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History of Religions


 

 

 

 

History of religions

Human beings’ relation to that which they regard as holy, sacred, spiritual, or divine. Religion is commonly regarded as consisting of a person’s relation to God or to gods or spirits. Worship is probably the most basic element of religion, but moral conduct, right belief, and participation in religious institutions are generally also constituent elements of the religious life as practiced by believers and worshipers and as commanded by religious sages and scriptures.

For treatment of particular religious systems, as well as founders, reformers, and other religious personages, see

biblical literature; Buddhism; Calvinism; Christianity; Confucianism; Daoism;
Eastern Orthodoxy; Greek religion; Hinduism; Islam; Jainism; Jesus Christ; Judaism; Lutheranism; Middle Eastern religion; Moses; mystery religion; Protestantism; Roman Catholicism; Shinto; Sikhism; Zoroastrianism.

For cross-cultural discussion of religious beliefs and practices, see

ceremonial object; creed; death rite; dietary law; doctrine and dogma; feast; myth; nature worship; prayer; purification rite; religious dress; religious experience; religious symbolism and iconography; rite of passage; ritual; sacrament; sacrifice; sacred; theology; worship.

For philosophical and ethical aspects, see
ethics; metaphysics; philosophy of science.

For a review of the efforts to systematically study the nature and classify the forms of religious experience, see
philosophy of religion;
study of religion.
 

see also:
DAVID HUME "The Natural History of Religion"
A Brief History of Western Philosophy

Egyptian religion
Key Ideas: Judaism; The history of Judaism
Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, Shinto; Hundred Schools of Thought
Greek Mythology
Manichaeism; Zoroaster
Key Ideas: Christianity; The history of Christianity
Key Ideas: Islam
In Focus: The Reformation; Reformation; Lutheranism; Protestantism; Calvinism

 

 


Eastern Orthodoxy

Christianity
official name Orthodox Catholic Church
Overview
One of the three major branches of Christianity.

Its adherents live mostly in Greece, Russia, the Balkans, Ukraine, and the Middle East, with a large following in North America and Australia. The titular head of Eastern Orthodoxy is the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople (Istanbul), but its many territorial churches (including the huge Russian Orthodox church and the Greek Orthodox church) are governed autonomously by head bishops or patriarchs, who must be unmarried or widowed even though lower orders of the clergy may marry. Eastern Orthodoxy also boasts a strong monastic tradition. The separation of the Eastern churches from the Western, or Latin, branch began with the division of the Roman Empire into two parts under Constantine I. A formal break was made in 1054 (see Schism of 1054). Doctrinally, Eastern Orthodoxy differs from Roman Catholicism in that it does not accept the primacy of the pope or the clause in the Western creed that states that the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father (God) and the Son (Jesus). The Orthodox church accepts the decisions of the seven ecumenical councils as well as several later ones. It maintains that there are seven sacraments and has a worship service that is theologically and spiritually rich. In the early 21st century, Eastern Orthodoxy had more than 200 million adherents worldwide.

Main
one of the three major doctrinal and jurisdictional groups of Christianity. It is characterized by its continuity with the apostolic church, its liturgy, and its territorial churches. Its adherents live mainly in the Balkans, the Middle East, and former Soviet countries.

Nature and significance
Eastern Orthodoxy is the large body of Christians who follow the faith and practices that were defined by the first seven ecumenical councils. The word orthodox (“right believing”) has traditionally been used in the Greek-speaking Christian world to designate communities or individuals who preserved the true faith (as defined by those councils), as opposed to those who were declared heretical. The official designation of the church in Eastern Orthodox liturgical or canonical texts is “the Orthodox Catholic Church.” Because of the historical links of Eastern Orthodoxy with the Eastern Roman Empire and Byzantium (Constantinople), however, in English usage it is referred to as the “Eastern” or “Greek Orthodox” Church. These terms are sometimes misleading, especially when applied to Russian or Slavic churches and to the Orthodox communities in western Europe and America.

It should also be noted that the Eastern Orthodox Church constitutes a separate tradition from the churches of the so-called Oriental Orthodox Communion, now including the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox Church, the Eritrean Tewahedo Orthodox Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Syriac Orthodox Partriarchate of Antioch and All the East, and the Malankara Orthodox Church of India. From the time of the Council of Chalcedon in 451 to the late 20th century, the Oriental Orthodox churches were out of communion with the Roman Catholic Church and later the Eastern Orthodox Church because of a perceived difference in doctrine regarding the divine and human natures of Jesus. This changed in the 1950s, when both churches independently began dialogue with the Oriental Orthodox churches and resolved many of the ancient Christological disputes.


Nature and significance » The cultural context
The Schism of 1054 between the churches of the East and the West was the culmination of a gradual process of estrangement that began in the first centuries of the Christian era and continued through the Middle Ages. Linguistic and cultural differences, as well as political events, contributed to the estrangement. From the 4th to the 11th century, Constantinople (now Istanbul), the centre of Eastern Christianity, was also the capital of the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empire, while Rome, after the barbarian invasions, fell under the influence of the Holy Roman Empire of the West, a political rival. In the West theology remained under the influence of St. Augustine of Hippo (354–430), while in the East doctrinal thought was shaped by the Greek Fathers. Theological differences could have been settled if the two areas had not simultaneously developed different concepts of church authority. The growth of Roman primacy, based on the concept of the apostolic origin of the church of Rome, was incompatible with the Eastern idea that the importance of certain local churches—Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, and, later, Constantinople—could be determined only by their numerical and political significance. For the East, the highest authority in settling doctrinal disputes was the ecumenical council.

At the time of the Schism of 1054 between Rome and Constantinople, the membership of the Eastern Orthodox Church was spread throughout the Middle East, the Balkans, and Russia, with its centre in Constantinople, which was also called “New Rome.” The vicissitudes of history have greatly modified the internal structures of the Eastern Orthodox Church, but even today the bulk of its members live in the same geographic areas. Missionary expansion toward Asia and emigration toward the West, however, have helped to maintain the importance of Orthodoxy worldwide.


Nature and significance » The norm of church organization
The Orthodox church is a fellowship of “autocephalous” churches (canonically and administratively independent), with the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople holding titular or honorary primacy. The number of autocephalous churches has varied in history. In the early 21st century there were many: the Church of Constantinople (Istanbul), the Church of Alexandria (Africa), the Church of Antioch (with headquarters in Damascus, Syria), and the churches of Jerusalem, Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Albania, Poland, the Czech and Slovak republics, and America.

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. These titles are strictly honorary.

The order of precedence in which the autocephalous churches are listed does not reflect their actual influence or numerical importance. The patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, and Antioch, for example, present only shadows of their past glory. Yet there remains a consensus that Constantinople’s primacy of honour, recognized by the ancient canons because it was the capital of the ancient empire, should remain as a symbol and tool of church unity and cooperation. The modern pan-Orthodox conferences were thus convoked by the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople. Several of the autocephalous churches are de facto national churches, the Russian church being by far the largest. However, it is not the criterion of nationality but rather the territorial principle that is the norm of organization in the Orthodox church.

Since the Russian Revolution there has been much turmoil and administrative conflict within the Orthodox church. In western Europe and in the Americas, in particular, overlapping jurisdictions have been set up, and political passions have led to the formation of ecclesiastical organizations without clear canonical status. Although it has provoked controversy, the establishment of the autocephalous Orthodox Church in America (1970) by the patriarch of Moscow has as its stated goal the resumption of normal territorial unity in the Western Hemisphere.


History » The church of imperial Byzantium » Byzantine Christianity about ad 1000
At the beginning of the 2nd millennium of Christian history, the church of Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Roman (or Byzantine) Empire, was at the peak of its world influence and power. Neither Rome, which had become a provincial town and its church an instrument in the hands of political interests, nor Europe under the Carolingian and Ottonian dynasties could really compete with Byzantium as centres of Christian civilization. The Byzantine emperors of the Macedonian dynasty had extended the frontiers of the empire from Mesopotamia to Naples (in Italy) and from the Danube River (in central Europe) to Palestine. The church of Constantinople not only enjoyed a parallel expansion but also extended its missionary penetration, much beyond the political frontiers of the empire, to Russia and the Caucasus.

History » The church of imperial Byzantium » Byzantine Christianity about ad 1000 » Relations between church and state
The ideology that had prevailed since Constantine (4th century) and Justinian I (6th century)—according to which there was to be only one universal Christian society, the oikoumenē, led jointly by the empire and the church—was still the ideology of the Byzantine emperors. The authority of the patriarch of Constantinople was motivated in a formal fashion by the fact that he was the bishop of the “New Rome,” where the emperor and the senate also resided (canon 28 of the Council of Chalcedon, 451). He held the title of “ecumenical patriarch,” which pointed to his political role in the empire. Technically, he occupied the second rank—after the bishop of Rome—in a hierarchy of five major primates, which also included the patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. In practice, however, the latter three were deprived of all authority by the Arab conquest of the Middle East in the 7th century, and only the emerging Slavic churches attempted to challenge, at times, the position of Constantinople as the unique centre of Eastern Christendom.

The relations between state and church in Byzantium are often described by the term caesaropapism, which implies that the emperor was acting as the head of the church. The official texts, however, describe the emperor and the patriarch as a dyarchy (government with dual authority) and compare their functions to that of the soul and the body in a single organism. In practice, the emperor had the upper hand over much of church administration, though strong patriarchs could occasionally play a decisive role in politics: Nicholas I (byname Nicholas Mystikos; patriarch 901–907, 912–925) and Polyeuctus (patriarch 956–970) excommunicated emperors for uncanonical acts. In the area of faith and doctrine, the emperors could never impose their will when it contradicted the conscience of the church: this fact, shown in particular during the struggle over iconoclasm in the 8th and 9th centuries and during the numerous attempts at union with Rome during the late medieval period, proves that the notion of caesaropapism is not unreservedly applicable to Byzantium.

The Church of the Holy Wisdom, or Hagia Sophia, built by Justinian in the 6th century, was the centre of religious life in the Eastern Orthodox world. It was by far the largest and most splendid religious edifice in all of Christendom. According to The Russian Primary Chronicle (a work of history compiled in Kiev in the 12th century), the envoys of the Kievan prince Vladimir, who visited it in 987, reported: “We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth, for surely there is no such splendor or beauty anywhere upon earth.” Hagia Sophia, or the “great church,” as it was also called, provided the pattern of the liturgical office, which was adopted throughout the Orthodox world. This adoption was generally spontaneous, and it was based upon the moral and cultural prestige of the imperial capital: the Orthodox church uses the 9th-century Byzantine rite.

History » The church of imperial Byzantium » Byzantine Christianity about ad 1000 » Monastic and mission movements
Both in the capital and in other centres, the monastic movement continued to flourish as it was shaped during the early centuries of Christianity. The Constantinopolitan monastery of Studios was a community of more than 1,000 monks, dedicated to liturgical prayer, obedience, and asceticism. They frequently opposed both government and ecclesiastical officialdom, defending fundamental Christian principles against political compromises. The Studite Rule, providing guidelines for monastic life, was adopted by daughter monasteries, particularly the famous Monastery of the Caves (Kiev-Pechersk Lavra) in Kievan Rus (now in Ukraine). In 963 Emperor Nicephorus II Phocas offered his protection to St. Athanasius the Athonite, whose laura (large monastery) is still the centre of the monastic republic of Mount Athos (under the protection of Greece). The writings of St. Symeon the New Theologian (949–1022), abbot of the monastery of St. Mamas in Constantinople, are a most remarkable example of Eastern Christian mysticism, and they exercised a decisive influence on later developments of Orthodox spirituality.

Historically, the most significant event was the missionary expansion of Byzantine Christianity throughout eastern Europe. In the 9th century Bulgaria had become an Orthodox nation and under Tsar Symeon (893–927) established its own autocephalous (administratively independent) patriarchate in Preslav (now known as Veliki Preslav). Under Tsar Samuel (976–1014) another autocephalous Bulgarian centre appeared in Ohrid. Thus, a Slavic-speaking daughter church of Byzantium dominated the Balkan Peninsula. It lost its political and ecclesiastical independence after the conquests of the Byzantine emperor Basil II (976–1025), but the seed of a Slavic Orthodoxy had been solidly planted. In 988 the Kievan prince Vladimir embraced Byzantine Orthodoxy and married a sister of Emperor Basil. After that time Russia became an ecclesiastical province of the church of Byzantium, headed by a Greek or, less frequently, a Russian metropolitan appointed from Constantinople. This statute of dependence was not challenged by the Russians until 1448. During the entire period, Russia adopted and developed the spiritual, artistic, and social heritage of Byzantine civilization, which was received through intermediary Bulgarian translators.

History » The church of imperial Byzantium » Byzantine Christianity about ad 1000 » Relations with the West
Relations with the Latin West, meanwhile, were becoming more ambiguous. On the one hand, the Byzantines considered the entire Western world as a part of the Roman oikoumenē, of which the Byzantine emperor was the head and in which the Roman bishop enjoyed honorary primacy. On the other hand, the Frankish and German emperors in Europe were challenging this nominal scheme, and the internal decadence of the Roman papacy was such that the powerful patriarch of Byzantium seldom took the trouble of entertaining any relations with it. From the time of Patriarch Photius (patriarch 858–867, 877–886), the Byzantines had formally condemned as heretical the Filioque clause; inserted into the Nicene Creed by Charlemagne’s court theologians, the clause stated that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father and from the Son. In 879–880 Photius and Pope John VIII had apparently settled the matter to Photius’s satisfaction, but in 1014 the Filioque was introduced in Rome and communion was broken again.

The incident of 1054, wrongly considered as the date of schism (which had actually been developing over a period of time), was in fact an unsuccessful attempt at restoring relations, disintegrating as they were because of political competition in Italy between the Byzantines and the Germans and also because of disciplinary changes (enforced celibacy of the clergy, in particular) imposed by the reform movement that had been initiated by the monks of Cluny, France. The conciliatory efforts of Emperor Constantine Monomachus (reigned 1042–55) were powerless to overcome either the aggressive and uninformed attitudes of the Frankish clergy, who were now governing the Roman church, or the intransigence of Byzantine Patriarch Michael Cerularius (reigned 1043–58). When papal legates came to Constantinople in 1054, they found no common language with the patriarch. Both sides exchanged recriminations on points of doctrine and ritual and finally hurled anathemas of excommunication at each other, thus provoking what has been called the Schism of 1054.


History » The church of imperial Byzantium » Invasions from east and west » The Crusades
After the Battle of Manzikert (1071) in eastern Asia Minor, Byzantium lost most of Anatolia to the Turks and ceased to be a world power. Partly solicited by the Byzantines, the Crusades proved another disaster: they brought the establishment of Latin principalities on former imperial territories and the replacement of Eastern bishops by a Latin hierarchy. The culminating point was, of course, the sack of Constantinople itself in 1204, the enthronement of a Latin emperor on the Bosporus, and the installation of a Latin patriarch in Hagia Sophia. Meanwhile, the Balkan countries of Bulgaria and Serbia secured national emancipation with Western help, the Mongols sacked Kiev (1240), and Russia became a part of the Mongol empire of Genghis Khan. The Byzantine heritage survived this series of tragedies mainly because the Orthodox church showed an astonishing internal strength and a remarkable administrative flexibility.

Until the Crusades, and in spite of such incidents as the exchanges of anathemas between Michael Cerularius and the papal legates in 1054, Byzantine Christians did not consider the break with the West as a final schism. The prevailing opinion was that the break of communion with the West was due to a temporary take over of the venerable Roman see by misinformed and uneducated German “barbarians” and that eventually the former unity of the Christian world under the one legitimate emperor—that of Constantinople—and the five patriarchates would be restored. This utopian scheme came to an end when the Crusaders replaced the Greek patriarchs of Antioch and Jerusalem with Latin prelates, after they had captured these ancient cities (1098–99). Instead of reestablishing Christian unity in the common struggle against Islam, the Crusades demonstrated how far apart Latins and Greeks really were from each other. When finally, in 1204, after a shameless sacking of the city, the Venetian Thomas Morosini was installed as patriarch of Constantinople and confirmed as such by Pope Innocent III, the Greeks realized the full seriousness of papal claims over the universal church: theological polemics and national hatreds were combined to tear the two churches further apart.

After the capture of the Constantinople, the Orthodox patriarch John Camaterus fled to Bulgaria and died there in 1206. A successor, Michael Autorianus, was elected in Nicaea (1208), where he enjoyed the support of a restored Greek empire. Although he lived in exile, Michael Autorianus was recognized as the legitimate patriarch by the entire Orthodox world. He continued to administer the immense Russian metropolitanate. The Bulgarian church received from him—and not his Latin competitor—its right for ecclesiastical independence with a restored patriarchate in Trnovo (1235). It was also with the Byzantine government at Nicaea that the Orthodox Serbs negotiated the establishment of their own national church; their spiritual leader, St. Sava, was installed as autocephalous archbishop of Serbia in 1219.

History » The church of imperial Byzantium » Invasions from east and west » The Mongol invasion
The invasion of Russia by the Mongols had disastrous effects on the future of Russian civilization, but the church survived, both as the only unified social organization and as the main bearer of the Byzantine heritage. The “metropolitan of Kiev and all Russia,” who was appointed from Nicaea or from Constantinople, was a major political power, respected by the Mongol Khans. Exempt from taxes paid by the local princes to the Mongols and reporting only to his superior (the ecumenical patriarch), the head of the Russian church acquired an unprecedented moral prestige—though he had to abandon his cathedral see of Kiev, which had been devastated by the Mongols. He retained ecclesiastical control over immense territories from the Carpathian Mountains to the Volga River, over the newly created episcopal see of Sarai (near the Caspian Sea), which was the capital of the Mongols, as well as over the Western principalities of the former Kievan empire—even after they succeeded in winning independence (e.g., Galicia) or fell under the political control of Lithuania and Poland.


History » The church of imperial Byzantium » Attempts at ecclesiastical union and theological renaissance
In 1261 the Nicaean emperor Michael Palaeologus recaptured Constantinople from the Latins, and an Orthodox patriarch again occupied the see in Hagia Sophia. From 1261 to 1453 the Palaeologan dynasty presided over an empire that was embattled from every side, torn apart by civil wars, and gradually shrinking to the very limits of the imperial city itself. The church, meanwhile, kept much of its former prestige, exercising jurisdiction over a much greater territory, which included Russia as well as the distant Caucasus, parts of the Balkans, and the vast regions occupied by the Turks. Several patriarchs of this late period—e.g., Arsenius Autorianus (patriarch 1255–59, 1261–65), Athanasius I (patriarch 1289–93, 1303–10), John Calecas (patriarch 1334–47), and Philotheus Coccinus (patriarch 1353–54, 1364–76)—showed great independence from the imperial power, though remaining faithful to the ideal of the Byzantine oikoumenē.

Without the military backing of a strong empire, the patriarchate of Constantinople was, of course, unable to assert its jurisdiction over the churches of Bulgaria and Serbia, which had gained independence during the days of the Latin occupation. In 1346 the Serbian church even proclaimed itself a patriarchate; a short-lived protest by Constantinople ended with recognition in 1375. In Russia, Byzantine ecclesiastical diplomacy was involved in a violent civil strife. A fierce competition arose between the grand princes of Moscow and Lithuania, who both aspired to become leaders of a Russian state liberated from the Mongol yoke. The “metropolitan of Kiev and all Russia” was by now residing in Moscow and, as in the case of the metropolitan Alexis (1354–78), often played a directing role in the Muscovite government. The ecclesiastical support of Moscow by the church was decisive in the final victory of the Muscovites and had a pronounced impact on later Russian history. The dissatisfied western Russian principalities (which would later constitute Ukraine) could only obtain—with the strong support of their Polish and Lithuanian overlords—the temporary appointment of separate metropolitans in Galicia and Belorussia. Eventually, late in the 14th century, the metropolitan residing in Moscow again centralized ecclesiastical power in Russia.

History » The church of imperial Byzantium » Attempts at ecclesiastical union and theological renaissance » Relations with the Western church
One of the major reasons behind this power struggle in the northern area of the Byzantine world was the problem of relations with the Western church. To most Byzantine churchmen, the young Muscovite principality appeared to be a safer bulwark of Orthodoxy than the Western-oriented princes who had submitted to Roman Catholic Poland and Lithuania. Also, an important political party in Byzantium itself favoured union with the West in the hope that a new Western Crusade might be made against the menacing Turks. The problem of ecclesiastical union was in fact the most burning issue during the entire Palaeologan period.

Emperor Michael Palaeologus (1259–82) had to face the aggressive ambition of the Sicilian Norman king Charles of Anjou, who dreamed of restoring the Latin empire in Constantinople. To gain the valuable support of the papacy against Charles, Michael sent a Latin-inspired confession of faith to Pope Gregory X, and his delegates accepted union with Rome at the Council of Lyons (1274). This capitulation before the West, sponsored by the emperor, won little support in the church. During his lifetime, Michael succeeded in imposing an Eastern Catholic patriarch, John Beccus, upon the church of Constantinople, but upon Michael’s death an Orthodox council condemned the union (1285).

Throughout the 14th century, numerous other attempts at negotiating union were initiated by Byzantine emperors. Formal meetings were held in 1333, 1339, 1347, and 1355. In 1369 Emperor John V Palaeologus was personally converted to the Roman faith in Rome. All these attempts were initiated by the government and not by the church, for an obvious political reason—i.e., the hope for Western help against the Turks. But the attempts brought no results either on the ecclesiastical or on the political levels. The majority of Byzantine Orthodox churchmen were not opposed to the idea of union but considered that it could be brought about only through a formal ecumenical council at which East and West would meet on equal footing, as they had done in the early centuries of the church. The project of a council was promoted with particular consistency by John Cantacuzenus, who, after a brief reign as emperor (1347–54), became a monk but continued to exercise great influence on ecclesiastical and political events. The idea of an ecumenical council was initially rejected by the popes, but it was revived in the 15th century with the temporary triumph of conciliarist ideas (which advocated more power to councils and less to popes) in the West at the councils of Constance and Basel. Challenged with the possibility that the Greeks would unite with the conciliarists and not with Rome, Pope Eugenius IV called an ecumenical council of union in Ferrara, which later moved to Florence.

The Council of Ferrara-Florence (1438–45) lasted for months and allowed for long theological debates. Emperor John VIII Palaeologus, Patriarch Joseph, and numerous bishops and theologians represented the Eastern church. They finally accepted most Roman positions—the Filioque clause, purgatory (an intermediate stage for the soul’s purification between death and heaven), and the Roman primacy. Political desperation and the fear of facing the Turks again, without Western support, was the decisive factor that caused them to place their signatures of approval on the Decree of Union, also known as the Union of Florence (July 6, 1439). The metropolitan of Ephesus, Mark Eugenicus, alone refused to sign. Upon their return to Constantinople, most other delegates also renounced their acceptance of the council and no significant change occurred in the relations between the churches.

The official proclamation of the union in Hagia Sophia was postponed until Dec. 12, 1452; however, on May 29, 1453, Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks. Sultan Mehmed II transformed Hagia Sophia into an mosque, and the few partisans of the union fled to Italy.

History » The church of imperial Byzantium » Attempts at ecclesiastical union and theological renaissance » Theological and monastic renaissance
Paradoxically, the pitiful history of Byzantium under the Palaeologan emperors coincided with an astonishing intellectual, spiritual, and artistic renaissance that influenced the entire Eastern Christian world. The renaissance was not without fierce controversy and polarization. In 1337 Barlaam the Calabrian, one of the representatives of Byzantine humanism, attacked the spiritual practices of the Hesychast (from the Greek word hēsychia, meaning “quiet”) monks, who claimed that Christian asceticism and spirituality could lead to the vision of the “uncreated light” of God. Barlaam’s position was upheld by several other theologians, including Akyndinus and Nicephorus Gregoras. After much debate, the church gave its support to the main spokesman of the monks, Gregory Palamas (1296–1359), who showed himself as one of the foremost theologians of medieval Byzantium. The councils of 1341, 1347, and 1351 adopted the theology of Palamas, and after 1347 the patriarchal throne was consistently occupied by his disciples. John VI Cantacuzenus, who, as emperor, presided over the council of 1351, gave his full support to the Hesychasts. His close friend, Nicholas Cabasilas, in his spiritual writings on the divine liturgy and the sacraments, defined the universal Christian significance of Palamite theology. The influence of the religious zealots, who triumphed in Constantinople, outlasted the empire itself and contributed to the perpetuation of Orthodox spirituality under Turkish rule. It also spread to the Slavic countries, especially Bulgaria and Russia. The monastic revival in northern Russia during the last half of the 14th century, which was associated with the name of St. Sergius of Radonezh, as well as the contemporaneous revival of iconography (e.g., the work of the great painter Andrey Rublyov), would have been unthinkable without constant contacts with Mount Athos, the centre of Hesychasm, and with the spiritual and intellectual life of Byzantium.

Along with the Hesychast revival, a significant “opening to the West” was taking place among some Byzantine ecclesiastics. The brothers Prochorus and Demetrius Cydones, under the sponsorship of Cantacuzenus, for example, were systematically translating the works of Latin theologians into Greek. Thus, major writings of St. Augustine, St. Anselm of Canterbury, and St. Thomas Aquinas were made accessible to the East for the first time. Most of the Latin-minded Greek theologians eventually supported the union policy of the emperors, but there were some—like Gennadios II Scholarios, the first patriarch under the Turkish occupation—who reconciled their love for Western thought with total faithfulness to the Orthodox church.


History » Orthodoxy under the Ottomans (1453–1821) » The Christian ghetto
According to Muslim belief, Christians as well as Jews were “people of the Book”—i.e., their religion was seen as not entirely false but incomplete. Accordingly, provided that Christians submitted to the dominion of the caliphate and the Muslim political administration and paid appropriate taxes, they deserved consideration and freedom of worship. Any Christian mission or proselytism among the Muslims, however, was considered a capital crime. In fact, Christians were formally reduced to a ghetto existence: they were the Rūm millet, or “Roman nation” conquered by Islam but enjoying a certain internal autonomy.

In January 1454 the sultan Mehmed II, who had conquered Constantinople in 1453, allowed the election of a new patriarch, who was to become millet-bachi, the head of the entire Christian millet, or in Greek the “ethnarch,” with the right to administer, to tax, and to exercise justice over all the Christians of the Turkish empire. Thus, under the new system, the patriarch of Constantinople saw his formal rights and jurisdiction extended both geographically and substantially: on the one hand, through the privileges granted to him by the sultan, he could practically ignore his colleagues, the other Orthodox patriarchs; on the other hand, his power ceased to be purely canonical and spiritual but became political as well. To the enslaved Greeks, he appeared not only as the successor of the Byzantine patriarchs but also as the heir of the emperors. For the Ottomans, he was the official and strictly controlled administrator of the Rūm millet. In order to symbolize these new powers, the patriarch adopted an external attire reminiscent of that of the emperors: mitre in the form of a crown, long hair, eagles as insignia of authority, and other imperial accoutrements.

The new system had many significant consequences. Most important, it permitted the church to survive as an institution. Indeed, the prestige of the church was actually increased because, for Christians, the church was now the only source of education, and it alone offered possibilities of social promotion. Moreover, through the legal restrictions placed on mission, the new arrangement created the practical identification of church membership with ethnic origin. And finally, since the entire Christian millet was ruled by the patriarch of Constantinople and his Greek staff, it guaranteed to the Phanariotes, the Greek aristocracy of the Phanar (now called Fener, the area of Istanbul where the patriarchate was, and still is, located), a monopoly in episcopal elections. Thus, Greek bishops progressively came to occupy all the hierarchical positions. The ancient patriarchates of the Middle East were practically governed by the Phanar. The Serbian and Bulgarian churches came to the same fate: the last remnants of their autonomy were formally suppressed in 1766 and 1767, respectively, by the Phanariot patriarch Samuel Hantcherli. This Greek control, exercised through the support of the hated Turks, was resented more and more by the Balkan Slavs and Romanians as the Turkish regime became more despotic, taxes grew heavier, and modern nationalisms began to develop.

It is necessary, however, to credit the Phanariotes with a quite genuine devotion to the cause of learning and education, which they alone were able to provide inside the oppressed Christian ghetto. The advantages they obtained from the Porte (the Turkish government) for building schools and for developing Greek letters in the Romanian principalities of Moldavia and Walachia that were entrusted to their rule came to play a substantial role in the rebirth of Greece.


History » Orthodoxy under the Ottomans (1453–1821) » Relations with the West
The Union of Florence became fully inoperative as soon as the Turks occupied Constantinople (1453). In 1484 a council of bishops condemned it officially. Neither the sultan nor the majority of the Orthodox Greeks were favourable to the continuation of political ties with Western Christendom. The Byzantine cultural revival of the Palaeologan period was the first to experience adverse effects from the occupation. Intellectual dialogue with the West became impossible. Through liturgical worship and the traditional spirituality of the monasteries, the Orthodox faith was preserved in the former Byzantine world. Some self-educated men were able to develop the Orthodox tradition through writings and publications, but they were isolated exceptions. Probably the most remarkable among them was St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, the Hagiorite (1748–1809), who edited the famous Philocalia, an anthology of spiritual writings, and also translated and adapted Western spiritual writings (e.g., those of the Jesuit founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola) into modern Greek.

The only way for Orthodox Greeks, Slavs, or Romanians to acquire an education higher than the elementary level was to go to the West. Several of them were able to do so, but in the process they became detached from their own theological and spiritual tradition.

The West, in spite of much ignorance and prejudice, had a constant interest in the Eastern church. At times there was a genuine and respectful curiosity; in other instances, political and proselytistic (conversion) concerns prevailed. Thus, in 1573–81 a lengthy correspondence was initiated by Lutheran scholars from Tübingen (in Germany). Although interesting as a historical event, this correspondence, which includes the Answers of Patriarch Jeremias II (patriarch 1572–95), shows how little mutual understanding was possible at that time between the reformers and traditional Eastern Christianity.

Relations with the West, especially after the 17th century, were often vitiated in the East by the incredible corruption of the Turkish government, which constantly fostered diplomatic intrigues. An outstanding example of such manipulation was the kharāj, a tax required by the Porte at each patriarchal election. Western diplomats were often ready to provide the amount needed in order to secure the election of candidates favourable to their causes. The French and Austrian ambassadors, for example, supported candidates who would favour the establishment of Roman Catholic influence in the Christian ghetto, while the British and Dutch envoys supported patriarchs who were open to Protestant ideas. Thus, a gifted and Western-educated patriarch, Cyril Lucaris, was elected and deposed five times between 1620 and 1638. His stormy reign was marked by the publication in Geneva of a Confession of Faith (1629), which was, to the great amazement of all contemporaries, purely Calvinistic (i.e., it contained Reformed Protestant views). The episode ended in tragedy. Cyril was strangled by Turkish soldiers at the instigation of the pro-French and pro-Austrian party. Six successive Orthodox councils condemned the Confession: Constantinople, 1638; Kiev, 1640; Jassy, 1642; Constantinople, 1672; Jerusalem, 1672; and Constantinople, 1691. In order to refute its positions, the metropolitan of Kiev, Petro Mohyla, published his own Orthodox Confession of Faith (1640), which was followed in 1672 by the Confession of the patriarch of Jerusalem, Dosítheos Notaras. Both, especially Petro Mohyla, were under strong Latin influence.

These episodes were followed in the 18th century by a strong anti-Western reaction that was inspired in part by Roman Catholic missionary activity and the church unions of Brest-Litovsk (1596), Uzhhorod (1646), and Antioch (1724), formal agreements under which several Orthodox priests agreed (under political coercion in the case of Brest-Litovsk) to accept the authority of the pope in Rome while being allowed to preserve liturgical and linguistic independence. In 1755 the Synod of Constantinople decreed that all Westerners—Latin or Protestant—had invalid sacraments and were only to be admitted into the Orthodox Church through baptism.


History » The church of Russia (1448–1800) » The “third Rome” » Origin of the Muscovite patriarchate
At the Council of Florence, the Greek “metropolitan of Kiev and all Russia,” Isidore, was one of the major architects of the Union of Florence. Having signed the decree, he returned to Moscow in 1441 as a Roman cardinal but was rejected by both church and state, arrested, and then allowed to escape to Lithuania. In 1448, after much hesitation, the Russians received a new primate, Jonas, elected by their own bishops. Their church became autocephalous, administratively independent under a “metropolitan of all Russia,” residing in Moscow. In territories controlled by Poland, Rome (in 1458) appointed another “metropolitan of Kiev and all Russia.” The tendencies toward separation from Moscow that had existed in Ukraine since the Mongol invasion and that were supported by the kings of Poland thus received official sanction. In 1470, however, this metropolitan broke the union with the Latins and reentered—nominally—the jurisdiction of Constantinople, by then under Turkish control.

After this the fate of the two churches “of all Russia” became quite distinct. The metropolitanate of Kiev developed under the control of Roman Catholic Poland. Hard pressed by the Polish kings, the majority of its bishops, against the will of the majority of their flock, eventually accepted union with Rome at Brest-Litovsk (1596). In 1620, however, an Orthodox hierarchy was reestablished, and a Romanian nobleman, Petro Mohyla, was elected metropolitan of Kiev (1632). He suppressed the old school at Kiev that taught a curriculum based on Greco-Slavic letters and literature and created the first Orthodox theological school of the modern period, the famous Academy of Kiev. Modelled after the Latin seminaries of Poland, with instruction given in Latin, this school served as the theological training centre for almost the entire Russian high clergy in the 17th and 18th centuries. In 1686 Ukraine was finally reunited with Muscovy, and the metropolitanate of Kiev was attached to the patriarchate of Moscow, with approval given by Constantinople.

Muscovite Russia, meanwhile, had acquired the consciousness of being the last bulwark of true Orthodoxy. In 1472 Grand Prince Ivan III (reigned 1462–1505) married Sofia (Zoë), the niece of the last Byzantine emperor. The Muscovite sovereign began to use more and more of the Byzantine imperial ceremonial, and he assumed the double-headed eagle as his state emblem. In 1510 the monk Philotheus of Pskov addressed Vasily III as “tsar” (emperor), saying: “Two Romes have fallen, but the third stands, and a fourth there will not be.” The meaning of the sentence was that the first Rome was heretical, the second—Byzantium—was under Turkish control, and the third was Moscow. Ivan IV (the Terrible) was crowned emperor, according to the Byzantine ceremonial, by the metropolitan of Moscow, Makary, on Jan. 16, 1547. In 1551 he solemnly presided in Moscow over a great council of Russian bishops, the Stoglav (“Council of 100 Chapters”), in which various issues of discipline and liturgy were settled and numerous Russian saints were canonized. These obvious efforts to live up to the title of the “third Rome” lacked one final sanction: the head of the Russian church did not have the title of “patriarch.” The “tsars” of Bulgaria and Serbia did not hesitate in the past to bestow the title on their own primates, but the Russians wanted an unquestionable authentication and waited for proper opportunity. It occurred in 1589, when the patriarch of Constantinople, Jeremias II, was on a fund-raising tour of Russia. He could not resist the pressure of his hosts and established the metropolitan Job as “patriarch of Moscow and all Russia.” Confirmed later by the other Eastern patriarchs, the new patriarchate obtained the fifth place in the honorific order of the Oriental sees, after the patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem.

History » The church of Russia (1448–1800) » The “third Rome” » Relations between patriarch and tsar
After the 16th century the Russian tsars always considered themselves as successors of the Byzantine emperors and the political protectors and financial supporters of Orthodoxy throughout the Balkans and the Middle East. The patriarch of Moscow, however, never pretended to occupy formally the first place among the patriarchs. Within the Muscovite empire, many traditions of medieval Byzantium were faithfully kept. A flourishing monastic movement spread the practice of Christian asceticism in the northern forests, which were both colonized and Christianized by the monks. St. Sergius of Radonezh (c. 1314–92) was the spiritual father of this monastic revival. His contemporary, St. Stephen of Perm, missionary to the Zyryan tribes, continued the tradition of Saints Cyril and Methodius, the 9th-century “apostles to the Slavs,” in translating Scripture and the liturgy into the vernacular. He was followed by numerous other missionaries who promoted Orthodox Christianity throughout Asia and even established themselves on Kodiak Island off the coast of Alaska (1794). The development of church architecture, iconography, and literature also added to the prestige of the “third Rome.”

The Muscovite empire, however, was quite different from Byzantium both in its political system and in its cultural self-understanding. The Byzantine “symphony” (harmonious relationship) between the emperor and the patriarch was never really applied in Russia. The secular goals of the Muscovite state and the will of the monarch always superseded canonical or religious considerations, which were still binding on the medieval emperors of Byzantium. Muscovite political ideology was always influenced more by the beginnings of western European secularism and by Asiatic despotism than by Roman or Byzantine law. Although strong patriarchs of Constantinople were generally able to oppose open violations of dogma and canon law by the emperors, their Russian successors were quite powerless; a single metropolitan of Moscow, St. Philip (metropolitan 1566–68), who dared to condemn the excesses of Ivan IV, was deposed and murdered.

A crisis of the “third Rome” ideology occurred in the middle of the 17th century. Nikon (reigned 1652–58), a strong patriarch, decided to restore the power and prestige of the church by declaring that the patriarchal office was superior to that of the tsar. He forced the tsar Alexis Romanov to repent for the crime of his predecessor against St. Philip and to swear obedience to the church. Simultaneously, Nikon attempted to settle a perennial issue of Russian church life: the problem of the liturgical books. Originally translated from the Greek, the books suffered many corruptions through the centuries and contained numerous mistakes. In addition, the different historical developments in Russia and in the Middle East had led to differences between the liturgical practices of the Russians and the Greeks. Nikon’s solution was to order the exact compliance of all the Russian practices with the contemporary Greek equivalents. His liturgical reform led to a major schism in the church. The Russian masses had taken seriously the idea that Moscow was the last refuge of Orthodoxy. They wondered why Russia had to accept the practices of the Greeks, who had betrayed Orthodoxy in Florence and had been justly punished by God, in their view, by becoming captives of the infidel Turks. The reformist decrees of the patriarch were rejected by millions of lower clergy and laity who constituted the Raskol, or schism of the “Old Believers.” Nikon was ultimately deposed for his opposition to the tsar, but his liturgical reforms were confirmed by a great council of the church that met in the presence of two Eastern patriarchs (1666–67).


History » The church of Russia (1448–1800) » The reforms of Peter the Great (reigned 1682–1725)
The son of Tsar Alexis, Peter the Great, changed the historical fate of Russia by radically turning away from the Byzantine heritage and reforming the state according to the model of Protestant Europe. Humiliated by his father’s temporary submission to Patriarch Nikon, Peter prevented new patriarchal elections after the death of Patriarch Adrian in 1700. After a long vacancy of the see, he abolished the patriarchate altogether (1721) and transformed the central administration of the church into a department of the state, which adopted the title of “Holy Governing Synod.” An imperial high commissioner (oberprokuror) was to be present at all meetings and act as the administrator of church affairs. Peter also issued a lengthy Spiritual Regulation (Dukhovny Reglament) that served as bylaws for all religious activities in Russia. Weakened by the schism of the Old Believers, the church found no spokesman to defend its rights and passively accepted the reforms.

With the actions of Peter, the Russian Orthodox Church entered a new period of its history that lasted until 1917. The immediate consequences were not all negative. Peter’s ecclesiastical advisers were Ukrainian prelates, graduates of the Kievan academy, who introduced in Russia a Western system of theological education. The most famous among them was Peter’s friend, Feofan Prokopovich, archbishop of Pskov. Throughout the 18th century the Russian church also continued missionary work in Asia and produced several spiritual writers and saints: St. Mitrofan of Voronezh (died 1703), St. Tikhon of Zadonsk (died 1783)—an admirer of the German Lutheran Johann Arndt and of German Pietism—as well as other eminent prelates and scholars such as Platon Levshin, metropolitan of Moscow (died 1803). All attempts at challenging the power of the tsar over the church, however, met with failure. The metropolitan of Rostov, Arseny Matsiyevich, who opposed the secularization of church property by the empress Catherine the Great, was deposed and died in prison (1772). The atmosphere of secularistic officialdom that prevailed in Russia was not favourable for a revival of monasticism, but such a revival did take place through the efforts of a young Kievan scholar, Paissy Velichkovsky (1722–94), who became the abbot of the monastery of Neamts in Romania. His Slavonic edition of the Philocalia contributed to the revival of Hesychast traditions in Russia in the 19th century.


History » Orthodox churches in the 19th century » Autocephalies in the Balkans
The ideas of the French Revolution, the nationalistic movements, and the ever living memory of past Christian empires led to the gradual disintegration of Turkish domination in the Balkans. According to a pattern existing since the late Middle Ages, the birth of national states was followed by the establishment of independent autocephalous Orthodox churches. Thus, the collapse of Ottoman rule was accompanied by the rapid shrinking of the actual power exercised by the patriarch of Constantinople. Paradoxically, the Greeks, for whom—more than anyone—the patriarchate represented a hope for the future, were the first to organize an independent church in their new state.

History » Orthodox churches in the 19th century » Autocephalies in the Balkans » In Greece
In 1821 the Greek revolution against the Turks was officially proclaimed by the metropolitan of Old Patras, Germanos. The patriarchate, being the official Turkish-sponsored organ for the administration of the Christians, issued statements condemning and even anathematizing the revolutionaries. These statements, however, failed to convince anyone, least of all the Turkish government, which on Easter Day in 1821 had the ecumenical (Constantinopolitan) patriarch Gregory V hanged from the main gate of the patriarchal residence as a public example. Numerous other Greek clergy were executed in the provinces. After this tragedy the official loyalty of the patriarchate was, of course, doubly secured. Unable either to communicate with the patriarchate or to recognize its excommunications, the bishops of liberated Greece gathered in Návplion and established themselves as the synod of an autocephalous church (1833). The ecclesiastical regime adopted in Greece was modelled after that of Russia: a collective state body, the Holy Synod, was to govern the church under strict government control. In 1850 the patriarchate, forced to recognize what was by then a fait accompli, granted a charter of autocephaly (tómos) to the new Church of Greece.

History » Orthodox churches in the 19th century » Autocephalies in the Balkans » In Serbia
The independence of Serbia led in 1832 to the recognition of Serbian ecclesiastical autonomy. In 1879 the Serbian church was recognized by Constantinople as autocephalous under the primacy of the metropolitan of Belgrade. This church, however, covered only the territory of what was called “old Serbia.” The small state of Montenegro, always independent from the Turks, had its own metropolitan in Cetinje. This prelate, who was also the civil and military leader of the nation, was consecrated either in Austria or, as in the case of the famous bishop-poet Pyotr II Negosh, in St. Petersburg (1833).

In the Austro-Hungarian Empire two autocephalous churches, with jurisdiction over Serbs, Romanians, and other Slavs, were in existence during the second half of the century. These were the patriarchate of Sremski-Karlovci (Karlowitz), established in 1848, which governed all the Orthodox in the Kingdom of Hungary; and the metropolitanate of Czernowitz (now Chernovtsy) in Bukovina, which after 1873 also exercised jurisdiction over two Serbian dioceses (Zara and Kotor) in Dalmatia. The Serbian dioceses of Bosnia and Herzegovina, acquired by Austria in 1878, remained autonomous but were never completely independent from Constantinople.

History » Orthodox churches in the 19th century » Autocephalies in the Balkans » In Romania
The creation of an independent Romania—after centuries of foreign control by Bulgarians, Turks, Greek-Phanariots, and, more recently, Russians—led in 1865 to the self-proclamation of the Romanian church as an autocephalous church, even against the violent protests of the Phanar. The new Romanian church was under the strict control of a pro-Western government. Prince Alexandru Cuza secularized the monasteries, and Constantinople recognized the Romanian autocephaly under the metropolitan of Bucharest (1885). The Romanians of Transylvania, still in Austria-Hungary, remained under the autocephalous metropolitan of Sibiu and others under the church of Czernowitz.

History » Orthodox churches in the 19th century » Autocephalies in the Balkans » In Bulgaria
The reestablishment of the church of Bulgaria eventually was secured, but not without tragedy and even a schism. The issue of reestablishing the autocephalous church arose at a time when both Greek and Bulgarian populations lived side by side in Macedonia, Thrace, and Constantinople itself, though still within the framework of the Ottoman imperial system. After the Turkish conquest, and especially in the 17th and 18th centuries, the Bulgarians were governed by Greek bishops and were often prevented from worshipping in Slavonic. This enforced policy of Hellenization was rejected in the 19th century when Bulgarians began to claim not only a native clergy but also equal representation on the higher echelons of the Christian millet—i.e., the offices of the patriarchate. These claims were met with firm resistance by the Greeks. The alternative was a national Bulgarian church, which was created by a sultan’s firman (decree) in 1870. The new church was to be governed by its own Bulgarian exarch, who resided in Constantinople and governed all the Bulgarians who recognized him. The new situation was uncanonical because it sanctioned the existence of two separate ecclesiastical structures on the same territory. Ecumenical Patriarch Anthimus VI convened a synod in Constantinople, which also included the Greek patriarchs of Alexandria and Jerusalem (1872). The council condemned phyletism—the national or ethnic principle in church organization—and excommunicated the Bulgarians, who were certainly not alone guilty of phyletism. This schism lasted until 1945, when a reconciliation took place with full recognition of Bulgarian autocephaly within the limits of the Bulgarian state. A Bulgarian patriarch was elected in 1961.

After their liberation from the Turkish yoke, the Balkan churches freely developed both their national identities and their religious life. Theological faculties, generally following German models, were created in Athens, Belgrade (in Yugoslavia), Sofia (in Bulgaria), and Bucharest (in Romania). The Romanian church introduced the full cycle of the liturgical offices in vernacular Romanian. But these positive developments were often marred by nationalistic rivalries. In condemning phyletism, the synod of Constantinople (1872) had in fact defined a basic problem of modern Orthodoxy.


History » Orthodox churches in the 19th century » The church in imperial Russia
The Spiritual Regulation of Peter the Great remained in force until the very end of the Russian Empire (1917). Many Russian churchmen consistently complained against the submission of the church to the state, but there was little they could do except to lay plans for future reforms. This they did not fail to do, and in the 20th century the necessary changes were rapidly enacted. Although Peter himself and his first successors tended to deal personally and directly with church affairs, the tsars of the 19th century delegated much authority to the oberprokurors, who received a cabinet rank in the government and were the real heads of the entire administration of the church. One of the most debilitating aspects of the regime was the legal division of Russian society by a rigid caste system. The clergy was one of the castes with its own school system, and there was little possibility for its children to choose another career.

In spite of these obvious defects, the church kept its self-awareness, and among the episcopate such eminent figures as Philaret of Moscow (1782–1867) promoted education, theological research, biblical translations, and missionary work. In each of its 67 dioceses, the Russian Orthodox Church created a seminary for the training of priests and teachers. In addition, four theological academies, or graduate schools, were established in major cities (Moscow, 1769; St. Petersburg, 1809; Kiev, 1819; Kazan, 1842). They provided a generally excellent theological training for both Russians and foreigners. The rigid caste system and the strictly professional character of these schools, however, were obstacles to their seriously influencing society at large. It was, rather, through the monasteries and their spirituality that the church began to reach the intellectual class.

More influential than the rigid discipline of the large monastic communities, the prophetic ministry of the “elders” (startsy), who acted as living examples of the standards of the spiritual life or as advisers and confessors, attracted large masses of the common people and also intellectuals. St. Seraphim of Sarov (1759–1833), for example, lived according to the standards of the ancient Hesychast tradition that had been revived in the Russian forests. The startsy of Optino—Leonid (1768–1841), Makarius (1788–1860), and Ambrose (1812–91)—were visited not only by thousands of ordinary Christians but also by the writers Nikolay Gogol, Leo Tolstoy, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The latter was inspired by the startsy when he described in his novels monastic figures such as Zosima in The Brothers Karamazov. From the ranks of an emerging group of Orthodox lay intellectuals, the production of a living theology—if less scholarly than in the academies—was taking shape. The great influence of a lay theologian like Aleksey Khomyakov (1804–60), who belonged to the Slavophile (pro-Slavic) circle before it acquired a political flavour, eventually helped in the conversion to Orthodoxy of such leading Marxists as Sergey Bulgakov (1871–1944) and Nikolay Berdyayev (1874–1948) at the end of the century. Missionary expansion also continued, particularly in western Asia, Japan, and Alaska.

Disproportionately larger and richer than its sister churches of the Balkans and the Middle East, the Russian Orthodox Church included in 1914 more than 50,000 priests, 21,000 monks, and 73,000 nuns. It supported thousands of schools and missions. It cooperated with the Russian government in exercising great influence in Middle Eastern affairs. Thus, with Russian help, an Arab (Meletios Doumani) rather than a Greek was elected for the first time as patriarch of Antioch (1899). With the successive partitions of Poland and the reunions with Russia of Belorussian and Ukrainian territories, many Eastern Catholic descendants of those who had joined the Roman communion in Brest-Litovsk (1596) returned to Orthodoxy.

After 1905 Tsar Nicholas II gave his approval for the establishment of a preconciliar commission charged with the preparation of an all-Russian Church Council. The avowed goal of the planned assembly was to reestablish the church’s independence, lost since Peter the Great, and eventually to restore the patriarchate. This assembly, however, was fated to meet only after the fall of the empire.


History » The Eastern Orthodox Church since World War I
The almost complete disappearance of Christianity in Asia Minor, the regrouping of the Orthodox churches in the Balkans, the tragedy of the Russian Revolution (1917), and the Orthodox diaspora in the West radically changed the entire structure of the Orthodox world. The period from World War I to the present was marked by profound technological changes, violent conflict on a previously unimagined scale, and economic and cultural globalization. Yet, despite many challenges and changes, the Eastern Orthodox Church has preserved dogmatic and theological unity with regard to faith, tradition, worship, and ethics. This unity continues even though Orthodox Christianity comprises diverse national churches, each with its own jurisdiction and expression of faith.


History » The Eastern Orthodox Church since World War I » The Russian Revolution and the Soviet period
The Russian Orthodox Church was better prepared than is generally believed to face the revolutionary turmoil. Projects of necessary reform had been readied since 1905, and most clergy did not feel particularly attached to the fallen regime that had deprived the church of its freedom for several centuries. In August 1917, during the rule of the provisional government, a council representing the entire church met in Moscow, including 265 members of the clergy and 299 laymen. The democratic composition and program of the council had been planned by the church’s Pre-Conciliar Commission. This council adopted a new constitution of the church that provided for the reestablishment of the patriarchate, the election of bishops by the dioceses, and the representation of laymen in all levels of church administration. It was only in the midst of the new revolutionary turmoil, however, that Tikhon, metropolitan of Moscow, was elected patriarch on Oct. 31 (Old Style), six days after the revolution. The bloody events into which the country was plunged did not allow all the reforms to be carried out, but the people elected new bishops in several dioceses.

The Bolshevik government, because of its Marxist ideology, considered all religion as the “opium of the people.” On Jan. 20, 1918, it published a decree depriving the church of all legal rights, including that of owning property. The stipulations of the decree were difficult to enforce immediately, and the church remained a powerful social force for several years. The patriarch replied to the decree by excommunicating the “open or disguised enemies of Christ,” without naming the government specifically. He also made pronouncements on political issues that he considered of moral importance: in March 1918 he condemned the peace of Brest-Litovsk that brought an unsatisfactory armistice between Russia and the Central Powers, and in October he addressed an “admonition” to Vladimir I. Lenin, calling on him to proclaim an amnesty. Tikhon was careful, however, not to appear as a counterrevolutionary, and in September 1919 he directed the faithful to refrain from supporting the Whites (anticommunists) and to obey those decrees of the Soviet government that were not contrary to their Christian conscience.

The independence of the church suffered greatly after 1922. In February of that year the government decreed the confiscation of all valuable objects preserved in the churches. The patriarch would have agreed to that measure if he had had the means to check on the government contention that all confiscated church property would be used to help the starving population on the Volga. The government refused all guarantees but supported a group of clergy who were ready to cooperate with it and to overthrow the patriarch. While Tikhon was under house arrest, this group took over his office and soon claimed the allegiance of a sizable proportion of bishops and clergy. This became known as the schism of the “Renovated” or “Living Church,” and it broke the church’s internal unity and resistance. Numerous bishops and clergy who were faithful to the patriarch were tried and executed, including the young and progressive metropolitan Benjamin of Petrograd. The Renovated Church soon broke the universal discipline of Orthodoxy by admitting married priests to the episcopate and by permitting widowed priests to remarry.

Upon his release, Tikhon condemned the schismatics, and many clergy returned to his obedience. But he also published a declaration affirming that he “was not the enemy of the Soviet government” and dropped any opposition to the authorities. Tikhon’s attitude of conformism did not bring immediate results. His designated successors (after he died in 1925) were all arrested. In 1927 the “substitute locum tenens” (holder of the position) of the patriarchate, Metropolitan Sergius, pledged loyalty to the Soviet government. Nevertheless, under the rule of Joseph Stalin in the late 1920s and ’30s, the church suffered a bloody persecution that claimed thousands of victims. By 1939 only three or four Orthodox bishops and 100 churches could officially function; the church was practically suppressed.

A spectacular reversal of Stalin’s policies occurred, however, during World War II, when Sergius was elected patriarch in 1943 and the Renovated schism was ended. Under Sergius’s successor, Patriarch Alexis (1945–70), some 25,000 churches were opened and the number of priests reached 33,000. But a new antireligious move was initiated by Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev in 1959–64, reducing the number of open churches to less than 10,000. Following Alexis’s death in 1971, Patriarch Pimen was elected amid uncertainty about the church’s future. However, the church experienced greater religious freedom in the late 1980s, culminating with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.


History » The Eastern Orthodox Church since World War I » The Balkans and eastern Europe
In bringing about the fall of the Turkish, Austrian, and Russian empires, World War I provoked significant changes in the structures of the Eastern Orthodox Church. On the western borders of what was then the Soviet Union, in the newly born republics of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, the Orthodox minorities established themselves as autonomous churches. The first three joined the jurisdiction of Constantinople, and the Lithuanian diocese remained nominally under Moscow. In Poland, which then included several million Belorussians and Ukrainians, the ecumenical patriarch established an autocephalous church (1924) over the protests of Patriarch Tikhon. After World War II the Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian autonomies were again suppressed, and in Poland the Orthodox church was first reintegrated to the jurisdiction of Moscow and later declared autocephalous again (1948).

In the Balkans changes were even more significant. The five groups of Serbian dioceses (Montenegro, the patriarchate of Karlovci, Dalmatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Serbia) were united (1920–22) under one Serbian patriarch, residing in Belgrade, the capital of the new Yugoslavia. Similarly, the Romanian dioceses of Moldavia-Walachia, Transylvania, Bukovina, and Bessarabia formed the new patriarchate of Romania (1925), the largest autocephalous church in the Balkans. Finally, in 1937, after some tension and a temporary schism, the patriarchate of Constantinople recognized the autocephaly of the church of Albania.

After World War II communist regimes were established in the Balkan states. There were no attempts, however, to liquidate the churches entirely. In both Yugoslavia and Bulgaria church and state were legally separated. In Romania, paradoxically, the Orthodox church remained legally linked to the communist state. With its solid record of resistance to the Germans, the Serbian church was able to preserve more independence from the government than its sister churches of Bulgaria and Romania. Generally speaking, however, all the Balkan churches adopted an attitude of loyalty to the new regime, according to the pattern given by the patriarchate of Moscow. At that price, they could keep some theological schools, some publications, and the possibility of worship. This was also the situation of the Orthodox minority in Czechoslovakia, which was united and organized into an autocephalous church by the patriarchate of Moscow in 1951. Only in Albania did a communist government announce the total eradication of organized religion, following its cultural revolution of 1967.

Among the national Orthodox churches, the Church of Greece is the only one that preserved the legal status it acquired in the 19th century as the national state church. As such, it was supported by the successive political regimes of Greece. It could also develop an impressive internal mission. The Brotherhood Zoe (“Life”), organized according to the pattern of Western religious orders, was successful in creating a large system of church schools.

The communist governments throughout eastern Europe collapsed during the late 1980s and early 1990s, effectively dissolving state control over churches and bringing new political and religious freedoms into the region. In the early 1990s Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia were divided into countries that reflected older ethnic identities. In each case, one Orthodox church continued to have jurisdiction. The Czech and Slovak Orthodox Church has jurisdiction over the Czech Republic and Slovakia (both of which became independent states in 1993). The Serbian Orthodox Church has jurisdiction over the countries that once constituted Yugoslavia: Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Montenegro. The Albanian Orthodox Church was reconstituted in 1992 with the appointment by the ecumenical patriarchate of a Greek primate.


History » The Eastern Orthodox Church since World War I » The Eastern Orthodox Church in the Middle East
As a result of the Greco-Turkish War, the entire Greek population of Asia Minor was transferred to Greece in 1922. The Orthodox under the immediate jurisdiction of the ecumenical patriarchate of Constantinople were thus reduced to the Greek population of Istanbul and its vicinity. This population was reduced to a few thousand by the early 21st century. Still recognized as holding an honorary primacy among the Orthodox churches, the ecumenical patriarchate also exercises jurisdiction over several dioceses of the “diaspora” and, by consent of the Greek government, over the Greek islands. The impressive personality of Patriarch Athenagoras I (1948–72), who was succeeded by Dimitrios, contributed to its prestige on the pan-Orthodox and ecumenical levels. Beginning in 1962, the patriarchate convened pan-Orthodox conferences in Rhodes, Belgrade, Geneva, and other cities and began preparations for a “Great Council” of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Together with the ecumenical patriarchate, the ancient sees of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem are remnants of the Byzantine imperial past, but under the present conditions they still possess many opportunities of development: Alexandria as the centre of emerging African communities (see below The Orthodox diaspora and missions); Antioch as the largest Arab Christian group, with dioceses in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq; and Jerusalem as the main custodian of the Christian holy places in that city.

The two ancient churches of Cyprus and Georgia, with their quite peculiar history, continue to play important roles among the Orthodox sister churches. Autocephalous since 431, the church of Cyprus survived successive occupations, and often oppressions, by the Arabs, the Crusaders, the Venetians, the Turks, and the English. Following the pattern of all areas where Islam was predominant, the archbishop is traditionally seen as the ethnarch of the Greek Christian Cypriots. Archbishop Makarios also became the first president of the independent Republic of Cyprus in 1960. The church of Georgia, isolated in the Caucasus in a country that became part of the Russian Empire in 1801, is the witness of one of the most ancient Christian traditions. It received autocephaly from its mother church of Antioch as early as the 6th century and developed a literary and artistic civilization in its own language. Its head bears the traditional title of “Catholicos-Patriarch.” When the Russians annexed the country in 1801, they suppressed Georgia’s autocephaly, and the church was governed by a Russian exarch until 1917, when the Georgians reestablished their ecclesiastical independence. the Georgian church was fiercely persecuted during the 1920s but survives to the present day as an autocephalous patriarchate.


History » The Eastern Orthodox Church since World War I » Orthodoxy in the United States
The first Orthodox communities in what is today the continental United States were established in Alaska and on the West Coast, as the extreme end of the Russian missionary expansion through Siberia (see above The church in imperial Russia). Russian monks settled on Kodiak Island in 1794. Among them was St. Herman (canonized 1970), an ascetic and a defender of the indigenous people’s rights against ruthless Russian traders. After the sale of Alaska to the United States, a separate diocese “of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska” was created by the Holy Synod (1870). After the transfer of the diocesan centre to San Francisco and its renaming as the diocese “of the Aleutian Islands and North America” (1900), the original church establishment exercised its jurisdiction over the entire North American continent. In the 1880s it accepted back into Orthodoxy hundreds of “Uniate” (Eastern rite) parishes of immigrants from Galicia and Carpatho-Russia, particularly numerous in the northern industrial states and in Canada. It also served the needs of immigrants from Serbia, Greece, Syria, Albania, and other countries. Some Greek and Romanian communities, however, invited priests directly from the mother country without official contact with the American bishop. In 1905 the American archbishop Tikhon (the future patriarch of Moscow) presented to the Russian synod the project of an autocephalous church of America, whose structure would reflect the ethnic pluralism of its membership. He also foresaw the inevitable Americanization of his flock and encouraged the translation of the liturgy into English.

These projects, however, were hampered by the tragedies that befell the Russian Orthodox Church following the Russian Revolution. The administrative system of the Russian church collapsed. The non-Russian groups of immigrants sought and obtained their affiliation with mother churches abroad. In 1921 a “Greek Archdiocese of North and South America” was established by the ecumenical patriarch Meletios IV Metaxakis. Further divisions within each national group occurred repeatedly, and several independent jurisdictions added to the confusion.

American Orthodoxy challenged the feasibility of preserving the ethnic identity of the national churches, which had characterized Orthodoxy in Europe and the Middle East. A reaction against this chaotic pluralism manifested itself in the 1950s. More cooperation between the jurisdictions and a more systematic theological education contributed to an increased desire for unity. A Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA) was established in 1960 in order to provide administrative unity amid jurisdictional confusion. In 1970 the patriarch of Moscow, reviving Tikhon’s project of 1905, formally proclaimed its diocese in America (which had been in conflict with Moscow since 1931 on the issue of loyalty to the Soviet Union) as the autocephalous Orthodox Church in America (OCA), which had no administrative connections abroad. However, the ecumenical patriarchate of Constantinople protested this move, turned down a request for autonomy presented by the Greek archdiocese (the largest single Orthodox body in the United States), and reiterated its opposition to the use of English in the liturgy. Meanwhile, the American archdiocese of the Antiochian Orthodox Church was granted self-rule (though not full autocephaly) in 2003 and later incorporated into itself the Evangelical Orthodox Church, a group of former Evangelicals who embraced Orthodoxy. Led by Peter Gillquist, it operates as the Antiochian Evangelical Orthodox Mission (AEOM) and promotes the unity of Orthodox Christians in America.


History » The Eastern Orthodox Church since World War I » The Orthodox diaspora and missions
Since World War I millions of eastern Europeans were dispersed in various areas where Orthodox communities had never existed before. The Russian Revolution provoked a massive political emigration, predominantly to western Europe and particularly France. It included eminent churchmen, theologians, and Christian intellectuals, such as Bulgakov, Berdyayev, and V.V. Zenkovsky, who were able not only to establish in Paris a theological school of great repute but also to contribute significantly to the ecumenical movement. In 1922 Patriarch Tikhon appointed Metropolitan Evlogy as head of the émigré churches, with residence in Paris. The authority of the metropolitan was challenged, however, by a group of bishops who had left their sees in Russia, retreating with the White armies, and who had found refuge in Sremski-Karlovci as guests of the Serbian church. Despite several attempts at reconciliation, the “Synod” of Karlovci, proclaiming its firm attachment to the principle of tsarist monarchy, refused to recognize any measure taken by the reestablished patriarchate of Moscow. This group transferred its headquarters to New York and became known as the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOC). It had no canonical relation with the official Orthodox patriarchates and churches until May 2007. That year, following reforms within both Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church in the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union, the ROCOC signed an agreement of unity with the patriarchate of Moscow. The “Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Exile,” by contrast, continues to be in an irregular canonical situation. Other émigré groups found refuge under the canonical auspices of the ecumenical patriarchate.

After World War II many Greeks emigrated to western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Africa. In East Africa, without much initial effort on their part, these Greek-speaking emigrants attracted a sizable number of black Christians, who discovered in the Orthodox liturgy and sacramental worship a form of Christianity more acceptable to them than the more dogmatic institutions of Western Christianity. Also, in their eyes, Orthodoxy had the advantage of having no connection with the colonial regimes of the past. Orthodox communities, with an ever increasing number of native clergy, are spreading in Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania. Less professionally planned than the former Russian missions in Alaska and Japan, these young churches constitute an interesting development in African Christianity.


History » The Eastern Orthodox Church since World War I » Ecumenical involvement
Between the two World Wars, many Orthodox churchmen of the ecumenical patriarchate of Constantinople, of Greece, of the Balkan churches, and of the Russian emigration took part in the ecumenical movement. After World War II, however, the churches of the communist-dominated countries failed to join the newly created World Council of Churches (1948); only Constantinople and Greece did so. The situation changed drastically in 1961, when the patriarchate of Moscow applied for membership and was soon followed by other autocephalous churches. Before and after 1961 the Orthodox churches repeatedly declared that their membership did not imply any relativistic understanding of the Christian truth but demonstrated that they were ready to discuss with all Christians the best way of restoring the lost unity of Christendom, as well as problems of common Christian action and witness in the modern world.

The ecumenical patriarchate, despite the hesitation of some faithful, has devoted special attention to dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church. In the 1960s Patriarch Athenagoras I and Pope Paul VI met in Jerusalem, Istanbul, and Rome, symbolically lifting the anathemas imposed in 1054 and making other gestures of rapprochement, though these moves were sometimes mistakenly interpreted as if they were ending the schism itself; the Orthodox view holds that full unity can be restored only in the fullness of truth witnessed by the entire church and sanctioned in sacramental communion. Despite stringent criticism by conservative Orthodox Christians, Athenagoras and his successors not only improved relations with Rome but also engaged in dialogues with Anglicans, the Oriental Orthodox churches, and even non-Christians, including Muslims and Jews. As ecumenical patriarch, Bartholomew I (enthroned 1991) addressed concerns outside the purview of the Eastern Orthodox Church. He endorsed Turkey’s application for membership in the European Union and displayed such a dedication to global environmental issues that he became known as the “green patriarch.”


Doctrine » Councils and confessions
All Orthodox credal formulas, liturgical texts, and doctrinal statements affirm the claim that the Eastern Orthodox Church has preserved the original apostolic faith, which was also expressed in the common Christian tradition of the first centuries. The Orthodox church recognizes seven ecumenical councils—Nicaea I (325), Constantinople I (381), Ephesus (431), Chalcedon (451), Constantinople II (553), Constantinople III (680–681), and Nicaea II (787)—but considers that the decrees of several other later councils also reflect the same original faith (e.g., the councils of Constantinople that endorsed the theology of St. Gregory Palamas in the 14th century). Finally, it recognizes itself as the bearer of an uninterrupted living tradition of true Christianity that is expressed in its worship, in the lives of the saints, and in the faith of the whole people of God.

In the 17th century, as a counterpart to the various “confessions” of the Reformation, there appeared several “Orthodox confessions,” endorsed by local councils but in fact associated with individual authors (e.g., Metrophanes Critopoulos, 1625; Petro Mohyla, 1638; Dosítheos of Jerusalem, 1672). None of these confessions would be recognized today as having anything but historical importance. Orthodox theologians, rather than seeking literal conformity with any particular confession, will look for consistency with Scripture and tradition, as it has been expressed in the ancient councils, in the works of the Church Fathers (the early theological authorities of the church), and in the uninterrupted life of the liturgy. Most theologians will not shy away from new formulations if consistency and continuity of tradition are preserved.

What is particularly characteristic of this attitude toward the faith is the absence of any great concern for establishing external criteria of truth—a concern that has dominated Western Christian thought since the Middle Ages. Truth appears as a living experience accessible in the communion of the church and of which the Scriptures, the councils, and theology are the normal expressions. Even ecumenical councils, in the Orthodox perspective, must be accepted by the body of the church in order to be recognized as truly ecumenical. Ultimately, therefore, truth is viewed as its own criterion: there are signs that point to it, but none of those signs is a substitute for a free and personal experience of truth, which is made accessible in the sacramental fellowship of the church.

Because of this view of truth, the Orthodox have traditionally been reluctant to involve church authority in defining matters of faith with too much precision and detail. This reluctance is not due to relativism or indifference but rather to the belief that truth needs no definition to be the object of experience and that legitimate definition, when it occurs, should aim mainly at excluding error and not at pretending to reveal the truth itself that is believed to be ever present in the church.


Doctrine » God and humankind
The development of the doctrines concerning the Trinity and the Incarnation, as it took place during the first eight centuries of Christian history, was related to the concept of humankind’s participation in divine life.

The Eastern (Greek) Fathers always implied that the phrase found in the biblical story of the creation of man (Genesis 1:26), according to “the image and likeness of God,” meant that humans are not autonomous beings and that their ultimate nature is defined by their relation to God. In paradise Adam and Eve were called to participate in God’s life and to find in him the natural growth of their humanity “from glory to glory.” To be “in God” is, therefore, the natural state of humankind. This doctrine is particularly important in connection with the Fathers’ view of human freedom. For theologians such as Gregory of Nyssa (4th century) and Maximus the Confessor (7th century), humans are truly free only when they are in communion with God. Otherwise they are only slaves to their body or to “the world,” over which, originally and by God’s command, he was destined to rule. Thus, the concept of sin implies separation from God and the reduction of humans to a separate and autonomous existence, in which they are deprived of both God’s natural glory and freedom.

Freedom in God, as enjoyed by Adam, implied the possibility of falling away from God. This is the unfortunate choice made by Adam and Eve, which led them to a subhuman and unnatural existence. The most unnatural aspect of this new state was death. In this perspective, “original sin” is understood not so much as a state of guilt inherited from Adam and Eve but as an unnatural condition of human life that ends in death. Mortality is what each person now inherits at birth and what leads an individual to struggle for existence, to self-affirmation at the expense of others, and ultimately to subjection to the laws of animal life. The “prince of this world” (i.e., Satan), who is also the “murderer from the beginning,” has dominion over humanity. From this vicious circle of death and sin, humans are understood to be liberated by the death and Resurrection of Jesus, which are actualized in baptism and the sacramental life in the church.

The general framework of this understanding of the relationship between God and humankind is clearly different from the view that became dominant in the Christian West—i.e., the view that conceived of “nature” as distinct from “grace” and that understood original sin as an inherited guilt rather than as a deprivation of freedom. In the East humans are regarded as complete when they participate in God; in the West humans are believed to be autonomous, sin is viewed as a punishable crime, and grace is understood as the granting of forgiveness. Hence, in the West the aim of the Christian is justification, but in the East it is rather communion with God and deification (theosis). In the West the church is viewed in terms of mediation (for the bestowing of grace) and authority (for guaranteeing security in doctrine); in the East the church is regarded as a communion in which God and the individual meet once again and a personal experience of divine life becomes possible.


Doctrine » Christ
The Eastern Orthodox Church is formally committed to the Christology (doctrine of Christ) that was defined by the councils of the first eight centuries. Together with the Latin church of the West, it rejected Arianism (a belief in the subordination of the Son to the Father) at Nicaea (325), Nestorianism (a belief that stresses the independence of the divine and human natures of Christ) at Ephesus (431), and monophysitism (a belief that Christ has only one, divine nature) at Chalcedon (451). The Eastern and Western churches still formally share the tradition of subsequent Christological developments, even though the famous formula of Chalcedon, “one person in two natures,” is given different emphases in the East and the West. The stress on Christ’s identity with the preexistent Son of God, the Logos (Word) of the Gospel According to John, characterizes Orthodox Christology. On Byzantine icons, often depicted around the face of Jesus are the Greek letters ο’ω’ν—the equivalent of the Jewish tetragrammaton YHWH, the name of God in the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible). Jesus is thus always seen in his divine identity. Similarly, the liturgy consistently addresses the Virgin Mary as Theotokos (the “one who gave birth to God”), and this term, formally admitted as a criterion of orthodoxy at Ephesus, is actually the only Mariological (doctrine of Mary) dogma accepted in the Orthodox church. It reflects the doctrine of Christ’s unique divine person. Mary is venerated solely because she is his mother “according to the flesh.”

This emphasis on the personal divine identity of Christ, based on the doctrine of St. Cyril of Alexandria (5th century), does not imply the denial of his humanity. The anthropology (doctrine of humankind) of the Eastern Fathers does not view the individual as an autonomous being but rather implies that communion with God makes the individual fully human. Thus, the human nature of Jesus Christ, fully assumed by the divine Word, is indeed the “new Adam” in whom the whole of humanity receives again its original glory. Christ’s humanity is fully that of every human being; it possesses all the characteristics of the human being—“each nature (of Christ) acts according to its properties,” Chalcedon proclaimed, following Pope Leo I—without separating itself from the divine Word. Thus, in death itself—for Jesus’ death was indeed a fully human death—the Son of God was the “subject” of the Passion. The theopaschite formula (“God suffered in the flesh”) became, together with the Theotokos formula, a standard of orthodoxy in the Eastern church, especially after the second Council of Constantinople (553). It implies that Christ’s humanity is indeed real not only in itself but also for God, since it brought him to death on the cross, and that the salvation and redemption of humanity can be accomplished by God alone—hence the necessity for him to condescend to death, which holds humanity captive.

This theology of redemption and salvation is best expressed in the Byzantine liturgical hymns of Holy Week and Easter: Christ is the one who “tramples down death by death,” and, on the evening of Good Friday, the hymns already exalt his victory. Salvation is conceived not in terms of satisfaction of divine justice—through paying the debt for the sin of Adam, as the medieval West understood it—but in terms of uniting the human and the divine, with the divine overcoming human mortality and weakness and, finally, exalting man to divine life.

What Christ accomplished once and for all must be appropriated freely by those who are “in Christ”; their goal is “deification,” which does not mean dehumanization but the exaltation of humans to the dignity prepared for them at creation. Such feasts as the Transfiguration or the Ascension are extremely popular in the East precisely because they celebrate humanity glorified in Christ—a glorification that anticipates the coming of the kingdom of God, when God will be “all in all.” Participation in the deified humanity of Christ is the true goal of Christian life, and it is accomplished through the Holy Spirit.


Doctrine » The Holy Spirit
The gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost “called all men into unity,” according to the Byzantine liturgical hymn of the day. Into this new unity, which St. Paul called the “body of Christ,” each individual Christian enters through baptism and chrismation (the Eastern counterpart of the Western confirmation) when the priest anoints the Christian with the words “the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

This gift, however, requires a person’s free response. Orthodox saints such as Seraphim of Sarov (1759–1833) described the entire content of Christian life as a “collection of the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is thus conceived as the main agent of humanity’s restoration to its original natural state through Communion in Christ’s body. This role of the Holy Spirit is reflected, very richly, in a variety of liturgical and sacramental acts. Every act of worship usually starts with a prayer addressed to the Holy Spirit, and all major sacraments begin with an invocation to the Holy Spirit. The eucharistic liturgies of the East attribute the ultimate mystery of Christ’s presence to a descent of the Holy Spirit upon the worshipping congregation and upon the eucharistic bread and wine. The significance of this invocation (in Greek epiklēsis) was violently debated between Greek and Latin Christians in the Middle Ages because the Roman canon of the mass lacked any reference to the Holy Spirit and was thus considered deficient by the Orthodox Greeks.

Since the first Council of Constantinople (381), which condemned the Pneumatomachians (“fighters against the Spirit”), no one in the Orthodox East has ever denied that the Spirit is not only a “gift” but also the giver—i.e., that he is the third person of the Trinity. The Greek Fathers saw in Genesis 1:2 a reference to the Spirit’s cooperation in the divine act of creation. The Spirit was also viewed as active in the “new creation” that occurred in the womb of the Virgin Mary when she became the mother of Christ (Luke 1:35); Pentecost was understood to be an anticipation of the “last days” (Acts 2:17) when, at the end of history, a universal communion with God will be achieved. Thus, all the decisive acts of God are accomplished “by the Father in the Son, through the Holy Spirit.”


Doctrine » The Holy Trinity
By the 4th century a polarity had developed between Eastern and Western Christians in their respective understandings of the Trinity. In the West God was understood primarily in terms of one essence (the Trinity of persons being conceived as an irrational truth found in revelation); in the East the tri-personality of God was understood as the primary fact of Christian experience. For most of the Eastern Fathers, it was not the Trinity that needed theological proof but rather God’s essential unity. The Cappadocian Fathers (Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Basil of Caesarea) were even accused of being tri-theists because of their conception of God as one essence in three hypostases (the Greek term hypostasis was the equivalent of the Latin substantia and designated a concrete reality). For Eastern theologians, this terminology was intended to designate the concrete New Testament revelation of the Son and the Holy Spirit as distinct from the Father.

Polarization of the Eastern and Western concepts of the Trinity is at the root of the Filioque dispute. The Latin word Filioque (“and from the Son”) was added to the Nicene Creed in Spain in the 6th century. By affirming that the Holy Spirit proceeds not only “from the Father” (as the original creed proclaimed) but also “from the Son,” the Spanish councils intended to condemn Arianism, which held that the Son was a created being. Later, however, the addition became an anti-Eastern battle cry, especially after Charlemagne, the Carolingian ruler of the Franks, was crowned emperor of the Romans in 800. The addition was finally accepted in Rome under Frankish pressure. It found justification in the framework of Western conceptions of the Trinity; the Father and the Son were viewed as one God in the act of “spiration” of the Spirit.

Byzantine theologians opposed the addition, first on the ground that the Western church had no right to change the text of an ecumenical creed unilaterally and, second, because the Filioque clause implied the reduction of the divine persons to mere relations (“the Father and the Son are two in relation to each other, but one in relation to the Spirit”). For the Greeks the Father alone is the origin of both the Son and the Holy Spirit. Patriarch Photius (9th century) was the first Orthodox theologian to explicitly spell out the Greek opposition to the Filioque concept, but the debate continued throughout the Middle Ages.


Doctrine » The transcendence of God
An important element in the Eastern Christian understanding of God is the notion that God, in his essence, is totally transcendent and unknowable. In this understanding, God can only be designated by negative attributes: it is possible to say what God is not, but it is impossible to say what God is. A purely negative, or “apophatic” theology—the only one applicable to the essence of God in the Orthodox view—does not lead to agnosticism, however, because God reveals himself personally—as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and also in his acts, or “energies.” Thus, true knowledge of God always includes three elements: religious awe; personal encounter; and participation in energies, which God freely bestows on creation.

This conception of God is connected with the personalistic understanding of the Trinity. It also led to the official confirmation by the Orthodox church of the theology of St. Gregory Palamas, the leader of Byzantine Hesychasts (monks devoted to divine quietness through prayer), at the councils of 1341 and 1351 in Constantinople. The councils confirmed a real distinction in God, between the unknowable essence and the energies which make possible a real communion with God. The deification of man, realized in Christ once and for all, is thus accomplished by a communion of divine energy with humanity in Christ’s glorified humanity.


Doctrine » Modern theological developments
Until the conquest of Constantinople by the Turks (1453), Byzantium was the unquestioned intellectual centre of the Orthodox church. Far from being monolithic, Byzantine theology was often polarized by a humanistic trend, favouring the use of Greek philosophy, and the more austere and mystical theology of monastic circles. The concern for preservation of Greek culture and for the political salvation of the empire led several prominent humanists to adopt a position favourable to union with the West. The most creative theologians (e.g., Symeon the New Theologian, died 1033; Gregory Palamas, died 1359; Nicholas Cabasilas, died c. 1390), however, were found in the monastic party that continued the tradition of patristic spirituality based upon the theology of deification.

The 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries were the dark age of Orthodox theology. There was no opportunity for any independent theological creativity in any of the major regions of Orthodoxy—the Middle East, the Balkans, and Russia. With no access to formal theological education except in Western Roman Catholic or Protestant schools, the Orthodox tradition was preserved primarily through the liturgy, which retained its richness and often served as a substitute for formal schooling. Most doctrinal statements of this period, issued by councils or by individual theologians, were polemical documents directed against Western missionaries.

After the reforms of Peter the Great (died 1725), a theological school system was organized in Russia. Shaped originally in accordance with Western Latin models and staffed with Jesuit-trained Ukrainian personnel, this system developed in the 19th century into a fully independent and powerful tool of theological education. The Russian theological efflorescence of the 19th and 20th centuries produced many scholars, especially in historical theology—e.g., Philaret Drozdov, Vasily Osepovich Klyuchevsky, Vasily Vasilievich Bolotov, Evgeny Evstigneyevich Golubinsky, and Nikolay Nikanorovich Glubokovsky. Independently of the official theological schools, a number of laymen with secular training developed theological and philosophical traditions of their own and exercised a great influence on modern Orthodox theology—e.g., Alexey Stepanovich Khomyakov, Vladimir Sergeyevich Solovyev, and Nikolay Aleksandrovich Berdyayev. Others, such as Pavel Florensky and Sergey Nikolayevich Bulgakov, became priests. A large number of the Russian theological intelligentsia—e.g., Bulgakov and Georges Florovsky—emigrated to western Europe after the Russian Revolution (1917) and played a leading role in the ecumenical movement.

With the independence of the Balkans, theological schools were also created in Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania. Modern Greek scholars contributed to the publication of important Byzantine ecclesiastical texts and produced standard theological textbooks. The Orthodox diaspora—the emigration from eastern Europe and the Middle East—in the 20th century contributed to modern theological development through their establishment of theological centres in western Europe and America.

Orthodox theologians reacted negatively to the new dogmas proclaimed by Pope Pius IX: the Immaculate Conception of Mary (1854), which held that Mary was conceived without sin, and papal infallibility (1870), which held that, under certain conditions, the pope cannot err when teaching on matters of faith and morals. In connection with the dogma of the Assumption of Mary, proclaimed by Pope Pius XII (1950), which held that Mary was raised to heaven in both body and soul, the objections mainly concerned the presentation of such a tradition in the form of a dogma.

In contrast to the trend toward social concerns evident in Western Christian thought since the late 20th century, Orthodox theologians have generally emphasized that the Christian faith is primarily a direct experience of the kingdom of God, sacramentally present in the church. Without denying that Christians have a social responsibility to the world, they consider this responsibility as an outcome of the life in Christ. This traditional position accounts for the remarkable survival of the Orthodox churches under the most contradictory and unfavourable of social conditions, but to Western eyes it often appears as a form of passive fatalism.


The structure of the church » The canons
The basic structure for the Orthodox church is defined by the New Testament writings; the canons (regulations and decrees) of the first seven ecumenical councils; the canons of several local or provincial councils, whose authority was recognized by the whole church; the so-called Apostolic Canons (actually some regulations of the church in Syria, dating from the 4th century); and the “canons of the Fathers,” or selected extracts from prominent church leaders having canonical importance. The various canons were later compiled in the Byzantine nomocanon, attributed in its final form to the patriarch Photius (9th century). The Byzantine church, as well as the modern Orthodox church, adapted the general principles of this collection to its particular situation.

The canons themselves do not represent a system or a code. They do, however, reflect a consistent view of the church, of its mission, and of its various ministries. They also reflect an evolution of ecclesiastical structure. For the Orthodox church today, only the original self-understanding of the church has a theologically normative value. Thus, those canons that reflect the nature of the church as the body of Christ have an unchanging validity today. Other canons, if they can be recognized as conditioned by the historical situation in which they were issued, are subject to change by conciliar authority, and others have simply fallen out of practice. The use and interpretation of the canons is therefore possible only in the light of some understanding of the church’s nature. This theological dimension is the ultimate criterion through which it is possible to distinguish what is permanent in the canons from that which represents no more than a historical value.


The structure of the church » The episcopate
The Orthodox understanding of the church is based on the principle, attested to in the canons and in early Christian tradition, that each local community of Christians, gathered around its bishop and celebrating the Eucharist, is the local realization of the whole body of Christ. “Where Christ is, there is the Catholic church,” wrote Ignatius of Antioch (c. ad 100). Modern Orthodox theology also emphasizes that the office of bishop is the highest among the sacramental ministries and that there is therefore no divinely established authority over that of the bishop in his own community, or diocese. Neither the local churches nor the bishops, however, can or should live in isolation. The wholeness of church life, realized in each local community, is regarded as identical to that of the other local churches in the present and in the past. This identity and continuity is manifested in the act of the ordination of bishops, an act that requires the presence of several other bishops in order to constitute a conciliar act and to witness to the continuity of apostolic succession and tradition.

The bishop is primarily the guardian of the faith and, as such, the centre of the sacramental life of the community. The Orthodox church maintains the doctrine of apostolic succession—i.e., the idea that the ministry of the bishop must be in direct continuity with that of the Apostles of Jesus. Orthodox tradition—as expressed especially in its medieval opposition to the Roman papacy—distinguishes the office of “Apostle” from that of bishop, however, in that the first is viewed as a universal witness to the historical Jesus and his Resurrection while the latter is understood in terms of the pastoral and sacramental responsibility for a local community, or church. The continuity between the two is, therefore, a continuity in faith rather than in function.

No bishop can be consecrated or exercise his ministry without being in unity with his colleagues—i.e., be a member of an episcopal council, or synod. After the Council of Nicaea (325), whose canons are still effective in the Orthodox church, each province of the Roman Empire had its own synod of bishops that acted as a fully independent unit for the consecration of new bishops and also as a high ecclesiastical tribunal. In the contemporary Orthodox church these functions are fulfilled by the synod of each autocephalous church. In the early church the bishop of the provincial capital acted as chairman of the synod and was generally called metropolitan. Today this function is fulfilled by the local primate who is sometimes called patriarch (in the autocephalous churches of Constantinople [Istanbul], Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Russia, Georgia, Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria), but he may also carry the title of archbishop (Cyprus, Greece) or metropolitan (Poland, the Czech and Slovak republics, the United States). The titles of archbishop and metropolitan are also widely used as honorific distinctions.

The jurisdiction of each autocephalous synod generally coincides with national borders—the exceptions are numerous in the Middle East (e.g., jurisdiction of Constantinople over the Greek islands, jurisdiction of Antioch over several Arab states, etc.)—and also concerns the national dioceses of the Orthodox diaspora (e.g., western Europe, Australia, the United States), which frequently remain under the authority of their mother churches. The latter situation led to an uncanonical overlapping of Orthodox jurisdictions, all based on ethnic origins. Several factors, originating in the Middle Ages, have contributed to modern ecclesiastical nationalism in the Orthodox church. These factors include the use of the vernacular in the liturgy and the subsequent identification of religion with national culture.


The structure of the church » Clergy and laity
The emphasis on communion and fellowship as the basic principle of church life inhibited the development of clericalism, the tradition of enhancing the power of the church hierarchy. The early Christian practice of lay participation in episcopal elections never disappeared completely in the East. In modern times it has been restored in several churches, including those in the United States. Besides being admitted, at least in some areas, to participation in episcopal elections, Orthodox laymen often occupy positions in church administration and in theological education. In Greece almost all professional theologians are laymen. Laymen also frequently serve as preachers.

The lower orders of the clergy— priests and deacons—are generally married men. The present canonical legislation allows the ordination of married men to the diaconate and the priesthood, provided that they were married only once and that their wives are neither widows nor divorcees. These stipulations reflect the general principle of absolute monogamy, which the Eastern church considered as a Christian norm to which candidates for the priesthood are to comply strictly. Deacons and priests cannot marry after their ordination. Bishops are selected from among the unmarried clergy or widowed priests. The rule defining the requirement for an unmarried episcopate was issued at a time (6th century) when monks represented the elite of the clergy. The contemporary decrease in the number of monks in the Orthodox church has created a serious problem in some territorial churches, as new candidates for the episcopacy are difficult to find.


The structure of the church » Monasticism
Eastern Christian monasticism began in the 3rd and 4th centuries of the Christian era. From its beginning it was essentially a contemplative movement seeking the experience of God in a life of permanent prayer. Concern for prayer, as the central and principal function of monasticism, does not mean that the Eastern Christian monastic movement was of a single uniform character. Eremitic (solitary) monasticism, favouring the personal and individual practice of prayer and asceticism, often competed with cenobitic (communal) monastic life, in which prayer was mainly liturgical and corporate. The two forms of monasticism originated in Egypt and coexisted in Byzantium, as well as throughout eastern Europe.

In Byzantium the great monastery of Studion became the model of numerous cenobitic communities. It is in the framework of the eremitic, or Hesychast, tradition, however, that the most noted Byzantine mystical theologians, such as Symeon the New Theologian and Gregory Palamas, received their training. One of the major characteristics of the Hesychast tradition is the practice of the Jesus prayer, or constant invocation of the name of Jesus, sometimes in connection with breathing. This practice won wide acceptance in medieval and modern Russia. Cenobitic traditions of Byzantium also were important in Slavic lands. The colonization of the Russian north was largely accomplished by monks who acted as pioneers of civilization and as missionaries.

In Byzantium as well as in other areas of the Orthodox world, the monks were often the only upholders of the moral and spiritual integrity of Christianity, and thus they gained the respect of the masses as well as that of the intellectuals. The famous Russian startsy (“elders”) of the 19th century became the spiritual leaders of the great Russian writers Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Nikolay Gogol, and Leo Tolstoy and inspired many philosophers in their quest for religious experience.

Since the 1970s, when a resurgence in the admission of new monks began, the most famous centre of Orthodox monasticism has been Mount Athos in Greece. In this remote location more than 1,000 monks of different national backgrounds are grouped into a monastic republic—a federation of 20 self-governing monasteries and smaller monastic communities whose governor is appointed by the Greek minister of foreign affairs and whose spiritual head is the ecumenical patriarch.


Worship and sacraments » The role of the liturgy
By its theological richness, spiritual significance, and variety, the worship of the Orthodox church represents one of the most significant factors in the church’s continuity and identity. It helps to account for the survival of Christianity during the many centuries of Muslim rule in the Middle East and the Balkans, when the liturgy was the only source of religious knowledge or experience. Since liturgical practice was practically the only religious expression legally authorized in the Soviet Union, the continuous existence of Orthodox communities in the region was also centred almost exclusively around the liturgy.

The concept that the church is most authentically itself when the congregation of the faithful is gathered together in worship is a basic expression of Eastern Christian experience. Without that concept it is impossible to understand the fundamentals of church structure in Orthodoxy, with the bishop functioning in his essential roles as teacher and high priest in the liturgy. Similarly, the personal experience of participation in divine life is understood in the framework of the continuous liturgical action of the community.

According to many authorities, one of the reasons why the Eastern liturgy has made a stronger impact on the Christian church than has its Western counterpart is that it has always been viewed as a total experience, appealing simultaneously to the emotional, intellectual, and aesthetic faculties of humans. The liturgy includes a variety of models, or symbols, using formal theological statements as well as bodily perceptions and gestures (e.g., music, incense, prostrations) and the visual arts. All are meant to convey the content of the Christian faith to the educated and the noneducated alike. Participation in the liturgy implies familiarity with its models, and many of them are conditioned by the historical and cultural past of the church. Thus, the use of such an elaborate and ancient liturgy presupposes catechetical preparation. It may require an updating of the liturgical forms themselves. The Orthodox church recognizes that liturgical forms are changeable and that, because the early church admitted a variety of liturgical traditions, such a variety is also possible today. Thus, Orthodox communities with Western rites now exist in western Europe and in the Americas.

The Orthodox church, however, has always been conservative in liturgical matters. This conservatism is in particular due to the absence of a central ecclesiastical authority that could enforce reforms and to the firm conviction of the church membership as a whole that the liturgy is the main vehicle and experience of true Christian beliefs. Consequently, reform of the liturgy is often considered as equivalent to a reform of the faith itself. However inconvenient this conservatism may be, the Orthodox liturgy has preserved many essential Christian values transmitted directly from the experience of the early church.

Throughout the centuries the Orthodox liturgy has been richly embellished with cycles of hymns from a wide variety of sources. Byzantium (where the present Orthodox liturgical rite took shape), while keeping many biblical and early Christian elements, used the lavish resources of patristic theology and Greek poetry, as well as some gestures of imperial court ceremonial, in order to convey the realities of God’s kingdom.

Normally, the content of the liturgy is directly accessible to the faithful, because the Byzantine tradition is committed to the use of any vernacular language in the liturgy. Translation of both Scriptures and liturgy into various languages was undertaken by the medieval Byzantines, as well as by modern Russian missionaries. Liturgical conservatism, however, leads de facto to the preservation of antiquated languages. The Byzantine Greek used in church services by the modern Greeks and the Old Church Slavonic still preserved by all the Slavs are at least as distant from the spoken languages as is the language of the King James Version of the Bible—used in many Protestant churches—from modern English.


Worship and sacraments » The eucharistic liturgies
The liturgies attributed to St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great are the eucharistic liturgies most generally used in Orthodox worship. Both acquired their present shape by the 9th century, but it is generally recognized that the wording of the eucharistic “canon” of the liturgy of St. Basil goes back to the 4th century and may be the work of St. Basil himself. The liturgy of St. James—composed about the 4th century and largely similar to that of St. Basil—is used occasionally, especially in Jerusalem. During the period of Lent a service of Communion, with elements (bread and wine) reserved from those consecrated on the previous Sunday, is celebrated in connection with the evening service of vespers; it is called the “liturgy of the presanctified” and is attributed to St. Gregory the Great.

The liturgies of St. John Chrysostom and of St. Basil differ only in the text of the eucharistic canon: their overall structures, established in the High Middle Ages, are identical and begin with an elaborate rite of preparation (proskomidē). A priest on a separate “table of oblation” disposes on a paten (plate) the particles of bread that will symbolize the assembly of the saints, both living and dead, around Christ, the “Lamb of God.” Then follows the liturgy of the catechumens, which begins with a processional entrance of the priest into the sanctuary with the Gospel (“little entrance”) and which includes the traditional Christian “liturgy of the word,” the reading from the New Testament letters and the Gospels as well as a sermon. This part of the liturgy ends with the expulsion of the catechumens, who, until they are baptized, are not admitted to the sacramental part of the service. (If no catechumens are present, the expulsion is symbolic.) The Liturgy of the Faithful includes another ceremonial procession of the priest into the sanctuary. He carries the bread and wine from the table of oblations to the altar (“great entrance”). This is followed here—as in the West—with the recitation of the Nicene Creed, the eucharistic canon, and the Lord’s Prayer and Communion prayer. The bread used for the Eucharist is ordinary leavened bread; both elements (bread and wine) are distributed with a special spoon (labis).


Worship and sacraments » The liturgical cycles
One of the major characteristics of the Byzantine liturgical tradition is the wealth and variety of hymnodical texts marking the various cycles of the liturgical year. A special liturgical book contains the hymns for each of the main cycles. The daily cycle includes the offices of Hesperinos (vespers), Apodeipnon (Compline), the midnight prayer, Orthros (matins), and the four canonical “hours”—offices to be said at the “first” (6:00 am), “third” (9:00 am), “sixth” (12:00 noon), and “ninth” (3:00 pm) hours. The liturgical book covering the daily cycle is called the Hōrologion (“The Book of Hours”). The Paschal (Easter) cycle is centred on the Feast of Feasts—i.e., the feast of Christ’s Resurrection. It includes the period of Great Fast (Lent), preceded by three Sundays of preparation and the period of 50 days following Easter. The hymns of the Lenten period are found in the Triōdion (“Three Odes”) and those of the Easter season in the Pentēkostarion (called the “Flowery Triodion”). The weekly cycle is the continuation of the Resurrection cycle found in the Triōdion and the Pentēkostarion; each week following the Sunday after Pentecost (50 days after Easter) possesses its own musical tone, or mode, in accordance with which all the hymns of the week are sung. As described in the Octoechos (“The Book of Eight Tones”), there are eight tones whose composition is traditionally attributed to St. John of Damascus (8th century). Each week is centred around Sunday, the day of Christ’s Resurrection.

The Easter and weekly cycles clearly dominate all offices of the entire year and illustrate the absolute centrality of the Resurrection in the Eastern understanding of the Christian message. The date of Easter, set at the Council of Nicaea (325), is the first Sunday after the full moon following the spring equinox. Differences between the East and the West in computing the date exist because the Orthodox church uses the Julian calendar for establishing the date of the equinox (hence a delay of 13 days) and also because of the tradition that Easter must necessarily follow the Jewish Passover and must never precede it or coincide with it.

The yearly cycle includes the hymns for each of the 366 days of the calendar year, with its feasts and daily commemoration of saints. They are found in the 12 volumes of the Menaion (“Book of Months”). From the 6th to the 9th century the Byzantine church experienced its golden age of creativity in the writing of hymns by outstanding poets such as John of Damascus. In more recent times hymn writing has generally followed the accepted patterns set by those authors but rarely has it reached the quality of its models. Since the Eastern Orthodox tradition bans instrumental music, or accompaniment, the singing is always a cappella, with only a few exceptions admitted by some parishes in the United States.


Worship and sacraments » The 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. Neither the liturgical book called Euchologion (“Prayer Book”), which contains the texts of the sacraments, nor the patristic tradition, however, formally limits the number of sacraments. They do not distinguish clearly between the “sacraments” and such acts as the blessing of water on Epiphany Day or the burial service or the service for the tonsuring of a monk that in the West are called sacramentalia. In fact, no council recognized by the Orthodox church ever defined the number of sacraments. It is only through the “Orthodox confessions” of the 17th century, which was directed against the Protestant Reformation (which recognized only two, baptism and Communion), that the number seven has been generally accepted.

The underlying sacramental theology of the Orthodox church is based, however, on the notion that the ecclesiastical community is the unique mystērion, of which the various sacraments are the normal expressions. The church interprets each sacramental act as a prayer of the entire ecclesiastical community, led by the bishop or his representative, and as God’s response, based upon Christ’s promise to send the Holy Spirit upon the church. These two aspects of the sacrament exclude both magic and legalism: they imply that the Holy Spirit is given to free people and call for their responses. In the mystērion of the church the participation of humans in God is effected through their “cooperation” or “synergy”; to make this participation possible once more is the goal of the Incarnation.


Worship and sacraments » The sacraments » Baptism and chrismation
Baptism is normally performed by triple immersion as a sign of the death and Resurrection of Christ; thus, the rite appears essentially as a gift of new life. It is immediately followed by chrismation, performed by the priest who anoints the newly baptized Christian with “Holy Chrism” (oil) blessed by the bishop. Baptized and chrismed children are admitted to Holy Communion. By admitting children immediately after their baptism to both chrismation and Communion, the Eastern Christian tradition maintains the meaning of baptism as the beginning of a new life nourished by the Eucharist.


Worship and sacraments » The sacraments » The Eucharist
There never has been, in the East, much speculation about the nature of the eucharistic mystery. Both canons presently in use (that of St. Basil and that of St. John Chrysostom) include the “words of institution” (“This is my Body” and “This is my Blood”), which are traditionally considered in the West as the formula necessary for the validity of the sacrament. In the East, however, the culminating point of the prayer is not in the remembrance of Christ’s act but in the invocation of the Holy Spirit, which immediately follows:

Send down Thy Holy Spirit upon us and upon the Gifts here spread forth, and make this bread to be the precious Body of Thy Christ.

Thus, the central mystery of Christianity is seen as being performed by the prayer of the church and through an invocation of the Spirit. The nature of the mystery that occurs in the bread and wine is signified by the term metabolē (“sacramental change”). The Western term transubstantiation occurs only in some confessions of faith after the 17th century.


Worship and sacraments » The sacraments » Orders
The Orthodox church recognizes three major orders—the diaconate, the priesthood, and the episcopate. It also recognizes two minor orders—the lectorate and the subdiaconate. All ordinations are performed by a bishop normally during the eucharistic liturgy. The consecration of a bishop requires the participation of at least two or three bishops, as well as an election by a canonical synod.


Worship and sacraments » The sacraments » Penance
The sacrament of penance in the early church was a solemn and public act of reconciliation, through which an excommunicated sinner was readmitted into church membership. It has evolved, however, into a private act of confession through which every Christian’s membership in the church is periodically renewed. The practice and the rite of penance vary in the Orthodox church today. In the churches of the Balkans and the Middle East, it fell into disuse during the four centuries of Turkish occupation but was gradually restored in the 20th century. In Greek-speaking churches only certain priests, especially appointed by the bishop, have the right to hear confessions. In Russia, on the contrary, confessions remained a standard practice that was generally required before communion. General or group confession, introduced by John of Kronshtadt, a Russian spiritual leader of the early 20th century, is also occasionally practiced.

The rite of confession in the Euchologion retains the form of a prayer, or invocation, said by the priest for the remission of the penitent’s sins. In the Slavic ritual a Latin-inspired and juridical form of personal absolution was introduced in the 17th century by Petro Mohyla, metropolitan of Kiev. In general Orthodox practice, however, confession is generally viewed as a form of spiritual healing rather than as a tribunal. The relative lack of legalism reflects the Eastern patristic understanding of sin as an internal passion and as an enslavement. The external sinful acts—which alone can be legally tried—are only manifestations of humanity’s internal disease.


Worship and sacraments » The sacraments » Anointing of the sick
Anointing of the sick is a form of healing by prayer. In the Greek church it is performed annually for the benefit of the entire congregation on the evening of Holy Wednesday in church.


Worship and sacraments » The sacraments » Marriage
Marriage is celebrated through a rite of crowning, performed with great solemnity and signifying an eternal union, sacramentally “projected” into the kingdom of God. Orthodox theology of marriage insists on its sacramental eternity rather than its legal indissolubility. Thus, second marriages, in cases of either widowhood or divorce, are celebrated through a subdued penitential rite, and men who have been married more than once are not admitted to the priesthood. Remarriage after divorce is tolerated on the basis of the possibility that the sacrament of marriage was not originally received with the consciousness and responsibility that would have made it fully effective; according to this view, remarriage can be a second chance.


Worship and sacraments » Architecture and iconography
Since the time of the Roman emperor Constantine I, Eastern Christianity has developed a variety of patterns in church architecture. The chief model was created when Emperor Justinian I completed the “great church” of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople in the 6th century. The architectural conception of that church consisted of erecting a huge round dome on top of the classical early Christian basilica. The dome was meant to symbolize the descent of heaven upon earth—i.e., the ultimate meaning of the eucharistic celebration.

The long Iconoclastic Controversy (725–843), during which the Orthodox theology of icons was fully developed, concerned itself primarily with the problem of the Incarnation; it was the direct continuation of the Christological debates of the 5th, 6th, and 7th centuries. The image of Christ, the incarnated God, became for the Eastern Christian a pictorial confession of faith: God was truly visible in the humanity of Jesus of Nazareth, and the saints—whose images surround that of Christ—are witnesses of the fact that the transfigured, “deified” humanity is accessible to those who believe in Christ. Departing from tridimensional images or statues, that were reminiscent of pagan idolatry, the Christian East developed a rich tradition of iconography. Portable icons—often painted on wood but also using mosaics with enamel techniques—are always kept in houses or public places. Among the icon painters, who never signed their work, there appeared several artists of genius. Most of them are unknown, but tradition and written documents have revealed the names of some, such as the famous 14th–15th-century Russian painter St. Andrey Rublyov.

The screen, or iconostasis, which separates the sanctuary from the nave in contemporary Orthodox churches is a rather late development. After the triumph of orthodoxy over iconoclasm (destruction of images) in 843, a new emphasis was placed upon the permanent revelatory role of images. The Incarnation implied that God had become man—i.e., fully visible and, thus, describable in his human nature. The images of Christ and the saints, who had manifested in their lives the new humanity transfigured by the grace of God, were placed everywhere in full evidence before the congregation. A contrast was thus suggested between the visible manifestation of God through the pictorial representation of Christ as man and his more perfect but mysterious and invisible presence in the Eucharist. The iconostasis, together with those parts of the liturgy that involve the closing and opening of the curtain before the altar, emphasizes the mysterious and “eschatological” (consummation of history) character of the eucharistic service. They suggest, however, that this mystery is not a secret and that the Christian is being introduced through the eucharistic liturgy into the very reality of divine life and of the kingdom to come, which was revealed when God became man.


The church and the world
The schism between the Greek and Latin churches coincided chronologically with a surge of Christian missionary activity in northern and eastern Europe. Both sides contributed to the resultant expansion of Christianity but used different methods. The West imposed a Latin liturgy on the new converts and thus made Latin the only vehicle of Christian civilization and a major instrument of ecclesiastical unity. The East, meanwhile, as noted above, accepted from the start the principle of translating both the Scriptures and the liturgy into the spoken tongues of the converted nations. Christianity thus became integrated into the indigenous cultures of the Slavic nations, and the universal Orthodox church evolved as a fellowship of national churches rather than as a centralized body.


The church and the world » Missions: ancient and modern
The Christian East, in spite of the integrating forces of Christian Hellenism, was always culturally pluralistic: since the first centuries of Christianity, Syrians, Armenians, Georgians, Copts, Ethiopians, and other ethnic groups used their own languages in worship and developed their own liturgical traditions. Even though, by the time of the Greek missions to the Slavs, the Byzantine church was almost monolithically Greek, the idea of a liturgy in the vernacular was still quite alive, as is demonstrated by the use of the Slavic language by the missionaries led by Saints Cyril and Methodius in the 9th century.

The Turkish conquest of the Middle East and of the Balkans (15th century) interrupted the missionary expansion of the Orthodox church. The expansion of Islam into formerly Christian territories in the Middle Ages meant that the Christians could survive only in enclaves and were legally excluded from proselytizing among Muslims.

The Russian church alone was able to continue the tradition of Cyril and Methodius, and it did so almost without interruption until the modern period. In the 14th century St. Stephen of Perm translated the Scriptures and the liturgy into the language of a Finnish tribe of the Russian north and became the first bishop of the Zyrians. The expansion of the Russian Empire in Asia was accompanied by efforts of evangelization that—sometimes in opposition to the avowed policy of Russianization practiced by the government of St. Petersburg—followed the Cyrillo-Methodian pattern of translation. This method was utilized among the Tatars of the Volga in the 16th century and among the various peoples of Siberia throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. In 1714 a mission was established in China. In 1794 monks of the Valamo Abbey reached Alaska; their spiritual leader, the monk Herman, was canonized by the Orthodox church in 1970. Missions in the Islamic sphere resumed to the extent that by the year 1903 the liturgy was celebrated in more than 20 languages in the region of Kazan.

The Alaskan mission was under the direction of a modest priest sent to America from eastern Siberia, Ivan Veniaminov. During his long stay in America, first as a priest, then as a bishop (1824–68), he engaged in the work of translating the Gospels and the liturgy into the languages of the Aleuts, the Tlingit Indians, and the Eskimos of Alaska.

In Japan an Orthodox church was established by St. Nikolay Kasatkin. The distinctively Japanese character of this church enabled it to survive the political trials of the Russo-Japanese War (1904–05), the Russian Revolution, and World War II. The church of Japan received full autonomy from the Russian church in 1970.

The missionary tradition has also been revived in Greece. Various Greek associations are dedicated to the pursuit of missionary work in Africa, where sizable indigenous groups have recently joined the Orthodox church.


The church and the world » Orthodoxy and other Christians
Since the failure of the unionist Council of Florence (1439), there have been no official attempts to restore unity between the Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. In 1484 an Orthodox council declared that Roman Catholics desiring to join the Orthodox church were to be received through chrismation (or confirmation). In the 18th century, however, the relations deteriorated to the point that the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople decreed that all Roman Catholic and Protestant sacraments, including baptism, were totally unauthentic. A parallel attitude prevailed in Russia until the 17th century, when large numbers of Eastern Rite Roman Catholics (“Uniates”) were received back into Orthodoxy by a simple confession of faith, and this practice was adopted in the acceptance of individual Roman Catholics as well.

In the 16th century, during the Reformation, a lengthy correspondence took place between a group of reformers headed by Philipp Melanchthon and the ecumenical patriarch Jeremias II. It led to no concrete results, for the East generally considered the Protestants as only a branch of deviation of the altogether erroneous Roman church.

Various attempts at rapprochement with the Anglican Communion, especially since the 19th century, were generally more fruitful. Several private associations of ecclesiastics and theologians promoted understanding between Eastern Orthodoxy and the “Anglo-Catholic” branch of Anglicanism. The Orthodox, however, were reticent in taking any formal step toward reunion before a satisfactory statement on the content of Anglican faith, taken as a whole, could be obtained.

The contemporary ecumenical movement has from its inception involved the Orthodox church. Eastern Orthodox representatives took part in the various Life and Work (practical) and Faith and Order (theological) conferences from the very beginning of the 20th century. One by one the various independent Orthodox churches joined the World Council of Churches, created in 1948. Often, and especially at the beginning of their participation, Orthodox delegates had recourse to separate statements, which made clear to the Protestant majorities that, in the Orthodox view, Christian unity was attainable only in the full unity of the primitive apostolic faith from which the Orthodox church had never departed. This attitude of the Orthodox could be understood only if it made sufficiently clear that the truth—which historic Eastern Orthodoxy claims to preserve—is maintained by the Holy Spirit in the church as a whole and not by any individual or any group of individuals on their own right and also that the unity of Christians—which is the goal of the ecumenical movement—does not imply cultural, intellectual, or ritual uniformity but rather a mystical fellowship in the fullness of truth as expressed in eucharistic communion.

The ecumenical movement, especially since the Second Vatican Council (1962–65), is today much wider than the formal membership of the World Council of Churches. The principle of conciliarism and the readiness of the popes to appear publicly as equals of Eastern patriarchs—as in the meetings between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I in the 1960s—represent significant moves in the direction of a better understanding between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. Pope John Paul II sought to improve relations with various Orthodox churches, and his successor, Benedict XVI, met with Patriarch Bartholomew I in Istanbul in 2006.


The church and the world » Church, state, and society
In the West after the fall of the Roman Empire, church assumed the unifying social function that no other individual or institution was able to fulfill. Eventually the popes assumed civil authority in Christendom (according to the false Donation of Constantine, the first Christian emperor actually bestowed authority over the Western Empire to the pope). In the East the empire persisted until 1453 and in Russia until 1917. Thus, the church had to fulfill its social functions in the political framework of the Christian empire.

This historical contrast coincides with a theological polarization: the Eastern Fathers conceived the God-man relationship in terms of personal experience and communion culminating in deification. Western theology, meanwhile, understood man as autonomous in the secular sphere, although controlled by the authority of the church, which was conceived as vicariously representing God.

The Byzantine and Eastern form of church-state relations has often been labelled as caesaropapism, and the hierarchy of the church was, most of the time, deprived of the legal possibility of opposing imperial power. But this label is inaccurate in two respects: first, it presupposes that the emperor possessed a recognizable power to define the content of the faith, comparable to that of the papacy; and, second, it underestimates the power of the church (as a corporate, transfiguring, and deifying power) that is effective without legal guarantees or statutes. The Byzantine ideal of church-state relations was a “symphony” between the civil and the ecclesiastical functions of Christian society. The abuses of imperial power were frequent, but innumerable examples of popular resistance to those imperial decrees that were considered as detrimental to the faith can be cited. Neither the strong emperors of the 7th century, trying to impose monophysitism, nor the weakened Palaeologans (13th–15th century), attempting reunion with Rome, were able to overcome the corporate opposition of Orthodox clergy and laity.

The Byzantine conception of church-state relations was not, however, without major weaknesses. It often led to the identification of the interests of the church with those of the empire. Conceived when both the church and the empire were supranational and, in principle, universal, it gradually evolved into a system that gave a sacred sanction to national states. Modern ecclesiastical nationalism, which inhibits relations between Orthodox churches, is the outcome of the medieval alliance between the empire and the church.

Only after the Turkish occupation of the Balkans was civil authority directly assumed by the Orthodox church hierarchy in the Middle East. It was granted to it by the new Muslim overlords, who chose to administer their Christian subjects as a separate community, or millet, ruled by its own religious leaders. The patriarch of Constantinople was thus appointed by the sultan as head (millet-bachi) of the entire Christian population of the Ottoman Empire. Understood by some, especially the Greeks, as the heir of Byzantine emperors and by others, especially the Balkan Slavs and Romanians, as an agent of the hated Turks, the patriarch exercised these powers until the secularization of the Turkish republic by Kemal Atatürk, the founder and first president of the republic, in 1921. By that time, however, the patriarch had lost most of his jurisdictional powers because of the establishment of autocephalous churches in Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania. The millet system, however, survived in other areas of the Middle East. In Cyprus, for example, the church assumed a leading role in national liberation, and its prestige encouraged the election of Archbishop Makarios III as the first president of the young republic.

The millet system and the active political responsibilities that it implied for the church, it should be noted, originated in the Ottoman period only and is not in the spiritual tradition of the Christian East as such. The Russian church is the most recent example of religious survival without practical social or political involvement.

The Orthodox attitude toward social responsibility in the world constitutes a distinct contribution to the contemporary ecumenical movement. But it will be meaningful only if it is understood in its proper framework—i.e., as an understanding of the Christian faith as a personal spiritual experience of God, which is self-sufficient knowledge of God and which, as such, can lead to an authentically Christian witness in the secularized world. The form of that witness has varied greatly in history, and Orthodox tradition has placed among the church’s saints both hermits and politicians, Hesychast monks as well as emperors. According to the modern Orthodox theologian Sergey Nikolayevich Bulgakov, the Orthodox church accepts “a relativism of means and methods,” provided there remains “an absolute and unique goal,” which is the kingdom of God still to come but also already present in the mystery of the church.

The Rev. John Meyendorff

 

 

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