c) What is the Orthodox Church?

“We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth, for surely there is no such splendour or beauty anywhere upon earth. We cannot describe it to you: only this we know, that God dwells there among men….”

The Orthodox Christian Church is a worldwide body of believers who confess and worship Jesus Christ as the Son of God, as Lord and Messiah. This body has a tangible and continuous history of Christian faith and practice from the time of Christ’s Apostles. The use of the adjective “orthodox” to describe the Church dates back to the earliest centuries and was applied to those Christians who maintained the Tradition transmitted by Christ’s Apostles (1 Thess. 2:15).
The word “orthodox” does not mean strictness or rigidity.  A literal translation is “proper glory” and is concerned with giving glory to God – both in formal worship and in way of life – in a way that is faithful to His self-revelation, His majesty and Being. The Orthodox Church is therefore not a “denomination” and predates both denominationalism and non-denominationalism.  She has been labelled as “Eastern” by historians to distinguish her from what eventually became separate church bodies in the western hemisphere.  However, the Orthodox Church is not reserved for certain ethnicities (e.g. Greek, Russian) but is for all people.
The Orthodox Church is currently the second largest body of Christians in the world with 225 million adherents across the globe. Whatever their national or regional origins all Orthodox Churches share the same Faith and are united to one another in “one Lord, one Faith, one baptism.” (Eph. 4:5).  The Head of the Orthodox Church is Jesus Christ and her only infallible Guide is the Holy Spirit. There is no earthly head of the Orthodox Church.  All bishops are equal, sharing the same ministerial grace and forming a brotherhood to whom each is accountable.  It is not an earthly leader that holds the Church together but adherence to the Orthodox Faith – in the words of St. Vincent of Lerins (4th-5th c.), that which “has been believed everywhere, at all times, and by all.”
Since “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday today and forever” (Heb. 13:8), the Church has no need to conform to the newest fads, philosophies, and doctrines.  She does however adapt to new circumstances, adopts the language of the indigenous people, and embraces everything godly and good in the culture she finds herself.
The Orthodox Church teaches that God alone has redeemed mankind through the Cross. Salvation is the process of accepting and incorporating that act of redemption personally. Salvation is therefore a process of transformation (Rom. 5:12). It is not merely a matter of being declared “not guilty” by legal decree - it is an organic restoration to union with God, a process of “being saved” (1 Cor. 1:18; 2 Cor. 2:15) by God’s grace. The Greek word for salvation designates “healing.” The Orthodox understanding of life in Christ views sin and salvation in terms of illness and healing of the soul. The whole life of the Orthodox Church is given as a means to this restoration of spiritual health, i.e. to bring the human person into an authentic union with God, to become Christ-like, and to be more and more open to the Spirit of God. The life of the Church is nothing other than this life of salvation and grace, accessible to all who would avail themselves of it.
“We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth, for surely there is no such splendour or beauty anywhere upon earth.  We cannot describe it to you: only this we know, that God dwells there among men….”
The words above were written in the 10th century after a first experience of the majestic worship of God in the Orthodox Church in Constantinople. They express a great truth which has always been at the heart of the Orthodox understanding – that Christianity is first and foremost an encounter with the living and personal God. It is through prayer and worship that God is not merely known about, but known and experienced. And through Jesus Christ, the Church – Christ’s Body – has become this place of encounter with God, heaven on earth (Eph. 1:10).  To experience the beauty, glory, and holy splendour of this same Orthodox Church in the 21st Century, we invite you, as Philip said to Nathaniel (Jn. 1:46), to “come and see!"