By John Filipovich Columnist
Some readers may have driven down Gallego Avenue and noticed the church with the red roof. We’d like to introduce ourselves. We are the Orthodox Church. Our local parish is small, but the Orthodox Church is the second-largest body in Christendom with approximately 300 million members worldwide, about 6 million in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Orthodoxy has roots that go all the way back to the beginnings of Christianity. It is the church of some of history’s greatest theologians and figures such as John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, Augustine and Justin Martyr; Roman Emperors Constantine and Justinian; composers Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff; writers Dostoyevsky and Solzehnitsyn; and even villains such as Vlad Tepesh (“Dracula”) and Ivan the Terrible.
Globally, the Orthodox Church is made up of what is essentially a confederation of 15 local or autocephalous (self-governing) churches: Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Russia, Georgia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Albania, Poland, the Czech Lands and Slovakia, and the Orthodox Church in America. There are also the Autonomous Churches of Sinai, Finland, Japan and Ukraine, which are self-governing in many respects but whose bishops are approved of by their respective Mother Churches.
In the Orthodox Church there is no one bishop over or above the others. As the Bishop of the City of Constantinople (known since 1930 as Istanbul), the Patriarch of Constantinople is given the historic title: “First Among Equals,” but he is not the “Orthodox pope” as is sometimes reported. All these churches are united with one another in faith, worship and sacraments, with the only differences being in languages used and style of music employed during worship and, perhaps, subtle cultural customs.
Orthodox Christianity does not “develop” or change, nor do we vote on beliefs, morality or practices. We believe Jesus gave us everything that we need for our salvation. Salvation is understood in the Greek/Eastern terms of health rather than the Latin/Western legal justification. We believe that Christ came to heal/save the whole human being, body and soul, and that His coming was cosmic in that it redeemed and blessed all of creation. We are not moralistic, but we see no need to alter beliefs in an attempt to be “relevant.” We tenaciously hold to the Christian beliefs handed down to us from the time of the Apostles.
The way Christians worshipped in the 1st century and the way God’s people have worshipped since Old Testament times still strikes us as a good model. Our “default” posture for worshipping God is standing in His presence. “Amazing Grace” and the like is not in our repertory of hymns because for us the expression “Old Hymn of the Church” means something composed in the 2nd century or maybe the 5th century. A “new hymn” might simply be a new choral arrangement of a Psalm or verse of Scripture. Chanting is part of worship.
For the first thousand years of Christian history, there was just one united church with the Church of Rome at the top of the list of sister churches listed above. But in 1054 A.D., a disastrous split occurred in Christendom known as the “Great Schism” where the Orthodox East and the Latin West parted ways primarily over the issue of papal authority. The Orthodox Church maintained (and still maintains) that the pope was “First Among Equals” but was only the Bishop of Rome and only had jurisdiction within the Diocese of Rome. The papacy, however, increasingly saw its jurisdiction to include all the earth. Doctrinal issues have since developed, but relations between the two churches have improved significantly. Holy Communion has, sadly, not yet been restored. Furthermore, the Orthodox Church does not share communion with non-Orthodox individuals, churches or religions.
Orthodoxy came to North America with eight missionary monks who traveled from the border region between Russia and Finland to Kodiak, Alaska, in 1794. The migrations of peoples from Eastern and Central Europe and the Middle East, and international missionary and charitable work have added to the establishment of Orthodox communities all over the world. In the late 1970s, the Orthodox Church in America (the OCA) established the Diocese of the South, with the Cathedral See in Dallas. The diocese is missionary in orientation and covers 14 states.
St. Jonah in Alpine is among the newest missions in the aforementioned diocese. We’re very glad to be here in this beautiful section of God’s creation! We welcome all who might wish to drop by and pay us a visit.
Father John Filipovich, priest-in-charge of St. Jonah Orthodox Church, may be contacted at 432-364-2240 or email@example.com. St. Jonah is the outpost mission for the Big Bend region.