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Why did God allow the schisms of His Apostolic Church?


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#1 Jan Sunqvist

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Posted 21 January 2012 - 06:51 AM

If we say that the Church (ONE holy Catholic and Apostolic) is the body of Christ, and therefore the Church is perfect (even if obviously Her members are individually not), why did God allow Schism?

I can understand the phenomenon of Protestantism and can see it as taking aspects of Christianity and essentially creating a somewhat new religion. But I don't view the Roman Catholic nor the Oriental Orthodox Churches in that way. I still see them as somehow part of this one Holy and Apostolic Church as they clearly descend from the Apostles.

I am sure this has been discussed ad nauseum in one way or another, but I still don't understand why did God allow this? It seems to my small and prideful mind that if there was one crucial miracle that he 'ought' to have performed, that should be keeping his apostolic Church intact. (Despite being drawn to Orthodoxy the most, I just cannot subscribe that the RC and OO are not the body of Christ as well. But then that would mean that different organs of that ONE Church and ONE Body of Christ are not functioning harmoniously...)

How does one affirm the correctness of Eastern Orthodoxy, and the perfectness of the Body of Christ, while at the same time not completely and absolutely exclude RO and OO from being part of the Body Of Christ?

#2 Kosta

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Posted 21 January 2012 - 07:25 AM

We believe there is only a falling away from the one Body. Historically their have been schisms within the body but were eventually healed .
The Assyrian Church was outside the empire and pretty much subscribed to the Antiochan school. This church was enstranged from the roman churches but there still existed a loose unity, a loss of communion occured after the Nestorian heresy.
Basically the same with the OO churches, attempts at reconcilliation were made, but as these controversies were centered in the periphery of the empire, once these territories were lost in the muslim expansion, reconcilliation became hopeless. Not much communication and interaction could take place when communities were located in foreign territories.

As the empire weakened the latin Church began looking west for its protection widening the chasm between Rome and the eastern Patriarchates. Once Constantinople fell to the Ottomans that too severed all relations.

The St Thomas Christians of India were also isolated from the empire, a resumption of communion should have been easy to attain in our modern times of mass media and communications, unfortunately Portuguese missionaries destroyed this. All indian christians were liturgically united till the 17th century, the meddling of the latinizing missionaries in the 17th century has divided this community into numerous sects, they have continued to splinter in the past century. Even unification with the pope should have easily been attained in the 17th century but the portuguese instead tried to latinize them and considered them heretics. This caused these christians to make alliances with the OO, splintering them to 3 different groups aligned with Rome, atleast one with the Assyrian church and 2 maybe more affiliated with the OO.

#3 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 21 January 2012 - 08:56 AM

I would not say that God allows schisms specifically. God allows man to exercise his free will, including his freedom to be wrong, to deviate from the truth, and to prefer his own ideas to the teachings of His Church. It is as if God says, 'you have chosen something else - very well, rely on that instead'. It is often said, correctly, that there can only be schisms from the Church, not schisms in it. The Church is, at all times, One.

#4 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 21 January 2012 - 01:16 PM

Whatever God gives us, we are going to try and bend it to our own purposes. That is what got Adam and Eve in trouble in the first place, remember? Judaism was/is not a monolithic theology, there are a wide range of beliefs that find a home under the "Shema Yisrael". Remember the Pharisees and the Saducees? The Saduccees did not believe in resurrection. The Jews were "held together" not by right belief (other than the Shema Yisrael), but by racial/tribal/political forces, even in Christ's day.

According to the holy Apostle Paul: "For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you." (1 Corinthians 11:17-19)

Orthodoxy (right worship, true doctrine, proper glory) upholds the treasury of the Apostolic Witness to which it has been entrusted. When others try to add or take away from that Apostolic Witness, to change it to suit their own purposes or views, we take exception and recognize it just as the Apostle commends us to.

And finally we have the word of our Lord Himself who says: "And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector." (Matthew 18:17)

This is not a new problem, even the early Church had to deal with it.

"Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them." (Romans 16:17)

"Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." (1 Corinthians 1:10)

"… for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?" (1 Corinthians 3:3)

Man those Corinthians were a factious bunch!

Herman the hopefully not too factious Pooh

#5 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 21 January 2012 - 03:19 PM

It is a basic principle of Orthodox ecclesiology that the Church as the Body of Christ always remains intact and One. Just as it is impossible to detract from Whom God is, so the Church always remains as the life giving Body of Christ that it is.

However since the Body is also composed of human members then these can retreat from the Light of Christ or even fall away. This isn't what Christ desires but it is what He allows due to the allowance of our free will on His part.

In Christ
-Fr Raphael

#6 Jan Sunqvist

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Posted 21 January 2012 - 04:05 PM

It is a basic principle of Orthodox ecclesiology that the Church as the Body of Christ always remains intact and One. Just as it is impossible to detract from Whom God is, so the Church always remains as the life giving Body of Christ that it is.

However since the Body is also composed of human members then these can retreat from the Light of Christ or even fall away. This isn't what Christ desires but it is what He allows due to the allowance of our free will on His part.

In Christ
-Fr Raphael



If we emphasize oneness, perfectness and the infallibility of the Church/Body of Christ to an extreme, then it would follow that those who have 'retreated from it' are not at all part of it anymore. But that cannot be true, and I don't think that any one of the Apostolic Churches believes this in absolute terms, because they still recognize each others' sacraments to some extent at least.

So then, if one does not subscribe to the belief that EOC or RCO or OOC is the only one that is the Body of Christ and the others are therefore not, because they fell away from dogmatic perfection, what is one left with theologically? Can one come to define the precise elements of the Church as the Body of Christ which are always One and infallible, such that one can affirm the absolute correctness of EOC doctrine, while still allowing for the other Apostolic Churches to be within that Body to some degree?

Also, in response to your last sentence, Fr Raphael, God allows our free will to take us astray if we so wish, but this is individually, no? The problem here is the whole part of the Church 'going astray' or 'falling away' as you say, but theologically, this should be impossible? This is the reason why I was asking why God allows this? (Again, for those who subscribe to the Eastern Orthodox Church being the only one that is the ONE, and this in absolute terms to the absolute exclusion of others, obviously this is not a problem...)

#7 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 21 January 2012 - 04:17 PM

Jan Sunqvist wrote:

If we emphasize oneness, perfectness and the infallibility of the Church/Body of Christ to an extreme, then it would follow that those who have 'retreated from it' are not at all part of it anymore. But that cannot be true, and I don't think that any one of the Apostolic Churches believes this in absolute terms, because they still recognize each others' sacraments to some extent at least.


This isn't an extreme view Jan. It accords with the traditional Orthodox view of the Church.

In Christ
-Fr Raphael

#8 Jan Sunqvist

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Posted 21 January 2012 - 06:34 PM

Jan Sunqvist wrote:



This isn't an extreme view Jan. It accords with the traditional Orthodox view of the Church.

In Christ
-Fr Raphael


I guess I am doing a bad job with wording things properly. I don't mean that this is an extreme view in itself. I meant to ask about the 'extreme' understanding of what this doctrine means. If we say that there is some Grace and the Light of Christ in RCC and OOC then this is not the 'extreme' interpretation of this. As I said, since some mutual recognition of the validity of each others' sacraments exists, this I would say is not an extreme interpretation. But there are those who also say that Baptism outside of EOC is not valid at all etc, so I would consider this an extreme interpretation... Maybe... I obviously don't know. And the story of someone baptised in RCC who visited Mt Athos and was told by a clairvoyant monk to get baptised in EOC, comes to mind (this I read somewhere on this forum)

#9 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 21 January 2012 - 06:47 PM

As Fr Raphael has said, ‘to an extreme’ is not an appropriate expression here: there are no ‘degrees’ of the Church’s Oneness. But there are degrees of falling away from the Church as various Christian denominations have shown, and such falling away can also be incremental as the Church of England has shown.

Orthodox are bound to believe that the Church is ‘the only one that is the Body of Christ’. What is left for the various denominations is a matter for them; the Church has the fullness of Truth though not a monopoly of it, and the various denominations have truth to some degree or they would not be Christian at all. The precise elements of the Church which are One (and so infallible) are its faith as expressed in the Creed, and the definitions of faith found in the Councils, in her service books and in the holy icons, together with being in communion with one of the canonical jurisdictions.

It has been individuals who have perpetrated heresy and collected a following. No ‘part’ of the Church can go astray because of the Church’s Oneness, but some of her members can go astray.

#10 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 21 January 2012 - 09:00 PM

What I mean is that in Orthodox ecclesiology there is One Church; not degrees of the Church. This latter idea is modern and sees doctrine, piety and the actual lived expression of the Church itself to be only incidental 'layers' over some sort of more genuine 'interior' and apparently shared level of one faith. This idea though in its more general expression in today's world is counted as heretical by Orthodoxy for it fails to understand what the Church is- that its doctrine and piety are identical expressions of its faith- and instead replaces it, for the sake of a unity we see as being merely human- with the idea that all such expressions of faith are incidental. Following this logic there truly is no reason why we should stop at the RC or OO. As many who follow this way of thiinking already do, we should to be consistent draw the lines not only at various expressions of Christianity; but then to religious expression in general; and finally to any sort of human expression. By which time we have arrived at a 'church' with a myriad of contradictory beliefs or even no belief at all.

The Church can cover with Her grace all who are judged to have come to Her seeking to share Her faith. This is often called economia. This doesn't mean though that Orthodoxy recognizes that there is an ecclesiological reality beyond the One Church. It just means, as I said, that the Church with Her multitude of grace can cover those who wish to share in Her life. This is done for a pastoral reason. But it also points to the central fact that the Church is the central fountain of Christ's inalterable grace. For it is from this source that She covers all who come to Her in whatever manner She deems appropriate according to personal disposition and circumstance.

Practically speaking this means that some are baptized in order to enter Orthodoxy; some are chrismated, some are received by confession. But this is the same grace of the Church operating to engraft the person into the Church - Christ's Body; and not some sort or acknowledgement that the Church exists apart from Herself.

In Christ
-Fr Raphael

#11 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 22 January 2012 - 12:09 AM

"Valid" is NOT a valid Orthodox term. We do not "recognize" any "validity" of sacraments outside the Orthodox Church. What is done is that certain rites performed may be "fulfilled" or completed within the Church as when a person who received a heterodox baptism is accepted into the Church through Chrismation. It is that the Holy Spirit provides what is lacking in the heterodox rite, not that we recognize the previous baptism is somehow "valid", only that the proper forms were used.

#12 Panayiotis Steele

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Posted 22 January 2012 - 02:12 AM

"Valid" is NOT a valid Orthodox term. We do not "recognize" any "validity" of sacraments outside the Orthodox Church. What is done is that certain rites performed may be "fulfilled" or completed within the Church as when a person who received a heterodox baptism is accepted into the Church through Chrismation. It is that the Holy Spirit provides what is lacking in the heterodox rite, not that we recognize the previous baptism is somehow "valid", only that the proper forms were used.


And then, only in the spirit of oikonomia.

#13 Jan Sunqvist

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Posted 22 January 2012 - 04:38 AM

Fr Raphael, thank you for the clarification.

#14 Bryan J. Maloney

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Posted 28 January 2012 - 05:45 PM

I was baptized Roman Catholic. My baptism had no grace. Zero. I was accepted into the Church by Chrismation, not because my baptism was "partially grace filled", or "valid", but because it was the economic judgment of my Priest and Metropolitan that it be done in this fashion.

#15 Jan Sunqvist

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Posted 28 January 2012 - 06:45 PM

Hi Bryan,

sorry to ask you such a personal question. How do you know your RC baptism had 'zero' grace?

#16 Owen Jones

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Posted 01 February 2012 - 02:05 PM

The answer to the question lies within. A man who is willing to and learned to be at peace with all of God's creation shows us the way to unity, and he also tends to engender a response in others, either one of attraction or enmity. In the case of enmity, it is because the life of the holy man, just his very existence, is a living condemnation of the sinner. He doesn't need to open his mouth even. But the man who is filled with ill-temper and resentments will hate him just for who he is. Because his very existence constitutes an attack on the bitter man's very existence.

So if we want Church unity, we must first find that unity within ourselves, and demonstrate it in our lives, and perhaps it is best to even avoid talking about the problem, because as soon as we talk about it as an external problem, or in terms of sociological or historical phenomena, we have begun to contribute to the problem.

#17 Angelos

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Posted 01 February 2012 - 02:25 PM

If I'm not mistaken it is the belief of the Orthodox Church that salvation does exist outside the Orthodox Church. After all God saves who He wants to save and to claim that someone who loves Jesus and does his/her best to follow His commandments is NOT saved because he happened to be born in Italy or France or the US (where the mostly ethnic Orthodox Churches do not dominate) for me is just wrong and not biblical.

For me the body of Christ includes ALL Christians who love Jesus and try their hardest to follow His commandments (Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant alike). After all, one can not love Jesus without the help of the Holy Spirit.

#18 Father David Moser

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Posted 01 February 2012 - 03:44 PM

For me the body of Christ includes ALL Christians who love Jesus and try their hardest to follow His commandments (Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant alike). After all, one can not love Jesus without the help of the Holy Spirit.


This protestant heresy of the "invisible Church" which seems to have appeared in a couple of places in the forum recently is a complete distortion of the dogma of the nature of the Body of Christ. The Church is One and the Church is visible. In order to be saved a person must be joined to the Church, because the Church itself by definition the Body of Christ of which we are members. Whether this can happen by the grace of God after one has rejected the visible Church all his life, is up to God alone and not my concern. My concern is that the doors of the Church are always open and that we do all we can to welcome those who come seeking Christ to give them every opportunity to join themselves to the Church.

Some commentary on this topic
Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky, "Is there an Invisible Church"

Alexei Khomiakov, "The Church is One"

Fr David Moser

#19 Father David Moser

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Posted 01 February 2012 - 05:06 PM

More commentary:
I also recommend reading "Christianity or the Church" by the new martyr Archbishop Hilarion Troitsky of which an excerpt is quoted here

"I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church." Thus every Orthodox Christian confesses his faith in the great truth of the Church. But it is hardly possible to point out any other article of the Symbol of Faith which is less understood by the heart of man who has read it with his lips than is the ninth article wherein the truth of the Church is expressed. This is, in part, understandable: for in the ninth article of the Symbol of Faith, man confesses his bond with the visible community of the followers of Christ. By this, in these short words of confession, he agrees with all the truths taught by the Church, which is acknowledged as the custodian of Christ's teaching. From the practical side, the agreement is given, once and for all, to be submissive to all those laws by which the Church reaches the aims of its existence, and according to which it is governed as a society living on earth. Thus it seems that we will not err if we express the thought that the truth of the Church, above all other truths, touches the very life of each Christian, defining not only his beliefs, but also his life. To acknowledge the Church means more than just dreaming about Christ. It means living in a Christian manner and following the path of love and self-denial. The truth of the Church, therefore, is contrary to those principles of life which have slowly crept into the consciousness and attitude even of the Russian religious community, though for the most part, of course, among the so-called intellectual society.


I strongly recommend following the link and reading the whole work as there is quite a bit more than just this excerpt there.

Fr David Moser

#20 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 01 February 2012 - 05:19 PM

I presume we do not say that people who are not members of the Orthodox Church cannot be saved. What we do say is that this does not mean that such people as may be saved are somehow members of the Church. We would also say that salvation is not guaranteed for members of the Church. Are these three statements correct?




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