The Eastern Orthodox Church

What is the Orthodox Church?

The Orthodox Church is the Christian Church. The Orthodox Church is not a sect or a denomination. We are the family of Christian communities established by the Apostles and disciples Jesus sent out to proclaim the Good News to the world, and by their successors through the ages.

Why does the Church call itself "Orthodox?"

The word Orthodox comes from two Greek words, orthos which means right, correct, straight, and the word doxa which means opinion or belief. The word Orthodox means Right-Believing, or Straight-Thinking. We use the title Orthodox to proclaim the Church as the community loyal to the teaching of Christ and the Apostles as it has been handed on to us in the Holy Scriptures, the teachings of the Fathers and the Oecumenical Councils.

The Orthodox Church is orthodox because we have not deviated in faith or worship. The Orthodox Church maintains the Christian religion in its fullness. When the Emperor Constantine liberated Christianity, a sequence of controversies shook the newly legalised Church. Imperial support, however, provided an instrument to resolve them. Councils of bishops were summoned on the Emperor's authority, and he received and even enforced their decisions on doctrine and Church order. Seven such Councils are recognised by the Orthodox as Ecumenical Councils having permanent authority. The Council of Nicaea (325) rejected the claim of the Alexandrian priest Arius that the Son of God was created, that of Ephesus (431) condemned the doctrine attributed to the Patriarch Nestorius, that in Christ there are both two natures, divine and human, and two persons, the Eternal Son of God and the human Son of Mary. The Council of Ephesus declared Mary to be Theotokos, "the one who gave birth to God." The Council of Chalcedon (451) condemned the teaching of Eutyches that there was only one nature in the Incarnate Christ, His humanity being swallowed up in His Divinity. The Seventh Oecumenical Council, the Second Council of Nicaea, defended the worship of icons against the Iconoclasts who rejected all images of Christ and His saints. Christ shares our human nature, and icons of Him are a profession of faith in His incarnation.

At the heart of every Orthodox community is a bishop, a consecrated successor of the original Apostles, who is the focus of the church's unity. When the bishop stands amongst his clergy before the Holy Table invoking the Holy Spirit to transform the bread and wine lying there before him so that the whole community of baptised Orthodox Christians can feed mystically on the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the fullness of the Church is present in their communion with Him and with each other. The life and the reality of the church is visible in the Eucharist .

The Orthodox Church uses the same Old Testament the Fathers of the Church used in the early centuries, the Septuagint. We cherish the wisdom of the Fathers of the Church and of the Spirit-filled ascetics and mystics whose teaching flows from their direct experience of God. We receive the Christian Faith not as a lifeless inheritance from the past, a collection of documents and customs, we receive it as it is lived and expressed in the life of the Christian community, and especially in the Church's worship and its Mysteries. Faith lives in the Church by the presence and action of the Holy Spirit. The faith can only be received and lived if the Holy Spirit is there to enlighten and transform our spirit from within.

The holy and ever-remembered Archimandrite Sophronios greeting the people at the paschal Vespers of Love, the censer in one hand, the triple candle in the other.

The Mysteries in which the acts of God in history become present realities by the power of the Spirit are the centre of Orthodox life. The Mysteries enlighten and transform not only the individual but also the whole community and are effective symbols of the final restoration of the whole of Creation in God. Orthodoxy understands the Mysteries as objective. The New Covenant sealed by the Blood of the Anointed guarantees the power of the Mysteries to forgive, to enliven, to transform, and to sanctify. Christ empowered, and through His Spirit empowers His Church. The Mysteries are His acts; the priesthood act as the representatives and ambassadors of the faithful, ordained to act both as our representatives and as ministers placing their hands and voices at His service so that the Mysteries become fountains of grace and mercy within the community.

Side by side with the Mysteries, Orthodoxy inherits from the erliest days of the Church, and ultimately from our Jewish forebears, the tradition of sanctifying the day and the night with an endless cycle of Divine Offices, at Dawn, at Sunset, and at the day and night hours of prayer. The inspired Psalms provide the substance and the basis of the cycle of offices, together with the profoundly theological poetry of the Church's hymnographers.

Orthodox Christianity also possesses a fertile tradition of personal prayer and spirituality. The Way of Silence, the hesychast tradition, with its emphasis on the Jesus Prayer, is the best known thread in this tradition, but many others exist. The mystical tradition of Orthodoxy is vigorously alive, and the tradition of spiritual fathers and mothers guiding those who seek their help is an important aspect of the Church's life. The disciplined life of poverty and prayer to which monks and nuns commit themselves is a particularly important expression of the Christian faith.

Why is the Church called Eastern Orthodox? Does that mean there is also a Western Orthodox Church?

We call ourselves the Eastern Orthodox Church because we descend from the Christianity of the Eastern Roman Empire.

Jesus was born into a world dominated by the Roman Empire, and the Empire provided the main field for His Apostles' missionary work. The Roman Empire brought most of the Middle East, North Africa, Asia Minor and Western Europe under a single government. Roman rule needed sound road and sea routes, effective means for taxation and law-enforcement, and a common official language to facilitate communication. The Empire furnished a providential vehicle for the spread of Christianity, and although the Christian religion did spread beyond the boundaries of the Empire to Persia, Armenia, India and Ireland, it was the Roman world that became the heartland of Christianity. The principal cities of the Empire became the bases for the organisation of the Church and the seat of the most senior bishops - Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch. The Pope of Rome, as bishop of the Capital City of the Empire, a city sanctified by the martyrdom of Ss.Peter and Paul, was respected as first and most honoured of all the Church's bishops.

In 286 the Emperor Diocletian split the Empire in two and established the capital of the Eastern Empire he ruled directly in Nicomedia. Like many of his predecessors, Diocletian opposed and persecuted the Christian Church, but when he abdicated in 305 a new era began for the Church.

In 306 Constantine the Great was proclaimed Emperor in York, and in 314 conquered his rival Maxentius and made Christianity the dominant religion of the Empire, Sunday became a public holiday (321) and in 330 Saint Constantine established a new capital city for his Christian Roman Empire on the site of the ancient Greek colony of Byzantium, and named his new city Constantinople, the New Rome. The first Council of Constantinople in 381 gave the Bishop of the Imperial capital a precedence of honour over all others save the Pope of Rome, and this was confirmed in the 28th canon of the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

Hagia Sophia, Holy Wisdom, the great cathedral built by Emperor Justinian the Great.

In the early Christian centuries, despite the many doctrinal disputes that shook the Church, Eastern and Western Christians shared the same faith, though their styles of worship and theology were always different. In that period there was indeed a Western Orthodoxy, the Western Patriarchate, whose Patriarch, the Pope, was also the most senior bishop of the entire church.

Sadly, the Eastern and Western Christian communities became separated over the centuries, and the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions of Christianity came to view each other with distrust and even open hostility. The decision of first Council of Constantinople in 381 reaffirmed at Chalcedon to give the Bishop of the Imperial Capital a precedence of honour over all others save the Pope of Rome was resented and opposed by the Popes, who jealously guarded their own primacy. Since the Western Patriarchate eventually deviated from Orthodoxy by changing the Church's official symbol of belief, the Nicene creed, and by proclaiming as part of the Christian Faith a number of beliefs the Orthodox Church does not find in the tradition we inherit (e.g. the existence of Purgatory, or the Infallibility of the Pope,) the Eastern Orthodox eventually ceased to maintain communion with Rome.

The breach between East and West happened slowly over centuries. Once the Roman Empire was divided into an Eastern Empire centred on Constantinople and a Western Empire centred on Rome, political and cultural tensions became inevitable. Gradually, Greek came to be the language of the Christian East and Latin of the West When the Western Empire finally fell to the Goths in 476 Rome and Constantinople were set on divergent historical paths: in the East the Roman Emperor still ruled over an extensive empire that survived in some form until 1453, in the West, the Pope faced a shifting array of barbarian states, a collapse of Roman order and organisation, the rapid spread of illiteracy, the fading of any knowledge of Greek.

The rising power of the Franks and the coronation of Charlemagne as Roman Emperor by Pope Leo III on Christmas day 800 increased tension. Much more serious was the adoption by many Western bishops of an addition to the Nicene Creed. The Creed proclaimed the Church's belief in the Divinity of the Holy Spirit "the Lord the Lifegiver, Who proceeds from the Father, Who is worshipped and glorified together with the Father and the Son." In order to combat heretics who cast doubt on the Son's true Deity, Western bishops added a word to the Creed so that it read "Who proceeds from the Father and the Son." Pope Leo III vigorously opposed this addition, the Filioque, and Rome resisted the addition until after 1000 A.D., but Western monks in Jerusalem had introduced it into their services in the early ninth century and the Orthodox East learned of it and reacted with horror. The Frankish popes of the eleventh century adopted the Filioque and it became a formal part of the Roman version of the Creed. Indeed, mediaeval Roman controversialists sometimes accused the Orthodox of removing it.

In the Mediaeval period differences in practice and discipline often played as great a role in separating East from West as did doctrinal disputes. The Western norms of a shaven, celibate clergy, of rejecting divorce but allowing fourth marriages, and above all the Western practice of using unleavened bread in the Eucharist evoked severe criticism in the East, not least since many Western priacticesa violated the Canons of the Council in Trullo, the Quinisext Council recognised as sharing the Ecumenical authority of the Fifth and Sixth councils. It must be admitted, however, that Latin acquiescence to this council was never complete and only obtained with the greatest difficulty, and that many of the canons of the Trullan Synod rejected practices which were traditional and normal in the West. Moreover, Western Christians never attributed (and still do not attribute) the same high authority to the canonical legislation of Ecumenical Councils that the East did and does, despite the fact that both agreed (and so far as Catholics and Orthodox are concerned still agree) about the dogmatic authority of the Councils.

Orthodox Missions

The Constantinople Patriarchate, having assumed the title "Ecumenical" in 587, sought, from that point on, to co-ordinate all Christian missions to the barbarians. For centuries this primarily involved evangelising the various peoples who either settled within or along the frontiers of the Byzantine provinces.

By 1000 monks like Saint Nikon Metanoeite (d.988) had brought Christianity to the Sclavenian tribes - settled in the Greek lands since 580. From 858 Patriarch Saint Photios the Great was able to send missions further afield, to Moravia, Bulgaria, and Russia. Saint Cyril headed a mission to the Khazars (860) and another, with his brother Saint Methodios, to Greater Moravia (862). These two scholars from Thessalonika set about creating a Slavonic alphabet and liturgy, in their translation work they were assisted by Gorazd, Kliment and a group of native clergy. The Western Church, however, resented the spread of Greek Christianity, and frequently opposed the mission.

The conversion of Khan Boris of Bulgaria (865) and of the Serbs (867) were also supervised by Patriarch Photios. The disciples of Saint Methodios, expelled by Frankish clergy after 885, helped consolidate these gains. Welcomed by the Bulgarians, Kliment (886) and later Naum (893) extended the mission to the Slavs of Outer Macedonia.

In 988 Prince Vladimir of Kiev embraced Christianity and so opened the whole of Rus to Greek and Bulgarian missionary work. In their turn Kievan monks (particularly from the Caves Lavra) spread Orthodox Christianity amongst their Slav, Finnish and other neighbours. Saint Stephen of Perm (d.1396) evangelised the Zyrian peoples and, like Cyril and Methodios, devised an alphabet and translated sacred texts into the local vernacular.

 

Interior of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Bradford, England.

Sadly, the conversion of the Eastern Slavs coincided with what was to prove a most serious breach between the Eastern and Western Churches. A clash of wills between the legates of the Pope and the formidable Patriarch Michael Caerularius led to acts of mutual excommunication which later came to be seen as the point at which the schism occurred. There are many reasons to question this; the excommunications were personal, not directed against whole churches, in the case of the Papal legates their excommunication of Patriarch Michael was probably invalid, since the pope they represented had already died, and therefore their legatine commission with him, and the dispute was to a significant degree local. The Church of Antioch in particular often maintained good relations with Rome. What however is clear in retrospect is that from the excommunications of 1054 the Eastern and Western Churches were now set on separate paths.

The bitter experience of the Crusades, which Pope Urban II first preached in 1095 in response to a plea for help from Emperor Alexis II, did little to help the Emperor regain power over the areas lost to Islam and helped confirm the split between the Churches. 1204 saw an appalling act of betrayal: the Crusaders sacked Constantinople, deposed Emperor and Patriarch and set up a short-lived Latin Empire.

Attempts at reunion at the Councils of Lyons (1274) and Florence (1438-45) failed. The Orthodox were in both cases under pressure from the Emperor, at Lyons the usurper Michael VIII seeking to defend himself against the claims of Charles of Anjou, at Florence John VIII seeking help against the Turks. Led by the Emperor they signed formulae accepting the doctrine that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son as well as the Father, the doctrine of Purgatory and of the damnation of unbaptized babies, formulae that showed no respect for Orthodox tradition.

Nonetheless, it is worth remembering that at Florence Eastern and Western bishops met together as bishops. Whatever the issues separating them, they gathered in a Synod to resolve their differences. Fundamentally, they still recognised each other as Christian bishops.

Mutual understanding was all the more difficult since a major revival of learning had taken place in the West, led by the Franciscan and Dominican friars, and fired by contact with the highly developped culture of the Muslim world in the Crusading period. Greek philosophical texts, translated into Syriac and then Arabic by the learned Christian family of Hunain ibn Ishaq for the Caliph of Baghdad, were translated into Hebrew and then into Latin by Jewish scholars living in Muslim Spain and by their Christian students. Christian scholars wanted to penetrate the secrets of Arabic medicine and science. The new "scholastic" style of philosophy and theology meant that Western scholars brought to their encounter with the East a new, confident, systematic, rational style of theological argument, unfamiliar to most Orthodox.

Florence failed as Lyons had failed. East and West failed to understand and accept each other, and the overwhelming majority of the Orthodox laity and lower clergy of the East rejected their Emperor's acceptance of Papal supremacy and Roman doctrine.

In 1453 Constantinople fell to the Ottomans, and for nearly half a millennium the ancient Patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem all lived under Islamic rule. Merely surviving was a challenge. Inevitably the Greek Orthodox world became increasingly caught up in its own affairs and more cut off from the Christian West.

In the same period, the Western Patriarchate was shaken to its foundations by the Reformation. A sequence of religious movements denounced the abuses and corruption of the Roman Church (as did loyal Catholic saints and even Catholic Popes,) but then went on to challenge many even central elements of the traditional doctrine, worship and organisation of the Roman Catholic Church. Some Reformation groups went so far as to reject infant baptism, the ordained priesthood, the order of bishops, the role of good works in salvation, monastic vows, the sacramental status of Matrimony, Ordination, Confession, Anointing of the Sick and Confirmation, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Other groups were much more moderate: in the Lutheranism of the Scandinavian Churches and in the Anglican tradition, much of the Catholic tradition survived, though the integrity of the tradition was lost.

The Roman Catholic Church responded to the issues that caused the Reformation by carrying out a rival Catholic reformation of its own, a reformation that renewed and strengthened many aspects of the Roman Church's life, but at a grave cost. Counter-Reformed Roman Catholicism tended to define its position in conscious and determined opposition to the Protestant Reformers. The unbalanced and polemically orientated Roman Catholicism of the post-Reformation period certainly retained far more of the essentials of Orthodoxy than any of the Protestant traditions, but its rigidity over issues that were no part of the common tradition of Christianity, its authoritarianism, its acceptance of dubious forms of worship and piety (Benediction of the Blessed sacrament, the Quarant' Ore, Indulgenced prayers &c.) all made Roman Catholicism more and more alien to the Orthodox.

It is significant that the Orthodox have never elected a rival Pope. The appointment of Latin "Patriarchs" of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem by the Mediaeval Popes certainly offered enough provocation to have made such an action understandable. Nonetheless the Orthodox never replied in kind. There is no doubt in our minds, as Orthodox Christians, that there should be an Orthodox Pope once more, heading the Western Patriarch and holding the Primacy in the entire Orthodox Church. We are content to wait!

What happened to the Eastern Orthodox Church after the split with the West?

When the fall of Constantinople in 1453 brought all the ancient Patriarchates of the East under Muslim rule, this situation enhanced the authority of the Ecumenical Patriarch over his brothers, but led to four centuries during which Patriarchs were deposed at the whim of the Ottoman authorities. Conversion to Islam carried significant social advantages, the building of new churches was difficult, education of the clergy deteriorated and Catholic and Protestant western European governments attempted to exercise pressure on the Orthodox communities in their own interest.

The Slav Orthodox had reacted with horror to the Greek reconciliation with Rome at Florence, and many saw the fall of Constantinople as a divine judgement on an apostate Emperor, a view confirmed when their own Orthodox princes finally cast off the yoke of the Tatars who since the thirteenth century had held Russia in subjection. In 1448 the Russian bishops elected their own Metropolitan of Moscow and became effectively independent of the Oecumenical Patriarchate. In 1589 Patriarch Jeremias II formalised the situation by recognising Metropolitan Job as Patriarch of Moscow.

The Slavs, however, had problems of their own. Apart from the rise of sectarian movements and the schism of the Old Believers caused by the well-intentioned but perhaps ill-judged liturgical reforms of Patriarch Nikon (1652-1667), the Metropolis of Kiev, which was mainly under Polish or Lithuanian rule was under pressure from the Catholic Poles, and in 1596 many Orthodox united with Rome in the Union of Brest Litovsk. A heroic resistance to the Union led to a revitalisation of the Orthodox Church under the leadership of Peter Moghila, Metropolitan of Kiev (1632-46) who transformed the education of the clergy using the techniques of his Roman Catholic adversaries as a model.

The Tsar Peter the Great (1672-1725), seeking to modernise and westernise his vast empire, abolished the Patriarchate and brought the Russian Church firmly under state authority. Nonetheless, its spiritual life continued and even flourished. Missionaries like Gury and Varsonofy (from 1555) had spread the Gospel amongst the Tatars and related tribes. Russian missions were now established across Siberia(1702), in China (1715), and Alaska (1794). Makary Glukharev (d.1847) brought Orthodoxy to the Altay peoples while Inokenty Veniaminov worked across the Russian Far East and in America. The latter co-ordinated the translation of Christian writings into Aleut, Tlingit, Yakut and Tungus; as Metropolitan of Moscow (1868) he also founded the "Orthodox Mission Society". Nicolas Ilminsky (d.1891) similarly worked on translations into the languages of the Tatars, Chuvash, Kirgiz, Kalmyks and others. In the same period missions were established in Central Asia and Iran and the "Palestine Society" was set up to aid the Arab Orthodox.

The work of Nicolas Kasatkin (d.1912) in Japan from 1860 provided a model for all subsequent Orthodox missions. Almost single-handedly, like Stephen of Perm, he founded a Japanese Orthodox community that soon became autonomous in all but name. Bishop Nicolas himself translated the Orthodox liturgy into Japanese and identified with his flock to the point of leading prayers for Japan's victory in the Russo-Japanese war. He also helped set up a mission in Korea in 1898.

The 1917 revolution in Russia did not bring an end to Russian missionary activity. John Maximovitch (d.1966) and others used the Orthodox diaspora as a base for mission amongst the host communities. Since the Second World War Greek missions have been invited to sub Saharan Africa and the Far East (also to Indonesia in 1988). The tendency has been for Christians in the Third World to turn to the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches for missions that are free of the imperialist baggage of Western Christianity.

The main thrust of Orthodox mission remains the creation of self sufficient and self governing churches centred on a liturgy in the contemporary spoken language. From Japan to East Africa this has generally been accomplished by incorporating those aspects of the national culture that are compatible with the Orthodox ethos and helping a local Orthodox tradition to emerge.

The last hundred years has seen a significant revival of Arabic Orthodoxy; the spiritual and intellectual advance of the Greek Orthodox Arabs has coincided with their playing a creative role in the advocacy of Pan-Arabism.

The Eastern Orthodox Church is now a family of self-governing churches following the doctrine of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. The Orthodox communion includes the four ancient Patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, the churches of Bulgaria, Belarus, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece, Romania, Russia, Serbia and Ukraine, in each of which it is the major religious community. It includes the Orthodox churches of Albania, China, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Estonia, Finland, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and the U.S.A. Orthodox communities belonging to various jurisdictions exist in Western Europe, in Africa and Australasia.

At present there is an important revival of female monasticism and a great re-invigoration of Athonite monasticism and of monasticism in the former Communist territories of Eastern Europe. Important monastic foundations have been made in America, Western Europe and elsewhere in the Orthodox diaspora and the new missionary territories.

The twentieth century has seen a major revival in Orthodox theology and spirituality. The collapse of the USSR has opened major new opportunities for international co-operation amongst Orthodox Churches.

 

Are there other Eastern Churches?

Besides the Eastern Orthodox Church, a number of other Eastern Christian communities exist which trace their history back to the earliest days of Christianity.

One of these, the Church of the East, descends from the Christianity of the Persian Empire. At a Council in 424 the Church of the East declared its independence under the governance of its own Catholicos-Patriarch. When the Council of Ephesus condemned the heretical doctrine attributed to Patriarch Nestorios that there are two Persons in Christ, the Divine Son of God and the human Son of Mary, most of the East Syrian Church refused to accept the condemnation, and at the Council of Seleucia-Ctesiphon in 484 officially adopted what its opponents saw as Nestorian doctrine.

The Church of the East grew: at one point it extended from Persia to Peking and Tibet, but suffered dreadfully during the violent invasions of Tamerlane in the fourteenth century, which slaughtered huge numbers and left the Church's organisation in disarray. From the fifteenth century onwards, significant numbers united with Rome, and today their Chaldean Catholic Church represents the major remnant of the Church of the East. During the First World War dreadful massacres of the Assyrians, as they had come to be known, reduced the community to a small fragment.

A family of much larger Churches survives, united by their opposition to the Council of Chalcedon. The Armenian Apostolic Church was not formally represented at the Council and did not accept its decisions. Syrian and Egyptian Christians were divided, some loyal to the Council remaining within the Eastern Orthodox Church, others opposing the Council and maintaining Saint Cyril's formula the One Nature of the Word Incarnate" as the sole expression of orthodox belief in the Incarnation. Eventually, two parallel communities came to exist, each with its own hierarchy. Today the anti-Chalcedonian family of communities is often known as the Oriental Orthodox; it includes the Syrian Orthodox (Jacobite,) including the substantial and very ancient Oriental Orthodox communities of South India, the Coptic Orthodox, Armenian Church, and the Ethiopian Church. In recent years warmer relations have developed between Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox, based on growing mutual respect.

From the period of the Crusades, communities of Eastern Christians have existed which for a variety of reasons chose to place themselves under the jurisdiction of the Roman papacy. Unlike the Italo-Greek Catholics of Southern Italy who have long been a part of the Roman Patriarchate, later Eastern Rite Catholic communities have retained a degree of autonomy, recognised at Vatican II as churches with their own Patriarchs or Senior hierarchs. The Ukrainian Catholics, the Melkite Catholics and the Syro-Malabar Catholics of South India are the most important such communities.

In Russia, and in several other places, Old Believer communities still exist, firmly Orthodox in belief and rite. Some belong to fully organised churches with their own hierarchy. Others belong to priestless groups.

From the 1920s traditionalist Orthodox Christians have set up alternative groupings (True Orthodox Churches) in protest at the adoption of the Gregorian calendar by certain Orthodox Churches. In Greece a lay movement was only joined by dissenting bishops in 1935. In that year Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Florina assumed leadership of the traditionalists and sought to hold together the various factions. Originally a million strong, the Greek Old Calendarists weathered a series of severe state sponsored persecutions but internal unity proved elusive. In 1937 Bishop Matthew of Vrestheni separated from those who refused to totally disassociate themselves from the "State" Churches -which still contained many "Zealot" sympathisers. This issue led to further fragmentation after 1979.

In Romania the hieromonk Glicherie Tanase rallied opposition to the reforming Patriarch Miron after 1924. The Romanian traditionalists were also persecuted and they were only joined by a bishop, Galaction Cordun, in 1955. The Old Calendarists have maintained tenuous links with both the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad and with the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Since the fall of Communism connections have also been developed with the Catacomb Church of Russia. The Balkans remain the centre of the movement but affiliated communities can be found through out the Orthodox diaspora and also in Italy and East Africa.

It is important to emphasise that while Old Believers and Old Calendarists may have become separated from the main body of Eastern Orthodox Christians, they are themselves fully Orthodox in faith, life and rite.

There also exist at least two Protestant churches, the Armenian and the Coptic, which still retain something of their Eastern identity.

The Russian sects, Khlysty, Doukobours, Molokans and Skoptsy are also distinctly Eastern Christian, but inherit a Christian tradition far removed from Orthodoxy.

 

What do the Orthodox Believe?

We believe in one God, Father almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth,
and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only-begotten Son of God,
begotten from the Father before all ages,
Light from Light, true God from true God,
begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father,
through Him all things were made.
For our sake and for our salvation He came down from Heaven,
and was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became man.
He was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate,
and suffered and was buried;
He rose again on the third day, in accordance with the Scriptures,
and ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He is coming again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and His kingdom will have no end.
And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life,
Who proceeds from the Father,
Who together with Father and Son is worshipped and together glorified;
Who spoke through the Prophets.
In one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
We confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We await the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the age to come. Amen.

This is the Nicene Creed, the symbol of the Church's faith. It is not an exhaustive statement of the Church's belief, but it represents the core of Orthodox doctrine.

In the living tradition of Orthodox theology, which inherits the doctrine of the hesychast mystics and particularly of the Spirit's Trumpet, Saint Gregory Palamas, in His Essence God is utterly unknowable but present throughout creation in His Energies. The Energies are God and can be experienced. The human being is created in the image and likeness of God: by the sin of Adam human nature is damaged, the likeness to God fades, but the image remains. Adam's sin brings death into the world, and because of death sin multiplies. Jesus Christ has conquered death by His death, His Resurrection undermines the rule of sin, He pours out the gift of new life on those who will accept it, sending down his Holy Spirit on His Apostles and through them on the whole Church. Enlivened by the Holy Spirit through faith and the Mysteries, the Church already shares in the life to come. The Church's worship brings the community gathered in prayer into contact with the eternal life of the Holy Trinity.

The origin of the Church is in God's creation of humanity and in the Incarnation of the Word of God, to share our life and our death to draw us all into His Divine Life. The Son of God walked the roads of Palestine at a specific period in human history. The Church, the community on which the Risen Lord poured out His Holy Spirit lives in history; we look to the Eternal God and to the Day of the Lord when history will find its end with the Messiah's return in glory to judge the world.

 

 

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