Lay perspective of Orthodox Christianity

What does it mean to be an Orthodox Christian?

What do Orthodox Christians believe as expressed in the Nicene Creed?

Over the next several Alpha Omega Portal postings lets focus on these questions.

First, we acknowledge and thank Frederica Mathewes-Green as the source for helping address the first question – What does it mean to be an Orthodox Christian?   My response below was derived from a 9-16-2009 posting on the St. Anthony Orthodox Christian Church – San Diego website:

What does it mean to be an Orthodox Christian?

  • The word “orthodox” is understood to mean “right” or “correct” in our beliefs
  • The “Orthodox Church” or “Orthodox Christian Church” is also referred to as the “Eastern Orthodox Church”
  • Orthodox Christian faith is…
  • Episcopal
    • Orthodox Christianity has geographical based Patriarchs
    • Each Patriarch leads and guides as a “first among equals” multiple regional Bishops
    • Regional Bishops lead and shepherd their local church parish Priests and Deacons
    • Priests and Deacons on behalf of the Bishop serve Orthodox Christian believers in the Christian brotherhood of families within local parish churches
  • Ecumenical
    • Co-labors in the Christian outreach along with other Christian believers to help teach the lessons from Jesus Christ to others
  • Sacramental – prays and participates in the Orthodox Christian Holy Sacraments or Mysteries
    • Holy Baptism – water immersion following the example of Christ Jesus in the River Jordan
    • Holy Chrismation – receiving the blessing of the Holy Spirit
    • Holy Confession – penance of acknowledging our weakness, the errors of our ways, and committing to repent (turn about) from our sins
    • Holy Communion – receiving in memory of Jesus Christ the sanctified bread and wine is has been transfigured for Orthodox Christian believers to become the ‘body and blood’ of Christ
    • Holy Marriage – commitment to a life long traditional marriage relationship – through health and illness, through the good times and the hard times
    • Holy Unction – anointing of the sick to receive the Holy Spirit for their healing and for the grace of their soul and body
    • Holy Orders – elevation of an individual to serve other Orthodox Christians in a role such as Deacon, Priest, or Bishop.   Orders may also include accepting a service role as a Monk or Nun.
  • Universal or catholic
    • Committed to serve Christ and His believers among all people and using their native language

Orthodox Christianity

In the years after Jesus’ Resurrection, apostles and missionaries traveled throughout the then known world spreading the “Gospel”. Gospel is understood to mean ‘good news’, that is the message concerning Christ, his resurrection, the kingdom of God, and salvation for our human race.  

Soon five major locations were established as centers of the Christian faith: Jerusalem, Antioch, Rome, Alexandria, and Constantinople.  The Holy Bible book of Acts of the Apostles tells us that it was in Antioch where believers of the Gospel first camed to be called “Christians” as we are known down to this day.

About the year 1054 the church based in Rome and the remainder of the Christian faith centers separated from each other, that is, they “mutual excommunicated” each other.   About five hundred years later Protestant churches began breaking away from Rome.

However, the original Christian Church as led by the faithful believers from the other four primary Christian faith centers remained united in the Apostolic Faith continuously since the first century. This is the ‘faith of the apostles’, This is Orthodox Christianity.

Early Tasks

One of the tasks of the early Christian Church was defin­ing, and defending, orthodox theology beliefs of our Heaveny Father, Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit against the battering waves of heresies. Heresies appeared in disputes over the nature of the Holy Trinity (God, Christ, Spirit), or how Jesus could be both God and Man.

Church Ecumenical Councils were called to search the Scriptures and put into words the commonly held faith, forming a bedrock of certainty that could stand for all ages. From that time, the Church has been called “Orthodox,” which I understand is intended to mean Orthodox Christian believers through these centuries are practicing “correct beliefs”.

The Nicene Creed (to be shared more in depth and pondered in subsequent postings) was finalized at the Christian Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325, and is the central Orthodox Christian statement of faith. Built on the foundation of the teachings of Christ and the testimonies of His Apostles, nothing has been added to our faith, and nothing should be added. It is understood to be complete.

Orthodox Worship

Orthodox Christian churches to this day continue to use formats of worship which were practiced in the first centuries after Christ lived among us. Our worship is biblical based from Holy Scripture. We sing most of the service, joining our voices in simple harmony to ancient melodies.

Our worship is focused on God, not on our own enjoyment, fulfillment, nor fellowship. We seek to enter into the presence of God with a sense of awe, aware of our own failings and of His great mercy. We are thankful.  We seek forgiveness. We rejoice in the great gift of salvation so freely given for all mankind.

Orthodox Christian worship is filled with repeated expressions of our repentance, our gratitude, and with praise. We seek to make our worship beautiful.

Holy Scripture in the Bible shows us that God’s design for tabernacle worship (Book of Exodus Chapters 25, 26) includes gold, silver, precious stones, blue and purple cloth, embroidery, incense, bells, and anointing oil. Likewise, in the Apostle Saint John’s vision of heavenly worship (Book of Revelations Chapter 4) there are precious stones, gold, thrones, crowns, white robes, crystal, and incense. From the beginning to the end of Scripture, Orthodox Christian worship is offered to the Holy Trinity with as much beauty as possible.

Our hearts come to worship seeking to pour out at the feet of Christ all the ‘precious ointment’ we possess.

A common misconception is that awe-filled, beautiful worship must be rigid, formal, and cold. Orthodox Christian worship shatters that stereotype.

The Orthodox Christian liturgy is not a performance, but an opportunity to come together as a family of faith before our beloved Father. ‘Liturgy’ actually originally meant as a term for prayers we will offer while being together with each other. True Orthodox Christian worship is comfortable, warm, and joyful. It could be nothing less in His heavenly presence.

Orthodox Christianity Values

Values that are usually termed “Judaeo-Christian” have never left Orthodox Christianity.

For example, we hold the belief that sexual expression is a treasured gift from our heavenly creator, one to be exercised only within marriage. Persons with homosexual or other extramarital sexual impulses are welcomed as fellow servants of God, receiving loving support as they make an offering to God of their chastity. Marriage in Orthodox Christianity is intended to be a commitment for life. Divorce is a very grave action, and remarriage after divorce a concession to human weakness, undertaken with repentance.

Orthodoxy Christianity has stood against abortion since the earliest days of the church. The Didache (circa A.D. 110) states, “Do not murder a child by abortion or kill a newborn infant.” In the midst of a culture which freely practiced abortion, infanticide, and the exposure of infants, those early Christians were a consistent voice against violence as Orthodox Christian believers continue to be today.

Caring for the poor and disadvantaged has always been a concern for Orthodox Christians. The persuasive sermons of Saint John Chrysostom, written in the fourth century yet preached today, continue to bear witness to the importance of this Orthodox Christian responsibility.

The Orthodox Christian Church continues to see its missionary outreach in light of the whole person, body and soul.

Orthodox Christian believers hold various viewpoints on many issues. Yet where Holy Scripture and the witness of the early Church guides us, there is no controversy. As Orthodox Christians, we seek to uphold and obey God’s will.


The above has been adapted on May 18, 2020 by the Alpha Omega Portal from the original article by Frederica Mathewes-Green. That original writing is available as a printed booklet from Conciliar Media, a department of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America, as part of their popular series about the basic teachings of the ancient Orthodox Christian faith.


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