A Brief Overview of Orthodox Christianity
The word “orthodox” comes from the Greek language and literally means
“correct worship and belief.” In Orthodox Christianity worship and belief
are inseparable. As we worship so we believe. The Orthodox Church is
neither “Protestant” nor “Roman Catholic” but constitutes a unique
reflection of the historic Christian faith. Orthodox Christianity traces its
roots, both historical and spiritual, from the time of the Apostles.
The Apostle set out to spread the word of the Gospel to the “ends of the
earth” and founded Churches throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia. Of course
early Christianity centered around the Mediterranean Sea and five cities of
Jerusalem, Rome, Antioch, Alexandria, and finally Constantinople, became
major centers of Christian leadership. The heads of the Church in these five
centers, called Patriarchs, jointly ruled the Church for the first thousand
For the first three hundred years the Church faced persecution from the
Roman government and was under attack from many directions. But, led by the Holy Spirit, the Church prevailed and under the rule of the Emperor
Constantine, early in the 4th century, the Church became a legal Roman
religion. From that time on the Church flourished, although not without
occasional difficulties and assaults both from without and from within.
Several attempts were made to distort the teaching of the Apostles and a
series of Great Councils were held, which, led by the Holy Spirit, directed
the Church in the development of the theology and practice of the Faith. The
first of these Councils, held in Nicaea in 325 lead to the eventual
development of the Nicene Creed, the fundamental statement of Faith affirmed
by Orthodox Christians at every Divine Liturgy from then until now.
Over time, for a number of reasons, tension grew between some of the leaders
of the Church in the West and in the East. Finally, in 1054 there was an
official split between the Church leaders in Rome and the rest of the
Church. The Roman Catholic Church became a separate entity and continues to be separate from the Orthodox Church today. Protestant churches developed as
breakaway groups from the Roman Catholic Church beginning in the 16th
century. The Orthodox Church to day is a worldwide body loosely knit
together by common beliefs and practices. It is the second largest Christian
body in the world next in size to the Roman Catholic Church. Unlike the
Roman Church there is no single “pope” or head of the Church, but the
Bishops who act in a collegial manner under the leadership of the various
Patriarchs rule the Church.
Orthodox Christianity has always seen both Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition
as integral parts of the faith and life of the Church. The Bible is a part
of the essential foundation of orthodox Christianity and the services of the
Church are rich with the use of scriptural readings and Biblically based
traditions. However, Biblical interpretation is always seen in light of the
tradition of the early Church Fathers and the Great Councils.
The Orthodox Church is a Sacramental Church, recognizing the traditional
sacraments of Baptism, Chrismation, Holy Communion, Confession, Unction
[healing of the sick], Ordination, and Marriage. We understand the
Sacraments to be particularly intense opportunities of rich interaction with
God working through the Holy Spirit. The spiritual life of the Church
revolves around the Sacraments, each working in its own way to bring the
faithful to a closer union with God. Accordingly orthodox worship entails a
glorious experience of hymns, psalms, prayer, and teaching set in a context
of color, incense, music and praise.
The Orthodox Church is both modern and ancient. Ancient in regard to
beliefs, practices and traditions – but modern in regard to addressing the
issues that face all modern people, the struggle for a peaceful and just
world, the problems of moral relativism, and both the fears and hopes
generated by a world driven by modern technology.