What is the Orthodox Church?
The Orthodox Church is the oldest Christian Church in the world, founded by Jesus Christ and with its beginnings chronicled in the New Testament. (Our own Patriarchate of Antioch, one of the most ancient of Orthodox churches, was originally founded in A.D. 34 by Ss. Peter and Paul.) All other Christian churches and groups can be traced historically back to it.
With roughly 250 million members worldwide, Orthodoxy is second in size only to the Roman Catholic Church. However, in spite of its size, relatively few Americans are aware that it exists.
Orthodoxy in America.
In the 18th Century, the great Orthodox Christian missionary work which began with Pentecost in Jerusalem, so many centuries before, finally crossed from the continent of Euro-Asia into North America. The first missionaries traveled with the explorers Vitus Bering and Alexei Chirikov, who formally claimed Alaska and the Aleutian Islands in 1741. For the next fifty years, together with the exploration and economic development of this new outpost of the Russian Empire, the first attempts were made to bring the Orthodox Faith to the natives of that region (the Aleuts, the Athabascan Indians, the Tlingits, and the Eskimos).
The first formal Orthodox Christian Mission to America arrived on September 24,1794, in Kodiak. This Mission consisted of eight Monks and two Novices, together with ten Alaskan natives who had been taken to Russia by Gregory Shelikov in 1786. This Mission discovered on Kodiak Island hundreds of natives who had been taught the rudiments of the Orthodox Faith, and had been baptized by laymen. Gregory Shelikov, one of the founders of what was to become later the Russian-American Company, had himself baptized about two hundred Aleuts on Kodiak Island.
The American Mission, headed by Archimandrite Joasaph, immediately began the work of establishing the Church in Kodiak and the Islands and later on the mainland of Alaska. Despite great difficulties, this Mission was very successful, for virtually all the remaining natives of Kodiak Island were baptized in just three years. During this period, one of the missionaries, Hieromonk Juvenaly, was martyred at Lake Iliamna by natives.
The Martyrdom of Hieromonk Juvenaly.
In 1795 Hieromonk Juvenaly left Kodiak for Nuchek, where he baptized more than seven hundred Chugach, and then crossed to Kenai Bay and baptized there all the local inhabitants. In the following year (1796), he crossed to Alaska in the direction of Lake Iliamna, where his apostolic duties came to an end, together with his life. He was killed by the natives, and the reason for his death, was partly because the first thing he did after baptizing the natives was to order them to give up polygamy. He had also persuaded the chiefs and other leading men in the tribes there to give him their children so that the latter might be educated on Kodiak. When he set out with the children, the men regretted what they had done, gave chase, caught up with him, and fell upon him.
When Father Juvenaly was attacked by the savages he did not try to defend himself, or run away, which he could easily have done, especially since he had a firearm with him. He let himself be taken without offering any resistance, asking only that those with him should be spared, which was done.
Much later those who had been spared related that when Father Juvenaly was already dead he had risen up and followed his murderers, saying something to them. The savages, supposing him to be still alive, attacked him again and beat him. But as soon as they left him he again stood up and followed them, and this happened several times. Finally, in order to be rid of him, the savages hacked his body to pieces. Only then did this fervent preacher fall silent, a Martyr for the word of God. On the spot where the missionary’s remains lay, there at once appeared a column of flame, reaching up to the sky.
The Martyrdom of the Aleut Peter.
In a letter to Abbot Damascene of Valaam, dated November 22, 1865, Simeon I. Yanovsky, Chief Manager of the Russian Colonies from 1818 to 1820, wrote:
Once I related to [Fr. (later St.) Herman] how the Spaniards in California had taken fourteen of our Aleuts prisoner, and how the Jesuits had tortured one of them, to try and force them all to take the Catholic faith. But the Aleuts would not submit, saying: We are Christians, we have been baptized, and they showed them the crosses they wore. But the Jesuits objected, saying No, you are heretics and schismatics; if you do not agree to take the Catholic faith we will torture you. And they left them shut up two to a cell until the evening to think it over.
In the evening they came back with a lantern and lighted candles, and began again to try and persuade them to become Catholics. But the Aleuts were filled with God’s grace, and firmly and decisively answered, We are Christians and we would not betray our faith. Then the fanatics set about torturing them. First they tortured one singly while the other one was made to watch. First they cut off one of the toe joints from one foot, and then from the other, but the Aleut bore it all and continued to say: I am a Christian and I will not betray my faith. Then they cut a joint off each finger first from one hand, then the other; then they hacked off one foot at the instep, then one hand at the wrist. The blood poured out, but the martyr bore it all to the end, maintaining his stand, and with this faith he died, from loss of blood!
On the following day it was planned to torture the others, but that same night an order was received from Monterey that all the captured Russian Aleuts were to be sent under guard to Monterey. And so in the morning those remaining alive were sent away. This was related to me by an Aleut who was an eyewitness a colleague of the man put to death and who later escaped from the Spaniards….
When I had finished telling him this, Father [Herman] asked me, What was the name of this tortured Aleut? Peter, I replied, but I cannot remember the other name.
Then the elder stood before the Icon, devoutly crossed himself and said, Holy newly-martyred [Peter], pray to God for us!
[The above accounts were taken from The Russian Orthodox Religious Mission in America, 1794-1837, with Materials Concerning the Life and Works of the Monk German, and Ethnographic Notes by the Hieromonk Gedeon, St. Petersburg, 1894.]
In 1798, Archimandrite Joasaph returned to Irkutsk in Siberia and was consecrated on April 10, 1899, Bishop of Kodiak, the first Bishop for America, but he and his entourage, including Hieromonk Makary and Hierodeacon Stephen of the original Mission, drowned somewhere between Unalaska and Kodiak Island. Though the American Mission was now reduced to half of its original number, it continued its work. Notable was the great spiritual and missionary work of the Monks Herman and Joasaph. Not only did they instruct the natives in spiritual and religious matters, but they also taught them practical, secular subjects, such as mathematics, carpentry, agriculture, as well as animal husbandry.
In 1824, with the arrival of the Missionary Priest John Veniaminov in Unalaska, a new impetus was added to the missionary work already done. The original missionaries had been replaced by others, so that by the time of the arrival of Father John, only the Monk Herman, now retired to Spruce Island, was left of the original American Mission. He died on December 13, 1837, and on August 9, 1970, he was canonized as the first Saint of the Orthodox Church in America.
Our Venerable Father Herman of Alaska.
Little is known of the early life of the Monk Herman. He was born in Serpukhov in the Moscow Diocese about 1756 and at the age of 16, he began his monastic life at the Trinity-St. Sergius Hermitage near St. Petersburg. While at the Hermitage, Herman developed a severe infection on the right side of his throat which brought him to the point of death. After fervent prayer before an Icon of the Most-Holy Theotokos he fell into a deep sleep, and during this sleep, Herman dreamed that he was healed by the Virgin. Upon waking, he found that he had completely recovered. Remaining at the Trinity-Sergius Hermitage for five more years, he then moved to the Valaam Monastery on Lake Ladoga.
During his stay at the Valaam Monastery, Father Herman developed a strong spiritual attachment to the Elder Nazarius, Abbot and Renewer of the spiritual life of Valaam. He found in Nazarius a gentle, yet effective spiritual guide, whom he would remember for the rest of his life. During his stay in Valaam, the monastery was visited by Gregory Shelikov, head of the Golikov-Shelikov Trading Company, who requested Monks to work in the new mission field in Alaska. Thus, in 1793, Father Herman, with several other Monks was sent by the Holy Synod of Russia to the Alaskan missionary field.
After a journey of nearly a year, the little band of eight Monks arrived on Kodiak Island on September 24, 1794. From Kodiak, the Monks began their effort to convert and educate the natives. Several thousand Alaskans were converted to Orthodoxy, but the Mission did not have the success that had been expected. Archimandrite Joasaph, the head of the Mission, was consecrated a Bishop, but died with two others when the ship on which he was returning to Alaska sank, and Fr. Herman, who, from the beginning had distinguished himself with his humility, compassion for the natives and his administrative skills, became the acting head of the Mission. Eventually only he remained from the original Mission.
After difficult relations with and persecution by the Russian-American Trading Company, which controlled the Alaska Colony, between 1808 and 1818 Fr. Herman left Kodiak and went to Spruce Island, which he called New Valaam. He spent the rest of his life on this island, where he cared for orphans, ran a school and continued his missionary work. He built a small chapel, school and guest house, while food for himself and the orphans was produced from his own experimental garden.
Caring little for himself, Fr. Herman wore the oldest and simplest clothes under his cassock and ate very little. His free time was devoted to prayer and singing the services he could do as a simple Monk, since, in humility, he had refused to be ordained. Thus, his life on the island was that of an ascetic and was in many ways similar to the lives of the early Monks of the Egyptian desert. When asked if he was ever lonesome, Fr. Herman answered, No, I am not alone there! God is there, as God is everywhere. The Most-Holy Angels are there. With whom is it better to talk, with people or with Angels? Most certainly with Angels.
Father Herman continued to grow in his love for the natives while he lived on Spruce Island, for he saw them as newly-born children in the faith, who had to be guided and taught. He had a special love for the children and they were very fond of him. One of his greatest pleasures was being with children, teaching them and giving them the delicacies he made. During this time a ship from the United States brought an epidemic to the Alaskans and hundreds of them died. But they were not alone, for Herman remained with them constantly, going from person to person, Comforting the dying, and praying with and for them. After the epidemic ended, Fr. Herman brought the orphans back to New Valaam with him and cared for them. On Sundays and Holy Days, Fr. Herman would gather the people for prayer and singing, and he would give sermons that captivated the hearts of all those present. As a clairvoyant Elder, he could see into the hearts of his spiritual children and help them.
The natives recognized the holiness of the Venerable One and turned to him for help, seeing in him an intercessor before God. Once there was a great tidal wave threatening the island and the people came to Fr. Herman for help. He took an Icon of the Theotokos, placed it on the beach and said, Have no fear. The water will not go any higher than the place where this holy icon stands; and it did not. On another occasion there was a fire on the island and the people again turned to the righteous Elder, who interceded successfully on their behalf.
Prior to his death, Fr. Herman revealed what would happen to him. He told the people that when he died there would be no Priest in the area and the people would have to bury him by themselves. He also said that he would be forgotten for thirty years and then would be remembered. Father Herman died on December 13, 1837, in the manner in which he had described to his flock. They continued to revere his memory, but the outside world seemed to forget him until the first investigation of his life in 1867, by Bishop Peter of Alaska. Finally, on August 9, 1970, the Holy Monk was glorified by the Orthodox Church in America, in impressive ceremonies at Kodiak, Alaska, and the Blessed Father Herman of Alaska entered the ranks of Saints who are interceding on behalf of American Orthodoxy.
The Church, however, worked hard to further the work of the Mission, even in these difficult times, so that, despite the harsh climate, the difficulty of supplying the Mission because of the great distances involved, Father John found a solid foundation upon which to do his work. He had the help of Father Jacob Netsvetov (a Creole, one of mixed race), who had been sent to Irkutsk, Siberia, for Seminary training, and had been ordained in 1828. (The first American-born Priest, Prokopy Lavrov, was ordained in 1810, but he returned to Russia after a brief period of less than a year, since he found the life in Kodiak too harsh.)
Together, Fathers John and Jacob were a remarkable missionary pair. They succeeded in revitalizing the Mission to such a degree that at the end of the 1830’s, there were five active Priests and five religious centers, with more than 10,000 Orthodox Christians. There were four schools for boys (about 100 students) and four orphanages for girls (about 60). All these schools, as well as the churches, gave religious instruction to the natives in their native tongues. This missionary work was financially supported primarily by the Russian-American Company, with substantial assistance also provided by the Holy Synod and the Church of Russia.
On December 15, 1840, the American Mission was blessed with the consecration of the now-widowed Priest, Fr. John Veniaminov, as Innocent, Bishop of Kamchatka, the Kuriles, and the Aleutian Islands. With the consecration of Bishop Innocent, the history of the American Mission entered an even more glorious phase. Bishop Innocent’s sixteen years of experience in the Alaskan missionary field, coupled with his in depth knowledge of the natives now entrusted to his pastoral care, as well as his judicious choice of fellow missionaries, accounted for the unparalleled success of the Mission.
As soon as he arrived in Sitka (the capital of Russian America), he began the work of enlarging the missionary work of the Diocese. The Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel was beautified and enlarged, and plans were laid for the construction of a Seminary, which opened in 1845. At the same time, he continued his extensive missionary journeys throughout his far-flung Diocese which covered parts of two continents.
When his responsibility was again increased with the enlargement of his Diocese into an Archdiocese, with increased territories, Bishop Innocent transferred his center of activity to Siberia, leaving an Auxiliary Bishop to supervise the American part of his enlarged domain. In 1869, Archbishop Innocent was elevated to the See of Moscow as its Metropolitan, but he still kept a careful watch over his beloved American Church. Important here was the organization, at his urging, of the Russian Missionary Society, which was organized to further the missionary work of the Russian Church, especially in Siberia, Alaska and Japan, which guaranteed that the work begun in America would not be abandoned or forgotten with the sale of Alaska to America which had occurred in 1867. With true prophetic insight, the aged Metropolitan called for the missionary work to be directed to the whole of America and foresaw the need for American-born clergy totally conversant with the American cultural ethos, as well as the English language.
Our Father among the Saints Innocent, Metropolitan of Moscow, Enlightener of the Aleuts and Apostle to the Americas.
John Popov (later St. Innocent) was born on August 27, 1797, in Aginsk, a small village near Irkutsk, Siberia. He came from a pious family and at age six, young John was already reading at his parish. At age nine he entered the Irkutsk Theological Seminary, where he remained for eleven years, proving to be its most brilliant pupil during this time. Besides his Seminary classes, he read all of the books in the library dealing with history and the sciences, and while still a student he began to construct different types of clocks, acquiring the skills of carpentry, furniture making, blacksmithing, and the construction of musical instruments.
At the age of seventeen, in recognition of his outstanding achievements at the Seminary, his last name was changed to Veniaminov, in honor of the late Bishop Benjamin (or Veniamin) of Irkutsk. Not long after graduation from the Seminary, John married the daughter of a Priest and was ordained to the Deaconate. In 1821, he was ordained to the Priesthood.
While a young man, Fr. John had heard stories about the native settlements at Unalaska in the Aleutian Island chain, part of the Russian colony in America, and how they labored in the darkness of paganism. Thus, in 1823, having heard that the Bishop of Irkutsk had been requested to send a Priest to Alaska and that everyone else had refused, against the wishes of his family and friends, he volunteered to go. After fourteen months of difficult travel across the wilds of Siberia and the Bering Sea, he arrived in Unalaska with his family.
Upon arriving at Unalaska, Fr. John found that there was no house or chapel there, but he welcomed this as an opportunity to teach the natives. He first built a home for his family, using the opportunity to teach the natives carpentry. Constructing furniture for the new home, he taught the natives this skill as well, so that, with these newly-acquired skills, they were able to assist Fr. John in the construction of the Cathedral of the Ascension, which was completed in 1826.
At the same time, Fr. John’s primary work was converting the natives to Orthodoxy and educating them. He learned the Aleut language, as well as the life style of the people. He and his wife organized a school for them (as well as for their own six children), and one of the required subjects was the Aleut language, for which Fr. John had devised an alphabet based on the Cyrillic. He translated services, as well as the Gospel of St. Matthew, and even wrote a small book, A Guide to the Way to the Heavenly Kingdom in the Aleut language.
Fr. John traveled throughout the Aleutian chain to teach and baptize the people, and while preaching he was always able to communicate effectively with his flock. One of these wrote, many years later: When he preached the Word of God, all the people listened, and they listened without moving until he stopped. Nobody thought of fishing or hunting while he spoke; nobody felt hungry or thirsty as long as he was speaking, not even little children.
In 1834, Fr. John and his family were transferred to Sitka, where the local Tlingit population was intensely antagonistic to their Russian overlords. He learned their language and culture, but they showed now real interest in his message until a smallpox epidemic hit the area. Father John convinced many of the Tlingits to be vaccinated, saving many of them from death. This served to be the means whereby he was to reach these natives and gradually he gained their love and respect.
In 1836, Fr. John decided to return to Russia to report to the Holy Synod on the needs of the Alaskan Mission. Leaving his family in Irkutsk, he went on to Moscow, where he met with the Synod, which approved his request for more Priests and funds for the Mission, as well as desiring to publish his translations. While in Moscow, he learned of the death of his wife. Hearing of this, Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow encouraged Fr. John to become a Monk, which he accepted, being tonsured with the name Innocent. Soon after, the Alaskan Mission was constituted part of a Diocese and Fr. Innocent was consecrated Bishop of Kamchatka and Alaska on December 15, 1840.
Returning to his new Diocese, Bishop Innocent traveled to the far reaches of his new domain, teaching the population and organizing churches. Everywhere he preached and served in the native languages. In Sitka, he organized a Seminary to train native Priests and built a new cathedral there dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel. Although preoccupied with the affairs of his large Diocese, the Bishop did find time to construct, with his own hands, the large clock on the front of the Cathedral.
In 1850, Bishop Innocent was elevated to the dignity of Archbishop and his new Archdiocese was enlarged to include more territory in Asiatic Russia, with its center at Yakutsk. Once more Innocent and his Priests set out to learn languages and cultures, teaching the new flock with gentleness and by personal example. In 1860, Archbishop Innocent met the future Bishop Nicholas of Japan (canonized in 1970), who was just beginning his lifetime missionary labors, and he gave Nicholas advice on missionary work.
Despite declining health and his request to retire, in 1868, Innocent was elevated to the rank of Metropolitan. He was especially loved by his new flock for his many works of charity, and he remembered his former missions by organizing the Imperial Mission Society, which he served as its first President. Almost blind and in constant pain, Metropolitan Innocent died on Holy Saturday, 1879, at the age of eighty-two, having served Christ and His Church throughout his entire life, distinguishing himself as a true missionary and apostle. In recognition of his great apostolic and missionary labors, the Russian Orthodox Church, on October 6, 1977, solemnly glorified this Man of God and entered him into the Church Calendar, styling him St. Innocent, Metropolitan of Moscow, Enlightener of the Aleuts and Apostle to the America’s.
In 1867, Bishop Peter (Lyaskov) of Sitka was succeeded by Bishop Paul (Popov) and in this year the first study of the life of the Elder Herman of Spruce Island was initiated. In 1870, Bishop John (Metropolsky) was appointed and he transferred the center of the American Church from Sitka to San Francisco, California, in 1872. In 1879, the American Church came under the supervision of the Metropolitan of St. Petersburg, and the long tie with the Diocese of Eastern Siberia was ended, with Bishop Nestor (Zakkis) being appointed Bishop of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska in that year. In 1882, however, he drowned at sea and was buried on the Island of Unalaska.
After six years without a resident Hierarch, Bishop Vladimir (Sokolovsky) was appointed in 1881, and on March 25, 1891, he accepted the Holy Virgin Protection Uniate Church in Minneapolis, as well as its Pastor, Fr. Alexis Toth, into the Orthodox Church. With this event, the American Mission entered into a new phase of its life. A Church almost exclusively concerned with missionary work among the natives of America, mostly in Alaska, now was to change its focus of attention to the return of the Uniates to Orthodoxy. This work, until now centered in the Western provinces of Russia, was directed to those Uniates who had emigrated to America, together with those from the Austro-Hungarian Empire (Galicians and Carpatho-Russians). The first attempts at a development of an English liturgical text to be used in the Church also began at this time.
In 1891, Bishop Nicholas (Ziorov) arrived in America and became deeply involved in the many-sided work of the American Mission to the native Alaskans, to the newly-returned Uniates, as well as to the Orthodox immigrants from virtually all of the traditional Orthodox nations in Europe and Asia. It was in this period (from the time of the American Civil War) that Serbians, Bulgarians, Romanians, Greeks, Russians, Syrians and Albanians began to come to America in increasingly greater numbers. The Mission was now extended to Canada, where great numbers of Orthodox and Uniate immigrants had been arriving, a Missionary School was established in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and a bilingual (English-Russian) publication for the Diocese was initiated.
In 1898, Bishop Tikhon (Bellavin) arrived to rule over the Church in America, and in his nine years of service in America, the Mission was brought to a new stage of maturity. For the first time the American Mission became a full Diocese, with its presiding Bishop wholly responsible for a Church within the continental limits of North America. In 1905, the center of the Church was transferred to New York (St. Nicholas Cathedral, the new Episcopal Cathedra, had been dedicated in 1902), and the newly-elevated Archbishop Tikhon was now given two Auxiliary Bishops to administer a greatly-expanded Church in America. Bishop Raphael (Hawaweeny) of Brooklyn (the first Orthodox Bishop consecrated in America March 12, 1904) was primarily responsible for the Syro-Arab communities and the other Auxiliary, Bishop Innocent (Pustynsky) was appointed Bishop of Alaska.
Excerpt taken from “These Truths We Hold – The Holy Orthodox Church: Her Life and Teachings”. Compiled and Edited by A Monk of St. Tikhon’s Monastery. Copyright 1986 by the St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, South Canaan, Pennsylvania 18459.
To order a copy of “These Truths We Hold” visit the St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Seminary Bookstore.
The history of the Orthodox Church actually begins in the Acts of the Holy Apostles, with the Descent of the Holy Spirit: When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:1-4). As the text further tells us, on that same day, after St. Peter had preached to the gathered people, those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls (Acts 2:41), thus constituting the first Christian community at Jerusalem.
This first community of Christians, headed by St. James, the Brother of the Lord the first Bishop of the city was later scattered by the persecutions which followed the stoning of the first martyr of the Christian Church, St. Stephen: And on that day a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the region of Judea and Samaria, except the Apostles (Acts 8:1).
At the same time, faithful to the Lord’s command to go…and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19), the Apostles went out and preached wherever they went, first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles, so that in a surprisingly short time, Christian communities had sprung up in all the main centers of the Roman world and beyond. Their exploits are recorded in the Acts, as well in the inner tradition of the Orthodox Church.
The Holy Apostles.
St. Andrew the First-Called.
St. Andrew was a Galilean fisherman of Bethsaida and was the first called of the Apostles of Christ (John 1:37-40), to whom he brought his brother Simon, called Peter. According to Church tradition, he suffered martyrdom at Patras in Achaia on an X-shaped Cross (St. Andrew’s Cross). Another tradition says that he visited Russia as far as the city of Kiev (while yet another Novgorod). His Feast Day is November 30.
In Holy Scripture, St. Bartholemew is to be identified with the Nathanael of John 1:45-51, of whom the Lord Himself witnessed, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile (John 1:47). According to Church tradition, he preached the Gospel in Lycaonia, India and Armenia, where he was martyred by being flayed alive. His Feast Day is June 11.
St. James the Elder.
St. James the Elder (so-called to distinguish him from the other Apostle, St. James the Younger) and his brother, John (the Evangelist), were fishermen the sons of Zebedee. This James, along with his brother and St. Peter, were especially beloved of the Lord. According to the Acts, he was beheaded by King Agrippa in Jerusalem (Acts 12:2), after first having preached in Spain. His Feast Day is April 30.
St. James the Younger.
St. James the Younger (so-called to distinguish him from the other Apostle of the same name; sometimes called the Son of Alphaeus), was the brother of St. Matthew. In St. Mark’s Gospel he is said to be the son of Mary, one of the Holy Myrrhbearing Women (Mark 16:1). According to Church tradition, he labored in Judea and then accompanied St. Andrew to Edessa, preaching the Gospel. Later he traveled to Gaza (on the southern seacoast of Palestine), and from thereto Egypt, where he was martyred by crucifixion. His Feast Day is October 9.
St. John the Evangelist (also the Theologian or the Divine), was a son of Zebedee and brother of St. James the Elder. In Holy Scripture he is referred to as the disciple, whom Jesus loved (John 13:23), and who leaned on his Master’s breast at the Last Supper. To him was entrusted the Most-Holy Theotokos by Our Lord as He was dying on the Cross (John 19:26), and it was at St. John’s house that her Holy Dormition occurred. St. John occupied an important place in the Apostolic ministry and, according to St. Paul, he, together with Peter and James were seen to be pillars of the Church in Jerusalem (Gal. 2:9). According to Church tradition, he was the last of the Apostles to die, ca. 100 A.D., and while exiled on the Isle of Patmos, he wrote the Apocalypse (or Revelation). To him is also attributed the Gospel and the three Epistles that bear his name. His Feast Days are May 8 and September 26.
This Apostle, the brother of James the Just (both being half-brothers or perhaps, cousins, of the Lord), is also called Thaddaeus or Lebbaeus (John 14:22; Matt. 10:3). To him is attributed the Epistle of St. Jude. According to Church tradition, he preached in Syria and Edessa, eventually being martyred in Persia with his fellow Apostle, Simeon Zealotes. His Feast Day is June 19.
[See St. Jude].
St. Matthew (also called Levi the son of Alphaeus (Mark 2:14)) was a brother of St. James the Younger and was a tax collector. The First Gospel is attributed to him, and, according to many scholars, was first written for the Hebrews. According to Church tradition, St. Matthew preached to the Jews first, and then traveled to Ethiopia, Macedonia, Syria and Persia, dying a natural death, according to one tradition, or by martyrdom, according to another. His Feast Day is November 16.
According to the Acts, St. Matthias was chosen by lot to fill the place among the Twelve Apostles left vacant by the Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:15-26). According to Church Tradition he is said to have preached in Ethiopia and Armenia, eventually suffering death by crucifixion. His Feast Day is August 9.
[See St. Bartholomew].
St. Peter was a brother of St. Andrew, and, together with him, was a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee. Called by the Lord to become a fisher of men (Matt. 4:19), he was originally named Simon, but later his name was changed to Peter (in Aramaic Cephas, meaning rock) by the Lord. This was in response to Peter’s declaration: You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matt. 16:16), for the Lord then said to him, You are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18). Holy Scripture amply witnesses to the fact that Peter occupied a primary place among the Apostles, although not to the extreme claimed by the Roman Catholic Church. His activities after the Resurrection are witnessed to in the Acts and, according to Church tradition, he was later martyred in Rome, being crucified upside down at his own request, since he felt himself not worthy to die in the same manner as the Lord Himself. The two Epistles of St. Peter are ascribed to him and he is celebrated, together with the other chief Apostle, St. Paul, on June 29.
St. Philip, like Peter and Andrew, came from Bethsaida in Galilee (Matt. 10:3) and was called early in the Lord’s earthly ministry, bringing Nathanael with him (John 1:43ff.). According to Church tradition, he was a missionary in Phrygia and died there (by martyrdom, according to some) at Hierapolis. His Feast Day is November 14, the next day being the beginning of the Nativity Fast (for which reason it is often called St. Philip’s Fast).
St. Simeon Zealotes.
St. Simeon Zealotes (or the Zealot; sometimes the Canaanite), according to Church tradition, traveled through Egypt and Africa, then through Mauretania and Libya, preaching the Gospel of Christ. Later he is said to have traveled to Britain, where he was martyred by the Romans on a Cross. Another tradition says that he was martyred with St. Jude in Persia. His Feast Day is May 10.
[See St. Jude].
St. Thomas, called Didymus (or the Twin, John 11:16), appears several times in St. John’s Gospel, which gives a good impression of the sort of man he was: ready to die with the Master (John 11:16); skeptical about the Resurrection, yet, when the Risen Christ manifested Himself to him, is whole-hearted in his belief (John 20:24-28). According to Church tradition, St. Thomas preached in Parthia (Persia), Edessa and India, where he is held in great veneration as a founder of the Church there, eventually suffering martyrdom. According to Church tradition, his remains were buried in Edessa. His Feast Day is October 6 and also the Sunday following Holy Pascha (St. Thomas Sunday).
This disciple, forever a symbol of treachery, the son of Simon, was from the town of Kerioth (from Kerioth Iscariot). According to the Gospel, he stole from the common treasury of which he had charge (John 12:5-6) and ultimately betrayed his Lord for thirty pieces of silver (Matt. 26:14-15). After the Crucifixion of Jesus, in deep remorse, Judas cast the pieces of silver into the Temple before the Chief Priests and Elders, later going out and hanging himself. With the money, now considered blood money, a potter’s field was bought to bury strangers in (Matt. 27:3-10).
St. Paul was a strict Pharisee, having studied under the respected Rabbi Gamaliel at Jerusalem (Acts 22:3). At a young age he had learned the trade of a tent-maker (Acts 18:1-3) and had inherited Roman citizenship from his father (Acts 22:28). The young Saul (as he was known before his conversion to Christianity) was zealous for Judaism and consented to the stoning of St. Stephen, later actively joining in the persecution of the Christians (Acts 8:3). While on the way to Damascus, to persecute the Christians there, he had a sudden vision of the Lord, Who rebuked him for his persecution, and later he converted to the Christian Faith (Acts 9:1-22). After this conversion experience, St. Paul went on to become one of the greatest of the Apostles, zealously bringing the Light of Christ to the Gentiles, eventually going to Rome where he received martyrdom by beheading. During his missionary journeys, amply attested to in the Acts, he wrote letters of encouragement to various congregations and individuals along the way, and thirteen of them (fourteen, if the Epistle to the Hebrews is accepted as of Pauline origin) have been accepted as part of the New Testament. Together with St. Peter, he is commemorated on June 29.
St. Barnabas, a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith (Acts 11:24), was a Jew from Cyprus, closely associated with the work of St. Paul. It was Barnabas who was sent to the Christians at Antioch, fetching Paul from Tarsus to help him. Later, he and Paul were sent on the first missionary journey, which began on the island of Cyprus, of which Church St. Barnabas is said to have founded. According to Church tradition, he was martyred on Cyprus at Salamis. He commemorated together with St. Bartholomew on June 11.
St. James the Brother of the Lord.
St. James was a half-brother (or perhaps a cousin) of the Lord, and was the first Bishop of the Church at Jerusalem, being called by St. Paul a pillar of that Church, together with Peter and John (Gal. 2:9). At the first general Church council, the Council of Jerusalem, James is depicted as having a leading role (Acts 15:12-21). Having ruled the Church in Jerusalem wisely (for which reason he is often called the Just), St. James was martyred there. Being taken to the top of the Temple wall, he was commanded to convince the people to turn away from Christ, which he refused to do, speaking to them in quite the opposite manner. Thereupon he was thrown down from that high point to the ground, where he was stoned and beaten to death. The Epistle of St. James is attributed to him and his Feast Day is celebrated on October 23.
St. Luke, the Beloved Physician (Col. 4:14), is the author of the Gospel bearing his name, as well as the Acts of the Apostles. He was a Gentile convert, probably a Greek, and was a companion of St. Paul in his later missionary journeys, concerning which he related in the Acts. According to Church tradition, St. Luke was an iconographer and wrote the first Icon of the Most-Holy Theotokos. St. Luke died, unmarried, in Greece, at the age of eighty-four, and is commemorated on October 18.
The Second Gospel is attributed to this Apostle, who some say was the young man who fled away naked at the arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:51-52). In the Acts, he is called John Mark (Acts 12:12; 15:37), the son of Mary, at whose house in Jerusalem the early Christians stayed (Acts 12:12), and he was a cousin of the Apostle Barnabas (Col. 4:10). He figures several times in the Acts, at one point being the source of a temporary rift between Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:36-40), but later he was with Paul during his first imprisonment at Rome (Col. 4:10). In his 1st Epistle, St. Peter mentions Mark as being with him, styling him my son (1 Pet. 5:13). According to Church tradition, St. Mark wrote his Gospel at the request of the brethren in Rome, who asked him to relate what he had learned from St. Peter. He is said to have preached the Gospel at Alexandria, Egypt, and was its first Bishop, being martyred there during the reign of the Emperor Trajan. His Feast Day is April 25.
After these humble beginnings, Christianity spread far and wide throughout the known world, but the Good News of Christ aroused intense opposition, and the first three centuries of the Church were characterized by sporadic, but bloody, persecutions. Church tradition is full of the lives of these early martyrs for the faith, and one cannot but admire the courage and perseverance of these heroes who willingly gave up their lives rather than denounce Christ. Among these were Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, burned at the stake when over eighty years old, Justin the Martyr, and Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, as well as many other men and women martyrs, who are commemorated in the Church Calendar.
These persecutions were often local in character and of limited duration, and although there were long periods of de-facto toleration, the threat of persecution was always there. Christians knew that at any time the threat of persecution could become a very present reality and the idea of martyrdom held a central place in the spiritual outlook of these warriors for Christ. Later, when persecution and martyrdom ceased to be a major concern of the Christians, the idea, nonetheless, did not disappear, but took other forms. Chief among these was the monastic life, regarded by many as a form of martyrdom equal to bodily death.
In 312, however, a momentous event occurred, for in that year, seeing, in a vision, a Cross in the sky with the inscription, In this sign conquer, and placing the Cross on the shields of his army, the Emperor Constantine defeated a rival army and ultimately became the first Roman Emperor to embrace Christianity. In 313, Constantine and his fellow Emperor Licinius issued the Edict of Milan, which proclaimed the official toleration of the Christian faith. Fifty years later, the Emperor Theodosius carried this policy even further when he legislated Christianity as the only accepted religion of the Empire, while outlawing paganism.
In 324, Constantine moved his imperial capital from Rome to Byzantium, on the shores of the Bosporus, where he built a new capital, Constantinople (dedicated in 330). From here, in 325, he summoned to Nicea what was to be the first of the Seven Ecumenical Councils.
The Seven Councils.
The conciliar principle of deciding matters of doctrinal and disciplinary importance began with the Council of Jerusalem, described in Acts 15, where the Apostles met to decide whether Gentile converts should be subject to the Mosaic Law. (They were not!). With this Council in mind, and the various local councils which met at diverse parts of the Empire in the period prior to Nicea, the Church established an important principle: In council, the members of the Church, so to speak, can together claim an authority which individually none of them possess. The Seven Ecumenical Councils which met in the period from 325 to 787 performed two basic tasks: 1) They formulated the visible, ecclesiastical organization of the Church, setting the ranking of the Five Patriarchates; and 2) they defined, once and for all, the teachings of the Church on faith, formulating the basic dogmas concerning the Trinity and the Incarnation.
Nicea I (325).
This Council condemned the heresy of Arianism, which had contended that the Son was inferior to the Father and was, in fact, created. The Fathers here declared that the Son is one in essence (homoousios) with the Father, and formulated the first part of what eventually became the Creed the Symbol of Faith. In addition, three great Sees were singled out Rome, Alexandria and Antioch (Canon 6), and the See of Jerusalem, although still subject to the Metropolitan of Caesarea, was given the next place in honor after Antioch (Canon 7).
Constantinople I (381).
This Council expanded the Nicene Creed, developing the teachings concerning the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father; Who, with the Father and Son, is worshipped and glorified…, against the heresy of the Pneumatomachi (Spiritsmashers) and the Macedonians (followers of Macedonius), who could not accept the Third Person of the Trinity as equal to the other Two. It was in this period that we see the activities of the great Cappadocian Fathers, St. Gregory Nazianzus (the Theologian), St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory of Nyssa, as well as the great Alexandrian Father, St. Athanasius the Great. The First Council of Constantinople also decreed that Constantinople, the new capital, should hold the next place of honor after Rome, since it was now the New Rome (Canon 111).
This Council met to discuss the heresy of the Nestorians, who could not accept that God and Man had been united in one Person, Christ, refusing to call the Virgin Mary, Theotokos (or Birthgiver of God). Supported primarily by St. Cyril of Alexandria, this Council affirmed that Mary was truly Theotokos, since, as the Evangelist had proclaimed, the Word was made flesh (John 1:14), and the Virgin had borne a single and undivided Person Who is, at the same time, God and Man.
This Council met to discuss the heresy of the Monophysites who held that in Christ the human nature had been merged into the divine, so that there was, after the divine union, only one nature. The Bishops of this Council accepted the so-called Tome of Pope St. Leo the Great of Rome, which affirmed the belief that the one and the same son, perfect in Godhead and perfect in manhood, [is] truly God and truly man…acknowledged in two natures unconfused, unchanged, undivided and inseparable. In addition, the place of Constantinople after that of Rome was confirmed, as was that of Jerusalem in the fifth place of honor.
A tragic result of this Council (and that of Ephesus prior) was the splitting apart from the main body of a large group of Christians adhering to either the Nestorian or Monophysite view. The Nestorians were found basically in Persia and Mesopotamia, and were especially decimated by the Islamic and Turkish onslaughts, whereas the Monophysites were strong in Africa (Egypt and Ethiopia the present Coptic Church), Armenia, and India (the Jacobite Church).
Constantinople II (553).
This Council met to further reinterpret the decrees of Chalcedon, seeking to explain how the two natures of Christ unite to form a single person. It affirmed that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is one of the Holy Trinity, one and the same divine Person (hypostasis), Who has united personally (hypostatically) in Himself the two natures of God and Man, without fusing them together and without allowing their separation. Certain teachings of Origen, including his teaching concerning the pre-existence of the soul, among other things, were also expressly condemned.
Constantinople III (681).
This Council met to condemn the Monothelite heresy which held that in the union of the two natures in Christ, the human will was merged into the divine as one will, since the two natures were united into one person. The Council, however, held that if Christ has two natures, he also has two wills human and divine.
Nicea II (787).
This Council met to affirm the belief of the Orthodox that veneration of the Holy Icons was proper and necessary for a correct understanding of the Incarnation of Christ, against those who held that Icon-veneration was idolatry and that all Icons should be destroyed (Iconoclasts). This Seventh Council was also the last of the Ecumenical Councils accepted as such by the Orthodox Church, although the possibility does exist that, in principle, more could be convened. The Iconoclast controversy did not end until after another rising of the heretics beginning in 815, which was finally suppressed by the Empress Theodora in 843. This final victory of the Holy .Icons in 843 is known as the Triumph of Orthodoxy, and is commemorated on the First Sunday of Great Lent. Thus, with the resolution of the Iconoclast controversy, the Age of the Seven Councils came to an end.
During this same period, there were two other major currents that were to have a profound effect on the Byzantine Empire and Orthodoxy. The first of these was the rise of monasticism. It began as a definite institution in Egypt in the 4th Century and rapidly spread across the Christian world. It literally began at a time when the persecutions had ended, and the Monks, with their austere life, were, in a real sense, martyrs when martyrdom of blood had virtually ceased. At a time when people were in danger of forgetting that life in the world the earthly kingdom was not the Kingdom of God, the Monks and their withdrawal from society, reminded Christians that God’s Kingdom, in fact, is not of this world.
The second major current in this period was the rise and rapid spread of Islam, the most striking characteristic of which was the speed of its expansion. Within fifteen years after the death of Mohammed in 632, his followers had captured Syria, Palestine and Egypt, and in fifty years, they were already at the gates of Constantinople. Within 100 years, they had swept across North Africa and through Spain. The Byzantine Empire lost the Patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, and until the actual fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Empire was never free from attack.
The Great Schism.
In 1054 occurred one of the greatest tragedies of the Christian world the Great Schism between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Churches. Officially proclaimed at Constantinople in that year by the Papal Legate, Cardinal Humbert, it was, in a sense, the culmination of a process that had been taking place for several centuries, ultimately centering on two major controversies: Papal authority and the Filioque.
Originally the two branches of Christendom had begun to drift apart because of cultural and language differences. Then, in 800, we see a political split with the proclamation of Charlemagne as the Holy Roman Emperor there were now two! The hegemony of the Arabs over the Mediterranean and their expansion into the Balkans made direct contact difficult, if not impossible, between East and West. And even in theology the two branches of Christendom began to differ in their basic approaches, with the Latins being more practical, the Greeks more speculative; the Latins more influenced by legal ideas nurtured by the basic concepts of Roman law, while the Greeks were influenced by worship and the Holy Liturgy; the Latins were more concerned with redemption, the Greeks with deification. These different approaches, practiced in greater isolation from each other, eventually led to the two main theological problems outlined earlier.
The first problem was that of Papal authority. The Greeks were willing to ascribe to the Pope of Rome a primacy of honor, considering him to be the first among equals, whereas the Pope believed his power of jurisdiction to extend to the East as well as the West, the Greeks jealously guarding the autonomy of the other Patriarchates. The Pope saw infallibility as his sole prerogative, whereas the Greeks insisted that in matters of faith, the ultimate decisions belonged to an Ecumenical Council consisting of all the Bishops of the Universal Church.
The second great problem was the Filioque (Latin and the Son), first inserted into the Creed at the Council of Toledo in Spain in 589 and later adopted by the whole Western Church. Whereas the original wording of the Creed ran, and in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father…, the Latin insertion changed it to read, and in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father and the Son__ The Orthodox objected to this insertion on two grounds: 1) the Ecumenical Councils had expressly forbidden any changes to be introduced into the Creed, and 2) this insertion disturbed the balance between the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity, leading to a false understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit in the world.
Prior to the Schism of 1054, there had been another breach, the so-called Photian Schism, in the 9th Century, but it had been officially terminated in the latter years of the reign of Patriarch Photius. The breach of 1054, however, although not universally applied at first, was never healed, even after several attempts to do so, most noticeably at the Council of Lyons in 1274 and the Council of Florence in 1438-9, when the Turks were already threatening Constantinople, but these reunion attempts were doomed to failure. Probably the deciding factor in the permanence of the Schism had been the capture and sack of Constantinople by the Latin Crusaders in 1204, which forever after remained indelibly imprinted on the consciousness of the Orthodox.
In 1453, a crucial event occurred in world Orthodoxy, with the Fall of Constantinople to the Turkish Sultan, Mohammed II. The Greek-speaking Churches fell under the heavy yoke of Islam, and for nearly 500 years labored in servitude, only emerging again with the Balkan Revolutions of the 19th Century and World War I. In the meantime, the focus of Orthodoxy shifted to the North, to the domains of the Most Pious Tsars of Russia.
Notable Fathers of the Early Period.
St. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage ( 258).
St. Cyprian, commemorated on August 31, was Bishop of Carthage during the persecutions of the Emperor Decius (250). He died as a martyr in 258, and among his many writings concerning Church life, the most important is On the Unity of the Catholic Church, which sets forth the role of the Bishop in the ecclesiastical structure.
St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch ( 107).
St. Ignatius was the second Bishop of Antioch and is commemorated on December 20 and January 29. Martyred in the Arena at Rome, while on his way to martyrdom, he wrote seven letters to Christian communities, as well as to St. Polycarp, which contain valuable information on the dogmas, organization and liturgy of the early Church.
St. Irenaeus of Lyons ( 202).
St. Irenaeus, who is commemorated on August 23, was a disciple of St. Polycarp, and, as a Westerner, he succeeded St. Photinus as Bishop of Lyons. His major doctrinal work is Against Heresies, which defends Orthodoxy against the Gnostics, borrowing heavily on both human reason and Holy Scripture and Tradition, serving as an important witness to Church traditions of his time.
St. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna ( 167).
St. Polycarp was a disciple of St. John the Theologian and is commemorated as a martyr on February 23. The account of his martyrdom, the earliest detailed account of a martyr, gives an excellent picture of his character and the steadfastness of his Christian faith.
Notable Fathers of the Early Byzantine Period.
St. Anthony the Great ( 356).
St. Anthony, commemorated January 17, is considered to be the Father of monasticism, and The Life of St. Anthony, by St. Athanasius, presents him as a truly inspiring example of monastic ascetical perfection. During the Arian controversies, he risked his life defending the Orthodox teachings of St. Athanasius in Alexandria.
St. Athanasius the Great, Patriarch of Alexandria ( 373).
St. Athanasius, commemorated January 18 and May 2, was a great defender of the Orthodox faith during the Arian controversies and was exiled five times for his labors. Among his major writings are The Incarnation of Christ and The Life of St. Anthony, which serve as major inspirations for Orthodox theology and monastic spirituality.
St. Basil the Great, Archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia ( 379).
St. Basil, commemorated January 1 and January 30, was a notable theologian and spiritual writer of the 4th Century and is noted for his many writings on numerous theological and spiritual subjects, as well as commentaries on Holy Scripture. During the Sundays of Great Lent, as well as on his Feast Day (Jan. 1), the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great is served, although probably only the prayers are actually of this Saint.
St. Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria ( 444).
St. Cyril, commemorated on January 18 and June 9, was the leader in the defense of Orthodoxy against the Nestorians, and was a firm defender of the veneration of the Virgin Mary as Theotokos. He was especially prominent in the deliberations of the Third Ecumenical Council.
St. Ephraim the Syrian ( 373-9).
St. Ephraim, commemorated January 28, was a major spiritual writer and hymnographer of the 4th Century, and is especially noted in Orthodox liturgical life for, among other things, his inspiring work, The Lenten Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian, which is said at all of the weekday services of Great Lent.
St. Gregory the Theologian, Archbishop of Constantinople ( 389).
St. Gregory, commemorated January 25 and 30, was a fellow student and friend of St. Basil the Great and was a leading opponent of the Arians. He has been honored by the Church with the title Theologian, being one of only three, so honored (the others being St. John the Evangelist, and St. Simeon the New Theologian), primarily because of his Five Theological Orations.
St. Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa (4th Cent.).
St. Gregory was the younger brother of St. Basil the Great and is commemorated on January 10. He is especially known for his spiritual writings, as well as various dogmatic works, including his Great Catechism.
St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople ( 407).
St. John Chrysostom (the Golden-mouth), commemorated January 27 and 30 and November 13, was one of the greatest preachers of his time (late 4th Century) and was known for his zeal for Orthodoxy and his passionate defense of the poor, boldly exposing the vices of his age, for which reason he was eventually deposed and exiled. The bulk of his works are sermons on Holy Scripture, especially the Epistles of St. Paul, as well as other ascetical and pastoral works, including his On the Priesthood. To St. John is attributed the usual Divine Liturgy, although, as in the case of that of St. Basil the Great, probably only certain prayers are properly his.
Notable Fathers of the Later Byzantine Period.
St. Gregory the Dialogist, Pope of Rome ( 604).
St. Gregory the Dialogist, commemorated March 12, was Pope of Rome in the 7th Century and was noted for his many literary works, including his Dialogues on the monastic Saints of Italy. To him is ascribed the writing-down of the beautiful Gregorian Chants as well as the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, during which he is specially commemorated.
St. Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica ( ca. 1360).
St. Gregory, commemorated on November 14 and the Second Sunday of Great Lent, was a pious Monk of Mt. Athos, and later was elected to the See of Thessalonica as its Bishop. He is noted for his defense of the contemplative life of hesychasm (inner silence), teaching concerning the uncreated Light of Tabor and the Divine Energies of God, through which man can have true communion with God.
St. John of Damascus (Damascene ( 776)).
St. John, commemorated December 4, was noted for his Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, a major dogmatic work, as well as his zealous defense of the Holy Icons, for which he suffered the severing of his hand (miraculously restored by the prayers of the Mother of God). He is also noted for his many sermons on Feast Days, as well as numerous hymns, extensively used in Orthodox liturgical services.
St. Mark, Archbishop of Ephesus (15th Cent.).
St. Mark, commemorated January 19, accompanied the Byzantine Emperor to the Council of Florence, and single-handedly defended the Orthodox faith against the Latins. His brilliant defense of Orthodoxy and his letters after the Council were largely responsible for the Orthodox rejection of this false Council.
St. Photius the Great, Patriarch of Constantinople ( 891).
St. Photius, commemorated February 6, was a zealous defender of Orthodoxy against the Latin error of the Filioque, for which he suffered much. He wrote on the Procession of the Holy Spirit and was responsible for the commissioning of Sts. Cyril and Methodius for the conversion of the Slavs.
St. Simeon the New Theologian ( 1021).
St. Simeon, commemorated March 12 and October 12, was noted as a brilliant spiritual writer, whose works hold a place of honor in the Phllokalia, a major monastic spiritual work. For this reason he endured persecution and also received the veneration of the Orthodox Church which honors him as the New Theologian.
The Conversion of the Slavs.
Of major importance in the history and development of Orthodoxy was the conversion of the Slavs and the shifting of the focus of the Church to the northern regions of Bulgaria, Serbia, Moravia, Romania, and then Russia. In the middle of the 9th Century, Patriarch Photius initiated large scale missionary labors in these regions by sending out the two brothers Constantine (in monasticism Cyril 1869) and Methodius (885 both are commemorated May 11), first to the Khazar State north of the Caucasus (this was largely unsuccessful) and then to Moravia (Czechoslovakia) in 863.
The Prince of Moravia, Rostislav, desired that his people hear the Word of God in their own language and the two brothers were apt missionaries in this respect as they had developed an alphabet, adapted from the Greek, which later was called Cyrillic (after St. Cyril). Using a local Macedonian dialect which they had heard near their birthplace of Thessalonica, the brothers began translating the liturgical books, Holy Scripture, etc., into this dialect, using the new alphabet which they had developed. This new liturgical language Church Slavonic became of crucial importance in the extension of the Orthodox faith into the Balkans and ultimately to Russia. This was so, since, unlike the Roman Catholic Church, which continued to insist on the use of Latin, the use of Church Slavonic allowed the new converts to hear the Gospel and the services in a language they could understand.
The Mission to Moravia was ultimately doomed to failure because of the jealousy and persecution of German missionaries working in the same area. The brothers traveled to Rome (where St. Cyril died)and placed themselves under the protection of the Pope, but this was not honored by the Germans in Moravia and after the death of St. Methodius in 885, his followers were expelled from the country.
The missionary labors of Cyril and Methodius were not in vain, however, for their disciples were successful in Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria. Led by St. Clement of Ochrid (commemorated November 25), the missionaries were successful and in 869, Tsar Boris of Bulgaria himself was baptized. The Bulgarian Church grew rapidly and about 926, under Tsar Simeon, an independent Patriarchate was established there, recognized by Constantinople in 927 (although later suppressed), and the Bulgarian Church became the first national Slavic Church.
The missionaries were likewise successful in Serbia and with the baptism of Prince Mutimir ( 891), Serbia became officially Christian. After a period of vacillation between East and West, Serbia came under the sway of Constantinople. Under St. Sava ( 1237 commemorated January 12), the Serbian Church became partially independent with his consecration in 1219 as Archbishop of Serbia, and in 1346 a Serbian Patriarchate was established with the consecration of Bishop Ioannikios, recognized by Constantinople in 1375.
Missionaries from Bulgaria traveled to the Romanian lands and by the end of the 9th Century portions of the Romanian people had been Christianized, adopting the Slavonic Liturgy, but it was not really until the rise of the Wallachian Moldavian principalities in the 14th Century that the Church actually began to thrive. In 1359 a Wallachian Metropolitan was appointed by Constantinople to the new See of Argesin the foothills of the Transylvanian Alps and in 1401, the Romanian Metropolitan of Suceava in Moldavia was recognized by Constantinople.
The missionaries had also penetrated into Croatia, Dalmatia, Illyria, Bosnia and Montenegro, but these areas were, for the most part, under the influence and control of the Latin West during this period.
The Conversion of Russia The Russian Orthodox Church.
Missionaries penetrated into Russia during this period and the Russian Princess Olga was converted to Christianity in 955, although the effective Christianization of Russia actually received its greatest impetus with the conversion of Olga’s grandson, Vladimir, in 988. According to Russian tradition, Grand Prince Vladimir of Kiev decided that an official religion was necessary for his country and he was unsure which to choose: the Islam of the Volga Bulgars, the Judaism of the Khazars (on the lower Volga), the Latin Christianity of the Germans, or the Orthodox faith of the Greeks. Accordingly he sent envoys to the various regions to enquire of their faiths and to make a report to him.
The envoys fulfilled their appointed mission and then reported to Vladimir:
When we journeyed among the Bulgarians [of the Volga region], we beheld how they worship in their temple, called a mosque, while they stand ungirt. The Bulgarian bows, sits down, looks hither and thither like one possessed, and their is no happiness among them, but instead only sorrow and a dreadful stench. Their religion is not good. Then we went among the Germans, and saw them performing many ceremonies in their temples; but we beheld no glory there. Then we went on to Greece, and the Greeks led us to the edifices where they worship their God, and we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendor or such beauty, and we are at a loss how to describe it. We know only that God dwells there among men, and their service is fairer than the ceremonies of other nations…. [From the Russian Primary Chronicle].
After receiving the report of the envoys, Vladimir went to war with the Byzantine Empire and laid siege to the Greek city of Kherson. He promised to accept Christianity if he was successful in this campaign and after the capture of the city, he did, in fact, embrace Orthodoxy and was given in marriage Anna, the sister of the Byzantine Emperors Basil and Constantine. Returning to his capital of Kiev, Vladimir ordered that all pagan idols be destroyed. The people were exhorted to renounce paganism whereupon they embraced the Orthodox faith and received Baptism in 988. From this date Russia became officially Christian.
With the conversion of Vladimir (later canonized by the Russian Church commemorated July 15), Orthodoxy spread rapidly and already, within fifty years, the Russian Church had her first canonized Saints, the martyred brothers Boris and Gleb ( 1015 commemorated together on July 24). In 1051 the first Russian Monastery (The Monastery of the Caves) was founded in Kiev by St. Anthony ( 1073 commemorated July 10), later reorganized by St. Theodosius ( 1074 commemorated May 3 and August 14; he and St. Anthony are commemorated together on September 2). In 1037, Theopemptos was consecrated Metropolitan of Kiev and all but two of the Metropolitans of this period were Greeks, appointed by Constantinople. (The first Russian Metropolitan was Hilarion in 1051, and the other Clement in 1147). To this day, the Russian Church still sings in Greek the greeting to a Bishop, Eis polla eti, Despota, in recognition of the debt owed by the Russian Church to Greek Byzantium.
Disaster befell the Kievan State in 1237 with the onslaught of the Mongols, who ruled until 1480, and during this period only the Church kept alive national consciousness, much as was later done by the Greek Church under the Turkish yoke. The primary See of the Russian Church was moved from Kiev to Moscow by St. Peter, Metropolitan of Kiev ( 1326 commemorated December 21), and henceforth ceased to be the city of the chief Hierarch.
Three important Saints shone in this period: St. Alexander Nevsky, Prince of Novgorod ( 1263 commemorated August 30 and November 23), who preserved the political structure of his Principality (alone unharmed by the Mongols in their invasion) against the Swedes, Germans and Lithuanians; St. Sergius of Radonezh ( 1392 commemorated September 25 and July 5), founder of the famous Trinity St. Sergius Monastery at Sergiev Posad (Zagorsk) near Moscow, (from which Monks spread out through all of Northern Russia), probably one of Russia’s greatest national figures (as was St. Sava in Serbia); and St. Stephen, Bishop of Perm ( 1396 commemorated April 26) who, in a sense, was the first of the long line of missionaries who were eventually to come to Russian America.
After the Council of Florence in 1440, Constantinople had accepted union with the Roman Catholic Church and Russia could not accept a Metropolitan from there. Finally, in 1448, a council of Russian Bishops elected their own Metropolitan and from this date the Russian Church has reckoned her independence. In 1453 Constantinople fell to the Turks and from this date the Russian Church remained the sole free branch of Orthodoxy. Men began to see Moscow as the Third Rome, and the Grand Duke of Moscow assumed the titles of the Byzantine Emperors Autocrat and Tsar the earthly protector of Orthodoxy. Accordingly, with the rising power of Russia, in 1589, the head of the Russian Church was raised to the rank of Patriarch (the first being Patriarch Job), ranking fifth after Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem.
The Russian Church was not without its own turmoils however. In 1503 came the beginnings of a split in the monastic ranks between the Non-Possessors (followers of St. Nilus of Sora ( 1508 commemorated May 7)), who argued for monastic poverty, and the Possessors (followers of St. Joseph of Volokolamsk, 1515, commemorated September 9), who defended monastic landholding. The Non-Possessors were more lenient and gentle concerning the treatment of heretics, considering it to be solely a Church matter, while the Possessors, great supporters of the idea of the Third Rome, believed in a close association between Church and State in such matters (and many others as well). In this struggle the Possessors were victorious, but recognizing the sanctity of both leaders, the Church has enrolled both Joseph and Nilus in the Calendar of Saints.
In the mid-17th Century there occurred in the Russian Church a major split due to the liturgical reforms of Patriarch Nikon (1605-1681) who attempted to correct certain corruptions in the liturgical books and liturgical practice. The result was the splitting off of the Old Believers, who resisted the changes (many of which were ill-founded), as well as their persecution, and this schism has endured to the present day. The leaders of the Old Believers, including the Archpriest Avakkum, were burned at the stake and Nikon himself suffered persecution, since the Council of
Moscow, which met in 1666-7, endorsed his reforms, but deposed him from his Patriarchal Office because of his intemperance and arrogance.
A third major event which was to have a profound effect on the Russian Church, was the abolition of the Patriarchate by Tsar Peter I (the Great) in 1721. The Patriarch had died in 1700 and Peter, wishing no more Nikons, refused to allow the appointment of a successor. Accordingly, in 1721 he issued his celebrated Spiritual Regulations, and the Russian Church was placed under an uncanonical Synodal System, whereby a Synod of twelve members, drawn from the Bishops, Abbots and secular Clergy appointed by the Government ruled the Church. However, all meetings were attended by a government functionary, the Chief Procurator, representing the Tsar, and all decisions had to be approved by the Sovereign. At the same time monasticism was severely restricted and later in the Century more than half the monasteries were closed by Empress Catherine II (the Great 1762-96) and their lands confiscated.
This Synodal Period, which lasted until 1917, was a period of spiritual low for the Church, although there were a few bright spots. Missionary activity, always a strong feature of the Russian Church, expanded throughout Siberia and Central Asia, eventually reaching Alaska. Certain monasteries were revitalized, including the famous center of Valaam, and the spiritual traditions of Mt. Athos, especially popularized by Paisius Velichkovsky and his Philokalia, reached Russia, through the efforts of Metropolitan Gabriel of Moscow and his disciple, Nazarius, Abbot of Valaam. A special system of spiritual direction, eldership (or starchestvo) developed, especially popularized at the Optino Hermitage under the Elders Leonid, Macarius, Amvrosy and Joseph, and a few Saints shone during this time, especially St. Tikhon of Zadonsk ( 1783 commemorated August 13), a revitalizer of pastoral life, and St. Seraphim of Sarov ( 1833 commemorated January 2 and July 19).
Finally, in 1917, with the Fall of the Monarchy, the Patriarchate was re-established and Tikhon, Metropolitan of Moscow, was elected Patriarch by the All-Russian Council of that year. Sadly, however, the Church was soon engulfed in the fires of the Bolshevik Revolution of that year and the unprecedented persecutions which followed. The Russian Orthodox Church since 1917 has endured sufferings without parallel, contributing a new rank of Martyrs to the Church Triumphant, yet despite the severe decimation of her faithful, clergy, and institutions, she still remains a powerful spiritual and moral force in the Orthodox world, confirming that the Church of Christ is built upon a rock, for in the words of the Savior, the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18).
Excerpt taken from “These Truths We Hold – The Holy Orthodox Church: Her Life and Teachings”. Compiled and Edited by A Monk of St. Tikhon’s Monastery. Copyright 1986 by the St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, South Canaan, Pennsylvania 18459.
To order a copy of “These Truths We Hold” visit the St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Seminary Bookstore.
To the first Christian’s, who first appeared in the eastern providence’s of the Roman Empire, The Incarnation, the mystery which was in God’s Plan from before the ages (Eph.1: 9-10 & Col.1: 26), was the central act in this Divine Plan for mankind to become holy and made immortal through communion with the Incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ.
Although God knew that man would fall, He did not become flesh because some actions of the devil or of man made it necessary. He became flesh because it was the Divine Plan and mystery from before the ages to unite man with God in Christ. Yet, corruptibility did come and stand in the way (Gregory the Theologian 4th century).
Through Satan, the fallen angel, Adam and Eve the first humans were deceived and they and their descendants lost the potentiality to attain perfection and immortality. They brought themselves and their descendants, who are guilt–free of the “ancestral sin,” into a fallen world where they would receive death, would be susceptible to sin and would become alienated from God. His creation, wounded by Satan’s deception, was left spiritually and physically ill. God’s image within man, although blurred was not, however, completely obliterated. A spark remained. Though the fallen world was not of God, because by nature He is altogether free of any responsibility for evil, He allowed the Fall to happen in order to protect His creation from eternal sin.
In the late 11th century AD, after the doctrinal separation of East and West, Anselm, a bishop in the Western Church of Rome, initiated a legalistic innovation for the payment of man’s sin in order to satisfy divine justice and make man right with a dishonored God. The majority of Western Christians (Roman Catholics, Protestants and others) accept this concept or revised versions of it. Many believe the reason the Son became flesh was to remove man’s sin against God by suffering humanity’s punishment on the Cross. This allows man to be acquitted and released from his sin debt. This was not the understanding during the first 1000 years of Christianity and it is still not the understanding in 2000 year old Orthodox Eastern Christianity. In Orthodoxy, the Incarnation did not take place for the Crucifixion; the Crucifixion took place so that the Incarnation and the eternal communion of God and man could be fulfilled despite Satan, death or sin. Therefore, Christ willingly goes to the Cross and sacrifices Himself to death in order to win a victory over the evil that captured man. Through His Crucifixion, His descent into Hades and His Resurrection, He protects humanity for the “ultimate purpose” of the Incarnation, an intimate and eternal union with God. He mercifully forgives our sins and sets us free from the bondage of Satan and the dark powers of death and sin, not through punishment, but through liberation.
In His Ascension, Christ returns to the main purpose of the Incarnation and completes man’s union with God by taking His human nature into Heaven — for a Man who is God now reigns in Heaven.
Even though Christ was victorious, humanity’s sins will keep contaminating this fallen world until He comes again and terminates evil. Until that time, anyone who wants to eternally reside in God’s Kingdom in Heaven, which Christ promised to mankind, can receive Christ’s therapy to remove the parasite of sin that was implanted in our flesh at the Fall. This infection is what causes us to sin. Therefore, a continuous struggle to remove this parasite is necessary for an eternal union with God.
With God’s uncreated grace, the gift of His presence and action in His creation, we are offered anew the potential to reach perfection and immortality. Through the mysteries, Christ deposited in His Church, which are achieved by the Holy Spirit, we can purify our self-centered hearts and illumine our souls, where spiritual health is acquired, enabling us to see everything in a Christ-like manner. In a life-long process, our goal is to become more and more like Him by emulating His humility and selfless love. The early Greek-speaking Fathers of the Church called this process theosis.
In Christ’s spiritual hospital, His Church, we are given the methods of prayer, fasting, charity, etc. as a means of helping us to restore our damaged soul. These are not rewards, but rather therapeutic exercises to prepare us to receive Christ’s medicine for the disease of sin and heal our spiritual illness. The foremost work of the early Church was the curing of souls. This is still true in Orthodoxy today. If our souls are cured, then most of our other problems are solved.
To the Orthodox, the church is a local community of people living in a intimate relationship with Christ and one another. This is accomplished by participating together with Him and each other in His mysteries. Each local community is within His whole Church (heaven and earth) and is not merely a part of it. The Orthodox understanding of salvation is love in unity with Christ and others. It is not individualistic.
The early Christian understanding of the way to God’s Kingdom was not the result of a sin debt acquittal that allowed man to gain salvation through rewards like “good works” (900 year old Roman Catholic concept) or “faith alone” (500 year old Protestant concept). It was about transforming oneself, through Christ, into His likeness and “partaking of the divine nature.” Actually, works and faith are both in vain without living in a loving relationship with Jesus Christ and others.
While religious fads come and go and people seek their salvation in this or that new leader or idea, Orthodoxy has proclaimed the same message for almost 2000 years. Each and every human person was created to live in an intimate union with God and one another, sharing in His eternal, divine life, becoming through participation what He is by nature.
By George Kutulas +
There are distinguished persons and distinguished monuments which stand out in the annals of history. Their lives were full of adventure as they faced the tremendous opposition of their contemporaries as well as accepting enormous sacrifice in their own lives. One of the monuments, the greatest in the history of the world, is the Bible. It has met great challenges of its literal expression as well as its trials over its validity and accuracy. The critical scrutiny of the Bible is the most thorough effort and examination that has ever been made of a literary work from the beginning of time, an examination challenging its integrity, and meaning. Its words, thoughts and personalities have been the subject of controversial discussion and debate throughout the centuries, both in its original language and in its translation. From approximately 12 centuries before the Christian Era through 20 centuries since (the former for the Old Testament and the latter for both the Old and New Testament), its construction, correction and restoration was achieved. The Bible is stronger today than ever before, despite the “scientific” effort to replace it with human elements of the laboratory and technology. The Bible is so different from other literary works of famous writers whose names are mentioned in the history of scientific findings that only a Superhuman Providence has kept it alive through its orbit of destiny. The Bible has been inscribed on stone, papyrus, lambskin, in the memories of men and in the hearts of the people.
This extraordinary adventure of the Bible, a written document of historical validity, is so because its content and mission is different from all other examples of human literature, regardless of their valuable content of knowledge and human wisdom. The Bible was written by different writers over an extensive period of time, especially the Old Testament. The writers of the Old Testament began with Moses, covering 12 centuries before Christ and continuing through the writers of the historical, poetical, instructive and prophetic books, together with the writers of the New Testament, writing over a period of 50 years. They find themselves in agreement on thoughts, purpose, destination and mission. The readers of the Bible are overwhelmed and astonished to find these harmonious elements of destiny and purpose. No other literature of this kind exists. A close coherence of the Old and New Testaments, keeping their content intact their continuity in “promises” and “fulfillments”, links them together so closely. The various writings of the Old and New Testaments witness one Editor with Authority that permeate their thoughts.
The literature of the Bible is an epic monument, which influences the thinking of man and the molding of his character. “The Bible carries its full message, not to those who regard it simply as a heritage of the past or who praise its literary style, but to those who read it that they may discern and understand God’s Word to man. That Word must not be disguised in phrases that are no longer clear, not be hidden under words that have changed or lost their meaning. It must stand forth in language that is direct and plain and meaningful to people today.”
The Gospel of Christ and, in general, the Holy Bible are written with the inspiration of God. The Prophets and the Apostles have recorded in written form a portion of the oral teaching of the Old Testament in Hebrew and Aramaic as well as the New Testament in Greek. These are the original languages of the Holy Bible from’ which all the translations have derived. God’s inspiration is confined to the original languages and utterances, not the many translations. There are 1,300 languages and dialects into which the Holy Bible, in its entirety or in portions, has been translated. This does not mean that the translations do not convey the meaning of the Bible for spiritual uprightness of the readers in their own language. On the contrary the Bible should be spread and preached to “all nations”. The missionaries in foreign lands learn the language or the dialect of. the new area into which they bring the Bible and other religious teachings. For example, the missionaries from the Patriarchate of Constantinople, Saints Cyril and Methodios, who were sent to Christianize the Slavic peoples in the 9th century, first translated the Bible and the ritual books into the language of the people.
Translations of the Bible are very necessary, but are not sufficient for formulating dogmas and doctrines of the Church, which requires reference to the original languages. The translations depend upon the genius and-knowledge of the translator in the selection of the proper words and phrases to render meaning as close as possible to the text of the original language. It is well known that a new translation is more or less a new interpretation. This is most obvious when the Bible is translated in the same language, but with different expressions and words. For instance, in the English language there are many translations and renderings with different words and phrases, which imply that one translation differs from the other. The many translations in the same language are justified in that new renderings are different from the previous ones. The fact that there are many translations in the same language indicates that the first translation is not understood after many centuries. For instance, the first translation into the English language from the original New Testament Greek and Old Testament Hebrew by John Wycliffe in the fifteenth century is incomprehensible to the, reader today in English.
Unique characteristics such as idioms and colloquialisms make it impossible for an accurate translation of the meaning of the original language. Therefore, the translations should be used for the spiritual guidance of the believers, but not for the formulation of dogmatical teaching of the Church. This is why it cannot be said that the translations are “the inspired word of God”. Only the original language is “the inspired word of God.” It should be repeated however that the translations of the’ Bible are necessary for the spreading of the Revealed Truths of God among the people in all languages. This is the great commandment of God and the mission of His Church, for Jesus Christ Himself commissioned the Apostles to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you,” Matthew 28:19, 20. This is to be in the many languages of the nations, especial to nations which have never heard the Christian Message.
The many translations are necessary for spreading the word of God without any obstacles in communication However, this should not diminish the significance of the original languages of the Bible, the Hebrew and Aramaic of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New Testament. The study of the original languages is imperative for the correct understanding of the meaning of the Bible. The knowledge of the original languages is also imperative, in order to translate the Scriptures into the vernacular. The knowledge of the original language is especially necessary for the doctrinal teaching of the Bible.
The individual Christian is urged to read the Bible in his own language for his spiritual enrichment, but not to use the translation in arriving at personal conclusions. One should read the Bible against the background of the Church that selected Scriptures in the 4th century, among the many scriptures it received, before it formulated the original New Testament text. After meticulously examining the many scriptures, the Church recognized the proper ones because their content coincided with the image of Christ that it had known since the beginning of the Christian era. It is profitable, however, for one who studies the Bible to use short commentaries, but to leave the dogmatic and systematic teaching to the formulating Church, which is the authoritative body. Taking a Biblical verse out of context often is misleading and is the basic cause of the Christian Church being separated into many parts, each interpreting according to their own opinions and thoughts.
It is not the Bible itself that divides Christianity, but its interpretation based on personal premises. That is the weakness of the human element. This weakness of the human element is reflected in claims that the Holy Spirit has inspired the individual to interpret the Bible according to his own premise. This is where the fallacy lies – the claim that the Holy Spirit is the author of his own personal interpretation, a claim that all make. The fact that so many persons have claimed that the Holy Spirit has spoken to and chosen them personally, should be clear and unmistakable proof that the interpretation of Scriptures lies only in the authority of the historic, formulating Church as a whole and not with individuals. It should be stressed that the Bible was written on the background of the life of the Church. The historic Church has kept the Christian Message, Christ’s Sacred Tradition and the words and deed of Jesus Christ undefiled. The Church, as a whole, which has existed since the time of the Apostles, not individuals, is and remains the infallible interpreter of the written word, the Holy Bible. The mistake is even greater when the interpretation of the Bible depends upon translations other than of the original Hebrew, and especially the New Testament Greek text. The fact that there are variations of the translations of the Bible indicates most clearly the need for a common edition of the Greek New Testament on which other translations will depend. It is evident that greater efforts involving all the Christian churches must be made to arrive at one common edition from the original language recognized by all Christians. This effort will be a step in unifying the Christian Church as Christ meant it to be One Body undivided.
A critical examination of the text of the original Hebrew and Greek languages of the Bible is indispensable, for through the centuries many words were added or omitted. This was especially so before the printing press, and there was only manual copying on rough lambskin and papyrus. The scholarly study of the original languages is valuable aid in correcting the mistakes and reestablishing intact the original texts from which the translations should be made. The prime purpose of such a valuable work is not only to make the Bible free from any and all changes and mistakes, but even more to make the original context and meaning available for translations in many languages for reading by all Christians. The simple purpose of the Bible is to be read and known by all the peoples of the world in their own languages in the pure and true form of its original languages. The individual Christian should read the Bible as the Revelation from God Himself for his enlightenment and salvation. He should read the Bible with reverence to God and with true faith. The reader invokes the Holy Spirit to help him understand its deep meaning for his own personal and practical life. The Christian should read the Bible for his spiritual rebirth and divine. assistance in order to understand its sacred content carried by the letter, which is a human organ and tool. Nevertheless, it is the spirit that gives life to the reader, for it is “not of the letter (of the new covenant) but of the spirit; for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life”, 2 Corinthians 3:6b; that is,”spiritual and literal” Romans2:29b.
The Bible took its literal form in the Christian community, which has kept it intact. This community – the unblemished Church – was and is the treasurer and interpreter of the Revealed Truths of Christ. This Revealed Truth, taught orally by Christ and His Apostles, is the Sacred Tradition, a part of which later became the written New Testament. Therefore, when the Christian reads the Bible, he must read it against the background of. this Sacred Tradition at large. The reader should also have in mind that the various parts of the Bible were not written systematically, but occasionally. Therefore the Christian needs a guide to properly understand the meaning of the Scriptures. The guide is the consensus of the collective interpretation given by the unchanged Church, as a whole, throughout the centuries. The example that one needs to help him understand the Bible was given when Philip the Apostle asked the minister of Candace who was reading the Prophet Isaiah: “Do you understand what you are reading?”. And the minister answered: “How can I, unless someone guides me?”, Acts 8:30 (c.f. Acts 8:2640). In order for the Bible to be read and understood by the people, it should be translated into the various languages of the people, using the interpretation made by the Church as a whole. This is the correct guide. The translation of the Bible into the English language coincided with the invention of the printing press and the period of Reformation (15th-16th-centuries). Before this time the use of the Bible in the West was forbidden in any language other than Latin. The Latin translation, from the original Hebrew and Greek, was made by St. Jerome in the fourth century. It became the authoritative Bible for the Western Church and was known as the Vulgate. The reading of the Bible, even in the Latin, was forbidden the lay people without permission. This denial by the authorities of the Western Church was one of the main reasons for the Protestant Reformation. Therefore, the first act of the first reformer, Martin Luther, was the translation of the Bible into German in 1522. This translation was the main factor in the establishment of a German language common to all Germans. Before the Reformation and the printing press, various parts of the Bible had been translated into English from the Latin Vulgate.
The Western Church was very strict in the use of Latin not only for the Bible, but also for the ritual worship of the Church, which was incomprehensible to the people. It should be noted that before the Reformation there was no complete translation of the Bible in English. The only translation was in English from the Latin and not the original Greek language. It covered the New Testament and some parts of the Old and was attributed to John Wycliffe of England. Despite the fact it was made with the knowledge of the authorities of the Church of Rome, its use was forbidden without special permission, according to the decision of the Synod of Oxford of 1407. The first translation of the Bible into English from the original languages, Hebrew and Greek, and the first which was printed was that of William Tyndale in c.1523. Before this translation the only printings of the Bible were the Vulgate (first printing, 1456), the newer Hebrew text of the Old Testament (1488), the text of the New Testament Greek by Erasmus (1516), with four revisions through 1535 and the literal translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Latin (1528). The translation of the New Testament into English from the original Greek text depended on the initiative of Tyndale (c. 1523), without the sponsorship or permission of the Church of Rome (Bishop of London). Tyndale was denounced and forced to flee to Germany, where he probably met Martin Luther. Tyndale started to print the New Testament in English in Cologne, but was again forced to flee to another German city, Worms.
In Worms he finally completed the printing of the English translation of the New Testament, in its entirety. This translation was reprinted many times in Holland. Copies of this translation reached England, where it aroused the anger of the Roman Church. Nevertheless, Tyndale continued his work and undertook to translate and print the books of the Old Testament. He first printed the five Books of Moses, the Pentateuch, in Antwerp in 1529-30. Over the next few years he printed the other books of the Old Testament. Tyndale later printed the New Testament and the Pentateuch together with marginal notes reflecting the Protestant views. This further incensed his enemies, who had him condemned as a heretic. He was burned at the stake in Holland in 1536. Tyndale’s translation especially that of the New Testament from the original Greek, marked the beginning of many other English translations from the original Greek, using Tyndale’s translation as a guide. Unfortunately, the original Greek New Testament edited by Erasmus in 1516, which was used by Tyndale for his English translation, contained many mistakes. Still, Tyndale’s English translation of the Bible was a pioneer work and an independent effort. Much of his translation was used in the King James Version of 1611.
Tyndale’s English translation of the entire Bible was the basis for the many other English translations that followed. The subsequent English versions are Coverdale’s Bible, 1535; Thomas Mathew’s Bible, 1537; the Great Bible, 1539; the Geneva Bible, 1560, and the Bishop’s Bible, 1568. Also the Rheims-Duae’s in 1582 was translated from the Latin Vulgate. Within approximately 50 years from the time of Tyndale’s first printed translations the above six translations were made. It must be noted, however, that none of these English translations was accepted as an authorized English version, because of general dissatisfaction with them and the many mistakes found in them. Therefore, after 30 years another attempt to translate the Bible anew into English was made by a conference in England, where a new version of the Bible was suggested to King James. King James was convinced of the need of a new English translation of the Bible. He appointed 54 scholars to undertake the task. These scholars used the Bishop’s Bible of 1568 as a basis, but earlier English versions were also, taken into consideration, especially Tyndale’s.
These 54 scholars, appointed to translate a new, original English version, failed because they used the earlier English translation which had many mistakes. Thus, theirs was a new revision not a new translation. Regardless, this new version was received with great enthusiasm and happiness, and within a generation it displaced all other English translations. This new version became known as the King James Version, or the Authorized Version. This King James Version was printed in 1611, and has become the familiar form of the Bible for many English-speaking generations. The King James Version was the only version, that bore the royal authority and was “appointed to be read in churches.” It is characterized as “the noblest monument of English prose.”, The King James Version has played a prominent role in forming the personal character of the church and institutions of the English-speaking people.
Yet, even this King James Version was not well-received nor free of criticism by some. Nevertheless, it has prevailed through the centuries and is still held in great esteem today, both by preachers and lay people, despite its defects, which were noted more clearly in the mid-nineteenth century and more so today. The Greek and Hebrew manuscripts of the Bible possessed today were unknown to the 54 scholars of the King James Version. The manuscripts of the Bible which were found later pointed out more clearly the serious defects of the King James Version. This fact convinced the Church of England in 1870 to make a revision of the King James translation. This revision was published in 1881 (N.T.), 1885 (O.T.) and was known as the English Revised, Version of the Bible, which included the Apocrypha printed in 1895,. However, to its detriment, this committee of revisors included only Anglican scholars. This version was not accepted by the vast majority of local churches and people, who. cherished the King James Version.
The dissatisfaction with the new English Revised Version led scholars in America to once again attempt to issue another English translation based on this English Revised Version. The American scholars, who cooperated with the English revisers, made amendments into the English Revised Version and published it in 1901., calling it the American Standard Version. Numerous other new English translations were published over the years. Among, those worthy of mention are: The New Testament by R. F. Weymouth, 1902; The New Testament, 1913, and The Old Testament, 1924, by J. Moffatt (complete Bible revised in 1935); The American Translation of the New Testament, by E. G. Goodspeed, 1923; the Old Testament by J. M. Powis Smith, 1935, the Apocrypha by Goodspeed, 1938; The Westminster Version of the Holy Scriptures by the Catholic Church, 1935; a Revised Catholic Version by R. A. Knox (New Testament, 1945, Old Testament, 1949), and The Basic English by S. H. Hooke (N. T.) 1945, O.T., 1949), and The New Translation of the Bible in Modern English, by the Church of Scotland (including only Protestant churches), 1947
Between 1881 and 1901, when the English Revised Version (1881) and the American Standard Version (1901), there was an unhappy lack of agreement on an English translation acceptable to all. Therefore, the task of a new English translation was again undertaken by the International Council of Religious Education in 1937. This Council appointed a committee of scholars to study The American Standard Version for further revision. The committee studied this question for two years and concluded that there was need for a thorough revision of the American Version of 1901, using the Tyndale Version as well as the King James Version in light of today’s knowledge of the Hebrew and Greek texts and their meaning, and also using present understanding of the English language. The Council thereupon authorized an English revision of the Bible.
A committee of 32 scholars was appointed to make the new revision in cooperation with an advisory board of 50 representatives of all the denominations which had agreed to its need. The committee was then divided into two groups, one for the Old Testament and the other for the New. Each group submitted its work for the scrutiny of the other, with each change being made by two-thirds vote of the entire committee. The work of the committee covered approximately 10 years. The new revision was unanimously adopted by the advisory board and participating Protestant denominations. The result of this great effort is the Revised Standard Version of the Bible (RSV). The New Testament was first printed in 1946. The complete Bible, Old and New Testaments, was authorized by vote of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America in 1951.
The Greek text of the New Testament used for the King James Version was that of Beza in 1589. Beza had two Greek manuscripts of great value of the fifth and sixth centuries, but he did not use them, because they were different from the Greek text made by Erasmus (1516-1535). The manuscripts used by Erasmus were from the tenth century on, and he made little use of them. The discovery of many ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, especially after 1931, provided the committee of scholars with important new sources, including the information which recent discoveries have provided for a better understanding of the vocabulary and idioms of the Greek New Testament language. Since 1870, when the official undertaking of the revision of the King James Version took place, an enormous number of papyri have been unearthed in Egypt, containing private letters, official reports, petitions, business accounts and various other records of the activities of the first centuries. These findings were thoroughly studied by Adolf Deissmann, and his results were published in 1895. His study proved that many of the Greek words of the New Testament were used in the everyday life of the people of the first centuries and were not special words which belonged to what was considered Biblical Greek. These discoveries provided the committee of scholars of the Revised Standard Version with valuable material not available to previous translators. Another factor promoting the decision to revise the King James Version was that its archaic form of expression of English was not clearly understood by contemporary people. The use of such words as “thou”, “thee”, “thy” and “thine” and the verb endings, “est”, edst”, “eth” and “th”, made it difficult for most people to understand it. More than 300 words in the King James Version are misleading in light of today’s understanding’ This was one of the reasons that led the Council to revise the King James Version. It must be noted that the Revised Standard Version is not a new translation, nor is it a paraphrase of the English language; it is a revision of the King James Version.
There is a tendency today by churches, Bible societies and scholars to adopt one English translation of the Bible as a common, authoritative one. For the first time even the Roman Catholic Church adopted the Revised Standard Version in 1966 to be used with the addition of the “Apocrypha” (books of the Old Testament designated by the Church “as worthy to be read”, which are incorporated in the Hebrew text in the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate). When the Catholic Church adopted the Revised Standard Version, it received permission from the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America, who holds the copyrights of this Version, to include its own explanatory notes in an appendix.
The Eastern Orthodox Church officially uses the Septuagint-Old Testament Greek which was translated from the original Hebrew language, by Jewish scholars, into Greek in the third century B.C. This was done because Jews who lived among various Mediterranean lands and other areas no longer spoke the ancient Hebrew language. Since Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC, Greek had become the international language in these areas. The Septuagint is the oldest Old Testament Scriptures still in existence today. These and the ancient Hebrew Scriptures are the Scriptures that were used by Jesus Christ and His Apostles. The Orthodox Church has always used the Septuagint Scriptures, which contains all the Canonical Books and the Anaginoskoinena Books “worthy to be read” (called Apocrypha in the’ English Versions). For the New Testament, the Orthodox Church in Greece and the Greek speaking Orthodox churches throughout the world use the Greek text. Other Eastern Orthodox Churches use translated versions of the Bible into their own native languages directly from the Greek by writers who were fluent in both the regional languages and Greek. The Orthodox Church has not as yet translated the Bible into English, so it has no official English translation. In the meantime, English speaking Orthodox churches are temporarily using the Revised King James Version with corrections in the notes section that bring the original Greek meaning back into the content.
The Bible, the inspired word of God, is a living monument in that it goes above and beyond being just an historical document or just a classic piece of literature. It is the Revelation of God Himself and His Will. The Bible is a divine account of God’s Design for the salvation of man; it is an account of the Incarnation of the Logos in the Person of Jesus Christ Who became flesh and dwelt among man. It was written to be read with reverence and faith. The Revelation and Message of the Bible should not be hidden or altered by words and phrases that have lost or changed their meaning over the years. The Bible was given to man so he might know the True God and His Revealed Truths. God speaks to man through the Bible. Therefore, the written word in its original context is indispensable for belief in Christ and for living His Commandments. The important words of the Holy Bible are “written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name”, John 20:31.
By George Kutulas. +
From an Orthodox Christian Perspective
Many modern day Christians have varied concepts of the term Sacred Tradition. Quite often it is interpreted as the tradition of man or the tradition of a church, which is under the supreme authority of a man who claims he is Christian tradition.
In the historic Orthodox Church, Sacred Tradition goes back to our Lord Jesus Christ and His Apostles. The Tradition of the Apostles, not the tradition of men, is Sacred Tradition because God is its source. Sacred Tradition is that which Jesus taught to His Apostles by word of mouth and which they in turn taught the Church. The Apostle Paul writes, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.” (2 Thessalonians 2:15). This Tradition can translate, interpret and clarify teachings and acts of Jesus Christ and His Apostles that are not detailed in the Bible, but are a part of Christianity today. It has existed from the beginning of the Christian era, before the New Testament Scriptures were written, and has been kept alive, since then, in the “Conscience of the unchanged, historic Church.”
The early Christians had nothing like the New Testament, as we now know it. Their faith was founded on the Sacred Tradition of the Church that they received from the Apostles and faithfully kept as directed by the Apostles who were guided by the Holy Spirit. Christ left us with the Spirit of Truth and the Church, not the New Testament Bible.
In the late 4th century, Orthodox bishops of the undivided Church carefully examined a number of scriptures for the formulation of the original Greek New Testament. The Church had received many scriptures, which coincided with Sacred Tradition that could have been used and there were also unusable false ones. Finally, the bishops approved 27 Scriptures and the whole Church accepted them as sufficient.
The New Testament, which was written as a witness to Christ and His Apostles, and to help keep us on the path of Sacred Tradition cannot be, nor does it claim to be a self-sufficient reference book of Christian belief and worship. It does not contain all that Christ said and did. John the Apostle wrote: “And there are many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25). Today the Bible is understood differently by different people. If it were meant to be self-sufficient, this would not be the case. In (2 Peter1:20), it is written, “knowing this first, that no prophesy of Scripture is of any private interpretation.” One of the most important roles of the unchanged, historic Church has been to guide the interpretation of the New Testament Bible, since it was formulated, by a community united in the Spirit of God’s love. The Apostle Paul spoke of the Church itself as the “pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). The Bible should not be seen as something outside of the Church, but as a part of it.
In Orthodox Christianity, the original Christian communion, Sacred Tradition is understood as God’s foundation for Scripture and not as an independent source of religious truth. Sacred Tradition and the Greek New Testament, whose translation has been preserved by the unchanged, historic Church, which is fluent in the Greek language, work hand in hand with one another. The New Testament in its original language is God’s infallible Word. All translations have derived from the original language. However, God’s inspiration is confined to the original language not the many translations. Yet, the translations have been extremely helpful for keeping the different speaking nations on the path of Sacred Tradition, but they are not sufficient for formulating doctrine of the Church. Doctrine requires reference to the Tradition of the Ancient Church and to the New Testament in its original language. Unfortunately, in the history of this Church, divine truths revealed by Sacred Tradition and the Greek Scriptures have needed clarification by Church Fathers and Church councils to refute the errors of heretics.
Christianity is indebted to the Tradition of the early Church for many things that cannot be found in the Bible. For example, Christ commanded the Apostles to baptize, but the service for baptism is not described in the Bible. It is, however, found in the Tradition of the early Church. The same thing can be said about the service of worship centering around the Lord’s Supper. Early church worship services, which are not defined in detail in the Scriptures, have been revealed by Church Tradition in apostolic writings (such as; the Didache-1st century), writings of the Early Church Fathers (such as; Justin Martyr-2nd century) and through the continuous worship of the original, unchanged Church. There are many other things accepted in much of Christianity today that are only found in the Sacred Tradition of the Church.
All Christians rely on traditions to some degree, whether they are aware of it or not. However, some rely on traditions that are contrary to the Apostolic Faith. The real question, then, is not whether or not to rely on tradition, but on which tradition to rely— the tradition of men or the Sacred Tradition of God, as revealed through the Apostles, which has been preserved and kept unchanged by the historic Orthodox Church.
By George Kutulas +
This page is meant to answer many of the basic questions that are asked by first-time visitors to the Orthodox Church. Hopefully it will help you to understand some of the things you might see that are unfamiliar to you. If you have any questions that aren’t answered by this brochure, please feel free to speak with Father Basil after church services or call the church office at 208 777-1128. We are so happy to welcome you.
A Short History
The Orthodox Church traces Her origins to the time of Jesus Christ and His apostles. In fact, you could say that the Orthodox Church was born on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles in the form of tongues of fire from Heaven. From that point, missionary activity carried Her teachings to many parts of the world, including Greece, Asia Minor, Russia, many parts of both Eastern and Western Europe, and the entire Middle East and North Africa. In addition, the Faith extended into India and eventually found its way to the shores of this continent as well.
However, a tragic separation occurred between the Eastern and Western branches of Christianity around the year 1054, and the entire Western Church, under the leadership of the Pope of Rome, fell away from the rest of the Holy Orthodox Church. Since that separation, the two traditions have developed in quite different ways, and this is part of the reason for the unfamiliarity experienced by visitors to an Orthodox church. ENOUGH HISTORY!!!
Worship For All The Senses
The first thing that you may notice when you visit us is that Orthodox worship engages all the five senses. For us worship is not a passive event. The burning candles and oil lamps, the color, form and placement of the icons, the music of the choir, the fragrance of the incense, the taste of the Bread and Wine, all work to focus our entire being on the worship of the Living God.
Why Are There So Many Candles?
Since the Savior Himself taught that He is the Light of the World (John 8:12), our candles and lamps ultimately refer to His radiance. The Light of Christ illuminates all humanity—in fact it enlightens the whole world. Some of our light is provided by oil lamps. These recall the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids who kept their vigil for the bridegroom (Matthew 25:1-13), and help us to remember that we also must keep our watch for His coming again.
Some of our light is provided by wax candles. In Psalm 68 we read that the wicked (i.e. those who hate God) will disperse when they encounter Him in just the same way that wax melts near a fire. Our prayer is that any wickedness in us will vanish as the wax of a candle vanishes and is consumed by the flame. But more practically, wax candles are simply a convenient and age-old means of providing light by which to see.
The faithful light candles as a sign of their fervent prayer to God. We light candles and lamps before icons; we carry them in processions; we place them at various locations throughout the church building—simply to give off illumination. The more candles lit, the greater the illumination and greater is the image of the Empty Tomb of the Lord which shone forth with a brilliance far greater than the light of day.
May I Light A Candle Too?
Of course! While we ask our parishioners to purchase them, as our guests, you may take one and light it in the sand in one of the stands in the front of the church.
Why Do You Use Incense?
Psalm 141, declares “Let my prayer arise in Your sight as incense; the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice.” Incense is thus linked to prayer. In the Revelation (8:1-5) we also see this connection in a Christian context. In addition, we show that we honor someone or something when we burn incense before it or them. You will notice that the Gospel Book upon the Altar Table (the verbal image of Christ), the Altar Table itself (a sign of the Throne of God), the icons (themselves representing the presence of the holy men and women and the events in the history of salvation), and finally all the faithful people who have assembled for worship are censed. (Remember that human beings are made in the image and according to the likeness of God), (Genesis 1:27) thus we are icons too.
Why Are There So Many Icons Around?
We read in the Epistle to the Hebrews (12:1-3) that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (literally, the martyrs) who watch after us and urge us on in our race toward Christ. We believe that the saints who have already run their race on earth indeed surround us—as in a stadium, the crowd surrounds the runners in the Olympics. In our homes, as well as in our churches, Orthodox Christians image this reality by the placement of icons. They are “Windows into Heaven” and are highly regarded by Orthodox believers.
Why Do People Kiss Icons When They Enter And Depart From The Church?
It is our belief that human beings have a deep God-given need to express what we feel inside when those feelings are pure and good. Orthodox Christians have great devotion and love for the individuals depicted in many of our icons. We have a great respect and veneration for the biblical and historical scenes depicted in our icons because those events are part of God’s plan of salvation for the life of the world. When an Orthodox Christian bows before and/or places a kiss upon an icon, the Gospel Book (or even another Christian) it is a sign of humility and devotion before God who acts through the individual (or Scriptures if that is the case) so that all His people may be brought back to Paradise. Many people do not understand this idea at first but little by little come to realize that it is the deepest kind of veneration, whereby the worshiper can actually experience heaven for a moment…
Isn’t All That Idolatry?
Are you worshipping your mother, father, husband, wife, son or daughter when you give that person a kiss? Of course not. It is our belief that the outward honor we pay to the material reality extends to the “prototype.” There is also a vast distinction between honor (i.e. veneration or respect), and worship. We worship God alone, and may have no others before Him (Exodus 20:3). The Orthodox Church has already dealt with the issue of those who could not make that distinction (i.e. the “iconoclasts”) in the 8th century, 7th Ecumenical Council.
Why Is The Whole Service Sung A Capella?
It is held that the human voice is at its best in song. The voice is the musical instrument created by God Himself. For Orthodox Christians then, the voice is the one instrument which is most fitting for the praise of God. Therefore all services are sung to reflect the heavenly music of the angels. The divine words of the services are much too precious to simply speak in normal, spoken form. Rather, they are couched in golden melodies fit for the worship of Almighty God. With the exception of the sermon, which is spoken, all parts of the services are sung. Some traditions within Orthodox Christianity use pipe organs, pianos, bells, etc., in worship. However, historically, it is the custom of most parishes that there be only the human voice to make a joyful noise to the Lord (Psalm 66).
Why Do People Stand For The Whole Service?
The Lord once declared that “Whenever two or more are gathered in My Name, I am in their midst.” (Matthew 18:20) Orthodox Christians could not conceive of simply sitting in the presence of the Lord especially while in worship. It is a sign of respect when the elderly, a judge or even the President of the United States enters a room that those assembled rise up. No less do we stand (or kneel in humility) before the King of Glory who comes invisibly upborn by unseen armies of angels. In the Orthodox tradition standing is the most appropriate attitude for prayer and worship because, for us worship is not a “spectator sport.” Those who are not able to stand for whatever reason are not, of course, expected to do so. You may use the chairs provided.
Must I Stand All The While?
You should do what you feel comfortable doing. Many people get weary after a while and they sit down. Others feel more comfortable remaining on their feet so as not to appear conspicuous. Don’t worry. We only ask that you stand with us at least during the reading of the Gospel, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and at the time of Holy Communion.
If you are coming from a western background, all of this action may seem very strange and make you feel uncomfortable at first. Some of the people at Saint John are converts and have also experienced these same feelings. Before very long though, you will very naturally begin to participate.
Why Do You Make The Sign Of The Cross?
One of the things that you will see us do throughout the course of a service is to make the Sign of the Cross. The Sign of the Cross is an important expression of our faith. In fact, it has been said that as long as Orthodox Christians are taught to properly make the Sign of the Cross, the Orthodox Faith will remain safe, since this symbol encapsulates so much of our core theology. In the Orthodox Churches, the Sign of the Cross is made with the right hand. The thumb is joined with the first two fingers at the tip, symbolizing the Holy Trinity. The remaining two fingers are closed at the palm symbolizing the dual nature of Christ, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Who entered time as the God-Man Jesus Christ.
The Sign of the Cross begins with the right hand touching the forehead, the abdomen, the right shoulder, and finally the left shoulder. The Sign of the Cross is typically made at the mention of the Holy Trinity, when the priest blesses the congregation, at the beginning and end of the reading of the Holy Gospel, and as a response to the petitions in the litanies.
Why Do People Bow?
A bow of reverence is frequently made when entering and leaving the church, passing in front of the altar, and in front of the holy icons. At times during the course of the service, the priest will even bow to the congregation and they will bow back. This bow is a sign of respect and submission to God (and to God’s people), and sometimes a symbol of repentance and forgiveness.
We welcome children of all ages to participate in the church service. However, should the need arise to see to the care of your child, you may leave the temple and use the restroom. We ask that you do so quietly, however.
After the Divine Liturgy, most children go to their Sunday School classes downstairs. Sunday School is conducted September through May. Your children may also attend. Feel free to join us after service in the fellowship hall.
Why Is There A Dome On The Church?
Domes (or Cupolas) are found on top of Orthodox Churches rather than steeples in order to illustrate our basic theology that we need not reach out to God “up there” but rather, that He is with us and embraces us here in the temple. The smaller domes, such as we have, are in the Northern Russian style and were adapted to withstand the heavy snows of that region where a completely domed roof would have collapsed under the weight.
Why Is The Priest Separated From The Congregation?
The area where the priest celebrates the majority of the services lies beyond the icon screen (or Iconostasis) and is the SANCTUARY. This is where the Altar Table is situated, as well as the Table of Oblation, where the Holy Gifts are prepared before the Liturgy begins. (Leavened bread and red grape wine are the elements used for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. During the Divine Liturgy, these elements are mysteriously changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit). The Sanctuary is the Holy of Holies and the Altar is the Throne of God. Only those having a function in the Sanctuary are permitted within. The curtain hanging on the Royal Doors in the center of the icon screen is the New Testament version of the curtain shielding the Holy of Holies in the Temple at Jerusalem. Through the Royal Doors passes Jesus Christ in the form of His Word, the Holy Gospel and the Holy Gifts (THE FIRST ENTRANCE DURING THE DIVINE LITURGY IS CALLED THE LITTLE ENTRANCE AND THE SECOND ENTRANCE IS CALLED THE GREAT ENTRANCE). There are also two other doors on the icon screen called Deacon’s Doors, through which everyone passes except the priest or bishop during special times of the service, when he may pass through the Royal Doors.
This is the body of the church and is where the faithful worship. In traditional Orthodox Churches there are no pews and the feeling is one of true oneness and participation. Pews were brought in from contact with the Western Churches, especially here in America.
This part of the church historically has had a very important function. It held those who were either learning about the Church in preparation for Baptism (catechumens) or those under penance who could not enter into the nave for some particular sin. In monasteries, these vestibules were enormous (and some still are) and the monks ate their meals there. There are usually a set of doors separating the vestibule from the nave and these can be closed during the part of the service after the priest or deacon proclaims “THE DOORS, THE DOORS…”
There are many other parts of the temple which you might be thinking about, so please ask about them! Needless to say, the Orthodox pray with all of their senses in order to fully immerse themselves in the total worship of God.
A Word About Belief
We are the Church of the New Testament, founded by Christ who said that the gates of hell would not prevail against it. We believe in the Holy Trinity, One God manifested in Three Persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We believe in the Divinity of Jesus Christ, the 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity, Who became a man for our salvation. Our services are primarily taken from the Holy Scriptures, but some of the hymns came into being during later centuries. We hold that sacred Tradition is just as vital as the Bible for the life of the Church, and that the Bible, in fact, cannot be properly understood or interpreted outside of that very Tradition. There is still much to say about the Mother of God, fasting, saints, the Feastdays of the Church, customs, etc… but if you like what you see and hear so far, there will be plenty of time to answer the lifetime of questions which only the Orthodox Church can answer in Her unique and mystical way. May God bless you in your search for the Truth and we thank you and welcome you to worship with us again.
In the theology and piety of the Orthodox Church, a special place of honor is given to the Mother of God the Most-Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, who is reverenced by the Orthodox as being more honorable than the Cherubim and more glorious, beyond compare, than the Seraphim. As Orthodox we style her as the most exalted among God’s creatures; but we do not regard her as some sort of goddess, the 4th Person of the Trinity, as some accuse us; nor do we render her the worship due God alone. Just as with the Holy Icons, the veneration due Mary is expressed in quite different words in the Greek writings of the Fathers than that due God.
At many of the Divine Services, the Deacon exclaims: Commemorating our Most-Holy, Most-Pure, Most-Blessed and Glorious Lady Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary with all the Saints…. And here we can see three basic truths expressed concerning her.
The Virgin Mary is honored because she is Theotokos the Mother of God not of His divinity, but of His humanity, yet of God in that Jesus Christ was, in the theology of the Church, both God and Man, at one and the same time, in the Incarnation. Therefore, the honor given Mary is due to her relationship to Christ. And this honor, rather than taking away from that due God, makes us more aware of God’s majesty; for it is precisely on account of the Son (Himself God) that she is venerated. Of times, when men refuse to honor Mary, it is because they do not believe in the cause of her veneration the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity.
We also speak of the Theotokos as being Ever-Virgin, which was officially proclaimed at the 5th Ecumenical Council (Constantinople 553; the dogma concerning Mary as being Theotokos was proclaimed in 431 at the 3rd Ecumenical Council in Ephesus). This notion does not actually contradict Holy Scripture, as some would think. And His mother and His brothers came; and standing outside they sent to Him and called Him (Mark 3:31). Here the use of the word brothers in the original Greek can mean half-brother, cousin, or near relative, in addition to brothers in the strict sense. The Orthodox Church has always seen brothers here as referring to His half-brothers.
If Mary is honored as Theotokos, so too, she is honored because she is Panagia All-Holy. She is the supreme example of the cooperation between God and Man; for God, Who always respects human freedom, did not become incarnate without her free consent which, as Holy Scripture tells us, was freely given: Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word (Luke 1:38). Thus Mary is seen by the Church as the New Eve (as Christ is the New Adam) whose perfect obedience contrasted the disobedience of the First Mother, Eve, in Paradise. As St. Irenaeus says, the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed through the obedience of Mary; for what Eve, a virgin, bound by her unbelief, that Mary, a virgin, unloosed by her faith [Against the Heresies, III, xxii, 4],
As All-Holy and Most-Pure, Mary was free from actual sin, but, in the opinion of most Orthodox theologians, although not dogmatized by the Church, she did fall under the curse of Original Sin as does all mankind. For this reason by virtue of her solidarity with all humanity the Theotokos died a bodily death. Yet, in her case, the resurrection of the body had been anticipated; and she was assumed body and soul into Heaven; and her tomb was found empty an event celebrated in the Feast of the Falling-Asleep (or Dormition) of the Most-Holy Theotokos (Aug. 15). Thus, as the hymns of that Feast proclaim, she has passed from earth to heaven, beyond death and judgment, living already in the age to come. She enjoys now the same bodily glory all of us hope to share one day.
Whereas the Church has officially proclaimed as dogmas the doctrines concerning the Trinity and the Incarnation, the glorification of the Mother of God belongs to the Inner Tradition of the Church. As the noted Orthodox theologian, Vladimir Lossky writes: It is hard to speak and not less hard to think about the mysteries which the Church keeps in the hidden depths of her inner consciousness…. The Mother of God was never a theme of the public preaching of the Apostles; while Christ was preached on the housetops, and proclaimed for all to know in an initiatory teaching addressed to the whole world, the mystery of His Mother was revealed only to those who were within the Church…. It is not so much an object of faith as a foundation of our hope, a fruit of faith, ripened in Tradition. Let us therefore keep silence, and let us not try to dogmatize about the supreme glory of the Mother of God [Panagia, in The Mother of God, ed. E.L. Mascall, p.35].
Appellations of the Theotokos.
The Theotokos is often called an Ark, for the Glory of God settled on her, just as the Glory of God descended on the Mercy Seat of the Old Testament Ark of the Covenant (Ex. 25:10-22).
Just as Aaron’s Rod sprouted miraculously in the Old Testament, so too, the Theotokos has budded forth the Flower of Immortality, Christ our God (Num. 17:1-11).
On Mt. Sinai, Moses saw the Bush that was burning, but was not consumed. So too, the Theotokos bore the fire of Divinity, but was not consumed (Ex. 3:1-6).
In the Old Testament Tabernacle, there were found in the Sanctuary golden candlesticks. The Theotokos is the Candlestick which held that Light that illumines the world (Ex. 25:31-40).
Just as the censer holds a burning coal, so too, the Theotokos held the Living Coal. In the Apocalypse, there stands an Angel before the Throne of God, swinging a censer, representing the prayers of the Saints rising up to God. This is also seen as a symbol of the Theotokos, for it is her prayers that find special favor before her Son.
In the Exodus, the Israelites were led out of Egypt by a Cloud of Light, symbolizing the presence of God in their midst. So too, the Theotokos is a Cloud, bearing God within.
In the book of Judges we read the account of the dew which appeared miraculously on Gideon’s fleece (Judges 6:36-40). So too, the Dew Christ, appeared miraculously on the Living Fleece the Theotokos.
Holy of Holies.
Into the Holy of Holies only the High Priest could enter. So too, the Theotokos is the Holy of Holies into which only the Eternal High Priest Christ entered (Heb. 9:1-7).
In a dream Jacob saw a ladder ascending to Heaven, with Angels ascending and descending on it. The Theotokos is a Ladder, stretching from earth to Heaven, for on It God descended to man, having become incarnate.
Mountain (from which a Stone was cut not by hand of man).
The Prophet Daniel saw a mountain, from which was cut a stone, not by the hand of man (Dan. 2:34, 45). This is a reference to the miraculous Virgin Birth which was accomplished without the hand of man.
The Theotokos was the Palace within which the King Christ our God dwelt.
Stem of Jesse.
In the Nativity Service, the Lord is referred to as the Rod from the Stem of Jesse (Is. 11:1), indicating His lineage from David, which was fulfilled through the Theotokos, who was a scion (or stem) of the line of David, the son of Jesse.
The Tabernacle was the place where the Glory of God dwelt. So too, the Glory of God dwelt in the Theotokos the Living Tabernacle (Ex. 40:34).
This refers to the Holy Table (Altar Table) on which, at the Divine Liturgy, the Divine Food is offered. So too, the Theotokos is the Holy Table which bore the Bread of Life.
The Prophet Ezekiel speaks of the Temple whose East gate remains sealed, through which only the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered. This clearly prophesies the Virgin Birth of the Theotokos (Ez. 44:1-2).
The Theotokos is the Throne upon which Christ, the King of All, rested.
In the Old Testament, the Ark of the Covenant contained within itself a golden urn filled with the heavenly manna. The Theotokos is the Urn which contained Christ, the Divine Manna (Heb. 9:1-7).
The Theotokos is the Vine which bore the Ripe Cluster (of Grapes), Christ our Lord.
Excerpt taken from “These Truths We Hold – The Holy Orthodox Church: Her Life and Teachings”. Compiled and Edited by A Monk of St. Tikhon’s Monastery. Copyright 1986 by the St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, South Canaan, Pennsylvania 18459.
To order a copy of “These Truths We Hold” visit the St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Seminary Bookstore.
One of the first things that strikes a non-Orthodox visitor to an Orthodox church is the prominent place assigned to the Holy Icons. The Iconostasis (Icon-screen) dividing the Altar from the rest of the church is covered with them, while others are placed in prominent places throughout the church building. Sometimes even the walls and ceiling are covered with them in fresco or mosaic form. The Orthodox faithful prostrate themselves before them, kiss them, and burn candles before them. They are censed by the Priest and carried in processions. Considering the obvious importance of the Holy Icons, then, questions may certainly be raised concerning them: What do these gestures and actions mean? What is the significance of these Icons? Are they not idols or the like, prohibited by the Old Testament?
Some of the answers to these questions can be found in the writings of St. John of Damascus (f776), who wrote in the Mid-Eighth Century at the height of the iconoclast (anti-icon) controversies in the Church, controversies which were resolved only by the 7th Ecumenical Council (787), which borrowed heavily from these writings.
As St. John points out, in ancient times God, being incorporeal and uncircumscribed, was never depicted, since it is impossible to represent that which is immaterial, has no shape, is indescribable and is unencompassable. Holy Scripture states categorically: No one has ever seen God (John 1:18) and You cannot see My [God’s] face, for man shall not see Me and live (Ex. 33:20). The Lord forbade the Hebrews to fashion any likeness of the Godhead, saying: I7ou shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth (Ex. 20:4). Consequently, the Holy Apostle Paul also asserts: Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the Deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, a representation by the art and imagination of man (Acts 17:29).
Nonetheless, we know that Icons have been used for prayer from the first centuries of Christianity. Church Tradition tells us, for example, of the existence of an Icon of the Savior during His lifetime (the Icon-Made-Without-Hands) and of Icons of the Most-Holy Theotokos immediately after Him. Tradition witnesses that the Orthodox Church had a clear understanding of the importance of Icons right from the beginning; and this understanding never changed, for it is derived from the teachings concerning the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The use of Icons is grounded in the very essence of Christianity, since Christianity is the revelation by the God-Man not only of the Word of God, but also of the Image of God; for, as St. John the Evangelist tells us, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).
No one has ever seen God; the only Son, Who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known (John 1:18), the Evangelist proclaims. That is, He has revealed the Image or Icon of God. For being the brightness of [God’s] glory, and the express image of [God’s] person (Heb. 1:3), the Word of God in the Incarnation revealed to the world, in His own Divinity, the Image of the Father. When St. Philip asks Jesus, Lord, show us the Father, He answered him: Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father (John 14:8, 9). Thus as the Son is in the bosom of the Father, likewise after the Incarnation He is consubstantial with the Father, according to His divinity being the Father’s Image, equal in honor to Him.
The truth expressed above, which is revealed in Christianity, thus forms the foundations of Christian pictorial art. The Image (or Icon) not only does not contradict the essence of Christianity, but is unfailingly connected with it; and this is the foundation of the tradition that from the very beginning the Good News was brought to the world by the Church both in word and in image. This truth was so self-evident, that Icons found their natural place in the Church, despite the Old Testament prohibition against them and a certain amount of contemporary opposition.
St. John Damascene further tells us that because the Word became flesh (John 1:14), we are no longer in our infancy; we have grown up, we have been given by God the power of discrimination and we know what can be depicted and what is indescribable. Since He Who was incorporeal, without form, quantity and magnitude, Who was incomparable owing to the superiority of His nature, Who existed in the image of God assumed the form of a servant and appeared to us in the flesh, we can portray Him and reproduce for contemplation Him Who has condescended to be seen.
We can portray His ineffable descent, His Nativity from the Blessed Virgin, His Baptism in the Jordan, His Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor, His sufferings, death and miracles. We can depict the Cross of Salvation, the Sepulcher, the Resurrection and the Ascension, both in words and in colors. We can confidently represent God the Invisible not as an invisible being, but as one Who has made Himself visible for our sake by sharing in our flesh and blood.
As the Holy Apostle Paul says: Ever since the creation of the world [God’s] invisible nature, namely, His eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made (Rom. 1:20). Thus, in all creatures we see images that give us a dim insight into Divine Revelation when, for instance, we say that the Holy Trinity Without Beginning can be represented by the sun, light and the ray, or by the mind, the word and the spirit that is within us, or by the plant, the flower and the scent of the rose.
Thus, what had only been a shadow in the Old Testament is now clearly seen. The Council in Trullo (691-2), in its 82nd Rule, stated:
Certain holy icons have the image of a lamb, at which is pointing the finger of the Forerunner. This lamb is taken as the image of grace, representing the True Lamb, Christ our God, Whom the law foreshadowed. Thus accepting with love the ancient images and shadows as prefigurations and symbols of truth transmitted to the Church, we prefer grace and truth, receiving it as the fulfillment of the law. Thus, in order to make plain this fulfillment for all eyes to see, if only by means of pictures, we ordain that from henceforth icons should represent, instead of the lamb of old, the human image of the Lamb, Who has taken upon Himself the sins of the world, Christ our God, so that through this we may perceive the height of the abasement of God the Word and be led to remember His life in the flesh, His Passion and death for our salvation and the ensuing redemption of the world.
The Orthodox Church, then, created a new art, new in form and content, which uses images and forms drawn from the material world to transmit the revelation of the divine world, making the divine accessible to human understanding and contemplation. This art developed side by side with the Divine Services and, like the Services, expresses the teaching of the Church in conformity with the word of Holy Scripture. Following the teachings of the 7th Ecumenical Council, the Icon is seen not as simple art, but that there is a complete correspondence of the Icon to Holy Scripture, for if the [Icon] is shown by [Holy Scripture], [Holy Scripture] is made incontestably clear by the [Icon] [Acts of the 7th Ecumenical Council, 6].
As the word of Holy Scripture is an image, so the image is also a word, for, according to St. Basil the Great (f379), what the word transmits through the ear, that painting silently shows through the image [Discourse 19, On the 40 Martyrs]. In other words, the Icon contains and professes the same truth as the Gospels and therefore, like the Gospels, is based on exact data, and is not a human invention, for if it were otherwise, Icons could not explain the Gospels nor correspond to them.
By depicting the divine, we are not making ourselves similar to idolaters; for it is not the material symbol that we are worshipping, but the Creator, Who became corporeal for our sake and assumed our body in order that through it He might save mankind. We also venerate the material objects through which our salvation is effected the blessed wood of the Cross, the Holy Gospel, and, above all, the Most-Pure Body and Precious Blood of Christ, which have grace-bestowing properties and Divine Power.
As St. John Damascene asserts: I do not worship matter but I worship the Creator of matter, Who for my sake became material and deigned to dwell in matter, Who through matter effected my salvation. I will not cease from worshipping the matter through which my salvation has been effected [On Icons, 1,16]. Following his teachings, we, as Orthodox Christians, do not venerate an Icon of Christ because of the nature of the wood or the paint, but rather we venerate the inanimate image of Christ with the intention of worshipping Christ Himself as God Incarnate through it.
We kiss an Icon of the Blessed Virgin as the Mother of the Son of God, just as we kiss the Icons of the Saints as God’s friends who fought against sin, imitated Christ by shedding their blood for Him and followed in His footsteps. Saints are venerated as those who were glorified by God and who became, with God’s help, terrible to the Enemy, and benefactors to those advancing in the faith but not as gods and benefactors themselves; rather they were the slaves and servants of God who were given boldness of spirit in return for their love of Him. We gaze on the depiction of their exploits and sufferings so as to sanctify ourselves through them and to spur ourselves on to zealous emulation.
The Icons of the Saints act as a meeting point between the living members of the Church [Militant] on earth and the Saints who have passed on to the Church [Triumphant] in Heaven. The Saints depicted on the Icons are not remote, legendary figures from the past, but contemporary, personal friends. As meeting points between Heaven and earth, the Icons of Christ, His Mother, the Angels and Saints constantly remind the faithful of the invisible presence of the whole company of Heaven; they visibly express the idea of Heaven on earth.
In venerating the Icons, then, the Orthodox are championing the basis of Christian faith the Incarnation of God and, consequently, salvation and the very meaning of the Church’s existence on earth, since the creation of the Holy Icons goes back to the very origins of Christianity and is an inalienable part of the truth revealed by God, founded as it is on the person of the God-Man Jesus Christ Himself. Holy Images are part of the nature of Christianity and without the Icon Christianity would cease to be Christianity. The Holy Gospel summons us to live in Christ, but it is the Icon that shows us this life.
If God became man in order that man might be like God, the Icon, in full accord with divine worship and theology, bears witness to the fruits of the Incarnation and to the sanctity and deification of man. It shows him in the fullness of his earthly nature, purified of sin and partaking of the life of God, testifies to the sanctification of the human body and displays to the world the image of man who is similar to God by grace. The Icon outwardly expresses the sanctity of the depicted Saint, and this sanctity is apparent to bodily vision.
Thus, according to St. John Damascene, those who refuse to venerate an Icon also refuse to worship God’s Son, Who is the living image and unchanging reflection of God the Invisible. Be it known, he says, that anyone who seeks to destroy the Icons of Christ or His Mother, the Blessed Theotokos, or any of the Saints, is the enemy of Christ, the Holy Mother of God, and the Saints, and is the defender of the Devil and his demons.
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