April 16, 2017 - Orthodox Christianity is one of three distinct branches of the Christian religion (the other two being the Catholic and Protestant branches). Being an Orthodox Christian means following the earliest known set of Christian doctrines. Believers follow the Homoousian doctrine which declares that Jesus is both God and man. The Great Schism of 1054 brought on a separation of the Orthodox religion due to the difference of opinion on such things as the Holy Spirit, bread for the Eucharist, use of images, and the date of Easter. This separation created what today is the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox church. The Orthodox Church is one of the oldest religious institutions and attempts to follow the original Christian faith as established by Jesus. By the 4th century, the faith had spread throughout the Roman and Byzantine Empires, a fact that is reflected in the current list of countries with the largest number of Orthodox Christians.
Russia is the largest both in land mass and the number of Orthodox Christian followers. Here, there are 101 million followers of the faith. The Russian Orthodox Church has had strong political influence over the country for nearly 1,000 years. In 988, Prince Vladimir made it the official language of Russia. By 1453, the Byzantine Empire had fallen and in 1589, Moscow became the patriarch. The Church, however, continued to involve the head of state in religious-administrative affairs. Separation of Church and State was not recognized. Antireligious campaigns began in the 1920’s and remained until World War II when the government needed the Church to help strengthen patriotism.
Ethiopia has the second highest number of Orthodox Christians - 36 million. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church dates back to the 4th century when the nation was converted to Christianity and today its followers make up nearly half the population. This church has slightly different beliefs than other Orthodox Churches; they believe that King Solomon fathered a son with Queen Sheba. That son, Menelik I, brought Moses’s Ark of the Covenant to Ethiopia as a treasure. However, since only the priest can enter the room where the Ark is stored, nobody can confirm its existence. The religion plays a large part of daily life throughout the country and chants fill the morning air.