What do you believe?
As Orthodox Christians, we believe that Jesus the Christ, crucified and risen, is the subject of all truly Christian theology. This is consistent with St. Paul the apostle who said, “Remember, Jesus the Christ, raised from the dead, a descendent of David — that is my Gospel.” (2 Timothy 2.8). We believe Jesus the Christ is proclaimed according to the Scriptures (the Law, the Psalms, the Prophets, and the Writings) by the writers of what is now called the “New Testament.”
The Gospel (Jesus Christ crucified and risen) in which we believe is an integral and the foremost part of our rule of faith, which teaches us that there is one God, who is revealed in Scripture, one Lord Jesus Christ (who is His co-eternal Son) and one (co-eternal) Holy Spirit.
We believe that all of this is most appropriately and faithfully expressed in the Church’s ecumenical creed, known as the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.
What does that Creed say?
The first version of the creed was proclaimed at an ecumenical council at Nicea in 325. An expanded version was adopted at the Second Ecumenical Council at Constantinople in 381. This later (Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed) was later officially declared the summary of the Christian faith at the Fourth Ecumenical Council in Chalcedon in 451. This is the “Nicene Creed” used in the Orthodox Churches to this day. The Roman Catholic Church, beginning in the ninth century, and officially in the eleventh, began including the words “and the Son” when discussing the origination of the Holy Spirit. To Orthodox Christians, this is tantamount to heresy, as the Father is the source for both the Son and the Holy Spirit. At the very least, it was an unnecessary power-play on behalf of the Roman Church, since no ecumenical gathering discussed the doctrinal implications of such a change. Protestant churches that still use this Creed kept the words “and the Son” as well. The Creed reads as follows:
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 only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten, not made, of one essence with the Father, by whom all things are made. Who, for us men and our salvation, came down from heaven and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and was made man, and He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate and suffered and was buried.
And the third day He rose from the dead, 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 in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets.
And in one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.
Don’t you believe in a tradition as a separate authority from the Bible?
We believe that the Tradition of the Orthodox Christian Church is the continuity of the proclamation of the Gospel. To put it another way, we believe that Tradition is the continuous contemplation of Jesus as the Christ through our reading of the Scriptures. In the Orthodox Church, we believe this continuity of Tradition occurs at every level of the Orthodox Faith. Therefore, we believe that some things that other religious groups would consider “mere forms” or anachronisms actually witness to the Gospel of Christ. For example, the chanting of the Gospel during the Divine Liturgy (rather than simply, and logically, reading the text) realizes the sound of the trumpet that ushers in the coming Christ (1 Thessalonians 4.16, Revelation 1.10, 8.2, et. al.). In fact, the voice of Jesus the Christ (which is the voice of the Gospel) is “like a trumpet” (see Revelation 1.10 and 4.1). Also, the use of incense is the rising of the prayers of the faithful (Revelation 8.3-4). Even the offices of bishop, priest, and deacon reflect the Gospel. St. Ignatius of Antioch (ca. 110 A.D.) in his Letter to the Smyrnaeans, says that Christians are to follow (in all matters of faith) the bishop as Jesus the Christ follows the Father, the priests as the apostles, and deacons as the command of God (8.1).
We believe that all aspects of our faith serve to enlighten the Gospel and that these various aspects are not merely outward forms of worship to be thoughtlessly discarded inasmuch as Jesus is the One Mediator between God and humanity (1 Timothy 2.5). For, if Jesus is the Mediator, then surely, we believe, he must mediate between God and all that constitutes being human. Hence, Orthodoxy seeks to embrace, in a fully Christian manner, not only the mind and soul, but also the body and all human skills (such as organizational and pedagogical skills).
Perhaps a simple way to say would be to state that Orthodox Christians believe that Tradition is the ongoing process of correct biblical interpretation. We believe the New Testament tells us how to read the “Old Testament” and that this reading continues on through Orthodox doctrine and worship.
Where Can I go to learn more about what the Orthodox believe?
There are many sites and pages on the internet intending to inform people of the Orthodox Faith. Some sites that are especially helpful are:
- Orthodox Church in America
- The Orthodox Faith by the Very Rev. Fr. Thomas Hopko
- OCA’s Questions and Answers page
- Greek Orthodox Archdiocese articles on the Faith
I’ve heard that Orthodox Services are quite different from other forms of worship I may have encountered. Where can I learn whether this is true and, if so, what to expect on my first visit?
Orthodox services do have an ethos that can be strikingly different from Western forms of worship. Here is a site that may be helpful: First Visit to an Orthodox Church — Twelve Things I Wish I’d Known
On this page, Frederica Matthews-Greene provides a very helpful introduction, though two caveats should be made. First, she speaks of the “kiss of peace.” However, in many (probably most) Orthodox parishes, this is performed only by the clergy (when more than one is present) just before the Nicene Creed is sung or said. Also, she states that the Orthodox Church does not have a practice of general confession. Inasmuch as no general confession has eliminated the practice of personal confession, she is correct. However, there is a rite of general confession used in a few parishes on Saturday evening following Great Vespers. Also, during the Liturgy itself, just prior to communion, the faithful join in saying a prayer that begins with “I believe, O Lord, and I confess…”