What Do Orthodox Christians Believe?

What Do Orthodox Christians Believe? November 18, 2013

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.


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

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  • 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.

    • Janey Doe

      Also, Orthodox do not confess to a priest. That’s incorrect. This is what happens when someone who isn’t Orthodox tries to write about Orthodoxy. We confess to God in the presence of a priest because in the original church, sins were confessed in front of the entire community of faith. There is so much misunderstanding about Orthodoxy, it’s a shame. Orthodoxy is the original church, the original teachings, the traditional ways. Nothing has been changed. It’s not a fly-by-night church. It’s not something that sprung up in someone’s backyard. It’s Christianity. It’s The Way. Other church denominations have partial truth. They are valid if they teach that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, but why would someone want to go where there is partial truth? Usually, it’s because the original Way has some inconvenient or hard truths and practices that they don’t want to adhere to.

      • Tracy Brown

        You said: ” It’s not something that sprung up in someone’s backyard.” I assume you are talking about American Christian fundamentalism here. I have always wondered whose backyard it was???

    • V. Rodionov

      Item “3)”: Correct. Mr. Wellman needs to revise the paragraph accordingly. No need to imply “division” where none exists. We have one Faith.

  • 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?

    • sahil

      can u help me to change .?

      • An Orthodox Student

        Only you can change yourself, I can do nothing. If you have a more specific question, I might be able to point you towards reading materials that could give you the information to create the changes within yourself that you wish to see. But ultimately, it is love that should guide every Christian.

        • Muhammad Naveed

          i want to know about Orthodox Christianity, i m a muslim student of religion,
          kindly guide me or give me some articles or names of the books
          my email is, hafiznaveed82@yahoo.com

      • Anderson

        Only you and you alone can change what is within you and what you show outwardly! It takes a step of faith that you alone must be willing to make! To take that step means accepting that which you cannot see or touch, but believe is as real as the galaxies that you alone, without telescopes, cannot see or touch! You can see spots of light that are galaxies, but you cannot touch them, nor see the greatness that those spot represent unless you look through a telescope. The Bible is the telescope from which you can find faith! You must be willing to look within it to see, just as you would a telescope to see that which your eye cannot see alone!

    • Revelation Knight

      Only Jews don’t provide animal sacrifices for their sins therefore they are hypocrites, just as Christ said they are.

      • An Orthodox Student

        Modern day Jews do not offer animal sacrifices today because the tradition was to offer it in the Temple, not the small synagogues. With the great temple destroyed and never rebuilt, they cannot offer sacrifices as they now only have synagogues in which to worship. I also believe that they now only have Rabbi’s, which translates to the word “teacher,” and have no high priest to take the sacrifice into the Holy of Holys before God. Also, the Torah never requires only animal scrifies, simply sacrifices that range fromgood works, to wealth, to grain, to inscense, to prayer, and animal sacrifices. It is not that modern day Jews are hypocrites, but they simply do not worship based upon the same interpretaion of scriptures and spoken traditions as biblical times.

        Secondly, Jesus never called the whole Jewish population hypocrites, only the sadducees and pharisees. I do not agree with the belief of several Christian denominations who claim that all Jews are responsible for His death and that all Jews from then on will be condemned to hell for it. As Christians, we believe that Christ’s blood is purifying and will wipe out all sins if a person accepts it. The Jews did two things without knowing that day: condemned the Son of God to death and accepted his purifying blood upon themselves when they said “His blood be upon us and our children” (Matt 27: 25). It does not matter that they intended to take upon themselves the sin of killing an innocent man, for Christ’s blood is inheirently purifying, and thus, they bear no guilt, for these were events that God Himself desired to occur and no human could stop them, though many tried.
        Also, Christ Himself forgave them on the cross when He said ” Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). This does not just apply to the Romans because Christ does not specify that it applies only to the Romans but rather to all those involved in bringing about His death for they did not truly understand what they were doing. If Christ can forgive them while dying the most excruciatingly painful death known to man, who are we to do otherwise and still call ourselves Christ-like.

        • Tom Torbeyns

          I personally believe that God hardened them at that moment to bring about Hid plan (a bit Calvinist-like, as a judgment, but only temporal and not on salvation issues)

    • Tom Torbeyns

      But love muxt be imparted to us, to be able to love others (that was in my life at least) so it starts from God’s love amd grace and not our own works of the law. After conversion by faith alone, obedience to the Holy Spirit is required I believe.

    • Lucian

      The Orthodox Christian Church is the Body of Jesus Christ, and He is its Head, as Our Father is the Head of Jesus Christ (Saint Apostle Paul). One Body, one Chuch, one Head. It is present in many countries including, Russia, Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Georgia. It is the Church that Jesus Christ left on Earth when he sent the Holy Spirit after He left to Heavens. He did not leave us just some papers to use as a recipe to create churches, but left us priests, apostles, which were not protestants, catholics or any other nature, but orthodox christians, and many of them including many of those that lived inside the orthodox church became saints, an impossible thing to become being other than orthodox christian. Read their lives, their teachings and you’ll find out what happened to the ones that tried to impose the heresies by force. Obeying Jesus Christ’s Church is maybe as important as Jesus Christ obeyed His Father’s will all His life. Dismissing the Church put in place by the Saint Apostles, and trying to do something different, better, modern, or something else, is sad, heart breaking, or heart melting for an orthodox christian, because that means following the steps of the one that wanted to be better than God in the beginning. So as world shaking as it might sound, he is the head of all churches except the Orthodox Church which has Jesus Christ as a Head, since being outside of the Orthodox Church, means to not obey the Father, His Son, or His Church. This is what satan’s trademark work is, this is what Saint Apostle Peter said, to be careful that satan can turn himself into an angel of light. He can make you feel that you’re going to heaven before anyone else, that you are better than anyone else, that you know best, while he’s cleverly dragging you to hell. He does not look like it tries to portrey himself in the movies. Arm yourself with the teachings of those that defeated him with the help of God, the saints, that lived inside the Orthodox Church, under the protective arms of Jesus Christ, His Fater, and the Holy Spirit. Don’t worry, we are all His children, and He’ll protect us as long as we stay with Him and near Him. Take care. Lucian

      • Irisha

        Lucian, you said: “…and many of them including many of those that lived inside the orthodox church became saints, an impossible thing to become being other than orthodox christian.” Which contradicts the words of Peter who said addressing his words to believers and his the words were addressed not only to the few but to ALL BELIEVERS, THAT WOULD INCLUDE US, believers who have the testimony of The Savior AND Keep the Commandments.

        1 Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.”

        Obedient to His Word believers are His Holy Nation, a Royal Priesthood, not orthodox priests or patriarchs.

        • Jocelyn Spresser

          too many CAPS. Please do not use so many. Capitol letters begin a sentence or identify a person.

        • Jocelyn Spresser

          too many CAPS. Please do not use so many. Capitol letters begin a sentence or identify a person.

      • Terri Horn

        please show me where Jesus Christ said to obey his church. Kind of IMPOSSIBLE since he died before 1st church started. Where two or more are gathered in my name there I will be also. I and a friend at my house talking about God BUT not a church he will be there as well so that verse shows church NOT necessary to be a believer OTHERWISE more than 50% of world would be condemned since 0% churches in most countries.

    • V. Rodionov

      Mr. Well men needs to correct his definition of “orthodox”.

  • 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.


    I have to agree with the previous poster. While I appreciate your interest in attempting to a answer the question as to what Orthodox Christians believe, this post is completely ignorant of Orthododox doctrine and beliefs and misrepresents us. As a former Reformed Protestant Looking for info in the past, I might have accepted such a description at face value, which would have been a great disservice to those whom you have a duty to lead to the truth.

    I do not believe that your ignorance of Orthodoxy and the SERIOUS scholarly errors you make here are purposeful, and I am not trying to be disagreeable. I would love to take the time to write a rebuttal, but feel that nearly anyone taking more than 30 minutes of their own time could easily see right through your article. My concern is for those who don’t, and take you at your word. I believe that you have an obligation to rewrite this article after having researched the topic with more that a search on Wikipedia. Poorly done. I’m sorry. Yours In Christ. O

    • ICXC IHS

      In regards to your contention that Orthodox are absolved of sin by clergy through confession, please educate yourself, for this is not correct. While Roman Catholic theology of the priesthood emphasizes that at ordination, God gives a new priest the “power” to effect the sacraments, the Orthodox Church views this matter in a different way.

      Listen to the exhortations the priest says to the penitent in confession, which soundly rejects the view of confession you portray.

      “My brother, inasmuch as you have come to God and to me, be not ashamed, FOR YOU SPEAK NOT TO ME, BUT TO GOD, before whom you stand.” And then after the penitent has made his confession, “My spiritual child, who has confessed to my humble self, I, humble and a sinner, HAVE NOT POWER ON EARTH TO FORGIVE SINS, BUT GOD ALONE…” and then the text goes on to quote John 20:23

      Confession may be foreign to you, but this gives you no right to misrepresent an ancient and scriptural Christian practice.

  • Revelation Knight

    Faith in Christ vs faith in works is an essential doctrine of salvation and one in which orthodox and Catholics FAIL, therefore they can not be saved.

    Only by REPENTING of our sins and trusting in CHRIST ALONE for our salvation can we be saved. Faith PLUS works for salvation is apostasy.

    We do works BECAUSE we are saved by faith not SO we can be saved, that is saying what Christ did is not enough and that is wicked.

    • Tom Torbeyns

      As a brought up protestant still studying in protestantism (but feeling undenominal) I should say that Luther made a false schism between faith and works. Works are not the sacraments but obeying the Holy Spirit. Read James 2. And Abraham only returned to his servants AFTER he was justified by his works. So it was between him and God. Of course we need justification by faith first, which must be perfected by justification by works.

    • J Haynes

      So are you trying to say that God will deny entrance to Heaven when Catholics and Orthodox die because they believe faith and works play a role in salvation? Like God is some stickler who will deny salvation because of some technicality? I really hope this isn’t what you’re saying.

    • Ayios Georgios

      okay so the apostles of Christ got it all wrong and all Orthodox Christians are damned…
      hmmm… not really agreeing with you on this one. Respectfully this is a very uneducated response. I am certainly glad Jesus Christ is my judge and not you. You perceive the sacraments as a chore that is necessary for salvation.. this is wrong and an incredible flaw in what the perception of the Orthodox faith is.
      7 years ago I was fortunate enough to meet with the sacred Orthodox priests on mount Athos. I asked this similar question to these men about salvation/sacrament and the answers were very secure on the fact that Christ sees the purity and love in our hearts not our sacraments or works. The example given to me was the thief on the cross who was saved immediately by Christ without confession, without sacrament. Understand that the church does not oppress you into believing salvation is by communion and fasting. You will see a massive difference between Catholic and Orthodox clergy members in regards to this. The Orthodox priests and monks are very loving and very laid back and have more of an open mind than you would ever imagine. Truly it is the church started by Christ’s apostles 2,000 years ago. Unchanged, unaltered as it was meant to remain forever. I suggest a study of church history and specifically on the orthodox christian faith. Just remember without the Orthodox Church you would have never seen the testimony of Christ through your schismatic protestant sect. I would at least show a little respect.

  • Anderson

    I don’t think faith in God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit can exist separately from love, nor real love as intended by God without faith in him!

  • Βρασίδας Β’

    Mr Wellman,the only thing you do here is to spread unity.
    But unity without repetance from ”catholics” and protestants and without rejection of their herecies,will never be done.
    We have only One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church which only Orthodoxs kept alive and as Jesus Christ left,all others ought to return of course if they want to be saved,but first they must reject all their herecies.

  • IMHO

    Well the name jesus didn’t exist until a few hundred years ago so no one who calls on that false name is part of the true church.

  • springer

    The author of this piece is not very informed. Embarrassing naive about the differences in Protestantism. Linking everyone in Protestantism together is just plain ignorant.

  • Laura Sedor

    The Russian and Greek Orthodox Churches did not split. They are still in full communion with eachother and are both canonical Orthodox Churches. A good place to look in order to find the Orthodox Churches in communion with eachother are the SCOBA Orthodox Churches (it is for the United States, but is applicable world wide).

    This is a very basic fact. Please take the time to learn things like this before publishing a post.

  • MuchRussian

    This is really poorly written. The Orthodox Church is the original Church established by Christ and the Apostles. In 1054, the Western Church lead by the Bishop of Rome (aka. the Pope of Rome), split off from the Orthodox Church, creating the Roman Catholic Church. He did this because he believed he had supremacy over all of the Christian world. Protestants come out of the Roman Church. Greek and Russian Orthodox are not split, we’re the same. Just different language, same community. Same institution.