THE GREEK ORTHODOX CHURCH

by Archbishop Michael of North and South America

 

The Orthodox Church is a most democratic body which comprises first, Churches founded by the Apostles themselves, or by the disciples of the Apostles, and which have remained in full communion with one another; and secondly, those Churches which have derived their origin from the missionary activity of the first Churches, or which were founded by separation from them, without loss of communion.

To the first class belong the four Patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, and the Church of Cyprus. The Church of Constantinople was founded by St. Andrew, the Church of Alexandria by St. Mark, the Church of Antioch by St. Paul, the Church of Jerusalem by St. Peter and St. James, and the Church of Cyprus by St. Paul and St. Barnabas.

To the second class belong the Church-of Sinai, the Church of Russia, the Church of Greece, the Church of Yugoslavia, the Church of Rournania, the Church of Georgia in the Caucasus, the Church of Poland, and the Church of Albania.

All these Churches are independent of each. other in their administration but at the same time are in full communion with one another. And what is more important and must be strongly emphasized, they have the same faith, doctrine, Apostolic tradition, sacraments, liturgies and holy services.

There is no difference among the Orthodox people of all these Churches arising from the ecclesiastical authority to which they give allegiance. The only essential thing for them is the Orthodox Church and the Orthodox faith. Forthis very reason, if one goes to Russia, Roumania, Yugoslavia, and asks the people to which Church they belong, they will not answer that they belong to the Russian, Roumanian or Yugoslavian Churches, but to the Greek Orthodox Church. The Churches are national, but these national Churches are in brotherly fellowship. Together they constitute Orthodoxy. Together they honor, as first among equals, the occupant of the Ecumenical Throne of Constantinople

The Orthodox Church derives her teaching from two sources: the Holy Scriptures and the Sacred Tradition. These two sources, according to the Orthodox conviction, are of equal value and they complete each other. We regard the Sacred Tradition as an essential complement of Holy Scripture, because the Apostles wrote the various books which constitute the New Testament from different motives; consequently, it is impossible that the Holy Scriptures should contain all the teachings of our Lord and His Apostles, which at the beginning were transmitted orally. Therefore, Sacred Tradition is older than the New Testament.

We believe that God is One in substance and Trinity in persons. We worship One God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance. The Creation is the work in time of the Blessed Trinity. The world is not self-created, neither has it existed from eternity, but it is the product of the wisdom, the power, and the will of One God in Trinity. God the Father is the prime cause of the Creation and God the Son and God the Holy Ghost took part in the Creation, God the Son perfecting the Creation and God the Holy Ghost vivifying the Creation.

We believe that Our Lord Jesus Christ is truly God. He is Jesus, that is, the Saviour and Christ, the Lord’s Anointed, a Son not created of another substance, as is the case with us, but a Son begotten of the very substance of the Father before all time, and thus consubstantial with the Father. He is also truly man, like us in every respect, except sin. The denial either of His divinity or of His humanity constitutes a denial of His incarnation and of our salvation. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. The faith of the Church about the procession of the Holy Spirit was confirmed by the Second Ecumenical Council, which added to the Creed the following clause: “And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father.”

The Church is the holy institution founded by our Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of men, bearing His holy sanction and authority, and composed of men having one and the same faith, the partaking of the same sacraments. It is divided into the clergy and laity. The clergy trace their descent by uninterrupted succession from the Apostles and through them from our Lord Jesus Christ. The Church is one because our Lord Jesus Christ founded not many, but only one Church; holy because her aim, the sanctification and salvation of her members through the sacraments, is holy; catholic because she is above local limitations; and apostolic because she was “built upon the foundation of the Apostles, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner-stone.” (Eph. 2:20). The Head of the Church is our Lord, Jesus Christ.

We recognize seven sacraments: Baptism, Chrism or Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Confession, Ordination, Marriage, and Holy Unction. Baptism is the door through which one enters into the Church. Confirmation is the completion of Baptism. In the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist under the kinds of bread and wine we partake of the very Body and the very Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ for remission of sins and eternal life.

Both the New Testament and Sacred Tradition bear witness to the real presence of our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. In the Sacrament of Confession, Jesus Christ, the founder of the Sacrament, through the confessor, forgives the sins committed after baptism by the person who confesses his sins and sincerely repents for them. In the Sacrament of Ordination through prayer and the laying-on of hands by a Bishop, Divine Grace comes down on the ordained enabling him to be a worthy minister of the Church. Apostolic succession is fundamental to the Church. Without it the Church is quite unthinkable. In the Sacrament of Marriage, Divine Grace sanctifies the union of husband and wife. In the Sacrament of Holy Unction the sick person is anointed with sanctified oil and Divine Grace heals both his bodily and spiritual ills.

At death, man’s body goes to the earth from which it was taken, and the soul, being immortal, goes to God, who gave it. The souls of men, being conscious and exercising all their faculties immediately after death, are judged by God. This judgment following man’s death we call the Particular judgment. The final reward of men, however, we believe will take place at the time of the General judgment. During the time between the Particular and the General judgment, which is called the Intermediate State, the souls of men have a foretaste of their blessing or punishment.

Further, we venerate and honor the Saints and we ask their intercession with God, but we adore and worship God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Of all Saints, we honor exceedingly the Mother of our Lord, because of the supreme grace and the call which she received from God. Though she was not exempt from original sin, from which she was cleansed at the time of the Annunciation, we believe that by the Grace of God she did not commit any actual sin. We venerate the sacred Ikons and relics. Yet this veneration, according to the decisions and canons of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, relates not to the sacred images as such, but to their prototypes, or to the persons whom they represent.

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