Eastern Orthodoxy, one of the three major branches of Christianity, has more than 200 million members worldwide. It stresses the continuity of the church traditions originally established by the apostles.
The word orthodox, derived from two Greek words, means “right teaching” or “right worship,” implying doctrinal consistency.
“In the first 500 years after the death of Christ, there was a period of development, but then afterward the liturgies were fixed,” said the Rev. Christopher Stade, pastor of St. John Chrysostom Russian Orthodox Church in House Springs. Since then, “the traditions haven’t changed.”
Eastern Orthodoxy and the Roman Catholic Church separated in the Great Schism of 1054. Unlike the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church is made up of half a dozen independent churches, each local to a region or country of the world, Stade said.
“Immigrants brought their respective churches to America,” Stade said. “This is why there is such an overlapping of Orthodox churches (in the U.S.).” It is not the case in Europe, where there is only one type of Orthodox church in each country.
The Russian Orthodox Church is the largest Orthodox church today. The largest in the U.S. is the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. The patriarch of Constantinople is head of the Orthodox Church, but is considered to be the leader among equals.
Icons, or religious images, are one of the most notable features of Eastern Orthodoxy. They are used for prayer, with the images serving as a meeting point for the living members of the church on earth and the saints in heaven.
Eastern Orthodoxy is also known for its abundance of hymns, which do not differ in content but can differ in melody from church to church, Stade said.
The Orthodox Church allows married men to become priests; however, the rank of bishop is reserved only for members of the celibate or widowed clergy.
This year marks the 1600th anniversary of St. John Chrysostom’s death in 407. He is one of the most prominent saints in the history of the Eastern Orthodox Church. St. John Chrysostom Russian Orthodox Church will host a celebration expected to draw people from across the nation in honor of its namesake from Sept. 28 to 30.
Sources: History.com; Orthodoxinfo.com; Chrysostom1600.org