Belief & History
Belief and Practices of the Ancient Christian Faith
pamphlet produced and distributed by:
CHRISTIAN PRISON MINISTRY
Orthodox Christians, what do we believe and how do we practice our faith in
everyday life? First of all, we believe that we are members of the original
historical Church that Jesus Christ established. Jesus told His closest
followers (the Apostles) to go and teach other people what He had taught them.
The Apostles and those who came after them passed on these teachings to the
present time without change or addition.
we believe that the Church is made up of all who have confessed their faith in
Christ throughout the centuries and who have taken part in the special
sacraments of the Church. Christians follow these practices to show their
earnest desire for a deep relationship with the Lord God through continual
repentance and striving to keep the commandments of God.
must Christians live this way? Sin came into the world through Adam and Eve,
our first parents. As a result, everyone is born into sin. Jesus, through His
death and resurrection, destroyed the power of Satan and opened a way of salvation
to anyone who repents (turns away from sin and to God). Only through repentance
and baptism can we become children of God and no longer be slaves to Satan.
the moment of baptism, an Orthodox Christian sees himself or herself as a
stranger in this world and one who is becoming part of the Heavenly Kingdom.
Through prayer, worship and unceasing effort, a Christian tries to turn away
from evil and turn toward the light of Christ. This constant struggle for
spiritual purity is reflected in all relationships of life.
booklet briefly presents some of the ways Orthodox Christians practice their
faith to achieve their desired goal—eternal life in the Kingdom of God.
is central to the life of an Orthodox Christian. The Church as a whole has
various prayer services. In addition, there is a simple and meaningful prayer
called the “Jesus Prayer” that is the prayer most often used by Orthodox
worshipers to deepen their relationship with God. The prayer is: “Lord Jesus
Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This prayer can be prayed
anytime, anywhere. For greatest benefit, it is important to learn to pray the
Jesus Prayer continually. This process takes much time and concentration and,
when achieved, is very rewarding.
possible, Orthodox Christians pray before icons (images of Jesus Christ or of
His saints). Icons are another spiritual aid to worship. Icons themselves are
never worshiped (only God is worshiped), though the images of the holy are
honored with great humility. Jesus Christ, His mother—the Virgin Mary—and
followers of Christ who are the saints, all work together with the Holy Spirit
to help us pray from the heart. In remembering the saving work of Jesus and the
example of the saints, we often venerate (kiss) icons with great respect.
Orthodox worshipers feel very close to the exalted members of the Church who
have gone on to eternal life. The use of icons is one example of this
involves discipline of the mind. It requires that we struggle against pride,
selfishness and indifference toward God. The very heart of the Christian way of
life is to have a spiritually healthy mind able to understand and accept with
humility the gift of Jesus’ sacrifice—His death on the Cross and His
resurrection—and thus gain salvation. We are not just spirit, like the angels,
we are both body and soul. Therefore, we must follow our Lord’s teachings about
how to use our bodies in ways that are appropriate to living holy lives.
means that as faithful believers we are to remain pure in body, and are to keep
away from all behavior that brings dishonor to ourselves and to God. With great
reverence, as Orthodox worshipers, we express the prayer that comes from the
heart by various physical actions, including standing, kneeling, making the
sign of the Cross, bowing low and lying prostrate with our face to the ground.
OF THE CROSS
sign of the Cross is made by joining the first three fingers of the right hand
while keeping the ring and little finger closed together against the palm of
the hand. With the right hand held in this way, first touch the forehead, then
the chest, then the right shoulder, and finally the left shoulder.
is a confession of faith. The three fingers together represent the Holy
Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—Who are three Persons, and, at the same
time, are one God. The two fingers represent the divine and the human natures
of Jesus Christ joined in one Person. The Cross is the victory sign of Christians.
By making the sign of the Cross, as believers, we agree to also take up our own
cross and follow Jesus.
Church calendar is very important to Orthodox Christians. Through religious
preparation and celebration, we remember and celebrate events in the life of
Jesus Christ and His saints. These events will affect basic activities of our
lives, such as eating and working.
general, Orthodox Christians observe the various feast days of the Church by
not eating meat or dairy products before the celebration of the Holy Day. The
holiday itself is observed by taking part in special prayer services with other
believers and by spending the remainder of the day in prayer and thanksgiving.
OR SACRED TIME
Jesus Christ became human and stepped into time, time itself is considered
sacred, with each day of the year marked with various special church
celebrations, commemorations and religious practices.
Time is measured by
various cycles: the daily, the weekly, the yearly, and most important of all,
the Paschal cycle. The Paschal cycle refers to the annual events that revolve
around the celebration of Easter (called “Pascha” by Orthodox Christians).
Pascha is the central event of the Christian year. It is called “the Feast of
Feasts” and it defines every moment for the Orthodox Christian.
hours of each day are organized around prayer, both group and individual.
Traditionally, there are seven liturgical hours or times of prayer (see Psalm
118:164). They are:
(sunrise), together with the First Hour (6AM)
Hour (9 AM)
Hour (12 Noon)
Hour (3 PM)
of these hours of prayer has religious significance to the Orthodox Christian.
The beginning and end of the day are natural times for prayer, since the rising
and setting of the sun highlight the importance of light for us and we are
reminded of Christ, the Light of the world, Who takes away the darkness of sin,
corruption and death. Each new day begins at sunset for the Orthodox Christian
and Matins are celebrated by praising God for sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to
us, and saying prayers together with the entire Orthodox Christian community
prayer times called “Hours” are:
thanks for the day that has passed; asking protection for the coming night;
seeking forgiveness of wrongs committed during the day.
Resurrection of the Lord (Matthew 28:1-8, Mark 16:2-8, Luke 24:1-9, John 20:1);
the Second Coming of the Lord (Matthew 25:6, Mark 13:35).
Hour—The coming of the true Light.
Hour—The descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (Acts 2:15,).
Hour—The crucifixion and passion of the Lord (John 19:14-15).
Hour—The death and burial of the Lord (Matthew 27:46-60).
Sacrament of Holy Communion is consecrated and distributed to prepared Orthodox
Christians during the Divine Liturgy: The word “liturgy” means the “work of the
people.” The people are the entire local congregation of Orthodox Christians
led by their ordained priest or bishop.
Divine Liturgy usually occurs in the morning after matins and prayers for the
first hour are ended. However, it can take place at any time of the day. The
Divine Liturgy is not a part of the seven daily hours of prayer. The Divine
Liturgy is the celebration of the beginning of the Lord’s union with His people,
looking forward to the future age—eternity.
days Orthodox Christians receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion, no food or
beverage (including water) is consumed until after the Communion is received.
Communion must be received with a clean heart. Holy Confession offers the
opportunity to repent of any sins. A priest or bishop hears confessions and
offers spiritual counsel, including various forms of penance when appropriate,
and offers absolution (forgiveness through the mercy of God).
the first Book of the Old Testament, tells the story of creation. It emphasizes
that God worked His wonders in six days and on the seventh day He rested. With
the Resurrection of Christ on the first day of the week, Sunday became “the
Lord’s day,” and it continues to be the central theme of the weekly cycle of
worship. This theme is reflected in the remembrances, religious practices and
prayers that believers are to do each day.
Sunday, the Resurrection of Christ is celebrated in the Divine Liturgy with the
consecration and distribution of the Holy Eucharist (Communion) to the
Monday, the Holy Angels are remembered.
Tuesday, Saint John the Baptist and all the prophets are honored.
is dedicated to the mystery of the Cross and to the person of the Virgin Mary.
It is also remembered as the day on which Christ was betrayed by Judas.
Wednesday is a day of fasting throughout the year.
Thursday, the Holy Apostles and Saint Nicholas are remembered.
is again dedicated to the memory of the Cross and of the Virgin Mary, and it is
also remembered as the day of Christ’s death on the Cross. Friday is another
day of fasting throughout the year.
Saturday, martyrs and monastics are remembered— all the people of the Church
who gave their lives for the Faith—and many others who suffered in Christ’s
Name and lived dedicated lives (often alone), and who died in hope of the
Resurrection. Memorial services are held on Saturdays.
keeps its original honor as the day on which God rested from the creation of
the world. However, since the time Jesus Christ rested in the grave on the
seventh day and rose again to life on the first day of the week, Saturday has
become a day of thanksgiving for the rest we receive in Christ (Hebrews
4:3-11), as we look forward to the resurrection to come. There is therefore no
strict fasting on Saturdays, with the exception of Holy Saturday, the day
before Pascha (Easter,).
In particular, the Saturday evening Vespers service is
devoted to preparing the Faithful for the reception of the Eucharist, the Body
and Blood of Christ, at the Divine Liturgy on Sunday, the Lord’s day.
addition to the significance of the different days of the week, each date of
the year has its dedication. Each year is considered a Year of Grace, a Year of
the Lord. The Church year begins on September first. During each twelve-month
period, all the major events of the life of Christ are lived again, as are the
events in the life of His Mother and of the saints.
Certain days have special
practices and commemorations. Some are remembered with prayer and fasting, others
with special services and religious traditions. For example, on Theophany and
shortly thereafter, the home, office, cell, dorm… (any place the Orthodox
believer lives or works) is blessed by the sprinkling of holy water. Theophany
is the commemoration of Jesus Christ’s baptism in the Jordan river and the
manifestation of the Holy Trinity (Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-22,
Church year is a balance of seasons in which Orthodox Christians worship
through fasting or celebrate through thanksgiving and feasting. Each event is
important and significant to the believer.
are two kinds of yearly celebrations: fixed and movable.
The fixed feasts are
celebrated on the same date each year. For the most part, the movable feasts
depend on the celebration of Orthodox Easter, which is always on a Sunday after
the first full moon, after the spring equinox and after the celebration of the
Jewish passover. The movable feasts are a part of what is called the Paschal
TWELVE GREAT FEASTS
addition to Pascha (Easter), eight great feasts are celebrated in honor of
Jesus Christ and four great feasts in honor of His Mother. These are called the
Twelve Great Feasts.
8 The Nativity of the Virgin Mary
14 The Elevation of the Holy Cross (the only major feast day in which fasting
21 The Presentation of the Virgin Mary in the Temple
25 Christmas (the Nativity of Christ)
6 Theophany (the baptism of Christ)
2 Meeting of the Lord in the Temple
25 The Annunciation
BEFORE PASCHA Palm Sunday
DAYS AFTER PASCHA The Ascension of the Lord
DAYS AFTER PASCHA Pentecost
6 The Transfiguration
15 The Falling-asleep of the Virgin Mary
IN THE ORTHODOX CHURCH
is an ongoing way of life for the traditional Orthodox Christian. The rules of
the Church specify many days and seasons of fasting when believers do not eat
any meat or dairy foods or their byproducts.
is expected to fast with humility and sacrifice according to the traditional
practice. Arbitrary individual practices are not encouraged, such as choosing
different days to fast or a different kind of fast.
same time, the Church realizes that not everyone is able to keep the fast to
the same extent because of a variety of personal circumstances. For example,
under the guidance of a spiritual father, fasting for fewer days or with fewer
restrictions may be acceptable so that the goal, although demanding, is not out
of reach of the individual’s ability.
AND SEASONS WHEN ORTHODOX CHRISTIANS PRACTICE A TRADITIONAL FAST
vegetarian diet—-no meat, poultry, fish or dairy.)
Wednesday and Friday
In memory of the betrayal of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In memory of Jesus’ Passion and Death upon the Cross
29: In memory of the ;Beheading of Saint John the Baptist.
14: In honor of the Elevation of the Holy Cross.
5: The Eve of the Theophany of our Lord Jesus Christ.
LENT AND HOLY WEEK Lent begins 40 days before Palm Sunday, on the Monday after
Cheesefare Sunday. Lasts until the evening before Palm Sunday. Holy Week is a
special Fast in honor of our Lord’s Passion; lasts from evening of Palm Sunday
through Holy Saturday
AFTER ALL SAINTS’ SUNDAY
AFTER PENTECOST), UNTIL JUNE 29 The Fast of the Holy Apostles Varies in length
according to the date of Easter.
1-14 The Fast of the Virgin MaryComes before the Feast of the Falling-asleep of
the Virgin Mary August 15.
15-DECEMBER 24 The Fast before Christmas December 24 is a day of strict
TO FASTING RULES
CHRISTMAS TO THE EVE OF THEOPHANY) No fasting during full period.
FOLLOWING SUNDAY OF THE PUBLICAN AND THE PHARISEE (dates vary) No fasting all
FOLLOWING MEATFARE SUNDAY (dates vary) Fasting all week from meat. Dairy
products are allowed.
FOLLOWING PASCHA (ORTHODOX EASTER) No fasting all week.
FOLLOWING PENTECOST (dates vary) No fasting all week.
Christians are guided by the Church in how to use time throughout the week,
month and year. The celebrations and remembrances, along with icons, prayer
and fasting, all help to develop a vital spiritual life and a strong growing
relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, our God, for all who earnestly seek
faithfully follow these practices, our lives as believers will be greatly