Holy Cross Church, 1725 Holy Cross Lane, Williamsport PA 17701, 570-322-3020
See “The VOICE” for Sunday, March 2, 2014
Forgiveness Sunday, "Cheesefare"
includes weekly schedule, notes and details.
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"For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."
"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."
Our Holy Cross Kids hosted another Hot Dog Hour after Liturgy on Sunday, February 16 to raise funds for the St Herman's House FOCUS Center in Cleveland. Great job, Kids!
"Row, Row, Row Your Boat!"
"Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one." -- 1 Corinthians 12:4-6
Whenever we approach the Holy Sacraments of the Church, we are individually addressed and identified as "The servant of God." Perhaps seldom, however, do we seriously consider and reflect upon the nature and essence of our "service" to God that justifies such an esteemed appellation!
The primary definition of service, from the Latin 'servitium', means the occupation or condition of a servant. And 'servant', from the Latin 'servus', means 'slave.'
What a blow this is to our proud modern American ego that normally understands service in terms of what people, business, technology and things can do for us. In a society whose economy is largely driven by consumerism, it's no wonder the 'service industry' is prominent. It's how a majority of Americans earn their living these days, 'slaving' for others.
Somehow this idea of service doesn't seem to translate well into our spiritual lives. Our life 'in the world' has so accustomed us to seek, expect and demand service from others that when it comes to our relationship to God and His Church, we often do the same thing. Contrary to the teaching and example of Christ (Matthew 20:28), we frequently find ourselves coming to church to BE served rather than TO serve.
Should we research the topic of service in the scriptures, it may be both confusing and overwhelming depending upon which Bible translation we use (e.g. the above quoted "varieties of service" from the Revised Standard Version is rendered "differences of administrations" in the King James Version!). Yet just as there are twenty-some definitions of 'service' in the dictionary, there are, as St Paul suggests, "varieties of service" to be found in scripture.
Indeed, the most often used New Testament word for servant is 'doulos' -- 'slave' -- a voluntary or involuntary subjection and subserviency. When Christ said "you cannot serve God and mammon" (Luke 16:13), He was teaching the impossibility of a 'slave' serving more than one master. He exemplified this as He "emptied himself, taking the form of a servant ('doulos'), being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:7-8). It was thus in imitation of Christ that the apostles introduced and identified themselves as "servants" of Jesus Christ; Paul, James, Peter and Jude beginning their respective epistles in precisely these terms.
Do OUR lives truly reflect such dedicated, committed "service" to God?
Another scriptural aspect of service is "diakonia" translated "minister" as well as service. It's where we get "deacons;" those originally ordained by the apostles to serve tables and, on behalf of the Church, care for widows. This is practical service, certainly not limited to the ordained. It's attending to things that must be done and running necessary errands to do them. If you think about the kitchen crew and waiters at a parish dinner, you get the idea.
There are yet other aspects of service implied in various scriptural words. There's service specific to liturgical ministry detailing duties connected with worship; priestly and otherwise. (Sometimes we forget that "liturgy" implies work!) There's the service performed by those hired to do so; "wage-workers." And there're domestic servants who manage household chores as stewards. All quite appropriate and applicable to church life today!
But there's one word used rarely in the New Testament that provides a fascinating image of service. Among other places, it's found in 1 Corinthians 4:1. "This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God." In this verse, "servants" derives from a verb meaning "to row;" as in "row, row, row your boat."
The image created takes us into the bowels of a great ship (before motors and engines) wherein a multitude of hardy men flexed their muscles in synchronized rowing to provide the power and strength to move the floating ship in the direction and at the speed commanded by the captain. These were 'servants' performing necessary, hard, menial and generally unappreciated labor in relative obscurity. Maybe they occasionally received a pat on the back or some small commendation from those who actually realized and acknowledged the crucial significance of their work, but they were basically behind-the-scenes workers who made the ship move.
This type of service is as essential to the life and work of the Church, on every level, as it is to the movement of a great ship. Yes, as St Paul says: "...God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators..." etc (1 Corinthians 12:28+). But the "varieties of service" excludes no one!
Not everyone is called to or capable of standing at the helm of a ship to bark orders. But everyone with the will and strength to do so, can work together, behind-the-scenes, to help move the ship in the right direction!
"HELP MY UNBELIEF!"
"When Joseph first saw the mighty wonder, he thought he saw only a human child wrapped in swaddling clothes. But from all that came to pass, he discovered the Child to be the True God Who grants the world great mercy!" (from Vespers of the Prefeast)
Christmas tells the same wonderful story every year, the marvelous fulfillment of John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." It's the timeless story of Emmanuel -- God with us -- that never changes.
We, on the other hand, are changing all the time. Our relationships change, our circumstances change, our attitudes and ideas change. This reality makes the meaning of each Christmas uniquely relevant, for it's message applies to us, "where we are," today, in 2013.
It is into the midst of all the change in our lives that we proclaim "Christ IS Born;" that inspires our grateful hearts to sing "TODAY, the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One and the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One." He is mystically born in the fellowship, services and Sacraments of His Body, the Church: to abide in us, to dwell among us as surely as He was cradled in the Bethlehem cave by Mary and Joseph, wrapped in swaddling clothes, worshipped and offered gifts by wise men, and warmed by the breath of His creatures.
How can we share this timeless story of "God with us" anew? How can we incarnate our faith in the Living God: give it flesh to convince others of its veracity?
On a Saturday a few years ago, a young local college student ventured into our church for a Vesper service. As I spoke to her afterwards, she indicated she was virtually "blown away" by her experience in our humble church. She'd never before been exposed to anything like it.
I asked about her personal religious background. She said to me, frankly: "I have no faith. My parents never went to any church. Now they're divorced, living in different states, and I'm pretty much on my own."
"Well," I said, "why not take this opportunity to ask yourself questions you never asked before: about your relationship with God, about faith, about Jesus Christ and what happens after death. Because when you answer these questions, everything you see and experience here in this church will begin to make incredible sense."
Whether she took my advice or not, I don't know. But it was somewhat troubling to me to encounter someone who told me straight out "I have no faith." And I thought to myself, how many are "out there" like this student? How many are there like the desperate father in the gospel who brought his afflicted son to the Lord and, when asked if he had faith that the Lord was able to help his son, replied "I believe; help my unbelief" (Mark 9:24)? How many have never seriously thought through the most basic questions of faith? And how many more are perhaps "practical atheists" who claim to have faith, yet in reality have none? I was amazed to see a recent survey suggesting that among 18 to 25 year olds in America, over 20% say they have no faith! Our visitor is certainly not alone!
What can we say to them, as precious to God as the rest of us, to convince them that this Jesus Whose birth we celebrate is truly the Lord and Savior, Emmanuel, the Living God?
Perhaps the apostle John can help us. He writes in his first epistle: "If we walk in the light as He is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another." "He who loves his brother abides in the Light."
More than the material gifts we exchange at Christmas -- more than the decorations and socializing, the music and menus -- it's really how we live that points to the reality of Jesus Christ as the Living God: that says to others in clear terms "Christ IS Born! You can see Him IN ME!" "Christ IS Born! Walk WITH ME in His radiant Light!" "Christ IS Born! His love has wonderfully taken flesh in MY life and can do the same in YOURS."
In 2, 20 or 200 years, there will likely be those who ask: "Who is this Jesus and why should I have faith in Him?" or, "Is there a God and does He give a hoot about His creation -- about me?"
May part of our Orthodox witness today and our legacy to future generations make the response to these questions crystal clear -- by our love, our words, our worship, and our deeds; by the way WE walk in His Light "by faith and not by sight." May our faith in Emmanuel and the "comfort and joy" of our Savior's birth truly fill our hearts, homes, communities and world -- and help us to help others unbelief!
Christ IS Born! Glorify Him!
Whose Gift List?
Preparations for the “holiday season” are already in full swing. And some of the colorful newspaper inserts suggest that, even though Thanksgiving is a few weeks away, the holiday gift-giving pressure’s on!
A study from ten years ago reported the average American maintains some 200 relationships. That's a substantial number including various circles of relationships: family, religious, social and professional groups, volunteer organizations, service providers, etc. Perhaps our holiday stress is due to the sheer number of people in our circles we want to remember through our gift-giving.
But the implications of this relationship study are more far-reaching. Obviously, because it's a secular study, there's no consideration of one's relationship to God. As people of faith who presumably strive to keep the commandment to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, every other relationship should be seen through the prism of our relationship to Our God. And we have the capacity to personally share this faith with about 200 souls!
There's more. When this relationship study was published a decade ago, it's purpose was to illustrate the increasingly detrimental effect various social media have on the depth of human relationships. The study's conclusion was, with all our advanced technology, our relationships are becoming increasingly "superficial, non-substantial and inconsequential."
This is a sobering indictment! In all our twitters, texts and tweets, there's little if any substance, quality, or "soul" in a majority of human relationships. They're deteriorating into "virtual" relationships, void of personal, human interaction and maintained largely by words, that, in case we need to be reminded, make up roughly seven-percent of effective communications. If we don't know the circumstances and struggles of the person behind the words, can't hear the intensity of their voice or read the body language that accompanies their words or are unaware of the "heart" from whence they emanate, words are just bits (or bytes) of data that show little if any respect to "personhood."
In Christian theology, the relationship between the Persons of the Holy Trinity is profound and instructive. "In the beginning," God's will regarding relationships is clearly revealed after the creation of Adam: "It's not good that man should be alone." The coming of Jesus Christ into the world is literally the "personification" of God's will: "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). The Gospels essentially document the myriad ways Jesus connected with people on the most intimate level and repeatedly note such connections were inspired by divine and redemptive love. "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). There's absolutely nothing superficial, non-substantial or inconsequential in this relationship!
There's little argument that gift-giving is synonymous with Christmas. But are we concerned enough, caring enough, loving enough of the 200 or so souls precious to God among our circles of relationships to give them more than a crockpot, computer game or scented candle?
It's through real, deep, substantial human relationships that we move toward heaven and eternal joy: to the extent we acknowledge upon Whose gift-list WE are listed as beloved children of God. May we share the gift of some refreshing, cool water with someone today; to help satisfy their thirst for a truly meaningful relationship with the Living God.
"For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths" [2 Timothy 4:3-4].
In the course of our daily lives, we're often faced with circumstances that require us to determine particular courses of action to solve problems. When such decisions are not obvious, we usually seek the counsel of others who, we believe, have the knowledge and experience to help us make good and right decisions.
We seldom realize how often we engage in this process. For example, you drop your car off for its annual inspection. Later in the day, you get "the call" and learn that "our mechanic recommends a new exhaust, rear brakes and ball joints." Do you take the advice or not? It's decision time. What do you do?
There are people with experience in virtually every area of life. The internet is loaded with endless links to names, places, agencies and companies that specialize in sharing their expertise, eager to tell you how to solve any problem and fix most anything (of course, for a price). With the accumulated knowledge of an endless number of experts, consultants, and professional advisors these days, we should, theoretically, be making good decisions and choosing right courses of action all the time, in everything. Why, then, does it appear our world is such a mess, that our society is in a state of turmoil, and that we're not the happiest, most well-adjusted mentally, emotionally and financially stable and utterly content people on the face of the earth?
In these "ultimate" questions, suddenly the experts are silent. Social scientists and academia have few viable answers. Historians can review the past and try to predict the future, but they can't alter it's course. Perhaps, like the Magi, we should look to the stars for guidance and let horoscopes inform our decision-making. But why don't we ever see the headline, "Psychic wins lottery"? Then we have government legislators who, at our expense and presumably in our interest, try to answer "ultimate questions" by adopting more laws to enforce order, punish wrong-doing, impose justice, and protect our rights to be happy, secure, content and well-adjusted, even though we're not.
The only explanation for our modern turmoil is the most ancient one -- that nasty little three-letter word that seems more offensive, revolting, judgmental and obscene these days than any four-letter word. Dare I utter it -- SIN! Since Adam and Eve started the ball rolling, humanity has continuously been plagued by it.
Sin (amartia in Greek) literally means "missing the mark" and represents the myriad ways we fall short in living the abundant life for which we were created by God. (G.O.D. -- another three-letter word that seems increasingly offensive, revolting, judgmental and intolerant these days!). In our society, faith and religious belief are increasingly consigned to the same playing field as everything else: it's a matter of private choice, individual preference, a personal decision. Contrary to the approach we take to solve problems and fix things, in the realm of faith we don't necessarily want "sound teaching." Our ears itch for that which suits our own likings (see 2 Timothy).
When God becomes a matter of private choice and personal preference, it naturally follows that disobedience to God -- sin -- becomes likewise; it's "in the eyes of the beholder." It's because we've sidelined God from the experience of daily life that we no longer seem capable of understanding the consequences of disobedience to Him and -- here's the point -- why we make bad decisions and choose wrong courses of action. We have, in effect, created gods of ourselves!
In situations of daily life, there are consequences to all decisions and actions. If we don't put essential brakes on our cars, don't follow our doctors' orders, don't rely on the knowledge of trusted experts and follow the recommendations of those with considerably more wisdom and experience than we possess, what will happen? God does not call everyone to flee to the desert to live like hermits, battling our demons alone. In Luke 19, Jesus didn't tell Zacchaeus (the "vertically-challenged, government-enhancement officer") to quit being a tax-collector; rather, He inspires him to be an honest one, to make good decisions rather than abusing his position by cheating people. And it's when Zacchaeus makes that commitment that Jesus says: "Today, salvation has come to this house."
Whose advice should we follow in making the really important decisions in life? Whose expertise is paramount? Whose counsel is above reproach? Whose wisdom is far beyond the wisdom of this world?
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only healing balm for itching ears! And His Holy Church, with thousands of years of accumulated experience (Holy Tradition!) stands ever-ready to apply it!
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.
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