What Orthodoxy Is

st lazarus orthodox church by L PlaterHere is a list of several observations that I have made on my journey into the Orthodox Church.  While it is certainly not an exhaustive list, it hits many of the main points that I have noticed.

Mysterious – some of their most important theology includes the explanation: “We don’t know, it is a mystery.”  They emphasize personal transformation by contact with Christ through the sacraments and through contemplative prayer; they de-emphasize rational expositions.

Sacramental – this word in Greek is mysterion, which means mystery.  Through these mystical and mysterious experiences, we encounter Christ and are transformed.

Liturgical – “modern,” “relevant,” and “marketable” are not terms that concern the Orthodox.  Their style of worship goes back to the time of the apostles and is filled with beautiful prayers and songs.  For them, worship is not about us, but rather about God.  Coming from a charismatic background, this was difficult for me at first.

Prayerful – they teach that we are to pray without ceasing.  The mystic fathers of the Orthodox faith are renown throughout the world.  Even the Divine Liturgy celebrated every Sunday morning contains mostly prayers and songs of worship.

Deep – you can spend years studying Orthodox theology and still feel like you have only dipped your toes in the water.  Here is the reason I believe that is so: their theology ends in experiencing the depth and beauty of God.  Therefore, the journey is not an intellectual one, rather it is experiential.  It is heart-lead and it has no end that can be reached in this life.

Tradition & Bible based – The Bible was written and canonized over hundreds of years by the Church.  It is part of Church tradition.  As Fr Anthony Coniaris writes, “We believe that the Bible needs Sacred Tradition as the living interpreter of God’s word, just as the Sacred Tradition needs the Bible as its anchor and foundation.”  During every liturgy, the Gospel Book (containing the four Gospels) is ceremoniously brought in and everyone stands when the words of Jesus are being read as if He were there in the flesh speaking these words.  The scriptures are taken very seriously, after all, the Orthodox Church wrote and canonized the Bible; however, scripture is understood in its proper context as being the foundation of tradition.

st lazarus orthodox church3 by L PlaterColorful – I write in depth about this in my post here, but suffice it to say that I call Orthodoxy “Christianity in Color” and not just because of the icons.

Solid – Every few years someone comes out with a book trying to start a new movement in the Christian faith.  They claim that they have finally discovered how the New Testament church is supposed to look.  The Orthodox Church on the other hand hasn’t changed significantly for 2,000 years.  I have found it to be a place of refuge from these fads and trends that sweep over the church.  One of two things happens to every new fad: either it fizzles out or it becomes so popular that it is the “establishment” that everyone wants to change in the next generation of Christians.

Eschatological – that’s a fancy word that means “the study of end times.”  You won’t find the Orthodox holding seminars for things like: “Revelations – Ancient Biblical Prophecy Finally Figured Out!”  However, they care very deeply about the second coming of Christ and life after death.  They keep a steady look forward toward the coming Kingdom, but without pretending to know when and how things are going to happen.

Interestingly, it seems the largest eschatological emphasis is placed on the “end time” for each individual.  All of us will die one of these days, are we prepared for the end?

Emphatically Trinitarian – They place so much emphasis on Jesus you may begin to question just how much you really believe that Jesus is God.  That happened to me anyway, probably because I spent a year studying with the Jehovah’s Witnesses before exploring Orthodoxy.  I thought I was immune to their attacks on Christ’s divinity, but hearing it over and over left a subconscious impression.

Most of us growing up in some Christian tradition have a vague belief in the Trinity.  I feel the Orthodox take it quite a bit deeper.  Some Orthodox speak of their understanding of the Trinity in this way: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, or God above me, God beside me, God within me.  Almost every prayer in the Liturgy is prayed “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

Presbyterian – It has nothing to do with the denomination that has that name.  The Orthodox strongly stress, just as the first century Church did, the importance of spiritual authority.  They have priests, bishops, archbishops, etc.  This was a big turn-off to me at first because I figured “absolute authority corrupts absolutely.”  But then I realized that the inverse is true: absolute freedom corrupts just as easily.  I have found that contrary to what western culture teaches, there is actually a very great amount of spiritual freedom in submitting to spiritual authority.  It doesn’t sound logical, but just give it a try and you will find it is true as well.

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Growing up in non-denominational churches, I became weary of many practices in the church. I decided it was time to find a church that enabled me to grow in my faith and talents, but that was also theologically deep. I was drawn to the Eastern Orthodox Church for several reasons. Check out my blog which details my journey into this ancient faith.

4 thoughts on “What Orthodoxy Is”

  1. I like your website. I really like what you say about absolute freedom corrupting just as easily.

    I couldn’t have stumbled upon your blog at a better moment. I started attending and Anglican Parrish for the bible study. I didn’t attend the mass, but I became interested in that kind of worship. Eventually I started attending and have been reading quite a bit on orthodoxy. I started “praying the hours” after reading about it and understanding how important prayer is.

    I talked about this to friends and coworkers and all was well and good until I started talking about praying the hours, icons, and other historical and traditional aspects of worship. I didn’t expect the negative reaction from some of my protestant coworkers. Puzzling since I work at a Catholic hospital.

    The negative reaction by some protestants to those that worship in a more traditional manner has been eye opening and shocking. I was feeling kind of depressed about it all but your blog has given me comfort.

    Thank you.

    1. Hi Marga, I am glad the Spirit is bringing you comfort, and I’m excited to hear that you are diving into this ancient faith. It is a beautiful place to be; the deep prayer life of the Orthodox Church is what eventually drew me into it.

      I have received criticism from family and a passive aggressive comment or two from Protestant friends. As a general rule, people distrust what they don’t understand; especially Protestants who have grown up hearing about the evils of the Roman Church (they tend to assume anything traditional was made up one day by the RCC). Keep pressing into the ancient beauty. The life of peace and love in the Holy Spirit that will result will need little explanation or argument.

  2. The emphasis on God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit is emphasized more in Orthodoxy than anywhere else. I, too, didn’t realize how much I had perceived Christ’s humanity to be greater than His divinity until I started attending an Orthodox parish. Some of that comes from the all-too-common way of ending a prayer in the Southern Baptist denomination (my upbringing) with “In Jesus’ name” vs “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. I also see that a lot in Catholic prayers, too. It also stems from having heard my whole life that Jesus really did have biological brothers and sisters. Looking back on that now I am appalled at the thought of the Theotokos uniting herself to a man after having been united to God in the most mystical way possible, knowing that her pure, virginal faith bore Divine fruit. When we see that Christ truly is the I AM dwelling in Mary’s womb, taking His flesh from her and humbling himself to walk among us everything else becomes so clear.

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