Orthodox Christianity and the Reformation

Last time we took a look at the Roman Catholic Church. This time we look at some of the other Orthodox (or Catholic) Religions not directly affiliated with the Vatican, Papacy or Italy.

Sometime during the time of the Byzantine Empire (circa 4th or 5th century) Missionaries, probably from the Roman Orthodox (or Catholic) Church, went out into the world and eventually established Orthodox Churches in Greece, Russia, Romania and the other so-called “Balkan” states.

Some of these churches became and stayed tied to Rome and can be rightfully called Roman Catholic Churches, but some churches developed their own indigenous identities and practices based on the theology imparted by the Roman Orthodox Ecclesiastics (ordained Clerics). These are called Ecclesiastically Independent Orthodox Churches and they came about as a result of the conflicts between Rome, the original seat of the political Empire, and Constantinople (now Istanbul), which is where the seat of the Empire moved later in time.

Rome demanded that the Liturgy (all that is spoken during a church service or “mass”) be done in Latin and the “Patriarch” (or highest male leader) of Constantinople said it should be in the local language (something which took the Catholic Church close to 1,400 years to change, which gives you an idea of how slowly “Orthodox” or “Conservative” religion changes its point of view).

As a result of this conflict splinter Orthodox (or Catholic) Churches indigenous to local regions such as Greece (Greek Orthodox), Russia (Russian Orthodox) and Romania (Romanian Orthodox) developed their own methods and followings.

One of the next things that these new churches instituted was the fact that at least a Priest (the lowest ranking Ecclesiastic or ordained Cleric) can marry. This was something forbidden (right up to this date) by the Roman Orthodox (Catholic) Church.

In some or all of these churches Bishops (senior Ecclesiastic leaders) and Archbishops (most senior Ecclesiastics or in some instances the sole Patriarch or leader of the national or regional church body) still had to remain unmarried, but they allowed the rank and file Priests the rights of marriage to a woman (all Priests in Orthodox religions must be male).

Much of the remaining methods of these churches mirror a lot of what goes on in the Roman Catholic Church.

I recall seeing an Orthodox wedding that probably included a full mass. Most of it was spoken in a foreign language and it included a considerable amount of smoke from an incense burner held and shaken by the Priest. The groom had a crown of thorns placed on his head (as was done to Jesus during his trial before the Roman leadership, the Jewish Temple leadership and the other Kingdoms) and ran around the “pulpit” (a central mantle piece from where the Priests speak to the mass or gathering) while incense was shaken around him.

This religious ceremony took a considerable period of time, probably close to two full hours.

All those members of the church and family of this same religions, which might have been Roman Catholic, stopped at a metal vessel containing water (“Holy water” which is water blessed by an Ecclesiastic).

To this day most of the “Eastern Orthodox (or Catholic)” churches dress in solid black, have a large, black hat or headdress and are required to have beards. This is a commonality with many “Orthodox” religions, including Muslim, Jewish and Amish. It is something that dates back to the time of Jesus, although many in that time wore white or colored robes (if they were rich at least), but the Clerics (or Ecclesiastics) were always in dark colors with long robes, big headpieces, long hair and beards.

One must remember there were no “barbers” in the time of the origin of Jewish, Christian and Muslim religions.

To this day Orthodox Jewish and Muslim males are generally required to wear bears if they are religious Patriarchs (senior members of the church body) or unmarried. Only those men in Orthodox religions that permit marriages of Clerics and Neo-Clerics, can generally marry and in some instances can then shave off their bears.

Around the 14th century came a radical movement which became known as that Protestant (or Reformation – which is the literal translation into English of the word Protestant) movement.

Eastern Orthodox Churches (as well as the Baptist Church movement) are NOT considered Protestant, nor is the Anglican Church (commonly known as the Church of England).

The Protestant movement and the work of Martin Luther and others will be looked at in future Issues as it is radically different from the Orthodox (or Catholic) movement.

The Church of England came about because the Pope in Rome wouldn’t annul the marriage of King Henry the VIII. King Henry and his advisors were certainly aware of the new growing dissatisfactions among the “liberals” who would go on to fully develop the Protestant religion, but Henry did not seem to want to take this route. Instead a slightly reformist Orthodox (or Catholic) church patterned more after the concepts employed by the Eastern Orthodox religions, especially their views on marriage and divorce, which was more liberal than those views (that are still held to this date) by the Roman Catholic Church.

Like the Eastern Orthodox religions a regional or national Patriarch was in charge of the Anglican Church, in the instance of England this became known as the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is the leader of this new church.

The English Monarchy (political Patriarchal rulers) became splintered as a result of this and fell into various camps. The Catholic families. The families supporting the newly formed Church of England and down the line families who turned to the newer Protestant faiths.

As with John F. Kennedy in the United States, who worried many Protestants (the major religious movement in America) because Kennedy was Catholic, many in England feared what would happen when a King or Queen who was in one religious movement died and the kingdom passed on to another family “house” with another religious view. After a few centuries, however, England survived through this traumatic change of socio-politico-religious venue and today the Church of England is their main church.

All of these goings on in England and some other nations did have an effect on the people as a whole. Most of Europe was Orthodox Christian, with a minority of Jewish, Muslim and to a very small degree Hindu or Buddhist populists. The newly growing Protestant movement was having a hard time co-existing with all those “Catholic” religions and thus when the New World opened up in the 1500-1600s many of these new, radical, liberal Protestants got on to ships and sailed to America to found a land where they could practice their beliefs freely.

In England, Ireland and Scotland, however, wars broke out over some of this religious turf – going on almost to this date in Northern Ireland between the Catholic and Protestant factions. The Catholics want to become part of Ireland (which is largely Catholic) while the Protestants want to keep it conservative or Orthodox and stay a part of the British (church of England and Protestant majority) dominance.

England, proper, however never got more than having their hair mussed a little. There was no real civil war or major civil disobedience. Their way of government and the Monarchy managed to wrestle with the religious quandary, although there certainly was some (literal and figurative) back stabbing going on inside the circles of both politics and royalty.


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