The Orthodox don't really have an effective magisterium. Without an ecumenical council, the Orthodox don't have the capacity to condemn doctrines that the Catholic Church has formalized after the Schism. So even if you can say theologically it is wrong, it seems like you have no capacity to canonically condemn it.
Not so. We have had at least two or three councils that I'm aware of that while not ecumenical councils in the pre schism sense have condemned heresies and whose canons are acknowledged as binding upon the faithful. It is not the "level" of a council that make's canons binding, but its concord with the Holy Spirit. Also consider that Rome has called several of its councils following the schism to be ecumenical councils, a number of the canons of which the Orthodox with or without a council local or ecumenical identify as heretical. Consider the idea of Papal infallibility…heresy or not? Was it approved by an ecumenical council according to Roman lights? So…there you go. What is the value of an exalted "legal" label if it's content is empty or defective?
The Orthodox can't tell me whether I'm really baptized or not. If I were to join an Antiochian parish, I would be received by chrismation. If I were to join a ROCOR parish, I would be re-baptized. So, these two churches, now, are in communion with eachother. If I went to a ROCOR parish as a convert to the Antiochian Orthodox, and presented myself for communion, from the ROCOR perspective, wouldn't I be truly Orthodox and truly un-baptized at the same time? If it is an issue of my Antiochian chrismation would complete anything my Catholic baptism was lacking, why wouldn't the ROCOR just chrismate me instead?
Oh but they can and do. In either circumstance, chrismation or rebatism they are telling you whatever was done for you in the RCC by Orthodox standards was not complete, not adequate. Some bishops prefer a clean unambiguous beginning, hence the standard practice of rebaptism for their dioceses and jurisdictions. For others, if they feel the catechumen's have a good understanding of the basics of the faith and are satisfied with the Trinitarian form of the prior baptism will exercise an economy (a mercy/relaxation of strictness) and receive a catechumen by chrismation.
This issue doesn't exist anymore, but it could again. The fact that it did is what is troublesome. Prior to the reestablishment of communion between ROCOR and Moscow, some Orthodox jurisdictions were in communion with ROCOR and others not, while they were in communion with eachother. So, ROCOR wasn't in communion with Moscow, but it was in communion with Serbia and Jerusalem, and Serbia and Jerusalem were in communion with Moscow. So, how can A, B and C be considered one body, when A is in communion with B, and B with C, but A is not in communion with C?
Take a closer look at church history. This kind of thing in one form or another…where winds of temporal politics and social upheavals create ripples in the life of the Church….they've been going on a long time. But notice eventually, generally sooner than later, the ripples calm. You've got to have a more glacial sense of time with respect to the church and not that of a mayfly.
Divorce and remarriage. I'm not a fan of the annullment system, but allowing remarriage when you acknowledge a previous marriage existed seems like Church sanctioned adultery. The Orthodox use the part in the Bible where Jesus said that if a person gets divorced, except for unfaithfulness, they cause the other spouse to commit adultery, and use this as proof that remarriage is ok. But, Jesus said for unfaithfulness divorce was ok, he never said anything about remarriage being ok. And it seems completely arbitrary to only allow 3 marriages. You'll allow a 2nd and 3rd marriage for a person's weakness, but not a 4th, 5th or 6th? What if the remarriages each took place after the previous spouse died? Would a 4th still be refused even if spouses 1-3 were already dead? If you make exceptions for weakness towards one sexual sin, why not for others?
Did Jesus say that those who had been divorced and then married again to "fix" the situation by divorcing once more? God will condescend to our weakness without excusing our weakness as weakness. As for the third marriage limit I don't know there answer to where that particular number came from, but it has been long established in the Church. Maybe it is arbitrary, but it is not insanely open ended either. Consider that in Orthodoxy these matters are dealt with as medicinally, not so much juridically. It is not a question of breaking a "rule", three marriages maximum, but a question what damage to the soul does multiple marriages do, and how much is the Church willing to tolerate before it says, for the sake of your soul, no more, no more…and because it is medicine, though I don't know in this particular for certain (a priest might), in some unusual circumstance a bishop might feel in a given instance for the good of a soul the limit might be exceeded. And even in cases where the limit has been exceeded, that doesn't mean those involved are forever excluded from the Church. They can be reconciled even if their marriage as such cannot be blessed.
Contraception. 50 years ago, the entire Christian world thought it was sinful. And now some Orthodox bishops say it is ok. Some don't. Besides no longer having a uniform position on this, how can the Orthodox claim to preserve the practices of the Apostolic Church when they have clearly caved on this?
As I recall the pope recently said in certain circumstances like HIV contraceptive protection could be permitted if its usage issued from a desire to decrease risk of often deadly infection and not a disdain for procreation. You must also realize that the Orthodox view on marrital intimacy is not strictly procreative. The Church understands other purposes in sexual encounter between husband and wife than procreation. Certain types of contraception are not inimical to that. That said, I think most Bishops would agree, whatever the other purposes, the sexual act should open to creating new life. That said, a uniform position on this is not an article of the faith. It's basically a question of moral interpretation. Now, if you are talking about abortion, that is a different story…precautions in conceiving new life and destroying new life are entirely different. The Orthodox position on abortion is that it is an unmitigated evil and that it is contrary to the Christian faith.
The papacy. I'm not particularly attached to papal infallibility or supremacy. They could stand or fall, and neither would be a stumbling block to my faith. But when you read things from some of the Fathers, St. Maximos the Confessor, for example, it sounds like he didn't leave any room for discussion: if you're not in communion with the bishop of Rome, you're NOT in the Church. I know this view was not across the board in the 1st 1000 years, but to say it was non-existant is not historically accurate either. I've read a lot of Orthodox say that the Pope can't be head of the Church because Jesus is the head. It sounds real nice, but I could say that a church doesn't need a Patriarch, a diocese doesn't need a bishop, a parish doesn't need a priest as head, because Jesus is the only head. I think the issues like there was between ROCOR and the other jurisdictions, or one bishop saying one thing and another saying another on crucial moral issues like contraception, are a symptom of there not being one visible head in the Orthodox church. Don't get me wrong, I like the idea that Jesus is the only head of the Church, but if he is, why doesn't the Orthodox have a united voice on these issues? Shouldn't one visible body have one visible head?
With respect to St. Maximos, consider the time. His statements regard Rome are contingent upon that time. What was the state of Orthodoxy then. It was under siege in the East among the hierarchy but in Rome there was a faithful champion. Has this case been necessarily true at all times prior or since?
As for the objection about the someone being the "head" of the Church instead of Jesus, you may have heard a not quite terminologically correct expression of the idea. The problem, as I understand it, is regarding the Pope as the "Vicar" of Christ. This is contrary to Orthodox theology. We cannot say the Church has no need of bishops, etc. because Christ is the head of the Church. He is, but that headship finds its iconic expression in the Church through its hierarchical organs. What does St. Ignatius the Holy Martyr say about the role of the Bishop and the clergy? This must be true of every Orthodox bishop. If only one Bishop in the world is the touchstone and font of the faith for the faithful, then the whole of the episcopacy is subverted. There remains only one bishop, the pope, and all the rest are reduced to the status of suffragins, administrative deputies and not true bishops in their own right. The local church as the full expression of the faith and economy of grace is destroyed in favor of the universal. This cannot be.
In the meantime we have to deal with human weakness, even among bishops. If there is so issue about which there is significant difference that touches upon the faith, then that is why we have councils. We have never, not even in Apostolic times looked to one infallible leader's voice, but rather understood that in council we may most clearly discern, as a Church, the voice and will of the Holy Spirit in the governance and teaching of the Church. The pattern is simple: the council deliberates its examination of the Tradition, issues its decision of the matter at hand and that news is delivered unto the faithful. If those decrees/canons are met with joy, if they restore peace to the Church in a reasonable amount of time, then we know, the Spirit has spoken and those conciliar canons are binding on all Orthodox Christians. If peace is not restored and the conflict continues, or even escalates, we know that either the council was a false council, defending a heresy, or one whose work was incomplete and not yet done. We may look at the 7th council as an example of this. The iconoclastic controversy lasted over 150 years. The iconoclastic bishops tried to conceive a council to settle the matter definitively for the whole church…their words settled nothing, the controversy raged on for years and years, until a new council was called that defended the icons and reaffirmed the Orthodox faith. The matter was then settled. The people accepted the ruling and canons, and to this day the whole Orthodox Church celebrates the feast of Orthodoxy in commemoration of this triumph of the faith over the iconoclastic heresy. Or as the Scriptures say, "deep calls to deep" Councils and the laity exhibit a concord about the truth of the faith because the Holy Spirit in both answer to and affirm that truth. If the council's decisions do not resonate with the rest of the Church…then the council is off, not concord with the Spirit, and is disregarded.
Ecumenical councils. The Orthodox say a council is only ecumenical if the whole Church accepts it. Well, the non-Chalcedonians were part of the Church before Chalcedon, the Nestorians were part of the Church before Ephesus, so the whole Church didn't accept these councils. By the Orthodox definition of what makes a council ecumenical, these councils should not be considered ecumenical, and yet they are. The only answer I have ever gotten from the Orthodox before on this is that it is a mystery.
See above. For the councils you mention…consider the first one in which the heresy of Judizing was condemned. Prior to that council were the Judizers considered within the formal boundaries of the Church? Yes, I do believe. What about after if they did not repent of the error? Did all Judizer's repent? What of those who did not?
With respect to Chalcedon, this is something of a special case in a couple of respects. First not all the local Churches got to participate in it. A number of the Syrian Churches I believe, due to historical difficulties at the time could not attend. They neither approved it or approved it, though in later years they have tended to identify themselves more with the nonchalcedonians who rejected it. With respect to the Coptic churches the issues get more complicated. They rejected what they considered to be dangerously Nestorian leaning Christological language in favor of older Christological statements, while some of them advocated a stance Orthodoxy rejected called monophysitim…sort of a heresy in the other direction. Within about 50 years the Orthodox had a supplemental council that address the interpretive issues in the language of Chalcedon to hedge against any Nestorian interpretation. To complicate matters, Egypt was feeling its national legs again, and acceptance Chalcedon become something of a shibboleth for both sides. The Emperor sent in his legions and it got very ugly, very brutal in the most unchristian of ways. The die was cast, the Orthodox regard the Copts as falling into the heresy of Monophysitism. The Copts say they reject monphysitim but accept the Christological understanding called miaphysitism. That point aside though, even with respect to the faith issues that arose in following centuries, whatever Orthodoxy has affirmed in its councils, the Copts have affirmed without the need of a council. And if you look further into Ethiopia you make another discovery that provides another way look upon the nonchalcedonian experience. Basically, what you encounter is a kind of situation fossilization from before the times of Chalcedon. That is to say, you can find absolutely Orthodox priests and bishops theologically speaking, and then find in another place those who teach ideas condemned later in Orthodoxy as heretical…ideas like monothelitism, or even variations on Apollinarianism. For these Christians, these issues remain without authoritative definition within the Church, and absent that they tolerate these variances within their ecclesial body, even if the more Orthodox don't always like it.
That said, it should be noted with respect to the faith the issues surrounding Chalcedon both theologically, and historically are given place in Orthodox practice. We recognize the human difficulties in sorting it all out. So if one of the Coptic faith wishes to become Orthodox, by canon there is no rebaptism, no chrismation, but rather acceptance based on a simple Orthodox confession of the faith.
This one is entirely subjective on my part. When I go into an Orthodox church for liturgy, something feels missing. When I go to my parish, it feels complete. I attribute it to my church being in communion with Rome, but that's just my assumption, I don't know if that is what is really causing that feeling. But then again, when it comes to doctrine, I guess I'm not feeling all that complete where I am, or I wouldn't be recurringly drawing towards Orthodoxy. But still, when the doctrine is not on my mind, something feels complete in the liturgy at my church where it feels empty in Orthodox churches. I don't know how to explain that.
Maybe it's largely a question of familiarity…what is known and comfortable. Maybe, there is an issue in the available Orthodox parishes that would not be present in an Orthodox parish elsewhere. It might be worth an experimental visit. Pick a well regarded Orthodox parish somewhere else in the nation (maybe even a monastery) and visit there. I can't say our feelings aren't important and that we should pay them no attention, but then we should be cautious of both being guided by feelings or reacting too quickly to them before we've had opportunity to examine from whence they derive.
I know for myself…my last, "I'm not sure what I am missing" feeling dissolved the moment I heard the Valaam Brotherhood Choir singing Xristos Anesthi. From that moment on I knew I was leaving nothing behind that have so much riches laid out in it's place…but that's me, and I was coming from a Protestant Tradition to Orthodoxy, the gulf between where I was and where I was headed was pretty stark in most respects.