The Eastern Orthodox Church, specifically the Russian one, has been elevated in the news a lot since Russia invaded Ukraine. I watched videos of Vladimir Putin worshiping in a church in Russia. My first thought was — if he is truly Christian, as his ritualistic worship indicates, how can he be so cruel as to invade a country without provocation? That led me to do some research on Eastern Orthodoxy, which is what I’m sharing here.
Also, April 24 is the Eastern Orthodox Church’s celebration of Easter, which is why I’m publishing this today. They use the Julian calendar, while the Western Church uses the Gregorian Calendar. Thus, they celebrate Easter on a different day than most Catholics and Protestants. I find church history fascinating. I hope you do, too.
Early Church History
Every “Christian” church has the same historical start as chronicled in the Book of Acts. I’ve written about how the Roman Catholic Church diverted from the church the apostles started to what we have today. That’s all in this series. In 1054 AD, there was what is known as The Great Schism. That’s when the “Eastern” church split from the “Western” church.
Slowly, the “church” started separating itself from what the apostles started in the Book of Acts. The image above shows how early church leaders started inventing rituals to better control the people. I added the Great Schism line in 1054.
What do both the Western Church (Roman Catholics) and the Eastern Orthodox Churches have in common?
- They kept and enhanced the pagan rituals introduced by Emperor Constantine in the 4th Century.
- They both believe in the Triune God — God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ) and the Holy Spirit.
That’s it. Though they both have similar rituals and “sacraments”, they differ in certain ways.
How the Roman Catholic Church Differs from the Eastern Orthodox Church
Some of these differences caused the Great Schism. I’ll start with those, then explain what the Eastern church added.
What Led to the Schism
The Nicene / Apostles Creed
It all started with one line that the Catholics wanted to add to the Nicene Creed. The line in question is…
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,The Nicene Creed
who proceeds from the Father [and the Son],
who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
Notice the phrase “and the Son” is in brackets. Personally, I remember memorizing it as a kid and then reciting it even in the Protestant churches later on. I, however, don’t remember which ones had that phrase in it or not. I always remember saying it.
In Latin, that phrase is “filioque” — filio = “son” and que = “and the”. The Eastern church did not want that phrase in there.
For me, the Triune God is 3 equal entities in One God. This argument was enough to start the schism. Here are some studies on the Holy Spirit…
- After the Resurrection – Pentecost
- Are You Deaf to the Holy Spirit of Truth?
- Is the Holy Spirit Teaching You the Truth? Are You Living in the Truth?
- As a Born Again Believer, Your Body is the Sanctuary of the Holy Spirit
- What are the 7 Roles of the Holy Spirit?
- With the Holy Spirit All Christians are One with Jesus
Papal Supremacy and Infallibility
The Eastern churches did not care for having one man ruling over all the churches. The Eastern churches have what is called a Patriarchate, similar to bishops, and they meet in councils. They do not believe that the Pope has full authority of the church and that he is infallible.
The Western church held their masses in Latin and the Eastern church in Greek. There were few people who could speak both.
Leavened or Unleavened Bread for the Eucharist
The West wanted to keep the use of unleavened bread like Jesus used in the Passover. Leaven symbolized sin. The East wanted to used leavened or regular bread to symbolize that Jesus came to save all people, including Gentiles, who didn’t observe the Jewish Passover. So, rather than a wafer like the Catholics use, the Eastern Orthodox Churches put pieces of leavened bread in a goblet of wine and they spoon it out to baptized parishioners. Everyone uses the same spoon – yuk!
Vow of Celibacy of Priests
The Eastern churches disagreed with having priests take a vow of celibacy. Eastern Orthodox priests can marry and have children. On the other hand, the Eastern Orthodox monks do take a vow of celibacy when they enter a monastery. That’s called monasticism.
The whole concept of monasticism is totally opposite of the what the Gospel and Epistles say. We are commanded by Jesus to go out and spread the Good News all over the world, not to stay cloistered in one place.
I get the use of religious art, especially in the Dark and Middle Ages. The majority of the people were illiterate and there was no Bible in the common languages. Thus, the need for stained glass windows and iconography. Here’s a video on the history of icons.
The quote from St. John of Damascus claims that one is sanctified by contemplating the icons. Also, that the “icons of the saints are filled with the Holy Spirit”. They are a material sign that carries spiritual effective power. That is blaspheming the Holy Spirit! The Holy Spirit cannot embody an inanimate object!
The icon of Jesus, that you see replicated everywhere, is holding a Bible. Never in His whole ministry did Jesus EVER hold a BOOK. He read from a the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah in the synagogue. Books were not invented until the 200s.
I have to admit the icons are beautiful pieces of art — creations created by men.
God told us…
3 “You must not have any other god but me.
4 “You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. 5 You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me.Exodus 20:3-5 NLT
In the KJV, verse 4 says “graven” image or “carved” image. So the excuse the Easterners made up is that since icons are not statues — carved or graven, they don’t count as idolatry. Plus, they are not pictures of the invisible God, the Father, but of Jesus in His bodily form. And all the saints and Mary were human.
Then, to excuse their idolatry, they also use the word “venerate” rather than “worship”. To venerate is to “regard with great respect”, honor. Bowing is to bend the head as a sign of respect — usually to a living person. They twist God’s words to make it OK to sin.
People who take the Word of God and twist it to suite their own ideologies are False Teachers, False Prophets and False Preachers.
15 What harmony can there be between Christ and the devil? How can a believer be a partner with an unbeliever? 16 And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God said:
“I will live in them2 Corinthians 6:15-18 NLT
and walk among them.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
17 Therefore, come out from among unbelievers,
and separate yourselves from them, says the Lord.
Don’t touch their filthy things,
and I will welcome you.
18 And I will be your Father,
and you will be my sons and daughters,
says the Lord Almighty.”
This video explains in greater detail what led to the Great Schism…
Other Ways the Eastern church is different from the West…
Sacraments = Mysteries
Where the Roman Catholics baptize babies (which does absolutely nothing), the Eastern Orthodox Church baptizes older children and adults. In the Eastern religion, one cannot partake of the Eucharist ,nor the traditional worship ceremony, until they are baptized. The baptism is a cleansing that forgives all past sins and strengthens the believer to follow the Christian way. The problem here is that baptism ALONE doesn’t save you! You must first repent of your sins and stop sinning.
Worship, Candles and Veneration
The word “orthodox” means “right or true”, the correct way to worship, the correct theology, etc. First, let ME say that there is NO one “correct” way to worship God. Correct according to whom? The Bible? As I did research for this article and watched video upon video on Eastern Orthodox religious practices, to me it looked like pagan rituals taken way past even what the Roman Catholic Church does. I’m touching on some of these, and I’ve embedded videos at the bottom.
First, unbaptized people cannot participate in worship. When a baptized person enters the church, he or she can purchase 2 thin candles made of beeswax. As part of the service, they put the candles in front of either an icon of Jesus or of Mary. Mary is called “Theotokos” in the Greek Orthodox Church — “Mother of God“. They say that, “She is who shows the way.” They also are supposed to kiss the icons.
Incense is also heavily used during worship. This is another pagan ritual. Back in the 1st and 2nd centuries, Christians were killed for refusing to burn incense in front of a statue of a Roman god or their emperor. Using incense now is an affront to their suffering.
Their stage or altar area is called the “bema”. The “Bema Seat” is God’s final judgment on all people — including believers. Amir Tsarfati of Behold Israel explains in this video what the Bema Seat is…
8 Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.2 Corinthians 5:8-10 ESV
Praying for the Dead
Sorry friend, but once a person is dead, it’s too late. They made their decision on where they’re spending eternity already — Heaven or hell. There is no such thing as purgatory, which the Roman Catholics invented. That’s one thing that the Eastern Orthodox Church did not keep — sort of. However, they do have this — a 40-day memorial service for the dead. Supposedly, one doesn’t die and go immediately to Heaven. They believe that prayer continues across the divide.
Can the Dead hear us?
Eric Metaxas Testimony – Fish Out of Water
Eric Metaxas has a very interesting testimony. His mother is from Germany and his father, Greek. Raised in the Greek Orthodox Church in New York and Connecticut, his book, “Fish Out of Water – A Search for the Meaning of Life” is a memoir. Here are a couple of excerpts. And you can watch the video interview below…
His comment on having to memorize the Nicene Creed in Greek…
“Of course I hardly understood a word of it in Greek or English. Over the years, I sometimes have wondered whether it verges on blasphemy to recite something so sacred and without any idea what it means, as though a mynah bird were to recite the Twenty-Third Psalm. Since I still know it and now know and believe what it means, I am now glad for my father’s persistence with me, though I still can’t help thinking how completely the church failed in communicating the faith. It was not until decades later that I even discovered what the church’s name–Transfiguration–referred to.”Eric Metaxas, A Fish Out of Water by Eric Metaxas. An Affiliate of Christianbook
On the icons in the Greek Orthodox Church in Danbury, CT…
“The icons intrigued me, but were never explained.”Eric Metaxas, A Fish Out of Water by Eric Metaxas. An Affiliate of Christianbook
His book is fascinating, honest and a fun read. I highly recommend it. Here’s a quote from the video…
“I had kind of a basic faith. The only thing was that I knew so little, that I just didn’t know what to do with it.”Eric Metaxas
The Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox Churches Today
I thought it best to let these videos speak for themselves. Keep one thing in mind — they do not have any separation of church and state.
The Orthodox Church’s Cold War over Ukraine
Russia uses religious sentiments to support political crusades” Religion in the Russia-Ukraine war
How Putin uses the Orthodox Church to boost his power
Vladimir Putin in a Russian Orthodox Ceremony
It’s in Russian, but you can see the idolatry as Putin kisses some icon or relic. I’ve cued it just before that point.
- Is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a ‘holy war?’ It’s complicated
- How the Russian Orthodox Church is Helping Drive Putin’s War in Ukraine
That is why we in America wanted a separation of church and state. That means that state can’t rule religion and the church can’t appoint rulers.
I could have gone much deeper into the history of the Orthodox churches as they went through WWI, WWII and almost being wiped out during the Cold War and communism. Nevertheless, the point here is that the Eastern Orthodox churches are just another example of Halfway Christianity. They are so caught up in religiosity — ritual after ritual — the element of awe — the sensory experience — that they miss the simplicity of the Good News of the Salvation of Jesus Christ! Jesus didn’t suffer torture and die so we could have religion! He died so He could have a personal Relationship with YOU!
Now, I’m not insinuating that there aren’t any true, born again, Christian believers in the Eastern Orthodox Churches. There probably are. That being said, I wonder why they would stay knowing that all those rituals are idolatry. Family? Pride? Shame?
Religion in reality complicates what is really rather simple…
If you’re not sure if you’re saved or not, if you truly want to be born again and have the assurance of salvation, receive the Holy Spirit, and get a 1-way, non-stop ticket to Heaven after you die, or that you won’t be left behind at the Rapture, which can happen at any moment, this is what you have to do…
Believe. Repent. Be Baptized. Receive the Holy Spirit.
- Believe — have Faith — that Jesus is the Christ and He died taking your sins away forever and that He rose from the dead 3 days later.
- Repent of your sins — stop sinning! Do a complete 180 degree turn in your life and surrender your life to Him.
- Be Baptized by water baptism — show the world and yourself that you have died to your old life and are born again in Christ.
- Receive the Holy Spirit in your heart.