There are about two billion Christians worldwide, and together they make up one church. However, they are gathered into groups which have slightly different practices and beliefs. These are called denominations. The oldest denomination is called the Orthodox Church.
For an Orthodox Christian, God is a being who no one can ever entirely know. Orthodox Christians seek God in prayer several times a day and attending Divine Worship (it is called Liturgy) on a Sunday. A true Christian’s life is characterised by prayer and love. So knowledge of the Bible leads people to adore Jesus and to serve those in need generously and practically.
Orthodox Christians worship God with the backing of a choir singing glorious harmonies. They move in a cloud of sweet-smelling incense as the music rises and falls. There are icons (pictures of saints created with extraordinary reverence) placed around the church. Worshippers light candles, bow and pray. Most people stand, but there are seats at the edge for those who need them. The Bible is read. Hymns and psalms are chanted. Everything about it provides release from the ordinariness of everyday life into the mysterious and exalted presence of God.
Out of sight, behind a finely decorated screen (an iconostasis), priests prepare the bread and wine which will be consumed as a way of remembering Jesus (the eucharist). They emerge, dressed in richly colourful vestments, and distribute them. There are prayers for the world and sometimes a priest then preaches a sermon.
The Orthodox denomination has a claim to link directly back to the apostles (the leaders of the very first churches). They suggest that theirs is authentic worship, and that all other denominations have added to or subtracted from the traditions which they faithfully keep. The Eastern ‘Byzantine’ Orthodox Churches (Russian, Greek and Balkan) have the longest history. In the 5th century, theological disagreements caused the Oriental Orthodox Church to break away. Their practices are even more traditional, magnified by the fact they are in countries with a Muslim majority, such as Iraq, Iran and North Africa.
To find out more about how the Roman Catholic Church separated from the Orthodox Church one thousand years after Jesus, read the page about the history of Christianity in the 9th – 15th centuries.
What the Bible says about it
An extract from the Bible:
Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.
Where to find it:
2 Timothy 2:1-2.
About these words:
Part of a letter by Paul (one of the very first leaders of the Christian church) to young Timothy. He trained Timothy how to be his successor, and stressed how the faith should be passed on from one generation to the next – an important part of Orthodox teaching…
And they said…
Patriarch Kirill, Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church:
In front of you should be the crystal of your faith, of your convictions. It is through this that you should look upon the world. It should focus your intellectual and spiritual energy and be transmitted to the surrounding world.
St John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, 349–407:
Do not be ashamed to enter again into the Church. Be ashamed when you sin. Do not be ashamed when you repent … Sin is a wound; repentance is a medicine. Just as there are for the body wounds and medicines, so for the soul are sins and repentance. Sin is a matter of shame, but repentance is a matter of courage.
St Sebastian Dabovich, Archimandrate of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Chicago, 1864–1940:
What is the Orthodox Church? A body or community of people who, first, correctly believe in divine revelation and, second, obey a lawful hierarchy instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ himself, through the holy apostles. In order to belong to the Orthodox Church two principal conditions are required. Firstly, to accurately accept, rightly understand and truthfully confess the divine teaching of faith, and secondly, to acknowledge the lawful hierarchy or priesthood, to receive from it the holy mysteries or sacraments, and generally to follow its precepts in matters concerning salvation.