"Orthodox do not follow the Pope because of our understanding of his "primacy" as successor to St. Peter whereas you feel he is the first in honor among equals (the Eastern Patriarchs), thus the Great Schism of 1054.
I was taught you broke from us but I guess you were taught that we broke from you, is that accurate?"
We believe that the church is best expressed as a communion of local churches, each of which, in communion with the others, is the full expression of the church in one particular place, gathered around its bishop. Above that level, structures are administratively convenient, and have developed along the synodal lines in most local churches. We view the Pope as the senior most Bishop in Christendom, and as the first among equals in the event of an ecumenical council of all the Bishops of the Church, but we don't believe that this gives him either (1) universal jurisdiction over the remainder of the church outside the Latin Church or (2) personal infallibility in matters of faith or doctrine.
Some Orthodox would characterize the schism as the breakaway of Rome from the remainder of the Patriarchates. Others would characterize it as a mutual falling away from each other.
" The Nicene Creed - is it this phrase that you disagree with [The Holy Spirit] "... who proceeds from the Father and the Son" - I guess the claim is that we added it. When did this occur and why is this such a point of contention?"
It was added at the local council of Toledo in Spain to combat the arian heresy among Western barbarian converts to Christianity -- the idea being that to elevate the Son by making him also the source of the Spirit would be to denigrate the Arian position that the Son was less than God. It wasn't added to the Creed recited at Rome until the 11th Century, right before the schism.
Orthodox object for a few reasons: (1) the creed is a universal matter that was formulated by two ecumenical councils and therefore one local church does not have the authority to change the formulation without the approbation of the entire fullness of the Church; (2) the Orthodox have tended to view the "and the Son" formulation as tending towards a view that the Spirit is somehow subordinate to the Father and Son. In recent years, there has been a reformulation by the Vatican of what it understands the "and the Son" phrase to actually mean, and this has met with some warmth in some Orthodox circles. Nevertheless, it is difficult to believe that Orthodoxy and Catholicism can be reunited without having a uniform wording of the Creed, at least in translated languages (ie, it may be permissible for the Latin to read slightly differently from the Greek original, but it's very unclear as to why there should be two English versions of the Creed, for example).
"Do you believe in the concept of "purgatory"? And if not, do you at least a cleansing or santification is needed before we can enter heaven [... nothing unclean shall enter heaven]?"
We do not conceive of "Purgatory" as a place, we do not have the concept of "Indulgences", and we do not conceive of the purification as a necessary act of the divine justice to exact justice/punishment for sins that have already been forgiven through sacramental confession. Having said that, we do believe that our sins leave their mark on our persons, and we need to be pure to enter the divine presence -- therefore there is a final purification before entering the divine presence, before becoming completely "divinized" in Christ. Some Orthodox writers have conceived of this as a "River of Fire".
"If I understand correctly you guys do pray to saints including the Blessed Virgin Mary. What other titles and roles do you reserve for her?"
Yes, probably a lot more than many contemporary Roman Catholics do. The most common title for Mary in our tradition is "Theotokos" (Greek: God-bearer, often more loosely translated as "Mother of God"). Another common epithet is "Panagia" (Greek: All-Holy). We also have a common prayer to the Theotokos that is very strikingly similar to the well-known "Hail Mary" of Roman Catholicism. The Theotokos figures prominently in our prayer -- both personal and liturgical -- more so than what I experienced as a RC for most of my life.
"Do we share the EXACT same idea about the REAL PRESENCE of JESUS CHRIST in the Eucharist in that it truly is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord and Savior [we call this Transubstantiation]?"
Yes, but we don't get into the Thomistic metaphysical categories as to substance, and therefore don't use the term "transubstantiation". We believe that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ in the Divine Liturgy, truly and really, not merely symbolically or representationally. How that happens is not of interest to us, while the fact that it does happen is firmly believed by us.
"I have seen some Orthodox claim that the Catholic Church is in apostasy -- is that true??? Is this for all Catholics or just Roman Catholics?"
Orthodoxy teaches that it cannot make any conclusions about the ecclesiastical character of groups that exist outside the visible communion of the Orthodox Church. Therefore, the Orthodox Church, as a whole, makes no statement about this one way or the other. As a result, individual Orthodox clergy and laity have different views about the nature of Catholicism -- ranging from the apostasy view you note above to the "separated brothers" view.
"Do your Eastern Patriarchs seek unity within the Universal Church [unity with Rome]?"
The Orthodox Churches have been active participants in the international dialogue between Rome and Orthodoxy since the 1960s. In the 1990s we began to see problems emerge due to the resurrection of the Eastern Catholic Churches in Eastern Europe, and the resulting tension with the Orthodox Church there about ownership of church properties that were wrongfully given to the Orthodox Church by the communists after WWII as a result of the fact that the Greek Catholics there largely supported the German/Austrian invaders in that campaign. This has led, in particular, to a great deal of tension between the Patriarchate of Moscow and the Roman Church. Right now, the dialogue seems to be at an impasse, but noone on the Orthodox side (or, I believe, on the Catholic side) is calling it off ... it is simply going more slowly than one might have thought it would. The reemergence of Orthodoxy as a religious and cultural force in Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union is having a definite impact on the dialogue, and it remains to be seen what the stamp of this development may ultimately be on the overall ecumenical picture between Orthodoxy and Rome.
"What do you guys think of the current Pope, John Paul II? Even though we are in schism from each other, do the Eastern Patriarchs still see him as the "big brother" or "first in honor"?"
He's not the first in honor in the Orthodox Church right now, no, due to the separation. He clearly is the most visible bishop in Christendom. I think many Orthodox have a guarded admiration for him. I myself think he is a holy man, but he can behave in a political manner as has become the custom of his office.
"I think you also practice the seven sacraments like Catholics do, right?"
Yes, but we don't count them up like that. In practice, we recognize the same seven that Roman Catholics do.
"What do you guys think of the Rosary -- will you or do you use it?"
Some Orthodox have been known to use it. The style of prayer, however, iwhile perfectly legitimate to the Western Christian tradition, s not common in Orthodoxy, as it tends to lead one to focus on mental images of events in the life of Christ and the Theotokos -- whereas in Orthodoxy one is generally taught to try to avoid images when at prayer. Orthodoxy has numerous prayers to the Theotokos which are more "in sync" with the Orthodox tradition, including the Akathistos Hymn, which is sung throughout Great Lent, and the Paraklesis Service of Supplication to the Theotokos, which is said in particular during the Theotokos Fast in August (the two weeks preceding the Feast of the Dormition/Assumption). The typical daily prayer manuals also feature numerous prayers to the Theotokos during morning and evening prayer.