A Dictionary of All Religions and Religious Denominations/Greek Church

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GREEK CHURCH. In the eighth century, there arose a difference between the eastern and western churches, which caused much contention during the ninth century; and in the eleventh a total separation took place. At that time the patriarch Michael Cerularius, who was desirous to be freed from the papal authority, published an invective against the Latin church, and accused its members of maintaining various errours. Pope Leo IX retorted the charge, and sent legates from Rome to Constantinople. The Greek patriarch refused to see them; upon which they excommunicated him and his adherents publicly in the church of St. Sophia, A. D. 1054. The Greek patriarch excommunicated those legates, with all their adherents and followers, in a public council; and procured an order of the emperour for burning the act of excommunication, which they had pronounced against the Greeks. This rupture has never been healed: and at this day a very considerable part of the world profess the religion of the Greek, or eastern church. The Nicene and Athanasian creeds are the symbols of their faith.

The principal points, which distinguish the Greek church from the Latin, are as follow: —(1.) They maintain, that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father only, and not from the Father and the Son.—(2.) They disown the authority of the pope, and deny that the church of Rome is the true catholic church.—(3.) They do not affect the character of infallibility.—(4.) They utterly disallow works of supererogation, indulgences, and dispensations.— (5.) They admit of prayers and services for the dead, as an ancient and pious custom.; and even pray for the remission of their sins: but they will not allow the doctrine of purgatory, nor determine any thing dogmatically concerning the state of departed souls.—(6.) Some, as the Georgians, defer the baptism of their children till they are three or four or more years of age.—(7.) The chrism, or baptismal unction, immediately follows baptism. The priest anoints the person baptized in the principal parts of his body, with an ointment consecrated with many curious ceremonies for that purpose by a bishop; this chrism is called the unction with ointment, and is a mystery peculiar to the Greek communion, holding the place of confirmation in that of the Roman: it is styled the seal of the gift of the Holy Ghost.— (8.) They insist, that the sacrament of the Lord's supper ought to be administered in both kinds: and they give the sacrament to children after baptism.—(9.) They exclude confirmation and extreme unction out of the seven sacraments; but they use the holy oil, or euchalaion, which is not confined to persons in the close of life, like the extreme unction of the Roman church: but is administered, if required, to devout persons upon the slightest malady. Seven priests are required to administer this sacrament regularly, and it cannot be administered at all by less than three. After the oil is solemnly consecrated, each priest, in his turn, anoints the sick person, and prays for his recovery.—{10.) They deny auricular confession to be a divine precept, and say it is only a positive institution of the church. Confession and absolution constitute this mystery in the Greek church, in which penance does not make a necessary part—(11.) They do not pay any religious homage to the eucharist.-(l2.) They administer the communion to the laity, both in sickness and health.—(13.) They do not admit of images or figures in bass-relief, or embossed work; but use painting and sculpture in silver.—(14.) They permit their secular[1] clergy to marry once; but never twice, unless they renounce their function, and become laymen.—(15.) They condemn all fourth marriages.

The invocation of saints and transubstantiation, are alike received by the Greek and Latin churches. They observe a number of holydays, and keep four fasts in the year more solemn than the rest; of which the fast in lent, before easier, is the chief.

The service of the Greek church is too long and complicated to be particularly described in this work: the greatest part consists in psalms and hymns.—Five orders of priesthood belong to the Greek church; viz. bishops, priests, deacons, sub-deacons, and readers; which last includes singers, &c. The episcopal order is distinguished by the titles of metropolitan, arch-bishops, and bishops. The head of the Greek church, the patriarch of Constantinople, is elected by twelve bishops, who reside nearest that famous capital; but the right of confirming this election belongs at present to the Turkish emperour. The power of this prelate is very extensive. He calls councils by his own authority to govern the church, and with permission of the emperour, administers justice in civil cases among the members of his communion. The other patriarchs are those of Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria, all nominated by the patriarch of Constantinople who enjoys a most extensive jurisdiction. For the administration of ecclesiastical affairs, a synod is convened monthly, composed of the heads of the church resident in Constantinople. In this assembly the patriarch of Constantinople presides, with those of Antioch and Jerusalem, and twelve arch-bishops.

In regard to discipline and worship, the Greek church has the same division of the clergy into regular and secular, the same spiritual jurisdiction of bishops and their officials, the same distinction of ranks and offices with the church of Rome.

The Greek church comprehends in its bosom a considerable part of Greece, the Grecian isles, Wallachia, Moldavia, Egypt, Abyssinia, Nubia, Lydia, Arabia, Mesopotamia, Syria, Silicia, and Palestine; Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem; the whole of the Russian empire in Europe; great part of Siberia in Asia; Astracan, Casan, and Georgia.

The riches of some of the Greek churches and monasteries, in jewels, (particularly pearls,) in plate, and in the habits of the clergy, are very great, and reckoned not much inferiour to those in Roman Catholic countries.[2] See Russian Church.


Original footnotes[edit]

  1. Their regular or monastic clergy are never allowed to marry.
  2. Rieaut's State of the Greek Church, King's History of the Greek Church, , p, 11—134. Father Simon's Religion of the Eastern Nations, p. 5—8. Thevenot's Travels, p. 412. Brouphton's Hist. Lib. vol i. p. 145. History of Religion, vol. vi. p. 251—253. Pinkerton's Greek Church in Russia.