In the wider theological sense "Orthodoxy is not merely a type of purely earthly organization which is
headed by patriarchs, bishops and priests who hold the ministry in the Church which officially is called
"Orthodox." Orthodoxy is the mystical "Body of Christ," the Head of which is Christ Himself (see Eph.
1:22-23 and Col. 1:18, 24 et seq.), and its composition includes not only priests but all who truly believe
in Christ, who have entered into the Church He founded, those living upon the earth and those who have
died in the Faith and in piety."
The Great Schism between the Eastern and the Western Church (1054) was the culmination of a gradual
process of estrangement between the east and west that began in the first centuries of the Christian Era
and continued through the Middle Ages. Linguistic and cultural differences, as well as political events,
contributed to the estrange- ment. From the 4th to the 11th century, Constantinople, the center of East-
ern Christianity, was also the capital of the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empire, while Rome, after the
barbarian invasions, fell under the influence of the Holy Roman Empire of the West, a political rival. In the
West theology remained under the influence of St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) and gradually lost its
immediate contact with the rich theological tradition of the Christian East. In the same time the Roman
See was almost completely overtaken by Franks.
Theological differences could have probably been settled if there were not two different concepts of
church authority. The growth of Roman primacy, based on the concept of the apostolic origin of the
Church of Rome which claimed not only titular but also jurisdictional authority above other churches,
was incompatible with the traditional Orthodox ecclesiology. The Eastern Christians considered all
churches as sister churches and understood the primacy of the Roman bishop only as primus inter
pares among his brother bishops. For the East, the highest authority in settling doctrinal disputes could
by no means be the authority of a single Church or a single bishop but an Ecumenical Council of all sister
churches. In the course of time the Church of Rome adopted various wrong teachings which were not
based in the Tradition and finally proclaimed the teaching of the Pope's infallibility when teaching ex
cathedra. This widened the gap even more between the Christian East and West. The Protestant
communities which split from Rome in the course of centuries diverged even more from the teaching
of the Holy Fathers and the Holy Ecumenical Councils.
Due to these serious dogmatic differences the Orthodox Church is not in communion with the Roman
Catholic and Protestant communities. Some Orthodox theologians do not recognize the ecclesial and
salvific character of these Western churches at all, while others accept that the Holy Spirit acts to a
certain degree within these communities although they do not possess the fullness of grace and
spiritual gifts like the Orthodox Church. Many Orthodox theologians are of the opinion that between
Orthodoxy and heterodox confessions, especially in the sphere of spiritual experience, the understand-
ing of God and salvation, there exists an ontological difference which cannot be simply ascribed to
cultural and intellectual estrangement of the East and West but is a direct consequence of a gradual
abandonment of the sacred tradition by heterodox Christians.
At the time of the Schism of 1054 between Rome and Constantinople, the membership of the Eastern
Orthodox Church was spread throughout the Middle East, the Balkans, and Russia, with its center in
Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, which was also called New Rome. The vicissitudes
of history have greatly modified the internal structures of the Orthodox Church, but, even today, the
bulk of its members live in the same geographic areas. Missionary expansion toward Asia and emigration
toward the West, however, have helped to spread the presence of Orthodoxy worldwide. Today, the
Orthodox Church is present almost everywhere in the world and is bearing witness of true, apostolic
and patristic tradition to all peoples.
The Orthodox Church is well known for its developed monasticism. The uninterrupted monastic tradition
of Orthodox Christianity can be traced from the Egyptian desert monasteries of the 3rd and 4th centuries.
Soon monasticism had spread all over the Mediterranean basin and Europe: in Palestine, Syria, Cappa-
docia, Gaul, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Slavic countries. Monasticism has always been a beacon of Ortho-
doxy and has made and continues to make a strong and lasting impact on Orthodox spirituality.
The Orthodox Church today is an invaluable treasury of the rich liturgical tradition handed down from the
earliest centuries of Christianity. The sense of the sacred, the beauty and grandeur of the Orthodox Divine
Liturgy make the presence of heaven on earth live and intensive. Orthodox Church art and music have a
very functional role in liturgical life and help even the bodily senses to feel the spiritual grandeur of the
Lord's mysteries. Orthodox icons are not simply beautiful works of art which have certain aesthetic and
didactic functions. They are primarily the means through which we experience the reality of the Heavenly
Kingdom on earth. The holy icons enshrine the immeasurable depth of the
mystery of Christ's Incarnation in defense of which thousands of martyrs sacrificed their lives.
by Bishop Kallistos (Ware).
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