Gateway to Orthodox Christianity:
Your Invitation to Introductory Reading, Classes, Videos, and Worship
See introductory texts linked at right, and also consider looking over and bookmarking these helpful links:
is a collection of stories from real people who converted to Orthodoxy from a variety of backgrounds.
for a deeper look at Orthodox theology, see these class lectures by ROCOR's Vladyka Jonah.
Archbishop Averky's accessible yet authoritative commentary on the New Testament, based on his teaching at Holy Trinity Seminary, helps to engage readers of Scripture with ancient Orthodox tradition regarding the Bible.
ROC Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev has written a five-volume survey of aspects of Orthodox Christianity from theology to art and architecture. The volume linked above (on Kindle and in paperback) discusses Orthodox doctrine.
by Russian Metropolitan St. Innocent of Alaska, describes the goal and practices of Orthodox Christian life, our relation to the Creator, and the aim of the Orthodox Church.
by American OCA Archpriest Fr. Thomas Hopko describes many different aspects of the Church.
is essentially what you'd assume it is based on the name: the Orthodox Wikipedia.
for a visual introduction to the Orthodox Church, please see these three short videos.
is a website that has many videos on a wide range of topics. Useful in answering specific questions.
The Orthodox Church is the Church founded by Jesus Christ and His Apostles, the Body of Christ or Bride of Christ, begun at Pentecost with the descent of the Holy Spirit around 30 A.D., prefigured in Old Testament times, and continuous in episcopal succession and in doctrines and governance. Upholding the Ecumenical Church Councils, the Orthodox Church is the "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church" proclaimed in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. The Russian Orthodox Church today has the largest number of adherents of local Orthodox Churches, which include the Greek Orthodox, Serbian Orthodox, and others. "Russian Orthodox" refers to a specific local historical tradition and hierarchical governance, not necessarily ethnicity (as "Roman Catholic" historically in the West did not mean adherents were necessarily Roman). Our Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia emerged from the post-Revolutionary diaspora of many faithful Russian Christians, is headquartered in America, and is under the Patriarchate of Moscow, which was founded with the blessing of ancient apostolic patriarchates.
To begin your study, we'd suggest you check out one or all of the four texts linked immediately below, and come to our services, because much of the lived Orthodox tradition is found in liturgical worship and in what you'll experience there of corporate prayer, and guidance in private ascetic devotion. We also maintain catechism classes, adult Bible study, children's Sunday School classes, and a mission lending library. For details on the catechism classes and Bible study please see the home page. Also, our page on "governance" has a link to a classic article on the Orthodox experience of Church.
edited by ROCOR bishop Fr. Alexander Mileant, gives a brief history of the Church and lists some points of Orthodox doctrine, teaching, and art.
by ROC Metropolitan St. Philaret of Moscow, essentially describes all the important doctrines of the Church. This is what our Mission currently uses in our Catechism class taught by our Rector.
by martyred ROC priest Fr. Daniel Sysoev, is an excellent guide to the Orthodox faith and goes into detail about an Orthodox understanding of scripture. The link above is a 40-page preview of the book. If you'd like to read more, and we suggest you do, our parish will lend a copy to you. Just ask!
A classic in-depth textbook on Orthodox theology, long used at ROCOR's Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville, NY, by former Holy Trinity Professor Fr. Michael Pomazansky, this is now available as an e-book or paperback in English, translated by the well-known ROCOR American convert and writer Fr. Seraphim Rose.
<- See also other Introductory links to texts and videos at left, and below.
Also, please check out our mission's introductory booklet.
This text discusses basics of Orthodox Christian theology, doctrine, and worldview, including the history, liturgy, prayers, and mysteries of the Church. The full text of the booklet is found below.
Part 1: The Church
Where Did the Orthodox Church Come From?
† Almost two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to earth and founded His Church, through His Apostles and disciples, for the benefit and salvation of all mankind. The de-facto founding of the Church took place on the first Pentecost, or the day when the Holy Spirit, the Comforter and Giver of Life, suddenly came to the Apostles. [Acts 2]
† In the years which followed, the Apostles evangelized and spread the Church and its teachings; they planted many churches, all united in belief, faith, and worship as one body, and all partook of the Divine Mysteries together. [1 Cor 10:16-17]
† The Church’s teachings and practices have always come from two sources: Holy Scripture and Sacred Tradition. The teachings of Christ have come down to us faithfully through the Sacred Tradition of the Church, by which the Scriptures of the Bible were written and compiled and are interpreted from. [2 Thess 2:14-15] Those teachings that were not explicitly written down remain unchanged as part of verbal Sacred Tradition, wholly preserved by the work of the Holy Spirit within the Church. "And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they should be written down, I suppose that even the world could not contain the books that should be written." [John 21:25]
A Brief History of the Christian Church
† Despite severe persecution under the pagan Roman Empire, the Christian faith spread miraculously like wildfire. After a few centuries as an underground faith, even the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity after having a vision of a cross in Christ’s initials and hearing a voice saying that he would win Rome’s civil war through that symbol. Constantine eventually legalized Christianity and created an administrative zone free of pagan influence, the city of Constantinople, which would go on to be the center of Orthodoxy for centuries.
† Constantine, upon seeing quarrelling amongst the early Christians on theological matters, called a worldwide Christian gathering, known an Ecumenical Council, in which points of theological contention were voted on by to be defined as dogma with the help of the Holy Spirit working amongst those in attendance. There were seven of these councils over a period of a few hundred years. Nearly all of the Christian world accepted these councils as authoritative, except for some of the churches of Africa and the Near East, known as the Oriental Church.
† Eventually, as time went on, cultural differences began to separate Western Christendom from Eastern Christendom. The Bishop of Rome in the West, also known as the Pope, began getting heavily involved in secular politics, eventually changing doctrine to appease kings and rulers (this included changing the Nicene Creed). Those who were in the position of Pope, over a period of centuries, also began accruing power and prestige for themselves, eventually resulting in the Pope being seen as infallible when speaking ex cathedra.
† These differences in culture and theology eventually culminated in the Bishop of Rome excommunicating the Bishop of Constantinople, and then the Bishop of Constantinople doing likewise, the de-facto initiating event for the schism between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. As time went on, Catholicism added newer and newer doctrines that had not before existed in the Christian Church, including original sin, purgatory, indulgences, and so on. The creation of Protestantism was an effort to correct the errors in Catholicism, but rather than joining back to the true Church, the Reformers created their own divergent sects with either new teachings or resurrected previously-dead heresies.
† The word Orthodox literally means right teaching or right worship, derived from Greek. As false teachings and new schismatic groups arose, including the Roman Catholic church, which threatened to obscure the identity and purity of the Body of Christ, the term Orthodox began being applied to the undefiled original Church as it continually guarded against errors and divisions in Christ’s flock. [1 Cor 1:10-13]
† Orthodoxy eventually spread along the Eastern world, including the Slavic countries starting as early as the 6th century. While Catholicism and the kingdoms backing it came to conquer their way through Western Europe and the Americas, the Orthodox of the east faced oppression, much like the Christians of the early Church under Rome, at the hands of Muslim empires and atheistic Communist regimes. In time, Orthodoxy made its way to the Americas through missionaries in Alaska and immigrants everywhere else, many of which seeking religious freedom.
The Liturgy and the Mysteries
† The Divine Liturgy is the mystery of communion with our Lord Jesus Christ through His Body and Blood in the Eucharist, as established by Him. [John 6:51-56] All Orthodox churches worldwide celebrate the same ancient Liturgy, although in different languages and with sometimes different musical and artistic traditions. In the Liturgy, we are one with Him and His Church throughout the ages. The mysteries of the Church also include Marriage, the Tonsuring of Monastics, Ordination of Priests, and Anointing with Holy Oil. They begin (following Scripture) with Baptism, which marks the reception of all ages mystically into the Church, including the sponsorship into the faith by experienced Christians. Confession establishes accountability spiritually to our Lord through repentance and prayerful direction by a priest or elder, in which the prayerful rite of forgiveness is done in the name of our Lord as living symbolism of the mystery of His love, and for healing rather than judgment.
The Church’s Purpose and Importance
† The Orthodox Church is the shared universal experience of Jesus Christ continuing on earth today from Apostolic times, transfigurative in her spiritual but incarnational life, healing lives. Combined with individual ascetic struggle, liturgical participation shapes our identity as members of the mystical Body of Christ, in communion with the saints throughout the ages, even back into Old Testament times.
† The Church is the fulfillment of the biblical Israel. She is a hospital for the soul, not just a museum of saintly people. The purpose of participating in Church is not to be religious, but rather for the healing our souls and bodies unto salvation (a word related to health in the deepest sense of wholeness), with encouragement for reaching the ultimate purpose of human life: theosis, or oneness with God’s uncreated divine energies or grace. [2 Peter 1:4, Romans 12:2] We do this as part of a mighty extended Church family, of those living and dead, helping us towards Paradise. Participation in the Body of Christ, His Church, is needed for salvation through this extended family of which our Lord is the head. In all these ways, Orthodox Christians consider their faith to be not on a religion but a way of life and a way of healing.
Life in the Body of Christ
† Orthodox Christians speak of getting the mind into the heart in prayer, and struggling with God’s grace for that to be a way of life through which we begin to experience theosis. Both corporate prayer in Church and private prayer combine in this effort, together with fasting and doing deeds of charity and service to help others. “Lord have mercy” we chant often in liturgical services, even as we often pray the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,” individually with guidance from a spiritual director who is usually a priest or monastic elder. There is a whole cycle of daily and weekly prayer services followed by monasteries and often cathedrals, to some extent by parishes, and in part by families at home.
† We ask the saints to pray and intercede for us, and especially the most holy of saints, the Mother of God, much as someone might ask a pious grandparent for prayers in trouble. [Eph 6:18] Death does not divide the Church, as we are still fellow members with those departed, and we believe that those holy saints who have achieved a closeness with God can help us along our way, just as Biblical prophets and Apostles would be asked for prayer. [2 Cor. 5:6-8] The Mother of God has a special identification with the Church, as she bore Him in her womb, as an Ark of the New Covenant, helped nurture the beginning of the Church with the Apostles, and acts as an intercessor to Christ for us. [John 19:27]
† Using icons is an ancient Christian practice serving to help us in our prayer lives, with the holy saints, our Lord, and His mother imaged on them. We venerate the saints that icons depict, but do not worship them as idols. Icon usage at home and in the Church was affirmed by the 7th pan-Christian Ecumenical Council in 787AD as spiritually beneficial. We often pray before them with candles and chanting, which help us as a worship community, or at home as families or individually, to focus at different times in the day and week on our spiritual life which gives meaning to all our activities. Also of note, some icons “weep” myrrh miraculously, as one does at a parish in the town of Taylor, Pennsylvania.
The Design of the Church
† The design of the Orthodox Church draws on both incarnate and otherworldly beauty, and a mystical hierarchy in which laity, clergy, and bishops are inter-related orders, tracing back directly to the Apostles - including the saints and choirs of angels whom we believe are present at the Divine Liturgy.
† This is done through art, words, and a traditional structure. Iconography, incense, chanting, and liturgical practices stretch back centuries and across different languages and cultures globally all combine to focus on our Lord Jesus Christ, the door to Paradise. In Genesis 1, the original wording meant that God saw Creation as beautiful as well as good. Church helps open us to that beauty and to Him. The sanctuary faces east toward the rising sun and the Holy Land awaiting the coming of our Lord, and details of layout and altar reflect the fulfillment of the ancient Temple of the Old Testament in the Incarnation.
† As the Body of Christ, the Church is seen as organic rather than an organization. Bishops guard the teachings of the Church rooted in Scripture and the ancient Ecumenical Councils. [Mt 18:18] Priests (who can be married or monastics) help conduct services and attend to pastoral needs of lay parishes and monastic communities as elders of the church. [1 Tim 5:17, James 5:13-15] Lesser clergy (deacons, subdeacons, readers) assist the priest. Liturgy cannot be served without the people, the laity, to engage reciprocally with the clergy through chanting, prayer, and communion. The Bishops fulfill the ancient Biblical office of prophets and priests, while delegating the work of local worship to the leadership of the priest.
† The Orthodox Church is a unified whole, but following the practices put in place by the Apostles, the Church contains various jurisdictions and individual “churches.” Often these were founded in the past when Christianity spread to a new nation of people – hence the names Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, and so on. These various Orthodox churches connect in national traditions, often taking on the local languages, though mostly all use the same services. Orthodox Churches are conciliar, in that they are governed by Church Councils led by Patriarchs and Bishops under the Holy Spirit, with the Lord Jesus Christ as our head. There is no central administration, with no figure like a Pope, as each community is a fractal of the whole.
† Our parish’s jurisdiction is the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR), which is under a lead Bishop called a Metropolitan, based in New York City, who presides over the churches in the Russian tradition around the world, and in turn recognizes the Patriarch of Moscow as head. The Moscow Patriarchate was formed from the ancient see of Constantinople. ROCOR emerged from the restored Moscow Patriarchate during the persecution of the Church under communism, as Russian worship communities spread globally with exiled refugees, including to the Slavic immigrant communities of Pennsylvania.
Part 2: The Faith
What is the Old Testament?
The Old Testament (or as another translation puts it, the Old Covenant) is a collection of writings – including ancient laws, historical accounts, and books of wisdom – which were written and compiled between 500-200 BC, and in some cases even earlier. This collection of writings is the first part of the Holy Scriptures and were written by the ancient Israelites over a period of many centuries as they built a relationship with the God of all creation.
From the Old Testament we learn:
† In the beginning - before time, space, or the universe itself - there was God; and God created the world, both the heavens and the earth, out of His will and in His love. [Genesis 1] Our God is almighty, completely sovereign over creation, and incomprehensible to human minds. [Isaiah 43:13] When there was nothing, before there was anything, there was God. He simply is and always has been. He is the great “I AM” – holy, eternal, and above all. [Exodus 3:14]
† The Lord, out of all creatures He created, rose up mankind above the rest and formed us in His image and likeness, with a Divine spark – endowing us with free will, intelligence, creativity, the ability to love, and the ability to commune with Him, our Creator. [Genesis 2] Giving humanity both a material body of the earth, and a spiritual soul of the heavens, mankind was made unlike anything else created. In friendship with man, God gave them stewardship over His creation, to live, work, love, and create in. God commanded that we have free will so that we may choose obedience and love – because what is love if it is not chosen freely? Giving man many blessings, God asked only for obedience, goodness, and love in return, as a Father would ask of His children.
† Yet with time, the first of man, being Adam and Eve, gave into their temptations, shed their innocence, and rebelled against their Creator. [Genesis 3] And still, God did not force mankind into obedience, but allowed humanity to go their own way down the sinful and dangerous path into death. Man, having been made intrinsically body and soul, brought on their own spiritual death by rejecting the commandments of the Lord. This spiritual death was as a sickness in humanity, losing more and more of the likeness and understanding of God as time grew on. Spiritual death also brought humans to the state of animals, being without the communion of God - in other words, capable of physical death.
† Still, there were individuals and entire peoples who would become receptive to the word of their Creator with time - Noah, Abraham, Moses, and the Israelite people with all the prophets. [Genesis 6] Throughout history, as written about in the Old Testament, God built relationships with the people who were open to Him, slowly teaching them morality, giving them glimpses of the Divine, and raising them up out of heedlessness. God used the Israelite people as willing instruments for His plans on Earth, leading up until the right conditions for the redemption of humanity [Zechariah 9:9, Isaiah 53:3-7]. Then, when the conditions were right, the Lord came to Earth taking on the flesh of man.
What is the New Testament?
The New Testament is a combination of writings, mostly from the late 1st century AD, which details the story of the Messiah and His church, and includes letters and prophecies from early disciples. It constitutes the second part of the Holy Scriptures.
From the New Testament we learn:
† God exists as the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – an incomprehensible mystery that's been revealed to humanity - one God in three Divine Persons in a co-eternal relationship. As it says in the scriptures, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” [John 1-5]
† Coming into the world, the Son of God (the Word, or “Logos”) took on a human body and was born of a virgin woman, in a union that was fully God and fully human in the single person of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. The Christ was prophesized to come as the savior and redeemer who would bring salvation to the Jewish people and mankind, freeing them from earthly bondage and sin; and He had finally come, born of a humble birth in a manger in Bethlehem at the start of the 1st century AD.
† Everything that the first man left undone was accomplished for him by God Incarnate, the Word-become-flesh, the Lord Jesus Christ – the New Adam. The first-created Adam was unable to fulfil the job laid before him: to attain theosis (a transformative process whose aim is likeness of God in holiness) [2 Peter 1:4, Romans 12:2] and bring to God the visible world by means of spiritual and moral perfection. Having broken the commandment and having fallen away from Paradise, the First Adam had the way to theosis closed to him. Yet, Jesus walked the path man was meant to walk, through perfect humbleness, self-emptying, obedience, and love.
† Humanity could no longer hide from God on any conceivable level, as He became part of creation and was in our midst. Through His life and death, Jesus could reconcile man with God in the most intimate way possible, destroying death in all its forms – spiritual and physical. As the Orthodox sing at Pascha (Easter): "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life." Christ's death defeated death itself - but how? In a way, Christ was a substitute for us and our sins. Christ also fulfilled the ancient Mosaic Law of the Old Testament. Christ was also a victor over evil, and a moral teacher. Where humanity fell away, God fixed it by becoming man. We no longer are bound to the death-causing sinful nature of our forefathers descending from Adam, but to a new life in Christ, the new Adam. It's as a painter restoring a damaged portrait. Jesus defeated sin, and consequently the devil and tempter of man, by offering the renewed path to God. [1 Cor 15:49]
† As Christ said, "Follow Me," we are to do so - in life, into death, and into new life once again. In morality, and character, and love, we are to follow Him under a new law impressed upon the heart of man. Man is to follow a path known as theosis, ever becoming individually more and more Christ-like through cooperation with God in this life, and furthermore into the next when all of creation will be fully restored. [2 Corinthians 3:18]
What do we need to be “saved” from?
We need to be saved from ourselves, in a sense. As human beings, we are prone to committing damaging actions – whether it’s overtly ruinous acts like expressions of anger and hatred, or more subtly insidious acts like lust or pride. These are sins, or actions that “miss the mark” of where we should be aiming as people, and they go against what God made us for, and are thus harmful to our humanity. Sins are contrary to our purpose and nature as children of God. We need to be saved from ourselves, from our selfishness and passions, and to welcome the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit who gradually conforms us to the image of Christ in preparation for the day where we will be perfected in His love. Jesus Christ offers us a path to the Lord, to holiness, to finally being complete as human beings. Christ is the Great Doctor, come to heal the sick, but His patients must choose to take the medicine offered.
What is to happen on that very last day when something so core to us as our worldly attachments are taken away, changing something that's been so very important to us our entire lives? How can someone - who makes something like money, fame, or looks so deeply important to them above all else - be eternally happy when those things are gone? If someone does not desire a pure heart, do they want what Heaven offers? Or will they be tormented through their own self-willed, but unfulfilled desires? Does a person who rejects God, and all He stands for, want to live with Him for eternity?
What must we do to be “saved?”
We must be repentant of our sins, dying to worldly desires, and seeking the Kingdom of God first. We must desire to be made new creations in Christ, free of sin, through baptism and cooperate with the grace and commandments of our God. “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so also you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” [John 13:34-35] Christ said following Him means taking up our own cross, living a life in service of others in selflessness and love. "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for Me." [Matthew 25:40]
We were saved through the life, death and resurrection of Christ. We are being saved through our cooperation with the work of the Holy Spirit. Then, before all things will be made new after the Second Coming and Final Judgement, we must hope and pray for a good defense before the judgement seat of Christ. Fortunately, the same judge that determines our destiny also wants to make us innocent and save us forevermore.
Getting Started Reading the Bible
The world is filled with misconceptions about what the Bible truly professes, what it teaches about the Christian faith, and how the first Christians interpreted it all. A good first step to fixing this is reading the Bible yourself, with the next step being gaining a fuller understanding it. So please, take some time to sit down and read some of the basic scriptures and then join us in church so we may all grow in understanding of the faith together.
When reading the Bible, any place is a good place to start, although it may be better to start somewhere in the New Testament, as the Old Testament is read through the lens of what was revealed to us in the New Testament.
“So Philip ran up and heard a man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. “How can I,” he said, “unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.”
The Nicene Creed
The Christian faith can be summed up in the following creed, originally written in a shortened form in 381AD at the 1st Ecumenical Council, and further completed at later councils:
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
And I believe one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.