What is the Church?
In the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, Orthodox Christians profess their understanding of the Church as:
One – because it is the one body with one head, Jesus Christ. The Church cannot be divided or separated because Christ cannot be divided or separated;
Holy – because the Holy Spirit dwells in God’s People inasmuch as they respond to His call to salvation and eternal life;
Catholic – because it is whole, complete, lacking in nothing, and universal;
Apostolic – because it continues in the apostles’ teaching, mission, ministry, and experience of God.
The Orthodox Christian Church traces its origins directly to the first century apostolic Church. Orthodoxy’s belief in one God Who is revealed in three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is firmly rooted in Scripture and experienced in the Apostolic Tradition passed down through the ages.
We believe that Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten Son of God, took on our human nature to reconcile us with our Creator. By His death and resurrection, Jesus Christ accomplished this mission of providing “a pathway to the resurrection” for all of us.
Through the ongoing life of His People, the Church, He continues to reveal the Good News of salvation and new life offered to all who approach Him in faith, hope, and love.
Orthodox Christianity was planted in North America in 1794 by missionaries who labored in Alaska. Today there are over 250 million Orthodox Christians throughout the world. In North America, some 2,500 communities minister to one million faithful.
For a summary of Orthodox theology, see the “Orthodox Faith” series links, the snippets below, and this short catechism by Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev.
"The Orthodox Faith" Series
volume 1 - doctrine and scripture
Volume 1 contains four sections: sources of Christian Doctrine, main doctrines of the Orthodox Church present by way of commentary on the Nicene Creed, an explanation of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, and an explanation of Scripture.
Volume 2 - Worship
Volume 2 contains five sections: the church building, the sacraments, daily cycles of prayer, the Church year, and the Divine Liturgy.
volume 3 - Church History
Volume 3 contains an in-depth look at Church History through the centuries.
Volume 4 - Spirituality
Volume 4 deals with the main themes of Christian Life: prayer, fasting, repentance, the virtues, witness in the world, and communion with God.
Who is God?
We believe that there are three divine Persons: the Father, the Son (the Word), and the Holy Spirit—one God. While we distinguish between the three persons of the Holy Trinity, each shares fully and equally in the divine nature and will; is equally infinite, perfect, all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-existing, and eternally the same; and is united to the other persons of the Trinity in perfect love.
The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, which has been professed by Orthodox Christians since the fourth century, summarizes the Church’s teaching on the Holy Trinity:
God the Father is the source of all things, the “Maker of heaven and earth and all things visible and invisible.” The Father sent
God the Son, Jesus Christ into the world “for us men and for our salvation.” Jesus Christ is “the Son of God, the Only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages….” He took on human nature in the Incarnation, becoming fully Man, while remaining fully God. He was “crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried; and the third day He rose again… and He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead…” Jesus, then, is our Savior, Who leads humanity into God’s eternal Kingdom.
God the Holy Spirit is “the Lord, the Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, Who spoke by the prophets.”
Salvation is the process by which we enter into eternal life with God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Salvation is union with God, which begins even in this life. Even now God gives us the opportunity to be filled with His grace and love.
And by being transformed by God’s love, we believe that the ultimate end of salvation is union with God—body, soul, and spirit. This is also known as theosis (deification), being filled with God’s life, grace, and saving power.
As a sword placed in a flame remains steel, yet acquires the heat of the flame, so does the human person in union with God remain human, yet becomes perfect by grace. For Orthodox Christians, salvation:
- ends our separation from God, enabling us to begin a new life lived in accordance with His will;
- is ultimately attained through faith, and by putting our faith into action by recognizing God’s presence in others, even “the least” of those around us;
- is to be proclaimed to all by God’s People through evangelization, mission, and witness.
“According… [to] the Orthodox Church, salvation – when viewed from the standpoint of the human subject that receives it – is not a single event in that person’s past but an ongoing process… And for that reason as an Orthodox Christian I prefer to answer, not ‘I am saved,’ but ‘I am being saved.'” Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware)
The Bible is the inspired word of God and the written record of His revelation.
- The Old Testament relates the manner in which God prepared the world for the coming of His Son, Jesus Christ.
- The New Testament completes and fulfills God’s revelation by proclaiming Jesus as Lord, God, and Savior. Jesus is the Word of God who most fully reveals God to us in His own person; the Bible is therefore God’s word about the Word.
We believe that the Bible is not to read or interpreted in isolation, but rather in the context of the Christian’s daily growth in the life in Christ and participation in the common sacramental-liturgical life of the Church.
The Bible is a product of the Church’s experience of God, and therefore is interpreted within the context of daily life of the Church: the Liturgy, the writings of the Holy Fathers and Mothers, prayer, and fasting.
Scripture is “a letter” from “the King of Heaven,” writes St. Tikhon of Zadonsk; “Christ Himself is speaking to you” in the books of the Bible. It is God’s “authoritative witness” of Himself, expressing “the word of God in human language. We know, receive, and interpret Scripture through the Church and in the Church” (Moscow Conference, 1976).
Holy Tradition is that which is passed on, handed down within the Church, from the time of Christ to the present day. Holy Tradition:
- is the ongoing life of the Holy Spirit in God’s People, the Church;
- embraces that which is essential to God’s revelation and necessary for our salvation;
- is the living link by which Orthodox Christians of all times and places are united together in a common faith, life, and experience.
“Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle” (2 Thess. 2:15).
Private prayer is essential for spiritual growth. Prayer is dialogue and union with God. It is inseparably linked to the Church’s
Liturgical worship, being the public proclamation of God as Lord, and the common work, or liturgy, of God’s People.
The Divine Liturgy is the central worship experience for Orthodox Christians, during which we proclaim God’s word as revealed in Scripture and respond in thanksgiving through the reception of Holy Communion, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
The Sacraments bring God’s presence into our lives as we:
- become members of His Church through Baptism and Chrismation;
- proclaim, through Communion, Christ’s Death, Resurrection, and Second Coming;
- are forgiven by and reconciled to God and those around us through Confession;
- share His love through Marriage;
- dedicate our lives and our work to Him through Ordination;
- receive His healing grace through Holy Unction.
The Liturgical Year includes the annual cycle of feasts and fasts, as well as other rites and services for specific occasions and needs.