Who are the Eastern Churches?
Jesus Christ commanded his apostles to preach the "good news" to
the whole world. St. Peter travelled from Jerusalem to
Antioch and then to Rome. St. Andrew founded the Church in Byzantium which later
became Constantinople. St. James went to Egypt and St. Thomas to India. Of the
five initial Patriarchates, known as the Pentarchy, the
four in the Eastern half of the Roman Empire are the origins of what are today
called the Eastern Churches.
Where are they located?
The centers of early Eastern Christianity were Jerusalem,
Antioch, Alexandria and Constantinople. The fifth city of the Pentarchy
was Rome from which Western Christianity developed. Today, Eastern Christianity
has spread throughout the world, because of the immigration of ethnic
groups from the Middle East, Asia, and Eastern Europe to other continents
and other civilizations. Large concentrations are still located in the
homelands, but additional ecclesiastical jurisdictions now exist in most
areas of the world.
How are they distinct?
The Eastern Churches, both Catholic and Orthodox,
follow traditions that are traced to the earliest Church. The Divine
Liturgy uses a great deal of symbolism, representing heaven on earth
with singing, incense, and visual effects. The sacraments of Baptism,
Chrismation (Confirmation), and Eucharist are celebrated as a single
Rite of Christian Initiation. Most churches join the Holy Altar with
the nave by an icon screen on which Christ, the Mother of God, and
various saints are depicted. Spirituality and monasticism are focal
points for the Eastern Churches, and provide a close link between
the faithful, religious and clergy.