The Orthodox Faith

See photo: Kiev Pechersk Lavra, Monastery of the Caves

The origins of the Orthodox Faith date to the 1st century AD and it was founded by the Apostles. The name “Orthodox” means that the religion glorifies God in the correct manner and, thus, allows the faithful to save their souls. At the same time the Orthodox churches are very different.

There are currently 230 million people in the world that belong to the Canonical Orthodox Churches (those that recognize the rulings of all seven Ecumenical Councils and the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed. The Russian Orthodox Church is the largest. According to various sources around 164 million people are considered to be Orthodox believers. The history of the Russian Orthodox Church is complex. In Soviet times the Church suffered persecutions, however the Christian faith that made its way to Ruthenia from Jerusalem has always helped Russians in all of their trials. Even Joseph Stalin, one of the greatest persecutors of Christians, understood this. During the Second World War he even opened the Orthodox Temples in the Soviet Union with the aim of strengthening the public's faith in victory.

The Orthodox Church consists of 15 autocephalous (independent) and 5 autonomous churches (relatively autonomous, but dependent on one of the autocephalous churches). All of the churches are united in liturgical communication. This means that parishioners from any of the churches may participate in the sacraments and pray in the temples of other autocephalous churches along with their regular parishioners.

The Greek Orthodox branch is one of the largest religions and is generally the group that is being referenced when one says “Orthodox”. Historically, the Orthodox groups and Catholicism are opposed to one another within Christianity. The schism of these two churches took place in 1054 and resulted from a long confrontation between the Western tradition (Latin-Catholic) and the Eastern one (Greek-Orthodox). The conflict was motivated by numerous factors and even involved mutual excommunication that lasted until 1965.

The Orthodox Church has official status in Bulgaria, where the constitution refers to it as “the traditional religion”; in Greece, the Orthodox Faith is the national religion; the Georgian constitution references the "exclusive role of the Georgian Orthodox Church", however there is freedom of religion; and in Finland there is a law in force regarding the Orthodox Church. The Finnish law regulates the internal organization of the church and allows for the imposition of tithes on parishioners and businesses where the majority of the owners are Orthodox parishioners. Still, the church does not have the right to interfere in the operation of the church.

In Jerusalem the Orthodox Faith is represented by the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, which has jurisdiction over Israel, Palestine, and Jordan. In the Temple of the Holy Sepulchre the Orthodox have control over the part of Golgotha where Jesus is believed to have been crucified, as well as the Catholicon, the main church of the Temple of the Holy Sepulchre.

The Patriarch of Jerusalem is also the head of the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre, consisting of 120 monks from the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem. Thanks to the forces of the Brotherhood, whose origins date to the year 313, the Orthodox retain the right to maintain the holy sites.

Every year on the day before the Greek Easter the clergy of the Orthodox Church, along with the Armenian, Coptic, and Syrian denominations, carry the Holy Fire from the Holy Sepulchre and it miraculously lights the lamp in the Cubiculum (the chapel where the Holy Sepulchre is found and which is used by all the churches that have the right to celebrate mass in the Temple). The descent of the Holy Fire is one of the great miracles in the Christian World and takes place in one of the most important sanctuaries for all Christians. Dozens of generations of clergy and pilgrims have prayed for the Holy Fire in the Temple of the Holy Sepulchre. Once the sun goes down in Jerusalem the flame is sent to all of the Orthodox nations. Without the Holy Fire there would be no Easter, thus every Orthodox believer must obtain part of the Holy Light in the form of a candle from the Temple of the Holy Sepulchre.