The Orthodox Church embodies and expresses the rich spiritual treasures of Eastern Christianity. It should not be forgotten that the Gospel of Christ was first preached and the first Christian communities were established in the lands surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. It was in these eastern regions of the old Roman Empire that the Christian faith matured in its struggle against paganism and heresy. There, the great Fathers lived and taught. It was in the cities of the East that the fundamentals of our faith were proclaimed at the Seven Ecumenical Councils.
The spirit of Christianity which was nurtured in the East had a particular flavour. It was distinct, though not necessarily opposed, to that which developed in the Western portion of the Roman Empire and subsequent Medieval Kingdoms in the West. While Christianity in the West developed in lands which knew the legal and moral philosophy of Ancient Rome, Eastern Christianity developed in lands which knew the Semitic and Hellenistic cultures. While the West was concerned with the Passion of Christ and the sin of man, the East emphasised the Resurrection of Christ and the deification of man. While the West leaned toward a legalistic view of religion, the East espoused a more mystical theology. Since the Early Church was not monolithic, the two great traditions existed together for more than a thousand years until the Great Schism divided the Church. Today, Roman Catholics and Protestants are heirs to the Western tradition, and the Orthodox are heirs to the Eastern tradition.
Christians of the Eastern Churches call themselves Orthodox. This description comes to us from the fifth century and has two meanings which are closely related. The first definition is “true teaching.” The Orthodox Church believes that she has maintained and handed down the Christian faith, free from error and distortion, from the days of the Apostles. The second definition, which is actually the more preferred, is “true praise.” To bless, praise, and glorify God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the fundamental purpose of the Church. All her activities, even her doctrinal formulations, are directed toward this goal.
Occasionally, the word Catholic is also used to describe the Orthodox Church. This description, dating back to the second century, is embodied in the Nicene Creed, which acknowledges One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. From the Orthodox perspective, Catholic means that the Church is universal and also that she includes persons of all races and cultures. It also affirms that the Church has preserved the fullness of the Christian faith. It is not unusual for titles such as Greek, Russian, and Antiochian to be used in describing Orthodox Churches. These appellations refer to the cultural or national roots of a particular parish, diocese, or archdiocese.
TREASURES OF ORTHODOXY is a series of pamphlets written for the non-Orthodox, especially those who are considering becoming members of the Orthodox Church and who wish to deepen their appreciation of her faith, worship, and traditions. The pamphlets are authored by Fr. Thomas Fitzgerald, a faculty member of Hellenic College-Holy Cross School of Theology. The pamphlet titles are as follows:
- INTRODUCTION – Introduces the non Orthodox to Orthodox Christianity.
- HOUSE OF GOD – Describes the interior of the church building.
- WORSHIP – Discusses the form and characteristics of Orthodox worship.
- LITURGY – Describes the meaning and celebration of the Eucharist.
- SACRAMENTS – Describes the meaning and importance of liturgical life.
- SPECIAL SERVICES AND BLESSINGS – Describes the non-sacramental services which contribute to spiritual life.
- TEACHINGS – Outlines the salient points of doctrine and basic credal affirmations.
- SPIRITUALITY – Discusses the meaning of theosis as the goal of Christian life.
- HISTORY – Sketches the great epochs of Orthodoxy.
- THE CHURCH – Outlines the procedure for becoming a member of the Orthodox Church.