Many non-Orthodox Christians sometimes perceive the Orthodox as divisive. Why? Because we sternly insist on holding fast certain teachings that the world (and much of Western Christendom) appears to have tossed aside. We insist on teaching these truths and not compromising on them. And most of the time, that means we make some enemies, even of our fellow Christians. We call these teachings dogma. In this post, we explain why dogma is so important to the Orthodox Church, and why it should also be important for every Orthodox Christian.
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Dogmas are not opinions
Firstly, the Orthodox Church understands that dogmas are not opinions or ideas that change according to society and culture. Rather, dogmas are the formulation of divinely revealed truths. Because dogmas concern the divine mysteries of God, which God reveals to those who live the divine life (Saints), only those blessed individuals can express or articulate them. We do not have the authority to change, dispute, doubt, or ignore them. Instead, we simply follow them faithfully, without turning aside from them, neither to the right nor to the left (cf. Deut. 5:32).
Dogma changes the way we live
Secondly, the Orthodox acknowledge that dogma changes the way in which we live our lives. To put it simply, without correct faith and correct dogma (truth), you cannot have correct ethos (how you live the truth). Because these two are interconnected, dogma helps us to live the Christian life and thus attain salvation.
For example, the Church teaches that we are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19, 2 Cor. 6:16) and images of God (cf. Gen. 1:27). This reflects upon how we view not only ourselves, but also others around us. Thus, as practicing Christians, we take the same care with our bodies as we would with the Church. We honor our bodies and purify them through prayer and fasting and guarding our senses, so the Holy Spirit may come and dwell in us. In contrast, if we believed humans were animals with a meaningless existence, without soul or spirit, then we would treat ourselves and others accordingly, and behave as animals.
We do not compromise. Ever.
In matters of faith, there are no compromises. Once we profess to follow Christ, refusing to then follow His teachings is not acceptable:
Anyone who goes ahead and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God; he who abides in the doctrine has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into the house or give him any greeting; for he who greets him shares his wicked work.2 John 1:9-11
Following all of Christ’s teachings and truths is the rule for all Christians. In a time when so many believe in synchretism and ecumenism, we must remember that abiding by any teaching not from Christ and His Church is equivalent to follow the teachings of demons (1 Tim. 4:1). This is difficult for many Christians to accept (even Orthodox), but it is one we must accept nonetheless. We should have nothing to do with these false teachings, for “whoever teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that is in accordance with godliness, he is conceited, understanding nothing” (1 Tim. 6:3-4).
Where are these dogmas?
We recite the dogmas of the Orthodox Faith every Sunday during Divine Liturgy in the Nicene Creed. You can also find them in the canons of the seven ecumenical councils and in St. John of Damascus’ Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith.
Abide by the Lord’s teachings
Dogmas are more than just important in our lives: they are our life! As such, they are not optional; rather, they are necessary for salvation, because they express Christ in His saving work. Truth is not expressed in abstract statements, cut off from the life of the Lord and His Church. Truth is not relative. It is absolute; it is Christ. Let us then humbly abide by the teachings of the Lord, which are safeguarded by the Church, the pillar and the foundation of the truth.