Eastern Orthodoxy – Where’s the Pope?

Some may think that there’s no point in looking into the religion of Eastern Orthodoxy. A study shows that there are 6 million Orthodox churches in the United States alone (with a grand total of over 200 million believers worldwide). I wonder if many of you even know people that subscribe to the Eastern Orthodox religion. But with that many churches, you’d think they’d be everywhere. And maybe they are. So what is Eastern Orthodoxy, anyway? Isn’t just like Catholicism, just without the Pope?

The Orthodox Church doesn’t have a Pope, but instead they are headed by patriarchs, the archbishop, and the metropolitan. Orthodoxy believes there is to be only one visible church, and it believes itself to be that church. When it split from Rome back in 1054 as we studied last week, the east (Orthodoxy) claimed that the west had strayed into heresy.

Now up until this point, Christians have nothing to say against Orthodoxy. But here’s where we differ drastically. While we put Scripture as supreme authority over the church, Orthodoxy puts the church as over Scripture saying that Scripture itself is only part of a large tradition that makes for a complete organic whole – the “fullness of the Christian faith.” They also say that the Spirit of God living within the church is the authority instead of Rome or Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone). Remember that Scripture itself says that the Word is God. Orthodoxy says that the Bible is not set up over the church, it is something that lives and is understood within the church and that the Bible gets its authority from the church.

In regards to baptism, they believe a person is born again through baptism. It is administered to infants as well as adults (called the “bath of regeneration”). Protestants detest philosophy and see it as a defilement to the sacred sacrament. Baptism is meant only to proclaim your pre-existing faith, which you made a conscious decision about well beyond infancy. It it is a grave danger to let your children go through life believing they are saved because they had holy water sprinkled on their foreheads when they were infants.

As with Catholicism, confession of sins must be made with a priest, but here God is judge. The priest will occasionally give advice and a penance.

Orthodoxy emphasizes something called theosis. Theosis is going through the process of deification to attain salvation. There is no emphasis on paying for temporal punishment. No indulgences involved to expiate sins for living or dead. They pray for the dead because the soul is being strengthened by prayers offered, preparing him/her to be confident on Judgement Day. The saints, especially Mary have achieved deification. They are not mediators but intercessors. Praying to them is not worshiping by venerating them. Orthodoxy says theosis is not some kind of pantheism. We might become gods but we still have human nature.

Orthodoxy believers lay prostrate before icons, kissing them, burning candles in front of them. They say that the icon is not an idol but a symbol. Veneration is not toward picture but toward who is depicted.

Eastern Orthodoxy stresses deification above justification. According to them, the Fall was a disaster. But man is not bound by a totally corrupt and sinful nature. Mankind did not inherit guilt from Adam, instead we inherited death, mortality, and corruption. Man was not created for communion or fellowship with God. Instead we have to work toward that. When mankind fell in Adam, it was “departure from a path,” not a drastic plunge from a state of blessedness, as protestants and Catholics believe.

Eastern Orthodoxy says that the Fall is an impenetrable barrier between God and man, but the cross is not a substitute as a victory over sin and death. Instead, it is just a means to enable man to “become god, to obtain theosis (deification or divinitation).”

Eastern Orthodoxy fails to stress the nature of salvation as a free gift. This results in a failure to distinguish between justification as God’s free acceptance of unworthy sinners and sanctification as the process of becoming righteous, a process which involves human activity and effort. We believe the apostles were succeeded not by bishops or church Fathers but by Scripture only (Titus 1:1-4, Jude vv 3, 17).

Obviously, I was only able to skim the surface of this religion, but I hope it has helped believers to better understand what others believe, so we can have intelligent conversations with lost souls and specifically pray for those who subscribe to such beliefs. If you are not a believer in Jesus Christ and put your full faith, hope and trust in His death and resurrection alone, then I hope these brief discussions help to convince you of the truth as you engage in conversations I’m sure will take place below. Brothers and sisters, allow me to remind you to be gentle as doves while answering questions that others may post.

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About adoptingjames
My lovely wife and I are foster parents, dog owners, home owners, and Christians. I am a blogger, book editor, and author. On my blog you'll read about adoption, faith topics, inspirational thoughts, and a whole lotta Disney/Pixar lovin'! For the most exciting read ever, check out my suspense/adventure novel, The Man in the Box. You. Will. Love it.

6 Responses to Eastern Orthodoxy – Where’s the Pope?

  1. travisthetraveler says:

    If we believe we are hopeless sinners, that is all we will achieve. I have learned much between Christianity and Taoism and life experience. I think Jesus had a message that was much different than the message many churches are spreading. Jesus wanted us to know how capable we were even without perfection. Heaven and Hell could be a state of mind that will inevitably manifest itself externally for eternity. He allowed himself to be killed as an example of the importance of others residing in a Heaven like state of mind, cause it really sucks to be the only one. Whether the story happened or not has no relevance to the lesson and message. This is a great post and it is awesome to see people seeking truths and being open. I am inspired!

  2. Nepsis says:

    Your willingness to examine different visions of the Christian faith is admirable and I hope you and your readers remain open to doing so. I am an Orthodox Christian convert, raised Southern Baptist; I came to Orthodoxy after years of reading church history and studying and prayer. I have to tell you that, while I can see your honest intention in making your presentation here, your characterization of Orthodoxy misses the mark in many areas. Orthodoxy is the second largest group of Christian congregants in the world; in America there are somewhere around six million members, not churches. There are really not that many of us in the Western Hemisphere, but we are growing by the grace of God. The Bible is at the heart of Orthodoxy; it is the benchmark of everything we do and our services are full of scriptural foundations. But we are also the ‘children of memory'; under the discernment of the Holy Spirit, we have also retained those things referred to by Luke and John and Paul that were taught directly, by sermon and face-to-face. Those teachings passed into the earliest congregations along with the writings and they all live on in us. It was those memories and the work of the Holy Spirit that allowed the Church to fight off the heresies of ‘Christian’ groups who early on set themselves against the apostolic teachings. Orthodoxy is the direct continuation of the same churchmen who confirmed the apostolic origins of the writings which were recognized as valid in making up we today read as the New Testament, and spread the Christian faith worldwide over the first thousand years of the Christian era.
    By your own admission, you have only skimmed the surface of Orthodoxy. But if what you know about Orthodoxy is reflected here, I must tell you in Christian charity that it is ‘seeing through a glass darkly.’ In the spirit of fairness and intellectual honesty, I hope that you will dig more deeply for a clearer picture.
    And most of all, prayers and best wishes in your effort to adopt and support adoptions as a whole! Adoption is all part of a seamless pro-life effort and needs to be promoted more fervently, seems to me.

  3. CiteSimon says:

    Nepsis presents a great perspective here. Understanding Orthodox Christianity is a significant stretch for anyone coming from an evangelical Christian world-view, it reads like the source for your post couldn’t make the jump. Be interesting to know what convinced Nepsis that the Orthodox expression of Christianity is the real deal – a guest post maybe?

    • Nepsis says:

      There are far better, wiser, and more learned than me. Two come to mind, both converts to Orthodoxy, the late historian Jarislav Pelikan and modern commentator Frederica Mathewes-Green. Pick up most anything written by them. Also there are dozens of excellent podcasts on a variety of topics about Orthodoxy, scripture and the early church at http://www.ancientfaith.com.

  4. kksorrell says:

    Thank you for posting something about Orthodoxy! As an Protestant-to-Orthodox convert, I would like to add a couple of comments. We do believe that baptism is a sacrament, or a means of knowing God, it is not as simple as being the moment that we are “born again.” Orthodox baptism is when a person receives the Holy Spirit, becomes a part of the church, and begins the process of salvation. We do not believe in a one-time salvation moment. We are always in the salvation process. At baptism, of course a baby is too young to make a personal decision about Christ, but the church is part of that sacrament and promises to raise that child in the faith, to be role models, to pray for that child, to be a community that does its best to guide that child in his/her salvation path. Of course, that baby needs to grow up to be a person who loves and desires Christ, who repents of his/her sins and asks for forgiveness regularly, and who takes part in the life of the church. But yes, it starts at baptism. We like to say, “I have been saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved.”

    The second thing is that we are very much a both-and church. Both Scripture and Tradition. Both faith and works. You are right in saying that the OC looks at Scripture as a part of the traditions of the church. But that doesn’t mean the authority of Scripture is undermined by something else. The church existed before the canons officially existed. The New Testament was not officially canonized until AD 397. So naturally, we follow the tradition of the church, which eventually led to the Scriptures of the church.

    Again, thanks for this !

  5. Pingback: The Difference Between Religions and Cults « adoptingjames

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