The Orthodox Church,
indicated as the Christian churches of a Byzantine ritual loyal to the first seven ecumenical councils (and therefore self-defined as “orthodox.” Orthodox in Greek means “direct profession of faith”), detached itself from Rome with the schism of 1054, and is distinguished from Eastern Monophysite and Nestorian churches (which accept only the first three councils).
For its theological creativity and its number of faithful, the Russian Church is the most important Orthodox Church.
Orthodox ecclesiology hinges on the local church, on the communion among the “sister churches”, on the liturgical and sacramental role of the Bishop, and on the monastic life.
The rich Byzantine liturgy, formed in Constantinople in the 5th century, is celebrated in various languages according to church; worship still maintains a large prominence, and gives primary importance to singing (with no instruments) and icons.
Orthodox spirituality, more sensitive to experience than to intellectual research, has known moments of great originality with ecaismo, the ascetic practice developed by Gregorio Palamàs. A notable characteristic of the Orthodox churches is their “autocephaly,” that is, their administrative independence.
Such a principle involves the Orthodox church, in an independent State, also has the right to independence with respect to other churches, involving also that the autocephaly must be granted from the Mother-Church to the Daughter-Church wanting to become autocephalous.
Autocephalous Orthodox Churches recognized as such, and therefore in communion among themselves, are today 15, subdivided in patriarchies (of Constantinople, of Alexandria, of Jerusalem, of Antioch, of Georgia, of Bulgaria, of Belgrade, of Bucharest and of Moscow) in archbishops’ palaces (of Cyprus, of Greece, and of Finland) and in metropoliae (of Albania, of Poland and of Czechoslovakia).
The supreme authority, which can speak in the name of all the recognized Churches and legislate for them, is the Ecumenical Council.