The word orthodox means "right believing" and was adopted to signify the true religion that faithfully followed the beliefs and practices defined by the first seven ecumenical councils (dating back to the first 10 centuries). Orthodox Christianity claims to have fully preserved, without any deviation, the traditions and doctrines of the early Christian church established by the apostles. This is why they believe themselves to be the only true and "right believing" Christian faith.
The primary disputes that led to the split between the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church centered around Rome's deviation from the original conclusions of the seven ecumenical councils, such as the claim to a universal papal supremacy. Another particular conflict is known as the Filioque Controversy. The Latin word filioque means "and from the Son." It had been inserted into the Nicene Creed during the 6th century, thus changing the phrase pertaining to the origin of the Holy Spirit from "who proceeds from the Father" to "who proceeds from the Father and the Son." It had been added to emphasize Christ's divinity, but Eastern Christians not only objected to the altering of anything produced by the first ecumenical councils, they disagreed with its new meaning. Eastern Christians believe both the Spirit and the Son have their origin in the Father.
One clear distinction between Orthodoxy and Protestantism is the concept of "Sola Scriptura." This "Scripture alone" doctrine held by Protestant faiths asserts that the Word of God alone can be clearly understood and interpreted by the individual believer and is sufficient on its own to be the final authority in Christian doctrine. Orthodoxy argues that the Holy Scriptures (as interpreted and defined by church teaching in the first seven ecumenical councils) along with Holy Tradition are of equal value and importance.
Another less apparent distinction between Eastern Orthodoxy and Western Christianity is their differing theological approaches, which perhaps is simply the result of cultural influences. The Eastern mindset is more inclined toward philosophy, mysticism, and ideology, whereas the Western outlook is guided more by a practical and legal mentality. This can be seen in the subtly different ways that Eastern and Western Christians approach spiritual truth. Orthodox Christians believe that truth must be personally experienced and, as a result, they place less emphasis on its precise definition.
Worship is considered the very center of church life in Eastern Orthodoxy. It is highly liturgical, embracing seven sacraments. It is characterized by a priestly and mystical nature. Veneration of icons and a mystical form of meditative prayer is commonly incorporated into their religious rituals.
More Orthodox Beliefs and Practices:
- Authority of Scripture - Orthodox Christians believe the Holy Scriptures (as interpreted and defined by church teaching in the first seven ecumenical councils) along with Holy Tradition are of equal value and importance.
- Baptism - Orthodox Christians believe baptism is the initiator of the salvation experience. The Orthodox Church practices baptism by full immersion.
- Eucharist - The Eucharist is the center of worship in the Orthodox Church. Eastern Orthodox Christians believe that during the Eucharist believers partake mystically of Christ's body and blood and through it receive his life and strength.
- Holy Spirit - Orthodox Christians believe that the Holy Spirit is one of the persons of the Trinity, who proceeds from the Father and is one in essence with the Father. The Holy Spirit is given by Christ as a gift to the church, to empower for service, to place God's love in our hearts, and to impart spiritual gifts for the Christian life and witness.
- Jesus Christ - Orthodox Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the second person of the Trinity, God's Son, fully divine and fully human. He became flesh through Mary, but was without sin. He died on the cross as man's Savior. He resurrected and ascended to heaven. He will return to judge all men.
- Mary - Orthodox Christians believe Mary has supreme grace and is to be highly honored but they reject the doctrine of Immaculate Conception.
- Predestination - Orthodox Christians believe God has foreknowlege of man's destiny, but he does not predestine him.
- Saints and Icons - Orthodox Christians practice veneration of icons; reverence is directed toward the person they represent and not the relics themselves.
- Salvation - Orthodox Christians believe salvation is a gradual, life-long process by which Christians become more and more like Christ. This requires faith in Jesus Christ, working through love.
- The Trinity - Orthodox Christians believe there are three persons in the Godhead, each divine, distinct and equal. The Father God is the eternal head; the Son is begotten of the Father; the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father.
(Sources: ReligionFacts.com, Orthodox Christian Information Center, The Orthodox Page in America, and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.)