A Brief Overview of Orthodoxy

WHO STARTED THE ORTHODOX CHURCH?

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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 can trace its history back to the New Testament Church in unbroken continuity. 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.

WHAT IS THE ORTHODOX CHURCH?

Close to two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to earth and founded the Church through His Apostles and disciples for the salvation of men. The teachings of the Apostles and the Church spread far in the years which followed; many Churches were founded, but all were united in faith, worship and the partaking of the sacraments.

To the group of Churches founded by the Apostles themselves belong the five 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 St. Paul, the Church of Jerusalem by St. Peter and St. James, and the Church of Rome by St. Peter and St. Paul. Those founded in later years through missionary activity of the first Churches were the Churches of Sinai, Russia, Greece, Yugoslavia, Romania and many more.

All of these churches are independent in their administration, yet they are in full communion with one another with the exception of the Church of Rome which separated in the year 1054. In faith, doctrine, Apostolic tradition, 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 Orthodox Church.

The teachings of the Church are derived from two sources: Holy Scripture and Sacred Tradition, which complement each other. As written in the Gospel of St. John, “and there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world could not contain the books that should be written.” These unwritten teachings were transmitted orally by the Apostles and come down to us in Sacred Tradition.

The faith and doctrines of the Church can be found in the Scriptures, the writings of the Church Fathers and in the canons and decrees of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is truly God, the Savior, and the Son begotten of the same substance of the Father before all ages. He is also true man, like us in all respects except sin. We believe that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, this being confirmed by the Second Ecumenical Council in the words used in the Symbol of Faith, “And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life, Who proceeds from the Father…”

The Orthodox worship God in Trinity, and honor and venerate the Saints and ask their intercession before God. Of the Saints, the Mother of God holds a special place because of the supreme grace and call she received from God. According to the canons of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, we venerate the sacred icons and relics not in themselves, but as representations of God and the Saints.

We recognize seven Sacraments:

  1. Baptism
  2. Chrismation
  3. Holy Eucharist
  4. Confession
  5. Ordination
  6. Marriage
  7. Holy Unction

Baptism and Chrismation (Confirmation) are the means of entrance for the Christian into the Church. For without dying to the old man and putting on the new in Baptism, we cannot receive the inheritance of the Kingdom which Christ restored to us. With Chrismation, we receive the Gift of the Holy Spirit. As the Spirit of God in the form of a Dove alighted on Christ, we receive Him in the Holy Chrism, becoming partakers in the fulness of Christ. In the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, we partake of the true Body and Blood of Christ, in the form of bread and wine, for the remission of sins and for life eternal. As it is written, Except ye eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink of His blood ye have no life in you. In confession we receive forgiveness of the sins we commit after Baptism if we truly repent of them. The foregoing three sacraments are essential for the life of all Christians.

By the laying-on of hands of a canonical Bishop, divine grace descends on him who is being ordained. This basic sacrament has provided uninterrupted succession to Orthodox clergy from the Holy Apostles and the establishment of the Church on the day of Pentecost. Divine grace sanctifies the union of two people in Matrimony as Christ blessed the wedding at Cana by His presence and the performance of His first miracle. Infirmities of the body and soul are healed through the sacrament of Holy Unction.

These, briefly, are some characteristics of the Orthodox Church. The Church is one because our Lord Jesus Christ founded only one Church. It is holy through the sanctification of its Founder and Head, Jesus Christ and the operation of the Holy Spirit. It is catholic because it is universal, and knows no limitations of place or time. It is apostolic because it was founded by the Holy Apostles. This is the Orthodox Church-the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

THE POSITION OF THE LAYMAN IN THE ORTHODOX CHURCH

The administration of the Church has both a spiritual as well as a civil character. Both clergymen and laymen have the responsibility to abide within the discipline and order, keeping the faith sound and unchangeable. The faithful, clergy and laity, constitute the “royal priesthood,” which means they are called upon by God to serve in Church. Laymen share the spiritual and administrative affairs of the church with clergymen, including the responsibility for the steadfastness of the faith and the discipline of the whole membership of the Church. They have the right to participate in the tasks of the Church in teaching, mission, and charitable obligations. They have an interest in church affairs from the community level up to the synod, when elected to do so.