Eastern Orthodox Christianity

Are You Saved

On September 15, 2013, for the first time in my life, I attended an Eastern Orthodox Church where the liturgy used is that of St. John Chrysostom. So far, it is the only Orthodox cathedral in the Philippines and Southeast Asia as it is the only stand alone church building personally consecrated by His Eminence Metropolitan Nektarios Tsilis of the Orthodox Metropolitanate of Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. It was a unique and wonderful experience! It was as if I was transported to Constantinople back in the fourth century A.D. Compared to the Roman Novus Ordo Mass which most of us Filipinos are used to, the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is longer and more solemn as more symbolic gestures are performed. Moreover, almost the entire liturgy was sung with the exception of the homily. After the Divine Liturgy, I had a short chat with the priests, Fathers James Doronela and Gregory Latoja, about Orthodoxy and they even lent me a booklet (pictured above) about salvation, which is the one they use in basic catechism.

Unknown to a lot of Filipinos, Eastern Christianity existed just about the same time or even before the Roman church. Centuries prior to the Great Schism of East and West, there were originally five centers of Christianity which were called patriarchates. These were: Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, and Rome. The first four comprised the Greek Eastern churches while the last one, Rome, comprised the Latin Western church. For Christians at that time, both East and West, the church was one. Historians, however, can now see that by the early Middle Ages the two branches of the church were drifting apart, and that the final schism, which took place in 1054, was long in the making. In the West, the demise of the Empire created a vacuum that the church filled, and thus ecclesiastical leaders—particularly the pope—also came to wield political power. In the East, the Empire continued for another thousand years and its autocratic emperors kept a tight rein on ecclesiastical leaders.

Although it is obvious that every church thinks of itself as orthodox, that title has become such a hallmark of Eastern Chalcedonian Christianity that it is often called and has been known as the Orthodox Church as opposed to the Catholic Church based in Rome. After the Islamic Arab conquests, the Orthodox Church was blocked to the south and east by Islam, and thus its expansion was in a northerly and northwesterly direction. Those areas of Eastern Europe were populated mostly by Slavs, who had invaded them after the Germanic peoples. They occupied most of what is today, Poland, the Baltic countries, Russia, Czechoslovakia (Czech and Slovak Republics), Yugoslavia, and Greece. Later on, they also encompassed Bulgaria and a vast portion of the Danube basin.

Although the East and West already experienced schism during the fifth century, the final schism of 1054 occurred when the Bulgarian archbishop Leo of Ochrid, accused the West of error because it made clerical celibacy a universal rule, and because it celebrated communion with unleavened bread. When the dispute grew, Pope Leo IX sent an ambassador to Constantinople to deal with it. But his choice was most unfortunate. Cardinal Humbert, his legate, knew no Greek and did not care to learn it. To his mind, the Eastern married clergy and the authority that the Byzantine emperor had over the church were the very enemies which he had vowed to destroy. He and Patriarch Michael Cerularius of Constantinople exchanged insults. After a dramatic and politically motivated excommunication against “heretic” Patriarch Cerularius, as well as any who dared follow him, the break between East and West was finally accomplished.

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