The Original Church
The Eastern Orthodox Church is the original and oldest in all Christendom. The Orthodox Church still adheres to the traditions, teachings and theology of the early Church. It is the early church, the church of the Apostles, the first Bishop being Saint James of Jerusalem as noted in Scripture.
Since the dawn of Christianity, there has never been a time when the Orthodox Church hasn’t existed in the world. Despite ferocious persecutions throughout the ages, the Orthodox Church has never ceased to exist, and it never will in accordance with the promise of the Lord: “And the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.”
For the first thousand years of Christianity there was only one Christian Church and one Christian Faith. Although controversies did arise, these were addressed and resolved, with the aid of divine intervention, by the Church as a whole which afterward remained intact.
The Orthodox Church is separate and distinct from the Roman Catholic Church, even though the two have a shared history. Rome, being one of the five ancient Christian sees, or patriarchates, separated from the other four, namely, Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem, in 1054 AD.
The separated see of Rome became what is now known as the Roman Catholic Church, gaining power and prominence in the West. The remaining patriarchates, with the addition of the patriarchate of Moscow and others which have sprung up over time, have continued as the Orthodox Christian Church.
Known as the Great Schism, this separation between the see of Rome and the four patriarchates in the east occurred, in part, because of a controversy concerning the unilateral political and spiritual primacy of Rome and its hierarch, the Pope.
Rome had always enjoyed a place of honor in the early Church. But the honorary title of “first among equals” was understood to be a show of respect and love. It was never an acknowledgment of Rome as a superseding authority over the other local Patriarchates. It certainly never implied that their Pope was infallible.
After the Schism, there developed a still greater separation between those two bodies: That of differing theologies.
Orthodoxy emphasizes preservation over innovation. Although the beliefs of the early Church have been clarified and expanded-upon over the ages, they have not changed fundamentally. One important thing which has never changed in Orthodoxy is its adherence to the mystical theology of the early church, as opposed to adoption of the scholastic theology introduced later in the West. Although this is another complete topic in itself, the following shall attempt to address it briefly.
To put it simply: Scholastic theology emphasized the attainment to the knowledge of God by means of human intellect primarily. In order to do this, the concept of a mystical theology must be downplayed or done away with altogether, since the mystical transcends the rational. Or to put it another way, it seeks to rationalize the mystical, attempting to know God by means of the intellect alone. Thus, one’s knowledge of God is limited to the finiteness of the human intellect.
In contrast, the Mystical theology of the Eastern Church emphasizes that, while a person can know of by means of his intellect, he comes to actually know God by way of his nous. The nous is that noetic part which is the mind of God within each of us. It is through the nous that we experience God, comprehending not with logic, but with our spiritual eyes, that which He desires to reveal to us. “The kingdom of Heaven is within you.” It is by way of our nous that God manifests himself to us, teaches us and works within us, showing us Who He is from His perspective as God and not from our passionate, human one.
Certainly, the Orthodox Church does not reject the use of the intellect; it is one of our God-given faculties. But the faculty of the nous must not be overlooked. For when the intellect reaches its limitations, it is the nous that carries us beyond pure reason to a true vision of God. This is precisely what the Saints have acquired: A true vision and experience of God.
There is a reason why this unique cornerstone of wisdom and many other age-old beliefs of the Orthodox Church are held to so dearly by the faithful. It is because they are understood to be not the teachings of mortal men, or of mere human intellect, but divinely revealed truths of God: Eternal and soul-saving truths which are not negotiable.
Likewise, the Church itself is not considered by the faithful to be a ma-made organization, but the divinely ordained body of Christ on earth. The Original Church is the Lord’s legacy to us. To be a member of it is to be not a member of an amputated limb from that body, but of the eternal, living Body of Christ: the same one He gave us in the beginning.
It is this church known as Orthodoxy, meaning “right worship,” which survives and continues today as the Eastern Orthodox Church. Thus, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church never needed to be reinvented or replaced by something newer, because it never died out and her truths were never lost.
Through the prayers of Thy One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, O Lord Jesus Christ, our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.