Welcome to the Orthodox Christian Faith
Although we are one of the major religious groups in the world, we often find that we are not well understood by members of other faiths. The points below represent our response to some of the questions about us:
We are Orthodox Christians
Many people confuse us with Orthodox Jews, but the similarity of names is pure coincidental. Actually, Orthodox is a Greek word meaning “proper worship” and “right faith”.
You don’t have to be “Ethnic” to be Orthodox
Converts are welcome in our parishes, and a large proportion of the services are conducted in English.
Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox are the same religion
The Orthodox Church is actually a “family” of churches, consisting of many ethnic groups. Each ethnic group, however, makes use of the title “Greek” in their official title. The reasons being: 1.) It is the language of the New Testament; and 2.) The language of the Christian Faith for one thousand years, when it was one Church, was Greek. We have parishes that are Greek, Antiochian, Serbian, Ukrainian, Romanian, Albanian, etc., plus the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) which is historically Russian.
We are the Church experiencing growth
Our total membership is estimated at 250 million – and rapidly increasing, due to the religious revival in Eastern Europe. In California, and many other states, we are officially considered the fourth major faith.
We have been active in the Ecumenical Movement
As Orthodox, we feel we should do everything possible to promote Christian unity. At the same time, our adherence to Christian Tradition has sometimes made our participation difficult.
We are Catholic, but not Roman Catholic
Catholic is a Greek word that means “according to the whole.” We believe that we profess the Christian Faith in its fullness. We, therefore, are a Catholic Church. Catholic, in the sense of being “Universal,” is also attributed to Orthodox since all people may join. The Western Church (headed by Rome) was with us until 1054, when East and West split, primarily over increasing authority the Pope tried to assume.
We are Evangelical, but not Protestant
Evangelical comes from the Greek word meaning “Gospel.” We are very Gospel centered – in fact, a Gospel Book is always kept on our Holy Altar Table. But we are not Protestant, since we have never had a Reformation; our history goes back unbroken to the early Church found in the Book of Acts.
Our “Official Translation” of the Bible is the Original
The Orthodox Church is the only Church in Christendom that has read the New Testament in the original language since it was written. Some parts of it were actually written to churches in Greece (1 & 2 Corinthians and 1 & 2 Thessalonians).
We follow the Traditions of God, not of men
The Holy Bible itself could be described as “Tradition written down.” “Unwritten Tradition” has also been preserved in our Church, from the Apostles themselves. As St. Paul said, “…stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter” (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
We are Conservative, but not Fundamentalists
To properly interpret the Bible one must take the literal parts literally and the symbolic parts symbolically. Tradition is our guide for telling, which is which. Even the early Christians knew that Genesis and Revelation contain a lot of symbolic language.
Orthodox Church Buildings are Christian Temples
Like the early Christians, our religious practices are based on Old Testament sources, fulfilled in Christ. These include: synagogue worship; ceremonial meals (like the Last Supper); and the ritual of the Temple. Early Christian worship, as described in Revelation chapters 4 & 5, includes vestments, incense, bowing down in prayer, etc.
Our Icons (holy pictures) are not idols
Icon and idol are both Greek words – with very different meanings. An idol is literally an image of God that is “dreamed up” by human beings. By contrast, the Bible calls Christ Himself the “icon” or “image” of God seven times (example, Colossians 1:15).
Married men are ordained to the holy priesthood
Ever since New Testament times, most of our priests have had the choice to marry (See Titus 1:5-6). Priest is just a shortened form of the Greek word “Presbyter,” meaning “Elder.” We call them “father” as a natural term of respect for an elder in the Christian family (See 1 Corinthians 4:15-16).
Our Sunday Services are called the Divine Liturgy
A Liturgy is a service done by a liturgist (leitourgos) – in other words, a priest who leads his people in formal, “liturgical” worship. In New Testament Greek, Christ and St. Paul are each referred to as a “leitourgos” (Hebrews 8:1-2 & Romans 15:16). Our Liturgy is the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.
You are welcome to attend Orthodox Services
Visitors are frequently seen at our churches and they are welcome to come and experience Orthodox Christian worship with us. To receive Holy Communion one must be a baptized and/or chrismated Orthodox Christian, but at the end of the Liturgy, everyone is invited to join the faithful to receive blessed bread from the priest in token of Christian fellowship.
What is the Greek Orthodox Church?
In the beginning was the word. And the Word was God. The Saint Basil Greek Orthodox Church is testimony to that word. The first Church, the Orthodox Church, began with Christ and His apostles. From the beginning of the Christian era, the Orthodox Church has always existed, without interruption. Throughout the centuries the same teachings, the same principles, the same head have remained: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8). The Greek Orthodox Church of the Saint Basil is the “same congregation or ecclesia which was born at the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem on Pentecost. In many places already mentioned in the New Testament this congregation has remained the same throughout history. The Orthodox Church does not need to give proof of its historical authenticity; it is simply the direct continuation of the Church of the Apostolic Age.”
The word “Orthodox” means “right faith”, and the expression of that faith. Today, there are approximately 250-300 million Greek Orthodox Christians in the world. Although, the Church is called “Greek” Orthodox, the parishioners are not all of Greek descent. As all parishioners of the Roman Catholic Church are not Roman.
In the year 313 A.D., Emperor Constantine granted freedom of worship to all Christians to worship without fear of persecution. With this freedom came the problems of establishing the “Whole body of the One Christian Church”; the person of Christ; the Trinity; the Sacraments; Church structure; and the administration of Christ’s Church on earth.
In the year 325, the first Ecumenical Synod met in Nicaea. The Synod was formed of representatives from the Christian centers, the Patriarchates. They came from Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Constantinople. Seven meetings of the Ecumenical Synod over the years put forth the theology and dogma of the One, Holy Catholic, and Apostolic Church.
In the years that followed, Rome tried to enforce her rule on the Church. Politically, East and West could not agree; Intellectually, they could not communicate; Spiritually and Liturgically, they had grown apart.
In 1054, a representative of Pope Leo IX placed a Bull of Excommunication on the Altar of St. Sophia in Constantinople. The Eastern Patriarchates did the same to Rome. The schism was now complete; there were two Churches: The Greek Orthodox and the Roman Catholic.
Many differences divided the two Churches. Amongst them were the doctrine of the Infallibility of the Pope and the Doctrine of Purgatory; both of which the Orthodox Church reject! Several hundred years later, the Protestant Reformation took place, dividing the Roman Church. From that division came the other Christian denominations that exist today.
THE GREEK ORTHODOX CHURCH HAS REMAINED UNCHANGED!
We believe that Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church: The Savior of mankind, perfect Man and perfect God, Who offered Himself for the redemption of the human race and through His Resurrection, vanquished death and granted us life eternal. That through the Church and the Sacraments, man achieves eternal life with the Grace of the Holy Spirit, guiding, in its ever-presence, the life of the Church and her people.
THERE ARE SEVEN MYSTERIA (SACRAMENTS) IN ORTHODOXY:
The complete immersion in water three times in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – for the cleansing of sins and the beginning of a new life in Christ (Mt. 28:19-20).
The newly baptized servant is then confirmed into the Faith being anointed and sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-17, 19:2-7).
Receiving the precious Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. A rededication to a more Christian way of life (Mt. 26:26-28, Mk. 14:22-25, Lk. 22:19-20, 1 Cor.11:23-25).
The act of confessing one’s sins in repentance, thereby asking forgiveness from the Lord (Jn. 20:21-23, Mt. 16:19, 18:17-18, Acts 19:18)
Receiving the Grace of God through Holy Oil unto healing of body and soul (James 5:13-15).
The holy union of man and woman (Jn. 2:1-12, Eph. 5:22-32, 1 Cor. 7:14-39).
The ordaining by God, those men, wishing to serve the Lord as shepherds of His flock (1 Tim. 4:14, 2 Tim. 1:6, 10:17).
The foundation of these beliefs is based on Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition; Holy Tradition derived, not by custom, but rather through the teachings of the Church from the time of the Apostles to the decision of the Ecumenical Synods: The Greek Orthodox Church has not changed! It remains as it was, when there was but ONE CHRISTIAN CHURCH!
The Life of the Church
ABUNDANT LIFE. Each person in his daily life frequently senses the difference between existing and living. We want to live but often merely exist as we deal with self, others, job, marriage, family, problems, and responsibilities. Christ said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
Christ’s words were not spoken only for the future in His Kingdom, but also for our daily lives. Christ completed His redemptive work through His person, teachings, death, and resurrection. Those who believe in Him can now enjoy the fruits of new life – true communion with God through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Both the Holy Bible and Holy Tradition assure Orthodox Christians that the new life in Christ is possible for us now, that it is meant for ordinary Christians, and that it is a sure gift flowing from the saving work of Christ. The Apostles, Martyrs, Church Fathers, Saints, and countless Christians were empowered by this new life and testify to it as a dynamic reality which changed their lives.
How can this new abundant life become part of our daily existence?
Cooperation, Man and God! According to Orthodox teaching, authentic Christian life is a synergy, a cooperation, between man and God. Synergy does not of course, mean that God does half the work and man does half. Rather, it means that while God does all the saving work, man freely responds to God with his whole being.
For the majority of Orthodox Christians the response to God begins at infancy with Baptism. Through Holy Baptism each Orthodox Christian receives Christ and the Holy Spirit mystically. The response to God is first made by one’s parents and sponsor who acknowledge and pledge to Him, as it were: This young person is yours!
Afterwards, the goal of Christian life is to become aware of Christ and the Holy Spirit actively or consciously. As the baptized Christian grows from child to adult, and participates in the sacramental life of the Church, his personal response to God becomes crucial. Each Christian must personally re-affirm the baptismal pledge and himself say by free choice to Christ: Yes, I am yours! Spiritual renewal comes from this adult commitment to Christ, sharing in the Holy Eucharist, daily prayer, and sincere efforts to live the kind of life Christ lived and preached. A genuine response to God involves faith, repentance, and obedience.
FAITH is the acceptance of the Holy Gospel, that is, the acknowledgment of Christ as our Lord and Savior.
REPENTANCE is through conversion of the mind and heart to Christ, with sincere confession of sins, so that He may forgive them and reconcile us to God.
OBEDIENCE is the willing use of one’s total inner and outer resources toward the building up of a life worthy of Christ.
That we may stumble and fall does not so much matter because God lovingly forgives us and teaches us precious lessons through our shortcomings. What does matter is that we turn to Christ as often as we fall, tell Him everything about everything, trust Him for strength and guidance, and learn daily dependence on Him. As we keep our eyes on Him, and united with Him in prayer and sacrament, He renews our lives in the course of daily tasks and responsibilities by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Spiritual Renewal is ordinary Christian life in its fullness – through Baptism, Chrismation, the Eucharist, Confession, all the sacraments, corporate worship, daily prayer, study of God’s Word and the teaching of the Holy Fathers, and authentic Christian living in the world. For the Orthodox Christian spiritual renewal is not separate from the life of the Church. It is the life of the Church, effectively lived, in all its sacramental, catechetical, and pastoral ministries.
GROWTH IN CHRIST. If God has through Christ granted new life to the world, why do many Christians not experience it more tangibly? If Christians are promised a life of joy and victory in Christ, why are so many baptized believers leading spiritually defeated lives marked by dissatisfaction, fear and boredom, or even conflict, sin, and guilt?
There are several answers to these difficult questions. First, the new life in Christ involves growth. Various persons are at various stages. People are different, with different experiences and different spiritual struggles. But the same Spirit is given to all. The same Lord is Lord of all. Christian love does not permit comparisons, self-righteousness, and elitism. What is important is to hold on to the Orthodox Christian Faith, to share fully the life of the Church, and to continue to grow in the new life granted to us by God, each according to one’s gifts and capacities.
But secondly, we must also consider that a Christian may not have let Christ truly reign in his heart. A Christian adult may not have consciously acknowledged Christ with genuine repentance and loving obedience. In that case the believer is still self-centered, not Christ-centered; he remains inwardly unconverted, living on the basis of ego, rather than on the basis of baptismal grace. Another problem may be a particular unconfessed sin or the unwillingness to forgive someone who has wronged us.
In spiritual renewal Christ is the center of the Church and the believer. As we pray in the Liturgy, we must “commit ourselves and each other and our whole life to Christ our God”, entrusting ourselves to Him and placing our lives in His hands. At the core of our being, where thoughts and feelings are born, where motivations and decisions have their root, we must trust Christ. In this trust, we must let Him rule so that all we think, say, and do is according to His love, not according to our self-will. When we ask Him to come into our hearts, a personal relationship develops between Christ and the believer, as real as that between two good friends or a husband and wife. Spiritual renewal is a deeper knowledge of Christ Himself. As a Church Father has written: “For the believer Christ is all”.
Every Sunday the Orthodox Family observes the day of the Lord commemorating His Resurrection and triumph over death. The usual preparation takes place Saturday night when social affairs are avoided, so that parents and children may go to church together in the morning and worship the Lord in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. They arrive on time, not just at any moment of the Divine Liturgy, Doxology and the opening words of the Liturgy, “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and forever and unto the ages of ages”. Upon entering the church, they bow their heads in reverence before God and cross themselves as a sign that they are followers of the Crucified Lord, Jesus Christ. They light candles, venerate the icons of the Saints, and take their seats quietly.
In church, no one talks, for church is the place where God speaks to His children and they listen carefully. God speaks through the service, the readings of the Scriptures, the sermon, the icons, and the Sacrament itself, through which the gift of God is given to all faithful Orthodox Christians who are in attendance. This gift is the saving grace of the Holy Spirit which overshadows all present, united in prayer, in faith, love, and hope.
Those who neglect to attend commit a sin in that they neglect the commitment to Christ implied in being an Orthodox Christian, and hinder the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Only in church is the Gift imparted. Only in togetherness of prayer is the Body of the Church formed mystically and Christ the Head of the Body enlivens the faithful, the members of His body, by the grace of the Holy Spirit. He feeds them with the Sacrament of Holy Communion and strengthens the bond of their unity so that they may be inheritors of His Kingdom. For this reason the Fathers of the Church emphasize the importance of church attendance, and the frequent reception of Holy Communion. “The Divine Liturgy is truly a heavenly service on earth, in which God Himself, in a particular, immediate and most close manner is present and dwells with men, for He Himself is the invisible celebrant of the service; He is both the Offerer and the Offering. There is on earth nothing higher, greater, more holy, than the liturgy; nothing more solemn, nothing more life-giving” (Father John of Kronstadt).
Private prayers and devotions are prayers of enlightenment and guidance and must culminate in common prayer with the other faithful in church at the Divine Liturgy. Therefore, it is a sacred duty and responsibility of the Orthodox family to attend the Divine Liturgy every Sunday avoiding all other engagements and work. Private prayer is necessary, but incomplete without corporate prayer. Those who truly pray regularly in private feel very deeply the need of praying in church with others.
PREPARATION FOR HOLY COMMUNION
Every Sunday is a special day, it is the Lord’s Day. It is the day when we gather as a family to worship and celebrate Christ’s presence among us in the Holy Eucharist. It is when the Church as the people of God, the Body of Christ, is truly realized, and we become sacramentally what God intended us to be: united to Him in faith and love, and through Him, to one another. It is in love and faith and worship that we are truly members of the Church.
From this standpoint, one can more clearly see that a local parish lives up to its true task and is a most genuine expression of the Church when its activity and its life center on the heart of the matter, true membership, expressed in faith, love, and worship. This is the ideal which each parish, and each Orthodox Christian holds before him.
One very important way of striving toward this ideal is preparation for and partaking of Holy Communion, the purpose for which the Divine Liturgy is celebrated. In our churches everywhere this Sacrament as well as the Sacrament of Holy Confession or Penance, are always touchstones of personal and parish renewal.
Orthodox Christians receive Holy Communion no less than four (4) times a year; Christmas, Easter, the Feast of the Holy Apostles (June 29), and the Feast of the Falling Asleep of the Theotokos (August 15). In every Divine Liturgy, however, the faithful are expected to approach and receive the Lord. Christian Orthodox should approach the Holy Chalice and receive the precious Body and Blood of Christ as often as possible following proper preparation, not just three or four times a year (See Jn. 6:53-58, Mt. 26:26-28, 1 Cor. 11:17-34).
What of the preparation for Holy Communion? The best preparation is itself spiritual and has to do with our inner self, our soul and its disposition. Thinking that we are to take Communion is obviously the most important part, accompanied by a sincere effort to examine our life, its goals, values, aspirations, and characteristics. Where am I going? What are my values and priorities? What do I hold most dear? These are some of the questions one should ponder. How tremendous if parents would discuss some of the questions with their children!
Secondly, heartfelt prayer is an essential pre-requisite to preparing for Holy Communion. Nothing prepares the soul for receiving Christ as much as sincere prayer, asking God for His forgiveness and thanking Him for all the many blessings and gifts He bestows upon us. This is most effective when accompanied by a firm resolve to live a renewed Christian life.
Finally, there is fasting – meaningless without points one and two above. Fasting is both a means of self-discipline and a tangible reminder that one is indeed to receive Christ in Holy Communion. We have been taught many things about fasting. Unfortunately, many of our beliefs about fasting fall short of the true canonical practice of preparation for Holy Communion in that we forget that fasting and prayer must go hand in hand.
Each of us has been taught various things about “Fasting”. We have been told so many things that we tend to neglect everything we have been taught completely. The Orthodox Church, regarding man as a unity of soul and body, has always insisted that the body must be trained and disciplined, as well as, the soul. The Orthodox Christian understanding of fasting is based upon Holy Scripture.
We read in Genesis 2:15-3:24 that Adam and Eve were directed by the Lord God to fast from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They chose to disobey God and since they did not keep this simple fast, they were expelled from Paradise.
In the New Testament we see that Christ is the New Adam. In His earthly ministry, Christ set the example of fasting for all of us to follow. Christ experienced temptation and hunger, but He did not sin. He kept the fast! In Luke 5:33-35, we see how the Jewish leaders asked Christ why His disciples were not fasting. The Lord responded, “The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.” From this we learn that following His Passion, Christians would be expected to fast. In obedience to the Lord, this is why we fast!
People fast for different reasons. The most common fast can be considered “earthly”, rather than “spiritual”. People fast to lose weight or they fast for health reasons. Of course, these things also happen when one fasts, but these are not the spiritual reasons for fasting. The purpose of a spiritual fast is to overcome the passions. “A passion is anything that has control over us, be it over-eating, smoking, watching too much television, lustful thoughts, gossiping, etc., etc., etc. All of these things captivate the soul, subjecting the man created in the image and likeness of God to things that are earthly.” If one truly desires to overcome such passions, one must allow fasting and prayer to go hand in hand.
Another reason for fasting is to grow closer to God. The Orthodox living process called Theosis teaches us to be illumined and transfigured by God. We see this in the following passages from Holy Scripture: 1.) Exodus 24:18, Moses fasted for 40 days and stood in the presence of God and conversed with Him; 2.) In 3 Kings 19:8, Elias the Prophet also fasted 40 days before speaking with God on Mt. Horeb; 3.) Matthew 4:1-17, Jesus fasted 40 days and 40 nights and overcame the temptation of the devil before He began His public ministry; 4.) In Acts 10:10, Peter was in a state of hunger and fasting when he received a revelation from God; 5.) Acts 13:2 and 14:22, the Apostles received guidance from the Holy Spirit when they were fasting; and 6.) In Matthew 17:21, the Lord scolded His disciples for attempting to act in His name without prayer and fasting.
In the first century text entitled, “The Teaching of the Apostles”, or Didache, we find instruction for fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays. The Christian Orthodox faithful fasts on Wednesday, because Judas betrayed Christ on this day and Friday, because our Lord was crucified on that day. Whenever we act contrary to the Lord’s teachings, we too betray Him! St. Seraphim of Sarov said, “One who does not observe the fasts is not a Christian, no matter what he considers or calls himself.”
Fasting is also a necessity when preparing oneself for Holy Communion. One should not eat or drink anything from the time one goes to sleep the night before he plans to partake of the Holy Eucharist. By receiving Holy Communion, we literally receive God Himself, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life,…” (John 6:53-54) Upon partaking of Holy Communion we are illumined by divine grace and the actual presence of God within us transforms us — body and soul! Therefore, our preparation for Holy Communion is not only spiritual, involving the soul through repentance, Holy Confession, and prayer, but also physical by fasting.
Here are some common questions many ask about fasting:
“Besides Wednesdays (the day Judas betrayed Christ), and Fridays (the day of our Lord’s crucifixion), when are we supposed to fast?” There are four fast periods throughout the year: 1.) Great Lent; 2.) Apostles’ Fast, Monday after the week following Pentecost and ends on June 29, Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul; 3.) Dormition Fast, August 1-14; and 4.) Christmas Fast, which begins November 15 and ends Christmas Day. The fast before the great feasts is intended to familiarize us with the great events we celebrate and prepare us spiritually for the celebration of these events. During these fasts which have been established by the Church, all who are able to fast should fast, whether they are going to take Holy Communion or not!
“How do we fast?” The Holy Fathers of the Church teach that the best kind of fast is a simple fast. “Fasting has to always be tempered by obedience: one does not decide for himself how he will fast, but must always fast only with the blessing of his Spiritual Father.”
“What do we eat?” On fast days one may eat the normal number of meals or fewer meals but seldom do we do without food altogether. The thing we do is to change the types of food we eat. On fast days we abstain from meat or meat products, dairy products (eggs, milk, cheese, etc.), fish, all alcoholic beverages including wine, and oil. What one does eat is fruit and vegetables. When preparing food for fast days it should be simple rather than rich. This does not mean that the food should taste terrible, but it should not be a gourmet meal either. The reason for eating is to nourish the body and this should be remembered. The Fathers teach that we should always leave the table feeling a bit hungry since too much food removes the desire to pray.
Always remember to keep the spirit of the fast, not just the rules. On fast days we are to pray and reflect upon our lives and the stewardship we offer to God. Besides prayer, we must also practice almsgiving, i.e., helping those in need. In the book of Isaiah the Prophet, chapter 58:3-8, we are warned about proper fasting.
Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia, a professor at Oxford University and convert to the Orthodox Christian Faith, writes in his Introduction to the “Lenten Triodion”: “Here utmost care is needed, so as to preserve a proper balance between the outward and the inward . On the outward level, fasting involves physical abstinence from food and drink, and without such exterior abstinence a full and true fast cannot be kept; yet the rules about eating and drinking must never be treated as an end in themselves, for ascetic fasting has always an inward and unseen purpose. Man is a unity of body and soul, ‘a living creature fashioned from natures visible and invisible’ (Lenten Triodion: Vespers for Saturday of the Souls); and our ascetic fasting should therefore involve both of these natures at once. The tendency to over-emphasize external rules about food in a legalistic way, and the opposite tendency to scorn these rules as outdated and unnecessary, are both alike to be deplored.”
Let us remember the guidelines of fasting laid down by our Lord and Savior Jesus Himself, Who said: “And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-17).
Orthodoxy insists on a strict fast before Communion, and nothing can be eaten or drunk after the previous midnight. In cases of sickness or genuine necessity, a Father Confessor can grant dispensations from this communion fast. The night before receiving Holy Communion one should read the Communion prayers, retire early, avoiding social engagements. Before going to church, children ask their parents for forgiveness, and parents, likewise, ask forgiveness of their children. Whether preparing to receive Holy Communion or not, we should not eat or drink anything prior to attending the Divine Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy is our invitation to partake of the Lord’s banquet and we are to receive the Holy Gift, in other words, Holy Communion, or the “antidoron”, which means, “instead of the Gift”.
The Orthodox Church, regarding man as a unity of soul and body, has always insisted that the body must be trained and disciplined as well as the soul. “Fasting and self-control are the first virtue, the mother, the root, source, and foundation of all good.”
Fasting is not a set of dietary laws or legalistic requirements. Rather, fasting accompanied by prayer, is a spiritual aid which disciplines the body and soul and enables them to strive together to bring the whole person closer to God, especially during the preparation periods of the great feastdays of the Church.
The following are fast days and seasons:
1. The day before Epiphany – January 5.
2. The second Wednesday and Friday of the Triodion.
3. The last week before Great Lent, although dairy products may be eaten.
4. Great Lent.
5. Holy Week.
6. Holy Apostles Lent – Monday after the week following Pentecost through June 29. Since Pentecost is a moveable feastday of the Church this Lenten period may vary in time, refer to your Church Calendar.
7. Dormition of the Mother of God Lent – August 1 through August 14.
8. Beheading of St. John the Baptist – August 29.
9. Exaltation of the Holy Cross – September 14.
10. Christmas Lent – November 15 through December 24.
11. All Wednesdays and Fridays, except those noted below.
The following are fast days on which fish is allowed:
1. Annunciation Day – March 25. If, however, Annunciation Day does not come during Great Lent, then the day is completely fast-free.
2. Palm Sunday.
3. Transfiguration of our Lord – August 6.
The following days are completely fast-free:
1. The first week of the Triodion, including Wednesday and Friday.
2. Easter Week (Diakainisimos or Bright Week).
3. The week following Pentecost.
4. December 25 through January 4.
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CONFESSION – THE SACRAMENT OF PENANCE
Confession, the Sacrament of Holy Confession, has always been an integral part of preparing for Holy Communion in the Orthodox Christian Church. What is Confession basically? A public acknowledgment of one’s sinfulness and need of forgiveness. A tangible sign of God’s forgiveness in His Son, Jesus Christ. A reconciliation of man to God through forgiveness of sins that separate man from God. A sincere effort to examine our life, goals, values, priorities, and characteristics. Sincere prayer, asking God for His forgiveness and thanking Him for all the things He has given us, accompanied by a firm desire to live a renewed and changed Christian life. It can be tremendously uplifting and is a real foundation for spiritual growth and renewal (See Jn. 20:21-23, James 5:16).
Many ask: What shall I say in Confession? Confession is the most neglected Sacrament, simply because many do not understand it. Each of us is tempted to commit sins – to displease God and violate His commandments. What types of sins are there?
SINS AGAINST GOD: If I lose confidence, trust or hope in God. If I blaspheme, curse Him, mock Him, poke fun at Him. If I absent myself from the Divine Liturgy on Sunday without good reason. If I do not receive Holy Communion periodically.
SINS AGAINST MY FELLOW MAN: If I am jealous, envious, hateful, malicious, slanderous, vindictive, revengeful, or mean. If I criticize unjustly, ridicule, poke fun, take advantage of, insult, hurt, inflict harm, or gossip in any way.
SINS AGAINST MYSELF: If I lie, cheat, steal, or deceive. If I am unethical in my practices at home, school, or work. If I have impure thoughts in my mind. Acts of fornication and adultery. Pornography. Profanity. Pride and conceit.
Confession is not meant to humiliate nor shame a person, but to help him come closer to God. Sin keeps us away from Him.
Whatever is said in Confession remains there. The Priest nor the confessee repeat anything. Sins are parted with at the Foot of the Cross. The prayer of Absolution is recited and the burden of sin is lifted.
Express the sins which are suppressed in your heart and soul. Confess your sins and prepare yourself for Holy Communion, for prayer and for spiritual renewal and happiness.
In every Orthodox Christian home, the family dedicates a specific area for the family sanctuary. This is usually adorned with an Icon of Christ, the Mother of God, a Patron Saint, a Prayer Book, the Holy Bible, and a hand censer. It is here also that Holy Water from Epiphany is kept along with flowers received at Church. In this place the family is united in prayer led by the parents, who read from the Holy Bible and the Prayer Book. There, young and old, stand in prayer before the Icons with a vigil light burning as a symbol of sacrifice and of the warmth and vitality of their faith.
As with corporate prayer in church, as too in private devotions, the use of Icons, the vigil light, the reading from Holy Scripture, and the Prayer Book, are definite aids and means of providing and cultivating spiritual concentration and growth. “Personal prayer is possible only in the context of community. Nobody is a Christian by himself, but only as a member of the body. Even in solitude, ‘in the chamber’, the Christian prays as a member of the redeemed community, of the Church. And it is in the Church that he learns his devotional practice.”
SCRIPTURE AND RELIGIOUS BOOK READING
The Holy Bible is recognized by the Church as the supreme expression of God’s revelation to man, and Christians must always be “People of the Book”. But if Christians are People of the Book, the Bible is the Book of the People; it must not be regarded as something set up over the Church (that is why one should not separate Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition). Holy Tradition is the witness of the Spirit, and finds expression within the Church, through Scripture, the doctrinal definitions of the Ecumenical Synods, the writings of the Fathers of the Church, the Liturgy, the Canon Law of the Church, the lives of the Saints, Icons, and through the Liturgical sources of Christian spirituality.
The Bible and religious books of devotional character recognized by the Church as Orthodox and conducive to piety, are highly recommended to be read and kept in the Orthodox home for study and guidance. Consulting the Parish Priest for Orthodox reading materials is advised when in doubt.
RELIGIOUS EDUCATION AND EXAMPLE
It is the sacred duty and responsibility of all Christian parents to see that their children receive proper religious training and instruction, so that they might know and live their Faith to the fullest, knowing and living according to the commandments and teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ. Neglect of this responsibility on the part of parents can have serious consequences for the spiritual and moral growth and development of their children. All the efforts of the Church for a more complete and integrated religious education program will be incomplete and frustrating without the full and sincere cooperation of all Orthodox parents.
Orthodox Christian parents should teach their children primarily by their own example. They should go to Church together as a family. They should participate regularly with their children in the Sacraments of Holy Confession and Holy Communion. They should attend church meetings and religious educational lectures and discussions, and not just demand that their children go to Sunday Church School and participate in religious education programs provided by the local parish. They should work for the Church unselfishly and with true Christian regard and understanding, their only purpose being the spiritual growth and betterment of the parish, themselves, and their families. They should give unselfishly and sacrificially for the material support of the Church, contributing without judging others who contribute either little or nothing. They should set the proper example and provide the proper environment for the spiritual growth of their children, by manifesting Christ’s teachings in their home. They should know that in their family, where Christ reigns, understanding and Christian love are to be practiced.
Criticism of others and gossip about others is out of place, and contrary to the spirit of Christ, and the peace of the parish community and family. When in the company or presence of children, people dare to criticize others who are absent or speak against religion, the Clergy, the Church in general. Christian parents and all pious Orthodox people should protest and remind the people who gossip to practice self-examination and understanding. Before condemning religion and the Church, one must try to gain acquaintance with Christ and to live the ideals and teachings of his religion, then speak. Usually ignorance and half-knowledge and intolerance are responsible for the condemnation of religion and the Church.
THE EUCHARISTIC BREAD AND ARTOKLASIA
The loaf of bread which is used in church for the Divine Liturgy is called the “Eucharistic Bread”, or “Prosforon” in Greek. It is made of pure flour and yeast, and is imprinted with the seal bearing the inscription “Jesus Christ Conquers”, IC XC NI KA. The prosforon is brought to church together with wine and the family Diptych which contains the names of the living and deceased members of the family which the priest commemorates during the Office of Preparation or “Proskomide”, when he prepares the Eucharistic Bread for the Divine Liturgy.
The Orthodox Christian family also prepares the Five Loaves of special bread for the Artoklasia Service, usually offered at the conclusion of Great Vespers or the Divine Liturgy. This service, a remnant of the Supper of Love in the Ancient Church, is a reminder of the miracle of the feeding of the Five Thousand with five loaves of bread (Mark 6:38-44), and a thanksgiving for the virtuous lives of the Saints, their martyrdom, zeal, and love for Christ. During the service, the priest offers prayers for the enlightenment and salvation of those who prepared and offered the loaves, and of all the faithful present. This service is usually performed on the Name Day of a church or for a special feastday or occasion.
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PRAYERS FOR THE NEW BORN
Upon the birth of a child, the parish priest should be invited to the home or hospital to offer prayers for the mother and child. It is the responsibility of the father or the grandparents to notify the priest at the time of birth. Your parish priest depends upon your courtesy so that he may make the proper visitation. On the fortieth day after birth, the parents brings the child to church where the priest conducts the service of “40-Day Blessing” or “Sarantismos” for the mother and child.
“The ritual of the ‘churching’ of women after childbirth has its origin in the early Middle Ages. This was the time when the liturgical life of the Church was beginning to expand and develop in imitation of the Biblical patterns. The “Church” must not be understood in an antiquated way (from the Old Testament) in the sense of a legalistic practice. (For further Old Testament knowledge, read the Book of Leviticus, Chapter 12). Rather, the ceremony of churching marks the time when the mother, having recovered physically and emotionally from the birth of her child, and having re-ordered her life around the child’s care, will resume her life in the community of the Church again. She comes to the church with her child (and accompanied by her husband) to offer her thanksgiving for her child, and coming in contact with the life-giving glory of God, she asks for the forgiveness of her sins, despite her human weakness, so that she may be `worthy to partake, uncondemned, of the Holy Mysteries,’ (that is Holy Communion) once again.
This ceremony, in imitation of the Old Testament ceremony to which the Mother of God submitted, was done on the fortieth day after the child’s birth, but may also take place as close to the fortieth day as possible. Some request that this take place prematurely to facilitate their personal needs and desire to attend social engagements. God in His wisdom ordained that a period of six weeks lapse following childbirth before the mother resumes her life. Good advice is not to hasten this process.
During the churching, the priest, in imitation of the elder Simeon (Luke, Chapter 2), takes the child up to the sanctuary, making the sign of the Cross with it and reciting the prayer of St. Simeon (Luke 2:28-32). Again, inspired by the example of Simeon’s encounter with the infant Messiah, for each child has the potential to be great in the sight of the Lord, the act of churching recognizes this and also serves, as with the mother, to introduce the child to the community of faith.”
On the day of churching, the parents and the child are invited to wait in the narthex of the church where they will be greeted by the priest. This takes place after the antidoron has been distributed following the Divine Liturgy. A call to the church office will help things run smoothly.
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In the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, a person is incorporated into the crucified, resurrected, and glorified Christ and is reborn to participate in the divine life. Baptism is necessary for salvation (Mark 16:15-16) and in accordance with Holy Tradition, must be performed by triple immersion in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:18-20), according to the rubrics in the Prayer Book. It is conferred only once.
1.) Both parents, if Orthodox, must be members in good standing. This means that both parents, if Orthodox, must be current in their Stewardship Commitment to the parish (Exceptions made only by the parish priest).
2.) A person who wishes to sponsor a candidate for Baptism and/or Chrismation in the Church must be an Orthodox Christian who is in good ecclesiastical standing with the Orthodox Church. A person who has been excommunicated or anathematized by the Church or who, if married, has married outside the Orthodox Church may not become a godparent.
3.) If the sponsor is from another Orthodox parish, a Certificate of Good Standing is required from the priest. This certificate must be presented to the priest prior to the Baptism.
4.) The role of the Sponsor is directly related to infant baptism. Since the infant is unable to make the necessary confession of Faith, the Sponsor stands and accepts the responsibility.
5.) The Sponsor should be ready to recite the Nicene Creed either Greek or English. For three consecutive Sundays after the baptism, the Sponsor should carry the neophyte to the Holy Altar to receive Holy Communion.
6.) According to the Holy Tradition of the Orthodox Church ONE name of Orthodox Christian origin should be given to the child at the time of baptism.
7.) The day, time, and other arrangements must be made with the parish priest by calling the Church Office at least one month before the baptism.
8.) To insure the proper dignity and solemnity of your child’s baptism, anyone desiring to take pictures must consult the parish priest at least one half hour before the sacrament.
9.) The sponsor should provide:
a.) Complete change of clothes (white) for the child (including a new undershirt);
b.) Bottle of Pure Olive Oil;
c.) Gold Cross for child;
d.) Three white candles;
e.) One bar of soap;
f.) One white hand towel;
g.) One white bath towel;
h.) One white twin sheet (unfitted);
i.) Martyrika (optional).
NOTE: In case of adult baptism, the priest should be consulted for items needed.
10.) Clinical Baptisms
a.) In the event of an unbaptized infant near death an Orthodox priest must be called for a clinical baptism.
b.) In the absence of an Orthodox clergyman, an Orthodox Christian layman, or any other Christian, may baptize the infant by the sprinkling of water, repeating the baptismal formula, “The servant of God (name), is baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”.
11.) Converts – When receiving into the Orthodox person a person who comes voluntarily from another confession, the Orthodox priest will accept the candidate by means of whichever of the three mode prescribed by the Sixth Ecumenical Synod (Canon 95) is appropriate:
a.) Baptism in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit by triple immersion;
c.) Confession of Faith.
Proof of the baptism must be established by an authentic document. The priest must undertake to instruct the applicant in matters of the Faith and practices that govern the inner life and outward behavior of the Orthodox Christian. If the applicant has not been baptized in the Name of the Holy Trinity in a Christian Church by the principle of “oikonomia”, he or she must be baptized as prescribed in the Prayer Book.
12.) If the parish priest is expected to attend the reception, a formal invitation must be sent as is done in the case of other guests.
Baptisms may not be performed on the following days unless it is absolutely necessary and permission is obtained from the Bishop of the Diocese of San Francisco:
1.) December 25 – January 6;
2.) Holy Week;
3.) Major Feast Days.
For the sacramental union of a man and a woman to be proper in the eyes of the Church, the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony must be performed in the Orthodox Church. For such an ecclesiastical marriage to be valid, the following must be adhered to:
1.) No impediment to marriage may exist.
2.) A civil marriage license must be obtained from civil authorities and presented to the parish priest prior to the wedding.
3.) An ecclesiastical marriage license must be obtained from the Diocese Department of Registry authorizing the priest to perform the sacrament.
4.) At least three pre-marital meetings must take place with the parish priest before the wedding.
5.) The sacrament of marriage must be celebrated by an Orthodox priest according to the liturgical tradition of the Church.
6.) The priest must belong to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. A marriage performed by a priest of another Orthodox jurisdiction in communion with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese is also recognized as valid by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese.
7.) Before requesting permission from the Bishop for the marriage the priest must verify:
a.) that the parties in question are not already married either in this country or elsewhere;
b.) that the party or parties who are members of another parish obtain a certificate of membership from the parish to which they belong;
c.) that if either or both parties are widowed, that he or she present the death certificate of the deceased spouse;
d.) and that if either or both of the parties have been divorced and/or have remarried, whether or not the remarriage was recognized by the Church, that they present the appropriate certificates.
8.) No more than a total of three marriages will be allowed by the Church.
9.) When one or both of the parties are divorced, they must obtain an ecclesiastical divorce as well in order to marry again in the Church.
10.) In the case of a mixed marriage, the non-Orthodox partner must be a Christian who has been baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity. A marriage cannot take place in the Orthodox Church between an Orthodox Christian and a non-Christian.
11.) In the case of mixed marriages between an Orthodox Christian and a non-Orthodox Christian, the marriage must be celebrated by an Orthodox priest in the Orthodox Church according to the Orthodox tradition.
12.) The Sponsor (Koumbaros or Koumbara) must be an Orthodox Christian in good standing with the Church. A person who does not belong to a parish, or who belongs to a parish which is not in communion with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, or who if married, is not married in the Orthodox Church cannot be a Sponsor. Non-Orthodox persons may be members of the rest of the wedding party.
13.) Invitations are not to be printed until the date and time are cleared by the parish priest.
14.) If the bride and/or groom have come from Greece after their 16th birthday, they must present, when they apply for their church license, a Certificate of Eligibility for Marriage from the Bishop of their town or province in Greece.
15.) To insure the proper dignity and solemnity of your wedding ceremony, pictures/videos can only be taken if the photographer/videographer speaks with the parish priest at least one half hour prior to the wedding.
16.) Should you desire the services of the church organist, arrangements may be made with the organist by first contacting the Church Office to obtain the names and telephone numbers.
17.) The singing or playing of Orthodox or non-Orthodox hymns and other secular songs before or after the service must be cleared through the parish priest.
18.) If the priest is expected to attend the reception, a formal invitation must be sent as is done in the case of other guests.
19.) If a guest priest is to be invited to participate in the service, it must first be approved of by the parish priest.
20.) If the bride is under 18 years of age, and if the groom is under 21 years of age, a letter of consent from the parents must be presented at the time they apply for the Ecclesiastical Marriage License.
The following are necessary for the ceremony:
1.) Rings for the bride and groom.
2.) Stefana (crowns).
3.) 2 white candles.
Days when marriage is not permitted:
1.) January 5-6
2.) Great Lent and Holy Week
3.) August 1-15
4.) August 29 (Beheading of St. John the Baptist)
5.) September 14 (Elevation of the Holy Cross)
6.) December 13-25
7.) The day before feast days and all Holy Days of our Lord.
NOTE: Exceptions to the above can only be made by special permission of the Bishop of the Diocese.
It is a fact that the more things a couple holds in common, the more likely it will be that they live their married lives in peace and harmony. Shared faith and traditions spare the newlyweds and their children many serious problems and strengthen the bonds between them. However, the Orthodox Church blesses inter-faith marriages under the following conditions:
1.) The non-Orthodox partner must be a Christian who has been baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity.
2.) The couple should be willing to baptize their children in the Orthodox Church and nurture them in accordance with the Orthodox Christian Faith.
If these conditions are not met, then the Orthodox Church shall not solemnize the wedding. In such a case it is possible for the couple to marry outside the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox partner, however, should then bear in mind that a married Orthodox Christian whose wedding has not been blessed by the Orthodox Church is no longer in good ecclesiastical standing with the Church and consequently does not have the right to receive the sacraments of the Church, including Holy Communion, or to become a sponsor at an Orthodox wedding, baptism, or chrismation. An Orthodox Christian who has been married outside the Church and who wishes to be reconciled to the Church, is encouraged to request from his or her local Orthodox priest that his or her marriage be blessed in the Orthodox Church.
A non-Orthodox Christian who marries an Orthodox Christian does not automatically become a member of the Church, and is therefore not permitted to receive Holy Communion or other sacraments of the Church or a Church funeral. These are privileges of the baptized or chrismated members of the Church.
First Group: Parents with their own children, grandchildren, or great grandchildren.
Second Group: Brothers-in-law with sisters-in-law.
Third Group: Uncles and Aunts with nieces and nephews.
Fourth Group: First cousins with each other.
Fifth Group: Foster parents with foster children or foster children with the children of foster parents.
Sixth Group: Godparents with godchildren or godparents with the parents of godchildren. The child of the godparents with the godchildren. The baptized child with any of the other baptized children of the godparents.
An ecclesiastical divorce may be granted after a civil decree has been given. However, the parish priest must exert every effort to reconcile the couple and avert a divorce. Should the priest fail to bring reconciliation, he will transmit the petition of the party seeking the ecclesiastical divorce to the Spiritual Court of the Diocese. The following items must be submitted by the petitioner along with those required by the parish priest:
1.) An original Church marriage certificate.
2.) A copy of the civil decree of divorce.
3.) A signed petition to the Spiritual Court stating the grounds of divorce.
4.) A money order for the amount payable to the Diocese for processing costs.
5.) The Stewardship Commitment must be met.
These, along with the report of the parish priest on the results of his efforts to reconcile the couple, are then submitted to the Spiritual Court of the Diocese. Upon receipt of the necessary papers, both parties are asked to appear before the Spiritual Court, at a place and date set by the Spiritual Court. Failure to appear may result in the postponement of the hearing. If the Court finds sufficient grounds for divorce it will issue the Ecclesiastical Decree of Divorce. The only ten valid grounds for an ecclesiastical divorce are:
1.) Evidence of force or coercion to marry, i.e. threat, blackmail, extortion, etc.
2.) Adultery or sexual perversion.
3.) Psychotic tendencies (maniacal tendencies, schizophrenia, etc.).
4.) Acts or threats against the physical well-being or life of the spouse.
5.) Lifetime sentence or incarceration of the spouse for more than seven years.
6.) Leaving the domicile for more than three years without the consent of the spouse, i.e. for purposes of travel, business, etc.
7.) Desertion or abandonment of the domicile by the spouse for more than three years.
8.) Coercing the wife to commit immoral acts of adultery.
9.) Denial of conjugal rights or impotence.
10.) Alcoholism, gambling, or squandering one’s material resources at the expense of the family’s well-being.
Funeral Services n the church building are conducted for those who are Orthodox Christians in good ecclesiastical standing with the Church. In other words, only those who have been baptized and/or chrismated in the Orthodox Church, and have had their marriage blessed in the Church are eligible for an Orthodox funeral service in the church building. If there is a question, please contact the parish priest. Should there be a death in the family the following steps should be taken:
1.) Immediately notify the family doctor or the County Medical Examiner (County Coroner) if the death occurred at home so he may examine the deceased and sign the death certificate. The body may not be removed otherwise.
2.) Call the funeral director of your choice.
3.) Inform the parish priest.
The Church has no objection to autopsies for the sake of determining the cause of death or to further medical science, or to the donation of any body organs (eyes, heart, etc.) for transplants. However, because the human body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit, the Orthodox Church insists that those who perform autopsies accord the utmost respect for the body. Arrangements for the funeral service must be made with the priest in conjunction with the funeral director. No funerals are allowed on Sunday, the day of the Resurrection of our Lord.
Some families prefer Memorial Donations to flowers. Such being the case, special envelopes are available to the funeral director and family at the Church Office or in the Narthex of the church. Acknowledgments to the donors are made by the church and a list sent to the family.
In the event of suicide, funeral rites are usually not accorded the deceased, unless the family acquires a letter from the family physician stating the deceased was under treatment for psychotic or emotional disorders. The Church believes that no one is permitted to take the life of another, especially the life of oneself. Suicide is murder and consequently a grave sin. Committing suicide signifies a loss of patience, hope, and faith in God. A person of faith does not lose hope, no matter how great the difficulties he or she faces. If there is a question, the parish priest should be contacted.
Various Christian groups, instead of burial, prefer the cremation of the dead, which was customary among many ancient peoples. The Orthodox Church, however, mindful of the fact that the human body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit and inspired by the affection toward her departed children refuses to deliberately destroy the body, and has adopted the burial of the dead, as it appears in the Catacombs, and in the graves of the Martyrs and Saints. Cremation, therefore, is contrary to the faith and tradition of our Church and is forbidden to Orthodox Christians. A Church funeral is denied to a person who has been or will be cremated.
MEMORIALS FOR THE DEAD
In God and His Church there is no division between the living and the departed, but all are one in the love of the Father. Whether we are alive or whether we are dead, as members of the Church we still belong to the same family, and still have a duty to bear one another’s burdens. Therefore, just as Orthodox Christians here on earth pray for one another, and ask for one another’s prayers, so they pray also for the faithful departed, and ask the faithful departed to pray for them. Death cannot sever the bond of mutual love which links the members of the Church together.
According to the teachings of the Church, the results of the Resurrection are placed in the realm of the future. Nevertheless, its initial meaning is revealed in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, for in Baptism we both die and rise, or rather we are initiated into the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Romans 6:3-11). The finality and power of death is destroyed, for Christ has, by His Resurrection destroyed its power. On the last day, the bodies of all the dead in Christ will rise in their glorified form (1 Corinthians 15:43). The glorified body and the soul will compose again their indestructible unity, as Christ, the God-man, both before and after His Resurrection, was and is an indivisible unity. We mourn the death of our loved ones, but we pray that they will find rest and forgiveness in Christ. Ours is the duty to pray for the repose of all members of the Body of Christ. As tokens of the immortality of the soul, boiled wheat (Kolyva) is prepared and brought to church for the Memorial Service (Mnimosinon), at which prayers for the repose of the souls of those departed are offered (John 12:24). Memorials are offered the fortieth day after death, and on the first anniversary of one’s death, and once a year thereafter, if the family wishes. Memorials are also chanted on the two Saturdays before the beginning of Great Lent, the first Saturday of Great Lent, and on the Saturday before the Sunday of Pentecost. These particular Saturdays, called Saturdays of the Soul or Psychosavvata, are set aside for the commemoration of all departed Orthodox Christians, and their salvation. Memorial Services may not be held on the following days:
1.) From the Saturday of Lazarus through the Sunday of St. Thomas.
2.) All the Feastdays of our Lord.
3.) August 15.
In accordance with the teachings of the Orthodox Christian Church, our spiritual and physical illnesses are usually interconnected and interrelated. When we transgress the laws of morality the feelings of guilt, anxiety, fear, apprehension, worry, anger, etc. may cause physical illness. Many times illnesses brought on by this may also bring about emotional disorders, even despair, which trouble one’s faith and trust in God. Thus, it is necessary that one confront these conditions through spiritual means of grace which awaken the need of the ill person to seek repentance and regain spiritual peace with God and oneself.
As a result of this renewed feeling of wholeness and forgiveness the malady is either cured, in a spiritual aspect, through the sacramental effect of grace and, in its physical aspect, through the use of the physical means of the medical sciences. Should the illness remain uncured, there develops the awareness of patience, trust, hope, and love for God, to be led to a peaceful end to the earthly life.
It is for this reason that the Sacrament of Holy Unction is celebrated. Yearly, on Wednesday of Holy Week, everyone in the parish in good ecclesiastical standing may be anointed with the Holy Oil for the healing of spiritual and bodily ills. This Holy Sacrament may also be celebrated any time of the year in case of serious illness by calling the priest (See James 5:13-15).
The Sacrament of Holy Unction is not intended to spare anyone from death but to lead to physical healing which depends on the all-wisdom and love of God; i.e. on His judgment as to whether the healing from illness and the postponement of the time of death, or the passing to the heavenly life, is to the best interest of the faithful.
In the latter part of the 8th century St. Theophylactos wrote: “This Holy Oil is very beneficial for those in travail; it brings about illumination and tranquillity; it signifies the mercy of God and the grace of the Holy Spirit, through which we are relieved of all burdens and receive spiritual joy and tranquillity.” As this is one of the seven sacraments of the Orthodox Church, it may be administered only to Orthodox Christians – same criteria as for Holy Communion.
BLESSING OF THE WATERS
The Blessing of the Waters (Agiasmos) is a most special way of bringing Christ into our lives. In accordance with Orthodox Christian practices, the priest may be contacted to bless your home during the season of the Epiphany (January 6). The priest should also be invited to bless your home when you move into a new house or open a new business.
“Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;…for I was sick and you visited me…” (Matthew 25:31-46). When a member of the parish is ill and has been admitted to the hospital, the immediate family of the ill person should contact the parish priest as soon as possible. The priest cannot rely on the hospitals or members of the parish to inform him and it is the responsibility and duty of the immediate family to do so.
THE SIGN OF THE CROSS
The Orthodox Christian often crosses himself, inscribes the sign of the Cross on his body. This devotional act is as ancient as the Church and may be considered: a.) a confession of faith in the Holy Trinity; b.) a silent declaration of faith in Christ as the Savior and Redeemer of mankind; c.) as a prayer.
It is a confession of faith in the Holy Trinity because as we cross ourselves we say: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
It is a prayer, because by inscribing it on our bodies we bring to mind the fact of the Crucifixion of Christ from which springs up the power of salvation.
The Orthodox Christian makes the sign of the Cross to begin and end his private devotions, when he enters the church, venerates the icons, the Holy Gospel, or the Holy Cross. He makes the sign of the Cross when the name of the Holy Trinity, the Mother of God, and the Saints is pronounced during the Divine Liturgy or any Divine Service. Finally, he makes the sign of the Cross at prayers before and after meals, and at any appropriate time as an act of piety.
St. Kosmas Aitolos, concerning the sign of the Cross, writes the following: Listen, my brethren, how the sign of the Cross is made and what it means. First, just as the Holy Trinity is glorified in heaven by the angels, so should you join your three fingers of your right hand. And being unable to ascend into heaven to worship, raise your hand to your head (because the head means heaven) and say: “Just as the angels glorify the Holy Trinity in heaven, so do I, as a servant glorify and worship the Holy Trinity. And as the fingers are three separate, and are together, so is the Holy Trinity three persons but one God.” Lowering your hand to your stomach, say: “I worship you and adore you, my Lord, because you condescended and took on flesh in the womb of the Theotokos for my sins.” Place your hand on your right should and say: “I beg you, my God, to forgive me and to put me on your right with the just.” Placing your hand again on your left should say: “I beg you, my Lord, do not put me on the left with the sinners.” This is what the Cross means.
RESPECT FOR THE CLERGY
The Orthodox Christian respects and loves the clergy. Knowing that the clergy are servants of God and man, devoting their life for the salvation of their flock, the Orthodox Christian expresses his gratitude and respect to them on every occasion.
First, the Priest is addressed as “Father” by all, for he is the spiritual father of his flock; he is their teacher, confessor, sanctifier, and healer. There are people that belong to Christian denominations that do not call their clergy, “Father”. But let us consider the words of St. Paul, “For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel” (1 Corinthians 4:15). When we also read the gospel according to St. Luke, we find the rich man calling up to Abraham in heaven with Lazarus in his bosom and addressing him as “Father Abraham” (See Luke 16:20-31). Abraham’s response was not, “Do you not realize that only God the Father is to be called Father?” Rather, he replied, “Son, remember”.
Second, when people greet their Priest they kiss his hand as an expression of respect, as recognition of his Priesthood, and as a veneration to the holiness of his sacred office and duties.
The fact that the Priest handles the Holy of Holies, that is, the Body and Blood of Christ, when he offers the Divine Liturgy, is recognized by Orthodox people, at all time throughout the world, as a great and awesome privilege.
The hands that touch and offer the Bloodless Sacrifice on the Holy Altar; the hands that give to us the Body and Blood of Christ; the hands that baptize and anoint us with Holy Chrism; the hands that absolve us in the Sacrament of Penance; the hands that bless our wedlock in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony and anoint our bodies with the healing oil of the Sacrament of Holy Unction; the hands that sprinkle upon us the Holy Water of Sanctification; the hands that bless us, alive and dead, these hands are the instruments of salvation. For this reason Orthodox Christians through the centuries have kissed the hand of our Priest when we greet him either in church when he distributes the “Antidoron” at the end of the Divine Liturgy or outside the church whenever we meet him.
We close these remarks with the words of St. Paul: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their life and imitate their faith; Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings. Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give an account. Let them do this joyfully, and not sadly, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:7-9, 13, 17).
Some straight answers about the Orthodox Church
by Fr. Justin
Why haven’t I heard of the Orthodox Church before?
Beats me! It’s been around since the day of Pentecost. You probably haven’t heard about it because we are a conservative Church that sounds no trumpets in our social programs but rather attempts to lead individuals, each in his or her own circumstances, into communion with God, the very purpose for which the Church exists. Believe it or not, there are perhaps three million of us in North America, and at least 150 million throughout the world.
Are you like the Catholics or the Protestants?
Well, the Orthodox Church is “catholic” in the fullest meaning of the word: “whole and not confined.” But some 500 years before the reformation split western Europe into Protestant and Roman Catholic, Orthodox Christians protested against the Pope of Rome and his attempts to become supreme over the Church in the 11th century, as well as some doctrinal innovations. The Orthodox Church remains unchanged in doctrine and faith since the early Church of the Apostles (yes, we’ve been around that long.)
That’s a pretty bold claim, isn’t it?
It is a bold statement, but when you consider that Jesus Christ promised that he would found His Church and that it would endure unchanged in faith and practice, the gates of hell not prevailing until he came again, it’s altogether refreshing (and confirms one’s faith!)
Do you believe in the Bible?
No. We believe in God! We do, however, believe the Bible to be God’s inspired word a part of the Tradition of the Church. (II Thessalonians, 2:15) In fact, it was the Church which gave us the Bible as we know it today! (You didn’t think it just fell from heaven as we have it, did you?)
Why should I come to the Orthodox Church or any church for that matter?
Why should you go to work or school, “for that matter”? It is totally natural! As a child of God you must worship him in some way, somehow, with your Christian brothers and sisters. This is a scriptural teaching. The Orthodox Church offers the most meaningful and rich expression of faith and worship there is (you’d have to see it to believe it)! Why settle for less? (Another bold statement, right?)
I thought you had to be Greek or Russian to be Orthodox?
Come on, did you really believe that? the Orthodox Church is not a country club! The Kingdom of Heaven is “equal opportunity”. You are welcome regardless of where your ancestors came from. You are also welcome to bring with you your national customs and culture. Just keep the Gospel of Jesus Christ first and foremost. The Orthodox Church adopts the culture and language of the country she finds herself in.
Do you have to confess your sins to a priest?
No. You confess your sins to God in the presence of a priest who will help you overcome them and proclaim God’s forgiveness, as promised in Holy Scripture. If you choose, you may confess to the entire congregation, following the practice of the early Church. (Admitting that you have sins is the beginning of repentance – that’s half the battle already!)
If I joined your Church, would I have to come to every service?
The only things we have to do in this world are to pay taxes and die! Coming to Church will give you a deduction for the former and prepare you for the latter. You come because you want to come, whenever there is a service. Shotgun Christians are doubters of their own faith. No one forces you. Your attendance and participation is your natural response to God’s place in your personal spiritual life, as well as a testimony to faith in His existence in His Body, the Church and Community of Believers.
How long is one of your service?
Not long enough for those striving for spiritual growth and renewal. In minutes, the Divine Liturgy (such as our service on the Sabbath and Lord’s Days) is a bit longer than an episode of General Hospital (but without the corruption and commercials!)
What does it cost to be a member of the Orthodox Church?
It costs you your life!
No, I mean in dollars and cents!
It costs you all that you have!
You must be joking!
No, it’s the truth. When you commit yourself to Jesus Christ and His Church, you will come to understand that everything you possess is a gift from Him to be used for His glory. For example, if you are living as best you can according to Jesus Christ’s teachings, your life is giving glory to God. Then even your grocery bill for the food which sustains and nourishes your life, is a contribution to the glory of God. This is the Orthodox understanding of the term “stewardship”.
Come on now, how much are “the dues”?
Okay, enough theology! The scriptural ideal is 10% (a tithe) of your gross income. But unless you submit last year’s tax return, no one would know how much you earn. You give as much as you can conscientiously, on a regular basis but not because God “needs” the money. Man does have a need, however, to give – we know that from our day-to-day experience (particularly as Christians).
All right, now on to your worship. I was told that the Orthodox worship pictures. Isn’t that against the Commandments?
Sorry, you were told wrong! The Holy Icons (“pictures”) are honored as reminders of the Glory and Presence of God, and venerated as such. ONLY God, the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are due worship. (How can the Church practice that is so contrary to God’s Law?) That is one reason you will find no statues in Orthodox temples – their inclusion in our tradition never developed as that too closely resembled the pagan piety of the early days of our Church, during the time of the Apostles. But icons, rather than attempting to depict reality, point to the Kingdom of God. They are often referred to as “picture windows to Heaven”. In other words, you will not only hear the Gospel in an Orthodox Church, you will see it! The icons act as “tools” in our spiritual worship and witness to the sanctification of all creation and matter that occurred when Christ Jesus, the Son of God, took on human flesh. The Divine/Human Person of Jesus became the living icon of God (John 10:30; 14:6-11) in the flesh.
You keep mentioning “The Church” over and over again. Why?
Basically, Jesus Christ did not come to establish such a thing as “Christianity”. Even the word is not in the Holy Scriptures. What Christ Jesus did do was to establish the Church, which Scripture calls both His Body and His Bride. the communion which man seeks with God is found by being part of the Church, something which St. Paul calls a “great mystery”, whereby we become members of Christ: “of His flesh, and of His bones.” (Ephesians 5:30) The Bible also tells us that such as were being saved were added to the Church (Acts 2:47). They were not merely making “decisions for Christ” — again, not a Scriptural term — but they were repenting, being baptized for the remission of their sins, and being added to the Church. (Acts 2:38 ff.) There, they were continuing steadfastly in the Apostle’s doctrine and fellowship, the Breaking of Bread (what is commonly called Holy Communion today), and prayer. Finally, from the day of Pentecost, the “birthday” of the Church, the Bible never speaks of Christians who were not a part of it. This sort of sums up why we speak so much of “The Church”.
All Glory Be To God