Christianity is one of the most widely practiced religions in the world with around 2.3 billion followers. It is broadly split into 3 branches, Catholics, Protestant, and (Eastern) Orthodox. While Catholics and Orthodox have been prevalent for a longer time, Protestantism began in the 16th century.
In the 4th century, Christianity was prevalent in 5 areas, Constantinople (Turkey), Alexandria (Egypt), Jerusalem (Israel), Antioch (Greece), and Rome (Italy). As Islam started to flourish, Constantinople and Rome became the epicenters of Christianity. With time, the powers in these places started to withdraw.
Due to linguistic and cultural differences and various religious disagreements and political conflicts, resulted in Great Schism (Schism of 1054), the division of Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches, has lasted since the 11th century.
The difference between Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholics is that for the Roman Catholics, the Pope is infallible and has complete authority over the churches whereas, in Greek Orthodox churches, the pope is not infallible.
Comparison Table Between Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholics
|Parameters of Comparison||Greek Orthodox||Roman Catholics|
|Other Name||Eastern Orthodox/ Byzantine Orthodox||Western Church|
|Seat of Power||Constantinople||Rome|
|Members of the Clergy||Priests who were allowed to marry||Priests who practiced celibacy|
|Fasting||Fast almost half the year||Fast rigorously on Fridays|
|Worship||Venerate icons.||Venerate statues|
|Language of service||Native language||Latin|
|Involvement of children||Fully included||Baptized but not allowed to participate fully|
|Famous church||St Andrew’s Cathedral||St. Peter’s Basilica Vatican City|
What is the Greek Orthodox Church?
It is one of the three major jurisdictional groups of Christianity. Around 200 million people around the world follow the Orthodox tradition. Its followers live mainly in the Balkans, the Middle East, and former Soviet countries. The word orthodox takes its meaning from the Greek words orthos (‘right’) and doxa (‘belief’) hence meaning “right believing”. It is used to refer to communities or individuals who preserved the true faith.
Greek Orthodox churches are made up of several self-governing Churches that are sometimes ‘autocephalous’ (having their head) or ‘autonomous’ (self-governing). They believe that God revealed himself in Jesus Christ. They also believe in the incarnation of Christ, his crucifixion and resurrection.
Orthodox churches stress a way of living and a belief that is expressed particularly through worship. Their form of worshipping God is what was followed from the very beginnings of Christianity. The Orthodox Bible is the same as that of most Churches, except that its Old Testament is based on the ancient Jewish translation into Greek called the Septuagint and not on the Hebrew.
Fasting plays an important part in the Orthodox Christian life. According to their holy books, Orthodox Christians need to fast around 180–200 days per year. They believe that fasting can be the ‘foundation of all good’.
They follow four main fasting periods:
- The Great Fast or the period of Lent
- The Fast of the Apostles: Eight days after Pentecost until 28th June. Ends with the Feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul.
- The Dormition Fast from 1st August to 14th August.
- The Christmas Fast from 15 November to 24th December.
What is the Roman Catholic Church?
The Roman Catholic Church is another ancient religious institution consisting of over a billion members worldwide. It is the largest Christian body in the world. The word Catholic in Greek means “Universal”.
Catholics believe that Jesus Christ, the son of God made man who came to earth to redeem humanity’s sins through His death and resurrection and that the Bible is the inspired word of God.
The leader of the Roman Catholic Church is the Bishop, who is also called the Pope. He is believed to be the successor to Saint Peter whom Christ appointed as the first head of His church. He is therefore called apostolic successor, an unbroken line back to Peter. The Pope has the supreme authority. He can speak infallibly on matters of faith.
Catholic churches are a union of 24 different churches, each having their form of practice. The Roman church is the largest of them all. They ordain only celibate men to the priesthood.
Catholics believe that the purpose of fasting is for spiritual focus and to bring in self-discipline. They fast during Lent, on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and all Fridays throughout the year.
Main Differences Between Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholics
- Roman Catholics regard the Pope as infallible, while Greek Orthodox believers don’t.
- Roman Catholic priests celibate, while priests in the Greek Orthodox can marry before they are ordinated.
- Orthodox Christian babies are fully engaged in the church while the Catholic kids are baptized, but they can’t fully participate until later.
- Roman Catholics use statues to represent the saints, while the Orthodox Church has an iconographic tradition.
- Roman Catholics tend to kneel in prayer while Orthodox worshippers usually stand.
- The Roman Catholics believe in purgatory and the system of indulgences while the Orthodox don’t.
- Roman Catholics make use of an unleavened wafer, while members of the Greek Orthodox Church use unleavened bread.
- The services are held in Latin in Roman Catholic churches, while in Greek Orthodox churches, the services are held in native languages.
- The Orthodox Church observes the Julian calendar, so its followers celebrate religious festivals on different dates to Catholics who use the Gregorian calendar.
With the Great Schism, the 2 churches drifted apart, and there became small differences. Though of different ideals, Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox believers both believe in the same God. The Catholic Churches have changed a lot, and continue to change while the Orthodox have not. Even though numerous attempts have been made to unite the two jurisdictional groups there always seems to be a division between the two.