What We Believe

 

The Orthodox Church is the Church founded by Jesus Christ and described throughout the New Testament. All other Christian Churches and sects can be traced back historically to it. The word Orthodox literally means “straight teaching” or “straight worship,” being derived from two Greek words: orthos, “straight,” and doxa, “teach­ing” or “worship.” As the encroachments of false teaching and division multiplied in early Christian times, threatening to obscure the identity and purity of the Church, the term “Orthodox” quite logically came to be applied to it. The Orthodox Church carefully guards the truth against all error and schism, both to protect its flock and to glorify Christ, whose Body the Church is.
 
An astonishing number of religious groups today claim to be the successors of the early Church. A “yardstick for truth” is needed by which to compare what the Church originally believed and practiced with what these groups proclaim. Certainly we all have the God-given right to believe whatever we desire and to participate in whatever religious association we choose. But it is also just good sense to be acquainted with the options before we make our final choices.
 
It is our hope this material will help introduce readers to the Christianity espoused by the Apostles of Jesus Christ and instituted by them. This is the yard­stick for truth by which our choices in regard to Chris­tianity need to be evaluated. More information can be found in the pages on faith and worship.
 
 

 

 

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).

 

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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.

In reciting the Nicene Creed, Orthodox Christians regularly affirm the historic faith concerning Jesus as they say, “I believe . . . in one Lord Jesus Christ, begotten of the Father before all ages, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made, who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and suf­fered and was buried; and the third day He rose again from the dead, according to the Scriptures; and as­cended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, whose Kingdom shall have no end.”  

 

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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 all of our lives.

 

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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 bap­tized 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 baptized, 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 baptized 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.

 

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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 energized 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 perfunctory 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.

 

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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.

 

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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The Bible is the divinely inspired Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16), and is a crucial part of God’s self ­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 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.

 

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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-of-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, honor, 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 fulfillment of all things in Christ as truly all in all.

 

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Eucharist means “thanksgiving” and early be­came a synonym for Holy Communion. The Eucharist is the center 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 mystically of Christ’s Body and Blood, which impart His life and strength to us. 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 recognized the great grace of God that was received in it.

 

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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.” 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 fulfillment 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 (Holy Communion) itself. For Orthodox Christians, the expres­sions “the Liturgy” or “the Divine Liturgy” refer to the Eucharist,  the rite instituted by Christ Himself at the Last Supper.

 

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Spiritual Gifts  When the young Church was getting under way, God poured out His Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and their followers, giving them spiritual gifts to build up the Church and serve each other. Among the specific gifts of the Spirit mentioned in the New Testament are: apostleship, prophecy, evangelism, pastoring, teaching, healing, helps, administrations, knowledge, wisdom, tongues, interpretation of tongues. These and other spiritual gifts are recognized in the Orthodox Church. The need for them varies with the times. The gifts of the Spirit are most in evidence in the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church.

 

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Statement of Faith

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible;
And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, Begotten of the Father before all ages, Light of Light, True God of True God, Begotten, not made, of one essence with the Father, by Whom all things were made:
Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man;
And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried;
And the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures;
And ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father;
And He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, Whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, and Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, Who spoke by the Prophets;
And I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins.
I look for the Resurrection of the dead,
And the Life of the age to come. Amen.

 
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