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Ask An Orthodox Christian: What is Orthodoxy?

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What would you like to know about the Eastern Orthodox Christian faith? Submit your question.

By Nicholas Damascus

Q. What is Orthodoxy?

easternorthodoxA journey to fullness

Life is so much more than just a destination. It’s a gift. It’s a sacred journey, a pathway. For Orthodox Christians both our journey and destination is not a place, but a person. Our goal is NOT to think that one would be good enough (or score enough points) to make it to heaven.

So what is Orthodoxy?   What does the Orthodox Church believe? How are we different than any other tens of thousands of Christian expressions of faith?  Has Christianity become a collection of changing practices and doctrines that accrue, gradually becoming something more socially appealing and eventually unrecognizable to the first century Christians?

In the West, when we speak of Christianity, it is most often misunderstood that there are only two major divisions, Roman Catholicism (The Roman Catholic Church, beginning in 1054 AD with historical origins from the beginning of Christianity) or Protestantism (the protest to the additional teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, beginning about in 1517).

What most Western Christians are unaware of is that the second largest Christian faith in the world is Orthodoxy (The Eastern Orthodox Church), however, it is not about numbers, but it is about the preservation of the original and correct teachings of the Christian faith.  Let me begin by taking a more direct approach in first telling you what Orthodoxy is NOT, and at the same time, what is Orthodoxy.

It is NOT Roman Catholic. However, it is catholic (universal, according to the whole).

It is NOT Protestant; however, it is evangelical (proclaiming the good news).

It is NOT Jewish Orthodox; however, it is Orthodox (the theological and doctrinal teachings of Jesus Christ and the Apostles, without addition, alteration, or subtraction of this original faith from the beginning).

It is NOT denominational; however, it is pre-denominational and for the first 1,000 years of Christianity, there is only one Christian church known as the Orthodox Church.  In Matthew 16:18When Christ established his church, He said “..the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it (his church).”

It is NOT a religion; however, it is a way of life.  John 14:6 “I AM, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

The Bible, for Orthodox Christians, is NOT the church. The Bible is a witness of the revelation of God to man, and a part of the active and living Holy Tradition of the church. This Holy Tradition is the life of the church, and Scripture is the primary language of that life. That is, the Bible (the Word of God assembled and validated by the church 325 to 381 AD) is written so that we might believe and be saved.

The aim of Orthodox Christians is to become like Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith. In Genesis 1:26-27 man is created in the “image” (love) and “likeness” (holiness) of God.  We believe that the church, founded at Pentecost, is the ship that safely carries us on this journey of transformation to the fullness of what God intended us to become.

God became man so that man could become “god-like” (sanctification). Becoming by grace what Christ (God) is by nature. In 2 Corinthians 6:18 “I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the Lord Almighty.”

The Orthodox Christian faith is the original and oldest Christian faith founded by Jesus Christ and the Apostles. For two millennium, this church has believed, taught, preserved, defended, and died for the Faith of the Apostles since the Day of Pentecost.  The Orthodox Church, founded by Saint Paul and the Apostles, still exists today with about 300 hundred million strong.

With Christ as its head, the Orthodox Church is NOT a corporation of people, but a living breathing organism, a divine human body.  When we speak of the Orthodox Church, we mean the undivided body of the church.  The Church Triumphant those who have gone on before us and those in this life, fighting the good fight, known as the Church Militant.  Together they are what Orthodox call “the Church,” the Body of Christ.

The centerpiece of Orthodox Christianity is The Holy Trinity.  When an Orthodox Christian says God, he means the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  We are to emulate that community of Persons in the Godhead of unconditional love not just from within our communities, but to everyone everywhere.

Although prayer, fasting, vigils, and almsgiving and all other Christian practices, however, good they may be in and of themselves, these means do not constitute the aim of our Orthodox Christian life. The true aim of every Orthodox Christian is “the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God.”   With this pursuit, one is united with that “Trinitarian life source” of unconditional love through the Holy Tradition of the sacramental life of the Church (not limited to just seven mysteries).

This sacramental life within the church unites an Orthodox Christian with the energies of God, becoming a partaker of this divine nature ( 2Peter 1:4  “ which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature..”).

This deposit of faith and experience was given to us by Jesus Christ and the Apostles. This tradition is passed on in the church from one generation to the next.  This Holy Tradition is “the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church.”  It is unchanging in dogma and dynamic in application.  It is growing in expression, yet ever the same in essence.

At the center of Orthodox Christian liturgical life is the divine liturgy, where one participates in receiving and being a part of the eucharistic gift. The church gathers to remember and celebrate the life, death and resurrection of Christ and thereby participate in the mystery of salvation.  The Eucharist (ευχαριστία), is a Greek word which means “thanksgiving.”   In a particular sense, the word describes the most important form of the church’s attitude toward all of life.

Orthodoxy does not celebrate the Eucharist as a symbolic memorial of the Last Supper, as an occasional observance.  Practicing the teachings, of both Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition, the Orthodox Church, in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, believes that Christ is truly present in the chalice. The Eucharistic gifts of bread and wine become for us his body and his blood.  (My personaI commentary would be “If one only knew” and in an unfortunate expression “best kept secret”).

John 6:56 “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.”

1 Corinthians  11:24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”

Matthew 26:27-28 Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you.  For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”

Becoming Orthodox involves baptism or chrismation or both of these sacraments.  In addition to the Eucharist, other sacraments are Holy Unction for the healing of the spiritual and physically ill, confession for repentance and reconciliation, marriage for those joined by Christ in the marital community, and Ordination in holy orders, those called to serve in the church.

Once a person justified through Baptism and/or Chrismation, the journey begins of immersing oneself in the healing action of the life of the Holy Spirit of God within his church. Through the participation in the sacramental life of the church, the healing process begins for one to become more like what God is by nature.  This process is commonly known to Orthodox as theosis(sanctification), whereby one experiences the healing energies of God through the life in the church.

From an Orthodox perspective, the presence of “Churchless Christianity” is one of the tragic aberrations of so-called modern religion.  A prevalent assertion that it is Christ who saves us without the church he died for, so “all you need is Jesus.”

Christ is the head of the church.  The traditional Orthodox belief in the Church is attested to in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed created at the First Council of Constantinople in 325 as the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.  This statement of faith proclaims the Church is undivided (one), sanctified for the work of God (holy), whole and universal (catholic), and preaching the Gospel and baptizing in all nations (apostolic).



THE THIRD ROME (From the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America)

“We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth, for surely there is no such splendor or beauty anywhere on earth. We cannot describe it to you; we only know that God dwells there among men and that their Service surpasses the worship of all other places…”

In the latter part of the tenth century (988 AD), Vladimir the Prince of Kiev sent envoys to various Christian centers to study their form of worship.  These are the words the envoys uttered when they reported their presence at the celebration of the Eucharist in the Great Church of Holy Wisdom in Constantinople. The profound experience expressed by the Russian envoys has been one shared by many throughout the centuries who have witnessed for the first time the beautiful and inspiring Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church.  Subsequently, all of Russia became Orthodox.


Nicholas Damascus

About Nicholas Damascus

Nick Damascus is one who seeks to discover and apply the proverbial question of what is truth and wisdom, to fill that gaping hole, to become complete and to become realistically and synergistically functional. In an attempt to live the Christian life, which he says is a definite work in progress, he has discovered that he's created the Christ that fits his lifestyle and agrees with his ego (and boy what an ego, he says), carefully avoiding what God intended him to be.

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