Orthodoxy: the third Christian religion in the world

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Moscow (AFP)

The Orthodox Church, the third Christian denomination after Catholics and Protestants, has between 125 and 180 million faithful worldwide, mainly in Russia and Eastern Europe.

– Schism of the 11th century –

After centuries of theological and political wrangling, the schism between the Eastern and Western Christian churches arose in 1054.

It all started with the excommunication of the Patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius, who refused to recognize the primacy of the Pope.

The papal envoy, Cardinal Humbert de Silva Candida, who ordered the expulsion, was in turn excommunicated by Cerularius.

The two churches did not lift the excommunications until 1965.

The Crusades, feared by most Christians in the East, worsened the separation as the Crusaders established Latin patriarchates alongside the Greek patriarchates.

– Orthodox faith –

The word Orthodox comes from the Greek “ortho” (right) and “doxa” (doctrine). The Orthodox Church claims the possession of “good faith” and considers that all other Churches, including the Catholic Church, should join it.

One of the main differences between Catholic and Orthodox churches concerns the Holy Spirit, which according to the Orthodox Church comes from God the Father, while for Catholics it comes from the Father and the Son.

The Orthodox faith also rejects Catholic dogma concerning the Immaculate Conception (under which the Virgin Mary is free from original sin), the Assumption of Mary into Heaven and the infallibility of the Pope.

Unlike Catholics, Orthodox believers accept the ordination of married men, as well as divorce in cases of adultery.

While the Catholic liturgy has developed over time, the Orthodox liturgy has hardly changed since the first millennium.

– Complex organization –

Orthodoxy is organized in 14 patriarchates or independent churches, in other words “autocephalous”.

The four original patriarchates are those of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem.

Ten independent churches have been added over the centuries, which recognize the primacy of the Patriarch of Constantinople but can themselves choose their own primates.

Four of these churches bear the title of patriarchate: Moscow, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria. The others are the churches of Georgia, Greece, Cyprus, Albania, Poland and the church of the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Some Orthodox Churches recognize a fifteenth independent Church: the Orthodox Church of America, based in New York.

Two other Orthodox Churches enjoy autonomy, without being autocephalous: Finland, attached to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and Japan, attached to the Patriarchate of Moscow.

The Kyiv Patriarchate, self-proclaimed in 1992 after Ukraine’s independence, has so far not been recognized by any Orthodox church in the world. Several million Ukrainian Orthodox faithful remain linked to the Moscow Patriarchate.

– Patriarch of Constantinople –

The Patriarch of Constantinople – currently Bartholomew I – has honorary and historical primacy over the other patriarchs of the Orthodox world.

He is considered the first among his peers: he does not have the right to intervene in the religious affairs of other Orthodox churches, but has spiritual and official precedence.

The religious role of Constantinople, today’s Istanbul, dates back to Emperor Constantine who in 313 AD made Christianity the official religion of the Byzantine Empire and its capital Constantinople.

Over the centuries, however, the Patriarchate of Moscow, which has more believers than that of Constantinople, has taken over the Orthodox world. The current Russian Patriarch Kiril is an ally of President Vladimir Putin.

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