Difference between Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic

Updated on August 30, 2016

Religion has long been a topic best avoided around people you do not want to argue with. People tend to be very attached to their own convictions, and rational arguments rarely manage to convince anyone. There are differences within similar religions, and each side claims that they are the ones interpreting things the right way. This being said, have you ever wondered what is the difference between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church?


Eastern Orthodox
An orthodox church in Riga, Latvia

The Eastern Orthodox Church is a Christian church and one of the oldest religious institutions of the world. It was established to maintain traditions passed down by the apostles. There is no central authority within the Orthodox Church, and all bishops are equal according to their statute.

The Orthodox Church closely follows the faith and practice of the first Christians. For the first thousand years of Christianity, there was only one church. The Great Schism of 1054 led to the creation of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. The Orthodox Church developed in the Byzantine Empire and is now the main religion of states such as Russia, Greece and many countries in Eastern and Central Europe.

Roman Catholic
The Saint Peter Basilica in Vatican

The Roman Catholic Church is the largest Christian church. It has followers all over the world. The head of the Catholic Church is the Pope, the highest ranking priest, said to be the one to continue Saint Peter’s work on Earth. The Catholic Church developed around the former Roman civilization and its center is in Vatican City, a separate state within the city of Rome.

Throughout the years, the Catholic Church has adapted many of its dogmas to better suit the changing world and its followers’ needs. It has remained strict and unyielding in many other respects.

Eastern Orthodox vs Roman Catholic

So what is the difference between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches?

With the Catholic Church trying to adapt more to the modern world and the Orthodox Church remaining true to its original beliefs, the differences between the two seem to be piling up. Administratively speaking, the Orthodox Church does not have one leader; all of its bishops are equal. This was one of the main disagreements which led to the separation of 1054. By contrast, the Pope has the highest rank in the Catholic Church. Beneath him, there is a very large structure with various positions to be held within the church. The Orthodox Church grants less power and fewer titles.

Secondly, the Orthodox tradition has remained unchanged and has made very little effort to adapt to the changing world. Its role has always been seen as a support system for its people. By contrast, the Catholic Church has been much more involved in state decisions and in the lives of its people. It also had a more expansive approach, launching the Crusades and missionary projects. The Orthodox Church made no such efforts to expand its reach. What is more, no other church was born from the Orthodox Church, while the Catholic Church was the root of the Reformed Christian denominations.

Orthodox priests are required to marry before they are ordained. It is believed that only by knowing the troubles and joys of family life can they help followers lead good lives. Catholic priests are not allowed to marry.

There is no Purgatory for the Orthodox people, although there is talk of some intermediary judgment. Catholics do believe in Purgatory as a place between Heaven and Hell. There are no statues of saints in the Orthodox Church either. There are only icons to which people pray. In the Catholic Church, icons are decorative. Statues, life-like and three-dimensional, are intended to represent and glorify the holy family and the saints.

Many other differences lie in the way in which holy texts are interpreted. This is mainly due to the fact that the Catholic Church relied mainly on Latin, while the Orthodox Church translated its texts into Greek. Differences in translation and in interpretation lead to differences in practice.

As far as attitude toward the individual is concerned, the Orthodox Church is strict, yet distant. It lays down the law and expects people to abide by it. This detached attitude lets followers come to the Church willingly, without social constraints. The Catholic Church is much more involved in the lives of its followers. Communities are built around the church, and people benefit from a higher level of support along with a slight social obligation to be active within the religious community.

Comparison Chart

Orthodox ChurchCatholic Church
The oldest church of the Christian faithThe biggest church of the Christian faith
Developed in the East, built around Greek textsDeveloped in the West, built around Latin texts
The main religion in Russia, Greece and many Eastern European countriesSpread all over the world due to missionary work
Has remained unchanged and is continuing the work done by the apostles as instructedHas often made changes to adapt to the changing mindset of its followers; Is the root of the reformed denominations
A support system for the peopleUsed to be directly involved in government
Made no effort to spreadOrganized the quests for the Holy Grail and started missionary projects to convert people all over the world
Does not have PurgatoryHas Purgatory
All bishops are equalThe Pope holds the highest ranking position in the Church
Priests marry and have familiesPriests do not marry
Only has icons and does not worship statuesHas statues, and icons only play a decorative role
More theoretical and detachedMore practical, dogmatic and intrusive
Did this article help you?
Thank you!
Thank you!
What was wrong?