North America’s best-kept secret

By Father Cosmin Sicoe

The Orthodox Church is often called North America’s best-kept secret because not many people on this continent know much about this church. I want to use this opportunity to tell you a few things about the church to which I belong.

Historically, the Orthodox Church was started on the Day of Pentecost of 33 A.D. in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ and the first Christian community was started (Acts 2). From Jerusalem, the message of the Gospel and the Church spread to the rest of Judea, the Middle East and the entire Mediterranean basin, all the way to the Balkans, Spain and the British Isles.

In time, because of some historical events, Christians in Western Europe could not keep in touch with the Christians in the eastern part of the continent or the Middle East. As a result, they started to develop separately until they reached the point of separation at the beginning of the second millennium of Christianity. Eventually, the Roman Catholic Church spread westward to North and South Americas. Beginning in the 1500s, the Protestant churches came out of the Catholic Church.

The Orthodox Church continued its existence in the Middle East and southeastern Europe and spread northward to what is today Ukraine and Russia. It eventually made its way to Siberia and Alaska.

Today, the Orthodox Church is the second-largest single Christian body, with more than 250-million believers organized in 15 autocephalous and 10 autonomous churches on five continents. Usually, these churches are organized within the borders of a specific country. They are administratively independent but are in communion with each other and hold the same teachings and beliefs.

The main teachings of the Orthodox Church were formulated at the Seven Ecumenical Councils from 325 AD to 787 AD. Orthodox Christians believe Christ is fully God and fully man in one divine person — the person of the eternal Son and Word of God. They also believe Jesus shares the same divine nature with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father. They believe in the oneness and holiness of the church through which God gives His uncreated grace to the believers and the world through the mysteries or sacraments.

Traditionally, Orthodox Christians do not have a specific number of mysteries, but everything in the relationship between God and humanity is considered a mystery. Orthodox Christians believe Jesus is present in reality in Holy Communion, which is given to the believers as bread and wine transformed into the Body and Blood of the Lord. The mystery of Holy Communion is prepared, consecrated and partaken during the Holy Liturgy, the most important service of the Orthodox Church.

The people of God get together to celebrate the Liturgy and most of the services in the church building, which is designed, decorated and built following the revelation of God about worship spaces in the Old (Exodus 25-29; Isaiah 6) and New Testaments (Revelation 4; Hebrews 9).

Orthodox Christians consider the Bible to be inspired by God and part of the tradition (or life) of the church. Our New Testament contains the same 27 books as the New Testament of our Catholic and Protestant brothers and sisters, but our Old Testament contains 49 books (46, Catholic; 39, Protestant).

It is because we follow the Septuagint version of the Old Testament (a Greek version used by the early church and quoted by the writers of the New Testament, which was written in Greek, the international language of the time).
By offering and uniting their lives with the life of the church, the Body of Christ, Orthodox believers become one with Jesus, who offered Himself to humanity and became one with her in the first place.

Through Him and in the Holy Spirit, the believers become one with God the Father, they become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), which is the goal of human existence for the Orthodox Christians. It is necessary to say in this process of deification or union and communion with God, the human being will not become God, but will become the “likeness” of God as He intended us to be from the beginning (Genesis 1:26). This process of deification or of becoming like God requires the co-operation between two unequal, but equally necessary partners: God’s grace and our free will.

God is the one who created us; he is the one who became one with us and brought us into communion with Himself. He is the one who first loved us (1 John 4:19) and we are called to give an answer to His love.

Everything Orthodox Christians do — participation in the mysteries of the church, learning about God, praying, fasting, giving of alms or whatever they do in word or deed every day of their life — they are called to do it “in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17).

Father Cosmin Sicoe is an Orthodox Christian priest who served churches in Regina, Lexington, Ky., and Romania. He also visits St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Kamloops. Fr. Sicoe lives in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada with his wife and two daughters.

This article is printed by permission of Kamloops This Week.

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