What is Eastern Orthodoxy?

In April of this year the Bible Answer Man, Hank Hanegraaff, became a part of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Eastern Orthodoxy, and the other Orthodox Churches, are unfamiliar to many Americans. Eastern Orthodoxy rose in the eastern Roman Empire. As a result, it is most prominent in places like Russia, Eastern Africa and the Middle East. With 270 million adherents the Orthodox church is the third largest Christian group in the world.

Orthodox Churches trace back to the earliest major split in Roman Catholicism. Catholicism began to divide with the division of the Roman Empire in the late 400’s. Over the centuries differences in culture, language, ritual and leadership grew, further separating the east from the west. The divide was complete in 1054 when the Pope excommunicated the leading Archbishop and the Archbishop excommunicated the pope. Since then a few attempts have been made to repair the rift, but the two remain distinct churches. Orthodoxy bears strong resemblance to Roman Catholicism and yet retains significance differences.

Like Catholicism, the Orthodox Church believes tradition to share authority with the Bible. Orthodoxy believes the writings of the church fathers provide the authoritative interpretation of the Bible. Like Catholicism, the Orthodox church places great importance on participation in sacraments for salvation. Orthodoxy holds to seven sacraments, but replaces confirmation with chrismation.

The first sacrament of Eastern Orthodoxy is baptism. Baptism is always full immersion. The person being baptized receives salvation by his baptism. This begins the life in Christ but life in Christ must be nourished to remain. The ability to continue in salvation is received through chrismation. Chrismation immediately follows baptism. The priests anoints the baptized person with oil and makes the sign of the cross over him. This sacrament brings the Holy Spirit to indwell the person enabling him to “live the life of Christ.”

As with Catholicism, the most frequent and familiar sacrament is the Eucharist. By taking the bread and wine the individual receives the body and blood of Christ. The Eucharist provides spiritual nourishment to the receiver necessary for continued spiritual life.

The other sacraments observed by the Orthodox church are the sacraments of penance- much like the Catholic confessional, holy orders- ordaining to ministry, holy unction- anointing of the sick and prayer for healing, and marriage.

To western protestants one of the more confusing views of Orthodoxy is that of deification. Deification is the process of becoming more and more Godlike. This means something more than the Protestant idea of being imitators of God and something less than the Hindu doctrines of becoming one with the Divine. In Orthodoxy the Christian strives to enter more and more into union with the Divine nature. Through obedience the person enters into a greater mystical union with God and has a greater part in the perfection of God. By participating in the sacraments and religious rituals the person becomes more and more “like God”.

Unfortunately, like the Roman Catholic Church, Orthodoxy teaches a means of salvation that denies the grace of God. (Galatians 2:21) Salvation is accomplished by the person’s continual attendance to the sacraments and religious observances. The Bible is in clear opposition to the teachings of the Orthodox Church. No part of salvation is accomplished by the person. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us.” (Titus 3:5)

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