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|Part of the series Orthodox Church|
|1||Meaning of Orthodox|
|3||Organization and leadership|
|4||Number of adherents|
|10||Relations with other christians|
|11||The church today|
|Part of the series on|
Eastern Christianity Portal
Eastern Orthodox Christians believe in the Trinity. The Father is the cause or origin of the Godhead, from whom the Son is begotten eternally and also from whom the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally. The Holy Trinity is three, distinct, divine persons (hypostases), without overlap or modality among them, who share one divine essence (ousia)—uncreated, immaterial and eternal. Eastern Orthodox doctrine regarding the Holy Trinity is summarized in the Nicene Creed (Symbol of Faith).
In discussing God's relationship to His creation, Eastern Orthodoxy used the concept of a distinction between God's eternal essence which is totally transcendent and His uncreated energies which is how He reaches us. The God who is transcendent and the God who touches us are one and the same (i.e. His energies are not some sort of thing that comes out of God or that he produces, but rather they are God himself distinct, yet inseparable from, from his inner being).
Sin, salvation and the incarnation
At some point in the beginnings of human existence man was faced with a choice, to learn the difference between good and evil through observation or through participation. The biblical story of Adam and Eve represents this choice by mankind to participate in evil. This event is commonly referred to as “the fall of man” and it represents a fundamental change in human nature. When Orthodox Christians refer to Original Sin what they mean is this adoption of evil into human nature. As a result of this sin, mankind was doomed to be separated from God. This was mankind’s ultimate dilemma. The solution to this horrible problem was for God to effect another change in human nature. Orthodox Christians believe that Christ Jesus was both God and Man absolutely. He was born, lived and died. Through God’s participation in humanity, human nature is changed thus saving us from the fate of hell. The effective change included all those who had died from the beginning of time – saving everyone including Adam and Eve. This process, to Orthodox Christians is what is meant by “Salvation”. The ultimate goal is theosis – an even closer union with God and closer likeness to God than existed in the Garden of Eden.
The Resurrection of Christ is the central event in the liturgical year of the Eastern Orthodox Church and is understood in literal terms as a real historical event. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was crucified and died, descended into Hades, rescued all the souls held there through sin; and then, because Hades could not restrain the infinite God, rose from the dead, thus saving the human race. Through these events, Christ released us from the bonds of Hades and then came back to the living as both man and God. According to Eastern Orthodox tradition, each human being may partake of this immortality, which would have been impossible without the Resurrection; it is the main promise held out by God in the New Testament.
Every holy day of the Eastern Orthodox liturgical year relates to the Resurrection directly or indirectly. Every Sunday is dedicated to celebrating the Resurrection and the triune God. In the liturgical commemorations of the Passion of Christ during Holy Week there are frequent allusions to the ultimate victory at its completion.
Bible, holy tradition and the patristic consensus
The Eastern Orthodox Church considers itself to be the historical and organic continuation of the original Church founded by Christ and His apostles. The faith taught by Jesus to the apostles, given life by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and passed down to future generations uncorrupted, is known as Holy Tradition. The primary and authoritative witness to Holy Tradition is the Bible, texts written by the apostles or those in the Early Church, and approved by Church leaders under the guidance of the Holy Spirit The Bible reveals God's will, the relationship between the Israelites and God, the wonders of Christ and the early history of the Church. As the Bible has an inspired origin it is central to the life of the Church.
Scriptures are understood to contain historical fact, poetry, idiom, metaphor, simile, moral fable, parable, prophecy, and wisdom literature. Thus, the Scriptures are never used for personal interpretation, but always seen within the context of Holy Tradition, which gave birth to the Scripture. Eastern Orthodoxy maintains that belief in a doctrine of sola scriptura would most lead to error since the truth of Scripture cannot be separated from the traditions from which it arose. Eastern Orthodox Christians therefore believe that the only way to correctly understand the Bible is within the Church.
Other witnesses to Holy Tradition include the Liturgy of the Church, its iconography, the rulings of the Ecumenical councils, and the writings of the Church Fathers. From the consensus of the Fathers (consensus patrum) one may enter more deeply and understand more fully the Church's life. Individual Fathers are not looked upon as infallible, but rather their whole consensus will give one a proper understanding of the Bible and Christian doctrine.
Territorial expansion and doctrinal integrity
From the moment Christ commissioned the generations of apostles the Church (εκκλησία – ekklesia) began to grow. The organic model for the growth of this community stems from the title of 'the chosen' as being those Hebrews who were chosen by God to leave Egypt with Moses the patriarch and enter into the land of promise.
During the course of the early church, there were numerous followers who attached themselves to the Christ and His mission here on Earth, as well as followers who retained the distinct duty of being commissioned with preserving the quality of life and lessons revealed through the experience of Jesus living, dying, resurrecting and ascending among them. As a matter of practical distinction and logistics, people of varying gifts were accorded stations within the community structure – ranging from the host of agape meals to prophecy (the reading of Scripture) to preaching, to interpretation, to serving meals and giving aid to the sick and the poor. Sometime after Pentecost the Church grew to a point where it was no longer possible for the Apostles alone to minister. Overseers (bishops) and assistants (deacons and deaconesses) were appointed to further the mission of the Church.
The ecclesia recognized the gathering of these early church communities as being greatest in areas of the known world that were famous for their significance on the world stage – either as hotbeds of intellectual discourse, high volumes of trade, or proximity to the original sacred sites. These locations were targeted by the early apostles, who recognized the need for humanitarian efforts in these large urban centers and sought to bring as many people as possible into the ecclesia – such a life was seen as a form of deliverance from the decadent lifestyles promoted throughout the eastern and western Roman empire.
As the Church increased in size through the centuries, the logistic dynamics of operating such large entities shifted: patriarchs, metropolitans, archimandrites, abbots and abbesses, all rose up to cover certain points of administration.
As a result of heightened exposure and popularity of the philosophical schools (haereseis) of Greco-Roman society and education, Synods and Councils were forced to engage such schools that sought to co-opt the language and pretext of the Christian faith in order gain power and popularity for their own political and cultural expansion. As a result, ecumenical councils were held to attempt to rebuild solidarity by using the strength of distant orthodox witnesses to dampen the intense local effects of particular philosophical schools within a given area. While originally intended to serve as an internal check and balance for the defense of faulty local doctrine against the doctrine developed and spread by the apostles to the various sees, at times the church found its own bishops and emperors falling prey to local conventions – at these crucial moments in the history of the church, it found itself able to rebuild on the basis of the faith as it was kept and maintained by monastic communities who subsisted without reliance on the community of the state or popular culture and were generally unaffected by the materialism and rhetoric that often dominated and threatened the integrity and stability of the urban churches.
In this sense, the aim of the councils was never to expand or fuel a popular need for a clearer or relevant picture of the original apostolic teaching. Rather, the theologians spoke to address the issues of external schools of thought who wished to distort the simplicity and neutrality of the apostolic teaching for personal or political gain. That being said, the consistency of the Eastern Orthodox faith is entirely dependent on the Holy Tradition of the accepted corpus of belief – the decisions ratified by the fathers of the seven ecumenical councils, and this is only done at the beginning of a consecutive council so that the effects of the decisions of the prior council can be audited and verified as being both conceptual sound and pragmatically feasible and beneficial for the church as a whole.
This process is not one of universal doctrinal evolution but of localized contextual protection. Thus the Eastern Orthodox claim that the gospel as they have received it is the same gospel that the apostles shared, that which the fathers had taught, and the which the councils confirmed – not what any particular individual has said.
The Theotokos and the saints
The Eastern Orthodox Church believes death and the separation of body and soul to be unnatural; a result of the Fall of Man. They also hold that the congregation of the Church comprises both the living and the dead. All persons currently in heaven are considered to be saints, whether their names are known or not. There are, however, those saints of distinction whom God has revealed as particularly good examples for us. When a saint is revealed and ultimately recognized by a large portion of the Church a service of official recognition (glorification) is celebrated. This does not 'make' the person a saint, it merely recognizes the fact and announces it to the rest of the Church. A day is prescribed for the saint’s celebration, hymns composed and icons are created. Numerous saints are celebrated on each day of the year. They are venerated (shown great respect and love) but not worshiped, for worship is due to God alone. In showing the saints this love and requesting their prayers, it is believed by the Eastern Orthodox that they thus assist in the process of salvation for others.
Pre-eminent among the saints is the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos ("birthgiver of God"). In Eastern Orthodox theology, the Theotokos is the fulfillment of the Old Testament archetype revealed in the Ark of the Covenant, because she carried the New Covenant in the person of Christ; thus, the Eastern Orthodox consider her the Ark of the New Covenant, and give her the respect and reverence as such. The Theotokos was chosen by God and freely co-operated in that choice to be the Mother of Jesus Christ, the God-man. The Eastern Orthodox believe that the Christ Child from the moment of conception was both fully God and fully Man. She is thus called 'Theotokos' as an affirmation of the divinity of the One to whom she gave birth. It is also believed that her virginity was not compromised in conceiving God-incarnate, that she was not harmed and that she remained forever a virgin; scriptural references to "brothers" of Christ are interpreted as kin, given that the word 'brother' was used in multiple ways, just as the term "father". Due to her unique place in salvation history, Mary is honored above all other saints and especially venerated for the great work that God accomplished through her.
Because of the holiness of the lives of the saints, their bodies and physical items connected with them are regarded by the Church as also holy. Many miracles have been reported throughout history connected with the saint's relics, often including healing from disease and injury. The veneration and miraculous nature of relics continues from Biblical times.
- ↑ Ware, pp. 208–211
- ↑ Ware p. 202
- ↑ Ware pp. 67–69
- ↑ Ware, p. 8
- ↑ Ware, pp. 195–196
- ↑ "Canon of the New Testament". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Catholic_Encyclopedia_(1913)/Canon_of_the_New_Testament.
- ↑ Ware, pp. 199–200
- ↑ Ware, pp. 202–207
- ↑ Acts 14:23 NAB
- ↑ Acts 6:1-6 NAB
- ↑ 
- ↑ Ware, pp. 255–256
- ↑ Ware, pp. 257–258
- ↑ Ware, p. 234