The visitor to an Orthodox church is usually impressed by the unique features and the external differences between this place of worship and those of the various traditions of Western Christianity. The rich color, distinctive iconography and beauty of the interior of an Orthodox church are in sharp contrast to what one often finds in many Roman Catholic and Protestant churches. When one enters the interior of the Orthodox Church it is like stepping into a whole new world of color and light. The art and design of the church not only create a distinctive atmosphere of worship, but also reflect and embody many of the fundamental beliefs of Orthodoxy.

Beauty and Symbols

The Orthodox Church believes that God is the Creator of heaven and earth. The Creator is present through His handiwork. This means that the material world, being valuable and good (Genesis 1:31), is an important means through which God shows His love for us.

The Orthodox Church affirms these convictions through her extensive use of material creation not only for the embellishment of her places of worship, but also in the Holy Eucharist (Communion), the sacraments and other prayer services. For example, when the bread and wine - "the first fruits of creation" (Romans 11:16) - are offered in the Holy Eucharist, they are also a symbolic offering of all creation to God its Creator. The Holy Eucharist, known as the Divine Liturgy, is the Church’s great action and prayer of thanksgiving.

Using the gifts of creation, the interior of an Orthodox church is a place of beauty. Designed to create an atmosphere which is special, the building expresses a sense of joy and an appreciation of God's blessings. Orthodoxy recognizes that beauty is an important dimension of human life. Through iconography and church appointments, the beauty of creation becomes a very important means of praising the Triune God. The divine gifts of the material world are shaped and fashioned by human hands into an expression of beauty which glorifies the Creator. As the pious woman in the Gospel story poured her precious oil on the feet of Our Lord (Luke 8:38), Orthodoxy seeks always to offer back to God our gifts of beauty and praise.

Sacred Space

The church interior is both the background and the setting for Orthodox worship. The art and architecture are designed to contribute to the total experience of worship, which involves one's mind, feelings, and senses. The Holy Eucharist and the other sacraments take place in God's midst, and they bear witness to His presence and actions. In the Orthodox tradition there is a very strong feeling that the church is the ‘House of God’ and the ‘place where His glory dwells.’ God is present everywhere. And, we can turn to Him in prayer in all places and circumstances.  Yet, the interior of the church is designed to enable us to lift our hearts up in song and prayer.  For this reason, all Orthodox churches are blessed, consecrated and set aside as sacred space designed for worship. The whole church bears witness to God's dwelling among His people.

Ideally, an Orthodox Church building is relatively small in size to emphasize and enhance the sense of community in worship. The church is generally constructed in the form of a cross and divided into three areas: the narthex, the nave, and the sanctuary. The narthex is the entrance area where the faithful make an offering, receive a candle, and place it before an icon. Here, the faithful offer a personal prayer before entering the nave and joining the congregation.

The nave is the large center area of the church where the faithful gather for worship as members of the community of faith. Although most Orthodox churches in this country have pews, some follow the custom of having an open nave with few seats. On the right-hand side of the nave is often the bishop's chair from which he presides as a living icon of Christ among his people. Even in the bishop's absence, the chair reminds all that the parish is not an isolated entity but is part of a metropolis or diocese which the bishop heads. On the left-hand side of the nave is the pulpit where the Gospel is proclaimed and the sermon is preached. Often the baptismal font is also placed in this area. The choir and the cantors frequently occupy spaces at the far sides of the nave.

The sanctuary is the most sacred part of the church, and the area reserved for clergy and their assistants. The sanctuary contains the Holy Altar and is separated from the nave by the Iconostasion.

The Altar

The Altar or Holy Table is the heart and focal point of the Orthodox church. As God’s people, we gather before the Altar. There, the Eucharistic gifts of bread and wine are offered to God the Father as Christ commanded us to do at the Last Supper (Luke 23:20). The Altar, which is usually square in shape, stands away from the wall and is covered with cloths. A tabernacle, with reserved Holy Communion for the sick or dying, is set upon the Altar, together with candles. When the Divine Liturgy is not being celebrated, the Book of Gospels is always placed in the center of the Altar. Behind the Altar is a large cross with the painted figure of the crucified Christ. Often the chair of the bishop is also located behind the Altar.

Iconostasis

The iconostasis is the panel of icons which separates the sanctuary from the nave. Its origin is in the ancient custom of placing icons on a low wall before the sanctuary. In the course of time, the icons became fixed on a standing wall. In contemporary practice, the iconostasis may be very elaborate and conceal most of the sanctuary. Or, it may be very simple and open in accordance with more ancient custom.

Icons

An icon is a holy image which is the distinctive art form of the Orthodox Church. An icon may be a painting of wood, on canvas, a mosaic or a fresco. Occupying a very prominent place in Orthodox worship and theology, icons depict Christ Our Lord, Mary the Theotokos, the saints and angels. They may also portray events from the Scriptures or the history of the Church, such as the Birth of Christ, the Resurrection, or Pentecost.

The icon is not simply decorative, inspirational, or educational. Most importantly, it signifies the presence of the person depicted. The icon is like a window linking heaven and earth. When we worship we do so as part of the Church which includes the living and the departed. We never loose contact with those who are with the Lord in glory. This belief is expressed every time one venerates an icon or places a candle before it. Orthodox churches have icons not only on the iconostasis but also on the walls, ceilings, and in arches. Above the sanctuary in the apse, there is very frequently a large icon of Mary, the Theotokos and the Christ Child. The Orthodox Church believes that Mary is the human person closest to God. This very prominent icon recalls her important role in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. The icon is also an image of the Church. It reminds us of our responsibility to give birth to Christ's presence in our lives.

The icon of Christ the Almighty, the Pantocrator, is on the ceiling or in the dome. This icon portrays the Triumphant Christ who reigns as Lord of heaven and earth. Looking downward, it appears as though the whole church and all of creation comes from Him. Looking upward, there is the sense that all things direct us to Christ the Lord. He is the "Alpha and the Omega" (Rev. 22:13), the beginning and the end of all. This is the message of Orthodoxy.

Holy Communion

When you visit, please keep in mind that the Orthodox Church practices closed communion. This is not for triumphalistic reasons, but for very important theological reasons. In doing so we follow the practice of the ancient Church. "Open communion" is a relatively recent innovation and was not the practice of the Church beginning in the New Testament period.

All are welcome to come forward at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy to share in the antidoron – the blessed bread – which is offered to all.

We look forward to having you join us

If you are unfamiliar with Orthodox Christianity, here is a little background information.

The Orthodox Church has her origin with Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, not with a human teacher, or group, nor a code of conduct or religious philosophy. Orthodoxy believes that the Church has her origin in the Apostolic Community called into being by Jesus Christ, and enlivened by the Holy Spirit. The Feast of Pentecost, which is celebrated fifty days after Easter, commemorates the "outpouring'' of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and marks the beginning of the mission of the Church to the world.

We are Orthodox because our tradition of prayer and worship is rooted in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic undivided Church.

The Orthodox Church was founded by Christ through the Apostles and has maintained a living, historical connection with the Apostolic Church through the ordination of its clergy. The bishop that ordains an Orthodox priest today can trace his ordination historically all the way back to the Apostles, and through them to Christ. For this reason we are “apostolic” – rooted in the first Apostles – the disciples of Jesus.

We are also apostolic because we believe our calling is to go out and share our faith with others. For this reason, we welcome you to visit the Orthodox Christian parish in your neighborhood or town.

Although our parishes may carry a designation of Greek Orthodox or Russian Orthodox or some other ethnic identity, this does not imply that you need to be of a certain ethnic origin to join us in worship or to consider becoming an Orthodox Christian.

After 100 episodes, it's time to ask: what comes next? As great as it is to talk about God, and learn about Him, the next step is to put it all into practice. Repentance is a change in our lives, a movement back to God. Join the movement and live Orthodoxy!

Volumes have been written on the inexhaustible treasures of our Greek Orthodox heritage. It is not the purpose of this guidebook to instruct its readers in Orthodox theology or Church history. However, it is important to understand that everything we do is based upon the premise that the Orthodox Faith is founded upon the teachings of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, now and always.

A few of the fundamental tenets upon which our Holy Orthodox Church functions are as follows:

I. Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition

The Orthodox Church has two great sources of authority:

Holy Scripture comprises the writings of both the New and the Old Testaments. The New Testament reveals the human and divine nature of Jesus Christ, and His sacred teachings that we are charged to follow. The Old Testament is a history of the Hebrew people. It contains, among other sacred writings, the prophecies and the writings of the Prophets that foretold the coming of the Messiah. It therefore serves as an introduction to the revelation and the saving message of the New Testament.

Holy Tradition, of which Holy Scripture is a part, includes the writings, teachings, and acts of the apostles, saints, martyrs, and fathers of the Church, and her liturgical and sacramental traditions throughout the ages, the oral tradition of the early Church, and the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils. All of this collective wisdom and experience through the centuries are combined to form this second great source of sacred authority.

II. The Creed

The Creed contains the Church's basic summary of doctrinal truths to which we adhere as Orthodox Christians. It consists of the twelve articles of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, or the "Pistevo," which is recited at each Divine Liturgy.

III. The Sacraments

The Sacraments are seven in number. They are the visible means by which the invisible Grace of the Holy Spirit is imparted to us. Four Sacraments are obligatory:

  1. Baptism,
  2. Chrismation (anointment with holy oil),
  3. Confession, and
  4. Holy Communion.

Three are optional:

  1. Matrimony,
  2. Holy Orders (Ordination), and
  3. Unction (anointment of the sick).

IV. The Church Calendar

The Church Calendar begins on September 1st and ends on August 31st. Each day is sacred for the Orthodox Christian. The Church venerates at least one saint or sacred event in the life of the Church every day of the year. There are, however, several major feast days observed annually, and of these, Easter, or Pascha, is the most important.

V. The Divine Liturgy

The central worship service of the Church is the Divine Liturgy, which is celebrated each Sunday morning and on all holy days. The Liturgy is also the means by which we achieve union with Jesus Christ and unity with each other through the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

VI. Ecumenism

While the Orthodox Church considers herself the Mother Church of Christendom, she cooperates with other churches in programs of educational, philanthropic, and social endeavors insofar as this is consistent with her theology. Orthodoxy has become a major force in the universal ecumenical movement of which she was a prime mover through the encyclical of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople in 1920.

VII. The Major Feast Days

  • Nativity of the Theotokos September 8
  • Exaltation of the Holy Cross September 14
  • Presentation of the Theotokos in the Temple November 21
  • Christmas (Nativity of Jesus Christ) December 25
  • Epiphany (Baptism of Christ) January 6
  • Presentation of Christ in the Temple February 2
  • Annunciation (Evangelismos) March 25
  • EASTER (Pascha) (Varies from year to year)
  • Ascension (40 Days after Easter)
  • Pentecost (50 Days after Easter)
  • Transfiguration of Christ August 6
  • Dormition of the Theotokos (Kimissis) August 15

VIII. Divine Services

At the center of the life of the Church is the Holy Eucharist, which is the principal celebration of our faith and the means through which we participate in the very life of the Holy Trinity. The major Sacraments are closely related to the Eucharist, and they bear witness to the continuing presence of Christ in the lives of His people.

Besides the Eucharist and the major SACRAMENTS, the Orthodox Church has a number of Special Services and Blessings which are associated with the needs, events, and tasks of human life. In celebrating these various Services and Blessings, the Church is constantly bearing witness to the presence and action of God in our lives. Our God is one who loves us, cares for us, and is near to us. The liturgical Services and Blessings also serve to remind us that all of life is important, and that the many events and gifts of life can be directed toward God and receive their fulfillment in Him.

The Special Services are often referred to as non-sacramental Services in the sense that they are events of community worship which are not usually counted among the major Sacraments. However, they clearly have a sacramental quality in the sense that they reveal the presence of the Holy Trinity. Many of these Services, such as the Funeral, the Blessing of Water, and the Entrance into Monastic Life, just to name a few, are very significant to the life of the Church. The various Blessings are brief ceremonies which are occasional and do not necessarily involve directly the entire parish community.

The Church blesses individuals, events such as trips, and objects such as icons, churches, flowers, fields, animals, and food. In so doing, the Church is not only expressing our thanksgiving, but also affirming that no gift, event, or human responsibility is secular or detached from God. For the Orthodox Christian, all good things have God as their origin and goal. Nothing is outside of God's love and concern.

Funeral Service

The death of a Christian affects not only the family, but also the entire Church, for we are all part of the Body of Christ. The Orthodox Funeral Service, which expresses this fact, is not to be seen primarily as an opportunity to extol, in a sentimental way, the virtues of an individual. Rather, the various prayers and hymns emphasize the harsh reality of death, as well as the victorious Resurrection of Christ through which the power of death is conquered. The Funeral Service comforts those who mourn; it is also the means through which the Church prays for one of its members who has died in the faith of Christ. Orthodoxy views the end of physical existence only as the termination of one stage of life. God's love is stronger than death, and the Resurrection of Christ bears witness to this power.

The Orthodox Funeral consists of three Services. First, there is a Vigil Service after death, which is usually conducted at the time of the wake. This service is called the Trisagion Service. The Church prays to Christ "to give rest with the Saints to the soul of Your servant where there is neither pain, grief, nor sighing but life everlasting." While the Church prays for the soul of the deceased, great respect is paid to the body. Orthodoxy believes the body of the Christian is sacred since it was the Temple of the Holy Spirit.

The body will share also in the final restoration of all creation. The Funeral Service is continued at the Church, where the body is brought on the day of burial. Ideally, the Divine Liturgy is celebrated. After the Funeral Service, the congregation offers its Farewell to the deceased. The Trisagion Service is repeated at the graveside.

Memorial Service

Death alters but does not destroy the bond of love and faith which exists among all the members of the Church. Orthodoxy believes that through our prayers, those "who have fallen asleep in the faith and the hope of the Resurrection" continue to have opportunity to grow closer to God. Therefore, the Church prays constantly for her members who have died in Christ. We place our trust in the love of God and the power of mutual love and forgiveness. We pray that God will forgive the sins of the faithful departed, and that He will receive them into the company of Saints in the heavenly Kingdom.

The Orthodox Church remembers the departed in the prayers of every Divine Liturgy. Besides this, there is a Memorial Service in which the Church also remembers the dead. According to tradition, the Memorial Service is offered on the third, ninth, and fortieth day after a death, as well as on the yearly anniversary of the death. In addition to these times, the Memorial Service is always offered for all the faithful departed on four "Saturdays of the souls." These are the two Saturdays preceding Great Lent, the first Saturday of Great Lent, and, the Saturday before Pentecost. In the United States, the Service is also offered on Memorial Day. When the Memorial Service is offered, it is customary for the family of the deceased to bring a dish of boiled wheat to the Church. The boiled wheat is placed on a table in the center of the nave during the Service. The wheat, known as kollyva, is a symbol of the Resurrection. When speaking of the Resurrection, our Lord said: "Unless the grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies it bears much fruit." (John 12:24)

The Great Blessing Of Water: Megas Agiasmos

Epiphany, one of the oldest and most important Feast days of the Orthodox Church, commemorates the manifestation of the Holy Trinity which took place at the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan River. Recognizing rich meaning in this event, Orthodoxy believes that when Christ was baptized, it not only marked the beginning of His public ministry and revealed the Trinity, but also signified that the entire creation is destined to share in the glory of redemption in Christ. While Christ entered into the Jordan to be baptized, two things were happening: He was identifying Himself with the people He had come to save, and He was identifying Himself with the whole of Creation, which was represented by water. Through His baptism, the Lord revealed the value of the created world and He redirected it toward its Creator. Creation is good and it belongs to God.

The Great Blessing of Water is held on the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany and on the day itself, following the Divine Liturgy. The Blessing not only remembers the event of Our Lord's baptism and the revelation of the Holy Trinity but also expresses Orthodoxy's belief that creation is sanctified through Christ. The Blessing affirms that humanity and the created world, of which we are a part, were created to be filled with the sanctifying presence of God. After the solemn blessing, the Holy Water is distributed to the faithful and is used to bless homes during the Epiphany season. When the faithful drink the "Epiphany Water," we are reminded of our own baptism. When the Church blesses an individual, or object, or event with the water, we are affirming that those baptized, their surroundings, and their responsibilities are sanctified through Christ and brought into the Kingdom of the Father through the Spirit.

In addition to the Great Blessing of Water, there is a Lesser Blessing of Water service which can take place at any time. Usually, it is celebrated when a home is blessed, on the first day of the month, the beginning of the school year, and beginning of new responsibilities.

The Blessing Of Bread - Artoklasia

The Blessing of Five Loaves of Bread is a brief service of thanksgiving through which we express our gratitude for all the blessings of life. Oil, wine, wheat, and the loaves of bread which are used in the service, are viewed as the most basic elements necessary for life. The Blessing reminds us of the miracle of the multiplication of the bread and fish by which Christ fed the multitude. This Blessing is usually offered during Vespers or after the Divine Liturgy on Feast days and other special occasions. After the Service, the bread is cut and distributed to the congregation.

Akathist Hymn

The Orthodox Church worships God alone. Yet, she does offer veneration to individuals who have been important human instruments of God in the history of salvation. Among those so venerated is Mary, the Mother of God, the Theotokos. The Orthodox Church greatly honors Mary because she was chosen to give birth to the Son of God. As one of the hymns declares:

"By singing praise to your maternity, we exalt you as a spiritual temple, Theotokos. For the One Who dwelt within your womb, the Lord who holds all things in his hands, sanctified you, glorified you, and taught all to sing to you ..."

The most beautiful and poetic service of the Orthodox Church in honor of Mary, the Theotokos, is the Akathist Hymn. The word “akathist” means “without sitting.” The congregation stands throughout the Service out of respect for Mary and her unique role in our salvation in Christ. The Akathist Hymn is chanted in four parts during the first four Fridays of Great Lent. On the fifth Friday, the entire Service is chanted.

The Service Of Supplication: Paraklisis

The Service of Supplication, which is also known as Paraklisis, is one offered especially at times of sickness, temptation, or discouragement. The various prayers ask the Lord for guidance, personal strength, and healing. Many of the hymns and prayers are directed toward Mary, the Theotokos, and they ask for her assistance. Orthodoxy affirms that each of us, with Mary, the Saints, and the faithful departed, is united in a bond of faith and love in Christ. Therefore, just as in this life we can turn to each other for prayer, the Church believes that we can also turn to Mary - the human being closest to God - and ask her to pray to God for us. This belief is expressed in the hymn which says:

"O never failing protectress of Christians and their ever-present intercessor before the Creator; despise not the petitions of sinners who have recourse to you, by your goodness extend your help to us who call upon you with confidence. Hasten, O Theotokos, to intercede for us, O you who have always protected those who honor you."

There are two forms of the Service of Supplication: the Great and the Small. It is the Small Service of Supplication which is more brief and the one most frequently offered. Both forms of the Service are offered during the first fourteen days of August which precede the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos celebrated on August 15th.

Further Reading

Treasures Of Orthodoxy is a series of pamphlets written for the non-Orthodox, especially those who are considering becoming members of the Orthodox Church and who wish to deepen their appreciation of her faith, worship, and traditions. The pamphlets are authored by Fr. Thomas Fitzgerald, a faculty member of Hellenic College-Holy Cross School of Theology. The pamphlet titles are as follows:

  1. Introduction - Introduces the non-Orthodox to Orthodox Christianity.
  2. House of God - Describes the interior of the church building.
  3. Worship - Discusses the form and characteristics of Orthodox worship.
  4. Liturgy - Describes the meaning and celebration of the Eucharist.
  5. Sacraments - Describes the meaning and importance of liturgical life.
  6. Special Services and Blessings - Describes the non-sacramental services which contribute to spiritual life.
  7. Teachings - Outlines the salient points of doctrine and basic credal affirmations.
  8. Spirituality - Discusses the meaning of theosis as the goal of Christian life.
  9. History - Sketches the great epochs of Orthodoxy.
  10. The Church - Outlines the procedure for becoming a member of the Orthodox Church.

 

a-h

-A-

Abbess. (from masc. abbot; Gr. Hegoumeni). The female superior of a community of nuns, appointed by a bishop; Mother Superior. She has general authority over her community and nunnery under the supervision of a bishop.

Abbot. (from Aram. abba, father; Gr. Hegoumenos, Sl. Nastoyatel). The head of a monastic community or monastery, appointed by a bishop or elected by the members of the community. He has ordinary jurisdiction and authority over his monastery, serving in particular as spiritual father and guiding the members of his community.

Abstinence. (Gr. Nisteia). A penitential practice consisting of voluntary deprivation of certain foods for religious reasons. In the Orthodox Church, days of abstinence are observed on Wednesdays and Fridays, or during other specific periods, such as the Great Lent (see fasting).

Acolyte. The follower of a priest; a person assisting the priest in church ceremonies or services. In the early Church, the acolytes were adults; today, however, the duties are performed by children (altar boys).

Aër. (Sl. Vozdukh). The largest of the three veils used for covering the paten and the chalice during or after the Eucharist. It represents the shroud of Christ. When the creed is read, the priest shakes it over the chalice, symbolizing the descent of the Holy Spirit.

Affinity. (Gr. Syngeneia). The spiritual relationship existing between an individual and his spouse's relatives, or, most especially, between godparents and godchildren. The Orthodox Church considers affinity an impediment to marriage.

Agape. (Gr. "Love"). Feast of love; the common meal of fellowship eaten in gatherings of the early Christians (1 Cor. 11: 20-34). Agape is also the name of the Easter Vespers Service held in the early afternoon on Easter day. The faithful express their brotherly love and exchange the kiss of love honoring the resurrected Christ.

Age of Reason. This is the time in life when an individual begins to distinguish between right and wrong and becomes morally responsible for himself. It is considered to begin at the age of seven or so, and no later than twelve.

Agnets. (see lamb).

Agrapha. (Gr. "verbal words; not written"). Sayings or deeds of Christ which were never written or recorded in the Gospels (cf. John 21:25).

Akathistos Hymn. A hymn of praise comprising twenty-four stanzas and sung at the Salutation Services, dedicated to Virgin Mary Theotokos. It is divided into four parts, one part sung on each Friday of the Great Lent. On the fifth Friday, the entire set is sung in commemoration of a miracle performed by the Virgin in Constantinople (626 A.D.). The hymn is also known as "Salutations" (Gr. Heretismoi).

Alb. (Lat.; Gr. stichari[on]; Sl. Podriznik). The long white undergarment of the clergy, with close sleeves, worn under the chasuble or the sakkos.

All-Saints Sunday. (Gr. Agion Panton). A feast day of the Orthodox Church collectively commemorating all the Saints of the church who have remained anonymous. This feast day is celebrated on the Sunday following Pentecost.

Alpha-Omega. The first and the last letters of the Greek alphabet, symbolizing "the beginning and the end," or the divinity and eternity of Christ (Rev. 1: 8). These two letters also form the monogram of Christ.

Altar. (Hebr. "a place of sacrifice"; Gr. hieron; Sl. prestol). In Orthodox architecture, the term signifies the area of the sanctuary divided from the rest of the church by the iconostasis.

Altar Bread. (see Prosphoro).

Altar Table. (Gr. Hagia Trapeza; Sl. Prestol). The square table in the middle of the altar, made of wood or marble, on which the Eucharist is offered. It is dressed with the "Altar Cloth" and contains the relics deposited there by the consecrating bishop. The center of the table is occupied by the folded Antiminsion, on which the ceremonial gospel book is placed, and behind this is the tabernacle with the "reserved gifts."

Ambon. (see pulpit).

Amnos. (see lamb).

Analogion. (Gr. Sl. analoy). A wooden stand or podium placed on the right side of the soleas near the south door of the altar. Usually with a sloped top, it is used as a stand for the gospel book or an icon.

Anathema. (Gr. "a curse, suspension"). The spiritual suspension with which the church may expel a person from his or her community for various reasons, especially denial of the faith or other mortal sins. The church also may proclaim an anathema against the enemies of the faith, such as heretics and traitors, in a special service conducted on the Sunday of Orthodoxy (first Sunday of Lent).

Anchorite. (Gr. Anachoritis, "a departurer"). A solitary monk or hermit; an individual who withdraws from society and lives a solitary life of silence and prayer.

Angels. (Gr. Angelos, "messenger"). Bodiless beings, purely spirits, created by God before man. They are superior in nature and intelligence to man; and, like man, they have understanding and free will. Some of them are appointed to guard the faithful (guardian angels). Angels are grouped in nine orders (tagmata) as follows: Angels; Archangels; Principalities; Powers; Virtues; Dominations; Thrones; Cherubim; Seraphim. In the Orthodox worship, every Monday is dedicated to the angels.

Annunciation. (Gr. Evangelismos). A feast of the Orthodox Church (March 25) commemorating the visit of Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary to "announce" that she was chosen to be the Mother of God (Luke 1: 26-33).

Anteri. (see cassock).

Antidoron. (Gr. "instead of the gift"). A small piece of the altar bread (prosphoron) given to each of the faithful after the celebration of the Eucharist. Originally it was given to those who could not take communion, but it became a practice for it to be offered to all the faithful.

Antimens or Antiminsion. (Gr. and Lat. compounds, "in place of a table"; Sl. Antimins). It is a rectangular piece of cloth, of linen or silk, with representations of the entombment of Christ, of the four Evangelists, and with scriptural passages related to the Eucharist. The antimens must be consecrated by the head of the church (a Patriarch or Archbishop) and must always lie on the Altar Table. No sacrament, especially the Divine Liturgy, can be performed without a consecrated antimens.

Antiphon. (Gr. "alternate utterance or chanting").

  1. A short verse from the scriptures, especially the psalms, sung or recited during the liturgy and other church services.
  2. Any verse or hymn sung or recited by one part of the choir or chanters in response to another part.

Apocrypha. (Gr. "hidden or secret"). Some of the books of the Bible not accepted by all denominations of Christians as true and divinely inspired. Some of them were written much later but attributed to important individuals of the apostolic times, thus bearing a misleading title (pseudepigrapha).

Apodosis. (Gr., Sl. Otdanive). The "octave-day" of a feast day which lasts more than one day and usually occurs eight days after the actual feast day. The Apodosis of Easter occurs forty days after the feast, on the eve of the Ascension.

Apologetics. (Gr. "defenders").

  1. The individuals and saints who defended the faith and the Church by their ability to present, explain, and justify their faith.
  2. The theological science and art of presenting, explaining, and justifying the reasonableness of the Christian faith.

Apolytikion. (Gr. "dismissal"). The dismissal hymn sung in honor of a saint, Christ, or the Virgin Mary on the occasion of their feast day, especially at the end of the Vespers Service.

Apostolic Canons. A collection of eighty-five decrees of ecclesiastical importance, referring mainly to ordination and the discipline of the clergy. The church believes that they were originally written by the Apostolic fathers.

Apostolic Fathers. Men who lived during the first century of Christianity; for the most part, this group comprised the disciples of the Apostles; their teachings and writings are of great spiritual value to Christians. Major fathers are St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Polycarp of Smyrna, St. Clement of Rome, and the unknown author of Didache.

Apostolic Succession. The direct, continuous, and unbroken line of succession transmitted to the bishops of the Church by the Apostles. The bishops, who form a collective body (that is the leadership of the Church), are considered to be successors of the Apostles, and, consequently, the duties and powers given to the Apostles by Christ are transmitted through "the laying-on-of-hands" to the bishops and priests who succeeded them by ordination (cheirotonia) to priesthood.

Archangels. An Angelic order of angels of higher rank. The names of two archangels, Michael and Gabriel, are known (feast day on November 8); they are also known as "leaders of the angelic armies" (taxiarchai).

Archbishop. A head bishop, usually in charge of a large ecclesiastical jurisdiction or archdiocese (see Metropolitan).

Archdeacon. A senior deacon, usually serving with a bishop of higher rank (Archbishop or Patriarch).

Archdiocese. An ecclesiastical jurisdiction, usually a metropolis headed by an Archbishop.

Archimandrite. (Gr. "head of the flock or cloister"). A celibate presbyter of high rank assisting the bishop or appointed abbot in a monastery. In the Russian tradition, some Archimandrites have the right to wear the mitre and the mantle (mitrophoros).

Armenian Church. A monophysite denomination which broke from the Orthodox Church in the fifth century (451 A.D.). Communities which belong to the Armenian Church exist in the United States and other parts of the world.

Artoclasia. (see Vespers).

Ascension. A movable feast day, forty days after Easter, commemorating the ascension of Christ into Heaven from the Mount of Olives (Acts 1: 12).

Ascetic. (Gr. "one who practices [spiritual] exercises"). A monk who has accepted a monastic life and intensively practices self discipline, meditation, and self-denial, motivated by love of God.

Ascetic Theology. A theological field studying the teachings and the writings of the ascetics of the Church (see also mysticism).

Assumption or Dormition. A feast day (August 15) commemorating the "falling asleep" (koimisis) of the Virgin Mary.

Asterisk. (Gr. "little star"; Sl. Zvezditsa). A sacred vessel having two arched metal bands held together in such a fashion as to form the shape of a cross. It is placed on the paten and serves to prevent the veil from touching the particles of the Eucharist.

Atheism. (Gr. "godlessness"). Denial of the existence of God. An atheist accepts only the material and physical world or what can be proven by reason.

Atonement. (Gr. exilasmos). The redemptive activity of Christ in reconciling man to God. The Orthodox believe that Christ, through His death upon the cross, atoned or paid for human sins.

Autocephalous. (Gr. "appointing its own leader"). The status of an Orthodox church which is self-governed and also has the authority to elect or appoint its own leader or head (cephale).

Autonomy. (Gr. "self-rule"). The status of an Orthodox Church that is self-ruled. An autonomous church is governed by its prelate, who is chosen by a superior jurisdiction, usually by a patriarchate.

Axios. (Gr. "worthy"). An exclamation made at ordination to signify the worthiness of the individual chosen to become a clergyman.


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Baptism. (Gr. "immersion into water for purification"). A sacrament instituted by Christ Himself, baptism is the regeneration effected by means "of water and the spirit" (John 3:5). An Orthodox baptism is administered by the priest (in case of absolute emergency, however, by a layman (aerobaptismos)) through three complete immersions and by pronouncing the individual's name along with the name of the Trinity, "the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen." Chrismation follows immediately after baptism.

Baptismal Font. (see kolymbethra).

Baptismal Garments. (Gr. Fotikia or baptisika; Sl. krizhma). The garments brought by the godparent to dress the infant immediately after the immersion in Baptism. In Orthodoxy, these garments are considered sacred and must be either kept safely or destroyed by fire.

Baptismal Name. (Gr. onoma). The individual's name given in baptism, commonly the name of a saint who becomes the individual's Patron Saint. The baptismal names of the first-born are usually those of their grandparents.

Baptistry. A special room or area in the form of a pool for baptizing in the ancient Church. Gradually, it was replaced by the baptismal font (see kolymbethra).

Beatitudes. (Gr. Makarismoi).

  1. Blessings promised to individuals for various reasons.
  2. The eight blessings given by Christ during his Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5: 3-12).
  3. Salutation addressed to an Orthodox Patriarch ("Your Beatitude").

Benediction. (Lat. "blessings to glorify God"). The closing blessing offered by a clergyman at the end of a service or other activity.

Bigamy. (Gr. Digamia). The act of contracting a new marriage while a previous one is still binding, an act forbidden by the Orthodox Church.

Bishop. (Gr. Episkopos, Archiereas). A clergyman who has received the highest of the sacred orders. A bishop must be ordained by at least three other bishops and is considered a successor of the Apostles.

Blasphemy. Evil and reproachful language directed at God, the Virgin, the Saints, or sacred objects. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is a mortal and unforgivable sin because it presumes that God's saving action in this particular case is impossible (cf. Matt. 12: 31).

Burial. (Gr. Taphe; Sl. Pogrebeniye). The act of interment of the dead body of one of the faithful in consecrated ground, according to the appropriate Orthodox rites and service of burial (Nekrosimos). The Church may deny an Orthodox burial to those who have committed a mortal sin such as blasphemy, suicide, denial of faith, or acceptance of cremation.

Byzantine. Referring or attributed to Byzantium, the ancient Greek city on the Bosporus, which later (331 A.D.) became the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, and then of the Medieval Greek Empire of Constantinople. Its people are known as Byzantines and its cultural heritage as Byzantine (i.e., Byzantine art, Empire, church, architecture, music, etc.).

Byzantine rite.

  1. Performing church services according to the Eastern Orthodox tradition.
  2. Christians who belong to Roman Catholic jurisdictions and accept their beliefs, but follow the customs of the Greek Orthodox Church, celebrating the liturgy in Greek, Slavonic, or in their native language, but in the Orthodox fashion.

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Calendar. (Gr. Hemerologion). The yearly system determining the Orthodox holidays and hours. The Orthodox year begins on September 1. Because all feasts were arranged according to the Julian (old) Calendar, many Orthodox churches follow it to the present day, while other Orthodox churches have adopted the Gregorian (new) Calendar (since 1924). See also the article on the Calendar of the Orthodox Church.

Candles. (Gr. Keri[on]). Candles made of beeswax are used in the Orthodox Church as a form of sacrifice and devotion to God or Saints. They are used in various Orthodox services and ceremonies and are symbolic of Christ, who is "the Light of the World." According to a different symbolism, the two elements of a candle represent the two natures of Christ: the Divine (the burning wick) and the Human (the wax body).

Canon. (Gr. "rule, measure, standard").

  1. The Canon of the scriptures or the official list of books recognized by the church as genuine and inspired by God.
  2. The Canon of Matins (a collection of hymns consisting of nine odes, the Heirmos, and sung at the Matins Service, the Orthros).
  3. The Liturgical Canon, which refers to all liturgical material, including the Creed, used for the Liturgy and the consecration of the Eucharist (see also kanon and Typikon).

Canonization. The official declaration by the Church that a deceased Christian of attested virtue is a saint, to be honored as such, and worthy of imitation by the faithful.

Canons (or Canon Law). The law of the church, containing the various rules, ecclesiastical decrees, and definitions concerning the faith or the lifestyle of Orthodox Christians. The Canons generally provide for all administrative or disciplinary questions that might arise in the Church, and, consequently, are not infallible but can be changed or re-interpreted by an Ecumenical Council. See also the article on the Canon Law of the Orthodox Church.

Capital Sin (or Mortal or Deadly sin). Great offenses against God, or moral faults which, if habitual, could result in the spiritual death of the individual. The following sins are considered to be mortal: pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth. These are the "Seven Deadly Sins" of the phrase.

Cassock. (Gr. Raso; Sl. ryassa). The long black garment with large sleeves worn by the Orthodox clergy as their distinct attire. Another such cassock with narrow sleeves (Gr. Anteri; Sl. Podrasnik) is worn under the cassock. It symbolizes the death of a clergyman to this world and his burial and subsequent dedication to God and his heavenly kingdom.

Catechism. A summary of doctrine and instruction, teaching the Orthodox faith in the form of questions and answers. The catechetical or Sunday school of each parish is responsible for such instruction of children or other faithful.

Catechumen. (Gr. "those who learn the faith"). A convert to Christianity in the early church who received instruction in Christianity but was not yet baptized. Catechumens were permitted to attend the first part of the Eucharist (Liturgy of the Catechumens), but were dismissed before the Consecration of the Gifts.

Cathedral. (Gr. "the main chair"). The principal church of a bishop's jurisdiction, the chief church in every diocese.

Catholic. (Gr. "universal, concerning the whole"; Sl. Sobomaya). A term describing the universality of the Christian message, claimed to be exclusively theirs by the Orthodox Church. However, in the West, it has come to mean the Roman Catholic church (v. Eastern Orthodox Church).

Celibacy. The unmarried state of life. Unlike the Roman Church, Orthodoxy permits a clergyman to be married; however, his marriage must occur before his ordination to be a deacon or presbyter. Orthodox bishops are only chosen from the celibate clergy, but widowers, who have accepted monastic vows, may also be chosen.

Censer. (Gr. Thymiato; Sl. kadillo). A metal vessel hung on chains, used in church ceremonies for burning incense. There are twelve small bells attached to the chains, representing the message of the twelve Apostles.

Chalice. (Gr. Potirion; Sl. Vozduh). A large cup of silver or gold, with a long-stemmed base, used for the Eucharist. It is one of the most sacred vessels of the church and is handled only by the clergy.

Chancellor. (Gr. Protosyngelos). The chief administrator and church notary in a diocese or archdiocese. He is the immediate administrative assistant to the bishop and handles all records, certificates, and ecclesiastical documents of his jurisdiction.

Chant. (Gr. echos; Sl. glas). The music proper to the Orthodox services. There are eight tones or modes in the Orthodox Byzantine chant, chanted by the chanters or cantors.

Chanter. (Gr. Psaltis). A lay person who assists the priest by chanting the responses and hymns in the services or sacraments of the church. Today, chanters have been replaced to some extent by choirs.

Chapel. (Gr. Parekklisi[on]; Sl. Chasovnya). A side altar attached to a larger church or a small building or room built exclusively or arranged for the worship of God. A chapel can belong to an individual or an institution, or can be part of a parish church.

Chasuble. (Gr. feloni[on]; Sl. felon). A sleeveless garment worn by the presbyter in the celebration of the liturgy. Short in front, with an elongated back, and an opening for the head, it is one of the most ancient vestments of the Church, symbolizing the seamless coat of Christ.

Chatjis. (see Hatjis).

Cherubic Hymn. (Gr. "the song of the angels"). Liturgical hymn sung after the Gospel-reading and during the Great Entrance. Its text in English is as follows:

"We, who mystically represent the Cherubim, And chant the thrice-holy hymn to the Life-giving Trinity, Let us set aside the cares of life That we may receive the King of all, Who comes invisibly escorted by the Divine Hosts."

Chrism. (Gr. Myrron). Sanctified oil composed of several ingredients and fragrances, used in the sacrament of Chrismation (after Baptism). The Holy Chrism in the Orthodox Church is exclusively prepared by the Ecumenical Patriarchate and is blessed in a series of preparations and ceremonies. Holy Thursday is customarily the day of its consecration.

Chrismation. (see Baptism and Chrism).

See also the articles on:

The Sacraments
The Sacramental Life of the Orthodox Church

Chrisom. (Gr. Ladopano; Sl. knzhma). A piece of white linen for the wrapping of the infant after Baptism. The Orthodox preserve it as a sacred object because it signifies the purity and holiness of the baptized Christian.

Christology. A subject or field of dogmatic theology examining the belief of the church and the history of beliefs about Christ.

Churching. (Gr. Sarantismos). A service of thanksgiving and blessing of women after childbirth. In the Orthodox church, this rite is performed on the fortieth day after birth and is reminiscent of the Old Testament ceremony of purification (Lev. 12: 2-8) and the presentation of Jesus at the Temple (Luke 2: 22-29).

Communion. (Gr. koinonia). The receiving of the sacrament of the Eucharist after proper preparation, fasting, and confession. Orthodox Christians are encouraged to receive communion as often as possible, even daily.

See also the article on

The Holy Eucharist

Communion of Saints. The Orthodox Church believes that all the people of God-members of the Church, either the living on earth or the departed in heaven-are in constant communion and fellowship with each other in faith, grace, and prayers, since they constitute one Body in Christ-the Church.

Compline. (Gr. Apodeipnon; Sl. Velikoye PovecheAye). A worship service performed after dusk. It is often combined with Vespers to form an all-night vigil. There is a Great Compline and its abridgement, known as Small Compline.

Confession. (Gr. Exomologisis). The act of confessing or acknowledgment of sins by an individual before God in the presence of a priest, who serves as a spiritual guide and confessor (pneumatikos) authorized to ask for forgiveness and to administer a penance.

Confessor.

  1. Pneumatikos (see confession).
  2. A person who defended and publicly confessed the Faith, thereby exposing himself to persecution (Homologetis).

Consecration. (Gr. Heirotonia). The ordination of an individual to priesthood through the sacrament of Holy Orders.

Consecration of a Church. (see Engainia).

Council, Ecumenical. (Gr. Synodos; Sl. Sobor). Assembly of representatives from all church jurisdictions convoked for the settlement of ecclesiastical or doctrinal problems and disputes. The Orthodox Church recognizes the following seven Ecumenical Councils:

  1. Nicaea, in 325. Fathers present, 318. Condemned Arianism, defined divinity of Christ, and composed first part of Creed.
  2. Constantinople, 381. Fathers, 180. Condemned Apollinarianism, defined divinity of the Holy Spirit, and completed the Creed.
  3. Ephesus, 431. Fathers, 200. Condemned Nestorianism and defined the term Theotokos.
  4. Chalcedon, 451. Fathers, 630. Condemned Monophysitism.
  5. Constantinople, 553. Fathers, 165. Condemned heretics and pagans.
  6. Constantinople, 680. Fathers, 281. Condemned Monothelitism. The so-called Quinisext or in Trullo was held in Constantinople.
  7. Constantinople (Trullo), 692. Regulated disciplinary matters to complete the Fifth and the Sixth Ecumenical Councils.
  8. Nicaea, 787 (again in 843). Fathers, 350. Condemned Iconoclasm.

Crosier. (Gr. Ravdos or Pateritsa). The pastoral staff of a bishop, signifying his responsibilities and the authority by which he spiritually rules his flock.

Crowns. (Gr. Stephana). A metal crown or wreath made of cloth in the shape of lemon blossoms, with which the priest "crowns" the newlyweds during the sacrament of Matrimony. The crowns are white, signifying purity, and represent the power that is given to the newlyweds to become "king and queen" of their home.


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Deacon. (Gr. "assistant, servant"). The first of the three orders of priesthood. A deacon is not permitted to perform the sacraments, but assists the bishop and the presbyter in the Eucharist and other services or ministries of the church.

Dean. (Gr. Proistamenos). An honorary title given to a presbyter, meaning:

  1. the senior priest in a cathedral of a diocese;
  2. the senior priest in a large parish;
  3. the head of the faculty in a theological seminary.

Deaconess. A pious lay woman assisting in the church as a caretaker or charity worker. The practice of using deaconesses in the Church was very ancient; however, it gradually disappeared.

Dikirotrikera. (Gr. "set of two and three candles"). A set of two candleholders, one a double-branched candlestick and another a triple-branched, both used by the bishop in blessing at the liturgy. The Dikeron (double candleholder) signifies the two natures of Christ, while the Trikeron (triple candleholder) signifies the Holy Trinity.

Diocese. (Gr. Episkopi). A town or fully organized church district under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction and pastoral direction of a bishop.

Diptychs. (Gr. "folding boards").

  1. Lists of names of the living and dead, written on cardboard for their commemoration in the liturgy.
  2. An official roster of the names of the heads of Orthodox jurisdictions read during the liturgy by concelebrating bishops or by the head of an ecclesiastical jurisdiction.

Dismissal. (Gr. Apolysis; Sl. Otpust). The closing prayers and benediction, including the dismissal hymn (Apolytikion), in a church service.

Dogma. Basic beliefs and truths contained in the Bible and the Holy Tradition of the Church as defined by the Ecumenical Councils and the Fathers of the Church. Dogma is studied in the field of dogmatic theology.

Dormition (see assumption).


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Eagle. (Gr. Dikephalos aitos; Sl. Orletz). Small circular rug or permanent design on the church's floor, presenting a double-headed eagle with outstretched wings soaring over a city. It signifies the watchfulness and authority of the bishop over his diocese. The double-headed eagle was also the symbol of the Byzantine Empire.

Easter. (Gr. Pascha or Lambri). The feast day of the resurrection of Christ, known also as "the Feast of Feasts." It is the greatest Orthodox festival, celebrated the Sunday following the first full moon after the Spring equinox. It is a movable feast, and the dates of the other movable feasts of the Orthodox Church are calculated from it.

Ecclesia. (Gr. "the gathering of the people").

  1. The gathering of the faithful at the church for worship and fellowship;
  2. The church where the liturgy is celebrated;
  3. The Church as the Body of Christ.

Ecclesiastical. Whatever deals with or pertains to the Church and its life.

Ecclesiology. The branch of theology studying the nature, constitution, function, and membership of the Church.

Ecumenical Council. (see council).

Ecumenical Patriarchate. The "First Among Equals" of all the Orthodox autocephalous churches, it was founded by St. Andrew the Apostle. Visit the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople home page for more information, historical notes, encyclicals, official documents, and photo and video galleries.

Ecumenism. The movement of Christian Churches toward a mutual understanding of their problems and the concept of unity and love willed by Christ.

Ektenial. (Gr. "long" or "elongated"). A type of petition or litany used in Orthodox services, particularly in the liturgy. They refer to the world in general, peace, leadership, and those in need. The response to an ektenial petition is "Lord have mercy."

Encyclical. (Gr. "moving in a circle"; "circulating"). A letter by the head of an Orthodox jurisdiction (Archbishop or Patriarch) to those under his spiritual authority. The content of such a letter may vary, but it must refer to specific administrative or spiritual topics concerning the faithful.

Engainia. (Gr. "blessing for renewal"). The ceremony of consecration of a new church, conducted only by a bishop. It is performed before the Eucharist, and it mainly consists of the washing of the Holy Table of the altar, the depositing of relics in it, and the blessing of the church icons.

Engolpion. (Gr. "upon the chest"). The bishop's medallion, usually of enamel and richly decorated with precious stones, hanging upon his chest and signifying his episcopal office.

Entrance. (Gr. Eisodos). The solemn procession of the celebrating clergy carrying the Gospel at the liturgy, after the antiphons (Small Entrance), and carrying the Holy Gifts during the chanting of the cherubic hymn (Great Entrance).

Epanokalymafko. The monastic black veil hanging over the back of the kalymafki of a celibate Orthodox clergyman, especially the prelate of a church (see kalymafki). Some Orthodox prelates of Slavic background wear white epanokalymafko.

Eparchy. (Gr. "province, region"). An ecclesiastical jurisdiction headed by a bishop, metropolitan, or archbishop.

Epigonation. (Gr. "on the knee"; Sl. Palitsa or Nabedrennik). An oblong or rhomboidal vestment (approx. 12 x 12 inches) suspended from the belt and hung over the right side above the knee of a clergyman of higher rank. It signifies the cloth used by Christ to wipe his disciples' feet before the Last Supper and also signifies the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.

Epiklesis. (Gr. Epiklesis). Special prayer or petition by the Priest to "invoke" or to call upon the Holy Spirit, in order that God's Grace will descend for the consecration of the Holy Gifts at the Eucharist.

Epiphany. (Gr. Theophania; Sl. Bogoyavleniye). The feast in the Orthodox Church commemorating the baptism of Christ (January 6), and celebrating the ''manifestation'' of God in the Holy Trinity.

Episkopos. (see bishop).

Epitaphios. (Gr. "on the tomb"; Sl. Plaschanitsa).

  1. The winding sheet on which the dead body of Christ is sewn or painted, representing his shroud.
  2. An ornamented bier representing the tomb of Christ. On Good Friday, the Epitaphios is placed on the bier, which is adorned with flowers, and is carried in a procession representing the funeral of Christ.
  3. The special service on Good Friday evening commemorating the burial of Christ.

Epitrachelion. (Gr. "about the neck"). One of the most important vestments, hanging from the neck down to the feet. An Orthodox priest must wear this particular vestment to perform a sacrament.

Equal to the Apostles. (Gr. Isapostolos). An honorary title given to saints such as St. Constantine and Sts. Cyril and Methodios for their missionary work in the Church.

Eschatology. (Gr. "the last things to happen"). The theological field concerned with life after death, especially the "last things," i.e., the state of the dead, the Second Coming of Christ, and the Final Judgment.

See also the Article on

The Dogmatic Tradition of the Orthodox Church


Eucharist. (see Communion).

Euchologion. (Gr. "the book of prayers"; Sl. Sluzhebnik). A liturgical book used by the clergy, containing the various services, sacraments, and prayers required for the administration of sacraments and other ceremonies and services of the Church.

Evangelists. The authors of the Gospels (Evangelia), who, according to Church belief, were inspired by God in the writing of the Bible. The Evangelists are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. In the Orthodox Church, they are symbolically represented by a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle, respectively.

Exaposteilarion. (Gr. "dispatching"). A special hymn sung at Matins after the Canon. It refers to Christ's activity after the Resurrection, particularly His dispatching of the disciples to preach to the world.

Exapteryga. (Gr. "six-winged angels"). Metallic banners adorned with representations of angels, which are carried at various processions during church services.

Exarch. (Gr. "representative with full authority"). The head of an ecclesiastical jurisdiction, usually an Archbishop, representing the head of the Church (i.e., Patriarch) in the administration of a national Church.

Excommunication. (Gr. Aphorismos). A penalty or censure by which a baptized individual is excluded from the communion and fellowship of the Church, for committing and remaining obstinate in certain mortal sins. Church members may excommunicate themselves by absence from the sacraments and by actions contrary to Church law.

Exorcism: See the article on exorcism in the Orthodox Church.


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Fanar. The Greek neighborhood of Constantinople (Istanbul) where the


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Guardian Angel. (Gr. Phylakas Angelos). The Orthodox believe that certain angels are appointed by God at baptism to guide and protect each faithful person. A prayer of the Orthodox Liturgy asks for "an angel of Peace, a faithful guide and guardian of our soul and bodies."

God-parents. (Godfather, Gr. Nounos; Godmother, Gr. Nouna). Sponsors at Baptism and Chrismation taking the responsibility for the faith and spiritual development of the newly-born Christian. The Orthodox people highly regard the spiritual bond and relationship between godparents and their godchildren, and marriage between them is prohibited (see affinity).


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Hagia Sophia. (Gr. Agia Sophia). The Cathedral of Constantinople in which the Ecumenical Patriarchs and Byzantine Emperors were enthroned. It is the greatest Orthodox church, dedicated to the Holy Wisdom of God. It was built by the emperor Justinian in the year 532 A.D.; its architecture is an outstanding example of the so-called Byzantine Orthodox order. Select this link to visit the web site on Hagia Sophia.

Hagiography. (Gr. Hagiologia). The writings of the Church Fathers and the study of the lives of the saints. The Orthodox Church is a reservoir of such writings, which the faithful are urged to read for their spiritual growth and development.

Hatjis. (or Chatzis; fem. Hatjina; Ar. "pilgrim"). A title or name given to those who made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and are "baptized" in the Jordan River. Such a pilgrim may assume the title of Hatjis for the rest of his or her life. One also may attach this word before the baptismal name to produce a variation such as Hatji-Yiorgis or Hatji-Yiannis. Such names often become surnames, especially common among Greeks.

Hegoumenos. (see abbot).

Heresy. (Gr. "new and personal belief or idea"). The denial or rejection of a revealed dogma or belief accepted and professed by the Church. An individual who begins a heresy is a heretic and is excommunicated.

Heretismoi. (see Akathistos hymn).

Hermit. (see Anchorite).

Hesychasm. A spiritual movement in the Byzantine Empire (fourteenth century) developed on Mount Athos, Greece. The term means "to be quiet" and signifies the system of spiritual development through meditation, contemplation, and perfection to the degree of absolute union with God (theosis). It is one of the forms of Orthodox Mysticism and is still practiced in the Orthodox world.

Heterodoxy. Different, alien, and presumably false belief or teaching. The Orthodox Church describes as such all other Christian denominations.

Hierarchy. The higher clergy or College of bishops who are assigned to rule over spiritual matters of the church.

Holy Water. (Gr. Agiasmos). Water blessed at the service of the "Great Blessing" on the feast day of Epiphany (Jan. 6) or on other occasions (Small Blessing). It is used for the blessing of people, as at Holy Communion, or for the blessing of things for their well-being.

Holy Wisdom. (see Hagia Sophia).

Horologion. (Gr. "Book of the Hours"; Sl. Chasoslov). The Liturgical book containing the services and prayers of the different hours of the day, i.e., Compline, Matins, Vespers, and the Office of the Hours (see hours).

Hours. In Orthodox monasteries, monks maintain special services for the main hours of the day. Each hour commemorates a special event, as follows:

  1. First hour (6:00 A.M.): Thanksgiving for the new morning and prayer for a sinless day.
  2. Third hour (9:00 A.M.): the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.
  3. Sixth hour (12:00 noon): the nailing of Christ to the Cross.
  4. Ninth hour (3:00 P.M.): the death of Christ.

a-h | i-z

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Icon. (Gr. "image"). A Byzantine-style painting in oil on wood, canvas, paper, or a wall (fresco) representing Christ, the Virgin Mary, or other Saints and scenes from the Bible. The Orthodox Church uses icons for veneration with the understanding that the respect is paid not to the material icon but to the person represented "in spirit and truth" (cf. John 4: 24).

See also the article on:

Orthodox Art and Architecture

Iconoclasm. (Gr. "the breaking of icons"). It refers to the conflict in the Byzantine Empire between 727 and 843 over the use of icons in the church. The Seventh Ecumenical Council (787 and 843) decreed the use of icons, following in the main teaching of St. John of Damascus.

Iconography. The study and the art of painting of icons. In the Orthodox Church, iconography was developed mainly in the monasteries, which became the centers of its study and development.

See also the article on:

Orthodox Art and Architecture

Iconostasis. (Gr. "an icon-stand"). In the Orthodox Church, the term signifies:

  1. The stand on which the main icon of the Patron Saint of the church is placed for veneration.
  2. The screen separating the sanctuary or altar from the church proper and adorned with various icons. There may be two or three tiers of icons in an iconostasis, but the main tier must follow a certain iconographic form, as follows (from north, or left, side to south): the icon of the Patron Saint of the church, of the Virgin Mary, of Christ, and of St. John the Baptist.

See also the article on:

Orthodox Art and Architecture

Iliton. (or Eiliton, Gr.). The silk cloth used to wrap the corporal (or antiminsion).


-J-

Jesus Prayer. A short prayer that the Orthodox constantly repeat to practice devotion to God; the tradition of repeating this distinctive prayer was developed in Orthodox monasteries. The text of the Jesus Prayer is:

"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me."

Judgment. The Last or Final Judgment, which, according to the Church's belief, will occur at the end of the world and the second coming of Christ. The judgment that takes place immediately after an individual's death is called particular judgment.

See also the article on

The Dogmatic Tradition of the Orthodox Church.

Jurisdiction. (Gr. Dikaiodosia). The right and the authority of a bishop to rule over his diocese as a spiritual overseer. It includes legislative, judicial, and executive authority, which can be exercised only by individuals who have been canonically ordained and appointed to rule over the jurisdiction in question.


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Kalymauki or kamilafki. (Sl. kamilavka). The black cylindrical hat worn by Orthodox clergy. The black monastic veil (epanokalynafkon) worn by the celibate clergy at various services or ceremonies is attached to the kalymauki (see Epanokalymafkon).

Kanon.

  1. Short hymns consisting of nine odes, sung at the service of Matins.
  2. The special service known as the Great Kanon sung on the evening of the Wednesday of the fifth week of the Great Lent.

Kathisma. Liturgical hymn.

  1. The twenty stanzas into which the Orthodox Psalter is divided.
  2. The second kanon of the Matins.

Keri. (see candles).

Kerygma. (Gr. "message; preaching"). Proclaiming or preaching the word of God in the manner of the Apostles. It is a method of church instruction centered mainly on Christ and the concept of salvation.

Koimissis. (see Dormition).

Kolymbethra. A large, often movable, circular basin on a stand, containing the water for immersion in Baptism. It symbolizes the Jordan River or the pool of Siloam.

Kontakion. A liturgical hymn that gives an abbreviated form of the meaning or history of the feast of a given day. The kontakion is sung after the sixth ode of the Canon in the liturgy and the Service of the Hours. St. Romanos the Melodist is considered to be the most important hymnographer of the Kontakion.

Koumbaros (fem. koumbara).

  1. The "best man" in a wedding.
  2. The sponsor in a baptism.
  3. The address that Greek Orthodox use for their best man or their child's sponsor.

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Laity. (Gr. Laikos; Sl. Miryane). Members of the Church who are not ordained to the priesthood.

Lamb. (Gr. Amnos). The symbol for the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross (cf. John 1: 29). In the Orthodox liturgy, the amnos is the first square piece from the altar bread (prosphoro), inscribed with the letters ICXCNIKA (an abbreviated form for "Jesus Christ conquers"). This particular piece is to be consecrated during the Eucharist.

Lamentations service. (Gr. Epitaphios threnos). Special hymns referring to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and His burial (see Epitaphios).

Lance or spear. (Gr. Lonche). A small, lance-shaped, double-edged knife used by the priest for the cutting of the altar bread in the service of the Preparation of the Holy Gifts (see Proskomide).

Language. According to the Orthodox tradition, the Church adopts and uses the language of any particular country or ethnic group that she serves. The main liturgical languages in the Orthodox Church are Greek, the various descendants of old Church Slavonic, and Arabic.

Last Supper. (Gr. Mystikos Deipnos; Sl. Taynya Vercherya). The last meal of Christ with His disciples in the "Upper Room" before his arrest. With this supper, he instituted the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

Leavened Bread. (Gr. artos). Bread made with yeast (enzyma) and used for altar bread for the Orthodox Eucharist (as opposed to the unleavened bread used by the Latin Church). Leavened bread is also acceptable for the purpose in the more liberal Protestant churches.

Lent. (Gr. Sarakosti). The fifty day fast preceding Easter for the spiritual preparation of the faithful to observe the feast of the Resurrection. Besides Lent, the Orthodox Church has assigned a number of other fasting periods (see abstinence).

Liturgics. The theological field that studies the liturgies and the various services and rituals of the Church.

Liturgy. (Gr. "a public duty or work"). The main form of worship for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. The Orthodox Church celebrates four different versions of the liturgy:

  1. The Liturgy of St. James,
  2. The Liturgy of St. Basil,
  3. The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, which is the most common, and
  4. The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts performed only during the period of Great Lent.

See also the articles on:

Worship and Worship in the Orthodox Church

Logos. (Gr. "word"). A symbol for Christ, the word incarnate, or "word made Flesh," which is also called "the Word of God" (cf. John 1:1-4).

Lord's Prayer. The prayer taught by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Matt. 6: 9-33 and Luke 11: 2-4). It begins with the phrase "Our father..." and is the most common Orthodox prayer.


-M-

Magnificat. (Lat. "My soul doth magnify the Lord"; Gr. Megalynalion). A hymn of praise in honor of the Mother of God (Theotokos). Its verses follow Mary's own words beginning with the phrase "My soul doth magnify the Lord" (cf. Luke 1: 46-55). It is sung after the eighth Ode of the Canon at Matins.

Mantle. (Gr. Mandias). A distinctive and elaborate garment, purple or blue in color, worn by the bishop in various church ceremonies and services, such as Vespers, but not during the liturgy.

Martyr. (Gr. "witness"). One who willingly suffered death for the faith.

Martyrika. (Gr. "a sign of witnessing"). Small decorative icons or crosses passed out to the guests who witness an Orthodox Baptism.

Martyrology. A catalogue of martyrs and other saints arranged according to the calendar.

Matins. (Gr. Orthros). The Morning Service, which is combined with the liturgy. It begins with the reading of six psalms (Exapsalmos), the reading of the Gospel, the chanting of the Canon, and the Great Doxology.

Memorial. (Gr. Mnymosyno). A special service held in the Orthodox Church for the repose of the souls of the dead. Memorial services are held on the third, ninth, and fortieth day; after six months; and one or three years after death. Boiled wheat is used as a symbol of the resurrection of everyone at the Second Coming of Christ.

Meneon. A liturgical book containing the lives of the saints and the special hymns (stichera) for the feast-days of the Orthodox Saints. It is divided into twelve volumes, one for each month.

Metropolitan. The prelate of the largest or most important city (Metropolis) or province with primacy of jurisdiction.

Mitre. (Gr. Mitra). The official headdress or "crown" of a bishop. In Slavic churches, some archimandrites are allowed to wear the mitre as a recognition of their service to the church (mitrate or mitrophoros). The mitre derives from the crown of the Byzantine emperor.

Monastery. The dwelling place and the community thereof of monks or nuns living together in a communal life (cenobites) in a convent and practicing the rules of prayer and vows. The members of some monasteries live alone in solitude (anchorites).

See the article on

Monasticism in the Orthodox Church

Monk. (Gr. Monachos; fem. Monache). An individual who denies the world in order to live a religious life under the monastic vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

See the article on

Monasticism in the Orthodox Church

Monophysitism. A heresy which arose in the fifth century concerning the two Natures of Christ. The monophysites accepted only the Divine Nature of Christ and were condemned as heretics by the Fourth Ecumenical Council, at Nicaea (451 A.D.) (see also Copts).

Monothelitism. A heresy of the seventh century, which developed in an attempt to reconcile the monophysites with the Orthodox. The monothelites accept the two Natures of Christ, but deny His human will (Thelesis), accepting thereby only his Divine

Mortal Sins. (see capital sins).

Mother Church. The Church of Jerusalem, as being the first Christian Church. Commonly, the Orthodox consider as Mother Church the Ecumenical Patriarchate as being the senior Church of the Orthodox World.

Mount Athos. The center of Orthodox monasticism, situated on a conical mountain on the Chakidi Peninsula, Greece.

See the article on

Monasticism in the Orthodox Church , which has links to the monasteries of Mt. Athos.

Mysticism. The search through various prayers and practices to achieve unity with God in life (theosis) (see hesychasm).


-N-

Name-day. (Gr. Onomastiria or Onomastiki eorti). The tradition of the Orthodox people is to celebrate one's name-day instead of a birthday. Since the Orthodox people are usually named after a saint's name, all those having the same name celebrate together. Celebration of the name-day is considered to be spiritually important, and the celebrating individual develops special spiritual ties with his Patron Saint and consequently, with God.

Narthex. The vestibule area of the church, leading to the church proper or the nave. In the early Church, this area was assigned for penitents and those who were not yet baptized (catechumens).

Nave. The center, the church proper of an Orthodox Church, where the faithful remain to observe the liturgy and other services.

Neophyte. (Gr. Neophotistos). A newly baptized individual or convert of the early Church.

Nounos. (see godparents).

Novice. (Gr. Dokimos). An individual who accepted the monastic life, undergoing a period of probation in preparation for taking his vows.

Nun. (Gr. Monachi (fem), or Kalogria). A woman following the monastic life, living in a convent and leading a strict contemplative


-O-

Oblation. (see Proskomide).

Offertory. (see Proskomide).

Oktoechos. (Gr. "eight modes" or Paraklitiki). Service book containing the canons and hymns of the eight tones or modes of Byzantine music. They are used in all services, arranged every eight weeks, one for each tone, and are attributed to St. John of Damascus (eighth century), one of the greatest Orthodox hymnographers and theologians.

Omophor. (see Pall).

Orarion. (Lat.) One of the deacon's vestments, made of a long band of brocade and worn over the left shoulder and under the right arm. It signifies the wings of the angels.

Ordination. (Gr. cheirotonia). The sacrament of the Holy Orders, imparted through the laying on of hands upon the candidate for the priesthood.

Orthodox. (Gr. "correct or true belief"). The common and official name used by the Greek Christians and Eastern Christian Church. The Orthodox Church maintains Her belief that She alone has kept the true Christian faith, complete and unaltered.

Orthodox Sunday. The first Sunday of Lent, commemorating the restoration of icons in the church (see Iconoclasm).

Orthros. (see Matins).


-P-

Paganism. Belief in religions other than Christianity, especially ancient Greek polytheism, which was a non-revealed religion.

Pall. (Gr. Omophorion). One of the bishop's vestments, made of a band of brocade, worn about the neck and around the shoulders. It signifies the Good Shepherd and the spiritual authority of a bishop.

Palm Sunday. (Gr. Kyriaki ton Vaion; Sl. Verbnoye Voskresenye). The Sunday before Easter, commemorating the triumphal entrance of Christ into Jerusalem. The Orthodox use palms or willow branches in the shape of a cross, which the priest distributes to the faithful after the liturgy.

Panagia. (Gr. "All Holy"). One of the Orthodox names used to address the Mother of God. In Orthodox art, the term Panagia denotes an icon depicting the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child, or the bishop's medallion (Encolpion) which usually is decorated with an icon of the Panagia (especially in the Russian Church). (See also Theotokos.)

Pantocrator. (Gr. "He who reigns over all; almighty"). One of the appellations of God. In Orthodox art, Pantocrator is the name of the fresco decorating the center of the dome, depicting Christ as the almighty God and Lord of the Universe.

Paraklitiki. (see Oktoechos).

Pascha. (see Easter).

Paschal week. (Gr. Diakaimsimos or "bright week"). The week following the Sunday of Easter (Pascha), signifying the spiritual renewal and joy brought to the world by the resurrected Christ.

Paschalion. The table of dates for Easter and all movable feasts of the year.

Pastoral theology. The theological field that studies the ways and methods to be used by the clergy for carrying through their duties as Pastors of the Church.

Paten. (Gr. Diskos). A small round and flat plate made of gold or silver on which the priest places the particles of bread at the celebration of the Eucharist.

Patriarch. (Gr. "in charge of the family"). The highest prelate in the Orthodox Church. Today, there are eight Orthodox prelates called patriarchs (see Patriarchate).

Patriarchate. An ecclesiastical jurisdiction governed by a patriarch. There are eight such jurisdictions today in the Orthodox Church, the four ancient Patriarchates of the East, and the four Slavic patriarchates.

Patristics. The theological field that studies the lives and the writings of the Fathers of the Church.

Patron Saint. (Gr. Poliouchos; Sl. Nebesny Pokrovitel). A saint chosen by a group, nation, or organization to be their special advocate, guardian, and protector. The Patron Saint of an individual is usually the saint after whom the individual is named. See also the article on Saints in the Orthodox Church.

Pedalion. (see Rudder).

Pentecost. (Gr. "fiftieth Day"). A feast celebrated fifty days after Easter, commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit onto the disciples of Christ. It is considered to be the birthday of Christianity.

Pentecostarion. A liturgical book containing all the prayers, hymns, and services performed during the period of fifty days between the feasts of Easter and Pentecost.

Polychronion. (Gr. "for many years"). A prayer sung by the chanter or choir in honor of the celebrant bishop or presbyter. Its full version is: "for many years of life" (Gr. Eis Polla Eti Despota; Sl. Mnogaya Lyeta).

Polyeleos. (Gr. "oil candelabrum"; "abundance of oil and grace").

  1. Special hymns sung during the Service of Matins.
  2. The great candelabra hanging from the ceiling of an Orthodox church.
  3. A descriptive adjective used to describe Christ as the God of Mercy.

Presbyter. (Gr. "elder"). A priest in charge of a parish. A protopresbyter is an honorary title granted by a bishop in acknowledgement of service to the church.

Presvytera. (Gr.; Sl. Matushka). An honorary title for the priest's wife or mother.

Prokeimenon. (Gr. "gradual introduction"). A liturgical verse or scriptural passage sung or read before the reading of the Epistle. It serves as an introduction to the theme of this particular reading.

Proskomide. (Gr. "gathering of gifts" or "preparing to receive the gifts"; Sl. Shertvennik). The Service of the preparation of the elements of bread and wine before the Liturgy. It takes place on the Table of Oblation (Prothesis), which is situated at the left (north) side of the altar.

Prosphoro. (Gr. "offering gift, an item dedicated to God and offered as a votive," also prosphora). The altar bread which is leavened and prepared with pure wheat flour to be used for the Eucharist. It is round and stamped on the top with a special seal (sphragis or Panagiari). Sometimes it is made in two layers symbolizing the two natures of Christ (Human and Divine). The inscribed parts of the top are used for the Eucharist, and the rest of it is cut into small pieces to be distributed to the faithful (antidoron).

Pulpit. (Gr.; Sl. Amvon, "an elevated place, podium"). A small raised platform or elaborate podium at the left (north) side of the solea and in the front of the iconostasis. Decorated with representations of the four Evangelists, it is the place on which the deacon or priest reads the Gospel and delivers his sermon.


-R-

Raso. (see cassock).

Reader. (Gr. Anagnostis, Sl. Chtets). The individual assigned to read, chant, and give responses in church services. Usually, such a person will be blessed by the bishop with special prayers and in a special ceremony.

Relics. (Gr. Leipsana Agia). The remains from the body of a Saint or even a Saint's possessions, such as clothes or vestments. The relics are honored and venerated by all Orthodox. Upon the consecration of a new church, the consecrating bishop embeds holy relics in the Altar Table, following the ancient traditions of the church in performing the Eucharist on the tombs of Martyrs (Martyria).

Rite. (Gr. Telete, Sl. Tchin). The performance of a religious ceremony following a prescribed order of words and actions (typikon).

Rudder. (Gr. Pedalion). The book containing the rules and regulations prescribed by the Ecumenical Synods and the Fathers. It is the Constitution of the Orthodox Church.


-S-

Sacrament. (Gr. Mysterion; Sl. Tainstvo). The outward and visible part of religion, consisting of various ceremonies, words, and symbolisms, producing an invisible action by the Holy Spirit that confers grace on an individual. All Sacraments were instituted by Christ for the salvation of the believer (see separate sections on the Sacraments and the Sacramental Life in the Orthodox Church).

Sacrifice. (Gr. Thysia; Sl. Zhertva). The bloodless offering to God, which is the Holy Eucharist offered at the Liturgy. It signifies the sacrifice of Christ on the cross for man's salvation. Also, refer to the article on the Dogmatic Tradition of the Orthodox Church.

Sacristy. (Gr. Skevophylakion; Sl. Riznitsa). A utility room at the right side (south) of the altar, where vestments and sacred vessels are kept and where the clergy vest for services.

Saints. (Gr. Agios). All holy men, women, and angels, who, through a pure and holy life on earth or through martyrdom and confession of faith in word and deeds, have merited the canonization of the Church. The saints and the other pious people who are in glory with God constitute the "Triumphant Church." See the article on Saints in the Orthodox Church. .

Sakkos or Dalmatic. The main vestment worn by the bishop during the Liturgy. It originates from the vestments of the Byzantine emperor.

Salutations. (see Akathistos hymn).

Schism. Formal separation from the unity of the one true Church. Although the Christian Church has witnessed several schisms, the most disastrous was the separation of the Greek Eastern and the Roman Western Church in 1054, dividing Christendom into two parts (see separate section on Church history).

See. (Gr. Hedra or Thronos). The official "seat" or city capital where a bishop resides (esp. for a large jurisdiction); hence, the territory of his entire jurisdiction may be called his See.

Service books. They are special books containing the hymns or the services of the Orthodox Church. There are eight, as follows: Gospel (Evangelion), Book of Epistles (Apostolos), Psalter (Octoechos or paraklitiki), Triodion, Pentecostarion, Twelve Menaia, Horologion, and Service or Liturgy book (Euchologio or Ieratiko).

Service Book or Ieratikon or Litourgikon or Euchologio. (Sl. Sluzhebnik). The liturgical book containing the prayers and ceremonial order of the various church services including the Liturgy.

Sign of the Cross. The Orthodox make the Sign of the Cross to signify their belief in the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross for man's salvation. It is made by the right hand in a cruciform gesture touching the forehead, chest, right and left shoulders with the tips of fingers (the thumb, index, and middle finger joined together as a symbol of the Holy Trinity, the ring and little fingers touching the palm as a symbol of the two Natures of Christ).

Solea. An area with elevated floor in front of the iconostasis of the church, where the various rites and church ceremonies are held.

See also the article on:

Orthodox Art and Architecture

Soteriology. Theological field studying the mission and work of Christ as Redeemer (Soter). Also, refer to the article on the Dogmatic Tradition of the Orthodox Church.

Sphragis. (see prosphoro).

Spiritual relationship. (see affinity).

Stavropegion. Monastery or monastic community directly under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Stichar. (see Alb).

Subdeacon. (Gr. hypodiakonos). A layman who has received a special blessing by the bishop to serve in the church, assisting in the services and ceremonies.

Synaxarion.

  1. A brief biography of a saint read in the church on occasions of his feast day.
  2. Book or books containing lives of the saints.

Synaxis. (Gr. "assembly"; Sl. Sobor). A gathering of the faithful in honor of a saint or for reading passages from his biography (synaxarion).

Synod. (see Ecumenical Council).


-T-

Tabernacle. (Gr. Artophorion; Sl. Darochranitelnitsa). An elaborate ark or receptacle kept on the Altar Table, in which the Holy Gifts of the Eucharist are preserved for the communion of the sick or for the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts during Lent.

Thaumatourgos. (Gr. "miracle-worker"; Sl. Chudotvorets). A title given to some saints distinguished among the faithful for their miracles.

Theotokos. A theological term commonly used by the Orthodox to indicate the doctrinal significance of Virgin Mary as Mother of God.

Theotokion. (Gr. "referring to Theotokos"; Sl. Bogorodichey). A hymn which refers to or praises Theotokos, the Mother of God.

Three hierarchs. The Orthodox Church considers in particular three bishops (hierarchs) of the Church as Her most important Teachers and Fathers, who contributed to the development and the spiritual growth of the Church. They are St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian, and St. John Chrysostom. Their feast day is observed on January 30, a day also dedicated to Hellenic letters since the three hierarchs contributed to the development of Greek Christian education and literature.

Titular bishop. An auxiliary bishop without his own territorial or residential diocese, who is usually assisting a senior bishop with a large jurisdiction (Archbishop or Patriarch). The episcopal title of a titular bishop is taken from an ancient diocese which once flourished but now exists only in name, and, therefore, a titular bishop does not have his own jurisdiction.

Tradition, Orthodox. (Gr. Paradosis). The transmission of the doctrine or the customs of the Orthodox Church through the centuries, basically by word of mouth from generation to generation.

Transfiguration. (Gr. Metamorphosis). The transfiguration of Christ is a major feast day (August 6) commemorating the appearance of Christ in divine glory along with Moses and the prophet Elias on Mount Tabor (cf. Matt. 17: 1-7).

Triodion. (Gr. "three odes or modes").

  1. The period between the Sunday of the Pharisee and the Publican, and Cheese-Fare Sunday.
  2. A Liturgical book containing the hymns, prayers, and services of the movable feast before Easter, beginning with the Sunday of the Pharisee and the Publican and lasting until Easter Sunday.

Trisagion. (Gr. "thrice-holy").

  1. One of the most ancient hymns of the church, used by the Orthodox in every prayer or service: "Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy upon us."
  2. Memorial Service performed by the graveside or in church for the repose of the soul.

Typikon. (Gr. "following the order"; Sl. Sluzhebnik). Liturgical book which contains instructions about the order of the various church services and ceremonies in the form of a perpetual calendar.


-U-

Unleavened bread. Used in the eucharist in Latin (Western) churches.

Unction. (see Chrism).

Uniats. (see Byzantine Rite).


-V-

Vespers. (Gr. Esperinos; Sl. Litiya). An important service of the Orthodox Church, held in the evening, which is mainly a Thanksgiving prayer for the closing day and a welcome of the new one to come the following morning. On the eve of an important holiday, the Vesper Service includes Artoclasia or the blessing of the five loaves (Gr. artos; Sl. Litiya) for health and the well-being of the faithful.

Vestments. (Gr. Amphia). The distinctive garments worn by the clergy in the liturgy and the other church services

See also:

  • Epigonation
  • Epitrachelion
  • Omophorion
  • Orarion
  • Rason
  • Sakkos
  • Sticharion
  • Zone

Vigil. (Gr. olonychtia). Spiritual exercises during the night preceding the feast day of a saint or another major feast, observed by various spiritual preparations, prayers, and services.


-Y-

Year of the Church. (see calendar).


-Z-

Zeon. (Gr. "boiling"). The hot water used by the priest for the Eucharist. It is added to the chalice during the Communion hymn in commemoration of the water that flowed out of the side of the crucified Christ when he was pierced with the spear.

Zone. The belt or girdle worn by the priests on his stichar. It signifies the power of faith.

 


Abbreviations

appr. = approximately
Ar. = Arabic
Aram. = Aramaic
cf. = see, check
esp. = especially
fem. = feminine n. = neuter

Gr. = Greek
Hebr. = Hebrew
Lat. = Latin
masc. = masculine
Sl. = Slavonic

The World of the Church

If the historian's world is one of nouns and verbs - of people and places and happenings - the world of theology might be called a world of adjectives. Consider that the momentous agony of the Christian Church at the first of the Ecumenical Councils was, to oversimplify the case slightly, a question of a single adjective, homoousios, that defined the relationship of the Son to the Father. Whenever theology seeks to express the nature of Divinity, it deals mainly in words that describe and modify; whether affirmatively, stating what God is perceived to be, or negatively, by what the theologians call the apophatic method, which attempts to say what God is by affirming the things He is not.

The Main Terms

So it is with the nature of the Church; the Councils expressed the essential "marks" of the Church, as the Body of Christ, in terms of its divine nature, hence by adjectives. It is One; it is Holy; it is Catholic, in the sense of Universal; it is Apostolic. But one of the things we have discovered in the modern ecumenical encounter is that not all groups share this understanding of the Church's nature. We hear much discussion about "unity" and "catholicity," in such a way that the marks of the Church are reduced to nouns, and thus to abstractions. The Creed, and the Fathers, speak only in adjectives; they proclaim our faith in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. And so do we.

The Confession of Faith

We refer to it as a confession of faith - not a sterile creedal formula repeated mechanically outside the context of worship, not some sort of territorial claim in the spiritual realm made out of narrowness of heart and mind, but an affirmation of certain fundamental beliefs of which we are profoundly and unshakably convinced. Nor, in claiming these as the essential features of the Church, do we imply that the same marks may not be found outside the Church, since the Church is the presence of Christ in the world. In the face of the obvious and often scandalous divisions within Christendom, we can only repeat the words of Alexei Khomiakov, that the Church is one in ways we may not always fully apprehend, or which God has not yet willed to reveal to us.

The Concept of Unity of the Church

Moreover, even in New Testament times the seeds of division were apparent, or at least the true nature of the Church as the Body of Christ imperfectly understood and lived. Thus St. Paul demands of the Corinthians, "Is Christ divided?" Over time, assailed by heresy and riven by schism, the Church found itself drawing new adjectives from its life and experience to define itself; not to gainsay the great cornerstone words of the Creed, to be sure, nor to buttress some special claim to uniqueness, but rather to heighten the features and sharpen the contours by which the Church in history may be recognized and understood.

The Term "Orthodox"

Essential to that understanding is the modifier Orthodox. Far from merely describing form, it goes to the very essence of Orthodoxy, namely that it adheres with absolute fidelity to the principles and piety, the beliefs and Tradition of the early, undivided Church Catholic. It is no accident the "Tradition" is singular with a capital "T", which is quite a different matter from the plural, with small "t", meaning customs, usages.

The Meaning of Orthodox

The term Orthodox combines the adjective orthos, which means right, correct or true, and the noun doxa, which comes from the verb doxazo, "I hold an opinion," or "I believe." Hence "right belief," or "true doctrine." But in a deeper sense it also means "right worship," since doxazo can also mean "I glorify." It could be said that the term Orthodox was forged as a defense against heretical, or heterodox, teaching which persisted during the formative centuries. As then, so now, it signifies a framework of theological propositions worked into precise doctrinal formulations, a body of faith and a tradition, that has retained its absolute integrity in the face of the changes and innovations that have occurred within Christianity.

The Tradition of Orthodoxy

In short, the Church's claim to Orthodoxy derives from the conviction that it has received the faith of the Apostles, as contained in both the written and the oral Tradition, as interpreted by the Fathers in council, that is, in consensus, and as lived by the whole Church throughout the ages, perhaps elaborated and enriched, yet fundamentally without change or interpolation.

This conviction is nowhere better expressed than on the first Sunday in Lent, which is known as the "Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy." The first occasion for this observance was the final restoration of the icons in 843; but it is much more than a triumphant celebration commemorating that or any other particular "victory." It is rather in the nature of what for a Protestant would be "Reformation Sunday" - except that it celebrates the exact opposite of reform, in that it reaffirms the whole ethos of the Church. Nor is it any longer, happily, merely an occasion when we repeat the ancient and terrible anathemas against the various heresiarchs of the past. Rather it is a reaffirmation of the faith, kept free of heresy and heterodox teachings throughout the great doctrinal controversies. Coming as it does at the start of Great Lent, we might well think of it as the observance of the Church's self-awareness.

Orthodox Worship

But, as we have suggested, the adjective orthodox relates not alone to belief but to worship as well. Dogma does not occupy an isolated place in the Church's life as doctrine and creed tend to do the reformed traditions. It is part of the Church's liturgical life, its life of worship and praise which belongs to all the faithful. As Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow says, "The Creed does not belong to you unless you have lived it."

Nor is the Creed, as the sacred formulation of pure doctrine, simply inserted into the Liturgy and numerous other services. It is amplified and elaborated in a rich variety of ways in the hymnology of the Church. The whole doxological literature is doctrinal to its very core. Almost any hymn taken at random analyzes into a statement of faith, a lesson in theology. It is not by accident that the so-called doxastika, the "laudation hymns" of Vespers, are also called dogmatika, "dogmatic hymns," for they are exquisitely worked-out doctrinal treatises. It has been rightly said that those who would know about Orthodoxy should not so much read books as follow the example of Vladimir's envoys and attend the Liturgy.

The Concept "Greek Orthodox"

We would not have the fullest understanding of Orthodoxy if we did not consider the adjective, "Greek." Greek, not in the narrow ethnic, or geographical sense, but in the sense of the immense formative influence of Greek thought, and to some extent of the Greek language, which pervades the whole life and consciousness of the Church. It is precisely in this sense that the various Orthodox bodies - the Russian, the Romanian, the Syrian, the Serbian - may quite properly be referred to as Greek without gainsaying their obvious national character and traditions, or their geographical and cultural identities.

Father Georges Florovsky has written: "Hellenism has placed its eternal character upon the Church. It has become an inseparable part of her very being and as such every Christian is, to some extent, a Hellene. Hellenism is not simply a phrase in the history of Christianity but a cornerstone in its life . . . There is no Catholic Christian theology outside of Hellenism."

The Incorporation of Greek Thought

There have been those who held that the original message of Jesus and the Apostles underwent a certain corruption, a loss of purity, in its reinterpretation through the structures of Greek thought. In this view of things, any translation of the Gospel into doctrine is a distortion because it introduces "unevangelical" elements into Christianity. Indeed, we need only look at the early baptismal creeds, or study the metaphysical arguments of the Fathers as they wrestled with Trinitarian and Christological issues of the fourth and fifth centuries to recognize that the Christian kerygma did indeed undergo a process of hellenization. But far from seeing this as a degeneration of "pure doctrine", the theological consensus considers it as an indispensable enrichment. Orthodox theology does not view the formation of dogma as a purely human process, but as the application of highly refined philosophical insights and modes of thought to divinely revealed truths.

The Greek Language and Culture

As for the question of the influence of the Greek language, we can only point out that there is, after all, no way to make the abstract intelligible except through language. And since the dominant language, like the dominant mode of thought, during the formative centuries of Christianity was Greek, it was inevitable, not to say providential, that the Christian faith found its principal expression through that means. One cannot help but recall the words of the Lord when Philip and Andrew came to report that some Greeks wished to see Him: "The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified" (John 12:20).

Christianity moved rapidly out of Palestine into a highly universalist world. Rome provided the political setting through the Pax Romana, as well as the practical means of a vast communication system that made possible throughout the ecumene of that time a vigorous intercourse of commerce and ideas. The Greek contribution to this universalism was the medium of communication. The Greek koine, that is, the vernacular or common idiom, became an international language, the lingua franca, much in the way English is today. Hellenistic Alexandria gave the world the Hebrew Scriptures in this idiom; when the Christian missionary set out to carry the Good News to a now unified world, it was his Greek that made him understood. When Paul wrote to the young churches, including the one at Rome made up of Jewish and Gentile converts, he wrote in Greek. Until the third century, the language of the liturgy in the Church of Rome was Greek. All of this and more is implied, and must be understood, in the term Greek when it is employed in the broad sense to modify Orthodox.

The Concept "Eastern"

There is yet another qualifying adjective that extends beyond its obvious connotations, and that is the term "Eastern." It has little or nothing to do with any attempt to place the Orthodox Church geographically or culturally. Indeed, the spread of the Church in the West has tended to make its Easternness all the more evident. And while it is true that Orthodoxy bears an eastern stamp, in terms of the regions where it has had its principal early growth and development, it is no more oriental in this sense than the Roman Church is occidental. What is implied is its fidelity to the primitive faith and tradition, and thus to some extent its identification with the locales of the early Church: Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria and, later, Constantinople. More to the point, perhaps, it refers to the locales of the great Ecumenical Councils of the still undivided Church: Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus, Chalcedon. Thus, just as the adjective Greek embraces all Orthodox Churches which are anything but Greek in their national character and their cultural ethos, so also the term Eastern applies to them in precisely the same way.

The Value of Orthodox Tradition

But we Orthodox regard our Church as far more than just the sum of a group of local bodies, or national jurisdictions. We make what to many must seem a startling claim: that the Orthodox Church faithfully guards and consistently imparts the true faith and right belief, and glorifies God with the right worship; that it is, in other words, nothing less than the living embodiment, not of a particular tradition, as Father Florovsky says unequivocally, but of the one true "Tradition of the undivided Church."

There is always in such avowals the risk of a seemingly insufferable presumptuousness which would preclude fruitful dialogue. There is the equally serious risk of presenting Orthodoxy to the contemporary West as notable mainly for its aura of antiquity for antiquity's sake, of a conservatism that puts us out of touch with present-day realities and needs. It is not enough to say - or even imply - to our Western brothers, "We are your past." For the Traditions we revere and hold in sacred trust must after all be a living tradition, not frozen in time in some "golden" patristic age. Common enough has been the image projected by some early European scholars of Orthodoxy as a "petrified mummy." The Tradition is never static or sterile; it is as dynamic as the very Word of God.

What we Orthodox must always be ready to confess is that "we have this treasure in earthen vessels," (2 Corinthians 4:7), not always worthy of the trust, not always valuing it highly enough. Orthodoxy requires of us no defense, no apology. What it does demand is that we live it. And to live it, consciously and earnestly, we must first know and understand it. Fuller knowledge and a deeper and more perfect understanding of Orthodoxy is the object of this timely undertaking.

Adapted from an article written by Rev. Leonidas Contos, Ph.D titled An Introduction To the Orthodox Church.

Importance of Knowledge of Sources

The Orthodox Christian should know the content of his religion as taught by the Church. He should be guided in studying what the Church has in its written (Bible) and unwritten (Sacred Tradition) teaching. The Orthodox Church is the only Church which has maintained from the beginning a coherent interpretation of its teaching. The Church approves of each member reading alone and in general talking about his religion. But it discourages conclusions based on the individual's personal interpretation.

"So Philip ran to him (the Ethiopian), and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and asked, 'Do you understand what you are reading?' And he said, 'How can I unless some one guides me?'", Acts 8:28f.

This "guide" is the Church itself, and not the individual on his own, with limited ability and lack of the full knowledge of the sources of the teachings of the Church.

There are and have been many personalities in the Church who have devoted their lives to studying the Bible and keeping and preserving Sacred Tradition. But none became a leader of a new church outside of the One Undivided Church. Therefore, the Orthodox Church is the only one which preserves intact the "Paradosis", the written and unwritten Tradition. The Church, does not prevent the individual from exploring the deep meaning of the Bible to find new expressions. But this always must be authorized by the Church as a whole, where infallibility lies. It is important to know how freedom and authority work hand in hand in the teaching and governing of the Church. To achieve this understanding, the Orthodox Christian should know the basic sources of information.

Each member of the Church, clergyman and layman, has the right and duty to protect the Orthodox faith from misinterpretation and false statements. But this cannot be done without knowing what is the correct teaching of the Church. The Bible is the unmovable cornerstone which through the centuries has guided the Christian in learning the Will of God. The Fathers of the Church, teachers and prophets, are the instruments by which the Will of God is transmitted to the members of the Church so that they might follow the steps Which Jesus Christ revealed. How important is the influence of the Church in guiding its people? The answer is in the more than 200 Christian denominations possessing the same Bible, yet who insist that their particular interpretation alone teaches the truth of the Bible. Thus they are divided. Most of them assert that the Bible can be self-taught and requires no outside interpretation while they all claim the same thing, they still are divided.

The Church - from catacombs to cathedrals, from plain teaching to dogma and doctrine, from simple directions to formal administration-follows the steps which have been revealed to it by Almighty God in a coherent continuation of its external and internal teaching of the faith. There are two specific distinctions within the Orthodox Church. One is the relationship between freedom and authority, in the, government of the Church. The other is the system of self-governing churches. These distinctions are not very well known among the other Christian churches. The highest authority in the Orthodox Church is the "Conscience of the Church", which is the consent of the people of the Orthodox Church on the explanation of the faith given at times of its disputes. The general assemblies (synods) of the self-governing national Orthodox churches, made up of clergy, especially bishops, meet to decide, by unanimous opinion, matters of faith in dispute. The self-governing national churches have the same teachings, canons and liturgical worship, and, in fact, constitute One Church.

The Orthodox Christian should know and understand these facts in order to participate fully in the activities of the Church and to defend his position with authoritative explanations in times of discussion among friends of other churches. It is imperative for the Orthodox Christian to know the sources of the teachings especially when he must counteract the propaganda of those who would proselytize members of the Orthodox Church. This happened in the early Church and in the 17th century, and happens today. In the early Church, when the dogmas and teachings of the Church were not formally developed, there were many members of the church who turned to heretics, gnostics and other groups. Also, from the fourth century on, there appeared laymen, clergymen, even bishops and patriarchs who taught falsely the Christian faith. In the ninth century when the Great Schism began to develop between the Eastern and Western parts of the Church, and especially from the 16th century on, with the rise of Protestantism, these mistaken interpretations became more explicit. Against all these factors, the Orthodox Church has fought to keep itself intact to defend the truths which had been taught it by its Founder, Jesus Christ and His Apostles, in whom the roots of the Church are to be found.

These circumstances demanded that the Church defend its teachings and set forth the sources with accurate interpretations over the centuries. It is worth stressing that the development of these sources was to counteract the false opinions of Christians themselves; opinions not based on the correct interpretation of the Church itself. These sources of the accurate teachings of the Church are herein enumerated in order to counteract false opinions based on individual misinterpretations.

Accurate Sources of the Orthodox Church

What are the sources of the One Undivided Church, the Orthodox Church, from which emerge its teachings? Why is it imperative for the members of the Church to know these sources? The main sources of Orthodox teaching are the Bible and Sacred Tradition. The third source is the writings of the so called Apostolic Fathers and the Apologists. The fourth source is decisions of the canonical synods, local and ecumenical, and their utterances of faith, especially the Symbol of Faith (Nicene Creed) and some of their canons pertaining to faith. The fifth source is the discourses written at the time of disputes and schisms, especially the Great Schism between the Eastern and Western parts of the Undivided Church (1054). The sixth source is a variety of discourses written after the Protestant Reformation; these documents critique the various errors of Protestantism and Roman Catholicism.

The Holy Bible was not written as a systematic book containing the expressions of faith in symbols or confessions. There are many passages which convey the beliefs in Christ, or in Christ and the Holy Spirit, and or in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These verses, which were used as confessions and symbols of belief, are expressed in few words. Such passages are to be found in the New Testament, as in Matthew, where the Risen Christ commissioned the Apostles:

"Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (28: 19-20).

The Apostles admonished the people to believe in Jesus Christ as Savior. It was necessary for the early Church to preserve these phrases mainly for use as a symbol and confession of faith in the pronouncement of candidates for baptism. Such confessions are found in Romans 1:3-4, 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, Philippians 2:5-11 and 1 Timothy 3:16:

"Great indeed we confess, is the mystery of our religion: He (Christ) was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory".

Later, when Christianity started to grow and become more organized, the bishops wrote confessions and symbols of faith based on the teachings of the Apostles, becoming sources in themselves. Such confessions are found in the writings of Bishop Ignatius (c.35-c.107), Justin the Martyr (c.100-c.165) in his Apology, Bishop Irenaeus (c.130-c.200) and Origen (c.185-c.254) and especially in the Apostolic Symbol. The Apostolic Symbol used in baptism was once considered to have been written by the 12 Apostles, with each Apostle having written one article. This Symbol was falsely attributed to them. They did not write it. This Symbol, however, was used by the entire Church, for it was acknowledged as one of the three ecumenical symbols of faith, having more use in the Western part of the Church.

Symbol of Nicaea-Constantinople

The next source, which came into being out of necessity over disputes in the fourth century, was the confession of faith, still known as the fundamental source and highest pronouncement of the faith of Church. It was formulated by the First Ecumenical Synod in Nicaea in 325 (articles 1-7) and by the Second Ecumenical Synod in Constantinople in 381 (articles 8-12). This Symbol not only is named after the city in which it was written, but also is known by the number of bishops present at the synod in Nicaea, being referred to as the "Symbol of Faith of the 318 Fathers". The synod in Nicaea convened in 325, to resolve the dispute caused by Arius, a presbyter, who denied the divinity of Christ as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity and that there was a time when He did not exist. The 318 Fathers formulated the correct teaching in the first seven articles of the Nicene Creed. Despite the correct pronouncement of this synod, Arianism continued and became a splintered Christian sect, with the bishops who failed to accept the correct teaching of Christ's nature being excommunicated. In 381, another synod had to be convened to stop the incorrect teaching of Macedonius, who used Arian reasoning to question the divinity of the Holy Spirit, claiming He was created by the Son. The bishops at the Synod in Constantinople formulated the correct teaching concerning the Holy Spirit, that He was not created, but proceeds from the Father and is sent by the Son. This formulated truth became the last part of the Nicene Creed (last five articles). Hence the phrase, "One God in three Hypostases (persons)", prevails. This Confession, the Nicene Creed, has become the main source of the teachings of the Christian Church since the First and Second Synods.

The Athanasian Creed

The next source of the teachings of the Orthodox Church is the Athanasian Creed, which was written and used by the Western part of the Church and later accepted by the Eastern part, though not used in its liturgical life. This Creed is a source because it states the Orthodox teaching of the faith of the Church. This Creed was not written by Athanasius, but attributed to him, and is believed by some to have been written by St. Ambrose in Latin. It is believed to have been written in either the fourth or fifth century.

The Ecumenical Synods

The doctrinal teaching of the Bible and the Ecumenical Synods constitutes the content of the Faith and the unmovable basis of Orthodox dogmatics. The body of the Church, which consists of clergy and laymen, is the carrier of the infallibility of the Church, where the Holy Spirit protects it from making error. But the voice of the Church for expressing its infallibility is its highest authority - the Ecumenical Synod in which the whole pleroma (people of the Church) is represented by its bishops. The decisions of these Synods are sources of the teaching of the Church. There are utterances of the synods (oroi) which directly express the dogmatical teaching of the Church, and some canons which hold dogmatical teachings, although they mainly deal with discipline and administration in the Church. The Ecumenical Synods are the main sources of the truths of the Church. The Symbol of Nicaea established by the First and Second Synods is repeatedly restated in the five Ecumenical Synods that followed through the eighth century.

The Fathers of the Church

Another contributing source to the knowledge of the Orthodox Faith are some outstanding Fathers of the Church who wrote discourses and homilies on subjects of faith, which the Ecumenical Synods accepted as canonical teachings. These prominent Fathers are: Athanasius the Great (c.295) for his letter enumerating the canonical books of the Bible; Basil the Great (330-379) for his discourse sent to Amphilochion, in which he enumerates the heresies (parts of this epistle were divided into 92 canons, with canons 1, 5, 47, 91 and 92 containing material of symbolic expression of faith); Gregory of Naziatizus (c.329-390) for writings concerning the Canonical Books of the Bible, and Bishop Amphilochios of Ikonion (340-395) for his listing of the Canonical Books of the Bible. Writings of these Fathers bear the seal of canonical ratification. Not included here are writings of other Fathers which became canons concerning order and discipline, for described here are only those sources dealing with the faith. These then are the prominent Fathers of the Post-Nicene period (through the fourth century) whose writings became canonical sources of the teachings of the Church, having been adopted by the Ecumenical Synods.

Photius' Encyclical to Five Patriarchs of the East (866)

Patriarch Photius of Constantinople was an outstanding hierarch and leader who as a layman was elected patriarch by vote of the people and ecclesiastical authorities. He brought order to the Church and increased its missionary work, especially in Bulgaria. What became another major source of the teachings of the Church is the encyclical epistle of Photius sent to the Patriarchs of the East, with the consent of the Synod of Constantinople, protesting against the innovations of Pope Nicholas I of Rome: his interference in the affairs of the newly-converted nation of Bulgaria, the addition of the filioque phrase in the Nicene Creed, the issuing of the Pseudo-Isidorian Decrees and the Pseudo-Constantian Gift. This encyclical of Photius restated the correct teaching of the Nicene Creed, opposing the filioque phrase; correctly asserted the canonical jurisdictional order of administration of the Church; reaffirmed the correct teaching against the primacy of the pope, his infallibility, the riches of Christ and the saints, indulgences, purgatory, the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary and her bodily assumption. All of these innovations of the West were among the factors which ultimately led to the Great Schism in 1054, setting the stage for the Protestant movement in 1517 as well. Photius' great encyclical restated and reaffirmed the orthodox teaching of the Undivided Church, and stands as a major source of Orthodox teaching.

Keroularios (1054): Two Epistles to Patriarch Peter

An important source of the teachings of the Orthodox Church are the two epistles sent by Patriarch Michael Keroularios of Constantinople to Patriarch Peter of Antioch, which constituted a closing act to the Great Schism between the Eastern and Western parts of the One Church (1054). At that time, Pope Leo IX interfered in the jurisdiction of Constantinople in South Italy, where the Pope had introduced innovations, as had his predecessor in Bulgaria. The Pope sent to Patriarch Michael and to Bishop John of Tranis of Apoulia insulting letters in which he claimed his primacy over the entire Church, East and West, and that the Pope was infallible and had authority over both political and ecclesiastical jurisdictions. The Pseudo-Constantine Gift was used as a basis for the Pope's claim.

In addition, Pope Leo sent an emissary, Cardinal Humbert, a bad-mannered, arrogant man, to Constantinople. He insulted the Patriarch on July 16, 1054, by entering St. Sophia Cathedral during the Divine Liturgy, halting the services, and reading aloud and then placing on the altar a libel, a Bull of Excommunication of the Patriarch and his followers. This act of Pope Leo IX finalized the schism between West and East which had begun in 866. The Patriarch summoned a synod of many bishops on July 20, 1054. They, in turn, excommunicated the libel, the Bull, and all who supported it but purposely did not mention the name of Pope Leo in order to leave open the opportunity of reconciliation. Ironically, Pope Leo IX had died on April 13, 1054, three months before Cardinal Humbert reached Constantinople.

Before Cardinal Humbert came to Constantinople, Patriarch Michael had already sent to Patriarch Peter of Antioch the two epistles in which he enumerates in detail all the innovations of the Pope, consulting the encyclical of Patriarch Photius (866) for reference. Three of the 12 innovations listed are: the use of unleavened bread by the Western Church for the Liturgy, baptism by only one emersion (instead of three) and the filioque phrase in the Creed. The two epistles are considered sources of the teachings of the Orthodox Church because they point out the innovations of the Western part of the Church made outside the ecumenical synod, thus without ratification by the entire Church body. These epistles took on special prominence because they were written just shortly before the Schism.

Tomes of Synods of 1341, 1347, 1351 Concerning Hesychasm

The Tomes (discourses) were written to clarify the Orthodox teaching of Hesychasm (Greek word meaning quiet), a system of mysticism propagated on Mt. Athos by 14th century monks. The controversy arose over the issue of the substance of God and the energy of God. Hesychasm means the spiritual tendency of the Orthodox monks toward a clear theory of quietness leading to mystic union with God in prayer through Divine Grace. St. Gregory of Palamas taught the difference between the correct teaching of Hesychasm and the Latin theory. This dispute caused the summoning of three synods (1341, 1347, 1351), which issued three Tomes stating the correct meaning and interpretation of Hesychasm in a dogma, thereby becoming a source on this orthodox teaching.

Encyclical of Mark of Ephesus (1440)

The cyclical of Bishop Mark of Ephesus is a most important source of the Orthodox teaching in that it was written at the time when the Western Church sent organized groups to convert the Orthodox to the Uniates - those who followed the rites of the Orthodox Church, but were under the authority of the Pope. This encyclical focused attention on this movement, stirring strong opposition to it.

The Confession of Gennadios Scholarios (1455)

After the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, the conqueror, Mohammed II, requested that Patriarch Gennadios of Constantinople give him a summary of the Christian faith. Gennadios wrote and submitted a Confession that is a concise, accurate statement of the Orthodox Faith and an important source of the Church teaching.

The Correspondence of Patriarch Jeremiah II (1573-1582)

The first correspondence related to attempts at unity between the Orthodox Church and the new Lutheran Church took place in the sixteenth century. A group of German theologians at the University of Tubingen, under the leadership of Jacob Andreae and Martin Crusius, sent Stephen Gerlack to Constantinople to present to Patriarch Jeremiah II on May 24, 1575, three letters and the Augsburg Confession translated in Greek. Their goal was to explore possible unity of the new movement with the Ancient Orthodox Church. The Patriarch sent the first of three lengthy answers to the theologians on May 15, 1576, through the German embassy. The theologians then sent a detailed reply to the Patriarch. In all, the correspondence on the Augsburg Confession resulted in three answers and three replies. The death of the principles on both sides ended this effort. The three Answers of Patriarch Jeremiah II of Constantinople are important sources that restate the accurate teachings of the Orthodox Church. Jeremiah's correspondence was the first contact of the Orthodox Church with the new Protestant movement.

Confession of Kritopoulos, Patriarch of Alexandria (1625)

The next Confession to serve as a source of the teachings of the Church was written by Patriarch Metrophanis Kritopoulos - a chancellor at the time - while he was studying in England and Germany. It was in response to the request of the people in these countries for an explanation of the Orthodox Faith. This Confession gives an authoritative, informative and unoffensive account of the confession of the Faith and is written with scientific method. It was presented to the students and scholars of the Christian Faith in England in 1626 and was well-received.

Remaining Sources of Orthodox Teaching

Additional sources of decisions and answers of various synods of the Orthodox Church pertaining to the faith are listed below:

  • Minutes of the Synod in Constantinople of 1691.
  • Answers of the Orthodox Patriarch of the East to the Anglican Anomots, 1716-1725
  • Encyclical of the Synod in Constantinople in 1722 to the Orthodox Antiochians.
  • Confessions of Faith of the Synod in Constantinople in 1727.
  • Encyclical of the Synod in Constantinople in 1836; Against the Protestant Misvionaries.
  • Encyclical of the Synod in Constantinople in 1838: Against the Latin Innovations.
  • Reply of the Orthodox Patriarchs of the East to Pope Pius IX in 1848.
  • Gregory VI, Patriarch of Constantinople: Rejection of the Pope's Invitation to the Latin Synod in Vatican, 1868.
  • Answer of Synod of Constantinople in 1895 to Pope Leo XIII.
  • Decree of the Orthodox Conference in Moscow in 1948 against Papism.
  • Encyclicals of the Patriarchate of Constantinople referring to the Ecumenical Movement of the Churches in 1920 and 1952.

Contemporary Importance of Primary & Secondary Sources

The Symbol of Nicaea-Constantinopolitan (Nicene Creed) and the dogmatical utterances of the Ecumenical Synods are the primary and distinctive sources of the faith of the Orthodox Church. They have been ratified by the Synods and are unchangeable in form and substance. The other sources, which are the decisions of synods which took place after the eighth century, are of secondary significance, but very important for the historical evolution of the teaching of the Orthodox Church, especially the teaching against the innovations of the Catholic Church, which was separated in 1054 from the Orthodox Church, and with reference to Protestant Churches dating from the 16th century. These are secondary sources, pending ratification by an Ecumenical Synod, and may be accepted, corrected or not accepted. The utterances (primary sources) of the Orthodox Church are mainly part of the Sacred Tradition of the Church, which is of the same validity as Scripture.

The decisions of the Seven Ecumenical Synods include the Regional Synods, Saint-Apostles and some Fathers which have been ratified by the Ecumenical Synods, especially the Sixth in its Canon 102. So the faithful member of the Orthodox Church should thoroughly study the primary sources, then read the secondary sources herein listed. The distinction between the primary and secondary sources is important, because the primary 'sources were found in the life and teachings of the One Undivided Church of the first thousand-years of Christianity and were adopted and kept as such through the centuries, excepting innovations such as the filioque phrase in the Nicene Creed.

Because Sacred Tradition is of equal validity as the Bible, the identification of sources is essential since Tradition is rooted in these sources, written and preserved by the Church itself. This is important, because the Church makes the decisions and interprets the Bible, eliminating possible individual misinterpretations.

"First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." (2 Peter 1:20-21)

Because the Church has not written and officially adopted a catechism in which the infallible teaching of the Church is definitely expressed, the theologian has the "freedom with authority", to express anew the same unchangeable Truths of Christ. Christianity (or Christendom) has been separated into many parts because individuals through the centuries have taken it upon themselves to interpret the Bible personally. They have used limited knowledge and were unaware of the basic sources, and have consequently arrived at false interpretations, each claiming to be led by the Holy Spirit. Thus, the Holy Spirit is made to seem a dividing force for each, rather than leading and being the guardian of the One Undivided Church of Christ as revealed in Scripture. Apostle Peter warns against personal interpretation of Scripture by saying that:

"Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the unlearned and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures ... knowing this beforehand, beware lest you be carried away with the error of man and lose your own stability." (2 Peter 3:15-17)

The Orthodox Christian is blessed to be part of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church which has been preserved intact, by mercy, the fullness of the Christian Faith. In Holy Orthodoxy, the interpretation of Scripture and the teachings of the Church have the unanimous ratification of the Church, with its infallible authority. It is this interpretation of the teachings of Christ by the infallible Church that must be first known and understood by the Orthodox Christian who is admonished by Apostle Peter:

"Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence."

1 Peter 3:15

Church - the Depository of Revealed Truths

The Church of Jesus Christ is a unique entity comprising the Revealed Truths of the Christian religion. The Church, or rather the Church of the faithful, embodies the Christian faith, projects Christian hope, and gives life to Christian love. The Church was founded by the Lord Jesus Christ, Who remains in it forever as its Head. Christ entrusts His own Being to the Church, handing down divine Revelation, in oral form, and later recorded in written form, to constitute Tradition at large. The faithful, saints and sinners, assemble together under the Church's shelter to achieve repentance and forgiveness and to fortify the steadfastness of their will for the accomplishment of the Will of God. In this Church, the truth is preserved, proclaimed, and shared sacredly among the faithful. This Church is the divine Workshop for the teaching and sanctification of the faithful. It is the depository of truths for their redemption. There is nothing that contributes to the salvation of the faithful which is not contained in the Church's ministry, its diakonia. The Church is the whole strength of faithful and pious Christians. These people constitute the "royal priesthood" by their sanctification and dedication.

The Church of the faithful embodies the "Conscience of the Church" in its pronouncements and missions. Jesus Christ, the cornerstone of the Church, is "the Lord God, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty" (Rev. 1:8), Who has erected, established, and bequeathed to the Church the divine Grace which is the almighty power. Therefore, the Militant Church on earth is a part of the Kingdom of Heaven, for the King is ever present to lead and sanctify the members of His own Mystical Body. He is "Jesus Christ, Who is the faithful witness, and the first-begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood" (Rev. 1:5).

This Church of Christ has in its nature the tendency to become and to grow; it has the nature to engulf and develop the truths of Revelation; it is to be delved into from time to time to find and pronounce the truths of which the Church is the Pillar. The Church, as a whole, is infallible, but it is not God-inspired to the extent that it has understood the entire depth of the truths and formulated and proclaimed them to the world. The Church, by nature and duty, from time to time - to settle controversies - formulates, defines, and pronounces some of these Revealed truths. In such instances, the Fathers of the Church have assembled in synods to discuss the disputed points and to decree and interpret the correct meaning of those truths. In doing so, the synods of the Fathers, as a whole and as individuals, have believed that their decisions are infallible. Their decisions, however, are not considered permanent until they are accepted by the "Conscience of the Church," the whole body of the faithful, clergy and laity, who must give their consent.

The infallibility of the Church does not mean that the Church, in the assembly of the Fathers or in the expression of the Conscience of the Church, has already formally expressed all the truths of faith and norms. The infallibility of the Church is confined to the formulation of truths in question. This infallibility is not wholly a God-inspired energy, which would affect the participants of the synod to such an extent that they would be inspired to pronounce all the truths at one time as a whole system of a Christian catechism. The Synod does not formulate a system of beliefs encompassing all Christian teachings and truths, but only endeavors to define the particular disputed truth which has been misunderstood and misinterpreted.

The Church of Christ and its divine nature, as set forth above, is the foundation upon which the Eastern Orthodox Church continues to administer and nourish its faithful, thereby protecting its fundamental essentials.

The essentials of the Orthodox Church and its members can be divided into four main correlated parts:

  1. Principles of belief and faith;
  2. The worship of God, in Whom lies belief and hope for salvation;
  3. The living of life so as to serve one's neighbor and especially the "least of them" as well as oneself; and
  4. The enforcing of a system of order of discipline and administration for the members of this Church.

The Revealed Word

The teachings and the practices of the Orthodox Church are to be found in the Scriptures and Sacred Apostolic Tradition, which have been handed down to the Church of Christ in the Revelation of God. These sacred Sources are essential not only for correct teaching and worship, but especially as Sources of the promises and covenants of God fulfilled in the Person of Christ. The Father, out of love and compassion, sent Christ to save mankind and to remain forever in the Ecclesia which He founded. It is imperative for all Christians to understand the content of these sacred Sources in order to strengthen their faith in God and to accept Jesus Christ as the only Redeemer by Whom and in Whom man's personal salvation is wrought.

It is of the utmost importance for the Orthodox Christian, who dedicates his life to Almighty God, to be able to know God's truths. The Scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments, along with Sacred Apostolic Tradition are the divine Sources in which Almighty God revealed His Will and which the Church accepted as being the only depository for these truths. The content of the Scriptures was written by chosen and inspired persons, prophets and disciples, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Supreme Author and Guardian under Whose direction and protection the Scriptures become the inspired and infallible Source of faith and salvation. The Fathers of the Church expounded the content of the Scriptures in sermons and homilies in order to spread their meaning and blessings so that the members of the Mystical Body of Christ would not be uninformed of the Good News for their spiritual welfare.

In the Orthodox Church, the harmonious interpretation of the Revealed Word is necessary to present the faithful with a united, sound conviction. This does not mean that individuals, both clergy and laity, lack freedom to express their own spiritual insights, but the validity of these insights depends upon acceptance by other Fathers of the Church, without which it is wisest to keep silent and avoid being in opposition. Thus, the theologian of the Orthodox Church has the freedom to present the same truths of the Scriptures in a new expression in order to contend with contemporary ideals and challenges of society. It is very important for the Church to provide sound interpretation of Christian Sources, so that the tendency of human imagination toward superstitious concepts can be curbed.

The following are some fundamental teachings which are essential to the Orthodox Christian.

Belief in the True God

The Scriptures refer often to the nature and substance of God in which the Church should believe. It is characteristic that St. John recorded, "This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God" (17:3). It is important that the Christian be led to believe not merely in a God, but specifically to believe in the "True God" as revealed in the Scriptures and in the Person and teachings of Jesus Christ. The Christian ascribes to the nature of the True God all attributes of the finest experiences he has known, from the enlightenment of the Gospel. He should see God as almighty, all-loving, and all-holy; as a loving Father and Creator; as a Spirit beyond place, time, and variation. Almighty God also is defined by the Fathers of the Church in terms that clarify what God is not.

God as Creator created the heavens and the earth, the whole universe. He created angels as "ministering spirits sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation" (Hebrews  1:7, 14). Almighty God created man and provides for all his needs of life, giving sanctification as well as "newness of life" out of love. God's love is the only reason He sent forth His beloved Son to become Incarnate and bear the sins of the world, uplifting the human race for salvation.

Belief in the Holy Trinity

The fundamental truth of the Orthodox Church is the faith revealed in the True God: the Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is in reality the declaration of the Christian faith, formulated and pronounced by the Ecumenical Synods of the One Undivided Church. It is impossible for the finite human mind to comprehend objectively the substance of the True God, true worship, and true norms of life. Human reasoning in regard to faith in the Holy Trinity is confined to formulating the truths which already have been revealed in the Scriptures and Sacred Tradition. These truths of the Holy Trinity were formulated by the First and Second Ecumenical Synods in the Nicene Creed and were based on Divine Sources.

The Orthodox Church believes that God is one in substance and Triune in three Persons or Hypostases. The Church pronounces in its lucid liturgical confession: "I confess the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, Trinity consubstantial and undivided." In the Holy Scriptures, there are passages recorded to strengthen this belief in the Holy Trinity in which the faith in God is revealed. The Scriptures proclaim "to us there is but one God, the Father" (1 Cor. 8:6); "in him (the Son) dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily" (Col. 2:9; cf. Matt. 26:63); and, relating to the Holy Spirit, "thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God" (Acts 5:4). This fundamental belief in the Holy Trinity was the subject of all the Ecumenical Synods in which the unchangeable pronouncement on the Holy Trinity was affirmed. They proclaimed primarily that the second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Logos, and the Third Person, the Holy Spirit, are of the same essence, Homoousios, of the Father. In the personal attributions of the Divine Persons of the Holy Trinity, the Father begot the Son and from the Father proceeds the Holy Spirit. The Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, sends the Holy Spirit to guide His Church (cf. John 15:26). The nature and attributes of the Persons of the Holy Trinity are revealed through Jesus Christ. The truth can be reached only by faith, being above and beyond human comprehension.

The Second Person of the Holy Trinity

Another fundamental belief of the Orthodox Church is the faith in the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ, Who became "incarnate by the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary and became man" (Nicene Creed) for our salvation. The Virgin Mary Theotokos gave birth to Jesus, Who is the only begotten Son of God. In the Orthodox Church, the Theotokos is highly honored, as expressed in praises recorded in the Scriptures with qualities mirrored in the Magnificat (cf. Luke 1:46 ff.). Despite the high honor and the highest admiration which the Orthodox Church bestows upon the Virgin Mary Theotokos, it does not teach either her immaculate conception or her bodily assumption into the heavens. The Church venerates the Theotokos as "holder of Him Who is illimitable...and infinite Creator."

God's love caused Him to send His Son Jesus Christ to save man. For the Christian, the Incarnation of Christ is a mystery. Apostle Paul, the most keen interpreter of the life of Christ, in his epistle to the Colossians writes that it was "the mystery hidden for ages and generations, but now made manifest to his saints" (Col. 1:26; cf. Rom. 16:25-26). Jesus Christ was sent for this divine mission "when the fullness of time was come" (Gal. 4:4), when man was prepared to accept Him as his Savior. Christ was born with two perfect natures, the divine and human, as God-man. When a Christian refers to Christ in the Old and New Testaments, he should presuppose the fact of the two natures of Jesus Christ which are made manifest in His Gospel and deeds.

Another essential in the life of Christ, which is indispensable for the Church faith, is the Crucifixion of Christ, which is considered the end of His humiliation and emptiness on earth. The Crucifixion of Jesus Christ nails to the Cross the sins of mankind. The Church considers this divine event the "sorrowful Easter," for it is linked with His Resurrection.

The Orthodox Church considers the highest event in the life of Christ to be His Resurrection. It is pronounced as the glorification of Christ, touching upon the scope and the nature of Christ's Mission, which has been a part of the everlasting Christ. Christ presented Himself, as "the resurrection and the life" (John 11:25). Without this belief in the Resurrection, the preaching and the faith of the Church is in vain, as Apostle Paul proclaims (cf. 1 Cor. 15:14). The belief of the Church is that, on the third day, Jesus Christ rose again. The Resurrection of Christ is considered by the Church to be the supreme declaration of faith. The Lord's Day, Sunday, is dedicated to His Resurrection. For this reason, the celebration of Easter in the Orthodox Church is called the "Feast of Feasts."

The Church believes that "He shall come again with glory to judge" the world and everyone on earth, to "render to every man according to his works" (Romans 2:6) of faith in Christ and His Gospel, his love expressed in good works, and in helping others, described as the "least," as explicit witnesses to the steadfastness of his faith in Him. In the Orthodox Church, the justification and salvation of man depends on the standard of "faith which worketh by love" (Gal. 5:6).

The Third Person of the Holy Trinity

The Orthodox Church believes "in the Holy Ghost, the Lord, the Giver of life" (Nicene Creed). The Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, Who proceeds from the Father only (cf. John 15:26). The Church firmly opposed the opinion that the Holy Spirit was created by the Son, and it pronounced the correct belief in the Nicene Creed at the Second Ecumenical Synod. The Orthodox Church does not use the phrase filioque, "and of the Son." According to the Scriptures, the Son Jesus Christ only sends the Holy Spirit in time, saying: "I will send unto you from the Father even the Spirit of truth which proceedeth from the Father" (John 15:26).

It is evident from the Scripture that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father only; this was the belief from the very beginning of the One Undivided Church. When the church in the West inserted the "filioque" phrase into the Creed, this innovation precipitated the Great Schism of the Undivided Church. The "filioque" phrase is an error. It is not found in the Scripture. It was not believed by the Undivided Church for eight centuries, including the church in the West. It introduces a strange teaching of a double procession of the Holy Spirit and refers to two origins of the Spirit's existence, thus denying the unity of the Godhead.

The Fall and Regeneration of Man

Almighty God created man after His own image and likeness (cf. Genesis 1:26), and bestowed upon him endowments to fulfill his destiny. God instructed the first created human beings, Adam and Eve, in what they ought not to do. They failed to obey God's commandment and fell into sin, through arrogance and disobedience which deprived them of God's Grace. With them, "the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now" (Romans 8:22). The Orthodox Church believes that the corruption of the God-like image of man was not complete, that man's will became blurred, but did not disappear. Man's desire for salvation implies that man feels his inner emptiness and turns to God for forgiveness and redemption. Almighty God in His compassion and love prepared for this regeneration of man by sending His Son, Jesus Christ the Savior.

Baptism - The Sanctification of Man

The Orthodox Church invokes God's Grace for the sanctification of its members. For this reason, the Church uses sacred ceremonies instituted by Christ or His Apostles. The sacred ceremony of Baptism with that of Chrismation and the ceremony of the Holy Eucharist with that of Confession are the sacred Mysteria (sacraments) which every Christian should receive as an active communicant of divine Grace. There are three other sacraments: ordination, marriage, and unction. They are granted to man, but are not obligatory, if not so desired.

Jesus Christ commissioned His Apostles to "go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19). The Church of Christ from the beginning baptized its members by a priest immersing them thrice in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Immersion baptism was the practice of the early Church. Only one baptism is allowed. Therefore, by dispensation, the Orthodox Church accepts as valid those baptisms performed in other Christian churches which baptize their members in the name of the Holy Trinity. By Baptism, the Church holds that all optional and original sins are cleansed by the Grace of God. The Chrismation of a newly baptized person is the confirmation of his faith which is "the seal of the gift of the Holy Ghost."

The Mysterion of Repentence

The sacred ceremony of repentance and confession has been practiced from the very beginning by the Church. The Christian confesses his faith and sin, especially before partaking of Holy Communion, as a spiritual preparation for communion with God. The very first word of Christ recorded in the Scriptures was "Repent," This is the only voluntary decision required of the Christian, asking a "change of mind" from evil and negligence to the active faith in God through communion with Him. Absolution of sins is a divine act, for only God can forgive sins. In the Orthodox Church, the priest merely reads prayers, using verbs in the passive voice, invoking the remission of sins by God. The Church states that after "one baptism for the remission of sins," the confession of sins through the Sacrament of Repentance is considered God's highest gift to man (cf. Matthew 18:18; John 20:22-23).

The Mysterion of the Holy Eucharist

The most awesome ceremony in the Orthodox Church is the Mysterion (sacrament) of the Holy Eucharist. This ceremony was instituted by Jesus Christ the day before His Crucifixion, as He enriched His Church forever with the Divine Gifts, His own Body and Blood. This ceremony of the Holy Eucharist is both His sacrifice for the salvation of man and a sacred mysterion. The Holy Eucharist is the seal of the proclamation of the communion with God. It is the only Sacrament offered by the Church in which the elements of bread and wine not only carry the Grace of God, as a mysterion, but are "changed" into and "are" the very Body and the very Blood of Christ, being a propitiatory sacrifice.

The institution of the Holy Eucharist is recorded in Matthew (26:26-28), Mark (14:22-24), Luke (22:19-20), and in First Corinthians (11:23-35). Jesus, during that night of the Mystic Supper, took bread, and blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, and said:

"Take, and eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." (Matt. 26:26-28).

This awesome sacrifice has been entrusted to the Church to be re-enacted and given to the faithful for the nourishment of their faith and the forgiveness of their sins in remembrance of the Lord. The Orthodox Church maintains the practice of the early Church of giving both the Body and the Blood of Christ to all communicants, both clergymen and laymen. Spiritual preparation is necessary for the recipient "to prove himself"; otherwise, he "eateth...damnation to himself" (1 Cor. 11:29; cf. 1 Cor. 11:23-33). For the officiation of the Holy Eucharist, the Orthodox Church has four liturgies. That of St. Chrysostom is the most used.

Worship - the Hope for Salvation

Prayer is considered the soul of the faith not because faith cannot express itself, but because it depends on prayer in order to express faith with vividness. In this respect, faith and prayer are so correlated that it is difficult to distinguish between the two. Prayer, for a sincere and devoted member of the Church, has the power to modify him for a sound spiritual life. Prayer is considered in the Orthodox Church the highest privilege a Christian has, that of communicating with God, praising and supplicating Him. Prayer is the center of the religious life of a devoted Christian. The Scriptures should be read prayerfully. Good works should be done with fervent prayers to Almighty God. The Lord of the Church left to us a divine model in the Lord's Prayer. The Orthodox Christian is expected to pray when he feels the need, a spiritual need or emptiness, in which Almighty God is supplicated to grant His Grace to overcome this need.

The Church always prays not only through the special priesthood, but through every communicant, for everyone is a member of this Mystical Body of Christ. The Church does not supplicate Almighty God only to avoid the tribulations and difficulties of life, but beseeches Him to grant His Grace either to overcome them or endure them. For Christ said, "In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33 ff), urging continuance in the faith, "that we must through much tribulation enter into the Kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). The Orthodox believer should pray to Almighty God not only to free himself from emptiness, but also that he might do well with what he has. He should not ask for wealth, possessions, health, etc., but rather beseech Almighty God to make him as one of His servants, a strong believer, a fervent supplicator, a faithful servant of His Will. He prays to God as his Father after the fashion of the Lord's Prayer. He does not ask for perfect health, but beseeches God to grant Him the enlightenment and courage to accept even death as the threshold of everlasting life.

The Orthodox Church, considered the depository of infallible public worship, has been entrusted with the power of God's Grace to gather all its members, to pray and be sanctioned together, to communicate with each other as a spiritual Ecclesia and to be in communion with God and one another. The Grace of God is bestowed upon each Christian by the Word of God in the Person of Jesus Christ and His Church as well as through the sacred ceremonies, mysteria, and other divine services where the presence of every member of the church is important.

The highest pattern of worship in the Orthodox Church is the Holy Eucharist, which is officiated as the Divine Liturgy. In the Divine Liturgy, the Grace of God is bestowed upon the communicants. The faithful partake of the very Body and Blood of Christ for their sanctification and remission of sins. All communicants participate with devotional life and spirit in the Divine Liturgy. The Holy Eucharist, the very Body and Blood of Christ, is considered by the Church divine nourishment for its members. The Holy Eucharist is the most essential service to the life of the Ecclesia. During the officiation of the Divine Liturgy, added to the Prayers of Sanctification of the Holy Gifts, bread and wine, are other prayers, Scriptural passages and instructions, along with thanksgiving prayers for the uplifting of hearts and minds to Almighty God.

The Church also has many other services for worship in which the Divine Revelations are the monuments of devotional, doctrinal, and moral standards in the form of sacred dialogues between the believers and their Lord. The Orthodox Church in its spiritual expression provides many services which are cycles of prayers for the day, the week, and the year, commemorating various events in the lives of Jesus Christ and His Saints. The prayers and hymnology of the Orthodox Church are rich in quantity and quality, and the contents of the services are preserved in an unchangeable nature in their ritual for the glorification of Almighty God, the Savior.

"Faith Which Worketh Through Love"

In the Scriptures and Sacred Tradition, the main purpose of the covenants of God, as stated in the Old and New Testaments and including the humiliation and sacrifice of Christ, was the salvation of man. The Orthodox Church has kept this teaching of salvation, in its highest annals, completely recognizing in it the main mission of the Scriptures. The salvation of sinners is wrought by Christ Himself as God-Man "Who for us men and for our salvation came down from Heaven" (Nicene Creed). The Church believes that Christ enlightens the minds of the people, purifies their hearts, and frees their wills from the bondage of the devil. Christ became flesh "to make reconciliation for the sins of the people" (Heb. 2:17). In that respect, the Church fought against two extremes:

  1. the theory that in the innate sinfulness of mankind, human nature is able to practice virtue by itself, making Christ's sacrifice only a moral example (Pelagianism);
  2. the theory that the human soul is totally corrupted and man's salvation is God's work alone, predestining man to salvation or to perdition (Augustine).

The Church teaches that Christ the Son of God "was made in the likeness of man...humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Phil. 2:7-8).

The Orthodox Church holds the truths of morality closely with those of faith. The fact is, this Church maintains and practices the theme of the Scripture, "faith which worketh through love" (Gal. 5:6), and this is evident when applied to the intentions and conduct of its members. The Ten Commandments of the Old Testament (cf. Exodus 20:1-17) are considered the minimum of rules for right living, enabling reason and free will to discern right from wrong. For the Orthodox Christian who desires to devote himself to the principles of right living along with right faith, the instructions of the Lord to His disciples are to be studied and practiced, as recorded in Matthew (chs. 5, 6, and 7), where is found a higher level of life in the Christian society.

In the Orthodox Church, the truths of faith and morals are correlated to such a degree that one cannot exist without the other. The practice of these truths of conduct and morality cannot be achieved without the help, mercy, and Grace of Almighty God. This is the reason that faith in and prayer to God are correlated with morality. The Orthodox Christian is assigned by his own faith to be the steward of God's love for God's people who are in need, "the least" not only materially but also spiritually.

"Authority with Freedom" in Church Administration

The revealed truths of the Church on faith and morals have not been formulated as a whole. The whole body of revealed truths is to be found in the Scriptures and Tradition, which have been interpreted and used as such by teachers and thinkers of the Orthodox Church. Only the truths of the Church which have been disputed by misinterpretations are formulated by an Ecumenical Synod, the authoritative body of the Orthodox Church in such matters. In this Church, there is no authorized listing of all the truths on faith and morals in a formulated system, nor an official catechism which encompasses all the truths. The Church leaves teachers and thinkers of theology free to constantly study and present the existing truths of the revealed Word to cope with human needs and circumstances. Orthodox theologians are free to further study various subjects in greater depths, achieving a greater perspective from which to interpret the truths of the Church for the steadfastness of the faithful. These findings of the theologians are not new truths, but the same truths interpreted with greater simplicity and clarity. The gradual unfolding of a revealed truth is the result of devoted research and profound clarity in faith and practice which should not be isolated from the entire body of revealed truths. This freedom of inquiry in the Orthodox Church characterizes its nature of "authority with freedom." It also provides a sacred opportunity to the Fathers and theologians to further explore these revealed truths.

The Ecumenical Character of the Orthodox Church

The Orthodox Church maintains undefiled the dogmas of teaching and the rules of administration formulated and taught by the Synods of the One Undivided Ecumenical Church of the first millennium of the Christian era. The Orthodox Church continuously and without interruption is the true keeper of the truths of the Undivided Church, without omissions or additions. This Church has never created or added officially any new teaching after the Great Schism of the One Undivided Church. The teachings of this Church are ecumenical in character and in fact. It has introduced no innovations. It does not believe in the primacy of any one leader of the Church, nor in the infallibility of any Church leader. It does not believe in the filioque ("and of the Son") phrase inserted in the Nicene Creed by the Church in the West, nor in communion by only one element of the Holy Eucharist for the layman. It does not believe in compulsory celibacy of clergymen, purgatory, the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary, nor in other innovations proclaimed in the West after the separation of the Church. The Orthodox Church continues on the original road, keeping undefiled both the teaching and the type of administration of the venerable, Undivided, and Ecumenical Church.

The Seven Ecumenical Synods

The highest authority for the interpretation and protection of the truths of the Revelation of God and for the preserving of those which were disputed is the Ecumenical Synod, the official council of bishops. The synods were modeled after the gathering of the Apostles who came together to discuss the truths which were disputed at that time (cf. Acts 15:22 ff). The bishops of the One Undivided Church were summoned in synods to discuss and decide on matters of faith as well as rules of discipline; the former are called "oroi," dogmas, and require unanimous decision, while the latter are called "canons," The Orthodox Church recognizes the Seven Ecumenical Synods (Councils) of the bishops of the One Undivided Ecumenical Church which took place between the 4th and 8th centuries. This includes decisions and canons of provincial synods, canons of the Apostles and of the Fathers which have been adopted by an Ecumenical Synod. The Seven Ecumenical Synods pronounced various statements of Faith (dogmas) stating Christian Truths in answer to heresies and disputes, and also issued many canons for discipline and administration.

The Autocephalous Branches of the Orthodox Church

In the Orthodox Church, there are many autocephalous (self-governing) branches governed uniformly by the same canons of the Ecumenical Church. These churches are in full communion with each other and hold the same dogmas and truths of faith and morals, and also have unity in worship and in principles of administration. In the Orthodox Church, the axiom of "authority with freedom" prevails. The Ecumenical Synod is considered infallible on matters of faith, but not in matters of administration and discipline. The synod can change, add, or omit canons and rules according to situations or circumstances which confront the Church from time to time. The decisions of the Ecumenical Synods are carried out by the bishops, who are overseers within their own districts of faith and morals. The bishops of the Church are equal to one another in the office of priesthood. They differ in rank of position, which depends upon the distinction of their cities, such as the Patriarchal centers of Alexandria, Constantinople, Antioch, etc.

It is obvious that this type of administration is democratic, governing the affairs of the Church according to the canons, which in reality serve as a constitution for the Church and which apply to all the self-governing branches of the Church. In this respect, the particular churches have the freedom to decide on and to apply canons and pronouncements of synods along with the spiritual principles and truths of Scripture and Tradition. At the same time, churches have the authority to enforce these truths and defend them from profane abuses.

The Position of Laymen in the Orthodox Church

The administration of the Church has both a spiritual as well as a civil character. Both clergymen and laymen have the responsibility to abide within the discipline and order, keeping the faith sound and unchangeable. The laymen of the Orthodox Church are especially prominent in the election of candidates to the Priesthood. Their cooperation is also indispensable in matters of the "Conscience of the Church." The faithful, clergy and laity, constitute the "royal priesthood," which means they are called upon by God to serve in Church. Laymen share the spiritual and administrative affairs of the church with clergymen, including the responsibility for the steadfastness of the faith and the discipline of the whole membership of the Church. They have the right to participate in the tasks of the Church in teaching, mission, and charitable obligations. They have an interest in church affairs from the community level up to the synods.

The "Conscience of the Church"

The "Conscience of the Church-Ecclesia" is the highest authority of appeal in the Orthodox Church. It is, in reality, the common consent of opinions of faith, hope, and love by all communicants of the Church. This common consent is especially important for faith and morals, which are divine truths. The Conscience of the Church identifies truths indispensable for the faithful. The Conscience of the Church introduces the ever-existing truths of the Revealed Word for formulation in the Ecumenical Synods and accepts those truths of salvation already formulated by the Ecumenical Synods. The common consent of all members of the Church, accepting or rejecting a truth "formulated" by a synod, constitutes the Conscience of the Church. The synodic system and the function of the Conscience of the Church are also the fundamental characteristics of the democratic system of administration which prevails in the Orthodox Church.

The sovereignty of God is implanted in the freedom of man's nature and destiny in understanding and obedience within the Church. The Church is guided by the Holy Spirit, Who remains in it until the consummation of the ages. Democratic spirit in the Orthodox Church is kept by the constitution of its faith and the canons governing its affairs. The Church at large grants to its leaders the authority to apply its regulations at the appropriate time. The effectiveness of the constitution of faith and the canons of order of the Church has been proven even among its self-governing, autocephalous branches. As one and the same Ecclesia, they adhere both to its articles of faith and its rules of discipline. They are equally applied to all its members, even those in high governing positions, without exception. In the Orthodox Church, even the Ecumenical Patriarch is considered "the first among equals" in leading this great Church according to this constitution of faith and the canons of order. Any shortcomings in the administration of the Orthodox Church are due to the fact that this Church had no opportunity to convene an ecumenical synod during a period of outside political upheavals and foreign domination. The synod is the only authoritative body that issues new canons of order and eliminates obsolete ones. However, these shortcomings deal with and affect only the external affairs of the Church.

The Eastern Orthodox Church is aware of democratic principles in government. It has accomplished the venerable task of merging God's authority and man's freedom in the formulation of its confession of faith and rules of order. There is no one person who leads or speaks for the Church, nor do all its members act separately. But it is the Church as a whole, the one Mystical Body of Christ, which throughout the centuries has carried on the truth as it was taught and heard "everywhere, at anytime."

Some say Orthodox Christianity is one of the world's best kept secrets. So let's talk about what Orthodoxy is. At it's core, Orthodoxy is about the Gospel, the Good News of our new life in Christ. And there's a lot more to say, so we're going to spend a few weeks answering some of the basic questions people have about the Faith.

Introduction

The sources of Orthodox spirituality are the Holy Scriptures, sacred Tradition, the dogmatic definitions of the Ecumenical Synods, and the spiritual teachings of the Greek Orthodox Fathers. Orthodox spirituality is mainly expressed through prayer, daily Christian living, and worship, which ultimately lead to union with the divine uncreated Light.

Man and His Purpose as Creature of God

Before we enter into a discussion of the spirituality of the Orthodox Church, let us see what is man's purpose as a creature of God. Man is created in the image and likeness of God. The human destiny is not to achieve mystical union with the essence of God, but rather to attain moral and spiritual perfection by participation in the divine uncreated energies. Man, according to the Orthodox Fathers, was not created perfect from the beginning. Rather he was created with the potential to achieve perfection through grace. This, of course, was not realized because of the fall. In the fullness of time, God sent our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to become man, and through his suffering and resurrection from the dead, restored man to his original state of grace and enabled him to attain perfection. Christ says: "Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect." The ultimate purpose of man, therefore, is to become perfect in God, through love. That is, to attain perfect, selfless love of God and one's fellow human beings.

The Christian Commitment

The life of moral perfection, according to our Bible and the Fathers of the Church, is a call to a life in Christ, that is, a Christ-like life. Consequently, the spirituality of the Orthodox Christian is portrayed as a life in Christ, a life of commitment to the Lord, and a complete submission to his will. One lives only to do everything for Christ's sake, as Christ wants it and as Christ would do it.

The Christian commitment to Christ must be made by an inner, free act and is not compelled by any external force, not even by God. "Man is free and able to enter into relations with both kingdoms - the kingdoms of light and that of darkness." These kingdoms, the spiritual and the satanic, are hidden, not in the mind, but much deeper in the soul - "under the mind, beneath the surface of the thoughts," as Saint Makarios asserts. This fourth-century saint already had the notion of "heart," which is strikingly close to the modern psychological concept of the subconscious.

Moral Perfection Is Life in Christ

Orthodox spirituality is described throughout the centuries as life in Christ, striving for moral and spiritual perfection. The mystical union in Orthodox spirituality is not the "devout life" that some sects claim but the communion of the person with God. In sectarian teachings, the "devout life" is a sentimental and emotional relation to "divinity." The Orthodox Church rejects this concept in favor of one, which envisions the meeting of man with the divine Person in a mystical way. Orthodox spirituality is union with Christ, with God. A spiritual person is one who purifies himself of all worldly and moral defects in order to be united with the love of Christ. The mystical experience takes place in this world, yet the cause, God, is from beyond the material world. Orthodox spirituality, as well as the whole thought of the Church, is based on the revelation found in the Old and New Testaments. Studying the Patristic interpretation of the Christian truths can see this. In the mystical vision of the divine energies of the advanced Christian, he experiences the divine presence within himself, as vision of the uncreated light and of the energies of God. It is especially through the sacrament of the holy Eucharist that we experience mystical union with our Lord.

Philosophy and Divine Knowledge

The important Orthodox doctrine of the incarnation, that is, the divine Logos who became flesh, rendered philosophy and metaphysics irrelevant to our deeper knowledge of the divine truth. Christianity offers access to divine grace for the salvation of mankind through the resurrection of Christ. We cannot speculate about the Logos after the coming of Christ, who is the divine Logos in the flesh, and who sent the Holy Spirit to the world and "teaches us all things." The mystical experience spoken of by the classical Greeks is abstract and conceptual. That is, in ancient Greek philosophic contemplation, the soul or spirit goes outside the body to be liberated. Philosophy plays only a linguistic role in Orthodoxy, lending the use of its terminology after the terms have been transformed and purified of their secular meanings, "Christianized" philosophy and culture, as Father Georges Florovsky used to say. A master of spirituality, a monk of Mount Athos, describes this point in the following manner: "Many of the Greeks tried to philosophize, but only the monks found and learned the true philosophy." The Logos became flesh and revealed to humanity the divine revelation. He is the Truth and through him we can attain knowledge of the divine will. The metaphysical patterns of the philosophic speculation of the Christian revelation distort the divine mission of the incarnate Logos.

Three Ways Upwards

The Fathers of our holy Church suggest three ways to make progress in the spiritual life and attain spiritual perfection:

  1. The way of catharsis or purification
  2. The way of illumination, and
  3. The way of perfection by total union with God.

These ways can bring the Christian who cooperates with divine grace to perfection. Synergy of the individual effort with the help of the grace of God brings us to our ultimate destiny of perfection. Our Lord's death and resurrection achieve for us our end in attaining the presence of the Holy Spirit within us.

The Philokalia speaks of "the increasing knowledge of God decreases knowledge of all else. In other words, the more a man knows God; he knows less of other matters. Not only this, but he begins to realize more and more clearly that neither does he know God." This point is of fundamental importance to Orthodoxy that declares the total mystery and unknowability of the divine essence.

The purpose of man is to achieve moral perfection through the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. In the teachings of Saint Seraphim of Sarov, the Holy Spirit leads the individual through the steps outlined above in order to attain union with the Spirit of Truth.

Monasteries Are Spiritual Centers of Orthodox Spirituality

The spirituality of the Orthodox Church is best exemplified in its spiritual centers, the monasteries. The monk is a "martyr" or "witness" to Christ, the Son of the living God. Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov is an excellent example of this spiritual model in the person of Father Zossima. This monastic model eloquently portrays the spirituality of the Orthodox Church. Dostoyevsky distinguishes between worldly freedom and the spiritual person. He says that the worldly or secular people "maintain that the world is getting more and more united, more and more bound together in brotherly community, as it overcomes distance and sets thoughts flying through the air." But in reality the opposite is true, as is evident in international conflicts and wars. This famous Orthodox novelist expressed eloquently the Orthodox view that in spiritual subjugation, that is, in absolute obedience to Christ, one finds limitless freedom. This is especially exemplified in monasteries where spirituality is nurtured.

The Divine Energies

One of the most important aspects of Orthodox spirituality is participation in the divine energies. Briefly stated, this is an Orthodox doctrine of fundamental importance and very often ignored. In Orthodox theology, a distinction is made between the "essence" and "energies" of God. Those who attain perfection do so by uniting with the divine uncreated energies, and not with the divine essence. The Greek Orthodox Fathers, whenever they speak of God, emphasize the unknowability of God's essence and stress the vision of the divine energies, especially the divine uncreated Light. Orthodox spiritual tradition emphasizes the divine Logos indwelling in the world and our ability to attain a spiritual life and mystical union with the Holy Spirit in this world.

Christian contemplation is not "ecstatic," that is, outside ourselves, but it takes place within the Christian person who is the "temple of the Holy Spirit." The divine energies are "within everything and outside everything." All creation is the manifestation of God's energies. Vladimir Lossky says in the Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church: "These divine rays penetrate the whole created universe and are the cause of its existence." The uncreated Light and the knowledge of God in Orthodox tradition "illuminates every man that cometh into this world." It is the same light that the apostles saw on Mount Tabor that penetrates all of creation and transforms it, creating it anew. A modern ascetic says in the Undistorted Image: "Uncreated Light is divine energy. Contemplation of Uncreated Light begets, first and foremost, an all absorbing feeling of the living God - an immaterial feeling of the immaterial, an intuitive, not a rational perception - which transports man with irrestible force into another world, but so warily that he neither realizes when it happens nor knows whether he is in or out of the body." This is not a sentimental or emotional feeling or romantic fantasy. It is experience of the divine uncreated Light described by the neptic Fathers. Again, in the words of the same ascetic: "This supramental sensation of the Living God (which is experienced in contemplation) is accompanied by a vision of light, of light essentially different from physical light. Man himself abides in light because, assimilated to the Light which he contemplates, and spiritualized by it, he then neither sees nor feels his own material being or the materiality of the world."

Illumination

God's act is pure light, and when the Lord appears to us, he always appears as Light. In Holy Scripture we read: "In Your Light we shall see light." Only in the state of illumination does divine grace makes possible the contemplation of the divine light. The hidden truths of Holy Scripture are not revealed to everyone, since illumination comes through the special divine gift of revelation. For this reason in the early Church, the holy Bible was read only in the Church and only by a charismatic person. In the Orthodox Church, we have never experienced "bibliolatry" or "worship of the Book," as in some sects. The Church holds fast to the unadulterated spirit of the Bible as it was delivered to the Saints, and through them, to us.

Spiritual Warfare

We are saved by Christ and in Christ. Yet we are still subject to temptation and to sin. Therefore, it is important to mention the fact that to acquire spirituality or moral perfection, we must wage war against the "enemy," that is, sin and the devil. Saint Makarios said: "I have not yet seen a perfect Christian man, one completely free (from the devil and sin)." And "although one is at rest in grace and enters into mysteries and revelations and into the sweetness of grace, still sin is yet present within." Consequently, as long as we live, we must be ready to fight against the dark powers of the devil. And "Satan is never quiet from warring. As long as ever a man lives in this world and wears the flesh, he has to war." The holy Bible is the most necessary means of spiritual warfare against the devil; it is also the chief means of acquiring knowledge of the divine will.

The Role of the Sacraments

We must further emphasize the role and purpose of the holy sacraments in attaining spirituality. In the sacraments, we receive divine grace, and in the case of the holy Eucharist, Christ himself, who aids us in waging war successfully against the satanic powers. As Fr. Sergius Bulgakov says: "The heart of Orthodoxy lies in its rites." All the Orthodox rites and sacraments are meant to combat the powers of evil. The sacramental life of the Church is the chief means toward the attainment of spirituality and of ultimate salvation.

The Eucharist as Expression of Spirituality

The question is asked: Is it possible without the holy Eucharist to reach the spiritual state of perfection? The answer is no, because Christ says: "Except you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you." Frequent participation in the most Blessed Sacrament of the holy Eucharist is the preeminent means for our salvation and spiritual perfection. Jesus said: "for my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed." Thus, Christ's statement makes clear that the "body and blood" of our Lord is necessary for our spiritual perfection. The Eucharist, therefore, is not received merely as an act of obedience to the command of God or of the Church; it is especially an antidote to sin and death. It is a necessary prerequisite for our perfection in our life in Christ. An important interpretation by Saint John Chrysostom makes this clear.

Paul does not say participation, but communion, because he wishes to express a closer union. For, in receiving Holy Communion, we not only participate in Christ, we unite in him. In fact, as this body is united with Christ, so by bread we are united with Christ. But why do I speak of Communion? Paul says that we are identical with this body. For what is this bread? That is, the body of Christ. And what do we become by receiving this bread? The body of Christ: not many bodies, but only one.

The holy Eucharist serves as the bond of unity in love. The holy Eucharist unites us to Christ and to one another. This is the makeup of the mystical body of Christ: the Church. This concept of the Church as the mystical body of Christ is very dear to our Orthodox tradition because it expresses the reality of Christ in the world and the unity of the Church, which is real only when Christ is the central figure. The Orthodox Church rejects the misconception, of sectarian origin, that Christianity is only a system of morals. It strongly emphasizes the fact that mystical union with Christ is a reality in his Church. The whole life of Saint Paul was "a perpetual system of morals in action." Only because of his personal commitment to Christ and his mystical encounter with the divine Lord, did Saint Paul attain spiritual perfection.

Father John of Cronstadt on Teaching Young People the Spiritual Way

In this brief exposition of the vast topic of Orthodox spirituality an introduction was provided only as a beginning to your own investigation of the great truths of our faith. For some this may be regarded as a spiritual discourse not profitable to the ordinary layman. I am convinced, however, that all Orthodox Christians must acquire knowledge of the Orthodox tradition of spirituality, especially those who teach young people as well as the parents. Father John of Cronstadt addressed the teaching priests, the Christian teachers, and leaders in the following penetrating words:

Do not neglect to uproot from the hearts of children the tares of sins, impure, evil and blasphemous thoughts, sinful habits, inclinations and passions; the enemy and sinful flesh do not spare even children; the seeds of all sins are to be found in the children, too; show them all the danger of sin on the path of life; do not hide sin from them lest through ignorance and want of comprehension, they should be confirmed in sinful habits and attachments, which grow stronger and stronger and bring forth corresponding fruits when children grow up.

These words set forth the mission and goal of the Christian priest, teacher and leader.

Conclusion

In concluding this presentation, the following suggestions can be made to those responsible for the development of spirituality in the Church:

  1. In order to transmit Orthodox spirituality to young people, the teacher first must learn it through personal experience and through study of the spiritual writings of Orthodox authors.
  2. Each Christian must acquire Orthodox spirituality in his or her own life by living the sacramental life of the Church and by participating frequently in holy Confession and holy Communion.
  3. Responsible Christians ought to communicate to young people the great spiritual riches of Christianity and the importance of adhering to the Orthodox tradition of spirituality.

All of us, priests, Church School teachers, leaders, faithful Christians - young and old, and especially parents, have a responsibility to emphasize to young people the importance of their personal commitment to Christ and of their sacramental communion with Him. You need to continue your spiritual reading for your spiritual growth. Contact any Orthodox bookstore for a catalogue.

Orthodox and Paradox. The two words have much in common. The "dox" that ends both terms has its root in the Greek word doxa, which means "belief" or "opinion." It will besuggested in what follows that these words share much more than just a linguistic root, but glancing at the root word is a good place to begin. In its later Christian usage,doxa comes to mean "glory," but only as an extension of its much older philosophical meaning, which is "belief." And so, if a doxa is an opinion or a belief, an orthe doxa is a "straight belief," a "correct belief." Likewise, something that is "para doxa," a paradox, is beyond belief. A paradox contradicts what we might commonly believe to be true. And Orthodox theology consistently presents us with things that contradict what we might commonly believe to be true. What is Orthodox is often a Paradox.

For instance, we say that we are monotheists, that we believe in one God. But, as soon as we insist that there is only one God, we turn around and call that God a Trinity. Our God is both 1 and3. This is a paradox. How can God be both 1 and 3? The early Church was riddled with heresies that tried to smooth out the mystery in this claim and remove the paradox. Opponents of Christianity could easily claim that, if Christians worshipped a Father, a Son and a Holy Spirit, then Christians were no different from the pagan Greeks with their many gods: Zeus, Apollo and Athena. Some Christians responded to this charge by easing the paradox inherent in the Trinity. There is only one God, they would affirm, and sometimes he looks like the Father, sometimes like the Son and sometimes like the Holy Spirit - but he's always the same person who plays these different roles. Orthodox tradition, however, insists that the Trinity is not just one person playing different roles, but three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who are always three persons…and yet always One God. In Orthodox theology, the rules of math do not apply. 3 = 1, and 1 = 3. What is Orthodox is a Paradox.

So, too, with Jesus Christ. The Orthodox Church insists that Jesus, while on earth, was fully the Immortal God and, at the same time, a fully Mortal Man. He was both. Again, just as with the Trinity, some have found it impossible to believe that the Immortal, Unknowable, Inexpressible God, who created all things, would enter into his creation as a frail, visible, mortal person who would die a shameful death on the cross. And so, two types of heresies arose. For some, Jesus was just a man. A good man, a good teacher, a prophet even, but not God. To others, he was indeed God, but he was not really a man. He looked human and seemed human, but this was only an appearance. He put on humanity like a costume. But as we saw in attempts to understand the Trinity, these teachings about Jesus shattered the paradox of who Jesus was. In both cases, people tried to make him either God or Man, but could not see how he could be both. We will return to this notion of Christ as the God-Man later, to reflect on why he must be seen as both fully God and fully Man. But let us to prepare for that by going in a very different direction for a moment.

For, the connection between the words Orthodox and Paradox applies to more than just our conception of God. Orthodox theology is paradoxical when it thinks about humanity as well. Popular debates about human ethics, sin and morality are often reduced to either/or equations. Recall in the debates about the Trinity, people demanded that God is either 1 or 3, but not both. And Jesus was either God orMan, but not both. So, too here, many people today approach questions of ethics with the same either/or posture.

For instance, there are some who view sin and sinners with so much mercy and tolerance and acceptance that the idea of sin disappears altogether. For these people, to judge or condemn any act at all is unchristian. And they are correct - partly.

Others respond to sin with a call to repentance, and they are so judgmental that the idea of mercy disappears altogether. For these people, to tolerate sin at all is unchristian. And they are correct - partly.

But how can they both be correct? To elaborate on this, we can return to the discussion of Christ as the God-Man. For, the Church Fathers summarize why Christ became human in a very powerful phrase: "God became Man, so that men might be like God." The Immortal God became mortal, so that mortals might be immortal. He who is life entered death, so that the dead might rise to new life. Christ took on our weakness. He became one of us, and tolerated our sins. He had compassion on us when we least deserved it, with mercy and acceptance.

But this is only half of the story. For, the Son of God did not become a mortal human being in order to leave us in our sins. He did not descend to humanity and announce, "The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, and you are fine the way you are." He, rather, opens his ministry when he proclaims, "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand (Matt 4:17)". Christ became human in order to raise us beyond our fallen humanity. And so, together with his message of tolerance, is the call to live a new life. His mercy simultaneously demands repentance from sin. God's call to repentance is understood as a form of healing. It is not harsh judgment, but gentle medicine for the wounded sinner. And yet, the sickness is never ignored. The sickness is never permitted to be called health. Thus, mercy and the call to repentance stand side by side.

For many today, the combination here of mercy and repentance is hard to accept. Because of the commitments that we all have to philosophical or psychological or political ideologies, or even just because of the friends we have, we fall to one side or the other of this divide. This is not the Orthodox way, though. Just as in the Trinitarian and Christological debates, what is Orthodox confronts us with a Paradox.

But even more than all of the ways just mentioned, in an even more basic sense, what is Orthodox is a Paradox. For in claiming that we have correct belief, that we are Orthodox, we claim to have the correct teaching about God. But that does not mean that we know all there is to know about God. We cannot explain God in the way that we explain a math problem: 2 +2 = 4, 2 + 3 = 5. Recall, in Orthodox math, 3 = 1. God is a mystery far beyond our comprehension. He has revealed himself to us, but only a little, in order to save us and draw us to himself. And so, the Orthodox way to understand God is to recognize that we cannot understand God. This is where heresies fall into error. They try to make God accessible. Because the Trinity confronts us with confusing realities, heresies try to soften this confusion, and simplify God. But Orthodox faith, true understanding of God, insists on our imperfect knowledge of God. We know only that we know only a little.

To bring matters full circle, we can return again to the meaning of the word doxa. For we mentioned above that the word gradually comes to mean not only "belief," but also "glory" or "honor." This additional sense of the word leads people to claim that the Orthodox Church is the Church that offers "true glory" or "true worship" to God. This meaning of doxa is helpful to keep in mind, because, as we just said, we cannot know God fully. Since our knowledge of God is incomplete, and since we cannot even begin to approach him, our only posture should be one of honor and praise. True belief (doxa) leads only to the awe-filled praise (doxa) of God. To speak about God is not to speak at all, in silent worship. Again, and finally, that which is Orthodox is a Paradox.

Rev. Dr. George L. Parsenios is Dean of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. He completed his PhD at Yale University in 2003, after graduating with an MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 1996.

In the light of Church history, the question might better be asked, "Why does anyone allow for 'open communion'" The fact is, from the very beginning the Eucharist was offered only to baptized and chrismated believers. The second century writing known as The Didache instructs believers to "let no one eat or drink from your Eucharist except those who are baptized in the Lord's Name." So restricted were the Eucharistic meetings of Christians in the first centuries that rumors arose among the pagans that they were actually involved in human sacrifice and cannibalism.

Even reformed churches practice closed communion. Only baptized believers who had undergone examination by the leaders of the churches were admitted to the Lord's Supper. In times past, communion tokens were used to gain admission to the sacrament as, for example in the Church of Scotland and also in Methodist churches.

The Orthodox Church does not consider it sufficient to express belief in Jesus in order to be admitted to the sacrament. Many heretics believe in Jesus. Arius, the fourth century heretic, believed in Jesus. Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons believe in Jesus. Hindus believe in Jesus. But none of these individuals or groups believes in the One Lord Jesus Christ known and proclaimed by the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

In the historic understanding of the Church, Communion has always been understood as the goal, the climax and expression of our unity in Christ. Today there are over 25,000 denominations worldwide and among them are many different views of Jesus.

The Orthodox practice closed communion, not for triumphalistic reasons, but for very important theological reasons. In doing so they follow the practice of the ancient Church; a practice that was retained by the Reformers. "Open communion" was a relatively recent innovation and an exception to the practice of the Church beginning in the New Testament period.

In our pluralistic American culture, we object to anything that excludes individuals. We have been taught that all faiths are relative in their claims. One denomination is as good as another to the average American; the Orthodox Church appears to be just one more "denomination." However, the Orthodox Church pre-dates denominations, and the practice of the Orthodox Church pre-dates the practices of later Christian denominations by at least 1500 years.

 

The Internet School of Orthodox Studies Fall 2003 program is designed to help Orthodox Christians understand the Orthodox faith. This series is presented by Rev. Dr. Frank Marangos and Rev. Dr. George Bithos.

Established by the Department of Religious Education in 1998, ISOS ran through the Fall of 2005 as a means to assist Orthodox Christians to better understand the teachings of the Orthodox Church. These classes have been archived on the goarch.org website with the assistance of the Archdiocese Department of Internet Ministries.

There exists within Christianity a tension between God's creative, loving powers and humanity's capacity and tendency to rebel against God. Christianity, drawing upon the Biblical imagery of Genesis 1 and 2 and Genesis 9 is unambiguous about the special role of humanity within creation. A document of the World Council of Churches from a meeting in Granvollen, Norway in 1988 states:

"The drive to have 'mastery' over creation has resulted in the senseless exploitation of natural resources, the alienation of the land from people and the destruction of indigenous cultures [...] Creation came into being by the will and love of the Triune God, and as such it possesses an inner cohesion and goodness. Though human eyes may not always discern it, every creature and the whole creation in chorus bear witness to the glorious unity and harmony with which creation is endowed. And when our human eyes are opened and our tongues unloosed, we too learn to praise and participate in the life, love, power and freedom that is God's continuing gift and grace."

In differing ways, the main churches have sought either to revise or to re-examine their theology, and as a result their practice, in the light of the environmental crisis. For example, Pope Paul VI in his Letter Octogesima Adventeins also comments in a similar manner:

"... by an ill-considered exploitation of nature he [man] risks destroying it and becoming in his turn the victim of this degradation [...] flight from the land, industrial growth, continual demographic expansion and the attraction of urban centres bring about concentrations of population difficult to imagine."

In his 1990 New Year message, the Pope also stated: "Christians, in particular, realize that their responsibility within creation and their duty towards nature and the Creator are an essential part of their faith."

In Orthodoxy this is brought out even more strongly, especially in the document produced by the Ecumenical Patriarchate Orthodoxy and the Ecological Crisis, in 1990. The Orthodox Church teaches that humanity, both individually and collectively, ought to perceive the natural order as a sign and sacrament of God. This is obviously not what happens today. Rather, humanity perceives the natural order as an object of exploitation. There is no one who is not guilty of disrespecting nature, for to respect nature is to recognize that all creatures and objects have a unique place in God's creation. When we become sensitive to God's world around us, we grow more conscious also of God's world within us. Beginning to see nature as a work of God, we begin to see our own place as human beings within nature. The true appreciation of any object is to discover the extraordinary in the ordinary.

The Orthodox Church teaches that it is the responsibility of humanity to restore the proper relationship between God and the world. Through repentance, two landscapes, the one human, the other natural, can become the objects of a caring and creative effort. But repentance must be accompanied by appropriate initiatives which manifest the ethos of Orthodox Christian faith.

The World Council of Churches, predominantly Protestant, but also with full Orthodox participation, produced a series of conclusions on the issues of Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation:

"We affirm that the world, as God's handiwork, has its own inherent integrity; that land, waters, air, forests, mountains and all creatures, including all humanity, are 'good' in God's sight. The integrity of creation has a social aspect which we recognise as peace with justice, and an ecological aspect which we recognise in the self-renewing, sustainable character of natural ecosystems.

"We will resist the claim that anything in creation is merely a resource for human exploitation. We will resist species extinction for human benefit; consumerism and harmful mass production; pollution of land, air and waters; all human activities which are now leading to probable rapid climate change; and the policies and plans which contribute to the disintegration of creation.

"Therefore we commit ourselves to be members both of the living community of creation in which we are but one species, and of the covenant community of Christ; to be full co-workers with God, with moral responsibility to respect the rights of future generations; and to conserve and work for the integrity of creation both for its inherent value to God and in order that justice may be achieved and sustained."

Implicit in these affirmations is the belief that it has been human selfishness, greed, foolishness or even perversity that has wrought destruction and death upon so much of the planet. This is also central to Christian understanding. As far as we can tell, human beings are the only species capable of rebelling. against what God has revealed as the way in which we should live. This rebellion takes many forms, but one of these is the abuse of the rest of creation. Christians are called to recognise their need to be liberated from those forms within themselves and within society which mitigate against a loving and just relationship one with another and between humans and the rest of creation. The need to repent for what has been done and to hope that change can really transform the situation are two sides of the same coin. The one without the other becomes defeatist or romantic - neither of which is ultimately of much use to the rest of the world.

The Orthodox Churches pursue this in their own line of theology and reflection concerning creation and expressed their commitment in the document Orthodox and the Ecological Crisis in 1990:

"We must attempt to return to a proper relationship with the Creator and the creation, This may well mean that just as a shepherd will in times of greatest hazard lay down his life for his flock, so human beings may need to forego part of their wants and needs in order that the survival of the natural world can be assured. This is a new situation - a new challenge. It calls for humanity to bear some of the pain of creation as well as to enjoy and celebrate it. It calls first and foremost for repentance but of an order not previously understood by many."

The hope comes from a model of our relationship with nature which turns the power we so often use for destruction into a sacrificial or servant power here using the image of the priest at the Eucharist:

"Just as the priest at the Eucharist offers the fullness of creation and receives it back as the blessings of Grace in the form of the consecrated bread and wine, to share with others, so we must be the channel through which God's grace and deliverance is shared with all creation. The human being is simply yet gloriously the means for the expression of creation in its fullness and the coming of God's deliverance for all creation."

For Christians, the very act of creation and the love of God in Christ for all creation stands as a constant reminder that, while we humans are special, we are also just a part of God's story of creation. To quote again from the World Council of Churches report of the 1991 General Assembly on the theme "Come Holy Spirit - Renew the Whole Creation":

"The divine presence of the Spirit in creation binds us human beings together with all created life. We are accountable before God in and to the community of life, an accountability which has been imagined in various ways: as servants, stewards and trustees, as tillers and keepers, as priests of creation, as nurturers, as co-creators. This requires attitudes of compassion and humility, respect and reverence."

For some Christians, the way forward lies in a rediscovery of distinctive teachings, lifestyles and insights contained within their tradition. For others, it requires a radical rethinking of what it means to be Christian. For yet others, there is still a struggles to reconcile centuries of human-centered Christian teaching with the truths which the environmentalists are telling us about the state of the world we are responsible for creating. For all of them, the core remains the belief in the Creator God who so loved the world that he sent His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should have eternal life (John 3:16). In the past, as we can now see, this promise of life eternal has often been interpreted by the churches as meaning only human life. The challenges to all Christians is to rediscover anew the truth that God's love and liberation is for all creation, not just humanity; to realize that we should have been stewards, priests, co-creators with God for the rest of creation but have actually often been the ones responsible for its destruction; and to seek new ways of living and being Christians which will restore that balance and gives the hope of life to so much of the endangered planet.

"I shall not cease reverencing matter, by means of which my salvation has been achieved... " St John of Damascus, On the Holy Images, 1.16

Current Conservation Projects

Since the Assisi summit in 1986, and as the result of certain programmes and ventures begun before that date, most of the major Christian denominations have undertaken some degree of environmental work. Those churches belonging to the World Council of Churches have, since the late 1980's been engaged in work centred around the theme of Justice, Peace and the integrity of Creation. This has involved not only national churches but also national councils of churches in wide-ranging educational and theological discussions and the production of educational and research materials.

In the Orthodox Churches, the creation of a new day in the Ecclesiastical Calendar (1 September) as a special day for prayer and supplication for the environment has led to hundreds of local initiatives and projects ranging from soil reclamation projects in Russia to tree planting initiatives in Romania to wildlife preservation programmes in the Greek islands and to forest preservation on the Holy Mountain. Furthermore, this day is used each year for the sending and reading of an Environmental Message from the Patriarchs and this has spawned much new material for education and preaching.

In the Roman Catholic Church, the national centres for justice and Peace within the Catholic Bishops' Conferences have taken environmental issues as one of their major strands, in particular by establishing Commissions on Justice, Peace and the Safeguarding of Creation in many dioceses around the world. This has led to intensified work being done by national structures in the Catholic church on education, practical projects and development / environment work. It has also helped many thousands of dioceses and tens of thousands of parishes to engage in similar activities.

In addition, Catholic environmental groups and centres have been established in most parts of the world. Their purpose and activities vary with some focusing upon the promotion of environmental education, while others are actively committed to the improvement of the environment. For example, an environmental centre, Poland has been set up to educate people to assume responsibility for the environment while the centre in Montevideo, Uruguay educates people to work with the poor to protect the environment. In Brazil, several missionaries have been killed for their work with indigenous peoples to protect the Amazon, while in Indonesia, missionaries work to protect tropical forests.

The role of the teaching orders of both monks and nuns should also be mentioned here. They often own land, and many have started organic farming projects, tree nurseries and similar practical programmes on their own land. Their role in education on environmental issues cannot be over-emphasized and considerable work is being done through Catholic schools, colleges and charitable organizations.

Most Catholic Universities in developing countries have departments of engineering which have assumed environmental responsibilities, and in many cases, these universities have developed environmental studies institutes.

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences has taken a particularly strong role in environmental studies and published some major papers since Assisi 1986.

This is complemented by the work undertaken by the World Council of Churches on climate change. Councils of churches in many countries have worked on this topic and have undertaken studies and published extensively on climate change and the issues of justice, peace and creation which surround this topic.

All the major Christian aid agencies, such as Caritas, Christian Aid and the German and Swedish Lutheran aid agencies have made environmental factors integral parts of their development programmes around the world.

Most other Protestant churches such as the Methodists, Lutherans and Baptists, now have an international policy agreement to work on environmental concerns. At national and local levels many thousands of churches undertake programmes ranging from recycling, through education to practical schemes on church lands.

Of the smaller churches, some of the most active are the indigenous churches of Asia, Africa and Latin America. Here environmental considerations go hand in hand with the rediscovery or reintegration of traditional cultures and Christianity. In areas such as the Philippines and South America, churches assist indigenous peoples in struggling for land rights and against economic and environmental exploitation.

Martin Palmer is an environmental educationalist, and director of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education and Culture (ICOREC), based in Great Britain.

An ever-growing number of persons from various backgrounds are becoming interested in the Orthodox Church. These individuals are discovering the ancient faith and rich traditions of the Orthodox Church. They have been attracted by her mystical vision of God and His Kingdom, by the beauty of her worship, by the purity of her Christian faith, and by her continuity with the past. These are only some of the treasures of the Church, which has a history reaching back to the time of the Apostles.

Eastern Christianity

The Orthodox Church embodies and expresses the rich spiritual treasures of Eastern Christianity. It should not be forgotten that the Gospel of Christ was first preached and the first Christian communities were established in the lands surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. It was in these eastern regions of the old Roman Empire that the Christian faith matured in its struggle against paganism and heresy. There, the great Fathers lived and taught. It was in the cities of the East that the fundamentals of our faith were proclaimed at the Seven Ecumenical Councils.

The spirit of Christianity which was nurtured in the East had a particular flavor. It was distinct, though not necessarily opposed, to that which developed in the Western portion of the Roman Empire and subsequent Medieval Kingdoms in the West. While Christianity in the West developed in lands which knew the legal and moral philosophy of Ancient Rome, Eastern Christianity developed in lands which knew the Semitic and Hellenistic cultures. While the West was concerned with the Passion of Christ and the sin of man, the East emphasized the Resurrection of Christ and the deification of man. While the West leaned toward a legalistic view of religion, the East espoused a more mystical theology. Since the Early Church was not monolithic, the two great traditions existed together for more than a thousand years until the Great Schism divided the Church. Today, Roman Catholics and Protestants are heirs to the Western tradition, and the Orthodox are heirs to the Eastern tradition.

Orthodox

Christians of the Eastern Churches call themselves Orthodox. This description comes to us from the fifth century and has two meanings which are closely related. The first definition is “true teaching.” The Orthodox Church believes that she has maintained and handed down the Christian faith, free from error and distortion, from the days of the Apostles. The second definition, which is actually the more preferred, is “true praise.” To bless, praise, and glorify God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the fundamental purpose of the Church. All her activities, even her doctrinal formulations, are directed toward this goal.

Occasionally, the word Catholic is also used to describe the Orthodox Church. This description, dating back to the second century, is embodied in the Nicene Creed, which acknowledges One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. From the Orthodox perspective, Catholic means that the Church is universal and also that she includes persons of all races and cultures. It also affirms that the Church has preserved the fullness of the Christian faith. It is not unusual for titles such as Greek, Russian, and Antiochian to be used in describing Orthodox Churches. These appellations refer to the cultural or national roots of a particular parish, diocese, or archdiocese.

Orthodoxy in the West

In our Western Hemisphere, the Orthodox Church has been developing into a valuable presence and distinctive witness for more than two hundred years. The first Greek Orthodox Christians arrived in the New World in 1768, establishing a colony near the present city of St. Augustine, Florida. One of the original buildings in which these immigrants gathered for religious services is still standing. It has recently been transformed into St. Photius' Shrine by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. The Shrine, named in memory of a great missionary of the Orthodox Church, honors those first Orthodox immigrants. The chapel serves as a national religious landmark, bearing witness to the presence of Orthodoxy in America from the earliest days of its history. The next group of Orthodox Christians to emerge on the American Continent were the Russian fur traders in the Aleutian Islands. They, too, made a great contribution.

The Orthodox Church in this country owes its origin to the devotion of so many immigrants from lands such as Greece, Russia, the Middle East, and the Balkans. In the great wave of immigrations in the 19th and 20th centuries, Orthodox Christians from many lands and cultures came to America in search of freedom and opportunity. Like the first Apostles, they carried with them a precious heritage and gift. To the New World they brought the ancient faith of the Orthodox Church.

Many Orthodox Christians in America proudly trace their ancestry to the lands and cultures of Europe and Asia, but the Orthodox Church in the United States can no longer be seen as an immigrant Church. While the Orthodox Church contains individuals from numerous ethnic and cultural backgrounds, the majority of her membership is composed of persons who have been born in America. In recognition of this, Orthodoxy has been formally acknowledged as one of the Four Major Faiths in the United States. Following the practice of the Early Church, Orthodoxy treasures the various cultures of its people, but it is not bound to any particular culture or people. The Orthodox Church welcomes all!

There are about 1 million Orthodox Christians in this country. They are grouped into nearly a dozen ecclesiastical jurisdictions. The largest is the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, which has over 500 parishes throughout the United States. Undoubtedly, the Primate of the Archdiocese has been chiefly responsible for acquainting many non-Orthodox with the treasures of Orthodoxy.

Diversity in Unity

The Orthodox Church is an international federation of patriarchal, autocephalous, and autonomous churches. Each church is independent in her internal organization and follows her own particular customs. However, all the churches are united in the same faith and order. The Orthodox Church acknowledges that unity does not mean uniformity. Some churches are rich in history, such as the Church of Constantinople, while others are relatively young, such as the Church of Finland. Some are large, such as the Church of Russia, while others are small, such as the Church of Sinai. Each Church is led by a synod of bishops. The president of the synod is known as the Patriarch, Archbishop, Metropolitan, or Catholicos. Among the various bishops, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople is accorded a "place of honor" and is regarded as "first among equals." In America and Western Europe, where Orthodoxy is relatively young, there are a number of dioceses and archdioceses which are directly linked to one of these autocephalous Churches. For example, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese is under the care of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. While the Archdiocese enjoys a good measure of internal autonomy and is headed by an Archbishop, it owes its spiritual allegiance to the Church of Constantinople.

Treasures Of Orthodoxy is a series of pamphlets written for the non-Orthodox, especially those who are considering becoming members of the Orthodox Church and who wish to deepen their appreciation of her faith, worship, and traditions. The pamphlets are authored by Fr. Thomas Fitzgerald, a faculty member of Hellenic College-Holy Cross School of Theology. The pamphlet titles are as follows:

  1. Introduction - Introduces the non-Orthodox to Orthodox Christianity.
  2. House of God - Describes the interior of the church building.
  3. Worship - Discusses the form and characteristics of Orthodox worship.
  4. Liturgy - Describes the meaning and celebration of the Eucharist.
  5. Sacraments - Describes the meaning and importance of liturgical life.
  6. Special Services and Blessings - Describes the non-sacramental services which contribute to spiritual life.
  7. Teachings - Outlines the salient points of doctrine and basic credal affirmations.
  8. Spirituality - Discusses the meaning of theosis as the goal of Christian life.
  9. History - Sketches the great epochs of Orthodoxy.
  10. The Church - Outlines the procedure for becoming a member of the Orthodox Church.

The orginal article published in the pamphlet Treasures of the Orthodox Church was titled "The Church."

The life of the Orthodox Church perpetuates and fulfills the ministry of Jesus Christ. The close association between Christ and His Church is reflected in the images from the Scriptures which declare that Christ is the Head and the Church is His Body, and that Christ is the Bridegroom and the Church is His bride. These images express the reality that the Church does not exist independently from Christ.

The Lord and Savior, who was known, loved, and followed by the first disciples in Galilee nearly two thousand years ago, is the same Lord and Savior who is known, loved, and followed through His Church. As Christ revealed the Holy Trinity, His Church continues to reveal the Holy Trinity and to praise God in her worship. As Christ reconciled humanity to the Father, His Church continues to be the medium of reconciliation by word and action throughout the world. As Christ manifested the vocation of authentic human life, His Church continues to be the realm through which the image and likeness of God in each of us is brought to perfection.

The Orthodox Christian becomes united with Christ at Baptism and is nurtured by Christ at every Eucharist. We believe that the Holy Spirit acts in and through the Church to make Christ our Lord and to bring His work to fulfillment.

Orthodoxy has avoided any temptation to reduce its vision of the Church. The biblical descriptions of the Church as the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Holy Spirit indicate that she truly must be recognized as much more than one institution among many, or a social service agency, or as an ethnic or fraternal organization. Certainly the Church does have her institutional aspects, and she is always subject to the sins and limitations of her human members. Yet, Orthodoxy believes that in addition to her obvious human side, the Church also has a Divine dimension. The Greek word for Church,ecclesia, implies a community called and gathered by God for a special purpose. This means that the Church can be described as the unique meeting place between God and His people.

Personal Experience

The Orthodox Faith cannot be appreciated fully, or appropriated personally, by the individual who is outside the Orthodox Church. Viewed from this vantage point, Orthodoxy can falsely appear as one world-view among many, as a cultural appendage, or merely as a ceremonial church. It is only from within the Church that one has the necessary perspective of experiencing Orthodoxy as the revelation of Divine Life.

Becoming An Orthodox Christian

The Orthodox Church has a universal appeal and vocation. She does not restrict membership to people of any particular culture, race, class, or section of the world. Indeed, Orthodoxy values the diversity of cultures, peoples, and languages which are part of her life. She also affirms a unity of faith and love in Christ which transcends all artificial barriers. Membership in the Orthodox Church is open to all persons.

The Orthodox Church in the United States is no longer considered to be an immigrant Church. She has been recognized as one of the four major faiths in America. The membership of the Orthodox Church in this country includes persons from a wide variety of ethnic and cultural family backgrounds. The overwhelming majority have been born in the United States. Among these five million Orthodox, there are a large number of persons who were raised in other religious traditions and who have chosen to become members of the Orthodox Church.

This reality was clearly recognized by His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos, former archbishop of North and South America, when he told the Twentieth Biennial Clergy/Laity Congress of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese that:

"Orthodoxy is not exclusively the religion of the Hellenes, but the religion of all those who, as a result of mixed marriages, or contract or study of Orthodoxy, have come to know and relate to it; and, therefore, Orthodoxy has already found its place and mission in the Western Hemisphere."

If you are seriously interested in becoming a member of the Orthodox Church, you should meet with your local Orthodox priest and become acquainted with his parish. He will be happy to offer you advice and guidance, as well as to introduce you to members of the parish. This is truly an exciting period in the development of Orthodox parishes in the United States. While most are associated with a particular cultural heritage, many are coming to fully recognize the responsibility of Orthodoxy to the wider society. When you embrace the Orthodox Church, you also join a particular local parish. It is meant to be a spiritual family. Therefore, you should thoughtfully examine the concerns and priorities of the parish. Try to discover whether you will feel comfortable, whether the parish can provide you with the opportunity to grow closer to God and to be of responsible service to others.

In many parishes, the priest offers classes or individual conferences on the Orthodox Faith for those who wish to become members of the Orthodox Church. The length and scope of these instructions will be determined by your previous knowledge of the Christian Faith, as well as by your particular needs and concerns.

After the period of instruction, there is a Service of Reception into the Church. If you are converting from a non-Christian religion, you will make a profession of Faith and be baptized and chrismated. If you are being received from a Church which has a similarity of beliefs with Orthodoxy and you have been properly baptized and confirmed, you will participate in a brief Service of Anointing (Chrismation) which signifies reconciliation with the Orthodox Church. The reception of Holy Communion is always seen as the consummation of union with the Church.

Commitment To Christ

The ultimate commitment of the Orthodox Christian is a commitment to Christ our Lord, Who is known in and through the Church. This is expressed by the litanies of the Church which call upon us to "commit ourselves, one another, and our whole life unto Christ our God." And, prior to receiving Holy Communion, we pray: "O Master Who loves mankind, unto you we commit our whole life and our hope."

Each of us is unique and blessed by the Holy Spirit with different gifts and vocations in life; therefore, our personal commitments to Christ will be expressed differently. Yet, Orthodoxy firmly believes that this commitment will always be built upon a worship of God and a loving concern for others. As worship is central to the Church as a whole, worship, personal prayer, and especially participation in the Holy Eucharist are central to the life of the individual Orthodox Christian. Through these actions, we grow closer to God and we are blessed with the fruits of the Spirit, which enable us to be of loving and responsible service to others in Christ's Name. Orthodoxy avoids any tendency which seeks to separate love of God from love of neighbor. The two are inseparable. This conviction is expressed during the Divine Liturgy in the dialogue between the priest and the people which says, "Let us love one another that with one mind we may confess...The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; The Trinity, consubstantial and undivided."

Although Orthodoxy highly extols the value of worship, this does not imply that it in any way minimizes the importance of a life lived according to the Gospel. Therefore, as the Liturgy reminds us, only those with faith and love may draw near to receive Holy Communion. Our participation in the Body and Blood of the Lord also provides each with the opportunity to be Christ-bearers in the world in which we live.


Treasures Of Orthodoxy is a series of pamphlets written for the non-Orthodox, especially those who are considering becoming members of the Orthodox Church and who wish to deepen their appreciation of her faith, worship, and traditions. The pamphlets are authored by Fr. Thomas Fitzgerald, a faculty member of Hellenic College-Holy Cross School of Theology. The pamphlet titles are as follows:

  1. Introduction - Introduces the non-Orthodox to Orthodox Christianity.
  2. House of God - Describes the interior of the church building.
  3. Worship - Discusses the form and characteristics of Orthodox worship.
  4. Liturgy - Describes the meaning and celebration of the Eucharist.
  5. Sacraments - Describes the meaning and importance of liturgical life.
  6. Special Services and Blessings - Describes the non-sacramental services which contribute to spiritual life.
  7. Teachings - Outlines the salient points of doctrine and basic credal affirmations.
  8. Spirituality - Discusses the meaning of theosis as the goal of Christian life.
  9. History - Sketches the great epochs of Orthodoxy.
  10. The Church - Outlines the procedure for becoming a member of the Orthodox Church.

The orginal article published in the pamphlet Treasures of the Orthodox Church was titled "The Church."

Confession is in decline and repentance is misappre­hended. The decline and the misapprehension cannot be easily qualified, but they are unmistakable at least inasmuch as they are considered to be no more than incidental prac­tices in the life of the Church today. The "traditional" way of thinking of sin and forgiveness has collapsed among a growing number of Christians. Nothing less than a theo­logical and pastoral renewal is necessary in order to redis­cover the living meaning of repentance and confession.

The degeneration is often attributed to secularization. Yet secularization should not be seen, in a scapegoat fashion, as merely an external enemy. It acts from within the Church. Even those actively involved in church life suffer from for­malism caused by the established patterns of religious prac­tice. There is a need to appeal to the deepening of repen­tance and confession as spiritual realities rather than their imposition as obligatory customs. It is only in a realization of the nature of sacramental life that repentance acquires its significance as a way of renewal and reconciliation in Christ.

Repentance is indeed an act of reconciliation, of reintegra­tion into the Body of Christ, which has been torn asunder by sin. For "if one member suffers, all suffer together" (1 Corinthians 12.26). "Therefore, confess your sins to one another ... that you may be healed" (James 5.16). The whole Church expresses a search for repentance in the repeated words of the Psalmist, commonly known as the "miserere" (Psalms 50). It is through the faith of the community that the individual is readmitted and forgiven. "When Jesus saw their faith he said, 'man, your sins are forgiven' " (Luke 5.20; cf. Matthew 9.2 and Mark 2.5). "Justification" in the New Testament does not mean a transaction - a kind of deal; and repentance defies mechanical definition. It is a continual enactment of freedom, a movement forward, deriving from renewed choice and leading to restoration. The aim of the Christian is not even justification but a re-entry by sinner and saint alike into communion in which God and man meet once again and personal experience of divine life becomes possible. Both prodigal and saint are "repenting sinners."

Repentance is not to be confused with mere remorse, with a self-regarding feeling of being sorry for a wrong done. It is not a state but a stage, a beginning. Rather, it is an invitation to new life, an opening up of new horizons, the gaining of a new vision. Christianity testifies that the past can be undone. It knows the mystery of obliterating or rather renewing memory, of forgiveness and regenera­tion, eschewing the fixed division between the "good" and the "wicked," the pious and the rebellious, the believers and the unbelievers. Indeed, "the last" can be "the first," the sin­ner can reach out to holiness. Passions are conquered by stronger passions; love is overcome by more abundant love. One repents not because one is virtuous, but because human nature can change, because what is impossible for man is possible for God. The motive for repentance is at all times humility, unself-sufficiency - not a means of justification for oneself, or of realizing some abstract idea of goodness, or of receiving a reward in some future life. Just as the strength of God is revealed in the extreme vulnerability of His Son on the Cross, so also the greatest strength of man is to embrace his weakness: "for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I render glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me" (2 Corinthians 12.9). To be flawed is the illogical, perhaps supernatural characteristic of humanity in which one en­counters God.

The Greek term for repentance, metanoia, denotes a change of mind, a reorientation, a fundamental transforma­tion of outlook, of man's vision of the world and of himself, and a new way of loving others and God. In the words of a second-century text, The Shepherd of Hermas, it implies "great understanding,"1 discernment. It involves, that is, not mere regret of past evil but a recognition by man of a dar­kened vision of his own condition, in which sin, by sepa­rating him from God, has reduced him to a divided, auto­nomous existence, depriving him of both his natural glory and freedom. "Repentance," says Basil the Great, "is salva­tion, but lack of understanding is the death of repentance." [2]

It is clear that what is at stake here is not particular acts of contrition, but an attitude, a state of mind. "For this life," states John Chrysostom, "is in truth wholly devoted to repen­tance, penthos and wailing. This is why it is necessary to re­pent, not merely for one or two days, but throughout one's whole life."[3]

Any division within oneself or distinction between the "time to repent" and the "rest of one's time" is, in the lan­guage of the Church, attributed to the demons. The role of these demons is extortionate, offensive - "diavallo," the root of the word "devil," means to tear asunder.[4] We cannot be deprived of true repentance or diverted from its path by the deception of demons. Yet the demons can work through virtue, working to produce a kind of spurious repentance. By nature we are destined to advance and ascend spiri­tually, but the demons divert the course by simulating ad­vance in the form of a fitful movement, a wobbling from side to side, like crabs. One can test the quality of repen­tance by ascertaining whether it is fleeting or fluttering. In­constancy and inconsistency are a danger signal; lastingness is auspicious. One is being tempted by the demons when one is caused "at times to laugh, and at other times to weep."[5]

The Two Dimensions of Repentence

Divine Initiative

Repentance is not a self-contained act: it is a passing over, a Pascha from death to life, a continual renewal of that life. It consists of a reversal of what has become the normal pat­tern of development, which is the movement from life to death. To experience this reversal in repentance is to have tasted of the glory and beauty of God; it is the mark of man's presence before God in the abundance of His mercy and of God's presence before man in the abyss of his weakness: "Set Your compassion over against our iniquities, and the abyss of Your lovingkindness against our transgression."[6] It is the awareness of God's beauty that makes one realize the chasm that separates one from His gratuitous grace. The ini­tiative belongs to God, but presupposes man's active accep­tance, which is a way of perpetually receiving God within the heart, of God being embodied within man, of divine in­carnation. Here God calls man, and man responds to God and in doing so gains salvation and life abundant: "sorrow working repentance to salvation not to be repented of" (2 Corinthians 7.10). In repentance it is man's total limita­tion and insufficiency that is placed before God, not sim­ply particular wrongdoings or transgressions.

The "dialectic" of beginning and end underlying repen­tance is important. Every manifestation of life has an escha­tological dimension, even while, paradoxically, repentance gives rise to restoration, to a return to man's original state. Everything tends towards and expects the "end," even while being a matter of the here and now. To repent is not merely to induce a restoration of lost innocence but to transcend the fallen condition.[7] Indeed the greater the fall, the deeper and more genuine the repentance and the more certain the resurrection. Man is "enriched" by his experience even if it has been crippling and tormenting. The Fathers appear to express greater love - almost a preference - for the more sinful person, inasmuch as thirst for God increases in proportion to the experience of one's debasement and abase­ment (Romans 5.20).

The word for "confess" in Greek (ἐξομολογοῦμαι, ὁμολογῶ) does not bear the contemporary meaning peculiar to it. When we say "confess" we imply that we accept, recognize or witness an event or fact. But this is not the original mean­ing. The point is not of admitting, more or less reluctantly, a hitherto "unrecognized" sin, but an acceptance of and sub­mission to the divine Logos (exomologesis) beyond and above the nature and condition of man.[8]  It is this Logos, the Word of God, that man seeks to regain, or rather to com­mune with. To confess is not so much to recognize and ex­pose a failure as to go forward and upward, to respond from within to the calling of God. Created in the image and likeness of God, man bears before himself and in himself that image and likeness. In repenting he does not so much look forward as reflects and reacts to what lies before and beyond him.

However, repentance is also a way of self-discovery: "Open to me the gate of repentance."[9] Metanoia is the gate­way to oneself, to one's fellowman, and to heaven. It leads inwards, but it also leads outwards by leading inwards. The world ceases to rotate round the self and begins to gravitate towards the other - the divine and the human other. Sin has the opposite effect. It blocks the way both inwards and outwards. To repent and to confess is to break out of this restriction, "to accept with joy," in Isaak the Syrian's words, "the humility and humiliation of nature," to transcend and to recover oneself. The world thereupon ceases to rotate around "me" and begins to gravitate towards the other, cen­tering on God. Then, everyone and everything no longer exist for myself but for the glory of God, in the joy of the Resurrection. One is then able to comprehend more clearly the positive dimension of even sin, suffering, death, the devil and hell. Then, one discovers the depth of love crucified, the presence of the Lord in our midst - even "when the doors are shut" (John 20.19,26). One is not, however, demanded to love God from the outset, but rather to know that "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son" (John 3.16). Nevertheless, the love of God is implicit in His very nature. God Himself is the Archetype of divine love. When John the Theologian says that "God is love" (1 John 4.8,16), love is seen as an established ontological category of both divinity and humanity in His likeness. In fact, the beauty and loving freedom of the human person is, in the words of Nicholas Berdiaev, God Himself. It is He, "the crea­tor of all ... who out of extreme erotic love moves outside Himself ... burning with great goodness and love and eros." It is He who is "the fullness of erotic love."[10] And it is this supreme love that moved God to create human nature in His image and likeness. "As Lover, He creates; and as Loved, He attracts all towards Him."[11] "As a mad Lover He desires His beloved human soul," says Saint Nilos.[12] "Herein is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us (1 John 4.10).

The response to this ineffable outpouring of love is none other than its acceptance. Repentance thereby acquires a different dimension to mere dwelling on human sinfulness, and becomes the realization of human insufficiency and limitation. Repentance then should not be accompanied by a paroxysm of guilt but by an awareness of one's estrange­ment from God and one's neighbor. Why, after all, does one not partake of Holy Communion after committing sin? Not for punishment, but surely because sin itself is a denial of communion. The paradox of God's love is that one is only saved again through communion. Although God is constantly being chased away by humanity, yet He returns day after day in the Liturgy;[13] in the words of the Psalmist, "the mercy of God runs after us all the days of our lives ... for His mercy endures forever" (Psalm 22.6, and 135). God is not only at the end of the journey of repentance but also at the beginning (Revelation 1.8), and Christ is the Way (John 14.6). One seeks, then, Him whom one already possesses; and the voyage is an unceasing arrival as well as a never ending departure. Man in all his sinfulness is loved by God if he can just keep moving towards God. When one does fall, if one only cries out with confidence, the fall is not into noth­ingness but into the arms of God stretched open once and for all on the Cross.

Human Response

"Penthos" is the conditioned sorrow of a repentant soul, adding sorrow upon sorrow each day, like a woman suffer­ing in childbirth."[14]

Repentance, as has been noted, is not a mere incident or stage through which one passes and then leaves behind; rather it is an attitude which colors one's whole life and for which, at the same time, one must struggle continually. It is a way of life, and as such a way of transfiguration, in which man's heart and mind continuously receive illumina­tion by the Holy Spirit. It is a continuous pathway, at least in this life, a perennial striving, an all-embracing motion and not merely an occasional emotion. Repentance is ultimately a gift of the Holy Spirit who transforms the heart of the human person, and not a fruit of individual effort or anguish.

Whether related to this continuity and endurance or to the depth of moral sensitivity involved, for the Fathers of the Church there is an intimate link between repentance and tears. There are other criteria,[15] but grief is para­mount, and its intensity is proportionate to the depth of repentance. "Truly you are blessed, Abba Arsenios, for you wept for yourself in this world! He who does not weep for himself here below will weep eternally hereafter; so it is impossible not to weep, either voluntarily or when com­pelled through suffering."[16] Gregory the Theologian be­lieved that everyone must weep. He even identified repen­tance with tears, whatever other ways of expressing it there may be: "All must shed tears, all must be purified, all must ascend."[17] Symeon the Theologian is even more definite: "Remove tears and with them you remove purification; and without purification no one is saved."[18]

The word penthos (mourning) has the same root as pathos (passion): both stem etymologically from the verb "to suf­fer." A Christian speaks of worthy suffering, of subsuming suffering in God, just as passion and mourning are subsumed in God. There is suffering in compunction (katanyxis = pricking), which also causes tears.' 'Joyful sorrow" trans­figures this suffering and pain through grace. Penthos con­sists in mourning for the loss of God's presence; it makes for sorrow at His absence and thirst for Him. "Passion or suf­fering for God gives rise to tears."[19] Man is in a state of be­reavement, and the Church Fathers and liturgical hymnology speak of Adam sitting opposite paradise in mourning over his bereavement and estrangement from God. The Makarian Homilies say that man must "weep his way back" to para­dise.[20] But tears - a concomitant and a culmination of re­pentance - are also a turning point in homecoming, a pledge of return, and a firstfruit of its joy. The longing for return from exile is also an anticipation of the glory to come. Tears demonstrate the frontier between the present and the future.

The tradition of the Christian East gives special promi­nence to the "gift of tears."[21] The tradition can be traced to the New Testament, through the Desert Fathers, to John Kli­makos, through to later times, with Symeon the New Theo­logian standing out as one of its most important witnesses. "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted" (Matthew 5.4). Tears are primarily "up to God," and only derivatively "up to us." There is a thirteenth-century French tale "Le chevalier au Barizel" according to which the knight was supposed to fill up a barrel with water; he travels all over the world to do this, but the water always passes through the barrel. Seeing that his efforts achieve nothing, he weeps, and one teardrop is sufficient to fill the barrel. Tears bespeak a promise, and they are also proof of hope fulfilled, of sins forgiven. But there is a time to weep and a time to rejoice, although the one flows into the other. There is a kairos, "a season and a time" (Ecclesiastes 3.1) for each divine gift, and this kairos is the time in which God acts, calling us to participate in His action. Tears are a way and a consequence of purification through repentance; the ulti­mate goal is transcending light and delight.

The Sacrament of Confession

A Christian, at any rate an Orthodox Christian, views re­pentance as a dynamic act of responsibility to God, but also to other men. It is not pining away in narcissistic self-reflection, even while implying self-knowledge and self-examination. Sin itself is a relational act - a break in the "I-Thou" relationship. It concerns my relationship with another person. When the prodigal son "came to himself" in the Gospel parable (Luke 15), he did so in relation to his father: "I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before You" (v. 18). We repent in the face of God; and we repent in communion with others, in the Church. Repentance in the early Church was in fact a solemn public act of reconciliation, through which a sinner was readmitted into church membership. Even in Buddhism, monks regularly confess their sins publicly before Buddha and the congregation; the phenomenology is the same as in the Church, even if the theology or ideology is different. Sin (and evil) divides, repentance conciliates, confession affirms the conciliation. Outside the community, outside the Church repentance would settle into guilty gloom, dulling the spirit or even driving to despair: metanoia turning into paranoia.

Confession, too, takes place within the Church. It is not a private procedure, a treatment of some guilt-ridden indi­vidual on an analyst's couch. It is not based on an admis­sion of guilt and certainly cannot be reduced to a feeling of guilt, of liability for conduct contrary to norms and laws which render a person subject to punishment. It is related to what is deepest in man, to what constitutes his being and his relation with other human beings as well as with God. It is a sacrament - "the visible form of an invisible grace" (Saint Augustine), re-establishing a bond of union between God and man, between man and man. This is why confes­sion also takes place within prayer because it is there that a personal relationship in all its intensity is realized both with God and the entire world. As such, confession and prayer are not merely technical terms but means and op­portunities offered by the Church for overcoming sin and death. Repentance is indeed the cause and consequence of prayer, being the highest and fullest foundation for and form of prayer. "True prayer," according to Saint Anthony, "is that in which one forgets that one is praying,"[22] and genuine re­pentance enables one to forget oneself and simply long for God, who is present in the very depth of repentance. For it is 'before Him alone that one sins" (Psalm 50.3-4) - this is the personal or relational aspect of both sin and repentance.

The supreme act of communion is the eucharist, the com­munal sharing of bread and wine, symbolizing sacrament­ally the reconciliation to come and the reconciliation already achieved in the here and now. Repentance and confession as sacrament seals man's change of direction from disruption to reconciliation. An examination of the early forms of con­fession shows that they are derived from community ser­vices and even liturgies. Origen explicitly stresses the signif­icance of the eucharist for the forgiveness of sins.[23] Later services for confession developed undoubtedly from com­munity rites closely related to the eucharistic celebration, or else to the monastic offices of matins or compline.[24] Since forgiveness of sins involves reconciliation in and through the eucharist, the eucharistic prayer contains peni­tential elements as immediate preparation for communion.

In early Christian times the exhortation of James served as a foundation for the sacrament of repentance: 'Therefore con­fess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed' (5.16). Confession was regarded as a form of re­pentance and regeneration (Matthew 3.6; Mark 1.5; Acts 19.18). The actual ritual aspect of repentance was a direct result of such apostolic testimony, at first in the form of confession be­fore the entire Church and, subsequently, before a spiritual fa­ther.[25]  Nevertheless, the earliest order of confession is of rela­tively late origin (tenth century, and is ascribed to John the Faster, Patriarch of Constantinople.[26] This text may well be the source of later Greek and Slavonic services of confession. The communal, sacramental aspect of confession was more apparent in the early Church when penance constituted a public act rather than an individual episode. It was only after the fourth century that private confession was more widely practiced. But even then penance did not have the legalistic and clericalistic character which it acquired later. In fact, very few Church Fathers refer even to absolution as a formal procedure, although such silence does not necessarily mean that absolution in some form or other did not exist. It is the reduction of sin to a punishable legal crime, an act of law­breaking inviting a penalty that is almost wholly absent in patristic literature.[27] "Have you committed a sin?," asks Saint John Chrysostom, "then enter the Church and repent of your sin ... For here is the Physician, not the judge; here one is not investigated but receives remission of sins."[28]

Unfortunately confession at times undermines and even replaces the genuine inner repentance of a Christian: peo­ple feel "entitled" to communion after confession. This con­tradicts the true nature of repentance. It is a result of the sacrament being narrowly and juridically reduced to "abso­lution." Scholarly theology tended to transpose the concept of sin, repentance and forgiveness into a forensic idiom, and placed the emphasis on the power of the priest to absolve. In the Orthodox Church, the priest is seen as a witness of repentance, not a recipient of secrets, a detective of speci­fic misdeeds. The "eye," the "ear" of the priest is dissolved in the sacramental mystery. He is not a dispenser, a power­wielding, vindicating agent, an "authority." Such a concep­tion exteriorizes the function of the confessor and of con­fession which is an act of re-integration of the penitent and priest alike into the Body of Christ. The declaration "I, an unworthy priest, by the power given unto me, absolve you" is unknown in the Eastern Orthodox Church. It is of later Latin origin and was adopted in some Russian liturgical books at the time of the domination of Russian Orthodox theology by Latin thought and practice .[29] The idea served to bring confession into disrepute, turning it into a procedure of justification and exculpation in respect of particular pun­ishable offenses. Forgiveness, absolution is the culmination of repentance, in response to sincerely felt compunction. It is not "administered" by the priest, or anybody else. It is a freely given grace of Christ and the Holy Spirit within the Church as the Body of Christ.

A word must be said about "general" confession, as dis­tinct from a face-to-face confession between penitent and priest. General confession, in certain circumstances, could be a living model of repentance as a communal act, involv­ing the whole body of the Church and as such manifesting the very essence of confession.[30] But it is not strictly a sub­stitute for personal confession, involving intimate self-exami­nation on the part of the penitent and possible guidance on the part of the confessor. Altogether, the function of the priest should not be ignored or minimized. "All who have experienced the blessing of having as their confessor one imbued with the grace of true spiritual fatherhood," writes Bishop Kallistos Ware, "will testify to the importance of the priest's role. Nor is his function simply to give advice. There is nothing automatic about the absolution which he pro­nounces. He can bind as well as loose. He can withhold ab­solution - although this is very rare - or he can impose a penance (epitimion), forbidding the penitent to receive Com­munion for a time or requiring the fulfilment of some task. This, again, is not very common in contemporary Orthodox practice, but it is important to remember that the priest pos­sesses this right ... Not that the penitence should be re­garded as punishment; still less should it be viewed as a way of expiating an offense ... We do not acquire 'merit' by fulfill­ing a penance, for in his relation to God man can never claim any merit of his own. Here, as always, we should think primarily in therapeutic rather than juridical terms."[31]

The most significant effect of confession is indeed due neither to the penitent nor to the priest, but to God who heals our infirmities and wounds. It is not a matter of a let­off, a clearance; it has the force of healing, of making the penitent whole. As such it is a gift from God which man must be open to receive, and learn to receive: "Let us apply to ourselves the saving medicine of repentance; let us ac­cept from God the repentance that heals us. For it is not we who offer it to Him, but He who bestows it upon us." [32]  It is significant that the Greek for confession, exomologesis, im­plies not only confession but also thanksgiving (cf. Matthew 11.25; Luke 10.21): "I shall confess/give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, and tell of all His wonders" (Psalm 9.1).

Reference has already been made to the cloud of guilt which at times shrouds the sacrament of confession. It is by no means a theoretical question, for guilt is part of the tragedy experienced by many people, whether in their per­sonal lives or in the face of the appalling sufferings and misery - mental, physical, social - which afflict the world at large today and for which we all share the responsibility and the guilt. But in the specific context of repentance and confession, guilt is a highly misleading concept, largely fostered by Western thinking.[33] It originates in a hyper­trophied individualistic, self-regarding view of sin and sal­vation, and indeed of repentance with its attendant legalis­tically oriented penitential system. Orthodoxy always re­sisted legalism, whether in repentance or in confession, eschewing both undue confidence in man's achievement or merit and the overwhelming sense of guilt, which is the negative aspect of being centered on oneself and seeking for some means to propitiate God's wrath. By contrast with this God is seen to declare His love for men at their most unac­ceptable. It is God's identification with man and His loving acceptance of the worst that men can do that makes repen­tance and confession a way of rediscovering God and one­self, and thereby of being set on the road to full and loving relationship with God and with other men. There is no men­tion in Scripture of the word "guilt" (ἐνοχή), although there is the adjective "guilty" (ἔνοχος). Instead of "guilt" there is "sin" (ἁμαρτία) - failure, loss, a break-up in relations, result­ing in a kind of false consciousness. Even "ἐνέχομαι" implies keeping fast within, cherishing, sharing, as distinct from be­ing ashamed in the face of God who inflicts retributive punishment.

Break in communication or communion can lead to path­ological forms of guilt. But there is guilt born of a sense of responsibility for others as well as for oneself, leading one to an awareness of other people. The Christian view of man is largely a social one. Where there is a breakdown in per­sonal love, or a rise in institutionalism, one finds a thicken­ing of the atmosphere of guilt. Its antidote is collective con­fession, communal prayer to "our Father." A saint might con­fess daily without fear of neurosis, because he is in constant communion with God and man. Acknowledgment of one's limitations leads to personal communion with God who alone can erase sin: "I acknowledged my sin to You, and I did not hide my iniquity.... Then You did forgive the iniquity of my sin" (Psalm 32.5).

Through the forgiveness of sins in confession, the past is no longer an intolerable burden but rather an encourage­ment for what lies ahead. Life acquires an attitude of expec­tation, not of despondency; and confession becomes the way out of the impasse caused by sin. In this respect, repentance is also an eschatological act, realizing in our very midst, here and now, the promises of the age to come. Looking back­wards would seem to imply the fate of Lot's wife (Genesis 19.26); 'No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9.62). God Him­self is revealed before us and walks in front of us. "One thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead" (Philippians 3.13).

Notes

1 Mandatum, IV, ii, 2.

2 De Perfectione spirituali 4 PG 31:636B.

3 De Compunctione I, i PG 4,7:395 and I, ix :408.

4 Abba Isaias, Logos 29,4.

5 John Klimakos, Ladder 26:iii, 30 PG 88:1088C.

6 First prayer of Kneeling Vespers at Pentecost.

7 Cf. John Klimakos Ladder 4:125 PG 88:725D and 5:19 PG 88:780B.

8 Cf. Archbishop Stylianos Harkianakis, 'Repentance and Con­fession' (in Greek: Ahropolis Newspaper, Athens 10-4-80), p.6.

9 Hymn of Great Lent.

10 Dionysios, De Div. Nom. 4, 2 PG 3:712AB and Maximus, Comm. in Div. Nom. 4, 17 PG 4:269CD.

11 Maximus, ibid. and De Amb. PG 91:1260.

12 PG 79:464.

13 De Charitate 3, 2 in Philocalia, vol. 2.

14 John Klimakos, Ladder 7:60 PG 88:813D.

15 Cf.John Klimakos Ladder, 7:25 and 48 PG 88:805C and 809D.

16 Apophth. Arsenios 41 PG 65:105CD.

17 Oration 19,7 PG 35:1049D-1052A.

18 Catechesis 29.

19 Theodoret of Kyrrhos, Philotheos Historia XXX, Domnina 2 PG 87:1493AB.

20 15, 17. Cf. Kontakion and Oikos of Cheesefare Sunday in Trio­dion Katanyktikon (Rome 1879, p. 105. Cf. also the prose-poem by Staretz Silouan in Archim. Sophrony, Wisdom from Mt Athos (London 1974), pp. 47-55.

21 The doctrine regarding the 'gift of tears' is by no means unknown in the West, but it seems to have been accorded a higher place in the East, probably on account of the greater emphasis on the heart as a vessel of the Holy Spirit.

22 In Cassian, Conferences 9, 31. Cf. also Evagrios, De Oratione 120 PG 79:1193B.

23 De Oratione 28 PG 11:528-29.

24 Cf. F. Nikolasch, 'The Sacrament of Penance: Learning from the East,' in Concilium 1, 7 (1971), 65-75.

25 Apostolic Constitutions 8, 8-9; Gregory of Neocaesarea, CanonXII. For confession before a spiritual father, cf. Socrates, Ec­clesiastical History 5, 19 and 7, 16; John Chrysostom, Sermon 4 on Lazarus PG 48:1012.

26 For a detailed description of this order, see N. Uspensky, Evening Worship in the Orthodox Church (S.V.S.: New York 1985), p. 227f.

27 Cf. J. Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology: Historical and Doctrinal Themes (London 1974), pp. 195ff.

28 De Poenitentia 3, 1 PG 49:292.

29 Cf. A. Schmemann, Confession and Communion: A Report (New York 1972), pp. 13-16.

30 St Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain (d. 1809) underlines the fact that it is God, not the priest, who forgives: Cf. Exomologetarion (9th ed. Venice 1885), pp. 77-78.

31Bishop Kallistos Ware,. 'The Orthodox Experience of Repen­tance,' in Sobornost/Eastern Churches Review 2:1 (1980), 24-25.

32 John Chrysostom, De Poenitentia 7, 3 PG 49:327.

33 Timothy Ware, Eustratios Argenti: A Study of the Greek Church under Turkish Rule (Oxford, 1964), p. 20 ff.

The Orthodox Church proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In the Greek language, the word for Gospel is Evangelion which means literally "the good news." The good news of Orthodox Christianity is a proclamation of God's unbounded and sacrificial love for man kind, as well as the revelation of the true destiny of the human person. Reflecting on the joyous message of the Gospel, Saint Gregory of Nyssa wrote in the fourth century: The good news is that man is no longer an outcast nor expelled from God's Kingdom; but that he is again a son, again God's subject.

Orthodoxy believes that the supreme treasure which God wishes to share with us is His own life. Our faith begins with the affirmation that God has acted in history to permit us to participate in His love and His goodness, to be citizens of His Kingdom. This conviction is expressed so beautifully in the prayer of the Liturgy which says: "You have not ceased to do all things until You brought us to heaven and granted us the Kingdom to come."

The initiation of love of God the Father is perfectly expressed and embodied in the Person and Ministry of Jesus Christ. The whole purpose of the Incarnation of the Son of God was to restore humanity to fellowship with God. The great teachers and Fathers of the Orthodox Church constantly reaffirmed this conviction by proclaiming that God had become what we are in order that we could become what He is.

Christ is exalted as our Light and our Life. In His Person there is a unity of humanity and divinity which each of us is called to share. In His way of life. there is the model of authentic human life which we are invited to follow. In His victorious Resurrection, there is liberation for us from all powers which can keep us from the Kingdom. Through Christ, then, God the Father has repossessed us and has called us to be His sons and daughters.

Theosis

The fundamental vocation and goal of each and every person is to share in the life of God. We have been created by God to live in fellowship with Him. The descent of God in the Person of Jesus Christ has made possible the human ascent to the Father through the work of the Holy Spirit. Orthodoxy believes that each Christian is involved in a movement toward God which is known as theosis or deification.

Theosis describes the spiritual pilgrimage in which each person becomes ever more perfect, ever more holy, ever more united with God. It is not a static relationship, nor does it take place only after death. On the contrary, theosis is a movement of love toward God which begins for each Christian with the rites of Baptism and which continues throughout this life, as well as the life which is to come. Salvation means liberation from sin, death, and evil. Redemption means our repossession by God. In Orthodoxy, both salvation and redemption are within the context of theosis. This rich vision of Christian life was expressed well by Saint Peter when he wrote in the early pages of his second Epistle that we are called "to become partakers of the Divine nature." It was also affirmed by Saint Basil the Great when he described man as the creature who has received the order to become a god.

These are certainly bold affirmations which must be properly understood. The Orthodox Church understands theosis as a union with the energies of God and not with the essence of God which always remains hidden and unknown. However, the experience of the Church testifies that this is a true union with God. It is also one which is not pantheistic, because in this union the divine and the human retain their unique characteristics. In this sense, Orthodoxy believes that human life reaches its fulfillment only when it becomes divine.

The Holy Spirit

The ever-deepening union of each Christian with God is not a magical or automatic process. While Christ has destroyed the powers of sin, death, and evil once and for all, this victory must be appropriated by each person in cooperation with the Holy Spirit. Each person is called to join with the lifegiving and liberating Spirit" in realizing the fulness of human life in communion with the Father. The Holy Spirit is the agent of deification whose task it is to incorporate us into the life of the Holy Trinity. However, the Spirit always recognizes our human freedom and invites our active cooperation in perfecting the "image and likeness of God" with which each of us is created.

Our participation in the life of the Holy Trinity, which we know as theosis, takes place within the Church. For the Orthodox, the Church is the meeting place between God and His people. The Holy Spirit and the Church are organically linked. In the second century, Saint Irenaeus reminded us of this by saying: "Where the Church is there is the Spirit, and where the Spirit is there is the Church." The Holy Spirit moves through the life of the Church to reveal our common humanity in Christ and to unite us with the Father. We acquire the Holy Spirit through our celebration of the Eucharist and the reception of Holy Communion, through our participation in the Sacraments, through our discipline of daily prayer, and through the practice of fasting, all of which result in a Christ-like life.

The Holy Spirit, Who is honored as the Lord and Giver of life, is manifest in the life of the Church in order to bring our lives to perfection, and to make us responsible and loving human beings. The fruit of Worship is the gifts of the Spirit. In his letter to the Galatians, Saint Paul identified these as: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness, and self-control." Certainly, these are the virtues of a Christ-like life. They testify to the fact that the love of God and the love of neighbor are inseparable.

The Individual and the Church

The reality of theosis not only bears witness to the love of God who wishes to share Him self with us but also expresses a very positive view of the human person. Orthodoxy believes that each person has an intrinsic value and importance in virtue of his or her unique relationship to God. The human person is never seen as being totally depraved. The "image of God" which can be distorted by sin, can never be eradicated. Through the life of the Church, there is always the opportunity for fulfillment. When the Sacraments are administered, they are always offered to the individual by name. This action not only reminds us of the dignity of each person but also emphasizes the responsibility each person has for his or her relationship to God.

While Orthodoxy recognizes the value of the person, it does not believe that we are meant to be isolated or self-sufficient. Each person is called to be an important member of the Church. Orthodoxy believes that one cannot be a Christian without being a part of the Church. The process of theosis takes place with the context of a believing community.

To be united with God within the midst of the Church does not mean that our unique personalities are destroyed. We are not engulfed by an impersonal force or power. As with all love which is true and valuable, God's love for each of us respects our personhood. His love is not one which destroys. God's love is one which reveals, elevates, and perfects our true selves. By entering into the life of God, we become the persons we are meant to be.


Treasures Of Orthodoxy is a series of pamphlets written for the non-Orthodox, especially those who are considering becoming members of the Orthodox Church and who wish to deepen their appreciation of her faith, worship, and traditions. The pamphlets are authored by Fr. Thomas Fitzgerald, a faculty member of Hellenic College-Holy Cross School of Theology. The pamphlet titles are as follows:

  1. Introduction - Introduces the non-Orthodox to Orthodox Christianity.
  2. House of God - Describes the interior of the church building.
  3. Worship - Discusses the form and characteristics of Orthodox worship.
  4. Liturgy - Describes the meaning and celebration of the Eucharist.
  5. Sacraments - Describes the meaning and importance of liturgical life.
  6. Special Services and Blessings - Describes the non-sacramental services which contribute to spiritual life.
  7. Teachings - Outlines the salient points of doctrine and basic credal affirmations.
  8. Spirituality - Discusses the meaning of theosis as the goal of Christian life.
  9. History - Sketches the great epochs of Orthodoxy.
  10. The Church - Outlines the procedure for becoming a member of the Orthodox Church.

The Orthodox Church throughout the ages has maintained a continuity of faith and love with the apostolic community which was founded by Christ and sustained by the Holy Spirit. Orthodoxy believes that she has preserved and taught the historic Christian Faith, free from error and distortion, from the time of the Apostles. She also believes that there is nothing in the body of her teachings which is contrary to truth or which inhibits real union with God. The air of antiquity and timelessness which often characterizes Eastern Christianity is an expression of her desire to remain loyal to the authentic Christian Faith.

Orthodoxy believes that the Christian Faith and the Church are inseparable. It is impossible to know Christ, to share in the life of the Holy Trinity, or to be considered a Christian, apart from the Church. It is in the Church that the Christian Faith is proclaimed and maintained. It is through the Church that an individual is nurtured in the Faith.

Revelation

God is the source of faith in the Orthodox Church. Orthodoxy believes that God has revealed Himself to us, most especially in the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom we know as the Son of God. This Revelation of God, His love, and His purpose, is constantly made manifest and contemporary in the life of the Church by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Orthodox Faith does not begin with mankind's religious speculations, nor with the so-called "proofs" for the existence of God, nor with a human quest for the Divine. The origin of the Orthodox Christian Faith is the Self-disclosure of God. Each day, the Church's Morning Prayer affirms and reminds us of this by declaring, "God is the Lord and He has revealed Himself to us.” While the inner Being of God always remains unknown and unapproachable, God has manifested Himself to us; and the Church has experienced Him as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity, which is central to the Orthodox Faith, is not a result of pious speculation, but of the overwhelming experience of God. The doctrine affirms that there is only One God, in whom there are three distinct Persons. In other words, when we encounter the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit, we are truly experiencing contact with God. While the Holy Trinity is a mystery which can never be fully comprehended, Orthodoxy believes that we can truly participate in the Trinity through the life of the Church, especially through our celebration of the Eucharist and the Sacraments, as well as the non-sacramental services.

Incarnation of Jesus Christ

Together with the belief in the Holy Trinity, the doctrine of the Incarnation occupies a central position in the teaching of the Orthodox Church. According to Orthodox Faith, Jesus is much more than a pious man or a profound teacher of morality. He is the "Son of God who became the Son of Man.” The doctrine of the Incarnation is an expression of the Church's experience of Christ. In Him, divinity is united with humanity without the destruction of either reality. Jesus Christ is truly God who shares in the same reality as the Father and the Spirit. Moreover, He is truly man who shares with us all that is human. The Church believes that, as the unique God-man, Jesus Christ has restored humanity to fellowship with God.

By manifesting the Holy Trinity, by teaching the meaning of authentic human life, and by conquering the powers of sin and death through His Resurrection, Christ is the supreme expression of the love of God the Father, for His people, made present in every age and in every place by the Holy Spirit through the life of the Church. The great Fathers of the Church summarized the ministry of Christ in the bold affirmation, "God became what we are so that we may become what He is.”

Scriptures

The Holy Scriptures are highly regarded by the Orthodox Church. Their importance is expressed in the fact that a portion of the Bible is read at every service of Worship. The Orthodox Church, which sees itself as the guardian and interpreter of the Scriptures, believes that the books of the Bible are a valuable witness to God's revelation. The Old Testament is a collection of forty-nine books of various literary styles which expresses God's revelation to the ancient Israelites. The Orthodox Church regards the Old Testament as a preparation for the coming of Christ and believes that it should be read in light of His revelation.

The New Testament is centered upon the person and work of Jesus Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the early Church. The four Gospels are an account of Christ's life and teaching, centering upon His Death and Resurrection. The twenty-one epistles and the Acts of the Apostles are devoted to the Christian life and the development of the early Church. The Book of Revelation is a very symbolic text which looks to the return of Christ. The New Testament, especially the Gospels, is very important to Orthodoxy because here is found a written witness to the perfect revelation of God in the Incarnation of the Son of God, in the person of Jesus Christ.

Tradition

While the Bible is treasured as a valuable written record of God's revelation, it does not contain wholly that revelation. The Bible is viewed as only one expression of God's revelation in the ongoing life of His people. Scripture is part of the treasure of Faith which is known as Tradition. Tradition means that which is "handed on" from one generation to another. In addition to the witness of Faith in the Scripture, the Orthodox Christian Faith is celebrated in the Eucharist; taught by the Fathers; glorified by the Saints; expressed in prayers, hymns, and icons; defended by the seven Ecumenical Councils; embodied in the Nicene Creed; manifested in social concern; and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, it is lived in every local Orthodox parish. The life of the Holy Trinity is manifested in every aspect of the Church's life. Finally, the Church, as a whole, is the guardian of the authentic Christian Faith which bears witness to that Revelation.

Councils and Creed

As Orthodoxy has avoided any tendency to restrict the vision of God's revelation to only one avenue of its life, the Church has also avoided the systematic or extensive definition of its Faith. Orthodoxy affirms that the Christian Faith expresses and points to the gracious and mysterious relationship between God and humanity. God became man in the person of Jesus Christ, not to institute a new philosophy or code of conduct, but primarily to bestow upon us "new life" in the Holy Trinity. This reality, which is manifest in the Church, cannot be wholly captured in language, formulas, or definitions. The content of the Faith is not opposed to reason, but is often beyond the bounds of reason, as are many of the important realities of life. Orthodoxy recognizes the supreme majesty of God, as well as the limitations of the human mind. The Church is content to accept the element of mystery in its approach to God.

Only when the fundamental truths of the Faith are seriously threatened by false teachings does the Church act to define dogmatically an article of faith. For this reason, the decisions of the seven Ecumenical Councils of the ancient undivided Church are highly respected. The Councils were synods to which bishops from throughout the Christian world gathered to determine the true faith. The Ecumenical Councils did not create new doctrines but proclaimed, in a particular place and a particular time, what the Church has always believed and taught.

The Nicene Creed, which was formulated at the Councils of Nicaea in 325 and of Constantinople in 381, has been recognized since then as the authoritative expression of the fundamental beliefs of the Orthodox Church. The Creed is often referred to as the "Symbol of Faith." This description indicates that the Creed is not an analytical statement, but that it points to a reality greater than itself and to which it bears witness. For generations, the Creed has been the criterion of authentic Faith and the basis of Christian education. The Creed is recited at the time of Baptism and during every Divine Liturgy.

The Creed

"I believe in One God, Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible.

And in One Lord, Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages.

Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten, not created, of one essence with the Father, through whom all things were made.

For us and for our salvation, He came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became Man.

He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and He suffered and was buried.

On the third day He rose according to the Scriptures.

He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead. His kingdom will have no end.

And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father, who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified, who spoke through the prophets.

In one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

I acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

I expect the resurrection of the dead; and the life of the age to come.

Amen."


Treasures Of Orthodoxy is a series of pamphlets written for the non-Orthodox, especially those who are considering becoming members of the Orthodox Church and who wish to deepen their appreciation of her faith, worship, and traditions. The pamphlets are authored by Fr. Thomas Fitzgerald, a faculty member of Hellenic College-Holy Cross School of Theology. The pamphlet titles are as follows:

  1. Introduction - Introduces the non-Orthodox to Orthodox Christianity.
  2. House of God - Describes the interior of the church building.
  3. Worship - Discusses the form and characteristics of Orthodox worship.
  4. Liturgy - Describes the meaning and celebration of the Eucharist.
  5. Sacraments - Describes the meaning and importance of liturgical life.
  6. Special Services and Blessings - Describes the non-sacramental services which contribute to spiritual life.
  7. Teachings - Outlines the salient points of doctrine and basic credal affirmations.
  8. Spirituality - Discusses the meaning of theosis as the goal of Christian life.
  9. History - Sketches the great epochs of Orthodoxy.
  10. The Church - Outlines the procedure for becoming a member of the Orthodox Church.

Man's Desire for Spiritual Uplifting

Man was created in a miraculous and unique manner. He was created in the "image" and "likeness" of God. Man was endowed with the power to progress in a free way, and to develop his personality in the countenance of God Himself. Originally God created and placed man in Paradise, where he was expected either to use his freedom rightly or to lose this privilege and corrupt his own nature. Man fell from the blissful state into a needy and sinful life where his nature, corrupted as it was, bequeathed this condition to subsequent generations. This is why man today still feels the burden of conscience which penetrates his being as a curse. This condition of man's nature, for centuries caused the human cry for a Liberator to regain for him the destiny intended for him at his creation God Almighty foresaw the whole picture of human struggle on the one hand and the nostalgia for happiness on the other. The need for a spiritual life, a life which was given to man at the beginning, was constantly anticipated from the Liberator. When the time came, man's longing was fulfilled in the coming of the Person of Jesus Christ on earth. He was the Messiah Whom rulers and prophets had long predicted. The prophecies predicted the coming of the Messiah through Whom and by Whom man would be saved. This prophecy came true in the Person of Christ. Although Christ preached three years in a small country under foreign political rule, where most of the rulers rejected Him, His Message was rooted in the hearts and activities of His Apostles, disciples and other followers.

The Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles

For centuries, from the beginning of the Christian Church just fifty days after the Resurrection of Christ, the Holy Spirit has continuously inspired the faithful members and granted them the spiritual prerequisites for salvation. The fiftieth day after the Resurrection of Christ, the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit made His official entrance into the Church. This took place:

"When the day of Pentecost had come, they (the Apostles) were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance," (Acts 2:1-4).

This miraculous event changed the attitude of the, Apostles and others, who because of fear of arrest and punishment by the Jews were together in the "upper room".

This attitude of fear and doubt was reversed, turning into courage and the bold faith to preach to all peoples. These Apostles and their disciples immediately became heralders and preachers of the Gospel of Christ. Despite their belief that the Lord had risen from the dead and appeared to them, showing them the wounds of His hands, walking with the two to Emmaous and speaking to them often, the Apostles were fearful and unable to face the people and begin their commission themselves. From the day of the arrest of Christ, the Apostles showed great weakness. They not only were unable, to fight against the false accusations and slanders, but some also scattered and went into hiding. Even Peter, the pillar of the Apostles, denied under oath that he even knew Christ.

Such was the condition of the Apostles and other disciples of Christ up to the day of Pentecost and the descent of the Holy Spirit. All these weaknesses were foretold by Christ, especially on the day before His arrest. But what an abrupt change came over the Apostles and disciples on this day of Pentecost. Fear and doubt turned to courage and strong faith. They recalled all that Christ had taught them; their conviction became deep and abiding. Their intention, spiritual power and attitude toward the killers of Christ was the, substance of their steadfast preaching. How did the Apostles receive so abruptly this changing power? How did the Apostles receive strength and durability? This changing power came from the Holy Spirit. He recalled to their minds the inexhaustible, eternal source of the Wisdom of the Christian Message. This changing Power came upon the Apostles and disciples on the day of Pentecost with the descent of the Holy Spirit. It engulfed them "like the rush of amighty wind ... And there appeared to them tongues as of fire ... distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit" (vs. 2, 3, 4). This changing Power transformed them into great heralders and preachers of the Word of God. The Apostles emerged boldly, from their hiding place into the open to preach, teach and heal everyone in the name of Christ, "and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance" (v 4).

The Beginning of the Church

On this very same day of Pentecost, when many peoples from all nations had gathered to celebrate the feast in Jerusalem, the Apostles began their divine commission, which was destined to change the world. The multitude of people had heard this "sound" and:

"They were bewildered, because each one heard them (the Apostles) speaking in his own language. And they were amazed and wondered saying, 'Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? How is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language" (vs. 6-8). "All were amazed and perplexed saying to one another, 'What does this mean?' " (v. 12).

It is very clear that the people recognized to their bewilderment the various languages being spoken and understood. Each one realized that he understood what was being said "in his own native language" (v. 8). The astonishing fact is that either the Apostles spoke in various languages of the people gathered there, or they used one language which miraculously was transmitted to the people in their "own native language". The Apostles received this Power when "they were all filled with the Holy Spirit," (v. 4). Regardless of how the words of the Apostles were transmitted to the people, the miracle lies in the power of the Holy Spirit transforming the Apostles themselves from fear and doubt to the courage to go out openly to preach faith in Christ.

Apostle Peter "lifted up his voice" and addressed the multitudes. He spoke about the prophecy of Prophet Joel concerning the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:17-21), and reminded them of the miracles, wonders, and signs performed by Christ, being Crucified and Resurrected according "to the plan and foreknowledge of God" (v. 23). The people, upon hearing this from Peter, asked him and the other Apostles: "Brethren, what shall we do? And Peter said to them, 'Repent, and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit'" (vs. 37, 38). The words of Peter so moved the people that "those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls" (v. 41). "And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved" (v. 47). The Apostles were also given the power to heal the afflicted. Apostles Peter and John, while on their way to the temple, came upon a lame beggar. Peter said to him:

"I have no silver and gold, but I give you what I have; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk'. And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up he stood and walked and entered the temple with them, walking, and leaping and praising God", (Acts 3:6-8).

This movement of the Apostles established the Church of Christ on this day of Pentecost, which is regarded as the birthday of the Christian Church. The Apostles became missionaries in their own land and abroad. The power of preaching and sanctifying was shared by other preachers and deacons, especially by Apostle Paul. The Grace of the Holy Spirit was very obvious in gaining new leaders and adherents to this new movement. This Grace was the only armor that the Apostles and their disciples had when they came out of hiding to convert the multitudes to the Christian Faith. They were without weapons, fame, money or prestige, being persecuted by their own people as well as by peoples of other lands. The Holy Spirit continuously gave them energy and strength, His Grace, as divine instrument to gain victory in the name of God. This struggle during the first three centuries established the Church, whose solid foundation was laid in the blood of the Apostles, disciples and the people themselves. It was the Holy Spirit Whom the Father and the Son had sent to protect the Church and guide man's salvation.


God the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Holy Trinity, of the same essence and equal rank as the Father and the Son.

"And the Spirit is the witness, because the Spirit is the truth. There are three witnesses, the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree", (1 John 5:7-8).

The Holy Spirit as God, is revealed in many verses in Scripture, "Why has Satan filled your hearts to lie to the Holy Spirit ... you have not lied to men, but to God" Acts 5:3,4b; also, "There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit ... the same Lord ... it is the same God", 1 Corinthians 12:5f (cf. Mtt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:13f). The Godhead of the Holy Spirit comes directly from the Father. As the Son is begotten by the Father, the Holy Spirit also is proceeded from the Father, for:

"When the Counselor [the Holy Spirit] comes, whom I [Christ] shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me", (John 15:26).

The Church has proclaimed this truth, that the Holy Spirit is of the same substance with the Father and the Son in the Godhead of the Trinity. The Church has incorporated this truth in the Nicene Creed as pronounced by the Second Ecumenical Synod (381). It states:

[I believe] "And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, Who proceedeth from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; Who spoke by the prophets."

The Holy Spirit in truth remains in the Church, protects and preserves its Truths and sanctifies its members. The Holy Spirit is the Power and Comforter of the believers, and was promised by Christ. Being the third Person of the Holy Trinity does not mean He is not equal in substance with the Father and Son. The Spirit is the life-giving energy and bower which makes the Church "the pillar and ground of the truth", 1 Timothy 3:15. The Holy Spirit was the divine instrument in the birth of Jesus Christ as God-Man.

"The Holy Spirit will come upon you (Virgin Mary), and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the child to be born will be called Holy, the Son of God", (Luke 1:35).

The Holy Spirit is the Author of the Bible and the Source of inspiration for its writers through those years. This is why the Bible, although it was written by different persons and in different eras over the span of 1000 years, is coherent and consistent in substance and meaning. This is a remarkable and overwhelming fact. There is no other literature in the world which has this outstanding coherence, while written over such a period of time and by different writers. What was prophesied in the Old Testament, dating back hundreds of years, was fulfilled in time, and in detail, in the New Testament. This is an extraordinary phenomenon. This coherence of the Old with the New was an evolutionary process in the course of time between the divine promise and its realization. This was not because of any change of the Truth as such, but because of its development for human acceptance, for:

"... when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son ... God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts" (Galatians 4:4,6).

The Holy Spirit throughout the centuries revealed the divine Truths and inspired chosen Prophets and Apostles to spread and proclaim them to all peoples of the inhabited earth. It was in the Design of Almighty God that chosen personalities were indispensable in teaching and preaching these Truths to "all nations". These chosen personalities did not proclaim their own ideas or philosophies, but only used their own abilities, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to serve the Will of God. These chosen personalities proved themselves outstanding co-workers of God. The Prophets, Apostles and any chosen personalities considered themselves instruments of the Holy Spirit, and they spoke with authority, as Christ said to the Apostles: "Receive the Holy Spirit", John 20:22. The "gift" of the Holy Spirit is not a static one, but a transforming and sanctifying power leading the chosen one to accomplish the Will of God. Chosen personalities are exhorted to:

"Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you guardians, to feed the church of the Lord", (Acts 20:28).

This "gift" of the Holy Spirit is given to both the clergy and laity who belong to the true Church.

The Gifts of the Holy Spirit

The Christian should be informed of the various gifts given him by God. Gifts are given only to those who believe in the true faith, and not to those who have gone astray by interpreting on their own or to those who believe in superstitions. There is no neutrality in matters of belief; either one believes in the "True God" or in his own man-made gods, such as astrology, fortune telling, witchcraft, greediness, etc., all as objects of worship (cf. John 17:3). The difference between the belief in the True God and in others is the acceptance of the gift of the Holy Spirit. For "No one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit", 1 Cor. 12:3. The acceptance of Christ as the Savior through confession in Christ as the True God, is the highest gift given to the believer by the Holy Spirit. If one does not wish to accept this gift, he does not allow himself to understand the reality of the True God as opposed to his own ideas. This acceptance is his own choice through his own free will. This is why one is responsible for his own fate. As a result, those who believe in superstitions are enslaved in thoughts and feelings by their choice. Their preoccupation with superstitions, astrology, etc. does not permit them to accept the True God. This is true slavery of the mind. If one opens his mind and heart to accept the gift of the Holy Spirit in the belief in the True God, he will realize a great difference in himself, having peace of mind and harmony of living which bring about a living faith.

"There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit", (1 Cor. 12:4). It is the Holy Spirit from Whom every gift is given with certain abilities and understanding. The faithful one is called to undertake the responsibility of gifts or charismata which are bestowed on him:

"And there are varieties of service, but the same Lord, and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in everyone" (vs. 4-6).

In addition to the "varieties of gifts" of faith, there are the "varieties of service" by which the faithful one serves his fellow man with love and almsgiving. The one who receives the gifts of "service" considers himself a steward of the Lord. He devotes all his abilities with love in the service of God's commandments. The "varieties" of "service" in everyday life include: medicine, hospital care, nursing, social work, care for the elderly, teaching, missionary work, honest government and in general all services which deal in helping others when done in the name of the "same Lord". The "varieties of working" are the results of the energies and the actions of the "varieties of service". They are the wonderful results which come either in the everyday life of the people or in the spiritual world, when done in the name of the "same God". The varieties of gifts of service and of working, "...are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions toeach one individually as he wills" (v. 11).

"To each (person) is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good" (v. 17). Each person is given the energy, charisma and grace to work for the common interest of the people. The successful achievements of this "service" and "working" should be attributed to one and the same power - the Holy Spirit - Who bestows them. These "varieties", although separate, contribute to the same goal - the helping one another - and depend upon the same authority, the Holy Spirit, the Lord and the God. These are not varieties for destruction, but energies of unification in the service of the Will of God. They are fruits coming from the same root - the inspiration of God Himself.

The "varieties of gifts" are many:

"To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophesy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills" (vs. 8-11).

The gift of the "utterance of wisdom" means the deeper understanding of the Will of God and mysteries of salvation; the "utterance of knowledge" means the good sense of knowledge; "faith" means the supernatural achievements through the Spirit; "healing" means the ability to heal various sicknesses; "working of miracles" means supernatural achievements; "prophesy" means the miracle in the form of preaching; "ability to distinguish between spirits" means being able to distinguish between good and evil spirits by which various spiritual expressions exist; "various kinds of tongues" means the gift of speaking in many dialects of which the meaning is known only to him who speaks them, not even an interpreter; "interpretation of tongues" means the ability to interpret the language of the speaker of "tongues" to the people who do not understand what is being said.

Speaking in and Interpretation of Tongues

The gift of the "interpretation of tongues" was needed because the "speaker of tongues", the glossolalist, was not understood by the people. "Glossolalia" is the original Greek word meaning "tongue" (glossa) and "talking" (lalia); it implies the faculty of speaking with tongues (languages). This Greek word "glossolalia" as a term came into use during the 19th century, although in the New Testament era "speaking in tongues" was a common phenomenon. This practice of speaking in languages and dialects is recorded in two places in the New Testament, Acts chapter 2 and 1 Corinthians chapter 14. Glossolalia in these two passages meant utterances expressed by individuals to God in exotic manner, but in human speech. When a language was unknown to the people, an interpreter was used. However, many who used this glossolalia spoke in unfamiliar tongues, and those who heard did not understand or benefit from what was said.

Apostle Paul speaks to the Corinthians concerning the "speaking in tongues". He said: "One who speaks in a tongue (foreign language or dialect) speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit", 1 Cor. 14:2. Paul compares the utterances of the speaker of tongues with prophesy (preaching) and he supports the validity of prophesy because: "He who prophesies speaks to men for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation" (v. 3). Paul stresses the point that the learning of the teachings of Christianity is first and foremost for the believer; this is the primary mission of the Church. Therefore, those who speak in foreign languages which are unknown to the people are not serving the church but themselves. Paul says: "He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies (preaches) edifies the church" (v. 4). Paul makes the comparison between speaking in tongues and preaching: "He who prophesies is greater than he who speaks in tongues" (v. 5). It is clear here by Paul's explanation that speaking in tongues without an interpreter has no value for the people - the Church. Paul emphasizes this point by saying:

"If I come to you speaking in tongues, how shall I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophesy or teaching?" (v. 6).

Apostle Paul concludes his admonition:

"If with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will any one know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air.... But if I do not know the meaning of the languages, I shall be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me", (vs. 9, 11).

As it is with teaching it is also with prayer, which must be understood by the people. Otherwise the speaking of prayers in tongues is in vain. "For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful" (v. 14). Therefore, "I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also" (v. 15). The same applies to singing and to blessings:

"Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how can any one in the position of an outsider (without gifts) say the 'Amen' to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? For you may give thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified" (vs. 16-17).

Apostle Paul discourages the practice of "speaking in tongues" inasmuch as the people do not benefit, for "in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue" (v. 1.9).

Paul makes himself clear as being against "speaking in tongues":

"Thus, tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers ... If, therefore, the whole church assembles and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad?" (v. 22).

If there are speakers in tongues without one to interpret, "Let each one of them keep silent in the church and speak to himself and to God" (v. 28). Paul does not oppose the practice of "speaking in tongues" provided that the language of the speaker can be made known by the people either by using the languages understood or using an interpreter to convey the meaning to the people. For Paul, religious instruction of the people is the most important work of the Church. "For you can all prophesy (preach) one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged" (v. 31).

The varieties of gifts mentioned here, as well as those in Romans (12:6-8), "are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills" 1 Cor. 12:11. All these "varieties of gifts" are interlocked and equal, coming from the same Source - the Holy Spirit.

The Glossolalia Movement of Today

The "speaking in tongues" in the New Testament as described above is far different from the new glossolalia, tongues movement, of today. Although the word, glossolalia, is a term which was lately adopted, in the 19th century, the phenomenon of speaking in tongues is very ancient, as mentioned before. The difference is that in the past, and especially in the Bible, the speaking in tongues was the speaking of a human foreign language, which could be understood directly or through an interpreter. Glossolalia today has another meaning entirely. Nor should it be associated with the Pentecostal Church, either. This new movement of glossolalia of today started in 1960 with an Episcopal priest in California. This movement has flourished, but not without opposition. The point of this movement of glossolalia is that the "tongues" are not human languages, but inarticulated speech. Some claim it is gibberish foolish sounds; others say not. All agree that from a linguistic point glossolalia is not a human language, for one cannot identify any positive language being spoken, and there is no evidence that the glossolalia contains actual speech. Despite the claim of the members of this movement, they cannot provide any case to stand up under scientific investigation.

There is an explicit difference between real human languages and the glossolalia of today. The "interpretation" of the various utterances of glossolalia is not the same for all speaking it; there is no similarity whatsoever between interpretations given. Thus, from a linguistic point of view and through scientific scrutiny the result is that glossolalia does not involve a real human language. Close examination of this new movement reveals that it has attracted many troubled people who display increased anxiety and instability. Their frenzied actions indicate they lose some of their mental self-control, resulting in a turning of their minds to something beyond their control. Studies of this new movement of glossolalia also indicate that the persons involved are seeking a better religious experience, for they are not finding satisfaction in the traditional church. This may explain the sudden interest in and growth of the glossolalia.

Many people are turning to this glossolalia movement, mystic cults, oriental philosophies, witchcraft, astrology, etc., because they do not find inner satisfaction in the material wealth of our affluent society. This dissatisfaction is partly due to the materialism and technological advances of this present century. It is obvious that material possession cannot satisfy the spirit of many people. People today need an awakening spirit. But the Church seems unable to provide this, because the Church itself is involved with materialism. People today are turning to diverting mystical movements and drugs to get beyond themselves in search of inner satisfaction and contentment. The actions of today's society clearly reflect the lack of spiritual values, and indicate the need to return to the true concepts of Christianity. It is a sad situation that even though more and more people are dissatisfied with material wealth and possessions and are turning to the various cult movements, society strives for even greater materialism.

The more materialism, the more dissatisfaction and unhappiness. The more unhappiness, the greater the exodus to the occult world. The loud cry from growing numbers of people is a sound that must be listened to by all segments of society, especially by the Christian Church. The question that must be asked is whether or not these people who are turning to the occult - especially the glossolalia movement - are really finding the spiritual satisfaction they are seeking. Examinations of these movements clearly indicate that the people who seek spiritual reawakening through them fail in the long run to realize their quest of the fountain of spiritual life and its inner satisfaction. Studies reveal that the people are turning to this glossolalia movement because they are looking for a new and better religious experience. The desire for those searching people ought to be satisfied in the Church of Christ. Since the Church is the people themselves (the Ecclesia), it depends upon their attitudes and activities to indicate whether or not the "established Church" is fulfilling their needs.

The "movement" for the reawakening of the spiritual life of the people should start within the Church itself, both by leaders and people. There is no true "satisfaction" outside the Church. It is easier to renovate spiritual methods within the Church than to create new, far-out movements which as the past has already shown, in the end fail anyway. This is a lesson of the past, for these movements are not new, but date back thousands of years. This is why Apostle Paul puts prophesy - the preaching and teaching of the Church above the "speaking in tongues", saying: "He who prophesies is greater than he who speaks in tongues ... so that the church maybe edified", 1 Cor. 14:5. Paul clearly indicates that the people who seek spiritual uplifting should not find it outside the Church "since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel inbuilding up the church" (v. 12). This is the answer for those who leave the Church, rather than the present-day glossolalia movements, or others. What is needed today to overcome this dissatisfaction of many people is the reawakening and strengthening of the spirit, something that is needed in the Church as well.

Invocation of the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, Who proceeds from the Father, is He Who spoke through the prophets and was the Divine Instrument in the birth of Christ. The Holy Spirit is the Author of the Bible; He guides and protects the Church of Christ, having given it life on the day of Pentecost. It is the Holy Spirit Who endows the members of the Church with varieties of spiritual gifts for their illumination and satisfaction. This is why the Christian invokes in times of joy and in times of sorrow the Holy Spirit to strengthen his faith with His Grace to accomplish his purpose in life. The faithful member of the Church humbly should pray that he will not be led astray by "movements" outside the Church, where there is no salvation. The dire need of the people today is that they be reawakened to the realization that they already possess the greatest spiritual gift they can be given - their Christian faith. The Christian must dedicate himself to the true meaning and practice of his faith in God, and not allow himself to be led astray in moments of weakness. The Holy Spirit bestows gifts only on those who believe in and practice the true faith. The Christian is admonished to:

"Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance", and "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil", (Ephesians 6:18; 6: 10-11).

The Church has her origin with Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, not with a human teacher, or group, nor a code of conduct or religious philosophy. Orthodoxy believes that the Church has her origin in the Apostolic Community called into being by Jesus Christ, and enlivened by the Holy Spirit. The Feast of Pentecost, which is celebrated fifty days after Easter, commemorates the "outpouring'' of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and marks the beginning of the mission of the Church to the world. The Orthodox Church believes that she has maintained a direct and unbroken continuity of love, faith, and order with the Church of Christ born in the Pentecost experience.

The Time of Persecution

The earliest Church, which is described in the Epistles and the Acts of the Apostles, did not confine itself to the land of Judea. She took very seriously the command of Our Lord to go into the whole world and preach the Gospel. The words of Christ and the event of His saving Death and Resurrection were destined not only for the people of the first century and the Mediterranean world of which they were a part, but also for persons in all places and in every age. Within only a few years after the Resurrection, colonies of Christians sprung in the major cities of the Roman Empire.

While the early Church received many converts from Judaism and the pagan religions, the world in which the Gospel was proclaimed was, in the words of St. Paul, "heartless and ruthless." With only a few intervals of peace, the Church was persecuted throughout the Empire for nearly three hundred years. The faith and love expressed by the Christians were viewed as a threat to the religion and political policies of the Empire. Thousands upon thousands of Christians were martyred.

The Time of Growth

The beginning of the fourth century marked a new stage in the development of the Church. After centuries of vicious persecution at the direction of the Roman Emperors, an Emperor of Rome became a Christian. This was Constantine the Great, who in the year 313 granted Christians freedom of worship. The Edict was a recognition that the Church not only had survived the persecutions but also had become a significant force in the Empire. From that time onward, the Church and the Empire began a very close and mutually beneficial relationship. Not only did the Church receive imperial support, but also the evils which had characterized the old Roman Empire were greatly reduced in Christian Byzantium. The Church was truly a leaven of the society of which it was a part. The fourth through the tenth centuries were a significant period for the Church's internal development. The authorative content of the New Testament was determined. The Services of Worship received a formal framework. The Teachings of Christianity were developed by great pastors and theologians who are known as the "Fathers" of the Church. It was also a period of missionary activity. Among the most important was the evangelization of the Slavs by Saints Cyril and Methodius. However, the period was not without struggle. The Byzantine Empire was constantly on guard against the neighboring Persians and Muslims. The Church itself was frequently afflicted with many grave schisms and heresies. For example, serious schisms took place in the years 431 and 451. Among the greatest heresies was Arianism, which taught that Christ was not truly God. This heresy plagued the Church and brought havoc to the Empire for nearly a century.

The fundamental doctrines of the Church were proclaimed and defended by the Seven Ecumenical Councils. These Synods, which are known by the names of the cities in which they were convened, included Bishops from throughout the world, who came to affirm the authentic teachings on the Incarnation and the Holy Trinity. The Councils did not create new doctrines, but in a particular place and time, they proclaimed what the Church always believed and taught. The counciliar and collegial expression of Church life and authority which was manifest at the Ecumenical Councils and other synods of the early Church continue to be an important aspect of Orthodox Christianity.

The Ecumenical Councils also sanctioned the organization of the Church about the five great ecclesiastical centers of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. The Archbishops of these cities came to be known as Patriarchs. They presided over the synod of bishops in a particular area. Since the early Church was not monolithic, each center had its own theological style, customs, and liturgical traditions. Yet, all shared in the unity of the faith. However, a primacy of honor was accorded the Bishop of Rome, from early times. The Second Ecumenical Council (381) gave Constantinople a position of honor by stating, "The Bishop of Constantinople shall have the prerogative of honor after the Bishops of Rome, because Constantinople is New Rome."

The Great Schism

The Great Schism is the title given to separation between the Western Church (the Roman Catholic) and the Eastern Church, (the Orthodox), which took place in the eleventh century. Relations between the two great traditions of the East and the West had often been strained since the fourth century. Yet, unity and harmony was maintained in spite of differences in theological expression, liturgical practices, and views of authority. By the ninth century, however, legitimate differences were intensified by political circumstances, cultural clashes, papal claims, and the introduction in the West of the Filioque phrase into the Nicene Creed. The Filioque affirms that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. Both the papal claims and the Filioque were strongly repudiated by the East.

Although it is difficult to date the exact year of the schism, in the year 1054 official charges, known as Anathamas, were exchanged. The Crusades, and especially the sack of the city of Constantinople by the western crusaders in 1204, can be considered the final element in the process of estrangement and deepening mistrust.

From that period onward, the Western Church, centered about the Pope of Rome, and the Eastern Church, centered about the Patriarch of Constantinople, went their separate ways. Although there were attempts to restore communion in the years 1274 and 1439, there was no lasting unity achieved. While political, cultural, and emotional factors have always been involved, the Orthodox Church believes that the two principal reasons for the continued schism are the papal claims of universal jurisdiction and infallibility, as well as the meaning of the Filioque.

For nearly 500 years the two traditions lived in formal isolation from each other. Only, since the early 1960's have steps been taken to restore the broken unity. Most significant has been the mutual lifting of the Anathamas of 1054 by the late Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI in 1965.

Time of Struggle

In the year 1453, the City of Constantinople fell to the invading Muslims. With its capital, the Byzantine Empire came to an end; and the vast lands of Asia Minor fell subject to non-Christians. The great ecclesiastical cities of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, which had come under the political control of Islam centuries earlier, were now joined by Constantinople. Throughout the Ottoman Empire, Christians came to be treated as second-class citizens who paid heavy taxes and wore distinctive dress. The life of the Orthodox Church in the Balkan and Asia Minor continued, but under much duress. Thousands of Christians suffered martyrdom. Patriarchs were deposed and murdered. Churches, monasteries, and schools were closed and destroyed. Only with the liberation of Greece in 1821, did some of the brutality come to an end. However, there were a series of vicious massacres at the beginning of this century. And, even today, Christians are denied their basic human rights in parts of Asia Minor.

After the decline of Byzantium, the Church in Russia thrived for nearly 500 years. However, with the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, Orthodoxy found itself confronted with the beliefs and political policies of militant atheists. Most churches were closed; and a policy was inaugurated to eliminate Christianity from Russia, a land which was steeped in Orthodoxy since the tenth century. In the years between the two World Wars, Orthodox Christians in Russia suffered much cruel and devastating persecution. Only since 1943 have there been modifications in government policy which have permitted the Church some degree of existence.

Today, in many of the lands which were once the pride and glory of Eastern Christendom, the Orthodox Church struggles amid great obstacles and persecution. It has been observed that in recent centuries there have been more martyrs than during the great persecutions of the early Church. Yet, despite injustices and indignities, the Faith survives.

Time of Renewal and Reconciliation

Throughout the past two hundred years the Orthodox Church in the Western Hemisphere has been developing as a valuable presence and distinctive witness. For example, in the United States, Orthodoxy has been recognized as one of the four major faiths. She has more than five million members, who are grouped into more than a dozen ecclesiastical jurisdictions. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, which is the largest, has about 500 parishes and operates church schools, parochial schools, an orphanage, a college, and a graduate theological school. Many believe that Orthodoxy in America has the potential for true renewal, creative development, and missionary activity which can contribute greatly to American life.

From the beginning of this century, the Orthodox Church has been committed to the Ecumenical Movement. This quest for Christian unity is the boldest attack on division since the early centuries of the Church. The Patriarchate of Constantinople not only inspired the movement for unity with an encyclical in 1920, but also was one of the co-founders of the World Council of Churches in 1948. The cause of Christian unity was a special concern of the late and beloved Patriarch Athenagoras. He labored greatly to promote a renewed sense of collegiality among the various Orthodox Churches, as well as to inaugurate a true dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church. In the year 1968, the Patriarch looked toward the future and declared: May the Lord of mercy send as soon as possible to our holy Eastern and Western Churches the grace of celebrating the Divine Eucharist anew and of communicating again together... The common chalice stands out luminously on the horizon of the Church.


Treasures Of Orthodoxy is a series of pamphlets written for the non-Orthodox, especially those who are considering becoming members of the Orthodox Church and who wish to deepen their appreciation of her faith, worship, and traditions. The pamphlets are authored by Fr. Thomas Fitzgerald, a faculty member of Hellenic College-Holy Cross School of Theology. The pamphlet titles are as follows:

  1. Introduction - Introduces the non-Orthodox to Orthodox Christianity.
  2. House of God - Describes the interior of the church building.
  3. Worship - Discusses the form and characteristics of Orthodox worship.
  4. Liturgy - Describes the meaning and celebration of the Eucharist.
  5. Sacraments - Describes the meaning and importance of liturgical life.
  6. Special Services and Blessings - Describes the non-sacramental services which contribute to spiritual life.
  7. Teachings - Outlines the salient points of doctrine and basic credal affirmations.
  8. Spirituality - Discusses the meaning of theosis as the goal of Christian life.
  9. History - Sketches the great epochs of Orthodoxy.
  10. The Church - Outlines the procedure for becoming a member of the Orthodox Church.

 

At the center of the life of the Church is the Holy Eucharist, which is the principal celebration of our faith and the means through which we participate in the very life of the Holy Trinity. The major Sacraments are closely related to the Eucharist and they bear witness to the continuing presence of Christ in the lives of His people.

Besides the Eucharist and the major Sacraments, the Orthodox Church has a number of Special Services and Blessings which are associated with the needs, events, and tasks of human life. In celebrating these various Services and Blessings, the Church is constantly bearing witness to the presence and action of God in our lives. Our God is one who loves us, cares for us, and is near to us. The liturgical Services and Blessings also serve to remind us that all of life is important, and that the many events and gifts of life can be directed toward God and receive their fulfillment in Him.

The Special Services are often referred to as Non-sacramental Services in the sense that they are events of community worship which are not usually counted among the major Sacraments. However, they clearly have a sacramental quality in the sense that they reveal the presence of the Holy Trinity. Many of these Services, such as the Funeral, the Blessing of Water, and the Entrance into Monastic Life, just to name a few, are very significant to the life of the Church. The various Blessings are brief ceremonies which are occasional and do not necessarily involve directly the entire parish community.

The Church blesses individuals, events such as trips, and objects such as icons, churches, flowers, fields, animals, and food. In so doing, the Church is not only expressing our thanks giving, but also affirming that no gift, event, or human responsibility is secular or detached from God. For the Orthodox Christian, all good things have God as their origin and goal. Nothing is outside of God's love and concern.

Funeral Service

The death of a Christian not only affects the family, but also the entire Church, for we are all part of the Body of Christ. The Orthodox Funeral Service, which expresses this fact, is not to be seen primarily as an opportunity to extol, in a sentimental way, the virtues of an individual. Rather, the various prayers and hymns emphasize the harsh reality of death, as well as the victorious Resurrection of Christ through which the power of death is conquered. The Funeral Service comforts those who mourn; it is also the means through which the Church prays for one of its members who has died in the faith of Christ. Orthodoxy views the end of physical existence only as the termination of one stage of life. God's love is stronger than death, and the Resurrection of Christ bears witness to this power.

The Orthodox Funeral consists of three Services. First, there is a Vigil Service after death, which is usually conducted at the time of the wake. This service is called the Trisagion Service. The Church prays to Christ "to give rest with the Saints to the soul of Your servant where there is neither pain, grief, nor sighing but life everlasting." While the Church prays for the soul of the deceased, great respect is paid to the body. Orthodoxy believes the body of the Christian is sacred since it was the Temple of the Holy Spirit.

The body will share also in the final restoration of all creation. The Funeral Service is continued at the Church, where the body is brought on the day of burial. Ideally, the Divine Liturgy is celebrated. After the Funeral Service, the congregation offers its Farewell to the deceased. The Trisagion Service is repeated at the graveside.

Memorial Service

Death alters but does not destroy the bond of love and faith which exists among all the members of the Church. Orthodoxy believes that through our prayers, those "who have fallen asleep in the faith and the hope of the Resurrection" continue to have opportunity to grow closer to God. Therefore, the Church prays constantly for her members who have died in Christ. We place our trust in the love of God and the power of mutual love and forgiveness. We pray that God will forgive the sins of the faithful departed, and that He will receive them into the company of Saints in the heavenly Kingdom.

The Orthodox Church remembers the departed in the prayers of every Divine Liturgy. Besides this, there is a Memorial Service in which the Church also remembers the dead. According to tradition, the Memorial Service is offered on the third, ninth, and fortieth day after a death, as well as on the yearly anniversary of the death. In addition to these times, the Memorial Service is always offered for all the faithful departed on four "Saturdays of the souls." These are: the two Saturdays preceding Great Lent; the first Saturday of Great Lent; and, the Saturday before Pentecost. In the United States the Service is also offered on Memorial Day. When the Memorial Service is offered, it is customary for the family of the deceased to bring a dish of boiled wheat to the Church. The boiled wheat is placed on a table in the center of the nave during the Service. The wheat, known as kollyva, is a symbol of the Resurrection. When speaking of the Resurrection, our Lord said: "Unless the grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies it bears much fruit." (John 12:24)

The Great Blessing of Water: Megas Agiasmos

Epiphany, one of the oldest and most important Feast days of the Orthodox Church, commemorates the manifestation of the Holy Trinity which took place at the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan River. Recognizing rich meaning in this event, Orthodoxy believes that when Christ was baptized, it not only marked the beginning of its public ministry and revealed the Trinity, but also signified that the entire creation is destined to share in the glory of redemption in Christ. While Christ entered into the Jordan to be baptized, two things were happening: He was identifying Himself with the people He had come to save; and, He was identifying Himself with the whole of Creation which was represented by water. Through His baptism, the Lord revealed the value of the created world and He redirected it toward its Creator. Creation is good and it belongs to God.

The Great Blessing of Water is held on the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany and on the day itself, following the Divine Liturgy. The Blessing not only remembers the event of Our Lord's baptism and the revelation of the Holy Trinity but also expresses Orthodoxy's belief that creation is sanctified through Christ. The Blessing affirms that humanity and the created world, of which we are a part, were created to be filled with the sanctifying presence of God. After the solemn blessing, the Holy Water is distributed to the faithful and is used to bless homes during the Epiphany season. When the faithful drink the "Epiphany Water," we are reminded of our own baptism. When the Church blesses an individual, or object, or event with the water, we are affirming that those baptized, their surroundings, and their responsibilities are sanctified through Christ and brought into the Kingdom of the Father through the Spirit.

In addition to the Great Blessing of Water, there is a Lesser Blessing of Water service which can take place at anytime. Usually, it is celebrated when a home is blessed, on the first day of the month, the beginning of the school year, and beginning of new responsibilities.

The Blessing of Bread Artoklasia

The Blessing of Five Loaves of Bread is a brief service of thanksgiving through which we express our gratitude for all the blessings of life. Oil, wine, wheat, and the loaves of bread which are used in the service, are viewed as the most basic elements necessary for life. The Blessing reminds us of the miracle of the multiplication of the bread and fish by which Christ fed the multitude. This Blessing is usually offered during Vespers or after the Divine Liturgy on Feast days and other special occasions. After the Service, the bread is cut and distributed to the congregation.

Akathist Hymn

The Orthodox Church worships God alone. Yet, she does offer veneration to individuals who have been important human instruments of God in the history of salvation. Among those so venerated is Mary, the Mother of God the Theotokos. The Orthodox Church greatly honors Mary because she was chosen to give birth to the Son of God. As one of the hymns declares:

"By singing praise to your maternity, we exalt you as a spiritual temple, Theotokos. For the One Who dwelt within your womb, the Lord who holds all things in his hands, sanctified you, glorified you, and taught all to sing to you ... “

The most beautiful and poetic service of the Orthodox Church in honor of Mary, the Theotokos, is the Akathist Hymn. The word akathist means without sitting. The congregation stands throughout the Service out of respect for Mary and her unique role in our salvation in Christ. The Akathist Hymn is chanted in four parts during the first four Fridays of Great Lent. On the fifth Friday, the entire Service is chanted.

The Service of Supplication: Paraklesis

The Service of Supplication, which is also known as Paraklesis, is one offered especially at times of sickness, temptation, or discouragement. The various prayers ask the Lord for guidance, personal strength, and healing. Many of the hymns and prayers are directed toward Mary, the Theotokos, and they ask for her assistance. Orthodoxy affirms that each of us, with Mary, the Saints, and the faithful departed is united in a bond of faith and love in Christ. Therefore, just as in this life we can turn to each other for prayer, the Church believes that we can also turn to Mary - the human being closest to God - and ask her to pray to God for us. This belief is expressed in the hymn which says:

"O never failing protectress of Christians and their ever-present intercessor before the Creator; despise not the petitions or sinners who have recourse to you, by your goodness extend your help to us to call upon you with confidence. Has O Theotokos, to intercede for us, O who have always protected those who honor you.”

There are two forms of the Service of Supplication: the Greater and the Lesser. It is Lesser Service of Supplication which is briefer and the one most frequently offered. Both forms of the Service are offered during first fourteen days of August which precedes the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos celebrated on August 15th.

Treasures Of Orthodoxy is a series of pamphlets written for the non-Orthodox, especially those who are considering becoming members of the Orthodox Church and who wish to deepen their appreciation of her faith, worship, and traditions. The pamphlets are authored by Fr. Thomas Fitzgerald, a faculty member of Hellenic College-Holy Cross School of Theology. The pamphlet titles are as follows:

  1. Introduction - Introduces the non-Orthodox to Orthodox Christianity.
  2. House of God - Describes the interior of the church building.
  3. Worship - Discusses the form and characteristics of Orthodox worship.
  4. Liturgy - Describes the meaning and celebration of the Eucharist.
  5. Sacraments - Describes the meaning and importance of liturgical life.
  6. Special Services and Blessings - Describes the non-sacramental services which contribute to spiritual life.
  7. Teachings - Outlines the salient points of doctrine and basic credal affirmations.
  8. Spirituality - Discusses the meaning of theosis as the goal of Christian life.
  9. History - Sketches the great epochs of Orthodoxy.
  10. The Church - Outlines the procedure for becoming a member of the Orthodox Church.

The original article published in the pamphlet Treasures of the Orthodox Church was titled "Special Services and Blessings."

One of the best-known prayers of the Orthodox Church speaks of the spirit of God being "present in all places and filling all things." This profound affirmation is basic to Orthodoxy's understanding of God and His relationship to the world. We believe that God is truly near to us. Although He cannot be seen, God is not detached from His creation. Through the persons of The Risen Christ and the Holy Spirit, God is present and active in our lives and in the creation about us. All our life and the creation of which we are an important part, points, to and reveals God.

There are special experiences in our corporate life as Orthodox Christians when the perception of God's presence and actions is heightened and celebrated. We call these events of the Church Sacraments. Traditionally, the Sacraments have been known as Mysteries in the Orthodox Church. This description emphasizes that in these special events of the Church, God discloses Himself through the prayers and actions of His people.

Not only do the Sacraments disclose and reveal God to us, but also they serve to make us receptive to God. All the Sacraments affect our personal relationship to God and to one another. The Holy Spirit works through the Sacraments. He leads us to Christ who unites us with the Father. By participating in the Sacraments, we grow closer to God and to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This process of deification, or theosis, as it is known by Orthodoxy, takes place not in isolation from others, but within the context of a believing community. Although the Sacraments are addressed to each of us by name, they are experiences which involve the entire Church.

The Sacraments of the Orthodox Church are composed of prayers, hymns, scripture lessons, gestures and processions. Many parts of the services date back to the time of the Apostles. The Orthodox Church has avoided reducing the Sacraments to a particular formula or action. Often, a whole series of sacred acts make up a Sacrament. Most of the Sacraments use a portion of the material of creation as an outward and visible sign of God's revelation. Water, oil, bread and wine are but a few of the many elements which the Orthodox Church employs in her Worship. The frequent use of the material of creation reminds us that matter is good and can become a medium of the Spirit. Most importantly, it affirms the central truth of the Orthodox Christian faith: that God became flesh in Jesus Christ and entered into the midst of creation thereby redirecting the cosmos toward its vocation to glorify its Creator.

The Eucharist

The Holy Eucharist, which is known as the Divine Liturgy, is the central and most important worship experience of the Orthodox Church. Often referred to as the "Sacrament of Sacraments", it is the Church's celebration of the Death and Resurrection of Christ offered every Sunday and Holy day. All the other Sacraments of the Church lead toward and flow from the Eucharist, which is at the center of the life of the Church. The previous pamphlet in this series was devoted to the meaning and celebration of the Eucharist in the Orthodox Church.

Baptism

The Sacrament of Baptism incorporates us into the Church, the Body of Christ, and is our introduction to the life of the Holy Trinity. Water is a natural symbol of cleansing and newness of life. Through the three-fold immersion in the waters of Baptism in the Name of the Holy Trinity, one dies to the old ways of sin and is born to a new life in Christ. Baptism is one's public identification with Christ Death and victorious Resurrection. Following the custom of the early Church, Orthodoxy encourages the baptism of infants. The Church believes that the Sacrament is bearing witness to the action of God who chooses a child to be an important member of His people. From the day of their baptism, children are expected to mature in the life of the Spirit, through their family and the Church. The Baptism of adults is practiced when there was no previous baptism in the name of the Holy Trinity.

Chrismation

The Sacrament of Chrismation (Confirmation) immediately follows baptism and is never delayed until a later age. As the ministry of Christ was enlivened by the Spirit, and the preaching of the Apostles strengthened by the Spirit, so is the life of each Orthodox Christian sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Chrismation, which is often referred to as one's personal Pentecost, is the Sacrament which imparts the Spirit in a special way.

In the Sacrament of Chrismation, the priest anoints the various parts of the body of the newly-baptized with Holy Oil saying: "The seal of the gifts of the Holy Spirit." The Holy Oil, which is blessed by the bishop, is a sign of consecration and strength. The Sacrament emphasizes the truths that not only is each person a valuable member of the Church, but also each one is blessed by the Spirit with certain gifts and talents. The anointing also reminds us that our bodies are valuable and are involved in the process of salvation.

The Sacraments of initiation always are concluded with the distribution of Holy Communion to the newly-baptized. Ideally, this takes place within the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. This practice reveals that Orthodoxy views children from their infancy as important members of the Church. There is never time when the young are not part of God's people.

Confession

As members of the Church, we have responsibilities to one another and, of course, to God. When we sin, our relationship to God and to others becomes distorted. Sin is ultimately alienation from God, from our fellow human beings, and from our own true self which is created in God's image and likeness.

Confession is the Sacrament through which our sins are forgiven, and our relationship to God and to others is restored and strengthened. Through the Sacrament, Christ our Lord continues to heal those broken in spirit and restore the Father's love those who are lost. According to Orthodox teaching, the penitent confess to God and is forgiven by God. The priest is the sacramental witness who represents both Christ and His people. The priest is viewed not as a judge, but as a physician and guide. It is an ancient Orthodox practice for every Christian to have a spiritual father to whom one turns for spiritual advice and counsel. Confession can take place on any number of occasions. The frequency is left the discretion of the individual. In the event of serious sin, however, confession is a necessary preparation for Holy Communion.

Marriage

God is active in our lives. It is He who joins a man and a woman in a relationship of mutual love. The Sacrament of Marriage bears witness to His action. Through this Sacrament, a man and a woman are publicly joined as husband and wife. They enter into a new relationship with each other, God, and the Church. Since Marriage is not viewed as a legal contract, there are no vows in the Sacrament. According to Orthodox teachings, Marriage is not simply a social institution, it is an eternal vocation of the kingdom. A husband and a wife are called by the holy Spirit not only to live together but also to share their Christian life together so that each, with the aid of the other, may grow closer to God and become the persons they are meant to be. In the Orthodox Marriage Service, after the couple have been betrothed and exchanged rings, they are crowned with "crowns of glory and honor" signifying the establishment of a new family under God. Near the conclusion of the Service, the husband and wife drink from a common cup which is reminiscent of the wedding of Cana and which symbolized the sharing of the burdens and joys of their new life together.

Holy Orders

The Holy Spirit preserved the continuity of the Church through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Through ordination, men who have been chosen from within the Church are set apart by the Church for special service to the Church. Each is called by God through His people to stand amid the community, as pastor and teacher, and as the representative of the parish before the Altar. Each is also a living icon of Christ among His people. According to Orthodox teaching, the process of ordination begins with the local congregation; but the bishop alone, who acts in the name of the universal Church, can complete the action. He does so with the invocation of the Holy Spirit and the imposition of his hands on the person being ordained.

Following the custom of the Apostolic Church, there are three major orders each of which requires a special ordination. These are Bishop, who is viewed as a successor of the Apostles, Priest and Deacon, who act in the name of the Bishop. Each order is distinguished by its pastoral responsibilities. Only a Bishop may ordain. Often, other titles and offices are associated with the three orders. The Orthodox Church permits men to marry before they are ordained. Since the sixth century, Bishops have been chosen from the celibate clergy.

Anointing of the Sick (Holy Unction)

When one is ill and in pain, this can very often be a time of life when one feels alone and isolated. The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, or Holy Unction as it is also known, remind us that when we are in pain, either physical, emotional, or spiritual, Christ is present with us through the ministry of his Church. He is among us to offer strength to meet the challenges of life, and even the approach of death.

As with Chrismation, oil is also used in this Sacrament as a sign of God's presence, strength, and forgiveness. After the reading of seven epistle lessons, seven gospel lessons and the offering of seven prayers, which are all devoted to healing, the priest anoints the body with the Holy Oil. Orthodoxy does not view this Sacrament as available only to those who are near death. It is offered to all who are sick in body, mind, or spirit. The Church celebrates the Sacrament for all its members during Holy week on Holy Wednesday.

Other Sacraments and Blessings

The Orthodox Church has never formally determined a particular number of Sacraments. In addition to the Eucharist she accepts the above six Mysteries as major Sacraments because they involve the entire community and most important are closely relation to the Eucharist. There are many other Blessings and Special Services which complete the major Sacraments, and which reflect the Church's presence throughout the lives of her people. Some of these are discussed in the following pamphlet in this series.

Treasures Of Orthodoxy is a series of pamphlets written for the non-Orthodox, especially those who are considering becoming members of the Orthodox Church and who wish to deepen their appreciation of her faith, worship, and traditions. The pamphlets are authored by Fr. Thomas Fitzgerald, a faculty member of Hellenic College-Holy Cross School of Theology. The pamphlet titles are as follows:

  1. Introduction - Introduces the non-Orthodox to Orthodox Christianity.
  2. House of God - Describes the interior of the church building.
  3. Worship - Discusses the form and characteristics of Orthodox worship.
  4. Liturgy - Describes the meaning and celebration of the Eucharist.
  5. Sacraments - Describes the meaning and importance of liturgical life.
  6. Special Services and Blessings - Describes the non-sacramental services which contribute to spiritual life.
  7. Teachings - Outlines the salient points of doctrine and basic credal affirmations.
  8. Spirituality - Discusses the meaning of theosis as the goal of Christian life.
  9. History - Sketches the great epochs of Orthodoxy.
  10. The Church - Outlines the procedure for becoming a member of the Orthodox Church.

The orginal article published in the pamphlet Treasures of the Orthodox Church was titled "The Sacraments."

O Come, let us Worship and bow down before our King and God.
O Come, let us worship and bow down before Christ, our King and God.
O Come, let us worship and bow down to Christ Himself, our King and God.

This invitation marks the beginning of each day for the Orthodox Church. It comes from the office of Vespers, and it expresses the attitude which is at the heart of Orthodoxy. The Worship of God - the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, - is fundamental to the life and spirit of the Orthodox Church.

Since Worship is so important to Orthodoxy, the best introduction to the Orthodox Church is for the non-Orthodox to attend the Divine Liturgy or the celebration of one of the major Sacraments. At first, the visitor may be overwhelmed by the music and the ceremonies, but it is in Worship that the distinctive flavor, rich traditions, and living faith of Orthodoxy are truly experienced.

Dimensions Of Worship

Worship is an experience which involved the entire Church. When each of us comes together for Worship, we do so as members of a Church which transcends the boundaries of society, of time and of space. Although we gather at a particular moment and at a particular place, our actions reach beyond the parish, into the very Kingdom of God. We worship in the company of both the living and the departed faithful.

There are two dimensions to Orthodox Worship which are reflected throughout the many Services of the Church. First, Worship is a manifestation of God's presence and action in the midst of His people. It is God who gathers His scattered people together, and it is He who reveals Himself as we enter into His presence. The Worship of the Orthodox Church very vividly expresses the truth that God dwells among His people and that we are created to share in His life.

Second, Worship is our corporate response of thanksgiving to the presence of God and a remembrance of His saving actions - especially the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Orthodox Worship is centered upon God. He has acted in history, and He continues to act through the Holy Spirit. We are mindful of His actions and we respond to His love with praise and thanksgiving. In so doing we come closer to God.

Expressions Of Worship

Worship in the Orthodox Church is expressed in four principal ways:

The Eucharist, which is the most important worship experience of Orthodoxy. Eucharist means thanksgiving and is known in the Orthodox Church as the Divine Liturgy.
The Sacraments, which affirm God's presence and action in the important events of our Christian lives. All the major Sacraments are closely related to the Eucharist. These are: Baptism, Chrismation, Confession, Marriage, Holy Orders, and Anointing of the sick.
Special Services and Blessings, which also affirm God's presence and action in all the events, needs and tasks of our life.
The Daily Offices, which are the services of public prayer which occur throughout the day. The most important are Matins, which is the morning prayer of the Church, and Vespers, which is the evening prayer of the Church.

Characteristics

Although Orthodox Services can very often be elaborate, solemn, and lengthy, they express a deep and pervasive sense of joy. This mood is an expression of our belief in the Resurrection of Christ and the deification of humanity, which are dominant themes of Orthodox Worship. In order to enhance this feeling and to encourage full participation, Services are always sung or chanted.

Worship is not simply expressed in words. In addition to prayers, hymns, and scripture readings, there are a number of ceremonies, gestures, and processions. The Church makes rich use of non verbal symbols to express God's presence and our relationship to Him. Orthodoxy Worship involves the whole person; one's intellect, feelings, and senses.

Services in the Orthodox Church follow a prescribed order. There is a framework and design to our Worship. This is valuable in order to preserve its corporate dimension and maintain a continuity with the past. The content of the Services is also set. There are unchanging elements; and there are parts which change according to the Feast, season, or particular circumstance. The regulating of the Services by the whole Church emphasizes the fact that Worship is an expression of the entire Church, and not the composition on a particular priest and congregation.

An important secondary purpose of Worship is the teaching of the Faith. There is a very close relationship between the Worship and the teachings of the Church. Faith is expressed in Worship, and Worship serves to strengthen and communicate Faith. As a consequence, the prayers, hymns, and liturgical gestures of Orthodoxy are important mediums of teaching. The regulating of the Services also serves to preserve the true Faith and to guard it against error.

The celebration of the Divine Liturgy and the Sacraments is always led by an ordained clergymen. In the local parish, this will generally be a priest who acts in the name of the bishop, and who is sometime assisted by a deacon. When the bishop is present, he presides at the Services. The vestments of the clergy express their special calling to the ministry as well as their particular office.

Since Worship in Orthodoxy is an expression of the entire Church the active participation and involvement of the congregation is required. There are no "private" or "said" Services in the Orthodox Church and none may take place without a congregation. This strong sense of community is expressed in the prayers and exhortations which are in the plural tense. The congregation is expected to participate actively in the Services in ways such as: singing the hymns; concluding the prayers with "Amen"; responding to the petitions; making the sign of the Cross; bowing; and, especially, by receiving Holy Communion at the Divine Liturgy. Standing is the preferred posture of prayer in the Orthodox Church. The congregation kneels only at particularly solemn moments, such as the Invocation of the Holy Spirit during the Divine Liturgy.

The Litany is an important part of Orthodox Services. A litany is a dialogue between the priest or deacon and the congregation, which consists of a number of prayer-petitions, followed by the response "Lord, have mercy" or "Grant this, O Lord." Litanies occur frequently throughout the Services and often serve to distinguish particular sections.

Orthodox Worship has always been celebrated in the language of the people. There is no official or universal liturgical language. Often, two or more languages are used in the Services to accommodate the needs of the congregation. Throughout the world, Services are celebrated in more than twenty languages which include such divers ones as Greek, Slavonic, Arabic, Albanian, Rumanian, English, and Luganda.

Treasures Of Orthodoxy is a series of pamphlets written for the non-Orthodox, especially those who are considering becoming members of the Orthodox Church and who wish to deepen their appreciation of her faith, worship, and traditions. The pamphlets are authored by Fr. Thomas Fitzgerald, a faculty member of Hellenic College-Holy Cross School of Theology. The pamphlet titles are as follows:

  1. Introduction - Introduces the non-Orthodox to Orthodox Christianity.
  2. House of God - Describes the interior of the church building.
  3. Worship - Discusses the form and characteristics of Orthodox worship.
  4. Liturgy - Describes the meaning and celebration of the Eucharist.
  5. Sacraments - Describes the meaning and importance of liturgical life.
  6. Special Services and Blessings - Describes the non-sacramental services which contribute to spiritual life.
  7. Teachings - Outlines the salient points of doctrine and basic credal affirmations.
  8. Spirituality - Discusses the meaning of theosis as the goal of Christian life.
  9. History - Sketches the great epochs of Orthodoxy.
  10. The Church - Outlines the procedure for becoming a member of the Orthodox Church.

The orginal article published in the pamphlet Treasures of the Orthodox Church was titled "Worship."

The visitor to an Orthodox Church is usually impressed by the unique features and the external differences between this place of worship and those of the various traditions of Western Christianity. The rich color, distinctive iconography and beauty of the interior of an Orthodox Church generally are in sharp contrast to the simplicity which one finds in many Roman Catholic and Protestant churches. When one enters the interior of the Orthodox church it is like stepping into a whole new world of color and light. The art and design of the church not only create a distinctive atmosphere of worship, but they also reflect and embody many of the fundamental insights of Orthodoxy.

Beauty and Symbols

The Orthodox Church believes that God is the Creator of heaven and earth. The Creator is present through His creative energies of His handiwork. This means that the material world, being valuable and good, is an important means through which God expresses Himself. The Orthodox Church affirms this conviction through her extensive use of material creation not only for the embellishment of her places of worship, but also in her sacramental mysteries and services. For example, when the bread and wine - "the first fruits of creation" - are offered in the Eucharist, they are also a symbolic offering of all creation to God its Creator. Since there is no hesitation in using the gifts of creation, the interior of an Orthodox church is frequently very beautiful. Designed to create an atmosphere which is special, the building is filled with a feeling of joy and an appreciation of God's bounty. Orthodoxy recognizes that beauty is an important dimension of human life. Through iconography and church appointments, the beauty of creation becomes a very important means of praising God. The divine gifts of the material world are shaped and fashioned by human hands into an expression of beauty which glorifies the Creator. As the pious woman poured her most precious oil on the feet of Our Lord, Orthodoxy seeks always to offer to God what is best and most beautiful.

Sacred Space

The interior church is most importantly, both the background and the setting for Orthodox worship. The art and architecture are designed to contribute to the total experience of worship, which involves one's intellect, feelings, and senses. The Eucharist and the other sacramental mysteries take place in God's midst, and they bear witness to His presence and actions. Therefore, in the Orthodox tradition there is a very strong feeling that the church is the House of God and the place where His glory dwells. For this reason, all Orthodox churches are blessed, consecrated and set aside as sacred space. The whole church bears witness to God's indwelling among His people. As one old admonition says:

"Let the Christian consider well when he enters the church that he is entering another heaven. That same majesty of God which is in heaven is also in his church, and on this account the Christian must enter with reverence and awe."

Ideally, an Orthodox church is relatively small in order to emphasize and enhance the sense of community in worship. The church is generally constructed in the form of a cross and is divided into three areas: the narthex, the nave, and the sanctuary. The narthex is the entrance area. Centuries ago this area was the place where catechumens (unbaptized learners) and penitents remained during parts of the services. Today, the beginning of the Baptismal service and in some parishes, the Marriage service, begins in the narthex and proceeds into the nave. This procession symbolically represents a gradual movement into the Kingdom of God. In many Orthodox parishes, the narthex is the area where the faithful make an offering, receive a candle, light it before an icon, and offer a personal prayer before joining the congregation. The nave is the large center area of the church. Here the faithful gather for worship. Although most Orthodox churches in this country have pews, some follow the old custom of having an open nave with no seats. On the right-hand side of the nave is the bishop's throne from which he presides as a living icon of Christ among his people. Even in the bishop's absence, the throne reminds all that the parish is not an isolated entity but is part of a diocese which the bishop heads. On the left-hand side of the nave is the pulpit from which the Gospel is proclaimed and the sermon preached. The choir and the cantors frequently occupy areas on the far sides of the nave. The sanctuary is considered the most sacred part of the church, and the area reserved for the clergy and their assistant. The sanctuary contains the Holy Altar and is separated from the nave by the Iconostasion. This division serves to remind us that God's reign is not complete and that we often find ourselves 'separated' from God, through sin. However, during the Divine Liturgy, when we have access to the Holy Gifts, we are reminded that, through Christ, heaven and earth are united and that through Him, we have access to the Father. It should be noted that not all services take place within the sanctuary. Many are celebrated in the center of the nave, in the midst of the congregation. In so doing, Orthodoxy emphasizes the fact that the worship of the Church is offered by, and for all the people.

The Altar

The Altar or Holy Table is the heart and focal point of the Orthodox Church. It is here that eucharistic gifts of bread and wine are offered to the Father as Christ commanded us to do. The altar, which is usually square in shape, stands away from the wall and is often covered with cloths. A tabernacle, with reserved Holy Communion for the sick or dying, is set upon the Altar, together with candles. When the Divine Liturgy is not being celebrated, the Book of Gospels rests on the Altar. Behind the Altar is a large cross with the painted figure of Christ.

Iconostasion

The Iconostasion is the panel of icons which separates the sanctuary from the nave. The origin of this very distinctive part of an Orthodox church is the ancient custom of placing icons on a low wall before the sanctuary. In time, the icons became fixed on a standing wall, hence the term iconostasion. In contemporary practice, the Iconostasion may be very elaborate and conceal most of the sanctuary, or it may be very simple and open. The Iconostasion has three entrances which are used during services. There is a Deacon Door on either side, and the center entrance which is called the Royal Door. A curtain or door, usually conceals the Altar when services are not being celebrated. On the right-hand side of the Iconostasion are always the icons of Christ and St. John the Baptist. On the left-hand side are always the icons of the Theotokos (Mother of our Lord) and the patron saint or event to which the church is dedicated. In addition to these icons, others may be added, depending upon custom and space.

Icons

An icon is a holy image which is the distinctive art form of the Orthodox Church. In actual practice the icon may be a painting of wood, on canvas, a mosaic or a fresco. Icons depict such figures as Christ, Mary the Theotokos, the saints and angels. They may also portray events from the Scriptures or the history of the Church, such as Christmas, Easter, etc. Icons occupy a very prominent place in Orthodox worship and theology. The icon is not simply decorative, inspirational, or educational. Most importantly, it signifies the presence of the individual depicted. The icon is like a window which links heaven and earth. When we worship we do so as part of the Church which includes the living and the departed. We never lost contact with those who are with the Lord in glory. This belief is expressed every time one venerates an icon or places a candle before it. Many Orthodox churches have icons not only on the iconostasion but also on the walls, ceilings, and in arches. Above the sanctuary in the apse, there is very frequently a large icon of the Theotokos and the Christ Child. The Orthodox Church believes that Mary is the human being closest to God. This very prominent icon recalls her important role in the Incarnation of the Son of God. The icon is also an image of the Church. It reminds us of our responsibility to give birth to Christ's presence in our lives. High above the church, in the ceiling or dome, is the icon of Christ the Almighty, the Pantocrator. The icon portrays the Triumphant Christ who reigns as Lord of heaven and earth. As one gazes downward, it appears as though the whole church and all of creation comes from Him. As one looks upward, there is the feeling that all things direct us to Christ the Lord. He is the "Alpha and the Omega," the beginning and the end. This is the message of Orthodoxy.

Treasures Of Orthodoxy is a series of pamphlets written for the non-Orthodox, especially those who are considering becoming members of the Orthodox Church and who wish to deepen their appreciation of her faith, worship, and traditions. The pamphlets are authored by Fr. Thomas Fitzgerald, a faculty member of Hellenic College-Holy Cross School of Theology. The pamphlet titles are as follows:

  1. Introduction - Introduces the non-Orthodox to Orthodox Christianity.
  2. House of God - Describes the interior of the church building.
  3. Worship - Discusses the form and characteristics of Orthodox worship.
  4. Liturgy - Describes the meaning and celebration of the Eucharist.
  5. Sacraments - Describes the meaning and importance of liturgical life.
  6. Special Services and Blessings - Describes the non-sacramental services which contribute to spiritual life.
  7. Teachings - Outlines the salient points of doctrine and basic credal affirmations.
  8. Spirituality - Discusses the meaning of theosis as the goal of Christian life.
  9. History - Sketches the great epochs of Orthodoxy.
  10. The Church - Outlines the procedure for becoming a member of the Orthodox Church.

The original article published in the pamphlet Treasures of the Orthodox Church was titled "House of God."

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