Note: This study uses many quotes from Google. Some will provide links to the Google search engine, but others will not due to the length of the web address. You can always find the web address by pasting the quote (without the quote marks) into the Google search box and searching. This will allow you to learn more about the subject. Remember that articles change often on the internet, and some of the quotes may not match exactly.
These modules are designed to stand alone. Therefore, there may be some redundancy between the module on the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church – primarily on history.
The Byzantine Empire – 330 AD -1453 AD
Constantine became the sole ruler of the Roman Empire by 324 AD, thus ending the long list of brutal dictators who had declared themselves to be Divine and had brutally persecuted the Christians for many years. Constantine converted to Christianity and was baptized.
In 330 AD, Constantine built a new imperial residence in the city of Byzantium and renamed it Constantinople after himself. There, he established a new capital for the Roman Empire. “It subsequently became the capital of the empire for more than a thousand years, the later Eastern Roman Empire being referred to as the Byzantine Empire by modern historians” (Google). He placed Sylvester I, the bishop of Rome, in charge of the Western bloc of churches, which became “The Roman Catholic Church” – all local fellowships in Western Europe – thus soon bringing about the marriage of State and Church in the West. Western Europe spoke Latin, and Eastern Europe spoke Greek.
The remaining churches of Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Northern Africa became the “Eastern Orthodox Church” – later called “The Orthodox Church.” Most of these churches would fall under the Byzantine Empire. The North African church of Carthage became Catholic and was not part of the early Byzantine Empire. Also, the North African church of Hippo Regius (home of St. Augustine) would not fall under the Byzantine until 533 AD. Persia, Armenian, Georgian, and Ethiopian churches were not included in the Byzantine Empire.
Constantine allowed the Western and Eastern people to practice whatever religion they chose. However, “In380 CE, the emperor Theodosius issued the Edict of Thessalonica, which made Christianity, specifically Nicene Christianity, the Roman Empire’s official religion. Most other Christian sects were deemed heretical, lost their legal status, and had their properties confiscated by the Roman state” (Google).
Justinian I, who took power in 527 AD and would rule until he died in 565 AD, was the first great ruler of the Byzantine Empire. Justinian expanded the empire by conquering former lands of the Roman Empire in Africa and the West. He tried to expand into Persia but was defeated by the Persian military. He also undertook significant building projects. “Justinian achieved lasting fame through his judicial reforms, particularly through the complete revision of all Roman law, something that had not previously been attempted. The total of Justinian’s legislation is known today as the Corpus juris civilis” (Wikipedia).
Another influence on the churches in the Byzantine Empire during this period was the founding of Islam. Mohammed disagreed with the Jews and Christians on doctrine and created the religion of Islam in 610 AD. By the middle of the seventh century, the fierce armies of Islam swept across the Middle East and into Northern Africa, destroying churches as they went. In 806 AD, the southeast and central region of Asia Minor fell to Islam – this is the area where the apostle Paul planted his early churches.
In 1096 AD, Pope Urban II sent the first Christian Crusaders eastward to fight against the Muslims. The Pope was motivated by the fact that all of Europe would be lost to the Muslims if they were not stopped. He also received a request for help from the Byzantine Empire leaders fighting for their lives in Eastern Europe and Western Asia. Also, the Muslims were preventing Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land and Jerusalem.
Five military expeditions, known as Holy Wars, were launched between 1096 AD and 1221 AD. The first expedition reached the Holy Land and controlled it for several years, but after some time, the Crusaders lost control of the area to the Muslims. After that, the Popes continued to send military expeditions to reclaim it. Pope Urban 11 initially launched the military campaign with the idea that if the Kings and Lords of Europe had a joint military goal, they would consolidate their efforts and stop fighting among themselves. His strategy worked; however, the expeditions became more commercial than military after many years.
By 1453 AD, the Islamic forces had taken the western area of Asia Minor (present-day Turkey) and captured the city of Constantinople. This brought an end to the Byzantine Empire.
Early Orthodox History
While the earthly Orthodox churches may be considered state churches, they also were somewhat autonomous. A Bishop headed each, and they were a loose affiliation. Whereas, in the West, the Pope ran and controlled the local churches. The Archbishop of Constantinople was the West’s highest authority on Orthodox doctrine. However, the Bishops did not report to him. The Orthodox churches in the East shared open communion; however, the Eastern Orthodox churches did not share open communion with the Western Orthodox churches.
This loose structure of the churches resulted in major religious strife. This was particularly true with the Arius heresy. We will recall from an earlier discussion in the early Church that Arius (250-336 AD) taught a heretical Christological teaching that refused to concede Christ’s full divinity. Arius taught that the Father existed before the Son. This places the Father and Son on a different level, and Arius believed the Son was a created being. The Son outranks other created beings but was created nonetheless.
Some of the Bishops agreed with Arius. There remained a difference of opinions in the Western Orthodox Churches throughout most of the fourth century. Constantine addressed this issue by calling for the first ecumenical council at Nicaea (now İznik, Turkey).
This became the first of seven ecumenical councils where the Eastern churches came together with the Western churches to address major theological doctrine.
First Council of Nicaea (325 AD) – Repudiated Arianism and adopted the original Nicene Creed, which declared that Jesus was fully God and fully man.
It is estimated that over 300 bishops attended the Nicaea Council. Tradition says that only five bishops disagreed with the decision and voted against it.
“Judging from what little we know about the identity of those who attended, the council was overwhelming Eastern. Only six or seven bishops are recorded as having come from Western churches, among them were Ossius (or Hosius) of Cordoba, Caecilianus of Carthage, and two representatives from the church of Rome. The small number of bishops from the West reflected the general ignorance among Western churches of those theological issues that had embroiled the East” (Google – https://www.christianitytoday.com/history).
“Of the bishops from the East, Asia Minor (presentamp;mdash;day Turkey), Syria, Palestine, and Egypt were best represented. Several came from Arabia, Persia, Libya, and Greece. One even came from Armenia. Bishops from almost all of the oldest and major sees of the East were present: Alexander of Alexandria, Antiochus of Memphis (Egypt), Macanus of Jerusalem, Eusebius of Caesarea, Eustathius of Antioch (Syria), Magnus of Damascus, Januarius of Jericho, Eusebius of Nicomedia, Eutychius of Smyrna, Menophantes of Ephesus, Artemidorus of Sardis and, of course, Theognis of Nicaea.” (Google -https://www.christianitytoday.com/history).
The following is an abbreviated version of “The Nicene Creed” that came from this meeting:
“We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father; God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God; begotten not made, one in being with the Father.”
Note: See the section below for a list and comment on the other church councils. They were called and attended by both Roman Catholic and Orthodox Bishops. However, there appears to have been more interest with the Orthodox Churches.
Over these years the Eastern Orthodox Church drifted away from some of the doctrines of the west. In 1053 AD, there was a Schism between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. “The primary causes of the Schism were disputes over papal authority—the Pope claimed he held authority over the four Eastern Greek-speaking patriarchs, and over the insertion of the filioque clause into the Nicene Creed” “Pope Leo III unambiguously supported the current theological position in the West in his time: the filioque, that is that Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son” (Wikipedia) – the east disagreed. “Until the schism the five great patriarchal sees were Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem” (Google).
The problem of Arianism continued for many years. This decision of the first ecumenical council at Nicaea did not end the controversy and Arianism continued to cause problems until late in the fourth century.
Over these years, several Church Councils were called to standardize doctrine among the various churches – some were called by the Orthodox and some by the Roman Catholic Church. However, the difference between the doctrines of the Orthodox and Roman Catholics could not be reconciled.
Note: Understanding these councils is essential for understanding the controversies that existed due to hearsay in the early churches – more so in the Orthodox churches. They lasted for many years. There are four things we need to focus on: who called the council, what was the purpose of the council, who attended the council, and the conclusions reached by the council. Most of the councils debated the identity of Jesus – was He, man or God? The following is heavily quoted and has internet links for those who want more information.
The following is a list of councils following the First Council of Nicaea.
- First Council of Constantinople (381 AD) –The First Council of Constantinople “was a council of Christian bishops convened in Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey) in AD 381 by the Roman Emperor Theodosius I” (Google). Its primary purpose was to reaffirm the Nicene Creed. The council decision put an end to the Arianism controversy” (Google).
”It was attended by 150 Catholic and 36 heretical (Semi-Arian, Macedonian) bishops, and was presided over by Meletius of Antioch; after his death, by the successive Patriarchs of Constantinople, St. Gregory Nazianzen and Nectarius” (Google).
- The Council of Ephesus (431 AD) – “The Council of Ephesus was a council of Christian bishops convened in Ephesus (near present-day Selçuk in Turkey) in AD 431 by the Roman Emperor Theodosius II” (Google – Wikipedia).
The purpose of the council was to debate Nestorianism. “Nestorius’ doctrine, Nestorianism, which emphasized the distinction between Christ’s human and divine natures and argued that Mary should be called Christotokos (Christ-bearer) but not Theotokos (God-bearer), had brought him into conflict with other church leaders, most notably Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria. Nestorius himself had requested the [Byzantine] Emperor to convene the council, hoping that it would prove his orthodoxy; the council in fact condemned his teachings as heresy. The council declared Mary as Theotokes (Mother of God)” (Google – Wikipedia).
“Bishop Memnon of Ephesus, a supporter of Cyril, had 40 bishops present in addition to 12 from Pamphylia. Others came from Jerusalem, Philippi, and Thessalonica. However, the contingent from Syrian Antioch, who were generally allies of Nestorius, had been delayed” (Google).
This controversy shows the continued debate about who Christ, Mary, and Jesus’s mother were. Again, the council confirmed the divinity of Jesus.
- Council of Chalcedon (451 AD) – “Council of Chalcedon, fourth ecumenical council of the Christian church, held in Chalcedon (modern Kadiköy, Turkey) in 451” (Google).
“The Council was called in 451 CE by the Roman Emperor Marcian (r. 450-457) to settle debates regarding the nature (hypostases, “reality”) of Christ that had begun at two earlier meetings in Ephesus (431 CE and 439 CE)” (Google).
The council “was attended by about 520 bishops or their representatives and was the largest and best-documented of the early councils” (Google – Britannica.com/).
“Besides reinforcing canons of earlier church councils as well as declarations of some local synods, the council issued disciplinary decrees affecting monks and clergy and declared Jerusalem and Constantinople patriarchates. The overall effect was to give the church a more stable institutional character” (Google – Britannica.com/).
I believe that this decree took away some of the autonomy of the Orthodox churches, and the state began to enforce standardized beliefs – increasingly, they moved toward central control.
- Second Council of Constantinople (553 AD) – “Second Council of Constantinople, (553), the fifth ecumenical council of the Christian church, meeting under the presidency of Eutychius, patriarch of Constantinople. Pope Vigilius of Rome, who had been summoned to Constantinople, opposed the council and took sanctuary in a church from May to December, but he at last yielded and formally ratified the verdicts of the council on February 23, 554” (Google – Britannica.com).
The council again addressed the issues of Nestorianism. “The 14 anathemas issued by the council rejected Nestorianism by insisting yet further upon the unity of the person of Christ in his two natures, divine and human. The only other important act of the council was to ratify an earlier condemnation of Origen” (Google – Britannica.com).
- Third Council of Constantinople (681 AD) – This council, continued to resolve issues of the two natures of Christ. It continued to confirm that Jesus had both human and divine nature.
“The [Byzantine] emperor attended and presided over the first eleven sessions, participated in the discussions, and returned for the closing session on 16 September 681, attended by 151 bishops” (Google),
“The Pope and a council he had held in Rome were represented (as was customary at eastern ecumenical councils) by a few priests and bishops” (Google)
The Council finally declared the Trinitarian doctrine of the equality of the Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son.
- The Second Council of Nicaea (782 AD) – “The Second Council of Nicaea is recognized as the last of the first seven ecumenical councils by the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church” (Wikipedia).
“It attempted to resolve the Iconoclastic Controversy, initiated in 726 when Byzantine Emperor Leo III issued a decree against the worship of icons (religious images of Christ and the saints). The council declared that icons deserve reverence and veneration but not adoration, which is reserved for God. It was also decreed that every altar should contain a relic, a tradition that has been retained in both modern Catholic and Orthodox churches” (Google – Britannica.com).
The use of relics and icons were primary to the worship experience of the Orthodox Church. If you have ever been to an Orthodox Church, you will see them all over the church.
Contrast of Orthodox doctrine with Catholic doctrine
We will now compare and contrast the significant differences in theology and church practices of the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. This will reinforce our knowledge of the catholic church and help us remember the doctrines and practices of the Orthodox churches. There were major differences.
- The fall of Adam resulted in what is called original sin or imputed sin. In the Catholic church, it is called original sin – in the Orthodox church, it is called ancestral sin. The terms original sin and ancestral sin are very similar; however, there are subtle differences.
- The Catholic Church divides personal sins into two groups: major and venial (minor). There is accountability for both, and they are resolved by grace plus works. Works is the process of accumulating grace points for the complete payment of sins. The Orthodox Church believes that you are saved from your sin by grace only through faith and that you must be born again.
- The Catholic Church teaches that you must confess your sins before a priest. “Orthodox understand that the confession is not made to the priest, but to Christ. The priest stands only as a witness and guide. Before confessing, the penitent venerates the Gospel Book and blessing cross and places the thumb and first two fingers of his right hand on the feet of Christ as depicted on the cross” (Google – easternorthodoxchristian.com).
- In Catholic penance, some form of response is required from the priest’s instructions – it may include work assigned by the priest. “In the Eastern Orthodox Church, penance is called Sacred Mystery of Confession. In Orthodoxy, the intention of the sacramental mystery of Holy Confession is to provide reconciliation with God through means of healing” (Google – Wikipedia).
- Both the Catholics and the Orthodox received the seven sacraments. To the Catholics, the sacraments are a significant factor in the salvation experience and are required for you to go to heaven. To the Orthodox, they are more of a worship experience and add grace to our lives, bringing us closer to Christ. The Catholics consider the sacraments part of the justification process, whereas the Orthodox consider them part of the sanctification process. “The [orthodox] church interprets each sacramental act as a prayer of the entire ecclesiastical community, led by the bishop or his representative” (Google – academia.edu/).
- The worship services of the two groups are formal and highly structured. The Catholics call their worship service “mass,” whereas the Orthodox call theirs “Divine Liturgy.” Both have songs, standardized prayers, recitation of creeds, the sermon, and the Eucharist.
- The following is a statement on the Orthodox view of baptism. “It is the saving action of God who, through water and the Spirit, recreates His creation. It is the initial Sacrament through which he who is immersed in water three times, in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit, is cleansed from all sin and is regenerated spiritually” (Google – suscopts.org/). The Orthodox believe in salvation by grace but believe that baptism begins the process – it is the first step in faith.
- “The Orthodox Church believes the Eucharist to be a sacrifice. As is heard in the Liturgy, ‘Thine of Thine own we offer to Thee, in all and for all’…The Eucharist is both symbolic and mystical. Also, the Eucharist in the Orthodox Church is understood to be the genuine Body and Blood of Christ, precisely because bread and wine are the mysteries and symbols of God’s true and genuine presence and his manifestation to us in Christ” (Google – orthodoxwiki.org/). The Catholic Church teaches Transubstantiation – the bread and wine blessed by a priest become the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. “The Eastern Orthodox Church has never clarified or made statement on the exact nature of transformation of the bread and wine, nor gone into the detail that the Roman Catholic Church has with the doctrine of transubstantiation” (Google – Wikipedia).
- The Catholic Church Baptist infants, whereas the Orthodox Church does not. The Orthodox do not believe that infants are accountable for original sin.
- The Orthodox Church believes in the priesthood doctrine of the believer. The Catholic does not.
- Both the Orthodox and Catholic Churches view the doctrine of eternal security as heretical.
- The veneration of Mary began very early in the Church. Both the Catholics and Orthodox continued this practice. However, the Catholic Church believes that Mary was born without sin, never married, never had personal sin, went to heaven without dying, and became an intercessor for the Christians. Most Orthodox Churches agree – there is some confusion as to which churches would disagree.
- Both the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church had orders of missionary groups to spread the gospel worldwide. Both groups also had orders of Monks who isolated themselves, prayed, meditated, wrote and translated manuscripts, and devoted their lives to serving God – living in poverty. Both groups also had orders of nuns who dedicated their lives to serving God – many served in medical services and education.
The following are summary statements on the two groups of churches taken from the website “Google – differencebetween.net.” There is some redundancy between the above statements and those below.
- “Sacraments – Contemporary Orthodox catechisms and textbooks all affirm that the church recognizes seven mystēria (“sacraments”): baptism, chrismation, communion, holy orders, penance, anointing of the sick, and marriage.”
- “Despite the historical differences, modern Orthodox and Catholic faithful are generally united in viewing the West’s seven sacraments and Orthodoxy’s looser number of sacred mysteries – seven only by convention – as effectively equivalent. The Catholics regard the two as identical.”
- “Though Byzantines believe in humanity of Christ, but his divinity is more emphasized in Greek Orthodoxy or Eastern Church. Roman Catholics believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ but emphasizes on his humanity. There is no practice of inter-communion between the two sects.”
- “The Byzantine Church does not use Latin and do not follow Latin traditions. Patriarchs of Byzantine Church do not read Latin. On the other hand, Greek language is not used by Catholic Church.”
- Divine Liturgy – “Byzantines use leavened bread during the Divine Liturgy (Common action) to symbolize the risen Christ. Roman Catholics, on the other hand use unleavened bread as used by Jesus in the Last Supper, during Divine Liturgy.”
- Holy Communion – “There is no practice of inter-communion between the two sects. Byzantines are not allowed to receive Holy Communion in Roman Catholic Churches, and in the same way, Roman Catholics are forbidden to receive Holy Communion in Orthodox Churches.”
- Authority – “Believers in Greek Orthodox consider the ‘Highest Bishop’ as the highest authorityof the sect. The highest Bishop is also known as the ‘first among the equals’. Though the Highest Bishop is considered the highest authority by the Byzantines, he is not considered infallible and also, he has no supreme authority over the Churches. On the other hand, Roman Catholics consider the Pope as infallible, the supreme authority of the sect, and have supreme power over the Roman Catholic Churches.”
- “Both the sects believe in ‘original sin’ and that it can be purified through baptism. But they differ on the reference of original sin to Mary. Byzantines believe that Mary, like any other person, was born, had original sin, and would die. She was selected to become mother of Jesus for her righteous life. Roman Catholics, on the other hand, believe that Mary did not commit the ‘original sin’.” Note: They also believe that she remained a virgin throughout her lifetime and never committed a personal sin.
- Icons/Statues – “Believers of Eastern Church pay homage to icons, whereas Roman Catholics pay homage to statues.” Note: If you have ever been inside an Orthodox Church, you have seen icons, old lamps, and other items of antiquity hanging in the Church, whereas you will find statues throughout a Catholic Church.
- Marriage of Priests – “Eastern Orthodox Church allows priests to marry before they are ordained. In Roman Catholics, the priests are not allowed to marry.”
- Concept of Purgatory – “Believers of Eastern Orthodoxy do not accept the concept of purgatory, i. e., punishment for the dead souls before they are consigned to heaven. They also do not believe in Stations of Cross. Roman Catholics believe in both the concepts.”
- Unity of Churches – “By unity of churches, believers in Eastern Orthodoxy mean membershipin one of the orthodox churches which are in full communion with one another. For Roman Catholics, unity of churches means participation in the organization headed by the Pope.”
Other Orthodox Groups
Orthodox Churches in Islamic Countries
When the Islamic armed forces swept over East Asia, the Byzantine Empire, and North Africa, the churches came under the authority of the Islamic rulers. From the beginning, the Muslims hated the Christians, and the Christian Churches were greatly persecuted. Many then and later were burned to the ground – their members massacred. Women and young girls were raped, and the young girls were forced to marry older Muslim men. Over the years, from time to time, the Muslims would declare jihad, and many more would be slaughtered.
Muslims treated Jews and Christians as dhimmis – tolerated inferiors. The term “Dhimmi” is a historical term for non-Muslims living in an Islamic state with legal protection. “Non-Muslims ‘dhimmis’ were afforded protection by the state and did not serve in the military, in return for specific taxes” (Google). Jews and Christians were called people of the book and were required to pay a special tax called the jizyah tax. Muslins were not allowed to convert to Christianity under a penalty of death.
The first crusade (1000 AD – 1099 AD) freed Asia Minor and the Holy Land from the rule of the Muslims. Both the Catholic and Orthodox churches were freed and remained free until the Crusaders were defeated by the Muslims in 1291 AD, and the rule of the Holy Land returned to Muslim Rule. The Ottoman Turks ruled the Holy Land until 1917 AD, when General Allenby of England defeated the Turks in Palestine, and the churches in the area were freed.
The Russian Orthodox Church
Tradition says the first church in the area now known as Russia was planted by the apostle Andrew, Peter’s brother. We pick up the story in the ninth century when the churches became Orthodox.
Russian history began in 862 AD when the Varangians ruled the Russian State. “The Varangians were Scandinavians who traveled from Jutland [part of Denmark] and Sweden. They were first mentioned in the Russian Primary Chronicle in 859. In 862, Slavic and Finnish tribes rebelled against the Varangian Rus” (Google). The Catholic papacy sent missionaries to the area, but the locals rejected them, believing the Catholic doctrine was heresy.
The story began under the reign of Vladimir, Prince of Klev [Ukraine] , in 988 AD. In the latter part of the 10th century, the territory of Russia includedFinland, the Baltic countries, Belarus, and Ukraine. “One of his emissaries traveled to Constantinople and returned to Vladimir to report that the religion of the Byzantine Empire was inspiring. As a result, the prince chose the Byzantine faith of Orthodox Christianity as the faith to bring his country of turmoil into harmony.” (Google – pbs.org). The Russian Orthodox Church became the state church of Russia. “Vladimir promptly forced the entire people to adopt the Christian faith” (Google – christianstudylibrary.org/). In the beginning, the Russian Churches were autonomous and self-ruled – later, this changed. “The Russian Orthodox Church has a thousand-year history of strong political as well as spiritual influence over the inhabitants of the Russian state” (Google – countrystudies.us/).
“After the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, the Russian Orthodox Church evolved into a semi-independent (autocephalous) branch of Eastern Christianity. In 1589 the metropolitan of Moscow received the title of patriarch. Nevertheless, the Russian church retained the Byzantine tradition of authorizing the head of state and the government bureaucracy to participate actively in the church’s administrative affairs. Separation of church and state thus would be almost unknown in Russia” (Google – countrystudies.us/).
“In the early eighteenth century, Peter the Great modernized, expanded, and consolidated Muscovy into what then became known as the Russian Empire. In the process of redefining his power as tsar, Peter curtailed the minimal secular influence of the Russian Orthodox Church, which was functioning principally as a pillar of the tsarist regime. In 1721 Peter the Great went so far as to abolish the patriarchate and establish a governmental organ called the Holy Synod, staffed by secular officials, to administer and control the church. As a result, the church’s moral authority declined in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries” (Google – countrystudies.us/).
When Russia became Communist in 1917 AD, the state took complete control of the Russian Orthodox Church. “Therefore, atheism became mandatory for members of the ruling Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik). To eliminate as soon as possible what was deemed the perverse influence of religion in society, the communists launched a propaganda campaign against all forms of religion” (Google – countrystudies.us/). During these years, a Patriarch who reported to the State controlled the Russian Orthodox Church.
After the fall of communism in 1991 AD, the Church regained some of its independence. The churches in the countries that gained independence from Russia are primarily independent and autonomous. Today, the Russian Orthodox Church is the biggest of the churches in the Eastern Orthodox communion.
The Greek Orthodox Church
“On July 16, 1054, Patriarch of Constantinople Michael Cerularius was excommunicated, starting the “Great Schism” that created the two largest denominations in Christianity – the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox faiths” (Google – education.nationalgeographic.org). Thus, the Byzantine churches became “Eastern Greek Orthodox” churches.
“The Eastern Orthodox Church, also called the Orthodox Church, is the second-largest Christian church, with approximately 220 million baptized members” (Google – Wikipedia). Their doctrines are almost the same as the Russian Orthodox Church – they share communion. Together, they make up nearly all of the Orthodox Churches in Eastern Europe.
The Eastern Orthodox Church is primarily autonomous – some differences. “In many cases, autonomous churches are almost completely self-governing, with the mother church retaining only the right to appoint the highest-ranking bishop” (Google – Wikipedia). “There are also “autonomous” churches (retaining a token canonical dependence upon a mother see) in Crete, Finland, and Japan. The first nine autocephalous churches are headed by “patriarchs,” the others by archbishops or metropolitans” (Google -https://www.russianorthodox-stl.org). ”The Russian Orthodox Church severed ties with Constantinople over proposed independence for the Ukrainian Church” (Google – vox.com/).
Oriental Orthodox Churches
“The Oriental Orthodox family is comprised of the Ethiopian, Coptic, Armenian, Syrian, Indian and Eritrean Churches. Historically, they have been referred to as non- or anti- or pre-Chalcedonian, Monophysite, Ancient Oriental, or Lesser Eastern. Presently, the generally accepted name is Oriental Orthodox. The majority of the members of these churches live in Ethiopia, Egypt, Eritrea, Armenia, India, Syria and Lebanon. There are also large diaspora communities in parts of the Middle East, Europe, Asia, North and South America, and Australia” (Google – oikoumene.org – world council of churches).
The Oriental Orthodox Churches are not in communion with the “Russian Orthodox Church” and the “Greek Orthodox Church” – there are some doctrinal differences.
“Oriental Orthodoxy shares much theology and many ecclesiastical traditions with the Eastern Orthodox Church; these include a similar doctrine of salvation and a tradition of collegiality between bishops, as well as reverence of the Theotokos and use of the Nicene Creed” (Google).
“The history and life of the Oriental Orthodox churches has been marked by ceaseless persecution and massacres under the Byzantine, Persian, Muslim and Ottoman powers. The sufferings have had a profound impact on their life, witness, theology, and spirituality. Yet this life of the cross has not led them to become entirely isolated and introverted. In spite of their continuous suffering, these churches have sustained themselves through constant efforts of renewal. Under the imperative of new realities and the demands of changing times, they have been able to challenge the strong traditionalism and inward-looking estate that prevailed for some time due to historical circumstances. While ancient traditions still dominate, a fresh vitality and creativity are blowing in these churches, both in their motherlands and the diaspora. They have significantly revived monastic life as a rich source of spirituality, evangelism, and Diakonia for clergy as well as laity, men and women” (Google – oikoumene.org).
“The Oriental Orthodox Churches are distinguished by their recognition of only the first three ecumenical councils during the period of the State church of the Roman Empire: the First Council of Nicaea in 325, the First Council of Constantinople in 381, and the Council of Ephesus in 431” (Google -Wikipedia).
They strongly disagreed with the decision made at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD. “The Council of Chalcedon issued the Chalcedonian Definition, which repudiated the notion of a single nature in Christ and declared that he has two natures in one person and hypostasis. It also insisted on the completeness of his two natures: Godhead and manhood” (Google – Wikipedia). The Oriental Orthodox believe that he has one nature manifested as both human and Divine.
“The Oriental Orthodox Churches are a communion of six autocephalous (that is, administratively completely independent) regional churches.” The six churches are: “…the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch, the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, and the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church. Collectively, they consider themselves to be the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church founded by Jesus Christ in his Great Commission, and that its bishops are the successors of Christ’s apostles. Most member churches are part of the World Council of Churches. Three very different rites are practiced among the churches: the western-influenced Armenian Rite, the West Syriac Rite of the Syriac Church and the Malankara Church of India, and the Alexandrian Rite of the Copts, Ethiopians and Eritreans.” (Wikipedia).
The Coptic church claims it is the only one that has kept the same faith from 40 AD until now. They have fought by their blood to keep their teachings as delivered by the apostle Saint Mark. They have basically the same doctrines as the other Orthodox Churches.