Friday 30 June 2017

The Orthodox Church

Orthodoxy means right belief or right glorification. Ortho means ‘right’ in Greek and doxa can either be translated as ‘belief’ or ‘glory.’ In other words, the Orthodox Church holds the right beliefs about God and glorifies God in the right way. Some people in other Christian groups may try to glorify God, but they do not have the correct faith and so cannot glorify Him correctly.

The Church is more than just the building that we worship in, and it is more than just a gathering of people; the Church is the Body of Christ. The Head of the Church is Christ and we are members of His Body. The word ‘member’ in this sense means a limb or a part of the body) Because the Church is the Body of Christ, it is also filled with the Holy Spirit.

The Church is also often called a vine; Christ is the stem and we are the branches that receive their food and strength from Him. It is also called a flock of sheep; we are rational (we have the ability to think) sheep and Christ is the Shepherd that keeps us safe, guides us and feeds us.

The Church began with the creation of angels and men. After the fall of Adam and Eve, throughout the Old Testament the Church continued in the persons of the holy men and women such as Abraham, Issac, Jacob & Ruth. The apostles became members of the Church at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came down on them in the form of tongues of fire. The main ways we receive this grace is through the mysteries of the Church.

Grace isn’t a packet of holiness that God creates and gives us to make us good boys or girls. We can’t know God in His essence or ‘God-ness’ but we can know Him through His uncreated energies. Grace is just another word for these energies and we come to know God through His grace.

Of course, God is not limited to acting only through these mysteries. God sends forth his grace upon everyone in the world but it is only within the Orthodox Church that we can receive this grace in full — the grace that leads us to union with God. This is why the mystery of Baptism is so important because as St. Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain says: ’Before holy Baptism the grace of God moves a man towards good from outside, while Satan is hidden in the depths of the heart and soul. But after a man has been baptised, the demon hovers outside the heart, while grace enters inside.’[1]

It is impossible to define God or explain how God works. We need to remember that even though it is possible for us to become gods it is impossible for us to explain how this occurs. Vladimir Lossky compares this mystery with the mystery of the Incarnation: ‘We remain creatures while becoming God by grace, as Christ remained God in becoming man by the Incarnation.’[2]
What do bishops do?
Orthodox bishops are the leaders of the Church on earth. In the Orthodox Church, bishops are called hierarchs which is a Greek word meaning ‘high priest.’ For this reason, the Orthodox Church is called hierarchal because all the different ranks are arranged in order with the hierarchs at the top.

Each bishop runs a group of churches called a diocese and any important decisions concerning the life of his diocese are made by him. However, his main role is not to make decisions, it is to shepherd his flock which are the people in his diocese.

In doing this, he must try to imitate Christ the Chief Shepherd, in loving and caring for his flock. Also, the bishop is an important teacher of the Orthodox Faith. In return, the people must show love and respect for their bishop. Although the bishop is the most important person in the diocese, the most important decisions regarding the Church as a whole are taken by all the bishops together. The highest authority in the Church is when bishops are called together from all over the world to form an Œcumenical Council.

The Orthodox Church recognizes seven Œcumenical Councils. In general, a council can be considered to be Œcumenical if it is a worldwide gathering of bishops called by an Orthodox Emperor or Empress and if the decisions of this Council are accepted over time by the faithful of the Orthodox Church.[3]

It is our duty to know as much as we can about our Orthodox Faith because we have to look after that faith. There have been many councils over the years that have looked Œcumenical but were rejected by the ordinary people. The Letter of the Orthodox Patriarchs, written in 1848, illustrates this point clearly: ‘Among us, neither Patriarchs nor Councils could ever introduce a new teaching, for the guardian of religion is the very body of the Church that is the people itself.’ So, we can see that the people are helpless without an Orthodox bishop, but a bishop who is not teaching the Orthodox Faith is helpless if he does not have the confidence of his Orthodox flock.

Excerpt from 'The Ark of Salvation: A Young Adult's Guide to the Orthodox Church'

[1] E. Kadloubovsky & G.E.H Palmer (trans.), Unseen Warfare (Oxford: A.R. Mowbray & Co. Ltd., 1978) p.153
[2]  Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (Cambridge: James Clarke & Co. Ltd.,1991) p. 87
[3] Œcumenical is taken from the Greek word Œcumene which means ‘the world’

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