Introduction to Orthodoxy: Commonalities.
Upon visiting an Orthodox Church most people, particularly those belonging to a Christian tradition, discover many familiar sights and sounds. The central place of Sacred Scripture in the life of the community will be readily evident. During worship services verses from the New Testament and Psalms are sung by the choir; passages from the Book of Acts or the Epistles, as well as from the books of the Gospel are chanted by designated readers, the priest or deacon. During the Sunday morning Divine Liturgy a sermon is given on appointed Bible texts.
Also familiar will be the emphasis during prayer on the Person of Christ, Whom Orthodox Christians affirm to be their Lord, God and Savior, as well as continual references to the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The Nicene Creed written in the 4th century and sung by the faithful, may be familiar to newcomers. It is a main declaration of faith for Orthodox Christians.
Visitors will notice the use of incense during services and the lighting of candles as expressions of faith and piety. These are mentioned in the Bible and have been practiced by Christians for two thousand years.
In addition, the sacramental life of Orthodoxy may strike a familiar chord. Baptism is understood as the entrance into the Christian life and is accomplished by triple immersion in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is followed immediately by an anointing with Chrism (sacramental oil), which is the giving of the Holy Spirit to the person who is “born again” of water and the Spirit. The Eucharist (Holy Communion) is the central sacramental act for Orthodox Christians, offered at every Divine Liturgy. Other sacraments include: Confession, Ordination, Marriage and Unction (anointing) for the sick. Having said that, it should be stressed that Orthodox Christians traditionally view the entire life of the Church as sacramental: it is spoken of Scripturally as, “the Body of Christ” (Colossians 1:24), “the Bride of Christ” (Ephesians 5:22-32), “the fullness of Him Who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1: 22-23), and the “the pillar and bulwark of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). In brief, the Church is experienced as God’s life shared with man, as fully as is possible in this world.
Commonalities with other Christians should not be surprising as prior to the 11th century there existed one universal Church. In 1054 A.D. a major schism (split) occurred: the Church in the West became known as Roman Catholic, and in the East, Orthodox. Not surprisingly, many cities and regions mentioned in the Bible are to this day understood to be traditional Orthodox areas.
While visitors to the Orthodox Church will undoubtedly find things similar to their own religious traditions, they will discover differences as well, both theologically and in terms of worship. It is impossible to describe all of these in any kind of detail for by some counts there exist 34,000 various expressions of Christianity worldwide, and to compare each to Orthodoxy even by groupings, would be a monumental task.
It should be noted that certain historical, philosophical and theological influences on Christendom in the West, did not play paramount roles in the development of Eastern Christianity. Thus, the Orthodox Church today is able to offer people a refreshing, yet traditional perspective to many modern issues and unanswered questions.
Perhaps a unique aspect of Orthodoxy lies in its integration of theology, worship and daily living into one organic whole, rather than relating to each as segregated elements of the Christian life. Thus, an Orthodox is called to make his or her entire life a prayer (an offering) to God. But it is within the active prayer lives of Christians for 2000 years that the Church’s theology was, and is, formed. And through adherence to both, a Christian is able by God’s grace to proceed daily along the path of salvation, of growth in Christ by partaking of God’s grace — His life — here and now.
There exist relevant sayings within the Orthodox spiritual tradition that indicate a strong relationship between prayer, theology and the personal life of a Christian: “A theologian is one who truly prays, and the one who truly prays is a theologian” (Evagrius of Pontus, 4th century); “The rule of prayer is the rule of faith; the rule of faith is the rule of prayer.”
A renowned modern Orthodox theologian, Bishop Kallistos Ware, wrote: “Theology, mysticism, spirituality, moral rules, worship, art: these things must not be kept in separate compartments. Doctrine cannot be understood unless it is prayed…And doctrine, if it is to be prayed, must also be lived…The Creed belongs only to those who live it. Faith, and love, theology and life, are inseparable.”
An abundance of related material is available online. We have as well books and CD’s in our own Church bookstore.
Again, we invite you to “Come and See” the Orthodox Church for yourself and to visit us for any of our parish activities. May our Lord bless you.