Orthodox Christianity


Orthodox Christianity
   The various Orthodox Churches, whose name etymologically constitutes a claim to doctrinal correctness that is not universally accepted, have over 150 million adherents. Though with only about half as many members as the Protestant churches, who themselves are outnumbered more than three to one by Roman Catholics, they form the third largest branch of the Christian church. The Orthodox Churches developed from Byzantine Christianity, which was centred on Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Empire, and gradually became detached from Roman Catholicism by disputes over papal authority and differences over theology (particularly the so-called ‘filioque’ dispute on the question whether the Holy Spirit came solely from God the Father or also from God the Son). Attempts at reunification, at the Councils of Lyons (1274) and of Florence (1438), were abortive. After Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453, the Orthodox Church in Russia, a country where great missionary efforts had been made since the eighth century, became the largest and most influential congregation. Other Orthodox Churches evolved in Bulgaria and in Greece, whence came the term ‘Greek Orthodox’, which is commonly used in England. Though discouraged under communism, Orthodox Christianity survived in Russia and Eastern Europe, emerging with renewed vigour under more liberal regimes. Served by priests who are usually married men, Orthodox Christians revere the sacraments as sacred mysteries. The liturgy is generally conducted in the congregation’s own language, though sometimes in archaic versions. Icons—pictures of Christ, the Blessed Virgin or various saints— occupy an important place in Orthodox devotion. In Britain Orthodox Christianity has long had a presence. The Victorian Bishop Benson derived the popular ‘Nine Lessons and Carols’ Christmas service from Byzantine sources, mystic hymns from the liturgy were included in The English Hymnal (1906), and the Orthodox Church was recognized as being ‘in communion’ with Anglicanism. Though Archbishop Makarios’s role in the Enosis Movement for the union of Cyprus with Greece from 1950 provoked some to wonder whether his political activity was compatible with his calling, criticism died down quite quickly. After the partition of Cyprus following the Turkish invasion, many Cypriots emigrated to Britain, swelling the Greek Orthodox congregations. Numbering under 20,000 in 1975, these had risen to an impressive 88,000 in 1994.
   Further reading
    Doak, M. (1978) The Orthodox Church, Exeter: Religious Education Press.
   CHRISTOPHER SMITH

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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