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What is the Orthodox Church?

The expression 'Orthodox Church' or 'Eastern Orthodox Church' is a rather modern way to refer to what should be more properly called 'the Orthodox Catholic communion'. Indeed, the encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs of 1848 uses the tradition expressions 'Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church' and 'Catholic Church' to refer to what is now often called 'the Orthodox Church'.

As we have seen, the word 'Church' (properly and theological used) refers to the bishop, presbytery, deaconate and people gathered 'as Church' to celebrate the Eucharist. As St. Cyprian of Carthage wrote:

The people joined to the priest and the flock clinging to their shepherd are the Church. You ought to know, then, that the bishop is in the Church and the Church in the bishop, and if someone is not with the bishop, he is not in the Church. They vainly flatter themselves who creep up, not having peace with the priests of God, believing that they are secretly in communion with certain individuals (Letter 66 (69), 8 to Florentius Pupianus, c. AD 254)

Hence, the expressions 'Orthodox Church' and 'Eastern Orthodox Church' are functional, practical, not theological expressions. It is preferable to talk about 'the Eastern Orthodox communion' or indeed 'Orthodox Catholic communion of the Orthodox Faith'.

Introduction to Orthodoxy Videos

Video 1, Video 2, Video 3, Video 4, Video 5, Video 6

Maintaining Unity

Bearing this in mind, the Orthodox Church is the worldwide common union of Patriarchates, Metropolias and Archdioceses who are in full sacramental communion and who recognize each other. This bond of communion is vividly manifested in three important ways:

(1) The primates of the autecephalous groups commemorate each other by name during the Divine Liturgy (Great Entrance). The list which they read outloud is called 'the dyptichs.'

(2) The clergy (bishops, priests, deacons) can concelebrate with other clergy of other dioceses that are part of the common union.

(3) The people can receive the mysteries (or sacraments) in any parish of the Orthodox communion.

The Orthodox communion includes the following (this list uses the 'ecclesiologically' accurate names):

  • The (Ecumenical) Patriarchate of Constantinople
  • The Patriarchate of Alexandria
  • The Patriarchate of Antioch
  • The Patriarchate of Jerusalem
  • The Patriarchate of Moscow ('Russian Orthodox Church')
  • The Patriarchate of Georgia
  • The Patriarchate of Serbia
  • The Patriarchate of Romania
  • The Patriarchate of Bulgaria
  • The Archdiocese of Greece
  • The Archdiocese of Cyprus
  • The Metropolia of Finland (autonomous)
  • The Metropolia of the Czec Lands
  • The Metropolia of (North) America ('Orthodox Church in America')

Some Books to Read

We recommend the following books:

  1. Becoming Orthodox by Father Peter Gilquist
  2. The Orthodox Way by Bishop Kallistos Ware
  3. Facing East by Presbytera Frederica Matthews-Green
  4. Common Ground: An Introduction to Orthodox Christianity for the American Christian by Jordan Bajis

What Next?

The best way to understand Orthodoxy is to experience it.   There is no substitute, so we recommend finding a local parish, and engaging with the priest and laity there.  We recommend reading this excellent article, 12 Things I Wish I'd Known, by Frederica Matthew-Green, before attending the church.