Glossary of Terms
Church of Albania
One of the fourteen autocephalous Orthodox churches that comprise the Holy and Great Council. While Christianized during the Apostolic times, the Church of Albania is one of the more recent autocephalous churches, receiving autocephaly from the Church of Constantinople in 1937. Its primary territory is the Republic of Albania. Its primate is His Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana and All Albania. The official website is http://orthodoxalbania.org.
Patriarchate of Alexandria
One of the fourteen autocephalous Orthodox churches that comprise the Holy and Great Council. Its primate is the successor to Saint Mark the Evangelist, who founded the Church of Alexandria in 62 A.D. It is one of the five ancient patriarchates of the early Church, known as the Pentarchy. Its primate is His Beatitude Pope and Patriarch Theodoros II of Alexandria and All Africa. Its primary territory is Africa, especially Egypt. Its official website is
Patriarchate of Antioch
One of the fourteen autocephalous Orthodox churches that comprise the Holy and Great Council. Its primate is His Beatitude Patriarch John X, whose see (seat) is Damascus, Syria. One of the five ancient patriarchates, its original see was Antioch, and the Church refers to itself as the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East. The Patriarchate of Antioch was established by Saint Peter the Apostle in 34 A.D. Its primary territory includes Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, United Arab Emirate, and parts of Turkey. However, the majority of Antiochian faithful now reside outside of the Middle East and are scattered throughout the world. Its official website is http://antiochpatriarchate.org.
A title that literally means “first bishop.” It is a title granted to a senior bishop, usually one who is in charge of a large ecclesiastical jurisdiction. He may or may not have provincial oversight of other bishops. He may or may not have auxiliary bishops assisting him.
In the Byzantine tradition, archbishop is an honorific title given to a metropolitan in regions where society is unfamiliar with the title “Metropolitan.” In the Slavonic and Antiochian traditions, a metropolitan outranks an archbishop; in the Greek tradition an archbishop is a metropolitan with an honorific title.
The status of a local Orthodox Christian church that maintains internal self-governance through its local synod of bishops. There are fourteen local Orthodox churches that are officially recognized as “autocephalous,” including: the four Ancient Eastern Patriarchates (Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem); five Modern Patriarchates (Russia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Georgia); and five local Autocephalous Churches headed by an archbishop (Cyprus, Greece, Poland, Albania, and the Czech Lands and Slovakia). The Modern Patriarchates and the local Autocephalous Churches (with the exception of Cyprus) were granted autocephaly from the Church of Constantinople.
Like autocephaly, autonomy denotes internal self-governance. The major distinction between an autonomous and an autocephalous church pertains to the process of electing the primate. The primate of an autocephalous church is elected by the local church’s synod; the primate of an autonomous church is elected by the synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In both cases, the primate may only be elected from among the bishops of the local church. The synods of local autocephalous churches elect their diocesan bishops, metropolitans, and primates of local autonomous eparchies.
One of two sacraments (along with the Eucharist) accepted by most Christian churches. Baptism is considered one of the three sacraments of initiation (along with chrismation and the Eucharist).
From antiquity, the Orthodox Church continues to practice infant baptism. Baptism is performed in the name of the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) through full triple immersion in water. In some circumstances, the Orthodox Church recognizes a baptism performed in other Christian communions; however, this requires, among other things, Trinitarian faith and the use of a Trinitarian formula.
His Beatitude is a formal title of respect for a primate (patriarch or archbishop) of an autocephalous Church. It should not be used in news stories except in quoted matter. If used, it should be capitalized along with the preceding modifier His or Your. “Everyone should stand when His Beatitude enters the room,” he said. The Ecumenical Patriarch, since the fifth century, has the title “All-Holiness,” while the Pope of Rome has the title of “Holiness.”
In the teaching of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, and others that have an episcopal or hierarchical form of governance, bishop is the highest order of ordained ministry, or the fullness of the ordained priesthood. A ruling bishop or diocesan bishop is responsible for and the head of all the parishes located in a particular geographical territory, called a diocese, archdiocese, or metropolis. All authority of the lower orders of clergy is derived from the bishop.
An Orthodox bishop, depending on his jurisdiction and rank, may be called bishop (usually auxiliary to an archbishop), metropolitan (head of a large region), archbishop (head of an Orthodox country or capital city), or patriarch (head of an ancient or local Church). The bishops of the ancient Sees of Rome and Alexandria are also called popes. See clergy titles for how to reference a bishop.
Church of Bulgaria
One of the fourteen autocephalous Orthodox churches that comprise the Holy and Great Council. Bulgaria was first Christianized in 864 A.D. with the baptism of Tsar Boris by Ecumenical Patriarch Photius. It was granted autocephaly by the Church of Constantinople in 1945 and later recognized as a patriarchate in 1961. Its primate is His Beatitude Patriarch Neofit. Its Official official website is http://www.bg-patriarshia.bg/.
The Orthodox Church has three orders of clergy: deacon, presbyter or priest (hiereas in Greek), and bishop (episkopos). Married men may be ordained priests, but an ordained man may not marry after ordination. Celibacy is required of monks. Only celibates are permitted to become bishops. Many Orthodox bishops follow the custom of using only a first name after the title.
For Orthodox clergy, the following titles are acceptable in verbal references:
deacon or priest: Father
archpriest and archimandrite: Father
bishop: Your Grace
metropolitan or archbishop (non-head of an autocephalous church): Your Eminence
patriarch and archbishop (head of an autocephalous church): Your Beatitude
ecumenical patriarch: Your All-Holiness
For Orthodox clergy, the following titles are acceptable in written references:
deacon or priest: Reverend
archpriest and archimandrite: Very Reverend
bishop: Your Grace or His Grace
metropolitan or archbishop (non-head of an autocephalous church): Your Eminence or His Eminence
patriarch and archbishop (head of an autocephalous church): Your Beatitude or His Beatitude
ecumenical patriarch: Your All-Holiness or His All-Holiness
Church of Cyprus
One of the fourteen autocephalous Orthodox churches that comprise the Holy and Great Council. The local Church of Cyprus was established by Saint Barnabas the Apostle in 46 A.D. Its territory consists of the island of Cyprus. The current primate is His Beatitude Archbishop Chrysostomos II. The official website is http://www.churchofcyprus.org.cy.
Church of Czech Lands and Slovakia
One of the fourteen autocephalous Orthodox churches that comprise the Holy and Great Council. The region received the Christian faith through the missionary efforts of Saints Cyril and Methodius in 867-886 A.D. The local Church received autocephaly by Constantinople in 1998. Its primate is His Beatitude Archbishop Rastislav. Its official website is http://pravoslavnacirkev.cz/.
Also known as a synod. In the Orthodox Church, the most important instrument of church administration is the council. For this reason, the Orthodox Church is known for its conciliar process of decision-making. Councils are convened locally (Eparchial Councils, Metropolitan Councils), regionally (Patriarchal or Autocephalous Church Councils), and universally (Ecumenical Councils, Great Councils, and Pan-Orthodox Councils). Each council is convened and presided over by the first bishop or a local primate. The universal councils are convened and presided over by the Ecumenical Patriarch. The Holy and Great Council is not considered an Ecumenical Council; however it is the first time in over twelve centuries that a pan-Orthodox council on this level has been convened.
The first degree of the major orders of clergy in the Orthodox Church, followed by the presbyter and the bishop. The word deacon means servant; the original Greek referred to a person who waited on tables. In the Orthodox Church, the diaconate is a permanent office. Just as with bishops and presbyters, there are distinctions of administrative rank among deacons. The chief deacon in service to a bishop is called an archdeacon. See clergy titles for how to reference a deacon.
A scattering of a people from their original homeland or the new community formed by such a people. Diaspora can also refer geographically to those areas of the world beyond the canonically defined territories of autocephalous Churches. According to the canonical tradition and practice of the Church, diaspora territories come under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Some Orthodox peoples who have chosen or have been forced to migrate into new territories believe that they are living as dispersed peoples, and have therefore tried to establish ethnic ecclesiastical communities to help them retain a connection to their homelands. In many of these areas, Orthodox Christianity is being embraced by peoples who do not maintain a diaspora identity. Moreover, the descendants of early migrants have largely abandoned a diaspora identity. Orthodoxy is experiencing a pastoral challenge given that the communities are no longer homogenous as in previous decades.
One of the major challenges of Orthodoxy in the diaspora is the existence of multiple overlapping ecclesiastical presences, a phenomenon against the canonical tradition that any given piece of canonical territory should have a single bishop and should come under the oversight of a single Church. Overlapping jurisdictions currently exist in North and South America, Western Europe, Asia, and Australasia. The Holy and Great Council will review the conditions of the diaspora as part of its regular work. The advance document on diaspora can be accessed HERE.
The standard term for an ordinary territorial division of the Church headed by a bishop. The chief diocese of a group of dioceses usually is called an archdiocese. In general, an Orthodox diocese takes its name from the city-see, the community where the bishop resides and his cathedral is located. Another name for a diocese is an “eparchy.”
A word that comes from Greek meaning “folding boards.” The word is used in the Church today to describe a type of icon – two images held together with a hinge – or two kinds of lists. One diptych is a list of names of the living and deceased members of a parish, commemorated during the Divine Liturgy. A second diptych is a list of names used by an autocephalous church to commemorate the primates of all the world's autocephalous churches. The names in the diptychs are read liturgically by the deacon (and echoed by the choir) at a Divine Liturgy celebrated by a patriarch or autocephalous primate. The order of the diptychs of the Orthodox Church are as follows:
- Czech Lands and Slovakia
The primary worship service of the Church. The Divine Liturgy is a eucharistic service. It contains two parts: the Liturgy of the Catechumens, sometimes called the Liturgy of the Word, at which the Scriptures are proclaimed and expounded; and the Liturgy of the Faithful, sometimes called the Liturgy of the Eucharist, in which the gifts of bread and wine are offered and consecrated; the faithful then partake of them in the sacrament of holy communion. For more information on How to Cover a Liturgy, click HERE. For a video of a Patriarchal Divine Liturgy, click HERE.
Also known as Pascha in the Orthodox Church, this is the chief feast in the liturgical calendars of all Christian churches, commemorating Christ’s resurrection from the dead. The date of Easter is calculated by lunar cycles — it is the first Sunday after the first full moon of spring — because Christ’s death and resurrection were linked to the Passover, a feast calculated according to the Jewish lunar calendar. In the Catholic and Protestant traditions, Easter falls between March 22 and April 25 inclusive. All of the Orthodox churches — including those which have adopted the Gregorian calendar for other purposes — continued to use the older Julian calendar to calculate the date for Easter. As a result, Orthodox and Western celebrations of Easter/Pascha sometimes coincide; other times it can be up to five weeks apart.
Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople
The “first among equals,” His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was enthroned November 2, 1991. He is addressed as His All-Holiness. In the Orthodox Church the primacy of the chief bishop is that of a first among equals, often referred to as a primacy of honor. He is the 269th successor to Saint Andrew, the first-called of the Apostles. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has been particularly active internationally and has a renowned reputation as an environmentalist. One of his first focuses was rebuilding the once-persecuted Orthodox Churches of Eastern Europe following the fall of Soviet Communism in 1989-91. He has also continued the reconciliation dialogues with the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion, started by his predecessors, and initiated dialogues with other faiths. For his biography, click HERE.
A general term for a diocese used by Orthodox Christians and Eastern Catholics, though often used technically to refer to the territory over which the primate, often referred to as an eparch, has immediate jurisdictional authority (e.g., Moscow and its immediate environs are the eparchy of the Patriarch of Moscow and All-Russia).
One of the fourteen autocephalous Orthodox churches that comprise the Holy and Great Council. The Ecumenical Patriarchate was established by Saint Andrew the Apostle in 37 A.D. Its primate is His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who has the status of primus inter pares (“first among equals”) among Orthodox bishops. The ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate includes Constantinople, Asia Minor, Mount Athos, Crete, northern Greece and the Dodecanese. According to the canons of the Church, all regions beyond the official ecclesial boundaries of each local autocephalous Church come under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, including, inter alia, North and South America, Western Europe, Asia, and Australia. It is one of the five ancient patriarchates, which also include Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Rome. The Ecumenical Patriarchate has the responsibility of being the Church of final appeal in Orthodoxy, and it is the only Church that may establish autocephalous and autonomous Churches. For information on the primacy of the Ecumenical Patriarcahte, click here. Its official website is http://www.patriarchate.org.
A form of church jurisdiction sometimes established for Orthodox Christians living outside their native land. An exarchate can also be established by the Ecumenical Patriarchate when the Church of Constantinople is invited and requested to intervene during an internal ecclesiastical conflict.
Use Father (not the Rev.) as the formal title before the name of Orthodox priests in verbal references. Use Reverend (not Father) as the formal title before the name of Orthodox priests in all written references. In the Orthodox tradition it is more common to refer to a priest using “Father” and his first name, e.g. Father John, Fr. Mark. For more information on referencing Orthodox clergy, see clergy titles.
A Latin word, meaning “and from the Son,” that was added by the Church of the West to the Nicene Creed centuries following its original conciliar formulation. It was first introduced to help combat a form of Arianism, which taught that the Son was lower in stature than the Father. In time, however, the filioque formula introduced teachings that were not consistent with orthodox tradition and dogma. The Churches of the East therefore objected to what they considered an unwarranted change in the conciliar and orthodox profession of faith, and the “filioque” controversy was among the factors that contributed to a hardening of positions following the “Great Schism” of 1054.
Church of Georgia
One of the fourteen autocephalous Orthodox churches that comprise the Holy and Great Council. Its primate is His Beatitude Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II. The church traces its roots to the missionary efforts of Saint Andrew the Apostle in 44 A.D. It was officially granted autocephaly in 1917 by the Church of Constantinople and later recognized as a patriarchate by Constantinople in 1990..Its official website is http://patriarchate.ge/geo/.
Church of Greece
One of the fourteen autocephalous Orthodox churches that comprise the Holy and Great Council, the local Church of Greece was established by Saint Paul the Apostle. Its territory consists of the whole of Greece except for those parts which belong to the Church of Constantinople, such as Northern Greece, Mount Athos, the Dodecanese, and Crete. Though bishops of the “new lands” (those that were liberated from 1912 and afterward) are members of the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece, they commemorate the Patriarch of Constantinople. Its primate is His Beatitude Archbishop Ieronymos II. Its official website is http://www.ecclesia.gr.
Patriarchate of Jerusalem
One of the fourteen autocephalous Orthodox churches that comprise the Holy and Great Council. It is recognized as the “mother of all churches,” since Christians believe that the Church was established in Jerusalem with the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples of Jesus Christ on the day of Pentecost. The Primate, His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III, is the 141st Patriarch of Jerusalem. The members of this ancient Church live primarily in Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. The official website is http://www.jerusalem-patriarchate.info.
The Orthodox Church has a one-year cycle of liturgical readings. September 1st marks the beginning of the liturgical year of fixed feasts. The cycle of movable feasts has Easter/Pascha as its focus. It begins with three weeks plus one day (four Sundays) of pre-Lent and continues with six weeks of Lent, Holy Week, Easter/Pascha, the Paschal season, Ascension, Pentecost and then Sundays of ordinary time, which are counted sequentially until the start of the next pre-Lenten period.
In Orthodox churches, a metropolitan heads an ecclesiastical province, a metropolitan see, and ranks below the patriarch. See clergy titles for how to reference a metropolitan.
A profession of faith considered the primary rule of faith in the Orthodox Church. Although this is commonly known as the Nicene Creed, scholars refer to it as the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed because it was formulated at the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. and completed at the Council of Constantinople in 381 A.D.
Orthodox Church and Orthodox churches
While it is common to speak of “Orthodox churches,” there is only one Orthodox Church. In as much as the Church is both universal/catholic and local, it is acceptable to speak of local orthodox churches. Their common faith and Eucharistic communion allows them all to be members of the one Orthodox Church. Following the “Great Schism” of 1054 between the Churches of Rome and Constantinople, the Churches of the East (Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem) remained undivided as the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church maintains a unity of doctrine and an ordained hierarchy that traces its roots back to the original apostles. With a combined total of 300 million members, the Orthodox Church represents the second-largest Christian communion, after the Roman Catholic Church.
The Orthodox Church is often called “Eastern Orthodox.” Eastern may be dropped in most references, except where there could be confusion with the Oriental Orthodox churches.
Note: There are many small independent church bodies that use “Orthodox” in their name but are not in communion with the one canonical Orthodox Church.
The Catholic teaching that the pope can exercise direct authority over the Church anywhere in the world. This poses an obstacle to reunion for most non-Catholic Christians. Many non-Catholics would be willing to accept a primacy of honor, such as that held within the Anglican Communion by the archbishop of Canterbury or among the Orthodox churches by the Patriarch of Constantinople, but not the worldwide jurisdictional authority accorded to the pope by Roman Catholics.
The primary ecclesiastical subdivision in the administrative structure of the Orthodox Christian Church. While it is the smallest unit with regards to church administration, it does not constitute a part of the Church but the whole of the Church whose universality or catholicity is confirmed by the presence of Christ in the Divine Liturgy. During the early centuries of the Church, the entire body of Christians in a city was under a bishop, much as the parish under a parish priest has been in later times. Beginning in the fourth century, Christians in more populated areas were organized into separate communities to which the nearest bishop of the nearest city would assign a priest as their leader. These communities, served by a priest, came to be called parishes.
The Orthodox Church’s term for Easter. See Easter.
Orthodox patriarchs usually are identified only by their first name or first name and a Roman numeral. A patriarch is addressed as His Beatitude the Patriarch; in the case of the Ecumenical Patriarch, he is addressed as His All-Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch. For more information on referencing patriarchs, see clergy titles.
An Orthodox jurisdictional see headed by a patriarch.
Pentecost is a major feast of the Orthodox Church, celebrated fifty days after Easter/Pascha. This year Pentecost is celebrated on June 19, 2016. The feast commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples of Jesus after His Resurrection.
For the feast of Pentecost, the icon of the Disciples receiving the Holy Spirit (depicted as “tongues of fire”) is placed in the center of the church for veneration. The hymn O Heavenly King and We have seen the True Light are sung for the first time since Easter, calling the Holy Spirit to “come and abide in us,” and proclaiming that “we have received the heavenly Spirit.”
Kneeling Vespers is observed on the evening of Pentecost. This is a Vespers service to which are added three sets of long poetical prayers composed by Saint Basil the Great, during which everyone makes a full prostration, touching their foreheads to the floor, the first time allowed since Pascha. In most parishes, this service is done immediately after the Liturgy. The color of liturgical vestments for Pentecost is often red or green. For more information on How to Cover a Liturgy, click HERE.
Phanar, Fener, or Fanar
A neighborhood midway up the Golden Horn, within the borough of Fatih, in Istanbul, Turkey (formerly Constantinople). The streets in the area are full of historic wooden houses, churches, and synagogues dating from Byzantine and Ottoman times. In 1599, the Ecumenical Patriarchate moved to this area. As a result, Phanar is often used as shorthand for the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Church of Poland
One of the fourteen autocephalous Orthodox churches that comprise the Holy and Great Council. It received autocephaly by the Church of Constantinople in 1924. Its primate is His Beatitude Archbishop Sawa, and its territory is the State of Poland. While the majority of Poles are Roman Catholic, Orthodox Christians have lived in the area since Saints Cyril and Methodius traveled there in the ninth century. Its official website is http://www.orthodox.pl.
Orthodox priests can be married or celibate. Married priests typically serve in parishes. Celibates generally belong to a monastic community and may be given the rank of archimandrite. Bishops are usually chosen from the archimandrites.
Sacramentally, all priests are equal. However, just as with bishops and deacons, there are distinctions of administrative rank among priests.
Presbyters are often referred to as Father, though that is not an official title. Archpriests and archimandrites can be styled as the Very Reverend (V. Rev.). The wife of a priest will also have a special title, usually in the language of the jurisdiction of her husband. For more information on referencing presbyters/priests, see clergy titles.
The first bishop of an autocephalous Orthodox church.
Church of Romania
One of the fourteen autocephalous Orthodox churches that comprise the Holy and Great Council. In 1885, the local Church of Romania received autocephaly by the Church of Constantinople and was elevated to a patriarchate by the Church of Constantinople in 1925. About 87% of all Romanians living in Romania are members of this Church. The current primate is His Beatitude Patriarch Daniel. Its official website is http://patriarhia.ro.
Church of Russia
One of the fourteen autocephalous Orthodox churches that comprise the Holy and Great Council. The Church of Russia is also referred to as the Moscow Patriarchate. The local Church of Russia received autocephaly by the Church of Constantinople in 1448 and was elevated to a patriarchate by the Church of Constantinople in 1589. Its primate is His Beatitude Patriarch Kirill. Its official website is http://www.patriarchia.ru.
sacraments or holy mysteries
The Orthodox Church recognizes seven sacraments: the Eucharist, baptism, chrismation (confirmation), penance, marriage, ordination, and holy unction. In the Orthodox Church, the three sacraments of initiation—baptism, chrismation, and Eucharistic communion—are administered together in infancy.
Church of Serbia
One of the fourteen autocephalous Orthodox churches that comprise the Holy and Great Council. The local Church of Serbia was granted autocephaly by the Church of Constantinople in 1879 and elevated to a patriarchate by the Church of Constantinople in 1920. Its members live primarily in Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). The current primate is His Beatitude Patriarch Irinej. Its official website is http://www.spc.rs.
Literally translated from the Greek, it means a revelation of God. Orthodox Christians celebrate the feast of Epiphany, January 6th, as the feast of Theophany, the day on which the Holy Trinity is revealed during the baptism of Christ in the Jordan River.
Orthodox clergy of all orders wear the cassock (anderi) in public. When participating in a church service, they wear the vestment of their own order and rank. In many countries (including Greece), they also wear a black cylinder-like hat (kalimáfhi), on top of which the celibates wear a black veil draping down the back (epanokalímafkon). For more information on How to Cover a Liturgy, click HERE.