Orthodoxy in Brief
The Orthodox Church was founded by our Lord Jesus Christ, and maintains an unbroken continuity of faith that began with the 12 Apostles at Pentecost. For nearly 2,000 years the Orthodox Church has maintained and protected the doctrine and worship that was first established by the Apostles and articulated by the leaders of the early Church.
St. Katherine Mission and all Orthodox churches operating today adhere to the ideas that were debated, articulated, and defended during the Seven Ecumenical Councils, held between the years 325 and 787. The Councils, which involved the greatest leaders and theologians of Christendom, not only defined and refined the doctrines and practices of the Church, but also defended it against heresies—particularly those that questioned the divinity of Christ, doubted the reality of his coming in the flesh, and attacked the use of icons.
The Councils also reflected the structure of the Church that is still in place today. All significant decisions concerning Orthodox doctrine and liturgical practices are conciliar in nature. That means they must be discussed and agreed upon within the setting of a council that involves all sister churches, with the understanding that the outcome is guided by the Holy Spirit and is founded on wisdom and practices accumulated over the centuries. This is the Holy Tradition of the Church, which is passed down through generations, from the time of the Apostles to the present day. In the Orthodox Church, no single church, group, or individual—whether a pope, pastor, or group of dissatisfied churchgoers—can arbitrarily change or dictate essential elements of the Church's worship and doctrine.
Following the example of the Apostles, Christians throughout the centuries established the Church around the world, spreading the word of the Gospel first in the urban areas of Asia Minor, Greece, Rome, and possibly North Africa. With the conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine in the early 4th Century, Christianity continued its reach throughout the world.
Today the Orthodox Church—the world's second largest church behind the Roman Catholic Church—consists of 15 “autocephalous” (self-governing) churches. These self-governing churches are not held together by some central organization or a single figure wielding power, but are united by a common agreement about the faith, and through sacramental communion. St. Katherine Mission is part of the Orthodox Church in America, which was granted autocephaly in the 1970s by the Church of Russia.
The Orthodox Church is the rock that has offered humanity steadfastness in faith, consistency in worship, and clarity in doctrine during 2,000 years of historical changes and cataclysms. These include the persecutions of the early Christians in the Roman Empire; the Great Schism of 1054, which split the Eastern and Western branches of Christianity; the Protestant Reformation, which stemmed from the doctrines and practices of the Roman Catholic Church and splintered the churches in the West; and the martyrdom of millions of 20th Century Orthodox Christians who suffered under atheist regimes. Today, the Church also stands in stark contrast against the corrosive secularism, relativism, and hyper-individualism of contemporary Western culture, which tragically afflicts far too many well-meaning Christian denominations.
The Orthodox Church does not bend and change its theology and worship to accommodate that which is "relevant" today but will disappear tomorrow. It is the Bride to Christ's Bridegroom and the repository of Holy Tradition, containing the entire life, experience, prayers, and worship of all Orthodox Christians in all places throughout the past two millenia.
In the words of His Eminence, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, the Church "guards and teaches the true belief about God and ... glorifies Him with right worship." We believe that the Orthodox Church is "nothing less than the Church of Christ on earth," and in its rich beauty, sound doctrine, centuries-old liturgical services, and deep prayer life, conveys the eternal truth of Christ as "the Way, the Truth, and the Life" (John 14:6).
Our faith and liturgical practice is based on these pillars of the Church established centuries ago:
We view the Bible as a valuable witness to God’s revelation. Portions of the Bible are read at every Liturgy, and our liturgical services are built around scriptural passages.
We believe that the collective wisdom and understanding of God handed down through the generations is a vital part of our faith—and no less important than Scripture. In addition to Scripture, our faith is understood and celebrated in the Eucharist, through the teachings of the Church Fathers and the saints, through the doctrines established at the Ecumenical Councils, and through private and communal prayer.
We believe that God revealed Himself to us through Jesus Christ. The Revelation of God is preserved for us in the Church; through our participation in the sacramental life of the Church and through the efforts or our prayers, we believe we can achieve a fuller understanding of God.
We believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who became the Son of Man. Christ showed us the meaning of authentic human life, and by defeating death and sin through his own voluntary death on the Cross and His Resurrection, revealed the ultimate expression of God's love for his creation.
Our faith is articulated by the words of the Nicene Creed, which was formulated at the first two Ecumenical Councils and ultimately adopted by the entire Church. It is always recited during the Divine Liturgy and at baptisms. The Creed, and a shortened version of it said just before receiving Holy Communion, is the only part of the Divine Liturgy that begins with "I," because faith is first personal, and then corporate and communal:
If you would like to learn more about the Orthodox Church, our first suggestion is to visit us and ask questions. Not only can you have your questions answered directly, but you can also experience the fullness and beauty that is Orthodox worship. In the words of our Lord, ‘Come, and you will see.’ (John 1:39).
We highly recommend the following websites as good places to begin:
- The Orthodox Faith
An outstanding introduction to Orthodoxy written by Fr. Thomas Hopko, Dean Emeritus of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary. It was originally published (and is still available) as a brief, printed four-volume set. The full text is available online, without charge, at the link.
- Discover Orthodox Christianity
A series of brief articles compiled by the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese in America.
- Orthodox Christian Information Center
A large repository of articles covering all manner of historical and contemporary Orthodox topics.
- Ancient Faith Radio
An outstanding online audio service delivering podcasts, music, sermons and more covering all aspects of Orthodoxy, including doctrine and contemporary issues. AFR has apps for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone.
Orthodox literature can fill entire libraries. However, we can recommend the following titles as excellent starting points. We often carry these and other titles in our church bookstore, or you can find them at online retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
The Orthodox Church
This is the classic, one-volume account of the Orthodox Church by Archbishop Kallistos (Timothy) Ware, which covers its history, doctrine, and worship.
The Orthodox Way
Also by Archbishop Kallistos Ware, this volume delves deeper into Orthodox theology and spirituality.
The Orthodox Study Bible
Richly illustrated with iconography, this Bible version is filled with history and commentary reflecting an Orthodox understanding of Scripture.
By Frederica Mathewes-Greene, an Episcopalian who converted to Orthodoxy. This easy-to-read volume discusses her journey to Orthodoxy and helps explain the Orthodox Church and faith to non-Orthodox.
Becoming Orthodox: A Journey to the Ancient Christian Faith
Father Peter Gillquist recounts how he and a group of other like-minded Protestants discovered and joined the Orthodox Church as a group.
Thirsting for God in a Land of Shallow Wells
The author, Matthew Gallatin, recounts his decades in the Evangelical Christian ministry and the questions and issues that ultimately led him to the Orthodox Church.
For the Life of the World
Fr. Alexander Schmemann was one of the leading Orthodox writers and theologians of the 20th Century. In this profound yet highly readable book, he discusses the sacramental view of the world that is essential to living an Orthodox Christian life.
The Illumined Heart
Frederica Mathewes-Greene looks at how the practices of early Christians, who were immersed in prayer, fasting, and worship, are so needed in our current day and age.