Prof. CONSTANTINE SCOUTERIS: THE ORTHODOX CHURCH
The Orthodox Church
Professor Constantine Scouteris
Some preliminary clarifications
"Orthodoxy" means "right belief" or "right opinion" as opposed to heresy, i.e. to the "wrong" or "false belief". The term "Orthodoxy" combines the adjective "orthos", which signifies "right", "true" or "correct", and the noun "doxa" which is derived from the verb "doxazo", which means to "hold an opinion", or "to believe". Thus, Orthodoxy indicates "correct doctrine". An early Greek Father, Anastasius the Sinaite, describes Orthodoxy as the true conception about God, beings and Creation.1 The term "Orthodoxy" also indicates right glorification, since the verb "doxazo" also means "to glorify"; in this sense the term "Orthodoxy", more accurately, means right glorification encompassing both sound doctrine and the right way of expressing it.2
Within the Christian context and understanding of the term, "Orthodoxy" is related to Eastern Christendom. The term is used especially to indicate those Churches which are in communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and share a common faith and ecclesial life. These Churches constitute one family or one body and are even from ancient times described as "the one holy, orthodox, catholic and apostolic Church".
When describing Orthodoxy as a family of Churches, we are not implying that Orthodoxy forms a static or a monolithic bloc, an inflexible so to speak body, but rather a global and living Christian fellowship, embracing people from all the continents and from different historical and cultural environments.3
The Orthodox Faith
The Orthodox Church is founded on the mystery of God's Word. As the Father has sent me, I also send you (John 20: 21). It is a fundamental conviction of the Orthodox believer that the Church has been sent into the world to live and bear witness to the loving vocation, with which God enfolds humankind from the beginning of its existence, through the presence within herself of God's Word,. "For God so loved the word that he gave his only begotten Son... God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved" (John 3: 16-17).
According to the Orthodox point of view, the vocation and responsibility of the Church is to hold to the truths, which are revealed by the historical appearance of Jesus Christ, and preserve them, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as a living tradition within the ecclesial body. The Church is described in the Bible as the pillar and ground of the truth (I Tim. 3: 15). This means that every perfect gift and every truth revealed in Christ is kept intact in the Church and transmitted as a dynamic tradition and a life giving reality in every historic now» The very being of the Church is understood as Orthodox communion.
The issue of tradition is of capital importance for the understanding of the faith, work and life of the Orthodox Church. Tradition is not simply the transmission of an abstract teaching, but rather the maintenance of the eternal truth of the Gospel. Tradition is lived in time and history. This means that the Church has received the faith of the Apostles, maintains it and lives this faith as a divine heritage and dynamic process. Thus, the Orthodox Faith, once delivered to the Apostles and the Saints, is preserved as a living inheritance in specific situations; it has, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, a historic continuity and actuality.
Orthodox the Church of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. The life of the Orthodox Church is marked by the teaching of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. These Councils were formal gatherings of the bishops of the whole Church in order to regulate doctrinal issues and define the Orthodox teaching upon the basic themes of the Christian faith, mainly the Trinity and the Incarnatlon.4 For the Orthodox, the content of the Christian faith is expressed in the definitions and the regulation of the Ecumenical Councils. The work of the Ecumenical Councils was not abstract speculation. When the bishops of the Councils drew up definitions their intention was to protect the people of God and exclude false teachings and deviations leading to error and heresy, and consequently making salvation impossible. It is for precisely this reason that the definitions of the Ecumenical Councils are held to possess the highest authority which the Orthodox Church can exercise. Thus, with a deep consciousness of the perfect continuity with the preaching of the Apostles, the Orthodox Church acknowledges the following as Ecumenical Councils:
* The Ist Ecumenical Council, held in Nicaea in 325, which formulated the First Part of the Creed defining the divinity of Christ, the Son of God
* The 2nd Ecumenical Council, held in Constantinople in 381, which formulated the Second Part of the Creed defining the divinity of the Holy Spirit.
* The 3rd Ecumenical Council, held in Ephesus in 431, which defined Christ as the Incarnate Word of God and His Mother as Theotokos.
* The 4th Ecumenical Council, held in Chalcedon in 451, which defined Christ as perfect God and perfect Man in one Person. It stressed that the two natures were united in the hypostasis of the Word "without confusion, change, division or separation»
* The 5th Ecumenical Council, held in Constantinople in 553, which reconfirmed the doctrines concerning the Holy Trinity and the Person of Christ.
* The 6th Ecumenical Council held in Constantinople in 681, which affirmed the true humanity of Jesus Christ, by clarifying that Christ has two natures and consequently two wills and actions, the divine and the human.
* The 7th Ecumenical Council, held in Nicaea in 787, which affirmed that Holy Icons are authentic expression of the Orthodox faith.
The Orthodox Christian considers that God's glory is revealed to hurnan kind as knowledge about the Holy Trinity. God is one in essence (nature) and Triune in persons. In our ecclesial prayer and life we the Orthodox, confess and glorify God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, without confusing the persons or dividing the nature of God All Orthodox theology, all ecclesiology and Christian ethos is based on and oriented towards this triune mystery. The blessed Trinity is the solid basis for every Theological investigation, for all spiritual experience and life, for all piety and ecclesial action.
The creation of the entire cosmos is the work in time of the Holy Trinity. The world is never considered as self-created; its existence is the product of the love, the wisdom and the creative power of the All-Holy Trinity.
In the Eastern Orthodox tradition the contemplation of the mystery of the Holy Trinity take place in an attitude, spirit and language of glorification and thanksgiving. This spiritual atmosphere is clearly expressed in the liturgical life of the Orthodox Church. A characteristic example is the ancient hymn which is still used today, during the feast of Pentecost: "Come, you people, worship the Godhead in three persons, the Father in the Son with the Holy Spirit. For the Father from all eternity begets a co-eternal Son, reigning with Him and the Holy Spirit is in the Father, glorified with the Son - one only power, one only substance, one only Godhead; Him do we worship, repeating together: Holy God, who created all things through the Son with the cooperation of the Holy Spirit; holy Strong One, through whom we have known the Father and through whom the Holy Spirit came into the world; holy Deathless One, Spirit of Consolation, who proceeds from the Father and rests in the Son: Holy Trinity, glory to Thee»5.
In the Orthodox Church we confess that Jesus Christ is truly God, the only-begotten Son of the Father; not created of another essence but begotten of the very essence of the Father before all ages. He is co-essential (consubstantial) with the Father, according to His divinity. Through His incarnation, He also became truly man, like us in every respect with the exception of sin. Thus, He is of the same essence with us all, according to His humanity. The two natures of Christ remain distinct, but nevertheless being united in the one Person of Christ, without being transformed into one another, they interpenetrate one another.
The mystery of the two natures in the one Person of Christ, the incarnate Word of God, constitutes the foundation and the pledge for the restoration and the salvation of human beings. Through Christ the human person has immense potentiality: he-she has the possibility to overcome his-her individuality and isolation and be in communion with God The Fathers of the Church constantly and repeatedly declare that, Christ became what we are so that we might become what He is.
The Holy Spirit the Church and deification
In the theology of the Eastern Orthodox Church, the divinity which is common to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is communicated by the Holy Spirit to human beings within the Church, making them partakers of divine life6 This does not mean that humans partake of God's essence, which is absolutely unapproachable for created beings, but rather that they partake of His energies. Thus, the deification of the human person is based on the fact that the Holy Spirit interpenetrates and influences his or her entire being. This means that participation in the divine life of the Holy Trinity is realized and perfected through the presence and the operation of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, is distinct from the Father and the Son, but nevertheless He is in every respect perfect God, coessential, coequal and coeternal with the Father and the Son. Gift of the Father, source of life and freedom, the Holy Spirit is called "the Spirit of God" "the Spirit of Christ" "the Mind of Christ" "the Spirit of the Lord" and Lord Himself; He is also called Spirit of Truth, of Wisdom, of Adoption, of Liberty; The Holy Spirit is the "Heavenly King" the "Comforter", "Treasury of goodness and Giver of Life".
The Holy Spirit grants the divine gifts to human persons: "the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord" (Is. II: 2). The Holy Spirit, as the source of the uncreated and infinite divine gifts, was sent into the Church and the world in order to communicate divine grace to humans. This is indeed what we call in the Orthodox tradition deification or "divinization" ("theosis"). Through the transforming light of the Holy Spirit the human person becomes a vehicle and receptacle of divinity. The human being transcends his corporeal limitations, or rather enriches his earthly life with heavenly gifts7 for, as St. Gregory the Theologian says: He is the source of light and life, and he makes a temple of me, he deifies me, he perfects me, he is before baptism and is sought after baptism. Whatever God does, it is the Spirit who does it. He multiplies himself in tongues of fire and adds gift to gift"7.
For Orthodox theology the Church, founded by Jesus Christ for the salvation of human beings, is filled by the Holy Spirit. The Church is the fullness of Him who fills all in all (Eph. I: 23). The Church is described by Paul as fullness in the sense that the Spirit dwells within her body and guides her to fulfill her mission. St. Irenaeus explicitly declares that "where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church and every kind of grace8. Thus, the Church, through the uninterrupted presence of the Holy Spirit, becomes a holy institution. In the Creed of Nicaea-Constantinople the Church is described as: "One in so far as Jesus Christ is the only Lord who founded not many churches but one Church. "Holy because her Head, Christ, is the incarnation of holiness and because she is guided by the Holy Spirit. "Catholic» because she transcends every local and cultural limitation. "Apostolic" since she was built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner-stone» (Eph. 2:20).
The ecclesial life is a profoundly spiritual and mystical way. It is an attitude which is based on and expresses the doctrinal tradition of Orthodoxy; it is a way of being closely related with what is known as sacramental life. The Orthodox recognize the Sacraments of Baptism, Chrism or Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Confession of sins, Ordination to Priesthood, Marriage and Holy Unction as channels leading to a dynamic rather than a static Christian life.
More precisely, the mystical and at the same time communal character and attitude of Orthodoxy is expressed in the eucharistic gathering. In this gathering, around the table of the Lord, all division and individuality is abolished and all are united with the bishop, the living image of Christ, who offers the bread and wine in all and for all The communion by all believers of the bread and wine, the body and the blood of Christi is the realization of the unity both with Christ and with all the members of the Church. Thus, through the Eucharistic communion our human nature is elevated to the divine level, being united with the divine in the Person of the incarnate Word of God.
It is within the context of eucharistic theology that one can understand the teaching of the Orthodox Church concerning death and the life to come. The Eucharist is a foretaste of the perfect co-celestial communion, which will be a communion penetrated by the uncreated divine light. The resurrected bodies of the friends of God will be glorious, like the glorified body of Christ which the disciples beheld on the day of His Transfiguration.
Orthodoxy, the Cosmos and Ecology
From another perspective, Eucharistic theology reveals that, according to the Orthodox approach, there is a deep and indissoluble bond between the Church and the created world. In fact, in the Eucharist elements of the created world, the bread and the wine, are taken and transformed. They are offered to God by the worshipping community: "We offer to Thee Thine own from Thine own". Thus, the created word is related to God through this eucharistic action of offering and transformation. This means that the human being is not an owner of creation, but a bond or link between it and the Creator.
Orthodoxy refuses to ascribe to the created universe a self determinate reality or a natural sufficiency. The created universe does not have ontological foundation in itself, but is a gift of God; through the creative word of God a passage from non-being into being is realized The fact that the created world has the free will and the creative wisdom of God as the unique foundation of its existence is of paramount importance for an understanding of Nature and of the cosmos in general. The point is that the created world has a spiritual significance and orientation. Being created by God "ex nihilo the natural world is the manifestation of divine wisdom and harmony. This means that, when trying to understand and examine the inner reason of created beings, we finally face divine knowledge and the wisdom of God, the causal principle of the harmonious existence of created beings.
Bearing in mind this brief theological approach, we easily come to the conclusion that ecological evil is the consequence of a mentality which considers creation as desacralized material. The ecological crisis is connected with the loss of the sense of the divine in Nature. Talking of "the divine in Nature" we do not intend to support the pagan approach that the natural world is permeated by divine presence, but rather to stress that Nature, created by God out of love, is associated with God. This means that it has been created by God and also that the human being exists as the organic link between God and creation. In the final analysis the ecological problem is the consequence of the loss of what is described as spiritual equilibrium» between man and Nature9. Thus, the world is considered as something which can be used unconditionally, dominated, manipulated and consumed for our economic and scientific interests. In other words desanctified Nature is the result of the dehumanized human being.
The Orthodox Church is very sensitive towards such an egotistic attitude and utilitarian understanding of Nature. It is for precisely this reason that the spiritual center of the Orthodox Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, decided to dedicate the 1st of September each year as the Feast Day of Creation. On this occasion the Ecumenical Patriarchate calls all Orthodox Churches to hold worship services and distributes Patriarchal messages stressing the responsibility of all Christian world for the protection of the creation. On the other hand the annual Symposium, concerning environmental issues, is also recognized as a constructive project encouraging and enabling people to take responsibilities and initiatives and to care for creation and the environment.
The Orthodox Communion
Among the Orthodox there is a strong conviction that the Orthodox communion has an unbroken, direct descent from the apostolic Church. The unity of Orthodoxy is expressed, first by the fidelity to the faith of the apostles and to the heritage of the Early Church, and secondly, equally important, by the visible unity and fellowship of all the venerable Orthodox Churches.
Structurally, the Eastern Orthodox Church is composed; firstly, from the four out of the five ancient Patriarchates which, together with Rome, formed the system of "Pentarchy and secondly by a number of other autocephalous Churches, which elect their own primate, without reference to another autocephalous Church, and which are responsible for the government of their Church, through their own Synod. Orthodoxy also includes autonomous or semi-autonomous Churches. These particular Churches organize their own internal life, but they have reference to and are under the aegis of one of the autocephalous Churches. Thus, the Orthodox Church is a family of self-governing Churches, which are held together by their unity in faith, their communion in the sacramental life and their spiritual relationship with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.
The Four Ancient Patriarchates
(The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, The Patriarchate of Alexandria, The Patriarchate of Antioch and the Patriarchate of Jerusalem).
Like Rome, these Churches are called Apostolic Seats, because they have apostolic origin, founded in the 1st century. The ancient system of Pentarchy, whereby the five apostolic seats were held in particular honor and order of seniority was established among them (Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem), came at a decisive moment in 1054, when the see of Rome was separated from the other four Apostolic Churches. The year 1054 is commonly considered as the official date of the schism between East and West. But nevertheless, the process leading to this separation was long and complicated. Christian East and West developed their own understanding about the Church and ministry. To a great extent they experienced a different way of life and theology. The estrangement between East and West was broadened by Western scholastic theological development and the doctrine of the Papal authority and infallibility. However, in recent times the atmosphere has changed considerably, due to the ecumenical movement and the theological dialogue between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches.
Since the separation from the Christian West, all the Orthodox Churches continued their life, recognizing the seniority of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, which holds a particular primacy of honor in the Orthodox Church.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople
The Ecumenical Patriarchate is the ecclesiastical center of the Orthodox world. According to the order of the ancient system of "pentarchy which was established by the Second Ecumenical Council (Constantinople, 381), the see of Constantinople was second to Rome. Thus, following the great separation, dividing Rome and the Eastern Patriarchates (1054), the Patriarch of Constantinople became first in the ecclesiastical order of the Orthodox Churches, holding a primacy of honor in the hierarchy of the Orthodox Churches. The seniority and primacy of honor (First among equals) entails the right of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to call and preside at the Pan-Orthodox Conferences, and also to coordinate Orthodox activities and hear appeals (under certain conditions) from all parts of the Orthodox world. Evidently, this ecclesiastical primacy does not impair the equality of all Orthodox bishops and their divine right to preside in their local Church, to perform the sacraments and to teach the people of God, as those divinely appointed for this mission.
The apostolic origin of the Church of Constantinople is testified in the Orthodox tradition. Byzantium is believed to have been founded by the Apostle Andrew, the brother of Peter. When Constantinople was founded upon Byzantium and became the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, the status of the Bishop of Constantinople was elevated through a series of ecclesiastical decisions. Thus, by the 3rd canon of the Second Ecumenical Council (Constantinople, 381) the Bishop of Constantinople was placed second in the ecclesiastical order. The Bishop of Constantinople shall have the prerogatives of honor after the bishop of Rome, because Constantinople is New Rome The 28th canon of Chalcedon (451) reconfirmed the 3rd canon of the Council of Constantinople, attributing again to New Rome the place of honor next to Old Rome. Later, in the year 587, a Synod held in Constantinople officially ascribed to Patriarch John the VI the title "Ecumenical" due to the fact that Constantinople was the center of the "ecumenical empire".
Over the years the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople was occupied by many outstanding Patriarchs. Among them one could mention St. Gregory the Theologian (329-389), St. John Chrysostom (347-407), Photius the Great (810895), and others.
During its long history the Ecumenical Throne developed remarkable missionary work. This missionary work covers a long period7 from the conversion of the Slaves, Czechs, Moravians and Poles by St. Cyril and Methodius (9th century), who devised the Cyrillic alphabet and script, to South Korea and the Far East in our own century.
In our time, the Ecumenical Patriarchate continues its mission serving the unity of the Orthodox world Thus, the primacy of honor» is in practice primacy of service (diakonia) and never a primacy of authority over the other Orthodox Churches. The service and the spiritual and ecclesiastical leadership of the Ecumenical Patriarchate is shown today in many diverse activities. In Pan-Orthodox Conferences, in the various theological dialogues, in theological education, in the Ecumenical movement, and above all in its pastoral care for Orthodox Christians of different national origin dispersed worldwide. Today the Ecumenical Patriarchate has jurisdiction in Europe, North and South America, Asia, Australia and New Zealand.
The Patriarchate of Alexandria
The Alexandrian Church was founded by St. Mark the Evangelist, in the year 64, and played a very considerable role in the life of the early Church. Its theological contribution was very important in the defense of Orthodoxy, especially during the Ecumenical Councils of Nicaea (325) and Ephesus (431). Alexandrian theology, very much influenced by Platonic tradition, was developed by the Apologists, Clement Alexandrinus, Origen, and later by St. Athanasius and St. Cyril of Alexandria. In their exegetical work the theologians of Alexandria were inclining towards mystical and alegorical exposition.
At the time of Reformation the Patriarchate of Alexandria was served by the outstanding Patriarchs Meletios I Pegas, Cyril Loukaris and Metrophanis Kritopoulos, who wrote an important and well known Confession of Faith» (1625).
In our century the Patriarchate of Alexandria has developed important missionary activity in several African countries, where it has organized schools, hospitals and a Theological Seminary in Nairobi (Kenya). The Alexandrian Patriarchate includes Greeks, Africans and Arab Christians amongst its flock. One of the main concerns of the Church of Alexandria today is to present the Christian Gospel in a way that is relevant to African cultural pluralism, at the same time maintaining its integrity.
The Patriarchate of Antioch
It was in the ancient city of Antioch that "the disciples were first call Christians (Acts 11: 26). The theological contribution of Antioch to the life of the Church of the first Christian centuries is great without doubt. This can be seen from the times of St. Ignatius (35-107), bishop and martyr, who emphasized the episcopal shape of the post apostolic Church in his epistles, up to St. John of Damascus who summarized patristic theology in his treaties. The Antiochean theology of the early Church was to a great extent opposed to Alexandrian theology. Its direction was historical and Aristotelian, while Alexandria s was mystical and Platonic. In their exegesis the theologians of Antioch followed the literal and historical method.
The Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch now resides in Damascus and his current jurisdiction covers Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran. In the 2Oth century a considerable arabic speaking diaspora appeared in North and South America, Europe and Australia The Patriarchate of Antioch has a long experience of coexistence with the islamic world.
The Patriarchate of Jerusalem
After the dispersion of the twelve disciples of Christ, St. James the Lord's brother (Gal. I: 19) presided over the local Church of Jerusalem. The see of Jerusalem became important after the visit of St. Helena, the mother of emperor Constantine, when the fashion for venerating the holy places were the Lord lived and suffered became popular. Thus, the first Church dedicated to the Resurrection of Christ was built around 335. During the first centuries of Christianity the see of Jerusalem was under the metropolitan see of Caesarea It was at the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451) that the diocese was elevated to patriarchal dignity. One of the greatest theologians of the Church of Jerusalem was St. Cyril of Jerusalem, whose Mystagogical Cathecheses are very famous.
The Patriarchate of Jerusalem suffered through several occupations and from proselytism. For centuries its main task was, and still is, the protection of the churches of the Holy Land: the Holy Sepulchre, Calvary, the Nativity, the Ascension, the Transfiguration, and others. The rights of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem in the holy places are recognized by international treatise. Today, the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate covers Israel, Palestine and Jordan.
Orthodox Autocephalous, Autonomous and Semi-autonomus Churches
In addition to the four ancient Patriarchates, the Orthodox family includes a number of autocephalous, autonomous and semi-autonomous Churches. These Churches are, according to their order of rank:
The Orthodox Church of Russia
The Orthodox Church of Russia is the largest of all the Orthodox Churches. Christianity was established in Russia in 988, when the Emperor Vladimir was baptised and recognized it as the official religion in his dominion. The Russian Church was proclaimed autocephalous in 1448. In the year 1589 the elevation of the Church of Russia to the rank of a Patriarchate was decided by the Great Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, presided by the Ecumenical Patriarch Jeremias II.
The Orthodox Church of Serbia
The patron of the Serbian Orthodox Church is St. Sabas, who, after he founded a strong Serbian dynasty, went to Mount Athos where he became monk and founded, together with his father, the Serbian Monastery of Hilandar. In 1219 he was consecrated Archbishop of the Serbian Church by the Patriarch of Constantinople. In the year 1831 an inner autonomy was granted by the Ecumenical Patriarchate under its supervision. In 1879 the Church of Serbia was proclaimed autocephalous and in 1920 was recognized as a Patriarchate.
The Orthodox Church of Rumania
Roman Dacia, which covered the present land of Rumania, received Christianity by the 4th century, probably through soldiers. For a long period the Church of Rumania was under the spiritual care of the Church of Constantinople. In 1885 the Rumanian Orthodox Church was proclaimed autocephalous, by the Ecumenical Patriarch Joacheim IV, and a Holy Synod constituted. In 1925 the elevation of the Rumanian Church to the rank of Patriarchate was decided by the Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
The Orthodox Church of Bulgaria
The Bulgarian Church is the first-born daughter of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Christianity was preached in Bulgaria even by the 7th century and this evangelisation was completed in the 9th century, when St. Photius was Patriarch of Constantinople. The Bulgarian Church received its autocephaly in 1945. On the 27th of July 1961 the Church of Bulgaria was elevated to the rank of Patriarchate.
The Orthodox Church of Georgia
The Church of Georgia was founded by the Apostle Andrew, but the full acceptance of the Christian Gospel was completed in the 4th century by St. Nina the illuminator of Georgia In the 5th century the Church of Georgia was recognized as an autocephalous Church by the Patriarchate of Antioch, since the Church of Georgia was included at that time in the Antiochean jurisdiction. In the year IBII the Church of Georgia lost its autocephaly through a non-canonical decision of the Russian Emperor. The Church of Georgia was again recognized as an independent Church on the 3rd of March 1990, by a Patriarchal and Synodical decision of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The Church of Georgia is presided by the Catholicos Patriarch of all Georgia.
The Orthodox Church of Cyprus
Cyprus was evangelised by St. Paul and St. Barnabas (Acts 13). The Church of Cyprus has been autocephalous since the Third Ecumenical Council (431). Many Cypriot saints are mentioned in the Byzantine Synaxaria (Lives of the Saints); this fact proves that a living ecclesiastical presence was in Cyprus even from early Christian times. At the 1st Ecumenical Council of Nicaea (325) Cyprus was represented by three Cypriot bishops; one of them was St. Spyridon of Trimithous. Today the Church of Cyprus is presided by an Archbishop and governed by the Holy Synod of the five dioceses.
The Orthodox Church of Greece
Christianity was preached in Greece by St. Paul (Acts 17: 15-16.I Thes. 3: I), whose main center was Corinth. Organized ecclesiastical life was already present in Greece from the 1st century and many martyrs and saints are mentioned in the Byzantine Synaxaria. From the beginning of the eighth century Greece was under the jurisdiction and the spiritual protection of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. When the establishment of the modern Greek State took place, the Church of Greece was proclaimed autocephalous, in the year 1833. The autocephaly was re-declared by the Ecumenical Patriarchate on the 29th of June of 1850, by a Patriarchal and Synodical Tomos. The Church is governed by the Holy Synod of the Bishops of the Church of Greece and presided, for historical reasons, not by a Patriarch but by the Archbishop of Athens. The Church's jurisdiction reaches over the greater part of Greece.
The Orthodox Church of Poland
The Polish Church is presided by the Metropolitan of Warsaw and all Poland and is composed of six dioceses. It has 250 parishes and about 300 priests. The Orthodox Church of Poland was recognized as autocephalous in 1924.
The Orthodox Church of Albania
Presided by the Archbishop of Tirana and of all Albania, the Church of Albania was recognized as autocephalous in 1937, by a Patriarchal and Synodical Tomos of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, when Benjamin I was Patriarch. The Church was suppressed for many decades by the Communist regime and was restored by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1991.
Autonomous and Semi-autonomous Churches
As autonomous Churches we mention: the Church of Czechia and Slovakia, founded by the brothers and Saints Cyril and Methodius and recognized as autonomous in 1923; and the Church of Finland which was founded as an autonomous Church in 1923, by a Patriarchal and Synodical Tomos. The Church of Crete is semi-autonomous, and canonically is dependant upon the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and under its spiritual care. Finally, we mention the exceptional case of the autonomous Orthodox Church of Sinai. Sinai has been a monastic community since the VIth century, when it was founded by Emperor Justinian. Its abbot is Archbishop, ordained by the Patriarch of Jerusalem.
According to Orthodox Ecclesiology all Orthodox Churches, although having internal autonomy, are united in their fidelity to the apostolic faith as expressed in the doctrinal and canonical decisions of the Seven Ecumenical Councils and in the teaching of the Fathers of the Church. They are also united in their common liturgical life. All Orthodox Churches celebrate the same divine Liturgy. Every local Church in the language of her people. The Liturgy, whose center is the Eucharistic communion, has a mystagogical character. It is an introduction into the divine Mysteries. Indeed, the Liturgy is the center of Orthodox theology and spirituality. All Orthodox Churches are also united in the sense that all form one unbroken reality, a body and a fellowship of local Churches in one conciliar communion of faith and sacraments. The conciliar nature of the Orthodox Church is expressed in every local eucharistic gathering, but equally in the conciliar relations among the local Churches. Thus, the unity of the Orthodox world is lived and expressed in the conciliar communion of all the local Churches faithful to the same faith. The conciliar or synodical fellowship of the Orthodox Church is a testimony to the unity of Orthodoxy which is not static, but rather a living body embracing people from different cultural backgrounds and situations and making them one in Christ.
1. Hodegus, II, PG 89, 76D-77A.
2. C. Scouteris, Doxology, the Language of Orthodoxy, The Greek Orthodox TheologicaI Review, 38 (l993), p. 155
3. Ion Bria The Sense of the Ecumenical Tradition, Geneva 1991, p. 5
4. T. Ware, The Orthodox Church, Harmondsworth, Middlessex, 1969 (repr.), p. 28ff.
5. The above English version is by John Keble. Quoted by M. J. Le Guillou The Tradition of Eastern Orthodoxy (transl. by D. Attwater), London 1962, p.32.
6. V. Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (Engl. Transl.), London 1957, p. 162.
7. "Ubi enim Ecclesia ibi et Spiritus Dei: et ubi Spiritus Dei, illic Ecclesia et omnis gratia". On the Holy Spirit. PG 36, 168A.
8. Contra Haereses, III, 24. PG 7, 966C.
9. P. Sherrard, The Rape of Man and Nature. An Enquiry into the Origins and Consequences of Modern Science, Ipswich, Suffolk 1987, pp. 90-91.