The history of Christianity convinces that the establishment
of the Orthodox Church originates in the age of the Apostles. The Church
was initially small, as the mustard seed, according to the Savior's expression,
eventually grew into a big tree, and its branches filled the world (Matthew
13:31-32). As early as the end of the first century, Christian communities were
found in almost all towns of the Roman Empire: in the Holy Land, Syria,
Armenia, Asia Minor, Hellas, Macedonia, Italy, Gaul, Egypt and Northern Africa,
Spain and Britain; and also beyond the boundaries of the Empire: in the faraway
Arabia, India and Scythia. By the end of the first century, Christian
communities of all more or less significant towns were headed by bishops
who were the bearers of the entirety of apostolic
grace. Bishops had authority over the communities in neighboring towns
of lesser importance. In the 2nd century bishops of principal (regional) cities
of the Roman Empire began to be called metropolitans, and their
metropolis covered the nearby bishops' sees. The metropolitans were obliged to
regularly convene bishops' councils to resolve current issues of religion and
Apart from principal cities, there were imperial
dioceses in the Roman Empire. These most important centers of state
organization became the starting points of wider area Church administration,
which were named Patriarchates later. The Fourth Ecumenical Council,
assembled in Chalcedon in 451, defined the boundaries of five Patriarchates:
that of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem (with little
territory as concerns administration, but having great religious significance).
As time passed, the territories of patriarchates
grew or shrank because of different historical events. Serious changes in the
Church occurred due to the invasion of Germanic tribes to Europe (late 4th
century), oppression by the Persians and invasion of the Arabs to eastern
districts of the Byzantine Empire (mid 7th century). In the middle of the 9th
century, there was a movement for adoption of Christian faith amongst Slavic
peoples. The Thessalonian brothers, Saints Cyrill and Methodius toiled
much for the enlightenment of the Bulgarians and Moravians. From Bulgaria, the
Christian faith spread to Serbia. A great merit of St. Cyrill and Methodius is
that they created the Slavonic alphabet and translated selected books of
the Scriptures and divine service from the Greek language into the Slavonic.
Their work prepared the ground for the spread of Christianity in Russia.
Although Christian communities existed on the
northern shore of the Black Sea as early as the end of the first century, the
mass conversion to Christianity of Slavic tribes, inhabiting Russia, began only
at the time Christening of Russia in 988, when Grand Prince Vladimir had the
entire population of Kiev baptized in the River Dnieper (See leaflet on St.
Vladimir and the Millennium of Christianity in Russia). From Kiev, the Orthodox
faith spread to other parts of Russia. The following statistical data allow us
to judge how great the Russian Orthodox Church was before the revolution: there
were 1098 monasteries in Russia, with the total of over 90 thousand monks.
Apart from the Patriarch of Moscow, there were 6 Metropolitans, 136 bishops, 48
thousand priests and deacons serving in 60 thousand temples and chapels. Four
Academies, 57 seminaries and 185 schools provided training for the clergy.
Bibles, theological and other spiritual literature were published in large
quantities. Unfortunately, we did not value our spiritual riches as we had to,
and became captivated by western ideas. The post-1918 persecution of the Church
by atheists, extermination of the clergy and believers, and destruction of
temples can only be explained in the light of the Apocalypse, which predicts
severe persecution of the faith in Christ before the end of the world.
From the middle of the 18th century, through the
efforts of St. Herman of Alaska and other Russian missionaries, the Orthodoxy
made its way to Alaska, where a few Aleuts received baptism, thus giving the
start to dissemination of the Orthodox faith in North America. Today, about 3 million
Orthodox Christians live in the USA.
The Orthodox Church currently includes the
following autocephalous (regional or local) churches: Constantinople (with a
number of parishes in Europe, North and South America, and the Patriarchal See
in Istanbul, Turkey), Alexandrian (Egypt), Antioch (with its capital in
Damascus, Syria), Jerusalem, Russian, Georgian, Serbian, Romanian, Bulgarian,
Cypriot, Greek, Albanian, Polish, Czechoslovakian, Lithuanian, and the Orthodox
Church in America. Sinai, Finnish and Japanese churches are autonomous. Many
Orthodox Greek and Russian (Russian Church Abroad) parishes were established in
almost all parts of the world after the First and Second World Wars. Total
number of Orthodox Christians around the world is about 160 million.
The term Orthodox Church came into usage in
the age of religious disputes of 4th-6th centuries, because there was a need to
differentiate between the true Church and heretical groups (Arians, Nestorians
etc.), who also called themselves Christians. The word "Orthodox"
comes from the Greek оrthо-dоkео, which
means "right thinking." Another term for the Church is Catholic,
which is translated from the Greek as universal, all-gathering or
all-inclusive. The meaning of this term is that the Church calls all people to
salvation, irrespective of their nationality and social status.
The regional churches, such as Jerusalem, Russian,
Serbian and others, are sometimes headed by Patriarchs, or archbishops, or
metropolitans. To resolve problems, related to a certain church, the head of
this church convenes an assembly (synod) of his bishops. The problems that
concern the entire Orthodox Church, e.g. the issues of faith (dogmas) and
church law (canons), should be discussed in Ecumenical Synods (or
Universal Councils). Ecumenical Synods are attended by bishops from all
regional and autonomous Orthodox Churches. As need may be, representatives of
the clergy and laity are invited. Thus, the governance of the Orthodox Church
is neither sovereign, nor democratic, but synodal.
The teaching of the Orthodox Church is concisely
formulated in the Creed, developed by the First and Second Universal Synods in
325 and 381 (in Nicaea and Constantinople). In its turn, this Creed was built
upon more ancient creeds, originated in the age of the Apostles. Summing up the
Orthodox doctrine, we believe in One God — Father, Son and the Holy
Ghost, — Who is the consubstantial and indivisible Trinity. The Son is begotten
from the Father before all ages. The Holy Ghost does eternally proceed from God
the Father. We believe that One God, worshipped in the Trinity, is eternal,
omnipotent and omnipresent, that He, by His will and out of nothing, created
everything that exists: first the invisible angel world, then our visible,
material world. Also, God created us people, breathed immortal soul into us,
and inscribed His moral law in our hearts. God created us so that we improve
ourselves and reach never-ending felicity in communion with Him. We believe
that God is infinitely just and merciful. He rules the whole universe and life
of every human being, and nothing can happen without His will.
When the first people broke the commandment of
God, God did not reject them completely, but, through the prophets, began to
prepare people for salvation, and promised to send the Messiah, or Christ, to
them. When the world matured enough to accept the true faith, the Son of God,
Our Lord Jesus Christ came to the earth to save us, sinful people. He taught
how to believe and how to live right. For our salvation He died on the cross
and rinsed away our sins with His blood. On the third day He rose from the dead
and set the beginning of our resurrection and everlasting life in the Paradise.
We believe that on the fiftieth day after His resurrection, the Lord Jesus Christ
sent the Holy Ghost to the Apostles, and since then He has been in the Church,
instructing her in the truth. We believe that one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic
Church will not be overcome by the powers of evil until the very end of the
world's existence. We believe that in the Sacraments of baptism, Chrismation,
Confession, Communion, and in other actions of the divine service, the Holy
Ghost does purify and sanctify believers and give them power to live Christian
lives. We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ shall come again to the earth.
This will be the time of the resurrection of the dead, end of the world and the
general Judgment, where every one shall receive in accordance with his or her
living. After the Judgment, eternal life shall start: it will be never-ending
bliss in communion with God for the righteous, and never-ending torture in the
Gehenna of fire for the devil and sinners.
We acknowledge that faith only is not enough to
make life conform with belief. That is why we recognize the need in fulfilling
the Ten Commandments, given by God to the prophet Moses (Exodus, Chapter 20),
and the Evangelical Commandments, or blessings, given by the Lord Jesus Christ
(Matthew 5:3-12). The essence of these commandments is the love for God and
neighbor, and even to enemies (Matthew 5:43-45). These commandments of love
place the Christian faith above other religions in the moral sense, and from
the point of view of the human reason they can be evaluated as the only way to
establish peace, mutual respect and lawfulness among people. Without genuine
love for neighbor and all-forgiveness, wars and mutual extermination will be
inevitable. The Lord Jesus Christ teaches us to forgive everyone in the Lord's
Prayer, when it reads, "And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our
debtors" (Matthew 6:12). In His parables, the Lord teaches us about
the virtues of faith, meekness, patience, constancy, justice and other.
Outstanding among others is the parable of the talents, which calls us to
develop all abilities and talents that the Lord God gave us. The genuine faith
must inevitably manifest itself in the inner growth and good-doing, because
"faith without works is dead" (James 2:20). A Christian should
not be avaricious, i.e. he has to be quiet about material welfare, and use it
not for his whims, but for his needs and for helping others. Pride,
self-seeking, arrogance and egoism are all disgusting in God's eye.
The Orthodox Church teaches that every one
received free will from the Creator, and is therefore responsible for one's
acts. The Lord loves and pities for us. He helps us in everything good, and
especially if we ask Him for it. As He promised, "Ask, and it shall be
given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you"
(Matthew 7:7). A fervent prayer does clear the mind, help overcome temptations
and live in accord with the Commandments of God. Prayer helps us improve our
spiritual capabilities, which is the main goal of our life on earth.
When an Orthodox Christian suffers from diseases
or adversities, he or she should not murmur at God and forget that God permits
that we suffer, but it is for our own spiritual benefit, for cleansing of sins
and strengthening of the will for good-doing. At the rough moments of life we
must pray to our Heavenly Father: "Thy will be done in earth, as it is
We, the Orthodox, honor saints: the Holy
Virgin Mary, prophets, Apostles, martyrs, reverends (monastic) and other holy
people who pleased God. Many saints have not broken their communion with us
after their deaths, but passed to the celestial part of the Church, called Church
Triumphant. At the Throne of God they pray for us as for their small
brothers and help us in achieving the Kingdom of God. Very precious for us
Russians are the memories of Saint Princess Olga and Prince Vladimir, Saints
Boris and Gleb, Reverend Sergius of Radonezh, Antonius and Theodosius of
Pechersk, Seraphim of Sarov, Saint John of Kronschtadt and others, including
the recently glorified new Russian martyrs.
The divine service of the Orthodox Church follows
the centuries-established order. The principal act of worship is Liturgy
(communal service). An essential portion of the Liturgy is Eucharist,
when the faithful receive the very Flesh and Blood of Christ under the forms of
bread and wine, and mysteriously commune with Him, as the Lord said, "Whoso
eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him
up at the last day" (John 6:54). Before the Communion believers
confess their sins.
In order to help Christians overcome their
imperfections, fasting days were established. Since the Apostolic age
there has been a tradition to fast on all Wednesdays and Fridays (as
commemoration of the suffering of Our Savior), and to hold fast during Lent,
before the Easter. On fast days it is not allowed to eat meat and dairy
products and to have entertainments, but we should pray more and read religious
literature. The Orthodox faith calls to provide for the family, care for the
elderly, sick and poor, and not to reproach anyone: "Judge not, that ye
be not judged" (Matthew 7:1). The purpose of our life is continuous
moral improvement: "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which
is in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48).
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