Orthodoxy means right belief or right doctrine. But how can you know if your beliefs are right or true? The Eastern Orthodox Church traces its family heritage all the way back to the Apostles—and like all good families, certain things were meticulously passed down throughout the ages. You can think of it like a grandmother passing her special bread recipe on to her grandchildren. She is careful to instruct her grandchildren, insuring they pay careful attention. Following instruction, she brings them into the kitchen for some a little hands-on instruction. After some time she lets them try to make it themselves, and where they fumble, she corrects. Eventually, the grandchildren are making the bread perfectly. And then they grow and teach it to their children, and their children’s children and so on. This is how the Orthodox Church understands her faith—as a scrupulously passed on family tradition—and this is why Orthodox Christians boldly profess that the Orthodox Church is the One True Church passed on from the Apostles.*
But right belief and right doctrine is inseparable from right practice [orthopraxy]. It is this “right practice” of “right belief” that is commonly referred to as the Orthodox way of life. This being the case, intellectual assent to Orthodox dogmatics without participation in the life of Christ will not lead us into deeper communion with the Holy Trinity. There is a difference between “knowledge about” a person and “actually knowing” a person. Actually knowing a person leads, over time, to deeper knowledge about that person; but memorizing facts about a person—such as is done by fans obsessed with certain celebrities—will never cultivate a relationship with that person. So as we seek to discuss the Orthodox Faith in greater detail let us remember that what it means to be a “Christian” is far more than agreement with a list of doctrines; it is a life vivified by communion with, and participation in the life of, the Holy Trinity. The Lord is gracious and it is by his grace that we here at St. Joseph Orthodox Church seek to participate in this life-giving relationship with Him. Glory be to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
*If you would like more information, we can give you names of people (saints) who knew the Apostles quite well—some of whom were even mentioned in Scripture. We still have a number of these saints writings and it is through them that we are equipped with the ability to rightfully discern what the Apostles mean in scripture. Because this is where the debate is within Christendom: we all accept the Holy Bible but we do not all accept the same way of interpreting it. There are a number of denominations for this exact reason. For instance, when Christ said, “This is My Body and This is My Blood” in reference to communion, did he actually mean it? Saint Ignatius (c. 107 A.D.) who knew the Apostle who recorded these words (John 6), would say “YES! HE DID.” And so would every Christian down through the ages until the time of the Reformation. Believe it or not, even the original Reformers believed this. It was not until Ulrich Zwingli that the symbolic interpretation was ushered into Christendom as an alternative explanation.
Are you Jewish?
The Eastern Orthodox Church is not the same thing as Orthodox Judaism. We believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. We do, however, believe we are in the same familial line, and worship the same God, as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—who worshipped God in Trinity, as it was revealed to them. An interesting study about Orthodoxy and Judaism comes from Fr. James A. Bernstein’s personal biography of converting from Judaism, to Protestantism, and eventually to Eastern Orthodoxy, called Surprised by Christ.
Did you split away from the Roman Catholics?
The Great Schism, commonly dated to an event in 1054 A.D., is the name given to the formal split between the Christian Church in the East (Orthodoxy) and the Christian Church in the West (Roman Catholicism). Because of this, it is provincial to think of one of these two churches preceding the other—they both grew from the same seed. However, because the Eastern Church refused to see the Pope as the unequivocal leader of the Church, and because the East insisted on reciting the Nicene Creed in its original form, a man name Cardinal Humbert travelled a long way East in the name of the Pope (who had recently died) to inform the Orthodox Church that it was excommunicated. One of the clergy ran after him with the Papal Bull (the sign of excommunication) imploring him to take it back. Cardinal Humbert refused.
What is the difference between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism?
If you don’t have a Pope, what does your Church government look like?