What Do Orthodox Christians Believe?

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.

Orthodox Christianity

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.

Conclusion

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

  • Evangelical Orthodoxy

    It is always interesting to see Protestants try to describe Orthodoxy.

    This is a good job; I would just like to correct in two key areas:

    1) The Great Schism was in 1054.

    2) There is no divide between the Greek and Russian Orthodox. Both are autocephalous churches in communion with each other.

    Other than that, I would say the only weaknesses of the article are that it fails to give a robust account of the differences between Orthodoxy and Catholicism, and it focuses on a lot of externals when there is a rich selection of internal theological concepts that set Orthodoxy apart. For all we know based on this article, Orthodox could be Calvinists and hold to sola scriptura.

    • Anon AnonAnon

      There is a lot more to comment on here.

      The term “Orthodox” appears at the time of Eusebius, while the term “Catholic” appears just passed the year 100 in the St Ignatius of Antioch’s Letter to the Smyrnaeans. The undivided Church called itself “Catholic” for the first 1000 years – this included the great patriarchates of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople and Rome. When the Roman Bishop separated from communion with the rest of the Church, the rest of the Church continued to call itself “Catholic”. The primary division was between the “Orthodox” Catholic Church and the “Roman” Catholic Church.

      The word “Catholic” means “according to the whole”, not “universal”, by the way.

      The Orthodox view of Salvation is somewhat richer than either the protestant or Roman Catholic views – but the simplest way to put it is that the Orthodox believe that Salvation is in and through Christ alone – we are to become like Him through participation in God’s Grace. The Orthodox view of Salvation is the original view held by the earliest Christians taught by Christ and the Apostles directly.

      The Orthodox use the original Scriptures of the first Christians, the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament): because these were the Scriptures of the Apostles, this what the New Testament writings are based on.

      It is not correct to say that “the Orthodox are similar to the Catholics in that they confess their sins through intercession with the clergy and this absolves them from sins.” Orthodox offer their repentance to God directly. Confession in Church is observed as it was in the New Testament. The presbyter (elder) representing the congregation reads the following as part of the prayers before every Confession: “Behold child you stand before Christ, and I, an unworthy priest am only a witness to your testimony”. In the Greek Orthodox practice, none of the prayers speak of the priest “absolving” sins.

      The Orthodox Church doesn’t “add” holidays to the Christian year. Rather the protestants have removed most of the Great Feasts which celebrate the Incarnation and saving activities of our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ. Besides the Nativity of our Lord and His Great and Holy Pascha, the Orthodox also celebrate His Baptism (Theophany), His Ascension, His Presentation at the Temple, His Transfiguration, etc. Lent consists of a period of fasting and preparation for Holy Pascha, followed by Holy Week, which from Lazarus Saturday and the Sunday of the Entrance into Jerusalem, marks the Passion, Death, Burial, the Blessed Sabbath on which God rests from all His acts, and finally His Glorious Resurrection.

      The Orthodox Calendar does not celebrate New Years Day either.

      All Orthodox Churches are in communion with each other. This includes all 15 self governing Churches – there is even an Orthodox Church in America. This is the Scriptural model: just as there was the Church in Ephesus or the Church in Antioch or the Church in Jerusalem – all part of the one Church. By the way, those Churches mentioned in the Bible are still there. You may be surprised to learn that they are also all still Orthodox.

    • Jack Wellman

      Great point my friend.

      • J Haynes

        You mention that Evangelical Orthodoxy makes great point, but you still haven’t corrected the date of the Great Schism? Please correct, it makes one doubt the validity of the rest of what you have to say.

        • Jack Wellman

          Thank you so much. My understanding and my research indicated that it was on one summer afternoon in the year 1054, as a service was about to begin in the Church of the Holy Wisdom’ (Hagia Sophia) at Constantinople, Cardinal Humbert and two other legates of the Pope entered the building and made their way up to the sanctuary. They had not come to pray. They placed a Bull of Excommunication upon the altar and marched out once more. As he passed through the western door, the Cardinal shook the dust from his feet with the words: ‘Let God look and judge.’ A deacon ran out after him in great distress and begged him to take back the Bull. Humbert refused; and it was dropped in the street.

          It is this incident which has conventionally been taken to mark the beginning of the great schism between the Orthodox east and the Latin west. But the schism, as historians now generally recognize, is not really an event whose beginning can be exactly dated. It was something that came about gradually, as the result of a long and complicated process, starting well before the eleventh century and not completed until some time after. Does that help my friend?

          • J Haynes

            I guess I should have been more clear, I’m not talking about your account of the Great Schism, but the date. Your article lists the date as 1504, not 1054. This is what I was referring to when I said the date needs to be corrected.

          • Jack Wellman

            Sorry about that my friend. I will correct it sir. Thank you so much for having a sharp eye. This was on me and thank you for your patience.

          • Guest

            Hello Mr. Haynes. Please forgive me for responding so late sir (tis the life of a bi-vocational pastor) but I did correct the date sir and thank you again for pointing out my error. I am indebted to you sir. Thank you for your patience.

          • Jack Wellman

            Thank you Mr. Haynes. Please forgive me for responding so late sir (tis the life of a bi-vocational pastor) but I did correct the date sir and thank you again for pointing out my error. I am indebted to you sir. Thank you for your patience.

    • Jack Wellman

      Hello Evangelical Orthodoxy. Please forgive me for responding so late my friend (tis the life of a bi-vocational pastor) but I did correct the date and for such, I thank you again for pointing out my error. I am indebted to you. Thank you for your patience.

  • An Orthodox Student

    The word “orthodox” does not mean conventional or generally accepted. This is one of those times when the first definition in the dictionary is not correct for the context. When talking about religion, “Orthodox” means “the true way,” just like the Orthodox Jews who have gone back to scripture and adhere to the rules set down there thousands of years ago for their lives and live in a way true to their history and what was decreed, so the Eastern Orthodox Christians have remained true to the roots of Christianity for these last two thousand years.
    Also, the Orthodox do not believe in salvation through the sacrements, nor through faith alone. The sacrements are tools to create a personal bond with the Lord and to strengthen our faith. Also, you cannot recieve Salvation through faith alone for it is said in the Bible “and though I have all faith, so that i could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1Cor. 13:2) and “now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1Cor. 13:13). The comandment of Jesus Christ was not to have faith in Him, but to love Him and to love those around us. Love is our great motivator and unfailing guide. If we love God, we will have faith in Him and shall uphold His commandments and they shall not be a burden to us. If we love our “neighbor,” every human we come across for they are all beloved of and created by God in His image, then we shall do good works for we shall seek their health and welbeing above our own, sacrificing ourselves for our neighbor which is the ultimate Christian act for it emulates the saving actions of our Lord Jesus Christ when he died for the entire world, past, present, and future, upon the cross.

    • Jodi Davidson

      “AN ORTHODOX STUDENT” Interesting discussion. At present, Eastern Orthodox Christianity is the dominant religion in Greece and receives state funding. During the centuries of Ottoman domination, the Greek Orthodox Church preserved the Greek language and cultural identity and was an important rallying point in the struggle for independence. There is a Muslim religious minority and some smaller religious communities in Greece including Catholic and Jewish enclaves. Is the Ancient Greek culture, which is different. Perhaps there is an interplay between the two?

  • Chris BSomething

    As soon as you said later there was a division between Greek and Russian orthodox churches, I thought oh oh, this article is off the rails. It was only further downhill from there. Sorry, but this is the worst description of orthodoxy I have ever seen.


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