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The Eastern Orthodox Churches: One of the three major branches of Christianity

Like other Christians, those of the Orthodox communion trace their history to the day of Pentecost; like Catholics, Orthodox Christians believe that their bishops derive an authority that goes back in one, unbroken chain to the 12 apostles. Also like Catholics, Orthodox churches accept seven sacraments, define their faith through the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed, read and believe the same Bible, and accept the decisions of church councils up to and including the fourth Council of Constantinople which was held in 869 A.D. in an attempt to reconcile differences that had arisen between churches in the East and in the West of the Roman Empire.

The presenting issue between these two branches of Christianity was over a single clause that church leaders in the West wanted to add to the Nicene Creed.

For the full text of the Nicene Creed.

For a full discussion of the Nicene Creed including the issue that separated the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches.

Though a formal breach did not occur until 1054, when Roman Pope Leo IX and the Orthodox Patriarch Michael I excommunicated each other, the East-West split actually reflected differences of culture, language, theology, liturgy and, above all, notions of church governance. While Catholics believe that the Pope is the supreme head of the entire Christian church, as the living descendant of Peter, Orthodox Christians believe that regional churches have significant autonomy. Orthodox Christians do not accept the authority of the Pope.

Today both the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches claim to be "the one, Holy Catholic and apostolic church," and see the split as a matter of the other side having departed from the truth.

Within most Orthodox churches priests are permitted to marry, divorce is accepted and artificial means of birth control are approved.

The principal, autonomous churches of the Orthodox communion include, in addition to the mother church of Constantinople, those of Russia and the Republics of the former Soviet Union, Cyprus, Greece, Alexandria, and Antioch. There are also churches in Finland, Japan, and the United States.

Orthodox Christians do not consider themselves to be "Protestants."

For a map showing where Orthodox Christians are predominant.

For tables and charts showing membership statistics for Orthodox and other churches.

Charles Henderson

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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and author of Faith, Science and the Future, published in 1994 by CrossCurrents Press. He is also the author of God and Science (John Knox / Westminster, 1986) which he is now rewriting to incorporate more recent developments in the conversation taking place between scientists and theologians. He has also written widely for such publications as The New York Times, The Nation, Commonweal, The Christian Century and others.

For further information about Charles Henderson.