In the year 1054 a major split occurred in Christianity. The churches in Western Europe, under the authority of the pope at Rome, separated from the churches in the Eastern Roman (or Byzantine) Empire, under the authority of the patriarch (bishop) of Constantinople. The churches of the Eastern Empire have come to be known by the collective term Eastern Orthodoxy. The word orthodoxy simply means “correct teaching,” or “right belief.” The official designation is actually Orthodox Catholic Church to set it off from the Roman Catholic church.

AD 395: Division of the Roman Empire. Emperor Theodosius I died in 395. He had appointed two successors: his older son, 17-year-old Arcadius, was given rule over the east; and his younger son, 10-year-old Honorius, was given authority in the west. Honorius ruled from Milan, however, not from Rome.

This division of the Roman Empire between Arcadius and Honorius was meant to be temporary, but it became permanent. The Eastern Empire, more commonly called the Byzantine Empire, took on a life of its own, while the empire in the West disintegrated under the impact of barbarian invasions until it collapsed in the 5th century. The Eastern Empire endured until 1453, when it was conquered by Ottoman Turks. It contributed much to civilization through the arts, particularly its fabulous mosaics. Its most famous ruler was Justinian I, creator of the Code of Justinian, a collection of past imperial decrees that influenced legal theory for centuries to come.

The two parts of the old empire differed religiously, too. In the West the leadership of Christianity was gradually assumed by the bishop at Rome, the pope. In the East, the patriarch of Constantinople was the head of Christianity. This separation pushed Christianity in two different directions, until a split occurred in 1054, when the religion was divided between Roman Catholicism in the West and Eastern Orthodoxy in the East.

AD 726: Iconoclastic Controversy One of the chief divisions in early Christianity arose over the issue of icons. An icon is a religious image, usually a depiction of a saint. Those who opposed the use in churches of images such as statues charged that it was a pagan custom. They thought that people attached too much importance to the icons and came to believe that the icons had their own powers, rather than merely representing the power of God.

In 726 the Byzantine emperor Leo III banned the use of images, launching the Iconoclastic, or “image-breaking,” Controversy. Five years later the Roman pope Gregory III threatened to excommunicate all iconoclasts. The argument within the churches lasted until 843 and fuelled the already bitter differences between the Western church, based in Rome, and the Eastern church, based in Constantinople. The two churches Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox finally broke with each other in 1054.

1054: East-West schism in Christianity. The final split separating the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches came in 1054, after centuries of disagreement. In this year Pope Leo IX and Patriarch Michael Cerularius excommunicated each other.

One source of contention concerned the use of images, or icons, in churches. Another dispute centred on the authority of the Pope, who is the bishop of Rome, over the churches. As hopes of reconciliation faded, the patriarchs of the Eastern churches gradually renounced allegiance to Rome and paid homage to the Patriarch of Constantinople as the “first among equals.”

The schism has never been healed, but in the 20th century the two large branches do have relations with one another. Most Orthodox churches have joined with Protestant denominations to form the World Council of Churches, established in 1948, but the Roman Catholic Church is not a member.


Patriarch (from Greek, meaning father and rule), father and ruler of a family or tribe; in biblical history applied particularly to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; in Roman Catholicism term used to signify a bishop of the highest rank, and in Greek church a high dignitary, such as the patriarch of Constantinople.

Eastern Orthodoxy is a fellowship of autonomous, or independent self-governing, churches, each of which is under the rule of a bishop. The patriarch of Constantinople (now Istanbul) is considered the first among equals, but he has no authority comparable to that of the Roman pope.

Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (commonly called Soviet Union, formerly Russia), from 1917 to 1991 country of e. Europe and of w.-central and n. Asia; cap. Moscow. Circa 1995.

Turkey (officially Republic of Turkey), country of Asia and Europe; 301,380 sq mi (780,570 sq km); cap. Ankara, lying in Asia; pop. 58,584,000. Circa 1995.

The number of independent churches has varied throughout history. Today there are the Church of Constantinople, the Church of Alexandria (Egypt), the Church of Antioch (head quartered at Damascus, Syria), the Church of Jerusalem, the Russian Orthodox church, the Church of Georgia, the Church of Serbia, the Church of Romania, the Church of Bulgaria, the Church of Cyprus, the Church of Greece, the Church of Albania, the Polish Orthodox church, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and the churches of the Czech Republic and Slovakia. There are also smaller autonomous churches in Finland, Crete, and Japan and many in the United States. Many of the churches existed in hostile surroundings. The Russian Orthodox church suffered severe persecution in the past. It was forced to cooperate with the authorities of the Soviet Union in order to function until the restructuring of Communism allowed open worship after 1990. The church in Albania has been outlawed altogether. The members of the churches in Turkey, Egypt, and the Middle East live as minorities amid large Muslim majorities. Eastern Orthodoxy in the United States is represented by almost every national Orthodox body.

The Orthodox understanding of the church is based on the principle that each local community of Christians, gathered around its bishop and celebrating the Lord’s Supper, or Eucharist, is a local realization of the whole church on Earth. This concept of wholeness is called catholicity. This may seem an abstract concept, but what it means essentially is that everything necessary to be a church is found in the local congregation. The idea of catholicity may be compared to a loaf of bread. Each single slice is not the whole loaf, but each slice has all the ingredients necessary to be bread. Hence, wherever a bishop and congregation are gathered together, there is the church.

This continuity of the church is demonstrated by the fact that the consecration of a bishop requires the presence of several other bishops. This testifies to the continuity of the whole church in the present and to its unbroken heritage from the time of the Apostles.

Besides bishops, there are two other orders of clergy priests and deacons. These may be married men, though bishops are always chosen from among unmarried or widowed clergy.

Eastern Orthodoxy also has a strong tradition of monasticism, dating back to the 3rd and 4th centuries. It has been primarily a contemplative movement, seeking to experience God through a life of prayer. There has not been the development of religious orders with missionary or educational goals as in Western Christianity.

Belief and Worship

Eastern Orthodoxy considers itself the bearer of an unbroken living tradition of Christian faith and worship inherited from the earliest believers. Its beliefs are based on consistency with the Bible and tradition as expressed in the ancient councils the seven ecumenical church councils that took place between 325 and 787. The churches also accept the decrees of some later councils as reflecting the same faith.

Lord’s Supper (or Holy Eucharist, or Communion), Christian rite in which bread and wine (or grape juice) are taken in commemoration of Christ’s death; sacrament was instituted by Christ at his supper (Lord’s Supper, or Last Supper) with his disciples the night before his death (Bible, Matt. xxvi, 26-29; Mark xiv, 22-25; Luke xxii, 14-20).

The churches accept seven sacraments, or holy acts: baptism, chrismation (similar to confirmation), the Lord’s Supper, ordination, penance, anointing of the sick (called extreme unction in the West), and marriage. This number of sacraments was never defined in the early church. It was only in response to the Protestant Reformers of the 16th century, who accepted only two sacraments, that the number seven was determined.

The sacrament of chrismation is peculiar to the Eastern churches. In it newly baptised infants are anointed with oil and immediately admitted to the Lord’s Supper. In Western churches children must wait until they are older before receiving their first communion. In admitting infants the Orthodox churches maintain that baptism is the beginning of a new life that must be sustained by the Eucharist. When given communion, the bread is dipped in the wine a procedure called intinction and administered to, or placed on the tongue of, the recipient.

Liturgy (from Latin liturgia, meaning “a public service”), term applied to any or all of the services used in public worship; especially in Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Episcopal churches.

Liturgies. Forms of worship are called liturgies. The two chief Eucharistic liturgies in the Orthodox churches are those of St. John Chrysostom and of St. Basil the Great. Both acquired their present form in the 9th century. There is also a liturgy of St. James, often used in Jerusalem. All of the liturgies are elaborate, festive occasions.

The liturgies are divided into three segments. The first is a rite of preparation, during which the priest puts on a plate particles of bread symbolizing the gathering of the saints, both living and dead, around the living Christ. This is followed by the liturgy of the catechumens, or learners. This segment includes the reading of the lessons and the sermon. Finally comes the liturgy of the faithful, or baptised Christians, which includes the recitation of the creed and the administering of communion.

The Orthodox churches follow the traditional church calendar, the church year beginning with Advent, four Sundays before Christmas. The greatest festival is Easter. The date of Easter normally varies from its celebration in the West because the Eastern churches still use the Julian calendar to compute the date.

The Orthodox churches have a rich tradition of musical composition for hymns and liturgies. Since the Orthodox tradition bans the use of musical instruments or accompaniment (with the exception of some American congregations), all singing is done without musical accompaniment.

Santa Sophia (in Greek, Hagia Sophia, meaning “holy wisdom”), building in Istanbul, Turkey, erected as Christian church in 6th century by Justinian I; became Muslim mosque in 1453; in 1935 was made a museum of Byzantine antiquities.

Architecture. Some of the most beautiful and highly decorated church buildings in the world have been built by Christians of the Orthodox tradition. The first major house of worship, and still one of the great buildings of the world, was built during the reign of Emperor Justinian I in the 6th century at Constantinople. It is the Hagia Sophia, or Holy Wisdom. It consists of a huge round dome set atop a classical basilica-style building. Most Orthodox churches today have one or more domes. The Hagia Sophia was turned into a mosque by the Ottoman Turks, and later it became a museum.

Iconostasis, screen, or wall, in interiors of Eastern Orthodox churches.

The interior of an Orthodox church is somewhat different from other churches. In most Western churches the altar is readily visible from the entryway. But in Orthodox churches there is a screen, or wall, called an iconostasis, with one or more doors in it, largely concealing the altar area from the worshippers It is called an iconostasis because it is richly decorated with icons in the form of pictures of Christ and the saints. Orthodox churches have no statues or other three-dimensional images. The purpose of the iconostasis is to suggest a contrast between the visible manifestation of God in Christ as a man and his more perfect and invisible presence in the communion.

It is largely because of its emphasis on the gathered community in worship that the Orthodox churches have survived in often hostile surroundings. For this reason it is impossible to overestimate the significance of the liturgy in the life of the Eastern churches.



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  1. Great posting, concise detail.
    About the beginning of our Lord’s thirtieth year, John the Forerunner, who was some six months older than Our Saviour according to the flesh, and had lived in the wilderness since his childhood, received a command from God and came into the parts of the Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance unto the remission of sins. Then our Saviour also came from Galilee to the Jordan, and sought and received baptism though He was the Master and John was but a servant. Whereupon, there came to pass those marvellous deeds, great and beyond nature: the Heavens were opened, the Spirit descended in the form of a dove upon Him that was being baptized and the voice was heard from the Heavens hearing witness that this was the beloved Son of God, now baptized as a man (Matt. 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:1-22). From these events the Divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ and the great mystery of the Trinity were demonstrated. It is also from this that the present feast is called “Theophany,” that is, the divine manifestation, God’s appearance among men. On this venerable day the sacred mystery of Christian baptism was inaugurated; henceforth also began the saving preaching of the Kingdom of the Heavens.

    Apolytikion in the First Tone

    When Thou were baptized in the Jordan, O Lord, the worship of the Trinity was made manifest; for the voice of the Father bare witness to Thee, calling Thee His beloved Son. And the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed the certainty of the word. O Christ our God, Who hast appeared and hast enlightened the world, glory be to Thee.

    Apolytikion in the First Tone

    Ἐν Ἰορδάνῃ βαπτιζομένου σου Κύριε, ἡ τῆς Τριάδος ἐφανερώθη προσκύνησις, τοῦ γὰρ Γεννήτορος ἡ φωνὴ προσεμαρτύρει σοί, ἀγαπητὸν σὲ Υἱὸν ὀνομάζουσα, καὶ τὸ Πνεῦμα ἐν εἴδει περιστεράς, ἐβεβαίου τοῦ λόγου τὸ ἀσφαλές. Ὁ ἐπιφανεῖς Χριστὲ ὁ Θεός, καὶ τὸν κόσμον φωτίσας δόξα σοί.

    Kontakion in the Fourth Tone

    You appeared to the world today, and Your light, O Lord, has left its mark upon us. With fuller understanding we sing to You: “You came, You were made manifest, the unapproachable light.”

    Kontakion in the Fourth Tone

    Ἐπεφάνης σήμερον τὴ οἰκουμένη, καὶ τὸ φῶς σου Κύριε, ἐσημειώθη ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς, ἓν ἐπιγνώσει ὑμνούντάς σε. Ἦλθες ἐφάνης τὸ Φῶς τὸ ἀπρόσιτον.

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