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The Eastern Orthodox Churches trace their roots back to the Apostles and Jesus Christ. Apostolic succession established by the seats of Patriarchy (for example see the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem). Eastern Orthodoxy reached its golden age during the high point of the Byzantine Empire, and then continued to flourish in Russia after the Fall of Constantinople. Numerous autocephalous churches have been established in Eastern Europe and Slavic areas.

Four stages of development can be distinguished in the history of the Eastern Orthodox Churches. The first three centuries, through the age of Constantine the Great constitute the apostolic and ancient period. The medieval period comprises almost ten centuries from the death of Constantine to the Fall of Constantinople. The age of captivity (under Islam) starts, roughly, for the Greek and Balkan communities in the fifteenth century with the Fall of Constantinople, and ends about the year 1830, which marks Greek and Balkan independence from the Ottoman Empire. The last stage is the modern period.

The Orthodox churches with the largest number of adherents in modern times are the Russian and the Romanian Orthodox churches. The most ancient of the Orthodox churches of today are the Churches of Constantinople, Alexandria (which includes all of Africa), Georgia, Antioch, and Jerusalem.[1][2][3]


Ottoman Empire


Persecution by the "Young Turks"

During 1894-1923 the Ottoman Empire conducted a policy of genocide against the Christian population living within its extensive territory. The Sultan, Abdul Hamid, issued an official governmental policy of genocide against the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire in 1894. Systematic massacres took place in 1894-1896 when Abdul savagely killed 300,000 Armenians throughout the provinces. In 1909 government troops killed, in the towns of Adana alone, over 20,000 Christian Armenians.

When World War I broke out, the Ottoman Empire was ruled by the "Young Turks" that allied the empire with Germany. In 20th century, the number of Orthodox Christians, and of Christians in general, in the Anatolian peninsula has sharply declined amidst complaints of Turkish governmental repression of various Eastern and Oriental Orthodox groups.[4][5]

In the first two decades of the 20th century, there were massacres of Greeks, Slavs, and Armenians in the Ottoman empire, culminating in the Armenian, Greek and Assyrian genocides.

Republic of Turkey


During the Lausanne Conference in 1923, the Turkish and Greek sides after some discussions accepted the proposal of a population exchange. Muslims in Greece (save the ones in Eastern Thrace) were expelled to Turkey, and Greek Orthodox people in Turkey (save the ones in Istanbul) were expelled to Greece.

In September 1955, a pogrom was directed primarily at Istanbul's 100,000-strong Greek minority.[6][7] In 1971, the Halki seminary in Istanbul was closed along with other private higher education institutions in Turkey.[8]

The modern Turkish state requires the Patriarch of Constantinople to be a Turkish citizen but allows the Synod of Constantinople to elect him.

Orthodoxy in other Muslim-majority states of the Middle East and Central Asia

Orthodoxy under the Palestinian National Authority (including Gaza). Orthodoxy in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Jordan, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan (see Melkite and Kurdish Christians).

Russia under Muslim Mongol rule

Russia lay under Mongol rule from the 13th through the 15th century. The Mongol invasion of Rus of 1237–1242AD lead to what is called the Tatar period in Russian History. This period lead to great calamity for the internal structure of Russia. Much of Russia was ruled by Mongols and Russian Princes (of whom had limited power). The eventual end of the reign of the Golden Horde is said to have begun with the Battle of Kulikovo 8 September 1380. Which involves the famous Eastern Orthodox legend of Monk and Russian champion Alexander Peresvet and his death that mark the battle's beginning. The final pseudo-battle or face off that ended Mongol rule in Russia was the Great stand on the Ugra river in 1480AD. The death toll (by battle, massacre, flooding, and famine) of the Mongol wars of conquest is placed at about 40 million according to some sources.[9]

Orthodox Church in China

The Chinese Orthodox Church was an autonomous Eastern Orthodox church in China, which, prior to the Chinese Cultural Revolution in 1966, was estimated to have as many as twenty thousand members. Nowadays, Orthodox Christianity is practiced primarily by the ethnic Russian minority in China.

Medieval period

An early medieval mission of the Assyrian Church of the East brought Christianity to China but it was suppressed in the 9th century. The Christianity of that period is commemorated by the Nestorian Stele and Daqin Pagoda of Xi'an,

Russian Mission

Eastern Orthodoxy arrived in China via Siberia in 1685. In that year, the Kangxi Emperor resettled 31 inhabitants from the captured fort of Albazin on the Amur River. Maxim Leontiev, the priest who led the 30 others, dedicated the first Eastern Orthodox church in Beijing. Their descendants, or Albazinians, though thoroughly Sinicized in other respects, still adhere to Eastern Orthodoxy.

The first mission establishment was begun in 1715 at Beijing by an Orthodox Archimandrite, Hilarion. Under Sava Vladislavich's pressure, the Chinese conceded to the Russians the right to build an Orthodox chapel at the ambassadorial quarters of Beijing. The intention of the mission was not to evangelize among the Chinese but merely to serve as chaplains to the original mission and, later, to the Russian diplomatic mission staff as well.

In the first 150 years of its presence in China, the church did not attract a large following. In 1860 it was estimated that there were no more than 200 Orthodox Christians in Beijing, including the descendants of naturalized Russians. There was, however, a resurgence in membership after 1860.

The Boxer Rebellion and the Cultural Revolution

St Nicholas, a Russian Orthodox church in Harbin, circa 1925, destroyed during the Cultural Revolution

The Boxer Rebellion of 1898–1900 saw violent attacks on Chinese converts to Christianity. Some Orthodox Chinese were among those killed, and in June every year the 222 Chinese Orthodox, including Father Mitrophan, who died in 1900 are commemorated as remembered on the icon of the Holy Martyrs of China. The mission's library at Beijing was also burned down. In spite of the uprising, by 1902 there were 32 Orthodox churches in China, with close to 6,000 adherents. The church also ran schools and orphanages.

106 Orthodox churches were opened in China by 1949. In general the parishioners of these churches were Russian refugees, and the Chinese part was composed of about 10,000 people. The Cultural Revolution obliterated or nearly obliterated the Chinese Orthodox Church. Many churches were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.


Although the People's Republic of China extends official recognition to some religious communities (Protestantism, Islam, Taoism, and Buddhism), Orthodox Christianity and Roman Catholicism are not among them (though with the latter, the Chinese government had formed a "Patriotic Catholic Church" or "Patriotic Catholic Association" that is not in communion with Rome). The officially declared reason for the government's non-recognition of the Orthodox Church is the government's fear that external political forces from outside nations—in this case, primarily Russia—could achieve influence within China. This places the Church in the legal status of religia-illicitata.

Several Orthodox congregations continue to meet in Beijing and northeast China (in Heilongjiang and elsewhere), with, apparently, the tacit consent of the government. There are also Orthodox parishes in Shanghai, Province of Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.

Meanwhile, as of the early 21st century, The Church operates relatively freely in Hong Kong (where the Ecumenical Patriarch has sent a metropolitan, Bishop Nikitas and the Russian Orthodox parish of St Peter and St Paul resumed its operation) and Taiwan (where archimandrite Jonah George Mourtos leads a mission church).

Orthodox Evenkis

Although many of them have adopted Lamaism — which is the mainstream form of Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism — the Evenks of both the Russian Federation and the People's Republic of China are a nominally Orthodox Christian people. Along with their Evenks cousins and a few other tribes in Siberia or in China, they are some of the only Asiatic peoples who nominally practice Orthodox Christianity, which they had voluntarily (as opposed to being coerced to do so) adopted during contacts from Russian expansion into Siberia.

The Eastern Catholic Churches or Byzantine Rite Churches

The domes of a Ukrainian Catholic parish in Simpson, Pennsylvania

Eastern Catholic Churches make up 2% of the membership of the Catholic Church, and less than 10% of all Eastern Christians. Most Eastern Catholic Churches have counterparts in other Eastern Churches, whether Assyrian or Oriental Orthodox, from whom they are separated by a number of theological differences, or the Eastern Orthodox Churches, from whom they are separated primarily by differences in understanding of the role of the Bishop of Rome within the College of Bishops.

The Eastern Catholic Churches were located historically in Eastern Europe, the Asian Middle East, Northern Africa and India, but are now, because of migration, found also in Western Europe, the Americas and Oceania.


The Maronite Church and the Syro-Malabar Church are Eastern Catholic Churches that never broke communion with the Church of Rome. Within the Antiochian church the Eastern Catholic movement started after the Ottoman Turks' conquest of Antioch in the early 15th century, under whose control it remained until the breakup of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I. During this period, in 1724, the Church of Antioch was again weakened by schism, as a major portion of its faithful came into communion with the Roman Catholic Church. The resultant Uniate body is known as the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, which in the current day maintains close ties with the Orthodox and is currently holding ongoing talks about healing the schism and returning the Melkites to Orthodoxy.

The Uniate movement within East-Central Europe was started with the 1598-1599 Union of Brest, by which the "Metropolia of Kiev-Halych and all Rus'" entered into relationship with the Roman Catholic Church.

A century later, a similar movement occurred in Romania, as described on the website of Delia Despina Dumitrica.[10].

Conflict between Eastern Catholics and Eastern Orthodox

Since the beginnings of the Uniate movement, there have been periodic conflicts between the Orthodox and Uniate in Poland and Western Russia. [11]. During the Time of Troubles there was a plan (by the conquering Polish monarchy) to convert all of Russia to Roman Catholicism. Patriarch Hermogenes was martyred by the Roman Catholics during this period (see also Polish-Lithuanian-Muscovite Commonwealth).

The Eastern Catholic churches consider themselves to have reconciled the East and West Schism by keeping their prayers and rituals similar to those of Eastern Orthodoxy, while also accepting the primacy of the Bishop of Rome.

Some Eastern Orthodox charge that joining in this unity comes at the expense of ignoring critical doctrinal differences and past atrocities. From the perspective of many Eastern Orthodox, Eastern Catholicism is a ploy by Roman Catholicism to undermine and ultimately destroy their church by undermining its legitimacy and absorbing it into the Roman Catholic church. It is feared that this ploy would diminish the power to the original eastern Patriarchs of the church and would require the acceptance of rejected doctrines and Scholasticism over faith. [12][13]

In the 20th century, there have been conflicts which involved forced conversions both by the Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox. In Croatia, the Ustaše forced the conversion of Eastern Orthodox to Roman Catholicism. Other forced conversions included the Roman Catholics inside the USSR and Eastern Bloc after the October Revolution.[14].

Rejection of Uniatism

At a meeting in Balamand, Lebanon in June 1993, the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church declared that these initiatives that "led to the union of certain communities with the See of Rome and brought with them, as a consequence, the breaking of communion with their Mother Churches of the East ... took place not without the interference of extra-ecclesial interests" (section 8 of the document); and that what has been called "uniatism" "can no longer be accepted either as a method to be followed nor as a model of the unity our Churches are seeking" (section 12).

At the same time, the Commission stated:

  • 3) Concerning the Eastern Catholic Churches, it is clear that they, as part of the Catholic Communion, have the right to exist and to act in response to the spiritual needs of their faithful.
  • 16) The Oriental Catholic Churches who have desired to re-establish full communion with the See of Rome and have remained faithful to it, have the rights and obligations which are connected with this communion.

Russian Orthodox Church in the Russian Empire

Churches of the Moscow Kremlin, as seen from the Balchug

The Russian Orthodox Church held a privileged position in the Russian Empire, expressed in the motto, Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality, of the late Russian Empire. At the same time, it was placed under the control of the Tsar by the Church reform of Peter I in the 18th century. Its governing body was the Most Holy Synod, which was run by an official, titled Ober-Procurator, appointed by the Tsar himself.

The church was involved in various campaigns of russification,[15] and, as a consequence, it was accused of participating in anti-Jewish pogroms.[16][17] In the case of anti-semitism and the anti-Jewish pogroms, no evidence is given of the direct participation of the church; it is important to remember that many Russian Orthodox clerics, including senior hierarchs, openly defended persecuted Jews, at least starting with the second half of the nineteenth century.[18] Also, the Church has no official position on Judaism as such.[18] [19] [20] In modern times, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn has been accused of antisemitism for his book Two Hundred Years Together, where he alleges Jewish participation in the political repression of the Soviet regime (see also Hebrew and Byzantine relations).[21][22] Solzhenitsyn's book Two Hundred Years Together is an historical study of the relationship between Russian Orthodox Christians and Jews in Russia from 1772 to modern times.[23][22][24]

The Church was allowed to impose taxes on the peasants.

The Church, like the Tsarist state was seen as an enemy of the people by the Bolsheviks and other Russian revolutionaries.

Russian Orthodox Church in the Soviet Union

The Russian Orthodox Church collaborated with the White Army in the Russian Civil War (see White movement) after the October Revolution. This may have further strengthened the Bolshevik animus against the church. According to Lenin, a communist regime cannot remain neutral on the question of religion but must show itself to be merciless towards it. There was no place for the church in Lenin's classless society.

Before and after the October Revolution of 7 November 1917 (October 25 Old Calendar) there was a movement within the Soviet Union to unite all of the people of the world under Communist rule (see Communist International). This included the Eastern European bloc countries as well as the Balkan States. Since some of these Slavic states tied their ethnic heritage to their ethnic churches, both the peoples and their church were targeted by the Soviet and its form of State atheism.[25] [26] The Soviets' official religious stance was one of "religious freedom or tolerance", though the state established atheism as the only scientific truth (see also the Soviet or committee of the All-Union Society for the Dissemination of Scientific and Political Knowledge or Znanie which was until 1947 called the The League of the Militant Godless and various Intelligentsia groups). [27][28][29] Criticism of atheism was strictly forbidden and sometimes resulted in imprisonment.[30]

The Soviet Union was the first state to have as an ideological objective the elimination of religion. Toward that end, the Communist regime confiscated church property, ridiculed religion, harassed believers, and propagated atheism in the schools. Actions toward particular religions, however, were determined by State interests, and most organized religions were never outlawed. It is estimated that some 20 million Christians (17 million Orthodox 3 million Roman catholic) died or where interned in gulags.[31] Some actions against Orthodox priests and believers along with execution included torture being sent to prison camps, labour camps or mental hospitals.[32][33] The result of this militant atheism was to transform the Church into a persecuted and martyred Church. In the first five years after the Bolshevik revolution, 28 bishops and 1,200 priests were executed.[34]

The main target of the anti-religious campaign in the 1920s and 1930s was the Russian Orthodox Church, which had the largest number of faithful. Nearly all of its clergy, and many of its believers, were shot or sent to labor camps. Theological schools were closed, and church publications were prohibited. In the period between 1927 and 1940, the number of Orthodox Churches in the Russian Republic fell from 29,584 to less than 500. Between 1917 and 1940, 130,000 Orthodox priests were arrested. The widespread persecution and internecine disputes within the church hierarchy lead to the seat of Patriarch of Moscow being vacant from 1925-1943.

After Nazi Germany's attack on the Soviet Union in 1941, Joseph Stalin revived the Russian Orthodox Church to intensify patriotic support for the war effort. By 1957 about 22,000 Russian Orthodox churches had become active. But in 1959 Nikita Khrushchev initiated his own campaign against the Russian Orthodox Church and forced the closure of about 12,000 churches. By 1985 fewer than 7,000 churches remained active.[34]

In the Soviet Union, in addition to the methodical closing and destruction of churches, the charitable and social work formerly done by ecclesiastical authorities was taken over by the state. As with all private property, Church owned property was confiscated into public use. The few places of worship left to the Church were legally viewed as state property which the government permitted the church to use. After the advent of state funded universal education, the Church was not permitted to carry on educational, instructional activity for children. For adults, only training for church-related occupations was allowed. Outside of sermons during the celebration of the divine liturgy it could not instruct or evangelise to the faithful or its youth. Catechism classes, religious schools, study groups, Sunday schools and religious publications were all illegal and or banned. This persecution continued, even after the death of Stalin until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. This caused many religious tracts to be circulated as illegal literature or samizdat.[32] Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian Orthodox Church has recognized a number of New Martyrs as saints, some executed during Mass operations of the NKVD under directives like NKVD Order No. 00447.

Other Orthodox Churches under communist rule

Enei Church, central Bucharest, Romania. It was purposely demolished by the Communist authorities at 10 March 1977, 6 days after the earthquake, although it wasn't affected.

Albania was the first state to have declared itself officially fully atheist.[35] In some other communist states such as Romania, the Orthodox Church as an organisation enjoyed relative freedom and even prospered, albeit under strict secret police control. That, however, did not rule out demolishing churches and monasteries as part of broader systematization (urban planning), state persecution of individual believers, and Romania stands out as a country which ran a specialised institution where many Orthodox (along with peoples of other faiths) were subjected to psychological punishment or torture and mind control experimentation in order to force them give up their religious convictions (see Piteşti prison).[36][37]

World War II

During the Second World War, two groups of Orthodox Christians were especially targeted for genocide by the Nazis and their allies - the Gypsies and the Orthodox Serbs of Bosnia and Croatia, while the population of Greece, Serbia, European Russia, and Ukraine were designated by the Nazis to serve as slave labor for the Third Reich. By special order of Heinrich Himmler (21 April 1942), clergyman from the East (as opposed to their counterparts from Western Europe) were to be used for hard labor (also see Alfred Rosenberg).

Diaspora emigration to the West

One of the most striking developments in modern historical Orthodoxy is the dispersion of Orthodox Christians to the West. Emigration from Greece and the Near East in the last hundred years has created a sizable Orthodox diaspora in Western Europe, North and South America, and Australia. In addition, the Bolshevik Revolution forced thousands of Russian exiles westward. As a result, Orthodoxy's traditional frontiers have been profoundly modified. Millions of Orthodox are no longer geographically "eastern" since they live permanently in their newly adopted countries in the West. Nonetheless, they remain Eastern Orthodox in their faith and practice. Virtually all the Orthodox nationalities - Greek, Arab, Russian, Serbian, Albanian, Ukrainian, Romanian, Bulgarian - are represented in the United States.

National churches

Church of Jerusalem

The Stone of the Anointing, believed to be the place where Jesus' body was prepared for burial. It is the 13th Station of the Cross.

The Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem and the ecclesiastics of the Orthodox church are based in the ancient Church of the Holy Sepulchre constructed in 335 AD. The church is known there for the annual Pascha miracle of the Holy Fire (though not without its controversy) on Holy Saturday. During the years that Jerusalem was under Muslim rule, positions in the clerical hierarchy were decided by Islamic officials. In modern times positions are now chosen by the Jewish government.

Church of Antioch

The community and seat of the patriarchate according to Orthodox tradition was founded by St Peter and the given to St Ignatius), in what is now Turkey. However, in the 15th century, it was moved to the "Street called Straight" in Damascus, modern-day Syria, in response to the Ottoman invasion of Antioch. Its traditional territory includes Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait and parts of Turkey.

Its North American branch is autonomous, although the Holy Synod of Antioch still appoints its head bishop, chosen from a list of three candidates nominated in the North American archdiocese. Its Australasia and Oceania branch is the largest in terms of area.

Disputes over the Christology of the Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon—the Monophysite controversy—in 451 led to a schism within the Church of Antioch, which at that same council was elevated to the status of a patriarchate. The larger group at the time repudiated the council and became the Syriac Orthodox Church (also called the "Jacobites" for Jacob Baradeus, an early bishop of the group who did extensive missionary work in the region). They currently constitute part of the Oriental Orthodox communion and maintain a Christology somewhat different in language from that of Chalcedon.

The remainder of the Church of Antioch, primarily local Greeks or Hellenized sections of the indigenous population, remained in communion with Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, and Jerusalem. This is the current Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East which is considered by the other bishops of the Orthodox Church to be the sole legitimate heir to the See of Antioch.

The schism of the Council at Chalcedon greatly weakened the Antiochian church, and in 637 when Antioch fell to the Muslim Arabs, the "Greek" church was perceived by the invaders as allied to the Romano-Byzantine enemies of the Arabs. During the subsequent period, Antiochian Orthodox Christians underwent a lengthy period of persecution, and there were multiple periods of either vacancy or non-residence on the Antiochian patriarchal throne during the 7th and 8th centuries. In 969, the Roman Empire regained control of Antioch, and the church there prospered again until 1085, when the Seljuk Turks took the city. During this period of more than a hundred years, the traditional West Syrian liturgy of the church was gradually replaced by that of the tradition of the Great Church, Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. This process was completed sometime in the 12th century.

Crusader and Muslim conquests
In 1098, Crusaders took the city and set up a Latin Patriarchate of Antioch to adorn its Latin Kingdom of Syria, while a Greek patriarchate continued in exile in Constantinople. After nearly two centuries of Crusader rule, the Egyptian Mamelukes seized Antioch in 1268, and the Orthodox patriarch, Theodosius IV, was able to return to the region. By this point, Antioch itself had been reduced to a smaller town, and so in the 14th century Ignatius II transferred the seat of the patriarchate to Damascus, where it remains to this day, though the patriarch retains the Antiochian title.

The Ottoman Turks conquered the city in 1517, under whose control it remained until the breakup of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I. During this period, in 1724, the Church of Antioch was again weakened by schism, as a major portion of its faithful came into submission to the Roman Catholic Church. The resultant Uniate body is known as the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, which in the current day maintains close ties with the Orthodox and is currently holding ongoing talks about healing the schism and returning the Melkites to Orthodoxy.

By the 18th century the great majority of the communicants of the Antiochian church were Arabs. In 1898 the last Greek patriarch was deposed, and an Arab successor was elected in 1899. Thus the patriarchate became fully Arab in character. A strong renewal movement, involving Orthodox youth in particular, has been under way since the 1940s.[38]

Church of Greece

Influenced by the French Revolution's explosive ideas, Greece was the first to break the Turkish yoke, winning its independence early in the 19th century in the Greek War of Independence. Before long, a synod of bishops declared the Church of the new Kingdom of Greece autocephalous. The new Greek nation, in short, could not be headed by the patriarch. Indeed, Greece's autocephalous status, recognized by Constantinople in 1850, meant that it could elect its own head or kephale. The Church of Greece is today governed by a Holy Synod presided over by the Archbishop of Athens.

Church of Cyprus

Since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the Church of Cyprus has been engaged in a struggle between rejoining the mainland Church of Greece, being reunited with the Turkish Empire and independence.

Church of Egypt in Alexandria

The Greek Church of Alexandria claims succession from the Apostle Mark the Evangelist who founded the Church in the 1st century, and therefore the beginning of Christianity in Africa. It is one of the five ancient patriarchates of the early Church, called the Pentarchy.

Sometimes called the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria to distinguish it from the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria. In Egypt, members of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate were also called Melkite, because they remained in communion with the Patriarch of Constantinople.

Since the schism occurring as a result of the political and Christological controversies at the Council of Chalcedon (451), the Greek Orthodox have liturgically been Greek-speaking. After the Arab conquest of North Africa in the 7th century the Eastern Orthodox were a minority even among Christians, and remained small for centuries.

The church in recent years, has grown due to considerable missionary efforts led by Patriarch Petros VII. During his seven years as patriarch (1997-2004), he worked tirelessly to spread the Orthodox Christian faith in Arab nations and throughout Africa, raising up native clergy and encouraging the use of local languages in the liturgy. Particularly sensitive to the nature of Christian expansion into Muslim countries, he worked to promote mutual understanding and respect between Orthodox Christians and Muslims. His efforts were ended as the result of a helicopter crash on 11 September 2004, in the Aegean Sea near Greece, killing him and several other clergy, including Bishop Nectarios of Madagascar, another bishop with a profound missionary vision.

Today, the Patriarchate of Alexandria in Egypt comprises some 300,000 Orthodox Christians, the highest number since the Roman Empire.

Georgian Orthodox Church

St Nino of Cappadocia

The first Eparchy was founded in Georgia, traditionally by the Apostle Andrew. In 327, christianity was adopted as the state religion by the rulers of Iberia (Eastern Georgia). From the 320s, the Georgian Orthodox Church was under the jurisdiction of the Apostolic See of Antioch. The Georgian Orthodox Church become autocephalous (independent) in 466 when the Patriarchate of Antioch elevated the Bishop of Mtskheta to the rank of "Catholicos of Kartli". On March 3, 1990, the Patriarch of Constantinople re-approved the autocephaly of the Georgian Orthodox Church (which had in practice been exercised or at least claimed since the 5th century) as well as the Patriarchal honour of the Catholicos. Today the Georgian Orthodox Church has around 5 million members around the world (of whom about 3,670,000 live within Georgia) and administers, as of 2007, 35 eparchies (dioceses).

Eastern Bloc Churches

Humor Monastery of Romania

The Eastern Bloc churches include the Bulgarian and Romanian Orthodox Churches. The Orthodox Church of Romania, today the largest self-governing Church after Russia, was declared autocephalous in 1885 and became a patriarchate in 1925. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church lost its autocephalous status after the fall of Bulgaria to the Ottoman Empire. Bulgarian autocephaly was restored in 1953. The Orthodox Church of Albania was the only Orthodox church to exist under a government that legally established atheism as the state religion. The Orthodox Churches in Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, and Poland have seen drastic changes since the fall of Communism. The Czech Church has recognized contemporary New Martyrs, such as Gorazd (Pavlik) of Prague.

Balkan churches

Saint Sava Cathedral with the monument of Saint Sava

After the tragic defeat of Prince Lazar by Muslim forces at the Battle in the Field of Black Birds. The ethnarchic system introduced by the Ottomans brought most of the autocephalous and patriarchal Slavic Churches under the jurisdiction of Constantinople. This subjection, with its loss of patriarchal status, was never popular. As a result, several independent national Churches came into being once political freedom was achieved. The Orthodox Church of Serbia, lost their respective patriarchates in the Turkish period. Serbia became autocephalous again in 1879, and its primate was recognized as patriarch by Constantinople in 1922. Serbia also has the largest Orthodox church currently in use (see Temple of Saint Sava). The Balkan churches are one of the few Orthodox communities to have lived under both Ottoman rule and communist rule. Serbia is famed for its monasteries and churches most of which are located in Kosovo. The Orthodox churches of ex-Yugoslavian providences in the Balkans of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro as well as Slovenia, Croatia and Republic of Macedonia were all deeply effected during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s.

Russian Orthodox Church

Kizhi Transfiguration church

Russia's patriarchate, which was never part of the Ottoman Empire, was recognized by Constantinople in 1589. Though Russia was under conquest by the Mongols. Mongol rule lasted from the 13th (Genghis Khan's army entered Russia in 1220s) through the 15th century, the Russian church enjoyed a favored position, obtaining immunity from taxation in 1270. Through a series of Wars with the World of Islam the church did indeed establish itself as the protector of Orthodoxy (see the Eastern Question and the Russo-Turkish wars). Peter the Great replaced the Russian patriarchate by a governing Synod (a government office that got its power from the Tsar) in 1721. The Synodal Period that followed lasted until the Bolshevik Revolution, when the patriarchate was once again restored (1917). Today, Russia ranks fifth after the four ancient patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem.

American Orthodox Church

Founded in Alaska by the early Alaskan Russian missionaries, the American Orthodox church has seen itself caught between the role of evangelizing the New World and maintaining their ethnic heritage. This heritage was threatened by the Russian Revolution and other persecutions that caused the diaspora of various Orthodox groups to migrate to the West from their homelands, usually in the Mediterranean or Middle East. Many of the Orthodox church movements in the West are fragmented under what is called jurisdictionalism. This is where the groups are divided up by ethnicity as the unifying character to each movement. As the older ethnic laity become aged and die off more and more of the churches are opening to new converts. Ten years or so ago, these converts would have faced a daunting task in having to learn the language and culture of the respective Orthodox group in order to properly convert to Orthodoxy. In recent times many of the churches now perform their services in modern English or Spanish or Portuguese (depending on the Metropolitian or district). Currently both the OCA and ROCOR are now in communion with the Patriarch of Moscow.

Ukrainian Orthodox Church

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church or UOC, sometimes abbreviated as UOC(MP), operates as an autonomous church under the Moscow Patriarchate and is also the only Orthodox denomination canonically recognised within the Eastern Orthodox Communion. The head of the church is Metropolitan Volodymyr (Sabodan) who was enthroned in spring 1992 as the "Metropolitan of Kiev and all Ukraine". The UOC(MP) is currently the largest religious body in Ukraine with the greatest number of parishes churches and communities counting up to half of the total in Ukraine and totaling over 10 thousand. The church also claims to have up to 75% of the Ukrainian population although independent survey results vary widely both from this figure.

The UOC's main rival is the Greek Catholic Church in the capital of Kiev is where their biggest Orthodox rivalry takes place. There the UOC(MP) has only half of the Orthodox communities. The UOC(MP) does not have any parishes abroad, as its followers identify themselves under the same umbrella as those of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Asian Churches

View of the Mogao Caves from outside

Judging from the New Testament account of the rise and expansion of the early church, during the first few centuries of Christianity, the most extensive dissemination of the gospel was not in the West but in the East. In fact, conditions in the Parthian empire (250 BC - A.D. 226), which stretched from the Euphrates to the Indus rivers and the Caspian to the Arabian seas, were in some ways more favourable for the growth of the church than in the Roman world. And though opposition to Christianity increasingly mounted under successive Persian and Islamic rulers, Christian communities were eventually established in the vast territory which stretches from the Near to the Far East possibly as early as the first century of the church.

Church today

Distribution of Eastern Orthodoxy in the world by country      Dominant religion      Important minority religion (over 10%)

The various autocephalous and autonomous churches of the Orthodox Church are distinct in terms of administration and local culture, but for the most part exist in full communion with one another, with exceptions such as lack of relations between the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) and the Moscow Patriarchate (the Orthodox Church of Russia) dating from the 1920s and due to the subjection of the latter to the hostile Soviet regime. However, attempts at reconciliation were made between the ROCOR and the Moscow Patriarchate with the ultimate purpose of reunification being reached on 17 May 2007[39]. Further tensions exist between the New Calendarists and the Old Calendarists.


  1. ^ Tomas Spidlik, The Spirituality of the Christian East: A systematic handbook, Cistercian Publications, Kalamazoo, Michigan, 1986. ISBN 0-87907-879-0
  2. ^ Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Church, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, London, 1995. ISBN 978-0913836583
  3. ^ Robert Payne, The Holy Fire: The Story of the Fathers of the Eastern Church, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1997. ISBN 978-0913836613
  4. ^ Massacres, Resistance, Protectors: Muslim-Christian Relations in Eastern Anatolia during World War I, by David Gaunt, 2006
  5. ^ The Forgotten Genocide: Eastern Christians, the Last Arameans, p.195, by Sébastien de Courtois
  6. ^ Speros Vryonis, The Mechanism of Catastrophe: The Turkish Pogrom of September 6–7, 1955, and the Destruction of the Greek Community of Istanbul, New York: 2005, ISBN 0-9747660-3-8
  7. ^ The pogrom greatly accelerated emigration of ethnic Greeks from the Istanbul region (the former Constantinople), reducing the 200,000-strong Greek minority in 1924 to just over 5,000 in 2005. According to figures presented by Prof. Vyron Kotzamanis to a conference of unions and federations representing the ethnic Greeks of Istanbul."Ethnic Greeks of Istanbul convene", Athens News Agency, 2 July 2006.
  8. ^ Turkish parliament tries to avoid reopening Orthodox seminary|author=Associated Press|work=International Herald Tribune|date=20 September 2006 [1]
  9. ^ Twentieth Century Atlas - Historical Body Count
  10. ^ Dumitrica, Delia Despina. "Uniate vs. Orthodox: What Lays behind the Conflict?".  
  11. ^ Pg. 97
  12. ^ We are Orthodox from Czechoslovakia. God permitted for us to be greatly tested. We feel, He is burning and testing us like gold in a crucible. We also feel, we are not like gold to survive this fire without the help of God and support of our brothers throughout the world. We beg you therefore to pray for us to the Lord and the Most Holy Theotokos, that Orthodoxy in Czechoslovakia recover her freedom and equal rights with all the other Christian communities and overcome her enemies. The Orthodox Faith was taught to us by the holy brothers Cyril and Methodius in 863. After the repose of Saint Methodius, in 885, the latins expelled the Orthodox priests from Great Moravia and destroyed all their works. Orthodoxy survived only in Carpathia, in the east of our country. The Pope of Rome, unhappy of the fact that the Church (Orthodox) continued to exist, instituted the Unia of Uzgorontzcy in 1649, in which of the 1,200 priests, they allowed only 63.<!-not clear, can this be explained?--> For 300 years the Uniates worked tirelessly to uproot Orthodoxy. Following World War II, people began to return en-masse to the Orthodox Church, which became free again and powerful. But the years of happiness and peace did not last. In 1968 God allowed the first test. The Country recognized the Unia (which called itself “Greek Catholic Church”), which with the forbearance of the State started to torment the Orthodox followers. They confiscated by force our churches and threw the priests with their families to the street. And nobody came to our support. For a while we thought that everything was finished.... However, our Lord and the Most Holy Theotokos had mercy on us and we did not perish completely. The Uniates “allowed” us to continue our worship in our churches, which however we had to share with them. Since then we continuously drink daily from the bitter cup of hatred and malice. The devil however cannot rest, seeing that Orthodoxy still survived in Czechoslovakia. He then unleashed the Uniates against us. They now demanded that we hand over all our churches to them with all their wealth and heritage. If this happens then we will have to worship on the street. What would then happen? The happenings of 885, 1649 and 1968? From past history we have bitter experience of the hardships that Rome visited upon us through its Unia. Brothers we seek your help. Terminate all discussions with the Roman Catholics as long as the Unia problem remains unresolved. Come to us and give us courage. You and we are one body, the body of Christ. Let the world know about our suffering brought on by the Uniates. They say they are Christians but are not. Christians have love for their fellow man. Let the papists sent their church letters to the idolaters, not to the Orthodox of Czechoslovakia and the Ukraine. Here live Christians and not idolaters. (Signed by Orthodox dignitaries of Czechoslovakia). “Orthodox Kypseli” Puplications - Thessalonika, Greece -
  13. ^ Atrocities of the Uniate or Unia
  14. ^ "Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus".  
  15. ^ Natalia Shlikhta (2004) "'Greek Catholic'-'Orthodox'-'Soviet': a symbiosis or a conflict of identities?" in Religion, State & Society, Volume 32, Number 3 (Routledge)
  16. ^ It is no coincidence that in the entry on 'Orthodoxy' in the seventh volume of the Kratkaya Evreiskaya Entsyklopedia, devoted to the Russian Orthodox Church (pp. 733-743), where numerous examples are given of persecution of the Jews in Russia, including religious persecution, no evidence is given of the direct participation of the church, either in legislative terms or in the conduct of policy. Although the authors of the article state that the active role of the Church in inciting the government to conduct anti-Jewish acts (for example in the case of Ivan the Terrible's policy in the defeated territories) is 'obvious', no facts are given in their article to support this.
  17. ^ Shlomo Lambroza, John D. Klier (2003) Pogroms: Anti-Jewish Violence in Modern Russian History, Cambridge University Press
  18. ^ a b "Jewish-Christian Relations", by the International Council of Christians and Jews
  19. ^ It is no coincidence that in the entry on 'Orthodoxy' in the seventh volume of the Kratkaya Evreiskaya Entsyklopedia, devoted to the Russian Orthodox Church (pp. 733-743), where numerous examples are given of persecution of the Jews in Russia, including religious persecution, no evidence is given of the direct participation of the church, either in legislative terms or in the conduct of policy. Although the authors of the article state that the active role of the Church in inciting the government to conduct anti-Jewish acts (for example in the case of Ivan the Terrible's policy in the defeated territories) is 'obvious', no facts are given in their article to support this.
  20. ^ Undoubtedly the Russian church can be criticised for its total submission to the State in the Synodical period (after the abolition of the Patriarchage in the early eighteenth century), for its inability to express an independent opinion and for its failure to demonstrate love for one's neighbour and defence of the persecuted in accordance with the basic teachings of the Gospel: unlike the Western church, the Russian Orthodox Church took no steps to protect the Jews. But once again we must emphasise that unlike the Western churches, 'antisemitic policies were not conducted in the name of the Russian Orthodox Church'.
  21. ^ Solzhenitsyn breaks last taboo of the revolution Russia |Guardian Unlimited
  22. ^ a b [2]
  23. ^ Solzhenitsyn New Book, Soviet Repression, Jews - Johnson's Russia List 1-25-03
  24. ^ Lydia Chukovskaya - Interview with Solzhentisyn about "200 Years Together"
  25. ^ President of Lithuania: Prisoner of the Gulag a Biography of Aleksandras Stulginskis by Afonsas Eidintas Genocide and Research Center of Lithuania ISBN 998675741X / 9789986757412 / 9986-757-41-X pg 23 "As early as August 1920 Lenin wrote to E. M. Skliansky, President of the Revolutionary War Soviet: "We are surrounded by the greens (we pack it to them), we will move only about 10-20 versty and we will choke by hand the bourgeoisie, the clergy and the landowners. There will be an award of 100,000 rubles for each one hanged." He was speaking about the future actions in the countries neighboring Russia.
  26. ^ Christ Is Calling You: A Course in Catacomb Pastorship by Father Gheorghe Calciu-Dumitreasa Published by Saint Hermans Press April 1997 ISBN 978-1887904520
  27. ^ History of the Orthodox Church in the History of Russian Dimitry Pospielovsky 1998 St Vladimir's Press ISBN 0-88141-179-5 pg 291
  28. ^ A History of Marxist-Leninist Atheism and Soviet Antireligious Policies, Dimitry Pospielovsky Palgrave Macmillan (December, 1987) ISBN 0-312-38132-8
  29. ^ Daniel Peris Storming the Heavens: The Soviet League of the Militant Godless Cornell University Press 1998 ISBN 9780801434853
  30. ^ "Sermons to young people by Father Gheorghe Calciu-Dumitreasa. Given at the Chapel of the Romanian Orthodox Church Seminary". The Word online. Bucharest.  
  31. ^ Twentieth Century Atlas - Historical Body Count p.2
  32. ^ a b Father Arseny 1893-1973 Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father. Introduction pg. vi - 1. St Vladimir's Seminary Press ISBN 0-88141-180-9
  33. ^ The Washington Post Anti-Communist Priest Gheorghe Calciu-Dumitreasa by Patricia Sullivan Washington Post Staff Writer Sunday, 26 November 2006; Page C09
  34. ^ a b Ostling, Richard (24 June 2001). "Cross meets Kremlin". TIME Magazine.,9171,150718,00.html. Retrieved 2007-07-03.  
  35. ^ Van Christo. Albania and the Albanians.
  36. ^ Dumitru Bacu, The Anti-Humans. Student Re-Education in Romanian Prisons], Soldiers of the Cross, Englewood, Colorado, 1971. Originally written in Romanian as Piteşti, Centru de Reeducare Studenţească, Madrid, 1963
  37. ^ Adrian Cioroianu, Pe umerii lui Marx. O introducere în istoria comunismului românesc ("On the Shoulders of Marx. An Incursion into the History of Romanian Communism"), Editura Curtea Veche, Bucharest, 2005
  38. ^ *Derived with permission from Church of Antioch] at OrthodoxWiki.
  39. ^ Interfax-Religion


  • The Orthodox Church. Ware, Timothy. Penguin Books, 1997. (ISBN 0-14-014656-3)
  • The Orthodox Church; 455 Questions and Answers. Harakas, Stanley H. Light and Life Publishing Company, 1988. (ISBN 0-937032-56-5)
  • The Spirituallity of the Christian East: A systematic handbook by Tomas Spidlik, Cistercian Publications Inc Kalamazoo Michigan 1986 ISBN 0-87907-879-0
  • History of the Orthodox Church in the History of Russian Dimitry Pospielovsky 1998 St Vladimir's Press (ISBN 0-88141-179-5)
  • Orthodox Dogmatic Theology: A Concise Exposition Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood press 1994 (ISBN 0938635-69-7)

See also

External links


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