Validity of Roman Catholic Orders


What is the current view of the OCA on the validity of Roman Catholic orders?

Does the Church believe that the body and blood of Christ are in the Roman Catholic Eucharist as it is in the Orthodox Eucharist?

Does the Church believe that Roman Catholic priests have the grace of the priesthood (and thus RC priests who convert are not “re-ordained”)?

Does the Church believe that those who approach Roman Catholic priests in confession receive sacramental absolution as in the Orthodox Mystery of Confession?

Is Roman Catholicism actually considered a heresy?

What is the view of the Church on the Balamand statement signed by representatives from Roman Catholicism and various Orthodox Jurisdictions where they consider each other as “sister” churches within the Holy Catholic Church?

The reason why I’m asking these questions is because I am confused as to what the Orthodox Church belief is on this issue. Old calendarists re-baptize Roman Catholics, while the Russian Orthodox (Patriarchal) Church receives Roman Catholics solely through Confession and profession of faith. Old calendarists re-ordain clergy from among Roman Catholicism while the Russian Church vests them. Where does the OCA stand on this issue?

Can you help me out on this?


Many thanks for your email. I will preface my answer by noting that I must be brief. Each of the questions you pose, if treated fully, would produce an answer far beyond the scope of an email. In each case I will, however, try to highlight the most important points.

Concerning Roman Catholic orders: Within the OCA Roman Catholic clergy generally are received into the Orthodox Church through “vesting”; that is, they are not ordained anew. While there are some Orthodox Christians today who would not follow this practice, there is evidence that this was in fact the practice in Russia several centuries ago. One must also keep in mind that the practice of the Orthodox Church on this issue has been subject to change from time to time and place to place, often depending on situations appropriate to the setting.

Concerning the Eucharist: Many Orthodox Christians do view the Roman Catholic Eucharist as the Body and Blood of Christ; others today would not subscribe to this. The answer is linked to whether one believes that Roman Catholicism is “with grace” or “devoid of grace.”

Concerning the “grace of the priesthood”: This is partially answered in point 1 above. The answer to this is also intimately linked on whether the Orthodox view Roman Catholicism as a body that is “with grace” or “devoid of grace.” Some Orthodox would say that Roman Catholic priests do possess grace; others would say that they do not. And I have encountered still others who would say that, upon conversion to Orthodoxy, the Holy Spirit “heals all that is infirm,” a phrase found in the prayers of ordination and other sacramental prayers of the Orthodox Church. A thorough examination of this question would also require a preliminary discussion on the meaning of “grace,” as the Orthodox definition of grace is quite distinct from “grace” as defined in Roman Catholic circles.

Concerning sacramental absolution: Your question here is highly theoretical, inasmuch as one might ask why an Orthodox person would approach a Roman Catholic priest for confession and absolution in the first place. Again, a thorough discussion of this would necessarily involve a survey of the different understanding of Confession held by Roman Catholicism and the Orthodox Church. For example, does one confess to the priest, who personally has the “power” to offer absolution and forgiveness, or does one confess to Christ in the presence of the priest, with the priest proclaiming God’s forgiveness at the conclusion.

Concerning whether Roman Catholicism is considered a heresy: Orthodox Christianity in general would view certain aspects of Roman Catholic teaching as heretical. The filioque is the classic example of this, although the Vatican a few years ago has made this addition to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed an option even, if I am not mistaken, for Latin Rite Catholics. Most Byzantine Rite liturgical books I have seen of late either do not include the filioque or include it in brackets, indicating that it is optional. Orthodox Christianity also rejects such teachings as the Immaculate Conception, purgatory, and other uniquely Roman Catholic doctrines.

Orthodox Christianity has not reached a consensus on the Balamand statement, in part because not all of the world’s Orthodox Churches participated in the gathering, and in part because controversy has risen over the “sister church” or “two lung” theory. While there are some Orthodox who would perhaps ascribe to these notions, it is my understanding that Orthodoxy is the Church, not half or part of it. One might argue on a purely historical basis that Roman Catholicism, being the dominant faith of the Western Roman Empire, is the counterpart of the Orthodox Church as the dominant faith of the Eastern Roman Empire. In this sense, one could argue that there are indeed two halves to the whole. However, it is only my opinion that this kind of reasoning is based on the existence of a political reality which has not existed for centuries. Until all of the world’s Orthodox churches come to a consensus on the Balamand statement, it is impossible to state what “the Orthodox Church” as a whole feels about it. [Recent controversy surrounding the Pope’s proposed visit to Greece, especially after his visit to Romania, offers clear evidence that a consensus has yet to be achieved within Orthodoxy.]

I might conclude by stating that some suspicion—or at the very least a certain amount of confusion—of Roman Catholicism still exists in many Orthodox circles. Taking this observation out of the Roman Catholic/Orthodox setting, the recent situation involving Roman Catholicism and Lutheranism might serve as an example. Not long ago, the Roman Catholic/Lutheran dialogue produced a statement of agreement on faith and, if I am correct, certain other essential points. Shortly thereafter, the Vatican announced a variety of new indulgences, restating in the process the role of indulgences, the place of purgatory, the “merits of the saints,” etc. The reaction among many, especially in Lutheran circles, was interesting: having reached agreement on certain essentials, the Vatican then unilaterally, and independently of the dialogue, restated and reemphasized the role of indulgences—one of the very issues that led Luther to seek reform in the Roman Catholicism of his day! Many came away from these two actions confused or suspect. Objectively speaking, this struck me as odd, not to mention something which may have generated more confusion than had existed in those circles in the past.

I apologize that time does not permit me to write on these matters as thoroughly as required; a complete analysis of these questions would fill volumes. But I do hope that the above offers some clarification and, if not, please feel free to write back.