Eastern Orthodox Church

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  • Topic: Orthodox Church, Eastern Christianity, Russian Orthodox Church
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  • Published : September 14, 2008
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Eastern Orthodox Church

Behind the elaborate fresco paintings and splendid architecture, Eastern Orthodox Church has played a significant role in the preservation of Christian tradition throughout history. Since the transfer of the imperial capitol of the Roman Empire from Rome to Constantinople, the Eastern Orthodox Christianity has evolved into a distinct branch of Christianity (Steeves). As Timothy Ware, the author of The Orthodox Church, suggests, major intellectual, cultural, and social developments that were taking place in a different region of the Roman Empire were not entirely consistent with the evolution of Western Christianity (Ware 8). These traditions and practices of the church of Constantinople were adopted by many and still provide the basic patterns and ethos of contemporary Orthodoxy. The Eastern Orthodox Church has adopted unique organizational features, beliefs, and traditions constituting itself as a unique branch of Christianity.

As the developments in Eastern Christianity were happening independent of Western Christianity, the differences in approaches grew to a serious estrangement between the two (Ware 23-24). As Ware suggests, some of the more prominent differences between the eastern and western Christianity are in the approach of religious truth, the perception of sin and salvation, and the view of the Holy Spirit. For Orthodox Christians, truth must be experienced personally (Ware 132). There is thus less focus on the exact definition of religious truth and more on the practical and personal experience of truth in the life of the individual and the church. This emphasis on personal experience of truth flows into the actual definition of the word Orthodox, which essentially means the correct theological observance of religion (“orthodox”). In the Western churches sin and salvation are seen primarily in legal terms. God gave humans freedom, and if they misuse it and brake God's commandments, they deserve punishment. God's grace results in forgiveness of the transgression and freedom from bondage and punishment. The Eastern churches see the matter in a different way. For Orthodox theologians, humans were created in the image of God and made to participate fully in the divine life. The full communion with God that Adam and Eve enjoyed meant complete freedom and true humanity, because humans are most human when they are completely united with God. The result of sin, then, would be considered a blurring of the image of God and a barrier between God and man. In addition, salvation is a process not of justification, but of reestablishing man's communion with God (Ware 155-161). In Christianity the process of being reunited to God is accomplished by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit plays a central role in Orthodox worship and the liturgy usually begins with a prayer to the Spirit and invocations made prior to sacraments are addressed to the Spirit. It is in the view of the Holy Spirit that Orthodox theology differs from Western theology. In the Orthodox tradition the belief is that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. The Catholic tradition, on the other hand, believes that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. Even though this difference might seem rather technical, it was a major contributor to the parting of East from West in the 11th century (Ware 182-190).

The Orthodox Church is organized into several regional churches governed by their own head bishops who also oversee one or several priests. There is no single leader in the church. No pope. The Patriarch of Constantinople has the honor of primacy, but does not carry the same authority as the Pope does in Catholicism. The religious authority for Orthodox Christianity is not the Pope but the scriptures as interpreted by the seven ecumenical councils of the church. Since all bishops are equal, the spiritually undivided church can be administratively divided into various self governing organizations. Major Orthodox churches...
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