Below is an excerpt from a lecture given by A.I.Osipov on the Fundamentals of Theology, held in the Sretenskaya Theological seminary on September 13, 2000. In this particular passage he posits the easiest method of comparison between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic faiths is to examine the saints of each.
Now I enter the next room, and again there are lots of people, and again I hear shouts: My Christian faith is the best of all. The Catholics invite: Have a look, we are 1 milliard 45 million in the world. The Protestants of various denominations say they are 350 million. The Orthodox are the fewest of all – only 170 million people. Somebody gives a prompt the truth is not in numbers, but in essence. Still the question is extremely serious: “Where is it, the true Christianity?”
There are also various ways to solve this question. At seminary we made studies of dogmatic systems, comparing Catholicism and Protestantism with Orthodoxy. This way is interesting and trustworthy, but still in my opinion it is not perfect, because for a person without profound education and knowledge it is not easy to get to the bottom of dogmatic disputes and clear up who is right and who is wrong. Moreover, quite often the opponents use strong psychological tricks that can be very confusing. For example, we discussed the problem of Pope’s primate with the Catholics, and they say: “Pope? Well, this primate and infallibility of Pope is such a trifling, you know. It is the same as the Patriarch’s authority with you. Pope’s infallibility and power is not actually different from the authority of statements and the power of the Head of any Local Orthodox Church”. Though in fact we have to deal with absolutely different dogmatic and canonical levels here. So the comparative dogmatic method is not that simple. Especially when we face people who not only know the field, but try to convince you at any price.
But there is a different way, which shows apparently, what Catholicism is and where it leads one to. This is also a method of comparative investigation, but investigation of the spiritual sphere of life, demonstrated in the life of saints. Here the whole deception (as it is called in the ascetic language) of the Catholic spirituality gets revealed, the deception fraught with very grave consequences for an ascetic who chose this way. You know, sometimes I give public lectures, attended by different people. Frequently they ask me the question: “What is the difference of Catholicism from Orthodoxy? What is its fault? Is it not just a different way to Christ?” Many times I saw it is enough to give a few examples from the life of catholic mystics for the inquirers to say: “Thank you, now it is clear. It’s enough.”
Indeed, any Local Orthodox Church or non-Orthodox church can be judged by her saints. Tell me who your saints are and I will tell what your church is. Any church calls as saints only those who realized in their life the Christian ideal, as this Church understands it. That is why canonization of a certain saint is not only testimony of the Church about this Christian, who according to her judgment is worthy of the glory and suggested by her as an example to follow. It is at the same time a testimony of the Church about herself. By the saints we can best of all judge about the true or imaginary sanctity of the Church.
I am going to give you a few examples to illustrate the idea of sanctity in the Catholic church.
One of the great Catholic saints is Francis of Assisi (13th century). His spiritual mentality is revealed through the following facts. Once Francis prayed for a long time (the subject of his prayer is very indicative) “about two mercies”: “The first is … that I can go through all the sufferings that You, O Sweetest Jesus, have gone through in Your excruciating passions. And the second mercy… is that I could feel the infinite love, with which you, Son of God, were burning.” As we see, Francis was concerned not about the feeling of being sinful, but he openly claimed for equality with Christ! During this prayer Francis “felt absolutely turned into Jesus”, Whom he saw at once as a six-winged Seraph, striking him with firing arrows at the points of cross wounds of Jesus Christ (hands, feet and the right side). After this vision painful bleeding wounds (stigmata) appeared – the traces of “Jesus’ passions” (M.V.Lodyzhensky. Invisible light. – Pg. 1915. – P.109).
The nature of such stigmata is well-known in psychiatry: permanent concentration of attention on the Christ’s passions excites nerves and psyche of a person and may cause such effect after long exercise. There is grace-giving in it, because in such compassion with Christ there is no true love, about which the Lord directly said: He who has my commandments, and keeps them, he is the one who loves me (Joh.14:21). That is why substitution of struggle with one’s old man by imaginary emotions of “compassion” is one of the gravest mistakes in the spiritual life, who leads many ascetics to self-conceit, pride – to apparent spiritual deceit accompanied by direct mental disorder (comp. Francis’s “sermons” to birds, wolf, turtle-doves, snakes, flowers, his awe of fire, stones, worms).
The goal of life set by Francis is also very indicative: “I laboured and want to labour further…, for it brings honour” (St. Francis of Assisi. – M., Izd.Frantsiskantsev, 1995. – P.145). Francis wishes to suffer for the others and atone their sins (P.20). And at the end of his life he frankly said: “I do not know any transgression of mine that I have not atoned by confession and repentance” (M.V.Lodyzhensky. – p.129). All this testifies for his not seeing his sins, i.e. his total spiritual blindness.
For comparison I’ll describe to you a moment from life of St. Sisoi the Great (5th century). “Just before his death, surrounded by the brethren, when Sisoi looked like talking with invisible ones, to the question “Father, tell us, whom are you talking with?” he said: “The angels have come to take me, but I pray to them that they let me stay here for a short time for repentance”. Knowing that Sisoi was perfect in virtues the brethren objected to him: “Father, you have no need in repentance”, and Sisoi answered like this: “Verily, I do not know, if I have at least started the cause of my repentance” (Lodyzhensky. – p.133). This deep understanding, sight of one’s imperfection is the main distinctive trait of all true saints.