What Is the Orthodox Church? History and Beliefs of Orthodoxy

Discover an overview of Orthodox history and beliefs from history to the present day. How did Orthodoxy begin and has it changed over time?
Christianity.com Editorial Staff
What Is the Orthodox Church? History and Beliefs of Orthodoxy

Orthodox Definition and Meaning

Orthodox: (of a person or their views, especially religious or political ones, or other beliefs or practices) conforming to what is generally or traditionally accepted as right or true; established and approved.

Orthodoxy is belief or adherence to traditional or affirmed creeds, notably in religion. In the Christian sense, the term means, "conforming to the Christian faith as represented in the creeds of the early Church." The first seven ecumenical councils were between the years of 325 and 787 A.D. with the purpose of establishing accepted doctrines.

In historic Christian use, the word orthodox relates to the collection of doctrines which were accepted by the early Christians. Several ecumenical councils were gathered over a period of several centuries in an attempt to establish these doctrines. The most notable of these historic declarations was that between the Homoousian doctrine, which became Trinitarianism, and the Heteroousian doctrine, called Arianism. The Homoousian doctrine, which characterized Jesus as both God and man with the canons of the 431 Council of Ephesus, won out in the Church and was referred to as orthodoxy in most Christian purposes since this was the understanding of early Christian Church Fathers and was confirmed at the ecumenical councils.

History of the Orthodox Church

Although originally the Eastern and Western Christians shared the same faith, the two sides began to separate after the seventh Ecumenical Council in 787 A.D. and is generally considered to have ultimately divided over the dispute with Rome in the so-called Great Schism in 1054.

Particularly, this occurred over the papal claim to supreme authority and the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. The split became definitive with the failure of the Council of Florence in the 15th century.

Yet, in the determinations of majority Orthodox, a crucial significance was the conquering of Constantinople in 1204 during the (Western Christian) Fourth Crusade. The sacking of Constantinople by the Crusaders eventually led to the loss of this Byzantine capital to the Muslim Ottomans in 1453.

Following the 1054 Great Schism, both the Western Church and Eastern Church continued to consider themselves uniquely orthodox and catholic. Augustine wrote in On True Religion: “Religion is to be sought ... only among those who are called Catholic or orthodox Christians, that is, guardians of truth and followers of right.” Over time, the Western Church gradually identified with the "Catholic" label, and people of Western Europe gradually associated the "Orthodox" label with the Eastern Church (in some languages the "Catholic" label is not necessarily identified with the Western Church). This was in note of the fact that both Catholic and Orthodox were in use as ecclesiastical adjectives as early as the 2nd and 4th centuries respectively.

orthodox beliefs, orthodox worship, orthodox church

Photo from Wikipedia: Orthodox nun lighting Worship Candles

Beliefs and Worship of the Orthodox Church

Eastern Christianity emphasizes a way of life and belief that is manifested especially through worship. By preserving the conventional method of worshipping God, passed on from the very beginnings of Christianity. Eastern Christians maintain that they acknowledge the true doctrine of God in the right (orthodox) way.

The Bible of the Orthodox Church is that of most Western Churches, except that its Old Testament is based not on the Hebrew, but on the ancient Jewish translation into Greek called the Septuagint.

The wisdom of the Fathers of the Church is fundamental to the Orthodox way of life as today's successors of the "true faith and Church" passed on in its most authentic form. By maintaining the virtue of the received teachings of the apostles, followers are more conscious of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit being present both in history and in the modern-day.

Fasting and prayer represent an essential part of the Orthodox Christian life. Orthodox believe that fasting can be the "foundation of all good." The discipline of withholding food from the body can empower a believer to focus the mind completely on preparing for prayer and spiritual matters.

There are four central fasting periods:

  • The Great Fast or the period of Lent.
  • The Fast of the Apostles: Eight days after Pentecost until June 28. The ends with the Feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul.
  • The Dormition Fast which begins on August 1 and ends on August 14.
  • The Christmas Fast from November 15-December 24

Orthodox Easter

Easter is the most meaningful and holy season of the Orthodox Church calendar. Orthodox Easter primarily commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ with a series of celebrations or movable feasts. In Eastern Orthodox Christianity, the spiritual preparations begin with Great Lent, 40 days of introspection and fasting (including Sundays), which starts on Clean Monday and finishes on Lazarus Saturday.

According to learnreligions.com, Clean Monday falls seven weeks before Easter Sunday. The term "Clean Monday" refers to cleansing from sinful behavior through the Lenten fast. Lazarus Saturday occurs eight days before Easter Sunday and signifies the end of Great Lent. Next comes Palm Sunday, one week before Easter, commemorating the triumphal entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem, followed by Holy Week, which ends on Easter Sunday, or Pascha.

Fasting continues throughout Holy Week. Many Orthodox churches observe a Paschal Vigil which ends just before midnight on Holy Saturday (or Great Saturday), the last day of Holy Week is the evening before Easter.

Sources

Orthodoxy - Wikipedia.org

Eastern Orthodox Church - BBC

What Is Eastern Orthodox Easter? - learnreligions.com

Article Image of Church of Saint Sava, the largest Orthodox church in the world by Jorge Láscar


Originally published September 24, 2019.