No Pope (one of the main reasons for the split, and the biggest obstacle to reunification in the present). The church is instead led by several Patriarchs, each responsible for a different region. Cyril I is the current Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, by far the largest church, but the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople (currently Bartholomew I) is considered "first among equals". (The fancy technical term for this setup is "autocephaly", literally "self-headedness" in Greek). As of 2018, the Russian Orthodox Church and Ecumenical Patriarchate are not on speaking terms because of a dispute about the autocephaly of the Ukrainian church. The other churches are split on the issue and mostly uncomfortable with the tension (which has political implications given the oppositional stance Putin's Russia has with much of Europe)note
Married men can become priests, and priests' wives are important in the church. (Meanwhile, priests' children are reputed throughout Eastern Christendom to be spoiled brats.)note Please note: while a married man might become a priest, a priest may not marry. Thus, while a married man can continue to live with and have marital relations with his wife (subject to fasting restrictions), he cannot take a wife after he has been ordained, regardless of whether or not he was married when ordained. The same rules apply to Catholic deacons and the rare instances of married Latin Rite Catholic priests. Also, higher-level clergy—bishops, archbishops, and patriarchs—must be celibate. Consequently, Orthodox hierarchs tend to have started their careers as monks rather than parish priests, though parish priests who never married and widowed parish priests can also advance up the ladder (though the latter are rare).
Some jurisdictions follow a different calendar from the Catholic church (the Julian calendar, originated in Ancient Rome, which is considered the "holy calendar"), thus Christmas takes place January 7th. Others use a Revised Julian calendar that is almost exactly the same as the secular calendar (but will diverge at some point in the future). However, almost all of those churches still calculate Easter and related holidays according to the old calendar (yes, it's complicated). Easter ("Paskha") can be up to several weeks after Catholic Easter—or it can be on the very same day. This derives both from the difference in calendar and by being determined by a different method.
The look-and-feel of the religion is very similar to Catholicism, much more so than to Protestantism: there are bishops, monks, nuns, saints and other pre-Reformational trappings. Church services have lots of chanting, gold vestments, incense, candles. But the liturgical languages are Greek, Old Church Slavonic or the national language of the country the particular Church is from (e.g., Japanese in Japan, English in the US, etc.) and the spirituality is decidedly more "Eastern" than Western churches (see Hesychasm for an example). Orthodox Christians make the sign of the cross up-down-right-left, whereas Catholics go up-down-left-right. In some spy stories, a Westerner might give himself away by crossing himself the wrong way while saying grace. That said, this isn't a hard-and-fast rule; Byzantine-rite Eastern Catholics (particularly members of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic and Ruthenian Greek Catholic Churches) in full communion with Rome also go up-down-right-left.note
While there are monks and nuns much like in the Catholic church, you might not recognize them. Monks usually wear black robes and have very long, and sometimes unkempt, beards and hair (taking too much care of your appearance is seen as earthly vanity). Think "hippie" or "hermit" instead of "Friar Tuck". And nuns are usually draped head-to-toe in black,◊ with their heads covered. On first glance, you're likely to think you're looking at a traditional Muslim woman. In fact, applying veils during prayer is quite common among Orthodox women, as this is seen as reflecting traditions of the Apostolic Age (or emulating Virgin Mary, who is always depicted wearing veils in icons). Catholicism used to adhere to this requirement as well until sometime after World War II, but there are places where it still sticks if you look hard enough.
This religion has strong historical ties to the Eastern Roman Empire, which is why a good deal of the religion is centered on historically Greek areas (Alexandria, in Egypt, for instance), and beyond Russia the religion is predominant in much of the Balkans including Greece.
There are also "Eastern Catholic" churches, which look and smell like Orthodox churches, and have many Orthodox practices (including even married priestsnote ), but are in communion with the Roman Catholic Church and accept the Pope's authority (and thus run on the Gregorian calendar and celebrate festivals on the Catholic dates). Otherwise, however, the ritual is entirely Eastern (including the way of signing the Cross). The Ukrainian Catholic Church is one of the largest and best known of these,note while the Syriac Maronite Church takes pride in being the only Eastern Catholic church that has an unbroken connection with the Pope since the formation of Christianity itself.note Some older literature might call these Eastern Catholic churches "Byzantine Catholic" or "Uniate". The latter term is generally considered offensive, while the former is merely considered archaic and sometimes inaccurate (as most but not all Eastern Catholic churches use the Byzantine Rite).
Orthodox Christianity is very influential in modern Russia, and has strong ties with the government. This causes controversies not unlike the American debates of creationism vs. evolution and pro-life vs. pro-abortion, with the church firmly standing on the former side. It is also heavily in opposition to the LGBT rights cause. Other than Russia, countries with majority Orthodox believers are generally more devout and religious than their Catholic (and especially Protestant) counterparts, particularly in Greece, Georgia, and Romania. Considering that most of these same countries are also the same area where Communism holds or used to hold sway, this is saying a lot (possibly it's partly due to a backlash against the religious suppression in former Communist countries).
Much as the Eastern Orthodox churches are in full communion with each other and recognize the Patriarch of Constantinople as first among equals, the Oriental churches are also in full communion with each other and recognize the Patriarch of Alexandria (who resides in Cairo these days, confusingly enough) as first among equals. His position is officially called Pope ("Papa" in Coptic); this is probably where the confusion in the minds of non-Orthodox as to how Orthodoxy has its own Pope arose. In fact, as explained above, the Patriarchs lead the Eastern churches (except for the Catholics), with one being designated as the first among equals, while the Pope is merely a fancy term that is traditionally used by claimants of the patriarch of the Alexandrian church. Yes, there are other "popes", as well; the Alexandrian Greek Orthodox community use it for their own leaders, though understandably translated as patriarchs to match their equivalents in other communities.
The current Coptic Pope of Alexandria, Theodoros II, was selected on 4 November 2012 by a process involving a series of consultations among Coptic clergy and laity to narrow the field down to three candidates, after which the Pope is chosen by literally having a blindfolded child pull one of the three's name out of a hat (or some other vessel).note The previous Pope, Shenouda III, died in March 2012. He had gained accolades for his campaigns for Christian unity but also caught a bit of flack (though not too much) for backing the wrong side in the early days of the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 (it was understandable—it wasn't immediately clear that the rights of Christians would be respected; Coptic revolutionaries were nevertheless understandably pissed off at their Pope for a while).
Their Christology referred to as Miaphysitism says that Jesus Christ has one incarnate nature that is both fully human and fully divine. The Chalcedonian formula is that Jesus had a human nature and a divine nature in hypostatic union. When the split occurred, Christology was Serious Business (people were occasionally killed in the schism). Today, the differences (particularly in the face of Protestantism) appear rather picayune. (Larry Gonick joked that the dispute between the Eastern and Oriental amounted to one saying "It says in [such and such bit of scripture] that the Lord's Enemy — namely YOU — smells like rotten eggs!" and the other saying, "Strangely, I agree verbatim..."). Recently leaders of the two churches have stated that both definitions are merely two different ways of saying the same thing and there is hope that there will be reconciliation. Some at the time of the original Monophysite Controversy — when miaphysitism was first proposed as a compromise between hardline monophysitism and the Chalcedonian line — realized this, but by that point the argument had gotten so calcified that nobody was willing to listen.
Dvoeveriye (Russian for "Dual Faith") are semi-pagan old Russian syncretic mystery cults which formed after the forced Christianization of Kievan Rus. In these cults, old pagan gods from Slavic Mythology were worshipped under names of Christian saints. For example, Perun, the god of thunder, was renamed into Elijah the Prophet (Ilya Prorok), and Veles, the god of the underworld, wealth and cattle, was worshipped as St. Blaise (Svyatoy Vlasiy). Dvoyeveriye cults were very pervasive and popular among peasants who didn't understand proper Christian theology; some rudiments of them remain even now in the Russian folk-Christianity. The page Slavic Mythology has more information on what god hid under what saint's name.
The Old Believers are a number of Russian Orthodox Christian sects that started in the 17th century after a particularly ill-understood religious reform by Patriarch Nikon. Further information about these reforms can be found in other places, but to summarize, there are several differences that make the Russian Orthodox Church stand apart from their Greek brethren. Nikon saw these as unnecessary and obscene additions to what he considered the purity of the Greek Orthodox Church, which holds primacy by virtue of its age, so he decided to "purify" the church by removing what he saw as innovations to conform more with the Greeks.
On their own, the reforms seemed fairly trivial. Several spellings were slightly changed, and minor details of worship and the liturgy were altered. However, it was the way in which these reforms were enforced that turned many against them. Old churches, considered to be built in a more Russian style, were mercilessly demolished to be rebuilt along more "Greek" lines. Icons considered to be infected with western, Catholic influences were desecrated and destroyed. Any who spoke out or disagreed risked severe punishment.
Ironically, it would later turn out that while the Russian and Greek churches had indeed naturally developed along slightly different lines, many of the Russian practices were actually older than the "pure" Greek liturgy Nikon was trying to impose. Due to its relative isolation, the Russian Orthodox Church retained many quirks and practices the Greek Church had long since discarded, and it was actually the Greeks who had undergone more revisions and innovations over the centuries.
Too little too late, unfortunately. Nikon eventually lost favour and was deposed, largely due to his attempts to get the Orthodox Church out from under the thumb of the Tsars. Even though Nikon was condemned, his reforms held on and continued to be promoted by the Tsar and the church authorities. Those who remained adamant in their conviction, mostly ultra-conservative and reclusive, formed communities in Siberia and other remote areas of Russia, and some of them moved then far outside it, similar to the American Mormon or Mennonite communities. Many of them still exist to this day.
Depictions in media
- The Soviet Union was antagonistic towards Russian Orthodox Christianity, seeing it as a tool of oppression ("the opiate of the masses"). Thus Russian Orthodox priests are depicted as being against the revolution and antagonistic to the workers in Soviet films such as Earth (1930) and The Battleship Potemkin. However, after the Nazis invaded in 1941, a lot of the antagonism went out the window as Stalin used every tool at his disposal to fight the invaders. Persecution of the Church after the war fluctuated; Khrushchev went for it in a big way, but Brezhnev and his successors deprioritized it.
- The Deer Hunter depicts a Pennsylvania steel town that is so heavily Russian Orthodox that they have a church with onion domes. The opening scenes of the movie show a Russian Orthodox wedding ceremony.
- My Big Fat Greek Wedding shows a Greek Orthodox baptism and (naturally) a wedding ceremony. The ceremonies are depicted inaccurately. Ian's baptism involves a kiddie pool in the middle of church. In real life, most Orthodox churches without adult-size baptismal fonts can find a more dignified substitute, such as a stock tank (a tank normally used to offer drinking water to livestock), or even use an outdoor body of water. Ian jokes that he's "Greek now." In real life, he would not have been baptized without a period of catechesis. Orthodox weddings do not traditionally involve the Mendelssohn wedding march, and there is generally not a bridal entrance: the bride and groom walk down the aisle together after the betrothal ceremony at the entrance. Also, most Orthodox churches in Western countries are willing to use the primary local language at least part of the time. It would be a rare church that would insist on the service being totally in Greek, when participants and family members would not understand what is going on. At the very least, a translated service text would be provided. Of course, everybody—especially actual Greek-American Orthodox Christians—let this go in the name of the Rule of Funny.
- Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit shows a few (ostensibly) Russian Orthodox Christians and churches, paying little heed to accuracy.
- Vampire Academy heavily features Orthodox Christianity as part of its lore, as it's the dominant religion of the Moroi world, which is based in Eastern Europe.
- The thriller Victoria features a Russian Orthodox priest, Father Dimitri, as one of its supporting characters.
- In Seinfeld, George Costanza once converted to "Latvian Orthodoxy"note so he could stay with his girlfriend. (It doesn't last, but the gang's interactions with the church puts a name to Kramer's "kavorka".)
- The PSP remake of Tactics Ogre uses titles from Orthodox Christianity when referring to the leaders of Galgastan and Bakram. "Abuna" is a title found in much African [Oriental] Orthodox churches, particularly in Ethiopia and Eritrea, and is also used to colloquially refer to a priest among Syrian and Egyptian Christians. "Hierophant" is a title that is not limited to Orthodoxy, but is commonly used in the Orthodox Church, particularly the Greek Orthodox Church. The PlayStation translation of the original game used Catholic titles instead.
- Half-Life 2 has least two, an Orthodox-like character named Father Grigori, and an Orthodox-like churchnote in the now abandoned place of Ravenholm.
- Crusader Kings 2 has both Orthodoxy and Oriental Orthodoxy (presented in-game as Miaphysitism).
- In South Park episode Ginger Cow uses Ecumenical Patriarch (or head of if not all Eastern Orthodoxy) as presented of Christianity in the episode instead typical Catholic Pope that show uses a lot.
- In The Simpsons episode Dark Knight Court, theres a brief gag of an Orthodox bishop holding a sign that says This is our Palm Sunday. outside of a Greek Orthodox Church while the other citizens of Springfield celebrate (Catholic) Easter.