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"Orthodox Catholic Church" and "Orthodox Christian Church" redirect here. For other uses of the term, see Orthodox (disambiguation).

The Eastern Orthodox Church, officially the Orthodox Catholic Church, also referred to as the Orthodox Church and Orthodoxy, is the second largest Christian church in the world and the third largest branch of Christianity, after Catholicism and Protestantism, with an estimated 225–300 million adherents. Distinct from other groups of churches that call themselves Orthodox, it is nevertheless the largest, and tends to be the one identified most often with the single term "Orthodox".

The Orthodox Church is one of the oldest religious institutions in the world, and has played a prominent role in European and Near Eastern culture. It spread throughout the Roman and later Eastern Roman Empires. It teaches that it is the continuation of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church established by Jesus Christ in his Great Commission to the apostles. It practices what it understands to be the original faith passed down from the Apostles (Holy Tradition).

Most members live in Eastern Europe, the Balkans, the Caucasus and the Middle East, but from its roots in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Eastern Orthodox Church has grown into a global religion, with churches in most countries and major cities. Its adherents are a majority in Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania, Russia, Serbia and Ukraine; significant minority populations exist in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kazakhstan, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Iraq, and Istanbul (Constantinople), the historic seat of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. Church liturgies are conducted in different languages, including the original Koine Greek of the New Testament in the Greek Orthodox Church, and Church Slavonic.

The church administration is composed of self-governing ecclesial bodies, each geographically distinct but unified in theology and worship, including four ancient patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, eleven autocephalous churches, Cyprus, Sinai, Russia, Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, Romania, Georgia, Poland, Albania and Czech Republic and Slovakia, and three autonomous churches, Finland, Japan and China. Each self-governing body has a Holy Synod to administer its jurisdiction and to lead the church in the preservation and teaching of the apostolic and patristic traditions and church practices. Orthodox bishops trace their lineage back to the apostles through apostolic succession. Although composed of self-governed bodies, the Eastern Orthodox communion widely regards the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople as the spiritual leader (primus inter pares; first among equals) of the 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide.

Church teaching is that Orthodox Christians, through baptism, enter a new life of salvation through repentance whose purpose is to share in the life of God through the work of the Holy Spirit. The Orthodox Christian life is a spiritual pilgrimage in which each person, through the imitation of Christ and hesychasm, cultivates the practice of unceasing prayer. Each life occurs within the life of the church as a member of the body of Christ. It is then through the fire of God's love in the action of the Holy Spirit that each member becomes more holy, more wholly unified with Christ, starting in this life and continuing in the next. The church teaches that everyone, being born in God's image, is called to theosis, fulfillment of the image in likeness to God. God the creator, having divinity by nature, offers each person participation in divinity by cooperatively accepting His gift of grace.

The Orthodox Church, in understanding itself to be the Body of Christ, and similarly in understanding the Christian life to lead to the unification in Christ of all members of his body, views the church as embracing all Christ's members, those now living on earth, and also all those through the ages who have passed on to the heavenly life. The church includes the Christian saints from all times, and also judges, prophets and righteous Jews of the first covenant, Adam and Eve, even the angels and heavenly hosts. In Orthodox services, the earthly members together with the heavenly members worship God as one community in Christ, in a union that transcends time and space and joins heaven to earth. This unity of the Church is sometimes called the communion of the saints.



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