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Orthodox Churches

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A Guide

Orthodox Churches 

In this session we shall exploring Orthodox churches across the world but not Church sacred architecture.  This will be covered in the Temple session of the Worship unit.

Key Facts and Ideas  light

The Different Types of Orthodox Church

There is only one Orthodox Church.  The different jurisdictions of the Orthodox Church reflect the differing nations of origin but in many cases in the west such churches have become much more widely dispersed.  Across all the Orthodox churches you will find consistent worship, belief, practice and ministries.  Only the languages used with local cultural and musical traditions are different.  The jurisdictions are not denominations but rather refer to the oversight (jurisdiction) of a bishop within a larger church family.  The diagram at the top of this page explains this visually; an explanation follows:-

There are 14 autocephalous Orthodox churches in the world, that is, churches that are entirely self governing, literally "with its own head."  Of course, the Head of the Church is Christ but each church has its own human leadership under him.  Autocephalous churches select a senior archbishop and / or a regular synod of bishops to facilitate the unity of that church and lead it spiritually and pastorally.  However, such men are not Popes in the Roman Catholic sense.  They cannot intervene in the affairs of other bishops other than to remove them if necessary but always acting in council with a synod.  Some of these autocephalic archbishops are patriarchs of ancient churches that have long had special contributions to make to the wider church.  Nonetheless, such churches do not have authority over others.  These are the autocephalic churches ... Albania, Alexandria, Antioch, Bulgaria, Constantinople, Cyprus, Czech and Slovak Republics (disputed by some), Georgia, Greece, Jerusalem, Orthodox Church in America (OCA - status not yet accepted by Constantinople), Poland, Romania, Russia and Serbia.

St. Catherine's Sinai

St. Catherine's Monastery, Sinai

There are 4 autonomous Orthodox churches.  These do not have full independence but maintain links with the mother church that originally evangelised the country or area; mainly because they have not yet quite achieved that depth of cultural penetration and maturity necessary for autocephaly.  Alternatively, they may be considered too small to be autocephalic but have the same degree of independence, (eg., Sinai).  Autonomous churches are for the most part quite well developed in terms of self rule.  The Mother Church might be involved in the selection of Archbishops for example but for most day to day purposes these churches are self regulating.  Sometimes an autonomous church has developed in an autocephalic direction but has not yet made the final step.  The autonomous churches are those of Finland, Japan, Sinai and Ukraine.

There are two semi-autonomous Orthodox Churches; the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America and the Russian Orthodox Church outside of the Russia.  The former has self rule but quite a strong connection with the Antiochian Church in Lebanon and Syria.  The latter owes its existence to Russian emigration at the beginning of the Soviet period but this church has now come back into communion with the Moscow Patriarchate.

How not to get confused!

There are Orthodox churches that are not in communion (that is, united) with the aforementioned churches and sometimes called the Oriental Orthodox Churches.  These did not accept the 4th Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD.  These churches are very close to the canonical Orthodox churches and the prospects for reunion and the settlement of old disagreements now look rather good.  The church known as the "British Orthodox Church" is part of this Oriental Orthodox family being a presence of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria in Great Britain.

There are other self styled Orthodox churches, however, that are not in communion with any of the previously mentioned Orthodox churches including the Oriental Orthodox churches.  A good rule of thumb is that if they are not listed here then they fit into that category for I have only listed those churches that are in communion with each other or whose unity with the rest is not questioned but subject to historical circumstance in certain respects.  If you have an example in mind of whose status you are unsure, please do not hesitate to contact the webmaster in confidence!

Greek Church

A Church in Greece

What is the Church?

In the Scriptures the Church is variously described as the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, the Household of Faith, the Building of God, the fellowship of the Spirit, the People of God and many other ideas and metaphors are used.  Of course, all these ideas have both God and People at their heart and the relationship between the two.  In biblical terms, therefore, it is a nonsense to speak of the believer as a Christian somehow separately or separated from the Church of which he or she is part from baptism.

Is the Church the same as the Kingdom of God?  There is huge overlap of course but these are not identical references.  The Kingdom of God is the reign of God here on earth as in heaven and it has discernible effects in terms of the Spirit's indwelling of Christ, [Luke 4:16-21].  The Church is God's provision for us but not the only manifestation of his work on earth.  We know from experience that there is no limit to God's working.  Either, therefore, we have to expand the definition of the Church beyond baptism to cover the whole Cosmos or simply say that the Kingdom of God is more extensive than the Church. 

Since the Church is a visible organism with boundaries discernible at least on earth, (we might and indeed do dispute where the boundary should be drawn, but there is a boundary nonetheless), we have to say that the Kingdom of God is more all inclusive of God's activity than the Church.  However, no Christian has the right or power to say "I belong to the Kingdom of God, not the Church" for in so doing he puts himself in a place of judgement over the Church, a place that only God can occupy and that is a very serious matter.  Yet, it is such a common error in secular societies today, especially in the west.  Orthodoxy can have no part in that.  It simply neither accords with the Scriptures nor Tradition.

Key Principle  cool

The Church is the body of Christ where I encounter God both directly and through the saints, my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Key Question  ask

What part does the Church play in salvation?

RResources  browse

1.  Canonical Orthodoxy from Al Green's site (works best in Internet Explorer)

2.  The People of God: An Orthodox Perspective by George Papademetriou

Your Own Questions Answered Here  help