What Religion is Orthodox Christianity

What is Orthodox Christianity?

Orthodox Christianity, one of the three major branches of Christianity, along with Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, traces its roots back to the earliest days of the Christian Church. With an estimated 260 million adherents worldwide, it is the second-largest Christian communion after the Catholic Church.

A Brief History

The term “Orthodox” comes from the Greek words “orthos” (meaning “right” or “true”) and “doxa” (meaning “glory” or “worship”). Orthodox Christians believe that their church has preserved the true, original teachings of Christ and the apostles, handed down through an unbroken succession of bishops.

The roots of Orthodox Christianity can be traced back to the first centuries of the Christian era, when the Church was still a unified body. However, over time, theological disputes and cultural differences led to the Great Schism of 1054, which split Christianity into two main branches: the Orthodox Church in the East and the Roman Catholic Church in the West.

Today, the Orthodox Church is composed of several autocephalous (self-governing) and autonomous churches, each with its own hierarchy and leadership, but united in their shared faith and traditions.

Core Beliefs and Practices

The Holy Trinity

Like other Christian denominations, Orthodox Christians believe in the doctrine of the Holy Trinity: one God in three distinct persons – the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit. This is a fundamental tenet of their faith and is reflected in their worship and theology.

The Incarnation and Redemption

Orthodox Christians believe that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, became fully human while remaining fully divine (the Incarnation). Through his crucifixion and resurrection, he redeemed humanity from sin and death, opening the way for eternal life.

The Scriptures and Tradition

Orthodox Christianity holds the Holy Scriptures (the Bible) and the Sacred Tradition of the Church in equal esteem. Tradition includes the writings of the Church Fathers, the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils, and the liturgical practices and customs passed down through the centuries.

The Seven Sacraments

Orthodox Christians observe seven sacraments or “holy mysteries”:

  1. Baptism
  2. Chrismation (Confirmation)
  3. Holy Eucharist (Communion)
  4. Confession (Reconciliation)
  5. Marriage
  6. Holy Orders (Ordination)
  7. Unction (Anointing of the Sick)

These sacraments are seen as channels of God’s grace and are integral to the spiritual life of the faithful.

The Divine Liturgy

The Divine Liturgy, also known as the Eucharistic Liturgy or the Mass, is the central act of worship in the Orthodox Church. It is a solemn celebration of the Eucharist, during which the faithful partake of the consecrated bread and wine, believed to be the real presence of Christ’s body and blood.

Icons and Veneration

Icons, religious images depicting Christ, the Virgin Mary, saints, and biblical scenes, play a significant role in Orthodox worship and spirituality. They are not idols but are seen as “windows to heaven,” helping the faithful focus their devotion and serving as reminders of the sacred.

The Theotokos and the Saints

Orthodox Christians hold the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos (Greek for “God-bearer” or “Mother of God”), in high esteem, honoring her as the most blessed among women and the Mother of the Incarnate Son of God. They also venerate and seek the intercession of saints, those who have attained a high degree of holiness and closeness to God.

Orthodox Christianity Around the World

While Orthodox Christianity has its roots in the Eastern Mediterranean and Eastern Europe, it has spread to various parts of the globe through missionary work and immigration.

Eastern Orthodox Churches

The largest and most influential Orthodox churches include:

  • The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul)
  • The Russian Orthodox Church
  • The Serbian Orthodox Church
  • The Romanian Orthodox Church
  • The Bulgarian Orthodox Church
  • The Georgian Orthodox Church

These churches are in full communion with each other and share the same faith and traditions, while maintaining their own hierarchies and cultural expressions.

Oriental Orthodox Churches

In addition to the Eastern Orthodox churches, there are also several Oriental Orthodox churches, which split from the larger Orthodox communion after the Council of Chalcedon in 451 CE. These include:

  • The Coptic Orthodox Church (based in Egypt)
  • The Armenian Apostolic Church
  • The Syriac Orthodox Church
  • The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church

While sharing many beliefs and practices with Eastern Orthodoxy, the Oriental Orthodox churches have their own distinct traditions and hierarchies.

Challenges and Contemporary Issues

Like other Christian denominations, Orthodox Christianity faces various challenges and contemporary issues in the modern world.

Unity and Jurisdictional Disputes

While united in faith, the autocephalous and autonomous Orthodox churches sometimes face jurisdictional disputes and disagreements over church governance and authority. Efforts toward greater unity and cooperation among Orthodox churches are ongoing.

Secularism and Modernization

In many parts of the world, Orthodox Christians grapple with the challenges of secularism, materialism, and the erosion of traditional values. The church seeks to remain faithful to its traditions while adapting to the realities of modern society.

Ecumenical Relations

Orthodox Christians have engaged in dialogue and ecumenical efforts with other Christian denominations, seeking to foster greater understanding and cooperation while upholding their distinct theological and liturgical traditions.

Social and Ethical Issues

Like other faith communities, Orthodox Christianity addresses various social and ethical issues, such as bioethics, gender equality, environmental concerns, and human rights. While rooted in tradition, the church must also respond to the moral and ethical challenges of the modern world.


Orthodox Christianity is a rich and ancient tradition that has profoundly influenced the spiritual and cultural landscape of many regions around the world. With its emphasis on preserving the true teachings of Christ and the apostles, its vibrant liturgical life, and its deep reverence for tradition, it continues to inspire and guide millions of believers today.

While facing challenges in the modern world, Orthodox Christianity remains a vital and dynamic expression of the Christian faith, offering a unique perspective on the pursuit of holiness, the veneration of saints, and the spiritual journey toward union with God.


Q1: What is the difference between Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches?

The Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches share many beliefs and practices but have been in schism since the Council of Chalcedon in 451 CE, when they disagreed over the nature of Christ. The Eastern Orthodox churches accepted the council’s decisions, while the Oriental Orthodox churches rejected them, leading to their separation.

Q2: Do Orthodox Christians believe in the same Bible as other Christians?

Yes, Orthodox Christians generally use the same Old and New Testaments as other Christian denominations, although they may use different translations or include additional books in their biblical canon (such as the Deuterocanonical books or the Septuagint).

Q3: What is the role of the Patriarch in Orthodox Christianity?

The Patriarch is the highest-ranking bishop and spiritual leader of an autocephalous (self-governing) Orthodox church. The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople is considered the “first among equals” and holds a symbolic primacy of honor, but does not have universal authority over all Orthodox churches.

Q4: Can Orthodox Christians receive communion in other Christian churches?

Orthodox Christians generally do not receive communion in non-Orthodox churches, as they believe that the Eucharist (Holy Communion) is a sacrament that can only be validly celebrated within the Orthodox Church. However, some exceptions may be made in certain circumstances.

Q5: What is the significance of icons in Orthodox Christianity?

Icons play a significant role in Orthodox worship and spirituality. They are not idols but are considered “windows to heaven,” helping the faithful focus their devotion and serving as reminders of the sacred. Icons depict Christ, the Virgin Mary, saints, and biblical scenes, and are treated with great reverence.


  1. Ware, K. (1993). The Orthodox Church. Penguin Books.
  2. McGuckin, J. A. (2010). The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to Its History, Doctrine, and Spiritual Culture. Wiley-Blackwell.
  3. Behr-Sigel, E. (1992). The Place of the Heart: An Introduction to Orthodox Spirituality. Oakwood Publications.

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