If you are a person inquiring into Orthodox Christianity, welcome!
There are several reasons why you may be inquiring into Orthodoxy:
1. You are looking for the true continuation of the 1st Century Church of Christ. If this is your situation, and you have already done a reasonable amount of reading from the writers of the early Church and contemporary Apostles, and also have studied Church history and realized that Protestant Christianity was de facto created on the eve of the 16th century, then you have probably arrived at the following conclusion: It is either the worldwide Orthodox Communion or it is the worldwide Roman Catholic Communion. Perhaps you are still not sure and are "weighing" the options. Consider this:
A. It was to the benefit of Christianity and the whole world when the See of Rome and the Sees of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem formed one Church in the Orthodox Catholic Apostolic Faith of the First Millennium. The Great Schism, which was process which came about in the 11th to 13th centuries, was a tragedy. The reconciliation of people into the Faith of the Early Church is the prayer of all Christians, which would benefit not only Christianity, but the whole world. The Orthodox Church seeks for a reconciliation based upon genuine adherence to the Christian Faith of the first millennium. Until that time, she remains faithful to this very same Faith and guards it well, and seeks to share it with all who are willing.
B. The Roman Catholic Church can claim roots in one of the local churches founded by the Apostles (Rome), but the roots of the Orthodox Church stem from many many Apostolic Churches which from the time of the Apostles until now have remained within the Orthodox Church: Jerusalem (founded by Christ Himself) Antioch, Mt. Sinai, Jordon, Bethlehem, Alexandria, Ephesus, Thessalonica, Phillippi, Corinth, Galatia, Damascus, Athens, Colossia, Cyprus, Byzantium (Constantinople) and others. Whereas Rome is the only Church of Apostolic foundation in the West, in the East, from where Christianity sprang, there were many Churches founded by the Apostles that from the beginning until now have remained within the Orthodox Communion. It is a historic fact that ALL OTHER CHURCHES OF APOSTOLIC ORIGIN BESIDES ROME HAVE REMAINED WITHIN THE ORTHODOX CHURCH. In the time of the crusades Rome would try and establish para-churches along side of the orthodox apostolic churches that been there from the beginning, and during the unia would do the same thing (therefore, we have within the worldwide Roman Communion the so-called "Melkite" patriarchate which, like the Protestant Churches, was created and built upon in the 15th, 17th and 19th centuries. Another creation was the so-called "latin patriarchate of Jerusalem which was created, again in similar fashion to protestantism, in the 13th century to rival the authentic ancient and apostolic Orthodox patriarchate of Jerusalem).
C. As the Gospel of Mark says about the 12 Apostles (6.7), and Luke says about the 70, the Apostles were sent out two by two. No Apostle, nor any successor to an Apostle, can act alone. But let us even assume that St. Peter was an exception (which it is clear from the text he was not). Rome was one Apostolic See among the many. It was one of only three sees established by Peter, the first being Antioch, and the other being Alexandria, the latter two of which remained with the Orthodox Church after the schism. St. Gregory the Great, Pope of Rome, ex Cathedra (by modern Roman terms meaning infallibly) stated that the three, Rome, Antioch and Alexandria formed inseparably "one see of Peter" and that one could not function without the cooperation of the other two. Yet, the Great Schism left us with the See of Rome, on one hand, forming Roman Catholicism, and the sees of Alexandria and Antioch, together with Jerusalem and Constantinople, on the other, forming Orthodox Christianity on the other. According to St. Gregory, Rome could not separate from Antioch and Alexandria as it did in the Great Schism and still maintain that it has the authority of Peter. Indeed, Christ gave to Peter the authority to bind and loose, but not apart from the others. In fact, after he states 'bring it to the Church" in Matthew 18.17, he then says in the following verse (speaking to all the Apostles): "Assuredly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, adn whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. AGAIN I SAY TO YOU, IF TWO OF YOU (APOSTLES) AGREE ON EARTH CONCERNING ANYTHING THAT THEY ASK, IT WILL BE DONE FOR THEM BY MY FATHER IN HEAVEN. FOR WHERE TWO OR THREE (OF YOU, THE APOSTLES) ARE GATHERED IN MY NAME, THERE I AM IN THE MIDST OF THEM" (Matt. 18.18-20). No Apostle can act apart from the others, for only where two or three are gathered is He in their midst is He there in their midst! It is for this reason also that Matthew 18.16 quotes the book of Deuteronomy where it says "by the mouth of two or three witnesses let every word be established." The witness of one of the Apostolic sees is not enough, every word is established "by the mouth of two or three." That being said, there is no victory in the separation of those who look to Christ as Lord--we are bound to recognize the orthodoxy in the other, and to laud it, but to also look for ways to heal the breach by a mutual dedication and adherance to the Apostolic Faith of Christ manifest in the early and middle Church, in which all agreed before the Schism.
D. Orthodoxy universally appeals, in terms of doctrine, to the ancient Church to be careful that no new formula contradicts the doctrines of the early Church. This is in contrast to Roman Catholicism which, particularly in the doctrines from Trent through Vatican I, has formulated new and previously unheard of doctrines, many of which ROME ITSELF and FORMER POPES EX CATHEDRA had condemned. Three examples are the filioque, condemned in Rome ex Cathedra by Leo III, but then absorbed later for political convenience by carologinian sympathizers, temporal fires of purgatory (with indulgences), and, finally, the Immaculate Conception by St. Ann of the Virgin Mary, a concept condemned by the medieval Roman Church, rejected by eminent teachers such as Thomas Aquinas, yet decreed a "dogma" that must be upheld by the Roman Church of the 19th century at Vatican I. It should be noted that, from the Orthodox point of view, one of the causes of the Schism was the transferral of the papacy from being an authentically Roman-Latin Patriarchate to being a Frankish Papacy. No longer would authentic and orthodox Latin through dominate the papacy from the 10th century onward, but rather the political ambitions of the Frankish Roman Empire would take over, eventually causing not only the Great Schism between East and West, but the Avignonian schism within the papacy itself over a century later. By the time it would be recaptured as an authentically Roman patriarchate, the damage had been done, communion had been breached, and wrongful doctrines imposed by the Charlamagne's schismatic Frankish version of Roman Catholicism had been imposed upon the Roman Catholic Communion and all who were in communion with her.
E. "You shall know them by their fruits" (Matt. 7.16). So spoke Christ with regard to false prophets. What did Christ mean by this? The word "fruit" has several meanings in Scripture. It indicates, for example, the fruits of the Spirit, which include love, joy, peace, longsuffering, faithfulness, etc. (Gal. 5.22). But not all are prophets, so with regard to one whom you receive teaching, more is needed to discern. Christ speaks of even a "tree" that bears fruit (Matt. 12.33). Furthermore He teaches us: "But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matt. 13.23). This is good in discerning wolves from sheep both in and outside of Church, but what about finding a true Church? What are the "fruits" that we are to look for? We know that the fruits of the Spirit are found in "all goodness, righteousness, and truth" (Eph. 5.9). Truth (orthodoxy) is a clear fruit of the Spirit, and those who are dedicated to it, and to all goodness and righteousness, are bearing the fruit of the Spirit. We see that wisdom is the sign of "good fruits," the "fruit of righteousness" in James 3.17-18. It is without hypocracy or partiality. Hebrews 12.11 signifies justice/righteousness as a fruit. To determine a true believer from a lukewarm from a false one, the fruits of the spirit are love, etc. But how are we to determine who is the true Church? Since there are both sheep and wolves within the Church allowed to coexist, then obviously we will sometimes see the fruits of the Spirit within the true Church and sometimes not. Then how is this different from the rest of the world? The answer: truth. The upholding and steadfast witness truth throughout all generations despite the wolves, the upholding of orthodoxy, is the only way one can know which is the Church in its fullness. It is for this reason that Scripture makes it clear that the Church is the "pillar and foundation of the truth." The proclamation and preservation of truth is the fundamental fruit by which we know the Church in its fullness. Rev. 22.2: the Tree of Life bore 12 fruits. As we see throughout Revelation, the number 12 indicates a continuity with the Church of the Prophets and the Apostles, Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone. The 12 fruits, therefore, are the orthodox doctrines of the Apostles. But not only this, the true Church, above all others, preserves this truth in liturgy and in eucharist. Hebrews 13.15 tells us that the fruit of our lips is Eucharistic sacrifice of praise to God: "Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, offering Eucharist to His name." There is no Church on earth that offers the sacrifice of praise, morning noon and night, to God as does the Orthodox Church.
F. Being a Roman Catholic or a Protestant is, without doubt, more simple in the modern day than being an Orthodox Christian. There are a few things that are appealing to inquirers about becoming a Roman Catholic: a. the pope is the final authority on all things when speaking ex cathedra, and this simplifies complex problems of authority b. there is less fasting and ascetical requirements than there is in Orthodoxy c. it has a more simple liturgical structure than Orthodoxy has. Point blank--it is easier to learn. These three are among the top reasons that people choose Roman Catholicism over Orthodoxy. Also, we must add a fourth: the jurisdictional mess of Orthodoxy in the Western world. One of the things that draws people to Orthodoxy in the first place is that, at least officially, it does not tolerate denominationalism on any level: overlapping poly-ritualism (i.e. various "rites" which virtually ignore and have nothing to do with each other), ethnic divisions (which were tolerated on an official level by Rome for a time as well as a pragmatic level). However, even though Orthodoxy to this day has always condemned ethnic plurality of jurisdictionalism, because of the complications of the 'diaspora,' to prevent schism which has been threatened, it has decided to act slowly and cautiously and not according to akrivea toward a readjustment of proper ecclesiology (i.e. one Orthodox Bishop in one city over all Orthodox Christians in the geographical territory known as the eparchy or diocese of which no jurisdiction can overlap). The only "official" exception to this rule has been based, not upon ethnicity, but upon the stravropegion (by agreement of the provincial synod of Bishops, including the eparchial bishop of a given eparchy, the governance of certain select monasteries or parishes by the Primate of the geographical metropolitan province rather than by the eparchial bishop for special reasons predefined by the canons--yet still answerable within the same geographical synod of Bishops for the region). The Stavropegion is the exception because the institution, be it a seminary or monastery or shrine is established for the usage of all the dioceses within the said geographical ecclesiastical Province (defined as being a cluster of dioceses overseen by the provincial synod of Bishops). Thus, although the Metropolitan Archbishop may be the primate of a given see, yet all seminaries for use in the province and whose rules are established by the Synod of Bishop will not necessarily fall within the Metropolitan's eparchy. Thus, it becomes Stavropegial.
2. You are a Protestant who is upset with trends toward liberalism and are looking for a church with more traditional values. Welcome to our site. One thing that you will find in Orthodoxy is traditional values and traditional doctrines. But be assured of one thing, that unobscuredly, the Orthodox Church upholds itself to be the full continuation of the Church founded by Christ and also possesses the fullness of Faith handed down to the Apostles and down through the ages in the Church. Thus, those looking to join her must no only do so because she conforms to your way of thinking about what she should be like, but rather whether she is the full continuation of the Church of Christ in doctrine and sacrament. The Orthodox Church is about establishing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Yet it is also about establishing an ecclesial relationship with Christ, because no one can be saved alone. Christ not only died and rose but also established a Church for our salvation which he called his Body. Thus, the Church welcomes those who are seeking to deepen, broaden, and fulfill their Christianity. Ultimately, it is hoped that you see the tradition you come from as having been a step along the way leading you to Orthodoxy, and not something to despise, for others may come along the same path, and those things that you cherished that were orthodox there, are the same things that you love, keep and fulfill when you come here.
For example, in the discussions with the Lutheran theologians that took place centuries ago with Patriarch Jeremiah, there were many things that the theologians brought which were recognized as being orthodox Christian. “Jeremiah and the theologians were in agreement, as a whole, on the following: the truth and inspiration of the Scriptures; God, Holy Trinity; ancesters’ sin and its transmission to all men; evil as caused by creatures and not God; Christ’s two natures in a single person ;Jesus Christ as the head of the Church; second coming of Christ, last judgment, future life, endless reward, endless punishment; Eucharist, two species, bread and wine (the body and blood) given to the faithful; the rejection of indulgences…” (Fr. George Mastrantonis, Augsburg and Constantinople, 22). Some things that they did not agree upon were the fact that, for the Orthodox, faith is a living faith that does not “sit” but acts, acts in love above all, along with the commandments, and when we fail at these—acts in repentance. For Orthodox, all these things go together and one cannot be separated by the other.
3. You are a Roman Catholic upset at the occurrences that go on within the Roman Catholic Communion and are looking for other "Apostolic" options.
While looking at the "other" Apostolic "option" other than Rome, particularly in the New World, your eyes will be opened. In the "new world," there are problems of all sorts in all faith forms. In the "Old World" we can look at the "fruit" of Orthodox and Roman Catholic civilizations. In the traditional "Orthodox" nations there is much fruit. On the other hand, in the "old world" those which for centuries have been "Roman Catholic" nations such as France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Britain and others are relatively godless, full of organized crime, legislated immorality, and the churches stand empty (although one will notice that Roman Catholicism has done much good in the new world, which we will mention in a moment). Traditionally Orthodox nations are of one of two types, both of which are "fruitbearing." One such type is that of which Cyprus is an example, that are wholesome, whereas other traditional Orthodox nations, especially those which formerly were "behind the iron curtain," have the "complete saint or complete sinner" civilization. In either case, we can see the bearing of much fruit in Orthodoxy in the "Old World." We can also see this, for example, in the missionary efforts of Africa and Southeast Asia.
However, the New World might leave you disappointed and with an opposite conclusion. Whereas you might find Orthodoxy being right on "all the issues" not matter where you find her, you will find in this disorganized "diaspora" (new world) a complete ignoring of certain Orthodox principles. You will in some cases find more "fruit bearing" with regard to some virtues in Roman Catholic parishes than in nominally Orthodox parishes, some of the latter which seem to resemble Sardis who had its candle taken away in the book of Revelation. In fact, Roman Catholicism has done much in the new world, as have evangelical groups, in being orthodox in many areas, and in those areas bearing much fruit. The Orthodox Church is the fullness of Him that fills all in all, the local parish is the manifestation of this Church, but, even as the New Testament points out, not all parishes will be "perfect." Those which were not perfect but still were moving toward repentance in the Book of Revelation would keep their candlesticks. Thus, you should not be looking for the perfect parish, but rather one that manifests those qualities of the Book of Revelation. Thus, without this awareness, you will make the journey toward Orthodoxy only to find yourself frustrated that you picked the perfect Church "on paper" but its human element has bumbled it in the new world worse than others. However, the truth is, that no matter how much humans within the church fail at their mission, the Church itself has the fullness of truth. Every Divine Liturgy that is in accord with some ancient model (an although you will find various jurisdictions who follow different models, they are all within the essentials of the ancient bounds of the Church), manifests the "fullness of Him that filleth all in all." Even if the Priest misspeaks from the pulpit, the Liturgy itself always without fail is the proclamation of the truth throughout the world in the worship of God. Outside of the Orthodox Church you will not have the full Orthodox Eucharist. By itself the ancient Liturgy and Eucharist together with correct doctrine on the essentials of faith and morality outweigh all other matters. The fact is, that as an Orthodox Christian you are in Communion with the Church which bears much fruit where it has been properly planted. However, it can be argued that Orthodoxy still to this day is a seed which still lay on top of the soil. It is still the good seed fallen from the Mother Tree, but has not been cultivated to be able to bear fruit. Thus, only that Orthodoxy which has been properly planted can bear fruit. Until then it is hidden within the seed, in the Mysteries of the Church, and, although unseen, still exists in this same Eucharist and the official teachings of the Church which are in accord with the Eucharist, for the Eucharist confirms the Orthodox Faith and the Orthodox Faith confirms the Eucharist.
4. You are agnostic but have been looking into things religious for a time and have stumbled into Orthodoxy.
If you simply don't know, or you are angry at God, then certainly it is good that you are still searching. You may be surprised to find out that the truth about God is not what your experience to this point has told you. What can I say? "Come and see." That's it? Yep, that's it. No matter how many people you talk to, no matter how many of your own expectations you put on others or on God, you will not find peace until you make peace with Him. You can say you don't believe in Him. I am not sure how true that is, especially deep down inside. It wasn't long ago that you had that moment of anxious pondering: "what if there really is a God?" It pops up from time to time because God put it in each one of us. Your heart will not rest until it rests in Him, so "return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love." Come and immerse yourself in heavenly dialogue with God. Visit your local Orthodox Christian Church, and give it a try. If it does not meet your standards, consider that your standards might be askew. Go back again, and listen to what God is telling you in the words of the Liturgy, in the sound of the Liturgy, in the place of the Liturgy. Don't come with an agenda. Don't build up an agenda while your there. Just be still, and know that He is God. "And the Spirit and the Bride say, Come...and let all who thirst, come" (The Book of Revelation)
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