Monday, September 7, 2009

The Orthodox what?

The Orthodox Church is evangelical, but not Protestant. It is orthodox, but not Jewish. It is catholic, but not Roman. It isn’t non-denominational - it is pre-denominational. It has believed, taught, preserved, defended and died for the Faith of the Apostles since the Day of Pentecost 2000 years ago.Steven Robinson Orthodox montageHow many Christian churches today claim to be patterned after the early church, or to follow in its footsteps? There’s obviously a desire in this modern world to return to the church founded by the Lord Jesus Christ, the church begun in the Book of Acts and written about with such ardor and warmth by St. Peter and St. Paul in their epistles. When the search for the early church is so widespread and so sincere, is it any wonder that so many are finding their way home to what is truly the first Christian church? There is one church whose history can be traced in unbroken continuity to Christ and the apostles — the Orthodox Christian Church. If you’ve never heard of the Orthodox Church, or if you only have heard of it in conjunction with the nations of Russia or Greece, you’re in good company! Though the Orthodox Church is the second largest body in Christendom with over 225 million believers worldwide, only 6 million of those come from North America and many in the “New World” have little knowledge of this incredible miracle — Christ’s Church that has withstood the tests of persecutions, schisms and changing times for over nineteen centuries. The first millennium and The Great Schism BibleMany Christians today have little idea of the fate of the church after the time of the last writing in the New Testament — St. John’s Revelation. We know that that book contained many messages from a loving Shepherd to the churches under John’s care, both words of encouragement and of admonition. And we’re familiar with Paul’s letters of pastoral concern and advice to the churches in Ephesus, Corinth and Thessalonica. In fact, even at the time of those writings, the early Christians had begun to suffer under the religious persecutions that would threaten them for three centuries. During those hundreds of years, many were tortured and many were killed, but the Christian church actually grew in strength and number, due to the heroism of those martyrs and of the gifts of the Holy Spirit poured out upon the faithful. ResurrectionThe organized Christian persecution ended in 313 AD with an edict by a Roman emperor named Constantine who had converted to the Christian faith when he saw a vision of the cross emblazoned across the sky and heard the words “By this sign you will conquer”. With Christians finally able to worship, preach and build the church openly, the early church thrived and took root in many new places throughout the ancient world. Five regional centers emerged — Jerusalem, Antioch, Rome, Alexandria and Constantinople. There were councils of all the Christian leaders called to settle matters of faith as they occurred, and the creeds and doctrines of those seven ecumenical councils provide the groundwork for Christian theology as it has been maintained to this day. In fact, for the first ten centuries the Church was unified in spite of various heresies that would arise and drift away. But in 1054 AD, the patriarch of the Church in Rome pulled away from the other four, acting on a long-developing claim to be the exclusive head of the Christian Church. In an event known in Christian history as The Great Schism, the patriarch of the Roman church — now called the pope — actually excommunicated the rest of the Christian Church. The end of one empire and a new home for OrthodoxyRelations with the Roman church continued to degenerate, and in 1204 Crusaders, who had originally set out proposing to save the Holy Land and the Eastern Churches from invading Turks, actually sacked the city of Constantinople, carrying off loot and many irreplaceable church treasures. Without help to withstand invaders and plagued by difficulties from within, Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire fell to marauding Turks in 1453. That region of the world has been under Muslim control ever since — it is present-day Turkey, and the city of Constantinople is now Istanbul. It would have been the end of the Orthodox Church, had God not provided new territories and lands to carry the Word. In 988, a massive conversion from paganism to Christianity began in Russia, and Moscow came to be called The Second Constantinople. And in the fertile soil of that grand land, Orthodoxy found a new glorious age, and for over 900 years, Russian Orthodoxy produced many great saints, martyrs and theologians. In the 19th century, some of the countries that had been under Muslim rule finally secured their independence, and Greece, Serbia, Rumania and Bulgaria finally emerged from under subjugation and won the right once again to practice the Orthodox faith openly and joyously. The Iron Curtain falls, and yet another frontier opens Russian churchWhen the Bolshevik Revolution ushered in the dark days of Communism, the Russian Orthodox Church was all but extinguished. Communist leaders were distrustful of the people’s love of the Church, and were themselves openly hostile to all traditional religion — especially Orthodox Christianity. Many brave Christians suffered persecution, imprisonment, torture and martyrdom at the hands of the Communist powers, and many beautiful churches and icons were destroyed in the impossible hope of eradicating the flame of faith that had illuminated Holy Russia. But in the end, it was Communism that fell, and in 1988 Russia was able to jubilantly celebrate its millennial anniversary of Orthodoxy — a thousand years filled with unbelievable triumphs and sorrows! And even in the leaden times of Communist rule, God preserved and prospered His Church in the New World. The Orthodox Church had been brought to America with the many immigrants from Greece, Russia and other lands, as well as Russian monks and settlers in Alaska. The challenge in the modern world IconostasisThe Orthodox churches from around the world — including not only Russia, Greece, Serbia and Yugoslavia, but also Finland, Japan, Hungary (and even the four patriarchates of the first centuries of the Christian Church from Constantinople, Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria!) — comprise the Orthodox Church as it exists today. Diverse and multi-faceted in its many cultures and places of origin, but singular in its vision of and adherence to Christ’s one true Church, the Orthodox Church is like a tapestry woven of many threads but bearing one pattern. And to those seeking meaning in the modern crush of civilization, to those looking for Christian integrity that doesn’t conform to passing fads and fashions or lower its standards to the point of compromising its beliefs — we say: Welcome home to the Orthodox Christian

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Monastery of the Holy Martyrs - Orthodox Monastery, Syriac Orthodox

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