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Eastern Christianity


Eastern Orthodox Church

Doctrines Eastern Orthodox theology is strongly Trinitarian. God exists in the three persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Humanity is believed to be created in God's image, but is corrupted through sin. Death is conquered by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and new life is given through the Holy Spirit. Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, which regards the Holy Spirit as proceeding from the Father and the Son, the Eastern Orthodox Church claims that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son. Only the first seven ecumenical councils are recognised as authoritative. As in Roman Catholicism seven sacraments are recognised: baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, penance, extreme unction, holy orders, and matrimony.

History The Eastern Orthodox Church emerged as a result of disagreements between Greek speaking eastern churches and Latin speaking western churches over doctrine and ecclesiastical authority. Tensions grew in the eleventh century over the increasing claims of the Roman church to universal authority. The refusal of the patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius, to allow Rome any authority over the eastern church led to mutual recriminations and in 1054 to mutual excommunication. The collapse of the Byzantine empire in 1453 meant that, apart from Russia, the Orthodox Church lay under the rule of the Ottoman Turks. The Ottomans placed the eastern churches under the jurisdiction of the patriarch of Constantinople. However, with the demise of the Ottoman empire in the nineteenth century a series of independent churches emerged in eastern Europe. While remaining in communion with one another, Eastern Orthodox churches retain their independence.

Symbols The Eastern Orthodox Church has an extremely rich history of icons. The icon often depicts a Biblical scene, the Virgin Mary, local saints, or Jesus. The icon is of particular importance for the Orthodox Church since it is seen as the dwelling place of God's grace, creating in the faithful a sense of the presence of God.
The Church's calendar revolves around thirteen Great Feasts, each of which is represented iconographically. These Great Feasts are:
  1. The Nativity of the Virgin Mary;
  2. The Presentation of Mary in the Temple;
  3. The Annunciation;
  4. The Dormition of the Mother of God;
  5. The Nativity of Christ;
  6. The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple;
  7. The Baptism of Jesus;
  8. The Transfiguration;
  9. The Entry into Jerusalem;
  10. The Ascension;
  11. Pentecost;
  12. The Exaltation of the Cross;
  13. The Resurrection of Christ.
In addition to the Festal icons, the Orthodox Church contains a wealth of icons of the Virgin Mary and Christ. Icons of the Virgin Mary affirm her status as Theotokos (Mother of God) and her perpetual virginity. Mary is always represented with her hair and shoulders covered. Her veil has a golden fringe and three stars which symbolise her virginity before, during and after the birth of Christ. There are four principal iconographic illustrations of Mary as Mother of God. Firstly, there is Mary Enthroned. Here Mary is portrayed as seating on a throne holding Christ on her lap. Secondly, there is Mary praying, raising her hands in adoration to God. Such icons often include the Infant Jesus with an adult head symbolising His wisdom. Thirdly, there is the Hodigitria icon. (Hodigitria means "to show the way".) In this icon the Virgin looks directly at the onlooker and points to the Infant Jesus. Fourthly, there is the Mother of God Merciful. Here the Virgin Mary embraces the Infant Jesus with maternal compassion.
The two principal images of Christ are the Pantocrator (Ruler of All) and Deisis (Interceder). The image of Christ as Pantocrator is located in the principal dome of a church. His head is always surrounded with a halo bearing a cross inside. In his left hand He holds the Bible. His right hand is raised to bless in the manner of priests in the Byzantine tradition. The first two fingers of the right hand are joined, symbolising the two distinct natures of Christ. The other two fingers touch the thumb, symbolising the Trinity.
The Deisis icon shows Christ surrounded by saints who intercede on behalf of the faithful. In some icons only the Virgin Mary and John the baptist are with Christ. In others, the twelve disciples and the archangels Michael and Gabriel are there.

Adherents The Eastern Orthodox Church has over 150 million members world-wide (Harris et al. 1994, 176).

Headquarters/
Main Centre
 The patriarch of Constantinople has the precedence of honour in the Orthodox Church.