Why do we love Orthodoxy and the Orthodox Church? During the days of His earthly life, pious listeners, our Lord Jesus Christ united around Himself all those who believed in Him, and among these believers He drew the apostles particularly close to Himself.
His Church began to form after the day of Pentecost from the people who believed in Christ, and from the apostles came the first leaders of this Church, its pastors and teachers.
Their task was not easy. They not only had to teach the true faith and spiritually strengthen those who accepted Christianity, but they also had to guard them from false teachings and heresy. According to the words of the apostle, these heresies “must be” (1 Cor. 11:19) in order that those who are “proved”, that is, the more right-believing and steadfast of those who believed in Christ might be made manifest. The triumph of right faith was fixed in the tenets of the Ecumenical and Local Councils.
From that time on, Christ’s Church has that ecumenical Symbol of faith (the Creed), which we hear in our churches at every Divine Liturgy.
Since 842, the Holy Church has pronounced this Symbol with special solemnity on the day of the Triumph of Orthodoxy; that is, today in the special rite of the moleben, in the words, “This is the Faith of the apostles, this is the Faith of the fathers, this is the Faith of the Orthodox, this Faith hath established the whole world.”
Pious listeners! Our faith is called apostolic because it irrefutably and inviolably preserves in itself everything that Christ Himself taught His apostles and what is contained in the Holy Scriptures and Holy Tradition.
The holy fathers and teachers of the Church sacredly respected and defended this faith in their works. They (the holy fathers) were saved and glorified by it. That is why it is called the faith of our fathers.
As the authentic and saving faith, which gives us grace-filled strength, “for life and piety”, it is also called right faith, or Orthodoxy.
As we see, brothers and sisters, our Orthodoxy is anchored in a sturdy, indestructible foundation: on the truthfulness of the teaching of the Savior, the apostles, the holy fathers of the Ecumenical Councils, and on the massive experience of a spiritual and grace-filled life in Christ. The hosts of holy men and women who pleased God; the martyrs, confessors, wonder-workers, monastic saints, and all the other saints by their God-pleasing life and righteous end witness to the truth and saving power of the Orthodox faith.
By this faith were saved all our pious ancestors, who passed on to us to guard as the apple of our eye this faith, and to be saved by it. Our faith is called Orthodox also to distinguish it from the faith of Catholics and Protestants, who turned away from the one root of apostolic, patristic Orthodoxy.
The most essential aspect of our Orthodoxy consists in the fact that for it Christianity is not a theory but the very life in Christ, according to the Gospel commandments and established rules of the Church.
The principle of this faith consists in the ardent, profound, and living faith in the Living, Three-hypostatic God—the creator of heaven and earth, Omnipresent, All-seeing, All-merciful God, Who is always ready to rebuke us (through the reproach of our conscience) and come to our aid (through our prayer), and send down blessings of love and forgiveness (through the Sacraments).
The second principle of our Orthodoxy is faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Redeemer of the world. Faith that He together with the Holy Spirit (and not without participation of the Heavenly Father) also calls us, sanctifies and enlightens us, and gives us wisdom unto salvation, united with us in the Sacrament of Holy Communion.
The third principle of our Orthodox faith is faith in the future life beyond the grave, in the oneness of the earthly and heavenly Church, and in the intercessions for us by the Mother of God and all the God-pleasers.
The fourth principle is our Christian love, brotherhood, and mercy for each other as members of one family, one body—the Church of Christ.
The fifth principle is Christ’s Church itself, its Holy Tradition, its rubrics and divine services; the sacraments, rites, writings of the holy fathers, decrees and rules of the Ecumenical and Local Councils and all the many centuries of grace-filled experience of life in Christ and its guidance to salvation of its faithful children. The establishing power of the Church is the Holy Spirit, which lives in it from the day of Pentecost. It would be good for all of us, brothers and sisters, to examine ourselves from time to time to observe whether we are Orthodox, and satisfy the demands and requirements of our Mother Church. Let us stop and look with a little more detail at the meaning for us and for our salvation of the Holy Orthodox Church. Look at how it (the Orthodox Church) helps us in our salvation. It sanctifies our coming into the world through the Sacrament of Baptism, accompanies our life through the grace-filled gifts of the other Sacraments and prayers. It sees us off into the other world through its wondrous chants, prayers of absolution, and blessings. Our whole life—from cradle to grave—passes under its holy guidance and blessing. Especially tangible is its significance in the common prayers (in church) and in the guidance of our spiritual life.
It is the Church that by magnificently adorning our wonderful churches with holy icons inclines our souls and hearts to a prayerful ascent to the Lord God. It is the Church that delights us, spiritually nourishes and exults our souls with the profound meaning and beauty of its divine services. It is the Church that sanctifies and strengthens through the grace of its prayers and Sacraments our weak, forsaken souls.
It is the Church that sets apart for us every week special days (Wednesday and Friday) for fasting and repentance. In the course of the year it sets apart special times—the four fasts, for the same purpose.
So, a week has already passed since we embarked upon the holy Forty Days.
The Orthodox Church does everything to make our soul start and tremble during these great and holy days, so that it would perceive the abomination of its sinfulness and be ignited with a thirst for purification, renewal, and sanctification.
Through the penitential Great Lenten services, their touching chants, prayers, and bending of the knee, the Holy Church calls us to repentance and peace with God. There is no other time when the Lord is so close to our sorrowing souls and tormented consciences, or “knocks” so at our hearts (Rev. 3:20) as during these holy days.
And we all know that only through the strict keeping of Great Lent, only by having cleansed and illumined our soul with repentance will we joyfully and triumphantly greet the Pascal night, when our renewed and resurrected soul will exultantly sing with the whole universe a hymn to the risen Savior, and know not where it is—on heaven or on earth.
Who creates and will create for us this unbroken blessedness, this heavenly joy? It is all wrought by our Orthodox Church, the bearer and guardian of our Orthodoxy.
Let us, brothers and sisters, preserve as did our pious ancestors our Orthodoxy; let us live and be saved by it, and honorably bear the name of Orthodox Christian. Amen.