happened a few centuries ago. Thus, it can hardly be a sign of the true religion, for the authentic signs of the truth must be present in the Church from the beginning, not arise at some point in her history. In fact, if our wide geographic range is automatically interpreted as a direct sign of providence, we will have a difficult time explaining why the means of modern communication have done more for the growth of Protestant evangelicals in the third world than any other Christian religious group. If we won’t attribute this to divine endorsement of their beliefs, but rather see in it media savvy and the regular course of history, which often puts error in a better position than truth, we can hardly do the same with the effects of European colonization, which has helped us as much as modern media has the evangelicals.

    Besides, the mark of catholicity is found in the belief that the Church contains the fullness of truth and is called to impart this to all men. Of course, this will be fleshed out in time, as the Gospel will eventually be preached to the entire world. However, this realization of the Church’s intrinsic catholicity will happen sometime before the end of the age. Seeing this, I think a judgment on Orthodox success in evangelization would be very premature as the world hasn’t ended yet and appears quite some time off. Both Catholic and Orthodox Christians hold to the letter of this catholicity. One has to look to the other marks of the true Church, such as oneness and apostolicity, in order to see which Church’s claim to catholicity is authentic. Looking for geographic proof alone is too subjective to be helpful in such an objective evaluation, IMO.

    Your statement ranking the “odd folk pieties” in the East as equivalent to the sacrilege in Catholicism seems incorrect. Without denying that the East has its share of superstitious folk pieties (as does every faith), these folk pieties arise from the foundation of an authentic seeking of God, whereas our liturgical and other abuses arise from the spirit of the world, and in fact derive from a misunderstanding of the nature of the world and end up supporting an anti-Christian spirit in the Church. Equating these two are like equating apples and oranges and run the risk of justifying the abuses in the Catholic Church.

    I hope I didn’t come across too harsh in this comment. I just get tired of the weak caricatures and tired arguments, which people often make of the Orthodox Church.

  37. Fr. J. says:

    AMB and Perry, your attempts to defend Orthodoxy are fine, but they miss the point. The very fact that a major patriarch can get it wrong says plenty. Also, I defy either of you to find a Catholic bishop that is pro choice. There arent any. Besides, the articles now reads Orthodox EP not Orthodox Church.

    It is not necessary for the EP to function like a pope for him to cause confusion. The ABC is not a pope either, but he causes every kind of confusion, as has the EP for his soft stand on abortion.

    Furthermore, the Orthodox problem is not just doctrine, but ecclesiology. It has no way to harmonize teaching. So the only exception for the ROC is the health of the mother. But the Romanians see it differently and bless the abortion of a raped teenager’s child. These differences demonstrate that Orthodoxy comes up with different answers to the same question. Simply failing to present a solid front weakens the Orthodox witness and makes its teachings appear negotiable. This is a severe problem and one that cant be easily fixed as it is the very nature of Orthodoxy to be fragmented.

  38. Fr. J. says:

    Actually, Eastern Orthodox superstitiousness, for which it is renowned, comes from the spirit of the world as well–just a different world–that of animism. I would prefer the errors of rationalism and even to a degree materialism to spiritism which places the Spirit of God on equal footing with all darker spirits. House divided….

    And, if one wishes to speak of the evils of mixing with the spirit of the world, one need look no further than a KGB MP mobbing around with the likes of KGB Putin as a new form of imperialism and totalitarianism take shape. Be prepared for yet another MP with the blood of thousands on his hands.

  39. diane says:

    Once again—-amen, Father J!

    Simple Sinner and Father J: As y’all are in such fine fettle :-), could y’all come over to Eirenikon and defend the honor of the Immaculata? The most recent Orthodox comment over at that estimable forum compared the IC dogma with the speculation that puppy-doggies go to Heaven.

    (Eirenikon Editor, of course, has been the soul of irenicism and charity. I allude not to his comments but to those of several of his commenters.)

    Viva l’Immaculata!


  40. AMB says:

    Fr. J,

    I freely concede that I know of no Catholic bishop is pro-choice. However, I can point to several (unnamed) bishops, who I believe have ceased to teach or have altered beyond recognition the Catholic teaching that the Church is necessary for salvation. Since the integrity of a Church depends on doctrine, which both abortion and the slavific necessity of the Church are, compromise on one point is hardly doctrinally worse than compromise on the other.

    Thank you for changing the title of your post to saying that the Ecumenical Patriarch, not the entire Orthodox Church, has compromised on the issue of abortion. I would further add that the Russian Orthodox “exception” in abortions for the life of the mother refers to the full imposition of the canon of penance, which would regularly feature an “excommunication” from the eucharistic chalice for some time, and not an exception to the sin, itself, which must still be confessed. The pertinent quote from the ROC document on social doctrine makes this all very clear. However, your comment doesn’t take this into account, as you made it appear that this is an exception to the sin, itself, which is incorrect.

    I agree that the Ecumenical Patriarch has caused confusion in the Orthodox world. However, a cursory reading of Church history reveals that patriarchs made mistakes often, with even a Pope of Rome fledging support for Monothelism. The lack of patriarchal dissent in Catholicism today is truly a result of ecclesiology – an ecclesiology, which has reduced previously powerful patriarchs to figureheads. Besides, the confusion you so much lament must be rather limited as less than 25% of Orthodox belong to jurisdictions, which have made mistakes in speaking about abortion. You would do well to admit that up to 80% of Orthodoxy has made no compromises on abortion. Anything else is engaging in calumny at worst and badly nuanced speaking at best.

    Regarding dissent in Catholicism, you may say that people can still know that they are dissenters by looking to Magisterial teaching. However, Orthodox can still recognize their dissenters by looking to the sources of Holy Tradition. You may argue that this is merely the “personal interpretation of Tradition”; however, the ancient defenders of the Faith didn’t feel this way as they always pointed to Holy Tradition when heresies arose. I know of no appeal to an automatic answer by the Pope (remember even St. Leo of Rome’s Tome was debated and only then accepted at Chalcedon), but rather a lot of appeals to maintaining the Faith as passed down in canons, liturgy, prayer and the lived experience of centuries. Interestedly, this is still the method of combating heresy in Orthodoxy and I find it a remarkable continuation of the fashion of the ancient Church.

  41. Fr. J. says:

    AMB, if you have real information with real names, put them in black and white for all the world to see or keep your mouth shut. It is the worst kind of bad faith to insinuate the sins of others without stating the facts. Afterall, I could have begun the article stating that I knew of several Patriarchs who had performed abortions with their own hands with the only qualifier being “(unnamed).”

    I am quite certain that you have no secret information. And, if the information is not secret, then just state it. But, even if you do state it, it will only be a maneuver to obfuscate the point of this post: The Orthodox give conflicting and contradictory teachings on abortion.

    As for the ancient defenders of the faith “feeling” one way or another, that is beside the point. All tradition and scripture has to have a living interpreter. For Protestants the living interpreter is the individual Christian. For Catholics the interpreter is the Church, particularly through the teaching of the pope. For the Orthodox it is through the various patriarchs and other bishops.

    The Orthodox and the Protestants have exactly the same problem, the difference being one of degree only. Having multiple interpreters leads to having multiple interpretations.

    That the MP has 80% of the Orthodox is irrelevant as he is in communion with Orthodox Churches who teach differently than he does. He provides one exception. The Romanians provide at least 2, maybe 3. Others provide 2 and the EP seems to think it an open question when it is permissible to perform something of “great drama.”

    It is a matter of duty to the truth to point out that Orthodoxy teaches a variety of things on abortion, giving the impression that abortions morality is negotiable or changeable. This is not the way to present the Gospel to a world that will always sieze on weaknesses.

    It is a perpetual problem with Orthodoxy that competing jurisdictions come up with differing teachings. There is only one God and he cant have more than one teaching despite the fact that the Orthodox have difficulty figuring out what his teaching is.

    As for your calling the EP wrong or perhaps the Romanians wrong, they can just as easily say that you are wrong. There is no final authority in Orthodoxy, therefore there is no final teaching. And that is a Big Problem.

  42. AMB says:

    Fr. J,

    Your allusion to the MP and his KGB past is more than a little hypocritical. Are you aware that Pope Benedict XVI was once arm-in-arm with the heretical Karl Rahner during Vatican II and even helped him draft a version of the document on Divine Revelation, which was full of Rahner’s questionable theology? I’m sure you would say that Pope Benedict changed and distanced himself from his past compatriots, as he doesn’t repeat the heresies of Rahner and his ilk. I would argue the same of the MP, as he doesn’t sound like KGB these days. Rejecting my argument while letting Pope Benedict off the hook is arbitrary and betrays a prejudice toward the Orthodox Faith.

    Your conservative political pundit style criticism of modern-day Russia and the MP is hardly a religious issue (unless the Mormons are right at the American Constitution really is a divinely inspired document ;)). You ought to know, Father, that imperialism isn’t a sin. In fact, Christians always lived with the concept of a sacred monarchy until only a few centuries ago. Criticizing imperialism now would make you a foreigner in either Catholicism or Orthodoxy of only two centuries ago. As for the dreaded fear that the MP is advocating a secret return to Soviet Atheism, let it suffice to say that it the ROC is working on getting mandatory religious instruction into every school in Russia and is part of the continuing rebuilding of religious culture and the removal of the last vestiges of communism in Russia. Read http://www.interfax-religion.com to see the headlines.

  43. AMB says:

    Fr. J,

    So I’m damned if I present information about problematic Catholic bishops and damned if I don’t? It becomes increasingly clear that you aren’t interested in serious dialogue but spreading your own anti-Orthodox agenda. If you make it impossible for one to back up their assertions without looking bad, it’s clear that you are just interested in stumping. Ever think about removing the comments option for this blog? It’ll be more honest.

    And, yes, the ancient Church did have interpreters of the Faith. These interpreters were the bishops. It could hardly have been the Pope as he can err many times and is only infallible when he chooses to teach the faith as a dogma. This is a definition, which hardly gives the Roman Pontiff the credentials to be the final arbiter of truth in the Church as very little of the day-to-day life of the Church deals with promulgating dogmas.

    And you can speak with credibility about presenting compromised and weakened messages of the Gospel to the world when Catholic bishops and the Pope clean out the heretical priests, nuns and religious teachers who are allowed to present the face of Catholicism to the world via teaching in Catholic colleges and appearing with title and collar intact on television.

  44. Fr. J. says:

    Actually, AMB, it was you who introduced a topic that is extraneous to this post–and further you did so in an underhanded and dishonorable fashion. I cant help you out of the fix you have placed yourself in. But, I am not censoring you, either.

    The Catholic Church has no problem speaking with a univocal voice on any subject. Ex Cathedra teaching is not necessary for the Church to speak very clearly. Orthodoxy on the other hand has difficulty speaking with one voice as it really has a cacophony of voices.

    With the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it is perfectly clear to all the world who is dissenting. No dissenter can present himself as teaching with the voice of the Church. On the other hand, your patriarchs themselves have trouble speaking with one voice. They could not produce a Catechism if they wanted to. They simply dont have a way to come to consensus on the various issues.

    As for title and collar remaining intact, your EP is also still in office though you seem quite willing to throw him under the bus.

  45. diane says:

    As for your calling the EP wrong or perhaps the Romanians wrong, they can just as easily say that you are wrong. There is no final authority in Orthodoxy, therefore there is no final teaching. And that is a Big Problem.

    Fr. J, this is so stunningly true and so clearly put. Thank you!

    May I ask…did you once consider Orthodoxy, or do you come from an Orthodox background? I ask this because you seem to be extremely well informed.

    Thank you!!


  46. Deacon Augustine says:

    Fr. J,

    While I do agree with you that the EO sometimes have problems presenting a univocal position, to be fair we also have our mavericks who play fast and loose with the Gospel of Life.

    At various times Cardinals Daneels and Martini (to name but two) have made public statements which are at odds with Church teaching on abortion, contraception, euthanasia and homosexuality. An English bishop appeared on the BBC defending the consciences of those Catholics who chose to use contraception. And none of them have been made subject of any public correction or censure, either by their brother bishops or by any of the Roman congregations.

    Rome is just as wary as the EO bishops are about starting spats in public with high-ranking prelates. It is a shame, because in both cases it seriously damages the witness of Christians against the horrors which this world tries to justify.

    I would certainly like to hear the EO bishops in the west speak up much more strongly against abortion than they do, but I think that in general they tend to keep a lower public profile outside of their traditional canonical territory than they do on their “home turf”. Despite his aspirations to the contrary, the EP is not a Pope for the EO’s and his words do not carry anything like the same weight for them that the Pope’s do for us. He is quite well known for opening his mouth and inserting his foot.

    Nevertheless, Patriarch Alexy has been very strongly outspoken against abortion in recent years and, although he and the Pope are never likely to meet, they do seem to be forging a common mission to fight the culture of death in Europe.

    The EO’s would definitely benefit from having a pan-Orthodox synod to thrash some things out, but in my opinion actually getting one together would make reunion with Rome look like a picnic in comparison. Some EO’s seem to believe that it couldn’t be called without the first See being there to call the synod, and as in their view that See is languishing in heresy at the moment it ain’t likely to happen any time soon.

    Hope you don’t mind me intruding a view from across the pond, and thank you for your work for the defenceless.

  47. AMB says:

    Deacon Augustine,

    Thank you for your post. It shows that we both (Catholic and Orthodox) have a long way to go in presenting the Gospel as it should be presented in the world. Your comment about the need for a pan-Orthodox synod is spot-on. Fr. J mentioned the need for consensus in Orthodoxy. Well, when the consensus was lost or being attacked in the early Church, the traditional way of the Church was to resort to an ecumenical council. I know of no ancient appeals to an automatic answer by the Pope, which would restore consensus. Catholicism’s official consensus at the present-time is due more to complete obedience to papal encyclicals, which is symptomatic of an ecclesiology that puts too much trust in the day-to-day orthodoxy of the Pope, than on the ancient form of restoring consensus, the ecumenical synod, which is reflective of an ecclesiology that is more honest with the regular fallibility of all the bishops and more confident in the divine protection of the Church as a whole.

  48. Fr. J. says:


    Hmmm, your last comment just could not possibly be more false. You are forgetting that the Catholic Church has had 14 ecumenical councils since the schism. Even if you do not count them ecumenical, one cannot claim that Catholicism, “puts too much trust in the day-to-day orthodoxy of the Pope, than on the ancient form of restoring consensus, the ecumenical synod.” In fact, Catholicism has been better as meeting in council than the early church with twice the number of councils in the second millenium as in the first. Your commitment to your ideological criticisms of Catholicism are blinding you to simple concrete facts of history.

    If every time a papal encyclical were written and council had to be called, then we would never be out of a council. Your exaggerated expectations of what is required for the management of the church are self serving and impractical. Further, if you were to take your criticism of Catholicism seriously on this point, you would see that it is Orthodoxy that is terribly, terribly, terribly in need of a Pan-Orthodox synod and has been remiss in forming one for the past 40 years since discussions were begun to call one. It is Orthodoxy that is overly reliant on the pronouncement of Patriarchs like the MP, not Catholicism.

  49. Fr Gregory says:

    Fr J,,

    I’d be interested in hearing your answer to Diane’s questions. Are you in fact a convert to Catholicism? And, if so, did you indeed consider Orthodoxy?

    Your criticism of AMB’s “secret information” has got me thinking. Lacking as I do your real name and diocese, how might I be certain that you are indeed even a Catholic priest?

    So who are you? What is your real name? What parish do you serve and are you who is your bishop?

    It is all very well and good to criticize anonymously–but your seeming unwillingness to do so openly is troubling.

    So who are you Father? Introduce yourself to us please.

    In Christ,

    +Fr Gregory

  50. […] Tradition and Sacred Scripture. There are some interesting parallels with an earlier post of mine, Orthodox EP Soft Like Anglicans on Abortion, in that these comments are given with the intention of being sympathetic with the current Anglican […]

  51. Fr. J. says:

    To answer some of your questions, I am the son of Episcopalian (now Anglican) father and a Catholic mother. I took an interest in the evangelical wing of TEC back in the ’80’s and found some aspects of it quite refreshing but was ultimately put off by the deep anti-Catholicism of the Calvinist theology and re-committed to the Catholic faith.

    About a year and a half ago I attended an Eastern Catholic liturgy for the first time and began reading as much as I could on Eastern Christianity. I also took an interest in the Eastern topics online. I was naive about the rabid anti-Catholicism among the Orthodox and have realized that reunion with them is very, very far off, owing more to a lack of positive regard on the part of the East who nearly always present their church as pristine and other churches as virtually non-Christian. While the blemishes of Catholicism are well published for all the world to see, Orthodoxy in the US remains in a murky unfamiliarity which cloaks its problems and allows its apologists to get away with a great deal. The revelation of simple facts are in order, I believe, in order for a common footing to be established.

    I have revealed my identity online before and am glad to do so in a friendly setting, but not in response to a hostile challenge. I am not willing to expose myself to prank calls or who knows what.

  52. Richard Froggatt says:

    Fr. Gregory, please forgive me if I missed the point but aren’t you as anonymous as Fr. J? As for Fr. J being a kitten; it’s kind of funny thinking about it with a husky staring (hungry?) at him. :)

  53. Fr. J. says:

    A remarkably balanced commentary on this post can be found at the Orthodox blog, The Ochlophobist. I have not read him before. His style is witty, amusing and unflinching. Though he considers this a petty matter, I would assert that abortion and our attitudes toward it are always serious, never petty matter.

    And while he has difficulty separating the behaviors of certain bishops (sins) from the teaching of some others (false teaching) he does at least admit that the Orthodox have plenty of problems in their episcopate. So, while he does engage in some Catholic baiting, in the end he comes out somewhat sympathetic to the point of this post.

    I recommend him with only these reservations as long as you can get past the archtypical sneer.


  54. diane says:

    The Ochlophobist is witty indeed, but he is rabidly anti-Catholic, which colors his commentary, to put it mildly. He used to be much more irenic. Then…something happened, I know not what. It’s often the case. :(

    Though he considers this a petty matter… Ack, no comment, Father!

  55. Fr J,

    Thank you for your response. Though you did not answer my questions–are you a convert to Catholicism? I am I right in assuming that since you attended your first Eastern Catholic liturgy 18 months ago, this was also your first introduction to Eastern Christianity?

    Yes, there is much anti-Catholicism among self-appointed online defenders of Orthodoxy. It doesn’t help the cause of reconciliation–though I suspect neither do your own postings here.

    As for the Orthodox Church getting a pass on our shortcomings,given recent events in the Catholic Church I can see why you say that–but I would add that the unfavorable press coverage was not wholly the fault of the media.

    But take a bit of a longer historical view and you see that the Orthodox Church, at least here in America, has hardly been treated with gentleness. During the Cold War Russian Orthodox Christians were spied on by the US government. Throughout the 19th and well into the 20th century, Orthodox Christians among the native Alaskan peoples were routinely denied access to the Church ministry in favor of Protestant and Catholic churches.

    When the former Yugoslavia broke up, Serbian Orthodox Christians were often vilified in the press.

    Add to this the aggressive proselytizing by American Protestants of newly arrived Orthodox Christian immigrants and the persecution of Byzantine Catholics by Roman Catholic bishops and you discover that there is more than a little reason for the resent you rightly criticize. Do you realize, or have you even heard, of the persecution of Byzantine Catholics by the Roman bishops in the US?

    The anti-Catholic rhetoric that is spread on the internet by Orthodox is not acceptable. But neither is it without historical and social foundations.

    No doubt many on both sides are simply trying to establish a “common footing.”

    Not that Ocholophobist needs my defense, but I have not found him particularly anti-Catholic. Or at least he is no more critical of the Catholic Church than he is of the Orthodox Church. If I recall correctly, like me he did graduate studies in Catholic theology before becoming Orthodox.

    I suspect what he finds petty is not abortion but your arguments.

    As for my questions being hostile, no you are simply wrong.


    No I am not anonymous at all–I signed by initial post w/my full name and parish.

    In Christ,


  56. Joseph Schmitt says:

    “The Ochlophobist is witty indeed, but he is rabidly anti-Catholic, which colors his commentary, to put it mildly. He used to be much more irenic”

    Far be it from me to have to even defend the Ochlophobist, but the above comment is sheer nonsense, not to mention being vicious and unwarranted. If anything, the Ochlophobist, like a good wine or bourbon, gets better with age.

  57. Fr. J. says:

    Fr. G.

    Like most Orthodox online, you find it difficult to mention Catholicism for more than a paragraph without alluding to the obvious scandals which were not representative of Catholic clergy but involved less than 3% of priests, a number lower than found among school teachers, etc. It is exactly this kind of smear and smudge nastiness that is the hallmark of Orthodox “ecumenism.”

    I should have kept to my guns earlier and responded to each gratuitous reference to Catholic scandals with a reference to an Orthodox one. The OCA financial scandal: http://www.ocanews.org/chronology.html
    An Orthodox sex scandal (priest into boys): http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/religion/stories/022207dnmetabuse.15b1a8b.html
    Oh and here’s an Orthodox bishop into boys: http://www.sfweekly.com/2002-05-22/news/un-orthodox-behavior/

    Do be sure to keep making gratuitous references to Catholic scandals. There are under-reported Orthodox scandals aplenty to unveil.

    It is interesting to me that after all these many comments (over 50) no one has been able to unseat the fundamental claims of this post–Orthodoxy presents a variety of positions on abortion making its teaching appear provisional and negotiable.

    And when you cannot undermine this simple thesis, you resort to every kind of wickedness rather than just admit the problem.

    Such defensiveness and combativeness is ultimately very unattractive.

    It is my position that such weaknesses demand exposure so that they might be corrected. The impulse to hide flaws rather than to correct them is the heart of every public scandal. As the saying goes, “it’s not just the crime, it’s the cover-up.”

  58. diane says:

    Lord have mercy, Joseph Schmitt! I like the Ochlophobist. But he is anti-Catholic by any reasonable definition.

    As someone once observed to me, the only anti-Catholics who’ll admit they’re anti-Catholic are wearing white sheets and burning crosses.

    But there are plenty of others who warrant the label, even if they and their chums would strenuously disavow it.

    God bless, bro’!


  59. diane says:

    Fr. J.: Not to mention the fact that Orthodoxy has its own scandals–perhaps not numerically as significant as ours, but that’s because there are far fewer Orthodox than Catholics.

    According to every reputable study out there, the percentage of sex-abusing clergy is roughly the same across all religious communions, including the Orthodox. That does not make the Catholic scandal any less heinous. But it does put it ino perspective. Moreover, it should give our critics pause. “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,” and all that.

    The Orthodox scandals (e.g., in Greece or in the OCA) get little publicity here in the U.S., because the Orthodox are barely on the radar screen, whereas the Catholic Church is the 800-lb. gorilla (and a frequent target of liberal secularist media). But an obscure, unpublicized scandal is just as morally heinous as a widely publicized one. Sin is sin and scandal is scandal, whether or not it makes the evening news. God sees it, even if most Americans don’t.

    Moreover, we Catholics are actually doing something about our scandals–with significant positive results–whereas some other communions are still in the stonewalling-and-coverup phase. (I understand this is a big issue among Southern Baptists right now. And, according to OCANews.org, it is also an issue among Orthodox.)

    Glass houses indeed!

    But, as you say, Fr. J, that’s neither here nor there. Instead of scurrying down that well-word rabbit trail, perhaps we should address the issues you raise in your initial post. :)


  60. Lotar says:


    If one is to define the Ochlophobist as anti-Catholic, Fr J would certainly qualify as anti-Orthodox. Such terms are too often thrown around. Given that O has often written of his appreciation of Balthazar, Tolkien and other Catholic thinkers, I find such accusations questionable to say the least.

  61. Lotar says:

    Fr J,

    There are no multiple positions on abortion. It is clearly murder and our canon law state clearly so. Just because some bishop questions the teaching does not make it an open question. My inlaws Catholic priest said it was okay for unmarried couples to live together and was okay with a lesbian couple adopting a child. That doesn’t mean those are now open questions in that RCC. Niether did Pope Alexander VI’s banquets open the question as to whether or not orgies are acceptable for Catholics.

    Furthermore, the place that monasticism plays in the life of the Church makes the possibility of such idiologies gaining any lasting prominence unlikely, to say the least.

  62. Lotar says:

    I think the same can be said about most bloggers of any religious persuation.

  63. Fr. J. says:

    Hmmm, Lotar, again you invite more listings of Orthodox scandals….

    See the case of Archimandrite Stanley R. Adamakis, murdered by a man who was once his victim.


  64. Fr. J. says:

    For the record, I do not dislike the Orthodox and I have some affinity to Orthodox liturgy. I simply find most of the Orthodox online to not play fair. They are often relentless in their nastiness toward other churches but are amazingly put -out to find anyone critical of their churches. What’s good for the goose…

    Am I anti-Orthodox? No. But I am not going to withhold a truth I think needs to be spoken. If Catholics have learned that the EP is soft on abortion, that is good information. If Orthodox have learned that they cannot always hide their weaknesses from public view or badger others into keeping their secrets, that too, is a good thing.

    In the end, it will best serve the Orthodox to speak truthfully about themselves in the public sphere, learn to deal with criticism, and to stop portraying themselves as absolutely superior in every way. This illusion costs the Orthodox many of their converts when, in time, they see they have been deluded.

    Why are so many converting to Catholicism these days, even though the Catholic Church has been raked over the coals every which way? It is because people are not seeking perfection, but truth.

    Orthodoxy needs to learn to be more truthful about its strengths and weaknesses. It needs to get down off its self made pedestal and deal in reality. A good beginning would be to get honest about its numbers in the US…but that is another post.

  65. diane says:

    Amen, Father J. Your online experience mirrors mine so exactly it’s almost uncanny!

  66. Lotar says:

    We have scandals, just like everyone else. So what?

    Now I am not sure where this is going. Is your entire purpose to show that there are scandals in the Orthodox Church? That is pretty obvious to anyone who looks and has half a brain.

    Sure there are those ex-Evangelicals who for some unknown reason run a propaganda campain about the gleaming white bastion of perfection that is “the fastest growing church in America”, but who takes them seriously?

  67. Fr. J. says:

    Lotar, you make the same mistakes as others above by comparing the words of a Catholic priest who serves a Church with a comprehensive catechism reflecting a massive magisterium. His personal opinion in relation to the Catholic Church is as dust and everyone with at least a 6th grade education knows it.

    And while the EP is not the pope (there can only be one pope), he speaks with the same authority as the MP or any other Patriarch. Thus is the reality of a multi-headed church without a catechism, a comprehensive magisterium, and without hope of a pan-Orthodox committee meeting.

    As has been said, there are at least several positions on abortion: 1 exception, 2 exceptions and however many exceptions the EP’s vagueness provides for.

  68. Lotar says:

    Fr J,

    You make the mistake of equating a Patriarch with some sort of papal type figure and the Orthodox Church having multiple doctrinal authorities. What a bishop or Patriarch says in his singular capacity has no doctrinal authority. All a bishop has is pastoral authority. Orthodox Canon Law clearly states that abortion is murder. That cannot be changed anymore than the 3rd Ecumenical Council. Thus my comparison.

  69. Fr. J. says:

    One does not have to consider the EP to be like a pope to demonstrate the damage he does to your church’s witness. Look at what Rowan has done to the AC with his quips about Sharia Law, and he has arguably less authority than the EP. The problem with the EP’s words on abortion is not that he defines doctrine like a pope, but that he should be a reliable mouthpiece for such doctrine at the very least. If the orthodox do not ascribe any moral authority to a patriarch, then what use is a patriarch? Why the deceptive title? And why do men with these titles bother making pronouncements? And why on earth should anybody care about what the MP says?

    You cannot uphold the MP then turn around and discredit the EP’s words as having little value “because he is not a pope.” You just can not have it both ways.

  70. Richard Froggatt says:

    Father Gregory,

    Please forgive me.

  71. Fr. J. says:

    It is time to take a little break. Thanks to everyone for your comments. It has been very stimulating and edifying. Comments on this post will be temporarily closed until sometime on Friday.

    God Bless us Catholics and Orthodox alike.

    Yours in Christ,

    Fr. J.

  72. Christopher McAvoy says:

    “In fact, Catholicism has been better as meeting in council than the early church with twice the number of councils in the second millenium as in the first”

    That’s mostly because of the protestant reformation and industrial revolution. When you are the leading power (western europe) in the world and have profound heresies raging you would try to have councils. When you have no major heresies (save for Islam), no freedom, no industrial revolution to speak of..you tend to not convoke ecumenical councils. Society is in stasis more. Such has been the case with most of the Orthodox world until the 20th century, save for Russia.

  73. Christopher McAvoy says:

    recommended reading: ”

    Church Law and Church Order in Rome and Byzantium” by Clarence Gallagher, 2002 Ashgate Publishing

    This book shows key insights into socio-cultural influences toward east-west church divergence through analysis of canon laws and their formulation in first 1200 years of christianity. I highly recommended this book for those attempting ecumenical dialogue, things make much more sense to me after I read it. It reminds me of Archimandrite Robert Taft, SJ

  74. Michael says:

    FATHER J. and FATHER GREORY, Chill, please…

    I will take liberty to criticize both of you, but need some time. Kindly take on board that to win an argument is not the same as to tell the truth.

  75. ordination, catholic, orthodox, old catholic…

    […]Orthodox EP Soft Like Anglicans on Abortion « The Black Cordelias[…]…

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    […]Orthodox EP Soft Like Anglicans on Abortion « The Black Cordelias[…]…

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