The Orthodox Church began at Pentecost. It was founded by our Lord Jesus Christ, when after His Ascension, He sent down upon His Apostles the Holy Spirit who proceeds from God the Father as is written in the New Testament. The Orthodox Church of today is the same Church described in the Bible as the Body of Christ and the Bride of Christ (1 Corinthians 12 : 27; Ephesians 5 : 23–25). Throughout its 2000-year history Orthodox Christianity has remained faithful to the teachings and practices passed on from the Apostles and early Church Fathers (2 Thessalonians 2 : 15).
The Apostles, as per our Lord’s command, preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ and founded churches in Europe, Asia and Africa. Under the direction of the Apostles and their successors, whom they appointed to carry on their mission, the Orthodox Church began to thrive. At each city and town that the Apostles traveled they would appoint a bishop to continue to minister to the faithful, before leaving on their missionary journeys. As the Church grew, the bishops in turn had to appoint priests and deacons to help them with their flock.
Why is it the “Eastern” Orthodox Church?
The Orthodox Church began in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), and from there spread throughout the world. The term “Eastern” is used to describe the area of the Church’s origin. The Churches founded by the Apostles themselves were the five original Patriarchates or “Pentarchy”, the Patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem and Rome. The Church of Constantinople was founded by St. Andrew, the Church of Alexandria by St. Mark, the Church of Antioch by SS. Peter and Paul, the Church of Jerusalem by St. Peter and St. James, and the Church of Rome by St. Peter and St. Paul. In addition to these original Patriarchates, through missionary activity were the Churches of Ukraine, Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, Russia, the Czech Lands and Slovakia, Poland, Romania and many others. Today some 200 million people identify themselves as Orthodox, most of whom live in Ukraine, Greece, Belarus, Russia, Romania, Serbia and other eastern European countries, as well as throughout the Middle East. Approximately four million Orthodox Christians live in the United States.
Are you Greek or Russian Orthodox?
Orthodox parishes are often identified according to the language in which services are celebrated or the national identity of parishioners. Thus they have come to be known as ‘Greek Orthodox,’ ‘Russian Orthodox,’ ‘Ukrainian Orthodox,’ etc. But this can be misleading: there is only one Orthodox Church, and it is not tied to any particular nationality. The Orthodox Church is for everyone, regardless of ethnicity: this is shown by the presence in most Orthodox parishes of many converts from Western Christianity (Protestant or Catholic) or from non-Christian beliefs.
In faith, doctrine, Apostolic tradition, holy mysteries (sacraments), liturgies and services they are exactly alike. Regardless of the language of each, they exist in fellowship and together constitute and call themselves the Eastern Orthodox Church. All of these churches are independent in their administration, being lead by their own patriarch, yet they are in full communion with one another (with the exception of the Church of Rome which separated in the year 1054.)
Orthodoxy and Catholicism
The Catholic Church was one with the Orthodox Church until about the 11th century. The rupture that occurred at that time had many complex causes, including the tendency of the Western Church to invest more and more authority in the Pope. The Orthodox Church has never had a worldwide, centralized government like the Papacy; instead, each local church governs itself in mutual accord with all the other local Orthodox churches. The Orthodox Church has also maintained unchanged the original form of the Nicene Creed. The Creed was altered in the Western Church, and this was another significant cause of the schism.
Unlike the Catholic Church since Vatican II, the Orthodox Church has had no liturgical reform. It maintains a richly beautiful liturgical tradition with many customs dating back to Apostolic times, including fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, receiving Communion on an empty stomach, ancient liturgical prayers and chants, frequent sacramental confession, standing or kneeling during services instead of sitting, and baptism by full immersion.
In the Orthodox Church there is no universal liturgical language (such as Latin in the Catholic Church); it has always been our tradition to pray in the local language. Orthodoxy also upholds the ancient practice of married clergymen, while also valuing and encouraging celibacy for those who are called to it (cf. Matthew 19 : 10–12).
Orthodoxy and Protestantism
Protestant denominations (such as Baptist, Anglican or Episcopalian, Lutheran, Presbyterian, etc.) have their origins in 16th-century Western Europe. These groups were a departure from the Catholic Church which, five hundred years previous, had departed from the Orthodox Church. Some of the Protestant reformers were earnestly trying to return to the Church of the New Testament – the early Church of the Apostles, which they believed had been distorted by the Catholic Church. Ironically, with a bit of education they would have found what they were seeking in the Orthodox Church.
In recent years, many groups within Protestantism have abandoned fundamental Christian doctrines and moral teachings, despite the clear witness of Holy Scripture, so highly valued by the 16th-century reformers. But the theological and moral vision of Orthodoxy – what Saint Paul calls ‘the mind of Christ’ – remains unchanged (1 Corinthians 2 : 16; cf. Hebrews 13 : 8).
What does Orthodoxy teach?
The word Orthodox is Greek for ‘right glory’ and refers to the correctness and truth of the Orthodox Church’s faith and worship (cf. John 4 : 23–24).
The Orthodox faith is expressed most fully in the Bible – the God-inspired books of the Old and New Testaments. This same faith is expressed very succinctly by the Nicene Creed, composed by theologians who met at the first two (of seven) great Ecumenical Councils held in 325 and 381. This statement, based on the Scriptures, teaches that there is one God in three Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God the Son – Jesus Christ – became man, was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered and died for our salvation, rose from the dead, and ascended physically to heaven, from whence he will come again at the end of the world to judge the living and the dead.
The Divine Liturgy (what Catholics often call the Mass) is the very heart of Orthodox life and faith. In it we receive Holy Communion which unites us with other Orthodox believers throughout the world. We are also united to the whole ‘communion of saints’ – all the departed martyrs, holy fathers and mothers of past ages – who join us and the hosts of angels in giving unceasing glory to God (cf. Isaiah 6 : 3; Revelation 7 : 9–17). But most importantly, Holy Communion unites each of us to Jesus Christ, for he offers himself to us in his very Body and Blood (cf. John 6 : 53–57). Orthodox parishes celebrate the Divine Liturgy every Sunday morning as well as on many feast days throughout the year.
Orthodox Christian Life
The Orthodox Church maintains basic Christian moral positions on the sanctity of life and marriage. Marriage is between one man and one woman for life, and this is the only appropriate context for physical relations that can lead to childbirth. Abortion, euthanasia, divorce, fornication and homosexual activity are a few examples of actions which seriously distort God’s loving purpose for our lives. However, there is no sin that God will not forgive and whose damaging spiritual affects God cannot heal.
The Christian life consists in opening our hearts, minds, and bodies to this merciful grace of God’s healing, and this is a life-long endeavor requiring faith and perseverence. (cf. Philippians 2 : 12–13)
Through constant prayer, through participation in the Church’s sacraments and the study of Holy Scripture, through serious struggle against our strong inclinations to sin and selfishness, and through gestures of loving self-sacrifice for others, we strive to enter more deeply into communion with the God who is Love (1 John 4 : 16). Union with God constitutes man’s only true and lasting happiness. It is this union and this happiness which Christ Jesus longs to give us, and the Church exists to make that happen.
For further information, please visit www.orthodoxyinamerica.org
Who is God the Father?
God the Father is the fountainhead (source) of the Holy Trinity, and the creator of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. God the Father created all things through the Son and in the Holy Spirit (Genesis 1 and 2; John 1:3; Job 33:4), and Orthodox Christians are called to worship Him (John 4:23). God the Father loves us and sent His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ to give us everlasting life (John 3;16). God the Father is ever-existing and eternally the same. God the Father existed always, even before time and there never was a time when He did not exist.
The scriptures reveal the one God is Three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, eternally sharing the one divine nature. From the Father the Son is begotten before all ages and all time (Psalm 2:7; II Corinthians 11:31). It is also from the Father the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds (John 15:26). The Orthodox Church teaches that we come to know the Father through Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit (Matthew 11:27).
In the Old Testament, God the Father was called by the name Yahweh and the intimate name of Father was not used to address God in prayer. Only in Christ and because of Christ can Christians have such boldness to call Him “Father”. Only Christians can properly say the Lord’s Prayer that was taught to them by the Son of God. Only those who have died and risen with Christ in baptism, and have received the power to become sons of God by the Holy Spirit in Chrismation are enabled to approach the Almighty God most high as their Father (John 1:12; Matthew 6:9; Romans 8:14; Galatians 4:4). God the Father is ungenerated and does not proceed from another Person. God the Son is pre-eternally generated by the Father. God the Holy Spirit pre-eternally proceeds from the Father. Nonetheless, all Three Persons of the Holy Trinity are equal in Divinity. The Triune God is The One Who IS (Ex. 3:14). He is Pre-eternal (Is. 41:4; Ps. 89:2), Infinite (Luke 1:33; Ps. 102:27), Everywhere-present (Omnipresent) (Jer. 23:24), All-Wise (Rom. 11:33), All-Knowing (Omniscient) (1 John 3:20), All-Good (Ps. 145:9), All-Righteous (Ps. 145:17), All-Holy (1 Sam. 2:2), and Almighty (Ps. 115:3).
The Revelation of the Holy Trinity in Scripture
In the Old Testament we find Yahweh, the one Lord and God, acting toward the world through His Word and His Spirit. In the New Testament the “Word becomes flesh” (Jn 1.14). As Jesus of Nazareth, the only-begotten Son of God becomes man. And the Holy Spirit, who is in Jesus making him the Christ, is poured forth from God upon all flesh (Acts 2.17).
One cannot read the Bible nor the history of the Church without being struck by the numerous references to God the Father, the Son (Word) of God and the Holy Spirit. The New Testament record, and the life of the Orthodox Church is absolutely incomprehensible and meaningless without constant affirmation of the existence, interrelation and interaction of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit towards each other and towards man and the world.
Who is Jesus Christ?
Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ is the incarnate Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the only begotten Son of God, fully God and fully man, begotten from before the creation time of God the Father and born on earth in the fullness of time of the Virgin Mary. Historians agree that Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem to Mariam (Mary) nine months after the Annunciation, when the Archangel Gabriel came to Mary announcing God’s plan to be born of her in human flesh. The timing of His birth has been dated between 749 and 754 from the foundation of the city of Rome. What is known about the events of Jesus Christ’s life, miracles and conversations are documented by prophecies of the Old Testament, the four books of the Gospels, the other books of the New Testament and the life of Holy Tradition of the Orthodox Church.
Jesus Christ the Messiah
“Jesus” is a transliteration, occurring in a number of languages and based on the Latin Iesus, of the Greek Ιησους (Iēsoûs), itself a Hellenisation of the Hebrew יהושע (Yehoshua) or Hebrew-Aramaic ישוע (Yeshua ), (Joshua), meaning “the Lord saves”.
“Christ” is His title derived from the Greek Χριστος (Christós), meaning the “Anointed One”, a translation of the Hebrew-derived Mashiach (“Messiah”)
Jesus Christ is the Messiah prophesied by the Jewish prophets of the Old Testament Scriptures. The Gospel of Matthew in particular focuses on the Jesus’ fulfilment of prophecy, mainly because it was written for a Jewish audience.
God is With Us
Emmanuel (Gr. Εμμανουηλ) is the descriptive name applied to Our Lord and Savior and means “God with us.”
“Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. (Matt. 1:23; KJV)
“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isa. 7:14; KJV)
The Gospel of John opens with a hymn of revelation identifying Christ as the divine Logos, or Word, that formed the universe and the divine nature of Jesus Christ:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made… And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt amongst us; and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth… No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him”.
As the ‘uncaused’ hypostasis [person], the Father was nonetheless always with his divine Word (Jesus) and Spirit, who themselves were also concrete and distinct modes of existence within the divine essence. Being Father necessarily implied a schesis with His Son and Spirit, without whom, fatherhood would be logically inconceivable. That is to say, the Father could never be perceived to be alone in his divinity as this would imply that He was not always ‘father’ but became so, which would be unacceptable in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. And so, there was never a time when God was without His Word and Spirit. Indeed, St Irenaeus (130-202AD) had noted that when God acts in the world, He always does so through His Word and Spirit, which He called the “two hands of God.” Accordingly, the teaching of the Church on the Son of God is that He was begotten of the Father before all ages, and not created in time like all other created beings of the world. Being begotten of the Father [tovn ejk tou’ Patrov” gennhqevnta prov pavntwn tw’n aijwvnwn] – as is said in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed – simply meant that the Son of God shared the same essence as God the Father and so was ‘light from light, true God from true God.’ And this eternal Son of God they identified with Jesus, whom they taught was God incarnate and born of the Virgin Mary.
Jesus Christ began His ministry to all people at age 30 and taught the Twelve Apostles all that would be required of them and how they were to evangelize to all people of all nations. At age 33, Jesus Christ accepted crucifixion of His own will, submitting to death and thereby destroying the power of death by His resurrection on the third day. He reopened the gates of paradise to all men which were shut when sin entered into the world by man’s choice, at the expulsion of Adam and Eve from paradise. Our Lord came to save us from eternal death, to give us live that we may live eternally with Him. Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead and instituted the holy mysteries (sacraments) of the Orthodox Church; He accepted baptism, He gave the first Eucharist at the Mystical Supper before His arrest and crucifixion; and after His resurrection, through Him, the Apostles were sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit (who proceeds from the Father) on Pentecost. Jesus ascended into heaven on the 40th day after His resurrection. Jesus Christ is the founder of the Orthodox Church which officially began with the evangelic ministry of His disciples on Pentecost, 33 A.D.
The Orthodox Church teaches that Christ belongs to the same substance or essence of God, whereas everything of the world belongs to the will of God and was created by Him. As the eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ is divine with exactly the same divinity as God the Father, but, as One born on earth from the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem, He was also fully human. Being of the same substance with the Father, God’s only begotten Son, the man Jesus of Nazareth not only revealed the Father – “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn 14:6) – but was also the Savior of the world. Being fully human, Jesus Christ identified totally with the human condition – except for sin of course – and therefore raised it back to God, uniting it with God. And so, the Church teaches that in the person of Jesus Christ (the God-man), the faithful of the Church not only ‘behold’ and ‘see’ God in the flesh, but are also saved by Him as well.
Who is the Holy Spirit?
The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Holy Trinity and is one in essence with the Father. Orthodox Christians repeatedly confess, “And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father, who together with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified. . .” He is called the “Promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4), given by Christ as a gift to the Church, to empower the Church for service to God (Acts 1:8), to place God’s love in our hearts (Romans 5:5), and to impart spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:7-13) and virtues (Galatians 5:22, 23) for Christian life and witness. Orthodox Christians believe the biblical promise that the Holy Spirit is given in chrismation (anointing) at baptism (Acts 2:38). We are to grow in our experience of the Holy Spirit for the rest of our lives.
A person can abide in Christ, accomplish His commandments and be in communion with God the Father only by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in his life. Spiritual life is life in and by the Holy Spirit of God.
If you love Me [says Christ], you will keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Comforter to be with you forever, even the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you (Jn 14.15–17).
When the Spirit of Truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth. . . . He will glorify Me, for He will take what is Mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is Mine . . . (Jn 16.12–15).
The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and is sent into the world through Christ so that human persons can fulfill God’s will in their lives and be like Christ. The spiritual fathers of the Orthodox Church say that the Holy Spirit makes people to be “christs,” that is, the “anointed” children of God. This also is the teaching of the apostles in the New Testament writings:
But you have been anointed by the Holy One and you know all things . . . and the unction [chrisma] you have received from Him abides in you . . . His anointing teaches you about everything and is true and is no lie, just as it has taught you, abide in Him. . . . And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit which He has given us. . . . By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His own Spirit (1 Jn 2.20–27, 3.24, 4.13).
This teaching of Saint John is the same teaching as that of Saint Paul.
. . . God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us. . . . Any one who does not have the Spirit of Christ does Christ does not belong to Him. But if Christ is in you, although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness. If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through His Spirit which dwells in you . . . for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God (Rom 5.5, 8.1ff; cf. 1 Cor 2, 6, 12–14; Gal 5).
It is the classical teaching of the Orthodox Church, made popular in recent times by Saint Seraphim of Sarov (19th c.), that the very essence of Christian spiritual life, the very essence of life itself, is the “acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God.” Without the Holy Spirit, there is no true life for man.
In spite of our sinfulness, in spite of the darkness surrounding our souls, the Grace of the Holy Spirit, conferred by baptism in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, still shines in our hearts with the inextinguishable light of Christ . . . and when the sinner turns to the way of repentance the light smooths away every trace of the sins committed, clothing the former sinner in the garments of incorruption, spun of the Grace of the Holy Spirit. It is this acquisition of the Holy Spirit about which I have been speaking . . . (Saint Seraphim of Sarov, Conversation with Motovilov).