Orthodox vs Protestant: What Are The Differences?

By Charalampos •  Updated: 01/28/23 •  9 min read

The Orthodox Church has preserved and protects to this day the truth that the Lord Jesus Christ gave us.

However, any Orthodox Christian has heard of other Christian denominations, and the question may arise, what is the difference between Orthodoxy and another type of Christianity?

In this article, we will look at the difference between Orthodoxy and Protestantism.

Why is The Church Not United?

Orthodox vs Protestant

Christ warned his disciples that there will always be people who will try to distort the truth and spread their wrong word, seducing future companions to sin. Jesus Christ said, “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves.” (Matthew 7:15).

The Christian Church of the early centuries was constantly shaken by schisms and heresies proclaiming new canons and denying the dogmas of Christianity. In the 4th century AD, the most serious shock occurred when the priest Arius proclaimed his Arian teaching, which believes that Jesus was created and cannot be God.

On this occasion, in 325, the Roman Emperor Constantine I convened the First Council of Nicaea, at which the Nicene Creed was adopted, the time of the Easter celebration was determined and Twelve canons were made.

The First Serious Split

Since the ninth century AD, serious disagreements between the patriarchates and the papacy began to occur, and in 1054 the relations between the two Churches heated up to the limit on the basis of different views on dogmas and canons, and a Great Schism occurred – the division of the Christian Church into Roman Catholic (Western) and Orthodox (Eastern).

At the same time, the Orthodox Church remained unchanged, while Catholicism could change with each new leader.

The Emergence of Protestantism

Emergence of Protestantism

At the beginning of the 16th century, a significant part of people separated from the Roman Catholic Church, following the ideas of the former Catholic monk Luther and his associates.

They formed their own communities, which began to be considered a “Church”. This movement is generally called Protestants, and their separation is called the Reformation.

The main reason was the denial of the teaching in Catholicism about the pope, Protestants didn’t want to consider him the head of the Church. Catholicism was also filled with many non-Christian dogmas, for example, buying forgiveness of sins for money

What is The Essence of Protestantism?

Saint Hieromartyr Hilarion Troitsky said, the Protestants replaced one distortion with another, renouncing the influence of the papacy, but they didn’t get even one step closer to the truth.

Protestants didn’t stop only at denying the authority of the Pope, and the new religion underwent many changes compared to the Catholic Church.

And with each new denial, change, and refutation of the truth, Protestants moved further away from the Orthodox Church. Below in the article, we will consider the key differences from Orthodoxy that Protestants have accepted as true for themselves.

Sacred Tradition

Protestants formulated for themselves a principle called “Sola scriptura”. They reject the Sacred Tradition, about which the Apostle Paul wrote: “So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.” (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

Tradition is the voice of the Lord through the ages, transmitted by the apostles and holy fathers.

Nevertheless, in Orthodoxy, Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition form one inseparable whole, and this has been the case from the very beginning, but Protestants believe that distorted information may be embedded in the Tradition.


In Protestantism, there are often no concepts of priesthood and sacred rites. They don’t believe that God can act through sacred rites.

They still have something similar, but only in name, as a reminder of events that happened in the past, but nothing more – they don’t consider these things saint and treat them formally.

Apostolic Succession

Instead of bishops and priests, pastors serve in most Protestant churches, some of who are appointed by the community from ordinary parishioners.

Pastors have no connection with the apostles and grace, as in the Orthodox Church, where every bishop and priest has the blessing of God, stretching from our days to Jesus Christ.

A Protestant pastor is only an orator. Its tasks don’t include the performance of sacred rites.

The Sacraments

the sacraments christianity

Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov says, “Luther, vehemently rejecting the lawless authority of the popes, rejected the legitimate one, rejected the episcopal dignity itself, the very ordination, despite the fact that the establishment of both belongs to the apostles themselves.

He also rejected the Sacrament of Confession, although all the Holy Scripture testifies that it is impossible to receive absolution of sins without confessing them.”

Out of all the sacraments performed in the Orthodox Church, Protestants perform only two – baptism and the Eucharist (Communion).

Participation in the sacraments in many Protestant churches can be performed thanks to customs only at a conscious age, which also differs from the views of the Orthodox Church.

Veneration of Saints

venerating saints in orthodoxy

Initially, Lutheranism didn’t deny the veneration of saints, although it asked people to do it with less passion.

Martin Luther said of Mary: «the honor given to the mother of God has been rooted so deeply into the hearts of men that no one wants to hear any opposition to this celebration… We also grant that she should be honored, since we, according to Saint Paul’s words are indebted to show honor one to another for the sake of the One who dwells in us, Jesus Christ. Therefore we have an obligation to honor Mary.

But be careful to give her honor that is fitting. Unfortunately, I worry that we give her all too high an honor for she is accorded much more esteem than she should be given or than she accounted to herself.»

Zwingli said, “I esteem immensely the Mother of God… The more the honor and love of Christ increases among men, so much the esteem and honor given to Mary should grow”.

In Lutheranism, the customs described above have been mostly preserved.

However, many modern followers of Protestantism, unlike Orthodox parishioners and clergy, don’t venerate Theotokos, contrary to Holy Scripture.

The Virgin Mary went through the whole path of salvation, like all saints, and now is united with the Lord and remains in harmony with Him.

The holiness of the Virgin was recognized even by some non-Orthodox people, for example, by the Muslim invader Timurid, who in 1395 withdrew his army from Orthodox lands after Mary appeared to him in a dream.

However, many modern Protestant churches don’t recognize any saints and even Theotokos isn’t considered a saint.

Prayer for the Dead

Is there a connection between the living people and the dead? The Orthodox Church says that by praying for them, we help them find peace and meet the Lord after death.

Prayers for the dead are also denied by the Protestant churches, and they don’t practice such prayers.

For an Orthodox parishioner, fasting is one of the most important components of the way to God. Fasting is a means of training willpower, a kind of ascetic feat of an Orthodox Christian in the name of honoring God and finding His grace.

Fasting days help to focus not on the bodily and vital, but more on the spiritual and moral appearance. That is why Christians fast before communion.

The total number of fast days differs from year to year, but for a simpler understanding, we can say that on average there are about six months of fasting.

It turns out that for half of his life, an Orthodox Christian remains in abstinence from goods and pleasures in the name of the Lord on the way to Him.

Most Protestants deny fastings and fasting days, and those churches that practice fasting do so for only a few days. In general, Protestantism doesn’t consider fasting so much important.


icons in orthodoxy

Protestants also don’t venerate sacred images. Usually in Lutheran churches, we can see a maximum of one picture dedicated to the biblical scene. However, this image is not given the same importance as the icon.

Many Protestants equated icons with idols and rejected them.

This happened because of a distorted interpretation of the Bible, in which one of the commandments reads: “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.” (Exodus 20:4).

But at the same time, the Lord ordered to build a Temple and make images of cherubim.

Orthodoxy interprets “an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath” as a false pagan god and his image in the form of paintings, figures, and other symbols.

Icons depicting venerated saints and angels in the Orthodox Church are the command of the Lord.

The Idea of Salvation

The path to the Lord is also different for Protestants and Orthodox.

Protestants believe that the recognition of Jesus Christ as God and savior is already salvation and holiness, and deeds on the way to God no longer matter so much.

And Orthodox Christians believe that “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17). The Gospel of Matthew contains the words of the Savior: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21).

For the Orthodox, faith in God shouldn’t just be found, but also be proved in practice. This is a great work, which includes repentance for sins, righteous life, and right actions.

Therefore, unlike Protestantism, there are monasteries in Orthodoxy. Monks fulfill the will of their Father from day to day and, in addition, take three vows – the vow of celibacy, non-possessiveness, and obedience.

Final Thoughts

It can be concluded that the life of an Orthodox Christian is more multifaceted and, at the same time, more complex.

An Orthodox Christian knows what he needs to do to be saved because the Orthodox Church has a sacred tradition with an accurate interpretation of all religious issues.

Orthodoxy fulfills, observes, and honors Tradition, Sacraments, Fasts, and Vows, while Protestantism has often denied and doesn’t even recognize them.


Charalampos is an Orthodox Christian who wants to help others learn about Christianity. His main goal is to help people understand the Bible and how to apply its teachings in their everyday lives. He also enjoys spending time with his family, playing sports, and hiking.

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