Introduction

Byzantine Cross icon.svg

The Eastern Orthodox Church, officially the Orthodox Catholic Church, is the second-largest Christian church, with approximately 260 million baptised members.It operates as a communion of autocephalous churches, each governed by its bishops in local synods, although roughly half of Eastern Orthodox Christians live in Russia. The church has no central doctrinal or governmental authority analogous to the Bishop of Rome, but the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople is recognised by all as primus inter pares ("first among equals") of the bishops. As one of the oldest surviving religious institutions in the world, the Eastern Orthodox Church has played a prominent role in the history and culture of Eastern and Southeastern Europe, the Caucasus, and the Near East.

Eastern Orthodox theology is based on the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (known simply as the Nicene Creed). The church teaches that it is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic church established by Jesus Christ in his Great Commission, and that its bishops are the successors of Christ's apostles. It maintains that it practices the original Christian faith, as passed down by holy tradition. Its patriarchates, reminiscent of the pentarchy, and autocephalous and autonomous churches reflect a variety of hierarchical organisation. Of its innumerable sacred mysteries, it recognises seven major sacraments, of which the Eucharist is the principal one, celebrated liturgically in synaxis. The church teaches that through consecration invoked by a priest, the sacrificial bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. The Virgin Mary is venerated in the Eastern Orthodox Church as the God-bearer, honoured in devotions.

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A reconstruction of the templon of St. Paul's and Peter's Cathedral.
A templon (from Greek τέμπλον meaning "temple", plural templa) is a feature of Byzantine architecture that first appeared in Christian churches around the fifth century AD and is still found in some Eastern Christian churches. Initially it was a low barrier probably not much different from the altar rails of many Western churches. It eventually evolved into the modern iconostasis, still found in Orthodox churches today. It separates the laity in the nave from the priests preparing the sacraments at the altar. It is usually composed of carved wood or marble colonnettes supporting an architrave (a beam resting on top of columns). Three doors, a large central one and two smaller flanking ones, lead into the sanctuary. The templon did not originally obscure the view of the altar, but as time passed, icons were hung from the beams, curtains were placed in between the colonnettes, and the templon became more and more opaque. Sometime between the 11th and 14th centuries, icons and proskynetaria began to be placed in the intercolumnar openings on the templon. After the reconquest in 1261, carving on the medieval templon approached sculpture in the round. The first ceiling-high, five-leveled Russian iconostasis was designed for the Cathedral of the Annunciation in Moscow Kremlin by Theophanes the Greek in 1405, and soon copied by his assistant Andrey Rublyov in the Cathedral of the Dormition in Vladimir in 1408.

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Cathedral of Christ the Savior
Credit: Joaquim Alves Gaspar

The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour is a church in Moscow, Russia, south-west of the Kremlin, which was consecrated in 1883. With an overall height of 105 metres (344 ft), it is the tallest Orthodox Christian church in the world.

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Holy Chinese Martyrs of the Eastern Orthodox Church

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Mosaic of Flavius Petrus Sabbatius Iustinianus
Saint Justinian, 482 or 483 CE – 13 or 14 November 565, was the second member of the Justinian Dynasty (after his uncle, Justin I) and Eastern Roman Emperor from 527 until his death. He is considered a saint amongst Eastern Orthodox Christians, and is also commemorated by the Lutheran Church. One of the most important figures of Late Antiquity, Justinian's rule constitutes a distinct epoch in the history of the Byzantine Empire. The impact of his administration extended far beyond the boundaries of his time and empire. Justinian's reign is marked by the ambitious but ultimately failed renovatio imperii, or "restoration of the empire". This ambition was expressed in the partial recovery of the territories of the Western Roman Empire, including the city of Rome itself. A still more resonant aspect of his legacy was the uniform rewriting of Roman law, the Corpus Juris Civilis, which is still the basis of civil law in many modern states. His reign also marked a blossoming of Byzantine culture, and his building program yielded such masterpieces as the church of Hagia Sophia, which was to be the center of Eastern Orthodox Christianity for many centuries. A devastating outbreak of bubonic plague in the early 540s marked the end of an age of splendor. The empire entered a period of territorial decline not to be reversed until the ninth century.

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