"For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?"
They've been working hard for a good portion of their young lives perfecting their skills with bats, balls and gloves, hoping someday to visit the Field of Dreams for the Little League World Series! At significant expense, they've come from around the world with coaches, families, friends and fans making meaningful sacrifices to support and encourage them.
Along the way, they've forged lifelong friendships, melded as teammates working toward a common goal and, now in Williamsport, been exposed to peers, peoples and cultures that open their eyes to the world.
Notwithstanding their diverse talents and individual skills -- like the young girl on the Philadelphia team throwing 70 mph fastballs! -- they come to Williamsport to compete as teams.
We commend and congratulate them not only for "making it" but also for inspiring a worldwide audience by their good sportsmanship, dedication and team spirit.
Little leaguers remind us that teamwork is essential in many areas of life besides sports. Working toward common goals invariably draws people closer and closer together. And the more ambitious and lofty the goal, the greater the effort required to achieve it. Each team member must contribute their best effort to the collective process. If and when the goal is achieved, how sweet are the results!
Champions are not crowned because of whim, but hard work in the trenches of daily life that prepare them for the field of competition -- for "the prize."
There's much in this that relates to faith groups like the Christian community. Though some suggest, "it's just between me and God," the sacred scriptures invariably reveal a "team approach." The analogy of the apostle Paul calling the Church "the Body of Christ" is most instructive. He writes, "The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you,' nor again the head to the feet, 'I have no need of you' and "If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together" (I Corinthians 12:21,26). Clearly he's talking about a "team approach"!
Consider the "team" Jesus Himself assembled to carry out His divine mission and ministry! Look at the "apostolic dugout." Over here we have a pair of professional adversaries: Matthew the tax-collector sitting with Simon the Zealot -- one collects the taxes to support a regime the other is fighting to eradicate. Further down the bench we see esteemed "sons of thunder," James and John, who dare to demand places further up in the batting order. Leading off is Peter the triple-denier, followed by his brother and business partner Andrew. In the on-deck circle is the impatient Philip chomping at the bit, while behind him is friend Nathanael enjoying the shade of a fig tree as he contemplates the mysteries of the universe. A money-loving Judas actually tries to sabotage the effort (definitely NOT a team player). And when the game's nearly over, Thomas the chronically-late doubter arrives. Could there be a bunch of less likely candidates to gather together to form a team that would ultimately "turn the world upside down"? (Acts 17:6).
Individuals, with their respective talents, gifts and skills, can certainly accomplish and achieve much. But, for "a greater good," gather them together, bring their individual talents to bear under inspired leadership toward a common goal, support and encourage them in their dedicated efforts, and watch what happens!
The Church: A Body in Motion
“With what garlands of praise shall we crown Peter and Paul, the greatest among the heralds of the word of God, distinct in their person but one in spirit. The one, the chief ruler of the Apostles; the other who labored more than the rest. Christ our God fittingly crowned them with immortal glory, for He alone possesses great mercy” [Vespers, the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul].
How wonderfully the feast of Saints Peter and Paul fits into the liturgical scheme of our Holy Church as yet another manifestation of the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. These two great pillars of the Church offer us significantly more practical wisdom than we imagine. The confession of Peter—that Jesus is “truly the Christ, the Son of the Living God”—is the rock of faith upon which the Church is built. And the perils of Paul, wherein he came to rely totally on the sufficiency of God’s grace, is something for all of us to consider. But in addition to their individual lives and struggles as recounted in the festal readings, it is their combined witness and testimony from which we can learn a great deal.
We’ve probably all heard of Sir Isaac Newton, the 17th century English mathematician who, among other things, formulated the laws of gravity and motion. In doing so, Newton coined two words to describe the forces of motion: centripetal and centrifugal. Centripetal force is what keeps things down on earth though the planet revolves at incredible speed. Centrifugal force moves things away from a center point—like going around a curve on a roller coaster and your body is forced toward the outside. Can’t we see these ‘forces of motion’ wonderfully illustrated in the persons of Peter and Paul?
Peter, as seen in his epistles, was always encouraging the early Church and Christians in the Roman diaspora to maintain unity within a hostile environment. He instructed Christians to band and keep together, regardless of the distance that separated them, in order to bear witness to Christ. “Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love of the brethren, a tender heart and a humble mind” (1 Peter 3:8). Peter was a centripetal force for the Church.
Paul, on the other hand, was the missionary apostle; the centrifugal force of the Church that challenged her, and led the challenge, to expand her mission to include the Gentiles: “...I am eager to preach the Gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the Gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:15-16).
Do you see the wisdom here? The Church was, is and must always be ‘a Body in motion;’ living and active, never stagnant. And the forces of motion and perfectly exemplified, respectfully, by Peter and Paul. Without the centripetal force of Peter, the Church would have become little more than loosely connected groups ‘doing their own thing’ with no cohesiveness or foundation upon which to build in a unified manner. And without the centrifugal force of Paul, the Church would have remained a relatively small Jewish sect in Palestine. The Church needed both of these ‘forces’ to implement the great Commission of Our Lord to teach and baptize all nations!
In like manner, we—as individuals and members of parish communities—need to practically apply these same forces of motion today. Our lives must be centered on Jesus Christ, anchored in intimate communion with Him Who alone is the Source of our being and the Author of our Salvation. We need centripetal force to keep us grounded in faith as we go about our daily activities and face the trials and tribulations of life. And the Church wonderfully provides this in her worship, sacraments, and ascetic life. But we also need the centrifugal force that ‘moves’ us to adapt to changing circumstances and relationships, helps us to gain new insights into God’s love for us, and share our faith with others!
The laws of motion are also important for practical administrative purposes within the Church. Every parish must recognize two types of goals in its collective life: maintenance and growth. We must be good stewards of what God has entrusted to us and concerned with the welfare of our parishioners. But we must also be willing to adapt, expand and widen our scope to fulfill our function as the Church to ‘teach all nations’.
May we learn from the example of Peter and Paul of the diversity of spiritual gifts within the Church that, though they may not always reflect uniformity, nevertheless serve a common purpose: to reveal, manifest and announce the living God that all may know Him and love Him as we do, and keep the Body of Christ ‘in motion’!
"We pray to Thee, O Lord Our God, that the suffering people of Ukraine be granted the wisdom, mutual respect and love which will protect them from violence, preserve them in peace, and bring them unity and justice for the sake of the Gospel of Christ. And that Thou wilt grant comfort and consolation to the wounded and grieving, give rest to the souls of the departed, and grant strength to those who minister to all in Thy Holy Name."
Pray for Meriam
"...for once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light, (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true)" -- Ephesians 5:8-9
Here's a widely-reported and very troubling "breaking news" story from today's headlines. It's about a 27-year-old woman in Sudan, Meriam Ibrahim. She was born to a Muslim father and an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian mother. Her father abandoned the home when she was a young child.
Nevertheless, in Sudan, children are expected to follow the religion of their fathers. Three years ago, Meriam married a professing Christian man and about a year later gave birth to a son. She's now expecting another child and is eight-plus months pregnant.
Sudanese law prohibits women from marrying non-Muslims, although men can marry whomever they want without any penalty whatsoever. So on May 11, 2014 (ironically Mothers' Day) Meriam was convicted of apostasy for rejecting Islam and was given four days to recant, which would save her life.
But unlike countless others who've faced similar sentences in Sudan and elsewhere, she refused to renounce her faith and convert to Islam. After four days, on May 15, she appeared again before the court and declared openly and emphatically: "I am a Christian, and I will remain a Christian."
In response, Judge Abbas Khalifa pronounced his verdict. "I sentence you to be hanged to death." As if this weren't horrific enough, Meriam was also convicted by the court of committing "zena" -- an implication of adultery for marrying a non-Muslim. And for this alleged crime, she was also sentenced to receive 100 lashes -- before the imposition of the sentence of hanging!
Currently, with her 18-month-old son and the child in her womb, Meriam remains shackled in a prison, awaiting the carrying-out of the sentences.
Ibrahim's husband said he's utterly distraught over the sentence and is fervently praying that it be somehow overturned.
Human rights groups worldwide have condemned the sentence, characterizing it as "heinous" and "abhorrent." Amnesty International calls it "a flagrant breach of international human rights law."
The U.S. National Security Council issued a statement, saying: "We continue to urge Sudan to fulfill its constitutional promise of religious freedom, and to respect the fundamental freedoms and universal human rights of all its people." And a written report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, citing that 60 percent of Sudan identifies as Muslim and that the nation's president, Omar al-Bashir, seeks to enforce Sharia law, says: "Conversion from Islam is a crime punishable by death, suspected converts to Christianity face societal pressures, and government security personnel intimidate and sometimes torture those suspected of conversion."
Meriam's extremely poignant story is yet another contemporary example of the struggles and dangers of living a Christian life. Rightly did the Apostle Paul warn his disciple Timothy: "Indeed all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Timothy 3:12).
As we draw near the Great Feast of Our Lord's Ascension, we remember the myriad lessons we've received during Lent, Holy Week and Pascha. The Church has offered us more sermons on Jesus Christ as "the Light of the world" than we can begin to count.
Still, we seem insistent and even content to choose the darkness of the world rather than the Light of the world. Though we're repeatedly called to "lay aside all earthly cares," we, like spoiled children, enthusiastically chase after them and then complain that we're simply helpless victims of modern society! We excuse ourselves from sharing real fellowship with certain others, even fellow communicants and family members, because they (for whatever reason) irritate us while we pursue relationships with certain others whose religious faith and ideology are diametrically opposed to what we believe is "good, right and true." We're all in favor of human rights and human freedom and human tolerance and human justice for all --- at least until they burden MY life, limit MY freedom, challenge MY opinions, and conflict with MY understanding of justice.
Where is the heartfelt joy -- that inner light of our souls -- that enables us to see the glory, majesty and miracles of our God and rejoice in thanksgiving for His grace, gifts and the divine forgiveness springing from the life-creating Cross and empty tomb of Our Lord?! Are we so quick to abandon our joy, recant our faith, renounce our Risen Lord, and burn a pinch of incense to Caesar to save our lives at the expense of our souls!? We need to pray for one another, and especially for Meriam and those like her. We need to let the Light of Christ shine in our hearts that others may see. We need to sing forever with the Church, "Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered. Let those who hate Him flee from before His face." We need to be able to stand in the midst of the fallen world with enough faithfulness and courage to say: "I am a Christian, and I will remain a Christian."
Cable tv gives us a wide variety of channels (filled with "nothing to watch!"). Personally I often revert to the station that has the only news we can really use: The Weather Channel. In addition to the local forecast, they have reports from folks they call "stormchasers." The channel execs dispatch these fearless(?) employees into the heart of every storm where they courageously stand (or at least, try to) in blizzards, tornados, tsunamis and hurricanes, through wind, snow, rain, mud and ice, to deliver eyewitness reports of the awesome power of nature. Whatever they pay them is not enough.
Despite the inherent dangers, risks and hazards, everyone seems to enjoy the thrill, excitement and adventure of the chase -- for whatever. Children at play in a game of tag, for example, are full of excitement and get much exercise engaging in the chase -- as do the parents running after them.
Though we don't often conceive it as such, our desire to engage in the chase carries through adulthood. It's always been the case. In the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes, we read in just a few verses that the great and wise King Solomon chased after pleasure, laughter, wine, jewels, houses, vineyards, fruit trees, silver, gold, orchards and music. And he ultimately "caught" everything he chased!
Reflecting on all the wealth and wisdom and stuff he'd accumulated, however, he says: "Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun" (2:11). Finally, with righteous wisdom, he concludes by saying: "Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man" (12:13).
It can rightly be said that Jesus Christ was the greatest stormchaser Who ever lived. He was sent by His Father into the storm of fallen humanity: not to observe and report but to rescue mankind from the tsunami of sin, the hurricane of corruption, the tornado of death. After revealing in word and deed the will of God to save man and facing the winds and waves of ingratitude, hypocrisy, defiance and contempt, He ultimately, voluntarily, stretched out His arms upon a cross and declared of the storm: "It is finished!" Afterwards, He even went so far as to chase down Adam and Eve who, among countless others, were waiting for Him in the depths of hell!
After weeks of lenten reflection, we now find ourselves excitedly chasing the intense, spiritual joy of Jesus' glorious resurrection from the dead, celebrating our deliverance from the storm, in the hope it will penetrate our hearts with a personal experience of the immeasurable love of Our Lord as revealed through His cross and empty tomb. Easter eggs and chocolate bunnies fall far short of capturing that joy.
We've probably weathered many storms in our lives by God's grace. We've heard His words, seen His miracles and felt His peace. Now, "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life." And like those who "departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples" (Matthew 28:8) we run to share the good news of the resurrection to a world that often seems to prefer darkness to light, evil to good, and death to life.
Solomon was right. Regardless of the things we're so often consumed with chasing in life, our duty is to fear God and keep His commandments. The Great Stormchaser has visited and redeemed us! Let us worship Him!
The Symphony of Lent
Having had the opportunity to sing an operetta with the local symphony orchestra, it’s remarkable to me how wonderfully our Orthodox liturgical progression from Pre-Lent to Lent to Holy Week to Pascha not only presents “the greatest story ever told,” but also resembles the performance of a musical masterpiece.
I recall how at one rehearsal the conductor, abruptly bringing all to full stop, angrily tapped his baton, stomped his foot and shouted, “You’re not following me! The score says lentando!” Lentando means “to make slow;” slowing down the music’s tempo to create a reflective, contemplative, even solemn mood. This is especially employed in operas to build and enhance the personality and disposition of characters and to give the audience glimpses into their respective life struggles and inner conflicts that will be brought to bear as the story unfolds.
That’s pretty much “lent,” isn’t it?! Time to slow down, to adjust the tempo of our daily lives from the hectic pace that consumes us to a more contemplative one that incites inner reflection and self-awareness. It’s a time to earnestly reflect on our character: what makes us tick, what lifts us up and what drags us down. The mood created by our extra services, their somberness and solemnity, complemented by the readings, hymns, movements, commemorations and participation in confession reveal our desperate need for some serious “lentando” in our lives.
Lentando, however, is not stagnant but dynamic. It lays a foundation upon which to build, paving the way for something to come. In musical terms, it’s normally followed by a variation of “andante calmo,” literally “walking calmly.” Having manifested traits of the characters by slowing to a reasonable, manageable tempo, the piece now assumes and maintains a pace that allows the story to unfold.
The early weeks of Lent likewise assume we have hit our stride, that our pre-lenten instruction has adequately prepared us to adopt a certain rhythm, especially of prayer and fasting. And whereas Forgiveness Sunday Vespers directs us to “begin the fast with joy,” our now “walking calmly” includes “allegretto” as well—a tinge of joyfulness.
By the third week of Lent, when the precious Cross of Our Lord is planted in our midst, our musical score is marked “poco a poco accelerando”—to accelerate, to pick up the pace little by little, not just for the thrill of speed but because our desired destination is slowly coming into view.
When the music accelerates, it’s taking you somewhere; there’s a “crescendo”—a “growing”—to emphasize an imminent crucial point of the story it seeks to tell. Crescendo is a movement toward a point that prepares the audience to experience and embrace the climax of the story, with voices and orchestra collectively manifesting their individual talents at optimal levels to “bring the story home.” Jesus weeping at the tomb of Lazarus, only to call him to come forth after four days represents, at least to me, a great crescendo!
Each day of Holy Week represents “a symphony within the symphony.” Like acts of a play, each building upon the one before, they’d be musically-marked “presto;” literally meaning “very fast,” but more appropriately “ready.” Everything to this point of the symphony has been preparing the audience not merely to passively observe, but “enter into” the story’s summit. All the variations in tempo, dynamics and mood; the array of sounds produced by combinations of instruments and voices; the musicians fully offering themselves in sacrificial service to achieve the desired end-result—all resources have been brought to bear and now stand ready to deliver “the message;” to the experience of its zenith.
There are many musical terms to be considered in reference to Great and Holy Pascha. My choice would be “vivace”—“vivacious”—joyously unrestrained, enthusiastic, exuberant, lively! That’s a pretty good word to describe our celebration of the glorious resurrection of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! If after progressing through the various stages, movements and elements of the score you arrive at the end and cannot muster some serious “vivace” at the proclamation of “Christ is Risen,” you just haven’t been listening at all.
The world continues its insanity at a frantic pace, with no storyline, truth, morality or particular destination in mind. So many threatening and horrific events occurring these days are merely the latest, tragic reminders of the frailty and fallenness of the world. But the symphony of Lent draws us into the premier masterpiece of God’s mission “for the life of the world and its salvation.”
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 atHoly 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.