By Rev. Thomas Fitzgerald
The life of the Orthodox Church perpetuates and fulfills the ministryof Jesus Christ. The close association between Christ and His Church isreflected in the images from the Scriptures which declare that Christis the Head and the Church is His Body; and that Christ is theBridegroom and the Church is His bride. These images express thereality that the Church does not exist independently from Christ.
The Lord and Savior, who was known, loved, and followed by the firstdisciples in Galilee nearly two thousand years ago, is the same Lordand Savior who is known, loved, and followed through His Church. AsChrist revealed the Holy Trinity, His Church continues to reveal theHoly Trinity and to praise God in her worship. As Christ reconciledhumanity to the Father, His Church continues to be the medium ofreconciliation by word and action throughout the world. As Christmanifested the vocation of authentic human life, His Church continuesto be the realm through which the image and likeness of God in each ofus is brought to perfection.
The Orthodox Christian becomes united with Christ at Baptism and isnurtured by Christ at every Eucharist. We believe that the Holy Spiritacts in and through the Church to make Christ our Lord and to bring Hiswork to fulfillment.
Orthodoxy has avoided any temptation to reduce its vision of theChurch. The biblical descriptions of the Church as the Body of Christand the Temple of the Holy Spirit indicate that she truly must berecognized as much more than one institution among many, or a socialservice agency, or as an ethnic or fraternal organization. Certainlythe Church does have her institutional aspects, and she is alwayssubject to the sins and limitations of her human members. Yet,Orthodoxy believes that in addition to her obvious human side, theChurch also has a Divine dimension. The Greek word for Church,ecclesia, implies a community called and gathered by God for a specialpurpose. This means that the Church can be described as the uniquemeeting place between God and His people.
The Orthodox Faith cannot beappreciated fully, or appropriated personally, by the individual who isoutside the Orthodox Church. Viewed from this vantage point, Orthodoxycan falsely appear as one world-view among many, as a culturalappendage, or merely as a ceremonial church. It is only from within theChurch that one has the necessary perspective of experiencing Orthodoxyas the revelation of Divine Life.
BECOMING AN ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN
The Orthodox Church has auniversal appeal and vocation. She does not restrict membership topeople of any particular culture, race, class, or section of the world.Indeed, Orthodoxy values the diversity of cultures, peoples, andlanguages, which are part of her life. She also affirms a unity offaith and love in Christ which transcends all artificial barriers.Membership in the Orthodox Church is open to all persons.
The Orthodox Church in the United States is no longer considered to bean immigrant Church. She has been recognized as one of the four majorfaiths in America. The membership of the Orthodox Church in thiscountry includes persons from a wide variety of ethnic and culturalfamily backgrounds. The overwhelming majority has been born in theUnited States. Among these five million Orthodox, there is a largenumber of persons who were raised in other religious traditions and whohave chosen to become members of the Orthodox Church.
This reality was clearly recognized by His Eminence Archbishop lakovos,former archbishop of North and South America, when he told theTwentieth Biennial Clergy/Laity Congress of the Greek OrthodoxArchdiocese that:
“Orthodoxy is notexclusively the religion of the Hellenes, but the religion of all thosewho, as a result of mixed marriages, or contract or study of Orthodoxy,have come to know and relate to it; and, therefore, Orthodoxy hasalready found its place and mission in the Western Hemisphere.”
If you are seriouslyinterested in becoming a member of the Orthodox Church, you should meetwith your local Orthodox priest and become acquainted with his parish.He will be happy to offer you advice and guidance, as well as tointroduce you to members of the parish. This is truly an excitingperiod in the development of Orthodox parishes in the United States.While most are associated with a particular cultural heritage, many arecoming to fully recognize the responsibility of Orthodoxy to the widersociety. When you embrace the Orthodox Church, you also join aparticular local parish. It is meant to be a spiritual family.Therefore, you should thoughtfully examine the concerns and prioritiesof the parish. Try to discover whether you will feel comfortable,whether the parish can provide you with the opportunity to grow closerto God and to be of responsible service to others.
In many parishes, the priest offers classes or individual conferenceson the Orthodox Faith for those who wish to become members of theOrthodox Church. The length and scope of these instructions will bedetermined by your previous knowledge of the Christian Faith, as wellas by your particular needs and concerns. After the period of instruction, there is a Service of Reception intothe Church. If you are converting from a non-Christian religion, youwill make a profession of Faith, be baptized and chrismated. If you arebeing received from a Church which has a similarity of beliefs withOrthodoxy and you have been properly baptized and confirmed, you willparticipate in a brief Service of Anointing (Chrismation) whichsignifies reconciliation with the Orthodox Church. The reception ofHoly Communion is always seen as the consummation of union with theChurch.
COMMITMENT TO CHRIST
The ultimate commitment ofthe Orthodox Christian is a commitment to Christ our Lord, Who is knownin and through the Church. This is expressed by the litanies of theChurch which call upon us to “commit ourselves, one another, and ourwhole life unto Christ our God.” And, prior to receiving HolyCommunion, we pray: “O Master Who loves man kind, unto you we commitour whole life and our hope.”
Each of us is unique and blessed by the Holy Spirit with differentgifts and vocations in life, therefore, our personal commitment toChrist will be expressed differently. Yet, Orthodoxy firmly believesthat this commitment will always be built upon a worship of God and aloving concern for others. As worship is central to the Church as awhole, worship, personal prayer, and especially participation in theHoly Eucharist are central to the life of the individual OrthodoxChristian. Through these actions, we grow closer to God and we areblessed with the fruits of the Spirit, which enable us to be of lovingand responsible service to others in Christ’s Name. Orthodoxy avoidsany tendency which seeks to separate love of God from love of neighbor.The two are inseparable. This conviction is, expressed during theDivine Liturgy in the dialogue between the priest and the people whichsays, “Let us love one another that with one mind we may confess…TheFather, Son, and Holy Spirit; The Trinity, consubstantial andundivided.”
Although Orthodoxy highly extols the value of worship, this does notimply that it in any way minimizes the importance of a life livedaccording to the Gospel. Therefore, as the Liturgy reminds us, onlythose with faith and love may draw near to receive Holy Communion. Ourparticipation in the Body and Blood of the Lord also provides each withthe opportunity to be Christ-bearers in the world in which we live.
Copyright: Â© Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
Source: The Department of Religious Education