The Eastern Orthodox Church shares much in common with the Roman Catholic Church, but with more iconic pizazz and way less pope. Here’s your guide to the Eastern Orthodox Church.
One of the first things you’ll notice when you walk into an Eastern Orthodox church, in addition to the scent of burning incense, are the many Byzantine-style paintings of saints, angels, Jesus and the Virgin Mary. These icons are usually illuminated via candles, and church goes can light candles as a form of prayer. Services are almost entirely sung or chanted, usually without any instrumental accompaniment. The Eastern Orthodox Church institutes ritualized periods of feasting, fasting and almsgiving throughout the year.
Regional names are often given to the Church, such as the Russian Orthodox Church, the Greek Orthodox Church, etc.
The resemblance of Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism is no coincidence, as they were once a single Christian faith, known as the Church. One could argue that the divide between the two faiths began as a language barrier. As Christianity was developing in the Roman Empire, the western region of the empire spoke Latin, and the Eastern region spoke Greek. Most of the early Christian texts were written in Greek, and later translated into Latin. The western adaptations took a an increasingly utilitarian approach, toning down much of the original mysticism and iconic symbolism.
In 330 AD, the Emperor Constantine moved the Roman Empire’s capital from Rome to his namesake city of Constantinople (now Istanbul in Turkey), creating the Byzantine Empire. As one would imagine, this never sat right with the western Church. When Constantine died, one of his sons became ruler of the west, and the other son of the east, just as Christianity really started to go viral.
The official branching came in 1054 AD, when Pope Leo IX excommunicated the Patriarch Michael I, the leader of the Eastern Church. In response, Michael I reciprocated the condemnation, marking the end of any papal authority that still was still recognized in the Eastern Church. And not even the Crusades could bring the two sides back together.
Monks, nuns & monasteries
The Church recognizes the life of Jesus Christ as a spiritual model of following God’s commandments. Denying oneself of earthy pleasures for the sake of spiritual health is central to the church’s teachings, and practices take the form of periods of fasting, celibacy and prayer.
The more extreme and regimented version of self-denial is asceticism, and monks and nuns are individuals who commit to an ascetic and communal lifestyle in monasteries. Monks and nuns are highly regarded in Eastern Orthodoxy.
Major Eastern Orthodox Holidays
|Lent||7 weeks before Easter||Fasting|
|Palm Sunday||Sunday before Easter||Feasting|
|Easter||Late March to early May||Feasting|
|Ascension||40 Days after Easter||Feasting|
|Pentecost||50 Days after Easter||Feasting|
|Fast of the Apostles||8 days after Pentecost||Fasting|
|Christmas Fast||November 15 to December 24||Fasting|
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