Greek Orthodox Church

views updated May 17 2018


GREEK ORTHODOX CHURCH is a broad term used to describe several historical expressions of the life of the Christian church. The terms Greek Christianity and Greek church are often used as synonyms for it, but with different nuances. This article seeks to clarify the term Greek Orthodox church by describing Greek Orthodox Christianity through its historical development to its twenty-first century expressions.

The Early Church and Greek Christianity

In their broadest meaning, Greek church and Greek Christianity can refer to the earliest development of Christianity as it moved from its Jewish matrix into the Greek cultural world of the Roman Empire. In this sense it is contrasted to Jewish Christianity. Cultural life at the time was imbued with the Greek heritage: language, philosophy, religion, literature, and political values. In the early Christian tradition, Greek often meant pagan or Gentile, but it referred, as well, to Christians who came to the faith from a polytheistic background as distinguished from Jews who accepted the messiahship of Jesus. Much of the New Testament and the earliest Christian patristic documents were written in the Greek language. Thus, insofar as early Christianity was a religion of conversion, it reflected its immersion in Greek language and thought.

Greek Christianity and Latin Christianity

Greek Christianity soon came to be distinguished from other cultural embodiments of the Christian experience, especially Latin Christianity. The early development of Latin Christianity has its roots in the Greek tradition as exemplified by Irenaeus of Lyons (c. 130c. 200). The Greek approach to Christianity was strongly theological, seeking to come to as careful a comprehension as was possible of the mysteries of the Christian faith. It expressed itself, as well, in rich worship traditions and iconography, on the one hand, while cultivating monastic, ascetic, and mystical Christian traditions on the other. But by the late third century the special characteristics of the Latin cultural milieu began to influence the church in the West and formed a more practical, legally oriented Christian expression. Nevertheless, Greek and Latin Christianity at this period were not contrasting forms of the faith but were complementary to each other.

Byzantium's Greek Christianity

The Christian church in the Byzantine (East Roman) Empire (3251453) retained and developed the ancient traditions of Greek Christianity. Organizationally, this fostered more of the early church's sense of local autonomy, in which the council remained central to church life. The early Christian tradition, as expressed in the Greek fathers, Eastern monastic spirituality, early canonical practice, and liturgical life became normative for Byzantine Christianity. Distinct Christian traditions, however, differentiated from the Greek tradition, producing other ecclesial identities. These were the Oriental Orthodox churches, the Nestorian church, and the Roman Catholic Church.

The Oriental Orthodox churches (each with a national component and traditionally characterized as monophysite) and the Nestorians became ecclesially distinguished from Greek Christianity by the fifth century. Latin Christianity, following its own inner dynamic, and strongly influenced by the rise of Frankish and Germanic political and economic power in western Europe, developed into a distinct ecclesiastical reality. This distinction was formalized with the Great Schism between the two great halves of Christendom that occurred over a period from the ninth to the early thirteenth century. The schism between Greek East and Latin West was made permanent by the sacking of Constantinople in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade. It then became a linguistic convention to refer to the church in the West as "the Roman Catholic Church" and the church in the East as "the Greek Orthodox church."

Greek Orthodoxy and Slavic Orthodoxy

With the rise of Slavic Christianity, a new ethos affected the identity of the Greek Orthodox church. This development was a direct result of Greek Orthodox missionary policy in the ninth through the twelfth century, which fostered indigenous cultures, liturgical languages, and clergy in each mission church. Originally, the church hierarchy was composed of Greeks. But each of the various Slavic and other peoples eventually obtained their own hierarchies. All of these new churches, however, received the Christian faith in its Greek form (in contradistinction to the Latin/Roman form). But while there was a deep-rooted spiritual identity with the ancient Greek Orthodox tradition of Christianity, there came into being a new Slavic identity within these churches.

What intensified the mix of traditional Greek Orthodox Christianity and the Orthodox Christianity of local nonethnic Greeks was the millet system put in place by the Muslim conquerors of the Byzantine Empire (1453). As a means of governing the Orthodox Christian peoples, as well as all other ethnic-religious groups, the Muslims understood them to be one people, or nation (the millet ). The patriarch of Constantinople was recognized as the head of the Orthodox Christian nation with civil as well as religious duties. Greek metropolitans and bishops were appointed over the various Orthodox peoples to exercise this new administration, which included responsibilities for collecting taxes, assuring the observance of the law, and the loyalty of the Orthodox Christian populations to the central government. The combination of spiritual and secular responsibilities created many difficulties and occasioned abuses, but it also provided many opportunities for service to Orthodox unity. Thus, the ecumenical patriarchate served as a focal point in the defense of the Orthodox faith from incursions of Roman Catholic and Protestant missionaries intent on proselytizing the Orthodox during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Numerous councils were held for this purpose. With only a few exceptions, all of the documents arising out of this movement were written originally in Greek.

At the same time, the ecumenical patriarchate, both as a representative of the Turkish authorities and as an agency of Greek ethnic influence upon the indigenous cultures of these Orthodox peoples, began to be perceived in some ways as an alien force. When, in the first half of the nineteenth century, various national wars of independence were initiated against the Muslim Ottoman Empire, they were often concurrently actions of independence from the Greek cultural influence of the patriarchate of Constantinople as well as from its political influence. This led to the formation of independent (autocephalous) national churches. A partial exception was the Church of Greece. Its separation from the ecumenical patriarchate was forced by political considerations only.

Generally, the new order of things required a church organization and consciousness that would demarcate the newly organized autocephalous churches from the ethnic Greek traditional character of the ecumenical patriarchate, while concurrently acknowledging fully its historical ecumenical character as primus inter pares (first among equals) of the Orthodox world. In this manner, the Orthodox churches of Russia (1448), Serbia (1879), Romania (1885), Bulgaria (1870), Czechoslovakia (1922), Finland (1923), Poland (1924), and Albania (1937) came into being. Thus, for example, today it is possible to differentiate Greek Orthodoxy from Slavic Orthodoxy and Romanian Orthodoxy as cultural realities within the canonically unified Eastern Orthodox church.

Greek Orthodox Churches Today

In the modern and ethnic sense, Greek Orthodoxy is understood to include those churches whose language, liturgy, and spirit keep Orthodoxy and the Greek ethnic cultural tradition united. These churches are the Church of Greece, the patriarchate of Constantinople (in part because it is also the international center of world Orthodoxy), the patriarchate of Alexandria, the patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Church of Cyprus, and the ethnic Greek diaspora jurisdictions throughout the world.

The Church of Greece

The most restricted meaning of Greek Orthodox church refers to the autocephalous Church of Greece. Prior to the Greek War of Independence, which began in 1821, Christianity in what is now known as Greece was, for most of its history, part of the ecumenical patriarchate of Constantinople. Even though the church was self-declared autocephalous in 1833, it understands itself to be in direct continuity with the founding of Christianity in Thessalonica, Philippi, Corinth, Athens, Nicopolis, and other Greek cities by the apostle Paul. Given the Orthodox tradition that ecclesial order often follows civil governmental patterns, over the centuries the church in Greece has come under various patterns of ecclesial jurisdiction. Following the early period, when metropolitan sees had been established in the major cities, Greece came under Constantinople, where it stayedwith a few interruptionsuntil the nineteenth century. Originally, the autocephalous Church of Greece included only the southern part of the modern nation of Greece, since only that area was liberated in 1830. Over the years, as the Greek nation expanded, the church also grew in territorial size and numbers. But this equation of the boundaries of the state and the jurisdiction of the Church of Greece is not absolute. Several areas of the nation of Greece are ecclesiastically under the control of the ecumenical patriarchate: the Dodecanese, Crete, and Mount Athos. The Orthodox church is the official church of Greece, while at the same time freedom of religion is guaranteed by the constitution. The vast majority of Greece's population of over ten million people are baptized Orthodox Christians. In addition to the archbishop of Athens, there are eighty-five bishops in seventy-seven dioceses and almost seventy-five hundred parishes.

The patriarchate of Constantinople

With the establishment of the modern secular Turkish state in 1921, under Kemal Atatürk, the position of the patriarchate of Constantinople has suffered severe weakening. Following the destruction of the Greek military forces in the Greco-Turkish war of 1922, an erosion of the Greek population of Asia Minor has continued unabated. It began with the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey as mandated in 1923 by the Treaty of Lausanne. Only the Greek population located in western Thrace and Constantinople (Istanbul) was exempted from the removal to Greece. The treaty also guaranteed the independence, freedom, and permanence of the patriarchate in its location in Constantinople, but it soon became a pawn in the political conflicts of Greece and Turkey. The conflict of Turkish and Greek interests in Cyprus has been the occasion for the patriarchate to become a pressure point against Greek interests.

In 1955, after years of general harassment, government-inspired riots wrought havoc on the Greek community of Istanbul, in which not only private homes and shops but churches, cemeteries, schools, and other institutions were vandalized and destroyed. Economic and administrative pressures forced a large part of the Greek Orthodox population to leave the last remaining enclave of Greek Orthodoxy in Turkey. Only a couple thousand now remain, as the patriarchate clings to its legal rights to remain in its historic city.

The patriarchate's numerical strength resides in the numerous Greek Orthodox dioceses, or eparchies, within its jurisdiction in the diaspora. In addition to four eparchies in Turkey, the Patriarchate of Constantinople exercises jurisdiction over the Archdiocese of Crete, with eight metropolitan sees; the four metropolitan sees of the Dodecanese; the historic monasteries of Patmos and Mount Athos; the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, with ten dioceses; the Archdiocese of Australia, with five archdiocesan districts; the Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain and the Exarchate for Western Europe, Ireland, and Malta, with eight bishops, in addition to the archbishop; the Metropolis of France and the Exarchate of Iberia, with three metropolitan regions; the Metropolis of Germany and the Exarchate of Central Europe, with three bishops and the archbishop; the Metropolis of Austria and the Exarchate for Italy and Hungary; the Metropolis of Belgium and the Exarchate for the Low Countries, with the archbishop and one bishop; the Metropolis of Sweden, Scandinavia, and the Northern Lands, with one bishop; the Metropolis of New Zealand and the Exarchate for India, Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, and Hong Kong, with the archbishop; the Metropolis of Switzerland and the Exarchate of Europe, with the metropolitan who also presides over the Orthodox Center at Chambesy, Switzerland. The Ecumenical Patriarchate maintains a permanent representative at the World Council of Churches in Geneva. Although there are some exceptions, nearly all of the people making up the congregations of these ecclesiastical jurisdictions are of Greek background.

The patriarchate of Alexandria

Egypt was one of the first areas to come under the influence of Islam in the eighth century. The larger portion of the Christian population that survived belonged to the Coptic church. Nevertheless, the Greek Orthodox patriarchate of Alexandria continued to exist in Egypt throughout the centuries. Its major constituency consisted of a well-organized Greek community that was strongly entrenched in leadership positions in commerce, finance, and education. Numerous educational and cultural institutions were supported by the Greek community. In addition the patriarchate of Alexandria had canonical control over all of Orthodoxy on the African continent. By and large these jurisdictions were composed of Greeks in the various African nations and some missionary churches. The numerical strength of the Greek Orthodox patriarchate in Egypt was broken with the rise of Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1954. The Greek population of Egypt lost much of its economic and social status and began to emigrate. Nevertheless, in 2002 the patriarchate continued to serve about 350,000 Orthodox Christians whose members worship in the Greek, Arabic, and several native East African languages. There are thirteen metropolitan sees.

The patriarchate of Jerusalem

Though severely tried throughout the years of the Muslim conquests of the Holy Land, the patriarchate of Jerusalem was able to sustain itself until the Crusaders conquered the city of Jerusalem in 1099. The Greek Orthodox patriarch was expelled and replaced with a Latin patriarch. This situation lasted until 1177. In 1517 the area came under the control of the sultan in Constantinople while the church continued to struggle to maintain its rights to the holy places of Jerusalem. In the mid-nineteenth century, international agreements affirmed the rights of the Greek Orthodox patriarchate over the ancient churches of the Holy Sepulcher. Changing political circumstances in the area have required the negotiation of agreements regarding the status of the patriarchate with the British, Jordanians, and Israelis. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the patriarchate counted 130,000 members with sixteen bishops and maintained under its jurisdiction the archdiocese of Sinai, in present-day Egypt.

The Church of Cyprus

The Church of Cyprus, consisting exclusively of Greek Cypriots, received its independence as an autocephalous church through the eighth canon of the Council of Ephesus (431), but its history goes back to New Testament times (Acts 11:19). Its bishops participated in the Council of Nicaea (325). Although the Orthodox church suffered severe repression during the period of Latin domination (11911571), it retained its Greek Orthodox character. Under the Turks (15711878) the Orthodox hierarchy was fully acknowledged. The Orthodox church is very close to the people of Cyprus, especially since the 1974 Turkish invasion of the island nation when almost half of its members were made refugees in their own land. In 2002, the Church of Cyprus counted more than 442,000 members with six dioceses, seven bishops, and twelve hundred priests.

The Greek Orthodox diaspora

The Greek Orthodox Christians found throughout the world today in traditionally non-Orthodox lands are primarily under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The various ecclesial jurisdictions are mentioned above. Those in English-speaking lands are the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, the Archdiocese of Australia, the Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain, and the Metropolis of New Zealand. Of these, the American jurisdiction is the largest.

The Archdiocese of North and South America was established in 1922. Sixty years later it consisted of the archdiocese and ten dioceses with 488 parishes, 569 churches, 530 priests, and 670,000 duly recorded members, although it serves a much larger number of persons who identify themselves as Greek Orthodox Christians. It supported 24 parochial schools and 412 afternoon Greek schools. The church also has two institutions of higher learning, Hellenic College and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. It maintains an orphanage and several old-age homes. In 1984 it supported 518 catechetical schools for children and 186 adult religious education programs. By 2002 the archdiocese counted 540 parishes and 800 priests, and a membership estimated at 1.5 million. Nearly every parish has a "Philoptohos [Friends of the Poor] Society" and one or more youth groups. It publishes a bimonthly newspaper, The Orthodox Observer, and a scholarly theological journal, The Greek Orthodox Theological Review, through the Holy Cross School of Theology. This pattern of organization and functioning is the model for the other churches of the Greek Orthodox diaspora.

See Also

Eastern Christianity; Russian Orthodox Church; Schism, article on Christian Schism.


Campbell, John, and Philip Sherrard. Modern Greece. New York, 1968. A useful chapter on the place of the Orthodox church in modern Greece.

Florovsky, Georges. "Patristics and Modern Theology." In Procès-verbaux du Premier Congrès de Théologie Orthodoxe à Athènes: 29 novembre-6 décembre 1936, edited by Hamilcar S. Alivisatos. Athens, 1939. A historic call for a return to the Greek fathers. The final clause, italicized for emphasis, reads "let us be more Greek to be truly catholic, to be truly Orthodox."

Frazee, Charles A. Orthodox Church in Independent Greece, 18211852. Cambridge, U.K., 1969. A detailed account of the establishment of the autocephalous Church of Greece.

Geanakoplos, Deno John. Byzantine East and Latin West: Two Worlds of Christendom in Middle Ages and Renaissance; Studies in Ecclesiastical and Cultural History. New York, 1966. An excellent study on the topic, with important insights on the cultural sources of the ecclesiastical conflicts.

Karmiris, Ioannes N. "Nationalism in the Orthodox Church." Greek Orthodox Theological Review 26 (Fall 1981): 171184. An effort to explicate the broad Greek cultural impact upon Orthodox Christianity, while distinguishing the Orthodox faith from modern Greek nationalism, without contrasting it.

Runciman, Steven. 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, U.K., 1968. The definitive work on this subject.

Vaporis, Nomikos Michael, ed. Post-Byzantine Ecclesiastical Personalities. Brookline, Mass., 1978. Biographies of several major Greek figures in the Orthodox church under Ottoman rule.

Vryonis, Speros, Jr. Byzantium and Europe. New York, 1967. A good, broad cultural introduction to Byzantine history, with a focus on the relationships between East and West. Illustrated.

Ware, Timothy. Eustratios Argenti: A Study of the Greek Church under Turkish Rule. Oxford, 1964. Reprint, Willits, Calif., 1974. A fine case study of the practical dimensions of Greek Orthodox Christian life under the Ottomans.

Stanley Samuel Harakas (1987)

Greek Orthodox Church

views updated May 09 2018

Greek Orthodox Church


The Greek Orthodox Church refers to any number of Eastern Orthodox Church groups whose heritage derives predominantly from Greek language and culture. These churches are organized around three Greek-speaking patriarchs (exalted bishops who historically have co-administered the Orthodox churches): the Ecumenical Patriarch, who resides in Constantinople (Istanbul) and has jurisdiction over present-day Turkey and all Christian areas beyond those territories that have been explicitly designated to another jurisdiciton; the Patriarch of Jerusalem who presides primarily over Palestine; and the Greek Patriarch of Alexandria, who is responsible for Egypt and all of Africa. For historical reasons, three separate relational patterns have emerged between these Greek Patriarchs and their daughter churches:

  1. Eparchy : Some Greek Orthodox Churches are Patriarchal eparchies, ecclesiastical provinces that are directly under the auspices of one of the three Greek-speaking Patriarchs. These include the large emigrant churches formed in the West such as the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America (formed in 1922, with about 1.5 million members) and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia (formed in 1924, with about 400,000 members). The leaders of these churches are usually given the title Eparch, Metropolitan, or Archbishop and are selected by the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarch with advice of a local synod of bishops.
  2. Autonomous : Autonomous churches operate with full administrative independence but have leaders who are chosen or affirmed by a Patriarch. Autonomous Greek Orthodox Churches include the small but important Church of Sinai, which is limited to the famous Monastery of Saint Catharine and several dependencies.
  3. Autocephaly : As self-governing churches, autocephalous churches have hierarchies independent of the Patriarch and operate with complete independence. While maintaining ecclesiastical and theological communion with the Patriarchs, these autocephalous Greek Orthodox Churches are responsible for all church matters affecting the life and administration of the church with the exception of doctrinal and canonical positions. Historically, these churches often emerged as a result of nationalistic movements and are closely identified with the national ethos of the people. The largest Greek Orthodox autocephalous churches are the Church of Greece (formed in 1833, with about 8 million members) and the ancient Church of Cyprus (formed in 431, with about 1 million members).

All of the Greek Orthodox Churches trace their origins to the earliest Christian movements, which were primarily composed of Greek-speaking Christians in the Eastern Roman Empire. While Rome remained an important religious center from Christianitys inception, most of the growth and theological development during the first four centuries of Christianity occurred in the Greek-speaking East. The unity of the Eastern Christians was repeatedly challenged, leading to a major schism in 451 that resulted in the formation of a Coptic Christian Church in Egypt. Because of cultural, political, and theological differences, a gradual estrangement emerged between the remaining Greek-speaking Christians of the East and the predominantly Latin-speaking Christians of the West. This led to the Great Schism of 1054, which became entrenched after the Fourth Crusade, during which western Christians sacked the eastern capital of Constantinople. After the fall of Constantinople to Islamic forces in 1453, the theological and liturgical center of Eastern Christianity shifted to Russia until the twentieth century. The Greek churches continue to be out of communion with the Roman Catholic Church, despite repeated attempts for reunification.

Greek Orthodoxy stresses two foundations for the churchs beliefs: the Bible, which is believed to be inspired by God, and Holy Traditions that have been passed down through the church. The primary dogmas of the church, including the nature of the Trinity, the person of Jesus, the role of the Virgin Mary, and the veneration of icons, were defined in seven Ecumenical councils that the Greek churches share with the Roman Catholic Church. Compared to Western theology, Greek Orthodoxy tends to emphasize a direct mystical encounter with God gained through ascetic and liturgical practices rather than emphasizing discursive reasoning as in the West. The ultimate goal is described as deification of the human person through sanctification by Christ. The sacraments, called mysteries in the East, are seen as transformative vehicles that guide the human person toward deification.

Greek churches are led by celibate bishops who stand in apostolic succession to the original apostles. Local churches are led by priests and deacons who are usually married and always men. Historically, there was no official number of sacraments, though baptism and the Eucharist service are universally recognized as the central pillars of the Greek Christian life. One of the most distinctive aspects of Greek Orthodox worship is the use of icons paintings of saints, the Virgin Mary, and Jesusthat are seen as windows into heaven. The most important holiday is Easter, called Pascha (Passover) in Greek churches, which is understood as Jesus resurrection destroying death by death, thus offering everlasting life to those who believe.

SEE ALSO Christianity; Coptic Christian Church; Jesus Christ; Religion; Roman Catholic Church


Behr, John. 2001. The Formation of Christian Theology. 2 vols. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimirs Orthodox Theological Press.

Ware, Timothy. 1993. The Orthodox Church, 2nd ed. London: Penguin.

Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett

Eastern Orthodox Church

views updated May 29 2018


Direct descendant of the Byzantine State Church; also includes a group of independent national Christian churches.

The Eastern Orthodox Church comprises a group of autonomous Christian churches united by doctrine, liturgy, and internal hierarchical organizations. The heads are patriarchs or metropolitans, with the patriarch of Constantinople only the first among equals. Orthodox churches represented in the Middle East include the Russian, the Balkan, the Greek; the churches of Antioch (now based in Damascus), Alexandria, Jerusalem, and the See of Constantinople (now Istanbul); and the old churches that date to the fifth century c.e., which emancipated themselves from the Byzantine State Churchthe Nestorian Church in the Middle East and India (with a half million members) and the Monophysite churches (with some 17 million, including the Coptic of Egypt, the Ethiopian, the Syrian, the Armenian, and the Mar Thoma of India). There are also the Uniate churches, which, properly speaking, are not Orthodox churches because, though they retain traditional eastern liturgies, they acknowledge the primacy and authority of the pope in Rome. Orthodox Christians today number some 150 million or more worldwidewith 125 million in Europe, 25 million in Africa, 3.5 million in Asia, and about 1 million in North America.

Eastern Christianity, with its decentralized organization, diverged from the Western hierarchically organized Roman (Catholic) Church after the fourth century c.e., when Constantinople became the capital of the Roman Empire. The theological split between the Western and Eastern churches was formalized in the Schism of 1054. Rivalry between Rome and Constantinople, aided by longstanding differences and misunderstandings, led to the schism: The Eastern Orthodox churches recognize only the canons of the seven ecumenical councils (325787 c.e.) as binding for faith, and they reject doctrines that have subsequently been added in the West.

After the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453 to the Ottoman Turks, the Orthodox patriarch was entrusted with full civil administration over all Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman Empire. This centralized administration contrasted with the Eastern church's traditional localist organization. Although the Ottomans granted Christians freedom of worship, the restrictions they imposed on the public profile of the church bred resentment and stagnation in theological scholarship.

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the Ottoman Empire's Orthodox community once again splintered under the impact of European Catholics and Protestants and of emerging nationalism. The Russian Empire assumed a pan-Slavic stance in its attempts to expand south and east into warm-water ports during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; the affinity of Russian Orthodoxy with other Eastern Orthodox communities was stressed. World War I, the Russian Revolution, and the breakup of the Ottoman Empire ended that gambit, although Russian and Soviet interests in the Middle East never diminished.

Today in the Arab East, the Antioch (Melkite) church represents the largest Arab Christian group, with dioceses in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq. The Alexandria church has become the center of emerging African Orthodox communities.


Braude, Benjamin, and Lewis, Bernard, eds. Christians and Jews in the Ottoman Empire: The Functioning of a Plural Society. New York: Holmes and Meier, 1982.

Haddad, Robert M. Syrian Christians in Muslim Society. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1970.

Shaw, Stanford. History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, Vol. 1: Empire of the Gazis: The Rise and Decline of the Ottoman Empire, 12801808. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1976.

elizabeth thompson

Orthodox Church, Eastern

views updated May 21 2018

Orthodox Church, Eastern Community of c.130 million Christians living mainly in e and se Europe, parts of Asia and a significant minority in the USA. The Church is a federation of groups that share forms of worship and episcopal organization, but each group has its own national head. The largest group is the Russian Orthodox Church. Although there is no central authority, member churches recognize the patriarch of Istanbul as titular head. Eastern Orthodox Christians reject the jurisdiction of the Roman pope. When Constantine moved his capital to Byzantium (Istanbul) in ad 330, a separate non-Roman culture developed. Conflicts grew between the Eastern patriarchs and Rome. In the schism (1054), Western and Eastern arms of Christendom excommunicated each other's followers. The split became irreparable when Crusaders invaded Constantinople (1204). Attempts at reconciliation in 1274 and 1439 failed. In 1962, Orthodox observers attended the Second Vatican Council. In 1963 Eastern Orthodox Churches opened dialogue with Rome.

Eastern Orthodox Church

views updated May 18 2018


A descendant of the Byzantine Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church consists of a group of autonomous Christian churches that share doctrine and liturgy. The Eastern Orthodox Church issued from the great schism of 1054, when it formally split from the Roman Catholic Church. Orthodox churches in the Middle East include: the Russian, the Balkan, and the Greek; the churches of Antioch, Alexandria, Jerusalem, and the See of Constantinople (now Istanbul); and the Nestorian and Monophysite churches. The long-established presence of the Eastern Orthodox Church (as well as purchases made from the Georgians in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries) earned it control over many religious sites in Palestine during the Ottoman Empire and up unto the present.

SEE ALSO Christianity.

Eastern Orthodox (Church).

views updated May 18 2018

Eastern Orthodox (Church). Those Christians who belong to the Churches which accepted the Chalcedon definition of two natures in the one person of Christ, and did not depart in the great schism between E. and W. They are consequently dyophysite as opposed to monophysite. The term thus covers much more than the Greek Orthodox Church (for which it is nevertheless sometimes used as a synonym), and slightly less than all E. Christians. See further ORTHODOX CHURCH.

Greek Orthodox Church

views updated May 23 2018

Greek Orthodox Church.
1. The autocephalous Christian church found mainly in Greece, a part of the Orthodox Church whose belief and practice it shares. The Church is particularly strong in N. and S. America, and numbers c.15 million.

2. Incorrectly, but widely used prior to 1914, for all Orthodox churches, e.g. in Baedeker's Guide to Russia, 1914.

Eastern Orthodox Church

views updated May 17 2018