An Introduction to Orthodox Christianity
The Orthodox Christian Church was born on Pentecost in AD 33
with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles (see Acts 2:2-4).
Through the missionary labors and martyric witness of countless men and women,
and through the unbroken handing-down of the pure apostolic faith, it spread to
every corner of the world: first the Near East, then Europe, Africa, and Asia. Orthodoxy was planted in North America in the late
18th century by monastic missionaries from Russia. Today the worldwide
Orthodox Church has more than 225 million members. Each national Church
(Russian, Greek, Serbian, etc.) is independent and self-administering, but is
united in faith and sacraments with all the others. Some five million Orthodox
from diverse ethnic backgrounds now live in the United
States and Canada.
Orthodoxy believes that the eternal truth of God's revelation in Jesus
Christ is preserved in its full integrity in the living tradition of the
Church, under the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Orthodox
Christians recognize that other Christian groups have maintained many elements
of the apostolic faith, but often in attenuated and distorted forms. With
profound humility and a consciousness of her own weakness and her responsibility
before God, Orthodoxy believes and proclaims that the complete and integral
faith delivered to the saints by Jesus Christ has been preserved without
alteration or diminution only within the communion of the Orthodox Church.
Through the turbulent early centuries of the Church's life, this faith was
articulated and defended by councils of bishops. When false gospels were in
circulation, the bishops of the Church compiled and proclaimed the true canon
of Scripture, giving us the Bible read by all Christians to this day. When
heretics distorted the apostolic faith, the bishops spoke with one voice,
defending the truth with divinely-inspired depth and clarity. Whether they know
it or not, all Christians today are the inheritors of this tradition whenever
they acknowledge Christ as the incarnate Son of God, or offer praise to the
Holy Trinity. The Scriptures and the faith alike are the gift of Orthodoxy to
the world, and Orthodoxy prays fervently that all who bear Christ's name may
return again to the bosom of the one, true, and unchanging apostolic faith.
The word "Orthodox," from the Greek word orthodoxia, means both
"right belief" and "right glory" or "worship." In
Orthodoxy faith and worship are intimately linked. According to the maxim of a
fourth-century monk, Evagrius of Pontus, "a theologian is one who prays
truly." Orthodoxy is by very definition an experiential faith. It is not a
set of rational beliefs, held more or less abstractly, but an all-encompassing
way of life. For Orthodoxy, the touchstone of this life and faith is her
liturgy, her corporate and public worship. Her worship has never lost its
direct continuity with the worship of the ancient Church; the central hymn of
the Church's service of evening prayer was referred to by St Basil the Great in
the fourth century as being so ancient that no one remembered who composed it.
Orthodoxy experiences this liturgical faithfulness as a gift of the Holy
Spirit. Far from being a lifeless adherence to the past, her liturgy is a
miraculous wellspring of the inspiration which God has bestowed on generations
of faithful men and women: prophets and poets, ascetics and visionaries.
Orthodox liturgy binds together the whole people of God, living and departed,
present, past and future, into the communion of love which is the very life of
the Holy Trinity. This hallowed world of prayer is a world of unparalled depth
and beauty, a world within which countless Orthodox have found "the one
thing needful," and have reached the heights of spiritual life. When in
the tenth century envoys of Great Prince Vladimir of Kiev
first experienced the Divine Liturgy in the Great Church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, they reported that they did not know if
they were in heaven or on earth. An open heart can experience this heavenly
beauty, this living, mysterious presence of the Kingdom of Heaven
on earth, even in the humblest parish church.
Orthodox Christianity remains steadfastly committed to a moral life
consistent with holy Scripture and with traditional Christian faith, and
therefore resists in the strongest terms the characteristic evils of our age:
abortion, euthanasia, and all manifestations of a disregard for human life;
sexual immorality and the disintegration of the family; the destruction of
human community and the debauching of the human spirit in idolatrous
commercialism and materialism; the tragic waste of human life and work in the
demonic enterprise of war. These two inseparable aspects of the life of
Orthodoxy - an unbending adherence to traditional moral life, doctrine, and
worship, and the mysterious presence of the beauty, simplicity, and holiness of
the ancient Church - have led many seekers and converts to embrace the Orthodox
faith. No longer confined to immigrant communities, Orthodox Christianity in America has
taken her proper place as a faith for all people. As the Apostle Philip said to
Nathaniel who was sitting under the sycamore tree, "Come and see..."
(St John 1:46).
And the Orthodox Church extends this invitation to you as well. Come and see
the priceless treasure that is Orthodoxy: a gift of which none of us is worthy,
but which God in His rich mercy has bestowed upon us.
Learn More About the Orthodox Faith at the Orthodox Reading Room - a service of the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese of the U.S.A.