What do Orthodox Christians believe? How do their beliefs differ from the rest of Christianity? Can they differ in beliefs and still claim to hold to the truth?
What Does Orthodox Mean?
The word “orthodox” essentially means conventional and when it is tied to religion, we see that the Orthodox Christians hold to conventional Christian beliefs. The Orthodox religious beliefs are said to be highly conservative and like the word “orthodox” itself means, they claim to hold to the traditional beliefs and customs of the early church that Jesus Christ established. The secular meaning for the word orthodox is what people consider as generally accepted to be true by most people and what most people believe to be true. So how does this definition tie into what is called Orthodox Christianity? What is orthodox for some is not for others who hold to different religious beliefs, customs, and traditions as we shall see. Let’s examine what Orthodox Christians believe and if they differ significantly from what other, non-orthodox Christians hold to.
The word orthodox was first used in the first century because of the many heretical teachings that branched off from Christianity. In the beginning of the church, anyone that was not teaching or believing in Orthodox Christianity was said to teach or believe heresy and were said to be in apostasy. Originally Orthodox Christianity referred to doctrines that were believed and taught by the early and original church and generally accepted by all Christians. After 1054 in what was called the Great Schism, the church split into two camps; one was considered the universal or Catholic Church (the word catholic means “universal”) and the other was considered the Orthodox Church. The Catholic Church was believed to have further divided into the Western Orthodox Church in Western Europe and the Eastern Orthodox Church which resided in Eastern Europe.
Later, there was a divide within the Orthodox Church too as one became known as the Greek Orthodox and the Russian Orthodox. The differences were due more to language and geography than doctrinal issues because they both held to the veracity of the Bible, belief in the Trinity and their understandings of the Scriptures. So what are the major differences between Orthodox Christianity and Christianity in general? We must go back in time to get a better understanding.
Orthodox Versus Non-Orthodox Christianity
The collection of canonical books in Orthodox Christianity’s Bible has more books than both the Catholic Bible and the Bible used by Protestants. Orthodox Christianity and Christianity in general believe in the Oneness of God yet in Three Persons but their goals are slightly different. The Orthodox Church believes that eternal life is the chief goal while the non-orthodox is to enjoy God forever and to glorify Him.
Orthodoxy has widespread use of icons while Protestantism have few if any and the Catholic Church has some but not as widespread as Orthodox Christianity.
Orthodoxy and Catholicism are closely related in their means of salvation through the Sacraments and through the passion, death, and resurrection of our Lord while non-orthodox believers hold that it is through faith we are saved apart from any works and that it is through Christ’s death and resurrection.
As far as confessing sins, the Orthodox are similar to the Catholics in that they confess their sins through intercession with the clergy and this absolves them from sins. One difference here is that Catholic’s confess mortal sins to a priest and venial sins straight to God while Protestants confess all sins to God through Jesus Christ. Their Intercessor is Jesus Christ Himself and they pray to God the Father through Him and this absolves them from all their sins.
Finally, the Holy Days for Protestants are Good Friday, Easter, and Christmas while the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church include these but add Lent, New Years, and several Saint’s Feast Days.
We even have differences within the Orthodox Church and the non-orthodox churches but most hold to the same essentials; the divinity of Christ, the sinlessness of Jesus, the sinfulness of man, Jesus’ atoning work at Calvary, His death, burial, and resurrection as a historical fact, and that believers will receive eternal life at death or at Christ’s return, whichever comes first. We must embrace those who differ from us because God does not want us divided over non-essentials but united in Christ for we are all one Body of Believers and there are Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant believers who will be in the Kingdom of Heaven. We may disagree in their practices but we don’t have to be disagreeable.
Jack Wellman is Senior Writer at What Christians Want to Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design