What is the difference between Orthodox, Catholic and Christian churches?

Orthodox, Catholic and Christians..

Essentially the Orthodox Church shares much with the other Christian Churches in the belief that God revealed himself in Jesus Christ, and a belief in the incarnation of Christ, his crucifixion and resurrection. The Orthodox Church differs substantially in their way of life and worship from Protestants and Roman Catholics.

There are many areas of divergent views, more than I can express in this forum, but the main areas are as follows…

Apostolic Succession

Orthodoxy - This is an important part of Orthodox belief and ensures continuity with the church that Christ founded.

Protestants - With the exception of the Anglicans and some Lutherans, this idea is rejected. Rather it is important to emphasise continuity of teaching with that of the apostles, rather than a direct line of succession.

Roman Catholic - As in Orthodoxy, this is of vital importance to the church. There is also some degree of mutual recognition of the validity of Orthodox ordinations.

Bible Composition

Orthodox - Accept the 39 Old Testament and 27 New Testament books, but also a collection of books not found in the original Hebrew Bible. These are known as Deuterocanonical’s or the second canon of scripture, (Apocrypha).

Protestants - reject the deuterocanonical’s as not being inspired scripture and term them Apocrypha (Greek: 'Hidden Things').

Roman Catholics agrees with the validity of the Apocrypha.

Qualification for Clergy

Orthodox - Priests and Bishops must be male, but deaconesses are permitted, though the order is dormant. Priests and deacons may marry before ordination but not after. Bishops, on the other hand, must be celibate.

Protestants - The majority of Protestants do not require celibacy as a condition of election to the clergy. Many churches practice female ordination, including those within the Anglican communion, where the issue of female episcopacy is currently being discussed.

Roman Catholics - All clergy are required to be male. Priests and Bishops must also be celibate, with the exception of Eastern Rite Catholics and Anglican married clergy who subsequently convert to Catholicism. These groups are allowed to have married priests.

Significance of the Eucharist

Orthodox - Commonly termed the 'Mystic Supper' or 'Divine Liturgy' - This makes present Christ's sacrifice and therefore forgiveness of sins is obtained through it. It is also considered a spiritual encounter with the Risen Christ.

Protestants - The Eucharist, like Baptism is only a symbol of grace. The sacrificial nature of the Eucharist is rejected but it is considered a spirtial encounter.

Roman Catholic - The position is similar to the Orthodox. The Eucharist is also known as the 'Holy sacrifice of the Mass'.

Presence of Christ in the Eucharist

Orthodox - During the Eucharist, the Priest calls down the Holy Spirit (in Greek: epiklesis) upon the gifts (the bread and the wine). They then spiritually change into the actual representation of the body and blood of Christ. The precise way in which this happens is considered a divine mystery.

Protestant - The bread and wine, being symbols, do not change substance. There are however, a wide variety of views held within Protestantism on this subject (e.g. some Anglicans accept the Catholic view, whereas Baptists deny it).

Roman Catholic - As in Orthodoxy, the Priest invokes the Holy Spirit during the Mass. However, the consecration becomes effective through the Priest, who acts in the person of Christ. The gifts change completely into Christ's body and blood and this change is termed 'Transubstantiation' i.e. the outward appearance remains the same, but the substance changes.

Distribution of the Eucharist

Orthodox - The consecrated elements can only be received by members. Orthodox policy is to have communion in both kinds (i.e. both the bread and wine are given to those present).

Protestant - The elements are usually offered to all Christians who feel able to partake of them. The vast majority of Protestant churches have communion in both kinds.

Roman Catholic - As with Orthodoxy, only members of the church may receive. In some Catholic Churches, the bread alone is given to the congregation, the Priest receiving the wine. However, it is becoming common for churches to have communion in both kinds.

Holy Spirit

Orthodox - The third person of the Trinity, proceeding from the Father alone as in the original Nicene Creed. The Father sends the Spirit at the intercession of the Son. The Son is therefore an agent only in the procession of the Spirit.

Protestant - The Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. The Nicene creed includes the filioque (Latin: 'and the son').

Roman Catholic - Agrees with the Protestant view. When the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, He is not separated from the Father, He is not separated from the Son.

Marriage and Divorce

Orthodox - Marriage is a mystical union between a man and a woman. Divorce is generally only allowed in cases of adultery, though there are exceptions.

Protestant - Marriage is a contract, but is not unbreakable. Divorce is discouraged, but permitted as evidence of human weakness. Some denominations permit remarriage in church.

Roman Catholic - Marriage is seen as an unbreakable contract & a type of Christ and the church. Remarriage after divorce is not permitted unless there is some canonical impediment to the marriage. In this situation, an annulment may be granted.

The Immaculate conception of Mary

Orthodox - The Assumption is accepted and it is agreed that Mary experienced physical death, but the Immaculate conception is rejected. Orthodox belief is that the guilt of original sin is not transmitted from one generation to the next, thus obviating the need for Mary to be sinless.

Protestant - Both are denied. The claim that Mary was sinless is rejected - only Christ was sinless.

Roman Catholic - Both are dogmas of the church. The church has not as yet decided whether Mary actually experienced Physical death. The dogma of the Immaculate Conception states that Mary, was at conception 'preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin' and should not be confused with the virgin birth.

Position of Mary

Orthodox - Mary is venerated as Theotokos (Greek: 'God-bearer'). Meaning the son she bore was God in human form. She is first amongst the saints and 'ever-virgin'.

Protestant - Mary was a holy woman who was chosen to bear the Son of God. Her perpetual virginity and intercession are denied.

Roman Catholic - The view is similar to the Orthodox church - the title 'Mother of God' being used more commonly than Theotokos. This title forms one of the 'Marian Dogmas' of the Church. The others are Mary's perpetual virginity, assumption and immaculate conception.

Authority of the Pope

Orthodox - As the Bishop of Rome, he has a primacy of honor in Orthodox, not of jurisdiction. At present, his primacy is not effective as the papacy needs to be reformed in accordance with Orthodoxy. His authority is thus no greater or lesser than any of his fellow Bishops in the church.

Protestant - The Pope is the leader of the Catholic church, having no authority to speak for the church as a whole.

Roman Catholic - The Pope is the 'Vicar of Christ' i.e. the visible head of the church on earth and spiritual successor of St. Peter. He has supreme authority (including that over church councils) within Christendom (The Power of the keys).

Infallibility of the Pope

Orthodox - Papal Infallibility is rejected. The Holy Spirit acts to guide the church into truth through (for example) ecumenical councils. This Orthodoxy recognises the first seven ecumenical councils (325 AD -787 AD) as being infallible.

Protestants - Reject Papal infallibility. The only source of infallible teaching is that found in the Bible.

Roman Catholic - The Pope is infallible when through the Holy Spirit, he defines a doctrine on faith and morals that is to be held by the whole church. This is a dogma and is therefore a required belief within Catholicism.


Orthodox - An intermediate state between earth and heaven is recognized, but cleansing and purification occur in this life, not the next.

Protestant - Purgatory is rejected - Christ's death on the cross is sufficient to remove the penalty for all our sins.

Roman Catholic - An intermediate state of cleansing and preparation for heaven. Also a state where the punishment due to unremitted venial sins may be expiated.


Orthodox - There are at least seven Sacraments (known as 'Mysteries' in Orthodoxy): Baptism, Chrismation, Eucharist, Holy Orders, Holy Unction, Marriage (Holy Matrimony) and Penance (Confession). The list is not fixed.

Protestant - Generally, only two sacraments (also known as Ordinances) are recognised: Baptism and the Eucharist (often called 'Holy Communion' or the 'Lord's Supper').

Roman Catholic - The number of Sacraments is fixed at seven and is the same list as that in Orthodoxy, with the exception of Chrismation, which is generally known as 'Confirmation'.

Effect of the Sacraments

Orthodox - The Mysteries convey grace to those who participate in them worthily.

Protestant - There is a diverse range of opinions, but many Protestants regard the Sacraments as symbols or reminders of Grace already given.

Roman Catholic - Agrees with the Orthodox

position. The Sacraments are signs that effect that which they signify.


Orthodox - A special group of holy people, who are venerated. They may act as intercessors between God and Man and may be invoked in prayer.

Protestant - All Christians are saints, called to imitate Christ. Only Christ may mediate between God and Man.

Roman Catholic - The position is very similar to Orthodoxy. For sainthood, it is also required that at least two verifiable miracles have occured as a result of the intercession of that person.


Orthodox - Salvation is "faith working through love" and should be seen as a life long process. The Ultimate aim of every Orthodox Christian is to obtain Theosis or union with God. This is done through living a holy life and seeking to draw closer to God.

Protestant - Salvation is the free and unmerited gift of God to man. It is obtained by grace through faith in Christ alone. Through Christ's atoning sacrifice, we are rendered acceptable to God and judged righteous (justified) in his sight.

Roman Catholic - Salvation is by grace, specifically sanctifying grace, which is given initially through Baptismal regeneration and then maintained through the Sacraments, which are 'channels of grace'.

Importance of Scripture

Orthodox - There is one source of divine revelation: Tradition. Scripture forms the oral part, and the writings of saints, decisions of ecumenical councils etc. are also part of it.

Protestant - Scripture alone is the only infallible guide and the final authority on matters of Christian faith and practice (One of the foundational principles of Protestantism).

Roman Catholic - Alongside Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition (i.e. teachings handed down from Christ and the apostles to the present) are to be considered sources of divine revelation. Tradition and scripture are interpreted by the magisterium or teaching authority of the church.

Worship and Liturgy

Orthodox - The 'Divine Liturgy' is the centre of Orthodox spirituality. Worship is usually in the vernacular, though Greek is also used.

Protestant - There are a wide variety of worship styles. Examples include the spontaneity of the Pentecostal churches, and the more traditional worship of the Anglican churches in the Catholic tradition.

Roman Catholic - Worship is centred around the Mass, greater emphasis was placed on worship in the vernacular, though the traditional Latin ('Tridentine') Mass is also used.

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© Tony - W.A.M