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What is the Orthodox Church?
The Orthodox Church is today a federation of fifteen self-governing churches which share a common faith, a common liturgical and sacramental tradition, and a common history beginning at Jerusalem in approximately 33 A.D. In the Old Testament we find the Prophets who foretold the coming of Christ. From the Gospels, and the New Testament in general, we learn about our Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ. We also find the establishment of Sacraments, liturgical worship, and patterns of administrative authority (bishops, priests, deacons) taking shape in the early Church. The Apostles, the twelve original disciples of Christ, undertook numerous missionary journeys traveling from city to city in the ancient Greco-Roman empire and established Christian communities - many of which survive to this day. Despite persecution, Christianity spread quickly throughout the Middle East, Asia Minor, North Africa, Europe, and India. The spreading of the Church led to the establishment of administrative centers around the five major metropolitan cities of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Rome, and Constantinople.
The First Thousand Years...
The first thousand years of Christianity witnessed to a common faith throughout the Christian world both East and West. There were doctrinal disputes: Arians, Nestorians, Monophysites and others introduced erroneous theologies during the fourth and fifth centuries; "Iconoclasts" attacked the use of icons during the eighth. Such disputes were settled as bishops and Christian representatives throughout the entire world gathered together in council. The decisions of seven of these councils were universally accepted by the faithful and became known distinctively as Ecumenical. Guided by the Holy Spirit, attested to by centuries of countless followers of Christ, the Ecumenical Councils articulate the faith of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church that continues unchanged in Orthodoxy to this day.
The Great Schism
The break in communion between the East and West, known as the Great Schism, came in the year 1054. In the West, Rome altered some of the ancient doctrines ("filioque") as well as added new ones (papal infallibility, immaculate conception, etc.). In the 16th century Protestant Reformers made further changes and deletions. All the while, the remaining four ancient Patriarchates continued steadfast in the same fullness of faith handed down from Christ Himself through His Holy Apostles. Through extensive missionary efforts these four centers were later joined by the Russian and other Patriarchates - constituting the fifteen autocephalous churches today united as One Holy Catholic Apostolic Orthodox Church spread throughout the world.
This is a very small introduction to Orthodox Christianity. There is infinitely more to discover and learn even as God is infinite. We eagerly invite you to worship with us, and we welcome any questions you may have.Back to top.
We worship God in Trinity, glorifying equally the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages; that He is truly God, of one essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit. We believe that Christ Incarnate is also truly man, like us in all respects except sin. We worship the Holy Spirit as Lord and Giver of Life Who proceeds from the Father. We honor and venerate the Saints as those who have grown "unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13). We ask their intercession before God knowing that they live in Christ and that nothing, not even death, breaks the bond of love we share with them in Christ. Of the saints, the Ever-Virgin Mary, the Theotokos (Greek: Mother of God), holds a special place as "more honorable than the Cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim" (c.f. Luke 1:48).
Baptism and Chrismation are usually administered together. Baptism by triple immersion is participation in the Death and Resurrection of Christ, purification in the washing away of sin, and birth into the life of the Holy Trinity. Chrismation, following Baptism, anoints one with the "Seal and Gift of the Holy Spirit." Through the Holy Spirit we are able to live the fullness of the Christian life. We are regenerated and given the Grace by which we are able to keep the commandments of Christ and attain unto the Kingdom of Heaven. In Holy Communion is received the very Body and Blood of Christ for remission of sins, the sanctification of soul and body, and for life eternal. In Holy Confession the Christian, when truly repentant, receives from Christ,through the confessor, the forgiveness of sins committed after baptism. Ordination, Marriage, and Holy Unction complete the seven New Testament Sacraments. By the laying on of hands a bishop transmits Divine Grace to the person being ordained, linking him to the uninterrupted succession of Orthodox clergy from the time of Christ to the present. Divine Grace sanctifies the union of man and woman in matrimony. Orthodox parish priests are usually married but the marriage must precede ordination. The Sacrament of Holy Unction brings healing to the infirmities of both body and soul, as God sees fit, through the anointing of oil.Back to top.
The Church Building
Normally an Orthodox Church is divided into three distinct parts: narthex (entry way); nave (main body); and Altar. The narthex symbolizes the created world, made and blessed by God in the beginning as "very good," but now fallen and alienated from the Source of Life. The nave constitutes the Church Herself, the Mystical Body of Christ made up of Her members both past, present, and yet to come. The Altar area, joined to the nave by an icon screen (iconostasis ) shows the Kingdom of God - the Kingdom "to come," but in Christ and the Church a Reality already accessible to the faithful. the west-to-east axis of the church building constitutes the progression of all Christian life: World → Church → Kingdom. Across the iconostasis there is also, on the north-to-south axis, another theme. The central, or "Royal" doors, lead from the nave to the Altar Table, the Throne of God. On the left (northern) side of these doors is an icon of the Incarnation, the first coming of Christ as a Child born of the Virgin Mary. On the right side of the Doors is an icon of Christ as He will appear on the "Last Day," in glory. It is here between the first and second comings of Christ that the Church gathers and meets Him Who promised to be with us always. In front of the Royal Doors the faithful receive the Eucharist, partake of the Messianic Banquet to come even here and now, and are united to Christ. Before the Doors the two axes intersect - the world, Church, and Kingdom to come encounter the Lord Jesus Christ Who came, IS, and will come again.
Icons (Greek: image) on the walls of the church depict scenes from the Holy Gospel, Sacred Church history, or Saints. Icons are also placed on stands in the church for veneration by the faithful. Icons are not merely decorative art. They are neither subjective nor sentimental, but a window into the spiritual world. Veneration is not to the paint or wood of an icon but to that other world from which shines Christ Himself, the "light that lightens every man that comes into the world" (John 1).
Candles are used extensively in Orthodox worship, on the Altar and by icons, signifying the light of Truth given by the One that illuminates the world with spiritual radiance. Candles are part of our offering to God, symbolizing our soul's burning love for God and His Church. Pews are not traditionally found in Orthodox churches. We stand, as much as we are able, before the living God during Services as humble and reverent participants in worship and not mere observers.Back to top.
Before visiting us…
Your first visit to an Orthodox church can be quite daunting! This article may help to prepare you — 12 Things I Wish I'd Known…First Visit to an Orthodox Church, by the popular Orthodox author and speaker, Fredrica Matthews-Green.
"Orthodox worship is different! Some of these differences are apparent, if perplexing, from the first moment you walk in a church. Others become noticeable only over time. Here is some information that may help you feel more at home in Orthodox worship—twelve things I wish I'd known before my first visit to an Orthodox church."
Click here to read the rest of the article on the website of Fredrica Matthews-Green.Back to top.