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The Orthodox Church

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  • byakimov@csc.com.au
    The Orthodox Church In acquainting ourselves with the history of Christianity, we become convinced that the origin of the Orthodox Church goes back
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 27, 2004
      The Orthodox Church

      In acquainting ourselves with the history of Christianity, we become
      convinced that the origin of the Orthodox Church goes back uninterruptedly
      to apostolic times. The Church, being initially small like a mustard seed,
      according to the Saviour's colorful simile, gradually grew into a mighty
      tree whose branches spread over the entire world. Already at the end of the
      first century we find Christian communities in almost all the cities of the
      Roman Empire: in the Holy Land, Syria and Armenia, in Asia Minor, Hellas
      and Macedonia, in Italy and Gaul, in Egypt and North Africa, in Spain and
      Britain, and even beyond the boundaries of the Empire ? in far-away Arabia,
      India and Scythia. Towards the end of the first century the Christian
      communities of all the fairly important cities were headed by bishops, who
      were the bearers of the fullness of apostolic grace. The bishops also ruled
      over the communities in less important neighboring cities. In the second
      century the bishops of major cities in the Roman Empire began to be called
      metro-politans, who united within their domains the sees of all the nearest
      bishops. The metropolitans had the responsibility of regularly calling
      together bishops' councils, in order to resolve current religious and
      administrative matters.

      Aside from provincial cities, the Roman Empire also comprised so-called
      imperial dioceses. In conjunction with these principal centers of
      government administration, larger centers of church rule began to be
      formed, later to be called patriarchates. At the Ecumenical Council that
      gathered at Chalcedon in 451, the boundaries of the following five
      patriarchates became clearly defined: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria,
      Antioch and Jerusalem (whose realm was insignificant in administrative
      terms, but important in its religious significance).

      Over the course of time, and due to various historic events, the realms of
      these patriarchates either decreased or increased in size. Great changes in
      the Church occurred as a result of the invasion of Europe by Germanic
      tribes (late 4th century), and oppression from the Persians and invasion by
      Arabs of the northern provinces of the Byzantine Empire (mid-7th century).
      In mid-9th century there was a movement of conversion to Christianity on
      the part of the Slavic nations. The Thessalonian brothers, saints Cyril and
      Methodius, were especially active in enlightening the Bulgarians and the
      Moravians. From Bulgaria the Christian faith spread to Serbia. Saints Cyril
      and Methodius' outstanding service was the creation of a Slavonic alphabet
      and the translation of church service books and the Holy Scriptures from
      Greek into Slavonic.

      Although Christian communities existed on the northern shore of the Black
      Sea already at the end of the first century, a mass conversion to
      Christianity of the Slavic tribes living in Russia began from the time of
      the Baptism of Russia, when the Kievans were baptized on the shores of the
      Dniepr River in 988, in the reign of holy Prince Vladimir. From Kiev the
      Orthodox faith spread to other parts of Russia. The greatness of the
      Russian Orthodox Church before the revolution can be judged from the
      following figures: at that time there were 1098 monasteries in Russia,
      numbering over 90,000 monastics. Besides the Moscow Patriarch, there were 6
      metropolitans, 136 bishops, 48,000 priests and deacons serving in 60,000
      churches and chapels. Unfortunately, we did not sufficiently appreciate our
      immense spiritual wealth and became attracted to Germans in Western Europe.
      The persecution of the Church, begun in 1918 by the godless, and the
      merciless extermination of the clergy, the faithful and the churches can be
      explained only in the light of the Apocalypse, which foretells of a great
      persecution of the Christian faith before the end of the world.

      Beginning with mid-18th century, through the efforts of St. Herman of
      Alaska and other Russian missionaries, Orthodoxy was transmitted to Alaska,
      where many Aleuts became baptized and the foundation for the spread of
      Orthodoxy throughout North America was laid.

      At present, the Orthodox Church is comprised of the following autocephalic
      churches: Constantinople (with numerous parishes in Europe, North and South
      America, and with the patriarchal see in Istanbul, Turkey), Alexandrian
      (Egypt), Antiochian (with its see in Damask, Syria), Jerusalem, Russian,
      Georgian, Albanian, Polish, Czech, Lithuanian and American. There are also
      the Chinese, Finnish and Japanese autonomous churches. After the first and
      second world wars, a great many Orthodox Greek and Orthodox Russian
      (belonging to the Russian Church Outside of Russia) parishes were formed in
      almost all parts of the world. The total number of Orthodox Christians in
      the world is approximately 130 million.

      The appellation Orthodox Church came into use in the era of religious
      disputes in the 4th-6th centuries, when it became necessary to distinguish
      the true Church from heretic groups (Arians, Nestorians, etc.) who also
      called themselves Christians. The word Orthodoxy is a translation of the
      Greek word ortho-dokeo, which means to think rightly. Another appellation
      of the Church is catholic, which in Greek means "all-encompassing." The
      meaning of this appellation is that the Church calls all people to
      salvation, irrespective of their nationality or social position. When the
      Creed was translated from Greek into Slavonic, the word "catholic" was
      rendered as "conciliar."

      All matters pertaining to the Orthodox Church, as, for example, questions
      of faith (dogma) and canons (church rules), are discussed at Ecumenical
      Councils. The Ecumenical Councils are attended by bishops from all
      autocephalic and autonomous Orthodox churches. Representatives from the
      clergy and the laity are also called in to participate at the councils as
      needed. Thus, the form of administration in Orthodoxy is neither personal,
      nor democratic, but conciliar.

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