Beloved to God:
An Eastern Orthodox
Elizabeth A. Gassin and J. Stephen Muse
OF EASTERN CHRISTIANITY
The Eastern Orthodox Church consists of a family of self-governing national bodies, such as the Greek, Russian, and Serbian Orthodox Churches. A common misunderstanding is that each local church (Serbian, Romanian, etc.) is a separate denomination, but this is not the case; these national communities are united through a common theological and liturgical tradition and maintain full Eucharistic communion with one another. There are about 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide, about four million of whom reside in the United States.
Because many in the West assume that Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy are similar, in reviewing the history and theological foundations of Orthodox Christianity, we emphasize some of the salient differences between these two traditions. Although the two arose from the same Apostolic root in the first century, differing cultural patterns and theological emphases slowly emerged in the two geographic areas, dividing them into separate streams before their official split in 1054 AD. This is the date of formal ecclesial separation when the pope's emissaries from Rome arrived in Constantinople to serve Patriarch Michael Cerularius with notice of excommunication; the Patriarch then excommunicated the emissaries. A further blow to unity resulted from the Crusaders' sack of Constantinople in 1204, leaving it vulnerable to invasion from the Turks, who eventually ended a thousand years of a flourishing Byzantine Empire.