Greek Orthodox Church

By Alex Roberts


Origins - History

    The East-West Schism, known also as the Great Schism, was the event which finally divided Western Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Though normally dated to 1054, when Pope Leo IX and Patriarch Michael I excommunicated each other, the East-West Schism was actually the result of a prolonged period of alienation between the two churches. 

    Since its earliest days, the Church recognized the special position of three bishops, who were known as patriarchs. They were; the Bishop of Rome (the Pope), of Alexandria and of Antioch. They were also joined by the Bishop of Constantinople and the Bishop of Jerusalem, who were both confirmed as patriarchs by the Council of Chaledon. Disputes over papal authority were the main reason for the Schism. The pope claimed he had authority over the four Eastern patriarchs, while they claimed his position was only honorary and his authority only stretched over the Western Church.

    Disunion in the Roman Empire further contributed to disunion in the Church. Theodosius the Great, who died in 395, was the last Emperor to rule over a united Roman Empire. After his death, his territory was divided into western and eastern halves, each under its own Emperor. By the end of the 5th century, the Western Roman Empire had been destroyed by the barbarians, while the Eastern Roman Empire (known also as the Byzantine Empire) continued to thrive. When the political unity of the Roman Empire fell apart, so did that of the Church

    Other factors caused the East and West to drift further apart. The dominant language of the West was Latin, whilst that of the East was Greek. Soon after the fall of the Western Empire, the number of individuals who spoke both Latin and Greek began to dwindle, and communication between East and West grew much more difficult. With linguistic unity gone, cultural unity began to crumble as well. The two halves of the Church were naturally divided along similar lines; they used different rites and had different approaches to religious doctrines.

    The Church of Greece is one of the fourteen or fifteen autocephalous Eastern Orthodox churches which make up the Eastern Orthodox Community. Today it is one of the most important autocephalous, or ecclesiastically independent, churches of the Eastern Orthodox communion. It was formerly a part of the Orthodox Church of Constantinople, but declared itself autocephalous in 1833. It was recognized as such by the Patriarch of Constantinople in 1850. The Church of Greece has ministries both in Greece and abroad.

Organization - Structure of the Church

Patriarch of ConstantinopleSupreme authority is vested in the synod of all the bishops (the Hierarchy of the Church of Greece) under the presidency of the Archbishop of Athens and all Greece. This synod deals with general church questions. A second synod (the Sitting Synod), under the same presidency, consisting of the Archbishop and 12 bishops, each serving for one year only, deals with details of administration. Hence, the church is organized following the pattern of the Russian Orthodox Church under Peter the Great. The church is divided into 81 small dioceses; 20 of these, in northern Greece and in the islands, are nominally under the jurisdiction of Constantinople. They are called "The New Lands" and are represented by 6 out of the 12 bishops of the Sitting Synod. The dioceses of Crete and the Dodecanese are under the direct jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Constantinople and are not considered a part of the Autocephalous Church of Greece.

Central Beliefs - Worship

Eastern Orthodoxy has existed since the days of the apostles and therefore it is the oldest denomination in Christianity. It is also the most apostolic, since it has not deviated from the teachings of the early Church. For this reason, there is no difference between the early Church and Eastern Orthodoxy, though the term "Eastern Orthodoxy" is used nowadays to differentiate it from other modern denominations or churches. The following list is a record of the doctrines of Eastern Orthodoxy.
Eastern Orthodoxy and Greek Orthodoxy believes:

  1. That there are three Divine Persons in God, distinct, yet equal.
  2. That the Father is the head of the Trinity, neither begotten, nor proceeds from anyone.
  3. That the Son is begotten from the Father, of the very same essence (omo'ousios) of the Father. He is God and also truly Man like us, because He assumed human nature from the Blessed Virgin Mary, except for sin. He died on the Cross to save mankind, and He ascended into Heaven. He will come again to "judge the living and the dead".
  4. That the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father.
  5. That the world is not self-created but is the work of one God.
  6. That there are Seven Sacraments: Baptism, Holy Chrismation, Holy Eucharist, Holy Confession, Ordination, Marriage, and Holy Unction.
  7. That no one can be saved unless he is baptized.
  8. That the Holy Scriptures and Holy Tradition are of equal value, and that they complete each other.
  9. That God assigned to every man an Angel to guide and help him.
  10. That after death, man's body goes to earth, and the soul, which is immortal, is presented before God and, according to its actions, pre-enjoys happiness or pre-suffers punishment until the General Judgement.
  11. That of all saints, the Mother of God has a supreme grace, and that the veneration given to icons and relics relates not to the sacred images as such, but to the person whom they represent.
  12. That God knows which road man will take, but He does not predestine him.