Discover Orthodox Christianity

A series of articles from the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.

Introducing Orthodoxy

Come and see!

The end of each discovery becomes the starting point for the discovery of something higher, and the ascent continues.
Thus our ascent is unending. We go from beginning to beginning by way of beginnings without end. St. Gregory of Nyssa.

by Frederica Mathewes-Green

Orthodox worship is different! Some of these differences are apparent, if perplexing, from the first moment you walk in a church. Others become noticeable only over time. Here is some information that may help you feel more at home in Orthodox worship–twelve things I wish I’d known before my first visit to an Orthodox church.

1. What’s all this commotion?

During the early part of the service the church may seem to be in a hubbub, with people walking up to the front of the church, praying in front of the iconostasis (the standing icons in front of the altar), kissing things and lighting candles, even though the service is already going on. In fact, when you came in the service was already going on, although the sign outside clearly said “Divine Liturgy, 9:30.” You felt embarrassed to apparently be late, but these people are even later, and they’re walking all around inside the church. What’s going on here?

In an Orthodox church there is only one Eucharistic service (Divine Liturgy) per Sunday, and it is preceded by an hour-long service of Matins (or Orthros) and several short preparatory services before that. There is no break between these services–one begins as soon as the previous ends, and posted starting times are just educated guesses. Altogether, the priest will be at the altar on Sunday morning for over three hours, “standing in the flame,” as one Orthodox priest put it.

As a result of this state of continuous flow, there is no point at which everyone is sitting quietly in a pew waiting for the entrance hymn to start, glancing at their watches approaching 9:30. Orthodox worshippers arrive at any point from the beginning of Matins through the early part of the Liturgy, a span of well over an hour. No matter when they arrive, something is sure to be already going on, so Orthodox don’t let this hamper them from going through the private prayers appropriate to just entering a church. This is distracting to newcomers, and may even seem disrespectful, but soon you begin to recognize it as an expression of a faith that is not merely formal but very personal. Of course, there is still no good excuse for showing up after 9:30, but punctuality is unfortunately one of the few virtues many Orthodox lack.

2. Stand up, stand up for Jesus

In the Orthodox tradition, the faithful stand up for nearly the entire service. Really. In some Orthodox churches, there won’t even be any chairs, except a few scattered at the edges of the room for those who need them. Expect variation in practice: some churches, especially those that bought already-existing church buildings, will have well-used pews. In any case, if you find the amount of standing too challenging you’re welcome to take a seat. No one minds or probably even notices. Long-term standing gets easier with practice.

3. In this sign

To say that we make the sign of the cross frequently would be an understatement. We sign ourselves whenever the Trinity is invoked, whenever we venerate the cross or an icon, and on many other occasions in the course of the Liturgy. But people aren’t expected to do everything the same way. Some people cross themselves three times in a row, and some finish by sweeping their right hand to the floor. On first entering a church people may come up to an icon, make a “metania”–crossing themselves and bowing with right hand to the floor–twice, then kiss the icon, then make one more metania. This becomes familiar with time, but at first it can seem like secret-handshake stuff that you are sure to get wrong. Don’t worry, you don’t have to follow suit.

We cross with our right hands from right to left (push, not pull), the opposite of Roman Catholics and high-church Protestants. We hold our hands in a prescribed way: thumb and first two fingertips pressed together, last two fingers pressed down to the palm. Here as elsewhere, the Orthodox impulse is to make everything we do reinforce the Faith. Can you figure out the symbolism? (Three fingers together for the Trinity; two fingers brought down to the palm for the two natures of Christ, and his coming down to earth.) This, too, takes practice. A beginner’s imprecise arrangement of fingers won’t get you denounced as a heretic.

4. What, no kneelers?

Generally, we don’t kneel. We do sometimes prostrate. This is not like prostration in the Roman Catholic tradition, lying out flat on the floor. To make a prostration we kneel, place our hands on the floor and touch our foreheads down between our hands. It’s just like those photos of middle-eastern worship, which look to Westerners like a sea of behinds. At first prostration feels embarrassing, but no one else is embarrassed, so after awhile it feels OK. Ladies will learn that full skirts are best for prostrations, as flat shoes are best for standing.

Sometimes we do this and get right back up again, as during the prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian, which is used frequently during Lent. Other times we get down and stay there awhile, as some congregations do during part of the Eucharistic prayer.

Not everyone prostrates. Some kneel, some stand with head bowed; in a pew they might slide forward and sit crouched over. Standing there feeling awkward is all right too. No one will notice if you don’t prostrate. In Orthodoxy there is a wider acceptance of individualized expressions of piety, rather than a sense that people are watching you and getting offended if you do it wrong.

One former Episcopal priest said that seeing people prostrate themselves was one of the things that made him most eager to become Orthodox. He thought, “That’s how we should be before God.”

5. With Love and Kisses

We kiss stuff. When we first come into the church, we kiss the icons (Jesus on the feet and other saints on the hands, ideally). You’ll also notice that some kiss the chalice, some kiss the edge of the priest’s vestment as he passes by, the acolytes kiss his hand when they give him the censer, and we all line up to kiss the cross at the end of the service. When we talk about “venerating” something we usually mean crossing ourselves and kissing it.

We kiss each other before we take communion (“Greet one another with a kiss of love,” 1 Peter 5:14). When Roman Catholics or high-church Protestants “pass the peace,” they give a hug, handshake, or peck on the cheek; that’s how Westerners greet each other. In Orthodoxy different cultures are at play: Greeks and Arabs kiss on two cheeks, and Slavs come back again for a third. Follow the lead of those around you and try not to bump your nose.

The usual greeting is “Christ is in our midst” and response, “He is and shall be.” Don’t worry if you forget what to say. The greeting is not the one familiar to Episcopalians, “The peace of the Lord be with you.” Nor is it “Hi, nice church you have here.” Exchanging the kiss of peace is a liturgical act, a sign of mystical unity. Chatting and fellowship is for later.

6. Blessed bread and consecrated bread

Only Orthodox may take communion, but anyone may have some of the blessed bread. Here’s how it works: the round communion loaf, baked by a parishioner, is imprinted with a seal. In the preparation service before the Liturgy, the priest cuts out a section of the seal and sets it aside; it is called the “Lamb”. The rest of the bread is cut up and placed in a large basket, and blessed by the priest.

During the eucharistic prayer, the Lamb is consecrated to be the Body of Christ, and the chalice of wine is consecrated as His Blood. Here’s the surprising part: the priest places the “Lamb” in the chalice with the wine. When we receive communion, we file up to the priest, standing and opening our mouths wide while he gives us a fragment of the wine-soaked bread from a golden spoon. He also prays over us, calling us by our first name or the saint-name which we chose when we were baptized or chrismated (received into the church by anointing with blessed oil).

As we file past the priest, we come to an altar boy holding the basket of blessed bread. People will take portions for themselves and for visitors and non-Orthodox friends around them. If someone hands you a piece of blessed bread, do not panic; it is not the eucharistic Body. It is a sign of fellowship.

Visitors are sometimes offended that they are not allowed to receive communion. Orthodox believe that receiving communion is broader than me-and-Jesus; it acknowledges faith in historic Orthodox doctrine, obedience to a particular Orthodox bishop, and a commitment to a particular Orthodox worshipping community. There’s nothing exclusive about this; everyone is invited to make this commitment to the Orthodox Church. But the Eucharist is the Church’s treasure, and it is reserved for those who have united themselves with the Church. An analogy could be to reserving marital relations until after the wedding.

We also handle the Eucharist with more gravity than many denominations do, further explaining why we guard it from common access. We believe it is truly the Body and Blood of Christ. We ourselves do not receive communion unless we are making regular confession of our sins to a priest and are at peace with other communicants. We fast from all food and drink–yes, even a morning cup of coffee–from midnight the night before communion.

This leads to the general topic of fasting. When newcomers learn of the Orthodox practice, their usual reaction is, “You must be kidding.” We fast from meat, fish, dairy products, wine and olive oil nearly every Wednesday and Friday, and during four other periods during the year, the longest being Great Lent before Pascha (Easter). Altogether this adds up to nearly half the year. Here, as elsewhere, expect great variation. With the counsel of their priest, people decide to what extent they can keep these fasts, both physically and spiritually–attempting too much rigor too soon breeds frustration and defeat. Nobody’s fast is anyone else’s business. As St. John Chrysostom says in his beloved Paschal sermon, everyone is welcomed to the feast whether they fasted or not: “You sober and you heedless, honor the day…Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast.”

The important point is that the fast is not rigid rules that you break at grave risk, nor is it a punishment for sin. Fasting is exercise to stretch and strengthen us, medicine for our souls’ health. In consultation with your priest as your spiritual doctor, you can arrive at a fasting schedule that will stretch but not break you. Next year you may be ready for more. In fact, as time goes by, and as they experience the camaraderie of fasting together with a loving community, most people discover they start relishing the challenge.

7. Where’s the General Confession?

In our experience, we don’t have any general sins; they’re all quite specific. There is no complete confession-prayer in the Liturgy. Orthodox are expected to be making regular, private confession to their priest.

The role of the pastor is much more that of a spiritual father than it is in other denominations. He is not called by his first name alone, but referred to as “Father Firstname.” His wife also holds a special role as parish mother, and she gets a title too, though it varies from one culture to another: either “Khouria” (Arabic), or “Presbytera” (Greek), both of which mean “priest’s wife;” or “Matushka” (Russian), which means “Mama.”

Another difference you may notice is in the Nicene Creed, which may be said or sung, depending on the parish. If we are saying that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, and you from force of habit add, “and the Son,” you will be alone. The “filioque” was added to the Creed some six hundred years after it was written, and we adhere to the original. High-church visitors will also notice that we don’t bow or genuflect during the “and was incarnate.” Nor do we restrict our use of “Alleluia” during Lent (when the sisters at one Episcopal convent are referring to it as “the ‘A’ word”); in fact, during Matins in Lent, the Alleluias are more plentiful than ever.

8. Music, music, music

About seventy-five percent of the service is congregational singing. Traditionally, Orthodox use no instruments, although some churches will have organs. Usually a small choir leads the people in a capella harmony, with the level of congregational response varying from parish to parish. The style of music varies as well, from very Oriental-sounding solo chant in an Arabic church to more Western-sounding four-part harmony in a Russian church, with lots of variation in between.

This constant singing is a little overwhelming at first; it feels like getting on the first step of an escalator and being carried along in a rush until you step off ninety minutes later. It has been fairly said that the liturgy is one continuous song.

What keeps this from being exhausting is that it’s pretty much the *same* song every week. Relatively little changes from Sunday to Sunday; the same prayers and hymns appear in the same places, and before long you know it by heart. Then you fall into the presence of God in a way you never can when flipping from prayer book to bulletin to hymnal.

9. Making editors squirm

Is there a concise way to say something? Can extra adjectives be deleted? Can the briskest, most pointed prose be boiled down one more time to a more refined level? Then it’s not Orthodox worship. If there’s a longer way to say something, the Orthodox will find it. In Orthodox worship, more is always more, in every area including prayer. When the priest or deacon intones, “Let us complete our prayer to the Lord,” expect to still be standing there fifteen minutes later.

The original liturgy lasted something over five hours; those people must have been on fire for God. The Liturgy of St. Basil edited this down to about two and a half, and later (around 400 A.D.) the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom further reduced it to about one and a half. Most Sundays we use the St. John Chrysostom liturgy, although for some services (e.g., Sundays in Lent, Christmas Eve) we use the longer Liturgy of St. Basil.

10. Our Champion Leader

A constant feature of Orthodox worship is veneration of the Virgin Mary, the “champion leader” of all Christians. We often address her as “Theotokos,” which means “Mother of God.” In providing the physical means for God to become man, she made possible our salvation.

But though we honor her, as Scripture foretold (“All generations will call me blessed,” Luke 1:48), this doesn’t mean that we think she or any of the other saints have magical powers or are demi-gods. When we sing “Holy Theotokos, save us,” we don’t mean that she grants us eternal salvation, but that we seek her prayers for our protection and growth in faith. Just as we ask for each other’s prayers, we ask for the prayers of Mary and other saints as well. They’re not dead, after all, just departed to the other side. Icons surround us to remind us of all the saints who are joining us invisibly in worship.

11. The three doors

Every Orthodox church will have an iconostasis before its altar. “Iconostasis” means “icon-stand”, and it can be as simple as a large image of Christ on the right and a corresponding image of the Virgin and Child on the left. In a more established church, the iconostasis may be a literal wall, adorned with icons. Some of versions shield the altar from view, except when the central doors stand open.

The basic set-up of two large icons creates, if you use your imagination, three doors. The central one, in front of the altar itself, is called the “Holy Doors” or “Royal Doors,” because there the King of Glory comes out to the congregation in the Eucharist. Only the priest and deacons, who bear the Eucharist, use the Holy Doors.

The openings on the other sides of the icons, if there is a complete iconostasis, have doors with icons of angels; they are termed the “Deacon’s Doors.” Altar boys and others with business behind the altar use these, although no one is to go through any of the doors without an appropriate reason. Altar service–priests, deacons, altar boys–is restricted to males. Females are invited to participate in every other area of church life. Their contribution has been honored equally with men’s since the days of the martyrs; you can’t look at an Orthodox altar without seeing Mary and other holy women. In most Orthodox churches, women do everything else men do: lead congregational singing, paint icons, teach classes, read the epistle, and serve on the parish council.

12. Where does an American fit in?

Flipping through the Yellow Pages in a large city you might see a multiplicity of Orthodox churches: Greek, Romanian, Carpatho-Russian, Antiochian, Serbian, and on and on. Is Orthodoxy really so tribal? Do these divisions represent theological squabbles and schisms?

Not at all. All these Orthodox churches are one church. The ethnic designation refers to what is called the parish’s “jurisdiction” and identifies which bishops hold authority there. There are about 6 million Orthodox in North America and 250 million in the world, making Orthodoxy the second-largest Christian communion.

The astonishing thing about this ethnic multiplicity is its theological and moral unity. Orthodox throughout the world hold unanimously to the fundamental Christian doctrines taught by the Apostles and handed down by their successors, the bishops, throughout the centuries. They also hold to the moral standards of the Apostles; abortion, and sex outside heterosexual marriage, remain sins in Orthodox eyes.

One could attribute this unity to historical accident. We would attribute it to the Holy Spirit.

Why then the multiplicity of ethnic churches? These national designations obviously represent geographic realities. Since North America is also a geographic unity, one day we will likewise have a unified national church–an American Orthodox Church. This was the original plan, but due to a number of complicated historical factors, it didn’t happen that way. Instead, each ethnic group of Orthodox immigrating to this country developed its own church structure. This multiplication of Orthodox jurisdictions is a temporary aberration and much prayer and planning is going into breaking through those unnecessary walls.

Currently the largest American jurisdictions are the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, The Orthodox Church in America (Russian roots), and the Antiochian Archdiocese (Arabic roots). The liturgy is substantially the same in all, though there may be variation in language used and type of music.

I wish it could be said that every local parish eagerly welcomes newcomers, but some are still so close to their immigrant experience that they are mystified as to why outsiders would be interested. Visiting several Orthodox parishes will help you learn where you’re most comfortable. You will probably be looking for one that uses plenty of English in its services. Many parishes with high proportions of converts will have services entirely in English.

Orthodoxy seems startlingly different at first, but as the weeks go by it gets to be less so. It will begin to feel more and more like home, and will gradually draw you into your true home, the Kingdom of God. I hope that your first visit to an Orthodox church will be enjoyable, and that it won’t be your last.

This article is available as a printed booklet from Ancient Faith Publishing, as part of their popular series of attractive and informative booklets and brochures about the basic teachings of the ancient Orthodox Christian faith. This essay is copyrighted by Ancient Faith Publishing

by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware

The Orthodox Church was founded by our Lord Jesus Christ and is the living manifestation of His presence in the history of the mankind. The most conspicuous characteristics of Orthodoxy are its rich liturgical life and its faithfulness to the apostolic tradition. It is believed by Orthodox Christians that their Church has preserved the tradition and continuity of the ancient Church in its fullness compared to other Christian denominations which have departed from the common tradition of the Church of the first 10 centuries. Today Orthodox Church numbers approximately 300 million Christians who follow the faith and practices that were defined by the first seven ecumenical councils. The word orthodox (“right belief and right glory”) has traditionally been used, in the Greek-speaking Christian world, to designate communities, or individuals, who preserved the true faith (as defined by those councils), as opposed to those who were declared heretical. The official designation of the church in its liturgical and canonical texts is “the Orthodox Catholic Church” (gr. catholicos = universal).

The Orthodox Church is a family of “autocephalous” (self governing) churches, with the Ecumenical (= universal) Patriarch of Constantinople holding titular or honorary primacy as primus inter pares (the first among equals). The Orthodox Church is not a centralized organization headed by a pontiff. The unity of the Church is rather manifested in common faith and communion in the sacraments and no one but Christ himself is the real head of the Church. The number of autocephalous churches has varied in history. Today there are many: the Church of Constantinople (Istanbul), the Church of Alexandria (Egypt), the Church of Antioch (with headquarters in Damascus, Syria), and the Churches of Jerusalem, Russia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Cyprus, Greece, Poland, Albania and America

There are also “autonomous” churches (retaining a token canonical dependence upon a mother see) in Czech and Slovak republic, Sinai, Crete, Finland, Japan, China and Ukraine. In addition there is also a large Orthodox Diaspora scattered all over the world and administratively divided among various jurisdictions (dependencies of the above mentioned autocephalous churches). The first nine autocephalous churches are headed by patriarchs, the others by archbishops or metropolitans. These titles are strictly honorary as all bishops are completely equal in the power granted to them by the Holy Spirit.

The order of precedence in which the autocephalous churches are listed does not reflect their actual influence or numerical importance. The Patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, and Antioch, for example, present only shadows of their past glory. Yet there remains a consensus that Constantinople’s primacy of honor, recognized by the ancient canons because it was the capital of the ancient Byzantine empire, should remain as a symbol and tool of church unity and cooperation. Modern pan-Orthodox conferences were thus convoked by the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople. Several of the autocephalous churches are de facto national churches, by far the largest being the Russian Church; however, it is not the criterion of nationality but rather the territorial principle that is the norm of organization in the Orthodox Church.

In the wider theological sense “Orthodoxy is not merely a type of purely earthly organization which is headed by patriarchs, bishops and priests who hold the ministry in the Church which officially is called “Orthodox.” Orthodoxy is the mystical “Body of Christ,” the Head of which is Christ Himself (see Eph. 1:22-23 and Col. 1:18, 24 et seq.), and its composition includes not only priests but all who truly believe in Christ, who have entered in a lawful way through Holy Baptism into the Church He founded, those living upon the earth and those who have died in the Faith and in piety.”

The Great Schism between the Eastern and the Western Church (1054) was the culmination of a gradual process of estrangement between the east and west that began in the first centuries of the Christian Era and continued through the Middle Ages. Linguistic and cultural differences, as well as political events, contributed to the estrangement. From the 4th to the 11th century, Constantinople, the center of Eastern Christianity, was also the capital of the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empire, while Rome, after the barbarian invasions, fell under the influence of the Holy Roman Empire of the West, a political rival. In the West theology remained under the influence of St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) and gradually lost its immediate contact with the rich theological tradition of the Christian East. In the same time the Roman See was almost completely overtaken by Franks. Theological differences could have probably been settled if there were not two different concepts of church authority. The growth of Roman primacy, based on the concept of the apostolic origin of the Church of Rome which claimed not only titular but also jurisdictional authority above other churches, was incompatible with the traditional Orthodox ecclesiology. The Eastern Christians considered all churches as sister churches and understood the primacy of the Roman bishop only as primus inter pares among his brother bishops. For the East, the highest authority in settling doctrinal disputes could by no means be the authority of a single Church or a single bishop but an Ecumenical Council of all sister churches. In the course of time the Church of Rome adopted various wrong teachings which were not based in the Tradition and finally proclaimed the teaching of the Pope’s infallibility when teaching ex cathedra. This widened the gap even more between the Christian East and West. The Protestant communities which split from Rome in the course of centuries diverged even more from the teaching of the Holy Fathers and the Holy Ecumenical Councils. Due to these serious dogmatic differences the Orthodox Church is not in communion with the Roman Catholic and Protestant communities. More traditional Orthodox theologians do not recognize the ecclesial and salvific character of these Western churches at all, while the more liberal ones accept that the Holy Spirit acts to a certain degree within these communities although they do not possess the fullness of grace and spiritual gifts like the Orthodox Church. Many serious Orthodox theologians are of the opinion that between Orthodoxy and heterodox confessions, especially in the sphere of spiritual experience, the understanding of God and salvation, there exists an ontological difference which cannot be simply ascribed to cultural and intellectual estrangement of the East and West but is a direct consequence of a gradual abandonment of the sacred tradition by heterodox Christians.

At the time of the Schism of 1054 between Rome and Constantinople, the membership of the Eastern Orthodox Church was spread throughout the Middle East, the Balkans, and Russia, with its center in Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, which was also called New Rome. The vicissitudes of history have greatly modified the internal structures of the Orthodox Church, but, even today, the bulk of its members live in the same geographic areas. Missionary expansion toward Asia and emigration toward the West, however, have helped to maintain the importance of Orthodoxy worldwide. Today, the Orthodox Church is present almost everywhere in the world and is bearing witness of true, apostolic and patristic tradition to all peoples.

The Orthodox Church is well known for its developed monasticism. The uninterrupted monastic tradition of Orthodox Christianity can be traced from the Egyptian desert monasteries of the 3rd and 4th centuries. Soon monasticism had spread all over the Mediterranean basin and Europe: in Palestine, Syria, Cappadocia, Gaul, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Slavic countries. Monasticism has always been a beacon of Orthodoxy and has made and continues to make a strong and lasting impact on Orthodox spirituality.

The Orthodox Church today is an invaluable treasury of the rich liturgical tradition handed down from the earliest centuries of Christianity. The sense of the sacred, the beauty and grandeur of the Orthodox Divine Liturgy make the presence of heaven on earth live and intensive. Orthodox Church art and music has a very functional role in the liturgical life and helps even the bodily senses to feel the spiritual grandeur of the Lord’s mysteries. Orthodox icons are not simply beautiful works of art which have certain aesthetic and didactic functions. They are primarily the means through which we experience the reality of the Heavenly Kingdom on earth. The holy icons enshrine the immeasurable depth of the mystery of Christ’s incarnation in defense of which thousands of martyrs sacrificed their lives.

by Ancient Faith Press


  • On the one hand, it is the oldest Church in Christendom. On the other hand, it’s new to most people in North America.
  • It is the second largest body in Christendom with 225 million people worldwide. But in the U.S. and Canada there are fewer than six million.
  • In the twentieth century alone, an estimated 40 million Orthodox Christians gave their lives for their faith, primarily under communism. So high is the commitment of many Orthodox Christians to Christ and His Church, she has often been called “the Church of the Martyrs.”
  • She is the Church of some of history’s greatest theologians, scholars, and writers— people like John Chrysostom, Justin Martyr, Augustine, Dostoyevsky, and Alexander Solzehenitsyn.

But what exactly is this Orthodox Church? What are her roots? What are her beliefs? And why are there so many who have never heard of her?

A Brief History

The Orthodox Church is the original Christian Church, the Church founded by the Lord Jesus Christ and described in the pages of the New Testament. Her history can be traced in unbroken continuity all the way back to Christ and His Twelve Apostles.

Incredible as it seems, for over twenty centuries she has continued in her undiminished and unaltered faith and practice. Today her apostolic doctrine, worship, and structure remain intact. The Orthodox Church maintains that the Church is the living Body of Jesus Christ.

Many of us are surprised to learn that for the first 1000 years of Christian history there was just one Church. It was in the eleventh century that a disastrous split occurred between Orthodox East and Latin West. Although it had been brewing for years, the so-called “Great Schism” of 1054 represented a formal—and shocking— separation between Rome and Orthodoxy. At the core of the controversy were two vitally important areas of disagreement: the role of the papacy, and the manner in which doctrine is to be interpreted.

But What Is the Real Difference?

One writer has compared Orthodoxy to the faith of Rome and Protestantism in this basic fashion: Orthodoxy has maintained the New Testament tradition, whereas Rome has often added to it and Protestantism subtracted from it.

For example, Rome added to the ancient Creed of the Church, while numerous Protestant Churches rarely study or recite it. Rome has layers of ecclesiastical authority; much of Protestantism is anti-hierarchical or even “independent” in polity. Rome introduced indulgences and purgatory; in reaction, Protestantism shies away from good works and discipline.

In these and other matters, the Orthodox Church has steadfastly maintained the Apostolic Faith. She has avoided both the excesses of papal rule and of congregational independence. She understands the clergy as servants of Christ and His people and not as a special privileged class. She preserved the Apostles’ doctrine of the return of Christ at the end of the age, of the last judgement and eternal life, and continues to encourage her people to grow in Christ through union with Him. In a word, Orthodox Christianity has maintained the Faith “once for all delivered to the saints.”

The Orthodox Church in North America

It was from the religious and political Western world that the vast majority of early colonists came to make their homes in the New World. Here they could be free to live without fear or threat of recrimination from either Roman Catholic or Protestant dictums. But with them also came the religious environment and convictions of the Western Europe they left behind.

When the Orthodox “latecomers” finally arrived in North America, they were often ignored as a “foreign” minority. The religious and cultural climate of the New World was already deeply entrenched. Thus, rather than mingle with the culture religiously, Orthodox Christians tended to maintain their Old World ethnic identity, even to the point of retaining their native languages in their worship. People who visited their churches were often unable to understand what was said or done.

But times are changing. The Orthodox Church today is being taken seriously in this hemisphere. People devoted to Christ, but distressed and frustrated by the directions being taken in both Roman Catholic and Protestant circles, and desiring a more full worship and spiritual life, are turning to the changeless Orthodox Church. It only makes sense that the Church from which the Bible came would be the Church where the faith described in the Bible could be lived out and preserved.

The Church which brought Orthodoxy to North America is now bringing North America to Orthodoxy. Constantly, people are being introduced to the faith and worship of the Orthodox Church. New churches are beginning in cities and towns from coast to coast. With renewed vision, many established churches have made the transition to English-language services. Not surprisingly, there is also a breadth of interest in Orthodoxy being expressed on college and university campuses in the U.S. and Canada. Students are discovering Orthodoxy as a place where the search for spiritual reality finds fulfillment.

This article is available as a printed booklet from Ancient Faith Press, a department of the Antiochian Archdiocese, as part of their popular series of attractive and informative booklets and brochures about the basic teachings of the ancient Orthodox Christian faith. To learn more, visit Ancient Faith’s online booklet catalog. This essay is copyrighted by Ancient Faith Press.

What is the Church?

The Church is the Body of Christ.

The Orthodox Church miraculously carries on today the same Faith and life of the Church of the New Testament.
It is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. It is the New Testament Church. The gates of hell have not prevailed against it. Fr Jon Braun.

by Fr. Jon E. Braun

Coming off a couple of decades of heightened awareness of our need for a personal knowledge of Christ—notably evidenced through such phenomena as the Jesus Movement and the charismatic re­new­al—most thinking Christians are realizing something else is needed: the rediscovery of the historic Church.

Often, in heated reaction to dated and dead Protestant liberalism, we would hear evangelical preachers in the late sixties and early seventies say, “All you need is Jesus!” Such statements often got rave reviews, but just a little thoughtful reflection quickly showed such a simplistic religion to be shallow and unfulfilling. More and more, that kind of existential reductionism is being tempered with a renewed emphasis on the whole impact of the Incarnation, the coming in the flesh of the Son of God. There must be more to Christianity than a private, internalized in­di­vi­dual­ism. If all we needed was Jesus, why would Jesus have promised, “I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18)?

But our need for the Church begs a question, a crucial question. Which Church? The easy answer, of course, and a correct answer, is, “the New Testament Church.” But this isn’t A.D. 65, and we aren’t in old Jerusalem or Colosse. We are in the twentieth century and our challenge is to find the New Testament Church in our day, being sure it is historically identical to the Church of the Apostles—the one Christ Himself established.

Starting in the twentieth century with the plethora of choices available to us is difficult. For we have hundreds of denominations and sects claiming to one degree or another to be the New Testament Church. The Roman Catholic Church makes that claim based on its apostolic succession. Baptist churches are unwaveringly confident they hold to the New Testament Faith. Often a Church of Christ will have a sign outside reading, “Founded in Jerusalem, 33 A.D.,” thereby staking the claim to be the original Church. And the list goes on. Granted, many groups have maintained, or even rediscovered, important aspects of the New Testament Faith. But who is right? Or is the pluralism crowd correct—that essentially everybody is in and ties for first place?

Back to Church One

There is a predictably reliable way to tackle the problem of who is right. Rather than trying to decide which of the over 2,500 Christian groups in North America keeps the original Faith best by studying what they are like right now, we can start from the beginning of the Church itself and work our way through history to the present.

The birthday of the Church was Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit descended on the Twelve Apostles in the Upper Room. That day some 3,000 souls believed in Christ and were baptized. When the first Christian community began, “they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).

From Jerusalem, the Faith in Christ spread throughout Judea, to Samaria (Acts 8), to Antioch and the Gentiles (Acts 13), where we find new converts and new churches throughout Asia Minor and the Roman Empire.

From the pages of the Gospels and Epistles, we learn that the Church was not simply another organization in Roman society. The Lord Jesus Christ had given the promise of the Holy Spirit to “guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). With the fulfillment of that promise beginning at Pentecost, the Church was founded with a status far above that of a mere institution. Saint Paul was right on target in Ephesians 2:22, where he called the Church the “dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” The Church was a living, dynamic organism, the living Body of Jesus Christ. She made an indelible impact in the world, and those who participated in her life in faith were personally transformed.

But we also discover in the New Testament itself that the Church had her share of problems. All was not perfection. Individuals in the Church sought to lead her off the path the Apostles had established, and they had to be dealt with along with the errors they invented. Even whole local communities lapsed on occasion and had to be called to repentance. The Church in Laodicea is a vivid example (Revelation 3). Discipline was administered for the sake of purity in the Church. But there was growth and a maturing even as the Church was attacked from within and without. The same Spirit who gave her birth gave her power for purity and correction, and she stood strong and grew until she eventually invaded the whole of the Roman Empire.

The Second Century and On

As the procession of the early Church moves from the pages of the New Testament and on into the succeeding centuries of her history, it is helpful to trace her growth and development in terms of specific categories. Therefore let us look first at a category important for all Christian people: doctrine. Did the Church maintain the truth of God as given by Christ and His Apostles? Second, what about worship? Is there a discernible way in which the people of God have offered a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to Him? Third, we will consider Church government. What sort of polity did the Church practice?

1. Doctrine:Not only did the Church begin under the teaching of the Apostles, but she was also instructed to “stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle” (2 Thessalonians 2:15). The Apostle Paul insisted that those matters delivered by him and his fellow Apostles, both in person and in the writings that would come to be called the New Testament, be adhered to carefully. Thus followed such appropriate warnings as “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us” (2 Thessalonians 3:6). The doctrines taught by Christ and His disciples are to be safeguarded by “the church . . . the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15) and are not open for re­ne­go­tia­tion.

Midway through the first century, a dispute over adherence to Old Testament laws arose in Antioch. The matter could not be settled there, and outside help was needed. The leaders of the Antiochian church, the community which had earlier dispatched Paul and Barnabas as missionaries, brought the matter to Jeru­sa­lem for consideration by the Apostles and elders there. The matter was discussed, debated, and a written decision was forthcoming.

It was James, the “brother” of the Lord and the first bishop of Jerusalem, who gave the solution to the problem. This settlement, agreed to by all concerned at what is known as the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), set the pattern for the use of Church councils in the centuries ahead to settle doctrinal and moral issues that arose. Thus, in the history of the Church we find scores of such councils, and on various levels, to settle matters of dispute, and to deal with those who do not adhere to the Apostolic Faith.

In addition to this well-known controversy, the first three hundred years of Christian history were also marked by the appearance of certain heresies or false teachings, such as super-secret philosophic schemes for “insiders” only (Gnosticism), wild prophetic programs (Montanism), and grave errors regarding the three Per­sons of the Trinity (Sabellianism).

Then, in the early fourth century, a heresy with potential for Church-wide disruption appeared and was propagated by one Arius, a presbyter in Alexandria, Egypt. He denied the eternality of the Son of God, claiming, contrary to the Apostles’ doctrine, that the Son was a created being who came into existence at a point in time and thus was not truly God. This serious error crept through the Church like a cancer. Turmoil spread almost everywhere. To solve the problem the first Church-wide, or ecumenical, council met in Nicea in A.D. 325 to consider this doctrine. Some 318 bishops, along with many priests and deacons, rejected the new teaching of Arius and his associates and upheld the Apostles’ doctrine of Christ, confirming “there never was a time when the Son of God was not,” and issued a definition of the apostolic teaching concerning Christ in what we today call the Nicene Creed.

Between the years 325 and 787, seven such Church-wide conclaves were held, all dealing first and foremost with some specific challenge to the apostolic teaching about Jesus Christ. These are known as the Seven Ecumenical Councils, meeting in the cities of Nicea, Ephesus, Chalcedon, and Constantinople.

For the first thousand years of Christian history, the entire Church, save for the heretics, embraced and defended the New Testament Apostolic Faith. There was no division. And this one Faith, preserved through all these trials, attacks, and tests, this one Apostolic Faith, was called the Orthodox Faith.

2. Worship: Doctrinal purity was tenaciously maintained. But true Christianity is far more than adherence to a set of correct beliefs alone. The life of the Church is centrally expressed in her worship or adoration of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It was Jesus Himself who told the woman at the well, “the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him” (John 4:23).

At the Last Supper, Jesus instituted the Eucharist, the Communion service, when He took bread and wine, blessed them, and said to His disciples, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me,” and, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:19, 20). From New Testament books such as Acts and Hebrews we know that the Church participated in Communion at least each Lord’s Day (Acts 20:7, 11). And also from such first- and second-century sources as the Didache and Saint Justin Martyr, we learn the Eucharist was kept at the very center of Christian worship after the death of the Apostles.

And just as the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets were read in the temple worship and the synagogue in Israel, so the Church also immediately gave high priority to the public reading of Scripture and to preach­ing in her worship, along with the eucharistic meal.

Even before the middle of the first century, Christian worship was known by the term “liturgy,” which means literally “the common work” or “the work of the people.” The early liturgy of the Church’s worship was composed of two essential parts: (1) the Liturgy of the Word, including hymns, Scripture reading, and preaching; and (2) the Liturgy of the Faithful, composed of intercessory prayers, the kiss of peace, and the Eucharist. Virtually from the beginning, it had a definable shape or form which continues to this day.

Modern Christians advocating freedom from lit­ur­gy in worship are usually shocked to learn that such spontaneity was never the practice in the ancient Church! A basic pattern or shape of Christian worship was observed from the start. And as the Church grew and matured, that structure matured as well. Hymns, Scripture readings, and prayers were intertwined in the basic foundation. A clear, purposeful procession through the year, honoring in word, song, and praise the Birth, ministry, death, Resurrection, and Ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ, and marking crucial issues in Chris­tian life and experience, was forthcoming. The Chris­tian life was lived in reality in the worship of the Church. Far from being routine, the worship of the historic Church participated in the unfolding drama of the richness and mystery of the Gospel itself!

Further, specific landmarks in our salvation and walk with Christ were observed. Baptism and the anointing with oil, or chrismation, were there from Day One of the Church. Marriage, healing, confession of sin, and ordination to the ministry of the gospel were early recognized and practiced. On each of these occasions, Christians understood, in a great mystery, grace and power from God were being given to people according to the individual need of each person. The Church saw these events as holy moments in her life and called them her mysteries or sacraments.

3. Government: No one seriously questions whether the Apostles of Christ led the Church at her beginning. They had been given the commission to preach the gospel (Matthew 28:19, 20) and the authority to forgive or retain sins (John 20:23). Theirs was by no means a preaching-only mission! They built the Church itself under Christ’s headship. To govern it, three definite and permanent offices, as taught in the New Testament, were in evidence.

a. The office of bishop. The Apostles themselves were the first bishops in the Church. Even before Pentecost, after Judas had turned traitor, Peter declared in applying Psalm 109:8, “his bishopric let another take” (Acts 1:20, KJV).

The word “bishopric” refers to the office of a bishop and its use obviously indicates the “job description” of the Apostles as being bishops. Some have mistakenly argued that the office of bishop was a later “human” invention. Quite to the contrary, the Apostles were the New Testament bishops, and they appointed bishops to succeed them to oversee the Church in each locality.

Occasionally, the objection is still heard that the offices of bishop and presbyter were originally identical. It is true the terms are sometimes used interchangeably in the New Testament while the Apostles were present, but it was the understanding of the entire early Church that, with the death of the Apostles, the offices of bishop and presbyter were distinct. Ignatius of Antioch, consecrated bishop by A.D. 70 in the church from which Paul and Barnabas had been sent out, writes just after the turn of the century that bishops appointed by the Apostles, surrounded by their presbyters, were everywhere in the Church.

b. The office of presbyter. Elders or presbyters are mentioned very early in the life of the Church in the Book of Acts and the Epistles. It is evident that in each place a Christian community developed, elders were appointed by the Apostles to pastor the people.

As time passed, presbyters were referred to in the short form of the word as “prests,” then as “priests,” in full view of the fact that the Old Covenant priesthood had been fulfilled in Christ and that the Church is corporately a priesthood of believers. The priest was not understood as an intermediary between God and the people, nor as a dispenser of grace. It was the role of the priest to be the presence of Christ in the Christian community. And in the very capacity of being the presence of the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ, the priest was to shepherd the flock of God.

c. The office of deacon. The third order or office in the government of the New Testament Church was that of deacon. At first the Apostles fulfilled this office themselves. But with the rapid growth of the Church, seven initial deacons were selected, as reported in Acts 6, to help carry the responsibility of service to those in need. It was one of these deacons, Saint Stephen, who became the first martyr of the Church.

Through the centuries, the deacons have not only served the material needs of the Church, but have held a key role in the liturgical life of the Church as well. Often called “the eyes and ears of the bishop,” many deacons have become priests and ultimately entered the episcopal office.

The authority of the bishop, presbyter, and deacon was not anciently understood as being apart from the people, but always from among the people. But the people of God were called to submit to those who ruled over them (Hebrews 13:17), and they were also called to give their agreement to the direction of the leaders for the Church. On a number of occasions in history, that “Amen” was not forthcoming, and the bishops of the Church took note and changed course. Later in history, many Church leaders departed from the ancient model and usurped authority for themselves. In the minds of some this brought the ancient model into question. But the problem was not in the model but in the deviation from it.

It should also be mentioned that it was out of the ministry and life of the Apostles that the people of God, the laity, were established in the Church. Far from being a herd of observers, the laity are vital in the effectiveness of the Church. They are the recipients and active users of the gifts and grace of the Spirit. Each one of the laity has a role in the life and function of the Church. Each one is to supply something to the whole (1 Corinthians 12:7). And it is the responsibility of the bishops, the priests, and the deacons to be sure that this is a reality for the laity.

The worship of the Church at the close of its first thousand years had substantially the same shape from place to place. The doctrine was the same. The whole Church confessed one creed, the same in every place, and had weathered many attacks. The government of the Church was recognizably one everywhere. And this One Church was the Orthodox Church.

After A Thousand Years—A Parting of Ways

Tensions began to mount as the first millennium was drawing to a close. They were reaching the breaking point as the second thousand years began. While numerous doctrinal, political, economic, and cultural factors began to work to separate the Church in a division that would be the East and the West, two giant issues ultimately emerged above others: (1) should one man, the pope of Rome, be considered the universal bishop of the Church? and (2) should a novel clause be added to one of the Church’s ecumenical creeds?

1. The Papacy:Among the Twelve, Saint Peter was early acknowledged as the leader. He was spokesman for the Twelve before and after Pentecost. He was the first bishop of Antioch and later bishop of Rome. No one challenged his role.

After the death of the Apostles, as leadership in the Church developed, the bishop of Rome came to be recognized as first in honor, even though all bishops were equals. But after nearly 300 years, the bishop of Rome slowly began to assume to himself a role of superiority over the others, ultimately claiming to be the only true successor to Saint Peter. The vast majority of the other bishops of the Church never questioned Rome’s primacy of honor, but they patently rejected its claim to be the universal head of the Church on earth. This claim became one of the major factors leading to the tragic split between the Western and Eastern Church which we will soon be considering.

2. The Addition to the Creed:A disagreement about the Holy Spirit also began to develop in the Church. Does the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father? Or does He proceed from the Father and the Son?

In John 15:26, our Lord Jesus Christ asserts, “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me” (italics mine). This is the basic statement in all of the New Testament about the Holy Spirit “proceeding,” and it is clear: He “proceeds from the Father.”

Thus when the ancient council at Constantinople in A.D. 381, during the course of its conclave, reaffirmed the Creed of Nicea (A.D. 325), it expanded that Creed to proclaim these familiar words: “And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Life-Giver, who proceeds from the Father, who is worshiped and glorified together with the Father and the Son . . . ”

But two hundred years later, at a local council in Toledo, Spain (A.D. 589), King Reccared declared that “the Holy Spirit also should be confessed by us and taught to proceed from the Father and the Son.” The King may have meant well, but he was contradicting the apostolic teaching about the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately the local Spanish council agreed with his error.

Because of the teaching of the Holy Scriptures as confessed by the entire Church at Nicea and at Con­stan­tin­ople and for centuries beyond, there is no reason to believe anything other than that the Holy Spirit pro­ceeds from the Father. Period!

But centuries later, in what was looked upon by many as a largely political move, the pope of Rome unilaterally changed the wording of the universal creed of the Church. Such an independent action was bound to evoke a strong response from the Eastern bishops. They saw it as a flagrant violation of the long-established practice that no universal creed could be altered or changed apart from the corporate action of an ecumenical council. Though this change was initially re­jec­ted in both East and West, even by some of Rome’s closest neighboring bishops, the pope eventually convinced the Western bishops to capitulate to it. Although this change may appear small, the con-sequences have proven disastrous—both from a theological and an historical perspective. This issue represented a major departure from the Orthodox doctrine of the Church. It became another instrumental cause leading to the separation of the Roman Catholic Church from the Eastern Orthodox Church.

The Schism

Conflict between the Roman pope and the East mounted—especially in the West’s dealings with the Eastern bishop, or patriarch, of Constantinople. It was even asserted that the pope had the authority to decide who should be the bishop of Constantinople—something which violated historical precedent, and which no Orthodox bishop could endure. The net result of this assertion was that the Eastern Church, and in fact the entire Christian Church, was seen by the West to be under the domination of the pope.

A series of intrigues followed one upon the other as the Roman papacy began asserting an increasing degree of unilateral and often authoritarian control over the rest of the Church. Perhaps the most invidious of these political, religious, and even military intrigues, as far as the East was concerned, occurred in the year 1054. A cardinal, sent by the pope, slapped a document on the altar of the Church of Holy Wisdom in Constantinople during the Sunday worship, excommunicating the patriarch of Constantinople from the Church!

Rome, of course, was flagrantly overstepping its bounds by this action. Some very sordid chapters of Church history were written during the next decades. Ultimately, the final consequence of these tragic events was a massive split which occurred between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. While some disagree that the West departed from the New Testament Church at this point, the reality remains that the schism was never healed.

As the centuries passed, conflict continued. Attempts at union failed and the split widened. Orthodox Christians agree that in departing from the tradition of the Church the West had deviated from historic Christianity, and in so doing, set the stage for countless other divisions which were soon to follow.

The West: Reformation and Counter-Reformation

During the succeeding centuries after A.D. 1054, the growing distinction between East and West was indelibly marked in history. The East maintained the full stream of New Testament Faith, worship, and practice. The Western or Roman Catholic Church, after its schism from the Orthodox Church, bogged down in many complex problems. Then, centuries after Rome committed itself to its unilateral spirit of doctrine and practice, another upheaval was festering—this time not next door to the East, but inside the Western gates themselves.

Though many in the West had spoken out against Roman domination and practice in earlier years, now a little-known German monk named Martin Luther launched an attack against certain Roman Catholic practices that ended up affecting world his­to­ry. His famous Ninety-Five Theses were nailed to the church door at Wittenburg in 1517. In a short time those theses were signalling the start of what came to be called in the West the Protestant Reformation. Luther sought an audience with the pope but was denied, and in 1521 he was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church. He had intended no break with Rome. Un-responsive to Luther’s many legitimate objections concerning the novel practices of the now-separated Western Church, Rome refused to budge or bend. The door to future unity in the West slammed shut with a resounding crash.

The protests of Luther were not unnoticed. The reforms he sought in Germany were soon accompanied by the demands of Ulrich Zwingli in Zurich, John Calvin in Geneva, and hundreds of others all over Western Europe. Fueled by complex political, social, and economic factors, in addition to religious problems, the Reformation spread like a raging fire into virtually every nook and cranny of the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Church’s Western ecclesiastical monopoly was greatly diminished and massive division replaced its artificial unity. The ripple effect of that division continues even to our day.

If trouble on the continent were not enough, the Church of England was in the process of going its own way as well. Henry VIII, amidst his marital problems, placed himself as head of the Church of England instead of the pope of Rome. For only a few short years would the pope ever again have ascendancy in England. And the English Church itself would be shattered by great division.

As decade followed decade in the West, the many branches of Protestantism took various forms. There were even divisions that insisted they were neither Protestant nor Roman Catholic. All seemed to share a mutual dislike for the bishop of Rome and the practice of his church, and most wanted far less centralized forms of leadership. While some, such as the Lutherans and Anglicans, held on to a basic form of liturgy and sacrament, others, such as the Reformed Churches and the even more radical Anabaptists and their descendants, questioned and rejected many biblical ideas of hierarchy, sacrament, historic tradition, and other elements of historic Christian practice, no matter when and where they appeared in history, thinking they were freeing themselves of Roman Catholicism.

To this day, many sincere, modern, professing Christians will reject even the biblical data which speak of historic Christian practice, simply because they think such his­toric practices are “Roman Catholic.” To use the old adage, they “threw the baby out with the bathwater,” without even being aware of it.

Thus, while retaining in varying degrees portions of foundational Christianity, neither Protestantism nor Roman Catholicism can lay historic claim to being the true New Testament Church. In dividing from the Orthodox Church, Rome forfeited its place in the Church of the New Testament. In the divisions of the Reformation, the Protestants—as well-meaning as they might have been—failed to return to the New Testament Church.

The Orthodox Church Today

But that first Church, the Church of Peter and Paul and the Apostles, the Orthodox Church—despite persecution, political oppression, and desertion on certain of its flanks—miraculously carries on today the same Faith and life of the Church of the New Testament. Admittedly the style of Orthodoxy looks complicated to the modern Protestant eye, and understandably so. But given the historical understanding of how the Church has progressed, the simple Christ-centered Faith of the Apostles is clearly preserved in its practices, services, and even its architecture.

In Orthodoxy today, as in years gone by, the basics of Christian doctrine, worship, and government are never up for renegotiation. One cannot be an Orthodox priest, for example, and reject the divinity of Christ, His Virgin Birth, Resurrection, Ascension into heaven, and Second Coming. The Church simply has not left its course in nearly 2,000 years. It is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. It is the New Testament Church. The gates of hell have not prevailed against it.

But Orthodoxy is also, in the words of one of her bishops, “the best-kept secret in America.” Though there are more than 225 million Orthodox Christians in the world today, many Americans are not familiar with the Church. In North America, the Orthodox Church until recently has been largely limited to ethnic boun­da­ries, not spreading much beyond the parishes of the committed immigrants that brought the Church to the shores of this continent.

But the Holy Spirit has continued His work, causing new people to discover this Church of the New Testament. People have begun to find Orthodox Christianity both through the writings of the early Church Fathers, and through the humble witness of Orthodox Christians. On a personal note, I am a part of a group of nearly 2,000 ex-Protestant evangelicals who were received into the Antiochian Archdiocese of the Orthodox Church in the spring of 1987 as the Evan­geli­cal Orthodox Mission. Orthodox student groups are springing up on a number of American campuses. The word is getting out.

What does this identity of the Orthodox Church with the New Testament Church mean as far as the other churches in Christendom are concerned? Many have retained much of the truth of Orthodox Christianity. Some pretend to be the New Testament Church but are seriously off-base, leading people far astray from Christ and the Church. Other modern churches have preserved truth in greater or lesser degree.

But groups which possess some or much of the truth are one thing; the New Testament Church is another.

What is it that’s missing in the non-Orthodox churches—even the best of them? Fullness. The fullness of the New Testament Faith is to be found only in the New Testament Church. Being in the New Testament Church doesn’t guarantee all those in it will necessarily take advantage of the fullness of the Faith. But it does guarantee the fullness is there for those who do.

For those who seriously desire the fullness of the New Testament Faith, action must be taken. There must be for these a return to the New Testament Church. Being aware of this ancient Church is not enough. In America, people have had ample opportunity to investigate and decide about the Roman Catholic faith, the Baptist, the Lutheran, and so on. Not so regarding the Orthodox Church. Let me make three specific suggestions that will provide you with a tangible means to look into Orthodox Christianity and to decide for yourself if it is not the Church for which you have searched.

1. Visit:Look up “Orthodox” or “Eastern Orthodox” in the “Church” section of your Yellow Pages. Ask for the whereabouts of the nearest Orthodox parish. Pay a visit—several visits. Meet the priest, and ask him to help you study and learn. And be prepared to be patient. Some­times a portion of the Liturgy is not in English! But the service books will help out here.

2. Read: There are a number of books and periodicals immensely helpful to people seeking to learn about the Orthodox Church. Let me mention a few: The Orthodox Church, by Timothy (Bishop Kallistos) Ware (Penguin); The Orthodox Faith, by Father Thomas Hopko (4-volume set, Orthodox Christian Publications Center); the writings of the Apostolic Fathers (several editions available); Feed My Sheep, by Metropolitan PHILIP Saliba (Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press); AGAIN Magazine (Conciliar Press).

3. Write: Conciliar Press (P.O. Box 76, Ben Lomond, CA 95005) can help put you in touch with an Orthodox church and supply you with a book list including other recommended reading. Send your name and address and a request for information.

In a day when Christians are realizing anew the centrality and importance of the Church as the Body of Christ, the doors of Orthodoxy are open wide and the invitation is extended to come and see. Examine her Faith, her worship, her history, her commitment to Christ, her love for God the Father, her communion with the Holy Spirit.

The Orthodox Church has kept the Faith delivered once for all to the saints for nearly two thousand years. In her walls is the fullness of the salvation which was realized when “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).


This article is available as a printed booklet from Conciliar Media, a department of the Antiochian Archdiocese, as part of their popular series of attractive and informative booklets and brochures about the basic teachings of the ancient Orthodox Christian faith. To learn more, visit Conciliar’s online booklet catalog. This essay is copyrighted by Conciliar Press.

by the monks of Decani Monastery

The Orthodox Church was founded by our Lord Jesus Christ and is the living manifestation of His presence in the history of the mankind. The most conspicuous characteristics of Orthodoxy are its rich liturgical life and its faithfulness to the apostolic tradition. It is believed by Orthodox Christians that their Church has preserved the tradition and continuity of the ancient Church in its fullness compared to other Christian denominations which have departed from the common tradition of the Church of the first 10 centuries. Today Orthodox Church numbers approximately 300 million Christians who follow the faith and practices that were defined by the first seven ecumenical councils. The word orthodox (“right belief and right glory”) has traditionally been used, in the Greek-speaking Christian world, to designate communities, or individuals, who preserved the true faith (as defined by those councils), as opposed to those who were declared heretical. The official designation of the church in its liturgical and canonical texts is “the Orthodox Catholic Church” (gr. catholicos = universal).

The Orthodox Church is a family of “autocephalous” (self governing) churches, with the Ecumenical (= universal) Patriarch of Constantinople holding titular or honorary primacy as primus inter pares (the first among equals). The Orthodox Church is not a centralized organization headed by a pontiff. The unity of the Church is rather manifested in common faith and communion in the sacraments and no one but Christ himself is the real head of the Church. The number of autocephalous churches has varied in history. Today there are many: the Church of Constantinople (Istanbul), the Church of Alexandria (Egypt), the Church of Antioch (with headquarters in Damascus, Syria), and the Churches of Jerusalem, Russia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Cyprus, Greece, Poland, Albania and America.

There are also “autonomous” churches (retaining a token canonical dependence upon a mother see) in Czech and Slovak republic, Sinai, Crete, Finland, Japan, China and Ukraine. In addition there is also a large Orthodox Diaspora scattered all over the world and administratively divided among various jurisdictions (dependencies of the above mentioned autocephalous churches). The first nine autocephalous churches are headed by patriarchs, the others by archbishops or metropolitans. These titles are strictly honorary as all bishops are completely equal in the power granted to them by the Holy Spirit.

The order of precedence in which the autocephalous churches are listed does not reflect their actual influence or numerical importance. The Patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, and Antioch, for example, present only shadows of their past glory. Yet there remains a consensus that Constantinople’s primacy of honor, recognized by the ancient canons because it was the capital of the ancient Byzantine empire, should remain as a symbol and tool of church unity and cooperation. Modern pan-Orthodox conferences were thus convoked by the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople. Several of the autocephalous churches are de facto national churches, by far the largest being the Russian Church; however, it is not the criterion of nationality but rather the territorial principle that is the norm of organization in the Orthodox Church.

In the wider theological sense “Orthodoxy is not merely a type of purely earthly organization which is headed by patriarchs, bishops and priests who hold the ministry in the Church which officially is called “Orthodox.” Orthodoxy is the mystical “Body of Christ,” the Head of which is Christ Himself (see Eph. 1:22-23 and Col. 1:18, 24 et seq.), and its composition includes not only priests but all who truly believe in Christ, who have entered in a lawful way through Holy Baptism into the Church He founded, those living upon the earth and those who have died in the Faith and in piety.”

The Great Schism between the Eastern and the Western Church (1054) was the culmination of a gradual process of estrangement between the east and west that began in the first centuries of the Christian Era and continued through the Middle Ages. Linguistic and cultural differences, as well as political events, contributed to the estrangement. From the 4th to the 11th century, Constantinople, the center of Eastern Christianity, was also the capital of the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empire, while Rome, after the barbarian invasions, fell under the influence of the Holy Roman Empire of the West, a political rival. In the West theology remained under the influence of St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) and gradually lost its immediate contact with the rich theological tradition of the Christian East. In the same time the Roman See was almost completely overtaken by Franks. Theological differences could have probably been settled if there were not two different concepts of church authority. The growth of Roman primacy, based on the concept of the apostolic origin of the Church of Rome which claimed not only titular but also jurisdictional authority above other churches, was incompatible with the traditional Orthodox ecclesiology. The Eastern Christians considered all churches as sister churches and understood the primacy of the Roman bishop only as primus inter pares among his brother bishops. For the East, the highest authority in settling doctrinal disputes could by no means be the authority of a single Church or a single bishop but an Ecumenical Council of all sister churches. In the course of time the Church of Rome adopted various wrong teachings which were not based in the Tradition and finally proclaimed the teaching of the Pope’s infallibility when teaching ex cathedra. This widened the gap even more between the Christian East and West. The Protestant communities which split from Rome in the course of centuries diverged even more from the teaching of the Holy Fathers and the Holy Ecumenical Councils. Due to these serious dogmatic differences the Orthodox Church is not in communion with the Roman Catholic and Protestant communities. More traditional Orthodox theologians do not recognize the ecclesial and salvific character of these Western churches at all, while the more liberal ones accept that the Holy Spirit acts to a certain degree within these communities although they do not possess the fullness of grace and spiritual gifts like the Orthodox Church. Many serious Orthodox theologians are of the opinion that between Orthodoxy and heterodox confessions, especially in the sphere of spiritual experience, the understanding of God and salvation, there exists an ontological difference which cannot be simply ascribed to cultural and intellectual estrangement of the East and West but is a direct consequence of a gradual abandonment of the sacred tradition by heterodox Christians.

At the time of the Schism of 1054 between Rome and Constantinople, the membership of the Eastern Orthodox Church was spread throughout the Middle East, the Balkans, and Russia, with its center in Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, which was also called New Rome. The vicissitudes of history have greatly modified the internal structures of the Orthodox Church, but, even today, the bulk of its members live in the same geographic areas. Missionary expansion toward Asia and emigration toward the West, however, have helped to maintain the importance of Orthodoxy worldwide. Today, the Orthodox Church is present almost everywhere in the world and is bearing witness of true, apostolic and patristic tradition to all peoples.

The Orthodox Church is well known for its developed monasticism. The uninterrupted monastic tradition of Orthodox Christianity can be traced from the Egyptian desert monasteries of the 3rd and 4th centuries. Soon monasticism had spread all over the Mediterranean basin and Europe: in Palestine, Syria, Cappadocia, Gaul, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Slavic countries. Monasticism has always been a beacon of Orthodoxy and has made and continues to make a strong and lasting impact on Orthodox spirituality.

The Orthodox Church today is an invaluable treasury of the rich liturgical tradition handed down from the earliest centuries of Christianity. The sense of the sacred, the beauty and grandeur of the Orthodox Divine Liturgy make the presence of heaven on earth live and intensive. Orthodox Church art and music has a very functional role in the liturgical life and helps even the bodily senses to feel the spiritual grandeur of the Lord’s mysteries. Orthodox icons are not simply beautiful works of art which have certain aesthetic and didactic functions. They are primarily the means through which we experience the reality of the Heavenly Kingdom on earth. The holy icons enshrine the immeasurable depth of the mystery of Christ’s incarnation in defense of which thousands of martyrs sacrificed their lives.

Attribution: This page was retrieved from after went defunct following the Kosovo conflict. This page was originally created by monks at Decani Monastery in Kosovo.

by Alexei Khomiakov

The Unity of the Church follows of necessity from the unity of God; for the Church is not a multitude of persons in their separate individuality, but a unity of the grace of God, living in a multitude of rational creatures, submitting themselves willingly to grace. Grace, indeed, is also given to those who resist it, and to those who do not make use of it (who hide their talent in the earth), but these are not in the Church. In fact, the unity of the Church is not imaginary or allegorical, but a true and substantial unity, such as is the unity of many members in a living body.

The Church is one, notwithstanding her division as it appears to a man who is still alive on earth. It is only in relation to man that it is possible to recognize a division of the Church into visible and invisible; her unity is, in reality, true and absolute. Those who are alive on earth, those who have finished their earthly course, those who, like the angels, were not created for a life on earth, those in future generations who have not yet begun their earthly course, are all united together in one Church, in one and the same grace of God; for the creation of God which has not yet been manifested is manifest to Him; and God hears the prayers and knows the faith of those whom He has not yet called out of non-existence into existence. Indeed the Church, the Body of Christ, is manifesting forth and fulfilling herself in time, without changing her essential unity or inward life of grace. And therefore, when we speak of “the Church visible and invisible,” we so speak only in relation to man.

The Visible and Invisible Church

The Church visible, or upon earth, lives in complete communion and unity with the whole body of the Church, of which Christ is the Head. She has abiding within her Christ and the grace of the Holy Spirit in all their living fullness, but not in the fullness of their manifestation, for she acts and knows not fully, but only so far as it pleases God.

Inasmuch as the earthly and visible Church is not the fullness and completeness of the whole Church which the Lord has appointed to appear at the final judgment of all creation, she acts and knows only within her own limits; and (according to the words of Paul the Apostle, to the Corinthians, 1 Cor. 5. 12) does not judge the rest of mankind, and only looks upon those as excluded, that is to say, not belonging to her, who exclude themselves. The rest of mankind, whether alien from the Church, or united to her by ties which God has not willed to reveal to her, she leaves to the judgment of the great day. The Church on earth judges for herself only, according to the grace of the Spirit, and the freedom granted her through Christ, inviting also the rest of mankind to the unity and adoption of God in Christ; but upon those who do not hear her appeal she pronounces no sentence, knowing the command of her Saviour and Head, “not to judge another man’s servant” (Rom. 14. 4).

The Church on Earth

From the creation of the world the earthly Church has continued uninterruptedly upon the earth, and will continue until the accomplishment of all the works of God, according to the promise given her by God Himself. And her signs are: inward holiness, which does not allow for any admixture of error, for the spirit of truth and outward unchangeableness lives within her as Christ, her Preserver and Head does not change.

All the signs of the Church, whether inward or outward, are recognized only by herself, and by those whom grace calls to be members of her. To those, indeed, who are alien from her, and are not called to her, they are unintelligible; for to such as these, outward change of rite appears to be a change of the Spirit itself, which is glorified in the rite (as, for instance, in the transition from the Church of the Old Testament to that of the New, or in the change of ecclesiastical rites and ordinances since Apostolic times). The Church and her members know, by the inward knowledge of faith, the unity and unchangeableness of her spirit, which is the spirit of God. But those who are outside and not called to belong to her, behold and know the changes in the external rite by an external knowledge, which does not comprehend the inward [knowledge], just as also the unchangeableness of God appears to them to be changeable in the changes of His creations.

Wherefore the Church has not been, nor could she be, changed or obscured, nor could she have fallen away, for then she would have been deprived of the spirit of truth. It is impossible that there should have been a time when she could have received error into her bosom, or when the laity, presbyters, and bishops had submitted to instructions or teaching inconsistent with the teaching and spirit of Christ. The man who should say that such a weakening of the spirit of Christ could possibly come to pass within her knows nothing of the Church, and is altogether alien to her. Moreover, a partial revolt against false doctrines, together with the retention or acceptance of other false doctrines, neither is, nor could be, the work of the Church; for within her, according to her very essence, there must always have been preachers and teachers and martyrs confessing, not partial truth with an admixture of error, but the full and unadulterated truth. The Church knows nothing of partial truth and partial error, but only the whole truth without admixture of error. And the man who is living within the Church does not submit to false teaching or receive the Sacraments from a false teacher; he will not, knowing him to be false, follow his false rites. And the Church herself does not err, for she is the truth, she is incapable of cunning or cowardice, for she is holy. And of course, the Church, by her very unchangeableness, does not acknowledge that to be error, which she has at any previous time acknowledged as truth; and having proclaimed by a General Council and common consent, that it is possible for any private individual, or any bishop or patriarch, to err in his teaching, she cannot acknowledge that such or such private individual, or bishop, or patriarch, or successor of theirs, is incapable of falling into error in teaching; or that they are preserved from going astray by any special grace. By what would the earth be sanctified, if the Church were to lose her sanctity? And where would there be truth, if her judgments of to-day were contrary to those of yesterday? Within the Church, that is to say, within her members, false doctrines may be engendered, but then the infected members fall away, constituting a heresy or schism, and no longer defile the sanctity of the Church.

One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic

The Church is called One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic; because she is one, and holy; because she belongs to the whole world, and not to any particular locality; because by her all mankind and all the earth, and not any particular nation or country, are sanctified; because her very essence consists in the agreement and unity of the spirit and life of all the members who acknowledge her, throughout the world; lastly, because in the writings and doctrines of the Apostles is contained all the fullness of her faith, her hope, and her love.

From this it follows that when any society is called the Church of Christ, with the addition of a local name, such as the Greek, Russian, or Syrian Church, this appellation signifies nothing more than the congregation of members of the Church living in that particular locality, that is, Greece, Russia, or Syria; and does not involve any such idea as that any single community of Christians is able to formulate the doctrine of the Church, or to give a dogmatic interpretation to the teaching of the Church without the concurrence therewith of the other communities; still less is it implied that any one particular community, or the pastor thereof, can prescribe its own interpretation to the others. The grace of faith is not to be separated from holiness of life, nor can any single community or any single pastor be acknowledged to be the custodian of the whole faith of the Church, any more than any single community or any single pastor can be looked upon as the representative of the whole of her sanctity. Nevertheless, every Christian community, without assuming to itself the right of dogmatic explanation or teaching, has a full right to change its forms and ceremonies, and to introduce new ones, so long as it does not cause offense to the other communities. Rather than do this, it ought to abandon its own opinion, and submit to that of the others, lest that which to one might seem harmless or even praiseworthy should seem blameworthy to another; or that brother should lead brother into the sin of doubt and discord. Every Christian ought to set a high value upon unity in the rites of the Church: for thereby is manifested, even for the unenlightened, unity of spirit and doctrine, while for the enlightened man it becomes a source of lively Christian joy. Love is the crown and glory of the Church.

Scripture and Tradition

The Spirit of God, who lives in the Church, ruling her and making her wise, manifests Himself within her in divers manners; in Scripture, in Tradition, and in Works; for the. Church, which does the works of God, is the same Church, which preserves tradition and which has written the Scriptures. Neither individuals, nor a multitude of individuals within the Church, preserve tradition or write the Scriptures; but the Spirit of God, which lives in the whole body of the Church. Therefore it is neither right nor possible to Look for the grounds of tradition in the Scripture, nor for the proof of Scripture in tradition, nor for the warrant of Scripture or tradition in works. To a man living outside the Church neither her scripture nor her tradition nor her works are comprehensible. But to the man who lives within the Church and is united to the spirit of the Church, their unity is manifest by the grace which lives within her.

Do not works precede Scripture and tradition? Does not tradition precede Scripture? Were not the works of Noah, Abraham, the forefathers and representatives of the Church of the Old Testament, pleasing to God? And did not tradition exist amongst the patriarchs, beginning with Adam, the forefathers of all? Did not Christ give liberty to men and teaching by word of mouth, before the Apostles by their writings bore witness to the work of redemption and the law of liberty? Wherefore, between tradition, works, and scripture there is no contradiction, but, on the contrary, complete agreement. A man understands the Scriptures, so far as he preserves tradition, and does works agreeable to the wisdom that lives within him. But the wisdom that lives within him is not given to him individually, but as a member of the Church, and it is given to him in part, without altogether annulling his individual error; but to the Church it is given in the fullness of truth and without any admixture of error. Wherefore he must not judge the Church, but submit to her, that wisdom be not taken from him.

Every one that seeks for proof of the truth of the Church, by that very act either shows his doubt, and excludes himself from the Church, or assumes the appearance of one who doubts and at the same time preserves a hope of proving the truth, and arriving at it by his own power of reason: but the powers of reason do not attain to the truth of God, and the weakness of man is made manifest by the weakness of his proofs. The man who takes Scripture only, and founds the Church on it alone, is in reality rejecting the Church, and is hoping to found her afresh by his own powers: the man who takes tradition and works only, and depreciates the importance of Scripture, is likewise in reality rejecting the Church, and constituting himself a judge of the Spirit of God, who spoke by the Scripture. For Christian knowledge is a matter, not of intellectual investigation, but of a living faith, which is a gift of grace. Scripture is external, an outward thing, and tradition is external, and works are external: that which is inward in them is the one Spirit of God. From tradition taken alone, or from scripture or from works, a man can but derive an external and incomplete knowledge, which may indeed in itself contain truth, for it starts from truth, but at the same time must of necessity be erroneous, inasmuch as it is incomplete. A believer knows the Truth, but an unbeliever does not know it, or at least only knows it with an external and imperfect knowledge. The Church does not prove herself either as Scripture or as tradition or as works, but bears witness to herself, just as the Spirit of God, dwelling in her, bears witness to Himself in the Scriptures. The Church does not ask: Which Scripture is true, which tradition is true, which Council is true, or what works are pleasing to God: for Christ knows His own inheritance, and the Church in which He lives knows by inward knowledge, and cannot help knowing, her own manifestations. The collection of Old and New Testament books, which the Church acknowledges as hers, are called by the name of Holy Scripture. But there are no limits to Scripture; for every writing which the Church acknowledges as hers is Holy Scripture. Such pre-eminently are the Creeds of the General Councils, and especially the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed. Wherefore, the writing of Holy Scripture has gone on up to our day, and, if God pleases, yet more will be written. But in the Church there has not been, nor ever will be, any contradictions, either in Scripture, or in tradition, or in works; for in all three is Christ, one and unchangeable.

Confession, Prayer and Deeds

Every action of the Church, directed by the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of life and truth, sets forth the full completeness of all His gifts of faith, hope, and love: or in Scripture not faith only, but also the hope of the Church, is made manifest, and the love of God; and in works well pleasing to God there is made manifest not only love, but likewise faith and hope and grace; and in the living tradition of the Church which awaits from God her crown and consummation in Christ, not hope only, but also faith and love are manifested. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are inseparably united in one holy and living unity; but as works well pleasing to God belong more especially to love, and prayer well pleasing to God belongs more especially to hope, so a Creed well pleasing to God belongs more especially to faith, and the Church’s creed is rightly called the Confession or Symbol of the Faith.

Wherefore it must be understood that Creeds and prayers and works are nothing of themselves, but are only an external manifestation of the inward spirit. Whereupon it also follows that neither he who prays nor he who does works nor he who confesses the Creed of the Church is pleasing to God, but only he who acts, confesses, and prays according to the spirit of Christ living within him. All men have not the same faith or the same hope or the same love; for a man may love the flesh, fix his hope on the world, and confess his belief in a lie; he may also love and hope and believe not fully, but only in part; and the Church calls his faith, faith, and his hope, hope, and his love, love; for he calls them so, and she will not dispute with him concerning words; but what she herself calls faith, hope, and love are the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and she knows that they are true and perfect.

The Creed

The holy Church confesses her faith by her whole life; by her doctrine, which is inspired by the Holy Ghost; by her Sacraments in which the Holy Ghost works; and by her rites, which He directs. And the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Symbol is pre-eminently called her Confession of Faith.

In the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Symbol is comprised the confession of the Church’s doctrine; but, in order that it might be known that the hope of the Church is inseparable from her doctrine, it likewise confesses her hope; for it is said: ‘we look for,’ and not merely, ‘we believe in,’ that which is to come.

The Niceno-Constantinopolitan Symbol, the full and complete Confession of the Church, from which she allows nothing to be omitted and to which she permits nothing to be added, is as follows :.”I believe in one God, Father, Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth, and of all things visible and invisible: And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages; Light from Light, True God from True God, begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, through Whom all things were made: Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from Heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became Man: And was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried: And He rose on the third day according to the Scriptures: And ascended into Heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father: And He is coming again with glory to judge the living and the dead: And His Kingdom will have no end: And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son is equally worshipped and glorified, Who spoke by the Prophets: And in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I confess one Baptism for the remission of sins. I look for the Resurrection of Dead and the Life of the Age to come. Amen.”

This confession, just as also the whole life of the Spirit, is comprehensible only to one who believes and is a member of the Church. It contains within itself mysteries inaccessible to the inquiring intellect, and manifest only to God Himself, and to those to whom He makes them manifest for an inward and living, not a dead and outward, knowledge. It contains within itself the mystery of the existence of God not only in relation to His outward action upon creation, but also to His inward eternal being. Therefore the pride of reason and of illegal domination, which appropriated to itself, in opposition to the decree of the whole Church (pronounced at the Council of Ephesus), the right to add its private explanations and human hypotheses to the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Symbol, is in itself an infraction of the sanctity and inviolability of the Church. Just as the very pride of the separate Churches, which dared to change the Symbol of the whole Church without the consent of their brethren, was inspired by a spirit not of love, and was a crime against God and the Church, so also their blind wisdom, which did not comprehend the mysteries of God, was a distortion of the faith; for faith is not preserved where love has grown weak. Wherefore the addition of the words filioque contains a sort of imaginary dogma, unknown to any one of the writers well pleasing to God, or of the Bishops or successors of the Apostles in the first ages of the Church, and not spoken by Christ our Saviour. As Christ spoke clearly, so did and does the Church clearly confess that the Holy Ghost proceedeth from the Father; for not only the outward, but also the inward, mysteries of God were revealed by Christ, and by the Spirit of Faith, to the holy Apostles and to the holy Church. When Theodoret called all who confessed the procession of the Holy Ghost from the Father and the Son blasphemers, the Church, while detecting his many errors, in this case approved his judgment by an eloquent silence. The Church does not deny that the Holy Spirit is sent not only by the Father, but also by the Son; the Church does not deny that the Holy Ghost is communicated to all rational creatures not only from the Father but also through the Son; but what she does reject is that the Holy Ghost had the principle of His procession in the Godhead itself, not merely from the Father, but also from the Son. He who has renounced the spirit of love and divested himself of the gifts of grace cannot any longer possess inward knowledge that is faith, but limits himself to mere outward knowledge; wherefore he can only know what is external, and not the inner mysteries of God. Communities of Christians which had broken away from the Holy Church could no longer confess (inasmuch as they now could not comprehend with the Spirit) the procession of the Holy Ghost, in the Godhead itself, from the Father only; but from that time they were obliged to confess only the external mission of the Spirit into all creation, a mission which comes to pass, not only from the Father, but also through the Son. They preserved the external form of the faith, but they lost the inner meaning and the grace of God; as in their confession, so also in their life.

The Church and Its Mysteries

Having confessed her faith in the Tri-hypostatic Deity, the Church confesses her faith in herself, because she acknowledges herself to be the instrument and vessel of divine grace, and acknowledges her works as the works of God, not as the works of the individuals of whom, in her visible manifestation [upon earth], she is composed. In this confession she shows that knowledge concerning her essence and being is likewise a gift of grace, granted from above, and accessible to faith alone and not to reason.

For what would be the need for me to say, “I believe,” if I already knew? Is not faith the evidence of things not seen? But the visible Church is not the visible society of Christians, but the Spirit of God and the grace of the Sacraments living in this society. Wherefore even the visible Church is visible only to the believer; for to the unbeliever a sacrament is only a rite, and the Church merely a Society. The believer, while with the eyes of the body and of reason he sees the Church in her outward manifestations only, by the Spirit takes knowledge of her in her sacraments and prayers and works well pleasing to God. Wherefore he does not confuse her with the society which bears the name of Christians, for not every one that saith, “Lord, Lord,” really belongs to the chosen race and to the seed of Abraham. But the true Christian knows by faith that the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church will never disappear from the face of the earth until the last judgment of all creation, that she will remain on earth invisible to fleshly eyes, or to the understanding which is wise according to the flesh, among the visible society of Christians, exactly in the same way as she remains visible to the eye of faith in the Church beyond the grave, but invisible to the bodily eyes. But the Christian also knows, by means of the faith, that the Church upon earth, although it is invisible, is always clothed in a visible form; that there neither was, nor could have been, nor ever will be a time in which the sacraments will be mutilated, holiness will be dried up, or doctrine will be corrupted; and that he is no Christian who cannot say where, from the time of the Apostles themselves, the holy Sacraments have been and are being administered, where doctrine was and is preserved, where prayers were and are being sent up to the throne of grace. The Holy Church confesses and believes that the sheep have never been deprived of their Divine Pastor, and that the Church never could either err for want of understanding—for the understanding of God dwells within her—or submit to false doctrines for want of courage—for within her dwells the might of the Spirit of God.

Believing in the word of God’s promise, which has named all the followers of Christ’s doctrine the friends of Christ and His brethren, and in Him the adopted sons of God, the Holy Church confesses the paths by which it pleases God to lead fallen and dead humanity to reunion in the spirit of grace and life. Wherefore, having made mention of the prophets, the representatives of the age of the Old Testament, she confesses Sacraments, through which, in the Church of the New Testament, God sends down His grace upon men, and more especially she confesses the Sacrament of Baptism for the remission of sins, as containing within itself the principle of all the others; for through Baptism alone does a man enter into the unity of the Church, which is the custodian of all the rest of the Sacraments.

Confessing one Baptism for the remission of sins, as a Sacrament ordained by Christ Himself for entrance into the Church of the New Testament, the Church does not judge those who have not entered into communion with her through Baptism, for she knows and judges herself only. God alone knows the hardness of the heart, and He judges the weaknesses of reason according to truth and mercy. Many have been saved and have received inheritance without having received the Sacrament of Baptism with water; for it was instituted only for the Church of the New Testament. He who rejects it rejects the whole Church and the Spirit of God which lives within her; but it was not ordained for man from the beginning, neither was it prescribed to the Church of the Old Testament. For if any one should say that circumcision was the Baptism of the Old Testament, he rejects Baptism for women, for whom there was no circumcision; and what will he say about the Patriarchs from Adam to Abraham, who did not receive the seal of circumcision? And in any case does not he acknowledge that outside the Church of the New Testament the Sacrament of Baptism was not of obligation? If he will say that it was on behalf of the Church of the Old Testament that Christ received Baptism, who will place a limit to the loving-kindness of God, who took upon Himself the sins of the world? Baptism is indeed of obligation; for it alone is the door into the Church of the New Testament, and in Baptism alone does man testify his assent to the redeeming action of grace. Wherefore also in Baptism alone is he saved.

Moreover, we know that in confessing one Baptism, as the beginning of all Sacraments, we do not reject the others; for, believing in the Church, we, together with her, confess Seven Sacraments, namely, Baptism, the Eucharist, Laying on of Hands, Confirmation with Chrism, Marriage, Penance, and Unction of the Sick. There are also many other Sacraments; for every work which is done in faith, love, and hope, is suggested to man by the Spirit of God, and invokes the unseen Grace of God. But the Seven Sacraments are in reality not accomplished by any single individual who is worthy of the mercy of God, but by the whole Church in the person of an individual, even though he be unworthy.

Concerning the Sacrament of the Eucharist (Communion) the Holy Church teaches that in it the change of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is verily accomplished. She does not reject the word ‘Transubstantiation’; but she does not assign to it that material meaning which is assigned to it by the teachers of the Churches which have fallen away. The change of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is accomplished in the Church and for the Church. If a man receive the consecrated Gifts, or worship them, or think on them with faith, he verily receives, adores, and thinks on the Body and Blood of Christ. If he receive unworthily he verily rejects the Body and Blood of Christ; in any case, in faith or in unbelief, he is sanctified or condemned by the Body and Blood of Christ. But this Sacrament is in the Church and not for the outside world, not for fire, not for irrational creatures, not for corruption, and not for the man who has not heard the law of Christ in the Church itself (we are speaking of the visible Church), to the elect and to the reprobate the Holy Eucharist is not a mere commemoration concerning the mystery of redemption, it is not a presence of spiritual gifts within the bread and wine, it is not merely a spiritual reception of the Body and Blood of Christ, but is His true Body and Blood. Not in spirit alone was Christ pleased to unite Himself with the faithful, but also in Body and in Blood; in order that that union might be complete, and not only spiritual but also corporal. Both nonsensical explanations concerning the relations of the holy Sacrament to elements and irrational creatures (when the Sacrament was instituted for the Church alone), and that spiritual pride which despises body and blood and rejects the corporal union with Christ, are equally opposed to the Church. We shall not rise again without the body, and no spirit, except the Spirit of God, can be said to be entirely incorporeal. He that despises the body sins through pride of spirit.

Of the Sacrament of Ordination the Holy Church teaches that through it the grace which brings the Sacraments into effect is handed on in succession from the Apostles and from Christ Himself: not as if no Sacrament could be brought to effect otherwise than through Ordination (for every Christian is able through Baptism to open the door of the Church to an infant or a Jew or a heathen), but that Ordination contains within itself all the fullness of grace given by Christ to His Church. And the Church herself, in Communicating to her members the Fullness of spiritual gifts, in the strength of the freedom given her by God, has appointed differences in the grades of Ordination. The Presbyter who performs all the Sacraments except Ordination has one gift, the Bishop who performs Ordination has another; and higher than the gift of the Episcopate there is nothing. The Sacrament gives to him who receives it this great significance that, even if he be unworthy, yet in performing his Sacramental service his action necessarily proceeds not from himself, but from the whole Church, that is from Christ living within her. If Ordination ceased, all the Sacraments except Baptism would also cease; and the human race would be torn away from grace: for the Church herself would then bear witness that Christ had departed from her.

Concerning the Sacrament of Confirmation with Chrism, the Church teaches that in it the gifts of the Holy Ghost are conferred upon the Christian, confirming his faith and inward holiness: and this Sacrament is by the will of the Holy Church performed not by Bishops only, but also by Presbyters, although the Chrism itself can only be blessed by a Bishop.

Of the Sacrament of Marriage the Holy Church teaches that the grace of God, which blesses the succession of generations in the temporal existence of the human race and the holy union of man and woman for the organization of the family, is a sacramental gift imposing upon those who receive it a high obligation of mutual love and spiritual holiness, through which that which otherwise is sinful and material is endued with righteousness and purity. Wherefore the great teachers of the Church, the Apostles, recognize the Sacrament of marriage even amongst the heathen: for while they forbid concubinage, they confirm marriage between Christians and heathens; saying that the man is sanctified by the believing wife, and the wife by the believing husband (1 Cor. 7. 14). These words of the Apostle do not mean that; an unbeliever could be saved by his or her union with a believer, but that the marriage is sanctified: for it is not the person, but the husband or wife, who is sanctified. One person is not saved through another, but the husband or the wife is sanctified in relation to the marriage itself. And thus marriage is not unclean, even amongst idolaters; but they themselves know not of the grace of God given unto them. The Holy Church through her ordained ministers acknowledges and blesses the union, blessed by God, of husband and wife. Wherefore marriage is not a mere rite but a true Sacrament. And it receives its accomplishment in the Holy Church, for in her alone is every holy thing accomplished in its fullness.

Concerning the Sacrament of Penance the Holy Church teaches that without it the spirit of man cannot be cleansed from the bondage of sin and of sinful pride: that he himself cannot remit his own sins (for we have only the power to condemn, not to justify ourselves), and that the Church alone has the power of justifying, for within her lives the fullness of the Spirit of Christ. We know that the first one who entered the Kingdom of Heaven after the Savior was the one who condemned himself and repented (thief) saying on the cross: “We receive the due reward of our deeds” (Luke 23:41). Because of this repentance he received absolution from Him who alone can absolve, and who gave this authority to His Church (John 20:23).

Of the Sacrament of Anointing with consecrated oil [Unction of the Sick] the Holy Church teaches, that in it is perfected the blessing of the whole fight (1 Tim. 4:7) which has been endured by a man in his life upon earth, of all the journey which has been gone through by him in faith and humility, and that in Unction of the Sick the divine verdict itself is pronounced upon man’s earthly frame, healing it, when all medicinal means are of no avail, or else permitting death to destroy the corruptible body, which is no longer required for the Church on earth or the mysterious ways of God.

Faith and Life in Church Unity

The Church, even upon earth, lives, not an earthly human life, but a life of grace which is divine. Wherefore not only each of her members, but she herself as a whole, solemnly calls herself “Holy.” Her visible manifestation is contained in the Sacraments, but her inward life in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, in faith, hope, and love. Oppressed and persecuted by enemies without, at times agitated and lacerated within by the evil passions of her children, she has been and ever will be preserved without wavering or change wherever the Sacraments and spiritual holiness are preserved. Never is she either disfigured or in need of reformation. She lives not under a law of bondage, but under a law of liberty. She neither acknowledges any authority over her, except her own, nor any tribunal, but the tribunal of faith (for reason does not comprehend her), and she expresses her love, her faith, and her hope in her prayers and rites, suggested to her by the Spirit of truth and by the grace of Christ. Wherefore her rites themselves, even if they are not unchangeable (for they are composed by the spirit of liberty and may be changed according to the judgment of the Church) can never, in any case, contain any, even the smallest, admixture of error or false doctrine. And the rites (of the Church) while they are unchanged are of obligation to the members of the Church; for in their observance is the joy of holy unity.

External unity is the unity manifested in the communion of Sacraments; while internal unity is unity of spirit. Many (as for instance some of the martyrs) have been saved without having been made partakers of so much as one of the Sacraments of the Church (not even of Baptism) but no one is saved without partaking of the inward holiness of the Church, of her faith, hope, and love: for it is not works which save, but faith. And faith, that is to say, true and living faith, is not twofold, but single. Wherefore both those who say that faith alone does not save, but that works also are necessary, and those who say that faith saves without works, are void of understanding; for if there are no works, then faith is shown to be dead; and, if it be dead, it is also untrue; for in true faith there is Christ the truth and the life; but, if it be not true, then it is false, that is to say, mere external knowledge. But can that which is false save a man? But if it be true, then it is also a living faith, that is to say, one which does works; but if it does works, what works are still required?

The divinely inspired Apostle saith: “Show me the faith of which thou boastest thyself by thy works, even as I show my faith by my works.” Does he acknowledge two faiths? No, but exposes a senseless boast. “Thou believest in God, but the devils also believe.” Does he acknowledge that there is faith in devils? No, but he detects the falsehood which boasts itself of a quality which even devils possess. “As the body,” saith he, “without the soul is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” Does he compare faith to the body and works to the Spirit? No, for such a simile would be untrue; but the meaning of his words is clear. Just as a body without a soul is no longer a man, and cannot properly be called a man, but a corpse, so faith also that does no works cannot be called true faith, but false; that is to say, an external knowledge, fruitless, and attainable even by devils. That which is written simply ought also to be read simply. Wherefore those who rely upon the Apostle James for a proof that there is a dead faith and a living faith, and as it were two faiths, do not comprehend the words of the Apostle; for the Apostle bears witness not for them, but against them. Likewise when the Great Apostle of the Gentiles says, ‘What is the use of faith without love, even of such a faith as would remove mountains?” (1 Cor. 13:2) he does not maintain the possibility of such faith without love: but assuming its possibility he shows that it would be useless. Holy Scripture ought not to be read in the spirit of worldly wisdom, which wrangles over words, but in the spirit of the wisdom of God, and of spiritual simplicity. The Apostle, in defining faith, says, “it is the evidence of things unseen, and the confidence of things hoped for” (not merely of things awaited, or things to come), but if we hope, we also desire, and if we desire, we also love; for it is impossible to desire that which a man loves not. Or have the devils also hope? Wherefore there is but one faith, and when we ask, “Can true faith save without works?” we ask a senseless question; or rather no question at all: for true faith is a living faith which does works; it is faith in Christ, and Christ in faith.

Those who have mistaken a dead faith, that is to say, a false faith, or mere external knowledge, for true faith, have gone so far in their delusion that, without knowing it themselves, they have made of it an eighth Sacrament. The Church has faith, but it is a living faith; for she has also sanctity. But if one man or one bishop is necessarily to have the faith, what are we to say? Has he sanctity? No, for it may be he is notorious for crime and immorality. But the faith is to abide in him even though he be a sinner. So the faith within him is an eighth Sacrament; inasmuch as every Sacrament is the action of the Church in an individual, even though he be unworthy. But through this Sacrament what sort of faith abides in him? A living faith? No, for he is a sinner. But a dead faith, that is to say, external knowledge, is attainable, even by devils. And is this to be an eighth Sacrament? Thus does departure from the truth bring about its own punishment.

We must understand that neither faith nor hope nor love saves of itself (for will faith in reason, or hope in the world, or love for the flesh save us?). No, it is the object of faith which saves. If a man believes in Christ, he is saved in his faith by Christ; if he believes in the Church, he is saved by the Church; if he believes in Christ’s Sacraments, he is saved by them; for Christ our God is in the Church and the Sacraments. The Church of the Old Testament was saved by faith in a Redeemer to come. Abraham was saved by the same Christ as we. He possessed Christ in hope, while we possess Him in joy. Wherefore he who desires Baptism is baptized in will; while he who has received Baptism possesses it in joy. An identical faith in Baptism saves both of them. But a man may say, “if faith in Baptism saves, what is the use of being actually baptized?” If he does not receive Baptism what did he wish for? It is evident that the faith which desires Baptism must be perfected by the reception of Baptism itself, which is its joy. Therefore also the house of Cornelius received the Holy Ghost before he received Baptism, while the eunuch was filled with the same Spirit immediately after Baptism (Acts 10, 44-47, 8. 38, cf. 2. 38). For God can glorify the Sacrament of Baptism just as well before, as after, its administration. Thus the difference between the opus operans and opus operatum disappears. We know that there are many persons who have not christened their children, and many who have not admitted them to Communion in the Holy Mysteries, and many who have not confirmed them: but the Holy Church understands things otherwise, christening infants and confirming them and admitting them to Communion. She has not ordained these things in order to condemn unbaptized children, whose angels do always behold the face of God (Matt. 18:10); but she has ordained this, according to the spirit of love which lives within her, in order that the first thought of a child arriving at years of discretion should be, not only a desire, but also a joy for sacraments which have been already received. And can one know the joy of a child who to all appearances has not yet arrived at discretion? Did not the prophet, even before His birth, exult for joy concerning Christ (St. Luke 1. 41)? Those who have deprived children of Baptism and Confirmation and Communion are they who, having inherited the blind wisdom of blind heathendom, have not comprehended the majesty of God’s Sacraments, but have required reasons and uses for everything and, having subjected the doctrine of the Church to scholastic explications, will not even pray unless they see in the prayer some direct goal or advantage. But our law is not a law of bondage or of hireling service, laboring for wages, but a law of the adoption of sons, and of love which is free.

We know that when any one of us falls he falls alone; but no one is saved alone. He who is saved is saved in the Church, as a member of her, and in unity with all her other members. If any one believes, he is in the communion of faith; if he loves, he is in the communion of love; if he prays, he is in the communion of prayer. Wherefore no one can rest his hope on his own prayers, and every one who prays asks the whole Church for intercession, not as if he had doubts of the intercession of Christ, the one Advocate, but in the assurance that the whole Church ever prays for all her members. All the angels pray for us, the apostles, martyrs, and patriarchs, and above them all, the Mother of our Lord, and this holy unity is the true life of the Church. But if the Church, visible and invisible, prays without ceasing, why do we ask her for her prayers? Do we not entreat mercy of God and Christ, although His mercy preventeth our prayer? The very reason that we ask the Church for her prayers is that we know that she gives the assistance of her intercession even to him that does not ask for it, and to him that asks she gives it in far greater measure than he asks: for in her is the fullness of the Spirit of God. Thus we glorify all whom God has glorified and is glorifying; for how should we say that Christ is living within us, if we do not make ourselves like unto Christ? Wherefore we glorify the Saints the Angels, and the Prophets, and more than all the most pure Mother of the Lord Jesus, not acknowledging her either to have been conceived without sin, or to have been perfect (for Christ alone is without sin and perfect), but remembering that the pre-eminence, passing all understanding, which she has above all God’s creatures was borne witness to by the Angel and by Elizabeth and, above all, by the Saviour Himself when He appointed John, His great Apostle and seer of mysteries, to fulfill the duties of a son and to serve her.

Just as each of us requires prayers from all, so each person owes his prayers on behalf of all, the living and the dead, and even those who are as yet unborn, for in praying, as we do with all the Church, that the world may come to the knowledge of God, we pray not only for the present generation, but for those whom God will hereafter call into life. We pray for the living that the grace of God may be upon them, and for the dead that they may become worthy of the vision of God’s face. We know nothing of an intermediate state of souls, which have neither been received into the kingdom of God, nor condemned to torture, for of such a state we have received no teaching either from the Apostles or from Christ; we do not acknowledge Purgatory, that is, the purification of souls by sufferings from which they may be redeemed by their own works or those of others: for the Church knows nothing of salvation by outward means, nor any sufferings whatever they may be, except those of Christ; nor of bargaining with God, as in the case of a man buying himself off by good works.

All such heathenism as this remains with the inheritors of the wisdom of the heathen, with those who pride themselves in place, or name, or in territorial dominion, and who have instituted an eighth Sacrament of dead faith. But we pray in the spirit of love, knowing that no one will be saved otherwise than by the prayer of all the Church, in which Christ lives, knowing and trusting that so long as the end of time has not come, all the members of the Church, both living and departed, are being perfected incessantly by mutual prayer. The Saints whom God has glorified are much higher than we, but higher than all is the Holy Church, which comprises within herself all the Saints, and prays for all, as may be seen in the divinely inspired Liturgy. In her prayer our prayer is also heard; however unworthy we may be to be called sons of the Church. If, while worshipping and glorifying the Saints, we pray that God may glorify them, we do not lay ourselves open to the charge of pride; for to us who have received permission to call God “Our Father” leave has also been granted to pray, “Hallowed be Thy Name, Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done.” And if we are permitted to pray of God that He will glorify His Name, and accomplish His Will, who will forbid us to pray Him to glorify His Saints, and to give repose to His elect? For those indeed who are not of the elect we do not pray, just as Christ prayed not for the whole world, but for those whom the Lord had given unto Him (St. John 17). Let no one say: “What prayer shall I apportion for the living or the departed, when my prayers are insufficient even for myself?” For if he is not able to pray, of what use would it be to pray even for himself? But in truth the spirit of love prays in him. Likewise let him not say: “What is the good of my prayer for another, when he prays for himself, and Christ Himself intercedes for him?” When a man prays, it is the spirit of love which prays within him. Let him not say: “It is even now impossible to change the judgment of God,” for his prayer itself is included in the ways of God, and God foresaw it. If he be a member of the Church his prayer is necessary for all her members. If the hand should say that it did not require blood from the rest of the body, and that it would not give its own blood to it, the hand would wither. So a man is also necessary to the Church, as long as he is in her; and, if he withdraws himself from communion with her, he perishes himself and will cease to be any longer a member of the Church. The Church prays for all, and we pray together for all; but our prayer must be true, and a true expression of love, and not a mere form of words. Not being able to love all men, we pray for those whom we love, and our prayer is not hypocritical; but we pray God that we may be able to love all and pray for all without hypocrisy. Mutual prayer is the blood of the Church, and the glorification of God her breath. We pray in a spirit of love, not of interest, in the spirit of filial freedom, not of the law of the hireling demanding his pay. Every man who asks: “What use is there in prayer?” acknowledges himself to be in bondage. True prayer is true love.

Love and unity are above everything, but love expresses itself in many ways: by works, by prayer, and by spiritual songs. The Church bestows her blessing upon all these expressions of love. If a man cannot express his love for God by word, but expresses it by a visible representation, that is to say an image (icon), will the Church condemn him? No, but she will condemn the man who condemns him, for he is condemning another’s love. We know that without the use of an image men may also be saved and have been saved, and if a man’s love does not require an image he will be saved without one; but if the love of his brother requires an image, he, in condemning this brother’s love, condemneth himself; if a man being a Christian dare not listen without a feeling of reverence to a prayer or spiritual song composed by his brother, how dare he look without reverence upon the image which his love, and not his art, has produced? The Lord Himself, who knows the secrets of the heart, has designed more than once to glorify a prayer or psalm; will a man forbid Him to glorify an image or the graves of the Saints? One may say: “The Old Testament has forbidden the representation of God;” but does he, who thus thinks he understands better than Holy Church the words which she herself wrote (that is, the Scriptures), not see that it was not a representation of God which the Old Testament forbade (for it allowed the Cherubim, and the brazen serpent, and the writing of the Name of God), but that it forbade a man to make unto himself a god in the similitude of any object in earth or in heaven, visible or even imaginary?

If a man paints an image to remind him of the invisible and inconceivable God, he is not making to himself an idol. If he imagines God to himself and thinks that He is like to his imagination, he maketh to himself an idol—that is the meaning of the prohibition in the Old Testament. But an image [eikon] (that is to say, the Name of God painted in colors), or a representation of His Saints, made by love, is not forbidden by the spirit of truth. Let none say, “Christians are going over to idolatry;” for the spirit of Christ which preserves the Church is wiser than a man’s calculating wisdom. Wherefore a man may indeed be saved without images, but he must not reject images.

The Church accepts every rite which expresses spiritual aspiration towards God, just as she accepts prayer and images [eikons], but she recognizes as higher than all rites the holy Liturgy, in which is expressed all the fullness of the doctrine and spirit of the Church; and this, not only by conventional signs or symbols of some kind, but by the word of life and truth inspired from above. He alone knows the Church who knows the Liturgy. Above all is the unity of holiness and love.


The holy Church, in confessing that she looks for the Resurrection of the dead and the final judgment of all mankind, acknowledges that the perfecting of all her members will be fulfilled together with her own, and that the future life pertains, not only to the spirit, but also to the spiritual body; for God alone is a perfectly incorporeal Spirit. Wherefore she rejects the pride of those who preach a doctrine of an incorporeal state beyond the grave, and consequently despise the body, in which Christ rose from the dead. This body will not be a fleshly body, but will be like unto the corporeal state of the Angels, inasmuch as Christ Himself said that we shall be like unto the Angels.

In the last Judgment our justification in Christ will be revealed in its fullness; not our sanctification only, but also our justification, for no man has been or is as yet completely sanctified, but there is still need of justification. Christ worketh all that is good in us, whether it be in faith or in hope or in love; while we only submit ourselves to His working, but no man submits himself wholly. Therefore there is still need of justification by the sufferings and blood of Christ. Who, then, can continue to speak of the merits of his own works, or of a treasury of merits and prayers? Only those who are still living under a law of bondage. Christ works all good in us, but we never wholly submit ourselves, none, not even the Saints, as the Saviour Himself has said. Grace works all, and grace is given freely and to all, that none shall be able to murmur, but not equally to all, not according to predestination, but according to foreknowledge, as the Apostle says. A smaller talent indeed is given to the man in whom the Lord has foreseen negligence, in order that the rejection of a greater gifts should not serve to greater condemnation. And we do not increase the talents which have been intrusted to us ourselves, but they are put out to the exchangers, in order that even here there should not be any merit of ours, but only non-resistance to the grace which causes the increase. Thus the distinction between “sufficient” and “effectual” grace disappears. Grace worketh all, if a man submits to it the Lord is perfected in- him, and perfects him; but let not a man boast himself in his obedience, for his obedience itself is of grace. But we never submit ourselves wholly: wherefore besides sanctification we ask also for justification.

All is accomplished in the consummation of the general judgement, and the Spirit of God that is, the Spirit of faith, hope, and love, will reveal Himself in all His fullness, and every gift will attain its utmost perfection; but above them all will be love. Not that it is to be thought that faith and hope, which are the gifts of God, will perish (for they are not separable from love), but love alone will preserve its name, while faith, arriving at its consummation, will then have become full inward knowledge and sight; and hope will have become joy; for even on earth we know that the stronger it is, the more joyful it is.

Unity of Orthodoxy

By the Will of God, the Holy Church, after the falling away of many schisms, and of the Roman Patriarchate, was preserved in the Greek Dioceses and Patriarchates, and only those communities can acknowledge one another as fully Christian which preserve their unity with the Eastern Patriarchates, or enter into this unity. For there is one God and one Church, and within her there is neither dissension nor disagreement.

And therefore the Church is called Orthodox, or Eastern, or Greco-Russian, but all these are only temporary designations. The Church ought not to be accused of pride for calling herself Orthodox, inasmuch as she also calls herself Holy. When false doctrines shall have disappeared, there will be no further need for the name Orthodox, for then there will be no erroneous Christianity. When the Church shall have extended herself, or the fullness of the nations shall have entered into her, then all local appellations will cease; for the Church is not bound up with any locality; she neither boasts herself of any particular see or territory, nor preserves the inheritance of pagan pride; but she calls herself One Holy Catholic and Apostolic; knowing that the whole world belongs to her, and that no locality therein possesses any specia1 significance, but only temporarily can and does serve for the glorification of the name of God, according to His unsearchable will.

Treasures of Orthodoxy

A series of pamphlets written for the non-Orthodox, especially those who are considering becoming members of the
Orthodox Church and who wish to deepen their appreciation of her faith, worship, and traditions. The pamphlets are
authored by Fr. Thomas Fitzgerald, a faculty member of Hellenic College-Holy Cross School of Theology.

An ever-growing number of persons from various backgrounds are becoming interested in the Orthodox Church. These individuals are discovering the ancient faith and rich traditions of the Orthodox Church. They have been attracted by her mystical vision of God and His Kingdom, by the beauty of her worship, by the purity of her Christian faith, and by her continuity with the past. These are only some of the treasures of the Church, which has a history reaching back to the time of the Apostles.

In our Western Hemisphere, the Orthodox Church has been developing into a valuable presence and distinctive witness for more than two hundred years. The first Greek Orthodox Christians arrived in the New World in 1768, establishing a colony near the present city of St. Augustine, Florida. One of the original buildings in which these immigrants gathered for religious services is still standing. It has recently been transformed into St. Photius’ Shrine by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. The Shrine, named in memory of a great missionary of the Orthodox Church, honors those first Orthodox immigrants. The chapel serves as a national religious landmark, bearing witness to the presence of Orthodoxy in America from the earliest days of its history. The next group of Orthodox Christians to emerge on the American Continent were the Russian fur traders in the Aleutian Islands. They, too, made a great contribution.

The Orthodox Church in this country owes its origin to the devotion of so many immigrants from lands such as Greece, Russia, the Middle East, and the Balkans. In the great wave of immigrations in the 19th and 20th centuries, Orthodox Christians from many lands and cultures came to America in search of freedom and opportunity. Like the first Apostles, they carried with them a precious heritage and gift. To the New World they brought the ancient faith of the Orthodox Church.

Many Orthodox Christians in America proudly trace their ancestry to the lands and cultures of Europe and Asia, but the Orthodox Church in the United States can no longer be seen as an immigrant Church. While the Orthodox Church contains individuals from numerous ethnic and cultural backgrounds, the majority of her membership is composed of persons who have been born in America. In recognition of this, Orthodoxy has been formally acknowledged as one of the Four Major Faiths in the United States. Following the practice of the Early Church, Orthodoxy treasures the various cultures of its people, but it is not bound to any particular culture or people. The Orthodox Church welcomes all!

There are about 5 million Orthodox Christians in this country. They are grouped into nearly a dozen ecclesiastical jurisdictions. The largest is the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, which has about 500 parishes throughout the United States. Undoubtedly, the Primate of the Archdiocese, His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos, has been chiefly responsible for acquainting many non-Orthodox with the treasures of Orthodoxy. His selfless ministry, which has spanned more than thirty years, has been one of devotion and vision. Filled with an appreciation of his Hellenic background and guided by a spirit of ecumenism, Archbishop Iakovos has recognized the universal dimension of Orthodoxy. He has acted decisively to make this ancient faith of the Apostles and Martyrs a powerful witness in contemporary America.

Eastern Christianity

The Orthodox Church embodies and expresses the rich spiritual treasures of Eastern Christianity. It should not be forgotten that the Gospel of Christ was first preached and the first Christian communities were established in the lands surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. It was in these eastern regions of the old Roman Empire that the Christian faith matured in its struggle against paganism and heresy. There, the great Fathers lived and taught. It was in the cities of the East that the fundamentals of our faith were proclaimed at the Seven Ecumenical Councils.

The spirit of Christianity which was nurtured in the East had a particular favor. It was distinct, though not necessarily opposed, to that which developed in the Western portion of the Roman Empire and subsequent Medieval Kingdoms in the West. While Christianity in the West developed in lands which knew the legal and moral philosophy of Ancient Rome, Eastern Christianity developed in lands which knew the Semitic and Hellenistic cultures. While the West was concerned with the Passion of Christ and the sin of man, the East emphasized the Resurrection of Christ and the deification of man. While the West leaned toward a legalistic view of religion, the East espoused a more mystical theology. Since the Early Church was not monolithic, the two great traditions existed together for more than a thousand years until the Great Schism divided the Church. Today, Roman Catholics and Protestants are heirs to the Western tradition, and the Orthodox are heirs to the Eastern tradition.


Christians of the Eastern Churches call themselves Orthodox. This description comes to us from the fifth century and has two meanings which are closely related. The first definition is “true teaching.” The Orthodox Church believes that she has maintained and handed down the Christian faith, free from error and distortion, from the days of the Apostles. The second definition, which is actually the more preferred, is “true praise.” To bless, praise, and glorify God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the fundamental purpose of the Church. All her activities, even her doctrinal formulations, are directed toward this goal.

Occasionally, the word Catholic is also used to describe the Orthodox Church. This description, dating back to the second century, is embodied in the Nicene Creed, which acknowledges One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. From the Orthodox perspective, Catholic means that the Church is universal and also that she includes persons of all races and cultures. It also affirms that the Church has preserved the fullness of the Christian faith. It is not unusual for titles such as Greek, Russian, and Antiochian to be used in describing Orthodox Churches. These appellations refer to the cultural or national roots of a particular parish, diocese, or archdiocese.

Diversity in Unity

The Orthodox Church is an international federation of patriarchal, autocephalous, and autonomous churches. Each church is independent in her internal organization and follows her own particular customs. However, all the churches are united in the same faith and order. The Orthodox Church acknowledges that unity does not mean uniformity. Some churches are rich in history, such as the Church of Constantinople, while others are relatively young, such as the Church of Finland. Some are large, such as the Church of Russia, while others are small, such as the Church of Sinai. Each Church is led by a synod of bishops. The president of the synod is known as the Patriarch, Archbishop, Metropolitan, or Catholicos. Among the various bishops, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople is accorded a “place of honor” and is regarded as “first among equals.” In America and Western Europe, where Orthodoxy is relatively young, there are a number of dioceses and archdioceses which are directly linked to one of these autocephalous Churches. For example, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese is under the care of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. While the Archdiocese enjoys a good measure of internal autonomy and is headed by an Archbishop, it owes its spiritual allegiance to the Church of Constantinople.

The visitor to an Orthodox Church is usually impressed by the unique features and the external differences between this place of worship and those of the various traditions of Western Christianity. The rich color, distinctive iconography and beauty of the interior of an Orthodox Church generally are in sharp contrast to the simplicity which one finds in many Roman Catholic and Protestant churches. When one enters the interior of the Orthodox church it is like stepping into a whole new world of color and light. The art and design of the church not only create a distinctive atmosphere of worship, but they also reflect and embody many of the fundamental insights of Orthodoxy.

Beauty and Symbols

The Orthodox Church believes that God is the Creator of heaven and earth. The Creator is present through His creative energies of His handiwork. This means that the material world, being valuable and good, is an important means through which God expresses Himself. The Orthodox Church affirms this conviction through her extensive use of material creation not only for the embellishment of her places of worship, but also in her sacramental mysteries and services. For example, when the bread and wine – “the first fruits of creation” – are offered in the Eucharist, they are also a symbolic offering of all creation to God its Creator. Since there is no hesitation in using the gifts of creation, the interior of an Orthodox church is frequently very beautiful. Designed to create an atmosphere which is special, the building is filled with a feeling of joy and an appreciation of God’s bounty. Orthodoxy recognizes that beauty is an important dimension of human life. Through iconography and church appointments, the beauty of creation becomes a very important means of praising God. The divine gifts of the material world are shaped and fashioned by human hands into an expression of beauty which glorifies the Creator. As the pious woman poured her most precious oil on the feet of Our Lord, Orthodoxy seeks always to offer to God what is best and most beautiful.

Sacred Space

The interior church is most importantly, both the background and the setting for Orthodox worship. The art and architecture are designed to contribute to the total experience of worship, which involves one’s intellect, feelings, and senses. The Eucharist and the other sacramental mysteries take place in God’s midst, and they bear witness to His presence and actions. Therefore, in the Orthodox tradition there is a very strong feeling that the church is the House of God and the place where His glory dwells. For this reason, all Orthodox churches are blessed, consecrated and set aside as sacred space. The whole church bears witness to God’s indwelling among His people. As one old admonition says:

“Let the Christian consider well when he enters the church that he is entering another heaven. That same majesty of God which is in heaven is also in his church, and on this account the Christian must enter with reverence and awe.”

Ideally, an Orthodox church is relatively small in order to emphasize and enhance the sense of community in worship. The church is generally constructed in the form of a cross and is divided into three areas: the narthex, the nave, and the sanctuary. The narthex is the entrance area. Centuries ago this area was the place where catechumens (unbaptized learners) and penitents remained during parts of the services. Today, the beginning of the Baptismal service and in some parishes, the Marriage service, begins in the narthex and proceeds into the nave. This procession symbolically represents a gradual movement into the Kingdom of God. In many Orthodox parishes, the narthex is the area where the faithful make an offering, receive a candle, light it before an icon, and offer a personal prayer before joining the congregation. The nave is the large center area of the church. Here the faithful gather for worship. Although most Orthodox churches in this country have pews, some follow the old custom of having an open nave with no seats. On the right-hand side of the nave is the bishop’s throne from which he presides as a living icon of Christ among his people. Even in the bishop’s absence, the throne reminds all that the parish is not an isolated entity but is part of a diocese which the bishop heads. On the left-hand side of the nave is the pulpit from which the Gospel is proclaimed and the sermon preached. The choir and the cantors frequently occupy areas on the far sides of the nave. The sanctuary is considered the most sacred part of the church, and the area reserved for the clergy and their assistant. The sanctuary contains the Holy Altar and is separated from the nave by the Iconostasion. This division serves to remind us that God’s reign is not complete and that we often find ourselves ‘separated’ from God, through sin. However, during the Divine Liturgy, when we have access to the Holy Gifts, we are reminded that, through Christ, heaven and earth are united and that through Him, we have access to the Father. It should be noted that not all services take place within the sanctuary. Many are celebrated in the center of the nave, in the midst of the congregation. In so doing, Orthodoxy emphasizes the fact that the worship of the Church is offered by, and for all the people.

The Altar

The Altar or Holy Table is the heart and focal point of the Orthodox Church. It is here that eucharistic gifts of bread and wine are offered to the Father as Christ commanded us to do. The altar, which is usually square in shape, stands away from the wall and is often covered with cloths. A tabernacle, with reserved Holy Communion for the sick or dying, is set upon the Altar, together with candles. When the Divine Liturgy is not being celebrated, the Book of Gospels rests on the Altar. Behind the Altar is a large cross with the painted figure of Christ.


The Iconostasion is the panel of icons which separates the sanctuary from the nave. The origin of this very distinctive part of an Orthodox church is the ancient custom of placing icons on a low wall before the sanctuary. In time, the icons became fixed on a standing wall, hence the term iconostasion. In contemporary practice, the Iconostasion may be very elaborate and conceal most of the sanctuary, or it may be very simple and open. The Iconostasion has three entrances which are used during services. There is a Deacon Door on either side, and the center entrance which is called the Royal Door. A curtain or door, usually conceals the Altar when services are not being celebrated. On the right-hand side of the Iconostasion are always the icons of Christ and St. John the Baptist. On the left-hand side are always the icons of the Theotokos (Mother of our Lord) and the patron saint or event to which the church is dedicated. In addition to these icons, others may be added, depending upon custom and space.


An icon is a holy image which is the distinctive art form of the Orthodox Church. In actual practice the icon may be a painting of wood, on canvas, a mosaic or a fresco. Icons depict such figures as Christ, Mary the Theotokos, the saints and angels. They may also portray events from the Scriptures or the history of the Church, such as Christmas, Easter, etc. Icons occupy a very prominent place in Orthodox worship and theology. The icon is not simply decorative, inspirational, or educational. Most importantly, it signifies the presence of the individual depicted. The icon is like a window which links heaven and earth. When we worship we do so as part of the Church which includes the living and the departed. We never lost contact with those who are with the Lord in glory. This belief is expressed every time one venerates an icon or places a candle before it. Many Orthodox churches have icons not only on the iconostasion but also on the walls, ceilings, and in arches. Above the sanctuary in the apse, there is very frequently a large icon of the Theotokos and the Christ Child. The Orthodox Church believes that Mary is the human being closest to God. This very prominent icon recalls her important role in the Incarnation of the Son of God. The icon is also an image of the Church. It reminds us of our responsibility to give birth to Christ’s presence in our lives. High above the church, in the ceiling or dome, is the icon of Christ the Almighty, the Pantocrator. The icon portrays the Triumphant Christ who reigns as Lord of heaven and earth. As one gazes downward, it appears as though the whole church and all of creation comes from Him. As one looks upward, there is the feeling that all things direct us to Christ the Lord. He is the “Alpha and the Omega,” the beginning and the end. This is the message of Orthodoxy.

O Come, let us Worship and bow down before our King and God.
O Come, let us worship and bow down before Christ, our King and God.
O Come, let us worship and bow down to Christ Himself, our King and God.

This invitation marks the beginning of each day for the Orthodox Church. It comes from the office of Vespers, and it expresses the attitude which is at the heart of Orthodoxy. The Worship of God – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, – is fundamental to the life and spirit of the Orthodox Church.

Since Worship is so important to Orthodoxy, the best introduction to the Orthodox Church is for the non-Orthodox to attend the Divine Liturgy or the celebration of one of the major Sacraments. At first, the visitor may be overwhelmed by the music and the ceremonies, but it is in Worship that the distinctive flavor, rich traditions, and living faith of Orthodoxy are truly experienced.

Dimensions Of Worship

Worship is an experience which involved the entire Church. When each of us comes together for Worship, we do so as members of a Church which transcends the boundaries of society, of time and of space. Although we gather at a particular moment and at a particular place, our actions reach beyond the parish, into the very Kingdom of God. We worship in the company of both the living and the departed faithful.

There are two dimensions to Orthodox Worship which are reflected throughout the many Services of the Church. First, Worship is a manifestation of God’s presence and action in the midst of His people. It is God who gathers His scattered people together, and it is He who reveals Himself as we enter into His presence. The Worship of the Orthodox Church very vividly expresses the truth that God dwells among His people and that we are created to share in His life.

Second, Worship is our corporate response of thanksgiving to the presence of God and a remembrance of His saving actions – especially the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Orthodox Worship is centered upon God. He has acted in history, and He continues to act through the Holy Spirit. We are mindful of His actions and we respond to His love with praise and thanksgiving. In so doing we come closer to God.

Expressions Of Worship

Worship in the Orthodox Church is expressed in four principal ways:

The Eucharist, which is the most important worship experience of Orthodoxy. Eucharist means thanksgiving and is known in the Orthodox Church as the Divine Liturgy.
The Sacraments, which affirm God’s presence and action in the important events of our Christian lives. All the major Sacraments are closely related to the Eucharist. These are: Baptism, Chrismation, Confession, Marriage, Holy Orders, and Anointing of the sick.
Special Services and Blessings, which also affirm God’s presence and action in all the events, needs and tasks of our life.
The Daily Offices, which are the services of public prayer which occur throughout the day. The most important are Matins, which is the morning prayer of the Church, and Vespers, which is the evening prayer of the Church.


Although Orthodox Services can very often be elaborate, solemn, and lengthy, they express a deep and pervasive sense of joy. This mood is an expression of our belief in the Resurrection of Christ and the deification of humanity, which are dominant themes of Orthodox Worship. In order to enhance this feeling and to encourage full participation, Services are always sung or chanted.

Worship is not simply expressed in words. In addition to prayers, hymns, and scripture readings, there are a number of ceremonies, gestures, and processions. The Church makes rich use of non verbal symbols to express God’s presence and our relationship to Him. Orthodoxy Worship involves the whole person; one’s intellect, feelings, and senses.

Services in the Orthodox Church follow a prescribed order. There is a framework and design to our Worship. This is valuable in order to preserve its corporate dimension and maintain a continuity with the past. The content of the Services is also set. There are unchanging elements; and there are parts which change according to the Feast, season, or particular circumstance. The regulating of the Services by the whole Church emphasizes the fact that Worship is an expression of the entire Church, and not the composition on a particular priest and congregation.

An important secondary purpose of Worship is the teaching of the Faith. There is a very close relationship between the Worship and the teachings of the Church. Faith is expressed in Worship, and Worship serves to strengthen and communicate Faith. As a consequence, the prayers, hymns, and liturgical gestures of Orthodoxy are important mediums of teaching. The regulating of the Services also serves to preserve the true Faith and to guard it against error.

The celebration of the Divine Liturgy and the Sacraments is always led by an ordained clergymen. In the local parish, this will generally be a priest who acts in the name of the bishop, and who is sometime assisted by a deacon. When the bishop is present, he presides at the Services. The vestments of the clergy express their special calling to the ministry as well as their particular office.

Since Worship in Orthodoxy is an expression of the entire Church the active participation and involvement of the congregation is required. There are no “private” or “said” Services in the Orthodox Church and none may take place without a congregation. This strong sense of community is expressed in the prayers and exhortations which are in the plural tense. The congregation is expected to participate actively in the Services in ways such as: singing the hymns; concluding the prayers with “Amen”; responding to the petitions; making the sign of the Cross; bowing; and, especially, by receiving Holy Communion at the Divine Liturgy. Standing is the preferred posture of prayer in the Orthodox Church. The congregation kneels only at particularly solemn moments, such as the Invocation of the Holy Spirit during the Divine Liturgy.

The Litany is an important part of Orthodox Services. A litany is a dialogue between the priest or deacon and the congregation, which consists of a number of prayer-petitions, followed by the response “Lord, have mercy” or “Grant this, O Lord.” Litanies occur frequently throughout the Services and often serve to distinguish particular sections.

Orthodox Worship has always been celebrated in the language of the people. There is no official or universal liturgical language. Often, two or more languages are used in the Services to accommodate the needs of the congregation. Throughout the world, Services are celebrated in more than twenty languages which include such divers ones as Greek, Slavonic, Arabic, Albanian, Rumanian, English, and Luganda.

“We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth, for surely there is no such splendor or beauty anywhere on earth. We cannot describe it to you; we only know that God dwells there among men and that their Service surpasses the worship of all other places…”

In the latter part of the tenth century, Vladimir the Prince of Kiev sent envoys to various Christian centers to study their form of worship. These are the words the envoys uttered when they reported their presence at the celebration of the Eucharist in the Great Church of Holy Wisdom in Constantinople. The profound experience expressed by the Russian envoys has been one shared by many throughout the centuries who have witnessed for the first time the beautiful and inspiring Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church.

The Holy Eucharist is the oldest experience of Christian Worship as well as the most distinctive. Eucharist comes from the Greek word which means thanksgiving. In a particular sense, the word describes the most important form of the Church’s attitude toward all of life. The origin of the Eucharist is traced to the Last Supper at which Christ instructed His disciples to offer bread and wine in His memory. The Eucharist is the most distinctive event of Orthodox worship because in it the Church gathers to remember and celebrate the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Christ and, thereby, to participate in the mystery of Salvation.

In the Orthodox Church, the Eucharist is also known as the Divine Liturgy. The word liturgy means people’s work; this description serves to emphasize the corporate character of the Eucharist. When an Orthodox attends the Divine Liturgy, it is not as an isolated person who comes simply to hear a sermon.

Rather, he comes as a member of the Community of Faith who participates in the very purpose of the Church, which is the Worship of the Holy Trinity. Therefore, the Eucharist is truly the center of the life of the Church and the principal means of spiritual development, both for the individual Christian and the Church as a whole. Not only does the Eucharist embody and express the Christian faith in a unique way, but it also enhances and deepens our faith in the Trinity. This sacrament-mystery is the experience toward which all the other activities of the Church are directed and from which they receive their direction.

The Eucharist, the principal sacrament mystery of the Orthodox Church, is not so much a text to be studied, but rather an experience of communion with the Living God in which prayer , music, gestures, the material creation, art and architecture come into full orchestration. The Eucharist is a celebration of faith which touches not only the mind but also the emotions and the senses.

Throughout the centuries, Christians have seen many dimensions in the Eucharist. The various titles which have come to describe the rite bear witness to the richness of its meaning. The Eucharist has been known as the Holy offering, the Holy Mysteries, the Mystic Supper, and the Holy Communion. The Orthodox Church recognizes the many facets of the Eucharist and wisely refuses to over-emphasize one element to the detirement of the others. In so doing, Orthodoxy has clearly avoided reducing the Eucharist to a simple memorial of the Last Supper which is only occasionally observed. Following the teachings of both Scripture and Tradition, the Orthodox Church believes that Christ is truly present with His people in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. The Eucharistic gifts of bread and wine become for us His Body and His Blood. We affirm that these Holy Gifts are transfigured into the first fruits of the New Creation in which ultimately God will be “all in all”.

Three Liturgies

As it is celebrated today, the Divine Liturgy is a product of historical development. The fundamental core of the liturgy dates from the time of Christ and the Apostles. To this, prayers, hymns, and gestures have been added throughout the centuries. The liturgy achieved a basic framework by the ninth century.

There are three forms of the Eucharist presently in use in the Orthodox Church:

  • The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, which is the most frequently celebrated.
  • The Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, which is celebrated only ten times a year.
  • The Liturgy of St. James which is celebrated on October 23, the feastday of the Saint. While these saints did not compose the entire liturgy which bears their names, it is probable that they did author many of the prayers. The structure and basic elements of the three liturgies are similar, although there are differences in some hymns and prayers.

In addition to these Liturgies, there is also the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts. This is not truly a eucharistic liturgy but rather an evening Vesper Service followed by the distribution of Holy Communion reserved from the previous Sunday. This liturgy is celebrated only on weekday mornings or evenings during Lent, and on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Holy Week, when the full Eucharist is not permitted because of its Resurrection spirit. The Eucharist expresses the deep joy which is so central to the Gospel.

The Divine Liturgy is properly celebrated only once a day. This custom serves to emphasize and maintain the unity of the local congregation. The Eucharist is always the principal Service on Sundays and Holy Days and may be celebrated on other weekdays.

However, the Divine Liturgy is not celebrated by the priest privately, without a congregation. The Eucharist is usually celebrated in the morning but, with the Bishop’s blessing, may be offered in the evening. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese has recently encouraged the celebration of the Liturgy in the evening after Vespers, on the vigil of major Feast and Saints Days.

The Actions of Divine Liturgy

The Divine Liturgy may be divided into two major parts: the Liturgy of the Catechumens and the Liturgy of the Faithful, which are preceded by the Service of Preparation.

Although there are many symbolic interpretations of the Divine Liturgy, the most fundamental meaning is found in the actions and prayers.

The Service of Preparation

Prior to the beginning of the Liturgy, the priest prepares himself with prayer and then precedes to vest himself. The vestments express his priestly ministry as well as his office. Next, the priest goes to the Proskomide Table which is on the left side of the Altar Table in the Sanctuary. There, he prepares the offering of bread and wine for the Liturgy. Ideally, the leavened loaves of bread, and the wine from which the offering is taken, are prepared by members of the congregation. The elements are presented to the priest before the service, together with the names of those persons, living and dead, who are to be remembered during the Divine Liturgy. The offering symbolically represents the entire Church gathered about Christ, the Lamb of God.

The Liturgy of the Catechumens

The Divine Liturgy begins with the solemn declaration: “Blessed be the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit now and for ever more.” With these words we are reminded that in the Divine Liturgy the Church becomes a real manifestation of God’s Kingdom on earth.

Since the first part of the Liturgy was designed originally for the Catechumens, those being schooled in the faith, had a very instructive quality. The Eucharist also has elements which are in common with other Services. We gather as Christians who share a common faith in the Holy Trinity. We sing and pray as a people united in Christ, who are not bound by time, space, or social barriers.

The Little Entrance is the central action of the first part of the Liturgy. A procession takes place in which the priest carries the Book of Gospels from the sanctuary into the nave. The procession directs our attention to the Scripture and to the presence of Christ in the Gospel. The entrance leads to the Epistle lesson, the Gospel, and the Sermon.

The Liturgy of the Faithful

In the early Church, only those who were baptized and not in a state of sin were permitted to remain for this most solemn part of the Liturgy. With the Great Entrance marking the beginning of this part of the Liturgy, the offering of bread and wine is brought by the priest from the Preparation Table, through the nave, and to the Altar Table. Before the offering can proceed, however, we are called upon to love one another so that we may perfectly confess our faith. In the early Church, the Kiss of Peace was exchanged at this point. After the symbolic kiss of Peace, we join together in professing our Faith through the words of the Creed.

Only now can we properly offer our gifts of bread and wine to the Father as our Lord directed us to do in His memory. This offering is one of great joy, for through it we remember the mighty actions of God through which we have received the gift of salvation, and especially the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. We invoke the Holy Spirit upon ourselves and upon our offering, asking the Father that they become for us the Body and Blood of Christ. Through our thanking and remembering the Holy Spirit reveals the presence of the Risen Christ in our midst.

The priest comes from the altar with the Holy Gifts, inviting the congregation to draw near with reverence of God, with faith, and with love.” Our sharing in the Eucharist Gifts not only expresses our fellowship with one another, but also our unity with the Father in His Kingdom. Individuals approach the Holy Gifts and receive the Eucharistic bread and wine from the common chalice. The priest distributes the Holy Gifts by means of a communion spoon. Since the Holy Communion is an expression of our Faith, reception of the Holy Gifts is open only to those who are baptized, chrismated, and practicing members of the Orthodox Church.

The Liturgy comes to an end with prayer of Thanksgiving and the Benediction. At the conclusion of the Eucharist, the congregation comes forward to receive a portion of the liturgical bread which was not used for the offering.

One of the best-known prayers of the Orthodox Church speaks of the spirit of God being “present in all places and filling all things.” This profound affirmation is basic to Orthodoxy’s understanding of God and His relationship to the world. We believe that God is truly near to us. Although He cannot be seen, God is not detached from His creation. Through the persons of The Risen Christ and the Holy Spirit, God is present and active in our lives and in the creation about us. All our life and the creation of which we are an important part, points, to and reveals God.

There are special experiences in our corporate life as Orthodox Christians when the perception of God’s presence and actions is heightened and celebrated. We call these events of the Church Sacraments. Traditionally, the Sacraments have been known as Mysteries in the Orthodox Church. This description emphasizes that in these special events of the Church, God discloses Himself through the prayers and actions of His people.

Not only do the Sacraments disclose and reveal God to us, but also they serve to make us receptive to God. All the Sacraments affect our personal relationship to God and to one another. The Holy Spirit works through the Sacraments. He leads us to Christ who unites us with the Father. By participating in the Sacraments, we grow closer to God and to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This process of deification, or theosis, as it is known by Orthodoxy, takes place not in isolation from others, but within the context of a believing community. Although the Sacraments are addressed to each of us by name, they are experiences which involve the entire Church.

The Sacraments of the Orthodox Church are composed of prayers, hymns, scripture lessons, gestures and processions. Many parts of the services date back to the time of the Apostles. The Orthodox Church has avoided reducing the Sacraments to a particular formula or action. Often, a whole series of sacred acts make up a Sacrament. Most of the Sacraments use a portion of the material of creation as an outward and visible sign of God’s revelation. Water, oil, bread and wine are but a few of the many elements which the Orthodox Church employs in her Worship. The frequent use of the material of creation reminds us that matter is good and can become a medium of the Spirit. Most importantly, it affirms the central truth of the Orthodox Christian faith: that God became flesh in Jesus Christ and entered into the midst of creation thereby redirecting the cosmos toward its vocation to glorify its Creator.

The Eucharist

The Holy Eucharist, which is known as the Divine Liturgy, is the central and most important worship experience of the Orthodox Church. Often referred to as the “Sacrament of Sacraments”, it is the Church’s celebration of the Death and Resurrection of Christ offered every Sunday and Holy day. All the other Sacraments of the Church lead toward and flow from the Eucharist, which is at the center of the life of the Church. The previous pamphlet in this series was devoted to the meaning and celebration of the Eucharist in the Orthodox Church.


The Sacrament of Baptism incorporates us into the Church, the Body of Christ, and is our introduction to the life of the Holy Trinity. Water is a natural symbol of cleansing and newness of life. Through the three-fold immersion in the waters of Baptism in the Name of the Holy Trinity, one dies to the old ways of sin and is born to a new life in Christ. Baptism is one’s public identification with Christ Death and victorious Resurrection. Following the custom of the early Church, Orthodoxy encourages the baptism of infants. The Church believes that the Sacrament is bearing witness to the action of God who chooses a child to be an important member of His people. From the day of their baptism, children are expected to mature in the life of the Spirit, through their family and the Church. The Baptism of adults is practiced when there was no previous baptism in the name of the Holy Trinity.


The Sacrament of Chrismation (Confirmation) immediately follows baptism and is never delayed until a later age. As the ministry of Christ was enlivened by the Spirit, and the preaching of the Apostles strengthened by the Spirit, so is the life of each Orthodox Christian sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Chrismation, which is often referred to as one’s personal Pentecost, is the Sacrament which imparts the Spirit in a special way.

In the Sacrament of Chrismation, the priest anoints the various parts of the body of the newly-baptized with Holy Oil saying: “The seal of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Oil, which is blessed by the bishop, is a sign of consecration and strength. The Sacrament emphasizes the truths that not only is each person a valuable member of the Church, but also each one is blessed by the Spirit with certain gifts and talents. The anointing also reminds us that our bodies are valuable and are involved in the process of salvation.

The Sacraments of initiation always are concluded with the distribution of Holy Communion to the newly-baptized. Ideally, this takes place within the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. This practice reveals that Orthodoxy views children from their infancy as important members of the Church. There is never time when the young are not part of God’s people.


As members of the Church, we have responsibilities to one another and, of course, to God. When we sin, or relationship to God and to others distorted. Sin is ultimately alienation from God, from our fellow human beings, and from our own true self which is created in God’s image and likeness.

Confession is the Sacrament through which our sins are forgiven, and our relationship to God and to others is restored and strengthened. Through the Sacrament, Christ our Lord continues to heal those broken in spirit and restore the Father’s love those who are lost. According to Orthodox teaching, the penitent confess to God and is forgiven by God. The priest is the sacramental witness who represents both Christ and His people. The priest is viewed not as a judge, but as a physician and guide. It is an ancient Orthodox practice for every Christian to have a spiritual father to whom one turns for spiritual advice and counsel. Confession can take place on any number of occasions. The frequency is left the discretion of the individual. In the event of serious sin, however, confession is a necessary preparation for Holy Communion.


God is active in our lives. It is He who joins a man and a woman in a relationship of mutual love. The Sacrament of Marriage bears witness to His action. Through this Sacrament, a man and a woman are publicly joined as husband and wife. They enter into a new relationship with each other, God, and the Church. Since Marriage is not viewed as a legal contract, there are no vows in the Sacrament. According to Orthodox teachings, Marriage is not simply a social institution, it is an eternal vocation of the kingdom. A husband and a wife are called by the holy Spirit not only to live together but also to share their Christian life together so that each, with the aid of the other, may grow closer to God and become the persons they are meant to be. In the Orthodox Marriage Service, after the couple have been betrothed and exchanged rings, they are crowned with “crowns of glory and honor” signifying the establishment of a new family under God. Near the conclusion of the Service, the husband and wife drink from a common cup which is reminiscent of the wedding of Cana and which symbolized the sharing of the burdens and joys of their new life together.

Holy Orders

The Holy Spirit preserved the continuity of the Church through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Through ordination, men who have been chosen from within the Church are set apart by the Church for special service to the Church. Each is called by God through His people to stand amid the community, as pastor and teacher, and as the representative of the parish before the Altar. Each is also a living icon of Christ among His people. According to Orthodox teaching, the process of ordination begins with the local congregation; but the bishop alone, who acts in the name of the universal Church, can complete the action. He does so with the invocation of the Holy Spirit and the imposition of his hands on the person being ordained.

Following the custom of the Apostolic Church, there are three major orders each of which requires a special ordination. These are Bishop, who is viewed as a successor of the Apostles, Priest and Deacon, who act in the name of the Bishop. Each order is distinguished by its pastoral responsibilities. Only a Bishop may ordain. Often, other titles and offices are associated with the three orders. The Orthodox Church permits men to marry before they are ordained. Since the sixth century, Bishops have been chosen from the celibate clergy.

Anointing of the Sick (Holy Unction)

When one is ill and in pain, this can very often be a time of life when one feels alone and isolated. The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, or Holy Unction as it is also known, remind us that when we are in pain, either physical, emotional, or spiritual, Christ is present with us through the ministry of his Church. He is among us to offer strength to meet the challenges of life, and even the approach of death.

As with Chrismation, oil is also used in this Sacrament as a sign of God’s presence, strength, and forgiveness. After the reading of seven epistle lessons, seven gospel lessons and the offering of seven prayers, which are all devoted to healing, the priest anoints the body with the Holy Oil. Orthodoxy does not view this Sacrament as available only to those who are near death. It is offered to all who are sick in body, mind, or spirit. The Church celebrates the Sacrament for all its members during Holy week on Holy Wednesday.

Other Sacraments and Blessings

The Orthodox Church has never formally determined a particular number of Sacraments. In addition to the Eucharist she accepts the above six Mysteries as major Sacraments because they involve the entire community and most important are closely relation to the Eucharist. There are many other Blessings and Special Services which complete the major Sacraments, and which reflect the Church’s presence throughout the lives of her people. Some of these are discussed in the following pamphlet in this series.

At the center of the life of the Church is the Holy Eucharist, which is the principal celebration of our faith and the means through which we participate in the very life of the Holy Trinity. The major Sacraments are closely related to the Eucharist and they bear witness to the continuing presence of Christ in the lives of His people.

Besides the Eucharist and the major Sacraments, the Orthodox Church has a number of Special Services and Blessings which are associated with the needs, events, and tasks of human life. In celebrating these various Services and Blessings, the Church is constantly bearing witness to the presence and action of God in our lives. Our God is one who loves us, cares for us, and is near to us. The liturgical Services and Blessings also serve to remind us that all of life is important, and that the many events and gifts of life can be directed toward God and receive their fulfillment in Him.

The Special Services are often referred to as Non-sacramental Services in the sense that they are events of community worship which are not usually counted among the major Sacraments. However, they clearly have a sacramental quality in the sense that they reveal the presence of the Holy Trinity. Many of these Services, such as the Funeral, the Blessing of Water, and the Entrance into Monastic Life, just to name a few, are very significant to the life of the Church. The various Blessings are brief ceremonies which are occasional and do not necessarily involve directly the entire parish community.

The Church blesses individuals, events such as trips, and objects such as icons, churches, flowers, fields, animals, and food. In so doing, the Church is not only expressing our thanks giving, but also affirming that no gift, event, or human responsibility is secular or detached from God. For the Orthodox Christian, all good things have God as their origin and goal. Nothing is outside of God’s love and concern.

Funeral Service

The death of a Christian not only affects the family, but also the entire Church, for we are all part of the Body of Christ. The Orthodox Funeral Service, which expresses this fact, is not to be seen primarily as an opportunity to extol, in a sentimental way, the virtues of an individual. Rather, the various prayers and hymns emphasize the harsh reality of death, as well as the victorious Resurrection of Christ through which the power of death is conquered. The Funeral Service comforts those who mourn; it is also the means through which the Church prays for one of its members who has died in the faith of Christ. Orthodoxy views the end of physical existence only as the termination of one stage of life. God’s love is stronger than death, and the Resurrection of Christ bears witness to this power.

The Orthodox Funeral consists of three Services. First, there is a Vigil Service after death, which is usually conducted at the time of the wake. This service is called the Trisagion Service. The Church prays to Christ “to give rest with the Saints to the soul of Your servant where there is neither pain, grief, nor sighing but life everlasting.” While the Church prays for the soul of the deceased, great respect is paid to the body. Orthodoxy believes the body of the Christian is sacred since it was the Temple of the Holy Spirit.

The body will share also in the final restoration of all creation. The Funeral Service is continued at the Church, where the body is brought on the day of burial. Ideally, the Divine Liturgy is celebrated. After the Funeral Service, the congregation offers its Farewell to the deceased. The Trisagion Service is repeated at the graveside.

Memorial Service

Death alters but does not destroy the bond of love and faith which exists among all the members of the Church. Orthodoxy believes that through our prayers, those “who have fallen asleep in the faith and the hope of the Resurrection” continue to have opportunity to grow closer to God. Therefore, the Church prays constantly for her members who have died in Christ. We place our trust in the love of God and the power of mutual love and forgiveness. We pray that God will forgive the sins of the faithful departed, and that He will receive them into the company of Saints in the heavenly Kingdom.

The Orthodox Church remembers the departed in the prayers of every Divine Liturgy. Besides this, there is a Memorial Service in which the Church also remembers the dead. According to tradition, the Memorial Service is offered on the third, ninth, and fortieth day after a death, as well as on the yearly anniversary of the death. In addition to these times, the Memorial Service is always offered for all the faithful departed on four “Saturdays of the souls.” These are: the two Saturdays preceding Great Lent; the first Saturday of Great Lent; and, the Saturday before Pentecost. In the United States the Service is also offered on Memorial Day. When the Memorial Service is offered, it is customary for the family of the deceased to bring a dish of boiled wheat to the Church. The boiled wheat is placed on a table in the center of the nave during the Service. The wheat, known as kollyva, is a symbol of the Resurrection. When speaking of the Resurrection, our Lord said: “Unless the grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)

The Great Blessing of Water: Megas Agiasmos

Epiphany, one of the oldest and most important Feast days of the Orthodox Church, commemorates the manifestation of the Holy Trinity which took place at the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan River. Recognizing rich meaning in this event, Orthodoxy believes that when Christ was baptized, it not only marked the beginning of its public ministry and revealed the Trinity, but also signified that the entire creation is destined to share in the glory of redemption in Christ. While Christ entered into the Jordan to be baptized, two things were happening: He was identifying Himself with the people He had come to save; and, He was identifying Himself with the whole of Creation which was represented by water. Through His baptism, the Lord revealed the value of the created world and He redirected it toward its Creator. Creation is good and it belongs to God.

The Great Blessing of Water is held on the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany and on the day itself, following the Divine Liturgy. The Blessing not only remembers the event of Our Lord’s baptism and the revelation of the Holy Trinity but also expresses Orthodoxy’s belief that creation is sanctified through Christ. The Blessing affirms that humanity and the created world, of which we are a part, were created to be filled with the sanctifying presence of God. After the solemn blessing, the Holy Water is distributed to the faithful and is used to bless homes during the Epiphany season. When the faithful drink the “Epiphany Water,” we are reminded of our own baptism. When the Church blesses an individual, or object, or event with the water, we are affirming that those baptized, their surroundings, and their responsibilities are sanctified through Christ and brought into the Kingdom of the Father through the Spirit.

In addition to the Great Blessing of Water, there is a Lesser Blessing of Water service which can take place at anytime. Usually, it is celebrated when a home is blessed, on the first day of the month, the beginning of the school year, and beginning of new responsibilities.

The Blessing of Bread Artoklasia

The Blessing of Five Loaves of Bread is a brief service of thanksgiving through which we express our gratitude for all the blessings of life. Oil, wine, wheat, and the loaves of bread which are used in the service, are viewed as the most basic elements necessary for life. The Blessing reminds us of the miracle of the multiplication of the bread and fish by which Christ fed the multitude. This Blessing is usually offered during Vespers or after the Divine Liturgy on Feast days and other special occasions. After the Service, the bread is cut and distributed to the congregation.

Akathist Hymn

The Orthodox Church worships God alone. Yet, she does offer veneration to individuals who have been important human instruments of God in the history of salvation. Among those so venerated is Mary, the Mother of God the Theotokos. The Orthodox Church greatly honors Mary because she was chosen to give birth to the Son of God. As one of the hymns declares:

“By singing praise to your maternity, we exalt you as a spiritual temple, Theotokos. For the One Who dwelt within your womb, the Lord who holds all things in his hands, sanctified you, glorified you, and taught all to sing to you … “

The most beautiful and poetic service of the Orthodox Church in honor of Mary, the Theotokos, is the Akathist Hymn. The word akathist means without sitting. The congregation stands throughout the Service out of respect for Mary and her unique role in our salvation in Christ. The Akathist Hymn is chanted in four parts during the first four Fridays of Great Lent. On the fifth Friday, the entire Service is chanted.

The Service of Supplication: Paraklesis

The Service of Supplication, which is also known as Paraklesis, is one offered especially at times of sickness, temptation, or discouragement. The various prayers ask the Lord for guidance, personal strength, and healing. Many of the hymns and prayers are directed toward Mary, the Theotokos, and they ask for her assistance. Orthodoxy affirms that each of us, with Mary, the Saints, and the faithful departed is united in a bond of faith and love in Christ. Therefore, just as in this life we can turn to each other for prayer, the Church believes that we can also turn to Mary – the human being closest to God – and ask her to pray to God for us. This belief is expressed in the hymn which says:

“O never failing protectress of Christians and their ever-present intercessor before the Creator; despise not the petitions or sinners who have recourse to you, by your goodness extend your help to us to call upon you with confidence. Has O Theotokos, to intercede for us, O who have always protected those who honor you.”

There are two forms of the Service of Supplication: the Greater and the Lesser. It is Lesser Service of Supplication which is briefer and the one most frequently offered. Both forms of the Service are offered during first fourteen days of August which precedes the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos celebrated on August 15th.

The Orthodox Church throughout the ages has maintained a continuity of faith and love with the apostolic community which was founded by Christ and sustained by the Holy Spirit. Orthodoxy believes that she has preserved and taught the historic Christian Faith, free from error and distortion, from the time of the Apostles. She also believes that there is nothing in the body of her teachings which is contrary to truth or which inhibits real union with God. The air of antiquity and timelessness which often characterizes Eastern Christianity is an expression of her desire to remain loyal to the authentic Christian Faith.

Orthodoxy believes that the Christian Faith and the Church are inseparable. It is impossible to know Christ, to share in the life of the Holy Trinity, or to be considered a Christian, apart from the Church. It is in the Church that the Christian Faith is proclaimed and maintained. It is through the Church that an individual is nurtured in the Faith.


God is the source of faith in the Orthodox Church. Orthodoxy believes that God has revealed Himself to us, most especially in the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom we know as the Son of God. This Revelation of God, His love, and His purpose, is constantly made manifest and contemporary in the life of the Church by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Orthodox Faith does not begin with mankind’s religious speculations, nor with the so-called “proofs” for the existence of God, nor with a human quest for the Divine. The origin of the Orthodox Christian Faith is the Self-disclosure of God. Each day, the Church’s Morning Prayer affirms and reminds us of this by declaring, “God is the Lord and He has revealed Himself to us.” While the inner Being of God always remains unknown and unapproachable, God has manifested Himself to us; and the Church has experienced Him as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity, which is central to the Orthodox Faith, is not a result of pious speculation, but of the overwhelming experience of God. The doctrine affirms that there is only One God, in whom there are three distinct Persons. In other words, when we encounter the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit, we are truly experiencing contact with God. While the Holy Trinity is a mystery which can never be fully comprehended, Orthodoxy believes that we can truly participate in the Trinity through the life of the Church, especially through our celebration of the Eucharist and the Sacraments, as well as the non-sacramental services.

Incarnation of Jesus Christ

Together with the belief in the Holy Trinity, the doctrine of the Incarnation occupies a central position in the teaching of the Orthodox Church. According to Orthodox Faith, Jesus is much more than a pious man or a profound teacher of morality. He is the “Son of God who became the Son of Man.” The doctrine of the Incarnation is an expression of the Church’s experience of Christ. In Him, divinity is united with humanity without the destruction of either reality. Jesus Christ is truly God who shares in the same reality as the Father and the Spirit. Moreover, He is truly man who shares with us all that is human. The Church believes that, as the unique God-man, Jesus Christ has restored humanity to fellowship with God.

By manifesting the Holy Trinity, by teaching the meaning of authentic human life, and by conquering the powers of sin and death through His Resurrection, Christ is the supreme expression of the love of God the Father, for His people, made present in every age and in every place by the Holy Spirit through the life of the Church. The great Fathers of the Church summarized the ministry of Christ in the bold affirmation, “God became what we are so that we may become what He is.”


The Holy Scriptures are highly regarded by the Orthodox Church. Their importance is expressed in the fact that a portion of the Bible is read at every service of Worship. The Orthodox Church, which sees itself as the guardian and interpreter of the Scriptures, believes that the books of the Bible are a valuable witness to God’s revelation. The Old Testament is a collection of forty-nine books of various literary styles which expresses God’s revelation to the ancient Israelites. The Orthodox Church regards the Old Testament as a preparation for the coming of Christ and believes that it should be read in light of His revelation.

The New Testament is centered upon the person and work of Jesus Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the early Church. The four Gospels are an account of Christ’s life and teaching, centering upon His Death and Resurrection. The twenty-one epistles and the Acts of the Apostles are devoted to the Christian life and the development of the early Church. The Book of Revelation is a very symbolic text which looks to the return of Christ. The New Testament, especially the Gospels, is very important to Orthodoxy because here is found a written witness to the perfect revelation of God in the Incarnation of the Son of God, in the person of Jesus Christ.


While the Bible is treasured as a valuable written record of God’s revelation, it does not contain wholly that revelation. The Bible is viewed as only one expression of God’s revelation in the ongoing life of His people. Scripture is part of the treasure of Faith which is known as Tradition. Tradition means that which is “handed on” from one generation to another. In addition to the witness of Faith in the Scripture, the Orthodox Christian Faith is celebrated in the Eucharist; taught by the Fathers; glorified by the Saints; expressed in prayers, hymns, and icons; defended by the seven Ecumenical Councils; embodied in the Nicene Creed; manifested in social concern; and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, it is lived in every local Orthodox parish. The life of the Holy Trinity is manifested in every aspect of the Church’s life. Finally, the Church, as a whole, is the guardian of the authentic Christian Faith which bears witness to that Revelation.

Councils and Creed

As Orthodoxy has avoided any tendency to restrict the vision of God’s revelation to only one avenue of its life, the Church has also avoided the systematic or extensive definition of its Faith. Orthodoxy affirms that the Christian Faith expresses and points to the gracious and mysterious relationship between God and humanity. God became man in the person of Jesus Christ, not to institute a new philosophy or code of conduct, but primarily to bestow upon us “new life” in the Holy Trinity. This reality, which is manifest in the Church, cannot be wholly captured in language, formulas, or definitions. The content of the Faith is not opposed to reason, but is often beyond the bounds of reason, as are many of the important realities of life. Orthodoxy recognizes the supreme majesty of God, as well as the limitations of the human mind. The Church is content to accept the element of mystery in its approach to God.

Only when the fundamental truths of the Faith are seriously threatened by false teachings does the Church act to define dogmatically an article of faith. For this reason, the decisions of the seven Ecumenical Councils of the ancient undivided Church are highly respected. The Councils were synods to which bishops from throughout the Christian world gathered to determine the true faith. The Ecumenical Councils did not create new doctrines but proclaimed, in a particular place and a particular time, what the Church has always believed and taught.

The Nicene Creed, which was formulated at the Councils of Nicaea in 325 and of Constantinople in 381, has been recognized since then as the authoritative expression of the fundamental beliefs of the Orthodox Church. The Creed is often referred to as the “Symbol of Faith.” This description indicates that the Creed is not an analytical statement, but that it points to a reality greater than itself and to which it bears witness. For generations, the Creed has been the criterion of authentic Faith and the basis of Christian education. The Creed is recited at the time of Baptism and during every Divine Liturgy.

The Creed

“I believe in One God, Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible.

And in One Lord, Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages.

Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten, not created, of one essence with the Father, through whom all things were made.

For us and for our salvation, He came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became Man.

He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and He suffered and was buried.

On the third day He rose according to the Scriptures.

He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead. His kingdom will have no end.

And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father, who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified, who spoke through the prophets.

In one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

I acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

I expect the resurrection of the dead; and the life of the age to come.


The Orthodox Church proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In the Greek language, the word for Gospel is Evangelion which means literally “the good news.” The good news of Orthodox Christianity is a proclamation of God’s unbounded and sacrificial love for man kind, as well as the revelation of the true destiny of the human person. Reflecting on the joyous message of the Gospel, Saint Gregory of Nyssa wrote in the fourth century: The good news is that man is no longer an outcast nor expelled from God’s Kingdom; but that he is again a son, again God’s subject.

Orthodoxy believes that the supreme treasure which God wishes to share with us is His own life. Our faith begins with the affirmation that God has acted in history to permit us to participate in His love and His goodness, to be citizens of His Kingdom. This conviction is expressed so beautifully in the prayer of the Liturgy which says: “You have not ceased to do all things until You brought us to heaven and granted us the Kingdom to come.”

The initiation of love of God the Father is perfectly expressed and embodied in the Person and Ministry of Jesus Christ. The whole purpose of the Incarnation of the Son of God was to restore humanity to fellowship with God. The great teachers and Fathers of the Orthodox Church constantly reaffirmed this conviction by proclaiming that God had become what we are in order that we could become what He is.

Christ is exalted as our Light and our Life. In His Person there is a unity of humanity and divinity which each of us is called to share. In His way of life. there is the model of authentic human life which we are invited to follow. In His victorious Resurrection, there is liberation for us from all powers which can keep us from the Kingdom. Through Christ, then, God the Father has repossessed us and has called us to be His sons and daughters.


The fundamental vocation and goal of each and every person is to share in the life of God. We have been created by God to live in fellowship with Him. The descent of God in the Person of Jesus Christ has made possible the human ascent to the Father through the work of the Holy Spirit. Orthodoxy believes that each Christian is involved in a movement toward God which is known as theosis or deification.

Theosis describes the spiritual pilgrimage in which each person becomes ever more perfect, ever more holy, ever more united with God. It is not a static relationship, nor does it take place only after death. On the contrary, theosis is a movement of love toward God which begins for each Christian with the rites of Baptism and which continues throughout this life, as well as the life which is to come. Salvation means liberation from sin, death, and evil. Redemption means our repossession by God. In Orthodoxy, both salvation and redemption are within the context of theosis. This rich vision of Christian life was expressed well by Saint Peter when he wrote in the early pages of his second Epistle that we are called “to become partakers of the Divine nature.” It was also affirmed by Saint Basil the Great when he described man as the creature who has received the order to become a god.

These are certainly bold affirmations which must be properly understood. The Orthodox Church understands theosis as a union with the energies of God and not with the essence of God which always remains hidden and unknown. However, the experience of the Church testifies that this is a true union with God. It is also one which is not pantheistic, because in this union the divine and the human retain their unique characteristics. In this sense, Orthodoxy believes that human life reaches its fulfillment only when it becomes divine.

The Holy Spirit

The ever-deepening union of each Christian with God is not a magical or automatic process. While Christ has destroyed the powers of sin, death, and evil once and for all, this victory must be appropriated by each person in cooperation with the Holy Spirit. Each person is called to join with the lifegiving and liberating Spirit” in realizing the fulness of human life in communion with the Father. The Holy Spirit is the agent of deification whose task it is to incorporate us into the life of the Holy Trinity. However, the Spirit always recognizes our human freedom and invites our active cooperation in perfecting the “image and likeness of God” with which each of us is created.

Our participation in the life of the Holy Trinity, which we know as theosis, takes place within the Church. For the Orthodox, the Church is the meeting place between God and His people. The Holy Spirit and the Church are organically linked. In the second century, Saint Irenaeus reminded us of this by saying: “Where the Church is there is the Spirit, and where the Spirit is there is the Church.” The Holy Spirit moves through the life of the Church to reveal our common humanity in Christ and to unite us with the Father. We acquire the Holy Spirit through our celebration of the Eucharist and the reception of Holy Communion, through our participation in the Sacraments, through our discipline of daily prayer, and through the practice of fasting, all of which result in a Christ-like life.

The Holy Spirit, Who is honored as the Lord and Giver of life, is manifest in the life of the Church in order to bring our lives to perfection, and to make us responsible and loving human beings. The fruit of Worship is the gifts of the Spirit. In his letter to the Galatians, Saint Paul identified these as: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness, and self-control.” Certainly, these are the virtues of a Christ-like life. They testify to the fact that the love of God and the love of neighbor are inseparable.

The Individual and the Church

The reality of theosis not only bears witness to the love of God who wishes to share Him self with us but also expresses a very positive view of the human person. Orthodoxy believes that each person has an intrinsic value and importance in virtue of his or her unique relationship to God. The human person is never seen as being totally depraved. The “image of God” which can be distorted by sin, can never be eradicated. Through the life of the Church, there is always the opportunity for fulfillment. When the Sacraments are administered, they are always offered to the individual by name. This action not only reminds us of the dignity of each person but also emphasizes the responsibility each person has for his or her relationship to God.

While Orthodoxy recognizes the value of the person, it does not believe that we are meant to be isolated or self-sufficient. Each person is called to be an important member of the Church. Orthodoxy believes that one cannot be a Christian without being a part of the Church. The process of theosis takes place with the context of a believing community.

To be united with God within the midst of the Church does not mean that our unique personalities are destroyed. We are not engulfed by an impersonal force or power. As with all love which is true and valuable, God’s love for each of us respects our personhood. His love is not one which destroys. God’s love is one which reveals, elevates, and perfects our true selves. By entering into the life of God, we become the persons we are meant to be.

The Church has her origin with Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, not with a human teacher, or group, nor a code of conduct or religious philosophy. Orthodoxy believes that the Church has her origin in the Apostolic Community called into being by Jesus Christ, and enlivened by the Holy Spirit. The Feast of Pentecost, which is celebrated fifty days after Easter, commemorates the “outpouring” of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and marks the beginning of the mission of the Church to the world. The Orthodox Church believes that she has maintained a direct and unbroken continuity of love, faith, and order with the Church of Christ born in the Pentecost experience.

The Time of Persecution

The earliest Church, which is described in the Epistles and the Acts of the Apostles, did not confine itself to the land of Judea. She took very seriously the command of Our Lord to go into the whole world and preach the Gospel. The words of Christ and the event of His saving Death and Resurrection were destined not only for the people of the first century and the Mediterranean world of which they were a part, but also for persons in all places and in every age. Within only a few years after the Resurrection, colonies of Christians sprung in the major cities of the Roman Empire.

While the early Church received many converts from Judaism and the pagan religions, the world in which the Gospel was proclaimed was, in the words of St. Paul, “heartless and ruthless.” With only a few intervals of peace, the Church was persecuted throughout the Empire for nearly three hundred years. The faith and love expressed by the Christians were viewed as a threat to the religion and political policies of the Empire. Thousands upon thousands of Christians were martyred.

The Time of Growth

The beginning of the fourth century marked a new stage in the development of the Church. After centuries of vicious persecution at the direction of the Roman Emperors, an Emperor of Rome became a Christian. This was Constantine the Great, who in the year 313 granted Christians freedom of worship. The Edict was a recognition that the Church not only had survived the persecutions but also had become a significant force in the Empire. From that time onward, the Church and the Empire began a very close and mutually beneficial relationship. Not only did the Church receive imperial support, but also the evils which had characterized the old Roman Empire were greatly reduced in Christian Byzantium. The Church was truly a leaven of the society of which it was a part. The fourth through the tenth centuries were a significant period for the Church’s internal development. The authorative content of the New Testament was determined. The Services of Worship received a formal framework. The Teachings of Christianity were developed by great pastors and theologians who are known as the “Fathers” of the Church. It was also a period of missionary activity. Among the most important was the evangelization of the Slavs by Saints Cyril and Methodius. However, the period was not without struggle. The Byzantine Empire was constantly on guard against the neighboring Persians and Muslims. The Church itself was frequently afflicted with many grave schisms and heresies. For example, serious schisms took place in the years 431 and 451. Among the greatest heresies was Arianism, which taught that Christ was not truly God. This heresy plagued the Church and brought havoc to the Empire for nearly a century.

The fundamental doctrines of the Church were proclaimed and defended by the Seven Ecumenical Councils. These Synods, which are known by the names of the cities in which they were convened, included Bishops from throughout the world, who came to affirm the authentic teachings on the Incarnation and the Holy Trinity. The Councils did not create new doctrines, but in a particular place and time, they proclaimed what the Church always believed and taught. The counciliar and collegial expression of Church life and authority which was manifest at the Ecumenical Councils and other synods of the early Church continue to be an important aspect of Orthodox Christianity.

The Ecumenical Councils also sanctioned the organization of the Church about the five great ecclesiastical centers of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. The Archbishops of these cities came to be known as Patriarchs. They presided over the synod of bishops in a particular area. Since the early Church was not monolithic, each center had its own theological style, customs, and liturgical traditions. Yet, all shared in the unity of the faith. However, a primacy of honor was accorded the Bishop of Rome, from early times. The Second Ecumenical Council (381) gave Constantinople a position of honor by stating, “The Bishop of Constantinople shall have the prerogative of honor after the Bishops of Rome, because Constantinople is New Rome.”

The Great Schism

The Great Schism is the title given to separation between the Western Church (the Roman Catholic) and the Eastern Church, (the Orthodox), which took place in the eleventh century. Relations between the two great traditions of the East and the West had often been strained since the fourth century. Yet, unity and harmony was maintained in spite of differences in theological expression, liturgical practices, and views of authority. By the ninth century, however, legitimate differences were intensified by political circumstances, cultural clashes, papal claims, and the introduction in the West of the Filioque phrase into the Nicene Creed. The Filioque affirms that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. Both the papal claims and the Filioque were strongly repudiated by the East.

Although it is difficult to date the exact year of the schism, in the year 1054 official charges, known as Anathamas, were exchanged. The Crusades, and especially the sack of the city of Constantinople by the western crusaders in 1204, can be considered the final element in the process of estrangement and deepening mistrust.

From that period onward, the Western Church, centered about the Pope of Rome, and the Eastern Church, centered about the Patriarch of Constantinople, went their separate ways. Although there were attempts to restore communion in the years 1274 and 1439, there was no lasting unity achieved. While political, cultural, and emotional factors have always been involved, the Orthodox Church believes that the two principal reasons for the continued schism are the papal claims of universal jurisdiction and infallibility, as well as the meaning of the Filioque.

For nearly 500 years the two traditions lived in formal isolation from each other. Only, since the early 1960’s have steps been taken to restore the broken unity. Most significant has been the mutual lifting of the Anathamas of 1054 by the late Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI in 1965.

Time of Struggle

In the year 1453, the City of Constantinople fell to the invading Muslims. With its capital, the Byzantine Empire came to an end; and the vast lands of Asia Minor fell subject to non-Christians. The great ecclesiastical cities of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, which had come under the political control of Islam centuries earlier, were now joined by Constantinople. Throughout the Ottoman Empire, Christians came to be treated as second-class citizens who paid heavy taxes and wore distinctive dress. The life of the Orthodox Church in the Balkan and Asia Minor continued, but under much duress. Thousands of Christians suffered martyrdom. Patriarchs were deposed and murdered. Churches, monasteries, and schools were closed and destroyed. Only with the liberation of Greece in 1821, did some of the brutality come to an end. However, there were a series of vicious massacres at the beginning of this century. And, even today, Christians are denied their basic human rights in parts of Asia Minor.

After the decline of Byzantium, the Church in Russia thrived for nearly 500 years. However, with the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, Orthodoxy found itself confronted with the beliefs and political policies of militant atheists. Most churches were closed; and a policy was inaugurated to eliminate Christianity from Russia, a land which was steeped in Orthodoxy since the tenth century. In the years between the two World Wars, Orthodox Christians in Russia suffered much cruel and devastating persecution. Only since 1943 have there been modifications in government policy which have permitted the Church some degree of existence.

Today, in many of the lands which were once the pride and glory of Eastern Christendom, the Orthodox Church struggles amid great obstacles and persecution. It has been observed that in recent centuries there have been more martyrs than during the great persecutions of the early Church. Yet, despite injustices and indignities, the Faith survives.

Time of Renewal and Reconciliation

Throughout the past two hundred years the Orthodox Church in the Western Hemisphere has been developing as a valuable presence and distinctive witness. For example, in the United States, Orthodoxy has been recognized as one of the four major faiths. She has more than five million members, who are grouped into more than a dozen ecclesiastical jurisdictions. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, which is the largest, has about 500 parishes and operates church schools, parochial schools, an orphanage, a college, and a graduate theological school. Many believe that Orthodoxy in America has the potential for true renewal, creative development, and missionary activity which can contribute greatly to American life.

From the beginning of this century, the Orthodox Church has been committed to the Ecumenical Movement. This quest for Christian unity is the boldest attack on division since the early centuries of the Church. The Patriarchate of Constantinople not only inspired the movement for unity with an encyclical in 1920, but also was one of the co-founders of the World Council of Churches in 1948. The cause of Christian unity was a special concern of the late and beloved Patriarch Athenagoras. He labored greatly to promote a renewed sense of collegiality among the various Orthodox Churches, as well as to inaugurate a true dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church. In the year 1968, the Patriarch looked toward the future and declared: May the Lord of mercy send as soon as possible to our holy Eastern and Western Churches the grace of celebrating the Divine Eucharist anew and of communicating again together… The common chalice stands out luminously on the horizon of the Church.

The life of the Orthodox Church perpetuates and fulfills the ministry of Jesus Christ. The close association between Christ and His Church is reflected in the images from the Scriptures which declare that Christ is the Head and the Church is His Body, and that Christ is the Bridegroom and the Church is His bride. These images express the reality that the Church does not exist independently from Christ.

The Lord and Savior, who was known, loved, and followed by the first disciples in Galilee nearly two thousand years ago, is the same Lord and Savior who is known, loved, and followed through His Church. As Christ revealed the Holy Trinity, His Church continues to reveal the Holy Trinity and to praise God in her worship. As Christ reconciled humanity to the Father, His Church continues to be the medium of reconciliation by word and action throughout the world. As Christ manifested the vocation of authentic human life, His Church continues to be the realm through which the image and likeness of God in each of us is brought to perfection.

The Orthodox Christian becomes united with Christ at Baptism and is nurtured by Christ at every Eucharist. We believe that the Holy Spirit acts in and through the Church to make Christ our Lord and to bring His work to fulfillment.

Orthodoxy has avoided any temptation to reduce its vision of the Church. The biblical descriptions of the Church as the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Holy Spirit indicate that she truly must be recognized as much more than one institution among many, or a social service agency, or as an ethnic or fraternal organization. Certainly the Church does have her institutional aspects, and she is always subject to the sins and limitations of her human members. Yet, Orthodoxy believes that in addition to her obvious human side, the Church also has a Divine dimension. The Greek word for Church,ecclesia, implies a community called and gathered by God for a special purpose. This means that the Church can be described as the unique meeting place between God and His people.

Personal Experience

The Orthodox Faith cannot be appreciated fully, or appropriated personally, by the individual who is outside the Orthodox Church. Viewed from this vantage point, Orthodoxy can falsely appear as one world-view among many, as a cultural appendage, or merely as a ceremonial church. It is only from within the Church that one has the necessary perspective of experiencing Orthodoxy as the revelation of Divine Life.

Becoming An Orthodox Christian

The Orthodox Church has a universal appeal and vocation. She does not restrict membership to people of any particular culture, race, class, or section of the world. Indeed, Orthodoxy values the diversity of cultures, peoples, and languages which are part of her life. She also affirms a unity of faith and love in Christ which transcends all artificial barriers. Membership in the Orthodox Church is open to all persons.

The Orthodox Church in the United States is no longer considered to be an immigrant Church. She has been recognized as one of the four major faiths in America. The membership of the Orthodox Church in this country includes persons from a wide variety of ethnic and cultural family backgrounds. The overwhelming majority have been born in the United States. Among these five million Orthodox, there are a large number of persons who were raised in other religious traditions and who have chosen to become members of the Orthodox Church.

This reality was clearly recognized by His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos, former archbishop of North and South America, when he told the Twentieth Biennial Clergy/Laity Congress of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese that:

“Orthodoxy is not exclusively the religion of the Hellenes, but the religion of all those who, as a result of mixed marriages, or contract or study of Orthodoxy, have come to know and relate to it; and, therefore, Orthodoxy has already found its place and mission in the Western Hemisphere.”

If you are seriously interested in becoming a member of the Orthodox Church, you should meet with your local Orthodox priest and become acquainted with his parish. He will be happy to offer you advice and guidance, as well as to introduce you to members of the parish. This is truly an exciting period in the development of Orthodox parishes in the United States. While most are associated with a particular cultural heritage, many are coming to fully recognize the responsibility of Orthodoxy to the wider society. When you embrace the Orthodox Church, you also join a particular local parish. It is meant to be a spiritual family. Therefore, you should thoughtfully examine the concerns and priorities of the parish. Try to discover whether you will feel comfortable, whether the parish can provide you with the opportunity to grow closer to God and to be of responsible service to others.

In many parishes, the priest offers classes or individual conferences on the Orthodox Faith for those who wish to become members of the Orthodox Church. The length and scope of these instructions will be determined by your previous knowledge of the Christian Faith, as well as by your particular needs and concerns.

After the period of instruction, there is a Service of Reception into the Church. If you are converting from a non-Christian religion, you will make a profession of Faith and be baptized and chrismated. If you are being received from a Church which has a similarity of beliefs with Orthodoxy and you have been properly baptized and confirmed, you will participate in a brief Service of Anointing (Chrismation) which signifies reconciliation with the Orthodox Church. The reception of Holy Communion is always seen as the consummation of union with the Church.

Commitment To Christ

The ultimate commitment of the Orthodox Christian is a commitment to Christ our Lord, Who is known in and through the Church. This is expressed by the litanies of the Church which call upon us to “commit ourselves, one another, and our whole life unto Christ our God.” And, prior to receiving Holy Communion, we pray: “O Master Who loves mankind, unto you we commit our whole life and our hope.”

Each of us is unique and blessed by the Holy Spirit with different gifts and vocations in life; therefore, our personal commitments to Christ will be expressed differently. Yet, Orthodoxy firmly believes that this commitment will always be built upon a worship of God and a loving concern for others. As worship is central to the Church as a whole, worship, personal prayer, and especially participation in the Holy Eucharist are central to the life of the individual Orthodox Christian. Through these actions, we grow closer to God and we are blessed with the fruits of the Spirit, which enable us to be of loving and responsible service to others in Christ’s Name. Orthodoxy avoids any tendency which seeks to separate love of God from love of neighbor. The two are inseparable. This conviction is expressed during the Divine Liturgy in the dialogue between the priest and the people which says, “Let us love one another that with one mind we may confess…The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; The Trinity, consubstantial and undivided.”

Although Orthodoxy highly extols the value of worship, this does not imply that it in any way minimizes the importance of a life lived according to the Gospel. Therefore, as the Liturgy reminds us, only those with faith and love may draw near to receive Holy Communion. Our participation in the Body and Blood of the Lord also provides each with the opportunity to be Christ-bearers in the world in which we live.

In the Words of Metropolitan Saba

The following are articles written by Metropolitan Saba, the new Metropolitan of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.

In the Orthodox Christian liturgical tradition, the antimins is among the most important liturgical necessities used in the altar during the Divine Liturgy. It is a type of icon, a rectangular cloth, traditionally sewn of either linen or silk. Beautifully embellished, it always reflects the image of Christ’s entombment and the four Evangelists.

The antimins is inscribed with the text from the Holy Saturday Troparion: “The noble Joseph, taking down Thy most pure body from the Tree, wrapped it in fine linen and sweet spices and laid it in a new tomb.”

The antimins, once properly folded, sits in the center of another slightly larger cloth called the eileton, by which it is completely encased and protected. The two (which are folded in nearly the same manner) are then placed in the center of the altar table, underneath the Gospel Book, and unfolded only during the Divine Liturgy, in the moments before the Great Entrance.

The antimins became the sign of unity at the level of the archdioceses of the same patriarchal see, as well as at the level of the parishes of the same archdiocese. Therefore, when a new patriarch is elected, a new antimins is printed in his name and sent to all the archdioceses of the whole See to be consecrated by every metropolitan in his archdiocese, who puts his own signature on it. And whenever a new metropolitan is elected, he asks the patriarch for the number of antiminsia his archdiocese needs, and then he consecrates them in a service known as the “Antimins Consecration Service” and adds his signature to each one. He then collects the old antiminsia and distributes the new ones.

The metropolitan’s signature on the antimins signifies the authorization given by the metropolitan to the priests in his archdiocese to perform the Liturgy. Also it is a symbol of the unity that exists between the bishop, the clergy, and the faithful.

In the early Christian centuries, the bishop served the Divine Liturgy, assisted by priests, known as “elders” (presbyteroi, in Greek). It was customary for the Divine Liturgy to be held in one place in the city, but as the cities grew and the number of Christians increased, churches were built in every parish of the faithful, and thus, the bishop authorized the priests to hold the Divine Liturgy in their parishes. The Orthodox liturgical tradition still preserves this tradition until today.

The Typikon requires the priest who celebrates the Divine Liturgy in the absence of the bishop, to bow in front of the episcopal throne before the Divine Liturgy, as a sign of obtaining the authorization to celebrate the Divine Liturgy from the bishop.

A small piece of a martyr’s relic is ceremoniously and prayerfully placed in a small pocket at the top of the antimins as each one is consecrated. It is an essential component, without which the Holy Eucharist cannot be celebrated. The relic should exclusively come from a martyr because the Church was founded on the blood of martyrs and the Divine Liturgy used to be celebrated on the tombs of martyrs, in the early Christian centuries.

The Divine Sacrament which is held on the antimins is a real, bloodless, and living sacrifice, drawing on the bloody sacrifice of the Cross.

In very exceptional situations, where there were no consecrated liturgical items to hold the Divine Liturgy, priests performed the Divine Liturgy with simple instruments on the chest of a baptized and chrismated Orthodox Christian believer, as was done during World War II.

The placement of the relics in the antimins originates from the service of consecrating the Holy Table in the Holy Altar. Therefore, the antimins is considered a mobile altar, and if necessary, the Divine Liturgy can be held on it even if the altar table has not yet been consecrated. In addition, the Divine Liturgy can be held on the antimins anywhere outside the church.

The antimins also serves in the preservation of particles (crumbs) that may fall from the dividing and cutting of the Holy Lamb; particles fall on it, and the priest collects and places them in the Holy Chalice after Communion.

Finally, great care should be taken not to stain or damage the antimins in any way, including never washing or dry cleaning it. The antimins has already been cleaned and protected against spills and stains of any kind. Should the antimins become worn, torn, or damaged, please contact the metropolitan’s office for instructions on the return and replacement protocol.

(Photos of Metropolitan Saba consecrating the antimins for St. Mary Church of Hunt Valley, Maryland on May 24, 2023. Each antimins contains the relics of (1) the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, (2) the Twenty-thousand martyrs of Nicomedia, and (3) St. Sergius of Rakvere.)

There are many good things in this world, and there are also many bad things. Perhaps the media, which is so powerful and influential, contributes to shifting people’s thinking toward the negative and spreading the impression that there is more evil than good, due to its focus on conveying bad news more than good news.

Believers see everything through the lens of their faith. “If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light” (Matt. 6:22). When believers see what is good, they give glory to God. However, when they see the bad through the lens of faith, they extract what is good from it. For example, consolation can emerge from pain, acts of love can arise from poverty, experiences of communion can emerge from hardship, and so on. This is embodied in the words of the Apostle Paul: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God” (Rom. 8:28).

When bad news spreads, many rush to hear it, circulate it, and talk about it, making it the focus of society for a few days, until another bad news item comes along and makes them forget about the first one. If you ask, “What is the importance of spreading and discussing this news?” you won’t receive a helpful answer. People circulate bad news without knowledge, scrutiny, or verification, and they add to it to make it more attractive and interesting. How many people have been wronged and deeply hurt by rumors! How many individuals have been shattered by exaggerated and fabricated rumors!

There are those who only see the bad things. If you present them with a significant achievement, they only notice a few minor flaws in the way it was accomplished. Their internal eyes are only accustomed to seeing, caring about, and being drawn to the negatives. Isn’t the popularity of tabloid newspapers evidence of the demand for them? What about the unreliable news that social media, in all its forms, bombards us with today?

Once it is heard that someone has fallen into a mishap, the news spreads rapidly, and everyone becomes aware of it. But when a good person does something virtuous, only a few individuals hear about it! What can we conclude? Those who are interested in the negatives outnumber those who are interested in the positives. Consequently, those who harbor negativity within themselves, knowingly or unknowingly, tend to be drawn to it and slyly make it known in order to justify themselves and obscure the bad within themselves. However, their interest in spreading negativity exposes them.

There is something even more dangerous: interpreting events in a negative manner. It’s like seeing an evil face in a good deed. You accuse a benevolent and generous person of seeking to enhance his image, while it is actually envy that drives you, perhaps unbeknownst to you. Or you hear about a bad action and immediately assume someone unfavorable is behind it, without acknowledging the possibility that there might be another explanation. Negative thinking leads to many sins.

You can be either negative or positive in your life. If you are a believer, you should choose the positive path, in which you see the good in the outward appearance of things and in their essence. This way, you strengthen yourself and others, contribute to the spread of virtue, and discover various ways for edification, progress, and development. You join those who strive for goodness, those who light a candle instead of cursing the darkness.

St. Paisios of Athos, of blessed memory, once said: “Some people told me that witnessing many mistakes in the church caused them to stumble. I answered them: If we asked a fly, ‘Are there flowers in this area?’ its answer would be, ‘I don’t know, but I know that there are empty cans, filth, and dirt in the hole.’ The fly would go into great detail describing the filth in which it finds comfort. However, if we asked a bee about the dirt in the area, it would be amazed by your question, deny the existence of filth, and confirm that the place is filled with fragrant flowers. The bee would then go into great detail describing those flowers from which it extracts nectar. The fly informs you about garbage, while the bee informs you about lilies and roses.”

So, which one would you prefer to be: the bee or the fly?

Soon, we say goodbye to the Feast of Pascha. For forty days, we are in the midst of the joy of the resurrection. For forty days, we chant with joy, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!” at the beginning and the end of every individual or group prayer, at home or in the church. There is an Orthodox tradition in which Christians substitute “Christ is risen!” for their everyday greetings for the forty days that follow Holy Pascha.

Soon, we will say goodbye to the services of Pascha, while its spirit will remain with us, since we cannot live without it. “And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” (1 Cor. 15:17).

Christ’s Resurrection loads us up with hope, strength, action, steadfastness, and the best life, which is always to come! It provides us with the strength to rise after every time we fall, to start building after every collapse, to once again spread the joyful spirit of life after every catastrophe—and there are so many in our tormented world! You live the resurrection every time you return in it to yourself and pay attention to what you have missed, when you rise to make right the sins you have realized in yourself and in your society. You live the resurrection when you realize that you are a child of life—not passing, temporary life, but eternal, lasting life—a child of the life that brings tenacity out of pain, patience out of trials, strength out of weakness, joy out of sorrow, and hope out of despair.

Believing in Christ’s resurrection from the dead means that you believe in your own resurrection and also in the resurrection of the world from every death. Or rather, you translate it in your life into resurrectional action, and because you are not happy to remain as you are, you continue the struggle, seeking what is higher and better, striving for the good portion which will not be taken from you (cf. Luke 10:42). A Christian is a person of the resurrection in the sense that he lives the resurrection at every moment. Otherwise, he has not yet stepped onto the threshold of Christianity. If he languishes under death, then he will quickly perceive his weakness and return to raise himself up by the grace of the resurrection of his Lord, to remain in the mystery of the resurrection, despite the many forms of death that may surround him. He receives from his risen Christ the pulse of life, hope, optimism and especially a correction of vision toward the highest and most fundamental purpose of his life.

These are nice words, but how are they lived? How are they realized in daily life? We have memorized the golden answers to this by heart. Most of the time, we repeat them without any internal awareness. We say: Christ rose to grant salvation to humankind and to open to them the way to the second life, which had been closed by Adam and Eve’s departure from living in the shelter of God. He rose to grant us the power to live eternal life, which had been constantly forgotten by humankind. He rose because God cannot die. And we have other correct answers that we have become accustomed to repeating. But we often forget that their living and demonstrable activity within us is the most important thing.

A person is aware of the activity of the resurrection and lives it when he realizes that he is created for eternal life and arranges his life on the basis of that conscious realization. He sees that he will not live upon this earth more than a number of years that, no matter how long, will not be more than a hundred in the best of circumstances, most of which are labor and sorrow, as the Psalm says (90:10). He is aware that he is created for unending life and not to pass away with the passing away of his earthly life, but that life only starts in its fullness at that moment.

This consciousness grants him a new reading of his earthly life, its pains and difficulties. He sees in it what he did not see before and realizes that through his resurrectional faith he is able to derive benefit for himself and for others. The words of the Apostle Paul become true in him, “All things work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28). In the cross, he sees joy and consolation because it makes it possible for him to struggle and ascend. He learns patience, kindness, mercy and sensitivity to those in pain, those suffering, those who are abandoned, and acquires from his Lord an inexhaustible wellspring of tender compassion that can only be acquired through sincere suffering. He experiences the serene joy that wells forth from the presence of his Lord within him, where he had prepared a place for Him and where He will come to him and make a home with him (cf. John 14:23). He tastes the peace that no evil, no matter how great, can take away from him (cf. John 14:27).

The best sign that we have attained this level of faith is the degree to which we have been freed from that which binds us in this world and its lusts. Seeking eternal life requires of us constant change and an experience of God’s presence in our life. So let us love simplicity of life. Let us seek what is essential and not give any importance to showy material gain. Let us be strangers to extravagance and spectacle, and instead be disgusted by them. Let us feel the suffering of others and be delighted to share in it with them. Let us sit, like Mary, at the feet of the Lord because our joy at that point is indescribable. Those who have touched it experience the grace of the resurrection and have truly known a change of mind and thus a change of their entire being.

The cross leads those of little faith to disbelief and perplexity, but it brings those who believe to grasp the most perfect meaning of life. The unbeliever detests hardship, trials and suffering, and so despairs and rages at life, taking vengeance out on others, and his despair may lead him to suicide since he has no hope. The true believer sees ways to transcend his stumbles and space to make his love active, to give life to his faith, and a resurrection unto the best life, which leads him to thank God in good times and bad.

Many seek joy in the wrong place. They become dejected at the plight of our country and flee to a way out. They vent their anxiety and seek an outlet in things that grant them imagined happiness and temporary joy, winding up with what they had sought to replace and finding themselves in greater anxiety and deeper fear. Is there any clearer sign of the absence of the resurrection from our lives than our failure to realize it, despite the adversities and fears that we are experiencing on account of what is happening in our country? If the resurrection is not present in us today, when will it be?

The Leavetaking of Pascha is a reminder to us to live it throughout the year.

Originally published in 2017.

The mother remains the soul and heart of this world. Whatever might be said about the mother would be insufficient to describe her tenderness toward her offspring. Every child comes into the world from a mother who feels that she is a part of it and that it is a part of her. Her blood flows in it and her body dissolves into the formation of its body. Therefore, the mother feels a deep emotional bond with her baby.

An old Eastern proverb said about the role of a mother, “A soul perishes to create a soul.” Therefore, Mother’s Day was founded in recognition of the mother and her maternal role in nurturing and upbringing. Father’s Day, while important, followed Mother’s Day a long time later.

The tenderness of the mother cannot be compensated by any other tenderness. Anyone who has experienced a real mother is well aware of the meaning of the word mother and knows that her presence cannot be replaced by anything else. As Christians, we have the greatest example in the relationship of the Lord Jesus and His mother.

Our Lord did not leave His mother, in the flesh, until the Cross, for she accompanied Him with some women in His travels and ministry. When she asked Him for a miracle prematurely, He agreed, even though His time had not yet come. At the Cross, before surrendering His Spirit to the Father, He asked His beloved disciple to take care of His mother “and from that hour that disciple took her into his own home.”

Dearly beloved, there is no doubt that our contemporary world is witnessing many rapid changes. After many people no longer know what a father means because they simply did not live with a father, or at least a good father, the concept of the mother is changing and being lost as well. The mother’s preoccupation with work, as a result of the material and consumer pressure that characterizes our modern societies, is increasing her fatigue and draining her ability, nerves, and time. Thus, forcing her to replace some of her traditional responsibilities with others or with specialized institutions, such as nurseries, kindergartens, and babysitters, in addition to various children’s activities.

The change in bioethics being imposed day by day through the development of biology and medicine has overshadowed the role of the mother and distanced her and the newborn from her maternal instinct. In some cases, the mother has become nothing more than a vessel for having a child.

All this, in addition to the changes in other fields of life, triggers changes in the concept of motherhood and the mother’s role and has deprived the relationship of a mother and her children of an emotional dimension that is essential to the human personality.

Thank God that Mother’s Day still exists, so that we do not forget her status and role, and so that the family unit can meet together and honor those who are an example of sacrifice and self-deprivation for the sake of the upbringing of their children. The Bible, as well as human history, gives us countless stories of mothers who gave their lives for their children.

Many people today work hard to secure a better quality of life for their children, but in the midst of their efforts, they forget about priorities. Our Lord said in His Holy Gospel, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” His Word applies today to us when we care for all the earthly needs of our children and neglect to nurture them in God’s love, faith, and His holy Church. When they grow up and face the hardships and challenges of life, they will find no help and salvation except in the presence of their Lord at the heart of their lives. But, if they cannot sense His living presence in their homes as they grow up, they will not sense His presence later, without it being a miracle.

God bless you all and give you a blessed motherhood and blessed children. I pray for all mothers, that God may make you share in His tenderness and love, so that you may become an image of His tenderness and love, so that your children do not feel a lack of love and, therefore, do not seek it where they will not find it.

Happy Mother’s Day to all of you! And may this world never be deprived of mothers.

My Lord, I cry out to you; hear me, for in my heart there are many worries and questionings regarding my priestly ministry. I have been taught that I am a priest at the altar of the Lord, to serve You by serving Your people, the Church. I have been taught that my priestly ministry has three aspects:

  • first, sanctification, through serving the sacraments and the various divine liturgical services;
  • second, pastoral care, through visitation of believers, diligent pursuit of the lost sheep, and service to the weary and the sick;
  • third, teaching, through evangelism and through proclaiming and explaining the Scriptures to the people, so that they might live in accordance with them.

My Lord and my God, I face many obstacles in my ministry and many different human situations, and so often I stand bewildered, searching for the best thing to do as a priest, according to Your heart and not according to what is comfortable for me. Lead me, my Lord, and enlighten me to walk in the straight path that is well-pleasing to You.

My Son, My heart is with you, and My grace is strengthening you. I will clarify some of the temptations through which you may sometimes be led, and I will tell you the things that I do not want My priest to do. So, listen carefully, My son.
I do not want you to limit yourself to one single aspect of your ministry and forget about the other aspects. For example, do not consider yourself a teacher and neglect serving the sacraments, or vice versa. The priest might be talented in a specific ministry, but this does not justify neglecting the other ministries.

I do not want you to forget that you are My servant among My people. Do not consider yourself to be the sole ruler. Do not forget the love that embraces you, nor fall for the love of power and therefore start micromanaging My parish, instead of ministering to it. When that happens, institutional rules will prevail over the laws of love, communion, and humility.

I do not want you to push away people who serve and who are zealous for the ministry, just because you are not their administrative master, forgetting that your spiritual leadership is more important and that this must lead the institutional aspect.

I do not want you to abide with only the few that suit your taste, thinking that you are doing an honest service and that because some people are not with you, they do not want God.

Do not be silly in your ministry, reducing it to mere worldly social events and amusements, empty of spirituality and not seeking the salvation of those who participate in them.

I do not want you to forget that you should always be filled with the Divine Presence and perfect in humility, so that you can inspire My people to do My will.

I do not want you to be full of yourself, not listening to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit who speaks through My people. I want to speak with you through them, so you will learn that you don’t possess me exclusively.

I do not want you to act as a feudal lord, who forces others to labor in his field instead of sharing with them the ministry of caring for one another.

I do not want you to strive only to organize banquets, trips, parties, and festivals to raise money, even if this is for a goal that relates to the church.

I do not want you to be exclusive in your ministry, favoring the talented and the rich, while neglecting those with less talent and less fortune.

I do not want you to forget that you are My servant and work according to My will, and that you are not a master served by My children in accordance with your own will.

My son, I have so much other advice for you. I will not say it all, but take heed of these things I have told you today. Work accordingly, testifying to Me and not to yourself, serving My Church and not treating it like your church, striving to lift My children up to where I am and not pushing them to do your own will.

My son, do you understand what I want?

The encounter of the Myrrh-Bearing Women at the empty tomb shakes me, especially the angel’s words to them: “He is not here. He is risen” (Mark 16:6). It is not the resurrection of the Lord that shakes me, but rather the fact that these women, who thought they were doing the right thing for the Lord, stumbled upon an empty tomb instead of the body of the Lord, which they thought they would anoint with their spices. I wonder about the extent to which my ministry to Christ aligns with His mind and will.

The four Gospels agree on the story of the women visiting the Master’s tomb. This story is so firmly rooted in the Church’s tradition that our Church chose the passage from the Gospel of St. Mark, which tells the story in detail, as the Gospel reading for the Resurrection (“Rush”) Service on Pascha. These women came to be known as the “Myrrh-Bearing Women.”

The Gospel narrative tells us that these faithful women—including Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and others—prepared the spices that tradition required to be used to anoint the dead before burial. And because the Lord was buried hurriedly, before the start of the Sabbath (which begins at sunset on Friday, according to the Jewish day), His body was not anointed with those spices. The women prepared the necessary spices, waiting for dawn to arrive so that they could go to the tomb, which was a cave sealed with a large stone. They were eager to perform their duty to the Lord. Their concern was how to roll away the stone that sealed the entrance to the cave, so that they could reach the Lord’s body.

On the one hand, the women had their concerns, but on the other hand, the Lord had risen and no longer needed the spices. He needed them to spread the news of His resurrection. The women’s hearts and concerns were in one place, while the Lord’s were in another.

Love drove these women to do what they thought was their duty, to honor their teacher and Lord. Of course, the Lord accepted their efforts, although He did not need their spices, and He entrusted them with a greater task—the greatest task—to proclaim the news of His resurrection from the dead: “Go and tell the disciples” (Mark 16:7).

If we pause for a moment and contemplate the women’s thinking and their work, reflect calmly on the gap between their thinking and that of the Lord, and apply what happened to them to our approach to serving and dealing with God, we will discover much that makes us similar to the women before their knowledge of the Resurrection. How many of the actions that we, as believers, undertake out of righteous zeal, believing that our actions are in harmony with the Lord’s thinking, are, in fact, not so?

Do we not act repeatedly, as individuals and as a Church community, like those women, out of love for the Lord and the belief we are honoring Him and being faithful to Him, doing works that may not please Him and sometimes are rejected by Him? When the influence of the spirit of the world in which we live is stronger than that of the spirit of the Gospel in us, are we not driven to do many unnecessary and non-essential things that may, in essence, contradict our Faith? When we focus on form and appearance and forget about essence, do we not encounter an “empty tomb”? When we care more about stones than people, are we faithful to the Gospel? Are we faithful to what Christ asked of us when He said, “What you have done to the least of these, you have done to Me,” (Matthew 25:40), when we spend generously on ritual aesthetics while being stingy with those in need? When we don’t know the standard by which we should prioritize our lives, are we carrying spices that the Lord doesn’t need?

The women were excused because the death of the Lord was beyond their comprehension and the Holy Spirit had not yet enlightened them. But what is our excuse, we who have inherited almost two thousand years of Christian life and Scripture and have been enlightened by the Holy Spirit? Many still do not realize the importance of the treasure that was given to them “in earthen vessels.” We appear neglectful of the Lord, preoccupied with what is around us. Every faithful person and every church servant, as well as the Church as a whole, is exposed to this temptation. And the slips and mistakes are many throughout history.

For example, slipping in a matter of faith can happen when we understand and interpret the Gospel in a secular, rather than spiritual, context. There can also be a behavioral slip when a believer focuses on actions that he considers essential but, in reality, are not. Furthermore, the slip can be “pastoral” when one pastors and gathers people for reasons other than feeding them the Bread of Life. And last, but not least, the slip can be seen when we fail to incarnate love in our lives. With this, the focus shifts to finding institutions, growing them and making them competitive at the expense of “the least of the Lord’s brothers,” that is, the poor.

The Cross of the Lord is made up of two beams: vertical and horizontal. Focusing on one and neglecting the other leads to a deviation from the mind of Christ. The vertical beam symbolizes the personal relationship between the believer and God, while the horizontal beam symbolizes the personal relationship with the other, whom the Gospel calls “the neighbor” (Luke 10:29). Focusing on the vertical dimension and neglecting the horizontal one throws the believer into spiritual delusion based on the ego growing constantly as a result of false self-satisfaction and complacency. The purification of the soul and its liberation from its faults and desires is inevitably linked to the love of the “neighbor.” On the other hand, focusing on the horizontal dimension and neglecting the vertical one leads to a superficial, emotional Christianity based on human works that feed the feeling that one does not need to sit at the feet of the Lord. This steals the spiritual power that makes human service a true service of love, not just a filling of material needs.

Who saves us from falling into this danger? Who helps us maintain a balance between “Mary” and “Martha”? There is no doubt that pure spiritual communion among brothers and sisters is a great protection. So, beware of clinging to your personal opinion and neglecting the opinions of your brothers and sisters.

The Scriptures say, “Where there is no guidance, a people perish; but in an abundance of counselors, there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14).

Silence is the language of eternal life. Blessed is he who has learned silence, which is not merely stopping speech but listening to the voice of God. Silence is not just the absence of the voice but a foreshadowing of eternal life and a perfection of its voice.

The most beautiful moments require silence. Humanity is utterly captivated by these moments, so that all signs of movement and noise that can disrupt the beauty of these moments ceases.

Silence and serenity are twins, and serenity is an internal calmness that indicates the quieting of the noisy passions that struggle inside the human being and the desires that lead to disputes. Silence is the offspring of deep peace stemming from the presence of God in the human soul.

Silence is hard for the common man, who is sinking in different concerns. Silence needs perfection and maturity fed by peace, so that the person inclines toward contemplation instead of being distracted by what is not useful and won’t last.

Silence is the realization of human language’s insufficiency and limitations. It is looking inward and going down deep. Pearls are found in the deep sea, while the lichens grow in shallow water, forming swamps.

Blessed is he who has experienced silence because he has found the “pearl of great price,” leading him to sell everything to buy it. Blessed is he who has tasted positive silence and enjoyed it. He is someone who realized its meaning, so that it fascinated him and drew him to run after it. Blessed is he who has seen what cannot easily be seen, transfixing him so that he is captivated and holds fast to the beauties of the revelation, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor. 2:9)

And we further ask: why does the contemporary person flee from silence? And preferably, we should ask: can he really be able to experience silence? Silence for him becomes synonymous with death because he lives in an environment filled with empty movement, which takes him captive because it makes him think he will die if he leaves it.

Pascha returns annually as a precious season that places us before the fact of that salvation given to us by Christ’s voluntary death and glorious resurrection. Today is a day to renew our hope in the value of life. Today is a day to rectify our path towards true life. Today, we understand that eternal life is our goal and objective and that our life on earth—in all its joys and sorrows—only becomes a true life once we start approaching it as the beginning of our eternal life.

We must examine our faith, our conduct, and our life’s path in light of the resurrection. Are these leading us to eternal life, the essence of which is God’s active, living, and life-giving presence in our lives? Our Christ did not endure all these sufferings to grant us a happy life that just lasts for some years on earth, only to vanish and disappear. He fulfilled His divine dispensation so that life on earth might become our passage into life eternal. It is through us, the children of the resurrection, that the world passes into life eternal.

The pains, fears, and dangers that surround us must drive us to search for the meaning of life and to place everything in its appropriate context. Sooner or later, the shape of this world will pass away. Why do we then reduce our aspiration to what is on this earth, forgetting the genuine life to come? We believers fear not death but sin. We do not fear losing our earthly life but rather losing life with God. With the power of the resurrection, we confront the different forms of death armed by the unconquerable hope that Life has defeated death.

The resurrection of Christ means that we Christians have no place for despair, regardless of tribulations and dark times. The guiding and directing light of the resurrection remains more powerful than anything. It is not a coincidence that Christ endured severe pains before He died and then arose. His resurrection occurred after He went through Golgotha in order to teach us that the pains of this life, as harsh as they might be, cannot be compared to the joys of the life to come, as the Apostle Paul teaches (2 Cor. 4:17).

We believe that we will witness our personal resurrection before the general resurrection—that is, of course, if we are fully purified from our passions. This is why we will never tire of rising after every fall until we achieve that great purpose.

We are certain that there is no salvation in the world except through this. The bigger the disappointments, the more we cling to our objective, for we have, in the resurrection of Christ, a hope and an energy that will never disappoint or be exhausted.

Let us, therefore, be armed with the resurrection as the cornerstone of our Faith, and let us also, through the resurrection, drive away every despair, fight every fear, and renew our determination to build a virtuous life. Let us couple our faith with works, unite our words to actions, and not be satisfied with pleasantries. Carry the splendor of your rituals of worship into your world and society. Never cease trying to live your Christianity, and you will see that the rest will be added to you.

On this feast, we must renew our love, which is tainted with fear, and look, not merely to ourselves, but to those who are in need of a breath of true life. Remember that man was created for endless love. In Christ, both God and our neighbor become close to us. I beg you to strive to discover that you are one family, responsible for each other, for you are brothers and sisters with one Father. It is proper to intensify our prayers and fasting in order to call upon God’s mercy. If we are truly the children of the resurrection, we must become witnesses for life and persistence. This is what we hope for and work towards, for the sake of our country, our people, and all the people of the world. In this spirit, we will welcome the feast this year by lifting up together our thoughts, wishes, and desires and placing them at the feet of Him who rose from the dead, hoping for the resurrection of the entire world. Amen.
Christ is Risen! Indeed, He is Risen!

There are some confused and incorrect ideas regarding the salvific work of Christ on the Cross. These ideas are dangerous because they disfigure the image of God and make Him like fallen and sinful man, instead of elucidating the real image of God in man and man’s calling to pursue God’s likeness.

These ideas go back to the teaching of Anselm of Canterbury (1033–1109), which spread in the West but was refused by the Eastern Church. However, after the fall of Constantinople (1453), Anselm’s teaching crept back into the Eastern Church. Anselm’s hypothesis says that the “Original” sin (from Adam and Eve) insulted God a great deal and brought His anger against mankind. Therefore, there was a need to compensate and to offer a suitable “ransom” that bears people’s sins, pleases God the Almighty, releases us from God’s anger, and satisfies divine justice. All of that, according to Anselm, made God offer His Son (Christ) to be the victim.

This hypothesis reflects the legal understanding of the Western mind, which was prominent in Roman culture. In addition, this hypothesis reflects the Medieval understanding of the issues of honor and compensation. After the Great Schism between the two churches, theology in the West separated from the Divine Theoria and replaced it with philosophical thinking in an attempt to explain the divinity. This, in turn, caused many aberrations, of which this hypothesis was considered the most dangerous. Anselm’s hypothesis, which was maintained by the Catholic and Protestant churches for 600 years, played a major role in the decline of Christianity in the West (according to some modern Western historians).

The effect of this hypothesis is still present in Western piety, literature, and sermons. The fact that the influence of this teaching for six centuries has impacted behavior, piety, theological thinking, and sentiment cannot be erased with mere official repudiation (the Catholic Church rejected this teaching after Vatican II in 1966). I remember one question in a 12th-grade public-school religion book that asks, “How did the Cross help in decreasing God’s anger?” We also encounter some confusing statements in many Protestants’ writings about Christ, such as “appeasing God’s anger” and “His revenge was accomplished.”

This teaching completely and radically contradicts what the Gospel teaches: “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). His image is Christ, and Christ is great love, the healer of the sick, the feeder of the hungry, the friend of the poor and the marginalized, the deliverer of those who are vexed with unclean spirits, the consoler of those who mourn, and the one who is merciful toward sinners.

The Eastern Church Fathers rejected Anselm’s teaching, holding a great council in Constantinople in 1157 to reaffirm that Christ was not a ransom to the Father alone but (as man) offered His sacrifice to the Father and Himself (as the Son of God) and the Holy Spirit, together. The Holy Trinity thus participated in the salvific sacrifice of Christ, which in turn makes it a sacrifice of Divine Love out of love, not for recompense or appeasement.

Many of the early writers of the Church have avoided the use of the word “ransom” to avoid any confusion. They talked about redemption as a manifestation of God’s love. The words of the Gospel of John support this teaching: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

It was not the anger of God the Father that pushed the Son to die on the Cross, but the Father’s love. Can love work unlove? God is the Almighty, but His might is the might of love, because love is His essence.

God took upon Himself the consequences of the sin of Adam, through His Incarnation, to show solidarity with fallen human beings. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Christ has saved us through a living experience.

In a fallen world enslaved to sin, this love must go, beyond the Incarnation, to the Cross—which in this context means that the divine kenosis (“emptying”; see 2 Cor. 5:21) has reached its destination. The incarnate God has entered and participated in all the aspects of our life and experiences, even in our death: “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Is. 53:4). Christ, the incarnate God, has shared with us our humanity and passed through all kinds of pain, reaching the ultimate suffering—I mean the divine forsaking. Through His cry on the Cross, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46), Christ participated, out of love, in the climax of our pain.

Through Christ, we know God as one who does not accept that human beings will remain captive to evil and sin and their consequences and who does not want human beings to be led by compulsion and devoid of their freedom to obtain salvation. This God led by His love, participating in all human sufferings except for sin. This participation reached the ultimate end, which is death. But Christ, who “loved them to the end” (John 13:1), has said about us: “I lay down My life for the sheep… but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again” (John 10:15, 18).

After Christ was lifted up on the Cross and arose from the dead, the message of the Cross to each one of us is this: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me” (Psalm 22:4). I am not alone at all. I have a friend—more than a friend—this friend is not just a human like me but truly God. A Russian priest experienced the presence of God with him during his incarceration in one of the camps. After his release, he said, “Suffering has destroyed everything, only one remains: Love.”

Christ has done for us what we could not have done without Him. We must say that Christ has suffered, not “on our behalf,” but for our sake. He went through His Passion not to free us from pain but, rather, to identify our suffering with His suffering. Christ offers us not a way to avoid pain but a way to go through it, to encounter it, and to deal with it. Christ does not act for us, nor take our part, but rather accompanies us toward salvation (as Metropolitan Kallistos Ware says).

What a huge difference between Early Church teaching and the Western Medieval teaching. As St. Athanasius of Alexandria (fourth century) once said: “On the Cross alone, a man dies with his arms spread and open. Therefore, it was fitting that the Lord die in such a way that He opens to us His arms. By one arm He brought to Himself the Jews and with the other He brought to Himself the Gentiles.” He united both to one another in Himself and said: “If I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all peoples to Myself” (John 12:32).

This Sunday, we celebrate a great saint, a saint who experienced the divine love to the highest degree a human can ever experience it. She is St. Mary of Egypt. Beautiful and attractive, she sold her body in her youth, and her burning bodily desires and passions led her to live in sin. She embarked on a trip to Jerusalem for tourism and in pursuit of new bodily adventures. There, the divine grace touched her. Among the many pilgrims, only she felt an invisible barrier stopping her from entering the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This experience pricked her heart, and she deeply felt the gravity of her sins and, thus, her unworthiness to venerate the Holy Sepulcher.

Mary vowed to the Lord to change and live a life that is well pleasing to Him. And not only that happened, but even more. Instead of her fiery and degrading yearnings and desires, which kept her in the bosom of sin, she acquired the spiritual yearnings and desires; thus, she could, with her entire being, touch the true warmth in the bosom of God once and forever.

After she confessed her debased life, she left for the Jordan desert and lived the rest of her life, 47 years, in absolute solitude with her Lord. After meeting her at the end of her life through divine providence, the priest Zosimas revealed to the Church her pious life after her repentance. He listened to her life story and thankfully wrote it down. St. Sophronios of Jerusalem recounted it for the benefit of all generations as an illuminating depiction of true repentance.

Mary transformed her fascination with the body and its needs into the adoration of God only. She fled a life of luxury and affluence and chose an ascetic life that surpassed human ability. Thus, she pricks the heart of every human being who is enslaved to consumerism and crushed by its unstoppable grinder. What makes it possible for a woman who is used to luxury to live alone in the desert, away from all of life’s necessities, and sustain her existence with the grass and roots of the desert? It is this desire that was transformed into divine adoration.

When he saw the shadow of a human being from afar, her biographer, Zosimas, followed it. When he called, he heard a female voice pleading with him not to approach because she was a naked woman. He then threw his garment to her so he might meet her. That is why the icon depicts her as a very thin woman, whose chest bones are protruding. Doesn’t her asceticism and abstinence even from the basic necessities of life—for more than forty years—show us how delusional we are about the many necessities we think we cannot live without?

Our holy Church annually celebrates the memory of this great saint on the fifth Sunday of Great Lent. Through that celebration, the Church invites us to rearrange our priorities so that we may live a pious and holy life. In an age that grinds us through the constant chasing after new “needs” that are created daily, how many “Marys of Egypt” do we need to help us reach the desired freedom and to shed the economic fetters that relentlessly shackle us?

Some people think that asceticism is only for a select few; that is not true. According to the teachings of the Orthodox Church, asceticism is asked from every free Christian, even if to a different degree depending on each person.

Many fear the word asceticism. Some even refuse to hear it because, in their minds, it is associated with deprivation and torturing the body! However, in the Christian understanding, it is a liberation from any fetters that may shackle the human being. If you are captivated by smoking, and you are not able to quit or limit your consumption, then you are a slave to smoking. The slave then needs asceticism, exercise of discipline, to be liberated. To be liberated from the captivity of smoking is an ascetic act. The same applies to other issues in our lives; we must control them rather than be controlled by them.

Christian asceticism is a concept that asks you to first become human before it makes you spiritual. A human who is not internally free is an incomplete human. The word “asceticism” comes from the Greek ascesis which means “exercise.” When we were university students, we used to hear from our colleagues at the school of architecture, “Tomorrow, we have an esquisse (French),” which meant an exercise project or a quiz.

According to the Eastern Christian understanding, to live in asceticism means to practice certain exercises, which include abstaining from bad habits and practices and replacing them with more positive and useful ones. The positive habits will uproot the negative ones and train you to embrace them with joy.

Fasting, for instance, is an ascetic act. When you fast, you abstain from permissible food and replace it with other kinds of food, to train yourself to overcome gluttony rather than being enslaved to it. Limiting the time of watching TV or using social media is also an ascetic act. Today’s human beings are surrounded by technologies, demands and possessions that invade the market and equally invade our minds, hearts and emotions. Today’s human being lives to work and to increase his income while his expenses increase. He therefore pursues another job or an extra job; ultimately, he wastes his life in a vicious cycle, until he is drained and destroyed. Doesn’t basic wisdom demand that one pause and ask oneself: What are my priorities? What are the things that I can let go of and live without?

However, from where would the one who is mentally drained and filled with different worries summon the courage and boldness necessary to stand firm against the current when it is in his best interest?

In a world that is sweepingly materialistic, the Church through her institutions and faithful people should be a living witness of simplicity and freedom from unnecessary demands of life. The Church must be the pioneer in emphasizing the possibility of a fulfilling life through the presence of God in her midst. To be filled with the divine presence means that one is liberated of the psychological and physical challenges that come from the world around us. Even if one has ongoing but positive challenges, they will entice you to pursue the better life, that is, to lay your life down in the arms of its Creator rather than blindly pursue the lifestyles pushed by others.

Those who seek true freedom must acquire a great yearning for God, and they must have the necessary self confidence to overcome any sense of inferiority, while paying no attention to how others see them.

Mary of Egypt had such a great sense of repentance that she forgot the world and all that is in it; thus, she became a woman worthy of divine love. We are in the world, and the Lord does not ask us to leave it; rather, He asks us to have dominion over the world. Is it burdensome to acquire the sense of belonging to the heavenly kingdom (which starts here and now, according to Christian teaching) so that we don’t forget our invitation to that which is higher, more sublime and more beautiful than the mirage which many waste their lives vainly trying to grasp?

Originally published in 2017.

While praying before His passion, the Lord Jesus asked God the Father to preserve His people, saying, “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15). That is because, in His divinity, He knew that the world would fight His people. This was proven throughout history and continues to be proven today.

Why then does the world fight Christ’s disciples? In the Gospel of John, the Lord says in His prayer that this is because “they are not of this world” and because He has given them the word of the Father. This is why the world has hated them (John 17:14). Therefore, the world’s hatred towards Christians comes from its hatred towards their Lord. Thus, if we as Christians see that the world loves us, we realize that we might have betrayed our Lord because we have identified ourselves with the world and not with the Lord. When we reject the evil one and his works, the world will hate us.

The world, in the biblical language, is what opposes the Gospel, Christ and His teachings. It is the path that contradicts the Christian way and its virtues. From that premise, Christians always understood that, if they want to be followers of their Lord, they must make a clear distinction between Christ and the world in which they live. Our fidelity to our Lord requires that we change the world to what agrees with the Gospel of Christ and not vice versa.

This means that we must dwell in the heart of Christ, to be nourished by Him and remain faithful to Him. This is why He prayed to the Father for them saying: “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17). The Christian Faith cannot coexist with absence of the truth. As a Christian, I must start by changing myself to what can be reconciled with the truth—that is, the word of God. This enables me to change the world and place it in the hand of God.

The topic of the relationship between Christians and the world invites us to contemplate in depth and stillness the words of the “Letter to Diognetus,” a second-century text whose author defends Christians against the pagan world that was persecuting them. Among these most marvelous and deep words, the author writes:

Christians are no different than other human beings in citizenship and language, for they fulfill all their civic duties, they pay their taxes and participate in everything as citizens. And yet they endure everything that foreigners endure. They love everyone yet are persecuted. They are killed, yet through death they gain life. They are poor yet enrich many. They lack everything yet are blessed with everything. They do good but are punished as evildoers, and yet they remain joyful because they love.

As the soul is for the body, Christians are for the world. As the soul dwells in all the members of the body, so do Christians dwell in all the cities of the world. And as the soul dwells in the body yet is not of the body, so Christians dwell in the world, and yet they remain foreigners to it. Christians do not wrong the world, yet the world hates them because they resist its pleasures. The soul loves the body that hates it, and thus Christians love those who hate them. They live as foreigners among mortal things, anticipating immortality in heaven. And though they are persecuted, they multiply in numbers by the day. The responsibility that God bestowed upon them is of extreme importance, and therefore they are unable to abandon it.

Originally published in 2011.

The newly spread tone among believers regarding the fast is that it is not obligatory or a duty. Consequently, the believer can ignore it or practice it whenever and however he wants.

Fasting is a necessary and binding virtue. If the commandments of the Lord in His Holy Gospel are binding, then fasting is necessary and binding. The Lord Himself asked us to fast: “This kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting” (Matt. 17:21; Mark 9:29); “And when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites” (Matt. 6:16); “And after they had fasted and prayed, they laid their hands on them” (Acts 13:3). The clearest example for believers is Jesus’ practice of fasting. He fasted for forty days. If He Who is without sin has fasted, how much more do we need to fast as humans, especially since we know that He was incarnate and lived in our midst to give us the ways of salvation which are needed for us, by imitating what He did?

The commitment of faithful Christians to the teachings and the direction of the Church comes from our devotion and our belonging to it, and consequently to achieving our Christian goal, in association with our brethren in the Church family. But choice based on personal mood and preference is a source of complacency, which prevents liberation from earthly bonds, because it is linked to the mood that is controlled by the passions, and thus the person becomes incapable of transcending with his life towards its main purpose. It is also a way to separate himself from the unity of the community.

Throughout history, the Church, which is the living Body of Christ, has experienced the importance of the fast. And she set its structure, system, form, and duration according to the experience of sanctification that accompanied her in the presence of the Holy Spirit who is working in her at all times.

This discussion leads us to the status of the fast and its position in the path of salvation for the person and the community. In the Orthodox understanding, fasting is not a goal in itself, as well as prayer and other virtues, but rather a necessary means to reach the main and great goal, which is our union with God and living closer to Him—what St. Seraphim of Sarov called “the acquisition of the Holy Spirit.” St. Seraphim says in this regard: “The true aim of our Christian life consists of the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God. As for fasts, vigils, prayer, almsgiving, and every good deed done for Christ’s sake, these are the only means of acquiring the Holy Spirit of God.”

Because fasting is a means to the ultimate goal, it can be flexible in terms of application. The Church requires the personal guidance of the spiritual father, in this regard, out of keenness, to protect the believer from complacency and indolence, the two vices that people fall into very easily, especially in our time.

When we invite our friends, we do not set a table for them as for the sick, but as for healthy people. We set up a table rich in various foods. Each of the guests chooses what suits his health. Thus, the fast, as established by the Church, is required of every believer. And whoever’s health, circumstance, or situation does not allow him to fast as defined by the Church, he requests the guidance of the spiritual father for what benefits him personally. And he must commit to it, to that guidance given to him specifically, and not spread it as a general rule. He should do that until he reaches a situation in which he can follow the fast fully.

Asceticism in the Orthodox Church has one indispensable goal, which is liberation. Therefore, the fast is not abstaining from food to despise it or to torture the body or to mortify the sense of taste. It is a practical training, for the soul and the body, to be free from any bond that can keep us down. Perhaps the following words of Fr. Alexander Elchaninov (+1935) illustrate the practical benefit of the fast. He says, “Fasting disturbs and disrupts physiological leisure, so that a person becomes receptive to the spiritual world and absorbs from it more easily.”

Here are some aspects of the flexibility in living the fast in the Orthodox Church:

The general fasting rule says that fasting becomes stricter when the feast is more important. Therefore, the Paschal Fast is called Great Lent, where we abstain from food and drink until noon, in addition to abstaining from animal products throughout the fast. The Nativity Fast focuses on abstaining from certain types of food and not abstaining fully from any food for certain periods.

We abstain from fish during the Great Lent, while we do not abstain from it during the Nativity Fast, except in the last two weeks before the feast.

In Middle Eastern countries, where vegetables are available even in winter, we abstain from fish during Great Lent, while it is allowed to eat it in cold northern countries such as Russia and Scandinavia. In our countries, it is allowed to eat shellfish (plus calamari and octopus) in coastal areas due to their availability and cheap cost in the past.

It is also allowed to eat fish on some great feasts such as the Annunciation and Palm Sunday, both of which fall within this holy season. Those who abstain from oil are allowed to consume it, as well as wine, on Saturdays and Sundays during Lent, as well as on the feasts of the great local saints (see The Horologion).

These provisions in the fasting systems indicate that it is a means of enjoying the happiness of liberation from every lust that prevails over man, on the one hand, and the joy of consuming earthly goods with thanksgiving and gratitude, on the other hand. And whoever reads the prayers of the services of Great Lent from the book of the Holy Triodion realizes how many words of joy, happiness and spiritual pleasure are repeated in it.

Let us, therefore, introduce fasting in this spirit, so that it becomes a real transcendence, and not just a diet.

Originally published in 2015.

On the Second Sunday of Great Lent, the Holy Church commemorates St. Gregory Palamas, one of the great fathers of the Church who lived in the fourteenth century and actively contributed to one of the most contentious theological debates of his time. St. Gregory defended the notion of theosis (divinization) and the uncreated grace of God that sanctifies humans. His defense was confirmed by two church councils, held in 1341 and 1351, which are ranked in the conscience of the Church as ecumenical councils for the importance of their teachings for the salvation of man, his role and his freedom.

In fact, it is in that century that the effects of the Great Schism between the Christians of the East and the West started to become manifest in major faith issues. For that Great Schism—in which faith and liturgical differences played a small role among political, social and intellectual disputes—was hiding within itself an equally important cause: the difference in mentality between the East and the West in regard to understanding religious matters, especially in what relates to their approach regarding how to understand God.

The Western Latin understanding, after the Schism, leaned towards Greek philosophy, which became the intellectual foundation for explaining the Faith. This method led to what later became known as scholastic theology: the method of approaching and understanding faith matters based on the rules of logic and rational deductions. This method gives a bigger importance to the human mind in explaining religious topics at the expense of the living divine experience. This opened the door for new teachings to penetrate Western theological teaching.

The East, on the other hand, remained dependent on the divine grace that is given to the righteous and purifies those who are pure and leads them to know God through a personal ontological knowledge, for they live in God and He in them. As for the mind, its role is to absorb this divine experience and articulate it in human language in order to explain it and transfer it to those who have not experienced it yet.

The dispute between these two mentalities, or two methods of approaching God, exploded in the fourteenth century around the topic of divine grace and its work in humans. The West maintained that unity with God is unachievable since He is incomparably transcendent above humans. In addition to that, the West affirmed that the light experienced by the spiritually advanced is a created light and, thus, not itself the light of God. Furthermore, the West affirmed that the grace bestowed by God on humans is a gift from Him—something He gives to humans—and consequently is not a direct manifestation of the living God. On the other hand, the East continued affirming the experience of the divine revelation, as given to humans in the scriptures and continued in the life of those who were sanctified and illumined. And thus, the East taught that this light is an uncreated divine light—that is, the light of God Himself—and that the divine grace is the presence of the work of God Himself in humans and not merely the presence of a gift emerging from Him.

The role of St. Gregory Palamas, who was a great scholar and an experienced spiritual man, stood out in the distinction he offered between God’s essence and God’s energies. He taught that God remains unapproachable in His essence, while He can touch and sanctify humans through His divine energies.

Orthodox theology bases this teaching on the apostles’ experience in the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28). The Gospel tells us that Christ’s face shone like the sun and that the three apostles (Peter, James and John) saw that divine light with their physical eyes and experienced Him personally. The divine grace, according to the Orthodox understanding, is the full richness of the divine nature in its connection to humans. The illumined person is graced with the energies of God yet remains unable to see His essence.

The importance of this teaching—which might appear to some as a mere theoretical and intellectual dialogue—lies in man’s journey towards holiness and divinization (theosis), which are the goals of the Christian life.

There is a big difference between knowing God through working our mind in what relates to Him and knowing Him through what He reveals to us from His divine energies. Knowing Him only intellectually puts us in danger of creating an image of Him that is very far from reality, because we would have deduced it through our human energies only. God is not known except through living with Him and in Him. He is a living person with Whom we share an experience of meeting, communion and life.

Western theology took an intellectual tendency to approach God and thus philosophy became the main foundation of studying theology; intellectual effort became the focus in the quest for divine knowledge. In the East, however, approaching God remained dependent on experience and unity with Him; the focus remained on the effort to be purified and cleansed.

The notion of the divinization of man remained distorted in the West, and thus, its theology faced many problems such as considering the body impure and a prison for the soul. Therefore, asceticism became a mortification that is based on torturing the body, insulting it, depriving it and contempt towards it. The East, however, continued in the spiritual tradition which taught that the experience of divinization is lived through the presence of divine grace in humans. Thus, asceticism and abstinence are seen as tools for humans to transcend spiritually and to sanctify their bodies and souls, in addition to transfiguring them and the world with them.

The West reduced the Christian life and the way for humans to transcend into legalistic instructions and rules based on reward and punishment — “what is permissible and what is prohibited” — in addition to contempt towards the material and the sanctification of the mind. The East, on the other hand, focused on purification as the means to attain illumination. In addition, it demonstrated the spiritual life as three successive phases that can overlap at times. The first phase is that of the “servant” that works out of fear of punishment; the second phase is that of the “hireling” who seeks the reward; and the third phase is that of the “son” who aims to resemble his father out of love for him. Throughout all this, the focus should always remain on attaining the phase of “sonship.”

The notion of divinization remains unknown to many, even in the East. Humans tend to be satisfied in their religious experiences with what is between their hands—that is, what eases their conscience. It is easier to be a servant or a hireling than to become a son and acquire our father’s attributes. The latter gives us a unique responsibility and requires from us a great love for the Lord and a longing to unite with Him. We can achieve that when we rise above the delights of the world. As St. Sophrony of Essex says, “Our longing and affectionate attraction to the celestial world is our joy, and it is what transforms a painful aging into a bright, dignified one that anticipates the mercies, consolations and embraces of the Father.”

Our religious life is not limited to rules, duties and moralities that we must follow to build a better world. It is rather a love and a longing for God, having realized that we are created in His image. We experience the movement of the remnant of God’s image in us, no matter how distorted it is, toward its origin. That movement is one that we are unable to resist unless we are drowning in ego and selfishness. God will visit us in diverse manners until He is able to open the eyes of our hearts to Him, yet He does not force us. He stays at the door knocking until we open for Him, and then He enters and dines with us (Rev. 3:20). He shall reveal Himself to humans “as He is,” leaving for us the freedom to interact with Him as we wish.

A French poet once said: When God plays His harp, mountains dance. Who then can stop them?

Originally published in 2016.

To love and to be loved is the dilemma of human beings. Every one of us wants to be loved, and no one does not want to be loved and to be the object of another’s love.

To be loved means to exist and to be secure. It grants a spiritual and emotional energy and, moreover, helps release our potential. The human being was created to be loved and to love. God, who is love, created “the beloved” and called them human beings.

What is more problematic, however, is that those who cannot love remain unconvinced that there is someone who loves them. But to be loved means to love others first and foremost. If we are unable to love, then love shown to us will spoil and destroy us. In that case, love becomes an exploitation of those who love us, since we now cling to them or use them insofar as they fulfill our desires. We stop feeling for others and become egocentric, which in turn blinds us to seeing any other thing but ourselves.

Following this path, we will kill ourselves by dwelling in deadly individualism. The human person cannot live without sharing and conversing with others, through giving, sacrifice, integration, interaction, and the like. All these aspects need “the other” or “the neighbor.” The deadly individualism in the consumer West can push people to replace friends with pets, so when we do not find the person who can love us, we look for this love in any substitute. In that case, this substitute remains helpless to fulfill our genuine need. While it may fill some space within us or compensate for a few things, eventually we will feel the need to start looking around again for another substitute.

Living in love can scare people these days. We are still eager to enjoy love, to have it to ourselves, and not to offer it to others, which makes it so much harder to love, which in turn scares us and pushes us to run away. Love has a price: to love means that we are ready to be crucified and to stay crucified. Love hurts because we offer everything for its sake, but we do not always receive. Loving the other confronts us with our weaknesses and our vices that control our lives, which in turn can kill our talents, take away our joy and limit our potential. On the other hand, love can give us life and joy and bring all our positive potentials to fulfillment.

If we lock ourselves in our individualism and in isolation from others—thinking that this will give us peace and help us avoid other people’s nuisances—we will not grow. We will lose connectivity with others in what Christianity calls sin and psychotherapy calls mental illness. Locking ourselves in individualism makes us dwell in envy, pessimism, frustration, fear, despair, depression and longing for possibilities we do not know how to reach. If this is the case, therefore, we can be like a stone with rough edges at a riverside. This stone remains rough unless the water moves and smooths it by crashing it into other stones.

Through the process of loving others the right way, we discover our weaknesses, differences and vices, especially those hidden ones deep in ourselves. Being isolated and living alone gives us a false peace, since the vices and passions stay hidden in us, making us think that we are liberated from them. Living and interacting with others whom we love makes these passions come to the surface and equips us to confront them and overcome them. Only then will we be free.

Lovingly interacting with others acts as the river that will erode the sharp edges of the stones. Little by little, these stones will become smooth and beautifully shaped. Their surfaces become places to draw the best art; the stones will sit in the finest displays and become sources of wonder. In the same manner, love will break our hardheartedness, heal us from our passions and liberate us from our selfishness and sins. This is the path of love. The more we love others, the more we are liberated.

Jean-Paul Sartre, the atheist philosopher, once said, “The other is my hell.” Gabriel Marcel, the Christian philosopher, responded by saying: “The other is my paradise.” Our patristic tradition explains hell by using the imagery of people tied back-to-back in a way that it is impossible for them to see the faces of each other. Hell is the inability to see the face of the other person and, therefore, losing the ability to love and be loved.

Let us break the bondage of isolation, selfishness and fear of meeting others as they are. Be liberated; sacrifice and give. Above all, be open to experience how much more blessed it is to give than to receive. Let us taste the joy of living in love, which, in turn, will make us forget about its price and grant us holiness and purity that will turn to endless joy and gladness unachievable before. Love and love alone grants us maturity and equanimity that cannot be found or achieved in any other way.

We get strength from and with others whom we love to continue our path, bear our cross and attain the resurrection. Isn’t that what our Lord who loved us to the end did? The true God descended willingly to the depth of hades out of love for His creation and out of His will to save. This same God, whom we know in the gospels, condescended for us, was lifted up when He was hanged on the Cross and, through that, lifted up the whole world with Him, enlightening it through His Resurrection.

Originally published in 2016.