Studying the history of
Christianity, we are convinced that the appearance of the Orthodox Church
definitely arises from the time of the apostles. The Church, small at first,
like the example of the mustard seed used by the Savior, grew gradually into a
mighty tree, spreading its branches over the entire world. Even in the first
century, we find Christian congregations in almost all the cities in the Roman
empire: in the Holy Land, Syria, Armenia, Asia Minor, Hellene, Macedonia,
Italy, Galea, Egypt, North Africa, Spain, Britannia, and even beyond the empire,
in far away Arabia, India and Scythia. By the end of the first century,
Christian congregations were most often headed by bishops, who were the bearers
of the bounty of the apostolic blessings. The bishops also directed
congregations which were smaller than in the larger neighboring towns and
cities. As early as the second century, bishops of large regions were called
metropolitans and were responsible for the bishops in their regions. The
metropolitan had the responsibility to meet regularly with the bishops to
discuss religious and administrative matters.
In addition to regional episcopal sees in the Roman Empire, there were the
imperial dioceses. In major centers of government there developed centers for
the more widespread Church organizations, later to be named patriarchates. In
the Fourth Ecumenical Council, which assembled in Thessalonica in 451 A.D.,
boundaries were drawn for the five patriarchal sees: Rome, Constantinople,
Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem (which was not assigned administrative
duties but was recognized for its spiritual significance).
With the passage of time and effects of various historical events,
patriarchal regions lessened or grew in size. Great changes were brought about
as the result of the attacking German nation on Europe (at the end of the 4th
century) pressure from Persia, and the attack of Arabs on the eastern region of
the Byzantine Empire (middle of the 7th century). In the middle of
the 9th century noticeable movement is seen towards acceptance of
Christianity by the Slavic nations. In the enlightenment of Bulgaria and
Moravia, the monks Cyril and Methodius were especially industrious. From
Bulgaria the Christian religion advanced towards Serbia. A great contribution
was performed by Saints Cyril and Methodius in their creation of the Slavic
alphabet, and in translations from the Greek to the Slavic language selected
books of worship and devotion, and Books of the Holy Scripture. Their work
prepared Russia for Christianity.
On the northern coast of the Black Sea there existed Christian congregations
already at the end of the first century. Massive demands by the Christian
Slavic tribes occupying Russia led to the baptism of Russia. In 988, during the
reign of the Grand Prince Vladimir, the population of Kiev population was
baptized in the Dniper River.
From Kiev, the Orthodox Faith spread to other parts of Russia. The greatness
of the Russian Orthodox Church before the revolution can be judged by the
following facts: in Russia there were 1,098 monasteries with more than 90,000
monks and nuns. In addition to the Patriarch of Moscow, there were six
metropolitans, 136 bishops, 48,000 priests, and 15,000 deacons serving 60,000
churches and chapels. For the instruction of the seminarians there were four
religious academies, 57 seminaries, and 185 spiritual institutions. Great
quantities of bibles, various prayer books, religious literature, and
liturgical texts were printed.
Beginning with the middle of the 18th century, through the labor of St.
Herman of Alaska and other Orthodox Russian missionaries, Orthodoxy spread to
Alaska, where many Aleutians were baptized. Orthodoxy spread in North America
both through the immigration of Orthodox people from Greece and the Slavic
nations and through conversion. (There are now more than three million Orthodox
Christians in the United States).
Unfortunately, in time, Russia did not treasure her spiritual riches but
began to delight in the western ideas. By 1918, attacks were intensified on the
Church by atheists in their merciless attempt to destroy all the clergy, the
faithful, and the churches. This could be seen in the light of the Book of
Revelation, in which great tribulations were foretold for the Christian Faith
before the end of the world.
At present, the organization of the Orthodox Church consists of churches
centered in Constantinople (with a great number of believers in Europe, North
and South America headed by the patriarchal clergy in Istanbul, Turkey);
Alexandria (Egypt); Antioch (with its capital in Damascus, Syria); Jerusalem;
Russia; Georgia; Serbia; Rumania; Bulgaria; Greece; Albania; Poland;
Czechoslovakia; Latvia; and the "Orthodox Church in America." The
Finnish and Japanese Orthodox Churches are autonomous. After World War I there
developed a great number of Orthodox Greek and Russian congregations (of the
Russian Church Abroad) in almost all parts of the world. The total number of
Orthodox Christians in the world is now estimated at about 130,000,000.
The naming of the Church as "Orthodox" occurred during the period
of religious dispute from the 4th century to the 6th
century when it became necessary to differentiate the true Church from heresies
(initiated by Arias, Nestorius, and others who also called themselves
Christians but were outside the Church). The word orthodoxy is
translated from the Greek words ortho (right) and doxa (glory),
meaning right glory. Other names given to the Church were Catholic, which means
"whole" or "all encompassing," meaning that in the Church
resides all the Truth and that the Church calls everyone all over the world to
salvation, regardless of their nationality or social status. In the translation
of the Nicene Creed (the "Symbol of Faith") from Greek to Slavic, the
word "catholic" was translated as "universal."
In the Orthodox Church, established national churches ó for example, those
in Jerusalem, Russia, and Serbia ó are often headed by patriarchs, and
sometimes by archbishops or metropolitans. To discuss religious matters
concerning the Church, the patriarch or metropolitan calls a conference with
the bishops. Matters of concern to the whole Orthodox include questions
regarding faith (dogma) and the canons (Church laws). These are discussed in
the Ecumenical Councils, of which there have been seven. These were attended by
delegates from all the Orthodox patriarchates and autocephalous (autonomous)
Orthodox churches. Representatives from each patriarchate, including both
episcopal, priestly, and lay delegates are sent. In this manner, the system in
the Orthodoxy neither unilateral nor democratic but universal.
The teaching of the Orthodox Church in condensed form took shape in the
Symbol of Faith, which was established at the first and second Ecumenical
Councils in 325 and 381 (in the cities of Nicea and Constantinople). This
Symbol of Faith was in turn developed from the ancient creeds, developed during
the apostolic period. In summing up the Orthodox teaching, we believe in one
God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit ó the Trinity one and indivisible. The Father
is before all time; the Son of God is begotten of the Father before all ages;
and the Holy Spirit proceeds from God the Father from all eternity. We believe
in One God, worshipped in the Trinity, eternal, almighty and all-knowing; that
of His own Will He created all that exists out of nothing: first, the realm of
the angels, invisible to us, and then our visible and material world. God also
created people, breathed into us eternal souls, imprinted in our hearts his
benevolent law, and gave us free will. He created us to be eternally blessed in
communion with Him. We believe that God is eternally just and righteous in His
mercy. He governs the entire universe and the life of each one of us, and
without His will nothing can be accomplished.
When our first parents disobeyed Godís word, He did not reject them
permanently, but through the prophets began to disclose His plan of salvation,
promising to send the Messiah, Christ. When the world was ripe for accepting
the true faith, the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, came down to earth, to
save us sinners. He taught us how to believe and live righteously. He died on
the Cross for our salvation and with His precious blood washed away our sins.
On the third day He rose from the dead and began our own resurrection and
eternal blessed life in heaven. We believe that on the fiftieth day after His
resurrection the Lord Jesus Christ sent the Holy Spirit to the apostles, who
even now are present in the Church, supporting her in spirit and truth. We
believe that one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is empowered with
invincible power against evil even until the end of the world. We believe that
the Holy Spirit, through the Sacraments of Baptism, confession, Holy Communion,
the laying on of hands and the other Sacraments, purifies and enlightens believers,
giving them strength to live a Christian life. We believe that the Lord Jesus
Christ will come again a second time upon this earth, at which time there will
be the resurrection of the dead and a final judgment, in which every person
will be judged according to his deeds. After the judgment, eternal life will
begin; for the righteous, eternal bliss in communion with God, for the devil
and sinners eternal suffering in hell.
We admit that for salvation it is not enough to have faith alone, but it is
necessary to live in accordance with faith. For this reason, we admit to the
necessity of fulfilling the ten commandments given by God to the Prophet Moses,
and the Beatitudes in the Gospel given to us by the Lord Jesus Christ (Matt.
5:3-12). These laws command us to love God and our neighbor and even to love
our enemies (Matt. 5:43-45).
These laws of love place Christian Faith in a moral position above other
religions, and from that point of view the Church is the only true path to
peace among the nations. Without a sincere love for our neighbor and without
forgiveness, wars and total annihilation are inevitable. The Lord Jesus Christ
teaches us all to forgive in a remarkable prayer, the "Our Father,"
when we pray, "and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors."
In His sermons the Lord teaches faithfulness, gentleness, patience, and
justice towards others. Among His sermons one which stands out is the
"sermon of the talents" which calls us to develop within ourselves
all the gifts given by the Lord, our abilities and talents. True faith must
constantly develop inner growth and produce good deeds, because "faith
without works is dead" (James 2:6).
Christians must not be materialistic, that is, they must behave
dispassionately towards material blessings, not use them for selfish purposes,
but rather to meet basic necessities and to help others who are less fortunate.
Pride, arrogance, selfishness and egoism are loathsome in the sight of God.
The Orthodox Church teaches that each person was created by God with a free
will and is therefore responsible for his own behavior. God loves us and has
mercy on us sinners. He helps us with every good thing, especially if we call
on Him. He promised us: "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye
shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you" (Matt. 7:7). Earnest
prayer enlightens reason, helps overcome temptation, and assist us to live
according to Godís commandments. Prayer helps us to enliven our spiritual
abilities which become the main purpose for our life on earth.
When the Orthodox Christian experiences misfortune or illness, he must not
blame God, but remember that the Lord permits us to suffer for our spiritual
benefit, for cleansing from sins and the strength to do good deeds. In troubled
times, we must pray to the Heavenly Father, "Thy will be done on earth as
it is in heaven."
We Orthodox Christians honor the saints: the Virgin Mary, prophets,
apostles, martyrs, righteous monks and nuns, and other righteous servants of
God. After their death the holy ones do not sever their ties to us; they pass
on to the heavenly Church, the Church triumphant. There, before the throne of
God, they intercede for us, as for their younger brothers and sisters and help
us to reach the kingdom of God. For us Russians, we cherish the memory of the
apostolic Princess Olga and her grandson, Prince Vladimir, Saints Boris and
Gleb, the Righteous Sergius of Radonezh, Saints Anthony and Theodosius of the
Kiev caves, Saint Seraphim of Sarov, Saint John of Kronstadt and many others,
including the new Russian martyrs of the 20th century. Likewise, other Orthodox
nations have given us many great saints, and all Orthodox Christians venerate
all these saints.
Worship in the Orthodox Church is performed according to the order
established over the centuries. The most important worship service is the
Divine Liturgy. In a specific part of the service the sacrament of Holy
Communion is consecrated, and the faithful receive the Body and Blood of Christ
in the form 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 partaking of
Communion the faithful confess their sins to God through a priest in order to commune
worthily and with a pure heart, as commanded by the Apostle Paul and the
Days of fasting exist to aid Christians in overcoming their love of
pleasure, their sins, and their spiritual indolence. From the days of the
apostles, fasting has always been the rule on Wednesdays and Fridays (to
commemorate our Saviorís suffering), before the celebration of the Lordís birth
(Christmas), and especially before the feast of Pascha. This period is called
the Great Fast. During fasts, one is not permitted to consume meat or dairy
products or engage in frivolity, but should devote time to prayer and reading
spiritually profitable literature. The Orthodox faith also calls for almsgiving
which includes caring for oneís family, the elderly, orphans, widows, the sick
and the poor. It also requires refraining from criticizing anyone, as the Lord
Jesus Himself commanded, "judge not, that ye be not judged" (Matt.
7:1). The purpose of our life is constant striving towards righteousness: "Be
ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect"
Now we will proceed to examine the other "churches." The existence
of Christian denominations in the western countries originated from the
Lutheran movement, which in its time developed out of protest against the
abuses of the Roman Catholic Church. Thus, we will examine the Roman Catholic
Church to continue our overview of the churches.
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