Again we pray for the suffering people of Oklahoma: for the families, friends and communities enduring bitter sorrow and tragic loss as a result of devastating tornadoes: for the wounded and the grieving; for those working in relief and recovery efforts; that the Lord Our God will look upon them with mercy and will heal, comfort, strengthen and shelter them in His love.
Again we pray to Thee, O Lord and God, for the repose of the precious souls departed this life from the devastating storms; specially those whose earthly sojourns have ended suddenly, without repentance; embrace Thy children in mercy and love, O Lord, and give them rest where all sickness, sorrow and sighing have passed away.
As survivors sift through the devastation left behind by tornadoes that ripped through Oklahoma City and claimed the lives of 24 people, nine of them children, please join International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) in praying for the families and lost loved ones. IOCC has been in contact with the Orthodox community in the Oklahoma City area as well as its ecumenical partners and is assessing the emerging needs for an appropriate response.
You can help the victims of disasters in the United States by making a financial gift to the United States Emergency Response Fund, which will provide immediate relief as well as long-term support through the provision of emergency aid, recovery assistance and other support to help those in need. To make a gift, please visit www.iocc.org, call toll free at 1-877-803-IOCC (4622), or mail a check or money order payable to IOCC, P.O. Box 17398, Baltimore, Md.21297-0429. Thank You and God Bless You for caring.
See “The VOICE” for Holy Myrrhbearers Sunday, May 19, 2013
includes weekly schedule, notes and details.
Photo section: Holy Friday and PASCHA galleries added.
May Newsletter Article, below
Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death. And upon those in the tombs bestowing life!
Having beheld the resurrection of Christ, let us worship the Holy Lord Jesus, the only sinless One. We venerate Thy Cross, O Christ, and we praise and glorify Thy holy resurrection. For Thou art our God, and we know no other than Thee. We call on Thy Name. Come all ye faithful, let us venerate Christ's holy resurrection. For, behold, through the Cross joy has come into all the world. Let us ever bless the Lord, praising His resurrection. For by enduring the Cross for us, He has destroyed death by death!
"Simon Peter said to them, 'I am going fishing.'" -- John 21:3
It was the most memorable Passover ever! Invariably, each soul that had been touched in some way by the profound events of historic importance resumed "normal" life. The Gospels certainly relate the most important part of the story. Perhaps, we can speculate a bit on the rest as we consider the aftermath.
In and around the Jerusalem Temple, the Levites were immersed in the usual, extensive, annual post-Passover clean-up. All those animals brought for sacrifice left some kinda mess! The various ritual items and vessels had to be cleansed and purified before being stored. Countless hours were spent scraping candle wax from the floors. The festal garments required substantial stain-removal and mending before being laundered. The courtyard money-changer tables needed to be replaced, having been broken beyond repair. ("Who would do such a thing!") And several staff meetings were convened to discuss how, if at all, the massive Temple curtain/veil -- astonishingly torn in half! -- could be salvaged.
The Pharisees were extremely busy, what with the pre-festal crucifixion and all. Not only were they doing some significant damage-control to keep folks loyal and orderly, but they were also holding hearings to determine which guards fell asleep on the job after they had been ordered to be alert for thieves intent on stealing the body. They were also contracting local restoration crews to repair broken tombs (some said "dead people walked out of them!") and give them all a fresh coat of whitewash. Completing all the paperwork to legally document the acquisition of the Potter's Field and turn it into a cemetery took some time. They also heard a rather disturbing report from the TFC (Temple Finance Committee) noting that tithe and other revenue offerings were down considerably this Passover, due in part to the unruly and turbulent environment surrounding the festivities. They'd need to organize another fund-raiser to help meet the budget.
The scribes were sequestered in one the Temple's conference rooms, sharing information and details from various sources to collaborate on the documentation of the festal events for posterity. Their work was made more difficult as the official minutes of the Pharisees and Sadducees meetings were either missing, severely redacted, or marked 'confidential.'
The Temple priests tried desperately to maintain their normal rigorous schedule of worship. While most tended to their regular duties, some were heard to amend the daily prayers with subtle references to Jesus. Others, convinced Christ was the Messiah, resigned from the priesthood and soon after found themselves in the unemployment line. These were holding secret gatherings with guest speakers who had followed Jesus and/or gave testimony of His miracles. (It was rumored that Jairus was leading his entire synagogue congregation to follow "The Way.")
Meanwhile, Pontius Pilate was utterly exhausted from "the whole Jesus episode." Though he'd publicly washed his hands of it, he had much governing to do to restore public order, reconstitute his army after numerous defections, and repair infrastructure. An earthquake devastated his region and split rocks played havoc with travel and commerce. Roads needed to be cleared and rebuilt. Tax hikes would be considered to accomplish this and new special ops forces would be trained to respond to new potential threats.
"One Man, Jesus" was responsible for all this extra worry, work, time, money and effort. Millions had come to observe the Passover and were treated to an unexpected experience that neither they nor the world would ever forget. The One Who died on the cross and rose from the dead (as He promised!) really disrupted daily life in significant ways, making it now anything BUT normal.
That doesn't mean people stopped doing what they normally did. They just did it differently. Even Simon Peter, who had personally been through most of it, decided to go fishing. In the process, he encountered the Risen One Who first called him to be a fisher of men!
Indeed, the Passover aftermath was sententious.
Bringing Good out of Evil
"The inspired Prophet Habakkuk now stands with us in Holy Vigil. He is like a shining angel who cries with a piercing voice; 'Today salvation has come to the world, for Christ is risen as all-powerful!'" (4th ode of Paschal Canon)
Just when our lenten efforts are beginning to bear some fruit, something always seems to happen that derails our spiritual progress. Sometimes it's a minor irritation, illness or unexpected interruption. Sometimes it's a more formidable and shocking event, with consequences that rock our world -- like bombs in Boston!
Once again, as the media assaults us with breaking news, eyewitness interviews, endless analysis and graphic images of the consequences of evil acts, in a rare moment of reflection comes the question; "Where's God in this?" (Yeah, we're the first ones to ever ask this!) About six hundred years before Christ, there lived a prophet named Habakkuk. There's a short, three-chapter book in the Old Testament that bears his name. The Church commemorates him annually on December 2 and, whether we realize it or not, his prophecy is an integral part of our liturgical life.
As most of the prophets, Habakkuk was, shall we say, disinclined in his calling from God. To communicate God's divine will to stubborn people who'd rather be doing their own things than be reminded of their sin and need to repent was (and still is!) hazardous duty. Prophets were stoned because they scratched places that didn't itch. Nevertheless, Habakkuk was given a vision to deliver to the Chosen People; a revelation of God's justice. Judah consistently disobeyed God and it seemed God had tolerated enough of their contempt and was ready to teach them a hard lesson. Habakkuk saw the wrath of God descending on Judah at the hands of Babylonians. This blew his mind because the Chaldeans were the most merciless, godless, ruthless people on the face of the earth! Habakkuk's perplexity was that God would not only allow evil against Judah but that He'd use notorious Babylon as His rod of correction!
In spite of his trepidation at this vision, Habakkuk was utterly convinced that good would somehow come. He just couldn't imagine how. Perhaps not unlike a tragic April day in Boston, Habakkuk was confronted by the haunting question: "how can God bring good out of evil?" Because Habakkuk was faithful -- because he embraced the will of Godas his name implies -- his prophecy was actually one of encouragement to Judah; that in spite of the overwhelming odds against them, in some wonderful yet mysterious way, God would bring good out of it. Habakkuk then took up a vantage point in a tall tower to witness the vision unfold before his eyes. He became the watchman who literally 'kept vigil', confidently waiting in faith to see God work. The rest is history.
The Passion Gospels upon which our Holy Week services are built confront us with a horrible picture of the incredible evil heaped upon Our Lord. He was betrayed by a kiss, dragged to an unjust trial, scourged, mocked, slapped, spit upon, crowned with thorns, and nailed to the cross where the agony and humiliation continued. Deceived by Judas, denied by Peter, condemned by religious leaders, sentenced by Pilate, crucified by soldiers, abandoned by seemingly all -- what greater evil can we imagine! All this and more, the Gospel says and we firmly believe, He endures willingly. Why? "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).
Among the things we should do all the time but especially during Holy Week is assume a proper spiritual vantage point, akin to Habakkuk's tower, to contemplate the mystery of the Cross, to keep vigil, to observe and respond to the actions of God with total faith, to prayerfully contemplate how God's will for man unfolds to bring the greatest good out of the greatest evil. (Hint: it has something to do with "trampling down death by death!")
In view of all the irritations, distractions and breaking news of the day, we would also do well to occasionally revisit Habakkuk's conclusion and make it our own (3:17-18): "Though the fig tree does not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation."
May this faith be ours as we journey to the Promised Land of Pascha, and confidently face the issues of today.
"Nice Try, Ralph!"
Among various news reports leading to the recent papal election, there was one in particular, widely reported, that caught my attention -- because it was funny!
Apparently, as the cardinals were gathering on March 4 to prepare for their conclave, a man wearing a bishop's cassock and black fedora, girded with a purple scarf and accompanied by an entourage, tried to sneak into the closed session by presenting himself as a "Bishop Basilius" of the (non-existent!) Italian Orthodox Church! He successfully made it beyond the first level of security and was photographed with at least one legitimate cardinal but was stopped just outside the Sistine Chapel as Swiss guards observed... his cassock was too short! After further investigation, he was identified as "Ralph;" a self-appointed bishop from an apparently fictional German order called Corpus Dei. (I intentionally omit his last name as an internet search turns up some untoward results). He was consequently quickly escorted away.
One could say a lot of things about this imposter. We'll just say: "Nice try, Ralph!" Amidst the pomp and solemnity in Rome, his story provided some comic relief.
Yet Ralph's M.O. is not something to sneeze at. Indeed, it's characteristic of the behavior of many in the quest for recognition, power, esteem, privilege, favoritism and/or wealth; desiring to be "where the action is." The internet is loaded with photos of ordinary folks hobnobbing with celebrities, sports figures and politicians. (Remember the couple who crashed President Obama's first White House state dinner?!) And social media mixed with photoshop can depict any "friend" rubbing elbows with the rich and famous. It's about pretending to be something you're not!
Not as obvious and certainly not even on the radar of secular media is the spiritual dimension to such behavior. It is (dare we utter the totally intolerant and judgmental word) hypocrisy; by definition, "the pretense or affectation of having virtues, principles or beliefs that one does not actually have." The Greek root "hypokrisis" was a term historically connected to actors in the theater.
In case you missed it (or forgot), when Our Lord was on His way to Jerusalem and the Cross, He delivered some rather serious "woes" to those who pretended to be religious. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. So you also out- wardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypo- crisy and iniquity" (Matt 23:37-38).
During Lent -- our school of repentance -- we get an annual refresher course in the Church on how to adjust our behavior to better conform to the Gospel of Christ. It begins by realizing where bad behavior originates: in the heart. As much as appearances seem so important to modern men and women, it's still "what's inside" that really counts: in David's words, a "clean heart and a right Spirit."
Jesus teaches clearly in Mark 7:21-23: "For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man."
Lent provides the tools to help us redirect and strengthen our wills to resist and reject temptations; through enhanced prayer, fasting, almsgiving, confession, and forgiveness. These tools can't just hang idly over our toolbench! This requires much difficult, "heartfelt" work as it goes against the grain of the recognition, power, esteem, privilege, favoritism and wealth held in such high regard in contemporary society. But, in the Kingdom of God, the stakes are much higher and the goal more lofty than a celebrity photo-op or getting into a place where we don't belong.
During our Orthodox Holy Week, we pay considerable liturgical attention to the parable of the virgins anticipating the coming of the Bridegroom to the marriage feast (Matt 25:1-13). We even have a service named "Bridegroom Matins." Briefly, the wise virgins had sufficient oil for their lamps to keep them lit while waiting for the Bridegroom. The foolish did not (and were refused borrowing from the wise-- but that's for another lesson). While the foolish were gone to buy more oil, the wise enter the marriage feast with the Bridegroom Who then shuts the door. When the foolish return and knock, saying 'Lord, lord, open to us' He replied, 'Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.' Ouch!
The parable, as Lent itself, reminds us that our "oil" is not just lamp fuel but virtue, spiritual fruits and good deeds that help keep the Light of Christ burning brightly in us (cf Matt 5:16). And it sounds like when we pretend all is well and there's plenty of time to do whatever we wish and thus fail to look ahead and run out of this "oil," the Light is extinguished and we've forsaken Christ: "I do not know you!" At that point, even crying "Lord, Lord!" and knocking our knuckles off to get into the locked door of the Kingdom won't work.
But maybe at least some eccentric angel will be amused by our futile effort and say: "Nice try, Ralph!"
If you look up the word "orthodox" in the dictionary, it says "conforming to doctrines or practices that are held to be right or true by an authority, standard or tradition." (Orthodox with a capital "O" specifically refers to our Church.) It's good to occasionally remind ourselves of this meaning.
Now, one need not have a PhD to realize that to suggest anything is "right" and "true" these days borders on sheer arrogance (at least intolerance) especially in a religious context. And whereas "orthodoxy", since the earliest days of Christianity, has been understood as a positive attribute and desired quality of faith, today it appears something to be attacked on every level as old-fashioned, boring, dull, quirky and/or irrelevant. Rather than wear "orthodoxy" as a badge of honor, today it's more like a scarlet letter!
I've heard several examples of this recently on tv. News analysts and political spinsters repeatedly denounced the views of certain congressmen as "unorthodox." An interview with a famous symphony conductor described a certain piece of music as "defying the orthodoxy" of classical composition. A "religious" channel featured a preacher vehemently condemning "all that outdated, orthodox stuff that Jesus came to put a stop to." There's even an infomercial promoting "an innovative and unorthodox diet plan" as the answer to significant weight loss.
We wonder why we Orthodox Christians sometimes seem to have an inferiority complex! Society has discovered the term and it's open season on us! But in an age of doctrinal relativism -- with accountability to no authority but self, no standard except what makes us happy, and holding only the traditions we make up as we go -- it's not surprising that anything labeled "orthodox" today scratches a place that doesn't itch for modern man for whom there are no absolutes; moral, legal, spiritual or otherwise. We've really got our work cut out for us!
This, of course, is nothing new. Since the fall of Adam, man has always been at enmity with God. The Old Testament patriarchs, priests and prophets faced the "unorthodoxy" of their times. In Judges 17:6 we read:"In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes." Man has always sought to justify his own actions, rationalize his own sins, and look for loopholes, even in God's law. It just seems that now -- with instant, late-breaking news from around the world on countless cable channels all vying for ratings by delivering us the most sensa- tional and gruesome stories imaginable -- we're beginning to see the global results and consequences of the chaos caused by a rejection of "orthodoxy."
Today, everything is subject to debate, argument, personal opinion and challenge. Even sports now offer the opportunity to challenge and overturn an official's call by means of an instant replay. (Maybe at the Judgment, God will show us the instant replay of our life to justify His decision on our fate?!)
This also relates to the liturgical life of our Holy Church and our involvement in that divine life. Who, for example, will argue that prayer and fasting are not essential elements of the Christian life? In the Church, we pretty much stipulate this. Consistent with the meaning of the word "orthodox," we have a definitive Authority, Divine standard and long-standing Tradition on prayer and fasting that conform to doctrines and practices we hold to be right and true. This is, among other things, what the Church recalls for us in our annual approach to Great Lent.
The "orthodox" teaching on prayer begins "Two men went up into the temple to pray," (Luke 18+) then, by way of comparison between the two, incites us to ask ourselves "which one was orthodox?" Christ teaches that the publican's prayer was "justified" rather than the pharisee's. According to God's standard, prayer offered in humility, reverence and repentance is "right" and "true."
Likewise, the "orthodox" teaching on fasting that begins "And when you fast," (Matthew 6:16) then proceeds to detail the "right and true" way to fast.
Here's the Gospel truth! We can reject it, say we believe it yet act as though we don't, or accept what is right and true, and act accordingly. But the fact that we are free to choose our response does not negate the validity and "orthodoxy" of the teaching. Understand?
Beloved, our Holy Church calls us to do many things; especially during Lent. There are those who may denounce and reject some things as old-fashioned, boring, dull, quirky and/or irrelevant. We may ourselves be tempted to adopt such worldly notions.
Let us strive to resist such temptations and resolve to make a determined effort to truly BE "orthodox;" in doctrine and practice, in faith and life, holding and propagating that which is right and true -- to the glory of God.
"An Ever-Present Absence" and "A Never-Absent Presence"
It was a Friday about noontime when I cranked-up the computer to go online and check my email. I've become accustomed to getting a cup of coffee while the machine goes through its various warm-up exercises until it finally gets to where I want it to be. That's what I did.
Returning with coffee in hand, I was intrigued by the bright red "breaking news" homepage headline announcing "Massacre In Elementary School." These four connected words seemed utterly UNconnected to me. I initially thought to myself; "that must’ve been some kinda snowball fight in Connecticut!" As the day and the story unfolded, the harsh reality of what was impossible to conceive began to sink in.
The Apostle Paul refers to the "sting" of death. Some things sting worse than others. Likewise, some "deaths." This one stung big-time; to families, friends, communities and even nations. Those words which should never, ever have been connected indeed were. And the grief was, is and will continue to be great and deep.
While counselors strive to promote "closure" for those most directly affected by this horrible tragedy, another reality to be faced is that there can be NO closure. Nothing can restore the dead to life. The tragic loss of the victims of the massacre will be to all who know and love them "an ever-present absence." And in our modern society accustomed to finding answers to any question with a few mouse-clicks and curing every ailment with the latest therapy, the reality that physical life will indeed end is a bitter pill to swallow.
This event occurred over a month ago. But its aftermath remains timely and relevant to two observances this month.
First, many will participate in observances celebrating the Sanctity of Human Life. The memory of the precious souls of the innocent children slaughtered in Connecticut should inspire all of us to a more profound respect for every human life; pre-born and born.
Many this week will also participate in various programs and services in connection with the Annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity that seeks to actualize the words of the Psalmist: "Behold, how good and pleasant it is, when brothers dwell in unity!" So many in our troubled world still urgently seek and desperately need the stability, comfort, consolation, faith, hope and strength that, historically, was to be found in the Christian church. We need to overcome economic, political and philosophical divisions to be able to provide a united prophetic witness to modern society as did Isaiah to the ancient world: "When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God..." (Isaiah 43:2-3).
Yes, we modern sophisticated Americans seem to be constantly walking about in the midst of a fiery furnace. And sometimes we're just too darn busy to realize that, even in the midst of "an ever-present absence," there is, with us, in the furnace, “a never-absent Presence" --- “like the Son of God" (Daniel 3:25).
Holy Cross is the only Orthodox church in six counties of northcentral Pennsylvania and one of the most unique church buildings you'll find anywhere! The parish, founded in 1977, is part of the Diocese of Eastern Pennsylvania (doepa.org) of the Orthodox Church in America (oca.org).
The Orthodox Church dates back to the day of Pentecost as the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of the eastern Roman Empire and exists to give glory to our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ, His Father and the Holy Spirit; to worship the Holy Trinity in spirit and in truth and to perpetuate the saving ministry of Christ through the faith once for all delivered to the saints. To this day, She remains unchanged in doctrine and order of worship and stands as a humble witness to the life and belief of the continuing Christian flock. She was and is the Church of the martyrs and the Holy Fathers who defended the divinity and humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ and the proper understanding of the Holy Trinity's revelation to It's creation.
Orthodoxy came to America through Alaska in the 18th century and, fed by immigration, spread across the continent, often appearing as an insulated sect open only to people of certain ethnic backgrounds.
This unfortunate image of the Church has changed dramatically in recent years as the Orthodox Church has turned Her attention to all Americans who are seeking the joys of fullness and continuity in their knowledge of God's revelation.
This transition is beautifully exemplified at Holy Cross Orthodox Church in Williamsport PA, where all services are in English and people of all backgrounds are welcomed into Orthodoxy's life of communion with God and the Church's calm, pastoral, yet unflinching resistance to the tragic and seemingly unending compromise of truth and life in contemporary society.
The basic structure of Holy Cross Church is a former 200-year-old log barn of hand-hewn timbers, painstakingly dismantled, delivered and reassembled on site from a location some five miles away. Beginning in June, 1987, over the next 17 months, the pastor and parishioners volunteered their talents and tireless efforts in all phases of the construction process. The use of logs seemed appropriate for Williamsport, the one-time 'log capital of the world'. The distinctive 'onion domes' were built on site and hoisted into place as the crowning glory of the church, surmounted by hand-crafted crosses plated with gold leaf. The church was formally consecrated on November 12, 1988 (and has since become affectionately well-known throughout the region as "the little, wooden Orthodox church").
In 1997-98, a beautification project was undertaken including the construction and installation of a new icon screen and hand-painted icons. The church interior has been referred to as "something like heaven". Traditional stained glass windows enhance the incredible beauty of the timeless Orthodox iconography.
The parish opened its Orthodox Fellowship Center located directly behind the church in July, 2002 -- another parishioner-built structure. After its opening, the church basement was transformed into our education center with classrooms and a library. Next to the church is our rectory and parish office.
You are welcome to join us in worship:
SATURDAYS, Vespers at 6:30 pm
SUNDAYS, Divine Liturgy at 10:00 am
Weekdays as announced
Our worship is sung by the priest and people (no musical instruments). Though we usually stand in worship, we do have pews. Children participate in worship together with their families. We offer a host of ministries, weekly education programs and seasonal inquirers sessions.
Thanks for visiting our website!
Call us for further info at (570) 322-3020.
THE ORTHODOX CHURCH
The Orthodox Church was founded by our Lord Jesus Christ and is the living manifestation of His presence in the history of the mankind. The most conspicuous characteristics of Orthodoxy are its rich liturgical life and its faithfulness to the apostolic tradition. It is believed by Orthodox Christians that their Church has preserved the tradition and continuity of the ancient Church in its fullness compared to other Christian denominations which have departed from the common tradition of the Church of the first ten centuries. Today Orthodox Church numbers approximately 300 million Christians who follow the faith and practices that were defined by the first seven Ecumenical Councils. The word orthodox ("right belief” or “right glory") has traditionally been used, in the Greek-speaking Christian world, to designate communities, or individuals, who preserved the true faith (as defined by those councils), as opposed to those who were declared heretical. The official designation of the church in its liturgical and canonical texts is "the Orthodox Catholic Church" (gr. catholicos = universal).
The Orthodox Church is a family of "autocephalous" (self governing) churches, with the Ecumenical (= universal) Patriarch of Constantinople holding titular or honorary primacy as primus inter pares (the first among equals). The Orthodox Church is not a centralized organization headed by a pontiff. The unity of the Church is rather manifested in common faith and communion in the sacraments and no one but Christ Himself is the real Head of the Church. The number of autocephalous churches has varied in history. Today there are many: the Church of Constantinople (Istanbul), the Church of Alexandria (Egypt), the Church of Antioch (with headquarters in Damascus, Syria), and the Churches of Jerusalem, Russia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Cyprus, Greece, Poland, Albania and America.
There are also "autonomous" churches (retaining a token canonical dependence upon a mother see) in Czech and Slovak republics, Sinai, Crete, Finland, Japan, China and Ukraine. In addition there is also a large Orthodox Diaspora scattered all over the world and administratively divided among various jurisdictions (dependencies of the above mentioned autocephalous churches). The first nine autocephalous churches are headed by patriarchs, the others by archbishops or metropolitans. These titles are strictly honorary as all bishops are completely equal in the power granted to them by the Holy Spirit.
The order of precedence in which the autocephalous churches are listed does not reflect their actual influence or numerical importance. The Patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, and Antioch, for example, present only shadows of their past glory. Yet there remains a consensus that Constantinople's primacy of honor, recognized by the ancient canons because it was the capital of the ancient Byzantine empire, should remain as a symbol and tool of church unity and cooperation. Modern pan-Orthodox conferences were thus convoked by the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople. Several of the autocephalous churches are de facto national churches, by far the largest being the Russian Church; however, it is not the criterion of nationality but rather the territorial principle that is the norm of organization in the Orthodox Church.
In the wider theological sense "Orthodoxy is not merely a type of purely earthly organization which is headed by patriarchs, bishops and priests who hold the ministry in the Church which officially is called "Orthodox." Orthodoxy is the mystical "Body of Christ," the Head of which is Christ Himself (see Eph. 1:22-23 and Col. 1:18, 24 et seq.), and its composition includes not only priests but all who truly believe in Christ, who have entered in a lawful way through Holy Baptism into the Church He founded, those living upon the earth and those who have died in the Faith and in piety."
The Great Schism between the Eastern and the Western Church (1054) was the culmination of a gradual process of estrangement between the east and west that began in the first centuries of the Christian Era and continued through the Middle Ages. Linguistic and cultural differences, as well as political events, contributed to the estrangement. From the 4th to the 11th century, Constantinople, the center of Eastern Christianity, was also the capital of the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empire, while Rome, after the barbarian invasions, fell under the influence of the Holy Roman Empire of the West, a political rival. In the West, theology remained under the influence of St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) and gradually lost its immediate contact with the rich theological tradition of the Christian East. In the same time the Roman See was almost completely overtaken by Franks. Theological differences could have probably been settled if there were not two different concepts of church authority. The growth of Roman primacy, based on the concept of the apostolic origin of the Church of Rome which claimed not only titular but also jurisdictional authority above other churches, was incompatible with the traditional Orthodox ecclesiology. The Eastern Christians considered all churches as sister churches and understood the primacy of the Roman bishop only as primus inter pares among his brother bishops. For the East, the highest authority in settling doctrinal disputes could by no means be the authority of a single Church or a single bishop but an Ecumenical Council of all sister churches. In the course of time the Church of Rome adopted various wrong teachings which were not based in the Tradition and finally proclaimed the teaching of the Pope's infallibility when teaching ex cathedra. This widened the gap even more between the Christian East and West. The Protestant communities which split from Rome in the course of centuries diverged even more from the teaching of the Holy Fathers and the Holy Ecumenical Councils. Due to these serious dogmatic differences the Orthodox Church is not in communion with the Roman Catholic and Protestant communities. More traditional Orthodox theologians do not recognize the ecclesial and salvific character of these Western churches at all, while the more liberal ones accept that the Holy Spirit acts to a certain degree within these communities although they do not possess the fullness of grace and spiritual gifts like the Orthodox Church. Many serious Orthodox theologians are of the opinion that between Orthodoxy and heterodox confessions, especially in the sphere of spiritual experience, the understanding of God and salvation, there exists an ontological difference which cannot be simply ascribed to cultural and intellectual estrangement of the East and West but is a direct consequence of a gradual abandonment of the sacred tradition by heterodox Christians.
At the time of the Schism of 1054 between Rome and Constantinople, the membership of the Eastern Orthodox Church was spread throughout the Middle East, the Balkans, and Russia, with its center in Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, which was also called New Rome. The vicissitudes of history have greatly modified the internal structures of the Orthodox Church, but, even today, the bulk of its members live in the same geographic areas. Missionary expansion toward Asia and emigration toward the West, however, have helped to maintain the importance of Orthodoxy worldwide. Today, the Orthodox Church is present almost everywhere in the world and is bearing witness of true, apostolic and patristic tradition to all peoples.
The Orthodox Church is well known for its developed monasticism. The uninterrupted monastic tradition of Orthodox Christianity can be traced from the Egyptian desert monasteries of the 3rd and 4th centuries. Soon monasticism had spread all over the Mediterranean basin and Europe: in Palestine, Syria, Cappadocia, Gaul, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Slavic countries. Monasticism has always been a beacon of Orthodoxy and has made and continues to make a strong and lasting impact on Orthodox spirituality.
The Orthodox Church today is an invaluable treasury of the rich liturgical tradition handed down from the earliest centuries of Christianity. The sense of the sacred, the beauty and grandeur of the Orthodox Divine Liturgy make the presence of heaven on earth live and intensive. Orthodox Church art and music has a very functional role in the liturgical life and helps even the bodily senses to feel the spiritual grandeur of the Lord's mysteries. Orthodox icons are not simply beautiful works of art which have certain aesthetic and didactic functions. They are primarily the means through which we experience the reality of the Heavenly Kingdom on earth. The holy icons enshrine the immeasurable depth of the mystery of Christ's incarnation in defense of which thousands of martyrs sacrificed their lives.
--- from orthodoxinfo.com