History: Community of Faith & Culture
A Community of Faith & Culture
Rev. Dr. Elias Bouboutsis,
Metropolis Clergy and Delegate, National Council of Churches of Christ, USA
About our Faith and History
The ‘Greek’ Orthodox churches are the native and ancient Christian communities of the Holy Lands, Egypt, Greece, Turkey and Syria. Born on the first day of Pentecost in Jerusalem, they spread throughout the Greek-speaking Mediterranean world, and then South into Ethiopia, East into India, and North into the Balkans and Russia. Through them, the entire world received God’s precious gift of the New Testament – the glad tidings of the Evangélion or Gospel of Jesus the Christ.
Because of the part of the world they lived in, these Orthodox churches eventually came to be known as ‘Eastern’ or ‘Oriental.’ For the first 1,000 years of Christianity, they were in full fellowship and communion with the ‘Western’ churches known today as Catholic and Protestant. In 1054, however, that early unity came to an end, when the Orthodox and Western churches parted ways over issues that would provoke the Reformation in centuries to come – issues like concentrating power in the hands of the Pope (all Orthodox bishops are equal), having married priests (which is the rule among Orthodox to this day), and trying to limit the Spirit’s freedom in a doctrine called filioque (rejected by the Orthodox, and a growing number of Protestants and Pentecostals alike).
While in many ways staying culturally and spiritually close to both their ancient Greek and Jewish origins, the Greek Orthodox churches have also lived in closest contact and interaction with Islam. And as historian Karen Armstrong has noted, there are many ways that Orthodoxy is more similar in character to Far Eastern religions than it is to any Western form of Christianity – Orthodoxy is a ‘mystical’ or experiential and inner-life-focused religion, where worship and chant and asceticism, repetitive Jesus Prayer and silence are central. In contrast to the rationalism of many Western religions, Eastern Christianity lives in the heart.
But the Greek Orthodox churches are not totally inward in their focus. Hundreds of years ago, their Byzantine ancestors created the first public hospitals and a surprising range of social welfare ministries. They always encouraged diplomacy over aggression, and never developed any ‘just war ethic’ or Crusades. In the past 100 years, they have been leaders in the Ecumenical Movement, protection of the environment, global human rights and U.S. civil rights struggles. Trying to stay faithful to ancient Christianity and open to adaptation to new and different cultures and realities, the Greek Orthodox churches work to transform both inner and outer worlds by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit.
On Christian Unity & Interfaith Solidarity
Living at the crossroads of East and West, the Greek Orthodox Churches have many centuries of experience around inter-Church and interfaith relations. There were many times in the past when these relations were tense. But there was always conversation, always dialogue – even when pressed by Crusades from the West and Conquest from the East.
In the 20th century, this conversation improved dramatically. Around the turn of the century, Orthodox joined Anglicans and Protestants in igniting the modern Ecumenical movement. At about the same time, the Greek, Syrian and Russian Orthodox Churches actively participated in the first-ever Parliament of the World’s Religions, held at the Chicago World’s Fair. And in the 1960’s, in the Holy City of Jerusalem, the Catholic and Orthodox communions officially forgave each others’ centuries-old grievances and pledged to work together for Christian Unity.
Today, the Greek Orthodox Church in America is an active member communion of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., where our leaders joined arms in marching with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King for liberty and justice. Relationships of mutual respect and solidarity with fellow ‘children of Abraham’ in Judaism and Islam grow deeper every day, even as sectarian extremism tries to pull the human family apart. As in antiquity, so to this very day, nearly every Orthodox service includes a Peace Litany with a great hope: ‘For the Peace of the whole world, the well-being of the holy Churches of God, and for the unity of all, let us pray to the Lord!’
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