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The Fundamental Principles and main Characteristics of the Orthodox Church

The Question of the Priesthood of Women (part 1)

The Question of the Priesthood of Women (part 2)

The Orthodox Church as seen by the Roman Church

Neohellenic Theology at the Crossroads

Incarnation and Salvation - an ecclesiological approach

The Reciprocal Relation between doctrinal and historical factors in the Separation of the Oriental Churches from the Ancient Catholic Church

Chalcedonians and Monophysites after Chalcedon

The Ebionites as Depicted in the Pseudo-Clementine Novel

Byzantium, Iconoclasm and the Monks

Uniatism: A Problem in the Dialogue Between
the Orthodox and Roman Catholics

The reply of saint photios to the structure and logical dynamics of the filioque

Uniatism : A Problem in the Dialogue Between
the Orthodox and Roman Catholics

Theodore Zissis, The Greek Orthodox Theological Review 35,
spring 1990, pp. 21- 31


(A paper read at the International Joint Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church Joint Sub-Commission on Uniatism. Vienna January 26-31, 1990 )


If the sub-commission of the dialogue created to study the problem of Uniatism is to be successful in its task, it must avoid long and irrelevant analyses which can lead the sub-commission away from its main aim and focus its attention on satisfying the reason why it was set up. This reason lies in the fact that the Orthodox side, based on serious historical, ecclesiological and practical grounds, regards the promotion of Uniatism by the Roman Catholics as unacceptable, and as a major obstacle to the progress of the Dialogue.

Even before the beginning of the Dialogue, the positive outlook brought about by the Second Vatican Council's decree "On Ecumenism" concerning the relationship between the two Churches was followed by profound disappointement in the decree "On the Oriental Catholic Churches," which proposed better organization and the expansion of Uniate churches, as well as the establishment of new Uniate partiarchates. The Third Pan-Orthodox Conference in Rhodes (1964) strongly criticized this decree. Professor Ioannis Karmiris who participated at the Conference at Rhodes expressed the spirit of this conference in writing the following: "This decree is totally unacceptable to the Orthodox and for this reason it was strongly criticized at the Third Pan-Orthodox Conference in Rhodes which had set as a mandatory condition for initiating the Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church the abolishment of the Uniate Churches and their subjection and absorption in the Roman Catholic flock. This decreed is generally considered by the Orthodox as a 'stone of scandal' and a powder-keg capable of blowing apart the Dialogue between the Orthodox East and the Latin West" (1).

According to this Pan-Orthodox decision, in order for the Dialogue to begin, the Uniates had to be incorporated in the Latin rite of Roman Catholicism and historical Uniatism should cease to be. Therefore one may understand the difficult position in which the Orthodox members of the Dialogue found themselves at the beginning when, instead of a statement by the Roman Catholics in the direction proposed by the Pan-Orthodox Conference, they found themselves confronting a provoking, as it was characterized, move that of individuals belonging to Uniate Churches being nominated as members of the Commission. The reactions, which nearly lead to the interruption of Dialogue at its inception, are well known. But a spirit of reconciliation and understanding prevailed; a spirit which lead to the adoption of an Orthodox text-statement by the Joint Commission as a whole. In this statement it was accepted that "First, the presence of Uniate Roman Catholics of the Oriental rite within the Roman Catholic delegation does not imply that the Orthodox Church recognizes Uniatism ; and, second, the question of Uniatism remains open, as one of the problems with which the Dialogue will deal" in the future.

The reason this sub-commission was set up was for the study of the problem of Uniatism. Certainly, we Orthodox can assess now that we have been too flexible and concessive, and that after so many sessions of the Joint Commission, in spite of our insistence, not a single step has been made towards the solution of the problem. Moreover, the events in the Ukraine and in other countries have left us behind, consequently impairing the Orthodox delegation further. The Patriarchate of Jerusalem represented by Metropolitan Germanos of Petra who, we all remember, always emphatically protested against the problem of Uniatism and prosyletism stated that it will no longer participate in the Dialogue. The representative of the Church of Poland is absent, and we do not know why; perhaps because Rome proceeded to ordain a Uniate bishop in Poland, as Bishop Nossol informed us in his paper. We must say that this reaction is justified and perhaps it may continue if the sub-commission does not adopt concrete proposals immediately. Because even though the Pan-Orthodox Conference of Rhodes demands the abolishment of Uniatism, Rome plans to reinforce the Uniates in the Eastern countries where there is a downpour of political rearranging. Is it really fair to force local Orthodox autocephalous Churches to face the problem of Uniatism, instead of helping them in a brotherly way in their first steps towards freedom?

Nevertheless the insistence by the Orthodox that the thorn of Uniatism be eliminated, is, as it has been said, based on serious historical, ecclesiological, and pastoral grounds to which I shall briefly address myself.


Historical Development and Definition of Uniatism

Uniatism is unknown prior to the Schism when there was only one form of communion in the Church: the full unity of the faithful in faith, in worship, and in administration. Some diversity was allowed, such as local traditions when it did not affect the essential elements of unity. Particularly in the West, the insistence on uniformity was so inflexible that no other language, except Latin, was permitted in worship. This is clearly visible in the reaction to the mission of the two brothers, Saints Cyril and Methodios, who were sent from Constantinople to Bohemia and Moravia to Christianize the Slavs.

Heretics and schismatics were received into the body of the Church not because they recognized the primacy of the bishop of Rome the idea of which did not exist at that time, since he celebrated as one who was equal to the other patriarchs within the framework of the pentarchy of the patriarchs but because they formally rejected their heresy and accepted the faith of the catholic Church.

After the Schism, Rome found herself cut off from the great "trunk" of the catholic Church, represented in the East by the remaining four patriarchs, and limited only to the local church of the West. The Roman Church was lacking in her catholicity geographically as well as in the treasures of the faith and of worship with which the Eastern Orthodox Catholic Church was richly endowed. So that she might fill the elements lacking in her catholicity, instead of pursuing authentic union, she has preferred a false union by recognizing the jurisdiction of the pope as being over the entire Church and by acquiring the liturgical and other treasures of the East. In this way it would appear, geographically as well as spiritually, as though the Latin Church were catholic because it encompasses the East and the West.

Union with the Eastern Christians initially was sought after through forced Latinization, which is clearly evident during the period of the Crusades. The history of many Orthodox regions is full of horrors, persecutions, and martyrs due to this forced imposition of the Latin faith. This method of returning heretics and scismatics, which provoked the hatred of the indigenous peoples for the West, was abandoned and condemned in the end, because, in spite of the fact that forced Latinization bore no permanent results and many returned to the original faith, it did not satisfy the need for multiformity and diversity in worship which is indispensable for the West's catholicity. In order to neutralize these disadvantages a new method of proselytizing the East was conceived and applied. And this is Uniatism, which does not require Latinization for incorporation into the Church, but allows the preservation of liturgical forms and other customs and usages; and in some cases it does not even require unity in faith, but simply the recognition of papal primacy.

This method of union which is plainly proselytization and which outwardly gives the impression that nothing changes, in fact proved to be effective. The well known Assumptionist monk Raymond Janin, in his book Les Eglises orientales et les Rites orientaux (2) found that of the three means used in "returning" the Eastern Christians to Rome forced Latinization, individual proselytism, and Uniatism the latter, which began the day after the Council of Ferrara-Florence and which later devised a system with the intent of using it as a means of returning the East through the Eastern Christians ("le retour de l'orient par les orientaux "), is the most successful and effective ( C'est assurement la meilleure de toutes les methodes et la plus pratique ).

Therefore, on the basis of the aims and of the method of Uniatism, the definition of Uniatism formed by the great Orthodox ecclesiastical historian and archbishop of Athens, Chrysostomos Papadopoulos, gives a precise picture of how the Orthodox comprehend Uniatism. According to this definition, " Uniatism is fraudulent union and deceives the simple people, whereby one who unites himself with the Latin Church, accepts the primacy of the Pope and the entire doctrine of the Latin Church, on the one hand, but on the other preserves his own liturgical order and some of his own usages and customs, according to the Jesuit axiom unite dans la foi, varieté dans les rites (unity in faith, diversity in rites) in order that those united be assimilated into the Latin Church gradually and not abruptly" (3) .

This form of union with the Church of Rome of those "cut off" appears for the first time in the thirteenth century and takes definite shape at the Council of Ferrara-Florence (1437-1439) where the first Uniate bishops, members of the Council who had converted to Roman Catholicism, were the Orthodox metropolitans Bessarion of Nikaia and Isidoros of Kiev. It was systematically organized later by the Jesuits who, through unbearable presures and machinations, imposed it successfully for the first time on the Orthodox of the Ukraine during the Council of Brest (1596), taking advantage of the political submission of the Ukrainians under King Sigismund of Poland. He had promised to abolish political and economic discrimination against the Orthodox clergy and to place the Orthodox on the same level with the Roman Catholics if they would proceed towards union with Rome on the basis of the decisions of the Council of Ferrara-Florence. The persecutions suffered by Ukrainian Orthodox in getting them to accept the Council of Brest have been described somberly in Russian church historiography. Even Archmandrite Nikephoros Katakouzenos, sent to Brest as a delegate of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, was condemned supposedly as a spy for the Turks and left to die of hunger in the prisons of Marienburg. The other delegate, Cyril Lucaris, of the Patriarcate of Alexandria, who later became Ecumenical Patriarch, was captured but succeeded in escaping. It is well known that in the end, as Patriarch of Constantinople, he did.not escape the wrath of the Jesuits.

The experiment of Brest was repeated in Transylvania (Romania), where until the seventeenth century there was an unadulterated Orthodox population. But in 1688 when Transylvania was free of Turkish domination and was placed under the yoke of Roman Catholic Austro-Hungary, the Jesuits again persuaded Emperor Leopold I to impose the "union," which in fact was imposed through persecutions and martyrdoms after Metropolitan Athanasios officially converted to the Roman Church in 1698 at Alba Julia. The Orthodox, who refused to be subject to Rome, organized themselves in three autonomous churches: that of Karlovic, Vukovina and Hermanstat. Uniatism progressed thereafter in the Balkan and Middle East countries while under Turkish yoke. These countries, considered as terrae missionis, became the field of rivalry between Roman Catholic and Protestant missionaries, who savagely took advantage of the bitter slavery, the ignorance, and the poverty of the Orthodox faithful. Even in the see of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople known Assumptionist monks established a Uniate mechanism. After the war between Greece and Turkey in 1922, Uniatism was brought to Greece by the known Uniate bishop of Theodoroupolis, Georgios Chalavazis, who established a Uniate community in Athens, taking advantage of the misery of the refugees coming from Asia Minor and Thrace. He was succeeded by Hyakinthos and then later by Anargyros, the present Uniate bishop who had been appointed by Rome only a few years before the opening of the Dialogue despite the impassioned appeal of the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece and of the Theological Faculty of Athens, that such an appointment would be an obstacle to the Dialogue. As a representative of the Church of Greece, I fully comprehend the bitterness of the Polish Orthodox with the ordination of a Uniate bishop in Poland in September 1989 and I ask: of what significance are the proposals of the Sub-commission in solving the problem when Rome, continuing in the Dialogue through the work of the Sub-commission, proceeds with reinforcing Uniatism in the Eastern countries. The act belies the theories.

So that it would not appear that the historical picture which I have drawn is my own arbitrary conception. I shall mention two Roman-Catholics, a Latin and a Uniate, who witness to this. The Jesuit monk Gabriel Patasci, in an article published in Irenikon (4) writes: "Unions were generally created when Orthodox countries were in a period of political decline. It is not an accident, that while Constantinople was being threatened by Moslim invasion the Council of Florence chose precisely this moment to lay the juridical foundations of Uniatism, so to speak. During the period of partial Unions, the Greek East and the Balkans were under Turkish yoke and the Ukraine was subject to the King of Poland." Also, the Uniate Bishop of Theodoroupolis, Georgios Chalavazis, mentioned above, at a lecture given in Bruxelles on February 14, 1936 in the presence of Cardinal Van Roey and published as a main article under the title "Supreme priere " in Revue Catholique des Idées et des Faits (5) tried to convince his audience that the conditions in the Orthodox East are very favorable to proselytize through Uniatism because the Ecumenical Partiarchate is succumbing to the scouragings of Turkish machinations and phyletism of the Orthodox nations; the hierarchy vascillates and is corroded by rivalries, and, moreover, the uneducated clergy cannot stand up to the circumstances: La dislocation de 1'Orthodoxie se marque tout a coup d'une manière evidente. Le grand Patriarcat succombe sous les coups des manoeuvres turques et les revendications philetistes des nations orthodoxes, la hierarchie vacille, rognee par les querelles de competitions, le clerge ignorant est au dessous de sa tache (6) .


Uniatism as an Ecclesiological Anomaly

It is not only the memory of their experiences situations of political slavery and economic misery which bring the Orthodox to reject Uniatism. There are serious ecclesiological reasons why Uniatism is rejected as a model for the union of the Churches.

First, Uniatism, as it has already been said, involves the application of the decisions of the Council of Ferrara-Florence which have been condemned by the ecclesial conscience of the Orthodox Church, and, consequently, so has the model of unity which came out of these decisions. Recent research on this council, as Bishop Nossol informs us, indicates that this ecclesiastical assembly of representatives of the East and of the West cannot be characterized as a council toward unity in the true sense of the word.

With Eastern Rite Roman Catholics Rome tries to give the impression of catholicity while concealing the wound of separation and division. Following this line of thinking, the Roman Church is not a local Church limited to the confines of the jurisdiction of Rome as when the pentarchy existed, but the catholic church having jurisdiction over the whole Church, East and West. But according to our Orthodox understanding, the legitimate patriarchs in the East are not those united with the bishop of Rome, but the Orthodox partiarchs who continue the established ecclesiastical order from the time before the Schism. Uniate patriarchs are products of the Bishop of Rome aimed at filling the vacuum left by the lack of catholicity. Conversely, the Orthodox avoided establishing an Orthodox patriarch in place of the Bishop of Rome. Rather, they continue to respect the historical legitimacy of the Throne of Rome.

The existence of Eastern Churches united with Rome makes the Orthodox Churches contestable from an ecclesiological point view and challenges conducting the Dialogue on equal terms. The Orthodox ecclesiologically do not constitute one of two equal parts in the Dialogue, but are part of a reduced ecclesiological substance which can be substituted at any time by the Uniates.

The recognition of the primacy of jurisdiction of the pope over the entire Church is steadily the indispensable sine qua non condition of existence of Uniatism. This claim constitutes the greatest obstacle for reproachment between the Churches. The preservation of Uniatism, however, automatically signifies also the preservation of the primacy of the pope.

A consequence precisely concerning this ecclesiologically unacceptable claim is the degradation of the patriarchal office by the pope, since it is the pope who transmits patriarchal authority. The devaluation of the Uniate patriarchs in the decree "On the Oriental Churches" caused their intense reaction, which was expressed in their synod by Patriarch Maximos IV of Antioch who, among other things, said: "The patriarch is not merely some kind of honorary distinction. Therefore, his office should not be only an external expression of his actual importance. That is why it is not benefitting to shower the Oriental partiarchs with esteem and places of honor, and then treat them afterwards as servants, whose authority depends in every respect always on mandatory recourses to the congregation of the Roman Curia for petty things" (7) . The Benedictine monk Hoeck said in the council: "Today the patriarchates are not but shadows of their primitive substance, and looked upon with disdain for which Catholicism is responsible. The partiarchal institution is the real pivot of the entire East. Our separated brothers judge us precisely on the basis of this point, for it constitutes, according to them, the most essential test. In fact they wonder how they would end up, if there were to be reunion with Rome. Would they depend on the cardinals or on the curia? But a scenario like this but this would be entirely impossible and is contrary to the totality of tradition... For a thousand years the Eastern Church freely elected her patriarchs and bishops, she founded her ecclesiastical eparchies, she regulated her liturgical life, her canon law etc. The autonomy of the patriarchs was absolute" (8) .

Is there a more dramatic description about where the ecclesiology of Rome, exclusive unto itself, is headed, as it was expressed even in the Second Vatican Council?


Uniatism and Proselytism

The preservation by the Uniates of liturgical rites, customs, and usages of the East, and of the outward dress of the clergy is rejected by the Orthodox not only because the forms and rites when cut off from the faith lose their soul and die, but also because when Uniates appear as Orthodox, it is easy for the innocent people to be seduced by their deliberate proselytism. The problem of rites and liturgical vestments of the clergy intensifies still if one takes into consideration that in the Roman Catholic Church not only the Uniates but even the clergy of the Latin rite can celebrate liturgies of the Byzantine rite and wear the liturgical dress of the Orthodox clergy.

Regarding forced separation of liturgical rites and one's faith, I will simply cite the very characteristic opinion of Louis Bouyer, a former member of the Joint Commission for our Dialogue: "Nothing better proves the incurable shrewdness of those who desire to utilize the Byzantine liturgy apart from its corporality in order to attract the Eastern Orthodox to Latin Christianity. Such separation is inconceivable. We cannot take the liturgy of Byzantium without taking Byzantine Christianity in its entirety. Otherwise, that which we take resembles as little to the liturgy of Hagia Sophia or of the holy Apostles as a puppet does to a real person" (9) . Similarly, Congar writes that Uniatism in this case appears to be a caricature and contradiction to unity itself: L'Unia apparait comme etant la caricature et la contradiction meme de l'unite " (10) .

The shrewed seduction of the faithful with liturgical forms and outward appearances in order to promote proselytism has caused, and causes, the justified reaction of the Orthodox. The great Patriarch Joachim III appealed to the Turkish government and succeeded in prohibiting the Uniates from wearing Orthodox liturgical vestments. Likewise, in Greece the use of Orthodox dress is prohibited by law and upheld by court decisions. From the vast amount of material I should like to refer to a relevant passage from the response given by Chrysostomos Papadopoulos, Archbishop of Athens and professor at the Theological Faculty of the University of Athens, to the Uniate Bishop Georgios Chalavazis : "Believe me that Uniatism is always horrible to us Orthodox for it represents fraud and deception in matters of religion. Uniatism is an illegitimate product which, through deceipt, tries to attract the Orthodox Christian to the Latin Church. It is not a sincere attempt for union. We respect the sincere sermon of Latin clergymen, but allow me to say that we abhor the sermon of one who represents Uniatism... If you really belong to the Latin Church and sincerely desire to work for her, then present yourself as a Latin clergyman. It is neither Christian nor dignified to appear as an Orthodox and maintain that you are the same as the Orthodox hierarchs, the only difference being you recognize the pope of Rome: This is not being truthful" (11) .

One can understand how justified the Orthodox are if one considers that the Orthodox themselves never attempted to utilize Western liturgical rites or Latin vestments for reasons of proselytism to Orthodoxy.


Proposals for the Solution of the Problem of Uniatism

For the Orthodox, the decision of the Pan-Orthodox Conference of Rhodes on abolishing Uniatism and incorporating Eastern Rite Roman Catholics into mainstream Roman Catholicism still holds. Today, when so much is being said about human rights and there is such an explosive atmosphere of freedom in the Eastern European countries, it would help a great deal in solving this problem if the free right of the Uniates to join themselves fully either to Roman Catholicism or to Orthodoxy were recognized; then the interminglement of rites and liturgical dress will finally cease.

It would help to lessen the tension and not hinder the course of the Dialogue if the Roman Catholic Church would avoid actions, such as ordaining new Uniate bishops, which manifest the intention to further reinforce and develop Uniatism. If these actions continue, the participation of the Orthodox in the Dialogue will become even more problematic.

The use of Eastern liturgical rites and the wearing of Orthodox vestments not only by Uniates but also by Latin clergyman must gradually be limited and finally abolished, as it is particularly offensive to the Orthodox. This would help in the gradual assimilation of Uniates either in the one or in the other church.

As positive elements of the work of the sub-commission the following might be proposed: 1) That it be recognized that Uniatism is not a model for union; 2) That Uniatism developed within an ecclesiology which no longer applies; 3) That proselytism of any kind which violates the freedom of religious conscience and uses deceptive and illegitimate means is to be condemned.


(1) Orthodox and Roman Catholicism (Athens, 1965), 2, pp. 252-53.

(2) (Paris, 1955).

(3) Nature and Character of Uniatism (Athens, 1928), p. 19.

(4) No. 41 (1968) 35.

(5) Suprême prière, Revue Catholique des Idées et des Faits (1936).

(6) Ekklesia , 14, n. 20, p. 159.

(7) Katholikè , 36, 1964, fol. 1412, p. 4.

(8) Katholikè,36, 1964, fol. 1413, p. 4.

(9) Nostalgia of Orthodoxy (Athens, 1956), p. 86.

(10) 1054-1954, L'Eglise et les églises, Neuf siècles de douloureuse séparation entre l'Orient et l'Occident, Irénikon 1 (1926), 42.

(11) Anaplasis 41 (1928), vol. 9, pp. 113-4.

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