Eastern Orthodox

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The Eastern Orthodox Church (viz. Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, etc.) is a Christian theology of the body that views itself as:

  • the historical continuation of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church established by Jesus Christ and the Twelve Apostles, having maintained unbroken the link between its clergy and the Apostles by means of Apostolic Succession.
  • the church which most effectively preserves the traditions of the early church.
  • the church which most closely adheres to the canons of the first seven ecumenical councils held between the 4th and the 8th centuries.

NOTE: In this article, terms such as “The Church”, “The Orthodox”, “The Byzantine Church”, and “The One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” all refer to a single entity, what is today commonly called the Eastern Orthodox Church – unless otherwise noted.

Organization and leadership

Spiritually, the Orthodox Church considers Jesus Christ to be the head of the church, and the church to be his body. It is believed that the Grace of God is directly passed down to Orthodox bishops and clergy through the laying on of hands - a practice started by the apostles, and that this unbroken historical and physical link is an essential element of the true church. Each bishop has a territory (See) over which he governs. His main duty is to make sure the traditions and practices of the Church remain inviolate. Bishops are equal in authority and cannot interfere in each others territory. Administratively, these bishops and their territories are organized into various Autocephaly groups or (synod)s of bishops who gather together at least twice a year to discuss the state of affairs within their respective sees. While bishops and their autocephalous synods have the ability to administer guidance in individual cases, their actions do not usually set precedents that affect the entire church. There have been, however, a number of times when heretical ideas arose to challenge the Orthodox faith and it was necessary to convene a general or "Great" council of all available bishops. There were seven such councils between the 4th and the 8th century. These councils did not create the doctrines of the church but rather compared the new ideas to the traditional beliefs of the Church. Ideas that were not supported by the traditions of the church were deemed heresy and expunged from the church. The ecumenical councils followed a democratic form with each bishop having one vote. Though present and allowed to speak before the council, members of the Imperial Roman/Byzantine court, abbots, priests, monks and laymen were not allowed to vote. The bishop of the old Roman capitol, the Pope, though not present at all of the councils was considered to be president of the council and thus called “First Among Equals”. One of the decisions made by the second council and supported by later councils was that the bishop of Constantinople, since Constantinople was the New Rome, should be given the honor of second in rank. Later, because of the split with Rome, the honor of presiding over these general councils was transferred to the Patriarch of Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople who was also given the title, "First Among Equals", reflecting both his administrative leadership and his spiritual equality. He is not, however, considered to be the head or leader of the church. (See also History of the Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern Orthodox Church organization.)

Number of adherents

Based on the numbers of adherents, Eastern Orthodoxy is the second largest Christian communion in the world after the Roman Catholic Church, and the third largest grouping if Protestantism is counted as a whole. [1] The most common estimate of the number of Eastern Orthodox Christians worldwide is 220-300 million, though according to recent statistics there are closer to 500 million worldwide. [2] Eastern Orthodoxy is the largest single religious faith in: [3] Belarus (80%), Bulgaria (83%), Cyprus (78%), Georgia (country) (84%), Greece (98%), Republic of Macedonia (65%), Moldova (98%), Montenegro (74%), Romania (87%), Russia (84%)*, Serbia (80%), and Ukraine (76%). It is also the dominant religion in Republika Srpska (90%) entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the dominant religion in northern Kazakhstan (44% of the Kazakhstan population). In addition, there are also large Orthodox communities in Africa, Asia, Australia, North America, and South America.*


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Orthodox Christians believe in a monotheism who is both three and one (triune). The Father is the eternal source of the Godhead, from whom the Son is begotten eternally and also from whom the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally. The Holy Trinity is three unconfused, distinct, divine persons (hypostasis), with no overlap or modalism among them, who share one divine essence (ousia)—uncreated, immaterial and eternity.[1] Orthodox doctrine regarding the Holy Trinity is summarized in the Symbol of Faith.[2]

In discussing God's relationship to his creation it is necessary to understand a Essence-Energies distinction between God's eternal essence which is totally transcendent and his uncreated energies which is how he reaches us. It is also necessary to understand that this is an artificial distinction, not a real one. The God who is transcendent and the God who touches us are one and the same[3]

Sin, salvation and the incarnation

Human nature, before Fall of Man was pure and innocent. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, they introduced a new element into human nature (i.e. sin and corruption). This new state prevented man from participation in the Kingdom of Heaven. The Orthodox believe that all people prior to Christ went to Hades in Christianity (Hell or Limbo, which is understood differently than other Christians). When Christ became God incarnate on Earth, he changed human nature by uniting the human and the Divine; for this Christ is often called "The New Adam". By his participation in human life, death, and resurrection he sanctified the means whereby we could be restored to our original purity and regain heaven. This is what the Orthodox call salvation; salvation from the condemnation of the original sin of Adam and thus, the fate of hell. Christ’s salvific act worked retroactively back to the beginning of time thus saving all the righteous people who went to hell, including Adam and Eve.


File:Russian Resurrection icon.jpg
16th century Russian Orthodox Church icon of the Resurrection
The Resurrection of Jesus of Christ is the central event in the Eastern Orthodox Church calendar of the Orthodox Church and is understood in literal terms as a real historical event. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was crucified and died, descended into Hell, rescued all the souls held there through sin; and then, because Hell could not restrain the infinite God, rose from the dead, thus saving all mankind. Through these events, he released mankind from the bonds of Hell and then came back to the living as man and God. That each individual human may partake of this immortality, which would have been impossible without the Resurrection, is the main promise held out by God in his New Testament with mankind, according to Orthodox Christian tradition.

Every holy day of the Orthodox liturgical year relates to the Resurrection directly or indirectly. Every Sunday of the year is dedicated to celebrating the Resurrection. In the liturgical commemorations of the Passion of Christ during Holy Week there are frequent allusions to the ultimate victory at its completion.

Bible, holy tradition, and the patristic consensus

The Orthodox Church considers itself to be the original Church founded by Christ and His apostles.[4] The faith taught by Jesus to the apostles, given life by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and passed down to future generations uncorrupted, is known as Holy Tradition.[5] The primary witness to Holy Tradition is the Bible, texts written or approved by the apostles to record revealed truth and the early history of the Church. Because of the Bible's apostolic origin, it is regarded as central to the life of the Church.

The Bible is always interpreted within the context of Holy Tradition, which gave birth to it and canonized it. Orthodox Christians maintain that belief in a doctrine of sola scriptura would be to take the Bible out of the world in which it arose. Orthodox Christians therefore believe that the only way to understand the Bible correctly is within the Orthodox Church.[6]

Other witnesses to Holy Tradition include the liturgy of the Church, its iconography, the rulings of the Ecumenical councils, and the writings of the Church Fathers. From the consensus of the Fathers (consensus patrum) one may enter more deeply and understand more fully the Church's life. Individual Fathers are not looked upon as infallible, but rather the whole consensus of them together will give one a proper understanding of the Bible and Christian doctrine.[7]

The Theotokos and the Saints

The Theotokos of Vladimir, one of the most venerated of Orthodox Christian icons of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The Eastern Orthodox Church believes that death and the separation of body and soul to be unnatural; a result of man’s fall. They also feel that the congregation of the Church comprises both the living and the dead. All members of the Church who are in heaven are considered to be Saints, whether their names are known or not. There are, however, those saints of distinction whom God has revealed to us as particularly good examples for us to learn from either their teachings or their lives. When a Saint is revealed and ultimately recognized by a large portion of the Church a service of official recognition (canonization) is celebrated for the saint. This does not “make” the person a saint, it merely recognizes him and announces it to the rest of the Church. A day is prescribed for the saint’s celebration, hymns are composed, and icons are written (painted). Numerous saints are celebrated on each day of the year. They are venerated (shown great respect and love) but not worshiped, for worship is due to God alone. In showing the saints this love and requesting their prayers, it is believed by the Orthodox that they thus assist in the process of salvation for others.[8]

Preëminent among the saints is the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Theotokos ("birthgiver of God"). The Theotokos was chosen by God and freely cooperated in that choice to be the mother of Jesus Christ, the God-man. The Orthodox believe that the Christ Child from the moment of conception was both 100% God and 100% Man. She is thus called Theotokos as an affirmation of the divinity of the one to whom she gave birth. It is also believed that her virginity was not compromised in giving birth to God incarnate, that she was not harmed, that she felt no pain, and that she remained forever a virgin. Because of her unique place in salvation history, she is honored above all other saints and especially venerated for the great work that God accomplished through her.[9]

Because of the holiness of the lives of the saints, their bodies and physical items connected with them are regarded by the Church as also holy. Many miracles have been reported throughout history connected with the saints' relics, often including healing from disease and injury. The veneration and miraculous nature of relics continues from Biblical times.[10]


The Orthodox believe that when a person dies his soul is “temporarily” separated from his body. Though it may linger for a short period on Earth, it is ultimately escorted either to heaven or hell. The soul’s experience of either of these states is only a “foretaste” until the Final Judgment.[11] The Orthodox believe that the state of the soul in hell can be changed by the love and prayers of the righteous up until the last judgment; while Roman Catholics maintain that prayers only can benefit the righteous in purgatory (which the Orthodox do not believe in) and Protestants generally do not pray for the dead at all.[12].

The Orthodox are not dispensationalism and tend to ignore most speculation concerning the “End of the World” as meaningless to one's own current spiritual state, and in fact, the Apocalypse (Revelation) is the only biblical text never read in church. Nevertheless, the Orthodox believe that after the final judgement:

  • all souls will be reunited with their resurrected bodies
  • that all souls will fully experience their spiritual state
  • that having been perfected, humankind will forever progress towards a deeper and fuller love of God, which equates with eternal happiness
  • that hell, though often described in metaphor as punishment, is not inflicted by God, but rather is the soul’s inability to participate in God’s infinite love which is rained down on everyone.


Art and architecture

Church buildings

One of the oldest Orthodox churches Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Georgia

The church building has many symbolic meanings; perhaps the oldest and most prominent is the concept that the Church is the Ark (as in Noah's) in which the world is saved from the flood of temptations. Because of this, most Orthodox Churches are rectangular in design. Another popular shape, especially for churches with large choirs is cruciform or cross-shaped. Architectural patterns may vary in shape and complexity, with chapels sometimes added around the main church, or triple altars (Liturgy may only be performed once a day on any particular altar), but in general, the symbolic layout of the church remains the same.

The origin of the layout of each Orthodox church is based on Solomon's Temple with the Holy of Holies being separated by the columnar or templon.

The Church building is divided into three main parts: the narthex (Vestibule (Architecture)), the nave and the sanctuary (also called the altar or holy place). The narthex is where catechumens and non-Orthodox visitors were traditionally asked to stand during services. It is separated from the nave by “The Royal Gate”. On either side of this gate are candle stands (Menalia) representing the pillars of fire that went before the Hebrew people escaping from Egypt. The nave is where most of the congregation stand during services. Traditionally, men stand on the right and women on the left. There may be a choir area on either side or in a loft in back. There is usually a dome in the ceiling with an icon of Christ depicted as Ruler of the Universe (Pantocratoros). At the eastern end of the church is a raised dais with an icon covered screen or wall (iconostasis or templon) separating the nave from the sanctuary. In the center of this wall is the “Beautiful Gate” through which only the clergy may pass. There are access doors on either side usually with icons of the Archangels on them. In the center of the sanctuary is the Altar. Orthodox priests, when standing at the altar face away from the congregation (They face East). The sanctuary contains all the necessary implements for conducting the various services.


Our Lady of St. Theodore, the protectress of Kostroma, following the same Byzantine "Tender Mercy" type
The term Icon comes from the Greek word eikona, which simply means image. The Orthodox believe that the first icons of Christ and the Virgin Mary were Painted by Luke the Evangelist. Icons are filled with symbolism designed to convey information about the person or event depicted. For this reason, icons tend to be formulaic, following a prescribed methodology for how a particular person should be depicted (including hair style, body position, clothing worn, and background details). Icon painting, in general, is not an opportunity for artistic expression, though each iconographer brings his own vision to the piece. It is far more common for an icon to be copied from an older model, though with the recognition of a new saint in the church, a new icon must be created and approved. The personal, idiosyncratic and creative traditions of Western European religious art are largely lacking in Orthodox iconography before the 17th century, when Russian iconography was strongly influenced by religious paintings and engravings from both Protestant and Catholic Europe. Greek iconography also began to take on a strong romantic western influence for a period and the difference between some Orthodox icons and western religious art began to vanish. More recently there has been a strong trend of returning to the more traditional and symbolic representations.
File:Orthodox prayer corner.jpg
A fairly elaborate Orthodox Christian prayer corner as would be found in a private home

Free-standing statues (three dimensional depictions) are almost non-existent within the Orthodox Church. This is partly due to the rejection of the previous pagan Greek age of idol worship and partly because icons are meant to show the spiritual nature of man, not the sensual earthly body. Bas reliefs, however, became common during the Byzantine art period and lead to a tradition of covering a painted icon in a silver or gold “Riza” in order to preserve the icon. Such bas relief coverings usually leave the faces and hands of the saints exposed for veneration.

Icons are not considered by the Orthodox to be idols or objects of worship. The parameters of their usage was clearly spelled out by the 7th ecumenical council. Justification for their usage utilizes the following logic: Before Christ God took human form no material depiction was possible and therefore blasphemous even to contemplate. Once Christ became human, he was able to be depicted. And because he is God, it is justified to hold in ones mind the image of God Incarnate. Likewise, when one venerates an icon, it is not the wood or paint that are venerated but rather the individual shown, just as it is not the paper one loves when one might kiss the photograph of a loved one. As Saint Basil famously proclaimed, honor or veneration of the icon always passes to its archetype. Following this reasoning through, our veneration of the glorified human Saint made in God's image, is always a veneration of the divine image, and hence God as foundational archetype.

Icons can be found adorning the walls of churches and often cover the inside structure completely.[13] Most Orthodox homes have an area set aside for family prayer, usually an eastern facing wall, where are hung many icons.

Icons are often illuminated with a candle or oil lamp. (Beeswax for candles and olive oil for lamps are preferred because they are natural and burn cleanly.) Besides the practical purpose of making icons visible in an otherwise dark church, both candles and oil lamps symbolize the Light of the World which is Christ.

Tales of miraculous icons that moved, spoke, cried, bled, or gushed fragrant myrrh are not uncommon, though it has always been considered that the message of such an event was for the immediate faithful involved and therefore does not usually attract crowds. Some miraculous icons whose reputations span long periods of time nevertheless become objects of pilgrimage along with the places where they are kept. As several orthodox theologians and saints have explored in the past, the icons' miraculous nature is found not in the material, but in the glory of the saint who is depicted in the icon. The icon is a window, in the words of St Paul Florensky, that actually participates in the glory of what it represents. This is why several icons are believed to bleed myrrh, which is a physical manifestation of the uncreated holy spirit.

Some of the most venerated Russian Orthodox icons are treated in separate articles.

See also :Category:Eastern Orthodox icons.

The Tri-Bar Orthodox Cross.


Main article: Iconostasis

The iconostasis as is the tradition today, probably owes a great deal to 14th-century Hesychasm mysticism and the wood-carving genius of the Russian Orthodox Church. The first ceiling-high, five-leveled Russian iconostasis was designed by Andrey Rublyov in the cathedral of the Dormition in Vladimir in 1408.

Archaeological evidence is that the Iconstasis evolved from the early templon. The evidence comes from the Hagia Ioannes Studios in Constantinople. A basilica dedicated to John the Baptist, built in 463AD. In it the chancel barrier surrounded the altar in a π shape, with one large door facing the nave and two smaller doors on the other sides. Twelve piers held chancel slabs of about 1.6 meters in length. The height of the slabs is not known. The chancel barrier was not merely a low parapet (a short wall); remains of colonnettes have been found, suggesting that the barrier carried an architrave on top of the columns.[14]

The templon gradually replaced all other forms of chancel barriers in Byzantine churches in the 6th, 7th, and 8th centuries except in Cappadocia. As late as the 10th century, a simple wooden chancel barrier separated the apse from the nave in the The underground city and Monasteries of Derinkuyu, though by the late 11th century, the templon had become standard. This may have been because of the veneration and imitation of the Great Church Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, though the columnar form of chancel barrier does predate Hagia Sophia.[15]

The Cross

Depictions of the Christian Cross within the Orthodox Church are numerous and often highly ornamented. Some carry special significance. The Tri-Bar Cross, as seen to the right, has three bars instead of the single bar normally attached. The small top crossbar represents the sign that Pontius Pilate nailed above Christ's head, however, instead of the Latin acronym INRI (Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum, meaning "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews") the Greek INBI or its Slavonic equivalent ІНЦІ is used. It is not uncommon, however, for this to be replaced or amplified by the phrase "The King of Glory" in order to answer Pilate's mocking statement with Christ's affirmation, "My Kingdom is not of this world". There is also a bottom slanting bar. This appears for a number of reasons. First of all, there is enough evidence to show that there was a small wooden platform for the crucified to stand on in order to support his weight; in Christ's case his feet were nailed side by side to this platform with one nail each in order to prolong the torture of the cross. Evidence for this idea comes mainly from two sources, biblical (that in order to cause the victim to die faster their legs were broken so they could not support their weight and would strangle) and tradition (all early depictions of the crucifixion show this arrangement, not the later with feet on top with single nail). It has also been pointed out that the nailed hands of a body crucified in the manner often shown in modern secular art would not support the weight and would tear through, a platform for the feet would relieve this problem. The bottom bar is slanted for two reasons, to represent the very real agony which Christ experienced on the cross (a refutation of Docetism) and to signify that the thief on Christ's right chose the right path while the thief on the left did not. Other crosses associated with the Orthodox church are the more traditional single-bar crosses, budded designs, the Jerusalem cross (cross pattée), celtic crosses, and others.

In Unicode, this cross is U+2626 (). This is backward in most common Unicode fonts.


Main article: Canonical Hours#Eastern Orthodox and Greek-Catholic usage

The services of the church are properly conducted each day following a rigid, but constantly changing annual schedule (i.e. Parts of the service remain the same while others change depending on the day of the year). Services are conducted in the church by the clergy. Services cannot properly be conducted by a single person, but must have at least one other person present (i.e. a Priest and a Chanter). Usually, all of the services are conducted on a daily basis only in monasteries while parish churches might only do the services on the weekend. The services can be conducted at their traditional times of the day, or on special feast days served all together (Agripnia) from late at night till early the next morning. Services, especially the Divine Liturgy can only be performed once a day on an altar (some churches have multiple altars in order to accommodate multiple services). From its Jewish roots, the day begins at sundown. Traditionally the services follow the following schedule:

  • Vespers – (Greek Hesperinos) Sundown, the beginning of the liturgical day.
  • Compline (Greek Apodipnon, lit. "After-supper") – After the evening meal prior to bedtime.
  • Matins (Greek Orthros) – First service of the morning. Usually starts before sunrise.
  • Canonical Hours – First, Third, Sixth, and Ninth – Sung either at their appropriate times, or in aggregate at other customary times of convenience. If the latter, The First Hour is sung immediately following Orthros, the Third and Sixth prior to the Divine Liturgy, and the Ninth prior to Vespers.

These services are conceived of as sanctifying the times during which they are celebrated. They consist to a large degree of readings from the Psalms with introductory prayers, troparion, and other prayers surrounding them. The Psalms are so arranged that when all the services are celebrated the entire Psalter is read through in their course once a week, and twice a week during Great Lent when they are celebrated in an extended form.

The Divine Liturgy is the celebration of the Eucharist. Although it usually stands between the 6th and 9th hours, it is considered to occur outside the normal time of the world and is not a sanctification of it. It is also common, on special feast days of the church to celebrate all the services consecutively and to do this from late in the evening on the eve of the feast to early in the morning on the day of the feast itself. This variation is called Agripnia and can last many hours. Because of its festal nature it is usually followed by a breakfast feast shared together by the congregation. Although it may be celebrated on most days, there has never been a tradition of its daily celebration in parish churches.

Liturgies may not be celebrated Monday through Friday during the penetential season of Great Lent due to their festive character. Since intensified prayer and more frequent reception of communion is nevertheless considered particularly beneficial at that time, the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is often celebrated on Wednesdays and Fridays of that period. This is a solemn Vespers combined with the distribution of Eucharistic elements consecrated and reserved from the previous Sunday.


Orthodox services are sung nearly in their entirety. Services consist in part of a dialog between the clergy and the people (often represented by the choir or the Psaltis (Cantor). In each case the text is sung or chanted following a prescribed musical form. Almost nothing is read in a normal speaking voice with the exception of the homily if one is given. The church has developed eight Modes or Tones, (see Octoechos) within which a chant may be set, depending on the time of year, feast days, or other considerations of the Typikon. There are numerous versions and styles that are traditional and acceptable and these vary a great deal between cultures.[16] It is common, especially in the United States, for a choir to learn many different styles and to mix them, singing one response in Greek, then English, then Russian, etc.


As part of the legacy handed down from its Jewish roots incense is used during all services in the Eastern Orthodox Church. It is burned as an offering of worship to God even as it was done in the Jewish temple. Traditionally, the base of the incense used is the resin of Boswellia thurifera, also known as frankincense, but the resin of fir trees has been used as well. It is usually mixed with various floral essential oils giving it a sweet smell. Incense represents the sweetness of the prayers of the saints rising up to God (Psalm 141:2, Revelation 5:8, Revelation 8:4). The incense is burned in an ornate golden censer that hangs at the end of Three chains representing the Trinity. In the Greek tradition there are 12 bells hung along these chains representing the 12 apostles (usually no bells in slavic tradition). The censer is used (swung back and forth) by the priest/deacon to venerate all four sides of the altar, the holy gifts, the clergy, the icons, the congregation, and the church structure itself.


In the Orthodox Church you will often hear the term “Mystery” or “The Mysteries”. While it is understood that God theoretically can do anything instantly and invisibly, it is also understood that for the sake of our mental limitations he chooses to use material substance as a medium in order to reach us. The limitations are ours, not his. Matter is not considered to be evil by the Orthodox. Water, Oil, Bread, Wine, etc. all are means by which we can connect with God. How this process works is a “Mystery”. These Mysteries have been surrounded with prayer and symbolism so that their true meaning will not be forgotten. Among these are Communion (the most direct connection), confession, baptism, anointing with oil, etc. The term also properly applies to an act as simple as lighting a candle, burning incense, and praying or asking God to bless one's food.[17]


Baptism is the mystery which transforms the old sinful man into the new, pure man; the old life, the sins, any mistakes made are gone and a clean slate is given. Through baptism one is united to the Body of Christ by becoming a member of the Orthodox Church. During the service Holy water is blessed. The catechumen is fully immersed in the water three times in the name of the Holy Trinity. This is considered to be a death of the "old man" by participation in the crucifixion and burial of Christ, and a rebirth into new life in Christ by participation in his resurrection.[18] Properly a new name is given, which becomes the person's name.

Children of Orthodox families are normally baptized shortly after birth. Converts to Orthodoxy (even converts from other Christian denominations) are properly baptized into the Orthodox Church. Those who have left Orthodoxy and adopted a new religion, if they return to their Orthodox roots are usually received back into the church through the mystery of Chrismation. The modern practice of receiving converts who were baptized in other Christian churches by Chrismation is not generally accepted by the majority of the Church.

Properly, the mystery of baptism is administered by bishops and priests; however, in emergencies any Orthodox Christian can baptize.[19] In such cases, should the person survive the emergency, it is likely that the person will be properly baptized by a priest at some later date. This is not considered to be a second baptism, nor is it imagined that the person is not already Orthodox, but rather it is a fulfillment of the proper form.

The service of baptism used in Orthodox churches has remained largely unchanged for over 1500 years. This fact is witnessed to by St. Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386), who, in his Discourse on the Sacrament of Baptism, describes the service in much the same way as is currently in use.


Chrismation (sometimes called confirmation) is the mystery by which a baptized person is granted the gift of the Holy Spirit through anointing with Holy Chrism.[20] It is normally given immediately after baptism as part of the same service, but is also used to receive lapsed members of the Orthodox Church.[21] As baptism is a person's participation in the death and resurrection of Christ, so chrismation is a person's participation in the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.[22]

A baptized and chrismated Orthodox Christian is a full member of the Church, and may receive the Eucharist regardless of age.[23]

The creation of Chrism may be accomplished by any bishop at any time, but usually is done only once a year, often when a synod of bishops convenes for its annual meeting. (Some autocephalous churches get their chrism from others.) Anointing with it substitutes for the laying-on of hands described in the New Testament.[24]


There are spiritual, symbolic, and even practical reasons for Fasting. In the fall from Paradise man became possessed of a carnal nature; he adopted carnal practices. Through fasting, the Orthodox attempt to recapture Paradise in their lives by refraining from those carnal practices. In general fasting refers to abstaining from meat, fish, dairy, and other animal products; and for symbolic reasons olive oil and wine during certain preparatory periods on the church calendar. This abstinence traditionally also applies to sexual relations between partners. Fasting is not generally viewed as a hardship, but rather a privilege and joy in preparing for the coming “Feast Day”. For greater spiritual impact, some choose, for a short period to go without food completely. A complete three day fast at the beginning and end of a fasting period is not unusual and longer fasts are not uncommon, though usually only practiced in monasteries. There are those who see fasting as an exercise in self-denial and Christian obedience that serves to rid the believer of his or her passions (what most modern people would call "addictions"). These often low-intensity and hard-to-detect addictions to food, television or other entertainments, sex, or any kind of self-absorbed pleasure-seeking are seen as some of the most significant obstacles for man seeking closeness to God. Through struggling with fasting the believer comes face to face with the reality of his condition — the starting point for genuine repentance. All Orthodox Christians are expected to fast following a prescribed set of guidelines. However, there are circumstances where a dispensation is allowed (those who are pregnant or infirm).

The time and type of fast is generally uniform for all Orthodox Christians; the times of fasting are part of the ecclesiastical calendar. There are four major fasting periods during the year. They are:

  • The Nativity Fast (Advent or Winter Lent) which is the 40 days preceding the Nativity of Christ (Christmas).
  • Great Lent which consists of the 6 weeks (40 Days) preceding Palm Sunday, and Great Week (Holy Week) which precedes Pascha (Easter).
  • The Apostles' Fast which varies in length from 2 to 6 weeks on the Old Calendar. It begins on Monday following the first Sunday after Pentecost and extends to the feast day of Saints Peter and Paul on June 29. Since the date of Pentecost depends on that of Pascha, and Pascha is determined on the Julian Calendar, this fast can disappear completely under New Calendar observance. This is one of the objections raised to the New Calendar.
  • The two-week long Fast preceding the Dormition of the Theotokos (repose of The Virgin Mary).

Orthodox Christians also fast on every Wednesday in commemoration of Christ's betrayal by Judas Iscariot, and on every Friday in commemoration of his crucifixion. Monastics often include Mondays as a fast day in imitation of the Angels who are commemorated on that day in the weekly cycle, since they neither eat nor drink. Orthodox Christians who expect to receive Eucharist on a certain day do not eat or drink at all from midnight of that day until after taking communion; a similar total fast is expected to be kept on Good Friday and Holy Saturday for those who can do so. There are other individual days observed as fasts no matter what day of the week they fall, such as the Beheading of St. John the Baptist on August 29 and the Feast of the Cross#September 14 on September 14.

Strict fasting is canonically forbidden on Saturdays and Sundays due to the festal character of the Sabbath and Resurrectional observances respectively. On those days wine and oil are therefore permitted even if abstention from them would be otherwise called for. Holy Saturday is the only Saturday of the year where a strict fast is kept.

There are four weeks during the year where there is no fasting even on Wednesday and Friday. The weeks following Pascha, Pentecost, and the Nativity are "fast-free" in celebration of the feasts. There is also no fasting for week following the Sunday of the Pharisee and the Publican, one of the preparatory Sundays for Great Lent. This is done so that no one can imitate the Pharisee's boast that he fasts for two days out of the week, for that one week at least.

The number of fast days varies each year, but in general the Orthodox Christian can expect to spend over half the year fasting at some level of strictness.

It is considered a greater sin to advertise one's fasting than to not participate in the fast. Fasting is a purely personal communication between the Orthodox and God, and in fact has no place whatsoever in the public life of the Orthodox Church. If one has responsibilities that cannot be fulfilled because of fasting, then it is perfectly permissible not to fast.


"Almsgiving" refers to any charitable giving of material resources to those in need. Along with prayer and fasting, it is considered a pillar of the personal spiritual practices of the Orthodox Christian tradition. Almsgiving is particularly important during periods of fasting, when the Orthodox believer is expected to share the monetary savings from his or her decreased consumption with those in need. As with fasting, bragging about the amounts given for charity is considered anywhere from extremely rude to sinful.

Holy Communion

The Eucharist is at the center of Orthodox Christianity. In practice, it is the partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ in the midst of the Divine Liturgy with the rest of the church. The bread and wine are believed to become the genuine Body and Blood of the Christ Jesus through the operation of the Holy Spirit. The Eastern Orthodox Church has never described exactly how this occurs, or gone into the detail that the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches have in the West. The doctrine of transubstantiation was formulated after the East-West Schism took place, and the Orthodox churches have never formally affirmed or denied it, preferring to state simply that it is a "Mystery".[25]

Communion is given only to baptized, chrismated Orthodox Christians who have prepared by fasting, prayer, and confession. The priest will administer the Gifts with a spoon directly into the recipient's mouth from the chalice.[26] From baptism young infants and children are carried to the chalice to receive Holy Communion.[27]

It is the opinion of some traditionalists that frequent communion is dangerous spiritually if it reflects a lack of piety in approaching the most significant of the Mysteries, which would be damaging to the soul.[citation needed] However, many spiritual advisors advocate frequent reception as long as it is done in the proper spirit and not casually, with full preparation and discernment. Frequent reception is more common now than in recent centuries.[28]


Orthodox Christians who have committed sins but repent of them, and who wish to reconcile themselves to God and renew the purity of their original baptisms, confess their sins to God before a spiritual guide who offers advice and direction to assist the individual in overcoming their sin. Parish priests commonly function as spiritual guides, but such guides can be anyone, male or female, who have been given a blessing to hear confessions. Spiritual guides are chosen very carefully as it is a mandate that once chosen, they must be obeyed. Having confessed, the penitent then has his or her parish priest read the prayer of repentance over them.

Sin is not viewed by the Orthodox as a stain on the soul that needs to be wiped out, or a legal transgression that must be set right by a punitive sentence, but rather as a mistake made by the individual with the opportunity for spiritual growth and development. An act of Penance, if the spiritual guide requires it, is never formulaic, but rather is directed toward the individual and their particular problem, as a means of establishing a deeper understanding of the mistake made, and how to affect its cure. Though it sounds harsh, temporary excommunication is fairly common (The Orthodox require a fairly high level of purity in order to commune, therefore certain sins make it necessary for the individual to refrain from communing for a period). Because confession and repentance are required in order to raise the individual to a level capable of communing (though no one is truly worthy). Because full participatory membership is granted to infants, it is not unusual for even small children to confess; though the scope of their culpability is far less than an older child, still their opportunity for spiritual growth remains the same.


Template:Further Marriage, within the Orthodox Church is seen as an act of God in which he sanctifies the joining of two people into one. First and foremost this joining is seen as a dispensation allowed by God for the mutual comfort and support of the individuals involved. While procreation and the perpetuation of the species is seen as important, what is more important is the bond of love between the two individuals as this is a reflection of our ultimate union with God. Divorce is rare in the Orthodox Church. The Church does recognize that there are occasions when it is better that couples do separate. It remains the decision of ones Bishop if they should desire to marry again if they will be permitted to do so. Generally widows may remarry as well as some divorced. A man is not permitted to be a priest if he or his wife have ever been divorced. If a person is undergoing a second marriage because of a divorce the sacrament is different and contains prayers or repentance for the first failed marriage.

The Mystery of Marriage in the Orthodox Church has two distinct parts: The Betrothal and The Crowning. The Betrothal includes: The exchange of the rings, the procession, the declaration of intent and the lighting of candles. The Crowning includes: The readings from the epistle and gospel, the Blessing of the Common Cup and the Dance of Isaiah (the bride and groom are led around the table 3 times), and then the Removal of the Crowns. There is no exchange of vows. There is a set expectation of the obligations incumbent on a married couple, and whatever promises they may have privately to each other are their responsibility to keep. Finally there is the Greeting of the Couple.


All Orthodox Christians are expected to participate in at least some ascetic works, in response to the commandment of Christ to "come, take up the cross, and follow me." (Gospel of Mark 10:21 and elsewhere) They are therefore all called to imitate, in one way or another, Christ himself who denied himself to the extent of literally taking up the cross on the way to his voluntary self-sacrifice. However, laypeople are not expected to live in extreme asceticism since this is close to impossible while undertaking the normal responsibilities of worldly life. Those who wish to do this therefore separate themselves from the world and live as monastics: monks and nuns. As ascetics par excellence, using the allegorical weapons of prayer and fasting in spiritual warfare against their passions, monastics hold a very special and important place in the Church. This kind of life is often seen as incompatible with any kind of worldly activity including that which is normally regarded as virtuous. Social work, school teaching, and other such work is therefore usually left to laypeople.

The Schema worn by Orthodox Monks.
There are three main types of monastics. Those who live in monasteries under a common rule are coenobitic. Each monastery may formulate its own rule, and although there are no religious orders in Orthodoxy some respected monastic centers such as Mount Athos are highly influential. Eremitic monks, or hermits, are those who live solitary lives. Hermits might be associated with a larger monastery but living in seclusion some distance from the main compound, and in such cases the monastery will see to their physical needs while disturbing them as little as possible. They often live in the most extreme conditions and practice the strictest asceticism. In order to become a hermit, it is necessary for the monk or nun to prove themselves to be worthy enough to their superior clergy. In between are those in semi-eremetic communities, or sketes, where one or two monks share each of a group of nearby dwellings under their own rules and only gather together in the central chapel, or kyriakon, for liturgical observances.

The spiritual insight gained from their ascetic struggles make monastics preferred for missionary activity. Bishops are often chosen from among monks, and those who are not generally receive the monastic tonsure before their consecrations.

Many (but not all) Orthodox seminary are attached to monasteries, combining academic preparation for Holy Orders with participation in the community's life of prayer. Monks who have been ordained to the priesthood are called hieromonk (priest-monk); monks who have been ordained to the diaconate are called hierodeacon (deacon-monk). Not all monks live in monasteries, some hieromonks serve as priests in parish churches thus practicing "monasticism in the world".

Cultural practices differ slightly but in general, Father is the correct form of address for monks who have been tonsured, while Novices are addressed as Brother. Similarly, Mother is the correct form of address for nuns who have been tonsured, while Novices are addressed as Sister. Nuns live identical ascetic lives to their male counterparts and are therefore also called monachoi (monastics) or the feminine plural form in Greek, monachai, and their common living space is called a monastery.

Holy Orders

File:Orthodox clergy.jpg
Orthodox clergy at All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church, Raleigh, NC (L to R): priest, two deacons, bishop

Since its founding, the Church spread to different places, and the leaders of the Church in each place came to be known as episkopoi (overseers, plural of episkopos, overseer — Gr. Template:Polytonic), which became "bishop" in English. The other Holy Orders roles are presbyter (Gr. Template:Polytonic, elder), which became "prester" and then "priest" in English, and diakonos (Gr. Template:Polytonic, servant), which became "deacon" in English (see also subdeacon). There are numerous administrative positions in the clergy that carry additional titles. In the Greek tradition, bishops who occupy an ancient See are called Metropolitan, while the lead bishop in Greece is the Archbishop. (In the Russian tradition, however, the usage of the terms "Metropolitan" and "Archbishop" is reversed.) Priests can be archpriests, archimandrites, or protopresbyters. Deacons can be archdeacons or protodeacons, as well. The position of deacon is often occupied for life. The deacon also acts as an assistant to a bishop.

The Orthodox Church has always allowed married priests and deacons, provided the marriage takes place before Holy Orders. In general, parish priests are to be married as they live in normal society (that is, "in the world" and not a monastery) where Orthodoxy sees marriage as the normative state. Unmarried priests usually live in monasteries since it is there that the unmarried state is the norm, although it sometimes happens that an unmarried priest is assigned to a parish. Widowed priests and deacons may not remarry, and it is common for such a member of the clergy to retire to a monastery (see clerical celibacy). This is also true of widowed wives of clergy, who often do not remarry and may become nuns if their children are grown. Bishops are always clerical celibacy. Although Orthodox consider men and women equal before God (Epistle to Galatians 3:28), only men who are qualified and have no canonical impediments may be ordained bishops, priests, or deacons.

Anointing with holy oil

Anointing, or Holy Unction, is one of the many mysteries administered by the Orthodox Church. The Mystery is far more common in the Orthodox Church than it had traditionally been in the Roman Catholic Church (until recent years). In both Churches today it is not reserved for the dying or terminally ill, but for all in need of spiritual or bodily healing. In Orthodoxy, however, it is also offered annually on Holy Wednesday to all believers. It is often distributed on major feast days, or any time the clergy feel it necessary for the spiritual welfare of its congregation.

According to Orthodox teaching Holy Unction is based on Epistle of James 5:14-15:

Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.


Early Church

Christianity first spread in the predominantly Greek language-speaking eastern half of the Roman Empire. Paul of Tarsus and the Twelve Apostles traveled extensively throughout the Empire, establishing Churches in major communities, with the first Churches appearing in Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem, and then the two political centres of Rome and Constantinople. Orthodox believe an Apostolic Succession was established; this played a key role in the Church's view of itself as the preserver of the Christian community. Systematic persecution of Christians stopped in 313 when Roman Emperor Constantine I of the Roman Empire proclaimed the Edict of Milan. From that time forward, the Byzantine Emperor exerted various degrees of influence over the church (see Caesaropapism)[citation needed] . This included the calling of the Ecumenical Councils to resolve disputes and establish church dogma on which the entire church would agree. Sometimes Patriarchs (often of Constantinople) were deposed by the emperor; at one point emperors sided with the iconoclasm in the eighth and ninth centuries.

Ecumenical councils

Several doctrinal disputes from the 4th century onwards led to the calling of Ecumenical councils.

Eastern Orthodox Christianity recognizes only these seven ecumenical councils.

  1. The First Ecumenical Council of the Seven Ecumenical Councils was that convoked by the Roman Emperor Constantine at Nicea in 325, condemning the view of Arius that the Son is a created being inferior to the Father.
  2. The Second Ecumenical Council was held at Constantinople in 381, defining the nature of the Holy Spirit against those asserting His inequality with the other persons of the Trinity.
  3. The Third Ecumenical Council is that of Ephesus in 431, which affirmed that Mary is truly "Birthgiver" or "Mother" of God (Theotokos), contrary to the teachings of Nestorius.
  4. The Fourth Ecumenical Council is that of Chalcedon in 451, which affirmed that Jesus is truly God and truly man, without mixture of the two natures, contrary to Monophysite teaching.
  5. The Fifth Ecumenical Council is the second of Constantinople in 553, interpreting the decrees of Chalcedon and further explaining the relationship of the two natures of Jesus; it also condemned the teachings of Origen on the pre-existence of the soul, etc.
  6. The Sixth Ecumenical Council is the third of Constantinople in 681; it declared that Christ has two wills of his two natures, human and divine, contrary to the teachings of the Monothelites.
  7. The Seventh Ecumenical Council was called under the Empress Regent Irene in 787, known as the second of Nicea. It affirmed the making and veneration of icons, while also forbidding the worship of icons and the making of three-dimensional statuary. It reversed the declaration of an earlier council that had called itself the Seventh Ecumenical Council and also nullified its status (see separate article on Iconoclasm). That earlier council had been held under the iconoclast Emperor Constantine V. It met with more than 340 bishops at Constantinople and Hieria in 754, declaring the making of icons of Jesus or the saints an error, mainly for Christological reasons.

The Church in Egypt (Patriarchate of Alexandria) split into two groups following the Council of Chalcedon (451), over a dispute about the relation between the divine and human natures of Jesus. Eventually this led to each group having its own Patriarch (Pope). Those that remained in communion with the other patriarchs (those who accepted the Council of Chalcedon) were called "Melkites" (the king's men, because Constantinople was the city of the emperors) [not to be confused with the Melkite Greek Catholic Church of Antioch], and are today known as the Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria, currently led by Patriarch Theodore II of Alexandria. Those who disagreed with the findings of the Council of Chalcedon are today known as the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, currently led by Pope Shenouda III. There was a similar split in Syria (Patriarchate of Antioch) into the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch and the Syriac Orthodox Church.

Those who disagreed with the Council of Chalcedon are sometimes called "Oriental Orthodoxy" to distinguish them from the Eastern Orthodox, who accepted the Council of Chalcedon. Oriental Orthodox are also sometimes referred to as "monophysites", "non-Chalcedonians", or "anti-Chalcedonians", although today the Oriental Orthodox Church denies that it is monophysite and prefers the term "miaphysite", to denote the "joined" nature of Jesus. Both the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches formally believe themselves to be the continuation of the true church and the other fallen into heresy, although over the last several decades there has been some reconciliation. Several Ecumenical Councils were held between 325 (the First Council of Nicaea) and 787 (the Second Council of Nicaea), which to Orthodox constitute the definitive interpretation of Christian dogma. Orthodox thinking differs on whether the Fourth Council of Constantinople and Fifth Council of Constantinople Councils of Constantinople were properly Ecumenical Councils, but the majority view is that they were merely influential, and not bindingly dogmatic.

Roman/Byzantine Empire

Orthodox Christian culture reached its golden age during the high point of Byzantine Empire and continued to flourish in Russia, after the fall of Constantinople. Numerous autocephalous churches were established in Eastern Europe and Slavic peoples areas.

In the 530s the Hagia Sophia (Hagia Sophia) was built in Constantinople under emperor Justinian I.

Oriental Orthodoxy

As noted above, Eastern Orthodoxy strives to keep the faith of the aforementioned seven ecumenical council. In contrast, the term "Oriental Orthodoxy" refers to the churches of Eastern Christianity traditions that keep the faith of only the first three ecumenical councils — the First Council of Nicaea, the First Council of Constantinople and the Council of Ephesus — and rejected the dogmatic definitions of the Council of Chalcedon. Thus, "Oriental Orthodox" churches are distinct from the churches that collectively refer to themselves as "Eastern Orthodox". As well, there are the "Nestorianism" churches, which are Eastern Christian churches that keep the faith of only the first two ecumenical councils, i.e., the First Council of Nicaea and the First Council of Constantinople. "Nestorian" is an outsider's term for a tradition that predated the influence of Nestorius. Thus, "Persian Church" is a more neutral term.

Great Schism

Main article: East-West Schism

In the 11th century the East-West Schism took place between Rome and Constantinople, which led to separation of the Church of the West, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Eastern Orthodox Church. There were doctrinal issues like the filioque clause and the authority of the Pope involved in the split, but these were exacerbated by cultural and linguistic differences between Latins and Greeks. Prior to that, the Eastern and Western halves of the Church had frequently been in conflict, particularly during periods of iconoclasm and the Photian schism.

The final breach is often considered to have arisen after the capture and sacking of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade in 1204. The sacking of the Hagia Sophia and establishment of the Latin Empire as a seeming attempt to supplant the Orthodox Byzantine Empire in 1204 is viewed with some rancour to the present day. In 2004, Pope John Paul II extended a formal apology for the sacking of Constantinople in 1204; the apology was formally accepted by Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. Many things that were stolen during this time: relic, riches, and many other items, are still held in various Western European cities, particularly Venice.

In 1453, the Byzantine Empire fell to the Ottoman Empire. By this time Egypt had been under Muslim control for some seven centuries, but Orthodoxy was very strong in Russia which had recently acquired an autocephalous status; and thus Moscow called itself the New Rome, as the cultural heir of Constantinople. Under Ottoman rule, the Orthodox Church of Constantinople acquired substantial power as an autonomous millet. The ecumenical patriarch was the religious and administrative ruler of the entire "Greek Orthodox nation" (Ottoman administrative unit), which encompassed all the Eastern Orthodox subjects of the Empire.

Conversion of East and South Slavs

File:Vologda Churches.jpg
Orthodox churches in Vologda, Russia

In the ninth and tenth centuries, Orthodoxy made great inroads into Eastern Europe, including Kievan Rus'. This work was made possible by the work of the Byzantine Christian saints Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius. When Rastislav, the king of Moravia, asked Byzantium for teachers who could minister to the Moravians in their own language, Byzantine emperor Michael III chose these two brothers. As their mother was a Slav from the hinterlands of Thessaloniki, Cyril and Methodius spoke the local Slavonic languages vernacular and translated the Bible and many of the prayer books. As the translations prepared by them were copied by speakers of other dialects, the hybrid literary language Old Church Slavonic was created. Originally sent to convert the Slavs of Great Moravia, Cyril and Methodius were forced to compete with Frankish missionaries from the Roman diocese. Their disciples were driven out of Great Moravia in AD 886.

Methodius later went on to convert the Serbs. Some of the disciples, namely Saint Clement of Ohrid, Saint Naum who were of noble Bulgarians descent and St. Angelaruis, returned to Bulgaria where they were welcomed by the Bulgarian Tsar Boris I of Bulgaria who viewed the Slavonic liturgy as a way to counteract Greek influence in the country. In a short time the disciples of Cyril and Methodius managed to prepare and instruct the future Slav Bulgarian clergy into the Glagolitic alphabet and the biblical texts and in AD 893, Bulgaria expelled its Greek clergy and proclaimed the Bulgarian language as the official language of the church and the state. The success of the conversion of the Bulgarians facilitated the conversion of other East Slavic peoples, most notably the Rus' (people), predecessors of Belarusians, Russians, and Ukrainians.

The missionaries to the East and South Slavs had great success in part because they used the people's native language rather than Latin as the Roman priests did, or Greek language. Today the Russian Orthodox Church is the largest of the Orthodox Churches.

Age of captivity

In 1453, the Byzantine Empire fell to the Ottoman Empire. By this time Egypt had been under Muslim control for some seven centuries, but Orthodoxy was very strong in Russia which had recently acquired an autocephalous status; and thus Moscow called itself the New Rome, as the cultural heir of Constantinople.

Under Ottoman rule, the Orthodox Church of Constantinople acquired substantial power as an autonomous millet. The ecumenical patriarch was the religious and administrative ruler of the entire "Greek Orthodox nation" (Ottoman administrative unit), which encompassed all the Eastern Orthodox subjects of the Empire.

File:Stavronikita Aug2006.jpg
Stavronikita monastery, South-East view

As a result of the Ottoman conquest of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, and the Fall of Constantinople, the entire Orthodox communion of the Balkans and the Near East became suddenly isolated from the West. For the next four hundred years, it would be confined within a hostile Islamic world, with which it had little in common religiously or culturally. The Russian Orthodox Church was the only part of the Orthodox communion which remained outside the control of the Ottoman empire. It is, in part, due to this geographical and intellectual confinement that the voice of Eastern Orthodoxy was not heard during the Reformation in sixteenth century Europe. It should not be surprising that this important theological debate often seems strange and distorted to the Orthodox; after all, they never took part in it and thus neither Reformation nor Counter-Reformation is part of their theological framework.

Eastern Orthodox Church under the Republic of Turkey

Since the establishment of the secular nationalist Republic of Turkey, the number of Orthodox in the Anatolian peninsula has sharply declined amidst complaints of Turkish governmental repression. These complaints include various perceived campaigns by the Turkish government against various Eastern and Oriental Orthodox groups such as the Armenian Genocide, Assyrian Genocide, Pontic Greek Genocide, Istanbul Pogrom and recently the closure of the Halki seminary (also see Greco-Turkish relations).

Russian Orthodox Church under Tsarist rule

File:Moscow Kremlin.jpg
The Moscow Kremlin, as seen from the Balchug.

Prior to the October Revolution, the Russian Orthodox Church held a privileged position in the Russian Empire. It was a department of the government called the Holy Synod, which was run by an official appointed by the Tsar himself. The church has a history of being involved to some degree with the Czarists campaigns of russification though not on the same level as compatible with the Soviet regime (see the holodomor).[4][5] There are some allegations that the church was heavily involved in the various campaigns of anti-Jewish pogroms.[6] Template:DubiousIt was allowed to impose taxes on the peasants. The Church, like the Tsarist state was seen as an enemy of the people by the Bolsheviks and other Russian revolutionaries.

Eastern Orthodox Church under Communist rule

The Russian Orthodox Church collaborated with the White Army in the Russian Civil War (see White movement) after the October Revolution. This may have further strengthened the Bolshevik animus against the church. According to Lenin, a communist regime cannot remain neutral on the question of religion but must show itself to be merciless towards it. There was no place for the church in Lenin's classless society.

Before and after the October Revolution of November 7, 1917 (October 25 Old Calendar) there was a movement within the Soviet Union to unite all of the people of the world under Communist rule (see Communist International). This included the Eastern European bloc countries as well as the Balkan States. Since some of these Slavic states tied their ethnic heritage to their ethnic churches, both the peoples and their church where targeted by the Soviet.[29] [30]

The Soviets' official religious stance was one of "religious freedom or tolerance", though the state established atheism as the only scientific truth.[citation needed] Criticism of atheism was strictly forbidden and sometimes lead to imprisonment.[31]

The Soviet Union was the first state to have as an ideological objective the elimination of religion. Toward that end, the Communist regime confiscated church property, ridiculed religion, harassed believers, and propagated atheism in the schools. Actions toward particular religions, however, were determined by State interests, and most organized religions were never outlawed. Some actions against Orthodox priests and believers along with execution included torture being sent to gulags, sharashka or Psikhushka.[32][33] Many Orthodox (along with peoples of other faiths) were also subjected to psychological punishment or torture and mind control experimentation in order to force them give up their religious convictions (see Piteşti prison). [34][35]

The result of this militant atheism was to transform the Church into a persecuted and martyred Church. In the first five years after the Bolshevik revolution, 28 bishops and 1,200 priests were executed.[36]

The main target of the anti-religious campaign in the 1920s and 1930s was the Russian Orthodox Church, which had the largest number of faithful. Nearly all of its clergy, and many of its believers, were shot or sent to labor camps. Theological schools were closed, and church publications were prohibited. In the period between 1927 and 1940, the number of Orthodox Churches in the Russian Republic fell from 29,584 to less than 500. Between 1917 and 1935, 130,000 Orthodox priests were arrested. Of these, 95,000 were put to death, executed by firing squad.[citation needed]

After Nazi Germany's attack on the Soviet Union in 1941, Joseph Stalin revived the Russian Orthodox Church to intensify patriotic support for the war effort. By 1957 about 22,000 Russian Orthodox churches had become active. But in 1959 Nikita Khrushchev initiated his own campaign against the Russian Orthodox Church and forced the closure of about 12,000 churches. By 1985 fewer than 7,000 churches remained active. It is estimated that 50,000 clergy were executed by the end of the Kruschev era. [37] Members of the church hierarchy were jailed or forced out, their places taken by docile clergy, many of whom had ties with the KGB.

In the Soviet Union, in addition to the methodical closing and destruction of churches, the charitable and social work formerly done by ecclesiastical authorities was taken over by the state. As with all private property, Church owned property was confiscated into public use. The few places of worship left to the Church were legally viewed as state property which the government permitted the church to use. After the advent of state funded universal education, the Church was not permitted to carry on educational, instructional activity of any kind. Outside of sermons during the celebration of the divine liturgy it could not instruct or evangelise to the faithful or its youth. Catechism classes, religious schools, study groups, Sunday schools and religious publications were all illegal and or banned. This persecution continued, even after the death of Stalin until the Fall of Communism in 1991. This caused many religious tracts to be circulated as illegal literature or samizdat.[38]

Diaspora emigration to the West

One of the most striking developments in modern historical Orthodoxy is the dispersion of Orthodox Christians to the West. Emigration from Greece and the Near East in the last hundred years has created a sizable Orthodox diaspora in Western Europe, North and South America, and Australia. In addition, the Bolshevik Revolution forced thousands of Russian exiles westward. As a result, Orthodoxy's traditional frontiers have been profoundly modified. Millions of Orthodox are no longer geographically "eastern" since they live permanently in their newly adopted countries in the West. Nonetheless, they remain Eastern Orthodox in their faith and practice. Virtually all the Orthodox nationalities - Greek, Arab, Russian, Serbian, Macedonian, Albanian, Ukrainian, Romanian, Bulgarian - are represented in the United States.

Church today

Distribution of Eastern Orthodoxy in the world by country Template:Legend Template:Legend

The various autocephalous and autonomous churches of the Orthodox Church are distinct in terms of administration and local culture, but for the most part exist in full communion with one another, with exceptions such as lack of relations between the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) and the Russian Orthodox Church (the Orthodox Church of Russia) dating from the 1920s and due to the subjection of the latter to the hostile Soviet Union. However, attempts at reconciliation are being made between the ROCOR and the Moscow Patriarchate with the ultimate purpose of reunification.

Further tensions exist in the philosophical differences between the New Calendarists and the Moderate Old Calendarists. Some latent discontent between different national churches exists also in part due to different approach towards ecumenism. While the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the orthodox bishops in North America gathered into the Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA), Romanian bishops, and others are fairly open to dialog with the Roman Catholic Church, and some currently engaged in discussing key theological differences such as Filioque, Papal primate, and a possible agreement on rapprochement and eventually full communion with the Catholic and Anglican Churches, the radical and moderate Old Calendarists, many of the monks of Mount Athos, several bishops of Russian, Serbian, and some of Greek and Bulgarian churches regard ecumenism as compromising essential doctrinal stands in order to accommodate other Christians, and object to the emphasis on dialogue leading to inter-communion, expecting conversion to orthodoxy on the part of Catholic Churchs and Anglican Communions.

Orthodox churches in communion

Nowadays, there are 14 (15 by some) autocephalous orthodox churches, in communion with each other, with the precise order of seniority of their heads as listed below. Some of them contain autonomous (marked below) and/or semi-autonomous dioceses (listed within the mother churches). The first 9 of the autocephalous churches are led by patriarchs.

  • Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople
    • Finnish Orthodox Church (autonomous)
    • Estonian Orthodox Church (autonomous)
    • Albanian Orthodox Diocese of America
    • American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese
    • Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada
    • Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA
    • Patriarchal Exarchate for Orthodox Parishes of Russian Tradition in Western Europe
      • Patriarchal Exarchate for Orthodox Parishes of Russian Tradition in Western Europe#The Episcopal Vicariate of Great Britain and Ireland
    • Mount Athos
    • Belorussian Council of Orthodox Churches in North America
    • Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
    • Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain (includes Ireland)
    • Archdiocese in Italy and Malta
    • Archdiocese in Australia
    • 13 other small metropolises outside its canonical territory: Austria, Belgium, Argentina, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Korea, Mexico and Central America, New Zealand, Scandinavia, Spain and Portugal, and Switzerland
  • Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria
    • African Orthodox groups in Kenya and Uganda
  • Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch
    • Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America (autonomous)
    • Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia, New Zealand, and All Oceania
  • Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem
    • Saint Catherine's Monastery, Mount Sinai (autonomous)
    • Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem in North and South America
  • Russian Orthodox Church
    • Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) (autonomous)
    • Moldovan Orthodox Church (autonomous, territorial jurisdiction contested by the Romanian Church)
    • Metropolis of Western Europe (declared, but not recognized universally as autonomous)
    • Japanese Orthodox Church (autonomy not universally recognized[citation needed] )
    • Belarusian exarchate
    • Estonian exarchate
    • Latvian Orthodox Church
    • Hungarian exarchate
    • Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (autonomous; union in progress with completion expected May 17, 2007.)
  • Serbian Orthodox Church
    • Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric (autonomous)
    • Metropolitanate of Zagreb, Ljubljana and All Italy (Croatia, Slovenia, Italy)
    • Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral (Montenegro)
    • Metropolitanate of Dabar-Bosna (Bosnia-Herzegovina)
    • Serbian Orthodox Church in the USA and Canada
    • Bishopric in Australia and New Zealand
    • Bishopric in Britain and Scandinavia (Great Britain, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark)
    • Bishopric of Buda (Hungary, Czech Republic, and Slovakia)
    • Bishopric in Central Europe (Germany, Austria, and Switzerland)
    • Bishopric in Timişoara (Romania)
    • Bishopric in Western Europe (France, Belgium, Netherlands, and Spain)
  • Romanian Orthodox Church
    • Metropolis of Bessarabia (autonomous, with the rank of an exarchate, i.e. having the right to have parishes outside its canonical jurisdiction - de facto has in Russia and USA; territorial jurisdiction contested by the Russian Church)
    • Metropolis in France, Western and Southern Europe (British Islands, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy)
    • Metropolis in Germany and Central Europe (Germany, Northern and Central Europe)
    • Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese in America and Canada (USA, Canada, Argentina, Venesuela)
    • Romanian Orthodox Bishopric Dacia Felix (in Serbia)
  • Bulgarian Orthodox Church
    • Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Church Diocese of America, Canada and Australia
    • Diocese in Central and Western Europe
  • Georgian Orthodox and Apostolic Church
  • Cypriot Orthodox Church
  • Church of Greece
  • Polish Orthodox Church
  • Albanian Orthodox Church
  • Czech and Slovak Orthodox Church
  • Orthodox Church in America (recognized as autocephalous only by the Russian, Bulgarian, Georgian, Polish, and Czech-Slovak Churches)
    • Orthodox Church in America Albanian Archdiocese
    • Orthodox Church in America Bulgarian Diocese
    • Orthodox Church in America Romanian Episcopate
    • Orthodox Church in America Parishes in Australia

Orthodox Churches and communities not in communion with others

  • Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church
  • Bulgarian Alternative Synod
  • Orthodox Church in Italy
  • Macedonian Orthodox Church
  • Montenegrin Orthodox Church
  • Russian Orthodox Church in Exile
  • Russian True Orthodox Church
  • Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate
  • Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev Patriarchate)
  • Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church
  • Autonomous Ukrainian Orthodox Church in America

Old Believers

  • Russian Orthodox Old-Rite Church (Belokrinitskaya Hierarchy)
  • Lipovan Orthodox Old-Rite Church (Belokrinitskaya Hierarchy)
  • Russian Old-Orthodox Church (Novozybkovskaya Hierarchy)
  • Pomorian Old-Orthodox Church (Pomortsy)

Old Calendarist

  • Church of the Genuine Orthodox Christians of Greece
  • Church of the Genuine Orthodox Christians, USA
  • Orthodox Church of Greece (Holy Synod in Resistance)
  • Old Calendar Romanian Orthodox Church
  • Old Calendar Bulgarian Orthodox Church

Defunct churches

  • Croatian Orthodox Church
  • Chinese Orthodox Church

See also

  • Eastern Orthodox liturgical calendar
  • Monasticism
  • Hesychasm
  • Orthodox Christianity
  • Christianity
  • Caesaropapism
  • Orthodox
  • Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas
  • History of Christianity
  • History of the Eastern Orthodox Church
  • History of the Balkans
  • History of Europe
  • History of the Middle East
  • Old Believers
  • Saint Catherine's Monastery, Mount Sinai


  • The Orthodox Church. Ware, Timothy. Pengiun Books, 1997. (ISBN 0-14-014656-3)
  • The Orthodox Church; 455 Questions and Answers. Harakas, Stanley H. Light and Life Publishing Company, 1988. (ISBN 0-937032-56-5)


  1. Ware, pp. 208-211
  2. Ware p. 202
  3. Ware pp. 67-69
  4. Ware, p. 8
  5. Ware, pp. 195-196
  6. Ware, pp. 199-200
  7. Ware, pp. 202-207
  8. Ware, pp. 255-256
  9. Ware, pp. 257-258
  10. Ware, p. 234
  11. The Longer Catechism of The Orthodox, Catholic, Eastern Church, an Eastern Orthodox catechism from 1830. Start with item 366 or 372.
  12. The Longer Catechism of The Orthodox, Catholic, Eastern Church, an Eastern Orthodox catechism. Item 377.
  13. Ware p. 271
  14. Matthews, Thomas F. The Early Churches of Constantinople: Architecture and Liturgy. Pennsylvania State University Press, PA, 1971, ISBN 0-271-00108-9
  15. [[{{{authorlink}}}|Kostof, Spiro]], Caves of God: The Monastic Environment of Byzantine Cappadocia {{{author}}}, Caves of God: The Monastic Environment of Byzantine Cappadocia, MIT Press, MIT Press, 1972, {{{id}}}.
  16. Ware, p. 238
  17. Ware pp. 274-277
  18. Ware pp. 277-278
  19. Ware p. 278
  20. Ware pp. 278-9
  21. Harakas pp. 56-7
  22. Ware p. 279
  23. Ware p. 279
  24. Harakas p. 57
  25. Ware pp. 283-285
  26. Ware p. 287
  27. Ware p. 279
  28. Ware p. 287
  29. President of Lithuania: Prisoner of the Gulag a Biography of Aleksandras Stulginskis by Afonsas Eidintas Genocide and Research Center of Lithuania ISBN 998675741X / 9789986757412 / 9986-757-41-X pg 23 "As early as August 1920 Lenin wrote to E. M. Skliansky, President of the Revolutionary War Soviet: "We are surrounded by the greens (we pack it to them), we will move only about 10-20 versty and we will choke by hand the bourgeoisie, the clergy and the landowners. There will be an award of 100,000 rubles for each one hanged." He was speaking aout the future actions in the countries neighboring Russia.
  30. Christ Is Calling You : A Course in Catacomb Pastorship by Father George Calciu Published by Saint Hermans Press April 1997 ISBN-13: 978-1887904520
  31. Sermons to young people by Father George Calciu-Dumitreasa. Given at the Chapel of the Romanian Orthodox Church Seminary, The Word online. Bucharest http://www.orthodoxresearchinstitute.org/resources/sermons/calciu_christ_calling.htm
  32. Father Arseny 1893-1973 Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father. Introduction pg. vi - 1. St Vladimir's Seminary Press ISBN 0-88141-180-9
  33. The Washingotn Post Anti-Communist Priest Gheorghe Calciu-Dumitreasa By Patricia Sullivan Washington Post Staff Writer Sunday, November 26, 2006; Page C09 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/11/25/AR2006112500783.html
  34. http://litek.ws/k0nsl/detox/anti-humans.htm Dumitru Bacu, The Anti-Humans. Student Re-Education in Romanian Prisons], Soldiers of the Cross, Englewood, Colorado, 1971. Originally written in Romanian as Piteşti, Centru de Reeducare Studenţească, Madrid, 1963
  35. Adrian Cioroianu, Pe umerii lui Marx. O introducere în istoria comunismului românesc ("On the Shoulders of Marx. An Incursion into the History of Romanian Communism"), Editura Curtea Veche, Bucharest, 2005
  36. Ostling, Richard. "Cross meets Kremlin" TIME Magazine. June 24, 2001. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,150718,00.html
  37. Ostling, Richard. "Cross meets Kremlin" TIME Magazine. June 24, 2001. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,150718,00.html
  38. Father Arseny 1893-1973 Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father. Introduction pg. vi - 1. St Vladimir's Seminary Press ISBN 0-88141-180-9

External links

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Further reading

Links to orthodox churches in full communion

Links to orthodox churches not in communion


Seminaries and schools

  • Orthodoxwiki:Seminaries
  • Holy Cross Hellenic College Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology is the only fully accredited Orthodox undergraduate liberal arts college, graduate center for Orthodox higher education, and Greek Orthodox seminary in America.