Orthodox churches

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Orthodox churches (from ancient Greek ὀρθός orthos , upright, right 'and δόξα doxa ie, the right worship or the right things, worship, faith' God '; Russian Православная церковь Pravoslavnaja cerkov; Serbian Православна Црква (Pravoslavna crkva); Bulgarian Православна църква ; Romanian Biserica Ortodoxă ) or Byzantine Orthodox churches are the pre-Reformation churches of the Byzantine rite . Right from the start, they are both Catholic and Apostolic in the succession of the Apostles (traditio apostolica) . The self-governing Eastern Churches are partly national churches and show cultural differences, but are in church fellowship with one another. Members of the Orthodox Church see themselves as a unit and therefore usually speak of the Church of Orthodoxy in the singular. The Orthodox churches form the second largest Christian community in the world with around 300 million members.

They are to be distinguished from the ancient oriental churches (also oriental-orthodox ) and the catholic eastern churches , most of which are descended from the Byzantine churches.

According to the theological, Christian-Orthodox self-understanding, the Orthodox Church is “the union of all that is, destined to unite everything that is there, God and creation. It is the fulfillment of God's eternal plan: the all-unity. Eternal and temporal is there in her [...] The Church is the body of Christ [...] "


Development of Christianity
Relationship between the Aramaic Syrian Church and the Orthodox Church

All today's autocephalous national Orthodox churches in the Balkans, Greece, Asia Minor, Syria and Russia originated in the Hellenistic cultural area or were founded from there and were under the administration of the Byzantine imperial church until the Muslim conquest of Constantinople in 1453. A distinction must be made between them on the one hand, the churches of Eastern rites united with the Roman Catholic Church , and on the other hand, the so-called ancient oriental churches . In summary, Orthodox, United and Ancient Near Eastern churches are often referred to as the Eastern Church . The term Eastern Church is only a geographical collective term and does not designate a group of churches understood as a unit, since, for example, the Orthodox Churches are not in communion with the United Churches .

Various terms are used in the Orthodox churches to express the Orthodox identity: Orthodox Church, Orthodox Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, Eastern Church, Greek Orthodox Church (the latter in this case does not refer to Greece, but to the Greek cultural area, in which the church was created).

Other names in German-speaking countries

In Austria, Greek-Oriental is a legal collective term for the Russian, Serbian, Romanian, Bulgarian and Greek communities (which ecclesiastically depend on the respective patriarchate). In the Principality of Liechtenstein , the corresponding legal collective term is "Christian Orthodox".


The actual name from the point of view of the Orthodox Church itself is mentioned in the Creed : (in Greek) η μία, Ἁγία, Καθολικὴ καὶ Ἀποστολικὴ Ἐκκλησία, literally: the one, holy, all-embracing and apostolic church . Often the word "all-encompassing" is rendered as "Catholic".

The term denomination is rather alien to Orthodoxy. In the opinion of some authors, terms such as Greek-Orthodox or Russian-Orthodox should not be used for the denomination, since Orthodox Christians do not see themselves as "Russian-Orthodox" or "Bulgarian-Orthodox", not even as "part of the one Church" ( since Jesus Christ is not the sum of individual parts, but an indivisible unity), but as a direct expression of the "whole one Church". However, this does not prevent the believers in each case by place, national affiliation, language and tradition z. B. to be bound to the Russian Orthodox Church or the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.

The terms Greek Catholic or Greek Church for Orthodoxy are historical (18th, 19th centuries). Today, " Greek-Catholic " refers to the Rome-Uniate Byzantine rites.



Hagia Sophia , formerly one of the largest Orthodox churches

The ecclesiastical traditions and teachings of the Orthodox Churches go back to Jesus Christ and found their full expression in the Byzantine Empire with its center Byzantium and Constantinople . That is why one speaks of the “Greek Church” in contrast to the Latin Church or the Roman Church . The collective term Eastern Churches is also in use, especially in Western Europe, but also includes other churches located in the Eastern Mediterranean that differ theologically or liturgically from the orthodoxy of the Byzantine tradition - namely the "Eastern Catholic Churches" that have emerged mostly in modern times since According to the Council of Chalcedon, the ancient oriental churches (which are also referred to as Oriental Orthodox or Monophysite or Miaphysite churches, in the case of the Syrian Orthodox Church also as "Jacobites") and the Apostolic Church of the East (which are also known as Nestorian Church).

The Orthodox churches are a group of churches that largely agree in their understanding of the church, doctrine and cult and have a strong sense of belonging . They do not see themselves as part of a single church, but as a direct expression of the one church . In contrast to the Western churches, they claim to be dogmatically based exclusively on the resolutions of the seven ecumenical councils between 325 and 787. Biblical and liturgical language of Orthodoxy is the respective national language or an older form of the same, such as ancient Greek or Church Slavonic , an old Slavic language form. In addition to the Greek tradition, the Byzantine rite of the Orthodox churches is mainly the Slavic tradition, since Slavic areas in the early Middle Ages took over Christianity especially from Byzantium and later referred to Constantinople rather than Rome. Another important cultural group in Orthodoxy are the Aramaic Christians.


The Orthodox churches are the second largest Christian denomination after the Roman Catholic Church , followed by the churches of the Anglican Communion , the World Fellowship of Reformed Churches and the Lutheran World Federation . Only the Pentecostal movement would be bigger, to which 271 million people belonged according to the US International Bulletin of Missionary Research 2011.

Around 1830 the Orthodox (at that time "Greek [Catholic] churches") had about 34 million members, the "Oriental heretics", as the Catholics said, about 10 million believers (so altogether 45 million " Orientals "); the "Occidentalen" were 175 million, of which 120 million were Catholics with the United Greeks . Orthodoxy represented 16 of the around 200 million Christians and 3% of the world population (estimated at 1 billion at the time).

The great migratory movements since the second half of the 20th century gave rise to Orthodox diaspora congregations of the various regional churches in most countries of the world. This development strengthened the preparatory process for an all-Orthodox council that had already started in 1902 . In March 2014 this council was announced for 2016 in Istanbul. As a result of tensions between Russia and Turkey, an all-Orthodox assembly convened the Pan-Orthodox Council in January 2016 for June 18-26 , 2016 in Heraklion , Crete , where 156 delegates from ten autocephalous churches attended and four churches had canceled: the Patriarchates of Antioch, Georgia, Bulgaria and Russia.


For examples of the individual types of organization, see List of Eastern Churches . This article is a list with (if possible) all Orthodox churches, most of which have their own articles that are linked there.

Canonical churches

The Orthodox Churches differentiate between canonical and non-canonical churches. Canonical churches are autocephalous and autonomous churches that are in full communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the other canonical churches. Non-canonical churches have at some point separated from communion with the ecumenical patriarchate or a canonical church for theological or political reasons.

In the understanding of the canonical orthodox churches, only these themselves are in full apostolic succession , which is why the fullness of the sacraments can only be found in them . Theological statements about other churches and the salvation or disaster status of their members are avoided as far as possible in the Orthodox Church.

Autocephalous and Autonomous Churches

Georgian priest in his regalia

In the Orthodox Churches a distinction is made between autocephalous and autonomous churches . Autocephalous churches are legally and spiritually completely independent and elect their head themselves. Other churches or dioceses in other countries (especially the Patriarchates of Constantinople and Moscow) are subordinate to them. Autonomous churches are to a certain extent independent in internal affairs, but in some respects they are dependent on another autocephalous church.

An autocephalous church can, depending on its size and historical significance, bear the title of patriarchate , archbishopric or metropolis and is accordingly headed by a patriarch , archbishop or metropolitan . An archbishop or a metropolitan is at the head of an autonomous church.

Various Orthodox Churches in Western Europe and North America

The various Orthodox communities in Western Europe and North America are often subordinate to the local church or the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. This actually contradicts orthodox church law, according to which only one orthodox church should exist in each area . However, this is tolerated because of the special situation of the large numbers of migrants in need of mother-tongue pastoral care kat 'oikonomian . A second argument for this is that one does not want to establish a fully valid parallel church in an area that has been Roman Catholic since ancient times, since (as will be explained further below) the Orthodox reject this in their own countries as well.

Legal position of the bishops

In the Orthodox Churches, all bishops are legally and spiritually equal; A patriarch, metropolitan or archbishop has no higher authority or jurisdiction over a bishop in the territory of another bishop, but heads the bishops of his territory as primus inter pares (first among equals) and represents the church externally. Decisions that are binding for a whole church can only be made by the community of bishops at a council or synod . Each bishop has spiritual jurisdiction within his area.

Church understanding

The Orthodox Churches see themselves as the original Church, from which all other churches split off or removed in the course of history (including the Roman Catholic Church ). Therefore, the Orthodox churches see themselves as the spiritual home of all Christians in their respective areas and look with astonishment at the numerous Protestant denominations, especially when they open parallel churches in their own area. There is also little understanding for the establishment of United Churches in unity with Rome and of dioceses of the Latin Church in Orthodox countries. The Russian Orthodox Church in particular is defending its canonical territory and accusing the Roman Catholic Church of proselytism . From a Catholic perspective, however, pressure is exerted on believers of the Roman Catholic Church to turn to Orthodoxy.

The Orthodox churches emphasize the value of the unity of Christianity, almost all of them have joined the World Council of Churches and are conducting an ecumenical dialogue with the Roman Catholic, Old Catholic , Anglican , Protestant and other Oriental churches for the purpose of rapprochement . On the other hand, they refuse to allow values ​​and practices to be imposed by majority vote that do not correspond to their traditions (e.g. ordination of women , intercommunion , including language in the liturgy, liberation theology ).

Consecration and office

The Sameba Cathedral in Tbilisi, seat of the Georgian Orthodox Patriarch

The sacrament of the laying on of hands ( chirotonia ), the sacrament of consecration , is divided into three levels: diaconate , presbyterate and episcopate . Ordination as priest and bishop can only be received by men, sacramental ordination as deacon is in principle also possible for women ( deaconess ), but very rarely in practice. Only bishops, who are mostly (almost always) monks , are obliged to be celibate . Widowed priests can also be elected and ordained bishop. Priests and deacons may be married, but the marriage must have taken place prior to ordination as a deacon. If you become a widower or separate from your wife, there is no possibility of a second marriage, because in Orthodoxy, as in Catholicism , the ordination to the priesthood is an obstacle to marriage . In addition to the sacrament of the Orthodox churches also know the so-called minor orders (Cheirotesie) for editing and subdiaconate (Hypodiakonat) . The monk ordination is considered special sacrament.

The offices are integrated into a church hierarchy: at the top is the patriarch or metropolitan (= archbishop ) as primus inter pares in the college of bishops (Greek επίσκοπος episkopos , actually overseer or foreman). The priests are subject to the bishop (Greek. Πρεσβύτερος presbyteros , origin. Mature), sometimes the honorary title of "pastor" (Greek. Αρχιπρεσβύτερος archipresbyteros ) lead, and the deacons (Greek. Διάκονος diakonos , origin. Helpers or table servant). The term Pope used in German for the priest is quite common and in principle to be understood as neutral. Sometimes, however, it is also assigned a disparaging connotation.

Subdeacon , lecturer , cantor and doorkeeper are further offices without sacramental consecration, which have their origins in the early Christian liturgy, but today some have different functions than the names suggest. The deaconesses were mainly responsible for the preparation and assistance in the baptism of women - it was considered improper for a male priest to touch a woman in the water during the baptism, and they were also responsible for giving Holy Communion during mass. Deaconesses can be ordained both sacramentally and non-sacramentally, although sacramental ordination is very rare today, in contrast to the Byzantine period. The office of deaconess became increasingly insignificant, among other things with the decrease in adult baptisms, so that it almost disappeared after the end of the Byzantine Empire. In rare cases, however, deaconesses have also been sacramentally consecrated in modern times, for example by Saint Nektarios . A general reintroduction is being discussed in some Orthodox churches today, but so far without concrete results. Since 2004, however , deaconesses have been permitted in the Orthodox Churches in Greece , provided the respective local bishop agrees, by decision of the Holy Synod.

In contrast to Western churches, most of the theologians in the Orthodox Church, in whose hands a large part of the teaching also lies, are traditionally lay people and not clerics , and conversely, the majority of priests are not theologians; the formation of priests is sometimes short and practical, it does not take place in universities. Social services are also seen as a task primarily for the laity, and in predominantly Orthodox countries also as a task of the state, not a task of the church hierarchy. The monks are also rarely priests. Religious communities as in the Western Church do not exist in Orthodoxy, but each individual monastery is independent internally and externally. However, there is often an informal collaboration between monasteries with a similar spiritual orientation and common founding tradition. While various order traditions of the Latin Church have rough equivalents in the Orthodox area, the mendicant orders are rejected as a degeneracy.

With the exception of the relatively rare ordination of deaconesses, there is no ordination of women . In principle, women can perform all functions in the congregation with the exception of altar service , for example church council, choir management, lecturer service, give catechetical lessons (also for adults), paint icons - depending on the local culture, however, the participation of women in congregational life differs. The priest's wife has a special position in the community and has a special title, in Arabic Khouria and in Greek πρεσβυτέρα, Presbytera (oldest), or Russian Matuschka (mom). According to canon law, she cannot be divorced before entering into marriage with a priest.

Church and State

In most of the Eastern European countries, the Orthodox Church maintains a harmonious symphony with the state, a “harmony”, in contrast to the current separation of church and state in the Catholic or Protestant states of Western Europe.


Our Lady of Vladimir, one of the most revered icons of Russia.

The theology of the Orthodox Churches is similar in many ways to that of the Roman Catholic Church , but there are various small differences in the details. According to Roman Catholic doctrine, the church fathers of the Catholic and Orthodox churches are the same, since the separation did not take place until 1054 , that is, from the Roman Catholic perspective long after the death of the last church father. The Orthodox themselves, however, do not know any time delimitation of the term church father, but also use it to describe outstanding theologians of later times.

Many early Western theologians had gone through the Roman legal-rhetorical training tradition and approached the theological questions with categories of thought from the administration of justice, such as crime, punishment and pardon. In the Eastern Church this was not the case; it had a larger number of early “fathers” of quite different ethnic, social and professional origins, which, viewed individually, were, however, significantly less remarkable and formative than the western ones. Eastern theology tends to think in terms of medicine, such as illness and healing. It is also more subjectivist and can do less with the objectifying Aristotelian method than Western theology.

Another main difference is presumably that the Orthodox generally have a less positive view of " pagan " Greek philosophy - especially the high esteem of Aristotle , which is very widespread in Catholicism - and thus also see their way of thinking less as a suitable vehicle for Christian theology than they do Catholics, although an important orthodox dogmatics was written by the Aristotelian John of Damascus , which in this respect is an exception. Compared to philosophy in the Greek tradition, the Orthodox emphasize the legacy of Israel and direct spiritual experience more strongly. It follows that many areas of theology are deliberately left in the vague; For example, in the Eucharist a "change" of the elements is known, but the doctrine of transubstantiation is rejected, and Mariology is also clearly present in Orthodoxy in the liturgy, but hardly formally dogmatized.

The Greek-born American Baptist James J. Stamoolis summarized the essential theological differences between East and West in his book "Eastern Orthodox Mission Theology Today" in 1986 as follows: the Orthodox Church does not share the image of man of Augustine of Hippo nor the doctrine of redemption of Anselm von Canterbury nor the methodology of Thomas Aquinas .

In the Orthodox churches, the text edition of the Old Testament is based on the Septuagint and comprises a more extensive canon of scriptures, which, however, has never been formally defined and also recognizes small deviations between the individual Orthodox churches. In addition to the late writings of the Old Testament, which are also recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, the 3rd Book of Ezra (1 Esdras), the 3rd Book of the Maccabees and the so-called 151st Psalm are generally regarded as canonical; the 4th book of the Maccabees often appears as an appendix, the 4th book of Ezra (2 Esdras, not to be confused with the Ezra Apocalypse ) only partially in the Slavic churches, and without the opening and closing chapters of the Latin, probably added later by Christians Version of this book.

The spirituality (in the narrower sense) of Orthodox Christianity is shaped by the teachings of the desert fathers and has certain basic constants within which there are few general variations. At the center of Orthodox spirituality is the goal of salvation through theosis , i.e. through the deification of the individual. According to Western standards, the Eastern Church spirituality can be described as contemplative . Repetitive prayer, such as the Jesus prayer , icon worship and hymns are characteristic.


The orthodox churches know seven mysteries (= sacraments):

The number seven was only adopted by the Catholic Church around the time of the Reformation in order to distinguish itself from Protestant tendencies in its own ranks and is not dogmatically determined; In contrast to the Catholic Church, there is no clear demarcation between sacraments and sacramentals (such as funerals and consecration of water ).

Since the anointing of myron and first communion are received immediately after baptism, the Orthodox Church, unlike most other religions in the world, has no ritual of passage , which is usually on the threshold of the transition from child to adult; but there are many local traditions of this kind, in Romania and in parts of Greece , Serbia and Bulgaria, for example, the diving and bringing up of a cross from an ice-cold river by young people on the day of Christ's baptism , the feast of Theophania on January 6th.

Byzantine liturgy

At the center of Orthodox spirituality is the rich, mainly sung liturgy full of symbolism , the current form of which goes back largely to the 4th century, in its basic structure probably even to the 1st and 2nd centuries. In Orthodox parlance, liturgy (Russian: Литургия) means above all the Eucharistic service. Other liturgical acts are simply called worship (Russian: Служба). The form of the first part of the liturgy, the so-called liturgy of the catechumens with readings and prayers (ectenias), goes back to the Jewish synagogue service, as it was common in Jesus' time, while the second part, the liturgy of the believers (Eucharistic celebration), in Is of essentially Christian origin, even if some see it as borrowed from the Jewish temple worship; but this can hardly be proven, since many details of the temple worship are no longer known today. The names refer to the fact that in the past all not yet baptized believers had to leave the Church after the liturgy of the catechums (" Arcandiscipline "). In the three-part church space - consisting of vestibule, nave and chancel - penitents and catechumens were only allowed to stay in the vestibule ( narthex ).


According to the orthodox understanding of the church, the church is everywhere where the Eucharist is celebrated. Every Christian community that gathers around its bishop or the priest commissioned by him for the celebration of the Eucharist experiences the living presence of Jesus Christ and through him communion with the Triune God , with the angels and with the great multitude of saints . The community of believers becomes the body of Christ through the receipt of the Eucharistic gifts.

The original liturgy lasted five hours, the Basilius liturgy lasted about two and a half, and the Chrysostom liturgy from the 11th century onwards took about one and a half hours. The Chrysostom liturgy is celebrated on most Sundays, and the St. Basil liturgy on major public holidays and on St. Basil's Day. There is also the " Liturgy of the consecrated gifts ", which is celebrated on the working days of Lent , and the shorter and simpler St. James liturgy, which is only used in the Patriarchate of Jerusalem and only on St. James Day. Typical of the liturgy is the frequent call Kyrie eleison (Κύριε ἐλ ,ησον, Lord, have mercy).

All Orthodox liturgies require a deacon in addition to the priest (or bishop) for full celebration. The latter assists the priest, and the structure of alternating reciprocal approaches serves both as a reminder. If necessary, the Divine Liturgy can also be celebrated in a simplified form without a deacon.

Divine services (which are not called liturgy) include B. Orthros (corresponds to the lauds of the Western Church) and other prayers, the service can last about a few hours on normal weekdays, whereby not all believers are there from start to finish, appearing later and leaving the service earlier are relatively normal.


The chants, which, like in the Western Church, are a form of prayer, have a special place in the Orthodox liturgy. The use of instruments is therefore not permitted, especially in Greek Orthodox churches, because instruments cannot pray. Instrumental music is also uncommon in other Orthodox churches. In Judaism, religious instrumental music was limited to the temple, in the synagogue there was only singing, which could also have left traces in Orthodox customs. Another theory for the rejection of instrumental music goes back to the orchestras common in Roman circus games; the Christians viewed the circus games, in which they themselves were sometimes the victims, as idol worship. However, these views have changed in the course of time. The world's first organ in an Orthodox church was installed in the Hagia Sophia of Constantinople in the late Middle Ages ; when the city fell it was destroyed.

cross sign

The cross, as it is often found in Orthodoxy (especially Russia)

In the Orthodox liturgy one crosses oneself every time the Trinity or each of the three persons of the Trinity is mentioned, when the cross or an icon is venerated, and on many other occasions, which are not precisely regulated and by the faithful at their own discretion be handled. One crosses from the forehead to about the middle of the abdomen and then from the right to the left shoulder (contrary to the custom in the Latin Church, where the sign of the cross is made from the left to the right shoulder). The former is considered to be the older habit and is intended to indicate that the cross from the perspective of the person actually blessing (that is Christ) is "correctly", that is, from left to right, so the movement is mirrored. When the cross is made, the thumb, index finger and middle finger are held together (three fingers = trinity), while the ring finger and little finger rest on the palm (as a symbol for the two natures of Christ). Following the sign of the cross, some Orthodox believers put the palm of their hand on the heart. Sometimes the cross is made in connection with a bow (small metany ) or prostration (large metany) . At the end of the liturgy, the priest gives the blessing by drawing the sign of the cross over the congregation or by blessing the faithful with a hand cross, as is the custom in most oriental churches. The believers then go to the priest to venerate the blessing cross with a kiss . At this point in time the blessed (but not consecrated) bread ( Antidoron ), in which the early Christian practice of the agape celebration lives on, is distributed to all participants (including guests).

Other special features

Prosphoren ( Eisbergen Monastery )

In all Orthodox churches, leavened bread is used as eucharistic material ( Prosphora ).

Orthodox pilgrim in Kiev-Pechersk Lavra . In eastern countries (Ukraine, Russia) it is common for women and girls to cover their hair when entering a church or monastery. In more western countries (Greece, Cyprus), however, this is not common.

In principle, prayer is standing up, and people usually stand up in church services too; some churches only have seating along the walls for the elderly and the infirm. Kneeling is unusual in the Sunday liturgy; on other days of the week there are prostrations (metania) in some churches. Male churchgoers must remove their headgear before entering the church, women must cover their hair with a veil or cloth (this is no longer practiced by most Greek and Arabic Orthodox women). It is also considered unusual for women to enter the church in pants. When visiting an Orthodox church, you should not cross your hands behind your back or cross your arms over your chest. However, this gesture should not be confused with the humble gesture of arms crossed in front of the chest, as is customary before receiving communion.

Celebrations and calendar

As in all of Christianity, the main festival of Orthodoxy is Easter . The date of Easter is in all Orthodox churches (except the Finnish church ) to the Julian calendar calculated . From time to time it coincides with the date of Easter the Western Church together, but more often it falls one, four or five weeks after Easter the Western Church.

The church year of Orthodoxy begins on September 1st; on this day the new indiction began in the Byzantine Empire .

In second place after Easter are the so-called "twelve festivals", which are of equal rank:

There are four longer periods of fasting in the Orthodox church year:

  • the Philipps fasting before Christmas starts on November 15th
  • the Great Fast before Easter, begins between February 11th and March 14th
  • the Peter and Paul fast .
  • fasting before the asleep of the Theotokos

Julian calendar

While the movable feasts (such as Easter and Pentecost) are celebrated in all Orthodox churches (except Finland) according to the Julian calendar introduced by Julius Caesar , some of the churches in the 1920s for the fixed feasts (such as Christmas and Baptism of Christ) introduced the so-called neo-Julian calendar , which corresponds to the western Gregorian calendar up to the year 2800 . However, other churches stick to the Julian calendar for these festivals as well, so that, for example, Christmas in Greece is celebrated on December 25th, in Russia , Serbia and the Ukraine, however, only on January 7th (the "old" December 25th). This calendar reform, which was decided quite spontaneously and without much discussion - and also without coordination among the Orthodox churches, was highly controversial in the 20th century and led to the separation of the old calendar .

List of Orthodox Churches

Canonical churches

Today the following churches belong to the canonical Orthodox family of churches (in order of their historical rank):


The four (of five) remaining early church patriarchates

  • Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (seat of Istanbul), whose current cathedral, St. George 's Cathedral, is very small, but is responsible for local dioceses and archbishoprics worldwide that are not subject to any other patriarchate (e.g. Western Europe, America, East Asia, Oceania), as well as for the Dodecanese and the 20 monasteries of the monastic republic of Athos , northern Greece with Thessaloniki and the northern Aegean islands are mentally but not administratively subordinate to the patriarchate, Crete as an autocephalous province. Liturgy in ancient Greek (Koine). The patriarch is not an “Orthodox Pope ” and his power over the whole of Orthodoxy is limited, but he is recognized and valued everywhere as the head of honor of the Orthodox Church.
  • Patriarchate of Alexandria and all of Africa , today's seat is Cairo, liturgy mainly ancient Greek, but also some African languages
  • Patriarchate of Antioch and the whole East, today's seat is Damascus, liturgy in ancient Greek (Koine) until the 20th century, today mostly modern Arabic
  • Patriarchate of Jerusalem , responsible for Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan, liturgy mostly ancient Greek

The patriarchates of the post-imperial era

More autocephalous churches

Other autocephalous churches (determine their head and their bishops themselves)

Autonomous Churches

Autonomous churches (another church has a say in the appointment of the head)

All other canonical Orthodox churches are under the spiritual direction of an autocephalous church.

Self-governing churches

Some churches are considered self-governing churches within the Patriarchate of Moscow. These are often incorrectly referred to as autonomous .

Other dioceses

Other small dioceses in individual countries belong to larger churches, especially the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Patriarchates of Moscow and Belgrade.

Non-canonical churches and special communities

Churches and communities that are not recognized by the canonical Orthodox churches and are not in church fellowship with them are referred to as non-canonical .

This includes:

This also includes smaller communities of Old Believers in Russia and other countries, as well as old calendars in Greece.

The Old Oriental Orthodox Churches are also not recognized as canonical by the Orthodox Churches. The Greek Catholic churches are not considered to be Orthodox churches. They are part of the Roman Catholic Church and are not recognized as canonical by the Orthodox Churches.


In the endeavors towards the unity of the church, which are very important for the Orthodox churches, a distinction must be made between relationships with the Roman Catholic Church and those with the churches of the Reformation. While the dialogue with Rome encounters differences, especially in the more political area of ​​the church's self-image, it is mainly theological disagreements with the Reformation churches, for example about the understanding of the sacraments.

There are many similarities with the Latin Church: Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christians share the same apostolic creed , the same sacraments, and the same ordinations.

There were cultural and theological differences between the Eastern and Western Churches from the beginning, but from the middle of the first millennium onwards, theological and cultural exchanges became less and less and led to a separate development. The ecclesiastical doctrines introduced into Catholic theology since the Middle Ages, beginning with the Filioque and the papal primacy , were viewed by Orthodoxy as one-sided innovations or as heresies that led to a break in community when the Roman Catholic Church demanded that these would also be introduced in the Orthodox churches. On the other hand, theological conflicts within the Eastern Church, such as the dispute over monophysitism , the three chapters dispute and the iconoclast , led to further alienation from the West; thus the conflict over the Monophysite doctrine resulted in the first schism between Rome and Constantinople. In particular, the dogmas proclaimed in the 19th and 20th centuries of the Pope's infallibility according to the First Vatican Council , the Immaculate Conception and that of the bodily acceptance of Mary into heaven have widened the gap, whereas the Roman Church with the resolutions of the Second Vatican has grown Council of the Orthodox Church has come closer again. Pope John Paul II has often given priority to ecumenical relations with the Orthodox Church over those with Protestantism and has done much to improve the climate, but on the other hand has always clearly defended Catholic dogmas.

The second major split was the Oriental schism of 1054, which gave rise to the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches under the honorary primacy of the Patriarch of Constantinople. Attempts at union, most recently in 1439 in view of the threatened conquest of Constantinople by the Turks, failed above all because of the resistance of the Orthodox believers, for whom, after the conquest of Constantinople in the fourth crusade, a church fellowship with the Roman Catholic Church was no longer imaginable. The mutual condemnations as heretics are now deemed to have been repealed. 1964 raised Pope Paul VI. and the Patriarch of Constantinople, Athinagoras, the mutual excommunication from 1054 on. In 1967 the first meeting of a pope and a patriarch took place in Jerusalem after the split in the church. The schism remained, however.

On May 4, 2001, John Paul II told Greek Orthodox Christians: “ May the Lord forgive us for the past and present occasions on which sons and daughters of the Catholic Church have sinned against their Orthodox brothers and sisters by acts or omissions grant. “In 2004, on the 800th anniversary of the conquest of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204, Pope John Paul II renewed this confession of guilt.

Memories of the plundering of Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade (1204) and the Polish rule in Belarus and Ukraine have not yet healed and are due to the "Uniatische question", that is, the existence of Catholic Eastern Churches , as well as the establishment of Catholic dioceses or apostolic administrations repeatedly troubled in the Orthodox field. The Orthodox see this as a false ecclesiology (from their point of view there can only be one church in an area), or rather an attempt by Rome to gain more power and a disregard for their own churches; conversely, the Catholic side feels obliged to be loyal to the United Churches. Even if some Catholic negotiators now see their establishment as a historical mistake, according to the Catholic view they can still not simply be left to their fate or excluded from the Church or forced to unite with the Orthodox, which they do not want.

Contacts at the same level are helpful, such as the encounters between the ecumenical Patriarch Athinagoras and Pope Paul VI. in the 1960s, or in 2004 the return of the relics of Gregory of Nazianzen and John Chrysostom from Rome to Constantinople, which were stolen from the sack of Constantinople.

It remains unclear how the differences in the church's self-image can be overcome, as well as many controversial issues where the Roman Church has committed itself to philosophical explanations of theological questions that are rejected by the Orthodox churches.

The rapprochement between the Orthodox Churches, the Anglican Communion and the Old Catholic Churches has progressed further ; however, it has been burdened in recent decades by the ordination of women in these Western churches and other tendencies, while the Orthodox hold on to the tradition of only allowing men ordain.

With few exceptions, the Orthodox churches belong to the World Council of Churches (WCC); In the (relative) relaxation phases of the Cold War, this was seen as an opportunity for greater East-West exchange on a non-state level, which is why the socialist states supported this membership. In this context there is the possibility of exchanging ideas with the churches of the Reformation and their secession. The Roman Church does not belong to the council because of its self-image, but takes on an observer role. In the meantime, the relatively few Orthodox churches often felt they were being marginalized in relation to the numerous Protestant churches in this body and, therefore, after the end of communism, they decided on better coordination and a more uniform appearance in the council. Only the Georgian Church resigned entirely from the council in protest against the massive Protestant mission in Georgia.

Although the Orthodox churches regard themselves as the only keepers of the complete apostolic doctrine, they can expressly acknowledge that the unity of the worldwide Christian church encompasses the diversity of independent churches, which is precisely the central conflict with regard to the dialogue with Rome. Nevertheless, the Orthodox churches have a special position within the WCC, which is also reflected in a special working area within the WCC.

See also


  • Athanasios Basdekis: The Orthodox Church. 4th edition. Lembeck, Frankfurt am Main 2003, ISBN 3-87476-402-8 (current introduction with special emphasis on the churches in Germany).
  • Erich Bryner: The Eastern Churches from the 18th to the 20th century. Evangelische Verlags-Anstalt, Leipzig 1996, ISBN 3-374-01620-0 (Church history).
  • Hegumen Damaskin (Orlovskij): We got caught up in fire and water. From the Martyrology of the New Martyrs of the Russian Orthodox Church. 1st edition. Bernardus-Verlag, Aachen, 2010, ISBN 978-3-8107-9314-0 .
  • Sergius Heitz : Christ in you. Hope in glory. Orthodox faith book for adult and adolescent believers , 3rd edition, Göttingen 2002, Vandenhoeck and Rupprecht, ISBN 978-3-525-56832-3 (comprehensive explanation of the orthodox faith).
  • Diomedes Kyriakos: History of the Oriental Churches from 1453 to 1898. A. Deichert, Leipzig 1902, (online) .
  • Johannes Oeldemann: The churches of the Christian East. Pustet, Regensburg 2006, ISBN 3-7867-8577-5 (overview of all orthodox, oriental and Eastern churches united with Rome - with historical backgrounds and current data (including web links) on each individual church).
  • Jaroslav Pelikan : The Spirit of Eastern Christian Dome. University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1974, ISBN 0-226-65373-0 (Historical Development of the Orthodox Churches).
  • Timothy Ware : The Orthodox Church. Penguin, 2nd ed., London 2012, ISBN 978-0-14-014656-1 (very good and precise introduction in English).

Web links

Single receipts

  1. Dumitru Staniloae: Orthodox Dogmatics . Ed .: From d. Roman. translated v. Hermann Pitters. II. Volume. Benziger, Zurich 1990, ISBN 3-545-24210-2 , p. 162 .
  2. www.bmukk.gv.at ( Memento from March 11, 2011 in the Internet Archive ), March 11, 2011
  3. a b M. Joh. Christ. Hahn: Yearbooks for Philology and Education , 2nd year, 2nd volume, 1st issue, Verlag BG Teubner, 1827, p. 442 ( limited preview in the Google book search).
  4. pro-medienmagazin.de ; the members of the rapidly growing Pentecostal churches there are estimated at 612 million; however, they are hardly to be understood as individual denominations.
  5. ^ Catholicworldreport.com , March 14, 2014
  6. What did the council bring to Crete? Deutschlandfunk dated June 27, 2016 (accessed August 15, 2018).
  7. orthodox.de: The consecration of monks .
  8. Thomas Bremer : Pope . In: Walter Kasper (Ed.): Lexicon for Theology and Church . 3. Edition. tape 8 . Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 1999, Sp. 420 .
  9. ^ Orthodox Forum: Women's Diaconate
  10. Cf. on this fundamentally Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) of Nafpaktos: Orthodox Spirituality. A brief introduction .
  11. Chinese Autonomous Orthodox Church
  12. Orthodox Patriarchates and Churches of the World