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Orthodox Church, one of the three historic and distinctive types of Christianity, along with the Roman Catholic Church and the diverse body of Protestant churches. Orthodoxy is the form of Christianity that developed first in the
Christianity began in the
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The Orthodox Church asserts that it professes the original Christian faith, transmitted accurately through the centuries from the time of the apostles. The word orthodoxy, in fact, comes from Greek words meaning “right belief.” The church finds this original faith in the Bible; in the writings of early church bishops or so-called fathers—such as Saint Basil the Great, Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, and Saint John Chrysostom; and in the ancient traditions of the church, especially as expressed in the rites of worship.
The Orthodox Church is very conservative in regard to doctrinal purity. Even so, this characteristic concern for continuity and tradition does not imply obsession with the past for its own sake, but rather a sense of identity and consistency with the original testimony of the apostles. The Holy Spirit, bestowed on the church at Pentecost, is seen as guiding the whole church “in all truth” (John ). The power of teaching and guiding the community resides in certain ministries, particularly that of the bishop of each diocese, or 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.”
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Participation in the Life of God
The ultimate goal of Orthodox spirituality is participation in the life of God. Already in the New Testament, the goal of Christians was defined as to “become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). Saint Athanasius of
Within the Orthodox tradition the approach to redemption through deification theory led to a more optimistic and less sacrificial understanding of the process of Christ’s mission to save humanity. In Orthodoxy the incarnation of Christ is seen as a cosmic event: By taking on a body, God unites all material reality to himself. Through this choice to enter into human existence, God was seen as opening the way for humanity to participate in his own existence by means of a communion of life-giving love. Although Orthodoxy teaches that a believer will live the divine life fully only after death, it nevertheless instructs that this mysterious life begins with baptism and grows through the individual’s involvement in prayer and the sacraments.
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The Nature of Christ and the Trinity
Ecumenical councils—large gatherings of bishops—held in the first millennium defined the basic Orthodox Christian doctrines on the Trinity and on the nature of Christ. This conciliar theology argued for the authenticity and the fullness of Christ’s divinity and humanity (see Christology) and for the divine status of the Holy Spirit. These doctrines are forcefully expressed in all Orthodox statements of faith and in liturgical hymns. The Virgin Mary is venerated as the mother of God, but the Western doctrine of the immaculate conception of Mary and other aspects of Catholic devotion to Mary are not recognized. Mary’s intercession is invoked because she was the first and greatest of the Savior’s disciples and because she is believed to have received from Christ the role of heavenly intercession for the church on Earth.
The Orthodox Church recognizes the doctrines formulated at the first seven ecumenical councils, which Roman Catholicism also accepts. The First Council of Nicaea, held in 325, defined the full divinity of Jesus Christ, settling the dispute with the Arians who denied his full divinity (see Arianism). The First Council of Constantinople in 381 defined the full divinity of the Holy Spirit, completing the exposition of one God in three divine persons. In 431 the Council of Ephesus defined the unity of Christ’s person against the Nestorians, who had compromised it (see Nestorianism). The Council of Chalcedon in 451 further clarified the necessary distinction of Christ’s two natures—divine and human—against the Monophysites who had argued that Christ possessed only a single composite nature (see Monophysitism). The Second Council of Constantinople in 553 renewed the condemnation of Nestorianism. In 680 the Third Council of Constantinople defined the distinction of divine and human wills in Christ against the Monothelites, a movement supported by the Byzantine emperor that sought a compromise between Orthodoxy and Monophysitism (see Monothelitism). Finally, the Second Council of Nicaea in 787 established the legitimacy of the veneration of images over and against the iconoclasts (image smashers), who had misunderstood veneration as worship and had thus condemned the kissing of icons (holy images) as idolatry (see Iconoclasm). See also
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The sacraments, known as mysteries, and the liturgy are at the heart of Orthodox religious practice. Most Orthodox theologians recognize seven sacraments—central rituals of worship—that were introduced or blessed by Jesus Christ. These sacraments are baptism, chrismation (confirmation), the Eucharist, holy orders, matrimony (see marriage), penance (confession), and anointing of the sick. The central Orthodox sacrament is the Eucharist, the ceremony in which the Last Supper of Jesus, known in Orthodoxy as the Mystical Supper, is reenacted. The consecrated bread and wine of the Eucharist are taken by the Orthodox to be the true body and blood of Christ. Communion is received by the Orthodox only after much preparation involving fasting and confession. Because the precise number of mysteries has never been formally defined by an ecumenical council, as it was in Catholicism, some Orthodox theologians have taught that the act of becoming a monk or the service of burial can also be sacraments.
The sacramental practice of the Orthodox differs in many details from Western customs. Baptism is administered by immersing the child or adult three times under the water, each time in the name of one of the persons of the Trinity. It is followed immediately by anointment with chrism, a sacred perfumed oil that represents the gift and grace of the Holy Spirit. This chrismation (known in Western churches as confirmation) is normally given to infants rather than to adolescents. Immediately after chrismation the person receives Eucharistic communion. Adult converts who have been validly baptized in other Christian denominations may be received into the Orthodox Church by the rite of chrismation. Penance or confession in the Orthodox Church is similar to the practice in Catholicism. Orthodoxy teaches the indissolubility of marriage as the ideal, but allows second and even third marriages in church. Clergy are allowed to be married only once, and that marriage must take place before ordination.
The Orthodox Church has three categories of higher clergy: bishops, priests, and deacons. There are also minor orders, most commonly those of reader and subdeacon. Those who have received higher holy orders may not marry afterward, but there are many married priests and deacons in the Orthodox Church. Bishops, however, are required to be celibates. Until the 12th century the Orthodox Church ordained women as deacons, and the ritual still exists in ancient service books. But since that time the office of female deacon has fallen into disuse. The Orthodox Church is opposed to the admission of women to the priesthood or episcopate as something that lacks sanction from the church fathers.
Bishops are consecrated by at least three of their peers and they are seen as occupying the place of Christ at the Eucharistic liturgy. They are considered the guardians and witnesses of a tradition that goes back without interruption to the apostles. The chief aspect of their ministry is presiding over unity, ensuring that their local church remains united in faith and practice with all other local Orthodox churches in the universal community of Orthodox faith.
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The Divine Liturgy
The Divine Liturgy is the long and solemn celebration of Eucharistic worship, which in Orthodoxy is always sung, never simply spoken. The Eucharist is the central act of Orthodox worship, but there are numerous other prayer services, especially the Hours. The Hours originated as monastic services, based around the Psalms, to mark evening and morning prayers. Each new day begins with sunset. In most parishes the Hours are celebrated only on weekends.
The Orthodox liturgy begins with the preparation (Prothesis), during which a loaf of leavened bread is divided into small pieces and wine is poured into a chalice. Next comes the Liturgy of the Catechumens, which includes prayers in honor of the saints of the day, the singing of the Trisagion (prayer to the Trinity), and the reading of the epistle and gospel texts for the day. In ancient times, the catechumens (people awaiting baptism) then left the service. Today, with infant baptism customary, this rarely happens as the baby is first brought into the church just after its baptism.
The liturgy of the Eucharist follows. The gifts of bread and wine are solemnly carried before the congregation and brought to the holy table in the sanctuary (known as the altar). The priest and congregation alternately sing long prayers recalling the Last Supper and the long history of God’s works of salvation for his people. The priest recites the words of Jesus at the Last Supper: “This is my body, broken for you for the remission of sins. This is the cup of my blood.” And then he and the entire congregation pray for the descent of the Holy Spirit to consecrate the bread and wine. From this moment the Eucharistic bread and wine are worshiped as the presence of Christ himself. After that, the Our Father is sung by the congregation.
In Orthodox churches, an iconostasis, such as one in the Rila Monastery in southwestern
THE BETTMANN ARCHIVE
Finally the Eucharistic bread and wine are shared among the worshipers. Only those who have fasted and prepared themselves go forward to receive the mysteries. The congregation receives the Eucharist from the priest, who uses a spoon to distribute it from the chalice in which the sacramental bread and wine have been mingled. This ritual act of eating and drinking is seen as the central act of the Eucharistic liturgy: It is understood to be a deifying communion with the Christ who once suffered and died but rose to glory in his body. Every detail of the Orthodox liturgical celebration, from the vestments of the clergy to the processions or the opening and closing of doors to the sanctuary, is invested with sacred symbolism.
The setting of the liturgy is the church building, which is divided into three parts: the narthex (vestibule or entrance hall), the nave (central body of the church), and the altar (the most sacred area of the church, known as the sanctuary in Western churches, where the holy table is). The altar is separated from the nave by the iconostasis, a partition decorated with painted icons of Christ, the Virgin Mary, saints, and angels. The iconostasis has three doors connecting the nave with the sanctuary. The central opening (royal door) is only used by the clergy during the Eucharist and symbolizes the opening of the gate of heaven to the faithful.
One of the major characteristics of Orthodox worship is the great wealth of hymns and feast days, which mark the various liturgical cycles. The ordinary cycle of prayers marking each day of the week reaches a new pitch in the prayers assigned for the Sundays of the year. Sunday is generally seen as a recurring symbol of the resurrection of Christ. Over time, the Orthodox Church added to the weekly cycle special cycles of feasts. The first was the Easter cycle. Easter Sunday was soon regarded as the most important festival of all; a 40-day fasting period added before it (Lent) had its own set of penitential prayers. A series of feasts were then added after Easter, such as Ascension Day and Pentecost. By the end of the 4th century if not sooner, the calendar included Christmas, festivals in honor of Mary and the other saints, and other feasts. Today, the Orthodox liturgical calendar is a rich and complex celebration of festivals and feasts covering every day of the year.
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Eastern Church Icon
Ornately decorated icons fill Orthodox churches. Such icons are unique to the Eastern Church and exemplify a marked departure from Old Testament doctrine, which forbids making images of God (the Second Commandment). The Old Testament Trinity Prefiguring the Incarnation (1410?) is an example of an icon painted by 15th-century Russian artist Andrei Rublev. It is a depiction of the three angels who appeared to Abraham near the oaks of Mamre in Genesis 18:2-15.
Bridgeman Art Library,
Inseparable from the liturgical tradition, religious art is seen by Orthodox Christians as a form of pictorial declaration of faith and a channel of religious experience. This central function of religious images, known as icons, received its full definition following the settlement of the iconoclastic controversy in
Because divine life shines through Christ’s humanity, the function of the artist consists in conveying the very mystery of the Christian faith through the medium of art. Furthermore, because icons of Christ and saints provide direct spiritual contact with the holy persons represented, these images should be objects of veneration (proskynesis in Greek), even though worship (latreia) is addressed to God alone. They are a medium of the divine and as such are holy in themselves. Orthodox Christians typically kiss the hands of the icons in church, regarding it as equivalent to kissing the hand of Christ or his saints. The victory of this theology over iconoclasm led to the widespread use of icons in the Christian East, both in churches and private homes, and also inspired great painters—most of whom remain anonymous—in producing works of art that possess spiritual as well as artistic value.
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Great Lavra Monastery
Monasticism is an integral part of the Orthodox Church. While there are many Orthodox monasteries throughout the world, the center of monastic life is
Walter S. Clark/Photo Researchers, Inc.
Many liturgical, artistic, and cultural developments in Orthodoxy are connected with the history of monasticism. Christian monasticism began in
Monastic writers produced an extensive body of literature concerning prayer and the spiritual life. Much of this literature remains familiar to Orthodox believers today, especially the vivid and legendary tales of the early saints of the deserts of
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CHURCH STRUCTURE AND ORGANIZATION
The ancient patriarchates of the Orthodox Church were often the locus of large religious gatherings and the administrative organization of the patriarch. Though not the head of the church like the pope in Roman Catholicism, patriarchs perform administrative functions that include organizing councils for their communities. The four great ancient patriarchates (besides
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The Orthodox Church collectively is a communion (fellowship) of independent churches. Each is autocephalous, that is, governed by its own senior bishop known as a patriarch or metropolitan archbishop. In the early centuries of the church the bishops of the greatest Roman cities—
The senior governing bishops of the autocephalous churches preside over national synods (church councils), which constitute the highest authority in matters of doctrine and administration in each church. The patriarch of
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The Patriarch of
The patriarch of Constantinople enjoys a “primacy of honor” in Orthodoxy because Constantinople was the administrative center of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, which between ad 320 and 1453 was the hub of Eastern Christianity. After the separation of the Roman patriarchate in the early Middle Ages, Constantinople assumed an undisputed seniority of rank among Orthodox bishops in the Eastern Christian world. Several ecumenical councils defined the rights of the patriarch of Constantinople, and in the 6th century he took the title ecumenical patriarch. His authority in the East, however, has never been comparable to the direct authority exercised in the West by the pope. Unlike the pope, the patriarch does not possess administrative powers beyond his own territory, or patriarchate, and he does not claim infallibility. His position is one of considerable moral authority, described as that of a bishop who is “a first among equals.” The other churches recognize his role in convening and preparing consultations and councils of Orthodox churches. Today, his authority extends over very small Greek communities in Turkey; over some dioceses 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.
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Patriarchate of Alexandria
The patriarchate of Alexandria ranks second among the ancient patriarchates and traces its origins to Saint Mark the Evangelist, who is believed to have been the first bishop in Africa. It has jurisdiction today over the continent of Africa and has recently gained many African converts in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and other countries. After the early 5th century a large number of Christians in Africa refused to accept the authority of the ecumenical councils and separated from the Orthodox Church. The Coptic Orthodox Church and the Ethiopian Orthodox Union Church represent these groups today. The Orthodox patriarch of Alexandria, who is Greek-speaking, presided over about 300,000 adherents in the year 2000.
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Patriarchate of Antioch
The patriarch of Antioch now lives in Damascus, Syria, although he still carries the ancient title patriarch of Antioch. Antioch was once the third largest city of the Roman Empire and the largest city of the Eastern Empire. Its Christian bishop was one of the most powerful leaders of the Christian world until the 6th century, but after the rise of Islam the affairs of the Christian East fell into a long and drastic decline. The Orthodox Church in Antioch traces its founding to the apostles Peter and Paul. The patriarch of Antioch today is head of a significant Arab Christian community in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, as well as extensive communities of Syrian Christians who emigrated to North America. In the combined patriarchates of Antioch and Jerusalem there are about 725,000 Arabic-speaking Orthodox Christians.
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Patriarchate of Jerusalem
The patriarch of Jerusalem presides over Arabic-speaking Orthodox Christians in Jordan, Israel, and the Israeli-occupied territories of the West Bank. The church traces its founding to the first apostles who were resident in the holy city, especially James, the brother of Jesus. The Council of Chalcedon gave it the honorific rank of patriarchate in 451, but it has never been numerically or politically powerful. Today it is especially vulnerable, as the Christian population of the Holy Land steadily declined during the 20th century.
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Orthodox Church of Cyprus
The son of a shepherd, Makarios, formerly named Mihail Mouskos, was elected Orthodox archbishop of the island of Cyprus in 1950. After a period of exile by the British, who controlled Cyprus, Makarios returned in 1959 and was elected president of independent Cyprus. In 1974 he was ousted by Cypriot troops led by Greek officers, but he returned later that year and reclaimed the presidency.
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The Orthodox Church of Cyprus traces its origins to the apostles Paul and Barnabas, who brought Christianity to the island in the 1st century. The church was a dependency of the patriarch of Antioch until the Council of Ephesus granted it autocephalous status in 431, with the right to rank immediately after the five ancient patriarchates. Ownership of Cyprus changed hands several times over the centuries as the island was conquered, but church relations with Constantinople never wavered. When the Ottoman Empire conquered the island in 1571 the Latin churches were completely destroyed and only four Orthodox bishops were allowed to continue. After the British took control of the island in 1878, the church enjoyed greater freedom, although the bishops were often focal points of resistance to colonial rule. In 1960 Archbishop Makarios III led Cyprus to independence from Great Britain and became the country’s first president. The head of the church is called the archbishop of Nea Justiniana and All Cyprus; his residence is at Nicosia. In 2000 the church had about 550,000 adherents.
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Russian Orthodox Church
Saint Basil’s Cathedral
The Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Basil is a well-known landmark in Moscow. The richly ornamented building was commissioned by Russian tsar Ivan IV, also known as Ivan the Terrible, to commemorate victories in battle and built between 1555 and 1679. The chapels of Saint Basil’s are topped by colorful onion-shaped domes. Each dome is different in size and decoration.
The patriarchate of Moscow and all Russia today ranks as the largest Orthodox church by far, although it occupies the sixth place in the hierarchical precedence of autocephalous churches. Russia was converted to Orthodox Christianity late in the 10th century, and the patriarchate of Moscow was established in 1589. It was the first new patriarchate created since antiquity. Many Ukrainians became Orthodox Christians in the late 16th century, and in the 17th and 18th century they passed into the jurisdiction of Moscow as their country came under Russian rule. The Russian Orthodox Church endured a difficult period of persecution after the Russian Revolutions of 1917. The new Soviet government imprisoned and executed great numbers of clergy and church activists, imposed restrictions on church activity, and launched an energetic campaign of atheistic propaganda. Thousands of churches and monasteries were closed, many of them being turned into museums.
Four Saints Icon,
Religious themes dominated Russian art until the early 20th century. These themes were depicted in icons, stylized paintings created in strict compliance with church guidelines that were considered sacred works of art. This Russian icon dates to the 14th century.
Bob Saler/Photo Researchers, Inc.
The downfall of the Soviet regime in 1991 gave the Russian church new opportunities for growth, but also new challenges as Russia began to adopt the values of a Western-style secular consumer society. New efforts were undertaken in Ukraine to create an autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church. In the year 2000 the Russian Orthodox Church had an estimated 74 million adherents. The Orthodox in Ukraine number about 27 million.
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Serbian Orthodox Church
The small Orthodox church of Saint Jovan Kaneo overlooks Lake Ohrid in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The Macedonian Orthodox Church declared its independence from the Serbian church in 1967, but other Orthodox churches have not recognized its autocephalous (self-governing) status.
The Serbs adopted Christianity in the 9th century as a result of Byzantine missions in Bulgaria and neighboring Slavic territories. These missions also oversaw the translation of the Bible into Slavonic. The Serbian church remained under the jurisdiction of the patriarchate of Bulgaria for most of its history. With the blessing of Constantinople, it became a self-governing archbishopric in the 13th century with Saint Sava as its first archbishop. The Serbian church declared its autocephaly as a patriarchate in 1346, and Constantinople accepted this status in 1375. But during Ottoman domination of Serbia from 1459 until the 19th century, the Ottoman sultans supported the patriarchate of Constantinople’s central jurisdiction over all Christian affairs in their extensive empire. The Serbian church lost its independence as a result. Constantinople again recognized its autocephalous status in 1879, and in 1920 it officially became a patriarchate once more. It is headed by the Archbishop of Pec, who is also Metropolitan of Belgrade and Karlovci, and Patriarch of all the Serbs. The church has its administrative headquarters in Belgrade.
The Serbian church, which had suffered much oppression during the period of Communist dictatorship, became politically vocal after the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1992 and participated in pro-democracy demonstrations calling for the overthrow of Serbian president Slobodan Milošović. In 2000 the Serbian church had about 7 million adherents in Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia, as well as Serbian communities in North America, Western Europe, and Australia. In 1997, in the context of post-Communist instability, a section of the Serbian church in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia declared its autocephaly as the Macedonian Orthodox Church, but other Orthodox churches did not recognize this status. The Macedonian church has about 1.2 million members.
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Romanian Orthodox Church
Christianity reached the Roman province of Dacia (the western parts of modern Romania) in the 4th century, and in the 9th century the inhabitants adopted the Eastern (Slavonic) liturgy. From the time of its early domination by Bulgaria, the church was placed under the supervision of Constantinople. Slavonic remained the chief language of the liturgy until the 17th century, when it was gradually replaced by Romanian. Today, the Romanians are the only speakers of a Romance (Latin-based) language who profess the Orthodox faith. With the emergence of nationalist independence movements in the 19th century, Moldavia and Wallachia voted for union as Romania in 1857, and two years later the church in Moldavia and Wallachia claimed autocephalous status. The patriarchate of Constantinople recognized that status in 1885. The Church of Romania was promoted to patriarchal rank in 1925 and united Orthodox Romanians of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire within its jurisdiction.
During the period of Communist dictatorship in Romania, the church was oppressed in many ways, but it retained its standing in the cultural life of the people and received more encouragement from government authorities than did Orthodox churches in other Communist countries. After the fall of Romania’s Communist dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu in 1989, the Orthodox Church began an energetic renewal program, rebuilding many churches and monasteries. The patriarch of Romania is the only Orthodox leader to wear distinctive white robes (like the pope’s) as daily dress. His headquarters are in Bucharest and in the year 2000 he presided over about 20 million adherents.
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Bulgarian Orthodox Church
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is a popular tourist attraction in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. The cathedral is a monument to the 200,000 Russians who died helping to liberate Bulgaria from the Ottoman Empire during the 1877–1878 Russo-Turkish War. Built during the late 1800s, the cathedral now serves as a museum, gallery, and concert hall. It showcases paintings by Eastern European artists and performances by singers from the Bulgarian National Opera.
Teresa Zabala/Photo Researchers, Inc.
Bulgarian Slavs adopted Christianity in the 9th century. The church was first organized as an independent archbishopric under the jurisdiction of the patriarch of Constantinople. By the 10th century Bulgarian was the language of the church, and in the early 10th century, by decree of Tsar Simeon, it became an autocephalous patriarchate in defiance of Constantinople. After Byzantine armies conquered Bulgaria in the 11th century, they suppressed the patriarchate, but the Bulgarian people reestablished it between 1295 and 1393. It again lost its independent status after Bulgaria came under Ottoman rule in 1393. The Bulgarian patriarchate declared its autocephaly from Constantinople in 1870, after Bulgaria gained political independence. But Constantinople excommunicated the Bulgarian church; the schism was not healed until 1945, when Constantinople recognized the autocephaly. The synod of Bulgaria granted the metropolitan of Sofia the title of patriarch in 1953, an act that was recognized by Constantinople in 1961.
After the collapse of Communism in Bulgaria, much conflict divided the church and its members, many of whom regarded the bishops as passive instruments of the Communist powers. In 1992 the new government tried to oust the incumbent patriarch and appointed a new one. A synod presided over by the ecumenical patriarch convened in 1998 and confirmed the right of the original incumbent. The headquarters of the Bulgarian patriarch are at Sofia, and he presides over about 7 million adherents.
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Georgian Orthodox Church
Georgia, in the Caucasus region of southwestern Asia, adopted Christianity in the 4th century, and the Georgian Orthodox Church dates to that time. It was first a dependency of the patriarchate of Antioch but achieved autocephalous status after the 8th century. In 1811, after the Russian tsars had annexed Georgia, the independence of the Georgian patriarchate was abolished, and it was forcibly merged with the Russian patriarchate. The Georgian church regained its independence after the Russian Revolution of 1917, although this status was not recognized until 1943 by the patriarchate of Russia. Only in 1990 did Constantinople recognize Georgia’s status as an autocephalous patriarchate.
Soviet suppression of religion was especially severe in Georgia, where the church served as a focus of national identity. Many churches and seminaries were closed as a result. The church underwent significant renewal after the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) collapsed in 1991 and Georgia regained its independence. In 1997 the synod of the Georgian church marked its opposition to increasing ecumenicism (reconciliation with other Christian churches) by voting to withdraw from the World Council of Churches. The Georgian Orthodox Church is headed by a catholicos-patriarch whose see is at Tbilisi. In 2000 the church had an estimated 3 million adherents.
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Orthodox Church of Greece
Greece was part of the jurisdiction of the patriarch of Constantinople until 1821, when the Greek War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire began. Many Orthodox bishops in Constantinople and Cyprus were executed in reprisal for the war in Greece. In reaction to these executions, the church of Greece declared itself autocephalous in 1833, a status formally recognized by the ecumenical patriarchate in 1850. The church has authority over Orthodox Christians of Greece except for Crete and the Dodecanese Islands, which remain under the jurisdiction of Constantinople. The many Orthodox Greeks who immigrated to other parts of Europe and to Australia and North and South America during the 20th century retain close ties with their places of origin in the Greek mainland. However, the churches in the countries of immigration are generally directed from Constantinople. The Orthodox Church of Greece is headed by the archbishop of Athens and all Greece, who serves as president of a synod of bishops that governs the church. In 2000 the church had about 10 million adherents.
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Polish Orthodox Church
When Poland regained its independence after World War I (1914-1918), it had a number of Orthodox Christians, especially Ukrainians, living within its borders. The Orthodox dioceses in Poland were then under the jurisdiction of the patriarch of Moscow. The Polish government requested autocephalous standing for the church, which was granted by Constantinople in 1923 but not recognized by Moscow. After the USSR annexed eastern Poland in 1939, it returned the Polish church to the Moscow patriarchate. In 1948 Moscow granted autocephalous status to the Orthodox Church of Poland. The church is led by a metropolitan archbishop with headquarters in Warsaw. In 2000 its members—most of whom can trace Ukrainian or Byelorussian ancestry—numbered just over 1 million.
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Orthodox Church of Albania
Christianity reached Albania in the 4th century, although most Albanians converted to Islam after the conquest of Albania by the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century. During the Ottoman period Christian Orthodox Albanians came under the jurisdiction of the patriarch of Constantinople. Albania gained its independence from the Ottomans in 1913, and in 1922 the Albanian church declared itself autocephalous. Constantinople recognized that status in 1937. Persecution of all religious groups began after the Communists came to power in Albania in 1945, and the practice of religion was entirely prohibited by the Albanian government from 1967 to 1990. When religious practice was again permitted, no Orthodox bishops and very few priests were still alive in Albania. Since 1990 the church has slowly reestablished itself, with missionary help from other Orthodox churches. The archbishopric of Tirana and All Albania was instituted in 1991. A number of new churches have been built, and ruined churches and monasteries have been restored. New bishops and priests are being ordained. The membership of the church in 2000 was estimated at 650,000.
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Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia
The patriarchate of Constantinople granted the Orthodox Church in Czechoslovakia autonomous status in 1923. The German occupation of Czechoslovakia during World War II (1939-1945) nearly obliterated the church, as the Nazis executed the bishop and sent priests to labor camps. The Orthodox Church in Czechoslovakia regained its autocephalous standing after the war, and it gained new members after Eastern Catholics were absorbed into it by decree of the Communist regime. Following the collapse of Communism in 1989 and the division of Czechoslavakia into two republics—the Czech Lands and Slovakia—in 1993, the church decided to retain its unity with only a partial expression of the political division. The church was administratively divided into two metropolitan provinces, one with headquarters in Prague in the Czech Republic, and the other based in Prešov in Slovakia. A metropolitan archbishop leads each province, and the synod selects either archbishop as metropolitan of the entire church. The church had about 50,000 members in the Czech Republic and 21,000 in Slovakia in the year 2000.
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Orthodox Church in America
Russian Orthodox Church,
Saint Michael’s Cathedral in Sitka, in southeastern Alaska, stands as a monument to the city’s cultural history. Sitka was founded by Russian fur traders in the early 1800s and remained under Russian control until 1867, when the United States purchased the Alaska territory from Russia. A Russian Orthodox church, St. Michael's was originally constructed in the 1840s but destroyed by fire in the 1960s and later rebuilt.
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Orthodoxy reached North America with Russian Orthodox missionaries who arrived in Alaska in 1794. A Russian Orthodox diocese, established in Sitka, Alaska, had its headquarters moved to San Francisco after the United States purchased Alaska in 1868. Many Orthodox Christians immigrated to North America after the Russian Revolutions of 1917, and they formed the self-governing Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of America. In 1970 that church was granted autocephaly by the patriarchate of Moscow. The church organized itself under a metropolitan archbishop based in Washington, D.C., and took the name Orthodox Church in America (OCA). It is governed by a synod.
Ukrainian Orthodox Church
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church has played a key role in preserving a sense of ethnic identity among Ukrainian Americans. Religious observances provide opportunities for the community to gather and affirm its cultural heritage. A religious tradition dating back to the late 10th century, the Ukrainian Orthodox faith has a rich legacy of ritual, art, and hymns. This church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is constructed in the traditional Ukrainian Orthodox style.
Immigrants from Greece, other countries in the Balkans, and the Middle East also brought Orthodox Christianity to the United States and Canada during the 19th century. In many cases they have retained their ties to prelates in the country from which they or their ancestors came. The patriarchate in Constantinople exercises jurisdiction over all Greek Orthodox churches in North and South America. It has not recognized the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in America, in part because it fears losing the large and powerful body of Greek Orthodox faithful in North America.
The Orthodox Church in America has as its stated goal the unification of all Orthodox Christians in the United States and Canada as a single Orthodox church. At present, many Orthodox churches exist in the United States apart from the OCA and the Greek Orthodox majorities. To achieve its goal the OCA encouraged the formation of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in America (SCOBA), who represent the 15 national Orthodox churches. Regular meetings of SCOBA are intended to ensure that all the historic churches develop a coherent and organized policy on matters affecting the Orthodox faith. The desire of many Orthodox communities in North America to retain connections with traditional ethnic roots, however, hinders the growth of the OCA into a fully indigenous Orthodox Church.
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After the early centuries of Christianity the Orthodox patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem kept only a shadow of their former glory for several reasons. First, a majority of non-Greek-speaking Christians of the Middle East rejected the Council of Chalcedon, which confirmed that Christ had a human as well as a divine nature (see Monophysitism), and thus were cut off from the major Christian centers, Constantinople and Rome. In addition, the rapid advance of Islam after the 8th century placed most of those areas, which had been the cradle of Christianity, under the rule of Muslim caliphs. During most of the Middle Ages Constantinople itself remained by far the most important center of Christendom and the undisputed center of Orthodoxy.
The famous Byzantine missionaries, Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius, translated Scripture and the liturgy into Old Church Slavonic, the first written Slavic language, in about 864. As a result many Slavic nations were converted to Byzantine Orthodox Christianity. The Bulgarians, a people of mixed Slavic and Turkic origin, embraced it in 864. The Russians, baptized in 988, remained in the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the patriarchate of Constantinople until 1448.
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The Schism of Eastern and Western Christianity
After the 4th century when Constantinople emerged as a great capital and church center, tensions periodically arose between its leaders and the bishop of Rome. After the fall of Rome to Germanic invaders in 476, 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 Saint 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 patriarch a measure of moral and doctrinal authority. But they never believed that this authority allowed the papacy to overrule another church or that it made the pope into a universally authoritative figure within the larger church.
The Orthodox tradition asserted that the character and rights of the church were fully present in each local community of Orthodox believers with its own bishop. All bishops were equal, and patriarchs or synods of bishops exercised only an “oversight of care” among the body of coequal bishops. The precedence of honor of individual national churches depended on historical seniority. 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 Roman emperor and the Senate in a world where church boundaries, for administrative reasons, reflected political boundaries.
Apart from the different understandings of the nature of church governance, the most significant doctrinal difference between Eastern and Western Christians arose over the exact wording of the Nicene Creed. The Orthodox churches demanded that no words be added to or taken away from the ancient and fundamental statement of the faith, as issued by the councils of Nicaea and Constantinople in the 4th century. During the early Middle Ages the Latin word filioque, meaning “and from the Son,” was added in the Latin Christian world, thus rendering the creed as “I believe … in the Holy Spirit … who proceeds from the Father and from 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 in Rome in about 1014. Western theologians believed that this teaching preserved the spirit of the original creed. But Orthodox teachers believed that it had not only contradicted the authority of an ecumenical council but also introduced an idea that disrupted the coherence of the doctrine of the Trinity. Soon both the Western church and Orthodox churches began to look upon one another as having deviated from Christian truth.
Other issues also became controversial. The ordination of married men to the priesthood, customary in the Orthodox world, was increasingly prohibited by the medieval Western church. The Orthodox also regarded the Western preference for unleavened bread in the Eucharist as an illegitimate custom. The two sides never reached any harmony because they followed different criteria of judgment: The papacy considered itself the ultimate judge in matters of faith and discipline, whereas the East invoked long-standing tradition and the authority of councils, where the local churches spoke as equals.
It is often assumed that the anathemas (excommunications) 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. This action introduced a new element of political bitterness into East-West Christian relations.
In the late medieval period, several attempts were made at reunion between the Catholics and the Orthodox, particularly at the councils of Lyons (1274) and Florence (1438-1439). They 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 other cultural and political misunderstandings.
After the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople in 1453, the Islamic government recognized the ecumenical patriarch of that city as both the religious and the political spokesman for the entire Christian population of the empire. With the decline of the Ottoman Empire during the 19th century, the patriarchate of Constantinople, although still retaining its honorary primacy in the Orthodox Church, lost its political power over the other Orthodox churches. With the liberation of the Orthodox peoples from Ottoman rule, a succession of autocephalous churches was then set up in Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, and Serbia.
The Orthodox Church in Russia, seeing the advancing tide of Islamic power in the East, declared its independence from Constantinople in 1448, five years before the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans. In 1589 the patriarchate of Moscow was established and formally recognized by Patriarch Jeremias II of Constantinople. For the Russian people and their tsars, Moscow had become the so-called third Rome, direct heir to the imperial and ecclesiastical supremacy of ancient Rome and Constantinople. The patriarchs of Moscow never enjoyed anything like the relative freedom of the Byzantine patriarchs, where church laws regulated the interference of the emperor and were generally respected. In Russia the tsars exercised complete domination over church affairs, except for the brief reign of Patriarch Nikon in the mid-17th century. 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 soon afterward the Russian church was violently persecuted by the Communist government. As the Soviet regime became less repressive and, in 1991, broke up, the church started to regain its vitality. The Orthodox churches in Eastern Europe also faced persecution by oppressive Communist governments after World War II ended in 1945, but they too regained their authority in the 1990s and are slowly reestablishing their place in the moral, religious, and cultural life of their people.
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Orthodox Relations with Other Churches
Orthodox Leader Athenagoras
In 1964 Athenagoras I, left, met with Pope Paul VI, right, in Jerusalem and ended the excommunication decrees between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. It was the first meeting between the leaders of the two churches in more than 500 years.
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. Orthodoxy in the simplest sense sees itself as the Church of Christ complete and entire. It is often ambivalent about other Christian bodies that do not have communion with it, such as the Roman Catholic, Anglican, or Protestant bodies. It knows that they are Christians but it does not recognize that they are therefore necessarily the Church, since Orthodoxy’s definition of authenticity in this matter is based on strict tradition in doctrine and practice. In recent centuries the historic division and the separation between the Orthodox and other Christians has been eroded by many large movements of people. As a result Eastern and Western Christianity now exist close by one another, allowing the two to gain a deeper knowledge of one another. In certain areas of confrontation, such as the Greek islands or the Ukraine in the 17th century, Orthodox synods reacted against active proselytism (efforts at conversion) by Catholic missionaries, declaring Western sacraments invalid and demanding rebaptism of converts from the Roman or Protestant communities.
During the latter part of the 20th century the mainstream of Orthodox thought adopted a more positive attitude toward the modern ecumenical movement. It cautiously entered into dialogue in the World Council of Churches (WCC), and several Orthodox churches joined the WCC after 1948. The Orthodox theologians who spoke before the WCC rejected any policy of doctrinal relativism and consistently argued that the goal of ecumenism should be the full unity of the faith, synonymous with complete reconciliation with Orthodoxy in fundamental matters of faith and practice. Along with the WCC’s international moral authority, funding for the Orthodox churches, as administered by the WCC, was very important to the Orthodox churches that were emerging from decades of Communist persecution in the late 20th century.
The Orthodox mainstream recognize that, before the establishment of Christian 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. However, the Protestant majority in the WCC occasionally made Orthodox churches feel uneasy about their participation in that body. The broader ecumenical attitude adopted during the reign of Pope John XXIII by the Roman Catholic Church (which does not officially belong to the WCC) was welcomed by many Orthodox Church leaders, especially the patriarch of Constantinople, and it led to new and friendlier relations between the churches. Orthodox observers were present at sessions of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), and several meetings took place between popes Paul VI and John Paul II on the one side and patriarchs Athenagoras I and Demetrios on the other.
In a symbolic gesture of peace, the mutual anathemas of 1054 were lifted by both sides in 1965. The two churches established a joint commission for dialogue, and representatives have met on a number of occasions from 1966 on to discuss differences in doctrine and practice. The papacy’s claim to authority and infallibility is generally seen as the primary obstacle to reconciliation. At the end of the year 2000, 14 of the 15 Orthodox leaders formally called for an end to the schism. Only Patriarch Alexey II of
In another symbolic effort to heal divisions, the leaders of the 15 autocephalous Orthodox churches assembled in
After the collapse of Communist regimes in
Orthodox relations with the Protestant world experienced a significant setback when the Anglican and Episcopalian churches began ordaining women priests in the late 20th century, a move that the Orthodox regarded as a sign of their lack of attachment to church traditions. Serious theological dialogue between Protestantism and Orthodoxy remains to be undertaken. Divisions between them also exist over fundamental matters of doctrine, including the understanding of Christ and the Trinity, veneration of the Virgin Mary, the use of icons in worship, and the meaning and significance of the sacraments.
See also Byzantine Art and Architecture;
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