A question for Eastern Orthodox friends

Please pardon my ignorance. I’m very uneducated when it comes to the many different rites of Eastern Christianity. I have a couple of questions. Now I know in the Eastern Orthodox communion, there are many particular churches. Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Lithuanian Orthodox, etc. The question I have is, are the various Orthodox rites under the banner of Eastern Orthodox all considered Greek Orthodox, but of a different nation? I.e., would the Russian Orthodox Church be considered a certain denomination, if you will, of the Greek Orthodox Church? Also, are the various far east Greek Orthodox Patriarchates, such as the Antiochan Greek Orthodox Church, and the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem all Byzantine Rite churches? And are all Eastern Orthodox Churches Byzantine? Also, I know their are various Patriarchs of the different churches, but are they all under the leadership of the Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I? Including the Russian Orthodox church?

And one other question I would have, is how many Greek Orthodox Patriarchates are their, such as the Antiochan Greek Orthodox Church, as opposed to how many Eastern Orthodox Churches are there? Or are they ALL considered Patriarchates of the Greek Orthodox Church?

I can’t speak for other languages, but in English if you say “Greek Orthodox” you mean a specific subset of Eastern Orthodox. (Just like not all Roman Catholics are “Irish Catholic”.)

And would the Antiochan Greek Orthodox Patriarchate be a separate subset of the Eastern Orthodox Communion, from the Greek Orthodox subset?

The correct term in which I’m referring to would be the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch. Not the Antiochan Greek Orthodox Church. Again, please forgive me for my ignorance.

I believe that the following is correct:

All Eastern Orthodox Churches are not Greek Orthodox.

All Eastern Orthodox do use the Byzantine Rite.

All Eastern Orthodox are certainly not under the leadership of the Patriarch of Constantinople. They might consider him “first among equals.”

There are Western-Rite Orthodox parishes, so not all use the Byzantine Rite; the other two are correct.

Benedicat Deus,

It seemed that Orthodoxy and Catholicism had two different types of setting up Churches. The Church of Rome was more inclined to keep things under Rome meaning any new Churches would have Rome as its center for authority. However this was for Rome was not that way for the East. The East decided on a different manner in establishing Churches. The main Church that was to bring Orthodoxy into new countries was the Greek Orthodox Church and more specifically with the authority of the Church of Constantinople. It was this Church that brought much of those nations into the Orthodox Church. It was very similar to for instance the Church of Rome and how the Church in Italy was the major contributor early on for the Catholic Church. Since Rome adopted a more authority with the Pope the Catholic Church emerged with a close association with the Pope in all the countries that wanted this type of set up. The Orthodox decided to pattern their Church with some similarity as Rome with an important difference. This difference was to be that any nation that has fully expressed the Orthodoxy within it would be able to do it governing as their own.

This meant that all the Orthodox Churches are not necessarily rites as we think they are from the West but they are an integrated whole. Orthodoxy like Catholicism needs a way of life but this life was not actually making many Churches. It is the same Church throughout but under a different kind of lens. This lens as understood by any Catholic can often bring misunderstandings and confusion since the Catholic only knows one way which authority is served and by which it does serve and that is through the Papacy. In Orthodoxy the authority stems more from a colligative form of expression than from a principal of one authority. This has given the Orthodox Church in each country more flexibility in determining their own witness and ministry. However this flexibility cannot for instance determine what the role the Orthodox Church can have in North America for all the Orthodox who live here.

The problem in North America is a very new problem that the Orthodox Church has never faced. What are we to do with all these forms of Orthodoxy in this part of the world? It is by canon law of the Orthodox Church that there will be no overlapping of jurisdictions within any diocese. This means that there must be only one bishop to be in charge in every diocese. However because of circumstances which were not foreseen the North American situation has developed in some places over 12 different bishops for any one place. This is not how the Orthodox Church works. This development in North America will have to iron itself eventually to correct this situation which Orthodoxy finds itself. Because there is no central authority to rely on as Rome has the Orthodox Church in North America must address these issues together so that a consensus to bring forth its unity to become reality.

In truth Orthodoxy likes to give more independence to a nation that chooses Orthodoxy as its Church. That is how Orthodoxy is manifested in the past. This meant there was a more colligative authority among her bishops. The Ecumenical Patriarch has an office which is what you will call the first among equals. However this is in writing it sometimes especially in history and even now that some Patriarchs can decide they are more equal than the others. This is not how the Orthodox Church govern themselves. For instance there can be many disputes between certain Patriarchs and they can be very troublesome to solve. Even today these disputes can delay the fullest expression of what the Orthodox Church can be.

It seems in history that the Church of Constantinople became a mother Church for many of the newly developed Churches such as Russia as you have mentioned. In time she was willingly to give these new missions a more independence to their own affairs but sticking to the fundamentals by which the mother church had given to them. However in these present days other Churches are now taking the lead role in establishing meaningful missionary work as the Church of Constantinople does not have the resources as it once enjoyed . While the Orthodox Church operates under a different type of lens her authority is always present towards the teachings which has helped formed her. She operates from a different type of lens yet if you lived in her you would accept it just as any Catholic who would accept Rome and stand by their type of authority. There is an authority that the Orthodox has come to live by and there is an authority that the Catholic has come to accept. They are both in good standing for their 2000 year history has given them an incredible ride to this present day.

Eventually in Canada and the U.S.A you will see a unified Orthodox Church that will be governed on its own without any Russian, Greek or any other influence. The situation today signifies not only confusion to the Catholic but also to the Orthodox as well. Since Orthodoxy does not have an authority as such as Rome enjoys they must adhere to the authority which has worked for them and this will take time. You cannot have a Russian Orthodox or an Antiochian Orthodox or a Greek Orthodox and so on in the same place with overlapping bishops. The Orthodox know this and are trying to settle this in the manner they know best,

That’s just what I was going to say. :thumbsup: The vast majority of EOs use the Byzantine Rite, but a small fraction of them are WRO. (Likewise, the vast majority of Catholics use the Roman Rite, but a small fraction of us use the Byzantine Rite or one of the Oriental Rites.)

Do the respective Patriarchs of the various Subsets have their own Apostolic Sees, similar to that of the Pope as both Bishop of Rome and Supreme Pontiff? Does the Patriarch of Russia have his own See aside from All of Russia?

it is true that each Orthodox Church which has a Patriarch is very similar to the set up as Rome enjoys. Every patriarch is the see for that particular church. In truth this type of authority is the same as Rome so in effect you have a brotherhood of authorities in the East. No patriarch is above the other. They are in fact equal in authority. This means the Orthodox Church in principal relies more on a collective authority than does Rome. It seems to work for the Orthodox. There are apostolic sees in the older Orthodox Communions but those other Orthodox Communions such as Russia or Romania were founded by an Apostolic see. For instance the Ecumenical Patriarch has the distinction to be the see of St. Andrew. Not all Orthodox Communions were directly founded by the Apostles but those that were did help to find missions in other countries. So indirectly all the Orthodox Communions can be said to have an Apostolic connection whether directly as Antioch, Alexandria and the Ecumenical Patriach enjoys or indirectly as the rest of the Orthodox Communions enjoys such as Russia, Ukraine and Romania as well as many others. The Russian Patriarch in principal cannot have jurisdiction in other countries such as Canada and the USA. Missions can be started there but these missions must give way towards the Orthodox who are living there into their own Orthodox identity. But there is Orthodox who for instance in countries such as France and Great Briton started by missions of various Orthodox nations yet the ideal is still that these Orthodox will have their own identity once it becomes big enough for them to acquire their independence. Even with all this interpendence there is a great deal of unity with all the Orthodox.

Firstly, I just need to ensure that you do not equate Eastern Christianity with Eastern Orthodox, the latter being a subset of the former.

Also, looking at the posts so far, there has been no mention of the 14 autocepahlous churches in communion with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinopole (‘EP’). They are not separate denominations as they are in full communion with each other. The closest analogy will be the Eastern Catholic churches, which are not separate denomination within the Catholic church.

All patriarchs and archbishops of the autocephalous churches look to the leadership of the EP but not in the same way as Catholics look to the Pope. The EP is considered first among equals and cannot unilaterally make decisions like the Pope does.

That is the theory but has been under strain in the last few centuries with the Russians, who considered Moscow as the third Rome (Constantinopole being the second Rome). While acknowledging the precedence of the EP, many Russians consider Russia as the de facto leader of Orthodoxy, being the largest of the 14 churches by far. Just as Constantinopole supplanted Rome after the fall of Rome to barbarians, Moscow has supplanted Constantinopole after its fall to the Turks in 1453. This very much explains Russian exceptionalism in secular-political sphere and their anti-West tirades every now and then - protecting Russianess is fundamental to protecting Orthodoxy.

Would those 14 churches be like, Armenian Orthodox or Ethiopian Tewahedo for example?

I don’t know, I also see Russia as coming out of a very difficult period in their history in regards to Christianity, I don’t see this as a bad thing at all that they are inspired to witness to the faith. They see themselves as the protector of the faith.

No, they belong to the Oriental Orthodox communion together with the Coptic Church and the Syriac Jacobite Church.

Under the umbrella of Eastern Christianity, there are four main communions:

1 Eastern Orthodox, which comprises the 14 autocephalous churches - the four ancient patriarchates of Constantinopole, Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem; 10 national churches of (first 5 headed by patriarchs and last 5 by archbishops) Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Georgia, Greece, Cyprus, Polish, Albanian & Czech-Slovak. Each of these may have autonomous churches under them.

2 Oriental Orthodox, which comprises Coptic (Alexandria), Syriac (Antioch), Armenians, Ethiopians, Eritreans and Malankarese (in India)

3 Assyrians in Baghdad, remnants of a large ancient East Syriac communion

4 Eastern Catholics, who comprises 20 churches with bishops. These are counterparts of the churches of 1 to 3 above but are in communion with Rome. They include 6 patriarchs of Armenians, Chaldeans (counterpart of 3 above), Coptic, Maronite (the only one with no Orthodox counterpart), Melkite (counterpart of Greeks in West Asia) & Syriacs; 4 major archbishops of Ukrainians, Syro-Malabarese (in India), Syro-Malankarese (in India) & Romanians.

In addition, there are also a number of other Orthodox churches which are not in communion with any of the four above, but are mostly spin-offs from them - some due to use of calendars and many others due to nationalism.

As you can see it is rather compicated,with overlapping jurisdictions even within the same communion. antioch for instance, have five partriarchs: Greek (EO), Syriac Jacobite (OO) and 3 Catholics - Melkite, Maronites and Syriacs.

Each of these churches has its own history of schisms, etc. On the Catholic side, there are stories of reunion with Rome, re-breakaway and re-reunions. All very interesting but can be daunting to keep track.

Very true. I sometimes refer to myself, and like minded GCs, as “Orthodox in communion with Rome”, but this is only meant as a way of distinguishing among GCs, not an actual claim to be Orthodox – hence why I always put it in quotation marks.

:DYou Greeks are so complicated! Why can’t you be like us Latins where we just follow whatever definition that Rome gives us?:smiley:


(I tried to come up with an answer that incorporated the expression “It’s Greek to me”, but I couldn’t make it work.)

A number of autocephalous Churches identify themselves by the moniker “Greek”, this is purely a cultural/historic title which has no real meaning within the Communion. The Church commonly called “Greek Orthodox” in North America is the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

The Russian Orthodox Church refers to the Patriarchate of Moscow. It is a Church in the Eastern Orthodox Communion, as are the Churches of Jerusalem and Antioch.

The Patriarch of Constantinople is considered the spiritual head of the Communion but he holds very little actual power in the other Churches. He is not a pope like figure, if that is what you’re trying to ask.

Yes, the Greek in Orthodox is similar to the Roman in Catholic. Just as it refers to how we derive our liturgy from Rome and is communion with the bishop of Rome, the Eastern Orthodox derive their liturgy from the Greeks and are in communion with the Greek patriarchs. Most of the Eastern Orthodox churches outside of Greece and Middle East don’t use Greek anymore except for small parts - much like we don’t use Latin in the mass, with exceptions of course.

The situation in America is rather complicated. The Ukrainian Orthodox in the USA is under the Patriarchate of Constantinopole (note the Ukrainian Orthodx Church in Ukraine is under Moscow) whereas the Orthodox Church in America is under the Patriarchate of Moscow. The OCA is granted autochepaly by the Patriarchate of Moscow, which is not recognised by the rest of Orthodoxy. To make it complicated, the Moscow Patriachate still maintains parishes in USA outside of OCA.

In addition, Antioch, the Serbs, Romanians and Bulgarians also have their own dioceses in North America. And I presume most of the other Orthodox churches would have at least parishes in North America.

To make it even more complicated, there are also the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church in America (different from the Russian Orthodox Church in the USA), which are ‘walled off churches’ said to be ‘in resistance’ against the Patriachate of Moscow.

And we are still talking only about Eastern Orthodoxy in America.

I hope these are all clear.:wink:

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