What is Orthodox Christianity?
Orthodox Christianity, or Christian Orthodoxy, is the Faith given by Christ to His Church nearly two-thousand years ago to share with the world, that humankind may have hope, and find life and salvation in God. This Faith given by Christ was so crucial and central to the Church that the book of Acts mentions that as the word of God spread, that a great many of the priests were "obedient to the Faith" (Acts 6.7). As God and even the person of Christ has many names, so does God's Church. It is Catholic and Apostolic, it is Orthodox and Christian, explained below.
Orthodox Christianity is not about a "religious system," but about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and through Him with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. Often today, when people say "personal relationship" they mean "individualistic relationship" (i.e. "just me and Jesus"). However, that is not what we find in the Bible nor in the whole history of Christianity. No one is saved "alone," but with a multitude of witnesses, as the book of Hebrews teaches us (Heb. 12.1). Jesus, when bestowing the Kingdom, and giving the promises, renders the plural "you," not the singular "you" (Luke 22.29), indicating that one cannot separate His singular relationship with God from the relationship with God shared by God's people. Likewise, one must not think that a relationship with God's people can replace the singular relationship. Each person must trust in God and communicate with Him themselves. We must pray in a multitude of contexts: as a person directly (yet still aware of the cloud of saints always in God's presence), together with spouse and children, as families, and as a family of God.
Where is the Church founded by Jesus Christ...?
Does it still exist? If so, where do I find it? Why does it matter?
We will deal with the last question first:
Why does it matter if the Church founded by Jesus Christ still exists?
When Scripture speaks of the Church, it speaks of it both as "the household of God" (1 Peter 4.17), but also as "the household of the Faith" (Gal. 6.10). Christ is faithful over God's house, "and we are His House, if indeed we hold firmly to the end the confidence and the hope in which we glory" (Heb. 3.6). As St. Peter teaches us, God builds His Church as a priestly and spiritual house of faithful who offer spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2.5). This Church was founded as a historical entity that would continue until the end.
The deepest yearning of the human person is to know the meaning of life, and the meaning of life is found in the Divine Person who became Human and established a way to unite Humanity with the Divine. Jesus is the Savior of the world, and He came to establish a community of Faith that would be His Body, and unite it to Him in a Mystery, sacramentally. When He said "take, eat, this is My Body," He was speaking of that which is partaken and those who did partake. Likewise, the Chalice is the New Covenant in His Blood. Thereby, with Faith He makes His Body those who partake of it in this Mystery of the Eucharist, and likewise, He bestows the New and everlasting Covenant in the chalice, whereby the faithful are truly saved by the Blood of Christ, by partaking thereof with reverence for God, faith, and love.
The Church of the New Testament
We know from the book of Acts, that the Apostles went far and wide spreading the teachings of Jesus Christ and founded many Churches. All of these Churches, though separated in miles, were united in the Trinity by Sacrament, common Faith, and common Liturgy (prayerful communication and communion with God). Many of these communities in the Holy Land and elsewhere, founded 2000 years ago, still exist today among the descendants of those first followers of Christ.
Some things to consider:
- God's Church was not founded in Rome, Geneva, or London, but in Jerusalem, the City of our Lord, and city from which all the Apostles set out. The Church itself, the True Israel, the New Jerusalem, is named after this city and land from which the Christ came and took flesh deified it for our salvation. The Orthodox Catholic Church of Christ (in shortened form “the Orthodox Church”) is the native Church of the Holy Land, and has owned and operated the most holy sites in Christendom for the past two millennia. The families that are the descendants of those first disciples of Jesus have lived continuously in the Holy Land as devout Orthodox Faithful for the past 2000 years. Although founded in Jerusalem, we respect the Church in the cities and lands which from an early time had the most influence for spreading the Gospel of Christ and the Faith--The Church in Rome, the Church in Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, etc. i.e. cities which were "on a hill." Thus these are set first in honor which at some point were "on a hill" and had the most impact and influence on the Holy Church, for "A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden" (Matt. 5.14). It is not any physical city, but the Church in a city as a manifestation of the true City of God (the worldwide Church) that we speak of. However, we know from Christ's command that no one of these can stand apart from the others, but where two or three are gathered, and out of the mouth of two or three is every word established (Matt. 18.16), according to the teachings of our Lord. The Church, being the great City of God is not bound to any worldly city, but rather cities and countries gain meaning because of the Lord's Body that resides there, for "We have an altar...Jesus...suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp [of the Old Covenant], bearing his reproach. For here we have no continuing [earthly] city, but we seek the one that is coming" (Heb. 13.14).
- Most of the local Churches founded by the Apostles themselves belong to the ancient Patriarchates (important dioceses) of the Orthodox Church, established in cities of historically great prominence. These local Churches include the Church of Jerusalem, which, being the city of the Lord became known from an early time as “the mother of all churches,” together with Antioch (where the followers of Christ were first called Christians as reported in the book of Acts) Alexandria, and Constantinople (New Rome). All of these have remained intact by continuous succession from the time of the Apostles to this very day—historically verifiable—it cannot be ignored.
- Today there are some 300+ million Orthodox Christians worldwide, making it the second largest Christian body in the world.
- ALL SEVEN of the Ecumenical Councils of the ancient Church were held in the jurisdictional territory of the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople-in the ancient cities of Ephesus, Nicea, and Chalcedon, where the Apostles established local Churches central to Christ's ministry. The Ecumenical Patriarchate's senior See of Ephesus was founded by Sts. Peter and Paul, and resided in by St. John the Apostle and the Virgin Mary, The Ecumenical Patriarch is first among equals among all of the Bishops of the Orthodox Catholic Church of Christ, --yet is not above him, but first among them.
In early times we read of the “One Catholic Church” of Christ (from Katholicos: literally “in accord with the whole”). But soon other groups, such as the Arians, and the Donatists or Cathari, would also call themselves “The Catholic and Apostolic Church,” claiming to be the “true Catholics” or “pure Catholics” even though they were ultra-conservative (and sometimes ultra-liberal) schismatics and heretics. Thus the Church more heavily employed the term “Orthodox” in addition to “Catholic” to distinguish it from the heretics and schismatics who left the Church for doctrines and practices not handed down from the Apostles. The Orthodox Church has kept as an official name “The Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church,” the Church of God the Father, the Church of Jesus Christ, and the Church of the All-Holy Spirit. In centuries following, many nations would also come to Christ, including the northern lands of Kyivan Rus, which today is known as Ukraine (or Rus-Ukraine). The land of Rus-Ukraine would then spread Christianity northward and easterward, and these peoples too would also assume the name “Rus.” It is the land of Rus-Ukraine from which many of the founding members of Holy Protection parish are from.
In 1054 a mutual excommunication occurred between the Patriarchs of Constantinople and Rome based on differences which developed in years approaching. Although this is typically the year given for the “Great Schism between East and West,” we do not see a finalization of the split until the 13th Century, when the Crusaders sacked Constantinople, killing their brother Christians in the name of the Pope and the Frankish-Roman Empire, and tried (ultimately in vain), to set up rival bishops in Antioch and Jerusalem to those who were legitimately there. The Churches of Jerusalem, Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria/Africa, Cyprus, Mount Sinai, Bulgaria, Serbia, Albania, the Rusyn and Russian lands, Poland, Romania, and the ancient land of Georgia all remained together as the Orthodox Catholic Church. Rome stood alone in the West. The Orthodox Catholics in the East believed themselves in the right, following the promise of the Lord that “by the mouth of two or three witnesses let every word be established” (Matt. 18.16) and to the Apostles He states: “If two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask it will be done for them by My Father in Heaven” (Matt. 18.19) and “wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them” (Matt. 18.20), and as St. Luke reports that the Apostles were sent two by two—not by ones—no Apostle stands alone and no local Church even those first in honor and privilege, can stand alone. Rome would later claim that because it was first in rank of the Churches of St. Peter that it had universal jurisdiction in the Church, which provoked the Great Schism. After the Great Schism, Rome began calling itself the “Roman Catholic Church” and Orthodoxy continued to call itself the “Holy Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church,” in simpler form, "the Orthodox Church."
Due to historical reasons, the rise of late 19th and early 20th century tribalism the world over and the form of pluralism in America at the time of the great immigration, something unusual happened to the Orthodox—the formation of parallel dioceses based originally on the common language of the new immigrants while remaining in Communion with each other through their Mother Church. Now these American jurisdictions belong to the Assembly of Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America. Any Orthodox Catholic Christian, regardless of ethnicity may become members of any parish.
Orthodox Catholic Christians, having dedicated themselves to Christ and adhering to the Orthodox Faith, believe in One God, the Father who from eternity shares his divine essence with His Divine Son whom He begets from eternity, and the Holy Spirit who eternally proceeds from the Father. This One God in Three Divine Persons we call the Holy Trinity, the Father being alone God unbegotten and unoriginate, God the Son eternally begotten of the Father (true God of true God), and the Holy Spirit eternally proceeding from the Father.
The Second Person of the Trinity, from all eternity, willed to become Incarnate of the Virgin Mary. When he assumed humanity, he remained one person, assuming the human nature, having always had the divine nature. Since Christ remained God even when he became man, the Church has called the Virgin Mary the Theotokos, the bearer and mother of God. For she carried God within her and gave him flesh and then reared him, caring for his growing humanity and reverencing his eternal divinity—all in this one Person of Christ. Though the entirety of the Church is called collectively “the saints,” we especially honor her whom he chose among all people to take his human flesh, and we also honor those who followed him and lived the full Christian life, who are canonized Saints (as St. Paul says, let those who rule well among you be counted worthy of double honor, and “imitate me as I imitate Christ”).
Christ came to unite himself to mankind and to unite humanity to Himself. He wished to give us his “divine power in all things that pertain unto life...” so that we might be “partakers of the Divine Nature” which is thus called divinization or deification—the final goal and greatest part of man’s salvation (2 Peter 1.3-4). He established a way by which all men could be united to Him and to each other in body and soul—the Eucharist (the body and blood of Christ), which when men partake of it in Faith and the love of God they together become the Body of Christ, having the body of Christ within them and receiving Christ in their soul with Faith and love. This Communion of the Body of Christ is called by Scripture Christ’s Church—the fullest unity of God and man--not just spiritual but bodily as well—Christ came to save both body and soul—the whole man. Those who live the life of the Church by sacrament and by sharing God’s love with the world continue to be members of God’s Kingdom and His Body. We are told by the Church Fathers beginning with St. Clement in the first century (one of the seventy called out in Luke 11) that the Church began with Adam and Eve in a primitive sense. But they needed to grow and multiply and learn to love so that mankind, the first stage of the Church, could be prepared to receive the Lord and become His Body and His Bride and reign with Him in His heavenly kingdom. According to St. Irenaeus, it was always God’s will to become one with us in the Incarnation and unite Himself in close union with all who would receive Him, whether there was a fall of Adam and Eve or not. But the fall did happen, and so, in order to grow towards union with God, man also has the difficult task of rid Himself of sin and its consequence, death. Thus Christ not only lived as one of us but died as one of us, raising our human nature in his person, so that on the last day we shall all together be raised and reunited with our bodies. Salvation, then, is not an instant of time but a process of growth and cooperation and living with God. Thus, we had the primitive Old Testament Church, which knew God in a remote sense, but in the Incarnation, the Mystical Supper and the Pascha became a Bride, receiving Christ as Lord, groom, brother and friend, and thereby also gaining God as Father, at the Pentecost receiving the Holy Spirit as its eternal Life-giver and its Divine Crown.
Also known as the sacraments of the Church. They are referred to in Scripture as Mysteries (Gr. Mysteria—cf Eph 5.32 which refers to the Eucharist (Communion) as being a Great Mystery as Christ in communion with His Bride, and by extension to Marriage between man and woman, which is an icon of the marriage of Christ and the Church through communion, by extension), and this is because the visible reality points to a deeper corresponding reality. For example, the Eucharist is Bread and Wine precisely because it is, by the power of the Holy Spirit, made to be in truth the Bread from Heaven, Jesus Christ Himself, offering Himself as food for the faithful, and in truth the wine (“fruit of the vine”) appears as such because it is in truth the fruit of the True Vine. Luke 8.10: “The Mysteries of the Kingdom of God.” The Lord Jesus identifies Communion as the New Covenant in His Blood. He doesn’t say it is a symbol of the New Covenant, but rather that it is the New Covenant conveyed in His Body and Blood, which are given to the faithful as food and drink (John 6.55).
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