You are on page 1of 7


Orthodox Church
The technical name for the body of Christians who use the Byzantine Rite in various languages
and are in union with the Patriarch of Constantinople but in schism with the Pope of Rome.
The epithet Orthodox (orthodoxos), meaning "right believer", is, naturally, claimed by people
of every religion. It is almost exactly a Greek form of the official title of the chief enemies of
the Greeks, i.e. the Moslems (mu'min, fidelis). The Monophysite Armenians called themselves
ughapar, meaning exactly the same thing.

How "Orthodox" became the proper name of the Eastern Church it is difficult to say. It was
used at first, long before the schism of Photius, especially in the East, not with any idea of
opposition against the West, but rather as the antithesis to the Eastern heretics — Nestorians
and Monophysites. Gradually, although of course, both East and West always claimed both
names, "Catholic" became the most common name for the original Church in the West,
"Orthodox" in the East.

It would be very difficult to find the right name for this Church. "Eastern" is too vague, the
Nestorians and Monophysites are Eastern Churches; "Schismatic" has the same disadvantage.
"Greek" is really the least expressive of all. The Greek Church is only one, and a very small
one, of the sixteen Churches that make up this vast communion. The millions of Russians,
Bulgars, Rumanians, Arabs, and so on who belong to it are Greek in no sense at all. According
to their common custom one may add the word "Eastern" to the title and speak of the Orthodox
Eastern Church (he orthodoxos anatolike ekklesia).

The Orthodox, then, are the Christians in the East of Europe, in Egypt and Asia, who accept the
Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon (are therefore neither Nestorians nor Monophysites), but
who, as the result of the schisms of Photius (ninth cent.) and Cerularius (eleventh cent.), are
not in communion with the Catholic Church. There is no common authority obeyed by all, or
rather it is only the authority of "Christ and the seven Ecumenical Synods" (from Nicæa I in
325, to Nicæa II in 787).

These sixteen Churches are: (1) The four Eastern patriarchates — Constantinople, Alexandria,
Antioch, Jerusalem — and the Church of Cyprus, independent since the Council of Ephesus.
(2) Since the great schism eleven new Churches have been added, all but one formed at the
expense of the one vast Patriarchate of Constantinople. They are the six national churches of
Russia, Greece, Servia, Montenegro, Rumania, and Bulgaria, four independent Churches in the
Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, namely Carlovitz, Hermannstadt, Czernovitz, Bosnia-
Herzegovina, and lastly the Church of Mount Sinai, consisting of one monastery separated
from Jerusalem. One of these Churches, that of Bulgaria, is in schism with Constantinople
since 1872. The total number of Orthodox Christians in the world is estimated variously as 95
Heresy and Schism; RUSSIA.)

Transcribed by Geoffrey K. Mondello, Ph.D.

In the East, when a Church is spoken of, four things must be kept distinct: the race to which the
adherents of the Church belong; the speech used in their everyday life, and in their public
devotions; the ecclesiastical rite used in their liturgy, and their actual belief, Catholic or non-
Catholic. It is because these distinctions have not been, and are not, even now, always observed
that a great confusion has arisen in the terminology of those who write or speak of the Eastern
(Oriental) Churches and of the Greek Church. As a matter of fact, the usual signification
attached to the words Eastern Churches extends to all those Churches with a liturgical rite
differing from the Latin Rite. Let them reject the authority of the pope or accept it, they are
none the less Eastern Churches. Thus the Russian Church, separated from Rome, is an Eastern
Church; in the same way the Greek Catholics who live in Italy, and are known as Italo-Greeks,
make up an Eastern Church also. The expression Eastern Churches is therefore the most
comprehensive in use; it includes all believers who follow any of the six Eastern rites now in
use: the Byzantine, Armenian, Syrian, Chaldean, Maronite, and Coptic.

What, then, do we mean when we speak of the Greek Church? -- Ordinarily we take it to mean
all those Churches that use the Byzantine Rite, whether they are separated from Rome or in
communion with the pope, whether they are by race and speech Greek or Slavs, Rumanians,
Georgians, etc. The term Greek Church is, therefore, peculiarly inappropriate, though most
commonly employed. For instance, if we mean to designate the rite, the term Greek Church is
inaccurate, since there is really no Greek Rite properly so called, but only the Byzantine Rite.
If, on the other hand, we wish to designate the nationality of the believers in the Churches
following the Byzantine Rite, we find that out of fifteen or twenty Churches which use that
rite, only three have any claim to be known as The Greek Church, viz., the Church of the
Hellenic Kingdom, the Church of Constantinople, the Church of Cyprus. Again, it must be
borne in mind that in the Church of Constantinople there are included a number of Slavs,
Rumanians, and Albanians who rightly refuse to be known as Greeks.

The term Orthodox Greek Church, or even simply the Orthodox Church, designates, without
distinction of speech, or race, or nationality, all the existing Churches of the Byzantine Rite,
separated from Rome. They claim to be a unit and to have the same body of doctrine, which
they say was that of the primitive Church. As a matter of fact, the orthodoxy of these Churches
is what we call heterodoxy, since it rejects the Papal Infallibility, and the Papal Supremacy, the
dogma of the Immaculate Conception, that of Purgatory, etc. However, by a polite fiction,
educated Catholics give them the name of Orthodox which they have usurped.

The term United Greek Church is generally used to designate all the Churches of the Byzantine
Rite in communion with the See of Rome. Thus the Ruthenian Church of Galicia, the
Rumanian Church of Austria-Hungary, the Bulgarian Church of Turkish Bulgaria, the Melchite
Church of Syria, the Georgian Church, the Italo-Greek Church, and the Church of the Greeks
in Turkey or in the Hellenic Kingdom -- all of them Catholic -- are often called the United
Greek Churches. Again, the term is inappropriate, and belongs of right only to the last two
Churches. As a matter of fact the Ruthenians and Bulgarians are Slavs who follow the
Byzantine Rite, but use a Slavonic translation; whereas the Rumanians are Latins who follow
the Byzantine Rite, but in a Rumanian translation, etc.

Instead of United Greek Church, the term Uniat (or Uniate) Church is often used; and in like
manner the word Uniats is used instead of United Greeks. These words are by no means
synonymous. Uniat Church, or Uniats, has a much wider signification than United Greek
Church or United Greeks, and embraces all the Eastern Churches in communion with Rome,
but following another than the Latin rite, whether it be Byzantine, Armenian, Syrian, Chaldean,
Maronite, or Coptic. The Uniat Church is therefore really synonymous with Eastern Churches
united to Rome, and Uniats is synonymous with Eastern Christians united with Rome.


The Greek Orthodox Churches are Churches separated from Rome and following the
Byzantine Rite, i. e. the rite developed at Constantinople between the fourth and tenth
centuries. In the beginning, the only language of this rite was Greek. Later, however (the exact
date is uncertain), it was introduced among the Georgians, or Iberians, of the Caucasus and was
translated into the Georgian vernacular of the country. In the ninth century, through the efforts
of Sts. Cyril and Methodius and their disciples, the Moravians and the Bulgarians were
converted to Christianity, and as the missionaries were Byzantines they introduced their own
rite, but translated the Liturgy into Slav, the mother tongue of those nations. From Bulgaria this
Byzantine-Slav Rite spread among the Servians and the Russians. In recent times the
Byzantine Rite has been translated into Rumanian for use by the faithful of that nationality.
Lastly, the Orthodox Syrians of Syria, Palestine, and Egypt have adopted a hybrid Byzantine
Rite in which, according to the whim of the celebrant, either Greek or Arabic is used. Hence
we have five divisions of the Byzantine Rite, and consequently five divisions of Orthodox
Greek Churches: --

(1) The Greek-Byzantine Rite, which includes the pure Greeks subject
(a) to the Patriarchate of Constantinople,
(b) to the Holy Synod of Athens, and
(c) to the Archbishopric of Cyprus.
(2) The Arabic-Byzantine Rite, which includes the Christians under the Patriarchates of
(a) Antioch,
(b) Jerusalem,
(c) Alexandria, and
(d) the Archbishopric of Sinai.
(3) The Georgian-Byzantine Rite, which, up to the beginning of the nineteenth century,
included the Churches of the Caucasus Range now absorbed by the Russian Church and
obliged to use the Slavonic Liturgy instead of their own native Georgian.
(4) The Slavonic-Byzantine Rite, comprising
(a) the Russian,
(b) the Servian, and
(c) the Bulgarian Churches.
(5) The Rumanian-Byzantine Rite, used by the Rumanian Churches.


(1) The First Five Centuries

The Gospel, preached by the Apostles and by their disciples, who were converts from Judaism,
spread first of all among the Jewish communities of the Roman Empire. These Jewish
settlements were mainly in the towns, and as a rule spoke the Greek tongue; and thus it came to
pass that the earliest Christian communities were in the towns and used the Greek tongue in
their liturgical services. Gradually, however, Christian converts from among the Gentiles began
to increase and, as the author of the so-called Second Epistle of Clement says, "The children of
the barren woman outnumbered those of the fruitful one". The original differences between the
Judæo-Christian and Helleno-Christian communities quickly disappeared, and soon there
existed only Christians, with a certain number of heretical sects which either held aloof of their
own accord or were constrained to do so. At the end of the fourth century, at least in the East,
nearly all the cities were Christian, but the villages and country places, as in the West, offered a
more stubborn resistance to the new religion. The government of the Church was monarchical;
as a rule every city had its bishop, and the priests were his assistants; the deacons and lower
ministers attended to the ceremonial and to charitable works. Even before the Council of Nicæa
(325) ecclesiastical provinces had begun to appear, each having a metropolitan and several
suffragan bishops. The size of these provinces generally corresponded to the extent of the civil

…Beginning from the year 451, then, we find four Greek patriarchates (Constantinople,
Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem) and one autocephalous Church (Cyprus) under the rule of an
archbishop. Beyond and within the limits of the Roman Empire two other Churches had
secured autonomy and broken with the Greek Churches; these were the Persian and the
Armenian Churches, offshoots from the Church of Antioch. Lastly, in Europe the majority of
the Greek-speaking Churches looked to the pope as their patriarch.

…The Greek Schism; Conversion of the Slavs (Ninth to Eleventh Century)

The Greek Schism, about which space permits us to say very little (see PHOTIUS; MICHAEL
CALUBARIUS), was caused by something that must have seemed trivial at Constantinople.
On 23 November, 858, the Patriarch Ignatius was deposed, and on 25 December in the same
year Photius succeeded him. Ignatius was deposed because he had refused Communion to the
Emperor Bardas, who was living openly in sin with his daughter-in-law. It was not the first
time at Byzantium that for more or less lawful actions an orthodox patriarch had been deposed
and another appointed in his place. Thus, among other examples, Macedonius II had succeeded
Euphemius in 496; John III had succeeded Eutychius in 565; Cyrus had succeeded Callinicus
in 706, and John VI had replaced Cyrus in 712, without causing any great commotion.

Ignatius might then have let things take their course and waited in his retreat till fortune turned
his way once more. This he did not do, and, if he was somewhat lacking in suppleness, his right
was incontestable. Once he had refused to consent to his deposition, Pope Nicholas I was
bound to uphold him and to condemn Photius, who was an outright usurper. Photius was clever
enough to see that a rupture with Rome on this point would not satisfy even the Greeks, so he
cast about for another issue. He took, one by one, the many causes for separation that had been
in the air for centuries and united them into a body of doctrine; then, confident in his learning
and prestige, he decided to give battle. The insertion of the "Filioque" clause in the Creed, the
procession of the Holy Ghost ab utroque, (from both) etc., were so many reasons which were
bound to have their effect upon the leading minds when the question of the separation came up.
Then again the popes' acknowledgment of the Frankish kings as Emperors of the West was
bound to carry weight in Byzantine political circles. Moreover, it was evident by this time that
between the Latin and Greek worlds there existed a chasm which must grow broader with the
years. However, the Photius affair was arranged. Ignatius forgave his rival and, it appears, on
his death-bed designated him as his successor. Pope John VIII sanctioned this choice, and if
subsequent popes excommunicated Photius it was for special reasons not yet sufficiently
In 886, Photius was deposed by the Emperor Leo VI, who disliked him, and, between 893 and
901, a reconciliation of the two Churches was effected by Pope John IX and the Patriarch
Antonius Cauleas. During the entire tenth century, and the first part of the eleventh, relations
between the Roman and the Greek Churches were excellent. There were, no doubt, occasional
difficulties, always unavoidable in societies different in customs, speech, and civilization, but
we may almost go so far as to say that the union between the Churches was as deep and sincere
as it was during the first three centuries of Christianity. Michael Cærularius, however, desired a
schism for no other reason, apparently, than to satisfy his pride, and in 1054 he succeeded in
making one at the very time when everything seemed to promise a lasting peace. For this
purpose he brought forward, besides the theological reasons stated by Photius, many others that
Photius had neglected or merely hinted at, and which were judged particularly fitted to catch
the popular fancy. The use of azymes, or unleavened bread, in the liturgy, the celibacy imposed
on all priests in the West, the warlike manners of Western bishops and priests, the shaven face
and the tonsure, the Saturday fast, and other such divergences of practice were used to discredit
the Latin Church. Thoughtful men may not have been misled by these specious arguments, but
the mass of the people and the monks were certainly influenced, and at Constantinople it was
they who made up public opinion. For this very reason the policy of Michael Cærularius, petty
and superficial as it was, was better fitted than that of Photius to bring about permanent results.
Indeed, so thoroughly did it cut off the Greek peoples from Rome that since then she has never
won them back.

Unfortunately, this movement of separation under Photius and Michael Cærularius was on foot
at the very time when the Slavs were being converted to Christianity, a fact in the history of the
evangelization of the nations second only in importance to the conversion of the Germanic
races. The Serbians and Croatians, settled by the Emperor Heraclius (610-41) on the lands they
still inhabit, had adopted the Christian teaching of Roman priests and bishops. But the progress
of the new religion was so slow that a second conversion was deemed necessary. It took place
under the Emperor Basil the Macedonian (867-86); as it was entrusted to Byzantine
missionaries the Greek Rite of Constantinople was adopted. This had no small weight in
detaching from Rome whole provinces that were formerly subject to it, and when these
numerous Serbian Churches broke away from Byzantium, it was to organize autonomous
ecclesiastical bodies independent of both Rome and Constantinople. In this way a whole region
was lost to Catholicism. The Bulgarians, who had crossed the Danube about the same time as
the Serbians, formed a more or less homogeneous nation with the Slavs and became a warrior
people that more than once struck terror into the heart of the Byzantine Basileus. Towards the
end of 864, or in the opening months of 865, their king, Boris, was baptized by a Greek bishop
and took the name of Michael after his godfather, the Emperor of Byzantium. Photius, who was
patriarch at the time, did not see his way to granting all the demands of King Boris, so, like a
cunning politician, the latter turned to Rome and succeeded in obtaining successively several
missionaries to organize the new-born Church within his territory. His next step was to send
away all the German and Byzantine missionaries whom he found there. His real ambition was
to have a patriarch of his own who would anoint him emperor just as the Greek patriarch
anointed the Basileus at Constantinople, and as the pope anointed the Germanic emperor of the
West. Whether he got his patriarch from Rome or from Constantinople mattered little; the main
thing was to have one at any cost. Rome did not fall in with his plan, and Boris turned again to
Constantinople, thereby initiating a serious misunderstanding between Rome and
Constantinople which considerably added to the strain occasioned by the affairs of Ignatius and
Photius. Rome claimed the Bulgarians as inhabitants of ancient Illyricum (her former
ecclesiastical territory) and as having been baptized by her missionaries; Constantinople
claimed that its priests had converted the Bulgarians, that the land was once imperial territory,
and that the Council of Chalcedon had given Constantinople the right to consecrate bishops for
all barbarian countries. Between the two Churches the Bulgarians did not know which way to
turn. They retained the Byzantine Rite, which, with its elaborate ceremonial, made a deep
impression upon their child-like imaginations, and, formally, they submitted to Greek bishops,
until they should have bishops and a patriarch of their own. When, in 886, the disciples of Sts.
Cyril and Methodius, expelled from Moravia by King Swiatopluk, took refuge in Bulgaria,
they were received with open arms. The newcomers introduced into Bulgaria the Byzantine
Liturgy, but in the Slavonic tongue, whereas hitherto the Bulgarian priests had used the Greek
language. From Bulgaria this Byzantino-Slavonic Liturgy spread among the Serbians, the
Russians, and all the Slav peoples.

…Efforts towards Reunion; The Crusades (Eleventh to Fifteenth Century)

In spite of the emperor and the Court, who favoured an understanding with Rome and the West,
Michael Cærularius proclaimed his schism in 1054. He was followed by most of the clergy,
also by the monks and the Greek people. Peter, the Patriarch of Antioch, held aloof from this
violent measure, but died soon afterwards, and his successor went over to Cærularius. The
Patriarch of Alexandria, usually resident at Constantinople, sided with the bishop of the capital;
the Greek Archbishop of Ochrida was devoted to Cærularius and was one of the first to stir up
the question of the azymes as a grievance against Rome. Lastly, the head of the Russian Church
was only a metropolitan dependent on the Byzantine Church. Therefore, with the exception of
the insignificant Patriarch of Jerusalem, who at first tried to agree with both parties, all the
Greek Churches had taken sides against Catholicism about the end of the eleventh century. In
the years that elapsed from the death of Photius (891) to the fall of Constantinople (1453) the
anti-Roman doctrine of the Greek Church took definite shape.

Photius was the first who attempted to co-ordinate all possible reasons of complaint against the
Latins. He enumerated seven chief grievances: the procession of the Holy Spirit from the
Father and the Son, the insertion of the "Filioque" clause in the Creed, the primacy of the pope,
the reconfirmation of those confirmed by Greek priests, the Saturday fast, the use of milk foods
during the first week of Lent, the obligation of celibacy on the priests. The last three do not in
any way affect dogma, and as much might be said of the second. The reconfirmation of those
already confirmed seems to have been a false accusation, unless some Latin missionaries
sinned through excess of zeal. The primacy of the pope had always been recognized by the
patriarchs of the East, and by Photius himself, as long as the pope was willing to condescend to
their wishes. The first letter of Photius to Pope Nicholas I does not differ from those of his
predecessors, save for its more submissive tone and more humble diction. Appeals to the pope
from the East between the second and ninth centuries are very numerous. And as for the Greek
theory of the procession of the Holy Ghost, it was no new thing in the ninth century; St. John
Damascene and St. Maximus of Chrysopolis had favoured this doctrine long before Photius
and were never accused of heresy. It would, therefore, have been easy to find a common
ground or compromise that would have harmonized the teaching of both schools.

Passing from Photius to Michael Cærularius, we find only one new complaint directed against
the Latins, and that liturgical: the use of unleavened bread (see AZYMES). On this point the
dispute was impossible of settlement, since each Church had been using its own particular kind
of bread from time immemorial. Fresh differences in the meantime arose: the placing (about
the thirteenth century) of the Epiclesis (invocation of the Holy Ghost to consecrate the
elements at Mass) before the Consecration; Purgatory, which the Greeks would not admit,
although they prayed for the dead and mortified themselves in their behalf; the full
glorification of the just prior to the general judgment; the general judgment itself, which they
rejected, as did also some Latin medieval theologians; the giving of communion to the laity
under one species; baptism by infusion. To all these differences were to be added in the
nineteenth century the dogma of the Immaculate Conception and that of Papal Infallibility.
Merely for the sake of recording them, we may mention liturgical differences, as the manner of
fasting in Lent, the adoption of a new calendar, the manner of making the sign of the cross --
causes of offence which the Greek clergy took pleasure in keeping alive, and which made a
deep impression on a people devoted to trifles and, generally, very ignorant.

Papal Efforts at Reunion

The breach declared in 1054 has never been repaired. Yet this has not been the fault of the
popes. As early as 1072 we find Alexander II eager for reunion. This attempt failed because of
the unflinching opposition of the philosopher Michael Psellos, the Patriarch Xiphilinos, and
their fanatical friends. Thenceforth until the fall of Constantinople (1453) the popes multiplied
letters, embassies, and paternal advice to win back the erring Greeks to the fold of orthodoxy,
and to keep them there on their return. All in vain. The two reconciliations effected by the
Councils of Lyons (1274) and of Florence (1439) were solely due to the efforts of the popes
and the Byzantine emperors. At Lyons Michael VIII, Palæologus, a clever politician,
proclaimed himself and his people Catholics in order to save his crown and to stay the
formidable armament of Charles of Anjou. At Florence John VII, Palæologus, came to beg men
and arms from Europe to save his capital from the threatening Turks. It would be difficult for
an impartial historian to affirm the sincerity of their desire for religious union. One thing is
certain, their clergy followed them with the greatest reluctance, and at Lyons the Greek clergy
kept aloof from any union with Rome, and would not listen to it at any price. Michael
Palæologus was hardly dead (1282) when his son Andronicus undid all that he had
accomplished, and even denied religious burial to his father; moreover, the Catholic patriarch,
John Veccos, was deposed together with all his friends.

John VII, Palæologus, who had agreed to the union at Florence, either could not, or did not
dare, proclaim it in his capital. He feared either the anathemas or the intrigues of men like
Mark of Ephesus, or George Scholarios. His brother, Constantine Dragases, the last of the
Byzantine emperors, died heroically for his country. He, also, feared at the beginning of his
reign to impose the union on his clergy and people. He had to wait until 12 December, 1452,
hardly six months before the entry of the Turks into the capital, when Cardinal Isidore
solemnly proclaimed the union of Florence in the church of Saint Sophia. Admiral Notaras
cynically observed that the Greeks preferred the turban of the prophet to the tiara of the pope.
It must, however, be acknowledged that the seeds of union sown by the missionaries and by the
envoys of Rome have never been completely stifled. There have always been Greeks who were
sincerely Catholics, even in the darkest days of their country's history. Among them some have
always defended with their pens, and often at the risk of their lives, the unity of the Church and
the primacy of Rome. Demetracopoulos, it is true, has published a lengthy list of the principal
anti-Roman writers among the Greeks, but it would be easy to prepare another very large work
of the same kind exhibiting the pro-Catholic activity of many Greeks. John Veccos (Beccos),
George Acropolites, Isidore of Kiev, Bessarion, Arcudius, Allatius, are names that carry weight
with any unbiassed historian, and they had many disciples and imitators.