War and the Christian Worldview: Eastern Orthodoxy

Eastern orthodox church in kyiv

Part four in the seven-part series War and The Christian Worldview

Grand Canyon University invites Christians from all denominations to learn the Word of God and pursue their goals. This week, GCU Instructor Thomas Joseph explains how the Eastern Orthodox Church differs from other denominations. He also explains the historic split between the Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodoxy.


Below is a transcript of War and the Christian Worldview, episode 4, Eastern Orthodoxy: My name is Thomas Joseph, an instructor at Grand Canyon University and I want to talk about Eastern Orthodoxy. It's the predominant religion in the nation of Ukraine. So, we know that Ukraine and Russia, as of April the 7th, 2022 (date of filming) have been in a state of war right now. But we are all praying for peace in that region.

What Is Eastern Orthodoxy?

Officially known as the Orthodox Catholic Church, it is one of three major branches of Christianity. The branches are Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism. The adherents of Eastern Orthodoxy live mostly in Greece, Russia, Balkans, Ukraine, and the Middle East. And a large number of followers live in the nations of the North American Continent and Australia, with some presence in other nations, also.

We can take a look inside the Eastern Orthodox Church. Unlike Western churches, the Eastern Orthodox put an emphasis on separating the sanctuary area from the nave, because the sanctuary in the church represents Heaven and as lay people on Earth on the journey to Heaven we are kept somewhat separated from Heaven while we are living on Earth. Therefore, the Eastern Orthodox construct a special gate called the icon gate with three doors. One, only for use for the Priest and two other doors for use of the Deacons and other people serving on the altar.

Let's look at what an orthodox church consists of. Typically, orthodox churches are built in the shape of a cross. The nave would be the largest area of the church where lay people will do their prayers and participate in services. Then we have the sanctuary area located behind the icon gates. Inside the sanctuary area you have the altar and a separate table of preparation. The table of preparation is where the elements of bread and wine are prepared for consecration on the main altar. On the main altar there is a tabernacle where a consecrated Eucharist is stored particularly if there is an emergency, and a Priest needs to bring the Eucharist to a person in need who cannot come to church.

He can obtain the elements, the consecrated elements from the tabernacle. Also stored in the sanctuary is the processional cross, the gospel book, containing the readings that are read at the liturgy, and an incense censer. Let's explain the three doors.

The two side doors are called angel doors, or deacon doors. And the middle door is called the beautiful gates, reserved only for the Priests. Inside the nave, generally on the transept area, there exists choir lofts, or choir area where the choirs will sing and lead the congregation in the music. We have a Bishop's throne in the nave area. When a visiting Bishop comes to the church, that is where he will sit. There are also the royal doors located at the entrance of the nave.

Just between the entrance of the church and the royal doors is a separate room called a narthex like a foyer where people enter into the church. When people enter the church they're greeted by an icon on an icon stand where, typically, many will venerate or give special honor to the saints whom the icon represents. In Eastern Orthodoxy and in Catholicism there is a great respect for heroes of the faith known as saints. Respect for saints is an opportunity for people to grow closer to God.

Key Points in Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Church History

There was a time where there was no real split between churches of the east and the west. After the legalization of Christianity around the world – A.D. Constantine legalized and eventually made Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire. A new capital city was constructed in what is now Turkey, known as Constantinople. This resulted in political shifts leading to the Roman center of power being moved. While the See of Constantinople received the number one ranking, tremendous political power was given to the See and the Bishop of Constantinople; although the Roman Bishop was officially the number one Bishop, or number one See.

As Rome fell, in the late 300's. In the early 400's and 500's power shifted more toward Constantinople. The patriarch of Constantinople gained even more political power. These differences eventually resulted in a real political and religious schism in the year 1054 A.D.

Many wars broke out between the east and the west over religion. Many have lost their lives. Let us look at the Ukraine, a nation we're all praying for peace in, along with Russia. The key churches in the Ukraine includes Ukrainian Catholics – they would follow the Byzantine liturgy like other orthodox churches, but they desire to remain loyal to the, and in communion with, the Bishop of Rome, which Catholics call the Pope. There's the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate. This church operates in unity with the Patriarch in Moscow.

Particularly since the independence of the Ukraine and from the Soviet Union there has been a growing number of Ukraine Orthodox people who desire to operate independently from the Russian Patriarch. They've started forming diocese and churches that were operated outside the Patriarch of Moscow. After the fall of Crimea to the Russians, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople located in Istanbul, Turkey, once Constantinople, formed a new Patriarchate in the Ukraine to operate independently and to attend — to operate as first among equals — as among the equals with the other Bishops in the Orthodox Communion.

Both the Orthodox Christians of Russia and Ukraine trace their faith back to the conversion in of the Grand Prince of Kyiv who converted to Christianity. Both nations give their credit to becoming Christ followers to this Grand Prince. Russia later conquered Eastern Ukraine and Kyiv in 1686.

In that year, the Patriarch of Constantinople formally transferred spiritual authority of the Ukraine Church to the Patriarch of Moscow, both churches trace their origins to the Grand Prince of Kyiv.

Common Attributes Within the Western Liturgical Churches

Liturgy consists of liturgy of the Word, and liturgy of the Eucharist. The liturgy of the Word stems from ancient synagogue services. Ancient Christians who would attend the synagogue — after the service was over they would gather at another location, such as the home of a member, to celebrate the Eucharist — what we know as “Lord's supper” today — communion.

The Eucharistic celebration was instituted at the Last Supper the night before Jesus died. Orthodox and Catholics also believe in the real presence of Jesus Christ in the elements of bread and wine. During the consecration by a priest these elements of bread and elements of wine become the blood and body of Jesus Christ — not just mere symbols.

Both liturgical movements confess the Holy Trinity in the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed is also recognized by numerous Protestant churches of the west. Also, all Christians vow obedience to the Holy Scriptures, the Bible, as the only written Word of God.

Today we are asking everybody to pray for the peace of Russia and the Ukraine, that the world would also be at peace. World leaders, spiritual leaders are all calling the world into prayer and we invite you to take this time to remember the peace in these two nations. These two nations — both Christian nations — we pray for their peace.

I'm attaching this presentation to the end of this video. We encourage you to look over the PowerPoint. We're also giving you links that you can explore more about Eastern Orthodoxy and Eastern Catholicism.

Again, thank you for watching this video.

Read more Christian Worldview blogs and learn about theology and ministry degree programs offered by GCU's College of Theology.


PowerPoint Presentation:

Thomas Joseph, Eastern Orthodoxy: The Main Christian Tradition of the People of Ukraine


Other Important Resources:

J. Eugene Clay, Why Church Conflict in Ukraine Reflects Historic Russian-Ukrainian Tensions 

John Meyendorff, Eastern Orthodoxy

Ukrainian Othodox Church of the USA

Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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