Eastern Orthodox Church

Orthodox Catholic Church, Greek Orthodox Church

General Information

One of the three branches of world Christianity and the major Christian church in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, the Orthodox church, also sometimes called the Eastern church, or the Greek Orthodox, or Orthodox Catholic church, claims to have preserved the original and apostolic Christian faith. Figures for its worldwide membership range from 100 to 200 million, depending on the method of accounting.

Structure and Organization

The Orthodox church is a fellowship of administratively independent, or autocephalous (self - governing) local churches, united in faith, sacraments, and canonical discipline, each enjoying the right to elect its own head and its bishops. Traditionally, the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople (Istanbul) is recognized as the "first among equal" Orthodox bishops. He possesses privileges of chairmanship and initiative but no direct doctrinal or administrative authority.

The other heads of autocephalous churches, in order of precedence, are: the patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt, with jurisdiction over Africa; the patriarch of Antioch, now residing in Damascus, Syria, and heading Arab - speaking Orthodox Christians in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq; the patriarch of Jerusalem, with jurisdiction over Palestine; the patriarch of Moscow and all Russia; the patriarch - catholicos of Georgia ( U S S R ); the patriarch of Serbia (Yugoslavia); the patriarch of Romania; the patriarch of Bulgaria; the archbishop of Cyprus; the archbishop of Athens and all Greece; the metropolitan of Warsaw and all Poland; the archbishop of Albania (presently suppressed); the metropolitan of Prague and all Czechoslovakia; and the archbishop of New York and North America.

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Three autonomous churches also enjoy a large degree of independence, although the election of their primate is subject to nominal approval by a mother church. These are the churches of Crete and Finland, under Constantinople, and the church of Japan, under Moscow. The autocephalous and autonomous churches differ greatly in size and membership. The churches of Russia (50 - 90 million) and Romania (21 million) are by far the largest, whereas some of the ancient patriarchates of the Middle East, including Constantinople, are reduced to a few thousand members.

The patriarch of Constantinople, however, also exercises jurisdiction over Greek - speaking churches outside Greece and controls, for example, the Greek archdiocese of America, which is distinct from the Orthodox church in America, listed among the autocephalous churches. In Greece the Orthodox church is the established religion. Long repressed in the U S S R and the Communist countries of Eastern Europe, it experienced renewed freedom with the removal of restrictions on religion during the Gorbachev era.


Historically, the contemporary Orthodox church stands in direct continuity with the earliest Christian communities founded in regions of the Eastern Mediterranean by the apostles of Jesus. The subsequent destinies of Christianity in those areas were shaped by the transfer (320) of the imperial capital from Rome to Constantinople by Constantine I. As a consequence, during the first 8 centuries of Christian history most major intellectual, cultural, and social developments in the Christian church also took place in that region; for example, all ecumenical councils of that period met either in Constantinople or in its vicinity. Missionaries, coming from Constantinople, converted the Slavs and other peoples of Eastern Europe to Christianity (Bulgaria, 864; Russia, 988) and translated Scripture and liturgical texts into the vernacular languages used in the various regions. Thus, the liturgy, traditions, and practices of the church of Constantinople were adopted by all and still provide the basic patterns and ethos of contemporary Orthodoxy.

These developments, however, were not always consistent with the evolution of Western Christianity, where the bishop of Rome, or pope, came to be considered the successor of the apostle Peter and head of the universal church by divine appointment. Eastern Christians were willing to accept the pope only as first among patriarchs. This difference in approach explains the various incidents that grew into a serious estrangement. One of the most vehement disputes concerned the filioque clause of the Nicene Creed, which the Western church added unilaterally to the original text.

The schism developed gradually. The first major breach came in the 9th century when the pope refused to recognize the election of Photius as patriarch of Constantinople. Photius in turn challenged the right of the papacy to rule on the matter and denounced the filioque clause as a Western innovation. The mounting disputes between East and West reached another climax in 1054, when mutual anathemas were exchanged (Great Schism). The sacking of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade (1204) intensified Eastern hostility toward the West. Attempts at reconciliation at the councils of Lyon (1274) and Florence (1438 - 39) were unsuccessful. When the papacy defined itself as infallible (First Vatican Council, 1870), the gulf between East and West grew wider. Only since the Second Vatican Council (1962 - 65) has the movement reversed, bringing serious attempts at mutual understanding.

Doctrines and Practices

The Orthodox church recognizes as authoritative the decisions of the seven ecumenical councils that met between 325 and 787 and defined the basic doctrines on the Trinity and the Incarnation. In later centuries Orthodox councils also made doctrinal definitions on Grace (1341, 1351) and took a stand in reference to Western teachings. The Orthodox church accepts the early traditions of Christianity, including the same sacraments as the Roman Catholic church - although in the Orthodox church infants receive the Eucharist and confirmation - and the episcopate and the priesthood, understood in the light of Apostolic Succession. Married men may become priests, but bishops and monks may not marry. The veneration of Mary, as Mother of God is central to Orthodox worship, and the intercession of saints is emphasized in the Orthodox liturgical tradition.

After an early controversy on the subject, the images, or Icons, of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the saints are now seen as visible witnesses to the fact that God has taken human flesh in the person of Jesus. The Liturgy used by the Orthodox church is known as the Byzantine rite. It has been translated from Greek into many languages, including the Old Church Slavonic used by the Russian Orthodox church. The liturgy is always sung, and communion is distributed to the congregation in both kinds (bread and wine).

Monasticism, which had its origins in the Christian East (Egypt, Syria, Cappadocia), has since been considered in the Orthodox church as a prophetic ministry of men and women, showing through their mode of life the action of the Holy Spirit. The monastic republic of Mount Athos, Greece, is still viewed among Orthodox Christians as a center of spiritual vitality.

The Orthodox church has been generally quite open to the contemporary Ecumenical Movement. One by one, the autocephalous churches have all joined the Protestant - initiated World Council Of Churches, without modifying their own view on Christian unity, but considering the council as an acceptable forum for dialogue and cooperation with other Christians. The recent steps taken by the Roman Catholic church and the decrees of the Second Vatican Council were seen by the Orthodox as promising groundwork for the future, and this positive reaction was witnessed by several meetings between Orthodox and Catholic leaders, including participation by Vatican representatives in ceremonies marking the thousandth anniversary of Russian Christianity in 1988.

John Meyendorff

D Attwater, The Christian Churches of the East (1962) and Saints of the East (1962); D Constantelos, Understanding the Greek Orthodox Church (1982); D Drillock and J Erickson, eds., The Divine Liturgy (1982); J Ellis, The Russian Orthodox Church: A Contemporary History (1986); J Forest, Pilgrim to the Russian Church (1988); J M Hussey, The Orthodox Church in the Byzantine Empire (1986); N Lernor, Eastern Christendom (1961); J Macha, Ecclesiastical Unification: A Theoretical Framework (1974); J Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology: Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes (1987), and The Orthodox Church, Its Past and Its Role in the World Today (1962); J Paraskevas, and F Reinstein, The Eastern Orthodox Church (1969); L J Rogier, ed., The Christian Centuries (1962 - 78); S Runciman, Byzantine Style and Civilization (1975) and The Great Church in Captivity (1968); S Salaville, An Introduction to the Study of Eastern Liturgies (1938); T Ware, The Orthodox Church (1963); N Zernov, Eastern Christendom (1961).

The Orthodox Church

General Information


The Orthodox Church is one of the three major branches of Christianity, which stands in historical continuity with the communities created by the apostles of Jesus in the region of the eastern Mediterranean, and which spread by missionary activity throughout Eastern Europe. The word orthodox (from Greek, "right-believing") implies the claim of doctrinal consistency with apostolic truth. The Orthodox church has also established communities in Western Europe, the western hemisphere, and, more recently, Africa and Asia, and it currently has more than 174 million adherents throughout the world. Other designations, such as Orthodox Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Eastern Orthodox, are also used in reference to the Orthodox church.

Structure and Organization

The Orthodox church is a fellowship of independent churches. Each is autocephalous, that is, governed by its own head bishop. These autocephalous churches share a common faith, common principles of church policy and organization, and a common liturgical tradition. Only the languages used in worship and minor aspects of tradition differ from country to country. The head bishops of the autocephalous churches may be called patriarch, metropolitan, or archbishop. These prelates are presidents of episcopal synods, which, in each church, constitute the highest canonical, doctrinal, and administrative authority. Among the various Orthodox churches there is an order of precedence, which is determined by history rather than by present-day numerical strength.

The Patriarch of Constantinople

A "primacy of honor" belongs to the patriarch of Constantinople (now ›stanbul, Turkey), because the city was the seat of the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empire, which between AD320 and 1453 was the center of Eastern Christendom. The canonical rights of the patriarch of Constantinople were defined by the councils of Constantinople (381) and Chalcedon (451). In the 6th century he also assumed the title ecumenical patriarch. Neither in the past, nor in modern times, however, has his authority been comparable to that exercised in the West by the Roman pope: The patriarch does not possess administrative powers beyond his own territory, or patriarchate, and he does not claim infallibility. His position is simply a primacy among equals. The other churches recognize his role in convening and preparing Pan-Orthodox consultations and councils. His authority extends over the small (and rapidly vanishing) Greek communities in Turkey; over dioceses situated in the Greek islands and in northern Greece; over the numerous Greek-speaking communities in the United States, Australia, and Western Europe; and over the autonomous church of Finland.

Other Ancient Patriarchates

Three other ancient Orthodox patriarchates owe their positions to their distinguished pasts: those in Alexandria, Egypt; Damascus, Syria (although the incumbent carries the ancient title patriarch of Antioch); and Jerusalem. The patriarchs of Alexandria and Jerusalem are Greek speaking; the patriarch of Antioch heads a significant Arab Christian community in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq.

Russian and Other Orthodox Churches

The patriarchate of Moscow and all Russia is the largest Orthodox church today by far, having survived a difficult period of persecution after the Russian Revolution of 1917. It occupies the fifth place in the hierarchy of autocephalous churches, followed by the patriarchates of the Republic of Georgia, Serbia (part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia), Romania, and Bulgaria. The nonpatriarchal churches are, in order of precedence, the archbishoprics of Cyprus, Athens (Greece), and Tirana (Albania; established 1937, this see was suppressed during Communist rule), as well as the metropolitanates of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and America.

The autocephalous Orthodox Church in America, officially established in 1970, has as its stated goal the unification of all Orthodox Christians in the U.S. and Canada on a territorial basis. Nonetheless, large ethnic jurisdictions, particularly the Greek Archdiocese of America, are administratively connected with mother churches abroad.


In its doctrinal statements and liturgical texts, the Orthodox church strongly affirms that it holds the original Christian faith, which was common to East and West during the first millennium of Christian history. More particularly, it recognizes the authority of the ecumenical councils at which East and West were represented together. These were the councils of Nicaea I (325), Constantinople I (381), Ephesus (431), Chalcedon (451), Constantinople II (553), Constantinople III (680), and Nicaea II (787). Later doctrinal affirmations by the Orthodox church - for instance, the important 14th-century definitions concerning communion with God - are seen as developments of the same original faith of the early church.


The concern for continuity and tradition, which is characteristic of Orthodoxy, does not imply worship of the past as such, but rather a sense of identity and consistency with the original apostolic witness, as realized through the sacramental community of each local church. The Holy Spirit, bestowed on the church at Pentecost, is seen as guiding the whole church "in all truth" (John 16:13). The power of teaching and guiding the community is bestowed on certain ministries (particularly that of the bishop of each diocese) or is manifested through certain institutions (such as councils). Nevertheless, because the church is composed not only of bishops, or of clergy, but of the whole laity as well, the Orthodox church strongly affirms that the guardian of truth is the entire "people of God."

This belief that truth is inseparable from the life of the sacramental community provides the basis for the Orthodox understanding of the apostolic succession of bishops: Consecrated by their peers and occupying the "place of Christ" at the Eucharistic meal, where the church gathers, they are the guardians and witnesses of a tradition that goes back, uninterrupted, to the apostles and that unites the local churches in the community of faith.

Christ and Mary

The ecumenical councils of the first millennium defined the basic Christian doctrines on the Trinity, on the unique Person and the two natures of Christ and on his two wills, expressing fully the authenticity and fullness of his divinity and his humanity (see Christology). These doctrines are forcefully expressed in all Orthodox statements of faith and in liturgical hymns. Also, in light of this traditional doctrine on the Person of Christ, the Virgin Mary is venerated as Mother of God Mary. Further Mariological developments, however, such as the more recent Western doctrine of the immaculate conception of Mary, are foreign to Orthodoxy. Mary's intercession is invoked because she was closer to the Savior than anyone else and is, therefore, the representative of fallen humanity and the most prominent and holiest member of the church.


The doctrine of seven sacraments is generally accepted in the Orthodox church, although no ultimate authority has ever limited the sacraments to that number. The central sacrament is the Eucharist; the others are baptism, normally by immersion; confirmation, which follows baptism immediately in the form of anointment with chrism; penance; Holy Orders; marriage; and anointment of the sick. Some medieval authors list other sacraments, such as monastic tonsure, burial, and the blessing of water.


Orthodox canonical legislation admits married men to the priesthood. Bishops, however, are elected from among celibate or widowed clergy.


According to a medieval chronicle, when representatives of the Russian prince Vladimir visited the Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom) in Constantinople in 988, they did not know "whether they were in heaven, or on earth." Most effective as a missionary tool, the Orthodox liturgy has also been, throughout the centuries of Muslim rule in the Middle East, an instrument of religious survival. Created primarily in Byzantium and translated into many languages, it preserves texts and forms dating from the earliest Christian church.


The most frequently used Eucharistic rite is traditionally attributed to St. John Chrysostom. Another Eucharistic liturgy, celebrated only ten times during the year, was created by St. Basil of Caesarea. In both cases, the Eucharistic prayer of consecration culminates with an invocation of the Holy Spirit (epiclesis) upon the bread and wine. Thus, the central mystery of Christianity is seen as being performed by the prayer of the church and the action of the Holy Spirit, rather than by "words of institution," pronounced by Christ and repeated vicariously by the priest, as is the case in Western Christendom.

One of the major characteristics of Orthodox worship is a great wealth of hymns, which mark the various liturgical cycles. These cycles, used in sometimes complicated combinations, are the daily cycle, with hymns for vespers, compline, the midnight prayer, matins, and the four canonical hours; the paschal cycle, which includes the period of Lent before Easter and the 50 days separating Easter and Pentecost and which is continued throughout the Sundays of the year; and the yearly, or sanctoral, cycle, which provides hymns for immovable feasts and the daily celebration of saints. Created during the Byzantine Middle Ages, this liturgical system is still being developed through the addition of hymns honoring new saints. Thus, two early missionaries to Alaska, St. Herman and St. Innocent, were recently added to the catalog of Orthodox saints.


Inseparable from the liturgical tradition, religious art is seen by Orthodox Christians as a form of pictorial confession of faith and a channel of religious experience. This central function of religious images (icons) - unparalleled in any other Christian tradition - received its full definition following the end of the iconoclastic movement in Byzantium (843). The iconoclasts invoked the Old Testamental prohibition of graven images and rejected icons as idols. The Orthodox theologians, on the other hand, based their arguments on the specifically Christian doctrine of the incarnation: God is indeed invisible and indescribable in his essence, but when the Son of God became man, he voluntarily assumed all the characteristics of created nature, including describability. Consequently, images of Christ, as man, affirm the truth of God's real incarnation. Because divine life shines through Christ's risen and glorified humanity, the function of the artist consists in conveying the very mystery of the Christian faith through art. Furthermore, because the icons of Christ and the saints provide direct personal contact with the holy persons represented on them, these images should be objects of "veneration" ( proskynesis), even though "worship" (latreia) is addressed to God alone. The victory of this theology over iconoclasm led to the widespread use of iconography in the Christian East and also inspired great painters - most of whom remain anonymous - in producing works of art that possess spiritual as well as artistic value.


The liturgical and, to a certain degree, the artistic developments in Orthodoxy are connected with the history of monasticism. Christian monasticism first began in Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and Asia Minor and, for centuries, attracted the elite of Eastern Christians into its ranks. Based on the traditional vows of celibacy, obedience, and poverty, it took different forms, ranging from the disciplined community life of monasteries such as the Stoudios, in Constantinople, to the eremitic and individual asceticism of the Hesychasts (from Greek hesychia,"quietude"). Today, the monastic republic of Mount Athos, in northern Greece, where more than 1000 monks live in 20 large communities as well as in isolated hermitages, bears witness to the permanence of the monastic ideal in the Orthodox church.


Because a majority of non-Greek-speaking Christians of the Middle East rejected the Council of Chalcedon, and because, after the 8th century, most of the area where Christianity was born remained under the rule of Muslims, the Orthodox patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem kept only a shadow of their former glory. Constantinople, however, remained, during most of the Middle Ages, by far the most important center of Christendom. The famous Byzantine missionaries, St. Cyril and St. Methodius, translated (circa 864) Scripture and the liturgy into Slavonic, and many Slavic nations were converted to Byzantine Orthodox Christianity. The Bulgarians, people of Turkic stock, embraced it in 864 and gradually became Slavicized. The Russians, baptized in 988, remained in the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the patriarchate of Constantinople until 1448. The Serbs received ecclesiastical independence in 1219.

Schism Between Constantinople and Rome

Tensions periodically arose after the 4th century. After the fall of Rome (476) to Germanic invaders, the Roman pope was the only guardian of Christian universalism in the West. He began more explicitly to attribute his primacy to Rome's being the burial place of St. Peter, whom Jesus had called the "rock" on which the church was to be built (see Matthew 16:18). The Eastern Christians respected that tradition and attributed to the Roman bishop a measure of moral and doctrinal authority. They believed, however, that the canonical and primatial rights of individual churches were determined above all by historical considerations. Thus, the patriarchate of Constantinople understood its own position to be determined exclusively by the fact that Constantinople, the "new Rome," was the seat of the emperor and the Senate.

The two interpretations of primacy - "apostolic" in the West, "pragmatic" in the East - coexisted for centuries, and tensions were resolved in a conciliar way. Eventually, however, conflicts led to permanent schism. In the 7th century the universally accepted creed was interpolated in Spain with the Latin word filioque, meaning "and from the Son," thus rendering the creed as "I believe in the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son." The interpolation, initially opposed by the popes, was promoted in Europe by Charlemagne (crowned emperor in 800) and his successors. Eventually, it was also accepted (circa 1014) in Rome. The Eastern church, however, considered the interpolation heretical. Moreover, other issues became controversial: For instance, the ordination of married men to the priesthood and the use of unleavened bread in the Eucharist. Secondary in themselves, these conflicts could not be resolved because the two sides followed different criteria of judgment: The papacy considered itself the ultimate judge in matters of faith and discipline, whereas the East invoked the authority of councils, where the local churches spoke as equals.

It is often assumed that the anathemas exchanged in Constantinople in 1054 between the patriarch Michael Cerularius and papal legates marked the final schism. The schism, however, actually took the form of a gradual estrangement, beginning well before 1054 and culminating in the sack of Constantinople by Western Crusaders in 1204.

In the late medieval period, several attempts made at reunion, particularly in Lyons (1274) and in Florence (1438-39), ended in failure. The papal claims to ultimate supremacy could not be reconciled with the conciliar principle of Orthodoxy, and the religious differences were aggravated by cultural and political misunderstandings.

After the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453, they recognized the ecumenical patriarch of that city as both the religious and the political spokesman for the entire Christian population of the Turkish empire. The patriarchate of Constantinople, although still retaining its honorary primacy in the Orthodox church, ended as an ecumenical institution in the 19th century when, with the liberation of the Orthodox peoples from Turkish rule, a succession of autocephalous churches was set up: Greece (1833), Romania (1864), Bulgaria (1871), and Serbia (1879).

The Orthodox church in Russia declared its independence from Constantinople in 1448. In 1589 the patriarchate of Moscow was established and formally recognized by Patriarch Jeremias II of Constantinople. For the Russian church and the tsars, Moscow had become the "third Rome," the heir to the imperial supremacy of ancient Rome and Byzantium. The patriarchate of Moscow never had even the sporadic autonomy of the patriarchate of Constantinople in the Byzantine Empire. Except for the brief reign of Patriarch Nikon in the mid-17th century, the patriarchs of Moscow and the Russian church were entirely subordinate to the tsars. In 1721, Tsar Peter the Great abolished the patriarchate altogether, and thereafter the church was governed through the imperial administration. The patriarchate was reestablished in 1917, at the time of the Russian Revolution, but the church was violently persecuted by the Communist government. As the Soviet regime became less repressive and, in 1991, broke up, the church showed signs ofrenewed vitality. (The Orthodox church in Eastern Europe had a similar but foreshortened history, restricted by Communist governments after World War II but gaining freedoms in the late 1980s.)

Relations with Other Churches

The Orthodox church has always seen itself as the organic continuation of the original apostolic community and as holding a faith fully consistent with the apostolic message. Orthodox Christians have, however, adopted different attitudes through the centuries toward other churches and denominations. In areas of confrontation, such as the Greek islands in the 17th century, or the Ukraine during the same period, defensive Orthodox authorities, reacting against active proselytism by Westerners, declared Western sacraments invalid and demanded rebaptism of converts from the Roman or Protestant communities. The same rigid attitude prevails, even today, in some circles in Greece. Nevertheless, the mainstream of Orthodox thought has adopted a positive attitude toward the modern ecumenical movement. Always rejecting doctrinal relativism and affirming that the goal of ecumenism is the full unity of the faith, Orthodox churches have been members of the World Council of Churches since 1948. They generally recognize that, before the establishment of full unity, a theological dialogue leading in that direction is necessary and that divided Christian communities can cooperate and provide each other with mutual help and experience, even if sacramental intercommunion, requiring unity in faith, appears to be distant.

The Protestant majority in the World Council of Churches has occasionally made Orthodox participation in that body awkward, and the ecumenical attitude adopted during the reign of Pope John XXIII by the Roman Catholic church (which does not belong to the council) has been welcomed by Orthodox officials and has led to new and friendlier relations between the churches. Orthodox observers were present at the sessions of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), and several meetings took place between popes Paul VI and John Paul II on the one side, and patriarchs Athenagoras and Demetrios on the other. In another symbolic gesture, the mutual anathemas of 1054 were lifted (1965) by both sides. The two churches have established a joint commission for dialogue between them. Representatives met on at least 11 occasions between 1966 and 1981 to discuss differences in doctrine and practice. The claim to authority and infallibility made by the pope is generally seen as the primary obstacle to full reconciliation.

Rev. John Meyendorff

The Orthodox Tradition

Advanced Information

The Orthodox Tradition is the theological tradition, generally associated with the national churches of the eastern Mediterranean and eastern Europe and principally with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, whose distinguishing characteristic consists in preservation of the integrity of the doctrines taught by the fathers of the seven ecumenical councils of the fourth through eighth centuries. Through medieval times the churches of the Orthodox tradition were mainly Greek - speaking; in modern times they have been predominantly Slavic.

Nature of Orthodox Theology

The first two councils, Nicaea I (325) and Constantinople I (381), laid the foundation of Orthodox theology by adoption of the statement known commonly as the Nicene Creed. This formula established the primary principle of Trinitarianism, declaring the substantial equality of God the Son with God the Father, specifically in refutation of Arianism.

The third council, Ephesus (431), rejected Nestorianism by affirming that in Christ divinity and humanity united in a single person, the Word made flesh. In its primary thrust this affirmation set the premise of Orthodox Christology; it also set the premise for the development of doctrine concerning Mary. In that the Christ was God incarnate, the Virgin was "Mother of God" (Theotokos, "god - bearer"); she was not simply mother of an ordinary human. In consequence of this declaration Orthodoxy expressed high regard for Mary, positing her perpetual virginity and sinless life while remaining skeptical of the later Catholic dogmas of the immaculate conception and assumption.

The next three councils, Chalcedon (451), Constantinople II (553), and Constantinople III (680), confronted the heresy of monophysitism in its evolving forms, further defining for Orthodoxy its Christology, which states that in the one person of Christ there are two entire natures, the human and divine, including two wills.

The seventh council, Nicaea II (787), in the midst of the struggle over iconoclasm, defined the doctrine of images representing Christ and the saints, requiring that the faithful venerate, but not worship, them. In the aftermath of this council, whose decrees were not approved by the Roman papacy (although they did not conflict with Catholic teaching), the divergence of Orthodoxy from Western Christian theology became increasingly pronounced. In a special way painted icons became symbols of Orthodoxy, inasmuch as they united correct doctrine and correct worship, the twin meanings of the word, and this perception led to the designation of the final restoration of icons in Byzantine churches on the first Sunday of Lent in 843 as the "triumph of Orthodoxy."

For Orthodoxy, the artistic image reiterated the truth that the invisible God had become visible in the incarnate Son of God who was the perfect image of God; the image channeled the presence of the person depicted to the one contemplating it, as the incarnate Word had brought God to man.

Since Nicaea II no genuinely ecumenical council has been possible, owing to the defection (in Orthodoxy's view) of the Roman See, and thus no new absolutely definitive declaration of Orthodox dogma has been possible. From this fact derives Orthodoxy's self - conscious identity as the church of the seven councils and its sense of mission in preserving the faith of the ancient fathers of the church. But Orthodox theology did not stagnate in subsequent centuries, as changing circumstances and developments in others' theologies challenged Orthodox thinkers to refine and restate their conceptions of the faith presupposed by the patristic decrees.

Such formulations have acquired considerable authority by approvals enunciated in local councils or by long - term common consent within Orthodoxy, although they do not have the canonical authority of the ecumenical decrees which Orthodoxy views to have been divinely inspired and therefore infallible. When a statement receives widespread acceptance among Orthodox churches, it acquires the status of "symbolic book."

The theological dimension of the schism with Western Catholicism rested primarily in Orthodoxy's rejection of Rome's claim that its bishop was the unique successor of Peter with the consequent prerogative to define dogma. While granting a certain primacy of honor to the papacy, Orthodoxy saw all right - teaching bishops as equally successors of Peter, from which derived the requirement that only genuinely ecumenical, episcopal councils possessed the power of binding the conscience of the faithful. Therefore Orthodoxy has resisted those doctrines which it views as Roman innovations.

The most celebrated point of controversy between Orthodoxy and Western theology arose over the insertion of the filioque clause into the Nicene Creed sometime after the eight century. Besides rejecting this nonconciliar tampering with the decrees of the fathers, Orthodoxy saw in the assertion that the Holy Spirit "proceeds from the Father and the Son" the presupposition of two originating principles within the Godhead, negating the integrity of the Trinity. Most Orthodox thinkers could accept a formulation whereby the Spirit proceeds "from the Father through, or with, the Son," following the chief medieval Orthodox teacher, John of Damascus. But until an ecumenical council acted, this would remain merely "theological teaching" (theologoumena).

On the other doctrinal questions where Catholic innovations might be identified, Orthodoxy has been less firm in its denunciations than in the filioque issue. Regarding the state of persons after death, Orthodoxy rejects the notion of purgatory as a place distinct from heaven and hell. At the same time it concedes that there is an intermediate period of temporal pain in which penance for sins is carried out by those destined for heaven; moreover, full blessedness, even for saints, is not achieved until after Christ's final judgment. Prayers for the dead, therefore, can have efficacy. Following the Western resolution of the dogma of the real presence in the Eucharist, Orthodox writers adopted the literal translation of "transubstantiation" into Greek (metousiosis). But in a distinction that had both theological and liturgical significance, Orthodoxy insisted that the miracle of transformation did not occur through the celebrant's enunciation of the words, "This is my body," but by the invocation of the Holy Spirit in the epiclesis: "Send thy Holy Spirit so as to make the bread to be the body of thy Christ." This difference signifies Orthodoxy's greater sensitivity of the Spirit than has generally been evident in the West.

Orthodoxy agreed with Catholicism in acknowledging seven sacraments while not insisting upon the absolute significance of the number. The two sacraments which were clearly evangelical, baptism and Communion, along with confirmation (called chrismation by Orthodoxy and administered immediately after baptism), occupied a higher place than the rest. Orthodox writers regularly criticized the West's failure to use immersion as the proper mode of baptism, although most acknowledged the validity of aspersion in the Trine name. The Orthodox baptize by triple immersion, baptizing both adults and infants. Orthodoxy's use of leavened bread in the Eucharist, instead of the unleavened wafers of the West, was mostly a liturgical matter, although it was given theological meaning by the explanation that the leaven signified evangelical joy in contrast to the "Mosaic" regime of Catholic practice.

Its doctrine of the church distinguishes Orthodoxy most clearly from all other theologies. According to this doctrine the visible church is the body of Christ, a communion of believers, headed by a bishop and united by the Eucharist, in which God dwells. As such, although individual members are fallible sinners, the church is held to be infallible. This true church by definition is the Orthodox Church, which is "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic," from which other churches are separated. That is, the church consists of those believers who remain in fellowship with, and submission to, the concert of historic patriachates, Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, and Rome. (When Rome separated from the concert, Moscow assumed membership in the pentarchy, although Rome's place remains reserved for it to resume if it will renounce its obstinacy.)

The infallibility of the church validates the authority of tradition on a par with that of Scripture. Moreover, tradition established both canon and interpretation of that Scripture and thus takes logical precedence over it. How to determine precisely what tradition teaches, however, remains a partially open question for Orthodoxy, since no single office is acknowledged to have definitive authority for the whole church, such as the papacy has for Roman Catholicism. In principle the church speaks authoritatively through episcopal councils; but this claim only moves the issue back one step because it raises the question of what validates which meetings of bishops as genuine rather than "robber" councils (as the Council of Constantinople of 754 is regularly designated). In the end, Orthodoxy trusts that the Holy Spirit abides in the church and in his own mysterious way leads and preserves his people in all truth.

This trust produces, in practice, a measure of freedom within what could otherwise be a stifling traditionalism.

History of Orthodox

Theology of Orthodoxy may be divided into two periods: Byzantine and modern. During the millennium of the Empire of Byzantium, to 1453, Orthodox theology matured in close association with it. Emperors convoked councils, after the example of Constantine I and the Nicene Council, and pronounced on theological matters, providing some weak basis for speaking of "caesaropapism" in the Byzantine age. In this period three distinctive emphases of Orthodoxy emerged: theology as apophacticism, knowledge as illumination, and salvation as deification.

Relying principally on the sixth century writer Dionysius the Pseudo - Areopagite, Orthodox writers insisted that God in his nature is beyond any understanding. Humans can know nothing about the being of God, and therefore all theological statements must be of a negative, or apophactic, form: God is unchanging, immovable, infinite, etc. Even a seemingly positive affirmation has only negative significance; for example, to say, "God is Spirit," is actually to affirm his noncorporeality. Theology, then, is not a science of God, which is impossible, but of his revelation. That which is known is not necessarily true of God but is what God chooses to disclose, although in that sense it is indeed true knowledge.

Such a theology of negation led to the elevation of spiritual experience to at least an equal role with rationality as an epistemological principle in theology. Maximus Confessor, orthodoxy's chief twelfth century teacher, affirmed: "A perfect mind is one which, by true faith, in supreme ignorance knows the supremely unknowable one." Knowledge of God comes from illumination, the inner vision of true light, for "God is light." From this perception derived Orthodoxy's characteristic fascination with the transfiguration of Jesus, when the light of his deity was supremely revealed to the apostles. It also fostered Heyschasm, in which the mystic's vision of divinity became a theologically significant enterprise. It is for this reason that what is called Orthodox theology is also designated with equal validity "Orthodox spirituality." The chief synthesizer of this aspect of Orthodoxy was Gregory Palamas in the fourteenth century.

The Orthodox concept of salvation as deification undergirded the contemplative methodology implied in the illumination view. Only the "pure in heart" see God, and purity comes only by divine grace in the economy of redemption. Those who are redeemed through the incarnation, whom the NT designates "sons of God" and "partakers of the divine nature," are deified; that is, they become created, in contrast to uncreated, gods. "God became man that we might be made God," said Athanasius of Alexandria; and Maximus Confessor declared: "All that God is, except for an identity in nature, one becomes when one is deified by grace." With this personalistic view of salvation, Orthodoxy diverged from the juridical emphasis which the West inherited through Augustine of Hippo, whom Orthodoxy could not comfortably accept as a Doctor of the Church. Orthodox theology viewed man as called to know God and share his life, to be saved, not by God's external activity or by one's understanding of propositional truths, but by being himself deified.

In sum, the Byzantine period established Orthodoxy's greater mysticism, intuition, and corporatism in contrast to the West's philosophical, scholastic, and forensic orientation.

In the period after 1453 the two events which most influenced the evolution of Orthodoxy were the fall of the Byzantine Empire and the division of Western Christianity. Termination of imperial patronage increased the autonomy of the episcopacy and promoted the Russian contribution to the Orthodox heritage; Reformation theology made it possible for Orthodoxy to select from several alternative expressions of Christian doctrine. To be sure, these developments tended to place Orthodoxy on the defensive and cast it in the role of respondent rather than actor, in which it frequently appeared to be the reactionary wing of Christendom. Nevertheless, that Orthodoxy's vigor remained was evidenced in the writings of several theologians, and the ecumenism of the twentieth century has opened new possibilities for an Orthodox contribution to theology.

Melanchthon made the initial Protestant overture to Orthodoxy when he sent a Greek translation of the Augsburg Confession to Patriarch Joasaph of Constantinople, requesting that the latter find it a faithful rendition of Christian truth. His successor, Jeremiah, responded over twenty years later, condemning numerous Protestant "errors," including justification by faith alone, sola Scriptura, rejection of icons and invocation of saints, Augustinian predestination, and filioque.

A quite different response to the Reformation came from the patriarch elected in 1620, Cyril Lucaris, who composed a confession which articulated an essentially Calvinist system. Cyril's work proved to be an aberration in the history of Orthodoxy; it was formally condemned after his death in 1638 by a synod in Jerusalem thirty - four years later. But it elicited two important statements of Orthodox doctrine. In the first, Russian leadership appeared when Metropolitan Peter Mogila of Kiev composed his confession, a thorough refutation of Cyril's, in affirmation of the received body of Orthodoxy. Mogila's work was approved, with amendments, by the Eastern patriarchs in 1643. The second was the confession of Patriarch Dositheos of Jerusalem, approved by the synod of 1672.

These two documents remained the standard definition of Orthodoxy in the modern period. They aligned Orthodoxy with the Catholic side in most of its chief doctrinal disputes with Reformed theology, e.g., the relation of tradition to Scripture, veneration of saints and images, number and meaning of sacraments, faith and works in salvation. On only two questions did they sympathize with Protestants: papal authority and canon of Scripture. Orthodoxy continued to resist both Protestants and Catholics in their mutual agreement on filioque and the Augustinian understanding of original sin. Orthodoxy rejects original sin; man is born mortal and therefore sins, instead of the other way around, as the West commonly states the matter.

But the significance of Orthodoxy's agreements with either Catholicism or Protestantism was more apparent than real inasmuch as the respective principles of authority differed fundamentally. For Orthodoxy, dogmatic authority remained rooted in the community of the church, represented by the episcopal succession from the apostles, not in the supremacy of the papacy nor in evangelical exegesis of Scripture, both of which to the Orthodox mind represented the domination of rationalism, legalism, and individualism over the true believing and worshipping fellowship of the faithful. To designate this community principle modern Russian theologians provided the definitive, but untranslatable, word sobornost' (approximately, "communion"). "Sobornost' is the soul of Orthodoxy," declared the nineteenth century lay theologian Alexis Khomiakov.

After the middle of the nineteenth century the most creative developments within Orthodoxy came from Russian writers, such as Vladimir Solovyev, Nikolai Berdyaev, Sergei Bulgakov, Georges Florvosky, and from professors of the Russian seminaries in Paris and New York, notably Alexander Schmemann and John Meyendorff. Their work is too recent for it to be incorporated into the essence of Orthodoxy, but it testifies to the continuing vitality of the tradition. These men have, each in his own way, worked actively for the reunification of Christendom. The burden of their ecumenical testimony has been that genuine unity can be achieved not on the basis of the least common denominator among Christian churches but in agreement upon the totality of the common tradition contained in the ecumenical councils and authentically preserved only by Orthodoxy.

P D Steeves
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

John of Damascus, Writings; G Maloney, A History of Orthodox Theology Since 1453; V Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church; J Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology; J Pelikan, The Christian Tradition III, The Spirit of Eastern Christendom; The Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided Church, N P N F , XIV; P Schaff, ed., The Creeds of Christendom, II, 445 - 542; A Schmemann, The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy; N Zernov, Eastern Christendom; K Ware, The Orthodox Way.

Orthodox Church

Catholic Information

The technical name for the body of Christians who use the Byzantine Rite in various languages and are in union with the Patriarch of Constantinople but in schism with the Pope of Rome. The epithet Orthodox (orthodoxos), meaning "right believer", is, naturally, claimed by people of every religion. It is almost exactly a Greek form of the official title of the chief enemies of the Greeks, i.e. the Moslems (mu'min, fidelis). The Monophysite Armenians called themselves ughapar, meaning exactly the same thing.

How "Orthodox" became the proper name of the Eastern Church it is difficult to say. It was used at first, long before the schism of Photius, especially in the East, not with any idea of opposition against the West, but rather as the antithesis to the Eastern heretics - Nestorians and Monophysites. Gradually, although of course, both East and West always claimed both names, "Catholic" became the most common name for the original Church in the West, "Orthodox" in the East.

It would be very difficult to find the right name for this Church. "Eastern" is too vague, the Nestorians and Monophysites are Eastern Churches; "Schismatic" has the same disadvantage. "Greek" is really the least expressive of all. The Greek Church is only one, and a very small one, of the sixteen Churches that make up this vast communion. The millions of Russians, Bulgars, Rumanians, Arabs, and so on who belong to it are Greek in no sense at all. According to their common custom one may add the word "Eastern" to the title and speak of the Orthodox Eastern Church (he orthodoxos anatolike ekklesia).

The Orthodox, then, are the Christians in the East of Europe, in Egypt and Asia, who accept the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon (are therefore neither Nestorians nor Monophysites), but who, as the result of the schisms of Photius (ninth cent.) and Cerularius (eleventh cent.), are not in communion with the Catholic Church. There is no common authority obeyed by all, or rather it is only the authority of "Christ and the seven Ecumenical Synods" (from Nicæa I in 325, to Nicæa II in 787).

These sixteen Churches are: (1) The four Eastern patriarchates - Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem - and the Church of Cyprus, independent since the Council of Ephesus. (2) Since the great schism eleven new Churches have been added, all but one formed at the expense of the one vast Patriarchate of Constantinople. They are the six national churches of Russia, Greece, Servia, Montenegro, Rumania, and Bulgaria, four independent Churches in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, namely Carlovitz, Hermannstadt, Czernovitz, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and lastly the Church of Mount Sinai, consisting of one monastery separated from Jerusalem. One of these Churches, that of Bulgaria, is in schism with Constantinople since 1872. The total number of Orthodox Christians in the world is estimated variously as 95 to 100 millions. (See EASTERN CHURCHES; GREEK CHURCH; CONSTANTINOPLE, Heresy and Schism; RUSSIA.)

Publication information Written by Adrian Fortescue. Transcribed by Geoffrey K. Mondello, Ph.D. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XI. Published 1911. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York

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