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Christianity as a religion has been divided into many different branches, schools, movements, and tendencies. Though all of them acknowledge the basic Biblical studies and tenets of Christianity, there are significant differences in the organization, mission, nature, and ordinances of various churches. Among the most noticeable and prominent branches of Christianity, the Eastern and Western Orthodox Churches should be mentioned. The appearance of those churches dates back to the Middle Ages and is connected with the notable and important events in the history of Christianity. Nowadays, those two churches remain notable and significant parts of the Christian religion, which comprise of millions of adherents and followers. At the same time, it is possible to trace many similarities and differences in the structure and studies of the Eastern and Western Orthodox Churches. This paper is going to discuss the organization and government of the Eastern and Western Orthodox Christian Churches, define their main statements, beliefs, and ordinances, state their missions, analyze different and similar features, as well as identify their influences on the development of the Christian religion in general.
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Basic Characteristics of the Eastern Orthodox Church
Nowadays, the Eastern Orthodox Church is the second largest Christian community, which unites approximately 300 million adherents all around the globe. The very name of the church is connected with the geographical location since it has gained special support and popularity on the Eastern Slavic lands. As a result, this branch of Christianity has obtained the name of Eastern Orthodoxy in order to make the difference with the Western churches.
The doctrine of the Eastern Orthodoxy states that it is the only holy apostolic church, which precisely follows the studies of Jesus Christ and apostles. The doctrine of the Eastern Orthodoxy emphasizes the significance of the Holy Trinity and regards it as the unity of three distinct separate persons (Tavast 111). Moreover, a special place in the doctrine of the Eastern Orthodoxy belongs to the issues of God’s creation of the world, problems of earthly sins and eternal salvation, and permanent connection between the God’s energy and human lives. The Eastern Orthodoxy believes in the afterlife, which depends on the earthly deeds and thoughts of every individual person. Additionally, the Eastern Orthodoxy professes the resurrection of Jesus Christ and regards Bible as the verbal interpretation of the personality of Christ.
It is important to mention that the Eastern Orthodoxy does not follow Bible as precisely as Protestants do. The Eastern Church also combines the studies of the apostles, findings of the ecumenical councils, and changes innovated by notable religious personalities and popes (Meyendorff 147). From this point of view, it is possible to witness several differences in the doctrine of the Eastern Orthodoxy and other Christian branches. For instance, the Eastern Orthodoxy widely uses icons of Saints and regards many Biblical personalities as holy and mighty.
Considering the doctrine of the Eastern Orthodox Church, it is possible to define its mission. As Dampier (2015) states, the mission of the church is to continue the studies of Jesus Christ, promote the spread of His beliefs and values, and facilitate the process of connection between people and the Supreme God. In other words, the Eastern Orthodoxy regards itself as a mediator between the holy studies of Jesus Christ and people on the Earth. The promotion of the teachings of Jesus Christ finds its reflection in relevant icons, rituals, and ordinances.
The government of the Eastern Orthodoxy is different from the Western and Catholic ones. Thus, it does not proclaim any supreme religious center, but accepts the concept of autocephalous or self-regulated churches. As Dampier (2015) states, each church of the Eastern Orthodoxy has equal rights and statuses in terms of their importance and performance. At the same time, it is possible to point out the special status of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, which possesses the highest hierarchical position and regulates statements and teachings of all other churches within the Eastern Orthodox branch.
According to Dampier (2015), the Eastern Orthodoxy modifies teachings of Bible, introducing changes brought by the seven ecumenical councils of the Church. In this light, the Eastern Orthodox Church differs from other Christian branches and introduces a new organizational structure and nature. Thus, it states that the supreme head of the church is Jesus Christ. Therefore, human beings cannot pretend to get the highest hierarchical ranks in these terms. Every Eastern Orthodox Church has its religious leader and Holy Synod, which defines its regulations and administration.
The Eastern Orthodox Church pays great attention to issues of ordinances and holy mysteries. Thus, it claims the importance of baptism, chrismation, Holy Communion, repentance, and marriage (Tavast 10). According to its doctrine, it is essential to accept the mystery of baptism in order to be granted with others. The majority of the ordinances include rituals with the holy water, candles, and Biblical quotations (Tavast 105). The main objective of the ordinances and holy mysteries is the acceptance of God’s energy and acquisition of connection with the Supreme God.
The Eastern Orthodox Church does not follow the Lord’s Supper, but replaces it with the mystery of the Holy Communion (Tavast 10). This procedure presupposes partaking of the Body and Blood of Jesus in the form of bread and wine. However, the Eastern Orthodox Church does not call this ordinance as the Lord’s Supper and does not provide a valid explanation of its purposes and objectives. Thus, the Eastern Orthodox Church follows basic Christian values and rituals, while modifying them with some new concepts and notions inaugurated by the seven ecumenical councils.
Nature of the Western Orthodox Church
Western Orthodoxy presents a fusion between the Eastern Orthodox movement and Western branches of Christianity. On the one hand, it follows the same statements and regulations as the Eastern Orthodoxy. On the other hand, it also includes the Western types of liturgies and rituals (Hammerli, and Mayer 269). The other difference between the Eastern and Western Orthodoxies consists in the period of emergence. While the Eastern branch is an old historical movement, the Western Orthodoxy dates back to the 19th century. Nevertheless, currently the Western Orthodoxy continues attracting more adherents and acquiring a new sense on the religious map of the world (H?mmerli and Mayer 89). Particularly, it gains special popularity and significance in the Western World, which is indicated in the very name of the movement.
In opposition to the Eastern Orthodoxy, the Western one has a unified religious center, which is considered as the principal one. While the Eastern branch adopts decentralization of power and provides each church with equal rights and statutes, the Western Orthodoxy depends on regulations and jurisdiction of the local Orthodox bishop (Dampier 35). Such government of the church defines its dependent character and nature, as well as shows distribution of the religious hierarchy and power. The common feature between the two churches is existence of a supreme bishop who is responsible for sending regulations and determining the structure of all other churches under his government.
The doctrine of the Western Orthodoxy resembles the one of the Eastern Orthodoxy. Thus, this church also believes in the Holy Trinity and supreme power of the God-creator. The Western Orthodoxy states that the God has created the world and remained in a permanent contact with human lives and destinies (Tavast 50). The mission of the church and every individual is to find the connection with God and reveal his/her spiritual potential for the sake of eternal life. In this light, the doctrine of both Christian branches remains similar.
The difference can be observed in the interpretation of Bible and other holy scriptures. It is important to mention that the Western Orthodoxy comprises mainly of protestant movements, which have adopted the teachings of Constantinople. As a result, the Western Orthodoxy sticks mainly to the texts of Bible and excludes any modification and variations of the holy texts. Thus, it excludes the notion of purgatory, rejects holiness of ordinary people (mother of Jesus, apostles, and prophets), and does not widely use any visual images of the saints. In this light, the Western Orthodoxy resembles the branch of Protestants rather than the Eastern Orthodoxy.
The other difference between the Eastern and Western Orthodoxies consists in ordinances and beliefs. It has been mentioned that the Eastern Orthodoxy applies the principle of the Holy Communion to denote the partaking of Jesus’s blood and body. The Western Orthodoxy calls it the Lord’s Supper, which means the holy ritual of approaching the sacred meaning of the Jesus’s life and His teachings (Bogdan 27). Analogically, baptism in the Western Orthodoxy differs from the Eastern ritual. The Western Orthodoxy emphasizes the importance of a conscious individual baptism, which follows the example of Jesus Christ with “the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him” (Matthew 3:17). Baptism presupposes that the individual gives up all sins and starts a new life with God. On the contrary, in the Eastern Orthodoxy baptism stands for a mere affiliation of individuals with the Christian church and is essential for newborn babies of adherents.
Finally, the nature of the Western Orthodoxy has many different features as compared with the Eastern one. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, liturgies and religious ceremonies have a stable, fixed, and constant character. However, the Western Orthodoxy allows a changeable character of liturgies and their free content, which is to be completed by the bishop himself. In these terms, it is again possible to note some similarities with the Protestantism. Overall, the Western Orthodoxy is a less radical and conventional branch of Christianity in comparison with the Eastern one.
Influences of the Eastern and Western Orthodoxies on Christianity
The Eastern Orthodox Church remains one of the most important and notable Christian branches on the territory of Eastern Europe. It has gained special prominence in Slavic countries and created a qualitatively new doctrine of church, which adapts texts and teachings of Bible to expectations, needs, and demands of adherents. As McGuckin (2011) points out, the Eastern Orthodoxy has significantly diversified the religious art by producing unique icons, statues, and other visual forms aimed at depicting the images of saints and scenes from the divine world. Since Catholic and Protestant Churches condemn the visual depiction of the saints, the Eastern Orthodoxy marks the development of the art and creation of new forms of praising God.
The Eastern Orthodox Church has also introduced new concepts and notions into the theological background of Christianity. On the one hand, it rejects ideas of the original sin, purgatory, atonement, predestination, and particular judgment, which are important notions in other branches of Christianity. At the same time, it presents a new interpretation of conventional ordinances and rituals. Thus, it modifies the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper, replacing it with the Holy Communion and emphasizes the importance of the holy mysteries.
Another effect of the Eastern Orthodoxy on Christianity is reorganization of religious centers and government. On the contrary to the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodoxy changes the meaning of centralization and provides all churches with equal statuses and positions. In the Eastern Orthodoxy, every church is responsible for establishing its regulations and laws.
When speaking about the influence of the Western Orthodoxy on Christianity, it is essential to mention its unique role in the preservation of both Eastern and Western values. The Western Orthodoxy presents a combination of various Christian beliefs and rituals adapted to new living conditions and time circumstances (H?mmerli and Mayer 115). The Western Orthodoxy has found great support among both Protestants and Catholics who find the ideas of Constantinople councils to be valid and significant. The Western Orthodoxy presents new ways of praising God, professing holy statements and leading a worthy life. The structure and content of the Western Orthodoxy is simple, comprehensive, and clear so that many people can understand its mission and save their lives.
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Moreover, the Western Orthodoxy rejects concepts and ideas not mentioned in Bible, but introduced by religious personalities. In these terms, this Christian branch can pretend to preserve the initial doctrine and mission of Christianity and deprive it of excessive ideas and opinions. It is also important to admit the treatment of ordinances in the structure of the Western Orthodoxy. Thus, it has changed the meaning of baptism, linking it with a conscious individual choice to accept Jesus and pursue salvation of the soul. Thus, both Orthodoxies provide many ideas, which diversify and improve the theory of Christian religion.