Orthodox Christianity

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Orthodox Christian churches are rooted in the Middle East or Eastern Europe but do not recognize the pope as their leader. The Orthodox Church split with the Roman Catholic Church in the Great Schism of 1054, largely over issues of papal authority. The pope in Rome claimed supremacy over the four Eastern patriarchs, while the Eastern patriarchs claimed equality with the pope. Today the spiritual head of Orthodoxy is the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, who has no governing authority over the other patriarchs but is called “first among equals.” The Orthodox Eucharistic service is called the Divine Liturgy, and worship is very sensual, involving incense, chants and the veneration of icons. The Eastern Orthodox Christian churches include the Patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem and the Orthodox Churches of America, Russia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Cyprus, Greece, Poland, Albania, the Czech and Slovak Republics, Finland, Japan, Mount Sinai and China.


Eastern Orthodox Christians include most parts of the Apocrypha in the biblical canon. (The Apocrypha, from the Greek word that means “things hidden,” is made up of religious writings included in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, but not the Hebrew Bible. Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics accept them as divinely inspired, but Protestants do not.) The Greek Orthodox Church collaborated on the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, published by the National Council of Churches USA, which includes the Apocrypha. However, the Eastern Orthodox canon includes different Apocrypha books than either Protestants or Roman Catholics do. The variations are based on which books were present in the Septuagint and its early manuscripts. (The Orthodox omit 2 Esdras from the Protestant Apocryphal but add 3 and 4 Maccabees and Psalm 151.)



  • Ethnic and religious identities are closely tied in Orthodox churches,which often serve as places to preserve the language and culture of immigrants. Churches now include more non-immigrant members — the American-born children and grandchildren of immigrants and converts (often through marriage) — forcing them to grapple with how the church serves both groups.


  • Orthodox denominations are rarely a source of breaking news, but journalists may be interested in their growing numbers. Together, Orthodox churches account for many more members than some Protestant denominations that receive much more news coverage.
  • The Eastern Orthodox follow the Julian Calendar instead of the Gregorian Calendar used by Western churches. Christmas falls on Jan. 7, and the date of Easter differs each year.
  • Priests may be married in Eastern Orthodox traditions if they marry before ordination, but monks and bishops must be single.
  • The Oriental Orthodox Churches churches split from the Eastern Orthodox churches in 451 A.D. because they rejected the Christological definition of the 4th Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon, which asserted that Christ is one person in two natures, fully human and fully divine — a definition that the Eastern Orthodox Churches accepted. The Oriental Orthodox Churches include the Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian, Syrian, Malankara and Eritrean churches.