|The Orthodox Church: An Introduction
adapted from Fr. Thomas Fitzgerald’s series: Treasures of Orthodoxy
An ever-growing number of persons from various backgrounds are becoming interested in the Orthodox Church. These individuals are discovering the ancient faith and rich traditions of the Orthodox Church. They have been attracted by its mystical vision of God and His Kingdom, by the beauty of her worship, by the purity of her Christian faith, and by her continuity with the past. These are only some of the treasures of the Church which has a history reaching back to the time of the Apostles.
In our Western Hemisphere, the Orthodox Church has been developing into a valuable presence and distinctive witness for more than two hundred years. The Orthodox Church in this country owes its origin to the devotion of so many immigrants from lands such as the Middle East, Greece, Russia, and the Balkans. In the great wave of immigrations in the 19th and 20th centuries, Orthodox Christians from many lands and cultures came to America in search of freedom and opportunity. Like the first Apostles, they carried with them a precious heritage and gift. To the New World they brought the ancient faith of the Orthodox Church.
Many Orthodox Christians in America proudly trace their ancestry to the lands and cultures of Europe and Asia, but the Orthodox Church in the United States can no longer be seen as an immigrant Church. While the Orthodox Church contains individuals from numerous ethnic and cultural backgrounds, the majority of her membership is composed of persons who have been born in America. In recognition of this, Orthodoxy has been formally acknowledged as one of the Four Major Faiths in the United States. Following the practice of the Early Church, Orthodoxy treasures the various cultures of its people; but it is not bound to any particular culture or people. The Orthodox Church welcomes all!
There are about 5 million Orthodox Christians in this country. They are grouped into nearly a dozen ecclesiastical jurisdictions. St. George belongs to the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America and is one of about 300 parishes throughout the United States. Undoubtedly, the Primate of the Archdiocese, His Eminence Metropolitan PHILIP, and our diocesan bishop, His Eminence Archbishop JOSEPH have been responsible for acquainting many non-Orthodox with the treasures of Orthodoxy. Their selfless ministry, which has spanned more than forty years, has been one of devotion and vision acting decisively to make this ancient faith of the Apostles and Martyrs a powerful witness in contemporary America.
The spirit of Christianity which was nurtured in the East had a particular favor. It was distinct, though not necessarily opposed, to that which developed in the Western portion of the Roman Empire and subsequent Medieval Kingdoms in the West. While Christianity in the West developed in lands which knew the legal and moral philosophy of Ancient Rome, Eastern Christianity developed in lands which knew the Semitic and Hellenistic cultures. While the West was concerned with the Passion of Christ and the sin of man, the East emphasized the Resurrection of Christ and the deification of man. While the West leaned toward a legalistic view of religion, the East espoused a more mystical theology. Since the Early Church was not monolithic, the two great traditions existed together for more than a thousand years until the Great Schism divided the Church. Today, Roman Catholics and Protestants are heirs to the Western tradition, and the Orthodox are heirs to the Eastern tradition.
Occasionally, the word Catholic is also used to describe the Orthodox Church. This description dating back to the second century, is embodied in the Nicene Creed which acknowledges One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. From the Orthodox perspective, Catholic means that the Church is universal and also that she includes persons of all races and cultures. It also affirms that the Church has preserved the fullness of the Christian faith.