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The history of the Eastern Orthodox Church is traced back to Jesus Christ and the Apostles. The Apostles appointed successors, known as bishops, and they in turn appointed other bishops in a process known as Apostolic succession. Over time, five Patriarchates were established to organize the Christian world, and four of these ancient Patriarchates remain Orthodox today. Orthodox Christianity reached its present form in Late Antiquity (in the period from the 3rd to the 8th century), when the Ecumenical Councils were held, doctrinal disputes were resolved, the Fathers of the Church lived and wrote, and Orthodox worship practices settled into their permanent form (including the liturgies and the major holidays of the Church).
In the early Middle Ages, Orthodox missionaries spread Christianity towards the north, to the Bulgarians, Serbs, Russians and others. Meanwhile, a gradual process of estrangement took place between the four Eastern Patriarchates and the Latin Church of Rome, culminating with the Great Schism in the 11th century, in which Orthodoxy and the Latin Church (later called the Roman Catholic Church) separated from each other. In the Late Middle Ages, the Fall of Constantinople brought a large part of the world's Orthodox Christians under Ottoman Turkish rule. Nevertheless, Orthodoxy continued to flourish in Russia, as well as within the Ottoman Empire among the latter's Christian subject peoples. As the Ottoman Empire declined in the 19th century and several majority-Orthodox nations regained their independence, they organized a number of new autocephalous Orthodox churches in Southern and Eastern Europe.
Four stages of development can be distinguished in the history of the Orthodox Church. Early Christianity, which represents the first three centuries through the early age of Constantine the Great, constitutes the Apostolic and ancient period. The Byzantine period, beginning with the time of the Ecumenical Councils, comprises over eleven centuries from the First Council of Nicaea in 325 to the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. The Ottoman period starts, approximately, for the Greek and Balkan communities in the fifteenth century with the Fall of Constantinople, and ends about the year 1830, which marks Greek and Serbian independence from the Ottoman Empire. The last stage is the modern period.
The Orthodox jurisdictions with the largest number of adherents in modern times are the Russian, the Ethiopian, and the Romanian Orthodox churches. The most ancient of the Orthodox communities existing today are the churches of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, Armenia, Georgia, and Ethiopia.
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