From the first Pentecost the Gospel was preached to Jews in Palestine and then to Gentiles throughout the world. For three centuries under constant threat of persecution, the Church’s status in the world changed in the first quarter of the fourth century from persecuted to tolerated to preferred. During Constantine’s reign, the Church marked the beginning of its coming of age. Although already living in its Tradition, the Church used its freedom from persecution to organize its governing structures and articulate its beliefs. By the Seventh Ecumenical Council (787), the Church had established its principal lines of doctrine, worship, and organization. By the eleventh century, the gradual estrangement between Christians in the eastern and western regions of the Roman Empire resulted in a formal schism, or splitting, of the Church into Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox. The loss of a common language, theological disputes, and different conceptions of the visible organization of the Church, with Rome’s alignment with the Frankish Empire, contributed to this splitting. The separation was exacerbated after the Eastern Empire fell to the Ottomans in the mid-fifteenth century. As a result of Constantinople’s fall (1453), Moscow became the new Christian capital in the East, the “Third Rome.” The Church in Russia had survived the Mongol occupation but was to suffer persecution under Communist governments. In modern times the Eastern Orthodox Church exists in five situations: a minority community in the eastern Mediterranean corresponding to the four ancient patriarchates; the churches of Greece and Cyprus; the churches in Eastern Europe; the Orthodox living in the West; and the Orthodox living in Africa, the Far East, and elsewhere.
Orthodoxy is characterized by a commitment to preserving the faith and practice “which Jesus imparted to the Apostles” and which since that time has been handed down from ancestors to posterity, forming a living continuity with...
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