Life

The Eastern Orthodox Church

What is life like in the Orthodox Church?

The Orthodox Church is one of the three main Christian groups alongside  Roman Catholic and Protestant.The word ‘Orthodox’ comes from the Greek words orthos (‘right’) and doxa (‘belief’) so literally means correct belief or right thinking. The figure head of the Eastern Orthodox Church is the Patriarch of Constantinople. However, he is seen as the ‘first among equals’ and has no real authority or power over any of the churches other than his own. Orthodox churches have their own leader and their services follow local traditions and cultures.

Here is one person’s experience of life in an Orthodox Church:

“I go to an Orthodox Church. When I come into the church I make the sign of the cross because I am entering the house of God. I then go and kiss the icons and light candles by them. Icons are pictures which stand for, or open up, something bigger than the picture itself. We have icons on the walls and on special stands in our church to help us think about Jesus Christ, events in his life, and about the saints. If it is a special festival the icon in the centre of the church will show the festival we are celebrating. On Sundays the icon is of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead because we celebrate this every Sunday. People kiss icons and light candles in front of them to show that they love the person who is shown in the icon. These actions are also signs of asking the person shown on the icon for help or for a blessing. People light candles in front of the icons when they pray.

“In church we stand most of the time. This is the normal position for prayer for us. Sometimes, especially in Lent, we make prostrations – kneeling low on the floor. Some visitors to our church are surprised to see people moving about the church, kissing the icons and lighting candles. We feel a deep respect for the church as the house of God, but we also feel that it is our home, so our attitude to the church is a mixture of awe and freedom.

“The main service on Sundays is The Divine Liturgy. This is also known as the celebration of the Eucharist. During this service we receive Holy Communion. We sing hymns of praise to God and then there are readings from the New Testament. After the reading of the Gospel there is a sermon. After we have prayed for lots of people there is a solemn procession during which the bread and wine which are going to be used for Holy Communion are brought to the Holy Table.

“After the singing of the Creed there are some long prayers in which we remember Christ’s life on earth and that he died for us on the cross and rose from the dead. The Priest prays that God will send the Holy Spirit on the whole congregation and on the bread and wine which we have offered. We believe that by the time we receive it, the bread and wine – though still looking and tasting the same – have become the body and blood of Christ. They are given to us on a spoon from the chalice – the special cup for Communion. We believe that God gives us Holy Communion so that we can share his life. We receive Holy Communion from the time that we are baptised.”

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