Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church
Potomac, Maryland
American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese
About Orthodoxy

What is Orthodox Christianity?

You have probably driven by Orthodox churches, and perhaps noticed that they often bear titles like "Greek Orthodox" or "Russian Orthodox" or "Ukrainian Orthodox." Are they simply different denominations that cater to particular ethnicities? You could be excused for thinking so - though this is less and less true today, there is indeed a great deal of overlap between the ethnic composition of many parishes and these titles - but in truth, the Orthodox Church is one unified Church (of 300 million people), and belongs to no nation. Instead, it is the ancient church, and is unique in that it traces its roots -- in unbroken succession! -- all the way back to the 1stcentury founding by Christ and his apostles. It zealously holds to and preserves all the teachings and traditions - including Holy Scripture - that were held by all Christians for the first ten centuries. The wordorthodox ("right belief and right glory") has traditionally been used to designate communities (or individuals) which preserved the true faith. The Orthodox Church still -- after thousands of years -- believes and adheres to these ancient teachings and traditions, and it will continue to do so for thousands more, or until our Lord's return.

In this short introduction, we will briefly cover only two key topics: church history, and Orthodox worship. For more information, you are welcome to contact Father Peter, or to click on the links on the sides of this page, or read one of the books we recommend below.

Church History

For the first ten centuries, all Christians were unified: united in one church, with bishops overseeing the local churches in each city, and with doctrinal issues decided upon by ecumenical councils of all the local parts of the one church, continuing the pattern set by the church in Acts 15. Over time (and up to today), the Orthodox Church followed the faith and practices that were clarified by the first seven Ecumenical Councils, trusting in Christ's promise to preserve the Church, and believing these Councils to have been under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. (See church history time line.) But in 1054, "The Great Schism" between the Eastern and the Western Church occurred: the Roman Catholic Church split itself off from the Orthodox Church. Subsequently, the Roman Catholic Church began developing doctrines, including papal supremacy and infallibility, which were new and contrary to the teachings of the apostles which had been zealously preserved by the Orthodox Church. Over time, more and more doctrines and practices were introduced, leading to the Protestant Reformation in 1517 (which began as an attempt to reform the Roman church)- and further schism, which continues at a tragically rapid pace today (see church history time line).

Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church is not, and has never been, a centralized organization headed by a pontiff. The Orthodox Church is a family of self-governing churches - the Greek Orthodox Church, the Russian Orthodox Church, and so on- with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople currently holding honorary primacy as "the first among equals." The unity of the Church is, instead, manifested in common faith and communion in the sacraments, and no one but Christ himself is the real head of the Church.

We are saddened by the current disunity among Christendom, including the divergence from the teaching of the apostles and the decisions of the seven Ecumenical Councils. We pray for the day when the unity Christ desires and prayed for in John 17 will be accomplished … when all Christians "come home" to their roots, in the Holy Orthodox Church.

Orthodox Worship

One of the best ways to understand what Orthodoxy is all about is to "come and see" for yourself: to attend the liturgy and experience the worship of the Holy Trinity. All Orthodox churches use the same liturgy in their worship, the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, which was written around the year 400 (and drew upon earlier liturgies). God is at the center of the Divine Liturgy, which is full of direct quotes from Holy Scripture. Except for the sermon (also known as the homily), the liturgy consists of an extended prayer - which is sung - to the Holy Trinity, and culminates in the Eucharist, or Holy Communion. Each element of the service is rich with symbolism; worship involves the mind, but also the heart, the senses, and the body. One sees the candles, vestments and icons, and the sun's light pouring into the sanctuary; smells incense; hears and sings prayers of joy and repentance; stands and sits down and humbly kneels; makes the sign of the cross; and receives the body and blood of Christ. In worship, Orthodox Christians join the heavenly host, and all the departed saints, as they praise God in heaven.

Orthodoxy is known for its embrace of icons and, unfortunately, many non-Orthodox Christians misunderstand this practice, believing it is a form of idolatry. Orthodox Christians identify the "great cloud of witnesses" (Hebrews 12:1) as the Saints in heaven, who offer up prayers on our behalf. These Saints are not dead - on the contrary, they are more alive than we are! They deserve to be honored and to have their lives emulated. Orthodox theology is very clear, however: one must not worship icons. Icons are "windows into heaven" that serve to remind Orthodox Christians of the Saints who have "finished the race" -- pictures of loved ones, if you will. The most honored Saint of all is Mary, the Mother of God, who was chosen by God to bear the Lord Jesus. On earth, she was a powerful intercessor (John 2), and continues to be so in heaven. The presence of icons in the Orthodox Church and in Orthodox homes serves as a constant reminder of what the Orthodox life is all about. Just as, mysteriously, we are united in Christ, icons provide a link to those depicted in a manner beyond description. "Mystery" is a key idea in Orthodox theology; God's ways can never be fully understood.

We at Holy Resurrection are a community of believers who seek, by the grace of God, to obey Christ’s commands to love God with our entire heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We worship, witness, serve and socialize together. We care for family, friends and others, comfort those in need, and encourage one another toward a strong moral and spiritual life. By striving for personal sanctification, to make real the image and likeness of God in our own lives, we seek to make God’s Kingdom real in our community.

The Orthodox Church has seven Holy Sacraments

  1. Holy Baptism
  2. Holy Chrismation - The anointing of oil to bestow the gift of the Holy Spirit.
  3. Holy Confession
  4. Holy Communion - The receiving of the HolyEucharist
  5. Holy Unction - The anointing with oil for healing
  6. Holy Marriage
  7. Holy Ordination

The Eucharist may be received by all who have been baptized and chrismated in the Orthodox faith, including infants and children. For Orthodox Christians, life is experienced and centered around the Holy Sacraments.

Recommended Readings

  • The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware
  • Eastern Orthodox Christianity by Daniel B. Clendenin
  • Eastern Orthodox Theology by Daniel B. Clendenin
  • The Orthodox Church: A Well-Kept Secret by Fr. George Nicozisin
  • Becoming Orthodox: Journey to the Ancient Christian Faith by Peter E. Gillquist
  • Thirsting for God in a Land of Shallow Wells by Matthew Gallatin
  • Introducing the Orthodox Church: Its Faith and Life by Fr. Anthony Coniaris
  • Common Ground by Jordan Bajis
  • Light from the Christian East: An Introduction to the Orthodox Tradition by James R. Payton