About the Orthodox Christian Church
The Orthodox Church is the one, holy, catholic (universal), and apostolic Church. Within her are communities of churches where Orthodox Christians participate in the mystical (sacramental) life, drawing nearer to God through this life of prayer, fasting, almsgiving, confession, and communion.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Orthodox Church?
Since the Day of Pentecost more than 2,000 years ago, the Orthodox Christian Church has believed, taught, preserved, defended, and died for the Faith of the Apostles. It is evangelical, but not Protestant. It is orthodox, but not Jewish. It is catholic, but not Roman. It is not denominational, but rather pre-denominational.
Wasn’t The Roman Catholic Church First?
Sort of., but there's more to it than that. While RCC was united to original Christian Church for the first thousand years, and will often point to it in their apostolic succession, consider the following:
In 1054 A.D the patriarch (or bishop) of Rome tried to claim unprecedented papal authority over the other four Christian patriarchs. In doing so, he separated himself and those under him from the rest of the church, resulting in what is called the "Great Schism." When it's sometimes suggested that the East left the West, all one has to do is look at the facts. While the Bishop of Rome was always considered “first among equals,” he separated himself from the four other equal bishops who were still in communion with one another -- and still are to this day. Only after this unfortunate break in communion did the historical Christian Church have to distinguish itself with the term “Orthodox.”
The dogmatic differences between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church is immense. It has been said that Roman Catholicism and Protestantism are actually two sides of the same coin, each emphasizing opposite extremes of a "transactional salvation." Roman Catholicism and Protestantism both emphasize God as a judge of sorts, and salvation as being acquitted of guilt. But in Orthodox Christianity, God as judge is just a part of the picture, and can only go so far in our understanding of Him. Salvation in the Orthodox Church has always emphasized union with God through continual repentance and healing within the context of community with the faithful.
This brief video touches on some of the differences between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism:
- Hierarchy and leadership
- Perspectives on children
- Theology of the afterlife
- Liturgical revision
- Asceticism and fasting
If The Orthodox Church Is The Original church, Why Am I Just Now Hearing About It?
For several possible reasons:
The countries where the Orthodox Faith has flourished (Greece, Russia, Serbia, Romania, etc.) have all been at war and/or under extreme persecution by various dictators or foreign powers (“If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you…” – John 15:20). It is difficult to formally evangelize while in survival mode. In the 20th Century alone, as many as 40 million Orthodox Christians were martyred under Communist rule. The Orthodox Church is often referred to as “The Church of the Martyrs.”
The Western Hemisphere is dominated almost exclusively by the Roman Catholic Church. If not directly, then indirectly by those whose primary description of belief is against the Roman Catholic Church. It’s simply the way history happened. As of 2010, it is estimated there are only about 800,000 Orthodox Christians in the United States of the roughly 300 million worldwide. However, the Orthodox Church is becoming more and more present and recognized in the U.S.
Orthodoxy, to the casual passerby, may look like Roman Catholicism. You may have seen scenes from an Orthodox service in a movie (though probably inaccurately portrayed) and just written it off as a form of Roman Catholicism. If you take a slightly closer look, though, you’ll see that Orthodox Christianity is as different from Roman Catholicism as East is from West.
Eastern / Greek / Russian Orthodox: What’s The Difference?
The Orthodox Church can be found throughout the entire world and primarily uses the local language. Because of this, Orthodox parishes are often identified by the language that is used in the divine services or the national identity of parishioners, such as "Greek Orthodox," "Russian Orthodox," "Georgian Orthodox,’"etc. This can be misleading; there is only one canonical Orthodox Church, and it is not tied to any particular nationality. All canonical Orthodox Churches profess the same beliefs and Creed of Faith.
Here’s an example of Orthodox Christian worship in the country of Georgia:
(Fun fact: Georgia was originally evangelized by the Apostle Andrew, and is the first country to adopt Christianity as the state religion).
The Orthodox Church is for everyone, regardless of nationality. As stated in Acts 2:5-12 and as still remains to this day, there are converts from every sort of religious confession and nationality in Orthodox parishes throughout the world.
Why Do The Priests Wear Black Dresses?
You could be asked a similar question: Why do you wear a tie or a uniform to work? Styles have changed over the past 2,000 years, but the cassock is the traditional clothing of Orthodox clergy. If you go to an Orthodox Church anywhere in the world, you’ll see the clergy all wearing the cassock. It’s an added benefit in America, though, because Orthodox clergy stick out like a sore thumb (free advertising).
It Looks Like Islam. Are You Related?
No. Though they come from similar parts of the world, and therefore share some similar cultural appearances, Islam and Orthodoxy are different in both origin and beliefs. Islam was founded by a man named Muhammad about 1400 years ago, and Christianity was founded by Jesus Christ nearly 2,000 years ago.
Do You Have Monks And Nuns?
Absolutely. Their prayers and the life they lead in monasteries are essential to every Orthodox Christian and to the entire world. Here is a quick overview:
60 Minutes on CBS did an excellent story giving an insight into the life of Orthodox monastics on Mount Athos in Greece. Part 2 is available on YouTube.
Orthodox Christian worship is entirely about God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and engages all the senses:
Sight: Images of Christ and of the Scriptures surround you in icon form.
Sound: The hymns are not about “I” or “me” (unless it is in a repentant form, usually during Great Lent), but about Christ and those who have offered their entire life to Him.
Taste: The Eucharist – bread and wine – is His holy Body and Blood.
Touch: We venerate (kiss) images of Christ and those who have offered their entire life to Him.
Scent: One of the strongest memory-inducers, various fragrances of incense are burned depending on the festal season and carry our prayer to Christ (Psalm 141:2).
We could answer questions all day long, but very little about the Orthodox Faith is communicated in words; it is an experiential encounter with the living God. So, as Philip said to Nathaniel: “Come and see!”