Armenian Orthodoxy

Byzantine details: How are the Orthodox Christian churches organized, and why?

Byzantine details: How are the Orthodox Christian churches organized, and why?

DAVID ASKS:

Most of us in the U.S. are aware of Orthodox Christians but don’t really understand their organization. Can you expand on their split around the world?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

Our previous Q and A about Islam’s founding Sunni-Shi’a split mentioned divisions within Orthodox Christianity. Orthodoxy, which means “correct teaching,” sees itself as preserving Christianity’s earliest and most authentic form. This faith is in the spotlight what with (1) history’s first meeting between a Catholic pope and a patriarch of Russia’s massive Orthodox church, and (2) the June 16-27 “Holy and Great Council” of all bishops in Crete, potentially (if it is held) Eastern Orthodoxy’s most consequential event in more than 12 centuries.

Writing online Feb. 10, sociologist Peter Berger (a Lutheran) said through recent centuries this faith has existed mostly in three contexts: as a state religion, as a “persecuted or barely tolerated” church under Islamic or Communist rule or in the diaspora outside its heartland (e.g. in the United States) where separate and competing churches under foreign hierarchies generate “ethnic cacophony.”

The ancient churches of Eastern Orthodoxy -- Orthodoxy dates its birth at Pentecost -- are organized into three branches that stem from the 5th Century debate on how to define the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ.

Caution: This gets technical.

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