The word Orthodox was coined by the ancient Church Fathers, the name traditionally given to the Christian writers in the first centuries of Christian history.

Orthodox is a combination of two Greek words, orthos and doxaOrthos means “straight” or “correct.” Doxa means at one and the same time “glory,” “worship,” and “doctrine.” So the word orthodox signifies both “proper worship” and “correct doctrine.” During the early centuries of its history, when it was united, the Church was both orthodox and catholic; that is, it was the Church of “correct praise” and was “universal” (which is what catholic means). The term “orthodox” was used by the Church to separate itself from other groups that held false doctrines about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, salvation, and the Church. Those groups were called “heterodox” or “heretics.”

The Orthodox Church traces her history back to the apostles and thus to Jesus Christ Himself. We believe that Christ brought the Church into existence, that it is empowered by the Holy Spirit, that it was to be led by the apostles and then by those whom the apostles were led to ordain (the passing down of this authority through time is called apostolic succession), and that it represents the presence of the body of Christ in this world.

The Orthodox Church today is the same as the undivided Church in ancient times. It is the “One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.” The Protestant Reformer Martin Luther once remarked that he believed the pure Faith of primitive Christianity is to be found in the Orthodox Church.

Correct. We are neither Roman Catholic nor Protestant.

From the Orthodox point of view, Roman Catholicism is an early medieval modification of the original Orthodoxy of the Church in Western Europe, and Protestantism is a later attempt to return to the original Faith. To our way of thinking, however, the Reformation did not go far enough.

We respectfully differ with Roman Catholicism on the questions of papal authority, the nature of the Church, the approach to salvation, and a number of other consequent issues. Historically, the Orthodox Church is both “pre-Protestant” and “pre-Roman Catholic” in the sense that many modern Roman Catholic teachings were developed much later in Christian history.

Protestants can often relate to Orthodoxy’s emphasis on a personal experience of faith and on the Holy Scriptures. Roman Catholics easily identify with Orthodoxy’s rich liturgical worship and sacramental life. Roman Catholic visitors often comment, “in lots of ways your Liturgy reminds me of how our old High Mass used to be.”

Many of the “polarities” between Protestants and the Roman Communion (i.e., “Word versus Sacrament,” “Faith versus Works” or “Symbol versus Reality”) have never arisen in the Orthodox Church.

 

The Orthodox Church constitutes the second largest body of Christians in the world.  It is not a denomination; it pre-dates the existence of denominations by at least 1,500 years.

The Orthodox Church has an organic and continuous 2, 000 year history spanning from the time of Jesus’ apostles to the present – a verifiable fact affirmed by historians.  What we now call the Orthodox Church was simply the Christian churches of the eastern Roman Empire where the Christian faith originated – Jerusalem, Antioch, Ephesus, Thessalonica, etc.  Today it has a presence all over the world, including the United States and Canada, England and Western Europe, South America, Mexico, Guatemala, Indonesia, Japan, China, Kenya, Uganda,  and Tanzania.

Roman Catholicism

In the year 1054 a fissure occurred between the churches under the jurisdiction of the bishop (“Pope”) of Rome and the Eastern churches represented by the bishops of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem.  For centuries before that, the two halves of the Church (which corresponded roughly with the Eastern and Western halves of the former Roman Empire) had growing differences. This break, called the “Great Schism,” eventually led to two distinct bodies.

Two major disagreements brought the united Church to this split — a split that created the Orthodox Church in the Eastern part of Christendom and Roman Catholic Church in the Western part.

The first involved how the Trinity was to be understood. Orthodoxy stayed with the traditional understanding of the Holy Spirit as coming from God the Father, which the Roman Catholic Church adopted new language (often referred to as the Filioque) to say that the Holy Spirit proceeded from both the Father “and the Son.” It is hard for us to see today that this was far more than a debate about a word or two. As with so many debates over terms, something seemingly small contains within it radical differences.

A second disagreement between the Eastern Church and the Western Church arose over the authority of the Pope, the bishop of Rome. Orthodoxy viewed the bishop of Rome as the “first among equals;” meaning, the bishop of Rome was the senior and most highly respected of all Christian bishops of the undivided Church. The Roman Catholic Church, however, holds that the Pope was (and still is) the sole head over the entire Christian Church. The Catholic Church insisted on the “supremacy” of the Pope, while the Orthodox Church believed this bishop of Rome to merely have “primacy.” Since the split between East and West, the Patriarch of Constantinople (modern Istanbul), has been considered the “first amongst equals” of the bishops of Orthodoxy. The see of Constantinople was, according to Church tradition, founded by St. Andrew the Apostle.

 

Protestantism and other denominations

Some 500 years after the Schism between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, certain Roman Catholics broke from communion with Rome in hopes of returning to a more pristine Christian faith.  This is known as the Protestant Reformation.  The reformers hoped to find agreement by using the Bible alone.  Even in this first generation, however, they could not reach agreement, leading to several divergent branches of Protestantism.  The splintering continued rapidly, multiplying the number of differing Christian bodies.  Today an estimated 30,000 denominations exist, each claiming authority in the Bible.

The Orthodox Church never experienced a reformation and continues in the beliefs and practices of the first 1,000 years of Christian history.  It is unified worldwide in doctrine, worship, and spirituality.

It is probably better to see Orthodox Christianity as a third understanding of Christianity, rather than more like one of the other two.

Protestant visitors to Orthodoxy will find certain similarities: both communities reject the authority of the Pope, as we have said. Protestant visitors might also find Orthodox Liturgy to be especially beautiful, as the service is based upon scores of Biblical passages — perhaps, something like a spoken and sung “stream of scripture.”

Catholic visitors to Orthodoxy will find many similarities in Orthodox worship and belief to their own. Both communities accept the same seven sacraments as the means by which Christ is present in His Church (baptism, confirmation, confession, Eucharist, ordination, marriage, holy anointing), and both believe that Christ’s presence in the Eucharist (Communion) is a real, and not a symbolic, presence. Both communities also hold to the traditional meaning of apostolic succession; that is, that the current priests and bishops were ordained by a line of previous bishops that goes back to the original apostles and to Christ Himself.

The Orthodox Church is One Church. Currently, however, Church organization in North America is divided among several different “jurisdictions,” or governing bodies of varying national origin within the One Church.

The doctrine and worship of each jurisdiction and parish is the same, though in some, languages other than English continue to be used in the services. Russian, Greek, Serbian, Antiochian – it is all in reality one and the same Orthodox Church. Our particular parish is part of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, which traces its roots to first century Antioch, the city in which the disciples of Jesus Christ were first called Christians.

This question implies precisely a kind of polarity (“Bible versus Tradition”) which is not part of the Orthodox Christian worldview.

“Tradition,” or in Greek paradosis, is used very often in the New Testament both as a verb and a noun. (See I Corinthians 11:23, where literally translating the original Greek, Paul says “for I received of the Lord that which I also have traditioned to you …” See also I Corinthians 11:2, and II Thessalonians 2:15 and 3:6.)

Tradition means “that which is handed over.” The New Testament carefully distinguishes between “traditions of men” and Holy Tradition, which is the Faith handed over to us by Christ in the Holy Spirit. That same Faith was believed and practiced several decades before the New Testament Scriptures were set down in writing and given canonical (i.e., official) status. We experience the Tradition as timeless and ever timely, ancient and ever new.

We distinguish between Holy Tradition (“with a capital T”) which is the Faith/Practice of the Undivided Church, and traditions (“with a little t”) which are local or national customs. Due to changing circumstances, sometimes cherished customs must be altered or respectfully laid aside for the sake of Holy Tradition.

The New Testament Scriptures are the primary written witness to Holy Tradition. Orthodox Christians therefore believe that the Bible, as the inspired Holy Scriptures, is the heart of Tradition. In the New Testament all basic Orthodox doctrine and sacramental practice is either specifically set forth, or alluded to as already a practice of the Church in the first century A.D.

Holy Tradition is also witnessed to by the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils, the Nicene Creed, the writings of the Fathers of the Church, by the liturgical worship and iconography of the Church, and in the lives of the Saints.

The Christian Church learned to worship in the Jewish Temple and in the Synagogues. Again and again the New Testament tells us that Jesus, Paul and the others worshipped regularly in Jewish houses of worship (Luke 4:16Acts 3:1Acts 17:1-2). We know from archaeology, and from modern Jewish practice, that Synagogue worship was and is highly liturgical, i.e., communal, organized, ceremonial, and done decently and in order (I Corinthians 14:40).

Many Biblical scholars have shown that when John describes heavenly worship in the book of Revelation, he is following the Hebrew custom of portraying Heaven’s worship in terms of earthly liturgy. The writers of the Bible thought of earthly worship as a “shadow” or “type” of Heaven’s liturgy (Isaiah 6Hebrews 8:4-6). In other words, a biblical passage such as the fourth and fifth chapters of the Book of Revelation gives us an accurate picture of a very early Christian worship service. That service very much resembles traditional Orthodox worship.

Orthodox worship is also very Scriptural in the sense that it is a kaleidoscopic mosaic of Scriptural quotations, paraphrases, references, and allusions. It is, quite literally, “to pray the Bible!”

Apart from the fact that we worship in English, and sometimes use modern harmonies with our ancient melodies, our services are basically identical to those of the early Christian Church. For that reason our worship sometimes seems a bit “strange” to Protestant and Roman Catholic visitors. We often hear, “Your services are just beautiful, and the music is outstanding, but they feel somewhat different.”

If you are interested in knowing more about the historical origin of Orthodox worship, look here.

Holy Tradition as a set of basic principles outlining our worldview is a constant. Its very constancy, however, sometimes will even demand change. As a simple instance of this, by Tradition our worship is to be celebrated in a language understood by the worshipping congregation. This means that Tradition, not infrequently, requires a change in liturgical language. As another instance, the Tradition also requires constant change inourselves as, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we grow spiritually and respond ever more fully to the call of God in Jesus Christ.

Holy Tradition has been defined as “the life of the Church in the Holy Spirit.” As such it is dynamic and adapting, while at the same time always remaining the same Divine life.

The life of the Church does not change to satisfy our whims and personal preferences. It is there to change us, and to bring healing to our tarnished soul.

We venerate the Virgin Mary as “more honorable than the Cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim” because she is the woman who gave birth to Jesus Christ, Who is the Word of God, Who is God. Therefore we often refer to her as Theotokos, which is Greek for “birth-giver of God.”

We call her blessed and think of her as the greatest of missionaries, for her unique mission was to deliver the Word of God to the world. We do not see her as an exception of the human race, but as an example for all of us to follow. (See Luke 1:4348John 1:1, 14Galatians 4:4.)

Properly speaking, Orthodox Christians do not “pray to” the Mother of God instead of God; we seek her intercession before her Son, asking her to pray on our behalf; another Orthodox hymn states that “the prayers of a mother availeth much before her Son.”

We likewise honor the other great men and women in the life and history of the Church – patriarchs, prophets, apostles, preachers, evangelists, martyrs, confessors and ascetics – who committed their lives so completely to the Lord, as models of what it means to be fully and deeply Christian. These men and women are called “saints”; a word deriving from the ancient Latin word meaning “holy.” For example, we believe that men like the apostle Paul – in their devotion to Christ – led holy lives and that we are indeed to be imitators of him, as he was of Christ.

 

For more information about the Virgin Mary and Saints in the Orthodox Church:

An Orthodox View of the Virgin Mary, from Orthodox Tradition, Vol. IX, No. 4, pp. 8-9

Theotokos, from OrthodoxWiki

Mary as Ever-Virgin

The Ever-Virginity of the Mother of God, by Fr. John Hainsworth  

Why do the Orthodox pray to Saints?, by Jeremiah

We believe that God quite literally does exist. He is not a figment of pious fiction or wishful thinking. God and His will is therefore our “top priority.” We believe that the Word of God literally became Incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth. We believe the Lord Jesus literally rose from the dead in a real though transfigured and glorified physical body. We also believe that life apart from God is hollow and meaningless.

Being “relevant” should not be our concern – being holy should be.

However, it is our experience that our sacred Liturgy, the ancient Christian teaching about God and the meaning of human life, are just as relevant today as yesterday. These define our basic values. We know the whole ancient Christian Faith as that which makes more sense than anything else in this world of constant change, confusion and conflict. And we know from the experience of the Saints that the services and the mystical life of the Church brings healing to the depth of the human soul.

We believe that the purpose of human life is for man to become partakers of the divine nature through the grace of the Holy Spirit; in prayer (both at home and in Church), sacrament, reading the Scriptures, fasting, self-discipline, and active love for others. All other human projects and purposes, however noble and important, remain secondary to that which gives ultimate meaning to our human existence.

Absolutely! We are overjoyed when someone joins us for worship and experiences the beauty of the Orthodox Holy Tradition.

Because the services are somewhat different than Protestant or Roman Catholic services, it is probably a good idea to contact the priest and tell him you intend to join us for worship. He will see that someone from the parish greets you and helps you find your way through the Service Book.

Our services usually last between one and two hours. The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, which is commonly used in most Orthodox churches on most Sundays of the year, usually lasts about an hour and a quarter, including a ten to fifteen minute sermon.

Services during Lent (the fasting period that precedes the Resurrection/Pascha) can run a bit longer, sometimes between two and a half to three hours. See the service schedule for specific service times.

Those painted pictures of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the saints are called icons, and they are very important in Orthodox worship. These icons mean far more to us than ordinary paintings. Icons are windows into the sacred realm, into the kingdom of God. The persons portrayed on these wooden icons are, in a spiritual way, present with us. You may see Orthodox Christians blessing themselves in front of the icons or kissing them.

Kissing the icons does not mean we are worshiping them or the persons portrayed in them. Only God (as Trinity — the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is worthy of worship. The Virgin Mary and the saints are worthy of our deepest respect and love, or what is called “veneration.” Even as we might kiss a picture of a loved one, so we kiss the icons to show our love and respect for these spiritual beings who are alive with Christ and, therefore, with us in worship.

In the early Church, many of the disciples of Jesus came to view themselves as the spiritual fathers of their flocks (i.e. Saint Paul and his spiritual relationship with the Church of Corinth and with Timothy [1 Corinthians 4:14-17]).

John Calvin, one of the earliest leaders of the Protestant Reformation, put it beautifully: “While Paul claims for himself the appellation of father, he does it in such a manner as not to take away or diminish the smallest portion of the honor which is due God. … God alone is the Father of all in faith … But they whom he is graciously pleased to employ as his ministers for that purpose, are likewise allowed to share with him in his honor, while, at the same time, He parts with nothing that belongs to Himself.” 

The Bible verse quoted in this question speaks to Jesus’ condemnation of those individuals or earthly things which seek to replace the Divine Fatherhood of God. Jesus’ words allude to a particular attitude rather than literal words uttered from our mouths. We do not view priests as infallible, as replacements of God; instead, they are His representatives, conduits of the Faith, who are human and susceptible to sin just as we are.

For a more detailed answer to this question, click here

The priest is actually facing toward the altar and the icon of the crucified Lord. He is facing the same direction we are, as we look to Jesus throughout our worship.

The area where the congregation gathers we call the nave. That word is related to the word “naval,” which should remind us of a ship. The priest, then, might be compared to the first mate on a ship. From the altar area, the priest leads us in prayer and directs the readers and chanters.

You will notice, also, that the priest does not always face forward, but turns toward the congregation on occasion. He faces the congregation to bless us, to give the sermon from the pulpit, and to cense us with incense.

Unfortunately, No. The Holy Orthodox Church, in keeping with Holy Tradition, believes that Holy Communion is a sacred sacrament, a family meal shared between those who are under the supervision of the same Bishop, or another Bishop with whom he is in Communion. Simply put, this means that Orthodox Christians practice inter-Communion with other Orthodox Christians (as all Orthodox Bishops are in Communion with one another), but not with Protestants or Roman Catholics whose church leaders are not in Communion with Orthodox Bishops.

Baptized Christians confirmed in the Orthodox Faith who have prepared themselves may approach the priest for Communion. The fact that the Orthodox Church does not extend Communion to persons from other Christian groups who may be present is not meant as an insult, but as a sad acknowledgement that the Church is divided. It is the prayer of all Orthodox Christians that Christ’s Church may again be one, as Christ Himself prayed. All visitors are invited, at the end of the service, to join with the congregants in approaching the front to receive from the priest a piece of “blessed bread.”

Further Reading: