The History of Eastern Orthodoxy
For the first 300 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ,
Chrisianity struggled for survival in the pagan Roman Empire. Today's
distinction between the Eastern Orthodox and "western" (Roman Catholic)
churches did not exist. A turning point in history came in 313 when Roman
Emperor Constantine the Great granted Christians the freedom to practice
their religion. He called the First Nicene Council in 325. This was
the first of seven ecumenical councils held between 325 and 787. The councils
established church organization and doctrine. In 330, Constantine moved his
capital from Rome to a new city which he named in his honour, Constantinople.
The year 1054 is generally considered the date of the schism (split)
between the Eastern and Western churches. The two churches had been drifting
apart for hundreds of years before the final schism. May political,
cultural, and geographical factors contributed to the final split. Two
religious issues are are generally the chief causes of the break.
One issue concerned a phrase in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed
called the "filioque". Another issue was the Roman pope's claim to
authority over the Eastern church. Both issues led to a historic dispute
in the 800's between Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople, and Pope
Nicholas I. Disputes continued until, in 1054, delegates of Pope
Leo IX excommunicated the Patriarch of Constantinople. The patriarch then
summoned a council that excommunicated the papal delegates.
In 1204, Western Christians on the Fourth Crusade increased the bitterness
between Eastern and Western churches when they partially destroyed
Constantinople. Muslims captured Constantinople in 1453 and ruled
most Orthodox Christians until the 1800's. Under Muslim rule, the
patriarch of the city was considered the senior bishop of all churches.
As Muslim power declined during the 1800's, several churches broke
away from the rule of the patriarch and gained self-government.
Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I held a historic meeting with Pope
Paul VI in 1964 in Jerusalem. The meeting was a first between a Pope
and Patriarch of Constantinople since 1439. In 1965, the two leaders
removed the excommunications of 1054.
Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Bartholomew I have met to discuss further
the reunification of the Christian Church. EIS POLLA ETI! May God grant them many years!
(World Book Encyclopedia)
The beliefs of the Orthodox church are explained in its liturgical
practices. The liturgies of the Church seek to bring the people
to a higher spititual level using chanted music, icons of Christ,
the Virgin Mary, or other saints, incense, and the beautiful vestments
of the clergy and altar servers.
The Orthodox Churches teach that their church is faithful to the teachings
of the Apostles and free from errors in matters of doctrine. But, they
do not believe that any one person in the church is infallible. The
Bible and Holy Tradition are the most important sources of Eastern
Orthodox teachings. Daily church services are based on the Bible, especially
on the Psalms. The services also include many hymns and prayers that
comment on Biblical events.
The Nicene Creed expresses the beliefs of Eastern Orthodoxy. The creed
probably dates from the First Ecumenical Council in Nicea in 325 A.D. It
is the only creed used in church services.
Eastern Orthodox disagree with Roman Catholics and other Western
Christians over the text of the Nicene Creed. Orthodox Christians
use the original text, which states that the Holy Spirit proceeds from
the Father. They base their belief on a passage in the Gospel of
St. John (15:26). Roman Catholic and other Christians use a later form
of the text, which states that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father
and the Son. This additional phrase, called the "filioque", is one of
the differences in the doctrines of the Eastern Orthodox Churches and
the Roman Catholic.
Besides these differences, the Orthodox and Roman Catholics share mostly
identical beliefs. Both have 7 sacraments (Baptism,
Confirmation-Chrismation, Communion-Eucharist, Confession, Marriage, Holy Orders, and
Annointing of the Sick). Baptism is usally done for infants, then, immediately
following, the sacrament of Chrismation is administered, giving the "seal of the
gift of the Holy Spirit". In the West, Chrismation is usally given
when the Christian is a teenager. Like the Roman Catholics, the
Eastern Orthodox consider the Eucharist the most important sacrament.
In this sacrament, the bread and wine offered to God become the
Most Holy Precious and Life-Giving Body and Blood of Christ. This is
known as transubstantiation.
Both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox recognize each other as
"Sister-Apostolic" churches. The Roman Catholics recognize the beliefs
of the Orthodox to be so close that they offer Holy Communion to them, and consider their orders to be valid. The
Orthodox, however, still only allow Orthodox Christians to receive Holy
Communion in an Orthodox church. Most Orthodox, like Catholics, prepare themselves for this
sacrament with Holy Confession, in which the priest hears the sins of
the pentinent and grants absolution in God's name. The priest does
not forgive sins, for this is God's duty.
Also, one beautiful practice of the Orthodox church must be shared. It
is the sign of the Cross. Orthodox Christians cross themselves by
joining their thumb, index finger, and middle finger together, while
placing the ring and pinky fingers on the palm. Then the 3 fingers
(symbolizing the Trinity) are touched to the forehead, the breast, and
the right then left shoulders, saying, "In the name of the Father, Son,
and the Holy Spirit!" The ring and pinky fingers symbolize the
two natures of Christ, both True God and True Man.
The Assumption (Dormition) of the Mother of God
In the Orthodox church, Mary, being the Mother of God, is very important. Mary was the first Christian, as she whole-heartedly accepted God's mission for her. The name of our church, the Assumption, or Dormition (falling asleep in the Lord), of Mary, is significant because the Assumption of Mary into Heaven shows us that she was sinless. While not free from immaculate conception as she was of the lineage of David, Mary had no sin her whole life. Really, how could God be born of a woman with sin? Mary's pure body was the vessel through which Christ our Lord entered the world through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Prayer of the Heart
O LORD, JESUS CHRIST,
SON OF GOD, HAVE
MERCY UPON ME A SINNER!
This prayer is called the "Jesus Prayer," but it's also known in the Orthodox
Church as "The prayer of the heart." This prayer can be said by not only
monastics, but also any lay person can say the prayer. This humble prayer is
prayed with a prayer rope in hand. The prayer rope was first made by
monastics of the Church and the laity of the church then adopted the use of the
prayer rope as well. Prayer ropes can be found in 25, 50, to 100 knots and
sometimes more. The prayer rope also are made of different colors, black is
used mainly by monastics, but any color can be used. What is required of this
beautiful prayer is to help us keep Christ in our hearts, and to pray unceasing.
Obtain the book: "The Way of the Pilgrim," to better understand the prayer of
the heart. To begin the prayer, we would say on each knot: O LORD, JESUS
CHRIST, SON OF GOD, HAVE MERCY UPON ME A SINNER. We
continue the prayer first with the lips, in a low whisper, and with the mind say
the prayer, after much struggle with the prayer, the prayer enters the heart, one
now has the prayer of the heart. Once the prayer enters the heart then we
must constantly continue to say the prayer. Monastics for example are told to
use their prayer ropes, and say 1000 knot prayers in their cell -room, we too
must spiritually discipline ourselves to say the prayer as often as we can....
Once we have the prayer of the heart, suddenly with all the presures of the
day, one may be working, or doing something around the house, and the heart
says the prayer all by itself, without you asking it to do so...this in itself is true
union with our God. We now have unceasing prayer with Christ our true God.
I humbly suggest to you to obtain a prayer rope, and to begin the prayer...Amen. -Contributed by Father Demetrios Serfes, Boise, Idaho.