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Greek Orthodox Religion Definition Essay

This article is about all Orthodox jurisdictions of Greek cultural heritage. For the Orthodox Church in Greece, see Church of Greece.

Greek Orthodox Church

Flag used by the Orthodox Church in Greece,[1] and the standard of the self-governed monastic state of Mount Athos.[2][3][4]

FounderApostle Andrew
RecognitionOrthodox
PrimateThe Patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, and the Archbishops of Athens, Cyprus, Albania and Mount Sinai
HeadquartersVarious, but Constantinople is held in special regard
TerritoryEastern Mediterranean & diaspora
LanguageKoine Greek, Arabic, and English, with other local languages used in the diaspora
Members23–24 million (about 50% of whom are in Greece)

The name Greek Orthodox Church (Greek: Ἑλληνορθόδοξη Ἑκκλησία, Ellinorthódoxi Ekklisía, IPA: [elinorˈθoðoksi ekliˈsia]), or Greek Orthodoxy, is a term referring to the body of several Churches[5][6][7] within the larger communion of Eastern OrthodoxChristianity, whose liturgy is or was traditionally conducted in Koine Greek,[8] the original language of the New Testament,[9][10] and whose history, traditions, and theology are rooted in the early Church Fathers and the culture of the Byzantine Empire. Greek Orthodox Christianity has also traditionally placed heavy emphasis and awarded high prestige to traditions of Christian monasticism and asceticism, with origins in Early Christianity in the Near East and in Byzantine Anatolia. Today, the most important centres of Christian Orthodox monasticism are Saint Catherine's Monastery in the Sinai Peninsula (Egypt), Meteora at Thessaly in Greece, Mount Athos in Greek Macedonia, Mar Saba in the Bethlehem Governorate of the West Bank, and the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian on the island of Patmos in Greece.

Historically, the term "Greek Orthodox" has also been used to describe all Eastern Orthodox Churches in general, since "Greek" in "Greek Orthodox" can refer to the heritage of the Byzantine Empire.[11][12][13] During the first eight centuries of Christian history, most major intellectual, cultural, and social developments in the Christian Church took place within the Empire or in the sphere of its influence,[13][14][15] where the Greek language was widely spoken and used for most theological writings. Over time, most parts of the liturgy, traditions, and practices of the church of Constantinople were adopted by all, and still provide the basic patterns of contemporary Orthodoxy.[16][17][18] Thus, the Eastern Church came to be called "Greek" Orthodox in the same way that the Western Church is called "Roman" Catholic. However, the appellation "Greek" was abandoned by the Slavic and other Eastern Orthodox churches in connection with their peoples' national awakenings, from as early as the 10th century A.D.[a] Thus, today it is generally only those churches that are most closely tied to Greek or Byzantine culture that are called "Greek Orthodox".

Overview[edit]

The Greek Orthodox churches are descended from churches which the Apostles founded in the Balkans and the Middle East during the first century A.D.,[b] and they maintain many traditions practiced in the ancient Church.[28] Orthodox Churches, unlike the Catholic Church, have no Bishopric head, such as a Pope, and hold the belief that Christ is the head of the Church. However, they are each governed by a committee of Bishops, called the Holy Synod, with one central Bishop holding the honorary title of "first among equals."

Greek Orthodox Churches are united in communion with each other, as well as with the other Orthodox Churches (such as the Russian Orthodox Church). The Orthodox hold a common doctrine and a common form of worship, and they see themselves not as separate Churches but as administrative units of one single Church. They are notable for their extensive tradition of iconography (see also: Byzantine art), for their veneration of the Mother of God and the Saints, and for their use of the Divine Liturgy on Sundays, which is a standardized worship service dating back to the fourth century A.D. in its current form. The most commonly used Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church was written by Saint John Chrysostom (347–407 A.D.). Others are attributed to St. Basil the Great, St. James, the Brother of God and St. Gregory the Dialogist.

The current territory of the Greek Orthodox Churches more or less covers the areas in the Balkans, Anatolia, and the Eastern Mediterranean that used to be a part of the Byzantine Empire. The majority of Greek Orthodox Christians live within Greece and elsewhere in the southern Balkans (especially in Albania), but also in Jordan, the Occupied Palestinian territories, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Cyprus, Anatolia, European Turkey, and the South Caucasus. In addition, due to the large Greek diaspora, there are many Greek Orthodox Christians who live in North America and Australia. Orthodox Christians in Finland, who compose about 1% of the population, are also under the jurisdiction of a Greek Orthodox Church (the Ecumenical Patriarchate).

There are also many Greek Orthodox Christians, with origins dating back to the Byzantine and Ottoman periods, who are of Arabic-speaking or mixed Greek and Arabic-speaking ancestry and live in southern Turkey, Israel, Palestine, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt. They attend churches which conduct their services in Arabic, the common language of most Greek Orthodox believers in the Levant, while at the same time maintaining elements of the Byzantine Greek cultural tradition.

Ethnic Greeks in Russia and Greeks in Ukraine, as well as Pontic Greeks and Caucasus Greeks from the former Russian Transcaucasus, often consider themselves both Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox, which is consistent with the Orthodox faith (since Orthodoxy is the same across ethnic boundaries). Thus, they may attend services held in Old Russian and Old Church Slavonic, without this in any way undermining their Orthodox faith or distinct Greek ethnic identity. Over the centuries, these Pontic Greek-speaking Greek Orthodox communities have mixed through intermarriage in varying degrees with ethnic Russians and other Orthodox Christians from mainly Southern Russia, where most of them settled between the Middle Ages and early 19th century.

Churches[edit]

The churches where the Greek Orthodox term is applicable are:

Gallery[edit]

  • Agios Nikolaos church, Athens

  • Chiesa di St Giorgio dei Greci in Venice (1548)

  • Allerheiligenkirche in Munich (1995)

  • Saint Nicholas Cathedral, Seoul

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^Tore Tvarnø Lind (2012). The Past is Always Present: The Revival of the Byzantine Musical Tradition at Mount Athos. Scarecrow Press. p. 34. ISBN 978-0-8108-8147-1.  
  2. ^The Flag Bulletin. 27. Flag Research Center. 1988. p. 105.  
  3. ^Vitali Vitaliev (1 September 1995). Little is the light: nostalgic travels in the mini-states of Europe. Touchstone Books. p. 108. ISBN 978-0-671-71925-8.  
  4. ^William G. Crampton (1990). The Complete Guide to Flags. Gallery Books. p. 57. ISBN 978-0-8317-1605-9.  
  5. ^Demetrios J. Constantelos, Understanding the Greek Orthodox Church, Holy Cross Orthodox Press 3rd edition (March 28, 2005)
  6. ^L. Rushton, Doves and magpies: village women in the Greek Orthodox Church Women's religious experience, Croom Helm, 1983
  7. ^Paul Yuzyk, The Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church of Canada, 1918–1951, University of Ottawa Press, 1981
  8. ^Demetrios J. Constantelos, The Greek Orthodox Church: faith, history, and practice, Seabury Press, 1967
  9. ^Daniel B. Wallace: Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, page 12,. Zondervan, 1997.
  10. ^Robert H. Stein: The method and message of Jesus' teachings, page 4,. Westminster John Knox Press, 1994.
  11. ^Byzantium in Encyclopedia of historians and historical writing Vol. 1, Kelly Boyd (ed.), Fitzroy Dearborn publishers, 1999ISBN 978-1-884964-33-6
  12. ^Edwin Pears, The destruction of the Greek Empire and the story of the capture of Constantinople by the Turks, Haskell House, 1968
  13. ^ abMillar, Fergus (2006). A Greek Roman Empire : power and belief under Theodosius II (408–450). University of California Press. p. 279 pages. ISBN 0-520-24703-5. 
  14. ^Tanner, Norman P. The Councils of the Church, ISBN 0-8245-1904-3
  15. ^The Byzantine legacy in the Orthodox Church by John Meyendorff – 1982
  16. ^Hugh Wybrew, The Orthodox liturgy: the development of the eucharistic liturgy in the Byzantine rite – 1990
  17. ^The Christian Churches of the East, Vol. II: Churches Not in Communion with Rome by Donald Attwater – 1962
  18. ^J Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology: Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes (1987)
  19. ^ abJoan Mervyn Hussey, The Orthodox Church in the Byzantine Empire, 1990
  20. ^ abA. P. Vlasto, Entry of Slavs Christendom – 1970
  21. ^Andreĭ Lazarov Pantev, Bŭlgarska istorii︠a︡ v evropeĭski kontekst – 2000
  22. ^Janet Saltzman Chafetz; Helen Rose Ebaugh (18 October 2000). Religion and the New Immigrants: Continuities and Adaptations in Immigrant Congregations. AltaMira Press. p. 155. ISBN 978-0-7591-1712-9. Retrieved 2 September 2013.  
  23. ^Sally Bruyneel; Alan G. Padgett (2003). Introducing Christianity. Orbis Books. p. 7. ISBN 978-1-60833-134-5. Retrieved 2 September 2013.  
  24. ^Benjamin Jerome Hubbard; John T. Hatfield; James A. Santucci (2007). An Educator's Classroom Guide to America's Religious Beliefs and Practices. Libraries Unlimited. p. 63. ISBN 978-1-59158-409-4. Retrieved 2 September 2013.  
  25. ^Robert L. Plummer (6 March 2012). Journeys of Faith: Evangelicalism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Anglicanism. Zondervan. p. 128. ISBN 978-0-310-41671-5. Retrieved 2 September 2013.  
  26. ^William A. Dyrness; Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen (25 September 2009). Global Dictionary of Theology: A Resource for the Worldwide Church. InterVarsity Press. p. 244. ISBN 978-0-8308-7811-6. Retrieved 2 September 2013.  
  27. ^Heidi Campbell (22 March 2010). When Religion Meets New Media. Routledge. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-203-69537-1. Retrieved 2 September 2013.  
  28. ^ abWendy Doniger (January 1999). Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of World Religions. Merriam-Webster. p. 309. ISBN 978-0-87779-044-0. Retrieved 2 September 2013.  
  29. ^"Ecumenical Patriarchate". Retrieved 2009-03-09. 
  30. ^"Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain – Home". Retrieved 2009-03-11. 
  31. ^"The Holy Orthodox Archdiocese of Italy and Malta". Archived from the original on 2012-04-05. Retrieved 2009-03-11. 
  32. ^The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America should not be confused with the Orthodox Church in America, whose autocephaly – granted by the Russian Orthodox Church – is not recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and many other churches of the Eastern Orthodox Communion.
  33. ^"Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia". Retrieved 2010-01-14. 
  34. ^"The official web site of Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa". Retrieved 2009-03-09. 
  35. ^"Greek Orthodox Church Of Antioch And All The East". Retrieved 2009-03-09. 
  36. ^"Jerusalem Patriarchate". Archived from the original on 2012-04-05. Retrieved 2009-03-09. 
  37. ^"The Holy Monastery of the God-trodden Mount Sinai, Saint Catherine's Monastery". Retrieved 2009-03-09. 
  38. ^"Ecclesia – The Web Site of the Church of Greece". Retrieved 2009-03-09. 
  39. ^
A religious procession in Corfu

Eastern Orthodox Church

Orthodox Churches

Orthodox prayer rope ©

The Orthodox Church is one of the three main Christian groups (the others being Roman Catholic and Protestant). Around 200 million people follow the Orthodox tradition.

It is made up of a number of self-governing Churches which are either 'autocephalous' (meaning having their own head) or 'autonomous' (meaning self-governing).

The Orthodox Churches are united in faith and by a common approach to theology, tradition, and worship. They draw on elements of Greek, Middle-Eastern, Russian and Slav culture.

Each Church has its own geographical (rather than a national) title that usually reflects the cultural traditions of its believers.

The word 'Orthodox' takes its meaning from the Greek words orthos ('right') and doxa ('belief'). Hence the word Orthodox means correct belief or right thinking.

The Orthodox tradition developed from the Christianity of the Eastern Roman Empire and was shaped by the pressures, politics and peoples of that geographical area. Since the Eastern capital of the Roman Empire was Byzantium, this style of Christianity is sometimes called 'Byzantine Christianity'.

The Orthodox Churches share with the other Christian Churches the belief that God revealed himself in Jesus Christ, and a belief in the incarnation of Christ, his crucifixion and resurrection. The Orthodox Church differs substantially from the other Churches in the way of life and worship, and in certain aspects of theology.

The Holy Spirit is seen as present in and as the guide to the Church working through the whole body of the Church, as well as through priests and bishops.

Are Orthodox Churches the same as Eastern Orthodox Churches?

Not all Orthodox Churches are 'Eastern Orthodox'. The 'Oriental Orthodox Churches' have theological differences with the Eastern Orthodox and form a separate group, while a few Orthodox Churches are not 'in communion' with the others.

Not all Churches in the Eastern tradition are Orthodox - Eastern Churches that are not included in the Orthodox group include the Eastern Catholic Churches.

The Eastern Orthodox Churches

The nominal head of the Eastern Orthodox Churches is the Patriarch of Constantinople. However, he is only first among equals and has no real authority over Churches other than his own.

There are 15 'autocephalous Churches', listed in order of precedence.

Churches 1-9 are led by Patriarchs, while the others are led by Archbishops or Metropolitans:

  1. Church of Constantinople (ancient)
  2. Church of Alexandria (ancient)
  3. Church of Antioch (ancient)
  4. Church of Jerusalem (ancient)
  5. Church of Russia (established in 1589)
  6. Church of Serbia (1219)
  7. Church of Romania (1925)
  8. Church of Bulgaria (927)
  9. Church of Georgia (466)
  10. Church of Cyprus (434)
  11. Church of Greece (1850)
  12. Church of Poland (1924)
  13. Church of Albania (1937)
  14. Church of Czech and Slovak lands (1951)
  15. The Orthodox Church in America (1970)

The Orthodox communion also includes a number of 'autonomous Churches':

  • Church of Sinai
  • Church of Finland
  • Church of Estonia*
  • Church of Japan*
  • Church of China*
  • Church of Ukraine*
  • Archdiocese of Ohrid*

* indicates a Church whose autonomy is recognised by only some of the other Churches

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History and schism

The Great Schism

The doctrine of the Christian Church was established over the centuries at Councils dating from as early as 325CE where the leaders from all the Christian communities were represented. The Eastern Church recognizes the authority of the Councils of Nicea 325 CE, Constantinople I (381), Ephesus (431) Chalcedon (451) Constantinople II (553), Constantinople III (680) and Nicaea II (787).

Although initially the Eastern and Western Christians shared the same faith, the two traditions began to divide after the seventh Ecumenical Council in 787 CE and is commonly believed to have finally split over the conflict with Rome in the so called Great Schism in 1054.

In particular this happened over the papal claim to supreme authority and the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. The break became final with the failure of the Council of Florence in the fifteenth century.

However, in the minds of most Orthodox, a decisive moment was the sack of Constantinople in 1204 during the (Western Christian) Fourth Crusade. The sacking of Constantinople by the Crusaders eventually led to the loss of this Byzantine capital to the Muslim Ottomans in 1453. This has never been forgotten.

The divisions between the East and Western Churches happened gradually over the centuries as the Roman Empire fragmented.

Eventually, while the Eastern Churches maintained the principle that the Church should keep to the local language of the community, Latin became the language of the Western Church.

Until the schism the five great patriarchal sees were Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. After the break with Rome Orthodoxy became 'Eastern' and the dominant expression of Christianity in the eastern Mediterranean, much of Asia Minor, Russian and Balkans.

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Life and worship

Life and worship

Eastern Christianity stresses a way of life and belief that is expressed particularly through worship. By maintaining the correct form of worshipping God, passed on from the very beginnings of Christianity. Eastern Christians believe that they confess the true doctrine of God in the right (orthodox) way.

The Orthodox Bible is almost the same as that found in Western Churches ©

The Bible of the Orthodox Church is the same as that of most Western Churches, except that its Old Testament is based not on the Hebrew, but on the ancient Jewish translation into Greek called the Septuagint.

The wisdom of the Fathers of the Church is central to the Orthodox way of life as today's inheritors of the "true faith and Church" passed on in its purest form. By maintaining the purity of the inherited teachings of the Apostles, believers are made more aware of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit being present both in history and at the present day.

A life of prayer

At the centre of worship and belief is the Eucharist surrounded by the Divine Offices or the Cycle of Prayer. These prayers are sung particularly at Sunset and Dawn and at certain other times during the day and night.

Personal prayer plays an important part in the life of an Orthodox Christian. For many Orthodox Christians an important form of prayer is the Jesus Prayer. This is a sentence which is repeated many times; for example: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." The aim of this repetition is to enable the person to concentrate solely on God.

The strict life of a monk or nun is seen as an important expression of faith.

Mount Athos and Monasticism

Monastery on Mount Athos ©

Monasticism is a central part of the Orthodox faith. Mount Athos in north-eastern Greece is described as the centre of Orthodox monasticism. It is the only place in Greece completely dedicated to prayer and worship of God. For this reason, it is called the Holy Mountain.

Most monasteries are coenobitic: living a communal life. The peninsula is divided into twenty self-governed territories. Each territory consists of a major monastery and some other monastic establishments that surround it (cloisters, cells, cottages, seats, hermitages).

For monk and nun alike, their spiritual life should follow the same way of living that all Christians try to achieve by following God's commandants. While not being against marriage, it is generally accepted that celibacy in the Church allows for a closer understanding of the Christian life away from worldly things.

Fasting and prayer

Fasting and prayer play an important part of the Orthodox Christian life. Orthodox believe that fasting can be the 'foundation of all good'. The discipline of training the body can enable a believer to concentrate the mind totally on preparation for prayer and things spiritual.

There are four main fasting periods:

  • The Great Fast or the period of Lent
  • The Fast of the Apostles: Eight days after Pentecost until 28th June. The ends with the Feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul.
  • The Dormition Fast which begins on 1st August and ends on the 14th August
  • The Christmas Fast from 15 November to 24th December.

Also all Wednesdays and Fridays are expected to be days of fasting.

Even though today the call to fast is not always strictly followed, nevertheless many devout Orthodox Christians do undergo a time of genuine hardship and it has been said that:

A discussion of self-denial

Contributors from Opus Dei and a Greek Orthodox church discuss self-denial and corporal mortification with a Muslim chaplain.

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Sacraments

Sacred Mysteries (sacraments)

The following seven principal Mysteries or sacraments are at the heart of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Baptism and Chrismation

The first two are Baptism and Chrismation. Baptism of adults and infants is by immersion in water three times in the name of the Trinity and is both the initiation into the Church and a sign of forgiveness of sins.

Chrismation follows immediately after baptism and is by anointing with holy oil called Chrism. Chrismation is followed by Holy Communion. This means that in the Orthodox Church babies and children are fully communicant members of the Church.

Chrism can only be consecrated by the Patriarch, or chief Bishop, of the local Church. Some of the old Chrism is mixed with the new, thus linking the newly baptised to their forbears in the faith.

The Chrism is used to anoint different parts of the body with a sign of the cross. The forehead, eyes, nostrils, mouth and ears, the chest, the hands and the feet are all anointed. The priest says the words, "The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit" as he makes the sign of the cross at each point.

The newly baptised Christian is now a layperson, a full member of the people of God (the 'Royal Priesthood'). All Christians are called to be witnesses to the Truth.

Chrismation is linked to Pentecost in that the same Holy Spirit which descended on the apostles descends on the newly baptised.

The Eucharist

The Eucharist, usually called the Divine Liturgy, fulfils the command of Jesus Christ at the Last Supper: "Do this in remembrance of me".

Singing hymns ©

As in many Western churches the Eucharist is a service consisting, in the first part, of hymns, prayers, and readings from the New Testament, and in the second the solemn offering and consecration of leavened bread and wine mixed with water, followed by the reception of Holy Communion.

The Orthodox believe that by the consecration the bread and wine are truly changed into the Body and Blood of Christ. Communion is given in a spoon containing both the bread and the wine and is received standing. A sermon is usually preached either after the reading of the Gospel or at the end of the service. At the end of the Liturgy blessed, but not consecrated, bread is distributed to the congregation, and non-Orthodox are often invited to share in this as a gesture of fellowship.

Both parts of the Liturgy contain a procession. At the Little Entrance, the Book of the Gospels is solemnly carried into the sanctuary and at the Great Entrance the bread and wine are carried to the altar for the Prayer of Consecration and Holy Communion.

The prayer of consecration is always preceded by the proclamation of the Nicene Creed, frequently by the whole congregation.

The Orthodox Church lays particular emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit in the Eucharist, and in the Prayer of Consecration calls on the Father to send down his Holy Spirit to effect the change of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.

There are four different liturgies used throughout the year:

  • The Liturgy of St John Chrysostom (used on Sundays and weekdays)
  • The Liturgy of St Basil the Great (used 10 times a year)
  • The Liturgy of St James, the Brother of the Lord (sometimes used on St James' Day)
  • The Liturgy of the Presanctified (used on Wednesdays and Fridays in Lent and on the first three days of Holy Week)
Greek Orthodox priests ©

Orders

Although the Church is a self-governing community the Church recognises the diaconate, the presbyterate or priesthood and the episcopate (bishops).

The Bishops in the Orthodox Church are considered to be the direct successors of the original Apostles and they are very much a unifying focus in the Church. Priests in the Orthodox Church are permitted to be married but may not marry after ordination. Bishops must always be celibate. Orthodox priests normally do not shave their beards, in accordance with the Bible.

Penance

All Orthodox Churches use the Mystery of Penance, or Confession, but in Greek speaking Churches only priests who have been blessed by the Bishop as 'Spiritual Fathers' are allowed to hear confession. Children may be admitted to the sacrament of Confession as soon as they are old enough to know the difference between right and wrong.

Through this sacrament sinners may receive forgiveness. They enter into confession with a priest often in an open area in the church (not in a confessional as in the Roman Catholic tradition nor separated by a grille).

Confession ©

Both priest and penitent stand and a cross and book of the Gospels or an icon is placed in front of the penitent with the priest standing slightly apart. This stresses that the priest is simply a witness and that forgiveness comes from God not the priest.

The priest will then hear the confession and perhaps give advice. After confession the penitent kneels before the priest, who places his stole on the penitent's head saying a prayer of absolution.

Anointing of the sick

In Greek-speaking Churches this is performed annually for the whole congregation during Holy Week on the eve of Holy Wednesday. Everyone is encouraged to come forward for anointing with the special oil whether they are physically ill or not. This is because it is generally held that all are in need of spiritual healing even if they are physically well.

Anointing of the sick can also be performed on individuals. People sometimes keep the blessed oil of the sick in their homes.

The Church anoints the sick with oil, following the teaching of St James in his Epistle (5:14-15), "Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the Church, and they should pray over him and anoint (him) with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins he will be forgiven."

Marriage

Marriage is celebrated through the rite of crowning, showing the importance of eternal union of the couple. Although marriage is seen as a permanent commitment in life and in death, remarriage and divorce are permitted in certain circumstances.

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Icons

Icons

Icon of the Virgin and child ©

Icons are of great importance to Orthodox Christians. These beautiful and elaborate paintings are described as "windows into the kingdom of God". They are used in worship both in the decoration of the church and for private homes. The icon is seen as both a form of prayer and a means to prayer.

An icon is usually an elaborate, two dimensional painting. They often have a gold leaf background and are usually on wood. They depict Christ, his mother Mary, scenes from the Bible or the lives of the Saints.

The iconographer prepares for the painting of an icon with prayer and fasting. By worshipping at the Icon the Orthodox Christian enters into a sacred place with God.

The icon is venerated and often candles and oil lamps are burnt before them. The worshipper kisses the icon, making the sign of the Cross and may kneel or prostrate before it.

In most Orthodox churches the Altar, or sanctuary, is separated from the main body of the church by a solid screen (known as the iconostasis), pierced by three doors, the one in the centre being known as the Holy door. The screen is decorated with icons, of which the principal ones are those on either side of the Holy Door of Christ and the Mother of God.

Sir John Tavener ©

These are normally flanked by icons of St John the Baptist and of the Saint, or Feast, to which the church is dedicated. In Russian churches the iconostasis normally forms a solid wall decorated with four or five rows of icons according to an elaborate traditional arrangement.

The composer Sir John Tavener is one of Britain's most famous followers of Orthodox Christianity and calls icons "the most sacred, the most transcendent art that exists". In this clip he talks about his interpretation of these works of art.

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Calendar and Christmas

The Orthodox calendar

After World War I various Orthodox Churches, beginning with the Patriarchate of Constantinople, began to abandon the Julian calendar or Old Calendar, and adopt a form of the Gregorian calendar or New Calendar. The Julian calendar is, at the present time, thirteen days behind the Gregorian Calendar.

Today, many Orthodox Churches (with the exception of Jerusalem, Russia, Serbia, and Mount Athos) use the New, Gregorian Calendar for fixed feasts and holy days but the Julian calendar for Easter and movable feasts. In this way all the Orthodox celebrate Easter together.

The Orthodox Church calendar begins on September 1st and ends on August 31st. Each day is sacred: each is a saint's day, so at least one saint is venerated daily.

Orthodox Christmas

Candles ©

Christmas is celebrated by Orthodox Christians in Central and Eastern Europe and throughout the world on the 7th of January in the Gregorian Calendar - 13 days after other Christians.

In the East, Christmas is preceded by a 40 day fast beginning on November 15th. This is a time of reflection, self-restraint and inner healing in the sacrament of confession.

Usually, on Christmas Eve, observant Orthodox Christians fast till late evening, until the first star appears. When the star is seen, people lay the table ready for the Christmas supper.

On Christmas Day people take part in divine liturgy, after which many walk in procession to seas, rivers and lakes. Everyone gathers around in the snow for outdoor ceremonies to bless the water. Sometimes rivers are frozen, so people make holes in the ice to bless the water. Some take water home to bless their houses. Then a great feast is held indoors where everyone joins in to eat, drink and enjoy themselves.

A Orthodox Russian custom is to serve Christmas cakes and to sing songs. The tradition is mixed with other pagan traditions of ancient Russia such that people may visit their neighbours in disguises, dance, sing and ask for presents, similar to trick-or-treating.

There are similarities, as well as differences, between the Eastern and Western celebration of Christmas. The Eastern Christmas has a very strong family and social appeal just as it does in the West. It brings people of all generations together to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

Unlike the West, where Christmas ranks supreme, in the East it is Easter, centred on the cross and the resurrection of Christ, which is the supreme festival of the year. Eastern Orthodox Christmas also lacks the commercial side that is typical of the West.

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