This difference in turn is based on a more profound understanding of what we call the Church Catholic. The Church Catholic is not the Roman Catholic Church. It is the whole Church, in all time and space, in its qualitative and quantitative fullness. The universal Church is not the Church Catholic. The latter includes all those who have ever lived on earth as Christians in former times, ie. Christ and the Apostles, the prophets, martyrs, confessors, fathers, doctors, ordinary believers and so on. The universal Church is, of course, composed only of those now living. The Orthodox Church had no category called the universal Church. The attempt to create a category called the “ecumenical church” by the Constantinople Church, has been virtually rejected by the Orthodox tradition.
Now the Roman Catholic Church has something called the Universal Church, and the Pope is the head of this Universal Church. So, for them, the fullness of the Church means the Universal Church which is for them, the manifestation of the Church Catholic. Because they think this way, the local Church is only part of the Universal Church and cannot be autocephalous or having its own head. The local church is ever incomplete, according to this view, without the head of the Universal Church, the Pope, since the part is never complete without the whole. Hence the insistence of the second Vatican Council that“The College or body of bishops has no authority unless it is simultaneously conceived of in terms of its head, the Roman Pontiff, Peter’s successor…. Together with its head, the Roman Pontiff, and never without this head, the Episcopal order is the subject of Supreme and full power over the Universal Church. But this power can be exercised only with the consent of the Roman Pontiff.” (Lumen Gentinum: 22)This teaching the Eastern Orthodox regard as rank heresy, and based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the relation between the local Church and the Church Catholic. The Easterners believe that the Church Catholic is fully manifest in the local Church, where the people are in communion with the bishops of the Episcopal Synod. We do not regard the local Church as part, but as the manifestation of the fullness, of the Church Catholic. The error in the teaching of the Roman Church, we feel, is due to its breaking away from the tradition of the Church Catholic in the 5th century.
Neither does the Orthodox Church teach that the bishop or college of bishops alone exercise authority in the Church. Every baptised Christian shares in the kingly, priestly and prophetic authority of the Church, though the bishop has a certain fullness of spiritual power which others in the Church do not have. But the bishop separated form the Church is nothing. It is only in communion with the Church. With the college of presbyters and deacons and with the people that he exercises his power. The Orthodox Church is thus much more conciliar and communitarian in structure.Neither did the Orthodox Church ever develop an aggressive or institutional mission such as Roman Catholics and Protestants have developed. The witness of the Orthodox is a quiet one, based more on worship and a holy life of love and service, than on preaching and proselytism. This lack of aggressiveness is often criticized by Western Christians as a lack of missionary fervour. But we know that the aggressive Western missionary movement is intimately linked with the economic, cultural and colonial expansionism of the West, and we would rather not be associated with such an aggressive and institutionalized mission.
The worship of the Church is the centre of the Orthodox ethos, rather than its mission. The mission follows naturally from true worship and feeds into it. It is in the eucharistic worship of the Church that the Orthodox have a foretaste of the Kingdom which is coming. To join with the angels and archangels in the adoration of the one True God and to rejoice in his presence of the Spirit through the Son– this is the heart of the Orthodox ethos. The Orthodox Churches under Muslim or Communist oppression always survived because of this worship orientation. The West separates action from contemplation, thought and prayer. For us it is in and from eucharistic worship that all action, contemplation, thought and prayer derive their significance.