I was having a discussion with an Anglican theologian over Easter and during the discussion he mentioned that I tended to focus on the differences between Orthodoxy and Anglican/Protestant/Roman Catholic beliefs and teachings. On reflection this is quite true. It does tend to make one more adversarial in discussion with those of different thoughts but this is not necessarily a bad thing or something that can be set aside.
Why? I believe that when it comes to matters of Faith and potential heresies, it is precisely the differences that matter. Maybe early heresies had much in common with Orthodoxy, especially those of the Miaphysites, Monophysites and Nestorians. However, even with almost everything in common, especially the Miaphysites, one difference in doctrine is sufficient for heresy and separation from the Church.
It is these differences, even if only on one particular point of Church teaching, that are the cause of heresy and separation and these differences that need to be corrected. I also believe that these differences require one party to repent of a false opinion and accept the true opinion that is held by another. One party, representing the Church, will be true to the teaching of Christ and the Church, and is in no need of repentance. The other teaching differently does need to repent.
I cannot accept that all parties are wrong because then it would deny the Church being the pillar and foundation of the Truth and infallible, or that it is truly incarnate and has a definable and visible footprint on earth. I also do not think that Fathers would have been ignorant of the differences in teaching and made a mistake in anathematising a heresy, or even quickly reuniting with those whose teaching was clear of heresy. Especially in those Councils considered Ecumenical and genuine by later generations, that is as Infallible and of God, I cannot accept there was a mistake in declaring a heresy or that they were too strict on the matter. That would to be to put our opinions above those of Saints and much more those of God. I do not believe that we can do this.
Rather I believe that we must examine these differences and discuss them not mainly to unite different bodies but to enable us to make an informed choice as to what we personally believe and to enable us to repent of false beliefs. Making the point of the differences forces us to have to chose what we believe and make a stand of faith. Thankfully, the Church is a Body and larger than individuals so one can choose which group is that body on the matter of a few crucial aspects of doctrine without having to examine every individual doctrine because once a group is accepted as being the Church then the other doctrines can be accepted in good faith.
Focusing on the similarities can be very nice and warming but it veils the need to make a choice of faith and leads to the potential of thinking that the Church is not of one mind and faith. Either one fails to see the need of repentance and joining the Church to one’s salvation or one fails to see the Church as being what the Scriptures declare it to be, potentially leading to the destruction of one’s soul and that of others led astray in effectively denying the Church or remaining outside her.
I prefer to less “nice” by taking “sides” rather than being “nice” and denying Christ. I am yet to be persuaded that this approach is mistaken from the Gospel and the Fathers. Although I believe that God loves all men equally in the Church and outside the Church, I also believe that the way to heaven is a narrow path and easy to stumble either side and a small error can lead one off the way.