Eastern Orthodox Church (Greek, Russian)
This is a much longer article than this website gives for other churches. This is not because this communion has any more merit, merely that it is culturally different and a fuller explanation will I hope help in our understanding of it.

Russian Orthodox Church

The Orthodox Church, also known as the Eastern Orthodox Church is the communion of the 'orthodox' churches. This page relates to the communion of these churches: each individual component church has its own page (i.e. Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, etc.). The Orthodox church is an ancient, theologically unified, multinational Christian communion. It claims, with some justification, to be the unbroken continuation of the original Christian following established by Jesus Christ, the Twelve Apostles, and St. Paul. It has preserved the apostolic traditions as handed down, and has maintained the unbroken link between its clergy and the Apostles by Apostolic Succession.
The Orthodox Church believes itself to be the communion which has never fallen into error nor deviated from the beliefs and traditions of the original Christian body, and it has gone to great lengths to preserve them for future generations. All its theology, explanations and expositions are compared to and validated by the original core beliefs: no deviation is allowed. It is the Church which most closely adheres to the canons of the first seven ecumenical councils held between the 4th and the 8th centuries.  

Organization and leadership
The Orthodox Church considers Jesus Christ to be the head of the Church, and the Church to be his body. It is believed that authority and the Grace of God is directly passed down to Orthodox bishops and clergy through the laying on of hands, a practice started by the apostles, and that this unbroken historical and physical link is essential. Each bishop has a territory (see) over which he governs. His main duty is to uphold the traditions and practices of the Church. Orthodox Bishops are equal in authority and cannot interfere in another bishop's juristiction. Administratively, these bishops and their territories are organized into self governing groups (called synods) of bishops who meet twice a year to discuss the state of the faith within their respective sees. While bishops and their synods can offer leadership and guidance in individual cases, their actions do not set precedents that affect the entire church. However, there have been a number of times when heretical ideas challenged the Orthodox faith and it was necessary to convene a "Great" council of all available bishops. The Church considers the first seven councils (4th to 8th century AD) to be paramount. There have been others, specifically the Synods of Constantinople, 879-880, 1341, 1347, & 1351, 1583, 1819, and 1872, the Synod of Jassy, 1642, and the Pan-Orthodox Synod of Jerusalem, 1672, all of which helped to define the Orthodox position. These councils did not create doctrine but instead 'tested' the new ideas to the traditional beliefs of the Church. Ideas that were not 'proved' by the traditions of the church were deemed heresy. The ecumenical councils were democratic: each bishop having one vote. Members of the Imperial Roman/Byzantine court, abbots, priests, monks and laymen were allowed to make representations, but not allowed to vote. The bishop of the old Roman capital, the Pope of Rome, was president of the council and thus called “First Among Equals” and the Bishop of Constantinople second, until the great schism of 1054. Because of the split with Rome, the Patriarch of Constantinople then presided and was given the title, "First Among Equals", reflecting both his administrative leadership and his spiritual equality. He is not, however, considered to be the head or leader of the church. 

Number of adherents
Based on the numbers of adherents, Eastern Orthodoxy is the second largest Christian communion in the world after the Roman Catholic Church. Actual numbers are difficult to ascertain, but most estimates put the number of Eastern Orthodox Christians worldwide between 150-350 million. Eastern Orthodoxy is the largest single faith in Belarus (89%), Bulgaria (86%), Republic of Cyprus (88%), Georgia (89%), Greece (98%), the Republic of Macedonia (70%), Moldova (98%), Montenegro (84%), Romania (89%), Russia (63%), Serbia (88%), Ukraine (83%), 
Kazakhstan (48%), Bosnia and Herzegovina (31%) of the population. There are also significant Orthodox communities in Africa, Asia, Australia, North America, and South America.



Orthodox Christians are Trinitarian (believe in a God who is both three and one, sometimes called 'triune'). The Father is the cause or origin of the Godhead, from whom the Son is begotten eternally and also from whom the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally. The Holy Trinity is three, distinct, divine persons (hypostases), without overlap or modality among them, who share one divine essence (ousia)—uncreated, immaterial and eternal. Orthodox doctrine regarding the Holy Trinity is summarized in the Symbol of Faith.

In God's relationship to his creation, Orthodoxy uses the concept of a distinction between God's eternal essence which is totally transcendent and his uncreated energies which is how he reaches us. It is necessary to understand that the God who is transcendent and the God who touches us are one and the same.

Sin, salvation and the incarnation
Human nature, as God created it, and before the fall of man, was pure and innocent. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, they introduced a new element into human nature (i.e. sin and corruption). This new state prevented man from participation in the Kingdom of Heaven. When God became incarnate on Earth, he changed human nature by uniting the human and the Divine; for this Christ is often called "The New Adam." By his participation in human life, death, and resurrection he sanctified the means by which we could be restored to our original purity and regain heaven. This is what the Orthodox call salvation from the 'fate of hell'. Christ’s act of salvation worked retrospectively back to the beginning of time saving all righteous people who went to hell, including Adam and Eve.

The Resurrection of Christ is the central event in the Orthodox Church liturgy and is understood in literal terms as a real historical event. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was crucified and died, descended into Hell, rescued all the souls held there through sin,  then, because Hell could not restrain the infinite God, rose from the dead saving all mankind. Through these events, he released mankind from the bonds of Hell and then came back to the living as man and God. Each individual human may share this immortality, which would have been impossible without the Resurrection: this is the main promise God makes in his New Testament with mankind, according to Orthodox Christian tradition. Every holy day of the Orthodox liturgical year relates to the Resurrection either directly or indirectly. Every Sunday of the year is dedicated to celebrating the Resurrection. In the liturgical commemorations of the Passion of Christ during Holy Week there are frequent allusions to the ultimate victory at its completion.

Bible, holy tradition, and the patristic consensus
The Orthodox Church considers itself to be the historical and organic continuation of the original Church founded by Christ and His apostles. The faith taught by Jesus to the apostles, given life by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and passed down to future generations uncorrupted, is known as Holy Tradition. The primary and authoritative witness to Holy Tradition is the Bible, texts written or approved by the apostles to record revealed truth and the early history of the Church. Because of the Bible's inspired origin, it is regarded as central to the life of the Church.

The Bible is always interpreted within the context of Holy Tradition, which gave birth to it and canonized it. Orthodox Christians maintain that belief in scripture alone (sola scriptura) would be to take the Bible out of the world in which it arose. Orthodox Christians therefore believe that the only way to understand the Bible correctly is within the Orthodox Church.

Other witnesses to Holy Tradition include the liturgy of the Church, its iconography, the rulings of the Ecumenical councils, and the writings of the Church Fathers. From the consensus of the Fathers (consensus patrum) one may enter more deeply and understand more fully the Church's life. Individual Fathers are not looked upon as infallible, but rather the whole consensus of them together will give one a proper understanding of the Bible and Christian doctrine.

The Theotokos and the Saints
The Eastern Orthodox Church believes death and the separation of body and soul to be unnatural; not God's intention: a result of man’s fall. Also the congregation of the Church comprises both the living and the dead. All members of the Church who are in heaven are considered to be Saints, whether their names are known or not. There are, however, those saints of distinction whom God has revealed to us as particularly good examples for us to learn from either their teachings or their lives. When a Saint is revealed and ultimately recognized by a large portion of the Church a service of official recognition (glorification) is celebrated for the saint. This does not “make” the person a saint, it merely recognizes him and announces it to the rest of the Church. A day is prescribed for the saint’s celebration, hymns are composed, and icons are created. Numerous saints are celebrated on each day of the year. They are venerated (shown great respect and love) but not worshipped, for worship is due to God alone. In showing the saints this love and requesting their prayers, it is believed by Orthodox Christians that they assist in the process of salvation for others.

First among the saints is the Virgin Mary, the "Theotokos" (which means birthgiver of God). The Theotokos was chosen by God and freely cooperated to be the mother of Jesus Christ, the God-man. The Orthodox believe that the Christ Child from the moment of conception was both 100% God and 100% Man. So Mary is called Theotokos as an affirmation of the divinity of the son to whom she gave birth. Also her virginity was not compromised in giving birth to God incarnate, she was not harmed,  she felt no pain, and she remained forever a virgin. Because of her unique place in salvation history, she is honoured above all other saints and especially venerated for the great work that God accomplished through her.

Because of the holiness of the lives of the saints, their bodies and physical items connected with them are regarded by the Church also as holy. Many miracles have been reported throughout history connected with the saints' relics, often including healing from disease and injury. The veneration and miraculous nature of relics continues from Biblical times.


Orthodox Christians believe that when someone dies their soul is “temporarily” separated from the body. It may linger for a short time on Earth, but it is subsequently escorted to either heaven or hell, following the Temporary Judgment (Orthodox do not believe in Purgatory). The soul’s experience of either of these states is a “foretaste,” until the Final Judgment, when the soul and body will be reunited. The Orthodox believe that the state of the soul in hell can be changed by the love and prayers of the righteous up until the Last Judgment. Therefore the church offers special prayers for the dead on the third day, ninth day, fortieth day, and the one-year anniversary after the death of an Orthodox Christian. There are also several days throughout the year that are set aside for general commemoration of the departed. These days usually fall on a Saturday, as it was on a Saturday that Christ lay in the Tomb.

The Orthodox believe that the "thousand years" spoken of in biblical prophesy refers to the present time (from the Crucifixion of Christ until the Second Coming). The Church teaches that though one cannot know the hour or day of the Second Coming of Christ, the imminent expectation of Christ should influence one's current spiritual state. Although the Book of Revelation (they call it the Apocalypse) is the only book of the New Testament not to be read in church (though it may be mentioned in sermons), the teachings about the End Times (which is what 'eschatology' means) has greatly influenced Orthodox art and spirituality. Traditionally, a fresco of the Last Judgment is painted on the western wall of an Orthodox church, to remind the faithful as they leave that they will be judged for their actions in this earthly life.
The Orthodox believe that after the Final Judgment:
all souls will be reunited with their resurrected bodies that all souls will fully experience their spiritual state that having been perfected, mankind will forever progress towards a deeper and fuller love of God, which equates with eternal happiness that hell, though often described in metaphor as punishment, is not inflicted by God but is the soul's inability to participate in God's infinite love which is given freely and abundantly to everyone.

Church buildings
The church building has many symbolic meanings; perhaps the oldest and most prominent is the concept that the Church is the Ark (as in Noah's) in which the world is saved from the flood of temptations. Because of this, many Orthodox Churches are rectangular. Many others, especially churches with large choirs are cruciform or cross-shaped. Architectural patterns may vary the shape and complexity. Sometimes there are chapels around the main church, or triple altars (Orthodox liturgy may only be performed once a day on any particular altar), but in general, the symbolic layout of the church remains the same: the origin of the layout of each Orthodox church is based on Solomon's Temple with the Holy of Holies being separated by the iconostasis or templon.

The Church building is divided into three main parts: the narthex (vestibule), the nave and the sanctuary (also called the altar or holy place). The narthex is where catechumens and non-Orthodox visitors traditionally stand during services. It is separated from the nave by “The Royal Gate”. On either side of this gate are candle stands (Menalia) representing the pillars of fire that went before the Hebrew people in their exodus from Egypt. The nave is where most of the congregation (the faithful) stand during services. Traditionally, men stand on the right and women on the left. There may be a choir area on either side or in a loft in back. There is usually a dome in the ceiling with an icon of Christ depicted as Ruler of the Universe (Pantocrator). At the eastern end of the church is a raised dais with an icon covered screen or wall (iconostasis or templon) separating the nave from the sanctuary. In the center of this wall is the “Beautiful Gate” through which only the clergy may pass. There are access doors on either side usually with icons of the Archangels on them. In the center of the sanctuary is the Altar. Orthodox priests, when standing at the altar have their backs to the congregation (all; the people and clergy face East).

The term Icon comes from the Greek word eikona, which simply means image. The Orthodox believe that the first icons of Christ and the Virgin Mary were painted by Luke the Evangelist. Icons are filled with symbolism designed to convey information about the person or event depicted. For this reason, icons tend to be formulaic, following a prescribed methodology for how a particular person should be depicted, for example hair style, body position, clothing worn, and background details. Icon painting, is not an opportunity for artistic expression, though each iconographer brings his own vision to the piece. An icon is to be copied from an older model, though with the recognition of a new saint, a new icon must be created and approved. The personal, idiosyncratic and creative traditions of Western European religious art don't exist in Orthodox iconography before the 17th century. After this, some Russian iconography was influenced by religious paintings and engravings from both Protestant and Catholic Europe. Greek iconography also began to take on a strong romantic western influence for a period and the difference between some Orthodox icons and western religious art was minimal. Recently there has been a trend of returning to the more traditional and symbolic representations in iconography.

Free-standing statues (that is a three dimensional depiction) don't exist within the Orthodox Church. This is partly due to the rejection of the previous pagan Greek age of idol worship and partly because icons are meant to reprsent a spiritual nature, not an earthly body. Bas reliefs, however, became common during the Byzantine period and lead to a tradition of covering a painted icon in a silver or gold “Riza”. Such bas relief coverings usually leave the faces and hands of the saints exposed for veneration.

Icons are not considered by the Orthodox to be idols or objects of worship. Their use was clearly spelled out by the 7th ecumenical council in the following logic: Before Christ God took human form no material depiction was possible and therefore blasphemous even to contemplate. Once Christ became human, he was able to be depicted and because he is God, it is justified to hold in mind the image of God Incarnate. Similarly, when an icon is venerated, it is not the wood or paint being venerated but rather the individual represented, just as it is not the paper one loves when kissing the photograph of a loved one. As Saint Basil famously proclaimed, honor or veneration of the icon always passes to its archetype. Following this reasoning through, the veneration of the glorified human saint made in God's image, is always a veneration of the divine image, and hence God as foundational archetype.

Icons can be found adorning the walls of churches and often cover the inside structure completely. Most Orthodox homes have an area set aside for family prayer, usually an eastern facing wall, many icons will be hung there.

Icons are often illuminated with a candle or oil lamp (Beeswax candles and olive oil lamps are preferred because they are natural and burn cleanly.) Besides the practical purpose of making icons visible in an otherwise dark church, both candles and oil lamps symbolize the Light of the World which is Christ.

Tales of miraculous icons that moved, spoke, cried, bled, or gushed fragrant myrrh are not uncommon, though it has always been considered that the message of such an event was for the immediate faithful involved and therefore does not usually attract crowds. Some miraculous icons whose reputations span long periods of time have nevertheless become objects of pilgrimage along with the places where they are kept. As several Orthodox theologians and saints have explored in the past, the icons' miraculous nature is found not in the material, but in the glory of the saint who is depicted in the icon. The icon is a window, in the words of St Paul Florensky, that actually participates in the glory of what it represents. This is why several icons are believed to bleed myrrh, which is a physical manifestation of the uncreated holy spirit.

An iconostasis, also called the templon, is a wall of icons and religious paintings, separating the nave from the sanctuary in a church. Iconostasis also refers to a portable icon stand that can be placed anywhere within a church. The modern iconostasis evolved from the Byzantine templon in the eleventh century. The evolution of the iconostasis probably owes a great deal to 14th-century Hesychast mysticism and the wood-carving genius of the Russian Orthodox Church. The first ceiling-high, five-leveled Russian iconostasis was designed by Andrey Rublyov in the cathedral of the Dormition in Vladimir in 1408.

The Tri-Bar Orthodox Cross
Depictions of the Cross within the Orthodox Church are numerous and often highly ornamented. Some carry special significance. The Tri-Bar Cross, has three bars instead of the single bar normally attached.

The small top crossbar represents the sign that Pontius Pilate nailed above Christ's head. It often is inscribed with an acronym (INRI) meaning “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”; however, It is often replaced or amplified by the phrase "The King of Glory" in order to answer Pilate's mocking statement with Christ's affirmation, "My Kingdom is not of this world".

There is also a bottom slanting bar: Evidence indicates that there was a small wooden platform for the crucified to stand on in order to support his weight; in Jesus' case his feet were nailed side by side to this platform with one nail each in order to prolong the torture of the cross.

Evidence for this comes mainly from two sources within Holy Tradition, the bible (in order to cause the victim to die faster their legs were broken so they could not support their weight and would suffocate) and iconography (all early depictions of the crucifixion show this arrangement, not the later with feet on top with single nail). It has also been pointed out by some experts that the nailed hands of a body crucified in the manner often shown in modern secular art would not support the weight of the body and would tear through: a platform for the feet would be necessary.

The bottom bar is slanted for two reasons, to represent the very real agony which Christ experienced on the cross (a refutation of Docetism) and to signify that the thief on Christ's right chose the correct path while the thief on the left did not. Other styles of cross associated with the Orthodox church are single-bar crosses, budded designs, the Jerusalem cross (cross pattée), and Celtic crosses.

The services of the church are properly conducted each day following a rigid, but constantly changing annual schedule (i.e. there are common parts of the liturgy while others change depending on the day of the year). Services are conducted in the church and involve both the clergy and faithful. Services cannot properly be conducted by a single person, but must have at least one other person present (i.e. a Priest cannot celebrate alone, but must have at least a Chanter present and participating). Usually, all of the services are conducted on a daily basis only in monasteries and cathedrals, while parish churches hold services on saturdays and sundays and major feast days. On certain Great Feasts (and, according to some traditions, each Sunday) a special All-Night Vigil (Agrypnia) will be held from late at night on the eve of the feast until early the next morning, when it is usually followed by a breakfast feast shared together by the congregation.

Services (especially the Divine Liturgy) can only be performed once a day on a single altar so many churches have multiple altars in order to accommodate multiple services). Each priest may only celebrate the Divine Liturgy once a day. From its Jewish roots, the liturgical day begins at sundown.

The traditional daily cycle of services is as follows:
Vespers - (Greek Hesperinos) Sundown, the beginning of the liturgical day.
Compline (Greek Apodeipnon, which means "After-supper")  After the evening meal prior to bedtime.
(Midnight Office - Usually only held in monasteries.)
Matins (Greek Orthros) - First service of the morning. Usually starts before sunrise.
Divine Liturgy - The Eucharist 
Hours - First, Third, Sixth, and Ninth; Sung either at their appropriate times, or in aggregate at other customary times of convenience. If the latter, The First Hour is sung immediately following Orthros, the Third and Sixth prior to the Divine Liturgy, and the Ninth prior to Vespers.
The Divine Liturgy is the celebration of the Eucharist. Although it is usually celebrated between the Sixth and Ninth Hours, it is not considered to be part of the daily cycle of services, as it occurs outside the normal time of the world. The Divine Liturgy is not celebrated on weekdays during the preparatory season of Great Lent and in some places during the lesser fasting seasons either. Reserve communion is prepared on Sundays and is distributed during the week at the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts.

This daily cycle of services sanctifies both time (chronos: the specific times during which they are celebrated), and eternity (kairos). They consist of readings from the Psalter with introductory prayers, troparia, and other prayers and hymns surrounding them. The Psalms are arranged so that when all the services are celebrated the entire Psalter is read through in their course once a week, and twice a week during Great Lent when the services are celebrated in an extended form.

Orthodox services are always sung. Services consist in part of a dialog between the clergy and the people (often represented by the choir or the Psaltis (Cantor). In each case the text is sung or chanted following a prescribed musical form. Nothing is read in a normal speaking voice, with the exception of the sermon or homily if one is given. The church has developed eight Modes or Tones, (called Octoechos) within which a chant may be set, depending on the time of year, feast days, or other considerations of the Typikon. There are numerous versions and styles that are traditional and acceptable and these vary between cultures. It is common, especially in the United States, for a choir to learn many different styles and to mix them, singing one response in Greek, then English, then Russian, etc.

As part of the legacy handed down from its Judaic roots, incense is used during all services in the Eastern Orthodox Church as an offering of worship to God as it was done in the Jewish First and Second Temples in Jerusalem (Exodus chapter 30). Traditionally, the base of the incense used is frankincense (the resin of Boswellia thurifera), but the resin of fir trees is sometimes used also. It is usually mixed with various floral essential oils giving it a sweet smell. Incense represents the sweetness of the prayers of the saints rising up to God (Psalm 141:2, Revelation 5:8, 8:4). The incense is burned in an ornate golden censer that hangs at the end of Three chains representing the Trinity. In the Greek tradition there are 12 bells hung along these chains representing the 12 apostles (no bells in Slavic tradition). The censer is swung back and forth by the priest or deacon to venerate all four sides of the altar, the holy gifts, the clergy, the icons, the congregation, and the church building itself.

According to Orthodox theology, the purpose of the Christian life is to attain theosis, the mystical union of man with God. This union is understood as both collective and individual. St. Athanasius of Alexandria, wrote concerning the Incarnation that, "He (Jesus) was made man that we might be made god". See 2 Peter 1:4, John 10:34-36, Psalm 82:6. The entire life of the church is oriented towards making this mystical union happen.

In the Orthodox Church the terms “Mystery” or “The Mysteries” refer to the process of theosis. While it is understood that God theoretically can do anything instantly and invisibly, it is also understood that he generally chooses to use material substance as a medium in order to reach people. The limitations are those of mankind, not God. Matter is not considered to be evil by the Orthodox. Water, oil, bread, wine, etc., all are means by which God reaches out to allow people to draw closer to him. How this process works is a “Mystery”, and cannot be defined in human terms. These Mysteries are surrounded by prayer and symbolism so that their true meaning will not be forgotten.

Those things which in the West are often termed Sacraments are known among the Orthodox as the Sacred Mysteries. While the Roman Catholic Church numbers seven Sacraments, and many Protestant groups list fewer (or none at all), the Orthodox do not limit the number. However, for the sake of convenience, catechisms will often speak of the seven Great Mysteries. Among these are Holy Communion (the most direct connection), Baptism, Chrismation, Confession, Unction, Matrimony, and Ordination. The term also properly applies to other sacred actions, such as monastic Tonsure or the blessing of holy water, and involves fasting, almsgiving, or an act as simple as lighting a candle, burning incense, praying or asking God's blessing on food.

Baptism is the mystery which transforms the old sinful man into the new, pure man; the old life, the sins, any mistakes made are gone and a clean slate is given. Through baptism one is united to the Body of Christ by becoming a member of the Orthodox Church. During the service water is blessed. The catechumen is fully immersed in the water three times in the name of the Holy Trinity. This is considered to be a death of the "old man" by participation in the crucifixion and burial of Christ, and a rebirth into new life in Christ by participation in his resurrection. Properly a new name is given, which becomes the person's name.

Children of Orthodox families are normally baptized shortly after birth. Converts to Orthodoxy (even converts from other Christian denominations) are properly baptized into the Orthodox Church. Those who have left Orthodoxy and adopted a new religion, if they return to their Orthodox roots are usually received back into the church through the mystery of Chrismation. The modern practice of receiving converts who were baptized in other Christian churches by Chrismation is not generally accepted by the majority of the Church.

Properly, the mystery of baptism is administered by bishops and priests; however, in emergencies any Orthodox Christian can baptize. In such cases, should the person survive the emergency, it is likely that the person will be properly baptized by a priest at some later date. This is not considered to be a second baptism, nor is it imagined that the person is not already Orthodox, but rather it is a fulfilment of the proper form.

The service of baptism used in Orthodox churches has remained largely unchanged for over 1500 years. This fact is witnessed to by St. Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386), who, in his Discourse on the Sacrament of Baptism, describes the service in much the same way as is currently in use.

Chrismation (sometimes called confirmation) is the mystery by which a baptized person is granted the gift of the Holy Spirit through anointing with Holy Chrism. It is normally given immediately after baptism as part of the same service, but is also used to receive lapsed members of the Orthodox Church. As baptism is a person's participation in the death and resurrection of Christ, so chrismation is a person's participation in the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

A baptized and chrismated Orthodox Christian is a full member of the Church, and may receive the Eucharist regardless of age.

The creation of Chrism may be accomplished by any bishop at any time, but usually is done only once a year, often when a synod of bishops convenes for its annual meeting. (Some autocephalous churches get their chrism from others.) Anointing with it substitutes for the laying-on of hands described in the New Testament.

The number of fast days varies from year to year, but in general the Orthodox Christian can expect to spend a little over half the year fasting at some level of strictness. There are spiritual, symbolic, and even practical reasons for fasting. In the Fall from Paradise mankind became possessed by a carnal nature; that is to say, he became inclined towards the passions. Through fasting, Orthodox Christians attempt to return to the relationship of love and obedience to God enjoyed by Adam and Eve in Paradise in their own lives, by refraining from carnal practices, by controlling the tongue (James 3:5-6), confession of sins, prayer and almsgiving.

Fasting is seen as an exercise in self-denial and Christian obedience that serves to rid the believer of his or her passions (what most modern people would call "addictions"). These are often low-intensity and hard-to-detect addictions to food, television or other distracting entertainments, sex, or any kind of self-absorbed pleasure-seeking are seen as some of the most significant obstacles for man seeking union with God (Theosis). Through spiritual struggle (ascesis) the believer comes face to face with the reality of his weak and sinful condition — the starting point for genuine repentance.

All Orthodox Christians are expected to fast following a prescribed set of guidelines. They do not view fasting as a hardship, but rather as a privilege and joy. The teaching of the Church fixes both the times and the amount of fasting that is expected as a minimum for every member. For greater ascesis, some may choose to go without food entirely for a short period of time. A complete three-day fast at the beginning and end of a fasting period is not unusual, and some fast for even longer periods, though this is usually practiced only in monasteries. However, there are circumstances where a dispensation is allowed out of physical necessity: those who are pregnant or infirm, the very young and the elderly, or those who have no control over their diet, such as prisoners or soldiers. Fasting does not mean dislike of the body, but rather a desire to discipline and sanctify the body (Romans 6:12, Romans 8:5-8, I Corinthians 6:12-20, I Corinthians 9:27, etc.) and tame the flesh (i.e., that part of the personality which is addicted to the passions).

In general, fasting means abstaining from meat and meat products, dairy (eggs and cheese) and dairy products, fish, olive oil, and wine. Wine, oil, and  less frequently, fish, are allowed on certain feast days when they happen to fall on a day of fasting, but animal products and dairy are always forbidden on fast days. Married couples also abstain from sexual relations on fast days, that they may devote themselves to prayer (I Corinthians 7:5).

The time and type of fast is generally uniform for all Orthodox Christians; the times of fasting are part of the ecclesiastical calendar, and the method of fasting is set by the Holy Canons and Sacred Tradition. There are four major fasting periods during the year. They are:

The Nativity Fast (Advent or "Winter Lent") : the 40 days preceding the Nativity of Christ (Christmas), November 15 to December 24. This fast becomes more severe after December 20, and Christmas Eve is observed a strict fast day.
Great Lent:  the 40 Days preceding Palm Sunday, and Great Week (Holy Week) which precede Pascha (Easter).
The Apostles' Fast: varies from 8 days to 6 weeks. It begins on the Monday following All Saints Sunday (the first Sunday after Pentecost) and extends to the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul on June 29. Since the date of Pentecost depends on that of Pascha, which is determined on the Julian Calendar, this fast can disappear completely under New Calendar observance (This is one of the objections raised by opponents to the New Calendar).
The Dormition Fast, a two-week long Fast preceding the Dormition of the Theotokos (repose of The Virgin Mary), August 1 to August 14.
In addition to these fasting seasons, Orthodox Christians fast each Wednesday (in commemoration of Christ's betrayal by Judas Iscariot) and Friday (in commemoration of his Crucifixion) throughout the year. Monastics often fast on Mondays (in imitation of the Angels, who are commemorated on that day in the weekly cycle, since monastics are striving to lead an angelic life on earth, and angels neither eat nor drink).

Orthodox Christians who are preparing to receive the Eucharist do not eat or drink at all from midnight until after taking Holy Communion. A fast is also expected to be kept on the Eve of Nativity, the Eve of Theophany (Epiphany), Great Friday and Holy Saturday for those who can do so. There are other individual days observed as fasts (though not as days of total fasting) no matter what day of the week they fall on, such as the Beheading of St. John the Baptist on August 29 and the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on September 14.

Strict fasting is canonically forbidden on Saturdays and Sundays due to the festal character of the Sabbath and the Resurrection, respectively. On those days wine and oil are permitted even if abstention from them would be otherwise called for. Holy Saturday is the only Saturday of the year where a strict fast is kept.

There are also four periods in the liturgical year during which no fasting is permitted, even on Wednesday and Friday. These fast-free periods are:
The week after Pascha (Easter)
The week after Pentecost
The period from the Nativity of Christ up to (but not including) the Eve of Theophany (Epiphany). The day of Theophany itself is always fast-free, even if it falls on a Wednesday or Friday.
The week following the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee (one of the preparatory Sundays before Great Lent). This is fast-free to remind the faithful not to boast like the Pharisee that he fasts for two days out of the week Luke 18:12).
When certain feast days fall on fast days, the fasting laws are lessened to a certain extent, to allow some consolation in the trapeza (refectory) for the longer services, and to provide an element of sober celebration to accompany the spiritual joy of the feast.

It is considered a greater sin to advertise one's fasting than to not participate in the fast. Fasting is a purely personal communication between the Orthodox Christian and God. If one has health concerns, or responsibilities that cannot be fulfilled because of fasting, then it is perfectly permissible not to fast. An individual's observance of the fasting laws is not to be judged by the community (Romans 14:1-4), but is a private matter between him and his Spiritual Father or Confessor.

"Almsgiving" refers to any charitable giving of material resources to those in need. Along with prayer and fasting, it is considered a pillar of the personal spiritual practices of the Orthodox Christian tradition. Almsgiving is particularly important during periods of fasting, when the Orthodox believer is expected to share the monetary savings from his or her decreased consumption with those in need. As with fasting, boasting about the amounts given for charity is considered extremely rude and sinful.

Holy Communion
The Eucharist is at the center of Orthodox Christianity. In practice, it is the partaking of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in the midst of the Divine Liturgy with the rest of the church. The bread and wine are believed to become the genuine Body and Blood of the Christ Jesus through the operation of the Holy Spirit. The Eastern Orthodox Church has never described exactly how this occurs, or gone into the detail that the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches have in the West. The doctrine of transubstantiation was formulated after the Great Schism took place, and the Orthodox churches have never formally affirmed or denied it, preferring to state simply that it is a "Mystery".

Communion is given only to baptized, chrismated Orthodox Christians who have prepared by fasting, prayer, and confession. The priest will administer the Gifts with a spoon directly into the recipient's mouth from the chalice. From baptism young infants and children are carried to the chalice to receive Holy Communion.

It is the opinion of some traditionalists that frequent communion is dangerous spiritually if it reflects a lack of piety in approaching the most significant of the Mysteries, which would be damaging to the soul.  However, many spiritual advisors advocate frequent reception as long as it is done in the proper spirit and not casually, with full preparation and discernment. Frequent communion is more common now than in recent centuries.

Orthodox Christians who have committed sins but repent of them, and who wish to reconcile themselves to God and renew the purity of their original baptisms, confess their sins to God before a spiritual guide who offers advice and direction to assist the individual in overcoming their sin. Parish priests commonly function as spiritual guides, but such guides can be anyone, male or female, who have been given a blessing to hear confessions. Spiritual guides are chosen very carefully as it is a mandate that once chosen, they must be obeyed. Having confessed, the penitent then has his or her parish priest read the prayer of repentance over them.

Sin is not viewed by the Orthodox as a stain on the soul that needs to be wiped out, or a legal transgression that must be set right by a punitive sentence, but rather as a mistake made by the individual with the opportunity for spiritual growth and development. An act of Penance, if the spiritual guide requires it, is never formulaic, but rather is directed toward the individual and their particular problem, as a means of establishing a deeper understanding of the mistake made, and how to affect its cure. Though it sounds harsh, temporary excommunication is fairly common (The Orthodox require a fairly high level of purity in order to commune, therefore certain sins make it necessary for the individual to refrain from communing for a period). Because confession and repentance are required in order to raise the individual to a level capable of communing (though no one is truly worthy). Because full participatory membership is granted to infants, it is not unusual for even small children to confess; though the scope of their culpability is far less than an older child, still their opportunity for spiritual growth remains the same.

Marriage (link to Marriage Page)
Marriage, within the Orthodox Church is seen as an act of God in which he sanctifies the joining of two people into one. First and foremost this joining is seen as a dispensation allowed by God for the mutual comfort and support of the individuals involved. While procreation and the perpetuation of the species is seen as important, what is more important is the bond of love between the two individuals as this is a reflection of our ultimate union with God. Divorce is rare in the Orthodox Church. The Church does recognize that there are occasions when it is better that couples do separate. It remains the decision of one's Bishop if they should desire to marry again if they will be permitted to do so. Generally widows may remarry as well as some divorced. A man is not permitted to be a priest if he or his wife have ever been divorced. If a person is undergoing a second marriage because of a divorce the sacrament is different and contains prayers or repentance for the first failed marriage.

The Mystery of Marriage in the Orthodox Church has two distinct parts: The Betrothal and The Crowning. The Betrothal includes: The exchange of the rings, the procession, the declaration of intent, and the lighting of candles. The Crowning includes: The readings from the epistle and gospel, the Blessing of the Common Cup, and the Dance of Isaiah (the bride and groom are led around the table 3 times), and then the Removal of the Crowns. There is no exchange of vows. There is a set expectation of the obligations incumbent on a married couple, and whatever promises they may have privately to each other are their responsibility to keep. Finally there is the Greeting of the Couple.

All Orthodox Christians are expected to participate in at least some ascetic works, in response to the commandment of Christ to "come, take up the cross, and follow me." (Mark 10:21 and elsewhere) They are therefore all called to imitate, in one way or another, Christ himself who denied himself to the extent of literally taking up the cross on the way to his voluntary self-sacrifice. However, laypeople are not expected to live in extreme asceticism since this is close to impossible while undertaking the normal responsibilities of worldly life. Those who wish to do this therefore separate themselves from the world and live as monastics: monks and nuns. As ascetics par excellence, using the allegorical weapons of prayer and fasting in spiritual warfare against their passions, monastics hold a very special and important place in the Church. This kind of life is often seen as incompatible with any kind of worldly activity including that which is normally regarded as virtuous. Social work, school teaching, and other such work is therefore usually left to laypeople.

There are three main types of monastics. Those who live in monasteries under a common rule are coenobitic. Each monastery may formulate its own rule, and although there are no religious orders in Orthodoxy some respected monastic centers such as Mount Athos are highly influential. Eremitic monks, or hermits, are those who live solitary lives. Hermits might be associated with a larger monastery but living in seclusion some distance from the main compound, and in such cases the monastery will see to their physical needs while disturbing them as little as possible. They often live in the most extreme conditions and practice the strictest asceticism. In order to become a hermit, it is necessary for the monk or nun to prove them to be worthy enough to their superior clergy. In between are those in semi-eremitic communities, or sketes, where one or two monks share each of a group of nearby dwellings under their own rules and only gather together in the central chapel, or kyriakon, for liturgical observances.

The spiritual insight gained from their ascetic struggles make monastics preferred for missionary activity. Bishops are often chosen from among monks, and those who are not generally receive the monastic tonsure before their consecrations.

Many (but not all) Orthodox seminaries are attached to monasteries, combining academic preparation for ordination with participation in the community's life of prayer. Monks who have been ordained to the priesthood are called hieromonk (priest-monk); monks who have been ordained to the diaconate are called hierodeacon (deacon-monk). Not all monks live in monasteries, some hieromonks serve as priests in parish churches thus practicing "monasticism in the world".

Cultural practices differ slightly but in general, Father is the correct form of address for monks who have been tonsured, while Novices are addressed as Brother. Similarly, Mother is the correct form of address for nuns who have been tonsured, while Novices are addressed as Sister. Nuns live identical ascetic lives to their male counterparts and are therefore also called monachoi (monastics) or the feminine plural form in Greek, monachai, and their common living space is called a monastery.

Holy Orders
Since its founding, and the Church spread to different places, the leaders of the Church in each place came to be known as episkopoi (overseers, plural of the Greek episkopos), which became "bishop" in English. The other orders are presbyter (Greek for elder), which became "prester" and then "priest" in English, and diakonos (Greek for servant), which became "deacon" in English. There are numerous administrative positions in the clergy that carry additional titles. In the Greek tradition, bishops who occupy an ancient See are called Metropolitan, while the lead bishop in Greece is the Archbishop. In the Russian tradition, however, the usage of the terms "Metropolitan" and "Archbishop" is reversed. Priests can be archpriests, archimandrites, or protopresbyters. Deacons can be archdeacons or protodeacons, as well. The position of deacon is often occupied for life. The deacon also acts as an assistant to a bishop.

The Orthodox Church has always allowed married priests and deacons, provided the marriage takes place before ordination. In general, parish priests are to be married as they live in normal society (that is, "in the world" and not a monastery) where Orthodoxy sees marriage as the normative state. Unmarried priests usually live in monasteries since it is there that the unmarried state is the norm, although it sometimes happens that an unmarried priest is assigned to a parish. Widowed priests and deacons may not remarry, and it is common for such a member of the clergy to retire to a monastery. This is also true of widowed wives of clergy, who often do not remarry and may become nuns if their children are grown. Bishops are always celibate. Although Orthodox consider men and women equal before God (Gal. 3:28), only men who are qualified and have no canonical impediments may be ordained bishops, priests, or deacons.

Anointing with oil, or Holy Unction, is one of the mysteries administered by the Orthodox Church. The Mystery is far more common in the Orthodox Church than it had traditionally been in the Roman Catholic Church (that is until recent years). In both Churches today it is not reserved for the dying or terminally ill, but for all in need of spiritual or bodily healing. In Orthodoxy, however, it is also offered annually on Great Wednesday to all believers. It is often distributed on major feast days, or any time the clergy feel it necessary for the spiritual welfare of its congregation.

According to Orthodox teaching Holy Unction is based on the Epistle of James:
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. (James 5:14-15)


Early Church
Christianity first spread in the predominantly Greek speaking eastern half of the Roman Empire. Paul and the Apostles travelled extensively throughout the Empire, establishing Churches in major communities, with the first Churches appearing in Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem, and then the two political centres of Rome and Constantinople. Orthodox believe an Apostolic Succession was established; this played a key role in the Church's view of itself as the preserver of the Christian community. Systematic persecution of Christians stopped in 313 when Emperor Constantine the Great proclaimed the Edict of Milan. From that time forward, the Byzantine Emperor exerted various degrees of influence over the church. This included the calling of the Ecumenical Councils to resolve disputes and establish church dogma on which the entire church would agree. Sometimes Patriarchs (often of Constantinople) were deposed by the emperor; at one point emperors sided with the iconoclasts in the eighth and ninth centuries.

Ecumenical councils
Several doctrinal disputes from the 4th century onwards led to the calling of Ecumenical councils.

Eastern Orthodox Christianity recognizes the following seven ecumenical councils as most significant.

The First Ecumenical Council invoked by the Roman Emperor Constantine at Nicea in 325, condemning the view of Arius that the Son is a created being inferior to the Father.
The Second Ecumenical Council  held at Constantinople in 381, defining the nature of the Holy Spirit against those asserting His inequality with the other persons of the Trinity.
The Third Ecumenical Council is that of Ephesus in 431, which affirmed that Mary is truly "Birthgiver" or "Mother" of God (Theotokos), contrary to the teachings of Nestorius.
The Fourth Ecumenical Council is that of Chalcedon in 451, which affirmed that Jesus is truly God and truly man, without mixture of the two natures, contrary to Monophysite teaching.
The Fifth Ecumenical Council is the second of Constantinople in 553, interpreting the decrees of Chalcedon and further explaining the relationship of the two natures of Jesus; it also condemned the teachings of Origen on the pre-existence of the soul, etc.
The Sixth Ecumenical Council is the third of Constantinople in 681; it declared that Christ has two wills of his two natures, human and divine, contrary to the teachings of the Monothelites.
The Seventh Ecumenical Council was called under the Empress Regent Irene in 787, known as the second of Nicea. It supports the veneration of icons while forbidding their worship. It is often referred to as "The Triumph of Orthodoxy"
In addition to these councils there have been a number of significant counils meant to further define the Orthodox position. They are the Synods of Constantinople, 879-880, 1341, 1347, & 1351, 1583, 1819, and 1872, the Synod of Jassy 1642, and the Pan-Orthodox Synod of Jerusalem 1672.

The Church in Egypt (Patriarchate of Alexandria) split into two groups following the Council of Chalcedon (451), over a dispute about the relation between the divine and human natures of Jesus. Eventually this led to each group having its own Patriarch (Pope). Those that remained in communion with the other patriarchs (those who accepted the Council of Chalcedon) were called "Melkites" (the king's men, because Constantinople was the city of the emperors) [note: do not confuse with the Melkite Catholics of Antioch], and are today known as the Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria. Those who disagreed with the findings of the Council of Chalcedon are today known as the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. There was a similar split in Syria (Patriarchate of Antioch) into the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch and the Syriac Orthodox Church.

Those who disagreed with the Council of Chalcedon are sometimes called "Oriental Orthodox" to distinguish them from the Eastern Orthodox, who accepted the Council of Chalcedon. Oriental Orthodox are also sometimes referred to as "monophysites", "non-Chalcedonians", or "anti-Chalcedonians", although today the Oriental Orthodox Church denies that it is monophysite and prefers the term "miaphysite", to denote the "joined" nature of Jesus. Both the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches formally believe themselves to be the continuation of the true church and the other fallen into heresy, although over the last several decades there has been some reconciliation. Several Ecumenical Councils were held between 325 (the First Council of Nicaea) and 787 (the Second Council of Nicaea), which to Orthodox constitute the definitive interpretation of Christian dogma. Orthodox thinking differs on whether the Fourth and Fifth Councils of Constantinople were properly Ecumenical Councils, but the majority view is that they were merely influential, and not bindingly dogmatic.

Roman/Byzantine Empire
Orthodox Christian culture reached its golden age during the high point of Byzantine Empire and continued to flourish in Russia, after the fall of Constantinople. Numerous autocephalous churches were established in Eastern Europe and Slavic areas. In the 530s the Church of the Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) was built in Constantinople under emperor Justinian I.

Oriental Orthodoxy
While Eastern Orthodoxy strives to keep the faith of the first seven Ecumenical Councils, the term "Oriental Orthodoxy" refers to the churches of Eastern Christian traditions that keep the faith of only the first three ecumenical councils (the First Council of Nicaea, the First Council of Constantinople and the Council of Ephesus) and rejected the dogmatic definitions of the Council of Chalcedon and later. Thus, "Oriental Orthodox" churches are distinct from the churches that collectively refer to themselves as "Eastern Orthodox". "Oriental Orthodox" groups are sometimes referred to as Monophysites, though they generally disagree with this title and prefer to be called Miaphysites.
There are the "Nestorian" churches, which are Eastern Christian churches that keep the faith of only the first two ecumenical councils, (the First Council of Nicaea and the First Council of Constantinople). "Nestorian" is an outsider's term for a tradition that predated the influence of Nestorius, "Persian Church" is a more accepted term.

Great Schism
In the 11th century the Great Schism took place between Rome and Constantinople, which led to separation of the Church of the West, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Eastern Orthodox Church. There were doctrinal issues like the filioque clause and the authority of the Pope involved in the split, but these were exacerbated by cultural and linguistic differences between Latins and Greeks. Prior to that, the Eastern and Western halves of the Church had frequently been in conflict, particularly during periods of iconoclasm and the Photian schism.

The final breach is often considered to have arisen after the capture and sacking of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade in 1204 . The sacking of the Church of Holy Wisdom and establishment of the Latin Empire as a seeming attempt to supplant the Orthodox Byzantine Empire in 1204 is viewed with some rancour to the present day. In 2004, Pope John Paul II extended a formal apology for the sacking of Constantinople in 1204; the apology was formally accepted by Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. Many things that were stolen during this time: holy relics, riches, and many other items, are still held in various Western European cities, particularly Venice.

In 1453, the Byzantine Empire fell to the Ottoman Empire. By this time Egypt had been under Muslim control for some seven centuries, but Orthodoxy was very strong in Russia which had recently acquired an autocephalous status; hence Moscow called itself the Third Rome, as the cultural heir of Constantinople. Under Ottoman rule, the Greek Orthodox Church acquired substantial power as an autonomous millet. The ecumenical patriarch was the religious and administrative ruler of the entire "Greek Orthodox nation" (Ottoman administrative unit), which encompassed all the Eastern Orthodox subjects of the Empire.

Conversion of East and South Slavs
Orthodox churches in Vologda, Russia in the ninth and tenth centuries, Orthodoxy made great inroads into Eastern Europe, including Kievan Rus'. This work was made possible by the work of the Byzantine saints Cyril and Methodius. When Rastislav, the king of Moravia, asked Byzantium for teachers who could minister to the Moravians in their own language, Byzantine emperor Michael III chose these two brothers. As their mother was a Slav from the hinterlands of Thessaloniki, Cyril and Methodius spoke the local Slavonic vernacular and translated the Bible and many of the prayer books. As the translations prepared by them were copied by speakers of other dialects, the hybrid literary language Old Church Slavonic was created. Originally sent to convert the Slavs of Great Moravia, Cyril and Methodius were forced to compete with Frankish missionaries from the Roman diocese. Their disciples were driven out of Great Moravia in AD 886.

Methodius later went on to convert the Serbs. Some of the disciples, namely Saint Clement of Ohrid, Saint Naum who were of noble Bulgarian descent and St. Angelaruis, returned to Bulgaria where they were welcomed by the Bulgarian Tsar Boris I who viewed the Slavonic liturgy as a way to counteract Greek influence in the country. In a short time the disciples of Cyril and Methodius managed to prepare and instruct the future Slav Bulgarian clergy into the Glagolitic alphabet and the biblical texts and in AD 893, Bulgaria expelled its Greek clergy and proclaimed the Slavonic language as the official language of the church and the state. The success of the conversion of the Bulgarians facilitated the conversion of other East Slavic peoples, most notably the Rus', predecessors of Belarusians, Russians, and Ukrainians.

The missionaries to the East and South Slavs had great success in part because they used the people's native language rather than Latin as the Roman priests did, or Greek. Today the Russian Orthodox Church is the largest of the Orthodox Churches.

Age of captivity
In 1453, the Byzantine Empire fell to the Ottoman Empire. By this time Egypt had been under Muslim control for some seven centuries, but Orthodoxy was very strong in Russia which had recently acquired an autocephalous status; and thus Moscow called itself the Third Rome, as the cultural heir of Constantinople.

Under Ottoman rule, the Greek Orthodox Church acquired substantial power as an autonomous millet. The ecumenical patriarch was the religious and administrative ruler of the entire "Greek Orthodox nation" (Ottoman administrative unit), which encompassed all the Eastern Orthodox subjects of the Empire.

 As a result of the Ottoman conquest of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, and the Fall of Constantinople, the entire Orthodox communion of the Balkans and the Near East became suddenly isolated from the West. For the next four hundred years, it would be confined within a hostile Islamic world, with which it had little in common religiously or culturally. The Russian Orthodox Church and the Orthodox Churches from Valachia and Moldova were the only part of the Orthodox communion which remained outside the control of the Ottoman empire. It is, in part, due to this geographical and intellectual confinement that the voice of Eastern Orthodoxy was not heard during the Reformation in sixteenth century Europe. It should not be surprising that this important theological debate often seems strange and distorted to the Orthodox; after all, they never took part in it and thus neither Reformation nor Counter-Reformation is part of their theological framework.

Eastern Orthodox Church under the Republic of Turkey
Since the establishment of the secular nationalist Republic of Turkey, the number of Orthodox in the Anatolian peninsula has sharply declined amidst complaints of governmental relations; especially after the population exchange between Greece and Turkey in 1924.

Russian Orthodox Church under Tsarist rule
Prior to the October Revolution, the Russian Orthodox Church had a status of an established institution in the Russian Empire being governed by a government body called the Most Holy Synod composed of senior bishops and lay beauracrats appointed by the Tsar himself. The church has a history of being involved to some degree with the Czarists campaigns of russification though not on the same level as compatible with the Soviet regime. There are some allegations that the church was involved in various anti-Jewish campaigns, and some refute this.  It was allowed to impose taxes on the peasants. The Church, like the Tsarist state was seen as an enemy of the people by the Bolsheviks and other Russian revolutionaries.

Eastern Orthodox Church under Communist rule
The Orthodox Church clergy in Russia was seen as sympathetic with the cause of the White Army in the Civil War after the October Revolution, and occasionally collaborated with it; Patriarch Tikhon's declared position was harshly anti-bolshevik in 1918. This may have further strengthened the Bolshevik animosity to the church.

Before and after the October Revolution of November 7, 1917 (October 25 Old Calendar) there was a movement within the Soviet Union to unite all of the people of the world under Communist rule. This included the Eastern European bloc countries as well as the Balkan States. Since some of these Slavic states tied their ethnic heritage to their ethnic churches, both the peoples and their church where targeted by the Soviet.

The Soviets' official interpretation of freedom of conscience was one of "guaranteeing the right to profess any religion, or profess none, to practise religious cults, or conduct atheist propaganda", though in effect atheism was sponsored by state and was taught in all educational establishments. Public criticism of atheism was forbidden and sometimes led to imprisonment.

The Soviet Union was the first state to have as an ideological objective the elimination of religion. Toward that end, the Communist regime confiscated church property, ridiculed religion, harassed believers, and propagated atheism in the schools. Actions toward particular religions, however, were determined by State interests, and most organized religions were never outlawed. Some actions against Orthodox priests and believers along with execution included torture being sent to prison camps, labour camps or mental hospitals. Many Orthodox (along with peoples of other faiths) were also subjected to psychological punishment or torture and mind control experimentation in order to force them give up their religious convictions. 

The result of this militant atheism was to transform the Church into a persecuted and martyred Church. In the first five years after the Bolshevik revolution, 28 bishops and 1,200 priests were executed.

The main target of the anti-religious campaign in the 1920s and 1930s was the Russian Orthodox Church, which had the largest number of faithful. Nearly all of its clergy, and many of its believers, were shot or sent to labor camps. Theological schools were closed, and church publications were prohibited. In the period between 1927 and 1940, the number of Orthodox Churches in the Russian Republic fell from 29,500 to less than 500. Between 1917 and 1935, 130,000 Orthodox priests were arrested. Of these, 95,000 were put to death.

After Nazi Germany's attack on the Soviet Union in 1941, Joseph Stalin revived the Russian Orthodox Church to intensify patriotic support for the war effort. By 1957 about 22,000 Russian Orthodox churches had become active. But in 1959 Nikita Khrushchev initiated his own campaign against the Russian Orthodox Church and forced the closure of about 12,000 churches. By 1985 fewer than 7,000 churches remained active. It is estimated that 50,000 clergy were executed by the end of the Khrushchev era. Members of the church hierarchy were jailed or forced out, their places taken by docile clergy, many of whom had ties with the KGB.

In the Soviet Union, in addition to the methodical closing and destruction of churches, the charitable and social work formerly done by ecclesiastical authorities was taken over by the state. As with all private property, Church owned property was confiscated into public use. The few places of worship left to the Church were legally viewed as state property which the government permitted the church to use. After the advent of state funded universal education, the Church was not permitted to carry on educational, instructional activity of any kind. Outside of sermons during the celebration of the divine liturgy it could not instruct or evangelise to the faithful or its youth. Catechism classes, religious schools, study groups, Sunday schools and religious publications were all illegal and or banned. This persecution continued, even after the death of Stalin until the Fall of Communism in 1991. This caused many religious tracts to be circulated as illegal literature or samizdat.

Diaspora emigration to the West
One of the most striking developments in modern historical Orthodoxy is the dispersion of Orthodox Christians to the West. Emigration from Greece and the Near East in the last hundred years has created a sizable Orthodox diaspora in Western Europe, North and South America, and Australia. In addition, the Bolshevik Revolution forced thousands of Russian exiles westward. As a result, Orthodoxy's traditional frontiers have been profoundly modified. Millions of Orthodox are no longer geographically "eastern" since they live permanently in their newly adopted countries in the West. Nonetheless, they remain Eastern Orthodox in their faith and practice. Virtually all the Orthodox nationalities - Greek, Arab, Russian, Serbian, Macedonian, Albanian, Ukrainian, Romanian, Bulgarian - are represented in the United States.

Church today
The various autocephalous and autonomous synods of the Orthodox Church are distinct in terms of administration and local culture, but for the most part exist in full communion with one another. Relations have recently been restored between the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) and the Moscow Patriarchate (MP), two branches of the Russian Orthodox Church which separated from each other in the 1920s, due to the subjection of the latter to the hostile Soviet regime.

Tensions exist in the philosophical differences between those who use the Revised Julian Calendar ("New Calendarists") for calculating the feasts of the ecclesiastical year and those who continue to use the traditional Julian Calendar ("Old calendarists"). The calendar question reflects the dispute between those who wish to synchronize with the modern Roman Catholic (Gregorian) calendar, and those who wish to maintain the continuity of the traditional Orthodox (Julian) calendar. The dispute has led to much acrimony, and sometimes even to violence. Following canonical precepts, some adherents to the Old Calendar have chosen to abstain from clerical intercommunion with those synods which have embraced the New Calendar until such a time that the conflict is resolved. The monastic communities on Mount Athos have provided the strongest opposition to the New Calendar, and to modernism in general, while still maintaining communion with their mother church.

Some latent discontent between different national churches exists also in part due to different approach towards ecumenism. While the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the Orthodox bishops in North America gathered into the Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA), Romanian bishops, and others are fairly open to dialog with the Roman Catholic Church, and some currently engaged in discussing key theological differences such as the Filioque, Papal primacy, and a possible agreement on ecumenical matters and eventually full communion with the Catholic and Anglican Churches. However, both consevative and moderate Old Calendarists, many of the monks of Mount Athos, several bishops of Russian, Serbian, and some of Greek and Bulgarian churches regard ecumenism as compromising essential doctrinal stands in order to accommodate other Christians, and object to the emphasis on dialogue leading to inter-communion; believing instead that Orthodox must speak the truth with love, in the hope of leading to the eventual conversion to Orthodoxy of heterodox Christians.

Orthodox churches in communion
Nowadays, there are 14 (15 by some) autocephalous Orthodox churches, in communion with each other, with the precise order of seniority of their heads as listed below. Some of them contain autonomous (marked below) and/or semi-autonomous dioceses (listed within the mother churches). The first 9 of the autocephalous churches are led by patriarchs.

Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople
Finnish Orthodox Church (autonomous)
Estonian Orthodox Church (autonomous)
Albanian Orthodox Diocese of America
Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese in the USA
Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada
Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA
Patriarchal Exarchate for Orthodox Parishes of Russian Tradition in Western Europe
Episcopal Vicariate of Great Britain and Ireland
Mount Athos
Belorussian Council of Orthodox Churches in North America
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain (includes Ireland)
Archdiocese in Italy and Malta
Archdiocese in Australia
13 other small metropolises outside its canonical territory: Austria, Belgium, Argentina, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, the Korean Orthodox Church, Mexico and Central America, New Zealand, Scandinavia, Spain and Portugal, and Switzerland
Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria
African Orthodox groups in Kenya and Uganda
Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch
Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America (autonomous)
Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia, New Zealand, and All Oceania
Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem
Church of Mount Sinai (autonomous)
Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem in North and South America
Russian Orthodox Church
Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) (de-facto autonomous)
Moldovan Orthodox Church (territorial jurisdiction contested by the Romanian Church)
Metropolis of Western Europe (proposed, but not instituted)
Japanese Orthodox Church (autonomy not universally recognized[citation needed])
Belarusian exarchate
Estonian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate)
Latvian Orthodox Church
Hungarian diocese
Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (autonomous; union completed on May 17, 2007.)
Serbian Orthodox Church
Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric (autonomous)
Metropolitanate of Zagreb, Ljubljana and All Italy (Croatia, Slovenia, Italy)
Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral (Montenegro)
Metropolitanate of Dabar-Bosna (Bosnia-Herzegovina)
Serbian Orthodox Church in the USA and Canada
Bishopric in Australia and New Zealand
Bishopric in Britain and Scandinavia (Great Britain, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark)
Bishopric of Buda (Hungary, Czech Republic, and Slovakia)
Bishopric in Central Europe (Germany, Austria, and Switzerland)
Bishopric in Timişoara (Romania)
Bishopric in Western Europe (France, Belgium, Netherlands, and Spain)
Romanian Orthodox Church
Metropolis of Bessarabia (autonomous, with the rank of an exarchate, i.e. having the right to have parishes outside its canonical jurisdiction - de facto has in Russia and USA; territorial jurisdiction contested by the Russian Church)
Metropolis in France, Western and Southern Europe (British Islands, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy)
Metropolis in Germany and Central Europe (Germany, Northern and Central Europe)
Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese in America and Canada (USA, Canada, Argentina, Venezuela)
Romanian Orthodox Bishopric Dacia Felix (in Serbia)
Bulgarian Orthodox Church
Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Church Diocese of America, Canada and Australia
Diocese in Central and Western Europe
Georgian Orthodox and Apostolic Church
Cypriot Orthodox Church
Church of Greece
Polish Orthodox Church
Albanian Orthodox Church
Czech and Slovak Orthodox Church
Orthodox Church in America (recognized as autocephalous only by the Russian, Bulgarian, Georgian, Polish, and Czech-Slovak Churches)
Orthodox Church in America Albanian Archdiocese
Orthodox Church in America Bulgarian Diocese
Romanian Orthodox Episcopate in America
Orthodox Church in America Parishes in Australia

Orthodox Churches and communities not in communion with others
Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church
Bulgarian Alternative Synod
Orthodox Church in Italy
Macedonian Orthodox Church
Montenegrin Orthodox Church
Russian True Orthodox Church
Karamanli Turkish Orthodox Church
Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev Patriarchate)
Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church
Autonomous Ukrainian Orthodox Church in America

Old Believers
Russian Orthodox Old-Rite Church (Belokrinitskaya Hierarchy)
Lipovan Orthodox Old-Rite Church (Belokrinitskaya Hierarchy)
Russian Old-Orthodox Church (Novozybkovskaya Hierarchy)
Pomorian Old-Orthodox Church (Pomortsy)

Old Calendarist
Church of the Genuine Orthodox Christians of Greece
Church of the Genuine Orthodox Christians, USA
Orthodox Church of Greece (Holy Synod in Resistance)
Old Calendar Romanian Orthodox Church
Old Calendar Bulgarian Orthodox Church

Defunct churches
Croatian Orthodox Church
Chinese Orthodox Church

Orthodox churches in full communion
Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
Church of Finland
Church of Estonia
American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese
Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada
Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA
Church of Alexandria
Church of Antioch
Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
Church of Jerusalem
Church of Russia
Church of Japan
Church of Ukraine (UOC-MP) (Ukrainian and Russian only)
Hungarian Orthodox Church - Moscow Patriarchy (Hungarian and Russian only)
Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia
Church of Georgia
Church of Serbia
Orthodox Ochrid Archbishopric Recognized as authonomous in 2005 by all churches
Church of Romania
Church of Bulgaria
Church of Cyprus
Church of Greece
Church of Australia
Church of New Zealand
Church of Albania
Church of Poland (Polish only)
Church of the Czechlands and Slovakia (Czech or Slovak only)
Orthodox Church in America (Not recognized as autocephalous by all churches)

Orthodox churches not in communion
Church of the Genuine Orthodox Christians (GOC), USA
Church of the Genuine Orthodox Christians of Greece
GOC Synod in Resistance
Macedonian Orthodox Church