I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-Begotten, begotten of the Father before all worlds, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father; by Whom all things were made: Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man; And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried; The third day He arose again, according to the Scriptures; And ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father; And He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead; Whose Kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father; Who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, Who spoke by the prophets.
And I believe in One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sin. I look for the Resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.
“When Orthodox are asked at contemporary inter-Church gatherings to sum up what they see as the distinctive characteristic of their Church,” Kallistos Ware writes in his book, The Orthodox Church, “they often point precisely to its changelessness, its determination to remain loyal to the past, its sense of living continuity with the church of ancient times.”
We cherish our two-thousand-year-old tradition, handed first from Christ to his Disciples, precisely for its fullness, for in the great variety of practices we find healing and clarity on the path to Communion with God. For we Orthodox believe that the purpose of our lives as humans is Communion, to become more and more like the Triune God and to enter deeper and deeper into a relationship with the Trinity, ultimately hoping to purify our hearts so that we may be granted full union with God. When we proclaim the Nicene Creed, we essentially proclaim this purpose to be final and complete.
In our journey toward Communion we begin and end with worship, which in the church is best modeled in its liturgy, the service of Communion. Each Sunday we, along with all the Orthodox around the world, participate in the “Mystical Supper” of Christ, in which, like the Disciples two millennia before us, we are given by God His Body and Blood to eat. “The Divine Liturgy is truly a heavenly service upon earth,” wrote St. John of Kronstadt, “during which God Himself, in a particular, immediate, and most close manner, is present and dwells with men…”
The long tradition of Christianity is immediately visible in our worship in the icons which adorn the walls of our church. These icons remind us of those particular predecessors who we know achieved the true Communion we all seek. The icons are “windows” through which we see quite literally the triumph of Love. An icon depicts particular humans called saints, those who, as Metropolitan Hierotheos writes, “partake of the deifying energy of God,” our ultimate hope. Above all, however, in the dome of the church, is the icon of Christ as High Priest, who is the head of the Church. Below that and above the altar, where the Body and Blood of Christ are set out for us, is an icon of Mary, the Mother of Christ, the greatest of “mere humans,” and the one who bore God in her womb (and thus we refer to her as the Theotokos, or Mother of God.)
The services are filled, too, with songs and prayers that prepare our hearts for the Mystical Supper. These prayers and hymns are part of the tradition handed to us: in the fourth century St. John Chrysostom wrote the liturgy we use today; the words of St. Symeon, who held the Christ Child, echo through our Vespers services; King David’s Psalms are read aloud daily; the story of the Myrrhbearing Women—the first humans to see the risen Christ—is sung in the prayers preceding Liturgy. Along with the spoken prayers at home, we have also received from our predecessors in the faith a long tradition of stillness, or hesychia, in which prayer of the heart helps to free us from wounding thoughts. “Our life depends on the kind of thoughts we nurture,” Elder Thaddeus said.
Along with weekly services, the church year contains a cycle of wonderful feasts and beautiful fasts. Easter, which the Orthodox call Pascha, the Feast of Feasts, is celebrated in a beautiful midnight service, in which the priest acts as the Light of the World emerging from the Tomb—Christ risen from the dead—which Metropolitan Hierotheos calls the “greatest event in history,” and which, St. Paul tells the Corinthians, is the very center of our faith, for in Christ’s triumph over death, “Death, the last enemy, is to be abolished.” Whether we’re remembering in awe Christ’s Nativity at Christmas or His Ascension into Heaven, or commemorating, for example, the saints of North America or an important event in Church history, all feasts are celebrations of God’s love for us and his desire for deep relationship with humanity.
We Orthodox fast, too, for the same reason. Though as a community we might be fasting from certain foods, we do so out of love, not out of obligation or a desire for control. “Whatever is done must be done with love,” St. Porphyrios wrote. “Love always understands the need to make sacrifices.” Thus we strive to be like St. Mary of Egypt, who said, “When I only reflect on the evils from which Our Lord has delivered me I have imperishable food for hope of salvation.” Several fasting seasons, the longest two being before Christmas (the Nativity Fast) and before Pascha (Great Lent) sustain us on our journey through the church year. Because of its long history and deep theology, Orthodox is difficult to outline even in a few paragraphs.
In Mesa, we at St. Ignatius continue to press forward in the knowledge of the Church’s tradition, but we also hope to live it out, to be not only aware of it but to be the vessels of its transmission to the next generation. In fact, the Apostle Philip, in responding to Nathaniel’s questions about the truth of what Philip was telling him about Christ, gave the final word to all of us who want to see Christ. “Come,” the Apostle said, “and see.”
This ‘Eastern’ Orthodox faith has established itself throughout the world: in North America, Africa, Australia, and Western Europe. Small groups also exist in Asia and South America. Orthodox missionaries from Russia were present in Alaska by the late 1700s, and in Japan and China by the mid-1800s. But the spread of Orthodox peoples throughout the world increased dramatically during the 20th century, particularly in the wake of anti-Christian Communist oppression throughout Eastern Europe. Greek Orthodox or Russian Orthodox?
Orthodox parishes are often identified according to the language in which services are celebrated or the national identity of parishioners. Thus they have come to be known as ‘Greek Orthodox,’ ‘Russian Orthodox,’ ‘Serbian Orthodox,’ etc. But this can be misleading: there is only one Orthodox Church, and it is not tied to any particular nationality. The Orthodox Church is for everyone, regardless of ethnicity: this is shown by the presence in most Orthodox parishes of many converts from Western Christianity (Protestant or Catholic) or from non-Christian beliefs.
The Catholic Church was one with the Orthodox Church until about the 11th century. The rupture that occurred at that time had many complex causes, including the tendency of the Western Church to invest more and more authority in the Pope. The Orthodox Church has never had a worldwide, centralized government like the Papacy; instead, each local church governs itself in mutual accord with all the other local Orthodox churches. The Orthodox Church has also maintained unchanged the original form of the Nicene Creed. The Creed was altered in the Western Church, and this was another significant cause of the schism.
Unlike the Catholic Church since Vatican II, the Orthodox Church has had no liturgical reform. It maintains a richly beautiful liturgical tradition with many customs dating back to Apostolic times, including fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, receiving Communion on an empty stomach, ancient liturgical prayers and chants, frequent sacramental confession, standing or kneeling during services instead of sitting, and baptism by full immersion.
In the Orthodox Church, there is no universal liturgical language (such as Latin in the Catholic Church); it has always been our tradition to pray in the local language. Orthodoxy also upholds the ancient practice of married clergymen, while also valuing and encouraging celibacy for those who are called to it (cf. Matthew 19:10–12).
Protestant denominations (such as Baptist, Anglican or Episcopalian, Lutheran, Presbyterian, etc.) have their origins in 16th-century Western Europe. These groups were a departure from the Catholic Church which, five hundred years previous, had departed from the Orthodox Church. Some of the Protestant reformers were earnestly trying to return to the Church of the New Testament – the early Church of the Apostles, which they believed had been distorted by the Catholic Church. Ironically, with a bit of education, they would have found what they were seeking in the Orthodox Church.
In recent years, many groups within Protestantism have abandoned fundamental Christian doctrines and moral teachings, despite the clear witness of Holy Scripture, so highly valued by the 16th-century reformers. But the theological and moral vision of Orthodoxy – what Saint Paul calls ‘the mind of Christ’ – remains unchanged (1 Corinthians 2:16; cf. Hebrews 13:8).
The word Orthodox is Greek for ‘right glory’ and refers to the correctness and truth of the Orthodox Church’s faith and worship (cf. John 4 : 23–24).
The Orthodox faith is expressed most fully in the Bible – the God-inspired books of the Old and New Testaments. This same faith is expressed very succinctly by the Nicene Creed, composed by theologians who met at the first two (of seven) great Ecumenical Councils held in 325 and 381. This statement, based on the Scriptures, teaches that there is one God in three Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God the Son – Jesus Christ – became man, was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered and died for our salvation, rose from the dead, and ascended physically to heaven, from whence he will come again at the end of the world to judge the living and the dead.
The Divine Liturgy (what Catholics often call the Mass) is the very heart of Orthodox life and faith. In it we receive Holy Communion which unites us with other Orthodox believers throughout the world. We are also united to the whole ‘communion of saints’ – all the departed martyrs, holy fathers and mothers of past ages – who join us and the hosts of angels in giving unceasing glory to God (cf. Isaiah 6 : 3; Revelation 7 : 9–17). But most importantly, Holy Communion unites each of us to Jesus Christ, for he offers himself to us in his very Body and Blood (cf. John 6 : 53–57). Orthodox parishes celebrate the Divine Liturgy every Sunday morning as well as on many feast days throughout the year.
The Orthodox Church maintains basic Christian moral positions on the sanctity of life and marriage. Marriage is between one man and one woman for life, and this is the only appropriate context for physical relations that can lead to childbirth. Abortion, euthanasia, divorce, and homosexual activity are a few examples of actions which seriously distort God’s loving purpose for our lives. However, there is no sin that God will not forgive and whose damaging spiritual affects God cannot heal.
The Christian life consists in opening our hearts, minds, and bodies to this merciful grace of God’s healing, and this is a life-long endeavor requiring faith and perseverance (cf. Philippians 2:12–13).
Through constant prayer, through participation in the Church’s sacraments and the study of Holy Scripture, through serious struggle against our strong inclinations to sin and selfishness, and through gestures of loving self-sacrifice for others, we strive to enter more deeply into communion with the God who is Love (1 John 4:16). Union with God constitutes man’s only true and lasting happiness. It is this union and this happiness which Christ Jesus longs to give us, and the Church exists to make that happen. (The above text was compiled and edited by Hierodeacon Philip (Majkrzak), much of it adapted from Father John Breck.)
Our entire hope is Jesus Christ. As the Apostle Paul says: “…by the commandment of God our Savior, and the Lord Jesus Christ, our hope” (1 Tim. 1:1). We receive and will receive everything through him. Our Lord Himself teaches: “And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13) Our hope is based on the sovereign grace of God, since it was given through Christ, as Scripture says: “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
But we also have our part to play! First, there is the following of God’s will, that is, the commandments. Christ himself tells us: “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him” (John 14: 21). Second, through the communion of the holy mysteries of the body and blood of Christ, through which Christ the Lord abides. “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him” (John 6:56); and “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you” (John 6: 53). And third, through persevering prayer, as the Apostle Paul teaches: “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (Jude: 20-21).
Eastern Orthodox theologians contend that Western Christian doctrines of sin and salvation have been overly dominated by legal, juridical, and forensic language and categories. By this they mean the West’s almost exclusive use of terms of divine law and justice to describe salvation; ideas that are perhaps taken from the context of Roman civil law. While we affirm the use of legal metaphors by Saint Paul, the eastern church fathers contend legal concepts should not dominate (as they have in the West), but should be balanced among the many other biblical metaphors used to describe the redemptive work of Christ. An example of how far removed the Christian East and West are in this area is the fact that the doctrine of justification by faith (how guilty people can stand before a just God or Judge), which is so prevalent in the West, is almost entirely absent in the East! Eastern theology does not focus so much on guilt, as on mortality (i.e. death!) as the main problem of humanity. We tend to see the work of Christ more in therapeutic, healing, renewal, or rescue terms than on exclusively or primarily juridical, legal, forensic terms.
Psalm 82:6 says, “I say, ‘You are gods’; you are all sons of the Most High’.” 2 Peter 1:4: “Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” Saint Cyril of Alexandria commenting on this passage tells us that we are all called to participate in divinity, not just a few “saints”. Although Christ alone is God by nature, all people are called to become God – like, “to participate in the divine nature” (without of course becoming what God is by nature!). To “participate in the divine nature” is how Orthodox Christians understand the full meaning of salvation. Salvation is more than simply saying a “sinner’s prayer”, or belief in or adherence to a set of doctrinal or moral premises. A person becomes the perfect image of God by discovering his or her likeness to God, which is the perfection of the nature common to all human beings. As Metropolitan Kallistos Ware writes, salvation is understood as direct union with the living God, the total transformation of the human person by divine grace and glory – what the Greek fathers termed “deification” or “divinization”.
Orthodox Holy Tradition, Orthodox theology and the Holy Scriptures are intertwined. They all speak of the same Orthodox Christian life and faith. They come from the same apostolic and patristic sources of the early Church. Frankly, it is barely possible to fully understand the Bible without understanding the historic, ecclesiastic, liturgical and theological context of the early Church. For example it was on the basis of a common knowledge of “authentic” Church Tradition that the church fathers of the pre-Reformation Church were able to agree on the content that became the New Testament biblical canon we have today. The canon was compiled from myriad ancient text sources, many of which were spurious or even heretical. As we affirm, the Bible was given to the historic Church.
The Orthodox Church sees the Bible as inspired by God and authoritative. However, Saint Paul in Thessalonians (2:15) wrote, “Therefore brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.” A Bible-Only (“Sola Scriptura”) criterion is therefore in conflict with the Scriptures! Orthodox Christianity sees the Christian faith in light of the whole tradition, that is, in terms that encompass the entire tradition of understanding of the faith (oral and written) from Apostolic times. This was called “The Rule of Faith”. Western Christianity (especially Protestant) often understands Christian faith through its interpretation of certain parts and interpretations of the Bible, retrospectively. The Orthodox Church affirms that authentic Apostolic Tradition comes from the Holy Spirit in the Church. This is the same Spirit who inspired the Bible and the teaching of the Apostles, whether oral or written.
There are five basic sources that comprise “Orthodox Tradition”, passed down from one generation to the next, from Christ to the Apostles, in written and unwritten forms. The first is Holy Scripture, both Old and New Testaments. The second source is the Liturgy, which includes the entire body of the Church’s common and public worship (including the sacraments of the Church). The third are the councils of the Church, the first one recounted in the Book of Acts (Acts 15), and their subsequent creeds and canons. The fourth are the Saints of the Church, especially the writings of a particular group of saints called the “church fathers”. The fifth source of Church Tradition is Church art. Saint John of Damascus said that words written in books are “images”, as are material images like icons. Art is the use of the material to express the intangible and the revelation of God.
Eastern Orthodox services trace their beginnings back to the Old Testament liturgical rites and services of the Hebrews. They are a treasury of Scripture readings, prayers, hymns, and canons composed by the Saints and pious Christians throughout the ages. Like our Jewish predecessors, Orthodox services are liturgical, sacramental, and ceremonial. Many of the hymns you hear come from the Psalms. Most of them are sung or chanted, as has been the tradition since the days of Jewish – Christian practice. Some of the ancient document sources of the Orthodox liturgical order of service go back to the second (Justin Martyr, c. A.D. 150) and third centuries (Hippolytus, c. 215 A.D.). Eastern liturgies went through development in the fourth and fifth centuries. They became stabilized in the sixth century, and by the eighth century were so fixed that they have not changed even today.
One of the striking characteristics of Orthodox worship is its near-total integration with its theology. It is this blending of theology and worship that gives Orthodoxy its thoroughly liturgical character. From the Orthodox Christian perspective, Western Christianity exhibits a breach or rupture between theology and liturgical experience. In Orthodox Christianity, they are a single, inseparable act. Participate in the liturgical cycle of the Orthodox Church and you will hear and see its theology, through its text, chant, hymnography, and iconography.
Orthodox music is dynamic and its style varies, depending on the liturgical cycle, the liturgical calendar and, the text being sung or chanted. It also varies according to the culture from which it developed! Some music is written to lead us to repentance and is therefore somber. Other music is celebratory and joyful. Orthodox music expresses the Orthodox “ethos”, which has been described as “joyful sorrow”. Like The Psalms from which much of our musical text derives, there is a full range of human emotion expressed in Orthodox liturgical music.
© Copyright 2023 St. Ignatius Orthodox Church.
All rights reserved.
© Copyright 2023 St. Ignatius Orthodox Church.
All rights reserved.