Ortho, which means correct or straight. It’s the root of such English words as Orthodontist, one who straightens teeth, and Orthopedist, one who straightens bones.
Doxa, from another Greek word which means glory, or worship. A common English word used in many churches is Doxology which is usually referring to a hymn which begins, “Glory to…”. Together these words Ortho and Doxa mean correct, straight, or right worship and by extension correct or right belief or doctrine.
Q. How does the word Orthodox relate to the name of a Church?
A. The Orthodox Church believes that its beliefs and doctrines, as well as its way of worship, is correct, straight, and free of error. Orthodox Christianity teaches and proclaims those things which are needed for one to be saved. The Orthodox Faith is the fullness of the Christian Faith and is the same Faith that was proclaimed by the Apostles and those who succeeded them and so is sometimes called the Apostolic Faith.
Q. What do Orthodox Christians mean by the term “Church”?
A. The term Church comes from the Greek word, ekklesia. Before the term became associated with the Christian Faith, it referred to a public gathering or assembly of citizens called together for a purpose. In the New Testament, the word came specifically to refer to a gathering of the followers of Jesus who came together to worship and pray. Later the term also became synonymous with a building erected for this specific purpose.
With the growth and organization of the followers of Jesus, or Christians, it also came to refer to the leaders and/or institution that oversaw the assemblies of Christians. Essentially, the Church is a spiritual hospital for those who are sick (all of humanity), and distributes medicine; the Gospel of Jesus Christ, His Body & Blood in the Eucharist, Confession, and Repentance for those burdened by sin, for the soul to those who come and seek it out.
Q. So why is the name “Greek” in the front of the term Orthodox Church?
A. The Bible is the primary text or authority in the Orthodox Church. While the Old Testament, which was primarily written in Hebrew, is held in the highest regard as containing the revelation of the One, True God of Israel, it is the New Testament which reveals to us the teachings and practices of our Faith which is centered on the person Jesus Christ. The books and letters of the New Testament were originally written in Greek at a time when Greek was the principal language of the people and geographical area which first received the message about Jesus Christ. Also, Holy Cross/Ss. Constantine & Helen was originally founded by Greek immigrants and Greek-Americans. In addition, our parish is under the spiritual oversight of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North America. However, our Faith embraces everyone regardless of race or ethnic identity.
Q. Who founded the Orthodox Church?
A. It is our sincere belief that the Orthodox Church was founded by our Lord, Jesus Christ, as well as by His Apostles. Jesus told His Apostles, “I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not overcome it.” Matthew. After Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, the Church continued to be led by the Apostles, to whom Jesus had entrusted the leadership of the Church, and under the Apostles the Bishops (overseers), presbyters (elders, priests), deacons and laypeople. It is our sincerest belief that the Church continues to be led by its leaders under the power, authority, and direction of the Holy Spirit.
Q. When was the Orthodox Church established?
A. There is an unbroken historical chain that connects the beginning of the early Church, as recorded in the Book of Acts, chapter 2, with the Orthodox Church throughout time and up to the present ages. Since the Day of Pentecost, considered the birthday of the Church, which took place around 33 AD (CE), there has never been a time when the Orthodox Church did not exist.
Q. Is the Orthodox Church a Catholic Church or a Protestant Church?
A. Simply put—it is neither. It is not Catholic, meaning it is not a part of the ROMAN Catholic church, nor it is a part of the many and numerous Protestant churches or denominations. However, it is catholic, according to the original definition of the word catholic. The term catholic is like orthodox, taken from two Greek words, kata and olos. Together they mean, “that which is according to the whole,” “complete,” or “lacking nothing.” Before the word catholic became, in the minds of many, synonymous with the Roman Catholic church, the Christian Faith was called the “Catholic Faith.” By catholic meaning that the Faith was complete, not lacking anything necessary for salvation. In this way the Orthodox Church is Catholic.
However, the Orthodox Church is not Protestant. The Protestant churches all trace their origins to Martin Luther, who in 1517, made a public protest against many of the teachings of the Roman Catholic church. The Orthodox Church has no historical or theological link with the various Protestant denominations.
Q. While the principal authority in the Roman Catholic church is the Pope (Bishop of Rome), and the Protestant churches claim that the Bible is their primary authority, what or who, does the Orthodox Church look to as its prime authority?
A. Neither a human person, church office, or text is the primary authority in the Orthodox Church. While the Orthodox Church holds that the Bible contains the word of God, and we respect the spiritual authorities of the bishops, none of these are considered the FINAL authority. Rather, the final authority is the voice of the Holy Spirit Who speaks in the Church in several different ways.
This voice of the Holy Spirit, which has spoken, and continues to speak, is called Holy Tradition. Tradition, like orthodox and catholic, comes from the Greek word, “paradosis.” Paradosis means, “that which is handed over or passed along”. The term tradition is used in both a positive and negative way in the New Testament. Jesus repudiates the traditions of the Pharisees and Sadducees because they give more attention, weight, and authority to the traditions and practices of these religious sects than to the Holy Scriptures. However, the Apostle Paul commands the churches his care to make sure to obey the “traditions you have been taught, whether by letter or by our epistle.” In St. Paul the term tradition can also be a verb; to hand over the correct teachings.
So, basically there is both good tradition and bad tradition, or as the Orthodox Church would assert, Holy, or Apostolic Tradition or men’s tradition.
For the Orthodox Church Holy, or Apostolic Tradition includes,
The Holy Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments,
The Writings and Teachings of the Holy Fathers & Mothers of the Church (even to this present time),
The Theological Teachings of the Ecumenical Councils,
The Examples of the Lives of the Saints,
The Prayers and Worship Texts of the Church,
The Expressions of the Faith shown in the Icons,
The Instructional & Disciplinary Canons of the Church.
Q. Seeing that the Bible is authoritative in the Orthodox Church, how does the Orthodox Church interpret or understand the Bible?
A. There are some who will assert that the Bible is an easy book to understand, “It means just what it says, right?” Well, if that were the case then everyone would agree with what it means, and as you know, that is certainly not the case.
The Bible is complex because, instead of being one book, it is a compilation of over 70 different books or letters written by numerous authors over thousands of years in different geographical and cultural locations and written in different genres. The literature types in the Bible include history, poetry, letters, biography, prose, wisdom sayings, and apocalyptic literature.
It was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Koine Greek and has been translated into thousands of different languages. With all of that said, you can see interpreting what the Bible means can be a daunting task. However, there are some principles that the Orthodox Church is guided by in its interpretation of the Bible, or Scriptures.
1. Our Lord Jesus Christ declared that the Scriptures testify of Him. He Himself is the Logos, the Word of God incarnate, and therefore, the purpose of the Bible is first and foremost to lead us to Jesus Christ and to make Him known, the word of God in the words of man.
2. The Holy Scriptures are inspired by the Holy Spirit; therefore, He is the only infallible interpreter of the Bible. Since our Lord promised that the Spirit would lead the Church, we believe that the Holy Spirit likewise inspires the Church’s understanding, interpretation, and application of the Bible. (See #4)
3. The Bible cannot be interpreted by an individual person alone. Even if a person is thoroughly trained in all areas surrounding Biblical scholarship, he/she does not have the spiritual authority to definitively declare its correct interpretation.
4. The Bible, especially the New Testament, was written by those in the Church for those in the Church and therefore can only be accurately and authoritatively interpreted by the Church. The Church is composed of the Laity, Deacons, Presbyters (priests), and Bishops together. (See #2)
5. As the water is purest closest to its source, so the understanding of the Bible closest to the time it was written is the most accurate. Therefore, the earliest Fathers/Mothers of the Church are given a place of privilege in interpreting the Scriptures.
Q. What & who are the Church Fathers/Mothers and why are they important to the Orthodox Church?
A. The Church Fathers/Mothers are those who were the leaders and writers that came directly after the writing of the New Testament (NT). It is believed that the Book of Revelation, or the Apocalypse, was the last book of the NT, written around 100 AD (CE). The writings of these first “wave” writers are called the “Apostolic Fathers”. They are the oldest Christian writings outside of the NT.
Other “waves” are known as the Ante-Nicene fathers/writers who wrote before the 1st Ecumenical Nicene Council in 325, the Nicene fathers/writers who wrote in the years immediately following the Nicene Council up to the 8th century.
While I have identified them as “Fathers/Mothers,” to our knowledge, the actual writings of the Church Mothers do not exist. However, many of the Fathers, such as Basil the Great of Caesarea, stated that he was taught theology by his sister Macrina. So, by extension, his writings certainly reflect her teachings.
Here is but a partial list of the Church Fathers/Mothers: Barnabas, Clement of Rome, Papias, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna, Hippolytus of Rome, Irenaeus of Lyon, Tertullian, Athanasius the Great of Alexandria, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus, Ambrose of Milan, John Chrysostom, Macrina the Younger, Olympia the Deaconess, John of Damascus.
Q. What are the Ecumenical Councils and how are they relevant today?
A. An Ecumenical Council was a gathering of bishops from the ecumene, or world, as it was accepted at that time. These councils were called by the Christian Roman emperors/empresses to settle theological controversies that were dividing the Christian Church.
The Orthodox Church recognizes Seven Ecumenical Councils as authoritative: 1st Nicaea (325), 1st Constantinople (381), Ephesus (431), Chalcedon (451), 2nd Constantinople (553), 3rd Constantinople (680-81), 2nd Nicaea (787). The Orthodox Church believes that the decisions reached at these councils were “inspired” by the Holy Spirit and explains the Faith about Jesus Christ in such a way that is salvific. Therefore, their authority is just as relevant then as they are today.
Q. Who are the Saints and how do they impact the Orthodox Church’s beliefs?
A. The term saint comes from the Latin word sanctus which means holy and refers to those men and women from the beginning of the Church whose lives have exemplified the holiness of God. These men and women were deeply committed to Jesus Christ, His message of the Gospel, were full of the Holy Spirit and they lived as if they were Christ in the world. The Orthodox Church believes that the saints, while dead physically, are very much alive spiritually and that one of their continued ministries is to pray for us who are still fighting the spiritual battle in this world. Their lives and their teachings act as guides for how we should live for Christ.
Q. The Prayers & Worship texts, how are they used to teach the Orthodox Faith?
A. The Latin phrase, lex orandi, lex credenti (the rule of prayer is the rule of faith) guided the early Church in its understanding of the connection between belief, worship, and prayer. Put another way, the Faith of the Church, what it believes about God, Jesus Christ, the Gospels, etc., can be learned and understood by singing the hymns of the Church and praying its prayers. If the Orthodox do not believe it they do not pray it or sing it, conversely if the Church believes something it confesses it in its prayers as well as in its worship.
Q. The Icons are only pictures, how do they teach us?
A. One of the first visual encounters one has when they enter an Orthodox Church is the icons. While Protestant and Roman Catholic churches may have stained glass windows or paintings and frescoes, Orthodox Churches are in some cases covered inside with icons. Icons are painted in what is sometimes called the Byzantine style. They are visually distinct from Renaissance or Modern style art.
Contrary to what some may think, the icons are not just religious art or decorations. Some might say icons do not look realistic. The very style of the icon is to depict the subject or event in a “spiritual” manner, this is why the bodies of the persons depicted may seem elongated and the facial features, especially the eyes, may seem too large.
The purpose of the icon is not to capture the physical form of the person so much as their soul. There are certain symbols and features used in icons that assist the trained eye to literally be able to “read” the icon, which thereby teaches us.
For a video on iconography highlighting Elias Katsaros, one of the nation’s premier icononographers residing in Huntsville, AL and a parishioner, click here
Q. What are “Canons” and what have they got to do with being Orthodox?
A. The word “canon”, from the Greek, and means a ruler or stick or rod by which something is measured. Canons in some quarters are referred to as Church laws, rules, or regulations. The Canons help the Church regulate its life and give us directions on how we should live.
For instance, the Canons give guidelines on marriage, on who can be ordained, and how the bishop is to perform his duties. Some Canons no longer apply because the circumstances for which they were adopted no longer exist. Also, some Canons can be interpreted and applied in a more relaxed manner (economia) while others should be applied with strictness (arkrevia). In each case, the ultimate goals of the Canons are to bring about the salvation and healing of those who are members of the Church.
Q. According to the Orthodox Faith what must one do, or believe, to attain Salvation?
A. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes (puts their full faith and confidence) in Him, will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
He also taught “Most assuredly I say to you, unless one is born of the water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” (3:5) The Apostle Paul also wrote. “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”
We must acknowledge that we are sinners and that our sin estranges us from God and we need a Savior to rectify this situation. We must confess that Jesus Christ is that Savior and that His death on the Cross took away our sins and reconciled us to God. We must confess our sins to Him and ask for His forgiveness and commit our life to Him as a disciple.
Q. Is that all we have to do is just “believe” or is there more we need to do in order to be saved.
A. We then demonstrate publicly our commitment to Christ by coming to the Church and asking to be baptized. After baptism, we need to develop a life of communion with Christ in the Church. We learn to pray, to read and study the Bible, to receive Holy Communion, to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, to fellowship with other Orthodox Christians, to become, day by day, more like Jesus Christ.
Q. I was baptized in the Orthodox Church when I was a baby but pretty much ignored God and the Church for the rest of my life. Am I a Christian?
A. Well, yes, on paper you’re a Christian but having a baptism certificate is not all you need to have salvation, to know that if you were to die you would go to Heaven. You may think that overall you’re a good person but being good is not enough. The Bible tells us, “There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good.” (Romans 3:10-12) In order for you to be saved, you must reconnect your life to Jesus Christ by repeating the commitments that you made (or rather were made for you by your godparents) at your baptism.
You must renounce Satan and his works, his worship, his service, and all his pride.
You must unite yourself to Christ.
You must acknowledge Jesus Christ as your King and God.
You must confess the Christian Faith as it is taught in the Nicene Creed.
You must become a regular participant in the life of the Church.
Q. Are the Orthodox the only true Christians?
A. While the Orthodox Church believes that the Faith it declares is the fulness of the Apostolic Faith, and teaches everything that is necessary for a person to become and live as a Christian in communion with Christ, it is not so arrogant to believe that all its members believe, follow, and practice the Christian Faith perfectly.
Unfortunately, there are thousands of individuals who claim to be Orthodox Christians while at the same time living lives totally out of sync with the teachings of the Orthodox Faith. The Orthodox Church acknowledges that while other Christian churches may not teach the fullness of the Apostolic Faith, there are many of their members who live lives of deep commitment to Jesus Christ and Christian virtue.
Q. How does one become a member of the Orthodox Church?
A. The first and foremost important thing is that those who desire to join the Orthodox Church must believe, with all of their heart, what the Orthodox Church believes about the One, True God the Holy Trinity; the Father, Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Likewise, they must believe and confess the teachings of the Orthodox Church regarding the Christian life and what is necessary to be saved and enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
One is received into the Church in three different ways:
Through the mystery (sacrament) of Baptism, Chrismation & Holy Communion.
If one has already been baptized in the Name of the Holy Trinity in another Christian church, under certain conditions, they are received in the Orthodox Church through the mystery (sacrament) of Chrismation.
Less frequently a person is received through the mystery (sacrament) of Confession. This only takes place if a person is a member of one of the churches that split from the Orthodox Church over the doctrine of Jesus Christ and His Nature. They are asked in Confession to renounce the theology and doctrine of their former church, which is contrary to the Orthodox Christian Faith.
Holy Cross / Saints Constantine and Helen
In the Orthodox Church each parish community is given a patron saint, many times chosen by the members of the community themselves and confirmed by the Bishop or their patron is given them by the Bishop directly.
The Church calls Saint Constantine (306-337) “the Equal of the Apostles,” and historians call him “the Great.” He was the son of the Caesar Constantius Chlorus (305-306), who governed the lands of Gaul and Britain. His mother was Saint Helen, a Christian of humble birth.
At this time the immense Roman Empire was divided into Western and Eastern halves, governed by two independent emperors and their corulers called “Caesars.” Constantius Chlorus was Caesar in the Western Roman Empire. Saint Constantine was born in 274, possibly at Nish in Serbia. In 294, Constantius divorced Helen in order to further his political ambition by marrying a woman of noble rank. After he became emperor, Constantine showed his mother great honor and respect, granting her the imperial title “Augusta.”
Constantine, the future ruler of all the whole Roman Empire, was raised to respect Christianity. His father did not persecute Christians in the lands he governed. This was at a time when Christians were persecuted throughout the Roman Empire by the emperors Diocletian (284-305) and his corulers Maximian Galerius (305-311) in the East, and the emperor Maximian Hercules (284-305) in the West.
After the death of Constantius Chlorus in 306, Constantine was acclaimed by the army at York as emperor of Gaul and Britain. The first act of the new emperor was to grant the freedom to practice Christianity in the lands subject to him. The pagan Maximian Galerius in the East and the fierce tyrant Maxentius in the West hated Constantine and they plotted to overthrow and kill him, but Constantine bested them in a series of battles, defeating his opponents with the help of God. He prayed to God to give him a sign which would inspire his army to fight valiantly, and the Lord showed him a radiant Sign of the Cross in the heavens with the inscription “In this Sign, conquer.”
After Constantine became the sole ruler of the Western Roman Empire, he issued the Edict of Milan in 313 which guaranteed religious tolerance for Christians. Saint Helen, who was a Christian, may have influenced him in this decision. In 323, when he became the sole ruler of the entire Roman Empire, he extended the provisions of the Edict of Milan to the Eastern half of the Empire. After three hundred years of persecution, Christians could finally practice their faith without fear.
Renouncing paganism, the Emperor did not let his capital remain in ancient Rome, the former center of the pagan realm. He transferred his capital to the East, to the city of Byzantium, which was renamed Constantinople, the city of Constantine (May 11). Constantine was deeply convinced that only Christianity could unify the immense Roman Empire with its diverse peoples. He supported the Church in every way. He recalled Christian confessors from banishment, he built churches, and he showed concern for the clergy.
The emperor deeply revered the victory-bearing Sign of the Cross of the Lord, and also wanted to find the actual Cross upon which our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified. For this purpose he sent his own mother, the holy Empress Helen, to Jerusalem, granting her both power and money. Patriarch Macarius of Jerusalem and Saint Helen began the search, and through the will of God, the Life-Creating Cross was miraculously discovered in 326. (The account of the finding of the Cross of the Lord is found under the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, September 14). The Orthodox Church commemorates the Uncovering of the Precious Cross and the Precious Nails by the Holy Empress Helen on March 6.
While in Palestine, the holy empress did much of benefit for the Church. She ordered that all places connected with the earthly life of the Lord and His All-Pure Mother, should be freed of all traces of paganism, and she commanded that churches should be built at these places. The emperor Constantine ordered a magnificent church in honor of Christ’s Resurrection to be built over His tomb. Saint Helen gave the Life-Creating Cross to the Patriarch for safe-keeping, and took part of the Cross with her for the emperor. After distributing generous alms at Jerusalem and feeding the needy (at times she even served them herself), the holy Empress Helen returned to Constantinople, where she died in the year 327.
Because of her great services to the Church and her efforts in finding the Life-Creating Cross, the empress Helen is called “the Equal of the Apostles.”
The peaceful state of the Christian Church was disturbed by quarrels, dissensions and heresies which had appeared within the Church. Already at the beginning of Saint Constantine’s reign the heresies of the Donatists and the Novatians had arisen in the West. They demanded a second baptism for those who lapsed during the persecutions against Christians. These heresies, repudiated by two local Church councils, were finally condemned at the Council of Milan in 316.
Particularly ruinous for the Church was the rise of the Arian heresy in the East, which denied the Divine Nature of the Son of God, and taught that Jesus Christ was a mere creature. By order of the emperor, the First Ecumenical Council was convened in the city of Nicea in 325.
318 bishops attended this Council. Among its participants were confessor-bishops from the period of the persecutions and many other luminaries of the Church, among whom was Saint Nicholas of Myra in Lycia. (The account about the Council is found under May 29). The emperor was present at the sessions of the Council. The heresy of Arius was condemned and a Symbol of Faith (Creed) composed, in which was included the term “consubstantial with the Father,” at the insistence of the Emperor, confirming the truth of the divinity of Jesus Christ, Who assumed human nature for the redemption of all the human race.
After the Council of Nicea, Saint Constantine continued with his active role in the welfare of the Church. He accepted holy Baptism on his deathbed, having prepared for it all his whole life. Saint Constantine died on the day of Pentecost in the year 337 and was buried in the church of the Holy Apostles, in a crypt he had prepared for himself.