Introduction to Orthodox Christianity
Orthodox Christianity is the life in faith of the Orthodox Church, inseparable from that concrete, historic community and encompassing its entire way of life. The Orthodox Christian faith is that faith "handed once to the saints" (Jude 3), passed on in Holy Tradition to the apostles by Jesus Christ, and then handed down from one generation to the next, without addition or subtraction.
Main article: Holy Trinity
Orthodox Christians worship the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—the Holy Trinity, the one God. Following the Holy Scriptures and the Church Fathers, the Church believes that the Trinity is three divine persons (hypostases) who share one essence (ousia). It is paradoxical to believe thus, but that is how God has revealed himself. All three persons are consubstantial with each other, that is, they are of one essence (homoousios) and coeternal. There never was a time when any of the persons of the Trinity did not exist. God is beyond and before time and yet acts within time, moving and speaking within history.
God is not an impersonal essence or mere "higher power," but rather each of the divine persons relates to mankind personally. Neither is God a simple name for three gods (i.e., polytheism), but rather the Orthodox faith is monotheist and yet Trinitarian. The God of the Orthodox Christian Church is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the I AM who revealed himself to Moses in the burning bush.
The source and unity of the Holy Trinity is the Father, from whom the Son is begotten and also from whom the Spirit proceeds. Thus, the Father is both the ground of unity of the Trinity and also of distinction. To try to comprehend unbegottenness (Father), begottenness (Son), or procession (Holy Spirit) leads to insanity, says the holy Gregory the Theologian, and so the Church approaches God in divine mystery, approaching God apophatically, being content to encounter God personally and yet realize the inadequacy of the human mind to comprehend him.
The primary statement of what the Church believes about God is to be found in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.
The second person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of God, begotten before all ages by the Father without a mother, was begotten in time by the Virgin Mary the Theotokos without a Father. He is the Logos, the Word of God, and he became flesh and dwelt among us, as says the beginning of the Gospel of John. Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. This is the doctrine of the Incarnation, that God became a man.
Our Lord Jesus is the Theanthropos, the God-man. He is not half God and half man, nor is he a hybrid of the two. Rather, he is fully God and fully man, perfect in his divinity and perfect in his humanity. He has two natures, joined together in the Incarnation without mixture, division, or confusion. As a result of being fully God and man, he also has two wills, one human will and one divine will to which the human one is submitted. He has two natures yet remains one person, one hypostasis.
Jesus is God, the second person of the Holy Trinity. He is the I AM revealed to Moses. He is the way, the truth and the life. He is the God before the ages, come to Earth as a little child and then died on the cross as a man and rose from the dead. He and the Father are one, for he is consubstantial with the Father. During his passion and death on the cross, one of the Trinity suffered in the flesh.
He is the Messiah, the Christ—the Anointed One of God, foretold by the prophets of the Old Testament. He is the Savior of the world, the Lamb of God, the Son of Man. As described in the Gospels, Jesus Christ was born of a woman, grew into a man, preached, healed, taught his disciples, died in physical reality on the cross, and then rose bodily from the dead on the third day. He then ascended into Heaven and sat down at the right hand of the Father. Of all mankind, he alone is without sin.
His work on Earth was for the purpose of saving mankind, for the life of the world. Everything he did was for our salvation, from relating parables and being baptized by the Forerunner to his glorious death and resurrection. Because of who he is and of what he did for us, we have the opportunity to become by grace what he is by nature. That is, we can put on the divine, becoming partakers of the divine nature.
Main article: Ecclesiology
The Church is the Body of Christ, a theanthropic (divine-human) communion of Jesus Christ with his people. The sole head of the Church is Christ. The traditional belief in the Church is attested to in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed as the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. By this is meant that the Church is undivided and not many (one), sanctified and set apart for the work of God (holy), whole and characterized by fullness and universality (catholic), and has at its essence the going out into all the world to preach the Gospel and baptize the nations (apostolic).
The Church is the Bride of Christ, the eschatological spouse of the Son of God, united to him in faith and love, for which he gave himself up on the cross. The intimacy of a husband and wife is an earthly image of the intimacy that Christ has with his Church, and the union of an earthly marriage is a shadow of the union of that marriage of the Lamb of God with the Church.
The community of the Church is the locus of salvation for mankind; it is truly the Ark in which mankind may be saved from the flood of corruption and sin. In it, Christians sacramentally work out their salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12), worshipping the Holy Trinity in spirit and in truth. The Church is the pillar and ground of truth (I Tim. 3:15) and thus may be relied upon in the Christian's struggle to apprehend the one truth for himself. The Church is eternal, and the gates of Hell will never prevail against it (Matt. 16:18).
The Church consists of the prophets and saints of both the Old and New Covenants, the angels and the concrete, historical community of believers in this earthly life. Those who have gone on before us are known as the Church Triumphant, while those in this life are known as the Church Militant.
The boundaries of the Church are ultimately known only to God himself, but outside the historical context of the Church—that is, the Orthodox Church—the nature of the connection of any human being to the Church (whether a believer in Christ or not) is unknown to us. Throughout Church History, various groups have broken from the Church, a tragic reality which does not divide the Church but rather divides believers from the Church. The final status of Christians in such communities is dependent on God's mercy and grace, as is the case with those with membership in the Church in this life.
Main article: Holy Tradition
Main article: Worship
Main article: Sacraments
Main article: Anthropology
Main article: Soteriology
The study of salvation is called soteriology.
Main article: Clergy
Main article: Saints
Main article: Church History
- What is Orthodoxy?, by Fr. Theodore Pulcini
- About Orthodoxy, from St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral, Brooklyn, New York
- Orthodox Christianity, from the Church of Serbia
- About Orthodox Christianity (OCA site)
- Our Faith (GOA site)
- What We Believe (Antiochian site)
- Meeting the Orthodox: Questions & Answers on the Orthodox Faith, by Fr. Thomas Hopko
- Some straight answers about the Orthodox Church
- Orthodoxy, by Fr. John Behr
- Introduction to the Orthodox Church, by Fr. Leonidas Contos