Help the Jewish guy understand - what is an "Orthodox Church?"

Inspired by this thread - what is the definition of an “Orthodox Church?” Do the various Orthodox churches have more similarities or differences among themselves?

The Orthodox Churches are those that split off from the universal (or Catholic) Church after the Great Schism of 1054. The main difference between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches is that the Orthodox Churches do not recognize the primacy of the Bishop of Rome (the Pope).

The most well-known are the Russian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox. Each Orthodox Church has its own Patriarch (similar to the Catholic Pope). Their liturgies may differ slightly. The main differences will just be the ethnic makeup since most Orthodox Churches largely conform to national boundaries.

There are also the Monophysite Orthodox Churches such as the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt which did not recognize the decrees of the Council of Chalcedon in the 5th Century, and thus split from the universal church.

Christian church fragmented slightly early on but the schism between the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox churches kicked off in 1054. Basically a split between the Bishop of Rome (Pope) claiming supremacy over the other Bishops like the Patriarch of Constantinople.
Naturally you have other things like the use of unleavened bread at communion etc. because, well we’re dealing with people.
Then you have the protestant reformation in the 16th century and the subsequent splintering of the various churches like the Anglicans, Lutherans etc.

Generally I understand them to be “Eastern Orthdox”; ie. the Eastern Roman Empire/Byzantine church that split from the catholic church and declined to recognize the power of Rome.

Of course, anything religious results in disputes, power struggles, and splits, so there are assorted churches still called “orthodox” due to their lineage - Eastern, Russian, Greek, etc.

Right, we need to go back to the fall of the Roman Empire. In brief and non-academically tested terms, at the fall of Rome, Christianity was the official religion of the Roman world (and there was only one kind).

With the fall of Rome, a faction in Rome maintained that it was still the centre of the One True Church (what we now call the Roman Catholic Church). Meanwhile, a splinter of the Roman Empire set itself up in Constantinople, regarding itself as the surviving centre of the Roman World, with its own HQ of the Christian Faith. This was to become the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Both traditions maintain that they are the original christian church.

The Orthodox Church exists are varying forms across Greece, the Middle east and Russia. They have much in common amongst themselves, but have different heads.

While many if not all of the schisms between Christian churches have been politics disguised as theology, that one didn’t even bother with the disguise: it was about “power of bishops vs. power of the pope (Bishop of Rome)” and about whether the Rome in question had to be the actual city or the seat of its empire (at the time of the split, Rome vs Constantinople). Further discussions about Who’s In Charge have led to other splits between Orthodox Churches, and 1000 years of different theologians have led to theological differences here and there.

Externally, there’s a big difference in our rituals. The R in RCC is for the Roman Rites, which were being implemented (and fiercely fought against) at the time the split took place. Prior to the harmonization these Roman Rites represented, there were many different rituals for different countries / ethnic groups. For example, Frankish Rites in much of what’s now France and Wisigoth Rites in Spain and Portugal (which also had locations using the Frankish Rites, as there was quite a bit of immigration from north of the mountains). While every local set of rites contained the same basic elements, if you moved from a place to another you might find yourself saying a slightly different version of the same prayer. Nowadays the Catholic Church includes groups with different sets of rites, but the Roman-rites part is the biggest one and therefore the one people are most likely to encounter.

Since it has been so long, there is also quite a bit of difference in theology. The split happened before the re-introduction of Aristotelianism to Europe. The Western Church really ran with it while the Orthodox churches… not so much. This has led to the Orthodox Churches being much more mystical in nature. The western church is more rational (where we’re not using rational in either a lionized or perjured manner) in nature. Western theology tends to be if you’ll excuse the term ‘systematic’ in nature where you advance along a logical path from certain presuppositions. Orthodox theology is much more reliant on revelation and tradition. As a stereotypical example, a western monastic is more likely to sit down and right a thesis on the nature of evil in a fallen world, an eastern monastic is more likely to sit in a cave and ponder the nature of his own reality. The Western Church is also heavily impacted by the Reformation, so is more likely to be evangelistic in nature due to the Protestant-Catholic fight for believers as well as dealing with a destabilized world after the fall of Rome where it had to scrap for its existence. The Eastern Church enjoyed state patronage throughout most of its existence, so tends to be much less outreach oriented.

*I realized I used ‘in nature’ a lot in this post. I apologize for NOTHING! It’s my nature.

I’m not well versed in Orthodox Christian theology or history, but I thought the Great Schism had something to do with worshiping icons in the East and the Pope in Rome having a problem with that? Or was it all just politics?

Only in theory was there ever a single kind of Christianity, even just in western Europe. In actuality, Christianity started splintering as soon as there was more than one theologian.

Multiple theologians disagreeing with each other while maintaining the same institutional communion is not “splintering”.

Splintering involves actual institutional division.

The controversy regarding iconoclasm was mostly consigned to the eastern church. There were eastern bishops who opposed the use of icons. That matter was largely settled in church councils prior to the Great Schism, but the festering resentment may have played a part in leading up to the Schism.

Arianism was a topic and source of division all the way back to the first Council of Nicaea. It may not have persisted strongly into the modern era, but it represented a doctrinal split that lasted for centuries.

As I understand it, it’s not even quite accurate to say that the Orthodox don’t recognize the primacy of the Pope. They certainly recognize him as a Patriarch, a peer with, say, the Patriarch of Constantinople or of Jerusalem. And I think that the Patriarch of Rome (i.e., the Pope) is even regarded as being a “first among equals” (that’s what “primacy” means). What they don’t recognize is his supremacy, as they don’t recognize any Patriarch as being supreme over any other (though each Patriarch is supreme over a number of lesser bishops).

But this doesn’t address dtilque’s core point. Christianity was a polymorphous thing from basically day one. The Gnostic versions were quite popular for a long time. Paul and the Jerusalem Church disagreed. Etc.

There is not and never has been a single “Christian Church”.

While the “big” Orthodox churches have been covered, keep in mind that there’s no rule stopping someone from starting a church and calling it “Joe’s Orthodox Church” and taking on, for example, Lutheran doctrines.

For example, some Roman Catholic splinters formed the Orthodox Church of France a mere 100 years ago. It’s been on and off in communion with some older Orthodox churches but its status as being completely orthodox with a capital “O” is not clear to me.

In fact, there is a small denomination in the United States called the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (which theologically speaking is strict Calvinist).

I’m surprised no one’s mentioned this yet. One of the big doctrinal differences between the Orthodox and Roman/Protestant churches stems from whether to add a single word, Filioque, to the Nicene Creed. The word is Latin meaning “and from the Son” and it apparently changes which part of the trinity is most important or something like that.

Yes, this description is much better than mine.

Yes, but Arianism was a controversy WITHIN the one Church.

Wikipedia article on it:

The idea is this part of the creed is stating what the Holy Spirit “proceeds” from, and that Catholics believe that not adding the Filioque overstates the Father aspect of the Trinity and understates the Son aspect of it to say that the Holy Spirit only proceeds from the Father. It gives the impression that the Father aspect controls the other two aspects. Adding the Filiioque in gives more of the impression that the Trinity is a cooperative entity of three aspects with none having primacy.

Amusing enough that the one Church that believes in the relative equality of the aspects does not believe in the equality of Patriarchs, and that the one in Rome is supreme.

Former OPC member here! The Orthodox Presbyterian Church has no relation to the Eastern Orthodox Churches. The OPC is a thoroughly Protestant denomination that sprung out of the PC-USA (Presbyterian Church of the USA) in the 1930s when they felt the PC-USA was becoming too theologically liberal.