How Different is The Eastern Orthodox Church?
Several people have asked me this question in several different forms:
– Who are these Orthodox– Protestants or Roman Catholics?
– What do they believe differently from the others?
– What is the difference between Orthodox and other Christians?
Let me try some simple answers to these three questions.
Who are the Indian Orthodox?
First, both Roman Catholics and Protestants are Western Christian groups. The Orthodox Church is not Western Christianity. Eastern in origin, it was from the beginning open to influences from all cultures. In the first century, Christianity was primarily an Asian-African religion. Only by the 4th century did the Roman Empire become increasingly Christian. The Strength of Christianity in the early period was in Palestine, Syria, Greece, Asia Minor, Egypt, and Libya. We can make a list of the earliest Churches — the Churches of the first century.
In the West, i.e. Italy: 2 Churches — Rome and Puteoli (today Pozzuoli near Naples)
Western Greece: 5 Churches — Nicopolis, Corinth, Athens, Thessalonica and Philippi.
Eastern Greece (Asia Minor, today Turkey): 15 Churches — Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea, Troas, Miletus, Colossae, Perga, Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe.
Syria and the East: 6 Churches — Antioch, Tarsus Edessa, Damascus, Tyre, Sidon
Palestine: 4 Churches– Caesarea, Jerusalem, Samaria, Pella
Cyprus: 2 Churches– Paphos and Salamis
Pentapolis (North Africa): Cyrene
As you can see, only 2 out of 37 Apostolic Churches are strictly Western. If Western Greece and Cyprus are also regarded as Europe, then nine Churches are in Europe, while 28 are in Asia and Africa.
The Orthodox Church claims to be the true successor of all these Apostolic Churches, including the Italian Churches, which used Greek as their language of worship in that century. So the Orthodox Church is neither Roman Catholic nor Protestant. It regards itself as the true and faithful successor of the ancient Apostolic Church, and regards the Western or Roman Catholic Church as a group that broke off and went astray from the true tradition of the Christian Church. The Protestant Churches broke off much later (in the 16th century and after) from the Roman Catholic. The Orthodox are today in two families — the Oriental Orthodox family, to which the Indian Orthodox Church belongs, and the Byzantine Orthodox family, which is four times as large.