What Is Orthodoxy?


Word Magazine 
November 1957  Page 241-243

 

  

WHAT
IS ORTHODOXY?

  

by A. Woronen

  

 

A Discussion of the
Orthodox Church’s World Outlook . . .

  

An
Orthodox Christian senses and is filled with joy and hope of the Resurrection
not only during the holy Paschal night—he is never without it. Even during the
Great Fast, when an Orthodox Christian concentrates on the test of his deeds and
penitence, with his whole spiritual entity, with all his heart, soul and
thoughts—even then while prostrate before the Cross, he glorifies the Holy
Resurrection of Him Who was crucified thereupon: even on Good Friday morning, he
sings, “We bow down to Thy Passion, O Christ; show us Thy glorious
Resurrection” (ANTIPHON 15).

 

Christ’s
Resurrection is the triumphant fulfillment of the Lord’s descent to earth. The
victory of Christ over the power of the Devil indicates liberation from this
power for those who believe and follow Christ. His conquest over death in His
Resurrection is a guarantee of the future Resurrection and Eternal Life for
those who believe in Him. It is because of this reason that the Resurrection of
Christ occupies such an important place in the world-outlook of the Orthodox
Church. The Resurrection is the basis of our faith and hope, as well as the
source of the spiritual life of Orthodoxy.

 

We have
shown above that the coming of the Son of God upon earth opened the road to
salvation and eternal life for us. However, neither salvation, nor participation
in the higher, more beautiful life in Christ, nor the restoration and
transfiguration of a human being are given to a person automatically,
externally, or in a wholly objective manner without the participation of the
individual himself. In all truthfulness, the flow of a beautiful life came into
the world with the coming of the Saviour, and it permeates the world whether we
accept it or not. But the union of individual with the communal living in this
life comes into being only through a free and inner act on the part of the
individual himself. Similarly does the sun send down its life-giving rays upon
the earth, but it is our choice, as to whether we take advantage of its warmth
and light, or, whether we do not allow its rays to enter our home, in which we
hide ourselves after closing the windows and doors. First of all, we must have
the desire to stand upon the path of salvation, and secondly, we must
have the will to travel along this road. When these two suppositions are
deeply rooted in the inner convictions of an individual, then there will be no
doubt of receiving God’s help along the way toward acquiring all the results
of union with the beautiful life.

 

What is
the meaning of eternal life in Christ? In the Orthodox understanding, this ideal
state cannot present itself in the form of a subjective assurance in which
merely faith is lacking in the efforts for salvation, or which is attainable by
belonging to one or another denomination. The ideal also cannot be one of
exactness alone, e.g., the formal fulfillment of all decisions and laws of the
Church, etc. It was due to such an understanding of piety that Our Heavenly
Saviour bitterly rebuked the Pharisees. The ideal of true Christian life is a
road of sacrifice, the participation in Christ’s sufferings, the bearing of
His Cross, the constant battle against sin and the sinful nature of man, the
incessant striving for perfection—the highest ideal being the perfection of
the Father (MATT. 5: 48). In this life we observe the harmonious union of faith,
hope, love, good deeds, sincere prayer, and a deeply organic (but not externally
formal or rationalistic) Christian participation in the life of the Body of
Christ—His Church.

 

The
voluntary abasement of the Son of God, His maltreatment and suffering on the
Cross, and death, preceded Christ’s Resurrection. The radiant joy of Pascha is
preceded each year by the spiritual act of the Great Fast, when an Orthodox
Christian bows his head and bends his knees in humility and piety before the
Crucified One. Utilizing much self-control and with all humility, he renounces
many comforts of life and subdues his passions and cravings, crucifying within
himself his “old man.” that is, his sinful nature, making himself dead to
sin (Rom. 6:6) —for without being crucified with Him we are not able fully to
enter, accept and become participants in the joy of the Resurrection. This may
be applied to the entire life of an Orthodox Christian. The source of true
Christian joy, and the anticipative participation in His Life lies only in
Christ, in participation in His Sacrifice and in being crucified with Him (MATT.
16:24). All of the Church’s teachings cry out to the Orthodox Christian to
deny himself and voluntarily take up His Cross.

 

As he
travels along his thornlike path, man alone is powerless and impotent——being
unable to achieve anything through his own efforts in his battle against sin and
the evil doings of the Devil. We may be saved neither with the exertion of our
own efforts, nor with the help of others, but only through God’s Grace. We are
merely able to entreat God for His help and Grace. As a Christian travels upon
his road to perfection, he gains a better understanding of his deep inability
and insignificance, and becomes more conscious of God’s power.

 

God’s
love never leaves a Christian without sustenance and help. One of the greatest
gifts of God’s Grace is faith, which, even in the most trying times, gives
endless strength for life’s battle. We approach God through our deep and
sincere faith: we unite ourselves with Him in an indivisible union, becoming
filled thereby with His strength, against which no deed of evil intention may
prevail. Another virtue which is of no less importance in the life of a
Christian is hope, the basis of which is Our Lord Jesus Christ (1 TIM. 1:1). It
is this hope that fills us with the assurance that God is with us,” that He is
ever looking after us and our salvation, bestowing upon us all things which in
faith we ask of Him. (MATT. 21: 22; John 14: l3-14).

 

The
Church of Christ, founded by Our Heavenly Saviour for the attainment of our
salvation, is the crown of God’s love and the guide for His creation. It is
only through the Church, and by no other means, that one is able to attain the
fullness of a transfigured life. Our presence in the Church makes us members of
Christ’s Mystical Body. We are thereby in deep organic union with Jesus
Christ, the Church’s Supreme Head. This union is manifested with unusual power
in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist which is the center of Church life.
Through the Church a Christian also unites himself with his brethren in Christ,
who are all members of the great ecclesiastical organism headed by the One
Eternal Head. They all acknowledge the same Faith, partake of the Life-giving
Body and the Precious Blood of Christ, and are animated by the very same Gifts
of the Holy Spirit through the Holy Sacraments. The aim of all Christians is
identical: It is the acquirement of eternal life. Through the Church a Christian
also binds himself with his brethren in communal prayer with those righteous
Orthodox— the Saints, and with the highest and most Orthodox of all Creation,
the exceedingly blessed Mother of God and Ever-virgin Mary. It is in the Church
and through the Church that a Christian is able to perceive the Eternal, which
unveils itself in the fullness of the Body of the Church and in which the Holy
Spirit abides and remains without change.

 

The
source of comprehension for the Church is the Holy Spirit. As the human spirit
gives man the possibility of comprehending himself, the Holy Spirit, Who is of
God, enables us to perceive God and Eternity (I C0R. 2: 11-12). The Holy Spirit
is infallible by nature, and for this reason the Church, which is animated and
blessed by the Holy Spirit, and in which the Holy Spirit resides as the basis of
the Church’s existence, is sinless and infallible. It must be stressed that it
is the Church in its entirety  that
is sinless—the whole of its Mystical Body bound with love, and not an
individual member or a group of members of the earthly Church, even though some
authority may have been bestowed upon them. Due to this very factor the Orthodox
Church will never accept the Roman Catholic doctrine of the infallibility of the
Pope of Rome in things concerning faith, as well as the Protestant view about
the subjective infallibility of the individual in comprehending the truth.

 

The
Orthodox Church regards unity with the ancient Tradition of the early Church as
of great importance. The present-day Church is governed by the doctrine which is
accepted and embodied within the unchangeable Tradition by the “undivided”
Church. Our Church has always retained the deep conviction that the possibility
of comprehending the truth is given only to the whole of the Church. When an
epistle of the Eastern Patriarchs was sent in reply to an epistle of Pope Pius
IX in 1849 it was formulated exactly in accordance with this conviction. Its
contents were as follows: Only the Church, as the living organism comprised of
all the faithful—both   laity
and ecclesiastical hierarchy—may maintain its infallibility, guard against the
changing of dogmas, and uphold the purity of the Liturgy. The Church lives by
the truth and has the truth within itself; a believer is not able to understand
it merely by learning or by the acceptance of a arbitrarily announced doctrine,
but by living in communion with the Body of the Church.

 

In order
that we may be able to understand Orthodoxy in general, we must first have a
proper understanding of the essence of the Church. It should be noted at this
point that Roman Catholic theology has greatly strayed from the teachings of the
Universal Church, as is also the case, in varied degrees, with the teachings of
Protestantism. For this reason let us consider the most important moments of the
essence and life of the Church as they are contained in the teachings of the
Orthodox Catholic Faith.

 

As was
mentioned above, the Church of Christ is the Mystical Body of Christ, the Head
and Chief Cornerstone of which is Our Savior Jesus Christ (EPH. 1:22; 2:20-22;
4:15, 5:23: COL. 1:18; 1 C0R. 3:11; MATT. 21:42). All who acknowledge their
faith in Him, and who through the Holy Sacrament of Baptism enter into the life
of re­birth in Christ, and are joined together in the Body of Christ’s
Church, are members of the Church (EPH. 1:23; 4:16; 1 COR. 12:27; C0L. 2:17,
19). The life of the Church is the continuation of the Incarnate Life of Christ
in His Faithful. After fulfilling the Mystery of our salvation, Our Saviour
ascended into Heaven, but He remains perpetually within the Mystical Body of His
Church in His Divine, Life-giving and all-regenerating Entity.

 

We may
then conclude that the Church of Christ cannot be considered as similar to an
organization or a union in the ordinary worldly understanding of these words. It
is a living organism in which God and man are united in profound inner spiritual
union. Within it the goal of our understanding, salvation, love, joy and
blessing is born, developed and achieved. The Church is a new life which we are
unable to comprehend unless we are born again of water and of the Spirit (JOHN
3:3, 5) into the life in the Church’s Mystical Body, and partake of the Holy
Sacraments which are so generously extended by the Church to all its Faithful.

 

How could
we comprehend the essence of human life if we were not humane ourselves? We
would only perceive the outward appearance of this life, i.e., the actions,
language, laughter, the various facial expressions, etc. But we know that these
are not the only things of which we are conscious. It is the same with the life
of the Church. Only when we have organically entered into the life of the
Church, can we understand the true essence of all the visible external
occurrences: The Divine Services, prayer, church ritual, and the full
significance of the invisible things they indicate.

 

Christ’s
Church is both visible and invisible. It is visible in its organic forms, which
are imperative for its activity upon the earth. It is also visible in its form
of worship, as well as in all the outward appearances of its activity. The
Church is invisible in the mystical existence of Our Saviour within it; in the
life of the Holy Spirit, and in the spiritual union of the Faithful with their
Creator.

 

There is
only one Church just as there is One Body of Christ. Therefore, no individuals
or groups of people, who are separated from the Church, may live in truth—for
the creation if new “churches” and other schisms, lacking unity with the
Church of Christ, contradict the teachings of Our Saviour (JOHN 15:4-7) and the
very nature of the Church. Unity and love are the basis and the essence of the
Church’s existence. We are able to take an active part in the Eternal Life of
the Church and develop toward perfection only in the love that binds us with God
and with all our brethren in Christ. Only within the Church by binding ourselves
to one another with the unconquerable power of prayer and love, may we
comprehend the Eternal which is revealed to us by the Holy Spirit. St. Paul
writes the following on the subject: “For this reason I bow my knees before
the Father . . . that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you,
being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the
saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love
of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the
fullness of God” (EPH. 3:14, 17-19).

 

The
comprehension of the Eternal comes about by our inner, spiritual and organic
acceptance of it through our participation in the life of the Church, and not in
an external or formal manner. This may also be said about the nature of the
Church in general. The Church is not an external organization or union apart
from its members, nor an external authority or external legislative power—but
a profound inner life in which those united in the One Body of the Church live.
Thus, we may clearly understand why the Orthodox Church does not expand its
influence across the globe by forcing its ideals upon men’s minds and
consciences and by enforcing a formalistic law—but only through permeating
with its eternal teachings the souls of persons, who, having accepted these
teachings for their own, become indivisible parts of the Church. The idea of an
earthly empire, with a hierarchy playing the role of an absolute civil
authority, is foreign and unacceptable to Orthodoxy. It is the Roman Catholic
Church which has accepted to a great extent this form of organization, a form
very similar to the state governmental system with its legislature, formalism
and rationalism. This is one of the reasons that the Roman Church broke away
from the One Catholic Church—for the Church of Christ “is not of this
world” (JOHN 18:36: 17:14). Its Kingdom is the kingdom of the spirit; its
authority is that of love, and its only foundation is Our Saviour Jesus Christ.

 

The inner
spiritual life of the Church unveils itself with exceptional constancy in
Orthodox Divine Services and Sacraments. The Divine Liturgy is based not only
upon the idea that the Church commemorates the life of Christ, glorifying Him
and preaching His Word at the same time; the true essence and basic meaning of
the Liturgy is that the Mystery of our salvation, the inexpressible greatness of
Christ’s mission upon earth, definitely takes place in the Divine Services and
in the Christian life. During the Divine Liturgy a Christian actually
experiences the whole of the Mystery of the God-Man’s Incarnation—from the
Old Testament prophecies, the Annunciation to the Resurrection, the Ascension
and Pentecost. The union of Christ with His Church takes place not only in a
spiritual sense, but also in conscious form, through the immediate presence of
the Saviour’s Body and Blood in the Holy Sacrament, the Eucharist. The
mystical union of the Faithful with the invisible Eternal Life takes place at
the moment the Precious Gifts are given—and this reception serves to
strengthen the participants in the many difficult battles of life.

 

This
mystical union of the members of Christ’s Church with their Creator takes
place also in the other Sacraments of the Orthodox Church. These Sacraments are
the direct action of the Holy Spirit, Whose Grace is bestowed upon those of the
Faithful who wish to receive it. They are acts of the Holy Spirit’s force of
life-giving, invigoration, strengthening and blessing. These, are neither merely
symbols of Grace, nor only the confirmation of the subjective assurance of our
justification and salvation, nor a mark of faith in salvation, as is propagated
by the Protestants in their teaching concerning the Holy Eucharist (Communion)
— they are the actual presence of the Holy Spirit’s regenerating power in
the blessing of the Faithful through the Holy Sacrament. Neither may we conclude
that a Sacrament is merely an external act of ritual performed over a Christian
in accordance with the tradition of the Church, without bringing to light its
profound basic content.

 

Fellow
Christians! how many are the various sects in our day, which, speaking from
their own shallow wisdom, disregard the commands of Christ’s Apostles. They
maintain that there is no need for the Holy Tradition of the Christian Church.
They walk along false paths, being guided by their ego and making a laughing
stock of the words of St. Paul the Apostle: “One Lord, one Faith, one
Baptism” (EPH. 4:5). These sectarians do not recognize the Pastors instituted
by God, do not acknowledge the Saints, condemn Icons, ignore the Cross and
disregard the Fasts.

 

Dear
brethren in Christ! do not listen to these sectarians. Remember the instruction
of St. Paul the Apostle, who commanded us to “withdraw from every brother who
lives irregularly and not in accord with the tradition” of the Apostles (2
THESS. 3:6).