The Orthodox Church is the oldest Christian body in the world. It is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic, meaning that the Orthodox Church maintains an unbroken tradition from Jesus Christ and the Apostles to today. It is the first Christian church. It is the Church that was established by Jesus Christ and it is the institution found in the pages of the New Testament. But many Americans have no idea what it is or often associate it with an ethnicity like “Russian Orthodox” or “Greek Orthodox.”
So just what is Orthodoxy? Orthodoxy literally means “true worship” or “true belief.” We are Orthodox because we believe in the teachings as defined in the Bible, the canons of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, and the writings of the early Church Fathers. Our basic statement of faith is the Nicene Creed and the Bible takes a prominent role in our worship and beliefs.
For the first millennia of Christian history, there was one Church. However, in the eleventh century, the Western Church under the Pope of Rome broke off from the Orthodox Church. The Pope asserted that he was the head of the Church, while the Orthodox professed that Christ was the head of the Church. This caused a disastrous and fractious ripple which would echo throughout Christendom leading up to the Protestant Reformation and to the present day.
For centuries, Orthodoxy’s center was Eastern Europe and the Middle East. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, immigrants from these countries brought their faith to the New World. Because of North America’s ties to Western culture and religion, Orthodox immigrants were generally ignored. Today, the Orthodox Church is growing in the Americas. People from other Christian traditions have become frustrated with doctrinal, liturgical, and ethical innovations in the churches that they were raised in. Many people are discovering the spiritual realities of Orthodoxy and have found a home in the Orthodox Church.