Nearly Two Thousand Years of Faithfulness
By Father Anthony Yazge
(Originally submitted to the Tribune Star for publication in the Fall of 1995)
Jesus Christ established His Church on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles, as recorded in chapter two of The Acts of the Apostles. Later in the same chapter we read that many were baptized “and the Lord added to the church daily.” (Acts 2:47) This Church of the New Testament is the Orthodox Christian Church, which is still present today.
The Orthodox Christian Church is the same continuous Church of the New Testament. It is God’s people who gather together in His name, thereby calling themselves Christians. “And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” (Acts 11:26) We are God’s people who share a common faith and hope based on the love of God, affirming the truth, or orthodoxy, of our faith, belief and experience, proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ to all. An Orthodox Christian, then, is one who fully lives and proclaims God’s Truth as it has been revealed by Jesus Christ and experienced everywhere and at all times by His People, the Church.
Literally, orthodox means true, correct or right belief. Christ charged His disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20) The disciples travelled and established communities teaching and baptizing. Those communities they established are the churches of Antioch, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Rome, eventually Constantinople and Moscow, among many others. These churches became the Patriarchates of the Christian Church. Through apostolic succession, the laying on of hands retraceable to the days of the apostles, we know these churches – the Orthodox Patriarchates of today – are those ancient churches who still preach the unalterable Truth of Jesus Christ and salvation for His people.
Through the centuries the Church was faced with many controversies based on heretical teachings of those who tried to alter the Truth. From the fourth century through the eighth, the Church convened Seven Ecumenical Councils under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to clarify essential doctrines and practices of the early Church. From these Councils we now have definitions, creeds, and canon laws that are genuine expressions of our faith.
Other critical sources of Orthodox Christianity are Holy Tradition and Holy Scripture. Holy Tradition is the ongoing life of God’s people. It is the total experience of the Church as it has been passed on or given over to us from the time of Christ and the apostles, and is the very life of the Church itself as it is inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit. The foremost product of Holy Tradition is Holy Scripture. Orthodox Christians believe that the Holy Scriptures are the word of God, written by men who were inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit, and are the very self-revelation of God Himself. The Bible is a collection of books written and compiled over thousands of years by many different people. The Scriptures were produced by and for the Church. After all, it took 300 years for the books we call the New Testament to be formed. In addition to Holy Tradition, Holy Scripture and the Ecumenical Councils, we also have the writings of the Holy Fathers, who explained the Church’s essential teachings and defended the true faith, as another source.
Orthodox Christians proclaim their belief and faith in God through the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, written in the fourth century, which is an affirmation and public proclamation of our Trinitarian theology, our belief in the One Godhead in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The need for this formal statement came about in the wake of a number of false teachings about Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit and the Church. The Creed was written at two Ecumenical Councils: Council of Nicea (325 AD.) and Council of Constantinople (381 AD.). The Creed, which we proclaim at every Divine Liturgy as well as other services is as follows:
“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 Son of God, the only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages. Light of Light; true God of true God; begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us and our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man. And He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried. And the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again to judge the living and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end. And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the 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. In one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”
Centuries later the Church of Rome (Church of the West) altered the teachings and beliefs of the Church through insertions into the Creed and other doctrines. As a result they withdrew themselves from communion with the Church of the East, the Orthodox Church. However, the Orthodox Church has maintained an unbroken continuity of the faith and doctrines of the early Church to this day.
The parish of St. George Orthodox Church, located at 1900 South Fourth Street in Terre Haute, is that same continuous Church of the apostles, unbroken and unaltered, seeking to fulfill the great commission of Jesus Christ to “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20) We invite everyone to “Come and see.” (John 1:39)