Orthodox Church - Definition

Definition

Almost from the very beginning, Christians referred to the Church as the "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church". The Orthodox Church claims that it is today the continuation and preservation of that same Church.

A number of other Christian churches also make a similar claim: the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion, the Assyrian Church and the Oriental Orthodox Church. In the Orthodox view, the Assyrians and Orientals left the Orthodox Church in the years after the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451), in refusal to accept some of that council's doctrinal decisions. Similarly, the Roman Catholics became the largest group ever to leave the Church, in an event known as the East–West Schism, traditionally dated to the year 1054, although it was more of a gradual process than a sudden break. While the Orthodox Church rejects several elements of Anglican doctrine, the Church of England separated from the Roman Catholic Church, not from the Orthodox Church (for the first time in the 1530s, and after a brief reunion in 1555, again finally in 1558).

To all these churches, the claim to catholicity (universality, oneness with the ancient church) is important for multiple doctrinal reasons that have more bearing internally in each church than in their relation to the others, now separated in faith. The meaning of holding to a faith that is true is the primary reason why anyone's statement of which church split off from which other has any significance at all; the issues go as deep as the schisms. The depth of this meaning in the Orthodox Church is registered first in its use of the word "Orthodox" itself, a union of Greek orthos ("right", "true", "correct") and doxa ("belief", "glory", related to dokein, "to think"). The dual meanings of doxa, with "glory" or "glorification" (of God by the Church and of the church by God), especially in "worship", yield the pair "correct belief" and "true worship". Together, these express the core of a fundamental teaching about the inseparability of belief and worship and their role in drawing the Church together with Christ. The Russian and all the Slavic churches use literally the title Pravoslavie, meaning "glorifying correct", to denote what is in English Orthodoxy, while the Georgians use the title Martlmadidebeli. Several other churches in Eastern Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa also came to use Orthodox in their titles, but are still distinct from the Orthodox Church as described in this article.

The term "Eastern Church" (the geographic east in the East-West Schism) has been used to distinguish it from western Christendom (the geographic west, which was at first the Roman Catholic Church, later also the Protestant and Anglican branches). "Eastern" is used to indicate that the highest concentrations of the Eastern Orthodox Church presence are still in the eastern part of the Christian world, although it is growing worldwide. Orthodox Christians throughout the world use various ethnic or national jurisdictional titles, or more inclusively, the title "Eastern Orthodox".

What unites the Orthodox is the faith, whose base is Holy Tradition, inspired through the operation of the Holy Spirit. That faith is expressed most fundamentally in worship, and most essentially in Baptism and the Divine Liturgy. The faith lives and breathes by God's interaction in communion with the Church. Inter-communion is the litmus test by which all can see that two churches share the same faith; lack of inter-communion (excommunication, literally "outside of communion") is the sign of different faiths, even though some central beliefs may be shared. The sharing of beliefs can be highly significant, but it is not the full measure of the faith.

The lines of even this test can blur, however, when differences that arise are not due to doctrine, but to recognition of jurisdiction. As the Orthodox Church has spread into the west and over the world, the church as a whole has yet to sort out all the inter-jurisdictional issues that have arisen in the expansion, leaving some areas of doubt about what is proper church governance. And as in the ancient church persecutions, the aftermath of modern persecutions of Christians in communist nations has left behind both some governance and some faith issues that have yet to be completely resolved.

All members of the Orthodox Church profess the same faith, regardless of race or nationality, jurisdiction or local custom, or century of birth. Holy Tradition encompasses the understandings and means by which that unity of faith is transmitted across boundaries of time, geography, and culture. It is a continuity that exists only inasmuch as it lives within Christians themselves. It is not static, nor an observation of rules, but rather a sharing of observations that spring both from within and also in keeping with others, even others who lived lives long past. The Holy Spirit maintains the unity and consistency of the Holy Tradition (as well as the faith) within the Church, as given in the Scriptural promises.

The shared beliefs of Orthodoxy, and its theology, exist within the Holy Tradition and cannot be separated from it, for their meaning is not expressed in mere words alone. Doctrine cannot be understood unless it is prayed. To be a theologian, one must know how to pray, and one who prays in spirit and in truth becomes a theologian by doing so. Doctrine must also be lived in order to be prayed, for without action, the prayer is idle and empty, a mere vanity, and therefore the theology of demons. According to these teachings of the ancient church, no superficial belief can ever be orthodox. Similarly, reconciliation and unity are not superficial, but are prayed and lived out.

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