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  Although ‘orthodoxy’ (Greek, ‘correct thinking’) is used in ordinary speech to mean ideological or theological correctness, when the term is applied to the Eastern Christian churches it means ‘right way’ (doctrinally) or ‘true glory’ (liturgically). Orthodoxy is therefore used as a general term to cover every aspect of the life and worship of the Orthodox churches, which trace their history back to apostolic times. The Orthodox world is bound together by the same ancient style of worship, hardly changed since the 5th century, by the same doctrine as defined by the Seven Ecumenical Councils and by a common corpus of canon law. According to the Orthodox, they represent the Johannine tradition in Christendom, while Catholics follow Peter and Protestants Paul.

The exact number of Orthodox Christians is unknown, but it is at least 150 million. Orthodoxy is found in Greece, Russia and Eastern Europe, with significant and vital diaspora churches in France, Geneva and the US. There are so-called monophysite churches in Egypt and Uganda, and Nestorain and Jacobite churches in the Middle East and India. Each national Orthodox Church is autonomous or autocephalous (that is, has its own head, an archbishop or patriarch), but accepts the spiritual leadership of the Patriarch of Constantinople. Some Orthodox churches (for example the Serbian Orthodox Church) are coterminous with language areas rather than with areas of national sovereignty. All have suffered terrible persecution in the course of history, especially under Stalin. Also, having been unable to evangelize in the Western sense of the word, they rely on their worship and lifestyle to be sufficient testimony to the Gospel.

All Orthodox churches see themselves as the guardians of the faith of the Early Church (from the 1st to 4th centuries  CE) and of a living tradition of worship, art and scholarship. For them the Church is indefinable, a living body composed of all who gather together around the priest for Eucharistic worship. Beliefs are shaped by experiences in worship as much as by statements of the Ecumenical Councils. Veneration of the Virgin Mary is of great importance, but there are no dogmatic statements to enforce or even define this. Christology centres on the figure of Christ as the union of two natures God and man in one person. Orthodox theology can be summed up in Athanasius\'s statement, ‘God became man in order that man might become God’. For the Orthodox, man is justified by faith and works according to grace. There is no such thing as original sin, only fallen man in his sins, who is rescued not only from sin but also from decay and corruption.

The Orthodox are said to be obsessed with eschatology. Millenarianism certainly plays a large part, for example, in Russian spirituality. The living pray for the dead, including the saints, as well as for and with sinners awaiting judgement. This is because Orthodox worship is designed to represent heaven come down to Earth. The believer prays surrounded by angels and the communion of saints. EMJ

Further reading Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way.



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