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Bible Dictionaries

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

Greek Church

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As the Gospel spread in the first ages both east and west, the first Christian churches were so denominated. From the languages respectively used in their devotions, they were also called the Greek and Latin or Roman churches. For the first seven centuries these churches preserved a friendly communion with each other, notwithstanding they disagreed as to the time of keeping Easter, and some other points. But about the middle of the eighth century, disputes arose, which terminated in a schism, that continues to this day. It arose out of a controversy respecting the use of images in the churches. It happened that at this time both churches were under prelates equally dogmatical and ambitious. The patriarch of Constantinople insisted on putting down the use of all images and pictures, not only in his own church, but at Rome also, which the pope resented with equal violence and asperity. They mutually excommunicated each other; and the pope of Rome excommunicated not only the patriarch of Constantinople, but the emperor also. The controversy respecting images engendered another, no less bitter, respecting the procession of the Holy Ghost both from the Father and the Son, which the Greeks flatly denied, and charged the Romans with interpolating the word filioque into the ancient creeds. These controversies occupied the eighth and ninth centuries, after which some intervals of partial peace occurred; but in the eleventh century, the flame broke out afresh, and a total separation took place. At that time, the Patriarch Michael Cerularius, who was desirous to free himself from the papal authority, published an invective against the Latin church, and accused its members of maintaining various errors. Pope Leo 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 emperor for burning the act of excommunication which they had pronounced against the Greeks. Thus the separation was completed, 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, with the exception of the words above-mentioned, are the symbols of their faith.

2. The principal points which distinguish the Greek church from the Latin, are as follows: they maintain that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father only, and not from the Father and Son. They disown the authority of the pope, and deny that the church of Rome is the only true catholic church. They do not affect the character of infallibility, and utterly disallow works of supererogation, and indulgences. They admit of prayers and services for the dead, as an ancient and pious custom; but they will not admit the doctrine of purgatory, nor determine any thing dogmatically concerning the state of departed souls. In baptism they practice triune immersion, or dip three times; but some, as the Georgians, defer the baptism of their children till they are three, four, or more years of age. The chrism, or baptismal unction, immediately follows baptism. This chrism, solemnly consecrated on Maunday Thursday, 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." They administer the Lord's Supper in both kinds, dipping the bread in the cup of wine, in which a small portion of warm water is also inserted. They give it both to the clergy and laity, and to children after baptism. They exclude confirmation and extreme unction out of the number of sacraments; but they use the holy oil, which is not confined to persons in the close of life, like extreme unction, but is administered, if required, to all sick persons. Three priests, at least, are required to administer this sacrament, each priest, in his turn, anointing the sick person, and praying for his recovery. They deny auricular confession to be a divine command; but practice confession attended with absolution, and sometimes penance. Though they believe in transubstantiation, or rather consubstantiation, they do not worship the elements. They pay a secondary kind of adoration to the virgin and other saints. They do not admit of images or figures in bas- relief, or embossed work; but use paintings and silver shrines. They admit matrimony to be a sacrament, and celebrate it with great formality. Their secular clergy, under the rank of bishops, are allowed to marry once, and laymen twice; but fourth marriages they hold in abomination. They observe a great number of holy days, and keep four fasts in the year more solemn than the rest, of which Good Friday as the chief.

3. The service of the Greek church is too long and complicated to be particularly described in this work; the greater part consists in psalms and hymns. Five orders of priesthood belong to the Greek church; namely, bishops, priests, deacons, sub-deacons, and readers; which last includes singers, &c. The episcopal order is distinguished by the titles of metropolitan, archbishops, and bishops. The head of the Greek church, the patriarch of Constantinople, is elected by twelve bishops, who reside nearest that famous capital. This prelate calls councils by his own authority to govern the church. 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, convened monthly, is 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 archbishops. 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.

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

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Greek Church'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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