I’ve been asked questions about the Orthodox Church, so I decided to answer them briefly here and provide resources for additional information. No biases whatsoever in providing more Coptic Orthodox resources than others 🙂
What is the Orthodox Church?
- The Orthodox Church considers itself the oldest faith, tracing its roots back to Jesus and His disciples.
- Many of the disciples/Apostles founded the different denominations (e.g. St. Mark founded the Coptic Orthodox Church; St. Andrew the Russian Orthodox Church; St. Paul the Greek Orthodox Church)
- The Orthodox Church adheres to the Nicene Creed.
- The Orthodox Church has over 350 million members (relative to Catholics: 1.2+ billion and Protestants: 900+ million)
What’s the difference between Eastern and Oriental Orthodox?
Some Eastern Orthodox denominations include: Russian, Romanian, Polish, Greek, Japanese, and Chinese.
Some Oriental Orthodox denominations include: Coptic, Ethiopian, Syriac, Eritrean, and Armenian.
The separation transpired primarily over the difference in Christological terminology – Oriental Orthodoxy rejected the Council of Chalcedon in 451, while Eastern Orthodoxy accepted it. Quick breakdown for those who are unfamiliar:
- Council of Nicaea (325): Jesus is consubstantial with God; they’re one and the same.
- Council of Constantinople (381): Expanded on the Nicene Creed.
- Council of Ephesus (431): Jesus is one being/person, both divine and human.
- Council of Chalcedon (451): Jesus is one person in two complete natures, one divine one human.
The Oriental Orthodox Church compared this belief to that of Nestoria (Jesus is two distinct beings, one divine, one human) and rejected it.
Some political differences occurred afterwards that reinforced the separation. Today, minor theological differences exist (e.g. why X church uses yeast when making the Eucharist bread vs. why Y church doesn’t, etc.). This short book goes into more details:
I will state these very briefly. My Church-unity-utopian view is pained having to write this..
Baptism: through this gift the Holy Spirit enters man; man is saved and united with Christ (Romans 6); infant baptism is practiced.
Confession: we confess to God in the presence of a priest (witness) who then provides help with resolutions/amendments and how to overcome our sin (John 20: 21-23).
Spirituality: the Orthodox life is filled with fasting, contemplative prayer, and meditation. The goal is ‘theosis’, where one becomes sinless (purification), is filled with Divine light (illumination), and is in union with Christ (theosis).
Salvation is seen through theosis. While salvation is a free gift, a life of repentance is needed, as is a faith working through love.
Justification is initiated at baptism and maintained throughout one’s life. This life is to be one of repentance and obedience to Christ.
Ancestral sin (we do not use the term original sin): only Adam and Eve bear both the guilt and consequences of the first committed sin. We bear the consequences of that sin, which is death. The fall distorted our image, not destroyed it.
Liturgy: the Orthodox liturgy is based on OT and NT worship, utilizing hymns, readings, prayers, and the Eucharist.
Mary: Theotokos (God-bearer), is considered the highest saint, and is venerated.
Icons are a gateway to heaven revealing God’s glory. The Christian meditates on the life the icon displays, which leads to a deeper understanding of theology and/or spirituality. Interestingly, Church history states that Luke the Evangelist was the founder of iconography. Further, the art and architecture of the Orthodox Church is purposefully designed so that the Church participates in heaven.
PDF book: Coptic Orthodox – Comparative Theology
Orthodoxy and Catholicism– some differences
The Great Schism between Orthodoxy and Catholicism occurred primarily due to difference of views re: Papal Authority and the Filioque (although there was plenty of political, cultural, and other theological aspects to it). Many of the Orthodox denominations have popes and acknowledge the pope as the ‘first among equals’, but are opposed to Papal Supremacy. The Orthodox reasoning for this is many, including (1) that Rome’s primacy in the early Church was not equivalent to today’s doctrine of Papal Authority; (2) the Apostles were equal; and (3) the Ecumenical Councils weren’t called by a pope, but rather by a group of emperors. For further reading on this:
The Filioque Controversy is concerning John 15:26, “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceeds from the Father…” the issue lies in the term “proceeds”. Orthodoxy holds that the Spirit proceeds from the Father while the Western Church holds that it proceeds from both the Father and Son. It’s important to note that there was plenty of translational issues that may have contributed greatly to these theological issues. There are plenty of online resources, papers, and books on this topic.
Two final resources: The Orthodox Study Bible includes the Apocrypha and commentaries by Bishops, theologians, and teachers. It will provide more insight into Orthodox thinking. The Life of Repentance and Purity is a simple and beautiful book written by Pope Shenouda III, and provides insight into the Orthodox’s ideal day-to-day life.
PDF: Life of Repentance and Purity
I hope this is helpful and informative 🙂