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?
“The Orthodox Christian Church is evangelical, but not Protestant. It is orthodox, but not Jewish. It is catholic, but not Roman. It is not denominational, it is pre-denominational. It has believed, taught, preserved, defended, and died for the Faith of the Apostles since the Day of Pentecost 2,000 years ago.” – Our Life in Christ
Wasn’t the Roman Catholic Church first?
Sort of. Though the RCC can claim heritage to the original Christian church, and will often point to it in their apostolic succession, there’s more to it than that:
In 1054 A.D the patriarch (or bishop) of Rome tried to claim unprecedented papal authority over the other four Christian patriarchs and, in doing so, separated himself and those under him from the rest of the church (this is called the Great Schism). When it is 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 difference between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church is monumental. It has been said that Roman Catholicism and Protestantism are just two sides of the same coin, each emphasizing opposite extremes of a transactional salvation. Roman Catholicism and Protestantism both emphasize God as a judge, 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 by way of continual repentance and healing within the context of community.
For a quick overview of some of the differences between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, this brief video touches on five of them:
- Hierarchy and leadership
- Perspectives on children
- Theology of the afterlife
- Liturgical revision
- Asceticism and fasting
If the Orthodox Church is the original, why am I only just now hearing about it?
For several reasons:
The countries where the Orthodox Faith has flourished (Greece, Russia, 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). As you can imagine, it is difficult to formally evangelize when in a mode of survival. 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 just the way history happened. As of 2010 it is estimated there are only about 800,000 Orthodox Christians here in the United States (of the roughly 300 million worldwide). However, the Orthodox Church is becoming increasingly present and well-known 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. But 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.
Here’s an example of Orthodox Christian worship from a cathedral 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 ethnicity. As revealed in Acts 2:5-12 and as still happens 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. In America it’s an added benefit though because Orthodox clergy stick out like a sore thumb (so it’s 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 of this importance:
For a more in depth look at some of the oldest monasteries in the world, here is a beautiful documentary done by 60 Minutes on CBS giving an insight into the life of Orthodox monastics on Mount Athos in Greece. Part 2 is available on YouTube here.
Orthodox Christian worship is entirely about God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit:
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!”