STATEMENT OF FAITH OF THE EASTERN CHRISTIAN CHURCHES
THE NICENE CREED
The Nicene Creed, which was formulated at the Councils of
Nicaea in 325 AD and of Constantinople in 381 AD (1st and
2nd Ecumenical Councils), has been recognised since then as the
authoritative expression of the fundamental beliefs of the
Orthodox Church. The Creed is often referred to as the
"Symbol of Faith". This description indicates that the Creed
is not an analytical statement, but that it points to a
reality greater than itself and to which it bears witness.
For generations the Creed has been the criterion of
authentic Faith and the basis of Christian education. The
Creed is recited at the time of Baptism, during every Divine
Liturgy, and as part of the daily prayers of the Orthodox
The Nicene Creed is comprised of 12 articles of Faith
that summarise the essentials of the Christian Faith :
I believe in one God, Father Almighty, maker of
heaven and earth, and of all things visible and
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of
God, begotten of the Father before all ages,
Light from light, true God from true God, begotten not
made, of one essence with the Father, through him all
things were made.
Who for us men and for our salvation came down from
heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the
Virgin Mary, and became man,
And was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and
suffered and was buried,
And rose on the third day according to the
He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand
of the Father,
And He will come again in glory to judge the living and
the dead, and His kingdom will have no end.
And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, Who
proceeds from the Father,
Who together with the Father and the Son, is worshipped
and glorified, and Who spoke through the Prophets.
In one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
I acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of
I expect the resurrection of the dead, and the life of
the age to come. Amen.
The Orthodox Christian Church was born on Pentecost in AD 33 with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles (see Acts 2:2-4). Through the missionary labors and martyric witness of countless men and women, and through the unbroken handing-down of the pure apostolic faith, it spread to every corner of the world: first the Near East, then Europe, Africa, and Asia. Orthodoxy was planted in North America in the late 18th century. Today the worldwide Orthodox Church has more than 225 million members. Each national Church (Ukrainian, Greek, Polish, Antiochian, etc.) is independent and self-administering, but is united in faith and sacraments with all the others. Some five million Orthodox from diverse ethnic backgrounds now live in the United States and Canada.
The Orthodox Christian believes that the eternal truth of God's revelation in Jesus Christ is preserved in its full integrity in the living tradition of the Church, under the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Orthodox Christians recognize that other Christian groups have maintained many elements of the apostolic faith, but often in attenuated and distorted forms. With profound humility and a consciousness of her own weakness and her responsibility before God, Orthodoxy believes and proclaims that the complete and integral faith delivered to the saints by Jesus Christ has been preserved without alteration or diminution only within the communion of the Orthodox Church. Through the turbulent early centuries of the Church's life, this faith was articulated and defended by councils of bishops. When false gospels were in circulation, the bishops of the Church compiled and proclaimed the true canon of Scripture, giving us the Bible read by all Christians to this day. When heretics distorted the apostolic faith, the bishops spoke with one voice, defending the truth with divinely-inspired depth and clarity. Whether they know it or not, all Christians today are the inheritors of this tradition whenever they acknowledge Christ as the incarnate Son of God, or offer praise to the Holy Trinity. The Scriptures and the faith alike are the gift of Orthodoxy to the world, and Orthodoxy prays fervently that all who bear Christ's name may return again to the bosom of the one, true, and unchanging apostolic faith.
The word "Orthodox," from the Greek word orthodoxia, means both "right belief" and "right glory" or "worship." In Orthodoxy faith and worship are intimately linked. According to the maxim of a fourth-century monk, Evagrius of Pontus, "a theologian is one who prays truly." Orthodoxy is by very definition an experiential faith. It is not a set of rational beliefs, held more or less abstractly, but an all-encompassing way of life. For Orthodoxy, the touchstone of this life and faith is her liturgy, her corporate and public worship. Her worship has never lost its direct continuity with the worship of the ancient Church; the central hymn of the Church's service of evening prayer was referred to by St Basil the Great in the fourth century as being so ancient that no one remembered who composed it. Orthodoxy experiences this liturgical faithfulness as a gift of the Holy Spirit. Far from being a lifeless adherence to the past, her liturgy is a miraculous wellspring of the inspiration which God has bestowed on generations of faithful men and women: prophets and poets, ascetics and visionaries. Orthodox liturgy binds together the whole people of God, living and departed, present, past and future, into the communion of love which is the very life of the Holy Trinity. This hallowed world of prayer is a world of unparalled depth and beauty, a world within which countless Orthodox have found "the one thing needful," and have reached the heights of spiritual life. When in the tenth century envoys of Great Prince Vladimir of Kiev first experienced the Divine Liturgy in the Great Church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, they reported that they did not know if they were in heaven or on earth. An open heart can experience this heavenly beauty, this living, mysterious presence of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, even in the humblest parish church.
Orthodox Christianity remains steadfastly committed to a moral life consistent with holy Scripture and with the tradition of Christian faith, and therefore resists in the strongest terms the characteristic evils of our age: abortion, euthanasia, and all manifestations of a disregard for human life; sexual immorality and the disintegration of the family; the destruction of human community and the debauching of the human spirit in idolatrous commercialism and materialism; the tragic waste of human life and work in the demonic enterprise of war. These two inseparable aspects of the life of Orthodoxy - an unbending adherence to traditional moral life, doctrine, and worship, and the mysterious presence of the beauty, simplicity, and holiness of the ancient Church - have led many seekers and converts to embrace the Orthodox faith. No longer confined to immigrant communities, Orthodox Christianity in America has taken her proper place as a faith for all people. As the Apostle Philip said to Nathaniel who was sitting under the sycamore tree, "Come and see..." (St John 1:46). And the Orthodox Church extends this invitation to you as well. Come and see the priceless treasure that is Orthodoxy: a gift of which none of us is worthy, but which God in His rich mercy has bestowed upon us.
There are special experiences in our communal life as Orthodox Christians when the perception of God's presence and actions is heightened and celebrated. We call these events of the Church Sacraments. In the Orthodox tradition, the Sacraments have been known as Mysteries. This description emphasizes that in these special events of the Church, God reveals Himself through the prayers and actions of His people.
One of the best-known prayers of the Orthodox Church speaks of the spirit of God being "present in all places and filling all things." This profound affirmation is basic to Orthodoxy's understanding of God and His relationship to the world. We believe that God is truly near to us. Although He cannot be seen, God is not detached from His creation. Through the persons of The Risen Christ and the Holy Spirit, God is present and active in our lives and in the creation about us. Our lives and the creation of which we are an important part, point to and reveal God. Not only do the Sacraments disclose and reveal God to us, but also they serve to make us receptive to God. All the Sacraments affect our personal relationship to God and to one another. The Holy Spirit works through the Sacraments. He leads us to Christ who unites us with the Father. By participating in the Sacraments, we grow closer to God and to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This process of deification, or theosis, as it is known by Orthodoxy, takes place not in isolation from others, but within the context of a believing community. Although the Sacraments are addressed to each of us by name, they are experiences which involve the entire Church.
The Sacraments of the Orthodox Church are composed of prayers, hymns, scripture lessons, gestures and processions. Many parts of the services date back to the time of the Apostles. The Orthodox Church has avoided reducing the Sacraments to a particular formula or action. Often, a whole series of sacred acts make up a Sacrament. Most of the Sacraments use a portion of the material of creation as an outward and visible sign of God's revelation. Water, oil, bread and wine are but a few of the many elements which the Orthodox Church employs in her Worship. The frequent use of the material of creation reminds us that matter is good and can become a medium of the Spirit. Most importantly, it affirms the central truth of the Orthodox Christian faith: that God became flesh in Jesus Christ and entered into the midst of creation thereby redirecting the cosmos toward its vocation to glorify its Creator.
The Sacrament of Baptism incorporates us into the Church, the Body of Christ, and is our introduction to the life of the Holy Trinity. Water is a natural symbol of cleansing and newness of life. Through the three-fold immersion in the waters of Baptism in the Name of the Holy Trinity, one dies to the old ways of sin and is born to a new life in Christ. Baptism is one's public identification with Christ Death and victorious Resurrection. Following the custom of the early Church, Orthodoxy encourages the baptism of infants. The Church believes that the Sacrament is bearing witness to the action of God who chooses a child to be an important member of His people. From the day of their baptism, children are expected to mature in the life of the Spirit, through their family and the Church. The Baptism of adults is practiced when there was no previous baptism in the name of the Holy Trinity.
The Sacrament of Chrismation (Confirmation) immediately follows baptism and is never delayed until a later age. As the ministry of Christ was enlivened by the Spirit, and the preaching of the Apostles strengthened by the Spirit, so is the life of each Orthodox Christian sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Chrismation, which is often referred to as one's personal Pentecost, is the Sacrament which imparts the Spirit in a special way.In the Sacrament of Chrismation, the priest anoints the various parts of the body of the newly-baptized with Holy Oil saying: "The seal of the gifts of the Holy Spirit." The Holy Oil, which is blessed by the bishop, is a sign of consecration and strength. The Sacrament emphasizes the truths that not only is each person a valuable member of the Church, but also each one is blessed by the Spirit with certain gifts and talents. The anointing also reminds us that our bodies are valuable and are involved in the process of salvation. The Sacraments of initiation always are concluded with the distribution of Holy Communion to the newly-baptized. Ideally, this takes place within the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. This practice reveals that Orthodoxy views children from their infancy as important members of the Church. There is never time when the young are not part of God's people.
The Holy Eucharist, which is known as the Divine Liturgy, is the central and most important worship experience of the Orthodox Church. Often referred to as the "Sacrament of Sacraments", it is the Church's celebration of the Death and Resurrection of Christ offered every Sunday and Holy day. All the other Sacraments of the Church lead toward and flow from the Eucharist, which is at the center of the life of the Church.
As members of the Church, we have responsibilities to one another and, of course, to God. When we sin, or relationship to God and to others distorted. Sin is ultimately alienation from God, from our fellow human beings, and from our own true self which is created in God's image and likeness.
Reconcilation is the Sacrament through which our sins are forgiven, and our relationship to God and to others is restored and strengthened. Through the Sacrament, Christ our Lord continues to heal those broken in spirit and restore the Father's love those who are lost. According to Orthodox teaching, the penitent confess to God and is forgiven by God. The priest is the sacramental witness who represents both Christ and His people. The priest is viewed not as a judge, but as a physician and guide. It is an ancient Orthodox practice for every Christian to have a spiritual father to whom one turns for spiritual advice and counsel. Confession can take place on any number of occasions. The frequency is left the discretion of the individual. In the event of serious sin, however, confession is a necessary preparation for Holy Communion.
God is active in our lives. It is He who joins a man and a woman in a relationship of mutual love. The Sacrament of Marriage bears witness to His action. Through this Sacrament, a man and a woman are publicly joined as husband and wife. They enter into a new relationship with each other, God, and the Church. Since Marriage is not viewed as a legal contract, there are no vows in the Sacrament. According to Orthodox teachings, Marriage is not simply a social institution, it is an eternal vocation of the kingdom. A husband and a wife are called by the holy Spirit not only to live together but also to share their Christian life together so that each, with the aid of the other, may grow closer to God and become the persons they are meant to be. In the Orthodox Marriage Service, after the couple have been betrothed and exchanged rings, they are crowned with "crowns of glory and honor" signifying the establishment of a new family under God. Near the conclusion of the Service, the husband and wife drink from a common cup which is reminiscent of the wedding of Cana and which symbolized the sharing of the burdens and joys of their new life together.
The Holy Spirit preserves the continuity of the Church through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Through ordination, men who have been chosen from within the Church are set apart by the Church for special service to the Church. Each is called by God through His people to stand amid the community, as pastor and teacher, and as the representative of the parish before the Altar. Each is also a living icon of Christ among His people. According to Orthodox teaching, the process of ordination begins with the local congregation; but the bishop alone, who acts in the name of the universal Church, can complete the action. He does so with the invocation of the Holy Spirit and the imposition of his hands on the person being ordained.
Following the custom of the Apostolic Church, there are three major orders each of which requires a special ordination. These are Bishop, who is viewed as a successor of the Apostles, Priest and Deacon, who act in the name of the Bishop. Each order is distinguished by its pastoral responsibilities. Only a Bishop may ordain. Often, other titles and offices are associated with the three orders. The Orthodox Church permits men to marry before they are ordained. Since the sixth century, Bishops have been chosen from the celibate clergy.
HOLY UNCTION/ANOINTING OF THE SICK
When one is ill and in pain, this can very often be a time of life when one feels alone and isolated. The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, or Holy Unction as it is also known, remind us that when we are ion pain, either physical, emotional, or spiritual, Christ is present with us through the ministry of his Church. He is among us to offer strength to meet the challenges of life, and even the approach of death.
As with Chrismation, oil is also used in this Sacrament as a sign of God's presence, strength, and forgiveness. After the reading of seven epistle lessons, seven gospel lessons and the offering of seven prayers, which are all devoted to healing, the priest anoints the body with the Holy Oil. Orthodoxy does not view this Sacrament as available only to those who are near death. It is offered to all who are sick in body, mind, or spirit. The Church celebrates the Sacrament for all its members during Holy week on Holy Wednesday.
SACRAMENTALS AND BLESSINGS
The Orthodox Church has never formally determined a particular number of Sacraments. In addition to the Eucharist she accepts the above six Mysteries as major Sacraments because they involve the entire community and most important are closely in relation to the Eucharist. There are many other Blessings and special services which complete the major Sacraments, and which reflect the Church's presence throughout the lives of her people.
FASTING WITHIN THE ORTHODOX TRADITION
Within the Christian community, fasting has remained an act of dedication to the Will of God which reflects piety in prayers and alms-giving and especially in self-control and self-determination according to the Scriptures. There has been an evolution through the centuries concerning the methods of fasting - the duration of time and the selection of foods, from light fasting observances to very strict ones and back again to the lighter observance. Fasting is a means, according to circumstances and objectives, for achieving the virtues of uprightness by sincere Christians. The official program of the Orthodox Church today for the duration of time and the selection of foods for fasting is as follows:
1. Great Lent begins Monday after Sunday of Cheese, the fifth week before Holy Week, and lasts through Saturday of Lazarus, and continues through Holy Week. Abstaining from meat, fish and dairy products is observed, except on Palm Sunday and the Annunciation, March 25, when fish may be eaten. On Saturday and Sunday of Lent, wine, oil and shellfish may be eaten. This selection of foods is applied to the other fast periods, below, except when indicated otherwise.
2. Fasting before Christmas is for 40 days, from November 15 through December 24, during which period fish may be eaten.
3. Fasting of the Holy Apostles starts on Monday after the Sunday of All Saints Day and ends on June 29th, the celebration of Apostles Peter and Paul.
4. August 1 to 15 is for the Repose (Dormition) of Theotokos. Wednesday and Friday of each week.
5. The day before the Epiphany, January 5.
6. The day of the Beheading of John the Forerunner, August 29.
7. The day of the Exaltation of the Cross, September 14.
Fasting with Communion, Prayer, Christian Life
Fasting from foods and, more important, from sins is observed in partaking of the very preparation for Holy Communion, the Body and very Blood of Jesus Christ, especially during Great Lent. For the pious Christian, Holy Communion is the sacred privilege of being in communion with God Himself. It is a sacred union of his own being with that of His Creator and Redeemer. Thus the pious Christian tries to practice the commandments of God the year around. His repentance, confession, prayers, fastings and alms-giving especially before partaking of Holy Communion are spiritual acts, which bring him nearer to God.
The saints and pious servants of God practiced fasting, among other things, as a means for furthering their own spiritual growth in the service of the Church. In the New Testament fasting is linked with prayer. Jesus Christ, in reference to the banishment of the evil spirit, assured His disciples that even the devil is rebuked by prayer and fasting: "This kind (of the devil) can come forth by nothing but by prayer and fasting" (Mark 9:29; cf. Matt. 17:20-21).
Effects of Fasting in Our Lives
Fasting as an observance and dedication to the Will of God presupposes a healthy body strong enough to endure the bodily effects of fasting. For those who are ill or weak in body fasting may be regulated in terms of duration and selection of certain foods in order to retain their health and fulfill their obligations at work and at home. St. Timothy (381 A.D.) gave a canonical answer on fasting for those who are sick or weak in body, an answer which was adopted as a canon by the Sixth Ecumenical Synod in Trullo. It reads:
"Fasting was devised in order to humble the body. If, therefore, the body is already in a state of humbleness and illness or weakness, the person ought to partake of as much as he or she may wish and be able to get along with food and drink" (Canon 8 of St. Timothy; cf. Canon 69 of the Apostles; cf. Canon 10 of St. Timothy).
St. Timothy's answer can be used by the pious Christian to regulate his fastings with sincerity and without concession. A person who is ill or weak in body should however strive all the harder to abstain from sins. For the sick or the weak in body, in accordance with the definition of fasting by St. Timothy, it is proper that a minimum of fasting be observed when they are not strong enough to endure the strict fasting from foods observed mostly by monks and nuns.
The official regulation of fasting depends upon the synods of the Orthodox Church. The pace of life and circumstances of today require a change in the fasting observances of the Church. The suggested minimum fasting in duration and in foods which might be abstained by those who are weak in body is:
1. the first week of Lent and that of Holy Week;
2. one week before Christmas;
3. two days before Holy Apostles Day (June 29);
4. one day before the Transfiguration of Christ (August 6);
5. two days before the Repose of Theotokos (August 15);
6. Friday around the year;
7. one day before the Exaltation of the Cross (September 14).
During all fast periods those of sound health abstain from meat, fish and all dairy products is observed, except when fish is permitted. The use of vegetable oils is permitted during fast periods, although olive oil may be consumed only on Saturdays and Sundays of Lent. Imitation foods such as margarine and vegetable products of all kinds may be classified as fast foods. Some sea foods (shrimp, oyster, lobster, crab meat, octopus) invertebrate shellfish are considered permissible fast foods.)
We should instruct children as to the purpose and meaning of church observances such as the procedures of fasting. Children should be taught the ideals of abstention from foods and from iniquities and their relationship to prayer, alms-giving, self-control and love. Children of sound health should fast. The main purpose of children fasting is to make them aware that fasting is a dedication and pledge to obey the principles of faith in Christ. Infants are not required to fast. However, the feeding of infants should take place at least two or three hours before Holy Communion.
It is obvious that much emphasis is placed on the selection of foods and the duration for fasting. In the concern for the selection of the proper fast foods, the main purpose of fasting many times is overshadowed. Abstention from certain foods has abstention in fasting, but only as a means to the spiritual uprightness that comes from humbling one's body in obedience to the Will of God.
The primary purpose for fasting from foods and iniquities is that of continence and chastity (moderation among those married). More important fasting means abnormal and perverted carnal pleasures are to be eliminated entirely as a deadly sin. Apostle Paul admonishes the Romans on this subject, saying,
"God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie ... For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly ... Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them" (Romans 1:24-27,32). These are practices which dishonour our society today.
The Christian is called upon to apply more and more his principles the year around, and especially during the appointed days. Unlike those who fast or starve without religious presuppositions, fasting for the sake of fasting or starving from lack of food, the Christian invokes the Grace of God, and feels the presence of divine communion. He is fasting, from practices and thoughts which are beyond the abstention from material nutrition.
Fasting from foods is a step on the ladder of life. Each step makes the next step easier. Thus the technique of fasting is flexible depending on individual circumstances. It is especially important in fasting that the Christian abstain from harming his neighbor, envying his fellow man and from being prejudiced. While avoiding negative thoughts and practices he also should cultivate thoughts and practices consistent with the new commandment of love and charity.
Standards Set Forth by Fathers of Church
The Fathers of the Church, preaching on fasting, set forth two distinguished standards:
1. they interpreted the Holy Scriptures on fasting as a means for spiritual achievements;
2. witnessing their profound knowledge was their own experience of fasting under many and varied circumstances related to environment.
This is the difference between the Fathers of the past and the preachers of today. If this is true of most of the key teachings of Christ, it is also true of the practice and purpose of fasting.