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Bishop Kallistos Ware
Orthodox Church

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  • Part I: History.
    • Introduction
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Part I: History.

  

 

Introduction

Orthodoxy is not just a kind of Roman Catholicism without the Pope, but something quite dis-

tinct from any religious system in the west. Yet those who look more closely at this .unknown

world. will discover much in it which, while different, is yet curiously familiar. .But that is what

I have always believed!. Such has been the reaction of many, on learning more fully about the

Orthodox Church and what it teaches; and they  are partly right.  For more than nine hundred

years the Greek East and the Latin West have been  growing steadily apart, each following its

own way, yet in the early centuries of Christendom both sides can find common ground. Athana-

sius and Basil lived in the east, but they belong also to the west; and  Orthodox who live in

France, Britain, or Ireland can in their turn look upon the national saints of these lands . Alban

and Patrick, Cuthbert and Bede, Geneviève of Paris and Augustine of  Canterbury . not as

strangers but as members of their own Church. All Europe was once as much part of Orthodoxy

as Greece and Christian Russia are today.

  Robert Curzon, traveling through the Levant in the 1830s in search of manuscripts which he

could buy  at bargain prices, was disconcerted to find that the  Patriarch of Constantinople had

never heard of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Matters have certainly changed since then. Travel

has become incomparably easier; the physical barriers have been broken down. And travel is no

longer necessary: a citizen of western Europe or America need no longer leave his own country

in order to observe the Orthodox Church at first hand. Greeks journeying westward from choice

or economic necessity,  and Slavs driven westward by  persecution, have brought their Church

with them, establishing across all Europe and America a network of dioceses and parishes, theo-

logical colleges and monasteries. Most important of all, in many different communions during

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the present  century there has  grown up a compelling and unprecedented desire for the visible

unity of  all Christians, and this has  given rise to a new interest in the Orthodox Church. The

Greco-Russian diaspora was scattered over the world at the very moment when western Chris-

tians, in their concern for reunion, were becoming conscious of the relevance of Orthodoxy, and

anxious to learn more about it. In reunion discussions the contribution of the Orthodox Church

has often proved unexpectedly illuminating: precisely because the Orthodox have a different

background from the west, they have been able to open up fresh lines of thought, and to suggest

long-forgotten solutions to old difficulties.

  The west has never lacked men whose conception of Christendom was not restricted to Can-

terbury, Geneva, and Rome; yet in the past such men were voices crying in the wilderness. It is

now no longer so. The effects of an alienation which has lasted for more than nine centuries can-

not be quickly undone, but at least a beginning has been made.

  What is meant by .the Orthodox Church.? The divisions which have brought about the pre-

sent fragmentation of Christendom occurred in three main stages, at intervals of roughly five

hundred years. The first  stage in the separation came in the fifth and sixth centuries, when the

.Lesser. or .Separated. eastern Churches became divided from the main body of Christians.

These Churches fall into two groups, the Nestorian Church of Persia, and the five Monophysite

Churches of Armenia, Syria (the so-called .Jacobite. Church), Egypt (the Coptic Church), Ethio-

pia, and India. The Nestorians and Monophysites passed out of western consciousness even more

completely than the Orthodox Church was later to do. When Rabban Sauma, a Nestorian monk

from Peking, visited the west in 1288 (he traveled as far as Bordeaux, where he gave communion

to King Edward I of England), he discussed theology with the Pope and Cardinals at Rome, yet

they never seem to have realized that from their point of view he was a heretic. As a result of this

first division, Orthodoxy became restricted on its eastward side mainly to the Greek-speaking

world. Then came the second separation, conventionally dated to the year 1054. The main body

of Christians now became divided into two communions: in western Europe, the Roman Catholic

Church under the Pope of Rome; in the Byzantine Empire, the Orthodox  Church of the East.

Orthodoxy was now limited on its westward side as well. The third separation, between Rome

and the Reformers in the sixteenth century, is not here our direct concern.

  It is interesting to note how cultural and ecclesiastical divisions coincide. Christianity, while

universal in its mission, has tended in practice to be associated with three cultures: the Semitic,

the Greek, and the Latin. As a result of the first separation the Semitic Christians of Syria, with

their flourishing school  of theologians and  writers, were cut off from the rest of Christendom.

Then followed the second separation, which drove a wedge between the Greek and the Latin tra-

ditions in Christianity. So it has come about that in Orthodoxy the primary cultural influence has

been that of Greece. Yet it must not therefore be thought that the Orthodox Church is exclusively

a Greek Church and nothing else, since Syriac and Latin Fathers also have a place in the fullness

of Orthodox tradition.

  While the Orthodox Church became bounded first on the eastern and then on the western

side, it expanded to the north. In 863 Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius, the Apostles of the Slavs,

traveled northward to undertake missionary work beyond the frontiers of the Byzantine Empire,

and their efforts led eventually to the conversion of Bulgaria, Serbia, and Russia. As the Byzan-

tine power dwindled, these newer Churches of the north increased in importance, and on the fall

of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453 the Principality of Moscow  was ready to take Byzan-

tium.s place as the protector of the Orthodox world. Within the last 150 years there has been a

partial reversal of the situation. Although Constantinople itself still remains in Turkish hands, a

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pale shadow of its former glory, the Church in Greece is free once more; but Russia and the other

Slavonic peoples have passed in their turn under the rule of a non-Christian government.

  Such are the main stages which have determined the external development of the Orthodox

Church. Geographically  its primary  area of distribution lies in eastern Europe, in Russia, and

along the coasts of the eastern Mediterranean.  It  is composed at present  of the following self-

governing or .autocephalous. Churches (After each Church an approximate estimate of size is given. Like

all ecclesiastical statistics, these figures are to be treated with caution, and they are in any case intended merely as a

rough comparative guide. For many Orthodox Churchesparticularly  those  in  communist countries,  no  up-to-date

statistics are available. For the most part the figures indicate nominal rather than active membership):

 

The four  ancient Patriarchates: Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. Though

greatly reduced in size, these four Churches for historical reasons occupy a special position in the

Orthodox Church, and rank first in honor. The heads of these four Churches bear the title Patri-

arch.

 

Eleven other autocephalous Churches: Russia, Romania, Serbia (in Yugoslavia), Bulgaria, Geor-

gia, Cyprus, PolandAlbania, Czechoslovakia and Sinai.

  All except three of these Churches . Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Albania . are in coun-

tries where the Christian population is entirely  or predominantly  Orthodox. The Churches of

Greece, Cyprus, and Sinai are Greek; five of the others . Russia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Czechoslo-

vakia, Poland . are Slavonic. The heads of the Russian, Romanian, Serbian, and Bulgarian

Churches are known by the title Patriarch; the head of the Georgian Church is called Catholicos-

Patriarch; the heads of the other churches are called either Archbishop or Metropolitan.

 

  There are in addition several Churches which, while self-governing in most respects, have

not  yet attained full independence. These are termed .autonomous. but not .autocephalous.:

Finland, Japan and China.

 

  There are ecclesiastical provinces in western Europe, in North and South America, and in

Australia, which depend on the different Patriarchates and autocephalous Churches. In some ar-

eas this Orthodox .diaspora. is slowly achieving self-government. In particular, steps have been

taken to form an autocephalous Orthodox Church in America, but this has not yet been officially

recognized by the majority of other Orthodox Churches.

 

The Orthodox Church is thus a family of self-governing Churches. It is held together, not by

a centralized organization, not by a single prelate wielding absolute power over the whole body,

but by the double bond  of unity in the faith  and communion in the sacraments. Each Church,

while independent, is in full agreement with the rest on all matters of doctrine, and between them

all there is full sacramental communion. (Certain divisions exist among the Russian Orthodox,

but the situation here is altogether exceptional and, one hopes, temporary in character). There is

in Orthodoxy no one with an equivalent position to the Pope in the Roman Catholic Church. The

Patriarch of Constantinople is known as the .Ecumenical. (or universal) Patriarch, and since the

schism between east and west he has enjoyed a position of special honor among all the Orthodox

communities; but he does not have the right to interfere in the internal affairs of other Churches.

His place resembles that of the Archbishop of Canterbury in the worldwide Anglican commun-

ion.

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  This decentralized system of independent local Churches has the advantage of being highly

flexible, and is easily  adapted to  changing  conditionsLocal Churches can be created, sup-

pressed, and then restored again, with very little disturbance to the life of the Church as a whole.

Many of these local Churches are also national Churches, for during the past in Orthodox coun-

tries Church  and State have usually been closely linked. But while  an independent State often

possesses its own autocephalous Church, ecclesiastical divisions do not necessarily coincide with

State boundaries. Georgia, for instance, lies  within the U.S.S.R., but is not part of the Russian

Church, while the territories of the four ancient Patriarchates fall politically in several different

countries. The Orthodox Church is a federation of local, but not in every  case  national,

Churches. It does not have as its basis the political principle of the State Church.

  Among the various Churches there is, as can be seen, an enormous variation in size, with

Russia at one extreme and Sinai at the other. The different Churches also vary in age, some dat-

ing back to Apostolic times, while others are less than a generation old. The Church of Czecho-

slovakia, for example, only became autocephalous in 1951.

  Such are the Churches  which make up the  Orthodox communion as it is today. They are

known collectively by  various titles. Sometimes they are  called the  Greek or  Greco-Russian

Church; but this is incorrect, since there are many millions of Orthodox who are neither Greek

nor Russian. Orthodox themselves often call their Church the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Or-

thodox Catholic Church, the Orthodox Catholic Church of the East, or the like. These titles must

not be misunderstood, for while Orthodoxy considers itself to be the true Catholic Church, it is

not part of the  Roman Catholic Church; and although Orthodoxy calls itself eastern, it is not

something  limited  to  eastern  people.  Another  name  often  employed  is  the  Holy Orthodox

Church. Perhaps it is least misleading and most convenient to use the shortest title: the Orthodox

Church.

  Orthodoxy claims to be universal . not something exotic and oriental, but simple Christi-

anity. Because of human failings and the accidents of history, the Orthodox  Church has been

largely restricted in the past to certain geographical areas. Yet to the Orthodox themselves their

Church is something more than a group of local bodies. The word .Orthodoxy. has the double

meaning of .right belief. and .right glory. (or .right worship.). The Orthodox, therefore, make

what may seem at first a surprising claim: they regard their Church as the Church which guards

and teaches the true belief about God and  which glorifies Him with right worship, that is, as

nothing less than the Church of Christ on earth. How this claim is understood, and what the Or-

thodox think of other Christians who do not belong to their Church, it is part of the aim of this

book to explain.

 




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