THE ORTHODOX CHURCH HAS TWO GREAT SOURCES OF AUTHORITY:
Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition
Holy Scripture is comprised of the writings of both the New and the Old Testaments. The New Testament reveals the human and divine nature of Jesus Christ, and His sacred teachings that we are charged to follow. The Old Testament is a history of the Hebrew people. It contains, among other sacred writings, the prophecies and the writings of the Prophets that foretold the coming of the Messiah. It therefore serves as an introduction to the revelation and the saving message of the New Testament.
Holy Tradition, of which Holy Scripture is a part, includes the writings, teachings, acts of the Apostles, saints, martyrs, and fathers of the Church, and her liturgical and sacramental traditions throughout the ages, the oral tradition of the early Church and the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils. All of this collective wisdom and experience through the centuries are combined to form this second great source of sacred authority. (1)
The bishop is the head of the local Church. He is elevated to the episcopacy from the ranks of the celibate clergy. Each bishop can trace his ordination back to one of the original apostles! As head of the local Church he can perform all the sacraments of Church including the ordination of other bishops, priests and the consecration of churches. In the Orthodox Church, all bishops are equal. Special titles are given to bishops depending on the geographic size, population or historic prominence of their diocese. Thus we have titles such as: Metropolitan, Archbishop or Patriarch.
Candidates to the priesthood are ordained by at least one bishop. They are given the grace to perform all the sacraments except those performed by bishops alone. The priest represents the bishop at the parish level; and, like the bishop, can trace his ordination back to the Apostles.
Deacons cannot perform the sacraments, but can administer them. For example, once the priest or bishop consecrates the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, the deacon can administer the sacrament to the faithful at the Divine Liturgy or, in case of the sick and elderly, to homes and hospitals.
The clergy are the sacred priesthood, where the laity are called the royal priesthood. One is not greater than the other but equal and distinct. Each play a very important role in the liturgical and administrative life of the Church. The clergy cannot conduct formal worship services without the participation of the laity; nor can the laity perform the same services without the clergy to lead them in prayer. The laity are called upon to live by the same Christian moral standards as the clergy. Both are expected to participate in all the worship services and keep the various days and seasons of fasting and feasting. (source: OrthodoxPhotos.com)
“All the faithful are truly anointed priests and kings in the spiritual renewal brought about through baptism, just as priests and kings were anointed figuratively in former times. . For those anointings were prefigurations of the truth of our anointing: prefigurations in relation not merely to some of us but to all of us.”
(St. Nikitas Stithatos, On Spiritual Knowledge)
In the Sacrament of Baptism, a person is incorporated into the crucified, resurrection and glorified Christ and is reborn to participate in the divine life. Each baptized person also shares in the royal priesthood of the people of God: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God…” (1 Peter 2:9). It is through baptism, therefore, that one becomes a fully participating member of the Church, and is made an heir of eternal life.
Holy Tradition is the very Church; without the Sacred Tradition the Church does not exist. Those who deny the Sacred Tradition deny the Church and the preaching of the Apostles.
Before the writing of the Holy Scriptures, that is, of the sacred texts of the Gospels, the Acts and the Epistles of the Apostles, and before they were spread to the churches of the world, the Church was based on Sacred Tradition. The holy texts are in relation to Sacred Tradition what the part is to the whole. The Church Fathers regard Sacred Tradition as the safe guide in the interpretation of Holy Scripture and absolutely necessary for understanding the truths contained in the Holy Scripture. The Church received many traditions from the Apostles: The constitution of the church services, especially of the Divine Liturgy, the holy Mysteries themselves and the manner of performing them, certain prayers and other institutions of the Church go back to the Sacred Tradition of the Apostles.
In their conferences, the Holy Synods draw not only from Holy Scriptures, but also from Sacred Tradition as from a pure fount. Thus, the Seventh Ecumenical Synod says in the 8th Decree: "If one violates any part of the Church Tradition, either written or unwritten, let him be anathema."
~St. Nectarios Of Aegina
JESUS CHRIST AND THE BELIEVERS
(St. Ioannou Chrysostomou, PG 61, 72).
He, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the Head of the Church, we are the body. Is it possible to have an empty space between the head and the body? Certainly not. He is the foundation stone, we the building that is founded on Him. He is the vine, we the vines. He is the Bridegroom, we his Bride the Church. He is our shepherd, we his sheep. He is the way of life, we walk in it. We are the spiritual Temple. He comes and dwells in us. He is the firstborn, we are His brothers. He is the heir of the Heavenly Kingdom as the Son of God we His co-heirs. He is the life that leads to eternal salvation and happiness, we the sharers of this Holy life. He is the resurrection of the world and of men from the death of sin, we who are resurrected. He is the spiritual light of the world, we who are enlightened by the light. All of the above shows the union of Jesus Christ with us His believers.
I. Origins of the Ecumenical Patriarchate
The Great Church of Christ emerged in the area around ancient Byzantium in Asia Minor in the first century of Christianity. Tradition holds that the Apostle Andrew, the first-called disciple of Jesus Christ, ordained the city’s first bishop, as well as bishops in the cities of Nicaea, Chalcedon and Herakleia, also in the region. The Bishop of Byzantium became Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome sometime after 330 A.D. when the Emperor Constantine transferred the capital of the Roman Empire to Byzantium and renamed it Constantinople – the “New Rome”. Constantine had convened the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea in 325 A.D., which became the first of seven Ecumenical Councils that would be held under the jurisdiction of the emergent Church of Constantinople and establish the defining Nicaean Creed and the constitutional framework of Christianity accepted today.
The role of the Archbishop of Constantinople and New Rome as Ecumenical Patriarch was further defined in the canons of the Second and Fourth Ecumenical Councils of the undivided Christian Church, held in 381 in Constantinople and in 451 in Chalcedon, respectively. The two Ecumenical Councils recognized the See of Constantinople as a Patriarchate and as the first See of the East. The precise title “Ecumenical Patriarch” or “world-wide father” was formally accorded to the Archbishop of Constantinople by a synod convened in Constantinople in 587 A.D.
II. Establishment of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople
When the Great Schism occurred in the Christian Church in 1054, polarizing the Church into Eastern and Western entities, the Ecumenical Patriarchate emerged as the world center of the Eastern – or, more appropriately, Orthodox (“right worship” in Greek) Church, referring to its guardianship of the unchanged essential tenets and practices of undivided Christianity. The Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople was recognized by other Orthodox hierarchs as primus inter pares – “first among equals”.
Today, the Ecumenical Patriarchate (in modern-day Istanbul, Turkey) continues to occupy the first place of honor among al the world’s Orthodox Christian Churches. His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew serves as the spiritual leader and representative worldwide voice of some 300 million Orthodox Christians throughout the world. The spread of the Orthodox Church has made the historical distinctions of East and West irrelevant.
The Ecumenical Patriarch has the historical, canonical and theological responsibility to initiate and coordinate actions among all Orthodox Churches, whether under his jurisdiction, independent or autonomous. This includes assembling and convening councils, facilitating inter-Church and inter-faith dialogue and addressing the issues of the day.
The Virgin Mary is the Theotokos, the mother of Jesus Christ, the Son and Word of God. She conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. She was cared for by her betrothed husband, Joseph, who took the child and his mother into his home as his own. One very strong tradition in the Orthodox Church holds that the birth of Jesus was also miraculous and left Mary's virginity intact as a sign; it is also the tradition of the Church that Joseph and Mary did not have relations after the birth of Jesus. She is also called Panagia, the "All-Holy," indicating her closeness to God in her obedience.
The title Theotokos (in Greek, Θεοτοκος) is a Greek word that means "God-bearer" or "Birth-giver to God."
The Title Theotokos:
1. Adoption at the Third Ecumenical Council
As a title for the Virgin Mary, Theotokos was recognized by the Orthodox Church at Third Ecumenical Council held at Ephesus in 431. It had already been in use for some time in the devotional and liturgical life of the Church. The theological significance of the title is to emphasize that Mary's son, Jesus, is fully God, as well as fully human, and that Jesus' two natures (divine and human) were united in a single Person of the Trinity. The competing view at that council was that Mary should be called Christotokos instead, meaning "Birth-giver to Christ." This was the view advocated by Nestorius, then Patriarch of Constantinople. The intent behind calling her Christotokos was to restrict her role to be only the mother of "Christ's humanity" and not his divine nature.
Nestorius' view was anathematized by the Council as heresy, (see Nestorianism), since it was considered to be dividing Jesus into two distinct persons, one who was Son of Mary, and another, the divine nature, who was not. It was defined that although Jesus has two natures, human and divine, these are eternally united in one personhood. Because Mary is the mother of God the Son, she is therefore duly entitledTheotokos.
Calling Mary the Theotokos or the Mother of God (Μητηρ Θεου) was never meant to suggest that Mary was coeternal with God, or that she existed before Jesus Christ or God existed. The Church acknowledges the mystery in the words of this ancient hymn: "He whom the entire universe could not contain was contained within your womb, O Theotokos."
2. Translating the word Theotokos While some languages used by various Orthodox churches often have a single native word forTheotokos, it gets translated into English in a number of ways. The most common is Mother of God, though God-bearer and Birth-giver to God are also fairly common. There are difficulties with all these translations, however. The most literally correct one is Birth-giver to God, though God-bearer comes close. Theophoros (Θεοφορος) is the Greek term usually and more correctly translated as God-bearer, so using God-bearer for Theotokos in some sense "orphans" Theophoros when it comes time to translate that term (for St. Ignatius of Antioch, for instance). The main difficulties with both these translations for Theotokos is that they are a bit awkward and difficult to sing.
The most popular translation, Mother of God, is accurate to a point, but the difficulty with that one is that Mother of God is the literal translation of another Greek phrase which is found on nearly all icons of the Theotokos: Μητηρ Θεου (Meter Theou), usually in the standard iconographic abbreviation of ΜΡ ΘΥ. Additionally, a number of hymns employ both Theotokos and Meter Theou—translating both as Mother of God can yield some rather nonsensical language, and it destroys the distinction that the hymnographer intended.
The usage that seems to be dominant in English-speaking Orthodox churches in North America is to adopt the original term itself into English (something English speakers have traditionally done with foreign words almost since the earliest known history of the language), transliterating it simply as Theotokos. British usage gives preference to translating Theotokos as Mother of God.
The Full Title of Mary:
The title Our All-holy, immaculate, most blessed and glorified Lady, the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary (Greek: Τῆς Παναγίας, ἀχράντου, ὑπερευλογημένης, ἐνδόξου, δεσποίνης ἡμῶν Θεοτόκου καὶ ἀειπαρθένου Μαρίας) is often used in Orthodox services when Mary is mentioned.
- 1. All-holy
- The title Panagia (all-holy) never was a subject of dogmatic definition, but it is accepted and used by all Orthodox. This is because she is the supreme example of cooperation between God and the free will of man. "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to your word" (Luke 1:38). Sometimes Mary is called the New Eve because her obedient submission to the will of God offset Eve's disobedience in Paradise.
- 2. Immaculate
- The Orthodox Church calls Mary "immaculate," "pure," or "spotless" (achrantos in Greek). Some Orthodox state that she was free from actual sin, some say she never sinned, and others just say she died sinless.
- As for original sin and the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, the Orthodox Church has never made any formal and definitive pronouncement on the subject. The majority of Orthodox have rejected the doctrine, for it seems to separate Mary from the rest of mankind, putting her in a completely different class from all the other righteous men and women of the Old Testament. It is important that Mary was the same as all mankind so that all Christians can follow her example and submit to God's will. Mary was born a sinner, a human with full human nature. Mary’s Son, Jesus the Christ, took flesh from her. So as Son of God, He assumed fallen human nature from her and redeemed humanity by His Crucifixion and Resurrection. Also, the original doctrine of the Immaculate Conception (1869) implies an understanding of original sin not held by the Orthodox Church.
- 3. Most blessed and glorified Lady
- The Orthodox Church honors the Mother of God on account of the Son. St. Cyril of Alexandria, along with the Fathers of the Council of Ephesus, insisted on calling Mary "Theotokos" not just to glorify her, but to safeguard a right doctrine of Christ's person, theIncarnation. Orthodox Christians feel that one cannot really believe in the Incarnation and not honor Mary.
- 4. the Theotokos
- See above. This is often translated as "the Mother of God."
- 5. ever Virgin Mary
- See below. The Orthodox Church honors Mary as "ever Virgin." In iconography, her virginity before, during, and after the birth of Christ is represented by three stars on her shoulders and forehead.
Feasts of the Theotokos
The Orthodox Church remembers the life of the Theotokos with several feast days. The Liturgical year begins and ends with the feast days of the Theotokos. wonder working Icons of the Theotokos also have their own feast days.
- 1. The Nativity of the Theotokos is celebrated on September 8.
- 2. The Presentation of the Theotokos into the Temple is celebrated on November 21.
- 3. The Annunciation to the Theotokos is celebrated on March 25.
- 4. The Dormition of the Theotokos (Falling Asleep) of the Theotokos is celebrated on August 15.
The Holy Scriptures tell us that when our Lord was dying on the Cross, He saw His mother and His disciple John and said to the Virgin Mary, "Woman, behold your son!" and to John, "Behold your mother!" (John 19:25-27). From that hour, the Apostle took care of the Theotokos in his own home.
Along with the biblical reference in Acts 2:14 that confirms that the Virgin Mary was with the Holy Apostles on the day of Pentecost, the tradition of the Church holds that she remained in the home of the Apostle John in Jerusalem, continuing a ministry in word and deed.
At the time of her death, the disciples of our Lord who were preaching throughout the world returned to Jerusalem to see the Theotokos. Except for the Apostle Thomas, all of them including the Apostle Paul were gathered together at her bedside. At the moment of her death, Jesus Christ himself descended and carried her soul into heaven.
Following her repose, the body of the Theotokos was taken in procession and laid in a tomb near the Garden of Gethsemane. When the Apostle Thomas arrived three days after her repose and desired to see her body, the tomb was found to be empty. The bodily assumption of the Theotokos was confirmed by the message of an angel and by her appearance to the Apostles.
The Protection of the Mother of God is one of the most beloved feast days on the Orthodox calendar among the Slavic peoples, commemorated on October 1. The feast is celebrated additionally on October 28 in the Greek tradition. It is also known as the feast of the Virgin Mary's Cerement.
In most Slavic languages the word "cerement" has a dual meaning of "veil" and "protection." The Russian word Pokrov (Покров), like the Greek Skepi (Σκέπη), has a complex meaning. First of all, it refers to a cloak or shroud, but it also means protection or intercession. For this reason, the name of the feast is variously translated as the Veil of Our Lady, the Protecting Veil of the Theotokos, the Protection of the Theotokos, or the Intercession of the Theotokos
According to Eastern Orthodox Sacred Tradition, the apparition of Mary the Theotokos occurred during the 10th century at the Blachernae church in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) where several of her relics (her robe, veil, and part of her belt) were kept. On Sunday, October 1 at four in the morning, St. Andrew the Blessed Fool-for-Christ, who was a Slav by birth, saw the dome of the church open and the Virgin Mary enter, moving in the air above him, glowing and surrounded by angels and saints. She knelt and prayed with tears for all faithful Christians in the world. The Virgin Mary asked her son, Jesus Christ, to accept the prayers of all the people entreating him and looking for her protection. Once her prayer was completed, she walked to the altar and continued to pray. Afterwards, she spread her veil over all the people in the church as a protection.
St Andrew turned to his disciple, St. Epiphanius, who was standing near him, and asked, "Do you see, brother, the Holy Theotokos, praying for all the world?" Epiphanius answered, "Yes, Holy Father, I see it and am amazed!"
An icon of the Virgin Mary praying, surrounded by people, was said to be kept in the Blachernae church. It is said to reproduce the events as St Andrew saw them that day. (source: OrthodoxWiki)