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Catholic Perspective on the Eastern Orthodox Part II

Updated: Feb 14, 2022

By Luke Lancaster

Immaculate Conception of Mary

The Immaculate Conception of Mary states that Mary was protected from all sin (original and personal) from the very first moment of her existence (i.e. conception) in order to be a pure and holy vessel for God the Son - Jesus. Although Adam and Eve's original sin resulted in every person being alienated from God (i.e. born outside of the Garden of Eden), Mary was the exception. This was because of a special grace given to her by God to prepare her for her mission as the Mother of God. The Orthodox believe that Mary is “all holy” or “immaculate” - meaning that sin never had a foothold on her. This is basically what Catholicism teaches! Nevertheless, certain members of Eastern Orthodoxy do not believe in the Immaculate Conception of Mary. They might object and say that Adam and Eve's original sin was contracted by Mary. The issue here might be attributed to the different wording utilized by the Eastern Orthodox in their description of original sin, calling it the "ancestral curse". Both Catholics and Orthodox are basically the same in their doctrinal belief of original sin, they just seemingly differ in the semantics. The Orthodox hold that Mary died, which is a consequence of Adam and Eve's ancestral curse, so certain people may suggest because of this that Mary contracted original sin and was not immaculate from the first moment of her conception.

Defending the Immaculate Conception

First, Mary is portrayed by Scripture as the pure and holy Tabernacle or golden Ark of the Covenant which housed the presence of God Almighty. The pure Ark of the Covenant is described in 2 Samuel 6 in the same language as Mary is in Luke 1. Both the Ark and Mary were the only two things/beings overshadowed by the sinless presence of God Almighty, so Mary is mind-blowingly awesome. This connection was seen throughout the early Church, such as by St. Hippolytus, St. Gregory the Wonder Worker, and St. Athanasius. Such a connection between the Ark and Mary naturally made it unthinkable to suggest that God dwelled so intimately with a tainted vessel. So, Mary was and is the perfect vessel to house God. Second, since children imitate their parents, then the child Jesus naturally would have imitated a sinful mother if Mary had been a sinner. So, it would only make sense to suggest that the sinless child Jesus would have imitated a sinless mother. Third, in view of Mary’s purity and holiness, the question naturally arose: when did this happen to her? Catholics hold that this happened to her from the very first moment of her existence: conception. Finally, regarding the objection that Mary's death indicates that she underwent original sin, consider a few points. First, Jesus never contracted original sin, yet He died. In the same way, Mary might have died, but only because she was united to her Son. For her soul was pierced (Luke 2:35) when the lance pierced her Son's heart (John 19:34). Mary is also portrayed as the new Eve, opposite Jesus, the new Adam, in John 1-2 (compare with Genesis 1-3). See more on this topic in this article. There is also the question of whether or not Mary even died to begin with, but was assumed directly into Heaven. The Catholic Church does not dogmatically comment on whether Mary died or not, and scholastic theologians believe that she never died.

Assumption of Mary

Catholics believe dogmatically that Mary was taken up, body and soul, into Heaven at the end of her earthly life. There is no dogmatic comment on whether she died or not. Members of Eastern Orthodoxy believe in Mary's assumption into Heaven, calling it her "Dormition." This is an ancient feast day stating that Mary "fell asleep" (died) and was assumed into Heaven. So, the Orthodox agree that Mary was taken by God, body and soul, directly into Heaven, but do not leave the matter of her death in ambiguity like Catholicism. The Eastern Orthodox also do not claim that Mary's assumption/dormition is a dogma, whereas Catholics do. If the reader is uncertain of Mary's assumption, consider reading a previous article on the topic here.


Originally in the early Church, married men could get ordained to the priesthood in both Western Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Yet they had to live a celibate life once they were ordained. This was because of the single-mindedness needed for Church ministry (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). There is a dispensation under the Eastern Orthodox for their priests and deacons, though, and previously married clergy can still engage in the sexual act. A unique case is Eastern Orthodox bishops, for they have to be celibate for life and cannot have been previously married. Catholics in various Eastern rites still do allow married men to become priests, but the Western rite of Catholicism forbids married men from being ordained. Also in the early Church, unmarried Catholic and Eastern Orthodox priests could not marry after becoming ordained to the priesthood. This is still the case for Catholics and Eastern Orthodox.


While Catholics have visible unity in their common allegiance to the Pope and clearly defined dogmas within the universal Catechism, Orthodox Churches are more disunified. They have several local catechisms, such as the larger catechism of St. Philaret of Moscow, but people can disagree with it. There is no universal Catechism with explicit dogmas that cannot be denied for the Orthodox. They hold to the seven original Ecumenical councils in the early Church as infallible, but they have not had any new Ecumenical councils to address other doctrinal concerns. Fairly recently their disunity was demonstrated with the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow) splitting from the Byzantine Orthodox Church (Constantinople) in 2018. This can happen because the Orthodox are mostly united under different ethnicities (Greek, Russian, Antiochian, etc.) and are autocephalous in nature. With no supreme Pope over the other bishops to unite them into one universal, “Catholic” Church, the separations between the ethnic Orthodox groups will continue. These ethnic Orthodox groups will also debate with each other over various issues and have no way of solving them. For example, one debated issue is rebaptism. If a Catholic converted to Orthodoxy, would he need to be rebaptized? Some say yes, others say no. Since their split with Rome, fourteen other ecumenical councils have since been called by Catholicism, but the Orthodox do not recognize them.

Morality: Divorce and Remarriage

Catholicism has a very clear set of moral rules, and although the Eastern Orthodox share many of them, they ultimately can flip-flop on various ones. A prime example of this is the topic of divorce and remarriage. The Orthodox used to be stricter on this, but recently they have given so many conditions that allow one to get divorced and remarried that almost anybody can get end their marriage. Catholicism, on the other hand, believes that every valid marriage can only be absolved by death (see Romans 7:2 & 1 Corinthians 7:10-11). This is the universal perspective of the early Church Fathers. The Orthodox may object and say that many Catholic dioceses are free wielding in giving out annulments, with the number of exceptional cases allowing for annulments growing more and more. So, the Orthodox may claim, Catholics basically allow divorce and remarriage as well. However, such dioceses are in disobedience to the doctrine of the Church, and those practices can be changed to follow the doctrine.

Morality: Contraception

Catholics are 100% against contraception, for every act of sexuality needs to be open to reproduction. The early Church Fathers universally condemned contraception, Catholicism still teaches it, as can be seen in Humanae Vitae by St. Pope Paul VI in 1968 AD. The Eastern Orthodox have recently wavered on the issue of contraception, though. They say that it is the ideal to not contracept, yet they allow it. Constantinople and various local synods say that a married couple can systematically contracept reproduction manually. This is deeply unfortunate.


All of these differences between Catholicism and Orthodoxy will hopefully be resolved one day. Unity is essential according to Jesus in John 17, so let us pray for it to come about. Some believe, like my old theology professor Fr. Robert Garrity, that it is very likely that a reunion will come soon. Other, such as Erick Ybarra, do not think that this will happen anytime soon. Many people believe that a chief issue the pain inflicted during the fourth Crusade. Way back in the Middle Ages, Catholics sacked the central city of the Orthodox, Constantinople. This really made the laity of the Orthodox feel that the Western Christians were enemies. Pope John Paul II apologized for this, but unforgiveness may still linger.


Erick Ybarra

James Likoudis

“Orthodoxy and Catholicism: What are the Differences?” By Fr. Theodore Pulcini.

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