Orthodoxy vs. Catholicism: What’s the Difference?

By Charalampos •  Updated: 06/28/22 •  15 min read

Catholics and Orthodox Christians have many things in common, but there are also some key differences between the two branches of Christianity.

Here we will explore these differences in depth so that you can understand the key distinctions between these two groups.

We’ll start by looking at the Great Schism of 1053, then move on to their theology and practices. By the end of this post, you’ll know exactly what sets Orthodoxy and Catholicism apart.

The Schism of 1054.

Orthodoxy vs. Catholicism - Schism of 1054
Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Let’s start with the schism that split the two branches apart in the first place. The main reason for the split was a disagreement over papal authority.

The Pope is the leader of the Catholic Church, but Orthodoxy does not have a centralized authority figure in the same way.

Instead, the Patriarch of Constantinople is considered the “first among equals” of the Orthodox bishops (this doesn’t mean he is the head of the Church.)

This disagreement over papal authority led to a split in the Church, and the two branches have been separate ever since.

The first Pope of the Catholic Church who was Leo IX wanted to assert his authority over the Patriarch of Constantinople. Many of the Eastern bishops disagreed with this, and they refused to accept the Pope’s authority.

What was Leo IX’s Idea of Papal Authority?

He believed that the Pope should have the final say in all Church matters, including over the other bishops.

The Patriarch of Constantinople, on the other hand, believed that each bishop should be equal and have a say in Church decisions.

Many Orthodox Christians today believe that the Leo IX wanted to control the Church for political reasons. Especially when Pope Victor II came and started the Gregorian Reform.

The Gregorian Reform.

This was a series of changes to the Catholic Church that were meant to make it more centralized and efficient.

One of the most controversial aspects of the reform was the requirement that all bishops be celibate.

Orthodox Christians do not have this requirement, and they allow their clergy to marry and even have families.

What is Orthodoxy?

orthodox church

Orthodoxy is the branch of Christianity that developed in Eastern Europe. It is characterized by a strong belief in tradition and the authority of the Church Fathers.

Orthodox Christians also have a deep respect for icons and other religious art. Saints are a big part of Orthodoxy, and Orthodox Christians often pray to them for intercession.

The Orthodox Church also has a very strict hierarchy. The head of the Orthodox Church is the Patriarch, and he is considered to be the successor of the Apostle Andrew.

The Hierarchy of The Eastern Orthodox Church.

The Eastern Orthodox Church (also known as the Orthodox Catholic Church) has over 220 million people baptized around the world. These people all live in countries that were once part of the Eastern Roman Empire.

There are three different regional groups that the Eastern Church is divided into.

1. Greek Orthodox Church.

The Greek Orthodox Church is the largest and most prominent of the three regional groups.

It includes members who live in Greece, Cyprus, Albania, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic.

The Greek Orthodox Church is also known for its rich history and tradition. Some of the most famous Eastern Orthodox Churches in the world are located in Greece, such as the Agios Minas Cathedral and the church of Saint Panteleimon of Acharnai.

2. Russian Orthodox Church.

The Russian Orthodox Church is the second largest of the regional groups.

The majority of Russian Orthodox Christians live in Russia, but there are also sizable populations in Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Latvia, Lithuania, and more.

The Russian Orthodox Church is known for its beautiful architecture and stunning icons.

Some of the most famous Orthodox churches in the world are located in Russia, such as the Cathedral of Saint Basil the Blessed and the Dormition Cathedral.

3. Oriental Orthodox Church.

The Oriental Orthodox Church is the third largest of the regional groups.

It includes members who live in Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Syria, Lebanon, India, and much of the Middle East.

They reject the decisions of the Council of Chalcedon, which means that they do not accept the dual nature of Christ (divine and human). They still accept the other three councils though.

What is Catholicism?

catholic church

Catholicism is the branch of Christianity that developed in Western Europe. It is characterized by a strong belief in papal authority and the supremacy of the Roman Catholic Church.

Catholics also have a deep respect for the Bible and tradition. However, they do not venerate saints to the same extent as Orthodox Christians.

The pope is the head of the Catholic Church, and his authority is derived from his status as the successor of the Apostle Peter.

A Few Things About The Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church has over one billion members around the world (1.2 billion to be exact). These people live in countries that were once part of the Western Roman Empire.

There are five different ranks of clergy in the Catholic Church:

  1. The Pope is the supreme leader of the Catholic Church.
  2. Cardinals are appointed by the pope and serve as his chief advisors.
  3. Bishops oversee dioceses, which are groups of churches in a specific geographic area.
  4. Archbishops are bishops who have been given additional authority by the pope.
  5. Priests are responsible for the day-to-day operation of churches.

There are also deacons, who assist priests and bishops in their duties.

Differences between Orthodoxy and Catholicism

The main difference between Orthodoxy and Catholicism is their approach to authority. Orthodox Christians place more emphasis on tradition, while Catholics place more emphasis on the papacy.

Both branches of Christianity have a lot in common, but some key differences set them apart. We will compare and contrast Orthodoxy and Catholicism on the following topics:

1. Authority.

The Orthodox Church emphasizes the importance of tradition. They believe that the Church Fathers are just as authoritative as the Bible. Orthodox Christians also accept the Seven Ecumenical Councils, which were held between the 4th and 8th centuries.

The Catholic Church also believes in the Bible as the word of God and the Seven Ecumenical Councils. However, they place more emphasis on the papacy. The Pope is the supreme authority in the Catholic Church, and his word is considered to be infallible.

2. Worship.

Orthodox Christians use a lot of icons in their worship. They believe that these icons help to represent the presence of the Saint or Holy Figure that they depict.

The Catholic Church does not use as many icons in their worship. However, they do make use of statues. They mostly have statues of Mary, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have any other saints.

Important: The Orthodox Church believes that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from God” (who is both three and one) while Catholics and Protestants believe the Holy Spirit proceeds “from Father and Son” (also known as Filioque).

3. The One True Church of Jesus Christ.

One True Church

The Orthodox Church teaches that it is the “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church”. They believe that they still follow the traditions and practices that were established by the early Church Fathers, before the Great Schism.

Their approach to the Great Schism is that it was a tragic event that divided the Church. Orthodox Christians believe that they are the true heirs of the Orthodoxy, and they reject the teachings of the Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church also believes that it is the one true Church of Christ. But they believe that Orthodox Christians are “separated brethren” who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church.

4. Sacraments.

The Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church both accept the seven sacraments:

  1. Baptism.
  2. Confirmation.
  3. Eucharist.
  4. Confession.
  5. Anointing of the Sick (also known as Holy Unction).
  6. Holy Orders.
  7. Matrimony.

1. Baptism

The Roman Catholic Church believes that when a person is baptized, they are cleansed of “Original Sin” and become a child of God.

Orthodoxy believes the same, but the idea of the “original sin” is not accepted by Orthodox Churches.

2. Confirmation.

Confirmation is when a person is “sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit”. The Orthodox speak of “Chrismation” instead of “Confirmation”.

Their difference is that Orthodox priests perform “Chrismation” with Baptism, while Catholics often perform “Confirmation” separately from Baptism.

The Orthodox Church links Baptism, Chrismation, and Holy Communion, when a person becomes a full member of the Church.

3. Eucharist

Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics both believe that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus Christ and they both see the Eucharist as a sacred mystery. Orthodox Christians call it the “Divine Liturgy” while Catholics call it the “Mass”.

4. Confession

The Eastern Orthodox Church believes that confession is necessary for forgiveness. Orthodox Christians confess their sins to a priest, who then gives them absolution.

The Catholic Church also believes in the power of confession. However, they have the Confessional, which is a booth where people can confess their sins to a priest in private.

The Orthodox Church believes that God is everywhere so a member of the Church can confess to the priest inside or outside of the Church.

5. Anointing of the Sick

Both Orthodoxy and Catholicism believe in the “healing power of God”. Orthodox Christians call it the “Sacrament of Holy Unction” while Catholics call it the “Anointing of the Sick”.

6. Holy Orders

Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics both accept the idea of ordaining priests. Orthodox Churches allow both single and married men to be ordained, while the Catholic Church only allows single men.

7. Matrimony

Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics both see marriage as a holy sacrament. Orthodox Churches don’t allow divorce, but as a concession to human weakness, they do allow for divorce in certain circumstances.

The Catholic Church doesn’t allow divorce and they do not recognize it.

Important: Catholics are allowed to commune at Orthodox Churches in an emergency, but Orthodox Christians are not allowed to commune at Catholic Churches. An Orthodox Priest is never allowed to commune with anyone (including Catholics) who is not Orthodox.

5. Celibacy.

Celibacy is when a person abstains from sexual relations. Orthodox Churches do not require their priests to be celibate, but many Orthodox priests are celibate.

The Catholic Church requires that its priests be celibate. This is one of the main differences between Orthodoxy and Catholicism.

There is a lot of debate about why the Catholic Church requires its priests to be celibate. Some say it is because it allows them to focus on their spiritual duties. Others say it is because it gives them more power within the Church.

But the Catholic Church believes that Celibacy is “a special gift from God” that allows priests to focus on their spiritual duties and serve the Church in a more dedicated way.

6. Nicene Creed.

We talked about this a little bit in the Worship section. At the Council of Nicea in 325, the Catholic Church accepted that the spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.

But Orthodox Churches don’t accept this addition to the Nicene Creed. They believe that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father only.

This is one of the main doctrinal differences between Orthodoxy and Catholicism and should be taken into account when choosing a Church.

7. Virgin Mary (The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception).


Orthodox Churches believe that the Virgin Mary was born without sin. But they don’t believe in the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, which says that Mary was born without sin because she was going to be the mother of Jesus.

The Catholic Church, on the other hand, does believe in the Immaculate Conception, which means that even after Mary gave birth to Jesus, she remained sinless.

Orthodox Christians call Mary the “Theotokos”, which means “God-bearer”.

8. Grace.

For Orthodox Christians, Grace is the Uncreated Energy of God Himself that fills and sanctifies the world. This Grace is given to us in different ways through the Mysteries (Sacraments) of the Church, and it is also present in the Scriptures, Icons, Prayers, and Hymns of the Orthodox Church.

Monk Damascene comments:

In Roman Catholic teaching original sin consists only in the privation of sanctifying grace (also called “original justice”), while the nature of man remained the same after the fall as it had been before the fall.

In this view, the nature of man has not become corrupted; rather, the privation of grace in itself constitutes “a stain, a moral deformity” (Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 11, p. 314).

According to Orthodox theology, on the other hand, man’s nature was corrupted at the fall, and this corruption caused man to lose the indwelling of Grace and deprived him of participation in God.

As Vladimir Lossky notes, “The deprivation of Grace is not the cause, but rather the consequence of the decadence of our nature” (Mystical Theology, p. 132).

This shows us that Grace is a cooperation between God and man, and it is not merely something God does for us or in us, but rather something that He does with us.

For Orthodox Christians, then, the fall was a loss of Grace, a corruption of our nature, and separation from God. The result of this is that we are now unable to attain true knowledge of God or to please Him in our actions.

Only through the infilling of the Holy Spirit can we be restored to fellowship with God and share in His divine life.

On the other hand, Catholics believe that Grace is something that is created by God. The Catholic Encyclopedia states:

[Grace] is not a substance that exists by itself, or apart from the soul; therefore it is a physical accident inhering in the soul (1911 ed., vol. 6, p. 705).

9. Scriptures and Books.

Orthodox Christians believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, but not everything in it is to be interpreted literally as some Protestants do.

By saying literally, we mean that Orthodox Christians do not believe that every word of Scripture is to be taken in its literal meaning, but rather the Scriptures are to be interpreted in a spiritual sense.

This is because the Bible is a book that points us towards God and His Kingdom, and it is not simply a book of history or science.

This is also a common difference between Orthodox and Protestant Christians.

Both the Orthodox and the Catholic Church believe that the human writers of the Bible were inspired by the Holy Spirit and therefore what they wrote is without error.

Orthodox Christians and Catholics also accept the seven following books (Apocrypha) as inspired Scripture:

So, both Orthodox and Catholics believe that the Bible is not the only Scripture, but that there are other inspired books for praying and guidance.

What About The Doctrine of Justification?

Both Orthodoxy and Catholicism don’t accept the doctrine of justification by faith alone. This is a Protestant belief. Orthodox Christians and Catholics both believe in justification by good works.

They believe that good works are necessary to be saved. However, they don’t believe that good works can earn salvation. You can do good works without being saved, but you can’t be saved without doing good works.

This is especially true for ascetics who take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Orthodox ascetics live a life of good works, and they are often seen as being very holy people.

One of the most recent Eastern Orthodox ascetics that gained a lot of attention is St. Paisios the Athonite. He was a very holy man who performed many miracles. Today he is considered to be one of the most important Orthodox Saints.

Frequently Asked Questions

Orthodoxy vs. Catholicism

How does Orthodox differ from Catholicism?

The Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church are two of the oldest churches in the world. Their main difference is that Orthodoxy does not recognize the Pope as the head of the church. Orthodoxy is also more mystical than Catholicism.

What is the difference between Orthodoxy and Christianity?

In today’s vernacular, Orthodoxy is Christianity, and Orthodox Christians are Christians. Christianity is a general term that leads to false doctrine. This is very common in the West where Orthodoxy is not well known.

Why did the Catholic Church split from the Orthodox?

The split of the two churches happened in 1054. It was a result of political and theological differences. The Pope and the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople excommunicated each other, and this led to the split of the two churches.

Final Thoughts

The Schism of 1054 was a watershed moment in Christian history, and the differences between Orthodoxy and Catholicism have been felt ever since.

While there are many similarities between the two branches of Christianity, there are also some key distinctions.

We hope that this blog post has helped to clear some things up for you. If you have any questions or would like more information, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

This is not the final version of the article, it will be updated regularly with more information about the topic!


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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