Sunday, November 13, 2011

Catholicism and the Eastern Orthodox Church

Of the world's 7 billion people one out of three are Christians, and one out of ten Christians are Orthodox Christians, about 250 million. In Korea there are less than 3000 Orthodox Christians so their way of life is not well-known. The Peace Weekly, in its series on Catholicism and other religions in Korea, profiles Christian Orthodoxy this week. Though their number is small in Korea, Orthodoxy is an  important part of Church history.

With the travels of St. Paul, the Gospel spread to four large areas around the Mediterranean Sea: Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Rome, and later Constantinople, when the Holy Roman Empire moved its capital there from Rome. These became the 5 Patriarchates.

In 381, this was the accepted make up of the Church, but because of the different languages used in the liturgy, the disagreements concerning the use of images, and the political conflicts, the divisions between the East and West became more pronounced, and in 1053 Rome and Constantinople excommunicated each other, which led to the formal split.

Constantinople soon began to evangelize the Slav population: Bulgaria in 864; the Russian Kiev in 988; Serbia in 1220; but when Constantinople in 1453  fell to Islam, Russian Orthodoxy became independent of  Constantinople and became the third 'Rome'. In Orthodoxy, the Patriarch of Constantinople has the highest dignity but all patriarchs are considered equal.  Orthodoxy in Korea is part of Greek Orthodoxy and is affiliated with the province in New Zealand.

Orthodoxy differs from Catholicism in several main areas: There are 3 more books in the Old Testament than in the Catholic Old Testament. They do not use the word Trinity but the trinitarian meaning is accepted. They do not teach the existence of purgatory but acknowledge the possibility. They make the sign of the cross somewhat differently. At baptism they have a threefold immersion and the priest who gives baptism immediately gives Confirmation and the Eucharist, under both forms, even to babies. They do not use the confessional for the sacrament of Penance, and they follow the Julian calendar, which makes their dates for Easter and Christmas different. They do not use statues but use icons on flat surfaces, which are very important to their cultural way of praying and decorating their Churches.
The writer feels there is good  reason for Roman Catholics to be interested in the Greek Church Fathers and the spirituality of Orthodoxy. Although the similarities are many, the differences are important and deserve to be studied. The hope of Roman Catholicism is that in time and with a lot of good will, we will see the two again united.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

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