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Naveed Zafar
This article is the second in a series on my articles on Eastern Orthodox Church.
Previously the readers were given a brief introduction and overview on the history
of this Christian denomination. In what follows you will find the current
infrastructure of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Moreover, attempt has been made
to briefly explain distinguishing traits of Eastern Orthodoxy. Readers will also find a
brief account on Eastern Orthodoxys viewpoint on Roman Catholicism and

The Orthodox Church is actually not a single church but a family of 15
administratively independent1, or autocephalous (self-governing) local churches,
united in faith, sacraments, and canonical discipline, each enjoying the right to elect
its own head and its bishops. As independent churches, they are not bound
together by any central organization, nor do they owe allegiance to one particular
person, as Roman Catholics do to the Pope. Rather, each Orthodox Church has its
own head, who is respectively referred to as patriarch, archbishop, or
We can ascertain that the nature of the Eastern Orthodox Church is conciliar rather
than monarchial. That is, all the patriarchs hold equal authority in the Church and
there is no centralized headquarters from where jurisdiction is maintained.
Because the Ecumenical Patriarch believed to be the first in honor among

The number of autocephalous churches vary as the Orthodox Church of America was granted autocephaly
(independent stature) in 1970 by the Russian Orthodox Church. It enjoys full communion with the Patriarchate of
Moscow and the wider Orthodox world, but not all the Orthodox churches apart from Russia recognize its
autocephalous status.
Daniel B. Clendenin, Eastern Orthodox Christianity: A Western Perspective, 2nd ed., (Michigan USA, Baker Academic
Publishers 2003), p.31; Fredrick M. Bliss, Catholic and Ecumenical: History & Hope, (Sheed and Ward), p.78

Orthodox Patriarchs is the Patriarch of Constantinople, Istanbul may be

considered the spiritual center of the Orthodox communities.
Traditionally, the Ecumenical (universal) Patriarch of Constantinople (modern day
Istanbul) holds the title primus inter pares, meaning "first among equals" in Latin.
Unlike the Pope, who is known as vicarius filius dei the vicar of the son of God, he
possesses privileges of chairmanship and initiative but no direct doctrinal or
administrative authority which means the Patriarch of Constantinople has the
honor of primacy, but his title is only first among equals and has no real authority
over Churches other than the Constantinopolitan. His place resembles that of the
Archbishop of Canterbury in the worldwide Anglican Communion.3
Thus, the religious authority for Eastern Orthodoxy is not a Patriarch or the Pope
as in Catholicism, nor the Bible as in Protestantism, but the scriptures as
interpreted by the seven ecumenical councils of the Church. Michael Keene in his
work Introducing Christianity asserts that, Orthodox beliefs are drawn from the
twin sources of the Holy Scriptures and Church tradition.4

Its Primary area of distribution lies in Eastern Europe, Russia and along the coasts
of eastern Mediterranean. It is composed at present of the following self-governing
or autocephalous5 Churches.6
1. The four ancient Patriarchates:
Church of Constantinople (Istanbul)
Church of Alexandria (Egypt)
Church of Antioch (With headquarters in Damascus, Syria)
Church of Jerusalem
2. 11 other autocephalous Churches:7
Church of Russia (established in 1589)

Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church, (London, Penguin 1997), p.7

Michael Keene, Introducing Christianity, (Hunt & Thorpe 1998), p.32
From Greek meaning self-headed.
List obtained from Encyclopedia Britannica, Macropedia Knowledge in depth, 15th ed., Chicago 2010, vol.17, p.838,
under Eastern Orthodoxy
Dates obtained from John Anthony McGuckin, The Orthodox Church: An introduction to its history, doctrine and
spiritual culture, (Blackwell Publishing, Oxford UK, 2008), p.30

Church of Serbia (1219)
Church of Romania (1925)
Church of Bulgaria (927)

Church of Georgia (466)

Church of Cyprus (434)
Church of Greece (1850)
Church of Poland (1924)
Church of Albania (1937)
Church of Czech and Slovak lands (1951)
The Orthodox Church in America (1970)8
3. There are in addition several Churches which, while self-governing in most
respects, do not possess full independence. These are termed as
autonomous. 9 According to Orthodox Church a church body that is
autonomous has its highest-ranking bishop, such as an archbishop or
metropolitan, appointed by the patriarch of the mother (autocephalous)
church from which it was granted its autonomy, but is self-governing in all
other respects.

About half of all Christians worldwide are catholic (50%), while more than a third
are Protestant 10 (37%). Orthodox communions comprise 12% of the worlds

The Orthodox Church in America is in process of belonging to this group. It assumed autocephalous ecclesiastical
status in 1970 with the blessing of Patriarchate of Moscow. The autonomy has not been acknowledged by the
Patriarchate of Constantinople and many other Orthodox Churches.
From Greek meaning self-lawed.
One school of thought takes Protestantism as one family of Christian tradition. In such a case, Protestants stand
as the second largest Christian denomination. On the other hand there is another school of thought that maintains
the notion that Protestantism is not a single family, rather it is a group of denominations with nothing in common.
In this case Protestantism may not be considered as the second largest denomination on grounds that it is not a
unified body, leaving Eastern Orthodox Church as the second largest Christian denomination.

Christians. Other Christian groups make up the remaining 1%.11 An estimated size
of Christian denominations is given below.

Estimated Size of Christian Traditions12

Other Christian
Total Christian







Note: Population estimates are rounded to the ten thousands. Percentages

are calculated from unrounded numbers. Figures may not add exactly due to


Other Christian,

Orthodox, 11.9%

Catholic, 50.1%
Protestant, 36.7%



Other Christian

There are about 260 million Orthodox, making up 12% of the global Christian
population, of which, four-in-ten Orthodox Christians worldwide (39%) reside in
Russia, the country with the largest number of Orthodox.


Global Christianity: A Report on the size and distribution of the Worlds Christian Population; Pew Research
Centers forum on Religion and Public life Washington 2011; p.21
Global Christianity: A Report on the size and distribution of the Worlds Christian Population; Pew Research
Centers forum on Religion and Public life Washington 2011; p.21

In the words of a Russian proverb, to be Russian is to be Orthodox. Imagine living

in Italy without understanding Catholicism, travelling Middle East and ignoring
Islam, or trying to understand the people of Utah (USA) without ever studying the
history of Mormonism. That will give an idea of the catastrophic results of
attempting to engage Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union while neglecting
the role of Orthodox Christianity.13
Below is a list of 10 Countries which are host to the largest number of Orthodox

10 Countries with the largest number of Orthodox Christians14




Subtotal for the 10 countries 227,660,000
Total for the rest of World
World Total
Note: Population estimates are rounded to the ten thousands. Percentages are calculated
from unrounded numbers. Figures may not add exactly due to rounding.



Daniel B. Clendenin, Eastern Orthodox Christianity: A Western Perspective, 2nd ed., (Michigan USA, Baker Academic
Publishers 2003), p.21
Global Christianity: A Report on the size and distribution of the Worlds Christian Population; Pew Research
Centers forum on Religion and Public life Washington 2011; p.31

Today Orthodoxy is recognized as the fourth major religion in America.15 Despite

the immigrant roots, limited social stature beyond its own ethnic communities, and
the stigma of political prejudice, Orthodox Christians in America now number 6
million adherents. 16


From an orthodox view, Roman Catholicism and Protestantism (of whatever sort,
evangelical or otherwise) are merely two sides of the same coin. A classic
formulation of this assessment comes from the nineteenth century Russian
theologian Alexei Khomiakov:
All Protestants are Crypto-Papists; In short, if it was to be expressed in the
concise language of algebra, all the west knows but one datum,

a whether it be

preceded by the positive sign +, as with the Latins, or with the negative -, as with
the Protestants, the a remains the same17
Khomiakov, when he spoke of the datum a, had in mind the fact that western
Christians, whether free Churchmen, Anglicans, or Roman Catholics, have a
common background in the past. All alike (although they may not always care to
admit it) have been profoundly influenced by the same events: by the Papal
centralization and the Scholasticism of the Middle Ages, by the Renaissance, by the
Reformation and Counter-Reformation. But behind members of Orthodox Church
(Greeks, Russians and the rest) there lies a very different background. They have
known no Middle Ages (in the western sense) and have undergone no
Reformations or Counter-Reformations; they have only been affected in an oblique


Arthur C. Piepkorn, Profiles in Belief: The religious bodies of the United States and Canada, 4 vols. (New York:
Harper and Row (1977-79) 1:52; Daniel B. Clendenin, Eastern Orthodox Christianity: A Western Perspective, 2 nd ed.,
(Michigan USA, Baker Academic Publishers 2003), p.17
Doulis, Journeys, 7; Daniel B. Clendenin, Eastern Orthodox Christianity: A Western Perspective, 2nd ed., (Michigan
USA, Baker Academic Publishers 2003), p.17
Quoted in Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church, (London, Penguin 1997), p.1

way by the cultural and religious upheaval which transformed Western Europe in
the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.18

Eastern Orthodoxy is distinguished from Roman Catholicism and Protestantism in

numerous traits. As a matter of fact, Orthodox Church is very particular about its
variances as compared to the other factions of Christianity. These differences can
be detected in many areas for example their beliefs, style of worship, architecture,
Selection of the Holy book etc. Some of these are mentioned below:






Orthodox Christians recognize the New Testament and the Old Testament (the
Hebrew scriptures of Judaism). In addition to these scriptures, the Church
recognizes several other books as canon, not recognized by Protestants. These
books are known by Protestants as the Apocrypha, and to the Church as the
Deuterocanonical. Furthermore, Church tradition is regarded as additional source
of divine truth.

The Bible of the Eastern Churches is, with small but significant variants, that of
Alexandria, as found in the great uncial codices19 like Vaticanus20, Sinaiticus21 and
Alexandrinus22 of the fourth and fifth centuries, probably written in Alexandria and


The great uncial codices or four great uncials are the only remaining uncial codices that contain (or originally
contained) the entire text of the Greek Bible (Old and New Testament).Only four great codices have survived to the
present day: Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Vaticanus, Codex Alexandrinus, and Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus. Although
discovered at different times and places, they share many similarities. They are written in a certain uncial style
of calligraphy using only majuscule letters, written in scriptio continua (meaning without regular gaps between
words). All these manuscripts were made at great expense of material and labour, written on vellum by professional
scribes. They seem to have been based on the most accurate texts in their time.
The Codex Vaticanus, is one of the oldest extant manuscripts of the Greek Bible (Old and New Testament), one of
the four great uncial codices.
Codex Sinaiticus or "Sinai Bible" is one of the four great uncial codices, an ancient, handwritten copy of the Greek
Bible. The codex is a celebrated historical treasure.
The Codex Alexandrinus is a fifth-century manuscript of the Greek Bible, containing the majority of the Septuagint
and the New Testament. It is one of the four Great uncial codices.

of Christian provenance. Manuscripts of the whole bible, Old Testament and New
Testament, are rare.23
Hence, Eastern Orthodoxy uses the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, which
includes the deuterocanonical books that Protestants reject and their New
Testaments are identical to those of all Christians.


The seven councils are of enormous importance to Orthodox Christianity, so much
so that it is steeped in the traditions of the early church, consequently it identifies
itself as the Church of the seven councils. In the words of John II, the metropolitan
of Russia (1080-89), all profess that there are seven holy and ecumenical councils,
and that these are the seven pillars of the faith of the Divine Word on which He
erected His holy mansion, the catholic and ecumenical Church. 24 That is,
Orthodoxy considers the seven ecumenical councils to be in theological importance
second only to the Bible.25

After World War I various Orthodox Churches, beginning with the Patriarchate of
Constantinople, began to abandon the Julian calendar or Old Calendar, and
adopted a form of the Gregorian calendar or New Calendar. The Julian, is at the
present time, thirteen days behind the Gregorian calendar.
Today, many Orthodox Churches (with the exception of Jerusalem, Russia, Serbia,
and Mount Athos) use the New, Gregorian Calendar for fixed feasts and holy days
but the Julian calendar for Easter and movable feasts26. In this way all the Orthodox
celebrate Easter together.


The Blackwell Dictionary of Eastern Christianity, Blackwell Publishers 1999, (Blackwell Publishers Ltd. Oxford UK)
Quoted in Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church, (London, Penguin 1997), p.18
Daniel B. Clendenin, Eastern Orthodox Christianity: A Western Perspective, 2nd ed., (Michigan USA, Baker Academic
Publishers 2003), p.38
In Roman Catholic Christianity, a moveable feast or movable feast is an observance in a liturgical calendar that
occurs on a different date (relative to the dominant civil or solar calendar) in different years.
The most important set of moveable feasts are a fixed number of days before or after Easter Sunday, which varies
by over 40 days since it depends partly on the phase of the moon and must be computed each year by learned elder
churchmen. In Eastern Christianity (including the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox Churches, the


Orthodox Christians celebrate the same Holy Days that the most other Christians
celebrate, but they use a different calendar as explained earlier. Thus, the Orthodox
celebrations of Easter and Christmas are usually on different days than those of
Western Christians. Different saints may be honored on differing days than those
observed in the West.
Christmas is celebrated by Orthodox Christians on the 7th of January in the
Gregorian calendar 13 days after other Christians. The reason behind being the
use of old calendar.
Christmas on January 7 is also known as Old Christmas Day. Eleven days were
dropped to make up for the calendar discrepancy that accumulated with Julian
calendar when England and Scotland switched from the Julian to the Gregorian
calendar in 1752. Many people, especially in rural areas, did not accept the loss of
these 11 days and preferred to use the Julian calendar.
In the East, Christmas is preceded by a 40 day fast ritual. Usually, on Christmas Eve,
observant Orthodox Christians fast till late evening, until the first star appears.
There are similarities, as well as differences, between the Eastern and Western
celebration of Christmas. The Eastern Christmas has a very strong family and social
appeal just as it does in the west. It brings people of all generations together to
celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
However, unlike the West, where Christmas ranks supreme, in the East, it is Easter,
centered on the cross and the resurrection of Christ, which is the supreme festival
of the year. Eastern Orthodox Christmas also lacks the commercial side that is
typical of the West.


Assyrian Church of the East, and the Eastern Catholic Churches), these moveable feasts form what is called
the Paschal cycle, which stands in contrast to the approach taken by Catholic Christianity.
Most other feast days, such as those of particular saints, are fixed feasts, held on the same date every year.

The Orthodox, Byzantine or Russian (Orthodox) Cross (),

also known as the Suppedaneum cross 27 ,a variation of
the Christian cross, is commonly found in the Eastern
Orthodox Churches. The cross has three horizontal
crossbeams, the top one represents the plate which in the
older Greek tradition is inscribed with a phrase based on
John's Gospel "The King of Glory", but in later images it
represents INRI 28 , and the bottom one is a slightly slanted
footrest. In many depictions, the side to Christ's right is
A scientific proof supports the authenticity of this cross and shows that this cross
depicts the true history. In other words this cross proved to be of immense help in
a major scientific breakthrough. That is, the impression of the back of the body on
the Turin Shroud. An examination of this back view shows that the shortening of
the right leg is clearly visible, thus identifying the Shroud as the one on which the
shape of the Orthodox cross was based.
This shortening, which is evident on the shroud, is, of course, only apparent. It
appears to be so because one leg was nailed to the cross on top of the other leg,
and when the body was removed from the cross and put into the shroud one knee


A Suppedaneum Cross is any cross featuring a suppedaneum. The word 'suppedaneum' is a compound of the
Latin sub ('under'), + ped ('foot'), + aneum (thingy; i.e. a noun and adjectival suffix that inventors of languages like to
add from time to time). But rather than saying 'subpedaneum', the 'b' was changed to a 'p'. This avoids, what linguists
call, a 'voiceless glottal plosive' or 'glottal stop'. In other words, it makes it easier to pronounce.
A suppedaneum is a small platform affixed to a cross for supporting the feet of the crucified. We shouldn't
presume that this platform is a mere footrest, any more than the main upright pillar of a cross is the victim's backrest.
The suppedaneum, if present, is a brace for the feet to push hard against to prevent the victim from suffocating.
If a person is hung by their wrists, the weight of the body forces the rib cage to expand which makes normal
breathing difficult. (Try it now. Push your hands up above your head, as high as you can, and try to breathe normally.)
If the victim is weak from previous torture, then such hindrance to breathing can cause suffocation and death. The
objective of the crucifixion was to cause a slow and painful death. The suppedaneum therefore was a cruel method
to prolong the suffering.
Another purpose was to prevent the body from falling from the cross. Without such a device, if the pillar of
the cross was dropped into a hole, the nails could tear through the flesh or the ropes could rip off the limbs.

The acronym INRI represents the Latin inscription IESVSNAZARENVSREXIVDORVM (Iesus Nazarenus, Rex
Iudaeorum), in English reads as "Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews". John 19:20 states that this was written
in three languages: Hebrew, Latin and Greek and was put on the cross of Jesus. The Greek version reads .

pressed less strongly against the linen than the other.

Thus the imprint of the leg which appears29 to be the
right leg seems somewhat shorter.30
Dr. Theodor Hirt, professor of a German University,
sums up: the Orthodox cross is clear proof that what
we call The Shroud of Jesus in Turin really existed in
Constantinople between 438 CE and approximately
1200 CE.31

Figure: A very old and valuable Orthodox crucifix in

relief work. There is a clear view of the short right leg,
which accounts for the slanting foot support.

This Orthodox form of representation of the cross is

over a thousand years old, dating back to the time
between 500 and 1000 CE. Thus, the Shroud we have
today is the same Shroud that was on public view in
Constantinople between 438 and 1200 CE and the
same Shroud that gave origin to the legend
responsible for the design of the Orthodox cross.

In everyday use, church refers, most often, to the building in which the local
Christian congregation meets for worship. The Orthodox Church building is nothing
more (or less) than the architectural setting for the Liturgy. Churches have been
built in a variety of shapes.


I said the leg that appears to be the right leg deliberately, for this was in fact the left leg, because in an impression
right and left is always reversed. This was not grasped by people who saw the shroud at the time, and the imprints
were regarded as a miracle performed by Jesus ( ) as a lasting testimony to his suffering. Today, looking at
it realistically, we know that it was a case of a perfectly natural cause and effect.
Kurt Berna, A World Discovery: Christ did not perish on the cross Christs body buried alive, International
foundation for the Holy Shroud, (Exposition Press, NY, 1975), p.41
Quoted in Kurt Berna, A World Discovery: Christ did not perish on the cross Christs body buried alive,
International foundation for the Holy Shroud, (Exposition Press, NY, 1975), p.42

Orthodox parish church is a
rectangular building. At one
end, by tradition facing east,
the bema with
the altar located on it. This
area is usually separated
from the nave by an altar
screen (iconostasis) and/or
chancel rail. Behind this
separation is the altar table.
By ancient tradition, the
nave may have benches
lining the walls, but
otherwise the church is without seats or chairs. At the west end, there may be a
room running the width of the church called the narthex. The narthex is separated
from the nave by a wall with doors through which the congregations can enter the
Other common styles of architecture for churches includ Basilicas (Early Christian
Church buildings with side aisles to the nave), octagonal shapes, square buildings,
circular buildings, and buildings in the form of a cross. To create a high vaulted
ceiling many churches have domed ceilings and may have bell towers either as part
of the main building or separate free standing structures.32


Most Western Christians who have encountered Eastern Orthodoxy in one way or
the other, have experienced its religious life strange and peculiar, and some have
even found it exotic ; something totally foreign to and different from almost all
other expressions of Christianity in the west.
Daniel B. Clendenin, a professor of Christian studies, in a similar fashion has
acknowledged this eccentric experience. He states, I will always remember my
first Orthodox liturgy, which I experienced in Nizhny Novgorod (formerly Gorki),

Russia. Even before entering the church one is taken aback by the unusual
architecture the glittering onion domes that sparkle like diamonds on a sunny
day. Once inside, the Western Christian is likely to experience a virtual sensory
overload: the absence of any chairs or pews; the dim lighting, the scarves worn by
all the women as a sign of reverence; the multitude of icons and frescoes that cover
almost every inch of space on the walls and ceilings; the massive iconostasis
separating the priest and worshippers; the smoky smell of incense and the crackling
of hundreds of candles that burn in memory of the dead; the priest resplendent in
his ornate vestments, massive beard and resonate voice; the worshippers who
repeatedly prostrate themselves, kiss the icons, and make the sign of the cross;
and, in Russia, the chanting of the liturgy in ninth-century Church Slavonic along
with the professional choirs whose voices echo from the balconies throughout the
high ceilings of the church. All of this is accompanied by a sense of extreme awe
and reverence33
He concludes this novel experience of his by saying, The sum total of the Orthodox
liturgical experience creates an atmosphere that is worlds away from the typical
Protestant church found in most American communities.34
His unique experience and conclusion to it supports our argument above that their
worship and religious practices are something totally alien to and unlike almost all
other expressions of Christianity in the west.

Orthodox Church, with its unconventional structure and practices, selects a
separate pathway for itself as compared to the mainstream Christianity. Although
its concepts, selection of the testaments and ways of worships differ, its claim to
represent the real form of Christianity seems to have substance to a certain extent.
In fact, Eastern Orthodoxys cautiousness to retain its origins can facilitate research
to explore the roots of Christianity fossilized or disoriented with the passage of
time. For example, the peculiar shape of byzantine cross not only highlights the

Daniel B. Clendenin, Eastern Orthodox Christianity: A Western Perspective, 2nd ed., (Michigan USA, Baker Academic
Publishers 2003), p.16
Ibid. pp.16-17

original structure of the cross of Jesus but also increases the authenticity of the
Shroud of Turin and provides a glimpse of the moments when Jesus was being
crucified. Thus, when studied in detail, this sect offers interesting facts about

This is intended to be a guide for readers to further probe into the features of
Orthodox Christianity. And is not meant to be an exhaustive bibliography.
General introductions to the Orthodox Church can be found in John Meyendorffs
The Orthodox Church (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimirs Seminary Press 1981) and
Sergius Bulgakovs The Orthodox Church (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimirs Seminary
Press 1988). The most popular general history and introduction, and often more
accessible, is from the British Orthodox bishop Timothy (Kallistos) Ware, The
Orthodox Church (New York: Penguin Books, rev. ed., 1993).
Daniel B. Clendenin in his book Eastern Orthodox Christianity: A Western
Perspective (Baker Academic, Michigan, USA, 2003) has also offered an excellent
introduction to the Eastern Orthodox faith in an honest and sympathetic way. It is
a work characterized by clarity, accuracy and respect. A readable view of Eastern
Christianity through Western eyes by one who has spent significant time in the East.
The Blackwell Dictionary of Eastern Christianity, a comprehensive work of
reference, is a book written with clarity and accessible to the non-specialist and the
beginner. Yet it is also a book in which those already familiar with the Eastern
Churches may discover much to surprise them and to evoke their sense of wonder.
John Anthony McGuckins The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to its History,
Doctrine and Spiritual Culture is an unparalleled introduction to the Orthodox
Church. Comprehensive in its scope, surveying the history and present state of the
Church, it is also bold and fresh in its presentation of Orthodox theology.