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The Orthodox Churches

The term Orthodox Church actually covers a loose confederation of eastern European and middle eastern churches. These churches share the same faith and are in communion with one another. The Orthodox Church does not recognize the primacy of the pope. There is however a symbolic leader in the Patriarch of Constantinople. All orthodox churches acknowledge the honorary primacy of the see of Constantinople.[1]

The Orthodox Church claims more than 160 million believers world wide. The larger orthodox churches include the Russian (92 million followers), the Greek (13 million) and the Serbian (8 million).[2]

In terms of faith the Orthodox Church share many similarities with the Roman Catholic Church. It accepts all the seven sacraments, called Mysteries by the Orthodox, mentioned above. There are some differences however in the rites of these sacraments. Baptism, for instance, is done by total immersion in water instead of just sprinkling in the forehead. Bishops are celibate although parish priests are generally married. [a] Hence unlike the Catholic Church, where a priest can rise through the ranks to become a bishop, Orthodox bishops are drawn from the celibate monks. [3]

The weekly worship of the Orthodox Church is also very similar in essence to the Roman Church; the elaborately dressed priest, the use of incense, holy water and candles are all there. However instead of the Mass it is called the Liturgy.[4] Here too the service is normally performed in the language of the people and no longer in archaic Greek. The veneration of saints is also present in the Orthodox Church. Though naturally some persons considered saints by the Catholic Church are not considered as such by the Orthodox Church. The veneration of icons (religious pictures) play an important part in its public and private worship.[5]

Another group of churches normally considered Orthodox are the monophysite churches. These churches which include the Coptic (Egyptian), Abyssinian (Ethiopian), Armenian and the Syrian are united in their theologies with regard to the nature of Christ though the churches themselves are autonomous. Worldwide there are about 29 million followers of these monophysite churches.[6]


a.An orthodox priest cannot get married once he is ordained. Thus those who wish to marry must do so before they are made deacon. And if a priest's wife passes away after he is ordained, he is not allowed to marry again. [7]


1 Livingstone,Dictionary of the Christian Church: p373
2 Hoffman, The World's Almanac: p610; Barret, The World Christian Encyclopedia: p792-793
3 Livingstone,Dictionary of the Christian Church: p373
4 Hilliard, How Men Worship: p161
5 Livingstone,Dictionary of the Christian Church: p373
6 Barret, The World Christian Encyclopedia: p792-793

7 Ware, The Orthodox Church: p298

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