Where does the term “Orthodox Christian” come from?
The Greek (Eastern) Orthodox Church - What's in our name?
Our name, or rather, our names tell a great deal about us. Many names have been used throughout the centuries to describe our Church and its some 300 million adherents. "Greek", "Eastern", "Orthodox", "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic" are all appropriate designations of the Church.
Our Church is called the "Greek Church" because Greek was the first language of the ancient Christian Church from which our Faith was transmitted. The New Testament was written in Greek and the early writings of Christ's followers were in the Greek language. The word "Greek" is not used to describe just the Orthodox Christian peoples of Greece and other Greek speaking people. Rather, it is used to describe the Christians who originated from the Greek speaking early Christian Church and which used Greek thought to find appropriate expressions of the Orthodox Faith. "Orthodox" is also used to describe our Church. The word "Orthodox" is derived from two short Greek words, orthos, meaning correct, and doxa, meaning belief or glory. Thus, we used the word "Orthodox'' to indicate our conviction that we believe and worship God correctly. We emphasize Apostolic tradition, continuity and conservatism over a 2,000 year history.
Our Church is also spoken of as the "Eastern Church" to distinguish it from the Churches of the West. "Eastern" is used to indicate that in the first millennium the influence of our Church was concentrated in the eastern part of the Christian world and to show that a very large number of our membership is of other than Greek national origin. Thus, Orthodox Christians throughout the world use various ethnic or national titles: "Greek", "Russian", "Serbian", "Romanian", "Ukrainian", "Bulgarian", "Antiochian", "Albanian", "Carpatho-Russian", or more inclusively, as "Eastern Orthodox".
In the Nicene Creed of faith our Church is described as the "One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church": "One" because there can only be one true Church with one head Who is Christ. "Holy" because the church seeks to sanctify and transfigure its members through the Sacraments. "Catholic" because the Church is universal and has members in all parts of the world. The word "Catholic" comes from a Greek word katholikos (kath-oh-lee-KOHS) which means world-wide or universal. '"Apostolic" because its teachings are based on the foundations laid by the Apostles from whom our Church derives its teachings and authority without break or change.
Each of these titles is limiting in some respects, since they define Christians belonging to particular historical or regional Churches of the Orthodox communion. Orthodox Christianity is not limited to the East, however, either in terms of its own self-definition or in geographical location. There are many Orthodox Christians who live in the West, and are rapidly becoming integrally related to its spiritual, intellectual and cultural life.
Our origins and development: to know us is to understand our history. Christianity originated in Palestine, spread rapidly throughout the Mediterranean, and by the end of the fourth century was recognized as the official religion of the late Roman or Byzantine Empire. Seen in the context of its historical milieu, it was a unified religious movement, although diverse in many respects. It was extremely vital and dynamic in its historic development.
Orthodox Catholic Christianity remained essentially undivided. Its five major administrative centers were located in Rome, Constantinople (present-day Istanbul), Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. The articulation of Christian doctrine and order was achieved through the great Ecumenical Councils, the first of which was convened in AD 325. At these Councils, all leaders and centers of Christianity were represented and shared in the deliberations.
The first great schism or separation took place in the fifth and sixth centuries, chiefly over the understanding of the person of Christ. Certain ancient and venerable Eastern Churches are quite similar to the Orthodox Church in ethos, lifestyle, and worship. They are of two types, one called the Nestorian or Assyrian Church of the East, and the other much larger grouping called Pre-Chalcedonian because of its non-acceptance of the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451). The non-Chalcedonian Churches include the Coptic Church of Egypt, the Ethiopian Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Church of St. Thomas in India, and the Jacobite Syrian Church of Antioch. Altogether they claim approximately 22 million faithful.
The Christian religion was the principal influence in the Byzantine Empire, shaping its culture, laws, art, architecture and intellectual life. The harmony between the civic and ecclesiastical spheres, Emperor and Church, was rarely broken so as to present a truly unified Christian Empire, a Christian ecumene. This symphonic relationship of faith and culture is a distinctive legacy of the Orthodox Church which was later transmitted to the Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe and Russia.
After the seventh Ecumenical Council in AD 787, the basic unity of faith and ecclesiastical life between East and West began to disintegrate, due to a variety of theological, jurisdictional, cultural and political differences. This eventually led to the Great Schism between East and West of AD 1054. This unfortunate division was aggravated to the point of a complete break in communication between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church. Centuries later the protests against Rome in Western Europe gave rise to the Protestant Reformation. In our day the non-Chalcedonian Oriental Churches, the Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church and the many Protestant Churches and groups comprise the wide spectrum of Christendom.
After the Great Schism Orthodox Christianity continued to develop apart from Western Christianity. Tenaciously conservative, relying on its dynamic concept of Tradition, it preserves the classical forms of Christian life and dogma to this very day. It is very much a "popular" Church, closely identified with the national life and aspirations of its people. In traditional Orthodox lands it is difficult to separate religious and secular life, since they are one in the minds of the people. Orthodoxy has absorbed, and in some cases even shaped, the cultural traditions of many nations, chiefly in the Near East, the Balkans and Greece, Eastern Europe and Russia. It is, for many of these nations, the national religion. In other lands, of course, it is a tiny minority group. In fact, large numbers of Orthodox Christians have lived in officially atheistic or secularized socialist republics and witnessed to their faith under conditions of active persecution and intolerance. Many became true martyrs for the faith.