What Is Orthodox Christianity?

Orthodox Christianity, also called “Eastern Orthodox” is the oldest form of Christianity in the world founded by Jesus Christ, all other Christian groups can be traced back to it historically. This would also make it the original and true faith.

Orthodoxy is not something one can simply read about to fully understand, there is no substitute for firsthand experience and most importantly for living out the faith and love that Jesus Christ has taught us.

The Orthodox Church is unbeknownst to many in the west, where Protestant ideals reign supreme. Even more so, the west usually does not teach it’s congregations what happened in the 1,516 years before the reformation. And if they do, it’s just ‘they were catholic’ with no context or further detail. But before we dive into the historical aspect, the faith comes first. I will not be able to cover everything in this post, it will just be a basic summary (I do plan on doing a Part II of common Protestant objections to Orthodoxy).

Faith

The word “Orthodox” literally means ‘straight teaching’ or ‘straight worship.’ It originates from the two Greek words: orthos, meaning “straight,” and doxa, meaning “teach­ing” or “worship.” As the encroachments of false teaching and division multiplied in early Christian times, threatening the identity and purity of the Church, the term “Orthodox” quite logically came to be applied to it.

The Orthodox faith was passed on to the apostles by Jesus Christ, and then handed down from one generation to the next by apostolic succession within the church. The purpose of the faith is the salvation of every person, transforming ourselves in holiness, and re-uniting ourselves to God. This might not seem different on the surface to a non-Orthodox but the means of achieving this and the doctrines that are taught compared to the west are quite different.

Love/Christ’s Crucifixtion: According to the Christian faith “the greatest virtue is love” (1 Cor 13.13). Love is the “fulfilling of the law” of God (Rom 13.10). For God Himself is Love, he who does not love does not know God. Orthodoxy holds the highest emphasis on love, man’s love has its origin in God. Men are to love God and one another because God Himself has loved first.

When the world became sinful and dead, “God so loved the world that He sent His only-begotten Son . . . not to condemn the world, but to save the world” (Jn 3.16, 12.47). This is the difference in the Orthodox view of Christ’s crucifixion, it’s not first to save us from a punishment of a wrathful God as the Protestant mindset commonly (but not always) views it, but it’s first to save us out of love to reconcile us back to Him.

He “paid the price,” not in some legalistic or juridical or economic meaning. He “paid the price” not to God the Father in the sense that God delights in His sufferings and received “satisfaction” from His creatures in Him. He “paid the price” to create the conditions in and through which man might receive the forgiveness of sins and eternal life by dying and rising again in Him to newness of life (see Rom 5–8; Gal 2–4).

Theosis/Salvation is deification but in no way  does this mean we humans become God as the new age inversion apotheosis would claim. Theosis is being re-united with God in the same way humanity was intended to share in the life and divine nature of God (2 Peter 1:4) before the fall of man. Salvation is a constant process or journey with the restoration of our communion with God, it is contrary to most western notions that salvation is a single moment and that’s it. “To us who are being saved” (1 Corinthians 1:18), Christ Himself indicates that salvation is a life-long journey: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).

Trinity/Nicene Creed: Eastern Orthodox churches and most Protestant sects believe in the doctrine of the Trinity – God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. However, they differ in that Orthodoxy holds that the Holy Spirit proceeds only from the Father; Protestants (as well as Catholics) claim that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. This is known as the filioque controversy, as the Nicene Creed was changed universally in the 11th century to reflect “and the Son.” The early church and first ecumenical councils did not reflect this.

Essence-Energy Distinction: This is a concept exclusive to Orthodoxy, God’s essence is unknowable but His energies are knowable. A common example is the sun, it’s actual essence is certainly unapproachable and unendurable, so the Orthodox hold of God’s essence. As the sun’s energies on Earth, however, can be experienced and are evidenced by changes they induce (ex. warmth, light, melting, growing etc.), the same is said of God’s energies–though perhaps in a more spiritual sense.

The Eucharist & Liturgy: In Orthodoxy, the Holy Spirit transforms the bread and wine during the Eucharist into the body and blood of Jesus Christ (this is not to be confused with transubstantiation). Protestants hold that no such transformation happens, focusing instead on the symbolic nature of the Eucharist. Orthodox worship revolves around the Divine Liturgy, a centuries-old set of elaborate worship rituals codified by the early saints. In contrast, a diverse set of worship services exist across Protestantism, ranging from traditional Anglican Masses to very exuberant and informal Pentecostal services.

Theotokos/Veneration of Saints: Orthodox Christians venerate Mary and a host of saints, holding them up as examples of Christian life and as intercessors between God and Man (there is a distinct difference between an intercessor and a mediator (only Christ)). While Mary played a special role in the life of Jesus, she does not play any intercessory role in the life of Christians to Protestants.

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History

The Eastern Orthodox Church considers itself to be both orthodox and catholic (simply meaning universal). The doctrine of the Catholicity of the Church, as derived from the Nicene Creed is essential to Eastern Orthodox ecclesiology. The term Catholicity of the Church (Καθολικότης τῆς Ἐκκλησίας) is used in its original sense, as a designation for the universality of the church that is centered around Christ. Therefore, the Eastern Orthodox notion of catholicity is not centered around any singular see, unlike the Catholic Church which has one earthly center.

The history of the Christian Church begins with the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles at Jerusalem during the feast of Pentecost (Acts 2-4). On that same day through the preaching of St. Peter, 3,000 men and women were baptized and the first Christian community at Jerusalem was founded. For the next almost 300 years, there would be countless martyrs and seemingly endless persecution of the faith.

In 312, Emperor Constantine had a vision of the cross that moved him to become the first Roman Emperor to embrace the Christian faith. He brought much of the persecution to a halt along with the first main period of Church history. As Kallistos Ware puts in his book The Orthodox Church, “the Old Rome was too deeply stained with pagan associations to form the center of the Christian empire which he (Constantine) had in mind.”

In 325 Constantine summoned the first ecumenical council and in 330 the new capital of Constantinople was officially consecrated as the ‘New Rome’ which would have a decisive influence upon the development of Orthodox History. Over the next few hundred years the church would hold a total of seven ecumenical councils dealing with various heresies that kept springing up against the faith/church.

Although issues slowly developed in the 800’s in regards to the filioque and the pope, it was not until the year 1054 when issues came to a head. This is when the great schism occurred where Orthodox and Catholics split from each other, each to this day claiming true apostolic succession to the original church and apostles. But who are the true schismatics that deviated from the original faith? This would historically undoubtedly be the current Catholics.

The Orthodox East acknowledged the Pope as the first among equals in the church but having no universal authority or is above any other Patriarch. The papal supremacy and infallibility was introduced by the Catholics as well as the doctrine of the filioque. This is moral fratricide, a sin against the unity of the church that was in place for centuries. Orthodox would not budge, and rightfully so, on these changes resulting in a split. Since Orthodox hold to the original faith and teachings with no additions of Pope supremacy, Papal infallibility and filioque introduced by the Catholics, this makes Orthodox the true faith tracing to the apostles and Catholics as the schismatics.

It was not then until 1517, when Martin Luther and the Reformation occur that the Protestant faith is born in opposition to the Catholic faith. This is where the majority of America and the Western churches actually originate from. And with Luther’s introduction of Sola Scriptura, a concept not known to the first 1,516 years of Christianity, the door was now open for denomination after denomination to be created believing themselves to be the ‘true church’ based on each man’s personal interpretation rather than what the consensus of the historical church and holy traditions taught (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

Much of the West is intentionally left in the dark about church history, for once they learn of it they realize it’s radically different from what they thought they knew it to be.

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