About Orthodoxy

ORTHODOX STRUCTURE AND ORGANIZATION

Orthodoxy balances "vertical" authority (hierarchy) with "horizontal" authority (the "royal priesthood" of the whole Church).

  • Deacon ("servant") assists priest or bishop, esp. with pastoral and administrative duties (Eastern Church had female deacons until late Middle Ages; a few ordained in 20th century).
  • Priest (presbyter or "elder") head of the parish, acts on behalf of the diocesan bishop.
  • Bishop ("overseer") - head of the diocese, personifies the unity of the local church.
  • Patriarch/archbishop/metropolitan head of a church's synod of bishops, but with no immediate jurisdiction over the other bishops (attempts to impose papal jurisdiction on the Eastern Churches was an important cause of the "Great Schism" between East and West).
  • There is no single, worldwide organization called the "Orthodox Church". Rather, Orthodoxy is a communion of self-governing ("autocephalous) churches characterized by:
  • Collegiality Bishops meet and decide matters in synod; the head of the synod (e.g., archbishop) speaks on behalf of the synod.
  • Infallibility in the Church as a whole:
    • Scripture is central to Orthodox faith and worship, but as an integral element of the life of the Church, not as something distinct from or over the Church.
    • Synods or councils of bishops have authority only if the Church as a whole recognizes their decisions as true, and no single bishop may speak infallibly on behalf of the Church.
       

ORTHODOX LITURGY AND WORSHIP

Communal The priest cannot celebrate the Eucharist alone, and the laity receive both the bread and wine. During the liturgy, the priest and laity worship facing the East together.

Ancient Orthodoxy preserves Jewish and early Christian worship in word and form.

  • Liturgical texts quote heavily from Scripture, especially from the Psalms.
     
  • The liturgies of St. Basil and St. John Chrysostom date to the 4th c.
     
  • Chanting, incense, etc. are elements of ancient Jewish and early Church worship.

Psychosomatic Unity  Orthodox believe that both soul and body participate in worship, which is a "feast for the senses". 

  • Sight - Icons are "windows to heaven".
     
  • Hearing - Everything is chanted; the liturgy is a dialogue between the priest and people.
     
  • Smell - Incense, herbs, and flowers are part of Orthodox worship.
     
  • Taste - The Eucharist, blessed breads, and sweetened wheat are some sacred "foods".
     
  • Touch - The whole body worships, through the sign of the cross, kissing icons (veneration, not worship), and even full prostrations at some Lenten services.
     

Closed Communion The Eucharist is restricted to the Orthodox faithful because it is the manifestation of our total unity in faith and worship. However, non-Orthodox are invited to receive the blessed bread (antidoron) distributed at the end of the liturgy. 

 

ORTHODOX THEOLOGY AND SPIRITUALITY

The "Church of the Seven Councils"Orthodox theology is based on the Nicene Creed (in its original form, i.e., without the filioque) and the other doctrines of the Seven Ecumenical Councils of the early Church. There are a few notable theological differences between Orthodoxy and Western churches.

Humanity Orthodox believe humanity is created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-7)

  • No "original guilt" - Infants are baptized for incorporation into the full sacramental life of the Church.
     
  • Free will - no predestination, no "prevenient" grace; humans are still fundamentally oriented toward God (i.e., Orthodox believe we are basically good, not "totally depraved", as in Calvinism)

Salvation Orthodox understand it not juridically (e.g., atonement as "satisfaction"), but relationally (the human person and God), synergistically (both act together - no faith/works debate), and existentially (i.e., there is a transfiguration of the person).

  • Theosis - Orthodox believe salvation is union with God Himself ("divinization"). Christ, as the "God-Man", is the bridge uniting human beings to God.
     
  • Dynamic sense of salvation - Salvation is not a static event or state, but an ever-growing, never-ending relationship with God humans are still fundamentally oriented toward God.

 

Thanks to parishioner Dr. Valerie Karras for writing this article.