The Eastern Orthodox Church, comprising of around 220,000,000 followers, has its origins in the early Greek-speaking churches of the Byzantine Empire. Until 1054, there was only one Christian Church. However, many people in the eastern churches had different religious and cultural views than its western counterpart. That year, due to these differences and a lot of politics, the Church officially broke apart, known as the Great Schism. The Roman Catholic Church remained loyal to the Bishop of Rome (the pope) while the Eastern Orthodox Church established no head of the church, though the Patriarch of Constantinople carries the most weight. Rather than operated from one source, the Church’s regions have autonomy, united mostly in their shared statements of faith.
Coming from the Greek tradition, personal experience and finding the truth for oneself is a focus of the Church. While Western churches tend to take a legalistic approach to faith (what sin is, how we got here, how to obtain salvation), the Eastern Orthodox Church takes a more mystical view, believing salvation can be achieved through a better communion with God. Like the RCC, the Eastern Orthodox Church is highly liturgical. It follows its own calendar, which has Christmas celebrated on January 6 and Easter falling on a different day than the Western churches.
Orthodox believe all souls in heaven are saints. Those that have been recognized are venerated, especially Mary, Mother of Jesus. Death is seen as abnormal, a result of the fall of man that we must overcome to be reunited with God.
Most Eastern Orthodox churches have a domed top to symbolize heaven. There is also an iconostasis, a wall of icons or religious paintings that separate the nave from the sanctuary. The Devine Liturgy can only be performed once a day on any altar. This is to promote the idea of a universal church and reduce private masses. While I like the idea, I imagine this is difficult logistically for large churches. People stand for the entire service. I admit, I probably don’t have the stamina for an Orthodox service. But it does sound like a great experience.
I really don’t have much personal thoughts on the Eastern Orthodox Church because I’ve never had any experience with them. I admire the mystical approach to faith and think that is something many Western churches could learn from. God is hard to define and legalize; sometimes it’s necessary to let go of the dogma and just “be” with God. (But there is a time and place for dogma as well.)
[The Greek Orthodox cross has two smaller bars than the typical cross. The top crossbar represents the sign Pilate placed, "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews." The bottom bar represents a foot bar believed to have been attached to crosses. There are multiple opinions as to why this bar is slanted. Some say is it to signify the theif on Christ's right that chose salvation; others say it is to show the movement upward to heaven.]
Next Friday: Reformation Protestants