What is Orthodox Christianity?
If you’re reading this post, then you’re probably an English-speaking person in a county that came from England.
And because of that, your understanding of Christianity has been shaped immensely by Protestantism. You’re probably aware of Catholicism too, but this is likely to be of lesser importance.
So the recent rise of Eastern Orthodox Christianity within the Protestant World may be a source of intrigue for you.
And the purpose of this post is to introduce you to the essential views of the Orthodox Christians.
Orthodox Christianity is the the Christianity that Jesus taught, that the apostles spread, and that their followers kept. It was with with the Catholic Church at the beginning of Christianity’s history, and then the two split. The Catholics changed many things, but the Orthodox kept them the same.
So that’s the gist of Orthodox Christianity. It was founded by Christ and the apostles, and it has an unbroken history which goes back 2,000 years. During that time, the Orthodox have retained the teachings which Christ himself had delivered.
What Does It Mean to Be an Orthodox Christian?
Jesus was real. He was God. People knew Him. Jesus taught those people how to worship properly. Those people passed the teachings which they received directly from Jesus on to a second generation. The second generation retained them, and then it passed them on to a third. This chain of inheritance has continued for 2,000 years, and the Orthodox keep it.
So the Orthodox tradition is justified wholly by the fact that Christ was real, that He taught the Orthodox founders, and that His teachings were correct. It is for this reason that icons of Christ are kept arrayed throughout Orthodox churches so that the faithful will always be reminded of His value.
This attitude exists in stark contrast to most Protestant groups. In Protestant churches, attention tends to be placed on the importance of people visiting the church and on the people who run the services.
The Orthodox reject this behavior. The proper Christian does not go to church in order to be entertained, to listen to music, hear Bible readings, or to have fun. Christians go to church in order to worship the Lord.
So Christ is the center of the Orthodox church.
A Concise Answer to the Question Above
Orthodox Christianity is not concerned with what it is about nearly as much as it is with who it is about. Protestants focus on the laity. Catholics focus on the priest. The Orthodox focus on Christ. This is why services are held even when nobody has bothered to attend them. The service is not about them, so their attendance is not necessary.
Or, more curtly, Orthodoxy is the church from the beginning.
The Founders of Orthodoxy
Jesus told His apostles to go about the land and to spread His teachings to the disparate peoples of the world. His apostles did so, and they founded churches in various places around Mediterranean and the larger world.
These apostles founded their largest churches in five places: Rome, Antioch, Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Constantinople. These five churches served as the hubs of Christianity for roughly 1,000 years.
Then Rome and the other four split apart in ane vent called the Great Schism. The people following the Roman Church became the Roman Catholics. The people following the other four became the Eastern Orthodox.
In this way, the Orthodox claim direct descent from the apostles because the churches the apostles founded are their own. They call this descent from the apostles apostolic tradition.
How Is the Orthodox Church Different from Other Churches?
Here are eight key differences between the Orthodox Church and the Protestant and Catholic churches.
- The Orthodox church does not have a single leader. In this way it is different from the Catholic Church.
- The Orthodox descend from the apostles. In this way, it differs from Protestant churches.
- It also acknowledges saints, whereas most Protestants do not.
- It largely rejects scholasticism, which both the Catholics and the Protestants espouse.
- The Orthodox reject the idea that a person may be saved by faith alone, but many Protestants affirm this.
- It acknowledges heresies; many Protestants do not.
- The Orthodox Church rejects the Branch Theory.
- And the Orthodox value monasticism to a greater extent than any other Christian faction. It is for this reason that church leaders are chosen from among the monks.
The One Church
Before Jesus was killed, one fo the last things he did before his disciples was pray that they would retain their unity. The Orthodox and the Catholic churches know this and interpret it to mean that only one church exists.
Protestants like to claim that this church is merely spiritual; the Orthodox reject this view. The Orthodox reject the Protestant view because the people who knew Jesus believed that the church was a measurable and describable institution.
So Protestants believe Jesus meant one thing, but the people who were there when Jesus was speaking believed he meant a different thing.
How can anyone who isn’t already a Protestant take the Protestants’ side?
Who Is the Leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church?
The church is led by the Ecumenical Patriarch. The current EP is Bartholomew I. He is the Archbishop of Constantinople (Istanbul). His leadership role is ceremonial,a dn eh does not wield an absolute authoritative power over the other archbishops. In this way, he is unlike the Catholic pope.
Now, the leader of the largest regional Eastern Orthodox church is Cyril I, and he is the Patriarch of Moscow. Russia possesses the most numerous population of Orthodox Christians, and they are led from Moscow by this man. The fact that this regional church contains more wealth, power, and influence than the EP’s own church often leads to rivalries between the two.
How Does the Orthodox Church Change?
The Eastern Orthodox Church is the Christian church which changes the least. In fact, it was their refusal to change that led to the split between the Eastern and Western churches. The Catholics wanted to alter, add, and subtract things from the Christian religion, and the Orthodox wanted to maintain it as it was.
The reasoning which sustains the Orthodox refusal to change is as follows:
- Jesus was real and He taught people how to worship properly.
- Christ was God, so His teachings can’t be wrong.
- And if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
- Because attempts to change a thing which is fine can introduce errors into a perfected system.
So the Orthodox do not change their core beliefs. However, once in a very great while something minor may change within the religion. An example of such a change would include the Orthodox calendar shift.
Challenges Faced by the Orthodox
The Eastern Orthodox Church is a highly insular organization. Its members rarely try to expand the religion, and Orthodox communities tend to separate themselves from the world at large.
The result of this attitude toward the religion is that the Orthodox do not try to convert people to the faith with the same ea as the Catholics and Protestants do. This is the reason why the Catholics and the Protestants outnumber the Orthodox to such a great extent.
It is also the reason why the New World barely knows about Orthodoxy. Large swaths of it were conquered by France, Spain, and Portugal, and the peoples fo these nations proceeded to spread Catholicism throughout the lands they conquered. And the Protestant English brought Protestantism to the rest of it.
Meanwhile, while the Protestants and the Catholics were spreading their Christianity all over the world, the Orthodox were farther east and they spent their time fighting with Muslims and Mongols. It was not until the Russians began to settle Northern Asia and Alaska that Orthodoxy really began to make its way into the Americas.