A COMPARISON OF VARIOUS CHRISTIAN DENOMINATIONS …

WITH THE EASTERN ORTHODOX FAITH

by Metropolitan Germanos (Polizoides) of Hierapolis

 

The Eastern Orthodox Faith contains what is necessary for our spiritual needs and for our salvation. It is One, Holy, Catholic (i.e. Universal), and Apostolic. It has maintained the same sacraments for twenty centuries, the same pure teachings of Christ, the same pastors who trace their descent by uninterrupted succession from the Holy Apostles and, through them, from Jesus. It is called Orthodox because it firmly believes and truly teaches (as the Greek word Orthodoxia means a true teaching).

It teaches:

 

  1. that there are three Divine Persons in God, distinct, yet equal,
  2. that the Father is neither begotten, nor proceeds from anyone,
  3. that the Son is begotten from the Father, of the very essence of the Father. He is God and also truly man like us, because He assumed human nature from the Blessed Virgin Mary, except for sin. He died on the cross to save mankind and He ascended into heaven. He will come again "to judge the living and the dead,"
  4. that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father,
  5. that the world is not self-created but is the work of one God.
  6. The Eastern Orthodox Church also teaches:
  7. that there are seven sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Confession, Ordination, Marriage, and Holy Unction,
  8. that no one can be saved unless he is baptized,
  9. that the Holy Scriptures and Sacred Tradition are of equal value, and that they complete each other,
  10. that God assigned to every man an Angel to guide and help him,
  11. that after death, man's body goes to earth, and the soul, which is immortal, is presented before God and, according to its actions, pre-enjoys happiness or pre-suffers punishment until the General Judgment,
  12. that of all Saints, the Mother of God has a supreme grace and that the veneration given to icons and relies relates not to the sacred images as such, but to the person whom they represent,
  13. that God knows which road man will take, but He does not predestinate him.

 

The Eastern Orthodox Church has three orders of Priesthood: deacons, priests, and bishops.

Thus the Eastern Orthodox Church dates back to Christ, and every other Christian denomination is of more recent date. The Westerns, also called Romans or Latins or Papals, were separated from the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, and from them the Protestants were separated.

 

The Roman Catholic Church

Unfortunately, in 1054 A.D., the Western part of the Church was separated from the Mother Church. These are the new teachings that the Roman Catholic Church adopted:

 

  1. The doctrine that the Holy Spirit proceeds "and from the Son" (Filioque) against the specific teaching of the Church which says that the Holy Spirit "proceedeth from the Father."
  2. The use of unleavened bread in the Holy Eucharist, although the leavened bread was used in the Last Supper.
  3. The serving of the Holy Bread and Holy Wine (i.e. the Body and the Blood of Christ) to the Clergy only. The laity receive only the Holy Bread.
  4. Permission to one Priest to celebrate many Liturgies on the same day and on the same Altar.
  5. Obligatory celibacy for deacons, priests and bishops, whereas Orthodoxy requires celibacy of bishops only.
  6. The granting of indulgences by the Pope on the ground that he has the right to take the surplus of the good works of Christ, the Blessed Virgin, and the Saints, and to credit with them those who have none.
  7. The performance of the sacrament of Baptism by pouring water on the head of the baptized, whereas the Eastern Orthodox Church accepts as canonical Baptism the three immersions.
  8. Changes in confessions.
  9. Concentration of the entire authority of the Church in the Pope who is considered infallible, whereas the Orthodox Church considers the Church as a whole infallible, i.e. when it comes together in an Ecumenical Council.
  10. The existence, besides heaven and hell, of a purgatory.
  11. Communion may be given to children only after they axe 11 years old.
  12. The separation of Chrism from Baptism and the annointing of the baptized, not immediately, but when the child is from seven to eleven years old.
  13. The Immaculate Conception of the Virgin, whereas Orthodoxy accepts that only Christ was conceived and born without original sin and that the Virgin Mary was cleansed from it on Annunciation Day.
  14. The recently declared dogma that the Virgin Mary's Body "was taken up into heaven."
  15. Not granting divorces.
  16. 16. Canonizing Saints every now and then, whereas the Eastern Orthodox Church is very conservative in this point.

 

Anyone can see that these doctrines cannot be based either on the Scriptures or on Holy Tradition, and that they are innovations introduced by persons who disregard that Christ said: "Whosoever shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven." (Matthew 5, 19)

The total number of Roman Catholics in the United States is almost 33,500,000.

 

The Uniats or The Uniat Church

The Uniat(e) Church, called also the Greek Catholic Church, came into existence in the Eastern-Central part of Europe (Galicia), after the armies of King Sigismund the Second, of Poland, conquered in 1596 the Slavic populations of that region—mostly Ruthenians, Ukrainians and Carpathorussians, who always belonged to the Greek Orthodox Church since their christianization in the 9th century.

They were compelled to recognize the Pope of Rome as their spiritual head. To make their submission safer, they were permitted to retain their Orthodox Liturgy, their Sacraments, their religious customs and ceremonies and to conduct them in their own languages. Their native priests are dressed like the Greek Orthodox clergymen. Married men may be ordained to the deaconate and priesthood. But bishops must be celibate, nor can a deacon or priest marry after ordination. The Uniats have only to mention the Pope's name in their Liturgies and Services. To those Uniats joined later some Hungarians, Croatians, Roumanians, Sicilians, Syrians and a few others who were formerly Greek Orthodox.

Aside from external appearances, the so-called Uniat or Greek Catholic Church is Roman Catholic or a Latin Church and should NEVER be confused with Eastern Orthodoxy, because it is entirely different. The Uniats are nothing else but a branch of the Catholic or Latin or Roman Church.

The total membership of the Uniate Church is about 41/2 millions. In the United States, some 45 years ago, the Uniats were almost unknown. Now there are about 450,000. They came from Europe as laborers and miners in the coal districts of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio, mostly. In Greece also there are about 20,000.

 

The Church of England or The Episcopal Church

During the 16th century, many Christians separated from the Roman Catholic Church. But instead of coming back to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, i.e. the Eastern Orthodox Church, they organized themselves into separate groups. They protested against the Roman Church and were called Protestants.

One of them is the Church of England or Protestant Episcopal Church as it is called in the United States, because it alone of all Protestant Churches retains the order of bishops. It is known as (a) "High" or "Ritualistic" Church and (b) as "Low" Church. It does not admit a supreme visible head on earth and it has therefore an equal Episcopal hierarchy. Almost all Episcopalians desire a union with the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Their teachings may be found in the so-called Thirty-Nine Articles and in the Book of Common Prayer. They believe in the Divinity of Christ and in His two natures. They believe in the seven sacraments with emphasis only on two of them: Baptism and Holy Eucharist. The Blessed Virgin Mary and the Holy Apostles are most venerated by them. They, as do almost all Protestant Churches, accept the belief that the Holy Spirit proceeds "and from the Son," but many of the Episcopal Theologians consider the phrase "and from the Son" as an unfortunate addition.

The communicant members of the Episcopal Church in the United States are about 3 million.

 

The Lutheran Church

The Lutheran Church was also formed in the 16th century. Martin Luther, a priest and a monk in the Roman Church, broke away from that Church because of its doctrinal errors and the abuses of some of the Popes of Rome.

These are the basic beliefs of the Lutheran Church:

 

  1. It abolishes the invocation of the Saints,
  2. it teaches that the Holy Spirit proceeds "and from the Son,"
  3. it denounces five of the seven sacraments, retaining only Baptism and the Holy Eucharist. It has no priesthood or consecration and denies the efficacy of sacramental confession,
  4. it rejects the doctrine that the bread and wine in the Holy Eucharist are actually changed into the Body and Blood of Christ,
  5. it places its hope of salvation on faith alone,
  6. it rejects Sacred Tradition entirely and allows individual interpretation of the Scriptures.

 

The Lutherans have the largest membership in the world among the Protestant Churches, but in the United States have about six million communicant members divided among 19 ecclesiastical bodies.

 

The Presbyterian Church

The Presbyterian Church believes that the government of the Church belongs to the Presbyters-Elders instead of to the bishops. These Elders, after their election by the congregation, place their hands upon the candidate for the deaconate, or the presbytery, and this is what they call Ordination. There are two classes of Presbyters: the "teaching Elders" or the pastors, and the "ruling Elders." The highest court is the "General Assembly," composed of an equal number of Pastors and Ruling Elders, representatives of the parishes.

The Presbyterian Church believes in Predestination. It believes that "man fell because God ordained it," whereas our Orthodox Church believes that "Adam fell by the abuse of his freedom." The Presbyterians do not believe in the bodily presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, but in a spiritual one. In Baptism they separate the sanctifying grace from the actual reception of the sacrament. They believe in the Holy Trinity, but consider that the Holy Spirit proceeds "and from the Son."

The founders of Presbyterianism are John Calvin and John Knox. Almost united with the Presbyterian Church is the so-called Reformed Church. According to statistics the Presbyterians have the second largest membership in the world among the Protestant Churches. They number 10,893,000. Of these, 3,986,000 are in the United States.

 

The Baptist Church

The Baptist Church also has no Apostolic succession, although its members claim that they are the original church.

 

  1. It administers Baptism to adults only by one immersion and regards Baptism as a mere symbol and not a means of cancelling sins.
  2. It leans toward the calvinistic doctrine of predestination and justification by faith alone.
  3. It maintains, in common with other Protestant denominations, that the Scriptures are the only rule of faith and religious practice, and that anyone may interpret them according to his own private notion, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
  4. It believes in a merely symbolical meaning of the Holy Eucharist.
  5. 5. It believes in salvation through faith, whereas Eastern Orthodoxy teaches that in order to be saved, the sacraments, faith, good works, grace, and the keeping of the commands of God and of the Church are required.

 

Every local Baptist Church is independent because the Christian, they say, has no need of rules and governments, of altars, etc., because he himself is a priest. Baptists largely recommend offering 10% of one's income (tithing) for the maintenance of the Church and its institutions.

In the whole world there are now (according to 1955 statistics) twenty-one million Baptists and in the United States about seventeen million, including the Southern Baptists, the Negro Baptists, and the minor sects.

 

The Congregational Church

In England some pastors and members, strictly Calvinists, being dissatisfied with the retention by the Church of England of so many rites and practices, arose against it. They called themselves Puritans or Independents. They went to Holland trying to organize Congregations, but, not being successful there, they set sail in the Mayflower and in 1620 landed at Plymouth, Mass., and adopted the name of Congregationalists. They reject:

 

  1. the use of the sign of the cross,
  2. the invocation of Saints,
  3. They appoint their pastors as they wish, with a trial sermon only,
  4. They have no council or synod or jurisdiction, so that every Congregation is autonomous.
  5. They have no priesthood, and almost deny even the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and the divinity of Christ.

 

In 1932 they united with the "Christian Church," a liberal Unitarian denomination. There are about 2,100,000 Congregationalists in the world. Of these, 985,000 are in the United States.

 

The Methodist Church

When in the eighteenth century a group of students in Oxford University (one of them was John Wesley) became spiritually serious and organized a "Holy Club," the other students, noting their "methodical" habits of life and work, nicknamed them "Methodists." Later in 1738 when some of these men led a nation-wide evangelical movement, they took this name. It indicates method in moral and spiritual pursuits, but no distinctive doctrine.

 

  1. Methodists admit only two sacraments: Baptism and the Holy Eucharist, but not in the sense of our Orthodox Church. For them Baptism is merely a sign of the regeneration which they claim comes only through faith in Christ. The Holy Eucharist is for them merely a commemoration of the passion and death of Christ.
  2. They receive bread and wine believing that Christ comes to them in a spiritual manner.
  3. They believe in the Filioque ("and from the Son").
  4. They also consider the Scriptures as the only source and rule of faith, and they do not believe in Sacred Tradition.

 

The Methodist Church in America was established in 1784. There are 15,000,000 Methodists in the world, of whom 9,000,000 are in the United States.

 

United Brethren in Christ

Similar to the Methodist Church is the Church of the "United Brethren in Christ," organized in Germany and transferred to the United States in 1789. They believe in only two sacraments: Baptism and Holy Eucharist; but the mode of baptism and the manner of observing the Holy Eucharist are always to be left to the judgment of each individual. Among the United Brethren in Christ there are many sub-sects. Their total number is about 425,000.

 

The Church of Christ Scientist or Eddyism

The Church of Christ Scientist was organized at Boston, Mass., in 1879 by Mrs. Mary Baker Eddy. From her book called "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" we infer that this denomination:

 

  1. does not believe in the Holy Trinity, considering this as polytheistic;
  2. does not accept the divinity and the resurrection of Christ;
  3. does not consider angels as messengers of God;
  4. does not accept the future resurrection of men;
  5. does not accept the doctrine of original sin;
  6. does not accept sickness, and leaves many with gangrene, peritonitis, diptheria, etc., while medicine could have cured or at least alleviated the sufferers;
  7. does not accept the sacraments, the priesthood or grace;
  8. denies sin;
  9. denies the work of Christ;
  10. rejects the ordinance of matrimony by teaching that children are only "spiritual thoughts."

 

All that Christian Science retains of Christianity is the name. It has, however, an excellent daily newspaper, the "Christian Science Monitor." Its literature is rich, and the Scientists contribute very liberally toward the maintenance of their institutions, although they are only about 825,000 in the United States.

 

Disciples of Christ

The Church of the "Disciples of Christ," organized in 1808 by Rev. Thomas Campbell in accordance with other Pentecostal denominations, holds that the Scriptures are the only rule of faith; that only one sacrament, Baptism, is enough; that the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist is only a memorial feast; that no creeds or doctrines or rites are necessary. They believe, however, in the final judgment of all men with reward for the good and punishment for the wicked. In the United States there are 1,100,000 members of this sect.

 

Mormonism or Church of the Latter-Day Saints

Mormonism was organized in 1830. Driven successively out of the States of New York, Indiana and Missouri, the Mormons went to Utah where they built Salt Lake City. Mormonism is an eclectic religion, having borrowed freely from many sources such as polytheism, paganism, unitarianism, judaism, masonry, spiritism and Christianity. The Mormons have their own book, called the "Book of Mormon" which, they say, was written by their prophet Mormon in Egyptian Hieroglyphics.

 

  1. They interpret the Scriptures as they wish.
  2. They believe in polygamy, but do not practice it now.
  3. They believe that "Adam fell that man might exist."
  4. They believe in the necessity of Baptism.
  5. They believe in the Holy Trinity.
  6. They believe that Christ is the Son of God.
  7. They accept the doctrine that all men may be saved through the atonement of Christ.
  8. They dream of a happy millennium when Christ will visibly dwell and reign on earth at Jerusalem for one thousand years.

 

There are about 800,000 Mormons in the United States. We find very few in other countries.

 

Adventists

The Adventists teach that Christ will bodily come and reign on earth. They reject infant baptism forgetting that "unless a man be born of water and spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." Adventism can hardly be classified as a Christian denomination. The Adventists reject almost all the sacraments; celebrate the seventh day of the week instead of Sunday; demand that the Old Testament tithe and dietary rules must still be observed; teach the utter annihilation of the wicked on Judgment Day, whereas the Orthodox Church believes that the wicked will go to never-ending punishment. Differing again from the Orthodox Church, the Adventists hold that the soul sleeps from the time of man's death until the general resurrection. There are seven sects of Adventists in this country taking their name from their belief as to the second coming of Christ. The Adventists and the so-called Church of God have almost the same teachings, as do Jehovah's Witnesses, Chiliasts, and Bible Students. They number about 190,000.

 

Quakerism or Religious Society of Friends

The Quakers or Friends, were organized in England about the year 1660. They reject all sacraments, creeds, councils and external practices, believing in the Inner Light, a sort of individual inspiration by the Holy Spirit. If any man or woman, or child in the congregation believes himself or herself moved by this Inner Light, that person rises and speaks "by the Holy Spirit." Their ministers receive no salary, but are to do their work for the love of truth.

Quakers believe that all rites were abolished by Christ. They dislike the word "Trinity" because they claim they cannot find it in the Scriptures. They do not like concerts or singing, dancing or luxurious clothing, and they condemn wars and slavery.

While at one time the Quakers were the third largest religious group in the United States, there are now about 120,000 in the United States, 30,000 in England and fewer than a quarter-million in the whole world. Its founder was G. Fox.

 

Moravians or Bohemian Brethren

The Moravians, or Bohemian Brethren, were organized in Moravia (Europe) after their separation from the Roman Church. They believe in Baptism for infants and for adults. They also believe in the Holy Eucharist and before they receive Holy Communion they hold a fast and make a general confession of sinfulness. Their highest legislative authority is vested in the General Synod held every eight or nine years.

The total number of their three sects is 345,000. The first Moravian Mission in the United States was established in 1735 and it now numbers about 55,000 members here.

 

Mennonite Church

The Mennonite Church almost coincides with the Church of the Anabaptists. It took the name from its founder, S. Menno, who organized the movement in Holland. The Mennonites maintain that by a living faith, man receives forgiveness of all past and present sins. They do not believe in the sacrament of Repentance or Confession, while Orthodoxy teaches that Christ gave to His Apostles and their successors the power to forgive and the power to retain sins. (St. John 20, 23)

Their ministers are elected and then confirmed by the imposition of hands on the part of the elders. They do not take part in any secular government. They do not believe in wars. Although they do not have many ceremonies, the washing of the feet of the travelling brethren is one used by them. They oppose to infant Baptism and the taking of oaths. The Mennonites in the United States are about 115,000 and they are split up into as many as 10 different bodies.

 

Unitarianism

Unitarianism, developed mostly in England, numbers about 50,000 members in the United States. The Unitarians deny all sacraments except infant baptism and the Holy Eucharist. They reject the Holy Trinity, the divinity of Christ, His supernatural birth, His atonement, and the doctrine of original sin and eternal reward or punishment. From the Scriptures they accept only what suits them and question the authenticity of the rest, differing thus from the Orthodox Church which has always believed in the divine inspiration of the Bible.

 

Universalism

Universalism came to America from England about 1780 and now it has about 50,000 members in the United States. It believes in the ultimate salvation for all, for good and bad alike. The wicked, they say, will be punished for a while, but none will be punished everlastingly, whereas Orthodoxy teaches that all men, even the greatest sinners, may be saved if they come only in time to God through Christ and die in the state of sanctifying grace and not in a mortal sin. Universalism speaks of Christ as of a man divinely sent. It denies therefore the Holy Trinity and the divinity of Christ.

 

A Reminder

We have briefly examined some of the main Christian denominations. There are others, perhaps as many as two hundred and fifty or more in the United States with almost 257,000 church-buildings.

Protestantism, in general, has a world membership of approximately 170,000,000. Roman Catholicism 395,000,000 and Eastern Orthodoxy about 224,000,000. In the United States there are about five and a half millions of Orthodox. Of these one million are Greek-Orthodox with 382 church-buildings.

The more the Orthodox people compare the confessional writings of the other Churches with the Word of God, the more deeply will they appreciate in humble gratitude the mercy of God which has given to them the Word in its truth and purity, and the sacraments according to Christ's institution. The Eastern Orthodox Church can without doubt claim that it dates back to Jesus, the Founder of the One Church which He called as the "Kingdom of Heaven" and of which He plainly said: "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

For us, Americans of Greek descent, the Eastern Orthodox Church is the only church. It does not propagandize among other denominations, but it wants and insists that all Of its children remain in it. If we wish to live as good, industrious and loyal citizens Of this beloved country of ours, let us remain conscientious members of our historical, conservative, One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, whose sanctity God confirmed in many miraculous ways. Let us always pray to God that we may be worthy of this great grace and privilege He gave us to be members of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Thank you.

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