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Part of the series Orthodox Church
Vladimirskaya
'
1 Meaning of Orthodox
2 Typica
3 Organization and leadership
4 Number of adherents
5 beliefs
6 Traditions
7 Services
8 Mysteries
9 History
10 Relations with other christians
11 The church today


Early Church

Christianity spread rapidly throughout the Roman Empire. Some have attributed this in part because Greek was the lingua franca. Paul and the Apostles traveled extensively throughout the Empire, including Asia Minor, establishing Churches in major communities, with the first Churches appearing in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, then in Antioch, Ethiopia, Egypt, Rome, Alexandria, Athens, Thessalonica, and Byzantium, which, centuries later would become prominent as the New Rome.[1] Christianity in the Roman Empire was met with some resistance as its adherents would refuse to comply with the Roman state (even at the threat of death) in offering sacrifice to the pagan gods. Despite being under persecution, the Church spread. The persecution dissipated upon the conversion of Emperor Constantine I in 324 AD.[1]

By the 4th century Christianity had spread in numerous countries. A number of influential schools of thought had arisen, particularly the Alexandrian and Antiochian philosophical approaches. Other groups, such as the Arians, had also managed to gain influence however their positions caused theological conflicts within the Church, thus prompting The Emperor Constantine to call for a great ecumenical synod in order to define the Church's position against the growing, often widely diverging, philosophical and theological interpretations of Christianity. He made it possible for this council to meet not only by providing a location, but by offering to pay for the transportation of all the existing bishops of the Church. This synod is commonly referred to as the First Council of Nicaea or more generally as First Ecumenical Council[1][2] and is considered of major importance by most modern Christian Churches.

Ecumenical councils

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

There are eight councils authoritatively recognized as Ecumenical:

  1. The First Ecumenical Council was convoked by the Roman Emperor Constantine at Nicaea in 325 and presided over by the Patriarch Alexander of Alexandria, with over 300 bishops condemning the view of Arius that the Son is a created being inferior to the Father.[3]
  2. The Second Ecumenical Council was held at Constantinople in 381, presided over by the Patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch, with 150 bishops, defining the nature of the Holy Spirit against those asserting His inequality with the other persons of the Trinity.[4]
  3. The Third Ecumenical Council is that of Ephesus in 431, presided over by the Patriarch of Alexandria, with 250 bishops, which affirmed that Mary is truly "Birthgiver" or "Mother" of God (Theotokos), contrary to the teachings of Nestorius.[5]
  4. The Fourth Ecumenical Council is that of Chalcedon in 451, Patriarch of Constantinople presiding, 500 bishops, affirmed that Jesus is truly God and truly man, without mixture of the two natures, contrary to Monophysite teaching.[6]
  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.[7]
  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.[8]
  7. The Seventh Ecumenical Council was called under the Empress Regent Irene of Athens in 787, known as the second of Nicaea. It supports the veneration of icons while forbidding their worship. It is often referred to as "The Triumph of Orthodoxy"[9]
  8. The Eighth Ecumenical Council was called in 879. It restored St. Photius to his See in Constantinople and condemned any alteration of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381.
Some Eastern Orthodox consider the following council to be ecumenical, although this is not agreed upon:
  1. The Fifth Council of Constantinople was actually a series of councils held between 1341 and 1351. It affirmed the hesychastic theology of St. Gregory Palamas and condemned the philosopher Barlaam of Calabria.

In addition to these councils there have been a number of significant councils meant to further define the Eastern Orthodox position. They are the Synods of Constantinople, 1484, 1583, 1755, 1819, and 1872, the Synod of Iaşi (Jassy), 1642, and the Pan-Orthodox Synod of Jerusalem, 1672.

Roman/Byzantine Empire

Eastern 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 areas.

In the 530s the Church of the Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) was built in Constantinople under emperor Justinian I.[10]


Early schisms

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 anathematizing the other. 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 Catholics of Antioch]. 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) resulting in the Syriac Orthodox Church.

Those who disagreed with the Council of Chalcedon are sometimes called "Oriental Orthodox" to distinguish them from the Eastern Orthodox, who accepted the Council of Chalcedon. Oriental Orthodox are also sometimes referred to as "non-Chalcedonians", or "anti-Chalcedonians". The Oriental Orthodox Church denies that it is monophysite and prefers the term "miaphysite", to denote the "joined" nature of Jesus (two natures joined into one). 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. Both Churches agree there to have been a misunderstanding between the two in 451, that is to say that each side's terminology basically meant the same thing.

As well, there are the "Nestorian" 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.

Conversion of East and South Slavs

In the ninth and tenth centuries, Christianity made great inroads into Eastern Europe, including Kievan Rus'. This work was made possible by the work of the Byzantine saints Cyril and 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. Cyril and Methodius 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.[11]

Some of the disciples, namely Saint Clement of Ohrid, Saint Naum who were of noble Bulgarian descent and St. Angelarius, returned to Bulgaria where they were welcomed by the Bulgarian Tsar Boris I who viewed the Slavonic liturgy as a way to counteract Byzantine 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 Slavonic language as the official language of the church and the state. The success of the conversion of the Bulgarians facilitated the conversion of East Slavic peoples, most notably the Rus', predecessors of Belarusians, Russians, and Ukrainians.

The work of the Thessaloniki brothers Cyril and Methodius and their disciples had a major impact to Serbs as well.[12] However, they accepted Christianity collectively by families and by tribes (in the process between the 7th and the 9th century). In commemoration of their baptisms, each Serbian family or tribe began to celebrate an exclusively Serbian custom called Slava in a special way to honor the Saint on whose day they received the sacrament of Holy Baptism. It is the most solemn day of the year for all Serbs of the Eastern Orthodox faith and has played a role of vital importance in the history of the Serbian people. Slava is actually the celebration of the spiritual birthday of the Serbian people which the Church blessed and proclaimed it a Church institution.[13]

The missionaries to the East and South Slavs had great success in part because they used the people's native language rather than Greek, the predominant language of the Byzantine Empire or Latin as the Roman priests did.[14] Today the Russian Orthodox Church is the largest of the Eastern Orthodox Churches followed by the Romanian Orthodox Church.

Great Schism

In the 11th century what was recognised as the Great Schism took place between Rome and Constantinople, which led to separation from the Church of the West, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Eastern Byzantine Churches, now the Eastern Orthodox. There were doctrinal issues like the filioque clause and the authority of the Roman Pope involved in the split, but these were greatly exacerbated by political factors of both Church and state, and by cultural and linguistic differences between Latins and Greeks. Prior to 1054, the Eastern and Western halves of the Church had frequently been in conflict, particularly during the periods of Eastern iconoclasm and the Photian schism.[15]

The final breach is often considered to have arisen after the capture and sacking of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade in 1204; the final break with Rome occurred circa 1450. The sacking of Church of Holy Wisdom and establishment of the Latin Empire as a seeming attempt to supplant the Eastern 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, which was importantly also strongly condemned by the Pope at the time (Innocent III, see reference at end of paragraph); the apology was formally accepted by Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. Many things that were stolen during this time —holy relics, riches, and many other items—were not returned and are still held in various Western European cities, particularly Venice.[16][17]

Reunion was attempted twice, at the 1274 Second Council of Lyon and the 1439 Council of Florence. The Council of Florence did briefly reestablish communion between East and West, which lasted until after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. In each case, however, the councils were rejected by the Eastern Orthodox people as a whole, and the union of Florence also became very politically difficult after Constantinople came under Ottoman rule, so in both cases came to fail. Some local Eastern Churches have however renewed union with Rome in time since (see Eastern Catholic Churches). Recent decades have seen a renewal of ecumenical spirit and dialogue between the Churches [18]

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 Eastern Orthodoxy was very strong in Russia which had recently acquired an autocephalous status; and thus Moscow called itself the Third Rome, as the cultural heir of Constantinople.

Under Ottoman rule, the Greek Orthodox Church 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.

Stavronikita Aug2006

Stavronikita monastery, Mount Athos, Greece (South-East view)

As a result of the Ottoman conquest of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, and the Fall of Constantinople, the entire Eastern 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 Islamic world, with which it had little in common religiously or culturally. The Russian Orthodox Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches from Wallachia and Moldavia were the only part of the Eastern 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.

Russian Orthodox Church under Tsarist rule

Up until 1666, when Patriarch Nikon was deposed by the tsar, the Russian Orthodox Church had been independent of the State.[19] In 1721 the first Emperor Peter I abolished completely the patriarchate and so the Church effectively became a department of the government, ruled by a Most Holy Synod composed of senior bishops and lay bureaucrats appointed by the Emperor himself. Since 1721 until the October Revolution of 1917, the Russian Orthodox Church was essentially transformed into a governmental agency, a tool used to various degrees by the tsars in the imperial campaigns of Russification. The Church was allowed by the State to levy taxes on the peasants. Therefore, the Church, along with the imperial regime, to which it belonged, came to be perceived as an enemy of the people by the Bolsheviks and the other Russian revolutionaries, mostly atheists. The revolution brought, however, a brief period of liberation for the Church: an independent patriarchate was reestablished briefly in 1917, until Lenin quashed the Church a few years later, imprisoning or killing many of the clergy and of the faithful. Part of the clergy escaped the Soviet persecutions by fleeing abroad, where they founded an independent church in exile, reunified with the Russian one in 2007.

Russian Orthodox Church under Communist rule

The Eastern Orthodox Church clergy in Russia were seen as sympathetic with the cause of the White Army in the Civil War (see White movement) after the October Revolution, and occasionally collaborated with it; Patriarch Tikhon's declared position was harshly anti-Bolshevik in 1918. This may have further strengthened the Bolshevik animus against the church.

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 were targeted by the Soviet.[20][21]

The Soviets' official interpretation of freedom of conscience was one of "guaranteeing the right to profess any religion, or profess none, to practice religious cults, or conduct atheist propaganda",[22] though in effect atheism was sponsored by state and was taught in all educational establishments.[23] Public criticism of atheism was unofficially forbidden and sometimes led to imprisonment.[24]

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 Eastern Orthodox priests and believers along with execution included torture being sent to prison camps, labour camps or mental hospitals.[25][26]

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.[27]

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 1917 and 1940, the number of Eastern Orthodox Churches in the Russian Republic fell from 59,584 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.

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. It is estimated that 50,000 clergy had been executed between the revolution and the end of the Khrushchev era. Members of the church hierarchy were jailed or forced out, their places taken by docile clergy, many of whom had ties with the KGB. By 1985 fewer than 7,000 churches remained active.[27]

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.[25]

Among the most damaging aspects of Soviet rule, along with these physical abuses, the Soviet Union frequently manipulated the recruitment and appointment of priests, sometimes planting agents of the KGB within the church to monitor religious persons who were viewed – simply for not being atheists – as suspicious and potential threats to Soviet communism. The recovery of religious beliefs in Russia after the fall of communism, part of a significant religious revival, has been made more challenging as a result of those leaders forced involuntarily upon the church by the KGB during Soviet times.

Other Eastern Orthodox Churches under communist rule

Albania was the first state to have declared itself officially fully atheist.[28] In some other communist states such as Romania, the Eastern Orthodox Church as an organisation enjoyed relative freedom and even prospered, albeit under strict secret police control. That, however, did not rule out demolishing churches and monasteries as part of broader systematization (urban planning), state persecution of individual believers, and Romania stands out as a country which ran a specialised institution where many Eastern Orthodox (along with peoples of other faiths) were subjected to psychological punishment or torture and mind control experimentation in order to force them give up their religious convictions (see Piteşti prison).[29][30]

Diaspora emigration to the West

One of the most striking developments in modern historical Eastern Orthodoxy is the dispersion of Eastern Orthodox Christians to the West. Emigration from Greece and the Near East in the last hundred years has created a sizable Eastern 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, Eastern Orthodoxy's traditional frontiers have been profoundly modified. Millions of Eastern 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 Eastern Orthodox nationalities – Greek, Georgian, Arab, Russian, Serbian, Macedonian, Albanian, Ukrainian, Armenian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Assyrian – are represented in the United States. There are also many converts to Eastern Orthodoxy of all conceivable ethnic backgrounds. In fact nearly half of the clergy of the Orthodox Church in America and Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America are of a convert background. Eastern Orthodox missions are alive and well in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 The Orthodox Church. Ware, Timothy. Penguin Books, 1997. (ISBN 0-14-014656-3)
  2. The Spirituallity of the Christian East: A systematic handbook by Thomas Spidlik, Cistercian Publications Inc Kalamazoo Michigan 1986 ISBN 0-87907-879-0
  3. http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith8062
  4. http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith8065
  5. http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith8066
  6. http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith8067
  7. http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith8068
  8. http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith8069
  9. http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith8071
  10. http://archnet.org/library/sites/one-site.jsp?site_id=2966
  11. A. Avenarius. Christianity in 9th-century Rus. // Beitruge zur byzantinischen Geschichte im 9.-11. Jahrhundert. Prague: V. Vavrinek, 1978. Pp. 301–315.
  12. Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001–05, s.v. "Cyril and Methodius, Saints"; Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica Incorporated, Warren E. Preece – 1972, p.846, s.v., "Cyril and Methodius, Saints" and "Eastern Orthodoxy, Missions ancient and modern"; Encyclopedia of World Cultures, David H. Levinson, 1991, p.239, s.v., "Social Science"; Eric M. Meyers, The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East, p.151, 1997; Lunt, Slavic Review, June, 1964, p. 216; Roman Jakobson, Crucial problems of Cyrillo-Methodian Studies; Leonid Ivan Strakhovsky, A Handbook of Slavic Studies, p.98; V. Bogdanovich, History of the ancient Serbian literature, Belgrade, 1980, p.119
  13. Michael B. Petrovich; Joel Halpern (1980). "Serbs". in Stephan Thernstrom, Ann Orlov, and Oscar Handlin. Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups (2nd ed.). Harvard University Press. p. 925. ISBN 9780674375123.
  14. Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001–05, s.v. "Cyril and Methodius, Saints"
  15. http://www.orthodox.org.ph/content/view/211/50/
  16. Pope Innocent III, Letters, 126 (given July 12, 1205, and addressed to the papal legate, who had absolved the crusaders from their pilgrimage vows). Text taken from the Internet Medieval Sourcebook by Paul Halsall. Modified. Original translation by J. Brundage.
  17. 1979 The Horses of San Marco Thames and Hudson an English translation of a 1977 Venetian city government publication p191
  18. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles4/CarlsonUnity.php "Continuing the dialogue of Love: Orthodox-Catholic relations in 2004"
  19. "RUSSIAN DESTINIES", by Fr. Andrew Phillips, "Orthodox England", 4/17 July 2005
  20. 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 about the future actions in the countries neighboring Russia.
  21. Christ Is Calling You: A Course in Catacomb Pastorship by Father George Calciu Published by Saint Hermans Press April 1997 ISBN 978–1887904520
  22. Article 52 of the 1977 Constitution of the USSR
  23. Timothy Ware. The Orthodox Church. Penguin Books, 1993, page 147
  24. 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
  25. 25.0 25.1 Father Arseny 1893-1973 Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father. Introduction pg. vi–1. St Vladimir's Seminary Press ISBN 0-88141-180-9
  26. Sullivan, Patricia. Anti-Communist Priest Gheorghe Calciu-Dumitreasa, The Washington Post, November 26, 2006. Page C09. Accessed May 9, 2008.
  27. 27.0 27.1 Ostling, Richard. "Cross meets Kremlin", TIME Magazine, June 24, 2001. Accessed April 7, 2008.
  28. Van Christo. Albania and the Albanians.
  29. 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
  30. 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

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