Are Eastern and Russian Orthodox the Same?

Are Eastern Orthodox and Russian Orthodox the same?

If you’re studying Christianity around the world, then you’ve likely learned about Eastern Orthodoxy. Or you may have been wondering about what religion happens to be common in Russia, and you noticed that their religion is often called Russian Orthodoxy.

And the use of the terms “Russian Orthodox” and “Eastern Orthodox” implies that the two are somehow different. So, we are led to the titular question.

Russian Orthodoxy is part of Eastern Orthodoxy. The Eastern Orthodox Churches contains many smaller churches, and the largest of these is the Russian Orthodox Church. The Russian church is so influential within the EOC that the two names are sometimes misused as though they were synonyms.

Now the key point here is that the EOC is a large set, and many subsets exist beneath it. The largest of these subsets is the Russian Orthodox Church. Let’s explore how this works.

There Is Only One Eastern Orthodox Church

There is only one Eastern Orthodox Church. All Orthodox Christians are required ot believe this. Orthodox Christians accept the truth of a a statement called the Nicene Creed, and the Creed affirms that only one Church exists.

The Creed which Orthodox Christians affirm is presented here:

  1. We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
  2. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages. Light of Light; true God of true God; begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man.
  3. And He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried.
  4. Then on the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead; whose Kingdom shall have no end.
  5. And [we believe] in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets. In one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.
  6. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Pay close attention to the bold text in the fifth point. It affirms belief in one church, and all Orthodox Christians must accept this. Those who do not are in error, and if they know about their error, and persist in it, then they are heretics.

Common Names for the Orthodox

A member of the Roman Catholic Church is a Catholic.
A follower of Islam is a Muslim.
A follower of the Buddha’s teachings is a Buddhist.

The names given to the Eastern Orthodox are much more numerous, and their large number often creates confusion.

Here’s a list of common names for members of the Orthodox Church

  • Orthodox
  • The Orthodox
  • Eastern Orthodox
  • Greek Orthodox
  • Russian Orthodox
  • Serbian/Bulgarian/Ukrainian/etc. Orthodox
  • Byzantine Orthodox
  • Eastern Catholic
  • Byzantine Catholic

All of these names refer to members of the same Orthodox Church. The one exception among them is Eastern Catholic. If you hear this name, then there’s about a 50-50 chance that it refers to a certain type of Roman Catholic.

National Churches

The EOC exists as one body. Its members express their oneness when they affirm the Nicene Creed. This affirmation includes both a statement of faith and the resolve to act according to it.

Now, this understanding of the oneness of the faith allows a lot of wiggle room in its expression. None may alter the faith’s standards, but the Orthodox Christians of some region are allowed to adjust various aspects of the religion to their liking.

So countries where Orthodox Christians exist have religious customs unique to themselves.

Russians develop their own Russian practices according to their own cultural preferences, and the product is Russian Orthodoxy.

Greeks develop their own Greek practices according to their own cultural preferences, and the product is Greek Orthodoxy.

Russians develop their own Russian practices according to their own cultural preferences, and the product is Russian Orthodoxy.

Romanians develop their own Romanian practices according to their own cultural preferences, and the product is Romanian Orthodoxy.

…And so on.

In this way, the one church contains many smaller ethnic churches with their own norms.

Are Eastern and Russian Orthodox the same? – A Helpful Analogy

The relationship between the small churches and the large church is like that of the American states to the federal state.

In the same vein, its governance is like that of an oligarchy.

The Church Leaders

The leaders of the EOC are patriarchs, and they form a unit with the Ecumenical Patriarch at its head.

The Ecumenical Patriarch does not have more power than the others, and his title is purely symbolic.

This list shows the men at the heads of the highest churches.

  • Constantinople, headed by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I
  • Alexandria, headed by Theodoros II
  • Antioch, headed by John X
  • Jerusalem, headed by Theophilus III
  • Moscow, headed by Kirill I
  • Georgia, headed by Ilia II
  • Serbia, headed by Irinej
  • Romania, headed by Daniel
  • and Bulgaria, headed by Neophyte

In practice, people often see the head of the Russian church as the leader of Orthodoxy. People see him as such because he wields more power than any of the others. The Russian church ties its power to that of the Russian state. And the Russian government is on good terms with the church.

Further, the Ecumenical Patriarch lives in Turkey, but Turkey is controlled by Muslims and secularists.

In other words, his influence is too low.

Moreover, the leaders of several other churches live in areas seized by Muslims. The others live in countries which are controlled by Russia.

Certainly, the Russian church directs many actions within the Church as a whole. This leads to conflicts between the Russian church leaders and the leaders of other churches who believe the Russians to have overstepped their power. One instance of this concerns the creation of the American church. The Russian church formed it of its own accord and without the EP’s consent.

After that, the Ukrainian church split away from the Russian one. Then the Russians decried the event. But the EP, having been snubbed by the Russians before, allowed it.

Gene Botkin

Gene is the director of the Theosis Christian Project. He studied physics and military science before founding the Project. Gene is currently pursuing his doctorate in systems engineering at an engineering college in the Ozarks. The Theosis Christian Project is his attempt to expand Holy Orthodoxy in America.

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