For Inquirers

What is the Orthodox Christian Church?

“Orthodox” describes that Church that understands itself to be the living continuity of the faith and life established by Jesus Christ, given to His apostles, described in the Bible, and practiced and passed on by those Christians associated with the ancient centers and earliest centuries of Christian history.  This faith “once and for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) is expressed as a life of constant remembrance of God, of the spiritual and physical pursuit of holiness, and in a worship of God that is biblical, liturgical, musical, vibrant, focused not on “self” but on Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Today, approximately 300 million Christians worldwide belong to the Orthodox Christian Church.  For more on Orthodox Christianity, try here.

What can I expect if I visit St Raphael’s?

As mentioned on our “About Us” page, Orthodox Christian worship of God is an experience that engages both the mind and the body with all its senses.  Visitors notice many Scriptural texts “come to life” during their visit – our use of music, psalms and other Scripture texts, incense, icons, and sacraments, call to mind the liturgical worship of the early Church.  These material expressions of spiritual worship are “copies of the true” worship in heaven (Hebrews 9).  Orthodox worship is not “modern” – in the sense of mimicking popular secular styles of music and art – but is at once ancient and relevant, contemplative andengaging.

What do Orthodox Christians believe about the Bible?

The Bible is the sacred written record of God’s involvement with His creation – a record received, written down, transmitted, protected by the Church for all ages, and proclaimed for the salvation of the world.  The word of God that is Holy Scripture – Old and New Testaments – is distinguished from the Word of God who is the Christ, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.  The Bible is the sufficient and inspired written testimony to Christ – from Whom all Scripture derives its authority, about Whom all Scripture speaks, and toward Whom all Scripture points.

What do Orthodox Christians believe about salvation?

Salvation is both an event and a process.  The event of our salvation is the historical reality of the Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus Christ; the process of our salvation is the growth of a person from being the “image” of God to becoming the “likeness” of God (Gen 1:27).  In baptism is our nature reborn; in obedience is our nature perfected.  We are saved not only by the historical reality, not only as we shed vice and acquire virtue, but also by the Second and Glorious Coming Again of Christ and His favorable judgment upon us.  Salvation – for the Orthodox Christian – is a past event, a present experience, and a future hope.

Why all the icons?

Icons – sacred art portraying Christ and those persons made holy by faith in Christ – flow from a proper understanding of the Incarnation.  God, who is Spirit, became Man, who is Flesh, and the material world will never be the same again.  If God used material creation to reach for us, we can use material creation to reach for Him (John 1:1,14; Colossians 1:15-20; Hebrews 1:1-4).  Icons have been part of Christian worship since the beginning, as they helped spread the faith “in pictures” to those who had no access to written Scriptures.  Icons are NEVER worshipped, only venerated.  Worship is reserved for God alone, and the veneration offered to an icon “passes through” the icon to the person depicted, a person who himself or herself depicted Christ in word, deed, and thought.  Why are icons special to those who venerate them?  Imagine if a dearly-loved one passed away, and the only thing by which to remember him or her was a photograph.

Why do Orthodox Christians swing censers, light candles, cross themselves, and sing everything?

Notice how, in John 20, Christ breathed upon His disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  That’s one example of a principle of Christianity: physical acts carry spiritual power.  The greatest physical act filled with spiritual power is The Incarnation.  The Incarnation – when a spiritual God became material flesh and blood – is like a stone thrown into the pond of the universe:  ripples of grace go forth through the whole material world.  Classical Christianity – what Christians have believed everywhere, in all places, and at all times – has a positive and holistic worldview:  creation is filled with opportunities to discover and express the glory of the Incarnate God.  The water of baptism, the oil of healing, the beeswax of candles, the tree sap of incense, the wood and color of icons, the pulp of a bible, the grapes and wheat of Holy Communion – these are examples of how Orthodoxy uses creation to worship the Creator.  And the singing?  One early Church writer answers that this way:  “He who sings, prays twice.”