Two weeks ago, I explored the major split in the Christian Church, namely that between Catholics and Protestants. However, some would argue that there are three main branches of Christianity: Catholics, Protestants and The Orthodox Church.
Personally, I find The Orthodox Church to be a mix between the two others. Yet, I acknowledge that this is a rather uneducated view (I’m not a theologian) and also a perspective from the flavour of Christianity that I adhere to (Protestant Evangelical). I’m sure if you asked others, you’d get a different perspective.
In my part of the world, The Orthodox Church doesn’t get anywhere near as much ‘airtime’ as Catholics and Protestants. The reason for this is probably due to two social sciences: history and geography.
Having Constantine as the Roman Emperor in 306 – 337 AD was pretty great for Christianity. Prior to this, the Roman Emperors were rather fond of killing Christians, as opposed to Constantine who was one himself. This meant Christians were protected under his reign, rather than executed.
Constantine also called the first Church council meeting that pulled a bunch of different Churches together. His aim in this council was to bring about unity of teachings and practice within the churches, as he believed this would lead to a positive flow on effect for all Christians. However, of course, not everybody is going to agree all of the time and people will always bring in rogue ideas.
As a result, after Constantine’s time, more councils took place in various locations and times. These places became centres of Christianity in the ancient world. By the 7th century AD, two main powers remained: Rome in the west and Constantinople in the east.
However, these two centres did not see eye to eye on all matters of practice and teaching. Another issue arose when the Christians in the west wanted the entire Church to be run by the one institutional leader: The Roman Pope (Father). Unsurprisingly, the patriarch in Constantinople thought this was a dud idea.
By 1054 AD, the separation was complete when the Roman Catholic Pope and the Patriarch of Constantinople excommunicated each other and all within the other Church – that’s one mutual divorce with the sharing of children, on a large scale.
This meant you were left with – you guessed it – The Roman Catholic Church in the west and the Orthodox Church in the east.
So Martin Luther’s massive break from the Catholic Church was not the first. Constantinople was way ahead.
However, this first instance seems to be a bit more embraced by the Catholic Church; as opposed to their putting Martin Luther on trial for heresy, a few centuries down the track. Perhaps this piece of history and the relative recency of the event, explains its airtime among Christians in my part of the world.
And whilst The Orthodox Church does exist the world over, it is more linked with places such as Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Albania, Romania, Serbia, Greece and Cyprus – for obvious geographical reasons.
To finish… I realise, this post has explored a brief summary of the history of The Orthodox Church, as opposed to exploring what they think of as “orthodoxy”. There is plenty to be said but, if you’re wanting to make a start on understanding The Orthodox Church’s teachings, the best place to look is The Nicene Creed.
Although, I will briefly add that this Nicene Creed doesn’t communicate the fact that The Orthodox Church has some ideas about Mary, Jesus’ mother, that are more like Catholic teaching as opposed to Protestant thought.
Yours in a beautiful fusion of the social sciences,
For this post, I thank Ron Rhodes and his book, The Complete Guide to Christian Denominations: Understanding the History, Beliefs and Differences for its assistance.