Dear Fr. Raphael,
It's not unreasonable at all. Many have converted to Orthodoxy by finding the Source of good Who is Christ.
But in our day & age where good is seen everywhere (even where it definitely is not) there is a real risk.
This is because then everything becomes or potentially becomes a source of good, a path to salvation.
From this point on since commitment to Christ as the sole source of life as found within the Church gets lost, instead we find the affirmation of whatever we believe in at the moment.
Thus without our quite seeing it the needed focus of obedience first to Christ gets reversed to following what we believe to be true at the moment.
And there is real risk and danger in this course.
I'm trying to understand your counsel. So if I run far afield, say to Buddhism, or Taoism, where there are glimmers of truth, as you pointed out (I'm deducing from the principle you stated), then I'm leaving Christ to that as a "path to salvation." However, God help me, because I've not improved at all, I've left the true hosptial, the genuine article, for a mere shadow, at best. I get it. And obedience to Christ, the sole importance, as you pointed out, gets lost for our relative truth-seeking. However, here's where you're losing me. I'm not talking about occult divines, or Hinduism, or the angry deity of Islam; I'm referring to Roman Catholicism, which has a legitimate bishop. At one point, in fact, a bishopric well respected as a bastion of Orthodoxy, even a last resort in a time of crisis.
I'm a mere sinner, and idler, and certainly no theologian. I went through a journey in my youth to find the true Church--and I'm still only 22; getting old IMHO ;-). I'm not a cradle Orthodox or Catholic. I don't have the in-built prejudices that a lot of Orthodox and Catholics have, though I've temporarily empathized with both.
Are we conversing about the same thing? If so, it seems as though you're casting doubt as to whether a Roman Catholic (truly believing he/she belongs to the true Church that Our Lord founded on earth) can be obedient to Christ, rather than getting lost in a relative non-Jesus truth-seeking. I just don't even understand how that's a possibility to be considered. Jesus Christ is the Lord of both Churches. Am I completely misunderstanding what you meant to say?
Maybe, maybe not. Speculation is fun, but I wouldn't want to stake my salvation upon it. God exists, that is a given. He doesn't cease to exist because non-Orthodox worship Him. But is it true worship? Is it worship in truth? Are the admonitions of the Apostle Paul to be "of one mind" worthless? Has the Catholic Church rightly preserved the Apostolic Witness? How about the Methodists? The Moslems? You draw your line where you see fit I suppose. I will stay safely within the Ark of Salvation that is the Orthodox Church and leave the rest to a merciful God as St. Theophan the Recluse recommends. I will defend the hope that is in me as the Apostle Paul commands. And I will defend the Truth as my Church teaches it against all detractors.
First off, agreed, speculation would be a sandy foundation for our salvation. Secondly, the company in which you group the Catholic Church clearly indicates what you believe about their preservation of the Apostolic witness....I don't share your extreme cynicism and, if I may bring out the dirty word, anti-Catholicism anymore. I used to believe that the Papacy was the Antichrist, as any good follower of the Reformers should, but I'm not so convinced anymore. I've discovered that the modern Catholic Church has a more charitable view towards its Eastern brethren.
Rome was given a place of being "first among equals" because of its political importance. Because of our fallen nature, there has to be a system in place for solving disputes. In Orthodoxy, though, no one bishop (and "Pope" is just an alternative name for the Bishop of Rome) or group of people has the final say. Even the councils are not binding simply because they are convened and some agreement has been reached. There are councils that have been convened, and even better attended then the ones we now accept as definitive, that we do not accept as authoritative. Who has made the final decision as to which councils became authoritative and which did not? No one made that decision. It was the Church at large over time.
I used to be very on board with what you're saying. I very much bought into the theory of the Pentarchy, and Rome's being first among equals. However, I don't think it can be denied that this is a specifically Orthodoxy theory, partially justifiable by history, but not necessarily to a great extent than Rome's own contrary theory. One of the things I think most Orthodox don't respect is that both theories require some development of doctrine...the Catholics acknowledge this, while Orthodox try to act like it was plain as day since the beginning.
To respond to the Augustine quote (appreciate you sharing this, by the way): this reminds me of St. Gregory the Great castigating St. John the Faster for desiring the title "universal bishop." We Orthodox have occasionally used this as evidence that St. Gregory (a Pope of Rome) was denying any primacy. However, my understanding is that St. John wanted to actually be the sole authority of the bishoprics in question, literally reducing the other bishops to figure-head roles. However, even the most advanced form of papal primacy (papal infallibility) does not go this far. Bishops still retain their authority over their Sees; however, Rome remains as a final authority even over them. Big difference from what St. John the Faster was being reprimanded for desiring. It's the same with what St. Augustine is saying...of course all bishops, and not just St. Peter, hold the keys...my priest absolves (looses) me of my sins, and he's not even in communion with Rome. But nowhere do I see "first among equals" in this, just that all bishops have certain powers, and that Peter is first. No more is said.
Here is another quote from the same father:
If the very order of episcopal succession is to be considered, how much more surely, truly, and safely do we number them from Peter himself, to whom, as to one representing the whole Church, the Lord said: Upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not conquer it. Peter was succeeded by Linus, Linus by Clement, Clement by Anacletus, Anacletus by Evaristus .. .
(Letter to Generosus, 53, 1, 2 [c. 400]; Jurgens, FEF, vol. 3, 2)
This from St. Leo the Great (an Orthodox Saint), seems to suggest the opposite of "first among equals":
Although bishops have a common dignity, they are not all of the same rank. Even among the most blessed Apostles, though they were alike in honor, there was a certain distinction of power. All were equal in being chosen, but it was given to one to be preeminent over the others . . .
The care of the universal Church would converge one See of Peter, and nothing should ever be at odds with this head.
(Letter to Bishop Anastasius of Thessalonica, 14, 11; Jurgens, FEF, vol. 3, 270)
And St. Maximus the Confessor:
All in every part . . . who purely and rightly confess the Lord, look directly towards the most holy Roman Church and its confession and faith, as it were to a sun of unfailing light, awaiting from it the bright radiance of our fathers . . . For from the coming down of the Incarnate Word among us, all the churches in every part of the world have possessed that greatest church alone as their base and foundation, seeing that, according to the promise of Christ Our Savior, the gates of hell do never prevail against it, that it possesses the Keys of right confession and faith in Him, that it opens the true and only religion to such as approach with piety, and shuts up and locks every heretical mouth that speaks injustice against the Most High.
(Cited by James Likoudis in Robert Baram, Spiritual Journeys, Boston: St. Paul Books & Media, revised edition, 1988, 206-207; primary source from Migne, Greek Fathers, 91, 137 ff., bold text mine)
And you said:
And so within Orthodoxy we trust that within the confines of the entire Church God is working things out such that the Church herself, as Christ's body in all its members, is being freed from corruption and is always moving toward Christ's fulness through the resurrection power that is at work within Her.
So let us pray, and also that I may be freed from sin and corruption, Lord have mercy.