The Eastern Orthodox Church is a body of eastern churches adhering to the first seven Ecumenical councils, and from whom the western churches broke away in the Great Schism of 1054.
The present-day influence of the Orthodox Church encompasses the territories associated with the former Byzantine and Russian empires: Eastern Europe, Asia (Russia/Siberia), parts of the Middle East and Africa. Worldwide, the Eastern Orthodox Church is
estimated to have between 200 and 300 million members. Today, the strongest Orthodox influence can be seen in the Greek Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church and it has a presence in many countries, with large communities in the USA and Australia.
For more in-depth discussion on Eastern Orthodoxy and its beliefs, see Eastern Orthodoxy at Wikipedia.
The Great Schism
In the 11th century the "Great Schism" took place between Rome and Constantinople, which led to separation of the Churches of the West (which became the Roman Catholic Church), and the Churches of the East
(which became the Eastern Orthodox Church). There were doctrinal issues such as the filioque clause in the Nicene Creed and the authority of the Pope involved in
the split, but these were exacerbated by cultural and linguistic differences. Though normally dated to 1054, when Pope Leo IX and Patriarch Michael I excommunicated each other, the East-West Schism was actually the result of an extended period of estrangement
between the two bodies of churches.
The final breach is often considered to have arisen after the sacking of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade in 1204. This Fourth Crusade had the Latin Church directly involved in a military assault against the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople, and the
Orthodox Patriarchate. The sacking of the Church of Holy Wisdom and establishment of the Latin Empire in 1204 is viewed with some rancor to the present day. In 2004, Pope John Paul II extended a formal apology for the sacking of Constantinople in 1204;
the apology was formally accepted by Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople.
In 1453, the last of the Roman Empire (with its capital at Constantinople) fell to the Ottoman Turks. By this time Egypt had been under Muslim control for some seven centuries, but Orthodoxy was very strong in Russia; and so Moscow, called the Third Rome,
became a major new center of the Church at that time.
See main article on the Great Schism
- James J. Stamoolis, ed., Counterpoints: Three Views on Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism (Zondervan, 2004)