The Orthodox Church is the original Christian Church, the church founded by the Lord Jesus Christ and described in the pages of the New Testament. Her history can be traced in unbroken continuity all the way back to Christ and his Twelve Apostles.
Incredible as it seems, for over twenty centuries she has continued in her undiminished and unaltered faith and practice. Today her apostolic doctrine, worship, and structure remain intact. The Orthodox Church maintains that the Church is the living Body of Jesus Christ.
Many of us are surprised to learn that for the first 1000 years of Christian history there was just one Church. It was in the eleventh century that a disastrous split occurred between Orthodox East and Latin West. Although it had been brewing for years, the so-called “Great Schism” of 1054 represented a formal and shocking separation between Rome and Orthodoxy. At the core of the controversy were two vitally important areas of disagreement: the role of the papacy, and the manner in which doctrine is to be interpreted.
One writer has compared Orthodoxy to the faith of Rome and Protestantism in this basic fashion: Orthodoxy has maintained the New Testament tradition, whereas Rome has often added to it and Protestantism subtracted from it.
For example, Rome added to the ancient Creed of the Church, while numerous Protestant Churches rarely study or recite it. Rome has layers of ecclesiastical authority; much of Protestantism is anti-hierarchical or even “independent” in polity. Rome introduced indulgences and purgatory; in reaction, Protestantism shies away from good works and discipline.
In these and other matters, the Orthodox Church has steadfastly maintained the apostolic faith. She has avoided both the excesses of papal rule and of congregational independence. She understands the clergy as servants of Christ and his people and not as a special privileged class. She preserved the Apostles doctrine of the return of Christ at the end of the age, of the last judgement and eternal life, and continues to encourage her people to grow in Christ through union with him. In a word, Orthodox Christianity has maintained the faith “once for all delivered to the saints.”