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Orthodox Church

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Part of a series on the
Orthodox Church
Orthodox Church.png
Organisation
Autocephalous
Constantinople · Alexandria · Antioch · Jerusalem ·
Russia · Georgia · Bulgaria · Serbia · Romania ·
Cyprus · Greece · Crete · Poland · Albania ·
Czech Republic and Slovakia · America
Autonomous
Sinai · Finland · Estonia · Korea · Japan ·
China · Ukraine · Ohrid · Western Europe ·
Bessarabia · Moldova · ROCOR
Background
History · Christianity
Apostolic Succession · Four Marks of the Church
Crucifixion & Resurrection of Jesus Christ
Ascension · Assumption of Mary
Theology
Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit)
Theology · Apologetics
Divine Grace · Sacraments
Salvation
Original sin · Saints
Theotokos
Liturgy and Worship
Divine Liturgy
Eucharist · Liturgy of the Hours
Liturgical Year · Biblical Canon
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The Orthodox Church (also known as the Eastern Orthodox Church) is a society of faithful which holds itself to be the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church founded by Jesus Christ. It is comprised of several geographically distinct autocephalous and autonomous jurisdictions who are each in communion with each other, unified through theology and worship, all adhering to the first seven Ecumenical Councils, laying out Church dogma. The life of the Church is highly sacramental in basis and its primary form of worship is the Divine Liturgy; Orthodoxy is also known for its reverence of the Theotokos and its traditions of iconography.

There is no clerical leader with supreme authority over church affairs—Orthodox Christians consider Christ to be the head—but the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople does hold a position of precidence. He is one of the ancient patriarchs, along with those at Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem who were part of the ancient apostolic Church and were represented under the Byzantine Empire. Orthodox Christians consider Rome to have also been part of the pentarchy and the history of the Church in the West to form part of the same Church until the Great Schism in 1054, with what is refered to as the Catholic Church.

Orthodoxy spread also to the Slavs and Bulgars, some of which were outside the Byzantine Empire; it gained a hegemony in the Bulgarian Empire, Kievan Rus' and territories which would eventually become the Tsardom of Russia. With the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Ottoman Empire, the Greek Orthodox Church would fall under a period of barbarian captivity, with some Russians considering Moscow the Third Rome. During the 20th century, the Russian Orthodox Church and some others in Eastern Europe were persecuted by Jewish Bolshevism and millions of it's members murdered. It is today going through a period of recovery.

Background and Great Schism

The Orthodox Church considers itself to be the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church founded by Jesus Christ, the Messiah of Israel, founded 2000 years ago. It considers itself to be the faith of the Apostles, the Church Fathers, the legitimate ecumenical councils from the Council of Nicea onwards and the body made the state religion of the Roman Empire in 380 by Theodosius the Great. The most serious competitor to it's claim is the Catholic Church (consisting of the Western Patriarchate), with whom a split occurred in 1054 known as the Great Schism; it was then that the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Pope of Rome mutually excommunicated each other. For reasons of objectivity between the two competing claims, much of the pre-11th century history of the Church, including in the East, is to be found at the Christian Church article.

The Churches of Orthodoxy claim to be founded by the Apostles themselves include the Patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Rome and Constantinople. The Church of Alexandria was founded by St. Mark, the Church of Antioch by St Paul, the Church of Jerusalem by Ss. Peter and James, the Church of Rome by St. Peter and Paul, and Church of Constantinople by St Andrew. Those founded in later years through the missionary activity of the first churches were the Churches of Sinai, Russia, Greece, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, and many others.

Each church has always had independent administration, but, with the exception of the Latin Patriachate of Rome, which finally broke with the others in the year 1054, are united in what the Orthodox hold to be faith, doctrine, Apostolic tradition, sacraments, liturgies, and services. Together they constitute what is called the “Orthodox Church”, literally meaning "right teaching" or "right worship", derived from two Greek words: orthos, "right," and doxa, "teaching" or "worship."

The destiny of Christianity in those areas was shaped by the transfer in 320 AD of the imperial capital from (Old) Rome to (New "Rome") Constantinople by Constantine I. As a consequence, during the first Eight Centuries of Church history, most major cultural, intellectual, and social developments in the Christian church also took place in that region; for instance, all ecumenical councils of that period met either in, or near Constantinople.

Missionaries, coming from Constantinople, converted the Slavs and other peoples of Eastern Europe to Christianity (Bulgaria, 864; Russia, 988) and translated Scripture and liturgical texts into the vernacular languages used in the various regions. Thus, the liturgy, traditions, and practices of the church of Constantinople were adopted by all and still provide the basic patterns of contemporary Orthodoxy.

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

The schism came slowly. The first major breach came in the Ninth century when the Pope refused to recognize the election of Photius as patriarch of Constantinople. Photius in turn challenged the right of the papacy to rule on the matter and denounced the filioque clause as a Western innovation.

The growing disputes between East and West reached another peak in 1054 AD, when mutual anathemas were exchanged. The sacking of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade (1204 AD) intensified Eastern hostility toward the West.

Attempts at reconciliation at the councils of Lyon (1274 AD) and Florence (1438-39 AD) were unsuccessful. When the papacy defined itself as infallible (First Vatican Council, 1870 AD), the gulf between East and West grew wider. Only since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) has the movement reversed, talks are bringing serious attempts at mutual understanding.

Beliefs and Practices

The Orthodox Church recognizes as authoritative the decisions of the seven ecumenical councils that met between 325 AD and 787 AD and defined the basic doctrines on the Trinity and the Incarnation. In later centuries Orthodox councils also made doctrinal definitions on Grace (1341 AD, 1351 AD) and took a stand in reference to Western teachings.

The Church keeps the early traditions of Christianity, infants receive the Eucharist and confirmation, and the episcopate and the priesthood are understood in the light of Apostolic succession. (Apostolic Succession is understood to be the passing on of the Holy Tradition by right-believing Bishops). Both married men and monks may become priests, but priests, bishops, and monks may not marry. The veneration of Mary, as Theotokos (Mother of God) is central to Orthodox Incarnational Theology, and the intercession of saints is also emphasized in the Orthodox Holy Tradition.

After an early controversy on the subject, the Icons, of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the saints are now seen as visible witnesses to the fact that God has taken human flesh in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Liturgy used by the Orthodox Church has been translated from Greek into many languages. It is always sung, not just spoken. The faithful receive Holy Communion on a spoon. They are given both the consecrated bread (NIKA), and the sanctified wine from the gifts offered and sanctified at the given Divine Liturgy. Holy Communion is never taken from any "reserve."

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

In opposite to the non-orthodox christian religions, orthodox monks or sisters do not provide educational or beneficial services as nurses or teachers. Also, orthodox churches do not provide schooling for average youngsters, as non-orthodox christian religions do.

Church Structure

The Eastern Orthodox Churches of today consist of a family of fourteen or fifteen autocephalous churches and five autonomous churches, sometimes referred to as jurisdictions. The number of autocephalous churches has varied in history. Autocephalous churches are fully self-governing in all they do, while autonomous churches must have their primates confirmed by one of the autocephalous churches, usually its mother church. All the Orthodox churches remain in full communion with one another, sharing the same faith and praxis. There have been occasional breaks in communion due to various problems throughout history, but they generally remain brief and not developing into full schism. It is hoped that the Great Schism, with the Church of Rome, will someday be mended too.

The Patriarchate of Constantinople is also the Ecumenical Patriarchate and has the status of "first among equals" among the Eastern Orthodox Churches. The Church is not a centralized organization headed by a pontiff, but an organic community guided by the Holy Spirit in the world. The unity of the Church is visible in, and held together with, common faith and communion in the sacraments. No one but Christ himself is the real head of the Orthodox Church.

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