The Eastern Church

The Scope of the Subject Matter given this lecture is so vast that this will only be a Thumbnail Sketch.


The Missionary endeavours of the Orthodox Church covers a vast period. I will deal with certain aspects of it.

In 860AD St.Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople sent the Brothers Constantine and Metbodius into Moravia to bring the Faith to the Slavic people. They arrived there in 863AD. Constantine had already created the Slavic Alphabet - which is now called Old Slavonic and is the Liturgical Language of the Slavic Churches today - the brothers used this to translate Church Books into the Slavic Language. Their work consisted of teaching the alphabet, introducing Liturgical Books and Ritual, also training men for the Priesthood.

The bad conflict with the Latin Missionaries. Constantine died in 869AD. Just before his death,he became a Monk and took the name Cyril as his Religious Name. Hence we know both these worthies by the Names Cyril and Methody. Cyril’s name was given to the Script used in the Slavonik Alphabet, “Cyrillic”.

The greatest jewel in the Mission Crown, was the Baptism of the Russians following the Conversions of Prince Vladimir of Kiev and Princess Olga in 988AD, this was not only the Birth of a new movement, but a new Church which is now known as “The Russian Orthodox Church.”

The Russians also were responsible for Missionary endeavours. In 1799 Christianity came to America via the Russian Church to the Aleutian Islands In Alaska. On Kodiak Island alone there were over 5000 Baptised Aleuts.

In 1823 Fr.John Venianinov was sent as Priest to the Russian-American Company Colony in Alaska. He later became known as St.lnnocent of Alaska, but he also became Metropolitan of Moscow in 1868. When back in Russia he founded the Orthodox Missionary Society’ for the purpose of centralising the Missionary Activities of the Russian Church. His work was carried on by St.Herman of Alaska. The Orthodox Church is still flourishing in Alaska today. The Brotherhood of St.Herman of Alaska in California have started a Monastic Community up in Alaska called New Valaam’ named after a famous Monastery in Lake Logoda in Russia.

In 1860 Fr.Ivan Kasatkin went to Japan as Chaplain to the Russian Consulate and set about an evangelising campaign. He made a thorough study of the Japanese Language and translated the Bible and Books of Divine Services into Japanese. Once a Samurai Takuma Swabe a Shinto Priest, came to him. He sought to kill him. But Fr.lvan was a Monk and took the name Nicholas. He told Swabe it was improper for an educated man to censure something he knows nothing about and could cause a Loss of Face. So Nicholas told him about God and His Christ. Swabe became the first convert. So in 1868 the Japanese Orthodox Church was born. St.Nicholas became the first Archbishop of Japan.

Paul Swabe became the first Priest in 1872. The Converts were Zealots for the Faith and soon the flock began to multiply. St.Nicholas founded a Seminary in 1897 on Surugadai Hifi in Tokyo. By 1912 the number of Japanese Orthodox reached 33000. Up until the 1970’s the Orthodox Bishop in Japan was always Russian, but now the Church is Autocephalas and all the Clergy are indigenous Japanese. They have a fine Cathedral in Tokyo called St.Nicholas, situated on Surugadal Hill, it is not far from the Imperial Palace compound.


Spirituality in the Orthodox Church means the everyday activity of life in Communion with God. The Term Spirituality refers not merely to the activity of man’s spirit alone, his mind, his heart and soul, but it refers as well to the whole of man’s life as inspired and guided by the Spirit of God. Every act of a Christian must be a Spiritual Act. Every thought must be Spiritual, every word, every deed, every activity of the body, every action of the person. This means all that a person thinks, says and does must be inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit, so that the Will of God the Father. might be accomplished as revealed and taught by Jesus Christ the Son of God. “Whatever you do, do all to the Glory of God.” (1 Cor,i0:31).

Doing all things to the Glory of God, is the meaning and substance of life for a human being. This “doing” is what Christian Spirituality is all about. It is the special task of Eastern Orthodox Spirituality to make known to us the Presence of God in history, and to make this known not only in words, but also by providing living examples of God’s Power.

God is henceforth present in the Church not only in His Written Word, but in the reality of the Sacraments and in the gifts of the Spirit, evident in His Saints, which are available likewise to all Christians who are determined to live in accordance with their Baptismal promises.

In the history of the Orthodox Church Hesychist Mysticism has proved to be the most traditional way in which this Communion with God, which constitutes the very essence of the Christian Life, has expressed itself.

Only in the Church, in the Communion of Saints, in the Sacramental Life of the Christian Community, can the Mystical experience of the individual have, in reality, a Truly Christian meaning. Here also is found the ultimate criterion for all Spirituality. The mystical experience which is inseparable from the way towards union can only be gained in prayer and by prayer. In the most general sense, every presence of man before the face of God is a prayer; but this presence ,must become a constant and conscious attitude-- prayer must beome perpetual, as uninterupted as breathing or the beating of the heart. For this a special mastery is needed, a technique of prayer which is a complete spiritual science, and to which monks are entirely dedicated. The method of interior or spiritual prayer which is known by the name of ‘hesychasm’, is a part of the ascetic tradition of the Eastern Church, and is undoubtedly of great antiquity. Transmitted from master to disciple by word of mouth, by example and by spiritual direction, this discipline of interior prayer was only committed to paper at the beginning of the 1 lth.Century in a treatise attributed to St. S meon the New Theologian. Later, it was the subject of special treatises by Nicephorus the Monk (13th. Century), and above all St. Gregory of Sinai, who at the beginning of the l4th.century re-established its practice on Mount Athos.

Less explicit references to the same ascetic tradition are to be found in St.John Cliniacus (7th.Century), St.Hesychius of Sinai (8th.Century), and other ,Masters of the Spiritual Life in the Christian East. There is,it is true, a physical aspect involved - - certain procedures in regard to the control of breathing, the position of the Body during prayer, the rhythm of prayer--but this exterior discipline has only one object in view: that of assisting concentration. The whole of the attention must be given to the words of the short prayer: ‘0 Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.’ This is commonly called the ‘Jesus Prayer’ and is said repeatedly while you are fmgering a Chotki (Prayer Rope), these ropes can be from 50 to 200 knots.

Bishop Theophanes, the great ascetical writer and master of the spiritual life of the last century (19th)., writes thus about the object of spiritual prayer:’The object of our search’, he says, ‘is the fire of grace which enters into the heart.... When the spark of God Himself - -grace- -appears in the heart, it is the prayer of Jesus which quickens it and fans it into flame. The essential thing is to hold oneself ready before God, calling out to Him from the depths of one’s heart. This is what all those who seek the fire of grace must do: as to words or positions of the body during prayer, these have only a secondary importance. God is concerned with the heart.” Thus, in contrast to what some have said, the practise of spiritual prayer in the tradition of the Christian East consists in making the heart ready for the indwelling of grace by constantly guarding its interior purity.

In your longing to see the face of the Father in heaven, says Evagrius,’never try to see any shape or form when you are praying.’ Keep your mind clear and concentrate on what you are doing. If you keep crowding your mind with nebulous things, you can easily be seduced by evil spirits.2 The Spirit is the source of love within us, as He who enables us to participate in that supreme perfection. For love is ‘the very life of the divine nature,’ in the words of St.Gregory of Nyssa.3

o Theophanes known as The Recluse.

oDe oratione. ch. 114-16.’

1 ‘De anima et resurrectione, Pg XLDI,96 C.

Nature of Orthodoxy:

The Bible speaks of the Church as the Body of Christ, because it is the reality of the abiding presence of Christ upon earth in both His Human and Divine Nature.

The Church has Four Marks:

1. She Is one. Oneness is of the Essence of the Church.

2. She is holy. Because Jesus Christ is Holy.

3. She is catholic. Because she is universal either actually or potentially.

The Church constitutes the ‘People of God’ and a ‘Holy Nation’. The Church does not disc riininate between “Jew and Greek”. All are one in Christ Jesus. It is Orthodox Christian that belong to the Historical Catholic Church - not members of the Roman Church.

4. The Church is Apostolic. Because she was established by the Apostles of Christ. They were the first to receive the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. The three-fold authority of the Church’s ministry (Bishops, Priests and Deacons) which continues to this day, stems from the Apostles. Apostolic Succession consists of the unbroken continuity of Ordinations,traceable to the Apostles, and of the purity of Apostolic Doctrine.

Goverened by the Holy Spirit, The Church has preserved the Faith unadulterated and unchanged in a constantly changing world. The Revealed Truth is just as unchanging and Eternal as God is in His Nature. The Church, which is the Custodian of Divine Revelation, represents the final authority in the areas of religion,ethics,and worship.

It is inconsistant for an Orthodox Christian to belong to any outside organisatlon. There is only one fellowship and one club for a believing follower of Christ - The Church. To be true to Christ and to be a member of a Secret Society or lodge are incompatible from the Orthodox Standpoint.

The Church is ‘The Pillar and Ground of the Truth”. There may be bits of Truth floating around outside the Church; but the fulness of the Truth pertaining to God and His RelaUonship to His Creation is to be found only within the Pale of the Church.

The Church possesses Truth, which is revealed from God In Christ Jesus.

It is free from Man made opinions. TheChurch is the repository of the

Universal Truth which was disclosed in the Incarnation of the Son of God.

It was left with the Church by Christ who said, ‘I am the Truth’.

The Major Liturgical Rites of the Christian East developed at Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople and Edessa. These exerted great influence on lesser Churches in the Christian Orient, notably the Churches of Chaldea (Persia) and Armenia. Eastern Rite Churches may be classified according to the following Schema:


Syriac Influence:

Edessa. East Syrian, Chaldeo-Malabarese


Liturgy of SS. Addal and Marl.

Greek Influence:

Antioch West Syrian, Malankarese.

Alexandria Coptic


Armenia Armenian.

Constantinople: Byzantine: Greek


Byzantine: Slav

Balkan Bulgarian

Southern Croatian Serbian

Eastern Byelorussian









With the exception of the Maronites and Byzantine Italians, The Eastern Rites include both Roman and Orthodox Groups. The Orthodox are those Christians not in Communion with Rome., accepting neither the Primacy nor the authority of the Pope. There are Eastern Churches who are in Communion with Rome and these we call Uniate Churches. Similarly there are Western Rite Churches who are in Communion with Orthodoxy and they use Western Rites that are pre-Schism.


The Great Schism:

In the mid-eleventh century a major controversy arose between

Constantinople and Rome. The immediate cause of the conifict at this time was the Pope’s suppression of Greek Liturgical Practises in South Italy, and the suppression of Latin Practices in the East by the Patriarch of Constantinople.

In 1053 the Pope sent legates to Constantinople in an attempt to restore Communion between the Churches. Michael Cerularius the Patriarch of Constantinople, refused to give them a hearing, as he felt that they were Politically motivated.On July 16, 1054, Cardinal Humbert, the head of the Papal Delegation got tired of waiting. He was irritated by the lack of respect shown to the Roman Ambassadors, so he placed a Document of Anathema and Excommunication on the Altar Table of Holy Wisdom Cathedral (Hagia Sofia).

The Official Reasons given by Humbert was the removal of the ‘Fifioque’ clause from the Creed, the Practise of Married Clergy and Liturgical errors. But Humbert got it wrong. The Original Nicene Creed did not have the ‘Filioque’ clause in it. It was Rome who inserted it and was one of the causes for Schism on the Orthodox side.

Holy Scripture, the Apostolic Canons, and the Canons of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, allow for Married Clergy including Bishops. Celibacy is a man made law devised by Rome and by part of Orthodoxy for Celibate Bishops.

However earlier Schisms occurred within Orthodoxy on Christology. And so you have the non-Chalcedon Churches as a result. Commonly called Monophosite,Jacobite or Oriental Orthodox. In this grouping are the Coptic Churches of Ethopia and Egypt;Chaldean Church;Syrian Orthodox and Assyrian Orthodox.

There have been many attempts to Heal the Breaches in both situations, but to no avail. In Chambesy Switzerland, there was a definite attempt to reunite with the Oriental Churches. This is an on going situation. There have been some Concordats signed. But the Breach with Rome runs to deep, there is a lot of reform required in the Roman Church.

2 GaHican,CeItic, Sarum & Ordo of StGregory the Great,Ambrosian & Mozarabic.

The East recognises the Value of Western Liturgicology, as mentioned above, and many Eastern Jurisdictions have Western Rite Vicariates and they use Pre-Schism Liturgies.

The Orthodox Church of France uses the ‘Gallican Rite’ at this point in time. There are Several Orthodox Churches in America who use the ‘Celtic Rite’ which has been translated from the Stowe & l3obbio Missals. In my own Jurisdiction we use either the Sarum or the Ordo of St. Gregory the Great. In Toledo Cathedral in Spain the Moazarabic Rite is still in use. The Ambrosian Rite is still used in Milan, but it is watered down from what St.Ambrose wrote for the Church.

Some Differences Between East and West:


The most noticeable difference is the Icon Screen which separates the Sanctuary from the Rest of the Church. The Iconostasis occupies the width of the Sanctuary with several Icon Panels and three doors. The Royal Doors in the Middle, Deacon’s Door on the Southside and Servers Door on the North. It is symbolic of the Veil in the Temple in Jerusalem, which separated the Most Holy Place from the rest of the Temple.


In Oriental Churches the Proskomeadia takes place before the Liturgy where the Wine and Bread are prepared with the reading of Prayers,much censmg and the reading of Names from the Diptychs. Leavened Bread is used.

The West use unleavened Bread (Wafers). Some use the Greek Motza Bread. At the Great Entrance the Holy Gifts are taken in procession from the Altar of Preparation into the Body of the Church and then through the Royal Doors and placed on the Main Altar to await Consecration.


In the East the Deacon plays a greater Role than in the West. The Liturgy hinges around the Deacon. It is not an automatic stepping stone to becoming a Priest. You can have permanent Deacons and the highest a Deacon can rise to is an Archdeacon. He is the main point of contact between the Faithful and the Priest. In Orthodoxy we also have Ordained Sub Deacons. To Elevate to the Priest you must show yourself worthy and also there must be a Vacancy for a Priest.

In the West it is an automatic step to the Priesthood, which can be after a year or sometimes two to three years.

An interesting case was St.Ambrose, who was ordained Sub-deacon,Deacon and Priest in One Day and Consecrated Bishop on the next day. In Orthodoxy we have been known to ordain one day as Sub-Deacon, next day Deacon and the third day as Priest.

At this point I would like to introduce something of Icons and problems that were encountered.

The First Sunday in Great Lent we call the Sunday of Orthodoxy and we Commemorate the Triumph of Orthodoxy over the Icon Breakers (Iconoclasts). Our Holy Father St.Paul tell su to ‘Keep hold on to the Faith of Christ Crucifeid.’ Holy Patriarch Moses in Gensls 1 v 26 tells us that ‘Man was created in the Image and Likeness of God.’ “Image” is the english word for the Greek word “Ikon”, so image and Ikon are one and the same. The earliest form of Iconography was the making of the Ark of the Holy Covenant and the Cherubs that were on either side of the Mercy Seat.

The first indication of conflict within the Church about Icons was when St.Epiphaneous of Salamis (315-403AD) tore down a curtain with the woven Figure of Christ inside a Palestinian Church. The main controversy raged from 726AD under Leo III and ended in 780AD under Empress Irene who suspended the persecution.

The Icon position was upheld by the 7th and last Oecumenlcal Council (787AD) which met at Nicaea. Icons the Council proclaimed are to be kept in Churches and honoured with the same relative veneration as is shown to other material symbols such as ‘The Precious and Life Giving Cross’ and the ‘Book of the Gospels’.

A new attack on Icons started by Leo V in 815AD and continued until 843AD, when the Icons were again re-instated this time permanently by another Empress, who was Theodora.

The Final victory of the Holy Images In 843AD is known as the “Triumph of Orthodoxy” and is commemorated in a special Service on the First Sunday in Great Lent. During the service the True Faith is proclaimed, Its defenders are honoured, and Anathemas pronounced on all who attack the Holy Icons of the Seven Oecumenlcal Councils: The words are “To those who reject the Councils of the Holy Fathers and their traditions which are agreeable to Divine Revelation, and which the Orthodox Catholic Church piously maintains, ANATHEMA,ANATHEMA,ANATHEMA.

The Chief Champion of the Icons in the First period was St.John of Damascus (675-749AD), and in the second St.Theodore of Studium (759-826AD).5 St.John was able to work more freely because he dwelt in Moslem Territory, out of reach of the Byzantine Court and Government.

It was not the last time that Islam acted unintentionally as the Protector of Orthocixy. We worship not the matter of the Icon, but the Creator of the matter which Is God.

Another early example of Iconography, is the Holy Napkin of St.Veronica, when the imprint of Our Lord’s Face stuck to the cloth when His Face was wiped by her.

A more recent form of Icon-breaking which did not affect ‘Orthodoxy’ but did effect the Englich Church, which was born out of Orthodoxy. when Cromwell and his Roundheads desecrated the Churches, broke the Rherodoses, which were the part which separated the Sanctuary from the 3. He is commonly known as St.Theodore the Studite


‘The Orthodox Church’ by Fr.John Meyendorff

‘The Orthodox Faith’ Vols. 1-4 by Fr.Thomas Hopko

‘Belief & Practise in the Orthodox Church’ by Fr.Eusebius Stephanou ‘The Orthodox Church’ by Timothy Ware (Bp.Kallistos)

‘The Orthodox Way’ by Timothy Ware (Bp.Kallistos)

‘The Eastern Catholic Churches’ by Joan L. Roccasalvo

‘Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church’ by Vladimir Lossky. ‘Orthodox Spirituality’ By A Monk of the Eastern Church (SPCK) ‘The Tradition of Eastern Orthodoxy’ by Fr.M.J. Le Guilou. O.P.

© 2018 St. Peter & St. Paul Coptic Orthodox Church - Santa Monica, CA