Are you Jewish?
No. We're most
then, you're Orthodox Presbyterians?
No. We're neither
Protestant nor Roman Catholic.
you mean like "Eastern Orthodox"?
Yes, except that we
as Americans are very much in and of "the West." Ironically
it is from the West that "The Eastern Orthodox Church" came
to these shores some two hundred years ago through Alaska and California.
Since that time Orthodox Christianity has been flourishing in the
that like "Greek Orthodox" and "Russian Orthodox"?
Yes, butů The
Orthodox Church is One Church. Currently, however,
Church organization in North America is divided among several
different "jurisdictions," or governing bodies of varying national origin within the One Church.
and worship of each jurisdiction and parish is the same, though in
some, languages other than English continues to
be used in the services.
in a number of ways is quite different from Roman Catholicism and
Protestantism. The following questions
and answers point out some important points of contrast and
I thought there are just two kinds of Christians, Protestant and
Catholic. How can you claim you are neither?
From the Orthodox
point of view, Roman Catholicism is a medieval modification of the
original Orthodoxy of the Church in Western Europe, and Protestantism
is a later attempt to return to the original Faith. To our way of thinking,
the Reformation did not go far enough.
differ with Roman Catholicism on the questions of papal authority, the
nature of the church, and a number of other consequent issues.
Historically, the Orthodox Church is both "pre-Protestant"
and "pre-Roman Catholic"
in the sense that many modern Roman Catholic teachings were developed
much later in Christian history.
The word catholic is
a Greek word meaning "having to do with wholeness." We do
consider ourselves "Catholic" in
that sense of the word, that is, as proclaiming and practicing
"the Whole Faith." In fact, the full title of our Church
is "The Orthodox Catholic Church."
We find that
Protestants readily relate to Orthodoxy's emphasis on personal faith
and the Scriptures. Roman Catholics easily identify with Orthodoxy's
rich liturgical worship and sacramental life. Roman Catholic visitors
often comment, "in lots of ways your Liturgy reminds me of our
old High Mass."
Many of the
"polarities" between Protestants and the Roman Communion
(i.e., "Word versus Sacrament" or "Faith versus
Works") have never arisen in the Orthodox Church. We believe
Orthodox theology offers the "western" denominations a way
in which apparently opposite differences can be reconciled.
Why do you call yourselves "Orthodox"?
The word orthodox was
coined by the ancient Christian Fathers of the Church, the name
traditionally given to the Christian writers in the first centuries of
Christian history. Orthodox is a combination of two Greek words,
orthos and doxa.
"straight" or "correct." (It is also found in the
word "orthopedics," which in the original Greek means
"the correct education of children.") Doxa means at one and
the same time "glory," "worship" and
"doctrine." So the word orthodox signifies both "proper
worship" and "correct doctrine."
The Orthodox Church
today is identical to the undivided Church in ancient times. The
Protestant Reformer Martin Luther once remarked that he believed the
pure Faith of primitive Christianity is to be found in the Orthodox
Then you must be a very conservative Church.
In current American
usage, the words "conservative" and "liberal"
indicate a variety of often-conflicting viewpoints. Usually we don't
really fit either category very well.
On seven major
occasions during the first millenium of Christianity the leaders of
the worldwide Church, from Britain
to Ethiopia, from Spain and Italy to Arabia, met to settle crucial
issues of Faith. The Orthodox Church is highly
"conservative" in the sense that we have not added to or
subtracted from any of the teachings of those seven Ecumenical
Councils. But that very "conservatism" often makes us
"liberal" in certain questions of civil liberties, social
justice and peace. We are very conservative, or rather traditional, in
our liturgical worship.
Which do you believe in, the Bible or Tradition?
A good short answer
to this question is "Yes!" The question implies precisely a
kind of polarity (i.e., "Bible versus Tradition") which is not found in the Orthodox
or in Greek paradosis, is used very often in the New Testament both as
a verb and a noun. (See I Corinthians 11:23, where literally
translating the original Greek, Paul says "for I received of the
Lord that which I also
have traditioned to you . . . ." See also I Corinthians 11:2, and
II Thessalonians 2:15 and 3:6.)
"that which is handed over." The New Testament carefully
distinguishes between "traditions of men"
and The Tradition, which is the Faith handed over to us by Christ in
the Holy Spirit. That same Faith was believed and practiced several
decades before the New Testament Scriptures were set down in writing
and given canonical (i.e., official) status. We experience the
Tradition as timeless and ever timely, ancient and ever new.
between The Tradition ("with a capital T") which is the
Faith/Practice of the Undivided Church, and traditions ("with a
little t") which are local or national customs. Due to changing
circumstances, sometimes cherished traditions must be altered or
respectfully laid aside for the sake of The Tradition.
The New Testament
Scriptures are the primary written witness to the Tradition. Orthodox
Christians therefore believe the Bible, as the inspired written Word
of God, is the heart of the Tradition. In the New Testament all basic Orthodox doctrine and sacramental practice is either
specifically set forth, or alluded to as already a practice of the
Church in the first century A.D.
The Tradition is
witnessed to also by the decisions of the Seven Ecumenical Councils,
the Nicene Creed, the writings of the Fathers of the Church, by the
liturgical worship and iconography of the Church, and in the lives of
Do you mean you Orthodox believe your elaborate worship is based on
the Bible? I'd like to know where.
The Christian Church
learned to worship in the Jewish Temple and in the Synagogues. Again
and again the New Testament tells us that Jesus, Paul and the others
worshipped regularly in Jewish houses of worship. (See for instance Luke 4:16; Acts 3:1; Acts 17:1-2.) We know from
archaeology, and from modern Jewish practice, that Synagogue worship
was and is highly liturgical, i.e., communal, organized, ceremonial,
and done decently and in order (I Corinthians 14:40).
The French Protestant
biblical scholar Oscar Cullman demonstrates very convincingly in his
little book Early Christian Worship that when John describes heavenly
worship in the book of Revelation, he is following the Hebrew custom
of portraying Heaven's worship in terms of earthly liturgy. The
writers of the Bible thought of earthly worship as a
"shadow" or "type" of Heaven's liturgy. (See
Isaiah 6, Hebrews 8:4-6.) In other words, a biblical passage such as
the fourth and fifth chapters of the Book of Revelation gives us an
accurate picture of a very early Christian worship service. That
service very much resembles modern Orthodox worship.
Orthodox worship is
also very Scriptural in the sense that it is a kaleidoscopic mosaic of
Scriptural quotations, paraphrases, references, and allusions. It is,
quite literally, "to pray the Bible!"
Apart from the fact
that we worship in English, and use modern harmonies with our ancient
melodies, our services are basically identical to those of the early
Christian Church. For that reason our worship sometimes seems a bit
"strange" to Protestant and Roman Catholic visitors. We
often hear, "Your services are just beautiful, and the music is
outstanding, but they feel somewhat different."
It sounds as if you are rigidly bound by your Tradition. You mean it
The Tradition as a
set of basic principles outlining our worldview is a constant. Its
very constancy, however, sometimes will even demand change. As a
simple instance of this, by Tradition our worship is to be celebrated
in a language understood by the worshipping congregation. This means
the Tradition not infrequently requires a change in liturgical
language. As another instance, the Tradition also requires constant
change in ourselves as, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we
grow spiritually and respond ever more fully to the call of God in
Do you have the Virgin Mary, Saints, pray for the dead, and have
confession "like the Catholics?"
There are points of
contact between Orthodox and Roman Catholic belief on these issues,
and modern Roman Catholic practice. There are also significant
differences. To discuss them in depth is beyond the scope of this
short summary. The following is a brief statement of the Orthodox
point of view.
We honor the Virgin
Mary as "higher than the Cherubim and more glorious than the
Seraphim" because she is the woman who gave birth to Jesus, Who
is the Word of God, Who is God, (in Greek, Theotokos). We call her
blessed and think of her as the greatest of missionaries, for her
unique mission was to deliver the Word of God to the world. (See Luke
1:43, 48: John 1:1, 14; Galatians 4:4.)
We likewise honor the
other great men and women in the life and history of the Church -
patriarchs, prophets, apostles, preachers, evangelists, martyrs,
confessors and ascetics - who committed their lives so completely to
the Lord, as models of
what it means to be fully and deeply Christian. These men and women
are called "saints"; a word
deriving from the ancient Latin word meaning "holy." For
example, we believe that men like the apostle Paul - in their devotion
to Christ - led holy lives and that we are indeed to be imitators of
him, as he was of Christ.
We also believe that
in the risen Christ, prayer transcends the barrier between life and
death and that those who have gone before us pray for us, as we
remember them in our prayers. In Christ, we are one family. (See
Hebrews12:1; II Timothy 1:16-18.)
As indicated in John
20:21-23, and James 5:14-16, we practice sacramental confession and
absolution of sins. The presbyter (priest) is the sacramental agent of
Christ. The priest sacramentally conveys Christ's forgiveness, not his
Does your church practice "Open Communion?"
In the strictest
sense the Communion of the Orthodox Church is open to all repentant
believers. That means we are glad to receive new members in the
Orthodox Church. The Orthodox concept of "Communion" is
totally holistic, and radically different from that of most other
Christian groups. We do not separate the idea of "Holy
Communion" from "Being in Communion," "Full
Communion," "Inter-Communion" and total "Communion
in the Faith."
In the Orthodox
Church therefore, to receive Holy Communion, or any other Sacrament
(Mystery), is taken to be a declaration of total commitment to the
Orthodox Faith. While we warmly welcome visitors to our services, it
is understood that only those communicant members of the Orthodox
Church who are prepared by confession and fasting will approach the
Why do you have all those pictures in your church?
Icons are not
pictures in the sense of naturalistic representations. They are rather
stylized and symbolic expressions of divinized humanity. (See II Peter
1:4; I John 3:2.) Icons for the Orthodox are sacramental signs of
God's Cloud of Witnesses (Hebrews 12:1). We do not worship icons.
Rather, we experience icons as Windows into Heaven. Like the Bible,
icons are earthly points of contact with transcendent Reality.
In the original Greek
of the New Testament Christ is called several times the icon (image)
of God the Father. (See II Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:15; Hebrews
1:3.) Man himself was originally created to be the icon of God (Genesis
Isn't all your old-fashioned doctrine and worship a bit irrelevant to
modern American life?
We believe that God
quite literally does exist. He is not a figment of pious fiction or
wishful thinking. God and His will is therefore our "top
priority." We believe that the Word of God quite literally became
Incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth.
We believe the Lord Jesus literally rose from the dead in a real
though transfigured and glorified physical body. We believe that life
apart from God is hollow and meaningless.
We notice that people
today talk often of "meaningfulness," "the meaning of
life," meaningful relationships," "the common
good," "the good of humanity," "hope for the
future of mankind" and so on. Also, various cults continue to attract many followers in all parts of our land.
This indicates to us that people today are hungry for the answers we
believe God has revealed through His Word, Who is Jesus Christ.
We believe ultimate
human values are revealed to us by God, and serve as constant guides
in the use of our steadily expanding scientific knowledge. We seek to
evaluate technological advances in the light of those basic values.
It is our experience
that our venerable Liturgy and the ancient Christian doctrines about
God and the meaning of human life are just as relevant today as
yesterday. These define our basic values. We know the whole ancient
Christian Faith as that which makes more sense than anything else in
this world of constant change, confusion and conflict.
God is the Source of
all Meaning; we believe that "mankind's noble ideals" such
as truth, beauty, freedom and love, are not "merely ideals,"
but real characteristics of a real Lord.
In and through Christ
Jesus, God reveals Himself in human terms and in human terminology as
One who is at the same time Trinity of Persons. The word
"person" as used in classical Christian theology is not the
singular form of "people"; God is not "Three
people." Person here means something similar to "I," or
"Subject," as in the subject of a sentence. The One God is
revealed as having three personal "Centers of Being." God is
therefore neither alone nor lonely, for the One Lord is also perfect
Communion of Persons. God as Trinity is the model and source of human
inter-personal communion and fellowship.
Man was created
capable of communion (mystical union) with God. Human matrimony is a
favorite biblical image of this communion-relationship. Our capacity
for divine communion was soon damaged by human error, stubbornness,
and evil (i.e., sin). Because of God's infinite love, our potential
for communion with God has been restored, renewed, and transfigured by
Christ Jesus. Christ communicates His very life to us through His Word and
Sacraments. In Christ and the Holy Spirit we can and do experience
varying degrees of a mystical union with God now in this life, and on
a regular basis.
We believe that the
purpose of human life is for us to become partakers of the divine
nature through the grace of the Holy Spirit, in prayer, sacrament,
study of the Word, fasting, self-discipline, and active love for
others. All other human projects and purposes, however noble, and
important, remain secondary to that, which gives ultimate meaning to
This brief outline of
Orthodox Faith necessarily but touches upon a number of more involved
issues. If you would like to find out more, we would welcome your
Facts about Orthodoxy
There are some 250
million Orthodox Christians in the world.
Most Christians in
Greece, Romania, Bulgaria and Serbia, Russia and Ukraine are Orthodox.
Americans are Orthodox Christians
concentrations of Orthodox in America are in Alaska, Pennsylvania, New
Jersey, New York, and Ohio.
Church life first came to America in 1794 with missionaries from old
Russia who came to Alaska.
Centuries of vigorous
Orthodox missionary activity across 12 times zones in northern Europe
and Asia was halted by the Communists after the Soviet Revolution in
Orthodox missions are
active in Central Africa, Japan Korea and many other parts of the
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