Intro to Orthodoxy 004: Core Beliefs

In this episode we go over life, the universe, and everything (aka Orthodox core beliefs). The “Small Catechism” from the UOC-USA Prayer Book provides the outline for this discussion.

Our Faith: Core Beliefs

Tonight we’ll cover life, the universe, and everything (aka Orthodox core beliefs). The “Small Catechism” from the UOC-USA Prayer Book provides most of the content for this discussion.

Opening Scripture

Matthew 17:19-20.  Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.”

St. Augustine. In saying, “When the Son of Man shall come, shall he find faith upon the earth?” (Luke 18:8) our Lord spoke of that faith which is fully matured, which is so seldom found on earth. The church’s faith is full, for who would come here if there were no fullness of faith? And whose faith when fully matured would not move mountains? (Mark 11:23)  Look at the apostles themselves, who would not have left all they had, trodden under foot this world’s hope, and followed the Lord, if they had not had proportionally great faith. And yet if they already had a completely matured faith, they would have not said to the Lord, “Increase our faith” (Luke 17:5). Rather we find here an emerging faith, which is not yet full faith.  Remember that father who when he had presented to the Lord his son to be cured of an evil spirit and was asked whether he believed, answered, “Lord, I believe, help me in my unbelief.” “Lord,” says he, “I believe.” “I believe”: therefore there was faith; but “help me in my unbelief” (L: therefore there was not full faith.

Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 117). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Introductory Remarks:

What is faith?  What is belief?  I would not describe faith as believing something blindly.  A good first take on it is to see faith as accepting a worldview and the way it patterns the stuff of experience and creation.  A worldview tells us the value of things, how they relate, and for what purpose and meaning.  Every worldview has symbols and stories that nest everything into a broader arch or framework.  CS Lewis said something like he believed (had faith) in God like he did the sun; less because he saw it than that it made sense of everything he did see.  Faith in Orthodoxy and the God we worship is like that.  We will increasingly see things that we did notice before; like all worldviews, it raises some things to prominence that other worldviews lead us to miss.  The main thing is that it puts the world in order for us, allowing us to better do what we were made to do: serve and worship well (The Great Commandment(s)).

Small Catechism (Prayer Book of the UOC-USA)

Truths of the Faith

There is but one God, who created and governs all things.

In God there are three Persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit: the All Holy Trinity.

The Son of God, Jesus Christ, was born of the Ever-Blessed and Most-Pure Virgin Mary and from Her received human flesh, becoming Man.  He suffered and died on the cross for us and for our sins, was buried and resurrected on the third day and after forty days ascended into heaven to sit at the Right Hand of the Father.

The Holy Spirit, Who proceeds from the Father, descended on the Apostles and abides continually in the body of Christ, His Holy Church.

The grace of God and faith, in harmony with good works, are necessary to attain salvation.

After death, human souls are either in a state of bliss with the saints, prepared before all ages by our Heavenly Father, or in a place of suffering prepared for the devil and his angels.

The Church, which Jesus Christ established while He was on earth and of which He is the Head, is governed through the mediation of the Holy Spirit, through the Bishops and is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is part the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.


From me: Orthodox commit themselves to a life of holiness and service and of rejecting things that get in the way of that life.  This requires continual attentiveness and willingness to change.  Humility is the state of mind that allows us to do this.  Pride would have us justify our mistakes and darkness and call them “misunderstandings” and “light.”  Within Orthodox, we call our mistakes and our attempts justify them and avoid accountability “sin.”

Sin is missing the mark.  Many think of judgment as a sort of capricious thing, with God being the judge whose rulings we fear but do not trust and whose rules seem arbitrary.  This idea of God as a judge and us as the accused is very western and legalistic (culturally, it flows naturally from the Roman/Latin part of our western heritage) and it is a small part of the Orthodox understanding (used, as far as I can tell, to get people moved to taking ownership of their actions and their consequences).  Let me see if I can give a deeper take on sin and judgement.  There is a pattern in this world that includes things like gravity and harmony.  When we fail to take them into account and act in disregard of them, it does damage.  Engineering is the discipline that allows us to thrive in a world dominated by gravity.  Virtue is like engineering; it gives us the ability to do things – great things – because it teaches us to build our lives and relationships within the pattern of harmony. 

The Logos (rationality/logic) is the one in whom all things were made (words from the Creed) and the structure of reality flows from that order.  Sin is acting against that order.  We can experience it as a judgment, and while some of it may be personal (this requires another conversation), but it has consequences.  Similar to stepping off of a cliff (working against gravity).  Living in Christ allows us to work within and from the pattern, spreading its harmony to all our actions and relationships.

A More Exact Description, From the Book of Needs (Volume One)

Tell us of the other dogmas, traditions and ordinances of the Orthodox Church; how do you hold concerning them?

And he (she) replies:

I accept and I confess the Apostolic and Ecclesiastical Canons established at the Seven Holy Ecumenical Councils, as well as the Provincial Councils, and the other traditions, rules and dispositions of the Orthodox Church. Likewise I will accept and understand Holy Scripture according to the understanding which the Holy Eastern Church, our Mother, has held and holds.

I believe and I confess that there are seven Mysteries of the New Testament, that is, Baptism, Chrismation, the Eucharist, Repentance (i.e., Confession), the Priesthood, Marriage, and Anointing with Oil, instituted by the Lord Christ and His Church, to the end that, through their operation and reception, we may receive grace from on high.

I believe and I confess that, in the Divine Liturgy, under the mystical forms of bread and wine, the faithful partake of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, unto the remission of sins and unto life eternal.

I believe and I confess that it is meet to honor and invoke the Saints who reign with Christ in Heaven, according to the understanding of the Holy Eastern Church, and that their prayers and mediation avail with the compassionate God for our salvation. Likewise that it is well-pleasing to God to honor their relics, glorified through incorruption, as precious memorials of their virtues.

I acknowledge that the Icons of Christ the Savior, and of the Ever-Virgin Mary, and of other Saints are meet to possess and to honor, and that, through gazing upon them, we may be moved to piety and emulation of the deeds of the righteous ones represented by these holy Icons.

I confess that the prayers of the faithful, offered up to God for the salvation of those who have departed in the Faith, are favorably accepted, through the mercy of God.

I believe and I confess that power has been given by Christ the Savior to the Orthodox-Catholic Church, to bind and to loose. And that whatever, through that power, is bound or loosed on earth will be bound and loosed in Heaven.

I believe and I confess that the Foundation, Head, and Great High Priest and Archpastor of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic Church is our Lord Jesus Christ, and that Bishops, Pastors and Teachers are appointed by Him to rule the Church, and that the Guide and Pilot of this Church is the Holy Spirit.

I confess that this Church is the Bride of Christ, and therein is true salvation.

I promise to give true obedience, even unto the end of my life, to the Most-blessed Metropolitan, N., [or Most-reverend Archbishop, N., or Bishop, N.—the Metropolitan, Archbishop or Bishop of the Diocese within which the Office is performed], as the Shepherd of the Orthodox Church, and to the Priests appointed by him.

St. Tikhon’s Monastery (Trans.). (2000). The Great Book of Needs: Expanded and Supplemented (Vol. I, pp. 65–67). South Canaan, PA: St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press.

Lord I believe – help me in my unbelief!  (Mark 9:24b)