of the Orthodox Church
Rev. Thomas Fitzgerald
Holy Cross School of Theology
© 1983-1996 Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
Department of Religious Education
The Orthodox Church throughout the ages has maintained a continuity of
faith and love with the apostolic community which was founded by Christ
and sustained by the Holy Spirit. Orthodoxy believes that she has
preserved and taught the historic Christian Faith free from error and
distortion, from the time of the Apostles. She also believes that there
is nothing in the body of her teachings which is contrary to truth or
which inhibits real union with God. The air of antiquity and
timelessness which often characterizes Eastern Christianity is an
expression of her desire to remain loyal to the authentic Christian
Orthodoxy believes that the Christian Faith and the Church are
inseparable. It is impossible to know Christ, to share in the life of
the Holy Trinity, or to be considered a Christian apart from the Church.
It is in the Church that the Christian Faith is proclaimed and
maintained. It is through the Church that an individual is nurtured in
God is the source of faith in the Orthodox Church. Orthodoxy believes
that God has revealed Himself to us, most especially in the revelation
of Jesus Christ, whom we know as the Son of God. This Revelation of God,
His love, and His purpose, are constantly made manifest and contemporary
in the life of the Church by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Orthodox Faith does not begin with mankind's religious speculations,
nor with the so-called "proofs" for the existence of God, nor
with a human quest for the Divine. The origin of the Orthodox Christian
Faith is the Self-disclosure of God. Each day the Church's
Morning Prayer affirms and reminds us of this by declaring: "God is
the Lord and He has revealed Himself to us. " While the inner Being
of God always remains unknown and unapproachable, God has manifested
Himself to us; and the Church has experienced Him as Father, Son, and
Holy Spirit. The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity, which is central to the
Orthodox Faith, is not a result of pious speculation, but the over
whelming experience of God. The doctrine affirms that there is only One
God in whom there are three distinct Persons. In other words, when we
encounter either the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit, we are truly
experiencing contact with God. While the Holy Trinity is a mystery which
can never be fully comprehended, Orthodoxy believes that we can truly
participate in the Trinity through the life of the Church, especially
through our celebration of the Eucharist and the Sacraments, as well as
the non-sacramental services.
INCARNATION OF JESUS CHRIST
Together with the belief in the Holy Trinity, the doctrine of the
Incarnation occupies a central position in the teaching of the Orthodox
Church. According to Orthodox Faith, Jesus is much more than a pious man
or a profound teacher of morality. He is the "Son of God who became
the Son of Man. " The doctrine of the Incarnation is an expression
of the Church's experience of Christ. In Him, divinity is united with
humanity without the destruction of either reality. Jesus Christ is
truly God who shares in the same reality as the Father and the Spirit.
Moreover, He is truly man who shares with us all that is human. The
Church believes that, as the unique God-man, Jesus Christ has restored
humanity to fellowship with God.
By manifesting the Holy Trinity, by teaching the meaning of authentic
human life, and by conquering the powers of sin and death through His
Resurrection. Christ is the supreme expression of the love of God the
Father, for His people, made present in every age and in every place by
the Holy Spirit through the life of the Church. The great Fathers of the
Church summarized the ministry of Christ in the bold affirmation:
"God became what we are so that we may become what he is.
The Holy Scriptures are highly regarded by the Orthodox Church. Their
importance is expressed in the fact that a portion of the Bible is read
at every service of Worship. The Orthodox Church, which sees itself as
the guardian and interpreter of the Scriptures, believes that the books
of the Bible are a valuable witness to God's revelation. The Old
Testament is a collection of forty-nine books of various literary style
which expresses God's revelation to the ancient Israelites. The Orthodox
Church regards the Old Testament to be a preparation for the coming of
Christ and believes that it should be read in light of His revelation.
The New Testament is centered upon the person and work of Jesus Christ
and the out pouring of the Holy Spirit in the early Church. The four
Gospels are an account of Christ's life and teaching centering upon His
Death and Resurrection. the twenty-one epistles and the Acts of the
Apostles are devoted to the Christian life and the development of the
early Church. The Book of Revelation is a very symbolic text which looks
to the return of Christ. The New Testament, especially the Gospels, is
very important to Orthodoxy because here is found a written witness to
the perfect revelation of God in the Incarnation of the Son of God, in
the person of Jesus Christ.
While the Bible is treasured as a valuable written record of God's
revelation, it does not contain wholly that revelation. The Bible is
viewed as only one expression of God's revelation in the on-going life
of His people. Scripture is part of the treasure of Faith which is known
as Tradition. Tradition means that which is "handed on" from
one generation to another. In addition to the witness of Faith in the
Scripture, the Orthodox Christian Faith is celebrated in the Eucharist,
taught by the Fathers, glorified by the Saints, expressed in prayers,
hymns, and icons; defended by the seven Ecumenical Councils; embodied in
the Nicene Creed, manifested in social concern; and, by the power of the
Holy Spirit, it is lived in every local Orthodox parish. The life of the
Holy Trinity is manifested in every aspect of the Church's life.
Finally, the Church, as a whole, is the guardian of the authentic
Christian Faith which bears witness to that Revelation.
COUNCILS AND CREED
As Orthodoxy has avoided any tendency to restrict the vision of God's
revelation to only one avenue of its life, the Church has also avoided
the systematic or extensive definition of its Faith. Orthodoxy affirms
that the Christian Faith expresses and points to the gracious and
mysterious relationship between God and humanity. God became man in the
person of Jesus Christ not to institute a new philosophy or code of
conduct, but primarily to bestow upon us "new life" in the
Holy Trinity. This reality, which is manifest in the Church, cannot be
wholly captured in language, formulas, or definitions. The content of
the Faith is not opposed to reason, but is often beyond the bounds of
reason, as are many of the important realities of life. Orthodoxy
recognizes the supreme majesty of God, as well as the limitations of the
human mind. The Church is content to accept the element of mystery in
its approach to God.
Only when the fundamental truths of the Faith are seriously threatened
by false teachings, does the Church act to define dogmatically an
article of faith. For this reason, the decisions of the seven Ecumenical
Councils of the ancient undivided Church are highly respected. The
Councils were synods to which bishops from throughout the Christian
world gathered to determine the true faith. The Ecumenical Councils did
not create new doctrines but proclaimed, in a particular place and a
particular time, what the Church has always believed and taught.
The Nicene Creed, which was formulated at the Councils of Nicaea in 325
and of Constantinople in 381, has been recognized since then as the
authoritative expression of the fundamental beliefs of the Orthodox
Church. The Creed is often referred to as the "Symbol of
Faith." This description indicates that the Creed is not an
analytical statement, but that it points to a reality greater than
itself and to which it bears witness. For generations the Creed has been
the criterion of authentic Faith and the basis of Christian education.
The Creed is recited at the time of Baptism and during every Divine
I believe in One God, Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth and of
all things visible and invisible.
And in One Lord, Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of
the Father before all ages.
Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten, not created, of one
essence with the Father, through whom all things were made.
For us and for our salvation He came down from heaven and was incarnate
by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became Man.
He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and He suffered and was
On the third day He rose according to the Scriptures.
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead. His
kingdom will have no end.
And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, Giver of Life, who proceeds from the
Father, who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and
glorified, who spoke through the prophets.
In one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
I acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
I expect the resurrection of the dead; and the life of the age to come.