A Very Brief History of the Orthodox Church
The history of the Church begins in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Act. 1-2). From there, the Apostles spread the faith swiftly to major regional political and commercial centers such as Damascus (Acts 9), Antioch (Acts 11:19-27), and beyond. In the centuries that followed, the most important of these Christian communities developed into centers of regional influence. Though distinct in language and local custom, these churches saw themselves as the one Church, the one undivided body of Christ (cf. Rom. 12:4-5, I Cor. 12, Eph. 5:23, Col. 1:18), and live in full communion with each other. When doctrinal disputes arose, the local leaders would meet in council to resolve the matter (cf. Acts 15).
In the centuries after Christianity became legal, this relationship became more formal. The five most influential Christian centers – Jerusalem, Antioch, Rome, Alexandria, and Constantinople – were designated as “Patriarchates” (link opens new window).
The period from 325-787 saw the emergence of several major heresies regarding Christ and the Holy Trinity. On seven occasions the Church gathered – this time from around the world – to articulate its traditional understanding. We call these meetings the Seven Ecumenical Councils (oikoumene means “world” in Greek). The First and Second of these councils gave the Church its formal statement of faith, the Nicene Creed. The canon of Holy Scripture was also finalized in this period.
A few groups did depart from the Church in “schism” during these centuries (schisma is Greek for a division or fissure). However, the core of the Church remained one body until the 11th century. In 1054, the Roman Church separated from the rest, an event Church historians now call the “Great Schism”. The other Patriarchates have remained in communion to this present day, preaching and practicing the Apostolic faith in organic continuity.
- Visit the Timeline of Church History to see a chronology of the Orthodox Church from Pentecost to the present day.
Orthodoxy in the Present Age
The term “Orthodox Christian” is used to describe a family of ancient Christian communities which, collectively, form the 2nd largest Christian communion in the world (approximately 250 million souls worldwide). Many of these faithful remain in the “old countries” of the Middle East, Eastern Europe, or Africa. However, there are also substantial Orthodox populations in the the Americas, Western Europe, and elsewhere. These communities now include not only immigrants, but also many converts to the faith.
I Want to Learn More
The following materials and podcasts that will benefit both those exploring Orthodoxy for the first time and help those of us who are already Orthodox to grow in our spiritual life. This list is a work in progress, so your input is welcome.
- Where Do I Start? An Introductory Reading List
- The Orthodox Faith, by Fr. Thomas Hopko (Dean Emeritus of St. Vladimir Theological Seminary) – A four volume overview of Doctrine, Worship, Bible and Church History, and Spirituality.
- Common Questions from Christians of Other Traditions (via St. Barnabas, Costa Mesa, CA)
- Common Questions from Non-Christian Seekers (via St. Barnabas, Costa Mesa, CA)