Eastern Orthodox Church
The Eastern Orthodox Church is the second largest single Christian communion in the world. It is the very same Church established by Christ and his Apostles. It is composed of numerous theologically unified autocephalous ecclesial bodies each shepherded by a synod of independent bishops whose duty is to preserve the beliefs and practices (Traditions) of the Church. All Orthodox bishops can trace their lineage back to one of the twelve Apostles through the process of apostolic succession.
Eastern Orthodox Christians believe that the Orthodox Church is:
- The authentic and original Christian Church established by Jesus Christ and his Apostles.
- The preserver of the teachings and traditions given to the early Christians by the Apostles nearly 2000 years ago; and the developer of conciliar interpretations which expand and illuminate the original teachings.
- The preserver of Truth which compares all newer theological ideas to the already established beliefs and practices of the Church; accepting ideas that clarify and correctly teach, while rejecting ideas that are theologically incompatible with the original teachings.
- The preserver and compiler of the New Testament whose texts were written to members of the Church in ancient times and expressed an already established doctrine.
Members of the Eastern Orthodox Church do not usually refer to themselves as “Eastern” Orthodox but rather with a prefix denoting their nation of origin. Thus, within this article, the terms “Greek”, “Russian”, or any other “National” Orthodox; Many especially converts or descendents of immigrants refer to themselves as only “Orthodox”. As well as members refer to the Eastern Orthodox Church as The Church, The Orthodox Church, The Byzantine Church, etc., all refer to a single unified entity, what is today commonly called the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Historically and theologically, Orthodox Christians use the adjective “Catholic” or “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” to refer to the Church body which holds to the Orthodox faith. Hence, officially Orthodox documents consistently refer to “the Eastern Orthodox Church” as “the Catholic Church”, as in the celebrated Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs of 1848. It is important to note that in proper Orthodox and Patristic theology, the “Church” or “Catholic Church” is the local Church: the bishop, presbyters, deacons and people assembled to celebrate the Eucharist. Hence, the expression “Eastern Orthodox Church” is admittedly a practical or functional expression, not a theological one as the Church only primarily developed in the East but the faith itself is open to all and for all people and places. In the same sense, it is possible to speak about the Orthodox Churches (plural): the Greek Orthodox Church, the Russian Orthodox Church, etc.