The Differences Between Eastern Orthodox Christianity and The WestErn Church

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Eastern Orthodox Christianity is the denomination of Christianity that is most practised in the East. There are both minor and major differences between the religions of the East and the West, and this is perhaps due to the structure of the Orthodox churches as well as their doctrine.

Eastern Orthodox Christianity, also referred to as Eastern Orthodoxy or simply Orthodoxy, has a rich history that contributed to its church’s structure. It began on the sight of the former Byzantine Empire with only several members. Over the years it has grown to have large established churches in more than twenty countries, with approximately 225 million people who practise it. The religion arose during the “Great Schism” in 1054 between Eastern and Western Christendom. This separation was not surprising to the people of that time, as religious, cultural, and even political differences had been splitting the groups apart for centuries. Some of these differences formed the structure of the Orthodox church as it is now. When the churches split, the East organised into regional, autocephalous, churches that were governed by bishops. These churches were overseen by the seven ecumenical councils, the Greek Orthodox Church, Russian Orthodox Church, Romanian Orthodox Church, Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Church of Alexandria, Church of Jerusalem, and the Orthodox Church in America. However, the main religious authority is the scriptures as they are interpreted by the seven ecumenical councils. Orthodox churches are presided over by bishops. Archbishops and metropolitans are technically above the bishops, though the titles are mostly honorary and in actuality, they do not have as much power as the titles seem to provide. Bishops are considered the centres of sacramental life and the guardians of the faith. Only men are to be bishops and they must be entirely monogamous. However, despite these rules, the practice of clericalism is dissuaded by the tightly knit communities that form within Orthodoxy.

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The doctrine of the church is also very different from the doctrine of the Western churches. In the East, there is a great importance placed on truth. Unlike in the West, where truth it solid fact, Orthodoxy holds truth as something that must be experienced. The path to truth is described, so that people will know what it is when they experience it, but truth is never fully specified as one thing as to avoid defining it as the West does. Humanity is also different in Eastern Orthodoxy. Churches in the East hold that humans were created in the image of God specifically to participate with him in divine life. The closeness that Adam and Eve had with God allowed them to have complete freedom which meant true humanity. This means that humans are most human when they are united with God. Sin then, in this view, is a barrier between God and man. This barrier makes humans unnatural and less human which results in death. The salvation that Christ brought is a re-establishment of the connection between God and man. This is called deification, meaning not to become a god but to join with God and participate in divine life. This process of reuniting with God is made possible by the Holy Spirit through Christ’s sacrifice. The confusing nature of the Trinity led to a simpler example, the clover. There are three leaves and yet one clover. In this way, the complete Trinity can be seen, but also the individual details about the persons within. But this idea of three in one has a sub-level. Christ, part of the Trinity, is fully divine and yet fully human. Unlike in the West, where Christ’s divinity is emphasised, in the East there is more weight put on how Christ was fully human as Christ’s humanity shows how humans can achieve communion with God and return to divine life. The Holy Spirit is also given a different significance in the East. As the main way for humanity to return to their diving life with God, each act of worship and all major sacraments begin with a prayer towards the Holy Spirit.

The way that Eastern Orthodox Christianity is practised differs greatly from the way that other forms of Christianity are practised in the West. This includes differences in the structure of the church and the doctrine of the religion. These differences create both positive and negative effects that are specific to each person and the way that they chose to practice their religion.

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