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.
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.
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.”
INTRODUCTION – Introduces the non-Orthodox to Orthodox Christianity.
HOUSE OF GOD – Describes the interior of the church building.
WORSHIP – Discusses the form and characteristics of Orthodox worship.
LITURGY – Describes the meaning and celebration of the Eucharist.
SACRAMENTS – Describes the meaning and importance of liturgical life.
SPECIAL SERVICES AND BLESSINGS – Describes the non-sacramental services which contribute to spiritual life.
TEACHINGS – Outlines the salient points of doctrine and basic credal affirmations.
SPIRITUALITY – Discusses the meaning of theosis as the goal of Christian life.
HISTORY – Sketches the great epochs of Orthodoxy.
THE CHURCH – Outlines the procedure for becoming a member of the Orthodox Church.
Several years ago I had compiled a number of my studies, which had originally been written in German for poemantic purposes, as an aid for German visitors in Greece, who desired to learn about the Orthodox faith and tradition. That book, “LEBEN IM LEIBE CHRISTI” (Life in the Body of Christ), Athens 1990, and its acceptance which had given rise to repeated editions, but also the coercion of spiritual children and friends, were the reasons behind my decision to repeat that endeavour in English as well.
Thus, a series of my texts from the more recent years was compiled once again for a similar purpose – the presentation of various aspects of the magnitude called ORTHODOXY – this time translated into English, so that they might assist as an introduction to Orthodoxy for English readers. The translation was undertaken by Mrs. K.N. and I am grateful for this. With this undertaking, she too has participated in the poemantic aspirations of this book, thus providing a considerable service to our fellow-man. For this, I ask God to reward her blessed labour as He sees fit. I have also personally reviewed the translation as regards its theological terminology and I bear all responsibility for any vagueness or flaws therein. I would also like to express my gratitude to a brother in Christ and comrade-in-arms, Mr. Thomas F. Dritsas ( Moderator of the Orthodox Website www.oodegr.com ), for his addition of the valuable last chapter, as well as for the other helpful suggestions which he has provided for our readers.
I pray that this book will fulfil the purpose of its compilation, which is none other than the spherical presentation of ORTHODOXY; that is, the Faith and the Life which were delivered to us by the Apostles of Christ and our Holy Fathers throughout the ages, as the successors and the continuers of their work.
I also wish to thank the select friend and collaborator, Mr. Thomas Dritsas, a distinguished member of the Missionary team O.O.D.E. (Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries), who was kind enough to write the last Chapter of this book (Chapter 12), which provides valuable information for the reader.
Finally, my thanks – but also my deep gratitude – are extended to the Sacred Nunnery of Saint Stephen at Meteora, for their willingness to undertake the publication of the book. May the Lord God bless the significant missionary opus of the Holy Mother Superior of the Monastery and all the resident Nuns, and strengthen them in their labours for the preservation of our immaculate Faith.
Fr. George D. Metallinos
Memory of Saint Gerasimos of Cephallonia.
Discussion Questions: 1. What am I when I proclaim that I am an Orthodox Christian? 2. How does my ethnic background affect and influence my Orthodox Faith? 3. When asked what faith I am, how can I give a comprehensible, concise answer? 4. Can an ancient faith be relevant in today’s world; and if so, how? 5. How does the Church change over the centuries without sacrificing its core beliefs? 6. What role should Orthodox Christians play in their church/society?