Why would I consider leaving the Roman Catholic Church and become Eastern Orthodox?
Answer: Theological Truth and the freedom to struggle in the search for that Truth.
One of my favorite professors often stated that Catholics "must crane our necks towards Rome" on teachings we didn't understand or with which we disagreed. He said this with the utmost charity and humility meaning that the Catholic faithful are to rely on the leadership of the Magisterium and hierarchy. And so, I craned my neck. When I was young there were teachings I didn't agree with, like birth control and Natural Family Planning, but with prayer and an open heart I came to see that the teachings were correct. However, there were other teachings that I struggled to explain in my ministry because I could not wrap my mind around them.
Let's clear up a couple things right off the bat:
1) I don't think that I need to rationally understand every single aspect of the Christian faith. We deal a lot with Mystery, like the Trinity, but I do feel that a theology geek, like myself, should be able to at least articulate the basics of a teaching.
2) I take very seriously trying to live out what my faith teaches.
One of the teachings of the Catholic Church is on how the faithful are to receive dogma (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 88):
The Church's Magisterium exercises the authority it holds from Christ to the fullest extent when it defines dogmas, that is, when it proposes, in a form obliging the Christian people to an irrevocable adherence of faith, truths contained in divine Revelation or also when it proposes, in a definitive way, truths having a necessary connection with these.
I am bound to hold any teaching dogmatic teaching of the Catholic Church, period.
Flip forward 2000 paragraphs to No. 2088 where the Catechism distinguishes between voluntary and involuntary doubt:
Voluntary doubt about the faith disregards or refuses to hold as true what God has revealed and the Church proposes for belief. Involuntary doubt refers to hesitation in believing, difficulty in overcoming objections connected with the faith, or also anxiety aroused by its obscurity. If deliberately cultivated doubt can lead to spiritual blindness.
What happens when you doubt a dogma? Is that voluntary or involuntary doubt? There are a couple Catholic dogmas that have I not only doubted, but have had a very hard time accepting, the first of which is the Immaculate Conception. Most people think this has to do with the conception of Jesus. Nope. It's regarding the conception of Mary. The Catechesis of the Catholic Church states (no. 491) quoting Pope Pius IX from Ineffabilis Deus:
The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.
Mary received a special grace that protected her from original sin; no other human in the course of history has received this gift. She received this gift at her own conception by the merits of the child she had yet to conceive; so the merits of Jesus worked retroactively and before these merits existed in time. Okay, I can kind of get this because God can do whatever God wants. No problem! It's starts to get dicey for me when pondering Mary's earthly life.
Mary is supposed to be our example of a preeminent disciple, but if she did not have to struggle with original sin like the rest of us slobs, then how authentic and freely given was her 'yes' to the angel's Annunciation? If Mary was without sin, then why did she need a Savior? It was impossible for her to sin. Sheesh! I wish I was incapable of sinning, it would make going to Confession a heck of a lot easier, "Yeah, Father, I've got nothing this month." The teaching of the Immaculate Conception seems like theological gymnastics to me and I have struggled to understand it. If Mary didn't have to deal with the struggle of sin, then was she truly and fully human? The struggle against sin is, sadly, part of the human condition.
Based on Catholic Church teaching, I doubt the Immaculate Conception and I'm probably on the voluntary doubt side of the Catholic doubt equation. What am I supposed to do? My husband asked a Catholic priest what he should do if he doubts a dogma. The response was to go to Confession to confess the doubt and then, hopefully, the priest will help you understand the dogma. You must crane your neck, period.
Some struggle or doubt is allowed in the Catholic faith, but not when it comes to dogma. I was curious how the Orthodox Church presented the teaching of Mary's sinlessness. I also wondered if there were dogmatic mandates in the Eastern Church. Imagine my surprise and delight when I read about doubt in The Orthodox Way by Bishop Kallistos Ware:
Because faith is not a logical certainty but a personal relationship, and because this personal relationship is as yet very incomplete in each of us and needs continually to develop further, it is by no means impossible for faith to coexist with doubt. The two are not mutually exclusive...We have to make our own cry, "Lord, I believe: help my unbelief" (Mark 9:24). For very many of us this will remain our constant prayer right up to the very gates of death. Yet doubt does not in itself signify lack of faith. It may mean the opposite - that our faith is alive and growing. For faith implies not complacency but taking risks, not shutting ourselves off from the unknown but advancing boldly to meet it (16).
As long as you are continually engaging the faith, according to Eastern Orthodox thought, doubt is okay because the search for Truth is a struggle worth devoting your life.
I fully accept that Mary was without sin, just not the way the Catholic Church teaches. Orthodox teaching states that Mary was without sin, but that she was born with "ancestral sin" (that's a blog for another day). Mary was just like the rest of us, she struggled with sin, but she was so attuned to God that she didn't sin. Mary's sinlessness was due to her goodness and choosing not to sin, not because she was incapable in sinning. Now, that is a preeminent disciple - of which I am not, but I do not doubt it and it is an example I can try to live up to.