O undefiled, untainted, uncorrupted, most pure, chaste Virgin, Thou Bride of God and Sovereign Lady, who didst unite the Word of God to mankind through thy most glorious birth giving, and hast linked the apostate nature of our race with the heavenly; who art the only hope of the hopeless, and the helper of the struggling, the ever-ready protection of them that hasten unto thee, and the refuge of all Christians: Do not shrink with loathing from me a sinner, defiled, who with polluted thoughts, words, and deeds have made myself utterly unprofitable, and through slothfulness of mind have become a slave to the pleasures of life. But as the Mother of God Who loveth mankind, show thy love for mankind and mercifully have compassion upon me a sinner and prodigal, and accept my supplication, which is offered to thee out of my defiled mouth; and making use of thy motherly boldness, entreat thy Son and our Master and Lord that He may be pleased to open for me the bowels of His lovingkindness and graciousness to mankind, and, disregarding my numberless offenses, will turn me back to repentance, and show me to be a tried worker of His precepts. And be thou ever present unto me as merciful, compassionate and well disposed; in the present life be thou a fervent intercessor and helper, repelling the assaults of adversaries and guiding me to salvation, and at the time of my departure taking care of my miserable soul, and driving far away from it the dark countenances of the evil demons; lastly, at the dreadful day of judgment delivering me from torment eternal and showing me to be an heir of the ineffable glory of thy Son and our God; all of which may I attain, O my Sovereign Lady, most holy Theotokos, in virtue of thine intercession and protection, through the grace and love to mankind of thine only begotten Son, our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ, to Whom is due all glory, honor and worship, together with His unoriginate Father, and His Most Holy and good and life creating Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen
In addressing the issue of the role of women in the Church, we have to distinguish between Holy Tradition and customs that are influenced by culture and do not spring from the true spirit of Christianity. There are popular traditions which are linked to various cultures or families. In no way should they be despised. However, they should not be confused with Holy Tradition. Historically, our Orthodox Church has Her roots in patriarchal societies, which often times obscure the dignity of women as co-workers, yet it is not the true vision of the Church.
To understand the role of women now, we must go back to the beginning of creation. Mainstream Orthodox teachings see the goodness of the created world and note that God in Genesis pronounced the various aspects of creation as “good”. When God created Adam, He said, “Let us make man after our image and likeness” (Gen. 1: 26). Then He said, “Let us make him a helper like him” (Gen. 2: 18). So, according to the Church Fathers, God created woman equal in honor. The first tie was that of the bond between man and woman. Eve was God’s gift to Adam and God created her from Adam’s side (Gen. 2: 21-22), so they can walk together side by side.
So What Happened To Change That Status of Equality?
Because of sin, the ideal vision of human relations, in general, and those between the sexes, in particular, became distorted and corrupted. God did not create Eve to be Adam’s subordinate, but his helper. There was a complementarily between them. The fact that woman was created after man does not demean her since man himself was created after all the animals, yet he is superior to them. So rather than seeing the woman as secondary or inferior to man, she should be seen as interior to him, part of him. Adam said, “This is at last bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gen. 2: 18). Eve was from the flesh of Adam, the other who was just like him. The Scripture implies that a woman’s role is not passive or inferior, but actually the other half which enriched Adam’s life. Yet each gender had its own domain. In Genesis, the story of the creation reveals the spiritual truths about the relationship between humanity and God, as well as the relationship between man and woman. The male-female relationship must be understood within the context of the relationship between God and man.Orthodox faith teaches that as souls before God, women and men stand equal. Women are not ‘second class citizens’ in the Kingdom of God.
After the Fall, the world we live in became not the harmonious creation which God intended it to be. This disruption and separation from God became also a separation between man and woman. Sin, which separated humanity from God, also caused the break-up of the unity of humanity. Although woman was originally God’s gift to man, she is later seen as the curse of the world. But is it really fair to say that? Shouldn’t both of them be equally blamed? Although Eve was tempted first and fell, Adam should have helped her rather than slide down with her. By his own will, he chose to follow rather than to lead. The subordination of woman to man and her exploitation do not reflect the order of nature as created by God, but rather the result of the sin. God told Eve, “Your inclination shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you” (Gen. 3: 16). However, this did not mean eternal damnation for mankind and womankind.
What is it that is required out of man and woman ?
This dualism of man and woman is not rooted in comparison or equality.The principles of comparison are anti-Christian, false, and demonic. Any comparison leads to the experience and the knowledge of inequality and therefore to envy, protest, anger, rebellion and division.Equality is an invention of our time, not a true Godlike idea.Equality is affirmed as the annihilation of distinctions, and since distinctions do exist, it leads to a fight against distinctions, to forced egalitarianism, and what is worse to the negation of the very essence of life. This is the work of the devil. (The essence of life is the distinction between men and women).
Love is unity between those who are different. In unity, the distinction between male and female is not discarded, but becomes life, creativity, and community. This is the essence of the family.Our contemporary culture resists the family, turns away from it, and eventually destroys it, because the family uncovers the falseness of this kind of equality. Nothing destroys love as quickly as insistence on equality. Our culture replaces love with fighting, because this culture imposes on us equality as the ultimate goal.
LIVING OUT OUR CALLING
Orthodox Christian women and your daughters – are called to be the Holy Myrrhbearing women of the Orthodox Church today and forever. The young girls and daughters can bring as mirth to our Lord Jesus Christ, their clean life – virginity, their prayers and obedience to their parents. All (college) students and young women who come to church regularly, can also bring to Christ our Saviour their mirth of good fragrance: the zeal for good deeds, mercy and charity towards those in suffering and obedience to their spiritual father.
The Christian mothers will offer our Master their most precious mirth, which is the birth, raising and education of children in the fear of God. But also the older mothers, the grandmothers and widows that are always present in the holy churches of God, may bring their ointment of tears and prayers as they piously keep the Orthodox faith and legacy passed on by our ancestors.
Behold, all daughters of the Orthodox Church, today you are the offspring of the Holy Myrrhbearing women – when you hold in your heart the good fragrance of faith, prayer and Christian love. If you’ll only run with devotion to church along with your children, as the Holy Myrrhbearing women once ran to the Holy Tomb of our Saviour.
What, then, are some of these godly feminine qualities we need to cultivate?
It is impossible to give an exhaustive list, but here are several that seem especially important.
1) The greatest of these is love. Of course, all Christians are called to love; but women have a special gift for loving. We should love, first of all, those closest to us—our families or those who are like a family to us. But we should not stop there; our love should reach out to our neighborhood, our parish, our community, our world. The love demanded of us is not just a sentimental good feeling toward other people. We’re talking about sacrificial love—love in action—love that puts our own interests second to those of the beloved. It’s not an easy task.
2) We should give ourselves in joyful service. Again, all Christians are called to serve; but it seems to come more naturally to women. Our service should follow our love, starting at home and spreading outward, always guided by God’s will for our individual lives. Our service should also follow our individual gifts. If you can’t bake a fluffy pastry to save your life, go ahead and say no when the festival committee asks you to make it. But if, on the other hand, you have artistic talent, perhaps you should study iconography or illustrate lives of saints for children. Don’t let your gifts go to waste. If you don’t know what your gifts are, or can’t think of a way to use them for God, talk to your husband or priest or to an older, wiser woman you know. They may know you better than you know yourself.
3) The essence of womanhood is motherhood. Not all women are called to be physical mothers, but all are called to be spiritual mothers, guiding and nurturing and teaching others to follow Christ. Those who work in the world should seek vocations that allow these qualities their full expression, rather than trying to compete in the dog-eat-dog business world of men.Those of us who are mothers in the physical sense must take this responsibility very seriously. The world would have us believe that mothering is just one aspect of life, that it can be done quite adequately in the few hours a day we have left over from our careers or other activities we have chosen to “fulfill ourselves.” But we mothers really, in our heart of hearts, know better. We know that children are a sacred trust; they need and deserve the very best we have to give. If we cannot pass on our faith to them through our example of devoted love and service, how can the Church survive? And how can we stand before God and claim to have accomplished anything of any value in this world?
4). Women have a unique capacity to respond to God with all our hearts and souls. This is the essence of spirituality, and it comes more easily to women than to men, because responsiveness characterizes our human relationships as well as our relationship to God. Men, being called to leadership in the human realm, often find it more difficult to surrender that role and to meet their Creator in humility. We women can set an example in simple, faithful piety that is ultimately more influential in the life of the Church than the most inspired teaching or the most glorious martyrdom.
5) Our proper response to God is to strive for holiness. Only by pursuing holiness will we become capable of all that is required of us. Only by deepening our relationship with God can we come to understand, accept, and live the life He has designed for us. Only through loving, trusting obedience to God can we find our true calling, as women and as human beings. Only so can we begin to fulfill the vocation bequeathed to us by Mary of giving birth to Christ in other people. This is our proper contribution to the salvation of the world.
EXAMPLES OF SAINTLY WOMEN
- IN THE OLD TESTAMENT:
Throughout history in the Old Testament, God has worked with individuals in which He saw fertile soil ready for the acts of His Grace, whether they were males or females. Therefore, in the Old Testament, we have examples of many saintly women. There were female prophetesses, e.g. Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron (Ex. 15: 20-21), Deborah, who judged the people of Israel (Judges 5), Huldah (II Kings 22: 14-20), and Anna (Luke 2: 36-38). Abigail was a wise woman to whom King David listened and took advice. Esther was a young Jewish woman born outside Israel in Babylon. Yet, God used her to save the Jews in captivity. Thus each person whether male or female, could acquire Grace by submitting to God.
- IN THE NEW TESTAMENT:
In the New Testament, the Most Holy Theotokos is the pride and honor of all women. The Holy Virgin personifies the perfect model not only of women, but of all humanity. She willfully acquiesced her entire being to God, standing humbly before God in obedience, which is the ultimate vocation of all humans. That is why she deserved to carry God the Logos, and she is regarded more venerable than the Cherubim and more glorious than the Seraphim.
While in human form on earth, Christ addressed everyone, both men and women. There were women who responded to his teachings and followed him, and travelled with Him. The women from Galilee helped support Jesus and the disciples with their money (Luke 8: 1-3). At the time of the Crucifixion, when all the disciples escaped, the three Marys were the last to leave Christ’s side, and the first to be at His tomb. St. Mary Magdalene was the first one worthy to see the Resurrected Christ, even before the disciples (John 20: 11-18). After Christ’s ascension, the women were present with the apostles in the upper room and received the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 1: 13-14).
Later, there were women who were co-workers with the apostles in preaching the Gospel. The women at the time of the apostles rejected worldly vanity and became companions of the apostles. St. Peter’s wife accompanied him on many of his missionary journeys (1Cor. 9: 5). There was a great number of women mentioned by St. Paul in his letters. Amongst whom was Lydia, who was a successful business woman; she carried on a prosperous business in Thyrian purple (Acts 16: 14). But she was also the hostess of St. Paul and it was at her home that the church in Philippi was established. Chloe in Corinth was a disciple of St. Paul; she hosted the church in her home and faithfully reported to St. Paul what happened (1 Cor. 1 : 11). She also helped establish the church in Corinth. Phoebe was also a disciple of St. Paul and she is considered the prototype of deaconesses. She was a leading Christian woman of the church in Cenchrea (Rom. 16: 1-2). In Romans 16, St. Paul also mentions the names of many women who helped in the ministry. Priscilla was often times mentioned before her husband Aquila, and she helped instruct Apollos, who was an eloquent man ( Acts 18:26). So, women were valuable co-workers with the apostles in spreading the faith. This activity has continued through the ages.
Therefore what Eve lost through the Fall, Christian women could regain through adoption of a holy life. In Christianity, moral excellence is not judged by a person’s gender, but by the quality of spiritual life. At the time of martyrdom, we find female martyrs who displayed courage and valor equal to the male martyrs. St. Demiana received as much sufferings as St. George. Of course, the list of women martyrs is endless.
- IN THE PATRISTIC ERA:
In the Patristic era, women presented models of great asceticism, and we find them equal to men saints in asceticism. The Fathers, Sts. Gregory of Nyssa, Basil the Great, and John Chrysostom praise the strong woman, i.e. the one who shows strength in the battles of faith. By the early 4th century, communities of female ascetics had grown in Egypt, modelled after the monasteries founded by St. Pachomius. It is interesting to note that when St. Anthony decided to give up his possessions and embrace the ascetic life, he entrusted his younger sister to the care of a convent of virgins. Therefore, there must have been organized communities for women already in existence, even before St. Anthony settled as a hermit in the desert and before St. Pachomius established the first coenobitic monasteries for men.
In the “Sayings of the Desert Fathers”, there are spiritual mothers mentioned, e.g. St. Theodora, St. Sarah, and St. Synkletika. As much as women attained the heights of holiness in the life of consecrated virginity, there were also those who attained holiness as married women such as St. Helen, Emperor Constantine’s mother, St. Monica, St. Augustine’s mother, and St. Anthusa, the mother of St. John Chrysostom. It is noteworthy to mention that when the angel appeared to St. Macarius, he told him to go to Alexandria to find the two married women who have reached a higher degree of piety than him.
In the 4th century, we find many women with great asceticism who also undertook works of charity on a large scale. An example is St. Fabiola, who was St. Jerome’s friend. She founded a hospital in Rome and nursed the sick and lepers by her own hands. St. Jerome also talked about his friend Marcella, who is considered the first ascetic in Rome. In addition to being ascetic, these women were also learned in the Scriptures. St. Macrina, the eldest sister of Sts. Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and Peter, was the one who taught her brothers, and they became bishops. She led St. Basil to renounce worldly glory for a life of Christian asceticism. She also engaged him in theological conversations. Also, St. Olympia the deaconess, was the closest friend of St. John Chrysostom and his confidante. She was very loyal to him and he often consulted her in theological issues; he wrote to her seventeen letters from his exile. St. Paula was also a woman of great learning; she helped St. Jerome translate the Scriptures.
Some of these women who had great wealth, also used their wealth to build monasteries. St. Paula helped establish monasteries in Jerusalem for both men and women. Also St. Melania the Elder renounced the aristocratic life and sailed from Spain to Alexandria and then on to Nitria seeking the Holy Fathers: St. Serapion the Great, St. Paphnutius, St. Isidore the confessor, St. Arsanius, etc… Then she went to Palestine and founded monasteries for both men and women. Therefore, in Christianity we see that moral excellence is judged not by a person’s gender, but the quality of spirit. All the above mentioned women, as well as others, were not only pious women, but also cultivated, capable of discussing theological matters.
All of us, both men and women, are called to a life of perfection and are called to service in the Holy Church. God does not call people according to gender nor does He show favoritism. The works of His Grace work through all who are receptive.
Church father :In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen. As we celebrate the dormition of the Theotokos, so let’s understand what it is?…What does dormition mean?…Anna….
Anna : It means about the Theotokos…
Church father :Well, What does the word dormition in general mean? It does not mean about the Theotokos specifically…
Child 1 : When someone dies and the soul goes off to heaven…
Church father :When any person dies, its a dormition. Dormition means falling asleep. Now we call the dormition of the Theotokos and we kind of shorten it like the dormition right? Its like you guys have a long name ? For e.g Anna George Park, but people just call you Anna, and everybody knows who you are..So when we say dormition, we say the dormition of the Theotokos. But the word dormition means to sleep. Now why would we say that when someone dies, they fall asleep ?…
Anna :Because they are not really dead, they are going to the next world…
Church father : That’s right…
Child 2 :For God, its just falling asleep…
Church father : That’s right, For God, its just falling asleep. To God everyone’s alive…isn’t it?? True… So we say that Christians sleep, because what’s gonna happen at the end of the world???
Yes go ahead..Lucy..
Lucy :Its going to be the last judgement, when God is going to decide who is going to hell or heaven…
Church father :Yes, that’s true, now we say that a Christian sleeps because when Jesus comes from the east, over the mount of olives, He is going to start the judgement and it is going to be real fast and then we will be with Him, and we will not be asleep, we will be alive, with our bodies and with our souls. Now let’s tell the story about the dormition of the Theotokos. Let’s start backwards, from the time, She was at cross of Christ.
Now…. what did Jesus say to somebody, so that she would go and live in his home?? Anna….
Anna :He said to John ” Behold, thy mother, go and take her to your home “.
Church father :That’s right… So He told John ” Behold, your mother ” and so John took care of her, he took care of the Theotokos and she lived in his home for a long time and she knew many of the apostles, all of them and she was a mother to them. She taught them many many things that her son had taught her, and so she lived, maybe 30 or 40 years after the resurrection and then she was living in Jerusalem or some area near to it, because she was buried in Gethsemane. Now she wanted the apostles to come and visit her before she died. She knew she was going to die.
Tell me the story, what happened??….anybody else wanna say…
Ok Anna go ahead….
Anna :All the apostles visited her, except for one apostle, I don’t remember his name….
Church father :Oh!!! its easy to remember his name..😃
Child 2 :Thomas
Church father :Thomas…Was Thomas ever late before..??
Church father :Where was he late before?
Anna :At the resurrection..
Church father :Ya, remember that story, on the day of the resurrection, Thomas wasn’t there, and when all the apostles said that He appeared to them, he didn’t believe, until eight days later, when the Lord came again….
Child 3 :And Thomas said that he would only believe if he could put his finger on the wound where it was pierced…
Church father :Yeah, that’s right…so Thomas was late again..so they buried the Theotokos, first of all they kissed her and were ready for her to die and she died, then she was put in a tomb, the apostles sang many hymns, and then what happened to Thomas??..
I will tell you what happened. Thomas came
Child 1:Three days later…
Church father :Yes Thomas came but three days later, but what did Thomas want?
Child 2:He wanted to see the Theotokos…
Church father :He wanted to see the Theotokos because he loved her very much. So the apostles went into the tomb and opened up the tomb and Thomas went into the tomb and did he find the Theotokos?
Church father :No, so what happened to the Theotokos?
Child 3 :She went to heaven.
Church father :How?…her son right?…
Jesus came and resurrected her and she came to heaven. There are only two people that have ever died and resurrected and gone to heaven. Do you know those two people?
Children :Yes, Jesus and the Theotokos.
Church father :Yes,Jesus and the Theotokos. Now there are two other people who have not died and went into heaven. Do you know who those two people are?
Church father :Elijah and..??
Child 1 :Lazarus
Church father :Lazarus died, because he was risen from the dead in the tomb and he was wrapped like a mummy and everything. Do you remember that story?…..
It’s Enoch, from a long time ago, in Genesis.
(Children respond we do not know much about Enoch…..)
Church father :You do not know much about Enoch, but you know Elijah right? How did he get to heaven.?
Children :In a fiery chariot…
Church father :Fiery chariot with fiery horses and everything. So, but the Theotokos was raised from the dead. She was the first person that Jesus Christ raised from the dead and brought to heaven. He was resurrected, He resurrected of his own power and went upto heaven and then when the Theotokos died 30 or 40 years later, He resurrected her and she went to heaven. Let us look at the following hymn….
In giving birth, thou didst preserve thy virginity
In thy dormition, thou didst not forsake the world, O Theotokos
Thou was translated unto life, since thou art the mother of life
And by thine intersessions, dost thou redeem our souls from dead.
What does this hymn mean.?
In giving birth, thou didst preserve thy virginity
Does a virgin have babies?
Church father :What does it take to have babies?
Children :A husband
Church father :Yes, a husband. You got to have a husband. It was a miracle. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. The Theotokos was a virgin and the church teaches this, you will understand this later as you grow a little older that the Theotokos is always a virgin, before and during and after the childbirth. If you ever see an icon of her, and there are three stars on her, that means she is a virgin before, during and after childbirth and you will understand more about that when you grow older. So, In giving birth, thou didst preserve thy virginity, so she was always a virgin. Did the Theotokos have any other babies besides Jesus?…
No, not at all, right?
Church father :In thy dormition, thou didst not forsake the world, O Theotokos
So we said what dormition means?
Dormition means she died right…but we do not say died, we say she fell asleep, because we know that all of us are going to wake up..aren’t we?
Child 2 :On the last judgement
Church father :Yes,
Now, Thou was translated unto life, since thou art the mother of life. Do we understand what that means ?, we already know…
Translated means brought up or moved.
What happened to the Theotokos after she died?
She went to heaven, she was translated to heaven…its a fancy word but you should learn these words because it is used within the church.
she went upto heaven and the hymn tells us why ?….since thou art the mother of life
Who is she the mother of?
Church father :Jesus and He gave us life.
Now let’s talk a little bit about the gospel and we will go on…
Gospel from mathew…When the Theotokos found out that she was pregnant with Jesus, the angel also told her that somebody whom she knew and loved, also was pregnant.
Who is that?
Child 2:Elizebeth with John
Church father :John the baptist
Child 3 :John the baptist knew that Jesus was in Mother Mary ‘s womb.
Church father :Well, how do we know that?
So Mary comes with a womb, and Jesus was very tiny. A baby gets bigger and bigger in a mommy ‘s tummy.
She just found out that she was pregnant and John who was in his mother’s tummy, in Elizabeth’s womb leaped in her womb with joy . How can it happen?
Its a miracle. God can enlighten us.
And so what did Theotokos say about herself and what are reasons why we so often honour her?
She said ” All generations will call me blessed” and so we love the Theotokos because she is the mother of our Lord and she was the most OBEDIENT person other than Jesus who have ever lived.
Do you have any questions about the dormition?
Child 3:Why in the icon is Jesus holding the baby?
Church father :That’s a very good question
Lucy : That’s the Theotokos’ soul.
Church father :That’s right. That’s the Theotokos’ soul and her body because He took the Theotokos up
Let’s take a look at the icon
Obviously this is the bier and a bier is just a bed to put the person on.
And she’s laying there dead on the bed.
Who are all these people with her?
Children :The apostles
Church father :Yes, the apostles.
Child 1 :What’s that four winged thing?
Church father : Just the cherubim angels, because angels are with us all the time.
Anna :This man here tried to cut of the Theotokos’ hand, but by then the angel came and cut off his hand.
Church father :He didn’t try to cut of her hand, he just tried to stop the bier or knock at her..Was he healed?
Anna : Yes
Church father :He repented and he was healed.
Now this is Christ and just look at the Theotokos, does she look like a baby there or does she look different?…
Children : She looks different
Church father :Right, she looks like a little adult. Because Theotokos was not a baby when she died, was she?
Children : No
Church father :So sometime within the three days after she died, we don’t know when, because nobody saw Jesus taking the Theotokos to heaven.
The icon shows two things happening once. The apostles were praying when the Theotokos died, they were having a funeral for her and then sometime later, when the apostles were not there and the Theotokos was in the grave, Jesus took the Theotokos’ body and soul to heaven.
So these were few things about the dormition of the Theotokos. You should pray to the Theotokos everyday. We pray to the Theotokos because we know that God hears the prayers of his righteous ones and his saints. Is there any person more righteous than the Theotokos?…
Children : Yes God.
Church father :Yes Jesus is more righteous than the Theotokos because He is God. But what about a human being more righteous than the Theotokos?…
The Theotokos is the most righteous…we pray to her because we believe from James that “The effective and fervent prayers of the righteous man availeth much”. So always remember to pray to her and ask her to help you in all things.
While thinking about the introduction to the blog, I remembered a recent conversation with a friend of mine on the different denominations in Christianity. My friend had been prejudiced by many Christian thoughts. He was very adamant about the fact that no matter what, ultimately all denominations praise and worship the same God. The only difference is that each has its own way of doing it, and it is very much fine until and unless we don’t move away from the true God. That’s how I decide that the introduction to this blog should be about “Why Consider Orthodoxy”. By the grace of the Lord Almighty I came across a sermon that explained very beautifully and exactly what I wanted to communicate to all my Christian friends out there. The below is an extract from sermon given by Father Peter Farrington of the British Orthodox Church within the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, and is a missionary. He became Orthodox in 1994 from an Evangelical Protestant background and has not ceased to be concerned for the salvation of the British people. “There are over 7 billion people crowded more or less closely together on this world. About 2 billion consider themselves to be followers of Jesus Christ in one way or another. Of these 2 billion, only perhaps 350 million at the most belong to Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches. Among the non-orthodox the Catholic community is the largest with the membership at about 1.2 billion, while the rest various protestant groups are gathered together in anything upto 35,000 different denominations and groups. There are plenty of choices for someone thinking about becoming a Christian. Often and overwhelmingly confusing variety of choices. Now just as many choices for a Christian seeking after the truth, and it can be just as confusing. It is necessary to ask why should anyone consider Orthodoxy.
Orthodox Christians save their own tradition that it is true and that it is authentically the one church which Christ established 2000 years ago but this is on its own simply only a statement of opinion, perhaps a belief but not any sort of proof. Many other members of other Christian groups also claim that they alone are true representatives of the church or insisted there can be no one tradition which is especially true and that all those who respect Jesus Christ in some way or another even if they cannot accept that He is more than a great teacher should be considered Christians. A simple statement of the Orthodox belief that the church is especially and uniquely found in the community of Orthodox Christians requires rather more evidence to be likely to persuade others and this evidence must be presented and will be briefly introduced in the course of this study.
Many people develop an interest in Orthodoxy through an accidental connection rather than as the fruit of any amount of study and research. Some will have an interest in Christian arts and will find that the Orthodox tradition of iconography is a study that leads to the first steps in participating in the Orthodox Christian way of life. Others will have an interest in Christian chant and music and will perhaps first discover Orthodoxy while acquiring a collection of liturgical cd’s, yet others will first come into contact with orthodoxy in a meaningful way because a friend at school or college or colleague at work identify themselves as an Orthodox Christian. All of these and a great many more accidental means of making first contact have resulted in non- orthodox Christians and complete non- believers becoming committed Orthodox Christians. These various means by which we come into contact with Orthodoxy will all require at some stage in any thinking person’s pilgrimage towards Christ the foundations of reasons of why, what is being told is true and trustworthy. And for those whose experience of Orthodoxy is still at the stage of reading and thinking then it is especially important that the reasons be given which are substantial and robust. Even in the case of those who are born and brought up in orthodox households there will come a time when each person must be convinced for themselves about the value of orthodoxy especially when so many orthodox from east are now growing up in the west when such a plurality of Christian groups, all competing for attention and all claiming authority. As St. Peter says “always be prepared to give a defense to everyone who asks you to explain the hope you have” in 1 peter 3:15.
It seems necessary therefore that we should be able to explain clearly why orthodoxy considers itself especially and authentically to be the church which was found by our Lord Jesus Christ. At some point in interest in various aspects of orthodoxy, firm friendship with Orthodox Christians and even being brought up in an orthodox family will not be enough. We need to be able to provide evidence for the unique position which we give to orthodoxy. Let us look into just two reasons, they are not the only reasons ofcourse but they are perhaps the most important. The first reason that why we should consider orthodoxy is that it is able to demonstrate a continuous history back to the first century. We know that when the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles in the upper room of the first Pentecost, the community of Christ, the Church was established in a unique manner, others must join themselves to this church, they must be established by the apostles and those who had delegated authority from them. There were others who also had a higher regard for Jesus Christ. In Ephesus we read this and Paul met such group but they had not received the Holy Spirit and only knew of the baptism of John the Baptist. It was St. Paul who told them about the apostolic faith, baptized them and laid hands on them so that they might also be filled with the Holy Spirit and become part of the apostolic church. There were not many churches but only one. For the first century it was shepherded by the apostles and those who had known the apostles whom they had set in place over the various Christian communities.
If we are considering the wide variety of choices which are available to someone seeking Christ today, each one calling themselves Christian and the church then we are surely justified in asking which ones are having the connection with the earliest and the apostolic church. I was brought up in the Christian group called the Plymouth brethren. They were founded in the British isles in about 1829. We know the names of those who were the earliest leaders, we know where they lived and where they died, we have copies of many of their sermons and teachings but whatever their nature of these teachings, we know that this group came into existence with its own unique view of what Christianity stands for in the first part of the 19th century. Some of the early leaders of the Plymouth brethren had been members of church of England or the church of Ireland, elsewhere in the world there are various episcopal churches. We know exactly when this Christian group was established. It was between 1531 and 1534 that the Catholic church in England was forced to accept King Henry VIII as its sole protector and supreme head of the church and clergy of England with the spiritual as well as the temple jurisdiction and thus became the new jurisdiction divided from Rome in doctrine as well as in authority. We can easily see that it was a new group because those who continue to hold faithfully to the catholic tradition were persecuted and even tortured to death, while the ancient churches and monasteries were destroyed and the holy remains of the saints of England were thrown out like rubbish.
If we consider the Methodist, they became a new group separating themselves from the episcopal church in England in 1784 when they found that John Wesley began ordaining Methodists ministers to serve in the United States of America. After Wesley’s death the breach with the Anglicanism became greater and in almost every village in England maybe found a Methodist church holding services separately from the Anglican church. In the same villages there will also be a Baptist church of one variety or another. Like the Methodist, there were many subsequent divisions and the establishment of other groups after the first introduction of the movement with its own new ideas and practices. In England the Baptist’s can trace their origin back to 1612 when a congregation opened in London, one of the earliest pastors of this movement, John Smyth baptized himself. It was certainly a new group with a new start breaking of all connections with the past.
If the church was founded in the first century why would we grant any authority to those who established new groups 1500 or more years after the time of the apostles. On the contrary when we turn to considering orthodoxy we find that it has those roots in the earliest church. In 2012 the Coptic orthodox church of Alexandria elected and consecrated a new patriarch or senior bishop. He took the name to “Adros the second or Theodore” and He is the 118 successor to “St. Mark the evangalist” whose preaching first established the church in Egypt. The history of the patriarchs is the volume of the lives of these 118 church leaders and it is continuing to be written. Pope 2 Adros and the bishops of Alexandria were called pope long before the bishop of Rome is the senior bishop of the same church as that which mark established. If we consider other orthodox churches we find the same connection with the apostolic church. The present patriarch of Jerusalem is Theophilos the third and he is the 141 successor to St. James, the brother of our Lord Jesus, the first bishop of the Christian community in Jerusalem. Patriarch of Antioch, Ignatius Zakka 1, the place were the followers of Jesus were first called Christians is the direct successor of the apostle Peter and of Evodius the first bishop of Antioch. Catholicos of Malankara (Indian) Orthodox Syrian Church, Baselious MarThoma Paulose II, is the 91st in the lineage of Catholicos of the East in the Apostolic Throne of St.Thomas. There is no such connection with the apostolic church within the Baptist movement, within Methodism, within the episcopal churches or within any number of smaller or even more recently formed groups. This seems a substantial reason for considering the claims of orthodoxy and for holding the view that orthodoxy remains the apostolic church. History shows us that there is a continuity which cannot be ignored and which is not present in the more recent Christian groups.
The earliest church asked the same question when it looked around and saw various heretical groups claiming to be the church. St. Irenaeus, the bishop of Lyon in the second century describes how all of the true churches could show that they had their origins in the ministry of apostles and the bishops they ordained. He says Polycarp was not only instructed by the apostles and spoke with many who had seen Christ but he was also by the apostles in Asia appointed bishop of the church in Symrna. I saw him in my early youth for he lived on earth a very long time and when he was a very old man, gloriously and most nobly suffering martyrdom he departed this life having always taught the things which he learnt from the apostles and which the church has handed down and which alone are true. To these things all the churches in Asia testified as to also those men who have succeeded Polycarp as bishop down to the present time. St. Ireneaus has much to say about those who taught error in his own times but it is enough to show that he points to the recent origins of these groups as a reason for rejecting their authenticity saying, prior to Valentinus those who follow Valentinus had no existence nor did those who follow Marcion exist before Marcion nor in short had any of the those malignant minded people whom I have described have any existence previous to the initiators and inventors to their error, for Valentinus only came to Rome in the time of Hyginus and flourished under Pius and remained until Anicetus. We should consider the argument as it implies today. If a Christian group is only being created in recent times, then what authority does it have, how is it connected to the church of the apostles, to the church of Christ. St. Irenaeus would reject it is being a source of error because if it was the apostolic church it would have a continuity with the communities which the apostles established. It seems that only orthodoxy continues this continuity into the present times and is therefore worthy of a serious and detailed consideration as being the apostolic church in our own times.
But ofcourse the orthodox church might be old and might well have a direct historical connection with the apostolic church nevertheless it might also have ceased to believe and practice as the earliest church and so have lost any claim to represent the church which Christ established. This was what the founders of the Plymouth brethren believed in the early 19th century. They read the scriptures and interpreting them among themselves, they decided that even while the new testament was being written, the whole church had fallen into such great apostasy that it ceased to exist as Christ intended. To all intents and purposes this allowed them to completely ignore all of church history and the writings and teachings of every church father, whatever had been written which disagreed with their interpretation of scripture could be rejected as a sign of the apostate nature of the early church. Certainly this was a radical approach. It allowed the Plymouth brethren to start a new Christian movement from the scratch with a clean slate. Whatever was taught by them must be the truth since their interpretation of scripture was given absolute authority but the same approach has essentially been adopted by all the modern groups which began breaking away from Catholicism in the 16th century and it continues right down to the present time. Calvin and Zwingli both rejected the teachings of the church on the basis of their own interpretations of scripture. Most modern groups pay no attention to the teachings of past generation especially those outside their own community. Lest we adopt the view of Plymouth brethren, we must surely compare the teachings of any modern group of Christians and the teachings of the orthodox church and discover which ones are consistent with the teachings of the early church. The Plymouth brethren view is infact contrary to the same scriptures which they interpret as their only authority.
It was our Jesus Christ himself who said ” I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it and when He the Spirit of Truth will come He will guide you into all truth “. If this scripture is true then we must surely believe that the early Christians were indeed led into truth and the powers of hell will not be able to prevail over them. That being so and there is surely no other interpretation which allows us to point that the early church has fallen into apostasy we much consider the teachings and practices of the early and apostolic church and ask where we best find them preserved. Protestants are often surprised to discover that there are so many documents and writings preserved from the earliest church down to our own times. We have already mentioned St. Irenaeus. He was born in about 130 A.D and lived through the rest of the 2nd century. He became the bishop of Lyon, in what is now France, but he was from Asia minor. His own bishop when he was young was Polycarp, a famous martyr who was killed in about 155 A.D. and St. Polycarp had been the disciple of apostle John and had known many people who had seen Christ themselves. St. Ireneaus had a deep connection to the earliest Christians, even to the time of Christ himself. Another writer Papias was bishop of Hierapolis also in Asia minor and he lived about at the same time as Polycarp. Being on the major road he was able to speak with many people in his youth who had known the apostles, who had spoken with them and learned from them, who were travelling to and from different places in the empire. The daughters of St. Philip, the apostle lived in his town and they often spoke about their father.
The apostolic teachings were there everywhere and were transmitted into the next century because so many people had learned the authoritative Christian faith from the followers of the apostles. So when we read the writings of these important early Christians, we cannot dismiss them lightly. We must take them as the record of the early Christian life and teaching which they represent. What we read in these records of the early church. One writer was St. Ignatius of Antioch. He was born very early in the first century and was martyred in Rome in about 107 A.D. We know that he was the second bishop of Antioch after Evodius, who was appointed by the apostles and died in 67 A.D. He wrote a series of letters in haste while he was being taken from Antioch to Rome to face martyrdom. Here are a few passages from his letter. They allow us to say a little about what the apostolic church was like. Firstly we see that the church had bishops, priests and deacons. St. Ignatius writes ” Take care to do all the things in harmony with God, with the bishop presiding in the place of God, with the presbyters in the place of council of apostles and the deacons who are more dear to me entrusted with the business of Jesus Christ, who is with the father from the beginning and is the last made manifest”. Elsewhere he writes about the Eucharist saying ” In obedience to the bishop and the presbytery of priests with an undivided mind break one and the same bread which is the medicine of immortality and the antidote which prevents us from dying but is a cleansing remedy driving away evil which causes us that we should live in God through Jesus Christ”. Here we see that the Eucharist is described as the medicine of immortality and that it cleanses us from evil and grants us life. In another early writing ‘the didache’ written while some of the apostles were still alive we find ” Fast on the fourth day i.e Wednesday and on the preparation day i.e Friday, do not pray like the hypocrites but rather as the Lord commanded in his gospel like this ;Our Father who art in heaven and pray this three times each day. We can see here that the early Christians fasted twice a week on Wednesday’s and Friday’s and they had a simple rule of prayer which consisted of praying the Lord’s prayer in the morning, in the middle of the day and in the evening.
Yet another early Christian writer, St. Justin Martyr in his apology or defensive Christianity to the emperor says “As many as are persuaded and believe what we teach and say is true and undertake to be able to live accordingly are instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting for the remission of their sins that are passed, we praying and fasting with them, then they are brought by us where there is water and they are made regenerated in the same manner in which we ourselves regenerated, and we after we have thus washed him who has been convinced and assented to our teaching brings him to a place where those who are called brethren are assembled in order that we may offer hearty prayers in common for ourselves and for the baptized person and for all others in every place and we may be counted worthy now that we have learned the truth by our works also to be found good citizens and keep up the commandments, so that we may be saved with an everlasting salvation, having ended the prayers we salute one another with a kiss, and this food is called among us the Eucharist of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins and for the regeneration or the new birth and who is so living as Christ has taught us, for not as common bread and common drink do we receive these but in the same manner as Jesus Christ, our savior having been made flesh by the word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise we have been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of his word and from which our flesh and blood by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who is made flesh”.
Here we see that the early church believed that in baptism that there was both washing away of sins and the regeneration or the new birth. We see that only those who have been baptized are allowed to share in the worship of the church and the prayers of the church conclude with a kiss of peace and we see that among these early Christians the bread and wine of the Eucharist were considered the flesh and blood of our Lord Jesus, not merely a symbol but truly changed by transmutation into his own flesh and blood. These are enough excerpts from the writings of the earliest Christians to allow us to ask which of the ancient and modern Christian groups preserves the teachings and practices best and to ask whether the Orthodox churches already preserving the historic continuity with the apostolic church also preserves a continuity of faith and practice.
The Plymouth brethren for instance rejected priests and bishops. They told that baptism was a means of public witness to the Christian faith rather than a means of remission of sins and new birth. The Eucharist was considered as an immoral meal, the bread and wine did not change into the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. There was no fasting and infact we did not even pray the Lord’s prayer, let alone three times a day. If we take all of these teachings and practices of the Plymouth brethren and the fact that they were not established until 1829, we would have to conclude that they are not the apostolic church. The Methodist churches have also rejected priests, though some groups do call their seniors ministers as bishops. Methodist also rejects the Eucharist as the true body and blood if our Lord Jesus Christ and many modern Methodists have rejected some of the other core beliefs of Christianity. The United Methodist for instance does not believe that baptism is necessary and have not disciplined a bishop, who rejects both the virgin birth and the resurrection and ofcourse Methodism is no more ancient than the 18th century. Just as in case of the Plymouth brethren, Methodism shows to lack both historical and the doctrinal continuity with the apostolic church. It is a different Christian community all together. The Baptist churches are in the same situation, having rejected many of the teachings and observances of the early and apostolic church and even the Anglican church which is allowing more and more extreme views to be held by its clergy and members neither holds any of the teachings and practices of the apostolic church nor has a historical continuity with it. The most modern groups do not even pretend to maintain the same teachings and practices as the early church and they often lack any organization which preserves the continuity even without the evangelical and protestant groups.
If we consider orthodoxy we do find a different condition. Orthodox still continues to maintain the three fold order of bishops, priests and deacons which St. Ignatius described in the first century church. We have already seen that the primates of ancient churches preserve a continuity with the first bishops in those places. The orthodox churches also keep the most ancient practice of fasting on every Wednesday and Friday. They also continue to teach that in the Eucharist the elements of bread and wine are truly changed into the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the orthodox have never failed to believe that by baptism the believer is granted the remission of sins and new birth not in a symbolic but in a true manner and it is in orthodoxy that the spiritual practice of praying at regular hours through the day is still maintained by the faithful members of the church and even the kiss of peace is still offered within the liturgical worship of the orthodox churches as a sign and means of fellowship and reconciliation between the believers. We have only looked at the few aspects of the teachings of the earliest church but the deeper we investigate we will find that the greater the continuity between the early church and the orthodox churches. This is not accidental and neither is it irrelevant for the search of authentic Christianity. If all other groups can be shown to have started much later than the time of Christ and under the influence of particular religious thinkers then they should be rejected as not being in continuity with the apostolic church. If all other groups can be shown to have rejected the important and the significant aspects of the teaching and practice of the early church then they also should be rejected as not being in continuity with the apostolic church.
Orthodoxy would seem is the church which was founded by Christ and which was established by the apostles. This could only be denied if there was no historical continuity and if the orthodox churches of today have rejected the teachings of the early church. Clearly they have preserved the historical continuity and they have not rejected the apostolic teachings. These would seem to be the two very good reasons for considering orthodoxy. They require us to treat the early and apostolic church as the standard and measure for authentic Christianity and according to that measure only orthodoxy can be shown to have maintained a real continuity with the apostolic church. There are other reasons which will be discovered and considered in due course. For instance ‘who was it who gave us the bible ‘, ‘shouldn’t we trust the church that selected the writings which we treat as authoritative scripture’, and ‘how is it that orthodoxy have developed such a successful spirituality with its roots in the very earliest church’. But it is enough to ask for now in what way can a Christian group, can be considered authentically related to the apostolic church of Christ if it has no historical continuity and rejects those things which the apostolic church taught and practiced. And if orthodoxy does have such a dual continuity then surely more than all other Christian groups with recent and sometimes very recent origins should be considered with great seriousness as representing the authentic and apostolic church of Christ.”