Christians often identify themselves by “what they believe” so much so that they call themselves, “believers.” While belief is important to Orthodox Christians, it is only one aspect of what defines our identity.
We tend to start with different questions. The questions we begin with are, “Who do we worship?” and “With Whom do we have communion?” It is only after answering these questions that we can truly progress to unpacking "what we believe."
What follows are:
- Who we worship
- With whom we have communion
- The Church's official statement as to what she believes (“the Creed”)
- Short explanations of our beliefs
Who we worship
The Lord Jesus Christ attracted many disciples during his short years of ministry. Of these, twelve were chosen to be Apostles. These twelve Apostles accompanied Jesus from His Baptism until His Ascension (Acts 1:21).
Each of the Apostles came to the realisation that this Jesus was not only Israel’s long-awaited Prophet, Judge and King; but also, and quite unexpectedly, that He is God-in-human-flesh. This mystery shattered their expectations, reshaped their world-view, and became the central purpose of their lives.
With whom we have communion
Through Jesus’ personal instruction (Luke 24:13–35; 1 Corinthians 15:1–8), grace (Matthew 16:19; John 2:22) and the illumination of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1–31), the Apostles were empowered to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18–21).
Soon a worshiping community gathered around the Apostles who:
“… devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).
The Apostles taught the community around them about everything they had seen Jesus do, from the time He was baptised until He was taken up to heaven in glory (Acts 1:22). As the community was taught, they entered into fellowship—communion—with the Apostles. Through communion with the Apostles they came to share the life of Jesus.
The breaking of the bread and the prayers of thanksgiving over the bread both signal the early importance of the Eucharist. Here we have a description of the Church: praying for the world and for communion with Christ, breaking the fellowship bread, entering into communion, and eagerly receiving the Apostle’s teaching.
And what did the Apostles teach? They taught how they had heard the Father speak while the Spirit descended on Christ like a dove (Matthew 3:13–17). They taught the radiant, uncreated light that had transfigured Christ while the Father said, “Listen to Him” (Matthew 17:1–8). And they bore personal testimony to the triumph of the Resurrection (Acts 1:22).
Through knowing Jesus as the Son of God, the Apostles came to know the Father and the Spirit. So they led that worshiping community to offer true worship to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The in-dwelling of the Holy Trinity led to transformed lives of great holiness.
So it was that the Good News of Christ’s Victory was proclaimed from the Middle East to Asia, Europe and Africa. Christians and non-Christians alike recognised that a new order of humanity had arisen: one in which every person of every ethnicity, age, sex, rank and occupation was welcomed and loved.
What we believe
What we believe is clearly rooted in the One we worship and with Whom we have communion.
By the fourth century, the following confessional statement was adopted as a world-wide standard of faith within the Christian Church. This confessional statement, known as “the Creed,” provides the lens through which Christians engage in worship, communion and interpret the Holy Scriptures.
I believe in one God,1 the Father2 Almighty3, Maker of heaven and earth4, and of all things visible and invisible5.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ6 the Only Begotten Son of God7, begotten from the Father before all ages8: Light from Light9, True God from true God10, begotten not made11, one in essence with the Father12, by Whom all things were made13.
Who for our sake and for our salvation14, came down from heaven15 and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary16, and became man17.
And he was crucified for us18 under Pontius Pilate19, and suffered20 and was buried21;
And he rose again on the third day22, in accordance with the Scriptures23.
And ascended into heaven24, and is seated at the right hand of the Father25.
He is coming again in glory26 to judge the living and the dead27, and His kingdom will have no end28.
And I believe in the Holy Spirit29, the Lord30, the Giver of Life31, Who proceeds from the Father32, Who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified33, Who spoke through the prophets34.
I believe in one35, holy36, catholic37, and apostolic Church38;
I confess one baptism39 for the forgiveness of sins40;
I look for the resurrection of the dead41;
And the life of the age to come42. Amen43.
The present Holy Orthodox Church is the organic descendent of the original worshiping community in Jerusalem. If you trace the history of our communion, you find an unbroken tradition that flows from the original worshiping community, through the world-wide Church which defined the Creed in the fourth century, through each of the seven world-wide Councils, flowing down to today.
The Holy Orthodox Church is the organic descendent of Christ’s Church. Established in Jerusalem at Pentecost and today faithfully upholding the same teaching, fellowship, eucharistic communion and prayers as practiced by the Apostles.
Short explanations of our beliefs
The following passages provide some short summaries that expand upon the meaning of the Creed and elaborate on the conclusions that Christ’s worshiping community has arrived at during the last 2,000 years.
God the Father
GOD THE FATHER is the fountainhead of the Holy Trinity. The Scriptures reveal that the one God is Three Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—eternally sharing the one Divine nature. From the Father the Son is begotten before all ages and all time (Psalm 2:7; 2 Corinthians 11:31). It is also from the Father that the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds (John 15:26). Through Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit, we come to know the Father (Matthew 11:27). God the Father created all things through the Son, in the Holy Spirit (Genesis 1; 2; John 1:3; Job 33:4), and we are called to worship Him (John 4:23). The Father loves us and sent His Son to give us everlasting life (John 3:16).
JESUS CHRIST is the Second Person of the Trinity, eternally born of the Father. He became a man, and thus He is at once fully God and fully man. His coming to earth was foretold in the Old Testament by the Prophets. Because Jesus Christ is at the heart of Christianity, the Orthodox Church has given more attention to knowing Him than to anything or anyone else.
The Holy Spirit
THE HOLY SPIRIT is one of the Persons of the Trinity and is one in essence with the Father. Orthodox Christians repeatedly confess, “And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father, who together with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified…” He is called the “Promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4), given by Christ as a gift to the Church, to empower the Church for service to God (Acts 1:8), to place God's love in our hearts (Romans 5:5), and to impart spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:7–13) and virtues (Galatians 5:22, 23) for Christian life and witness. Orthodox Christians believe the biblical promise that the Holy Spirit is given in chrismation (anointing) at baptism (Acts 2:38). We are to grow in our experience of the Holy Spirit for the rest of our lives.
INCARNATION refers to Jesus Christ coming “in the flesh.” The eternal Son of God the Father assumed to Himself a complete human nature from the Virgin Mary. He was (and is) one divine Person, fully possessing from God the Father the entirety of the divine nature, and in His coming in the flesh fully possessing a human nature from Mary. By His Incarnation, the Son forever possesses two natures in His one Person. The Son of God, limitless in His divine nature, voluntarily and willingly accepted limitation in His humanity, in which He experienced hunger, thirst, fatigue—and ultimately—death. The Incarnation is indispensable to Christianity—there is no Christianity without it. The Scriptures record, “Every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God” (1 John 4:3). By His Incarnation, the Son of God redeemed human nature, a redemption made accessible to all who are joined to Him in His glorified humanity.
The One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church is a divine-human communion. It is a foretaste and experience of the climax of history—the Incarnation, the Atonement, the Resurrection, Last Judgment & Paradise—within the Holy Eucharist. As a continuous Pentecost, the Church is a prophetic voice that cannot be silenced, the presence of and witness to the Kingdom of the God of love. The Orthodox Church, faithful to the unanimous Apostolic Tradition and her sacramental experience, is the authentic continuation of the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church as confessed in the Creed and confirmed by the teaching of the Church Fathers. Our Church lives out the mystery of God's plan to bring about our salvation after the Fall in her sacramental life, with the Holy Eucharist at its centre.
Participating in the Holy Eucharist and praying for the whole world, we must continue the “liturgy after the Divine Liturgy” and give the witness of faith to those near and those far off, in accordance with the Lord's clear command before His ascension, “And you shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION has been a watershed issue since the second century in order to preserve the Faith. Certain false teachers came on the scene at that time insisting they were authoritative representatives of the Christian Church. Claiming authority from God by appealing to special revelations, some were even inventing lineages of teachers supposedly going back to Christ or the Apostles. In response, the early Church insisted there was an authoritative apostolic deposit passed down from generation to generation. They detailed that actual lineage, showing how its clergy were ordained by those chosen by the successors of the Apostles who were chosen by Christ Himself.
Apostolic succession is an indispensable factor in preserving unity in the Church. Those in that succession are accountable to it, and are responsible to ensure that all teaching and practice in the Church is in keeping with her apostolic foundations. Mere personal conviction that one's teaching is correct can never be considered adequate proof of accuracy. The number of denominations in the world can be accounted for in large measure because of a rejection of apostolic succession.
Councils of the Church
COUNCILS OF THE CHURCH. A monumental conflict (recorded in Acts 15) arose in the early Church over legalism—the keeping of Jewish laws by the Christians—as means of salvation. “Now the apostles and elders came together [in council] to consider this matter” (Acts 15:6). This council, held in Jerusalem, set the pattern for the subsequent calling of councils to settle problems. There have been hundreds of such councils—local and regional—over the centuries of the history of the Church, and seven councils specifically designated “Ecumenical,” that is, considered to apply to the whole Church.
The Orthodox Church looks particularly to these Ecumenical Councils for authoritative teaching in regard to the faith and practice of the Church, aware that God has spoken through them.
THE BIBLE is the divinely inspired Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16), and is a crucial part of God's revelation to the human race.
The Old Testament tells the history of that revelation from Creation through the Age of the Prophets.
The New Testament records the birth and life of Jesus as well as the writings of His Apostles. It also includes some of the history of the early Church and especially sets forth the Church's apostolic doctrine.
Though these writings were read in the churches from the time they first appeared, the earliest listing of all the New Testament books exactly as we know them today is found in the Thirty-third Canon of a local council held at Carthage in A.D. 318 and in a fragment of Saint Athanasius of Alexandria's Festal Letter for the year 367. Both sources list all of the books of the New Testament without exception.
A local council, probably held at Rome under Saint Damasus in 382, set forth a complete list of the canonical books of both the Old and New Testaments. The Scriptures are at the very heart of Orthodox worship and devotion.
WORSHIP is the act of ascribing praise, glory, and thanksgiving to God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. All humanity is called to worship God. Worship is more than being in the “great out doors” or listening to a sermon or singing a hymn. God can be known in His creation, but that doesn't constitute worship. And as helpful as sermons may be, they can never offer a proper substitute for worship. Most prominent in Orthodox worship is the corporate praise, thanksgiving, and glory given to God by the Church. This worship consummates in intimate communion with God at His Holy Table.
As is said in the Liturgy, “To You is due all glory, honour, and worship, to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.” In that worship we touch and experience His eternal Kingdom, the age to come, and join in adoration with the heavenly hosts. We experience the glory of the fulfilment of all things in Christ as truly all in all.
Worship in the Orthodox Church is expressed in four principal ways:
- The Eucharist, which is the most important worship experience of Orthodoxy. Eucharist means thanksgiving and is known in the Orthodox Church as the Divine Liturgy.
- The Sacraments, which affirm God's presence and action in the important events of our Christian lives. All the major Sacraments are closely related to the Eucharist. These are: Baptism, Chrismation, Confession, Marriage, Holy Orders, and Anointing of the sick.
- Special Services and Blessings, which also affirm God's presence and action in all the events, needs and tasks of our life.
- The Daily Offices, which are the services of public prayer which occur throughout the day. The most important are Matins, which is the morning prayer of the Church, and Vespers, which is the evening prayer of the Church.
Although Orthodox Services can very often be elaborate, solemn, and lengthy, they express a deep and pervasive sense of joy. This mood is an expression of our belief in the Resurrection of Christ and the deification of humanity, which are dominant themes of Orthodox Worship. In order to enhance this feeling and to encourage full participation, Services are always sung or chanted.
Worship is not simply expressed in words. In addition to prayers, hymns, and scripture readings, there are a number of ceremonies, gestures, and processions. The Church makes rich use of non-verbal symbols to express God's presence and our relationship to Him. Orthodox worship involves the whole person; one's intellect, feelings, and senses.
EUCHARIST means “thanksgiving” and early became a synonym for Holy Communion.
The Eucharist is the centre of worship in the Orthodox Church. Because Jesus said of the bread and wine at the Last Supper, “This is my body,” “This ... is ... my blood,” and “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19, 20), His followers believe—and do—nothing less. In the Eucharist, we partake of Christ's Body and Blood (1 Corinthians 11:23–26), which impart His life and strength to us (John 6:54–56). The celebration of the Eucharist was a regular part of the Church's life from its beginning. Early Christians began calling the Eucharist “the medicine of immortality” because they recognised the great grace of God that was received in it.
LITURGY is a term used to describe the shape or form of the Church's corporate worship of God. The word "liturgy" derives from a Greek word which means "the common work" or "work of the people" (Laos + ergon). All the biblical references to worship in heaven involve liturgy.
In the Old Testament, God ordered a liturgy, or specific pattern of worship. We find it described in detail in the Books of Exodus and Leviticus. In the New Testament we find the Church carrying over the worship of Old Testament Israel as expressed in both the synagogue and the temple, adjusting them in keeping with their fulfilment in Christ. The Orthodox Liturgy, which developed over many centuries, still maintains that ancient shape of worship. The main elements in the Liturgy include hymns, the reading and proclamation of the Gospel, prayers, and the Eucharist itself. For Orthodox Christians, the expressions “the Liturgy” or “the Divine Liturgy” refer to the eucharistic rite instituted by Christ Himself at the Last Supper.
HOLY ORDERS. The Orthodox believe that Christ is the only priest, pastor, and teacher of the Christian Church. He alone forgives sins and offers communion with God, His Father. Christ alone guides and rules his people. Christ remains with His Church as its living and unique head. Christ remains present and active in the Church through the Holy Spirit.
The Apostles, who were called to be evangelists, in every place established bishops, priests and deacons to shepherd and serve the community.
Through the sacrament of Holy Orders, Bishops give order to the Church. Bishops guarantee the continuity and unity of the Church from age to age and from place to place, that is, from the time of Christ and the Apostles until the establishment of God's Kingdom in eternity.
Bishops receive the gift of the Holy Spirit to reveal Christ in the Spirit to mankind. Bishops are neither vicars, substitutes, nor representatives of Christ. It is Christ, through His chosen ministers, Who acts as teacher, good shepherd, forgiver, and healer. It is Christ remitting sins, and curing the physical, mental, and spiritual ills of mankind. This is a mystery of the Church.
The clergy are servants of Christ and His people, and are considered to be members of the congregation, not a special privileged class.
BAPTISM is the way in which a person is actually united to Christ. The experience of salvation is initiated in the waters of baptism. The Apostle Paul teaches in Romans 6:1–6 that in baptism we experience Christ's death and Resurrection. In it our sins are truly forgiven and we are energised by our union with Christ to live, a holy life.
Nowadays, some consider baptism to be only an “outward sign” of belief in Christ. This innovation has no historical or biblical precedent. Others reduce it to a mere obligatory obedience to Christ’s command (cf. Matthew 28:19, 20). Still others, ignoring the Bible completely, reject baptism as a vital factor in salvation. Orthodoxy maintains that these contemporary innovations rob sincere people of the important assurance that baptism provides—namely, that they have been united to Christ and are part of His Church.
CONFESSION is the open admission of known sins before God and man. It means literally “to agree with” God concerning our sins. Confession is one of the most significant means of repenting and of receiving assurance that even our worst sins are truly forgiven. It is also one of our most powerful aids for forsaking and overcoming those sins.
Saint James admonishes us to confess our sins to God before one another (James 5:16). We are also exhorted to confess our sins directly to God (1 John 1:9). So, the Orthodox Church has always followed the New Testament practices of confession of sins to God before a priest, as well as private confession to the Lord.
MARRIAGE in the Orthodox Church is forever. It is not reduced to an exchange of vows or the establishment of a legal contract between the bride and groom. On the contrary, it is God joining a man and a woman into "one flesh" in a sense similar to the Church being joined to Christ (Ephesians 5:31, 32). The success of marriage cannot depend on mutual human promises, but on the promises and blessing of God. In the Orthodox marriage ceremony, the bride and groom offer their lives to Christ and to each other—literally as crowned martyrs.
According to a statement by the Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA) in 2003, “The Orthodox Christian teaching on marriage and sexuality, firmly grounded in Holy Scripture, 2000 years of church tradition, and canon law, holds that marriage consists in the conjugal union of a man and a woman, and that authentic marriage is blessed by God as a sacrament of the Church. Neither Scripture nor Holy Tradition blesses or sanctions such a union between persons of the same sex… The Orthodox Church cannot and will not bless same-sex unions… This being said, however, we must stress that persons with a homosexual orientation are to be cared for with the same mercy and love that is bestowed by our Lord Jesus Christ upon all of humanity. All persons are called by God to grow spiritually and morally toward holiness.”
DIVORCE. While extending love and mercy to divorcees, the Orthodox Church is grieved by the tragedy and the pain divorce causes. Though marriage is understood as a sacrament, and thus accomplished by the grace of God and is permanent, the Church does not deal with divorce legalistically, but with compassion. After appropriate pastoral counsel, divorce may be allowed when avenues for reconciliation have been exhausted. If there is a remarriage, the service for a second marriage includes prayers of repentance over the earlier divorce, asking God's forgiveness and protection for the new union. A third marriage is generally not granted. Clergy who are divorced may be removed, at least for a time, from active ministry, and are not permitted to remarry if they are to remain in the ministry.
EXTRAMARITAL SEX. The Orthodox Christian Faith firmly holds to the biblical teaching that sexual intercourse is reserved for marriage. Sex is a gift of God to be fully enjoyed and experienced only within marriage. The marriage bed is to be kept “undefiled” (Hebrews 13:4), and men and women are called to remain celibate outside of marriage. Our sexuality, like many other things about us human beings, affects our relationship with God, ourselves, and others. It may be employed as a means of glorifying God and fulfilling His image in us, or it may be perverted and abused as an instrument of sin, causing great damage to us and others. Saint Paul writes, “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body…” (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20).
Sanctity of Life
SANCTITY OF LIFE. In our modern world, there is a great temptation to devalue both our and others’ personhood. We consider people as objects that are useful and give us pleasure; or as obstacles to be removed or overcome. This utilitarian ethos speaks to the fallenness and brokenness which denies God and devalues those around us. It has resulted in profound alienation and loneliness, a society plummeting into the abyss of nihilism and despair. Orthodox Christians, by contrast, understand each person to be uniquely loved and special in God’s sight. Our understanding of personal value derives from the Incarnation. The Word of God who, by His incarnation and assumption of our whole life and our whole condition, affirms and blesses the ultimate value of every human person, and indeed, of creation as a whole. He filled it with His own being, uniting us to Himself, making us His own Body, transfiguring and deifying our lives, and raising us up to God our Father. He affirms and fulfills us, not simply as individuals seeking happiness, but rather as persons with an infinite capacity to love and be loved, and thus fulfills us through His own divine personhood in communion. The Lord’s word to each and every human being, to each and every being which bears the image and can actualise the likeness of God, is the same: “You are my beloved.”
ABORTION is the termination of a pregnancy by taking the life of the baby before it comes to full term. The Scriptures teach, “For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother's womb” (Psalm 139:13). When an unborn child is aborted, a human being is killed. There are at least two effective alternatives to abortion: 1) prevention of conception by abstinence or contraceptives, or 2) giving up an unwanted baby for adoption. For the Christian, all children, born or unborn, are precious in God's sight and a gift from Him. Even in the rare case in which a choice must be made between the life of the child and the life of the mother, decision making must be based upon the recognition that the lives of two human persons are at stake.
EUTHANASIA is the premature killing of an individual by one or more other people. It is an act of violence that stems from a utilitarian view of the world. It considers people whose “usefulness” to society have passed, or whose suffering is “too great,” may have their life terminated. Viewing human life through the prism of utility is in direct contrast to the Orthodox Christian understanding of a fully human person. A person has inherent worth and lives within a network of deeply meaningful social relations. Artificial termination of life is an explicit denial of the uniqueness of the person and of the personal presence of the Holy Trinity residing within them. When pain is experienced near the end of life, it is recommended that palliative care be used to minimise the pain, and that aging be seen as an opportunity for family, friends and relatives to fully embrace the person in the arms of love.
The taking of life arises from the condition of sin. Those who participate in such acts do violence to themselves as well as others; yet no sin is too great to be forgiven. The Church holds out its hand to those who repent of such acts offering the forgiveness, healing and reconciliation of Jesus Christ our Lord.
CREATION. Orthodox Christians confess God as Creator of heaven and earth (Genesis 1:1, the Nicene Creed). Creation did not just happen into existence. God made it all. “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God…” (Hebrews 11:3). Orthodox Christians do not believe the Bible to be a scientific textbook on creation, as some mistakenly maintain, but rather God's revelation of Himself and His salvation. Also, helpful as they may be, we do not view scientific textbooks as God's revelation. They may contain both known facts and speculative theory. They are not infallible. Orthodox Christians refuse to build an unnecessary and artificial wall between science and the Christian Faith. Rather, they understand honest scientific investigation as a potential encouragement to faith, for all truth is from God.
SIN literally means “to miss the mark.” As Saint Paul writes, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We sin when we pervert what God has given us as good, falling short of His purposes for us. Our sins separate us from God (Isaiah 59:1, 2), leaving us spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1). To save us, the Son of God assumed our humanity, and being without sin, “He condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3). In His mercy, God forgives our sins when we confess them and turn from them, giving us strength to overcome sin in our lives. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
SALVATION is the divine gift through which men and women are delivered from sin and death, united to Christ, and brought into His eternal Kingdom. Those who heard Peter's sermon on the Day of Pentecost asked what they must do to be saved. He answered, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Salvation begins with these three ‘steps:’ 1) repent, 2) be baptised, and 3) receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. To repent means to change our mind about how we have been, turning from our sin and committing ourselves to Christ. To be baptised means to be born again by being joined into union with Christ. And to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit means to receive the Spirit who empowers us to enter a new life in Christ, be nurtured in the Church, and be conformed to God's image.
Salvation demands faith in Jesus Christ. People cannot save themselves by their own good works. Salvation is “faith working through love.” It is an ongoing, lifelong process. Salvation is past tense in that, through the death and Resurrection of Christ, we have been saved. It is present tense, for we must also be being saved by our active participation through faith in our union with Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Salvation is also future tense, for we must yet be saved at His glorious Second Coming.
NEW BIRTH is receiving new life and is the way we gain entrance into God's Kingdom and His Church. Jesus said, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). From the beginning the Church has taught that the “water” is the baptismal water and the “Spirit” is the Holy Spirit. The New Birth occurs in baptism, where we die with Christ, are buried with Him, and are raised with Him in the newness of His Resurrection, being joined into union with Him in His glorified humanity (Romans 6:3, 4). The historically late idea that being "born again" is a religious experience disassociated from baptism has no biblical basis whatsoever.
SANCTIFICATION is being set apart for God. It involves us in the process of being cleansed and made holy by Christ in the Holy Spirit. We are called to be saints and to grow into the likeness of God. Having been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, we actively participate in sanctification. We cooperate with God, we work together with Him, that we may know Him, becoming by grace what He is by nature.
JUSTIFICATION is a word used in the Scriptures to mean that in Christ we are forgiven and actually made righteous in our living. Justification is not a once-for-all, instantaneous pronouncement guaranteeing eternal salvation, no matter how wickedly a person may live from that point on. Neither is it merely a legal declaration that an unrighteous person is righteous. Rather, justification is a living, dynamic, day-to-day reality for the one who follows Christ. The Christian actively pursues a righteous life in the grace and power of God granted to all who are believing Him.
HEAVEN is the place of God's throne beyond time and space. It is the abode of God's angels, as well as of the saints who have passed from this life. We pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven…” Though Christians live in this world, they belong to the Kingdom of heaven, and that Kingdom is their true home. But heaven is not only for the future. Neither is it some distant place billions of light years away in a nebulous “great beyond.” For the Orthodox, heaven is part of Christian life and worship. The very architecture of an Orthodox church building is designed so that the building itself participates in the reality of heaven. The Eucharist is heavenly worship, heaven on earth. Saint Paul teaches we are raised up with Christ in heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6), “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19). At the end of the age, a new heaven and a new earth will be revealed (Revelation 21:1).
SECOND COMING. With the current speculation in some corners of Christendom surrounding the Second Coming of Christ and how it may come to pass, it is comforting to know the beliefs of the Orthodox Church are basic. Orthodox Christians confess with conviction that Jesus Christ “will come again to judge the living and the dead,” and that “His Kingdom will have no end.” Orthodox preaching does not attempt to predict God's prophetic schedule, but to encourage Christian people to have their lives in order that they might have confidence before Him when He comes (1 John 2:28).
HELL. Many people think that heaven and hell are the places God sends us to either reward or punish us. But Orthodox Christians don't believe in this “two story” model of the universe.
We believe that God is “present in all places and filling all things,” and that what we interpret as salvation or damnation is actually our response to, and experience of, God's unconditional love. Hell is understood as the presence of God experienced by a person who, through the use of free will, rejects Divine Love. He is tortured by the love of God, tormented by being in the eternal presence of God without being in communion with God.
The radiant Presence of God will be revealed in this world at the end of the age. Those who are in communion with Him participate in His light, which becomes in us food and drink and light and joy, rendering us light ourselves. Hell is the torment suffered by those who find themselves in the Presence of God’s light but find themselves separated from communion with Him.
Communion of Saints
COMMUNION OF SAINTS. When Christians depart this life, they remain a vital part of the Church, the Body of Christ. They are alive in the Lord and “registered in heaven” (Hebrews 12:23). They worship God (Revelation 4:10) and inhabit His heavenly dwelling places (John 14:2). In the Eucharist we come “to the city of the living God” and join in communion with the saints in our worship of God (Hebrews 12:22). They are that great “cloud of witnesses” which surrounds us, and we seek to imitate them in running “the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). Rejecting or ignoring the communion of saints is a denial that those who have died in Christ are still part of his Holy Church.
MARY is called Theotokos, meaning “God-bearer” or “the Mother of God,” because she bore the Son of God in her womb and from her He took His humanity. Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, recognised this reality when she called Mary, “the mother of my Lord” (Luke 1:43). Mary said of herself, “All generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48). So we, in our generation, call her blessed. Mary lived a chaste and holy life, and we honour her highly as the model of holiness, the first of the redeemed, the Mother of the new humanity in her Son. It is bewildering to Orthodox Christians that many professing Christians who claim to believe the Bible never call Mary blessed nor honour she who bore and raised God the Son in His human flesh.
DISCIPLINE may become necessary to maintain purity and holiness in the Church and to encourage repentance in those who have not responded to the admonition of brothers and sisters in Christ, and of the Church, to forsake their sins. Church discipline often centres around exclusion from receiving Communion (excommunication). The New Testament records how Saint Paul ordered the discipline of excommunication for an unrepentant man involved in sexual relations with his father's wife (1 Corinthians 5:1–5). The Apostle John warned that we are not to receive into our homes those who wilfully reject the truth of Christ (2 John 9, 10). Throughout her history, the Orthodox Church has exercised discipline with compassion when it is needed, always to help bring a needed change of heart and to aid God's people to live pure and holy lives, never as a punishment.
- The Creed (Holy Orthodox Church)
- What Orthodox Christians Believe (Ancient Faith Publishing)
- The Great and Holy Council of Crete, 2016 (Holy Orthodox Church)
- His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah’s Letter on the Sanctity of Life (Orthodox Church of America)
- Deuteronomy 6:4; Mark 12:29, 32; Romans 3:29–31; 1 Corinthians 8:4–6
- Matthew 6:9
- Exodus 6:3; 2 Corinthians 6:18
- Genesis 1:1; Revelation 4:11
- Colossians 1:16–16; Hebrews 11:3
- Acts 11:17; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Ephesians 4:5–6
- Matthew 14:33, 16:16; John 1:18, 3:16
- Colossians 1:15–17
- Psalm 27:1; John 1:2–4, 9; 8:12; Matthew 17:2, 5; 2 Corinthians 4:6; Hebrews 1:3; 1 John 1:5
- John 1:1–2; 17:1–5; 1 John 4:15, 5:20
- John 1:14
- John 10:30
- John 1:3, 10; Colossians 1:16; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Romans 11:36; Hebrews 1:10
- Matthew 1:21; Romans 10:8–10; 1 Thessalonians 5:9; Colossians 1:13–14; 1 Timothy 2:4–5
- John 3:13, 31; 6:33, 35, 38
- Luke 1:34–35
- John 1:14; Hebrews 2:14
- Mark 15:25; 1 Peter 2:24; Isaiah 53:5; 1 Corinthians 15:3
- Mark 15:15
- Mark 8:31
- Matthew 27:59–60; Luke 23:53
- Mark 9:31; 16:9; Luke 24:1–6; Acts 10:40; 1 Corinthians 15:4
- Luke 24:45–46; 1 Corinthians 15:3–4
- Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9
- Mark 16:19; Luke 22:69; Acts 7:55
- Matthew 24:27; Mark 13:26; John 14:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:17
- Matthew 16:27; Acts 10:42; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 2 Timothy 4:1; 1 Peter 4:5
- Hebrews 1:8; 2 Peter 1:11
- John 14:26; Acts 1:8
- Acts 5:3–4
- Genesis 1:2; John 6:63; 2 Corinthians 3:6
- John 15:26
- Matthew 3:16–17, 2 Corinthians 3:7–8
- 1 Samuel 19:20; Ezekiel 11:5, 13; 1 Peter 1:10–11
- Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 4:4; Romans 12:4–5; 1 Corinthians 10:17
- 1 Peter 2:5, 9; Ephesians 1:4; 5:27
- Mark 16:15; Matthew 28:19; Acts 1:8
- Matthew 16:18; Acts 2:42; Ephesians 2:20–22
- Ephesians 4:5; Galatians 3:27; 1 Corinthians 12:13
- Colossians 2:12–13; Acts 22:16
- John 11:24–25; 1 Corinthians 15:12–49; Romans 6:4–5; 1 Thessalonians 4:16
- Mark 10:29–30; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1
- Psalm 106:48