am not really concerned at this point about becoming a Priest. I.e., it is not at all a determining factor of which Church I ultimately decide to enter.
Good. Practicality should not be the first concern one has over a decision like this.
I do pray, and I do hope that God will lighten my path, but I still hesitate to base my decision upon a "feeling." I was a Protestant for the first 26 years of my life, and moved between various "movements" within Protestantism...all moves motivated by a "feeling" I thought I had from God. I'm too wary at this point to trust my feelings, as I realize they change frequently.
"Feelings" can be a double edged sword - they can intuitively tell us when we're right, but also can be very deceptive. Most of us are still very much spiritual infants, and lack the maturity and inherent powers of discernment to be able to put much stock in intuitions like this.
What I'm looking for is truth. In many ways, Orthodoxy seems more similar to the earliest Church.
In what ways do you think the Orthodox Church is "more similar". Is there anything which you don't think is similar? I'd suggest also asking yourself those same questions in regard to Roman Catholicism (in what ways is it similar to the early Church, and in which ways is it disimilar).
However, the Papacy appeals to me in that it provides a final, absolute voice in matters of disagreement. Of course, the Orthodox argue that it provides not that, but rather a final voice subject to the whims of one man, regardless of how good a man he may be.
It (the Papacy) seems to be a pretty bad trade for Christ and the Holy Spirit (Christ as head of the Church, the Holy Spirit helping God-bearing saints and elders discern, and keeping those who are watchful on the safe path.)
On practical grounds, the Papacy can seem
like a "good solution." As we all know from experiences of different working relationships, it is much easier
to have one person in charge with autocratic powers, than to have several more or less equal heads having to actually discuss anything (and come to a resolution.) I stress, easier
But is "ease" the ultimate deciding factor? While it may comfort someone to believe there is an infallible man in some city who can make everything right, what about if
that man is not in fact "infallible"? Well when examining RC-ism, that question has to come up, since it wasn't until Vatican Council I
that "papal infallibility" became a dogma of the Roman Catholic Church. Doesn't it seem odd to you that something so central to a given ecclessiology, would take over 1900 years to be definitively spoken about? Equally strange, is the spectacle of an "Ecumenical Council" (which is how the Roman Catholics view Vatican I) bestowing infallibility upon the Pope - it's something of a paradox, since you have a doctrine that ulitmatly rests upon the decision of a Council, which basically says that the Pope doesn't need a Council - he can act unilaterially and be a Council unto himself!
There is also a certain agnosticism inherent to the RC desire for an "infallible", almost oracular Pope in Rome. Do they not truly believe that Christ is with us, "until the end of the age"? That the Holy Spirit will "lead you into all truth"? While ultimatly you need someone to give some kind of unifying guidance, to sit at the "head of the table" when a group of any sort gathers, which is closer to what you read about in the book of Acts (at the Council of Jerusalem), or in the records of the original 7 Oecumenical Synods...
- Gathering of more or less equal persons, with perhaps one or a few chief people sitting in the head positions at the table (in the case of Jerusalem, while St.Peter played an important role, it was St.James who ultimatly acted as primate over the assembly), discussing matters in the Holy Spirit...
- or a man who, if he wants to, can forego even the appearance of such conciliar gatherings, and "define matters of doctrine" unilitaterally, and such that they will be binding upon the consciences of the whole Church?
It seems to me that ultimatly all the Papacy does is immortalize error (thus putting modern Roman Catholics in the weird position of starting to "know better" and wanting re-union with the Orthodox Church, but not being able to easily disavow certain abbherant ideas without totally losing face).
Has anyone read The Russian Church and the Papacy by Vladimir Soloviev? I am halfway through it at this point. He was an Orthodox priest, but wrote this book in support of the Papacy, arguing that only by submitting to Rome could the Church ever regain complete unity.
This is perhaps not the best book to read for an "Orthodox perspective." If anything, there are many Orthodox who insist the man was a Sophiast heretic (the "sophiast" heresy is a strange abbheration that appeared in Russian Orthodox circles in the late 19th/early 20th century, and which to some degree hasn't totally been squashed.) At the very least, I don't think his views (which reflect a certain set in the Russian
Orthodox milieu at that period, typically the intelligensia and upper classes, who were heavily influenced by Roman Catholicism and in some cases Protestant thought) can be said to even represent Orthodoxy in his age (even in Russia), let alone over the last 2000 years.
Though not a perfect book, you'd be better served reading something like THE PRIMACY OF PETER : Essays in Ecclesiology and the Early Church
(edited by John Meyendorff), published by St.Vladimir's Press than Soloviev (if you want something more representative of Orthodoxy's view of the Papacy or St.Peter's place amongst the Apostles.)
This variance of thought within Orthodoxy has made the search difficult. Within Catholicism, that is ideally eliminated, but in practicality I'm finding the same problems. There are numerous bishops and theologians who dissent from the Church, and on some issues, it's difficult to tell what the Church teaches, or whether She has contradicted herself over the centuries.
imho, the claim that the Papacy is a great unifier is only good if you're more bent on appearances than essence. While the Pope can keep everyone nominally in "communion" with him that pride themselves on being "Catholic", it's painfully obvious that without things not inherent to the Church (Church having control over temporal matters, like the "two swords" of the medieval Popes guaranteed, or Crusades and Inquisitions, etc.) the Papacy's ability to act as any sort of real "unifying force" is very
limited (and in our age where almost all of the RCC's temporal power is gone, fast vanishing.)
Really, what does it mean if a given Bishop is willing to kiss the Pope's ring, if his whole business is promoting liberalism and his own extravagant interpretations of things like "Vatican II"? This is why in the end, while the Orthodox Church for the sake of convienience has guidelines in given synods on how they are organized (and who their primate is; like in the Russian Church Abroad, we have a Metropolitan who has primacy in the Synod, and then there are also Archbishops, and then the rest of the Bishops), when it comes right down to it, the Church is not dependent upon these. For what is essential to the Church's ecclessiology, is the presence of the true confession of the faith, and communion with one's Bishop (this is very fundamental, and was explicitly articulated in the writings of one of the disciples of the Apostles, St.Ignatius of Antioch).
Seraphim Reeves - P.S. : some plurality in thought is ok