The Eastern Orthodox Church

A profile of a major branch of the Christian faith.

By LUCILLE PFLAUMER, Mission Appointee, S.D.A. Theological Seminary

Brief History.—In the early centuries after Christ, the East and West were joined in doctrines and rites. But it must be remembered that at this time the church was not so well organized, and that masses were said in many different ways, and the rites of the church varied from place to place. The first split came in 455 at the Council of Chalcedon, when a small group of eastern churches split from the main body on the question of the na­ture of Christ. (This group believes in Mono­physitism, which contends that Christ had one nature, a combination of human and divine. The church held to the two distinct natures of Christ.) This group is still in existence today, and is known as the Old Eastern Churches.

The great schism between the East and West occurred in 5054. There were three main ques­tions in dispute. (1) Power. The patriarch of Constantinople would not concede that the pope had more power than he. Each excommunicated the other. (2) Different teachings in the church, mostly rituals. (3) The Holy Spirit. This arose over the question of filioque. The Eastern church said the Holy Spirit comes from the Father, through the Son; while the Roman church said the Holy Spirit comes from the Father and the Son combined. Since then the churches have been separated. Several at­tempts have been made to unite them, but each attempt failed.

The early growth of the Eastern Church was very rapid. There was a great addition of mem­bers, but most had not been really converted from heathenism. For example, the whole of Russia was accepted into the church in 988 when the emperor Vladimir Sviatoi was bap­tized, and the whole city of Kiev with him. True, there were some changes for the better. After the people accepted Christianity the rude customs were softened, home life was lifted to a higher level, slavery was abolished, and heathen laws were changed to Christian principles. Yet in the hearts of the people heathen superstitions, customs, and beliefs re­mained, which have continued almost to the present day.

The doctrine of the Eastern Church is based on the first seven ecumenical councils. It con­siders itself more orthodox, nearer to the early Christian Church, than the Roman Catholic Church. (From this idea they have received their name Eastern Orthodox Church, while the Western church, under the rule of Rome, is known as the Roman Catholic Church.)

Doctrines and Rights.—0011Sidering the doctrines and rites of the Eastern and Western Churches as a whole, they are mainly the same. There are, however, some points where they decidedly differ.

The Orthodox Church rejects the doctrine of purgatory, and the doctrine of the immaculate conception is accepted by some, but rejected by others. In the Orthodox Church there are prayers for the dead, and the belief is held that the dead pray for the living. Baptism is by triple immersion. Although some might believe in the second coming of Christ, it is not stressed. This hope is very dim. No principles of temperance or dress reform are taught.

Worship is conducted with the congregation standing. There is more singing in services and less organ music; as compared with the West.

The Eastern Church does not have a world­wide missionary program. They are active in work for people in countries where the religion is already established, but there is no aim to convert the whole world, as with the Roman Catholic Church.

The Bible is and always has been in the ver­nacular in the Eastern Church. The Holy Scrip­tures have first-place in serving as a source of doctrine. Holy tradition has second place as a source. This tradition is found only in the dog­matic decisions of the first seven ecumenical councils. Of more relative importance are the liturgical books and the writings of the church Fathers. The only "symbol" of the church is the Niceo-Constantinopolitan Creed.

The seven sacraments in the East do not hold as much value as in the West. They are: bap­tism, anointing (confirmation), communion, pennance, holy orders, marriage, and holy unc­tion. Considered externally, all Orthodox churches represent free communions. Within the bounds of ecumenical-orthodox rules of doc­trine, regulation, and cult, every separate Orthodox church is free in its inner life and man­agement.

It is the firm conviction of orthodoxy that its church is Christianity. The Orthodox Church believes and maintains that it is the church of Christ, the unbroken continuation of the old and undivided church, the true guardian, the pillar and foundation of revealed truth, the holy mediator of the grace of the Holy Spirit, the preferred instrument of God for the salva­tion of mankind.

The priests of the Eastern Church may marry, but the bishops may not. The clergy is not centralized in one man. There are seven patriarchs. These men are not considered in­fallible. The order of rank of position in the church is as follows: patriarch, metropolitan, archbishop, bishop, priest.

Present-day Status--The present-day Or­thodox Church embraces almost completely the following peoples: Greeks, Russians, Serbs, Bulgarians, Rumanians, and Georgians. Besides these, there are small bodies of Orthodox believers of various nationalities in Eastern and Central Europe and Western Asia. The majority of the Orthodox live in Europe; in fact, Eastern Europe is almost completely Or­thodox.

Statistics show the following approximate numbers for different Orthodox nationalities: Greeks, 572 millions; Russians, 120 millions; Serbs, 6 millions; Bulgarians, 5 millions ; Ru­manians, 12 millions; Georgians, 2 1/2 millions; Arabs, 320,000; Albanians, 200,000. Thus the Russians take the lead, with 120 millions. The total of all Orthodox peoples is between 146 and 150 millions, and this does not include small groups of Arabs, Albanians, Letts, Es­tonians, Lithuanians, Czechs, Japanese, Chi­nese, and others.

The present-day autocephalous, or autono­mous, Orthodox churches are as follows: (I) The patriarchate of Constantinople; (2) the patriarchate of Alexandria; (3) the patriarch­ate of Antioch; (4) the patriarchate of Jerusalem; (5) the patriarchate of Russia; (6) the patriarchate of Serbia; (7) the patriarchate of Rumania; (8) the Archbishopric of Cyprus; (9) the Church of Greece; (10) the Church of Bulgaria; (11) the Church of Poland; (12) the Church of Georgia in Russia; (13) the Church of Albania; (14) the Church of Finland; (15) the Church of Estonia; (16) the Church of Latvia; (17) the Church of Lithu­ania; (18) the Church of Czechoslovakia; (19) the Russia Orthodox Archbishopric of North America; (20) the Archbishopric of Japan under Russian leadership.

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By LUCILLE PFLAUMER, Mission Appointee, S.D.A. Theological Seminary

March 1947

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