EASTERN CHRISTIANITY . From the city of Jerusalem, the first Christian missionaries set out along the roads of the Roman Empire to the cities and villages of the Mediterranean world and beyond. Within only a few years after Christ, Christian communities existed in major cities of the southeastern Roman Empire. Some aspects of the church's rapid development from Jerusalem through Syria and Greece and on to the city of Rome are contained in the Acts of the Apostles. The areas where the Christian presence was the strongest were in the East: Syria, Asia Minor, Egypt, and North Africa. Beyond the eastern confines of the Roman world, there were also Christian communities developing in Persia, Armenia, Ethiopia, and India.
The dramatic growth of the early church was not without difficulties. Yet the influence and prominence of Christians within the Roman world gradually increased, especially in the more eastern areas of Syria, Asia Minor, and the Greek peninsula. Under the Roman emperor Constantine, the formal persecution of the church ceased in 311, and a new relationship between the church and government developed after 313. Before his death in 337, Constantine was baptized. Emperor Theodosius finally proclaimed Christianity the official faith of the Roman-Byzantine Empire in the year 380.
Parallel Historical Developments: East and West
Because of a variety of developments and characteristics in the church beginning in the first four centuries, it is common to speak generally of Eastern and Western Christianity. These broad descriptive designations have their limitations. Nevertheless, they do help us to sense the diversity in unity that was expressed in early Christianity. The designations also help us appreciate the fact that the theological and historical development of Eastern Christianity is distinctive from the forms of Christianity that are expressed today both by Roman Catholicism and by the many expressions of Protestantism. While centered upon Christ and his teachings, both Eastern and Western Christianity came to express different perspectives. At times, these perspectives were complementary, at other times opposed to one another.
Initially, the early distinctions between Eastern and Western Christianity reflected the structural developments of the early church, especially in the Roman Empire. From the beginning, the one church was a communion of local churches. They were bound together by a common faith, frequently referred to as the "faith of the apostles." Yet, each regional church had its own particular characteristics. As such, the church was not a monolithic body. The Christian faith was expressed in regional churches containing a wide variety of peoples in different cultural settings and using different languages, a diversity that also expressed itself in liturgical practices.
Moreover, the organizational association of local dioceses within the Roman Empire became more pronounced from the second century onward. Comprising local parishes, each diocese maintained its integrity under the leadership of its bishop. Yet a regional association of dioceses developed that served to strengthen the unity and mission of the churches in a particular area. These provinces, led by a metropolitan archbishop, were eventually structured along the lines of five regions within the Roman-Byzantine Empire. By the early fourth century, the centers were associated with the cities of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. Politically, Emperor Diocletian already had divided the empire between East and West in the third century. Theodosius furthered this in the fourth century.
Subsequently known as patriarchs, the bishops of these five churches and cities exercised primatial leadership among the bishops of their ecclesiastical region, later termed patriarchates. In some cases, these ecclesiastical regions extended beyond the borders of the Roman Empire. The most significant of these bishops were the pope of Rome within the western part of the Roman-Byzantine Empire and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople in the East. The position of the patriarch of Constantinople was established in the late fourth century and increased in importance especially following the rise of Islam in regions of the other Eastern patriarchates in the seventh century. Likewise, the influence of the pope of Rome increased in Western Europe during late antiquity and the subsequent rise of the Carolingian Empire in the ninth century. The Eastern patriarchates, however, consistently repudiated efforts by the pope to exercise authority beyond his territory.
The early distinction between Eastern and Western Christianity reflects the differences in languages in the early church. The early church never supported a universal language. On the contrary, the faith was expressed in a variety of languages and through a variety of cultures. While Jesus and the earliest Christians spoke Aramaic, the books of the New Testament were composed in a simple form of Greek. During the first century, Greek was the "common language" of the Mediterranean world. In the eastern portion of the Roman Empire, Greek remained the preferred language of education and culture. In the western portion, Latin predominated at least from the fourth century. Beyond the borders of the empire, the early church communities were composed of believers of a wide variety of cultures who also used languages such as Syriac and Armenian. The differences of languages, most especially Latin and Greek, provided one significant basis for making a distinction between Western Christianity and Eastern Christianity, at least from the fourth century. Indeed, historians of early Christianity have often spoken of the "Latin West" and the "Greek East." This designation, however, neglects those other, early expressions of Eastern Christianity employing other languages in teaching and preaching. The Christian Scriptures, for example, were translated into at least five major languages of the East by the end of the fourth century.
The early distinction between Eastern and Western Christianity also reflects differences in theological perspectives and terminology in the early church. A number of theological perspectives and schools of Christian thought became more pronounced during the fourth and fifth centuries. Each of these sought to express the Christian faith within a distinctive cultural context with its own philosophical antecedents. Each provided important perspectives upon the meaning of the faith as expressed in Christian Scripture and tradition. The desire to maintain the unity of faith did not prevent the natural development of different theological emphases as well as the use of different theological terms in various regions.
By the early fourth century, important centers of Christian learning and thought could be found in the prominent eastern cities of Alexandria, Antioch, and Edessa as well as in the region of Cappadocia (modern central Turkey). The development of a distinctive Western Christian theology was initially linked with North Africa and only by the fifth century with Rome.
Patristic traditions that developed after the fourth century reflect the distinction between Eastern and Western Christianity. Important teachers of the early church were concerned with teaching the Christian faith within a particular setting and in relationship to particular theological challenges. The teachings of Tertullian (c.160–c. 225), Cyprian (d. 258), and Augustine (354–430) reflect the theological issues of the growing church in North Africa. Among the critical issues were Donatism and Pelagianism. The teaching of Ambrose (c. 339–397) reflects pastoral concerns dealing with Arianism and sacramental practices in the region of Milan. The teachings of Athanasius (c. 296–373), Ephraem (c. 306–393), and Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444) reflect their concerns with Christology. The teachings of Macrina (c. 327–379), Basil (c. 330–379), Gregory the Theologian (329–389), and Gregory of Nyssa (c. 330–c. 395), referred to as the Cappadocians, clarified the theological terms used to describe the Trinity. The teachings of Leo of Rome (d. 461) reflect a concern with both Christology and with church organization.
Within the early Christian East, there were many outstanding teachers, but none predominated in anything like the role played by, say, Augustine in the West. Profound theological issues affected the eastern portion of the Roman-Byzantine Empire especially between the fourth and eighth centuries. These were addressed at local councils and at the ecumenical councils, convened in the cities of the eastern part of the Roman-Byzantine Empire.
Clearly, there were different trajectories in the patristic traditions of East and West. Especially from the seventh century onward, a number of serious theological debates, compounded by politics, deepened the historic differentiation between Eastern and Western Christianity. In the realm of theological reflection, Eastern and Western Christianity were engaged with different theological issues and were affected by the perspectives of different teachers. The East was preoccupied with Christological themes, iconoclasm, missions to the Slavs, hesychaism (a style of prayer and meditation leading to a personal experience of God), and the encounter with Islam. Among its influential teachers at this time were John of Damascus (c. 675–c. 749), Maximos the Confessor (c. 580–662), Photios of Constantinople (c. 810–c. 895), and Gregory Palamas (c. 1296–1359). The West was preoccupied with such theological issues as the atonement, the relationship of the church and the state, and the interplay between revelation and reason. Among its influential teachers were Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033–1109), Pope Gregory VII (c. 1021–1085), and Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274).
The great theological themes in East and West were bound to be expressed in the worship, popular piety, art, and architecture of the churches. Here too one can sense simple differences that may reflect deeper theological concerns. The liturgy and art of the Christian East emphasized the intimate and natural relationship between the Triune God and humanity within the context of a good creation. The Eastern liturgy together with liturgical art and architecture were designed to provide a context through which this salutary relationship is celebrated, nurtured, and, when necessary, restored. With the coming of the Middle Ages, the developing liturgy and liturgical art of the Christian West was concerned more with overcoming the barrier between God and humanity caused by sin.
The early distinctions between Eastern and Western Christianity reflect the fact that there were also different cultural and intellectual contexts especially in the two major portions of the Roman Empire. The Byzantines, a term coined by Western historians, always described themselves as "Romans." They believed that their commonwealth continued the Roman Empire, albeit with a new basis in the Christian gospel. Following the transfer of the capital to the city of Byzantium in 324, it was termed "New Rome," or later "Constantine's City" (Constantinople). While they placed ultimate emphasis upon the Christian revelation, the Byzantines appreciated the cultural and intellectual inheritance of the ancient world. For the most part, elements of the intellectual tradition of the Classical world were viewed as imperfect forms of preparation for the coming of Christ. Unlike the Christian West, the Byzantines never experienced the "Dark Ages" and always maintained a high regard for learning. Founded in 425 by Emperor Theodosius II, the University of Constantinople existed for about seven hundred years before the medieval Western universities were established. The Byzantines never lost touch with Plato and Aristotle. Indeed, the West's contact with the Byzantine world during the Middle Ages frequently led to revivals of learning. Byzantine scholars coming to Western Europe after the fall of Constantinople nurtured the Renaissance of the fifteenth century.
Moreover, the Christian East had significant examples of charitable institutions, well developed by the late fourth century. The believer was expected to imitate God in acts of philanthropy. This personal responsibility was also expressed in a substantial way both by the church and by the government. Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, John Chrysostom (c. 347–407), Olympia the Deacon (c. 368–408), and John the Almsgiver (556–619) were notable teachers who called upon believers to care for the poor and needy. Moreover, the church took an active role in establishing charitable institutions. Basil is especially remembered for the creation, about the year 372, of a "city of healing," known as the Basileias, where the sick and poor were cared for regardless of their beliefs. His activity provided inspiration for other church leaders and governmental officials. Throughout its history, the Byzantine Empire was renowned for its hospitals, orphanages, homes for the elderly and the poor, and hospices for travelers.
Many of the early Eastern teachers and philanthropists were nurtured in monasteries. From the fourth century there was a strong monastic presence in the Byzantine world, rooted in a tradition established in Egypt by Anthony (c. 251–356) and by Pachomius (292–346). Basil and his sister Macrina also provided additional guidance for monastic communities. The Eastern insights were subsequently received in the West by Jerome (342–420), John Cassian (c. 415), and Benedict (480–540). The monasteries were communities of celibate believers whose lives revolved about services of prayer. In the East, many monasteries also were concerned with preservation of manuscripts and with schools and hospitals. The monasteries, frequently located in mountains, were also places of pilgrimages. Mount Athos, known as the Holy Mountain, contains a number of active monasteries dating from the late Byzantine period.
Division after the Council of Ephesus, 431
The early church professed that Jesus Christ was not only divine but also human. Reflecting the witness of the New Testament and early Christian teachings, the Council of Nicaea in 325 and the Council of Constantinople in 381 opposed Arianism and Apollinarianism, teachings that denied either Christ's full divinity or full humanity. Essential aspects of the faith of the church were expressed in the Nicene-Constantinople Creed of 381. By this time, and after much discussion, the church had settled on terminology that described the Trinity as three persons (hypostases ), one divine essence (ousia ). However, further questions arose over the relationship of the divinity and the humanity of Christ as well as the theological terms to be employed. These issues led to serious and unresolved divisions primarily within Eastern Christianity following the Council of Ephesus in 431 and the Council of Chalcedon in 451. At their heart, these divisions of the fifth century reflect the differences between the theological schools of Alexandria and Antioch. Both acknowledged Christ to be divine and human. Yet both differed in their descriptions of the relationship of the divinity and humanity in Christ as well as the terms to be used in describing the relationship between them.
The controversy was initiated over the term to be used to describe Mary. Formerly a monk in Antioch, Patriarch Nestorius of Constantinople refused to speak of Mary as the Theotokos (Mother or Birthgiver of God) and preferred to use the term Christotokos (Birthgiver of Christ). The term Theotokos had long been part of the church's understanding of the Virgin Mary and her relationship to Christ. It was less preferable for Nestorius because it sounded as though the humanity of Christ was somehow lost. Following the noted exegete Theodore of Mopsuestia (c. 350–428), the Antiochian tradition in general and Nestorius in particular were concerned with safeguarding the integrity of the humanity and divinity of Christ. He was accused, however, of teaching not only that Christ was divine and human but also that Christ was two beings. In his teaching, there appeared to be no true connection between humanity and divinity in Christ.
Representing the Alexandrian school of thought, Patriarch Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444) was the chief opponent to Nestorius. Cyril emphasized the union of humanity and divinity in Christ. In so doing, he frequently used the phrase "One nature of the Incarnate Word." Not denying Christ's full humanity and divinity, Cyril emphasized their union in the one reality of Christ. He usually used the word "nature" (physis) to describe the concrete expression of the one Christ.
To resolve this dispute, a council of bishops convened in Ephesus in 431. When it began, however, not all the bishops from the region of Antioch had arrived. The council deposed Nestorius and affirmed Cyril's Christological perspectives. The Antiochian bishops subsequently refused to accept the decision of Ephesus and convened their own council. They held that the terminology of Cyril could be used to deny the integrity of the divinity and humanity in Christ. For some of them, the term "nature" (physis ) was used to speak about the two realities of humanity and divinity.
In an effort to avoid division, Patriarch Cyril and Patriarch John of Antioch came to an agreement in 433 affirming a common Christological teaching and a common terminology. They spoke of Christ being one person (hypostasis ) and being of two natures (physis ). This agreement eventually led many in the Antiochian tradition to accept the decision of the Council of Ephesus. The moderate Alexandrians emphasized the union of the divinity and humanity in Christ. The moderate Antiochians emphasized the integrity of both the humanity and divinity in Christ. Either approach, though, could be pushed to an extreme.
The bishops of the church in the region of eastern Syria and Mesopotamia met in 484 and formally rejected the decision of Ephesus and its clarification of 433. They continued to be suspicious of the Alexandrian perspective and the attacks on Nestorius, whom they honored. The alienation became even more pronounced as time passed. It was compounded by proponents of an extreme Alexandrian Christology as evidenced by the monk Eutyches (fl. 450). Moreover, the subsequent decision of the Council of Constantinople in 553 to condemn posthumously the teachings of Diodore of Tarsus (died c. 390) and Theodore of Mopsuestia (c. 350–428) further deepened the alienation.
The church in the region of Mesopotamia dates from at least the second century. It was conquered in the third century by Persia, which never fully accepted Christianity. Zoroastrianism predominated, and Christians remained a minority. During the early fourth century, the bishops of the region were organized into an ecclesiastical structure under the leadership of a catholicos, the bishop of the Persian royal capital at Seleucia-Ctesiphon. He later received the additional title of patriarch. The city of Edessa became a noted center of Christian theology. The church in Persia had little formal connection with the church in the Roman-Byzantine Empire. Attempts to reconcile the divided churches, especially in the sixth century, were thwarted by the conflicts between the Roman-Byzantine Empire and the Persian Empire. Compounded by politics and distance, the schism deepened. In addition, the rapid rise of Islam in the early seventh century further aggravated the separation and prevented meaningful contacts.
The church in Persia eventually came to be called by some the Nestorian Church. More recently, it has been more properly known as the Assyrian Church or the Church of the East. From the seventh century, it was generally unaffected by the subsequent developments that touched the churches in the Mediterranean world through the Middle Ages and into the modern period. However, the Church of the East was engaged in remarkable missionary activity well into the fourteenth century. Missions were established for a period in Ceylon, India, Burma, Thailand, Indochina, and China. In recent centuries, membership in this church, however, has been considerably reduced. Some members accepted the authority of the Roman Catholic Church in the sixteenth century. Others were the objects of Protestant proselytism in the nineteenth century. A sizable number of its faithful were the victims of persecution in the early twentieth century. Today the majority of its 400,000 members live in present-day Iran, Iraq, and Syria. Because of recent immigration, there are new parishes in Western Europe and North America. It has had little formal contact with either the Orthodox Church or the Oriental Orthodox Churches.
Division After the Council of Chalcedon, 451
The second notable church division in the Christian East followed the Council of Chalcedon in 451. In order to heal the growing division over Christology within the Roman-Byzantine Empire, a council of bishops met at Chalcedon, near Constantinople, in 451. This council was a response to an earlier meeting of bishops held in Ephesus in 449. Dubbed the "Robbers Synod" by Pope Leo of Rome, that council supported the extreme Alexandrian Christology expressed by the monk Eutyches. He maintained that in Christ there was a single nature, implying that Christ's humanity had been lost through its contact with his divinity. The bishops at Chalcedon forcefully repudiated the decisions of the council of 449 and its extreme Alexandrian Christology. They sought to express the apostolic faith in opposition both to extreme Alexandrian and extreme Antiochian perspectives. The council was also concerned with reconciling the growing division between the churches reflecting Alexandrian Christology and those reflecting the Antiochian version, especially the church in Mesopotamia.
The statement of the council reflected the theological debates reaching back to the council of Ephesus and the differing emphasis in Christology. The statement brought together the moderate elements of both Alexandrian and Antiochian Christology while opposing the extreme distortions of each. At the same time, the statement established a common terminology that could be received by both traditions. While recognizing the mystery of the incarnation, the statement affirmed that Christ is one person with two natures, both fully human and fully divine. Neither his divine nor his human nature is diminished or lost by the union in one person. Before this, the term "nature" had been used by some to describe the single reality of Christ (one nature). Others had spoken of two natures when referring to the divinity and humanity of Christ.
The churches related to the Patriarchate of Rome and the Patriarchate of Constantinople immediately received the statement. The Council of Chalcedon was eventually recognized in these churches as the Fourth Ecumenical Council. However, in the decades following Chalcedon, portions of the church in Egypt and in Syria as well as the church in Armenia rejected the statement of the council. For a time, the church in Georgia joined them. Following their lead, the churches in Ethiopia and in Malankara, India, subsequently also rejected the decision.
Upholding a very formal Alexandrian position, the opponents of Chalcedon believed that the use of the terminology of "two natures" had overtones of Nestorianism despite the fact that the council anathematized Nestorius. The opponents also claimed that the "two nature" terminology was a betrayal of Cyril's usual affirmation of "one nature of the incarnate Word." Generally overlooked was the fact that Cyril in the agreement of 433 recognized the use of the "two nature" terminology if understood properly. Those who rejected Chalcedon also repudiated the Monophysitism of Eutyches. They were subsequently accused of the heresy of Monophysitism because of they used the term "nature" as the Chalcedonians used the word "person" to describe the reality of Christ. While opposed to the doctrinal Monophysitism of Eutyches, they accepted a "linguistic Monophysitism" claiming to follow Cyril.
The division in the Christian East after Chalcedon not only reflected differences in Christology. It also reflected historical, political, and cultural differences between those Christians within the Roman-Byzantine world and those living on and beyond its boundaries. Following Chalcedon, those who rejected the council's teaching made up a significant portion of the Christians living on the periphery of the empire. The attempt by the Byzantines to impose the decision of Chalcedon through military force especially in Egypt only compounded the division.
Councils of bishops meeting in Constantinople in 553 and 661 attempted to heal the growing division. They also addressed ongoing questions related to describing the person of Christ. These councils were eventually recognized as the Fifth and Sixth Ecumenical Councils by the churches of the Byzantine-Roman world. By the seventh century, however, differences in Christology and theological perspectives were greatly complicated by cultural, political, and linguistic factors. In addition, the rise of Islam in the seventh century created a further wedge between those churches that accepted Chalcedon and the subsequent councils and those that did not. While there was some contact and dialogue during the Middle Ages, misunderstandings and language and cultural differences prevented an enduring reconciliation.
The portion of the Christian East that rejected the Council of Chalcedon developed parallel to those Orthodox churches of the Roman-Byzantine Empire. While some theological dialogues took place in the Middle Ages, no formal reconciliation was achieved. The fact that these churches, which did not accept Chalcedon, often existed in difficult political environments frequently limited their mission and theological development even into the twenty-first century. They have often been referred to as "Monophysite churches" and more recently as "Lesser Eastern Churches" or "Non-Chalcedonan Churches." Accepting the first three ecumenical councils, they claim to profess the Orthodox faith, express a different tradition in Christology, and possess distinctive liturgical traditions reaching back to the earliest days of Eastern Christianity.
Today, these churches use the title "Oriental Orthodox Churches." They are distinguished from the Orthodox Church, sometimes called Eastern Orthodox, which accepted Chalcedon and the related councils of 553, 680, and 787. The Oriental Orthodox Churches include: the Patriarchate of Alexandria (Coptic Orthodox) (3,900,000), the Patriarchate of Antioch (Syrian Orthodox) (250,000), the Church of Armenia (Armenian Apostolic; 6,000,000), the Church of Ethiopia (16,000,000), the Church of Malankara (India) (1,000,000), and the Church of Eritrea (1,700,000). While in full communion with one another, each church has its own distinctive history and liturgical traditions. Each also has a significant number of members living in Western Europe and North America.
Despite their formal division between the family of Oriental Orthodox churches and the family of Orthodox churches, theologians from both established an unofficial bilateral theological dialogue in 1964. This theological dialogue became formal in 1985. It is generally recognized today by theologians and church leaders in both families that the Christological differences between the Oriental Orthodox and the Orthodox were primarily a matter of terminological differences and that in fact both families of churches profess the same faith in Christ but use different theological terms.
Division Between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Churches
From the eighth century, signs of a growing estrangement between the Church of Rome and the Church of Constantinople together with portions of the churches of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem began to be evident in the wake of the iconoclastic controversy. Its first phase began following an imperial decree forbidding the veneration of icons by Emperor Leo III in 726. Initially, the veneration of icons was declared to be a form of idolatry, although the use of images, evidenced by the catacomb examples, dated from the earliest years of Christianity. With reference to the Old Testament, Leo III and his son Constantine V viewed "idolatry" as a cause of their political difficulties. Supported by Constantine V, a local council of bishops in 773 opposed the veneration of icons based upon Christological perspectives. Despite vicious persecution of the iconophiles, their theological perspectives eventually triumphed. The chief theological defenders of icons were John of Damascus, Theodore of Studios (759–826), and Nikephoros, patriarch of Constantinople (758–828). Empress Irene reversed the imperial policy and supported a new council held in 787 in Nicaea, which repudiated the iconoclastic positions. A second phase of iconoclasm arose in 714 but was formally ended in 843. A flowering of iconography followed. Throughout this period, the Church of Rome consistently opposed iconoclasm.
With the end of iconoclasm, the Church of Constantinople, supported by the government, entered into a vigorous period of missionary activity. Chief among the missionaries were Cyril (c. 826–869) and Methodios (c. 815–885). Sent by Patriarch Photios (c. 810–c. 895) first to evangelize the Khazars on the northeast side of the Black Sea in 860, the brothers eventually went to Greater Moravia. They created the Glagolithic alphabet and translated portions of the Scriptures and liturgical texts. Following their example, other missionaries worked especially among Slavic tribes of Central and Eastern Europe, inventing the Cyrillic alphabet as part of their activity. These missions provided the background for the formal conversion of the Kiev city-state under Prince Vladimir (956–1015) in 988. This established not only a bond with the Church of Constantinople but also a political and cultural relationship with the Byzantine world.
Photios was also involved in debates with the Church of Rome over issues that would subsequently be identified as the essential reasons for the "Great Schism." Pope Nicholas (d. 867) refused to recognize Photios's election in 863 following the deposition of the previous patriarch. Refusing to recognize the legitimacy of Nicholas's authority in the East, Photios in 867 authored a harsh letter denouncing Western missionaries in Bulgaria and the addition of the filioque (Latin for "and from the Son," professing the proceeding of the Holy Spirit from both the Father and the Son) to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed in parts of the West. Ignatius, the previous patriarch, was restored in 867 and Photios was deposed. A council in Constantinople in 869 recognized the deposition. It was subsequently recognized as the Eighth Ecumenical Council by the Roman Catholic Church. Photios, however, was subsequently restored as patriarch. A new council in Constantinople in 879, with representatives of Pope John VIII, formally restored relations with Rome. Many Orthodox consider this the Eighth Ecumenical Council.
Since the ninth century, the filioque addition has remained a point of contention between the Orthodox East and the Catholic West. The Orthodox continue to recite the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (381) in its original form, affirming that the Holy Spirit "proceeds from the Father," while the West expanded the wording to say that the Spirit "proceeds from the Father and the Son." The addition initially was introduced in Spain in the sixth century as a safeguard against Arianism. Behind the addition lies the Trinitarian theology of Augustine. The addition was adopted by the local bishop's council of Frankfurt (794). However, the addition was opposed by Pope Leo III. In the 860s Nicholas I supported the use of the filioque by Western missionaries in Bulgaria. The filioque was formally used in the Creed at the liturgy in Rome in 1014. From that time, Photios and the Byzantines held that the West had acted improperly to alter unilaterally the Creed that was the common heritage of the whole church. Photios also believed that the filioque expressed an incorrect understanding of the relationship among the persons of the Trinity.
Behind the filioque debate was also the question of the authority of the pope of Rome. Nicholas I had affirmed a universal supremacy of jurisdiction for the Roman see, over the East as well as the West. The Byzantines held that the pope, as senior among the five patriarchs, was accorded a "primacy of honor" but not a universal jurisdiction over and above other bishops. The bishop of Rome was regarded as the first bishop, but the first among equals. The Byzantines believed that while appeals could be made to the pope from the East, he did not have the right to intervene without request in the internal affairs of the other patriarchates. According to the Byzantine view, the pope cannot by himself decide questions of doctrine apart from the wider body of bishops. Thus, the East always looked to councils to resolve grave disputes.
There were also significant political developments in Western Europe. Determined to challenge the authority of the Roman Empire in Constantinople, Charlemagne was crowned Emperor of the Romans in 800 by Pope Leo III (d. 816). The papacy looked to the Carolingians for a political and military alliance. Likewise, Carolingian theologians were intent upon projecting Western theological perspectives and strengthening the position of the papacy, especially in relationship to the East. Misunderstanding the council of 787, the Carolingian theologians initially refused to accept its decision on the veneration of icons. Likewise, the Carolingians were firm proponents of the use of the filioque in the Creed. In a clear attempt to degrade the Byzantine Empire, the Carolingians refused to accord to it the title "Roman Empire," which the Byzantines consistently used. The Carolingians spoke disparagingly of it as the "Greek Empire," and they termed the Church of Constantinople as the "Greek Church."
The exact date of the Great Schism between East and West cannot easily be established because the separation was a gradual process extending from the ninth to at least the fifteenth century. The degree of alienation also varied in different places. The process focused chiefly upon the deterioration of the relationship between the Church of Rome and the Church of Constantinople. Differences in theological emphasis between the East and the West can be identified at least by the fourth century. Despite these, as well as the political estrangement, there was a fundamental sense of unity in faith and sacramental life that persisted well into the Middle Ages.
There were, however, serious differences developing in the understanding of authority in the church and especially the authority of the bishop of Rome. Different understandings of the role of the bishop of Rome in West and East were compounded by political developments in Western Europe. In the wake of the Germanic invasions and the growth of feudalism in Western Europe in the early Middle Ages, the church in Western Europe developed a highly centralized structure. This "feudal pyramid" placed the pope at the top. All other Western archbishops and bishops were placed in subservient positions to him.
The model of church governance in the West was compounded by political alliances between the papacy and the Franks in the late eighth and early ninth centuries. By the time of Pope Gregory VII (c. 1021–1085), however, the papacy sought to overcome political influence and other abuses that had developed during the feudal period. Influenced by the reform movements of Lorraine and Cluny, a number of influential popes advanced a strong doctrine of papal authority in relationship to Western political powers. As part of the reform movement, the papacy emphasized its independence from political rulers in Western Europe. It also reasserted the claim to universal jurisdiction over the churches of the East as well as the West. At the same time, the gradual Norman conquest of the Byzantine territories in Sicily and southern Italy, where Eastern Church traditions prevailed, also eliminated a significant bridge between East and West. The claims of the papacy were expressed with greater strength and emotion but with little appreciation for the perspectives of the East.
Sent by Pope Leo IX, Cardinal Humbert, bishop of Silva Candida, led a delegation to Constantinople in 1054. The mission of the delegation was to discuss growing tensions between Rome and Constantinople over theology and liturgical practices. Not received by Patriarch Michael Cerularios, Humbert placed a bull of excommunication against him on the altar of St. Sophia Cathedral on July 16, 1054, purportedly in the name of the pope. The anathema contained a number of charges against the East, including condemnation for failure to use the filioque in the Creed and neglect of papal authority. Also noted was the Eastern practice of using unleavened bread in the Eucharist and allowing a married priesthood. Believing that Humbert himself and not the pope initiated the action, Cerularios anathematized Humbert and his companions. While historians once used 1054 as the date of the schism, it is now recognized that the anathemas were very limited in scope. Humbert claimed to excommunicate Cerularios, not the emperor or the Eastern Church. Cerularios excommunicated Humbert, not the pope, who had died earlier. It appears that mutual acts were quickly forgotten, since sacramental communion between Rome and Constantinople and other parts of the East continued. The event of 1054 was a symptom of the deepening alienation.
While the Western Crusades sought to regain the Holy Land, they profoundly affected relations between Rome and the Eastern churches. In the captured cities, Eastern bishops were replaced by westerners, dividing the allegiance of the faithful and deepening the sense of alienation at the popular level. An expression of schism, rival patriarchs and bishops were commonplace in the Patriarchate of Antioch from 1100 and in Jerusalem from 1187. Diverted to Constantinople in 1204, the Fourth Crusade plundered the city and led to the temporary installation of a Latin patriarch there as well. The imposition of Western bishops loyal to Rome and to political powers in Western Europe became a tragic and visible expression of schism in Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem, and other cities. The clergy and faithful did not easily accept bishops imposed upon them. For them, this was a clear sign that Rome and Western rulers had little regard for the legitimacy of the ancient patriarchal churches of the East. While the Byzantines eventually recaptured the city in 1261 and the Latin patriarch of Constantinople was removed to Rome, the destruction and sense of betrayal were not easily forgotten.
Between 1204 and 1453, when the Byzantine Empire fell, numerous attempts were made to address the theological and ecclesiological differences and to heal the schism between Rome and Constantinople. Two major attempts are noteworthy. At the Council of Lyons (1274), a small Byzantine delegation sent by Emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus (d. 1282) accepted the reunion terms of Pope Gregory X. Eventually repudiated in Constantinople, the meeting provided little opportunity for genuine dialogue. At the Council of Ferrara-Florence (1438–1439), there was a larger delegation from Constantinople, including Emperor John VIII and Patriarch Joseph II. With greater opportunity for discussion, the Byzantines recognized the Latin understanding of the procession of the Holy Spirit but were not required to add the filioque to the text of the Creed. The Byzantines also accepted an ambiguous view of the authority of the pope. Diverse practices were accepted in liturgical matters. A participant in the discussions, Mark Eugenikos (c. 1394–1445), archbishop of Ephesus, refused to accept the agreements, and the Council of Florence was formally rejected in Constantinople in 1484. At the same time, it was decided that individual Western Christians (Latins) would be anointed with holy oil upon entry into one of the other Eastern patriarchates. This was a liturgical expression of disunity with Rome, perceived to be in schism. The Roman Catholic Church, however, recognized the council and subsequently used it as a basis for the establishment of Eastern Catholic churches, known historically as the "unia" or "uniates," which accepted the full authority of the pope. The Patriarchate of Constantinople together with those of Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, and the church of Cyprus, claiming to also be the apostolic and catholic church, eventually came to be known as the Orthodox Church.
During this period there was also a growing divergence in the theological traditions in the East and West and the issues with which their respective theologians dealt. Gregory Palamas (1296–1359) a monk from Mount Athos and later archbishop of Thessaloniki, represented the tradition of hesychaism. Especially significant was the recitation of the "Jesus Prayer." Confronted with the teachings of Barlam of Calabria (1290–c. 1350), Gregory affirmed the possibility of genuine personal encounter with God through prayer, experienced as divine light and involving the whole person, body and soul. In so doing, he followed Symeon the New Theologian (949–1022) and Gregory of Sinai (d. 1347). Gregory Palamas also spoke of the distinction between the divine essence, which is always hidden, and the divine energies or presence, which can be experienced in this life. His teachings were affirmed by three councils held at Constantinople (1341, 1347, 1351). A younger companion of Palamas, Nicholas Cabasilas (c. 1322–1395), a lay theologian, related hesychist theology especially to baptism and the Eucharist. The approach to God and the style of theological reflection exemplified by these teachers were quite different from that embodied in Western scholasticism expressed by Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225–1274). The Byzantines were not unconcerned with the relationship of reason and revelation. Yet in espousing an apophatic and more mystical approach to theology, they more readily affirmed the limitations of human speculation and the importance of prayer and worship for the transformation of the person.
The dramatic events of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries hardened the alienation between the Roman Catholic Church centered on the pope of Rome and the Orthodox Church represented chiefly by the patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. The fall of Constantinople in 1453 marked the end of the Roman-Byzantine Empire. With the victory of the Ottoman Turks, the Church of Constantinople came under Muslim domination, thus joining the other patriarchates of the East.
While not directly involved in the Reformation debates, the Orthodox were not in a position to respond properly to the new issues raised in the West in the sixteenth century. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Orthodox world, with the exception of Russia, was under the domination of the Ottomans. The Ottomans designated the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople as the head of the "Rum Millet," the Roman Orthodox people. Responsible to the sultan, the patriarch had ultimate religious and civil responsibility for all Orthodox regardless of language or culture in the Ottoman Empire. Treated as second-class citizens by the Ottomans, the life of the Orthodox and their church was gradually restricted. Orthodox had limited opportunities for advanced theological study in the East. Feeling oppressed, they adopted a defensive stance emphasizing survival. The Orthodox sought to maintain their patristic and liturgical inheritance, yet they failed to develop it in a creative manner. They were content with what has been called a "theology of repetition." During this period, a vast collection of spiritual texts known as the Philokalia was edited and published in 1782 by Makarios of Corinth (1731–1805) and Nikodimos of Mount Athos (c. 1749–1809). They were subsequently translated into Slavonic, Russian, Romanian, and more recently into English.
There was also a parallel tendency among some Orthodox theologians toward a form of westernization. Orthodox who could study in Western Europe were attracted to universities dominated by either Roman Catholicism or Protestantism. At the same time, some Roman Catholics and Protestants sought to enlist the Orthodox as their allies in the Western controversies. This meant that some Orthodox were challenged in difficult circumstances to reflect more deeply on new theological issues that had been raised during the Reformation and Counter-Reformation.
Between 1573 and 1581 Lutheran theologians at Tübingen engaged in correspondence with Patriarch Jeremias II of Constantinople (c. 1530–1595). In his responses the patriarch expressed traditional Orthodox teaching, generally avoiding both Catholic and Protestant perspectives and terminology. Later, however, Patriarch Cyril I (1572–1638) expressed clear Calvinist perspectives in his Confession of 1629 but gained few supporters among the Orthodox. Patriarch Dositheos of Jerusalem (1641–1707), in his Confession of Faith adopted at the Council of Jerusalem (1672), opposed Cyril but tended toward Roman Catholic perspectives and terminology. Metropolitan Petr Moghila of Kiev (1596–1646) expressed a strongly Latin style of theology within the Orthodox Church of the Ukraine. In the seventeenth century this "Latinizing" tendency later spread from Kiev to Moscow. Russian theology became increasingly influenced by Western perspectives, particularly through the influence of Feofan Prokopovich (1681–1736). Against this background, some discussions also took place between Anglicans and Orthodox between 1716 and 1725.
There were significant developments simultaneously in the Orthodox Church in Russia. Following the adoption of Christianity in Kiev in 988, the church flourished until the coming of Mongols in 1240. By the fourteenth century the center of civic and religious life had moved to Moscow. The Church of Russia, led by the metropolitan of Moscow, became autocephalous and independent from Constantinople in 1448. In 1589 Constantinople established the Patriarchate of Moscow and all Rus and ranked it after the ancient patriarchates. During the seventeenth century, a schism took place within the church following the reform of liturgical practices by Patriarch Nikon. Those who rejected the reforms were termed "Old Believers" or "Old Ritualists." Preferring closer governmental oversight, Czar Peter the Great abolished the patriarchal office in 1721 in favor of the synodical structure. Despite these limitations, there were significant missions in China, Japan, and Alaska in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Likewise, a number of outstanding saintly teachers enriched church life. Among these were Paissy Velichkovsky (1722–1794), Seraphim of Sarov (1759–1833), Philaret of Moscow (1782–1867), and John of Kronstadt (1829–1908).
The Orthodox living in territories close to Catholic or Protestant countries eventually became the objects of proselytism. With political support from Poland and as a reaction to Protestantism, some Orthodox Christians living in the region of Ukraine entered into communion with Rome by decision of a council of bishops held in the city of Brest in 1595. Both clergy and laity were permitted to maintain many of their Eastern liturgical customs and much of their administrative organization. However, they professed ultimate loyalty to the pope of Rome and, in principle, Rome's view of the papacy. With Western political support, similar "unions" were established in Carpatho-Russia in 1646 and 1664, in Transylvania in 1700, and in Damascus in 1724. In other places, the Orthodox generally viewed these "unions" as tragic attempts to impose papal authority over their weakened church. By the year 1729, Rome formally forbade sacramental communion (communio in sacris) with the Orthodox, viewing them as schismatic. Being threatened both by Roman Catholic missionaries and Ottoman political influence, the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1755 responded and advocated for a time the "rebaptism" of Roman Catholics who entered the Orthodox Church. This unprecedented recommendation did not reflect all of Orthodoxy and was subsequently overturned in 1888, yet such events indicate the level of estrangement and the formalization of the schism. Little formal contact between the Orthodoxy and Rome followed.
The breakup of the Ottoman Empire led to the creation of new states in the Balkans. The Patriarchate of Constantinople granted autocephalous status to the churches of Greece (1833), Romania (1864), Bulgaria (1871), Serbia (1879), and later Albania (1937). Following the example of older Orthodox churches, these became fully responsible for their internal life while professing unity in the Orthodox faith.
The Church of Russia was profoundly affected by Bolshevik revolution in 1917 following the abdication of the czar and the civil war. On the eve of the revolution a historic church council reestablished the patriarchal office and elected Tikhon Belavin (1865–1925) of Moscow as patriarch. Other church reforms were prevented by the increase of persecution. Nearly all bishops and theologians were either executed or exiled in the 1920s and 1930s. About 85,000 priests were executed. Believers were systematically persecuted. Churches and monasteries were destroyed. With the Second World War, a modus vivendi between the church and the Soviet government was established, especially to defend against the Nazis threat. The internal life of the church, however, continued to be severely restricted. Only after 1989, with disintegration of the communistic system, did the plight of the church begin to improve. This has led to a dramatic growth of church members and the establishment of new churches, monasteries, and schools.
Following World War II the establishment of communist governments in Romania, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia also led to restrictions on church life. Restrictions were lifted only after 1990 with the establishment of new governments. The church of Albania was especially impacted after the communist revolution of 1945. In the year 1967 the government began to close all churches and persecute Christians. Only in 1991, following the downfall of the communist government, was the church able to be restored. In many parts of Eastern Europe and the Middle East, Orthodox Christianity is only beginning to recover from the domination of repressive political and religious regimes.
The political and ecclesial developments of the late twentieth century led to new difficulties accompanied by the reemergence of ethnic and religious conflicts in the Balkans into which some Orthodox leaders were drawn, especially in Serbia. In Ukraine and Romania, tensions arose between Orthodox and Eastern Catholics over property rights. The Church of Russia repudiated the activities of evangelical Protestant missionaries and the establishment of Roman Catholic dioceses. The churches of Bulgaria and Georgia experienced internal divisions reflective of political disputes. The undue emphasis on nationalism has tended to weaken a common witness and mission.
New and dramatic contacts between the churches of the Christian West and churches of the Christian East began in the late nineteenth century and intensified throughout the twentieth century. The ecumenical movement, with a goal of the visible unity of the churches, provided many opportunities for contact and theological dialogue. Each of the Orthodox Churches and the Oriental Orthodox Churches eventually became members of the World Council of Churches, founded in 1948. Their involvement provided opportunities for new contact and dialogues between the two Orthodox families, beginning informally in 1964, affirming agreement in a common Orthodox faith. In addition, the Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and the Assyrian Church of the East have established bilateral dialogues with the Roman Catholic Church. Participants in many of these dialogues have included leading contemporary Orthodox theologians.
The ecumenical dialogues have provided opportunities for a true engagement of Eastern and Western traditions of Christianity as well as for the examination and resolution of historic differences. At the same time, this encounter has enabled Western Christian theologians to move beyond a distorted perception of the Christian East. A false perception of the Christian East as essentially exotic, decadent, and moribund was reflected in the writings of Edward Gibbon (1737–1794) and Adolph von Harnack (1851–1930). Their influence can still be found in some studies that continue to marginalize the Christian East.
The migration of Eastern Christians to Western Europe, North and South America, and Australia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries provided a basis for the growth of parishes and dioceses in cities where Western Christian churches were long established, sometimes improperly referred to as the "diaspora." Especially significant has been the steady growth of the Orthodox Church in the United States. While the Ecumenical Patriarchate claims ultimate canonical responsibility, most of the Orthodox jurisdictions remain directly connected to an autocephalous church. The largest, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, is a province of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The Russian Orthodox Archdiocese (Metropolia), dating from the mission to Russian Alaska in 1794, received autocephaly (self-governing) status from the Church of Russia in 1970 and was renamed the Orthodox Church in America. This status, however, has not been recognized by most other Orthodox churches. While each jurisdiction began to serve a particular ethnic group, a remarkable process of indigenization has taken place as expressed in well-established parishes, dioceses, and theological schools serving about five million. This includes today persons from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds, as well as persons raised in other religious traditions. Since 1960 the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Churches (SCOBA), now representing nine jurisdictions, has been the major instrument of Orthodox unity and witness. It has also coordinated ecumenical dialogues, charitable endeavors worldwide, and missions especially in Africa and Asia. The presence of Orthodoxy in America has also provided many Western Christians with the opportunity to experience firsthand the spiritual and liturgical traditions of Eastern Christianity. This has been supported by a growing number of books and articles addressing various aspects of Eastern Christian theology, spirituality, liturgy, and history.
The Orthodox Church today is a communion of fourteen autocephalous churches and two autonomous churches. These are: the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (3,500,000 approximate members), the Patriarchate of Alexandria (250,000), the Patriarchate of Antioch (750,000), the Patriarchate of Jerusalem (130,000), the Patriarchate of Russia (80,000,000), the Patriarchate of Serbia (8,000,000), the Patriarchate of Romania (19,800,000), the Patriarchate of Bulgaria (8,000,000), the Patriarchate of Georgia (3,500,000), the Church of Cyprus (442,000), the Church of Greece (9,025,000), the Church of Poland (570,000), the Church of Albania (160,000), and the Church of the Czech and Slovak Republics (55,000). The autonomous churches are: the Church of Finland (57,000) and the Church of Estonia (50,000).
Distinctive Theological Perspectives
Eastern Christianity, exemplified chiefly through the theology and life of the Orthodox Church, has had its own distinct historical development distinguishing it from both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. At the same time, Orthodoxy has also preserved a distinctive expression of the Christian faith that its adherents believe is in continuity with the teachings of early Christianity and free from more recent Western Christian debates. Especially in the past five centuries, the Orthodox churches have not experienced the same theological discussions as those that took place within Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. These include, for example, Western debates over revelation and reason, faith and works, Scripture and tradition, or science and religion. The Christian East generally does not accept the dichotomies that have been part of the Western Christian traditions. One does not find a harsh distinction, for example, between the "City of God" and the "City of Man," between nature and super nature, body and spirit, Scripture and tradition, law and gospel, or sacred and secular.
The Triune God of revelation
Eastern Christianity teaches that the one God is a Triune God, known as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The one God has created all and is beyond all. Yet this God has acted to reveal himself and his love in history. While not diminishing the value of human reason and reflection, the Orthodox affirm that God is a mystery who is ultimately beyond human definition. The limited knowledge that we have of God results chiefly from the divine revelation and not from human speculation, important though it may be. Through this revelation, centered upon Christ, human persons have experienced a God who is a good God, philanthropos, a lover of humankind. This proclamation of the philanthropic God is at the heart of the worship and mission of the Orthodox Church. It is central to the life of each believer. Throughout the prayers of the Orthodox Church, one hears the affirmation: "You are a good God who loves humankind and to you we offer glory, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.…"
The reality of Christ and the event of his coming are the cornerstone of the Orthodox faith. The revelation of God to the ancient Israelites is fulfilled in the coming of Christ, the promised Messiah. Through his incarnation and in his person, a new relationship between divinity and humanity has been established that affects all. In the person of Jesus Christ, divinity is united with humanity in such a way that the distinctive character of each is maintained. The God who has created human persons and the entire world is not a distant and remote being. Rather, in order to express his love and restore persons to fellowship, God has united himself to humanity in the person of Christ.
The Orthodox have a high regard for the dignity and value of the human person, who is seen as naturally theocentric. From the moment of creation by God, the human person is fashioned with an orientation to God as the source of life. A natural and enduring relationship between each person and the Triune God is assumed, rooted in the very act of divine creation and deepened through the incarnation and the coming of the Spirit. This means that it is natural and healthy for the human person to live life in communion with the Triune God. It is unnatural for the human person not to be in a loving relationship with God. A source of much reflection in the Christian East, the biblical description of the human person as being created in the "image and likeness" of God (Gen. 1:26) is a profound affirmation that speaks both about the deep bond of love between God and each human person and the dignity of each person.
This bond was vividly expressed in the earthly ministry of Christ. Through his preaching and teachings, Christ revealed both the Triune God as philanthropos and the theocentric nature of the human person. In proclaiming the Kingdom of God, Christ announced a dramatic change in the course of history. Affirming the reign of God, Jesus spoke of the Father who loves each person and seeks a loving response from each person. He taught that the human person is most fully human when life is lived in communion with God and other persons through loving relationships. He promised that God the Holy Spirit would be a comforter and guide, nurturing those who know him as Lord. In his acts of forgiveness, Christ declared God's mercy for sinners and assistance to persevere. In his healings and exorcisms, Christ expressed the ability of God to overcome every evil power. Most importantly, the Resurrection of Christ is not only the heart of the gospel but also as the sign of God's ultimate victory over the power of death, evil, and Satan. The Resurrection of Christ is a bold proclamation that not even death is an obstacle to the Father's reconciling love. The Orthodox Easter hymn declares: "Christ is risen from the dead, conquering death by death, and upon those in the tombs he bestows life."
The Orthodox believe that Christ established the church with the call of his first disciples. It is a community of those who are called by God and who affirm Christ as Lord and Savior. The church is part of the divine plan of salvation centered upon Christ and enlivened by the Spirit from the first Pentecost. Through the life of the church, the Holy Spirit reveals the presence of the Risen Christ to persons of every age and every place and enables believers to share in his saving work. Because of the Spirit, Christ is not a distant person of history. The Holy Spirit leads persons from a life of self-centeredness to a life centered upon Christ and his gospel. The person of the Spirit is not subordinate to Christ, nor is the ministry of the Spirit inferior to that of Christ. The Spirit unites human persons to Christ, who leads them to the Father. Within this community of faith, believers have the opportunity to cultivate the bond of love not only with one another but also with the persons of the Holy Trinity. Both Christ and the Spirit work in harmony to accomplish the will of the Father, who desires that "everyone be saved and come to the knowledge of truth" (I Tim. 2:4). Under the guidance of the Spirit, the church has a mission to preach the gospel to all nations and to bear witness to the presence of the Risen Christ.
These fundamental affirmations about God and the human person are the basis for the Eastern Christian view of salvation. From the very beginning the human person was fashioned in the "image and likeness" of God and given the vocation to live in communion with God (Gen. 1:26). A distortion in the natural relationship, however, was introduced into human history and is expressed in the story of the fall. The "ancestral sin," as the East speaks of "original sin," marked humanity's turning away from God. Yet the identity of the human person was never destroyed and the divine love was never diminished. While all sin and its consequences distorted the relationship between God and the human person, it could not destroy the fundamental bond between God the Father and his sons and daughters. Understood essentially as a new relationship with God the Father given in Christ, salvation is first an unmerited and free divine gift.
The term "deification" (theosis) is frequently used in the Christian East to describe the process of sanctification whereby the human person responds to the divine initiative and moves ever closer to the living God, through a life that reflects and imitates the divine love. The believer, following the example of Christ, must freely live in such a way that the relationship with God is deepened and strengthened. The gift of salvation must be freely received and actualized in the life of each believer. Through this relationship, the human person not only grows closer to God, the source of life and holiness, but also becomes more fully human. The process of deification begins at the very moment of personal creation and continues to the life that is to come. Love knows no limit and no boundary. For this reason, the great teachers of the church often declare: "God became human so that human persons may become divine."
Salvation is not simply personal but also communal. The Orthodox teach that believers grow in their relationship with God within the fellowship of the church. The rite of baptism establishes not only a personal relationship with Christ but also a relationship with all those others who are bound to Christ. Within this community of believers, the followers of Christ have the opportunity to deepen their love for as well as their understanding of God. They also have the support to live their lives in imitation of Christ within the responsibilities and obligation of daily life.
The theocentric person is also a person who is called to live in relationship with others. The inner orientation to the God of love is at the same time an orientation to other persons. The human person is not meant to be an autonomous or individualized self. Rather, the human person is meant to be a valuable member of a network of authentic relationships that contribute to well-being, wholeness, and holiness. Ultimately, these relationships of love contribute to the salvation of the whole world.
Authentic human relationships are those that nurture love, compassion, and mercy and make us more sensitive to the needs of the "other." Like God's relationship with us, our relationships with others are meant to be expressions of love, which heals and reconciles. In communion with God and others we grow in our human identity. The Orthodox take very seriously the old Christian adage "A solitary Christian is no Christian."
Relationships among believers are meant to be a constant reminder of the profound relationship that each of us has with every member of the human family. The Orthodox teach that each person, regardless of circumstance or belief, is created by the same God. Indeed, each of us has been united with God in a very intimate way through the humanity that Christ has shared.
Salvation also has its cosmic dimension. The Orthodox believe that human persons are not saved from the world but in and through the created world. The soul is not saved separately from the body but rather together with the body. The whole person, body and soul, is meant to share in the process of deification, beginning with the relationships and responsibilities of this life. Far from rejecting the body and the rest of the material creation, the Orthodox look upon the physical as the work of God and the medium through which the divine is manifest. The entire creation, good from the beginning, is related to the reality of the Incarnation of Christ.
The creation is the gift of a good and loving God, and although it is prone to distortion, both because of its createdness and because of human sin, it remains fundamentally valuable and "very good" because of its divine origin. By uniting himself with our humanity, Christ established a profound relationship not only with our human nature but also with the entire created order. The ultimate transfiguration of the entire cosmos is already prefigured not only in the lives of the faithful but also in the material of the Eucharist, the icons, and the relics of the saints.
The Orthodox Church makes constant use of the elements of the physical world in its worship. Bread and wine, water and oil, fruits and flowers are but a few of the many elements taken up by the church in its worship. In blessing these things of the earth, the church affirms that the physical world has its origins with God, that it possesses intrinsic value, and that it can be a vehicle of divine presence. This is the same principle that applies to the icon. It is composed of the "stuff of creation," wood and paint, or stone and glass. The icon is a valuable means of relating to God and one another.
Eastern Christianity has always emphasized the importance of worship. The gathering of believers, especially for the Eucharist, is an act of thanksgiving and praise offered in response to the presence and actions of the Triune God. Although Orthodox worship often can be very elaborate, solemn, and lengthy, it expresses a deep and pervasive sense of joy. This mood is an expression of belief in the Resurrection of Christ and the deification of humanity, dominant themes of Orthodox worship. In order to enhance this feeling and to encourage full participation, services are normally sung or chanted within a setting conducive to prayer.
Worship is not simply expressed in words. In addition to prayers, hymns, and Scripture readings, there are a number of ceremonies, gestures, and processions. The church makes rich use of nonverbal symbols to express God's presence and our relationship to him. Orthodox worship involves the whole person: intellect, feelings, and senses.
Services in the Orthodox Church follow a prescribed order, framework, and design, with a view to preserving its corporate dimension and strengthening a sense of unity and continuity. The content of the services is also prescribed. There are unchanging elements, and there are parts that change according to the feast, season, or particular circumstance. The regulating of the services indicates that worship is an expression of the entire church and not the composition on a particular priest and congregation.
Worship is also an important means of communicating the faith, especially through prayer. As the axiom says, the rule of prayer is the rule of faith (lex orandi est lex credendi ). This means that the essential affirmations of the faith are expressed through worship. No universal or official language is prescribed, Orthodox worship having always been celebrated in the language of the people. Indeed, two or more languages may be used in the services to accommodate the needs of the congregation. Throughout the world Orthodox worship is celebrated in over fifty languages or dialects.
Known as the Divine Liturgy, the Eucharist is the most important act of communal prayer for Orthodox Christians. In obedience to the command of the Lord given at the last supper (Luke 22:19), it has been celebrated regularly since the time of the apostles. At the Eucharist the community of believers gathers to hear Scripture, offer prayers, present the offering of bread and wine, recall the mighty acts of God, invoke the blessing of the Spirit, and receive Holy Communion as an expression of union with Christ and one another. It is an action, the Orthodox believe, that manifests the presence of Christ in the midst of his followers and is an expression of the kingdom to come.
The Eucharist is celebrated on Sunday morning, the day commemorating the Resurrection. It may also be offered on most weekdays, especially on feast days and saint days according to local custom. It is celebrated only once a day to emphasize and maintain the unity of the local congregation. While an ordained bishop or priest is necessary, the Divine Liturgy is never celebrated without a congregation. In many places the greater participation of the congregation and the frequent reception of Holy Communion are being strongly encouraged.
As it is celebrated today, the Divine Liturgy is a product of rich historical development. The fundamental core of the liturgy dates from the time of Christ and the apostles. To this, prayers, hymns, and gestures have been added. The liturgy achieved a basic framework by the ninth century. There are two principle forms of the Eucharist presently in use in the Orthodox Church. While their structure is the same, there are differences in prayers and hymns. The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is the version most frequently celebrated. The Liturgy of St. Basil the Great is celebrated especially during Lent. According to local custom, the Liturgy of St. James and the Liturgy of St. Mark are occasionally used. In addition, there is also the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts. Used on weekday evenings during Lent, this is a Vesper service followed by the distribution of Holy Communion reserved from the previous Sunday. The Orthodox affirm the presence of Christ in the eucharistic bread and wine but generally avoid using terms such as "transubstantiation" to express the reality. A portion of the eucharistic gifts is reserved for the communion of the sick, but it is not used for any other forms of devotions. Only baptized believers may receive Holy Communion. Except in emergencies, the Orthodox do not offer Holy Communion to members of other Christian churches because of the state of disunity over teachings.
Sacraments and prayers
The Orthodox Church has never formally determined a particular number of sacraments. In recent centuries, however, catechisms have frequently identified seven. With the Eucharist at the center, these rites are events of church life when the perception of God's actions in the lives of particular persons is heightened and celebrated. All the sacraments lead toward and flow from the Eucharist, which is at the center of the life of the Church. Traditionally, the sacraments are known as Mysteries in the Orthodox Church because they not only celebrate and reveal the presence of God but also make believers receptive to God. All the sacraments affect our personal relationship to God and to one another, although they are addressed to each person by name.
The sacraments are composed of prayers, hymns, Scripture lessons, and gestures. The Orthodox have avoided reducing the sacraments to a particular formula or action. Often, a whole series of rites make up a sacrament. Most use a portion of the material of creation as an outward and visible sign of God's presence and action. Water, oil, bread, and wine are but a few of the many elements employed. The frequent use of the material of creation affirms that matter is good and can become a medium of the Spirit. In addition, the use of creation affirms the central truth of the Orthodox Christian faith: that God became human in Jesus Christ and entered into the midst of creation, thereby redirecting the cosmos toward its Creator.
The sacrament of baptism with a threefold immersion in water in the name of the Holy Trinity publicly incorporates persons into the church. The act is a sign of new life and an identification with the death and Resurrection of Christ. Orthodoxy encourages the baptism of infants of believing parents. The sacrament bears witness to the action of God who calls a child to be a valued member of his people. From the day of their baptism, children are expected to mature in the life of the Spirit, through their family and the church. This practice reveals that Orthodoxy views children from their infancy as important members of the church. There is never time when the young are not part of God's people. Following a period of preparation, the baptism of adults is also practiced when there was no previous baptism in the name of the Holy Trinity.
Chrismation (confirmation) immediately follows baptism and is never delayed until a later age. It is a personal Pentecost, which signifies the coming of the Holy Spirit. The priest anoints the various parts of the body of the newly baptized with holy oil saying, "The seal of the gifts of the Holy Spirit." The sacrament emphasizes that the Spirit blesses each person with spiritual gifts and talents. The anointing also reminds us that our bodies are valuable and are involved in the process of salvation. Those who are received into the Orthodox Church and have been previously baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity are usually anointed with the same holy oil.
Confession is the sacrament through which sins are forgiven and the relationship to God and to others is restored and strengthened. According to Orthodox teaching, the penitent confesses to God and is forgiven by God. Viewed not as a judge but as a physician and guide, the priest bears witness to the presence and action of Christ and his people. Confession can take place on any number of occasions according to the needs of the believer. In the event of serious sin, however, confession is a necessary part of the preparation for Holy Communion. Orthodoxy encourages every believer to have a spiritual father or mother to whom the believer turns for spiritual advice and counsel.
The church blesses the relationship between a man and a woman and affirms the action of God in their lives through the sacrament of marriage. They enter into a new relationship with each other, God, and the church. Marriage is not viewed simply a social institution or legal contract. It is an eternal vocation of the Kingdom of God extending into the age to come. A husband and a wife are called by the Holy Spirit not only to live together but also to share their Christian life together so that each, with the aid of the other, may grow closer to God and become the persons they are meant to be. In the marriage service, after the couple have been betrothed and exchanged rings, crowns are placed on their heads as a sign of "glory and honor" of their vocation. Near the conclusion of the service, the husband and wife drink from a common cup of wine, reminiscent of the wedding of Cana and symbolizing the sharing of the burdens and joys of their new life together. It is expected that the marriage relationship is permanent and eternal. However, in cases where the marital relationship breaks down, the church may grant an ecclesiastical divorce and permit a second marriage.
Through the sacrament of ordination (holy orders), those who have been chosen from within the church are set apart by the church for special service to the church. God calls each through his people to serve the needs of the community. The process of ordination begins with the local congregation, but the bishop alone, who acts in the name of the wider church, can complete the action. Ordinations always take place within the context of the Eucharist. The rite involves the invocation of the Holy Spirit and the imposition of his hands on the person being ordained. There are three major orders—bishop, priest, and deacon—each of which requires a particular ordination. Often, other titles and offices are associated with these three orders. Each order is distinguished by its pastoral responsibilities within the community. Only a bishop may ordain. Persons may choose to marry before they are ordained. Since the sixth century, bishops have been chosen only from the celibate clergy. Since the early church, women have been ordained as deacons but less so in recent centuries. There have been formal calls for a revival of this practice.
The sacrament of the anointing of the sick (holy unction) is offered to believers who are ill or weak in body, mind, or spirit, not simply those in danger of death. As with chrismation, oil is also used as a sign of God's presence, strength, and forgiveness. After the reading of seven epistle lessons and seven gospel lessons and the offering of seven prayers, the priest anoints the body with the holy oil. In many places, this sacrament is also celebrated for all on Wednesday of Holy Week.
The Orthodox have many other blessings and special services of prayer that complement the major sacraments and that reflect the presence of God through the lives of the faithful. Among the more significant are the Great Blessing of Water on the Feast of the Theophany, January 6, the monastic profession, and the rites of burial.
There is also a fundamental connection between the prayers of the community and the prayer of the home, called the "domestic church." Prayer in the home also has a special importance for Orthodox believers. They are expected to have a personal "rule of prayer" to be followed during the course of the day, normally in the morning and evening. In most homes of Orthodox Christians, there is usually a corner or shelf where icons are prominently displayed with a vigil light. Here at the "home altar" family prayers are offered. The traditional Book of Prayers contains numerous prayers addressing the events and responsibilities of daily life. They serve to remind the believer of the presence of God through all aspects of life.
The Orthodox have a high regard for the Holy Scriptures. The book of the Gospels is prominently placed on the altar, and at least one selection from Scriptures is read at the every service of common worship. The Orthodox recognize twenty-seven books in the New Testament and forty-nine books in the Old Testament. The Orthodox recognize that the Bible, a collection of diverse texts written at different time periods and places, and in a variety of literary styles, is inspired by the Spirit through the hands of human persons. The books have been collected by the community of believers for the sake of nurture and teaching. This means that the Orthodox view the Scriptures as the "books of the church." They must be read by the faithful and interpreted within the broader context of the tradition of the church. The Scriptures are not always clear or self-explanatory. Here, tradition refers to the essential faith affirmations about the Holy Trinity, the human person, and all reality, which are professed by the church. These affirmations are rooted in the divine revelation centered on Christ, and they are transmitted in and through the believing community.
While Scriptures are given preeminence within tradition, reference can also be made to the faith expressed in other aspects of church life. These would include the Eucharist and other forms of liturgical prayer, hymns, iconography, the doctrinal decisions of the councils, the teachings of the Fathers and Mothers, as well as the witness of the saints. Through all of these, the Spirit can act to nurture the believer in the truth of the faith and deepen the relationship with the Triune God.
The Fathers and Mothers
Eastern Christianity has a special devotion to the Fathers and Mothers of the church. There is no absolute definition of such persons. Generally, the name is given to important teachers of the faith who are honored because of their sanctity and spiritual wisdom. Among the more prominent are those who were involved in the Trinitarian and Christological discussions of the early church. In every age, however, these teachers are concerned with relating the faith of the church to particular concerns and issues. They are very much people of their age and have to be understood as such. In facing the issues of their day, these teachers sought to affirm the intimate connection between theological reflection, the rule of prayer, and the life of virtue.
Eastern Christianity in general and the Orthodox Church in particular are especially known for its iconography. Forms of iconography have existed from the earliest days of the church, as evidenced by those primitive drawings in the catacombs of Rome. Icons may depict Christ, Mary, the Mother of God, and the other saints. At first glance, many icons appear simply educational because they can depict scenes from the Old and New Testaments or from the later history of the church. But more than this, icons are meant to assist the believer in being drawn closer to the person depicted. Icons are not worshiped, yet they may serve as vehicles through which veneration is offered to Christ and the saints and through which the presence of God is communicated to believers.
Most of the icons of the saints depict them in a historical setting. The saint is pictured in a manner that appears to express his or her transfiguration, sometimes accompanied by a symbolic expression of the saint's particular ministry or task in life. Sometimes the saint is depicted in the company of others, even pets or other animals. For the Orthodox, the saints dwell now in the glory of the kingdom. Yet the icon is a clear reminder that the saint grew in holiness within the context of the relationships and responsibilities of daily life. The icon is also a reminder that life is meant to be lived in harmony with God and others in the midst of the creation.
Valuable surveys covering history and doctrine of the Orthodox Church are John Meyendorff's The Orthodox Church: Its Past and Its Role in the World Today, rev. ed. (New York, 1981), and Timothy (Kallistos) Ware, The Orthodox Church (1964; reprint, New York, 1983). An older study by Nicholas Zernov, Eastern Christendom: A Study of the Origins of the Eastern Orthodox Church (London, 1961), provides a good overview. Other Eastern churches are covered extensively in A. S. Atiya's A History of Eastern Christianity (Notre Dame, Ind., 1965). For a comprehensive description of all the Eastern churches with contemporary information, see Ronald Robinson, The Eastern Christian Churches: A Brief Survey, 6th ed. (Rome, 1999).
An outstanding study of the church in Byzantium is J. M. Hussey, The Orthodox Church in the Byzantine Empire (Oxford, 1986). On the development of theology in the Byzantine period, the best summary is John Meyendorff's Byzantine Theology: Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes, 2nd ed. (New York, 1979). See also his Imperial Unity (Crestwood, N.Y., 1989) and Byzantium and the Rise of Russia (Crestwood, N.Y., 1989). As part of his extensive history of doctrine, see Jaroslav Pelikan's The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, vol. 2, The Spirit of Eastern Christendom, 600–1700 (Chicago, 1974). Dimitri Obolensky's The Byzantine Commonwealth: Eastern Europe, 500–1453 (London, 1971) provides a clear and authoritative picture. More specialized studies include, Anthony-Emil Tachiaos, Cyril and Methodios of Thesalonika: The Acculturation of the Slavs (Thessaloniki, 1989); Demetrios Constantelos, Byzantine Philanthropy and Social Welfare (New Brunswick, N.J., 1968); and Steven Runciman, The Great Church in Captivity (Cambridge, 1968). A small but very attractive introduction to the art of the Byzantine world is Rowena Loverance, Byzantium (Cambridge, Mass., 2004).
Issues of division in the fifth and sixth century are examined in John Meyendorff, Christ in Eastern Christian Thought (New York, 1975); Sabastian P. Brock, Studies in Syriac Christianity (Brookfield, Vt., 1992) and From Ephrem to Romanos (Brookfield, Vt., 1999; Paul Fries and Tiran Nersoyian, eds. Christ in East and West (Macon, Ga., 1987); H. Hill, ed., Light from the East: A Symposium on the Oriental Orthodox and Assyrian Churches (Toronto, 1988); and Wilhelm Baum and Dietmar Winkler, The Church of the East (London, 2003). Older but reliable studies are R. V. Sellers, The Council of Chalcedon: A Historical and Doctrinal Survey (London, 1953) and Karikin Sarksian, The Council of Chalcedon and the Armenian Church (London, 1965).
On the schism between Orthodoxy and Rome, Steven Runciman's The Eastern Schism: A Study of the Papacy and the Eastern Churches during the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries (Oxford, 1955) is a classic, well-documented study. See also, Michael Fahey, Trinitarian Theology East and West (Brookine, Mass., 1977); Richard Haugh, Photios and the Carolingians (Belmont, Mass., 1975); Philip Sherrard's The Greek East and the Latin West: A Study in the Christian Tradition (London, 1959); Yves Congar's After Nine Hundred Years: The Background of the Schism between the Eastern and Western Churches (New York, 1959); Francis Dvornik, Byzantium and the Roman Primacy (New York, 1966); and George Every, Misunderstanding Between East and West (Richmond, Tenn., 1966). For a full treatment of the hesychastic controversy, see John Meyendorff's A Study of Gregory Palamas (London, 1964).
A classic account of the Turkish period, is Steven Runciman's The Great Church in Captivity: A Study of the Patriarchate of Constantinople from the Eve of the Turkish Conquest to the Greek War of Independence (Cambridge, 1968). On the Catholic communities, see Charles A. Frazee's Catholics and Sultans: The Church and the Ottoman Empire, 1453–1923 (Cambridge, 1983). More recent developments in the Church of Russia and the Slavic world are found in James Cunningham, A Vanquished Hope: Movements for Church Renewal in Russia (Crestwood, N.Y., 1981); Dimitri Pospielovsky, The Russian Church Under the Societ Regime, 1917–1982 (Crestwood, N.Y., 1984); and J. Ellis, The Russian Orthodox Church: A Contemporary History (London, 1986).
Essays on some developments in the Eastern churches can be found in Ion Bria, Martyria and Mission: The Witness of the Orthodox Churches Today (Geneva, 1980) and Petro Ramet, ed., Eastern Christianity and Politics in the Twentieth Century (Durham, N.C., 1988). For the development of the Orthodox Church in the United States, see Thomas FitzGerald, The Orthodox Church (Westport, Conn., 1995).
The story of the ecumenical movement, including Orthodox involvement, is found in Thomas FitzGerald, The Ecumenical Movement: An Introductory History (Westport, Conn., 2004). See also, Ion Bria, The Sense of Ecumenical Tradition: The Ecumenical Witness and Vision of the Orthodox (Geneva, 1991). For dialogue statements see: Christine Chaillot and Alexander Belopopsky, eds, Towards Unity: The Theological Dialogue Between the Orthodox Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches (Geneva, 1998), and John Borelli and John Erickson, ed., The Quest for Unity: Orthodox and Catholics in Dialogue (Crestwood, N.Y., 1996).
Some contemporary issues are discussed in: Anastasios Yanoulatos, Facing the World (Crestwood, N.Y., 2003); Kyriaki Karidoyanes FitzGerald, Women Deacons in the Orthodox Church (Brookline, Mass., 1999); Emmanuel Clapsis, ed., The Orthodox Churches in a Pluralistic World (Brookline, Mass., 2004); and John Erickson, The Challenge of the Past (Crestwood, N.Y., 1991).
Among the contemporary treatments of Orthodox theology, see John D. Zizioulas, Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church (Crestwood, N.Y., 1985) and his Eucharist, Bishop and Church (Brookline, Mass., 2002); Dumitru Staniloae, The Experience of God (Brookline, Mass., 2000); Christos Yannaras, The Freedom of Morality (Crestwood, N.Y., 1984); Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way (Crestwood, N.Y., 1995); Maximos Aghiorgoussis, In the Image of God (Brookline, Mass., 1999); Boris Bobrinskoy, The Mystery of the Trinity (Crestwood, N.Y., 1999); and Stanley Harakas, Wholeness of Faith and Life: Orthodox Christian Ethics, Parts 1–3 (Brookline, Mass., 1999). An older valuable study is Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (London, 1957). The extensive writings of Georges Florovsky critically examine numerous theological themes. See his Collected Works, Volumes 1–5 (Belmont, Mass., 1974–1979). A comprehensive examination of Florovsky's contribution is Andrew Blane, Georges Florovsky: Russian Intellectual, Orthodox Churchman (Crestwood, N.Y., 1993). On approaches to the Scriptures, see Dimitrios Trakatellis, Authority and Passion (Brookline, Mass., 1987); Veselin Kesich's The Gospel Image of Christ: The Church and Modern Criticism (Crestwood, N.Y., 1987); and John Breck, The Power of the Word in the Worshipping Church (Crestwood, N.Y., 1986).
Worship and Spirituality
Rich insights into worship in the Christian East are found in the many books of Alexander Schmemann. See his Introduction to Liturgical Theology (Leighton Buzzards, U.K., 1996), For the Life of the World (Crestwood, N.Y., 1973), Of Water and the Spirit (Crestwood, N.Y., 1974), and The Eucharist (Crestwood, N.Y., 1988). See also Alkiviadis Calivas, Aspects of Orthodox Worship (Brookline, Mass., 2003) and Great Week and Pascha in the Greek Orthodox Church (Brookline, Mass., 1992).
Valuable perspectives into the Eastern Christian spirituality are found in: Kallistos Ware, The Inner Kingdom (Crestwood, N.Y., 2000); Andrew Louth, The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition (Oxford, 1981); Oliver Clement, The Roots of Christian Mysticism (London, 1993); K. M. George, The Silent Root (Geneva, 1994); Kyriaki Karidoyanes FitzGerald and Thomas FitzGerald, Happy in the Lord: The Beatitudes for Everyday Brookline, Mass., 2000); Tomas Spidlik, The Spirituality of the Christian East (Kalamazoo, Mich., 1986); and Paul Evdokimov, The Sacrament of Love: The Nuptial Mystery in the Light of the Orthodox Tradition (Crestwood, N.Y., 1985). Among the many collections of liturgical services, see Mother Mary and Kallistos Ware, eds., The Festal Menaion (London, 1969) and The Lenten Triodion (Boston, 1978). A collection of texts on the spiritual life see, Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain and Makarios of Corinth, eds., The Philokalia, translated and edited by G. E. H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware, vols. 1–4 (London and Boston, 1979–1984). An outstanding introduction to the theology of the icon is Leonid Ouspensky and Vladimir Lossky, The Meaning of Icons (New York, 1982).
Thomas E. FitzGerald (2005)