The Church Of Joy and The Church Of Pain: Contrasting Catholicism and Orthodoxy

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What do you see when you compare and contrast the Western and Eastern Church?

Is there one you prefer over the other?

 Check out my video response below:

 More Old Simo YouTube videos here

I am not a church goer. Nor do I subscribe to the teachings and beliefs of religious based institutions. However, I do consider myself to be a spiritual person.  I am fascinated by religious history. I’ve made it a priority to study religious history and  I enjoy visiting Churches and holy sites in my global travels.

The Easter period increased my interest in the Church of the West and the Church of the East: Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox.  I was baptized Greek Orthodox.  Religion was not at the foreground of my upbringing. I’ve experienced enough of both divisions to compare and contrast them and how they make me feel.

No religion will ever admit to how much they borrow from paganism in their rituals and processes. Nor will they admit to the elements that are undeniably cultish.

The East and West church split in 1045. The head of Roman Catholicism resided in Rome while the head of Eastern Orthodoxy resided in Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey).

Reasons For The Split:

  • The crowning of Charlemagne as Holy Emperor in 800.
  • Geography.
  • Lack of understanding the other side.
  • Different theologies and politics.
  • Disputes in religious calendars.

Besides studying religious history and process I have gained a lot of insight from visiting churches. The Catholic cathedrals are often very stunning, particularly the ones I’ve seen in France, Italy and Spain.

The Orthodox churches are nowhere near as decadent but they have their own unique charm.  I have yet to visit Agia Sofia in Turkey.  I hope to see it in the future.

In comparing and contrasting the differences between East and West I have come to the following conclusion:

The Western Church is the Church of pain. The Eastern Church is the church of joy.

The West

  • Statues are a focal point of the Church.
  • Catholics kneel a lot during services. There is a subservient undertone to it. It shows adoration, devotion and servitude.
  • Roman Catholicism is heavily focused on confession and penance. It’s a big part of their ritual.
  • Suffering is a focal point due to the suffering of Jesus Christ.
  • Suffering dominates Catholic churches. Depictions of martyrdom, pain, and the Crucifixion.
  • Priests are required to follow a celibacy policy.
  • The Catholic Church is notoriously and outwardly anti contraception, anti abortion, and anti homosexual.

The East

  • Icons are a focal point of the church.
  • Standing and sitting during a service is required.  Kneeling is not expected. You will always find see some hardcore old ladies kneeling.
  • Confession is available but it is not a major feature of the Church. A person may request confession from an Orthodox priest. It is done face to face and not kneeling in a box.
  • There is very little depiction of outward suffering. Not many depictions of the crucifixion. Pain does not play a central role.
  • Saints portrayed in icons generally look happy or neutral.
  • There is no celibacy policy for priests. They can have wives.
  • The Orthodox Church does not go out of their way to condemn abortion or contraception. The Russian Orthodox Church has been quite vigilante in condemning homosexuality though. However, generally they seem more modern and in touch with reality.

For me, there is a special mysticism and mystery in the Orthodox church. There is a celebration of love and life. Orthodoxy presents a freedom from the emphasis of pain and suffering. There is something more human in its presentation.

The Catholic Church, whilst often beautiful in architecture, doesn’t give me that feeling of mystery and spiritual intrigue.  The emphasis on pain, suffering and penance creates a division between me and them.  Not to mention their feverish stand against abortion and contraception.  Pope Francis has been somewhat of a step forward into modernity.

I’m a fan of mystery and intrigue. It  often leads to heightened self awareness and catharsis. Religion has helped in my study of human nature. You don’t have to be an institutional follower to benefit from religion in some way. 

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