Ever Wonder What Happened to the 1st Century Church?
Almost two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to earth and founded the Church, through His Apostles and disciples, for the salvation of man. In the years which followed, the Apostles spread the Church and its teachings and founded many churches, all united in faith, worship, and the partaking of the Mysteries (or as they are called in the West, the Sacraments) of the Holy Church. The Orthodox Church historically stands in direct continuity with the earliest Christian communities founded in regions of the Eastern Mediterranean by the Apostles of the Lord Jesus.
Animated Timeline of Church History
Worship in the early Church, from the very beginning, was liturgical and sacramental. Far from being an informal gathering, early worship services were patterned after Jewish temple and synagoge worship and followed a regular, yearly festal cycle. However, the Old Testament, Jewish worship services were transfigured into thoroughly Christian services.
The weekly service on the Lord's day (Sunday), now called the Divine Liturgy, climaxes not in animal sacrifices but in the partaking the Lord's Supper or Eucharist (which means thanksgiving). The Divine Liturgy has two parts (as did Jewish temple and synagoge worship): the first is often called the "Liturgy of the Word" or "Liturgy of the Catechumens"; the second is often called "The Liturgy of the Faithful." A more detailed explanation of the Divine Liturgy can be found here." An overview of other regular services, also with their roots in ancient worship, can be found here. These services of the early church have continued to be celebrated in their same basic form to this day in Orthodox Churches all over the world.
Now, the churches founded by the Apostles themselves include the Patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Rome and Constantinople. The Church of Alexandria was founded by St. Mark, the Church of Antioch by St Paul, the Church of Jerusalem by Ss. Peter and James, the Church of Rome by Ss. Peter and Paul, and Church of Constantinople by St Andrew. Those founded in later years through the missionary activity of the first churches were the Churches of Sinai, Russia, Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, and many others.
Each church has always had independent administration, but, with the exception of the Church of Rome, which finally separated from the others in the year 1054, are united in faith, doctrine, Apostolic tradition, sacraments, liturgies, and services. Together they constitute what is called the “Orthodox Church”, literally meaning "right teaching" or "right worship", derived from two Greek words: orthos, "right," and doxa, "teaching" or "worship." The Orthodox Church historically stands in direct continuity with the earliest Christian communities founded in regions of the Eastern Mediterranean by the apostles of the Lord Jesus.
The destiny of Christianity in those areas was shaped by the transfer in 320 AD of the imperial capital from (Old) Rome to (New "Rome") Constantinople by Constantine I. As a consequence, during the first Eight Centuries of Church history, most major cultural, intellectual, and social developments in the Christian church also took place in that region; for instance, all ecumenical councils of that period met either in, or near Constantinople.
Missionaries, coming from Constantinople, converted the Slavs and other peoples of Eastern Europe to Christianity (Bulgaria, 864; Russia, 988) and translated Scripture and liturgical texts into the vernacular languages used in the various regions. Thus, the liturgy, traditions, and practices of the church of Constantinople were adopted by all and still provide the basic patterns of contemporary Orthodoxy.
Developments in the Orthodox Church were not always consistent with the evolution of Western Christianity, where the bishop of Rome, or pope, came to be considered the successor of the apostle Peter and head of the universal church by divine appointment. Eastern Christians were willing to accept the pope only as first among patriarchs. This difference explains the various incidents that grew into a serious estrangement. One of the most vehement disputes concerned the filioque clause of the Nicene Creed, which the Western church added unilaterally to the original text.
The schism between eastern and western Chrisitanity came slowly. The first major breach came in the Ninth century when the Pope refused to recognize the election of Photius as patriarch of Constantinople. Photius in turn challenged the right of the papacy to rule on the matter and denounced the filioque clause as a Western innovation. The growing disputes between East and West reached another peak in 1054 AD, when mutual anathemas were exchanged. The sacking of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade (1204 AD) intensified Eastern hostility toward the West.
Attempts at reconciliation at the councils of Lyon (1274 AD) and Florence (1438-39 AD) were unsuccessful. When the papacy defined itself as infallible (First Vatican Council, 1870 AD), the gulf between East and West grew wider. Only since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) has the movement reversed, resulting in talks that are bringing serious attempts at mutual understanding.