Q&A – What is the Orthodox Church?
Before there were Protestants, before the Roman Catholic Church began innovating, there weren’t denominations; there was just the Church. That early Church hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s still around, and it’s the Orthodox Church.
Q You’re making a pretty bold statement, identifying the Orthodox Church with “the” Church, aren’t you?
A It’s a bold statement, but when you consider that Jesus Christ promised that He would found His Church, that His Spirit would lead her into all the truth, and that the gates of hell would not prevail against her, then it makes sense that the community of believers, established by Christ on the foundation of the prophets and apostles should continue uninterrupted until He comes again.
Jesus never left room for us to believe that the Church would die out, or there would be a need to re-create it from scratch. In response to abuses in medieval western European Christianity, the Reformers felt they had to reinvent Christianity. However many people are dismayed at the implicit assumption that Christ’s Church has failed and must be re-established by man; instead, they’ve taken Jesus at His word and begun seeking out the apostolic community that has continued in unbroken, organic unity and faithfulness to the present day. The Orthodox Church demonstrably is that community.
Q Do you believe in the Bible?
A Short answer? No. We believe in God! We definitely do believe the Bible to be God’s inspired word, the most important thing we have received from the early Church, aside from the Eucharist. In fact, it was the Church that gave us the Bible as we know it today.
Q Isn’t that backwards? Isn’t the Church based on the Bible?
A The Bible didn’t just fall from the sky with a table of contents on page one. The Church was alive and well for decades before the New Testament was even written – and for centuries before the books of the New Testament were “canonized” by Orthodox bishops in the fourth century. The books that make up the Bible as we have it today were shared, assembled, and approved over time by the Orthodox Christian community. Second-century bishop Irenaeus of Lyon argued against heretics who tried to use the apostolic writings to proof text their new beliefs. He argued that since they were separating themselves from the Church they had no right to use Scripture, which he called the Church’s property.
The Orthodox Church doesn’t artificially set up itself or Tradition against Scripture. Rather she recognizes that the body of faith and practice passed on from generation to generation is an organic whole. The word “tradition” means, “that which was passed on.” Because the Scriptures are the most important part of that tradition, the early Christian Fathers always argued from Scripture, but they did not interpret that Scripture in isolation from the whole body of faith they had received from their predecessors. As St. Paul wrote, Stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
Q I thought the Orthodox Church was not supposed to proselytize.
A Don’t confuse evangelism with proselytism. To evangelize means to tell or to spread the good news of salvation. When we tell others about what God has done in Jesus Christ, we are evangelizing. To proselytize, on the other hand, means to zealously induce or try to persuade people to convert to one’s faith. We share and openly proclaim God’s truths and invite all people of good will to embrace them in freedom.
Article graphics and editing: Tony Hatzidakis
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