Little is known about Orthodox Christianity in America unless you come from a family whose ethnic background comes from a country with strong Orthodox roots. In America, awareness of the Orthodox Church and its teachings is so scarce and misunderstood to the extent that some groups judge it as not Christian at all!
This couldn’t be further from the truth. It is the second largest group of Christians in the world, with approximately 300 million members worldwide, second only to Roman Catholicism. Approximately 3 million of those 300 million live in America, and the number is growing.
Orthodox Christianity traces its roots to the day of Pentecost in 33 A.D, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles as Christ promised. From that day until 1054 A.D. there was only the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, carrying on the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the traditions as passed down by the Apostles in an unbroken chain of succession. For a multitude of reasons, well beyond the scope of this article, there was a rift in the Church during the year 1054 A.D.
The split between the Greek East and Latin West essentially created two Churches, the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. Both of these Churches have roots in 33 A.D., and both carry on the same Apostolic succession. However, since the split the Orthodox Church has carried on with little change, or modernization.
That being said, we do have things in common with both our Roman Catholic and Protestant brothers and sisters. The Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church have in common, as mentioned, Apostolic succession as well as the sacraments of the Church as set forth by Christ and traditions taught by early Church Fathers, a strong veneration of the Virgin Mary and the Saints, and a daily cycle of services.
We have in common with our Protestant brothers and sisters a strong scriptural tradition, the Gospel, Epistles and Psalms make up the bulk of our services; and the belief that evangelism is carrying out the last commandment of Christ: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
In 1559 Philip Melanchthon, Martin Luther’s chief disciple, attempted to enter into a dialogue with Patriarch Jeremias the II of Constantinople, and eventually scholars from the University of Tubingen did enter into a dialogue with the Patriarch about a reconciliation between the Orthodox and the Lutherans, but unfortunately due to the circumstances of that time nothing came of it.
What the Orthodox Church has are rich, liturgical services that engage all your senses; a belief that sin is a consequence of the Fall and that we are only responsible for our sins, no one else’s; an aim to be the hospital healing the wounds of the soul, caused by sin; rich spiritual lives, both corporate and individual.
Orthodox Christianity is not another denomination, it is not just another religion, it is a way of life that lives the fullness of the Christian faith as it has been since the time of the Apostles.
As we commonly describe ourselves, we are catholic, but not Roman. We are Orthodox, but not Jewish. We are evangelical and charismatic, but not Protestant or Evangelical. We are not a denomination, we are pre-denominational. The Orthodox Church is the original Church, an ancient faith for a modern world drowning in doubt and confusion and searching for meaning, relevance and true, heavenly worship. This is what Orthodoxy Christianity is.
The Rev. Father Edward Batchko is the rector of the Kursk-Root Icon Orthodox Church in Edgar, and can be reached through the church website, www.orthodoxwisconsin.org, or on Facebook, www.facebook.com/kurskicon.