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Definition: Orthodox Church from The Macquarie Dictionary

the Christian church of the countries which formerly comprised the Eastern Roman Empire, and of countries evangelised from it, as Russia; the group of churches in communion or doctrinal agreement with the Greek patriarchal see of Constantinople.

Summary Article: Eastern Orthodoxy
from Religions of the World: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Beliefs and Practices

Together, the Eastern Orthodox churches constitute one of the three major traditions of Christianity (Roman Catholicism and Protestantism being the other two). Eastern Orthodoxy emerged as the dominant expression of Christianity in the eastern half of the Mediterranean world in the eastern half of the Roman Empire (which after the fall of Rome in 475 came to be known as the Byzantine Empire), and its organizational focus was on the archbishops at Constantinople (originally Byzantium, later Istanbul), Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria. Greek was the dominant language, as opposed to Latin in the western Mediterranean, where after the fall of Rome the bishop of Rome became more and more important, leading the whole Western church as pope. Through the centuries, the organizational unity of Christendom was gradually weakened by theologically divergent churches in Armenia, Egypt, Persia, and lands to the east. Then in the 11th century, the most significant schism occurred, that between the Roman Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox churches.

Mosaic in a Ukrainian Orthodox church, Edmonton,Alberta, Canada. (J. Gordon Melton)

Today, Eastern Orthodoxy consists of a number of churches, which are divided nationally and ethnically, but held together in communion through a shared faith, which finds expression in their version of the Nicene Creed. The Eastern Orthodox have a technical theological disagreement with the Roman Catholic Church concerning the place of the Holy Spirit in the Trinity. In the Nicene Creed as recited in Eastern Orthodox churches, belief is affirmed in “the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father.” In the Roman Catholic version of the creed, the phrase “and the Son” is added at this point, so that it reads, “the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” The Eastern church rejected that phrase, believing that it suggested an undue subordination of the Holy Spirit.

The Eastern church also did not develop the ideal of celibacy of the clergy as in the Roman Catholic Church, though it insists that priests marry before receiving Holy Orders and that bishops be drawn from unmarried priests (primarily from its monks, who live in ordered communities).

The archbishop of Istanbul, the ecumenical patriarch, is the symbolic focus of the unity of Eastern Orthodoxy. His jurisdiction, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, includes Turkey (the former base of the Roman Empire in the East, usually referred to as the Byzantine Empire), parts of Greece, all of Europe not specifically assigned to other jurisdictions, and the Greek-speaking Orthodox in North and South America. The remainder of the Mediterranean is divided between the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa.

Through the centuries a variety of autonomous Orthodox jurisdictions have been recognized, most separating from the Ecumenical Patriarchate as they grew in size and their country asserted its independence. Important Orthodox churches include the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the Orthodox Church of Greece, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, and the Romanian Orthodox Church. There are in addition a number of smaller autonomous jurisdictions.

Also, during the centuries since the schism between the Eastern and Western churches, a variety of Orthodox communities have for various reasons moved back into communion with the Roman Catholic Church and now exist as Eastern-rite Catholic churches. Such Eastern-rite churches now parallel most Orthodox jurisdictions.

There are some Orthodox churches that are not in communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Some of these were formed during the 20th century, as Marxist governments rose in predominantly Orthodox countries. It was the feeling of some members of these churches that they could not remain in communion with bishops who had tacitly offered allegiance to such government authorities. The largest of these anti-Communist Orthodox churches is the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, formed by Russian bishops who were outside the country at the time of the Russian Revolution and who attempted to reorganize the Russian parishes in the diaspora.

In the late 20th century, as the Orthodox Church began to participate in the ecumenical movement as expressed in the World Council of Churches, the more conservative church leaders saw such relationships as inherently subversive of Orthodox faith and practice. Their protest was focused in the change of most Orthodox churches from the traditional Julian calendar to the more commonly used Gregorian calendar. The conservative dissenting jurisdictions are generally known as “Old Calendar” churches.

See also:

Bulgarian Orthodox Church; Ecumenical Patriarchate/Patriarchate of Constantinople; Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa; Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East; Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem; Orthodox Church of Greece; Roman Catholic Church; Romanian Orthodox Church; Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate); Ukraine, Eastern Orthodoxy in; World Council of Churches.

  • Bartholomew, Patriarch. Encountering the Mystery: Understanding Orthodox Christianity Today. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 2008.
  • Clendenin, Daniel B. Eastern Orthodox Christianity: A Western Perspective. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003.
  • Fitzgerald, Thomas E. The Orthodox Church. West-port, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995. Orthodoxia. Regensburg, Germany: Ostkirchliches Institut, issued annually.
  • Roberson, Ronald G. The Eastern Christian Churches. Rome, Italy: Pont. Institutum Studio-rum Orientalium, 1988.
  • Schmemann, Alexander. The Historic Road of Eastern Orthodoxy. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1963.
  • Melton, J. Gordon
    Copyright 2010 by ABC-CLIO, LLC

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