What is the Orthodox Church?
The Orthodox Christian Church is the original church established by Jesus Christ. It is evangelical, but not Protestant. It is orthodox, but not Jewish. It is catholic, but not Roman. It isn’t non-denominational, it’s pre-denominational. It has believed, taught, preserved, defended and died for the Faith of the Apostles since the Day of Pentecost nearly 2,000 years ago.
I thought the Roman Catholic Church was the original church?
Sort of. Though the RCC can claim heritage to the original Christian church, and will often point to it in their apostolic succession, there’s more to it than that. If you really want to know…
In 1054 A.D the Patriarch (or Bishop) of Rome tried to claim papal authority over the other four Christian patriarchates and, in doing so, separated itself from the rest of the church. Only then did the original Christian Church have to distinguish itself with the term “Orthodox”, which, in Greek, simply means “right praise”. Obviously there’s much more to it than that, but that’s it in a nutshell.
If the Orthodox Church is the original Church established by Jesus Christ 2,000 years ago, why am I only just now hearing about it?
For several reasons:
- The countries where the Orthodox Faith has flourished (Greece, Russia, Romania, etc.) have all been at war or under extreme persecution by various dictators or foreign powers and have only recently come out of it. (“If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you…”)
- The western hemisphere is dominated almost exclusively by the Roman Catholic Church. If not directly, then indirectly by those whose primary description of belief is against the Roman Catholic Church. It’s just the way history happened. However, we’re doing our best to make the Orthodox Church more present here in the western hemisphere.
- Orthodoxy, to the casual passerby, may look like Roman Catholicism. You may have seen scenes from an Orthodox service in a movie (though probably inaccurately portrayed) and just written it off as a form of Roman Catholicism. If you take a slightly closer look though, Orthodox Christianity is as different from Roman Catholicism as East is from West.
Why do you wear the weird black dresses?
You could be asked a similar question: Why do you wear a tie or a uniform to work? Styles have changed over the past 2,000 years, but the cassock is the traditional clothing of Orthodox clergy. If you go to an Orthodox Church anywhere else in the world, you’ll see the clergy all wearing the cassock. In America, we look at it as free advertising.
It looks a lot like Islam. Are you related?
No. Though they come from similar parts of the world, and therefore share some similar cultural appearances, Islam and Orthodoxy are different in both origin and beliefs. Islam was founded by a man named Muhammad about 1400 years ago, and Christianity was founded by Jesus Christ nearly 2,000 years ago.
We could answer questions all day long, but very little about the Faith is communicated in words. It’s mostly about experience. As Philip said to Nathaniel, “Come and see!”
As you’ll see when visiting, Orthodox Christian worship is entirely about Jesus Christ:
- Sight: Images of Him and of the Scriptures surround you in icon form.
- Sound: The music is never about “I” or “me” (unless it is in a repentant form, usually during Great Lent), but Christ and those who have offered their entire life to Him.
- Taste: The Eucharist is His holy Body and Blood.
- Touch: We venerate (kiss) Christ and those who have offered their entire life to Him.
- Scent: One of the strongest memory-inducers, various fragrances of incense are burned depending on the festal season, and, in a way, carry our prayer to Christ.
The Orthodox Church can be found throughout the entire world and primarily uses the local language. Here is an example of Orthodox Christian worship from a cathedral in Abkhazia:
(Georgia was originally evangelized by the Apostle Andrew, and is the first country to adopt Christianity as the state religion).
If you want to learn more before visiting, you could also check out these other websites:
- Orthodox Church in America
- The Diocese of New York and New Jersey
- Orthodox Christianity and the World
- Ancient Faith Radio
If you aren’t near us, find a community close to you by visiting orthodoxyinamerica.org.