A Brief History of the Orthodox Church
For the first thousand years, Orthodox Christianity was essentially one church with five Patriarchal centers: Jerusalem, Antioch, Rome, Alexandria, and Constantinople. These Patriarchates formed a cohesive whole, living in full communion & community with one another. Occasionally, heretical disputes would occur and the responses to these were recorded in what is now known as The Seven Ecumenical Councils. Some schismatic groups did depart from the Church at various times, yet her core was unified until the 11th century when the Roman Patriarch separated from the rest, resulting in the Great Schism.
Nearly a thousand years after the Great Schism, the other four Patriarchal Churches have remained in full communion and virtually identical in practice to the Apostolic church inspired by New Testament record. The events of The Orthodox Church are listed below in chronological order from Pentecost to present day:
Timeline of Christian History:
Chronology of Church History:
33 Pentecost – The Holy Spirit descends on the Apostles and gives birth to the Church. 33-100 are known as the Apostolic age. Rapid spread of the Church throughout the Roman Empire and beyond.
45-80 Apostles Paul, Peter, James, John and Judas write their epistles. Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke are written.
49 Council at Jerusalem (Acts 15) establishes precedent for addressing Church disputes in Council. James presides as bishop. Gradually Sunday (called the Lord’s Day) replaces the Sabbath as the day of worship.
60-180 Several Gnostic sects appear which attempt to infiltrate Christian communities.
64-67 Persecution of Christians in Rome under Emperor Nero. Sts. Peter and Paul become martyrs.
69 Bishop Ignatius consecrated in Antioch in heart of New Testament era; St. Peter had been the first bishop there. Other early bishops include James, Polycarp, and Clement.
70 Destruction of Jerusalem, foretold by Jesus (Matt. Ch. 24).
95 Book of Revelation written by the Apostle John on island of Patmos; later John writes his Gospel.
96-98 Persecution of Christians under Emperor Domitian.
†110 St. Ignatius Bishop of Antioch, the author of several important epistles, is (†) martyred at Rome.
150 St. Justin Martyr describes the liturgical worship of the Church centered in the Eucharist. Liturgical worship is rooted in both the Old and New Testament.
†202 St. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons is martyred author of several books against heresies.
215-290 The rise of Christian schools in Alexandria and Antioch.
244-49 The Roman Emperor Decius persecutes Christians.
†258 St. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, author and theologian is martyred.
300 Christianization of Britain
†303 St. Alban is martyred
300-305 The Emperor Diocletian vows to vanquish Christianity. Thousands of Christians, including St. George, St. Barbara, and St. Catherine are martyred.
313 Emperor Constantine ends persecution of Christians and gives them the right to freely exercise their faith. The Edict of Milan marks an end to the period of Roman persecution of Christianity.
325 The Council of Nicea settles the major heretical challenges to the Christian Faith posed when the heretic Arius asserts Christ was created by the Father. St. Athanasius defends the eternality of the Son of God. Nicea is the first of Seven Ecumenical (Church-wide) Councils (325 – 787).
326 Empress Helena finds the Cross of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem. Later she builds the Church of the Resurrection on the place of Christ’s Resurrection, where each year Orthodox Pascha (Easter) the Holy Fire descends.
330 Beginning and spread of monasticism in Egypt: St. Anthony and Pachomius.
397 Synod of Carthage ratifies Biblical Canon.
†343 St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra in Lycia.
330-410 Period of the great Fathers of the Church: Sts. Athanasius, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, Ambrose of Milan, John Chrysostom and others.
381 The Second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople reaffirms the need to have five Patriarchates: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem.
410 Alaric, leader of the Germanic Visigoths, takes Rome.
451 Council of Chalcedon affirms apostolic doctrine of two natures in Christ.
563 The Great Church, Hagia Sofia, consecrated in Constantinople.
584 St. Sabba founds his monastery in the Judean wilderness, where later the Typicon for church services is developed.
589 A local synod of the Roman Catholic Church in Toledo, Spain, adds filioque to the Nicene Creed. This error causes division between the Eastern & the Western Churches.
630 First the Persians, then the Arabs threaten the Byzantine Empire, persecute Christians and destroy churches.
685 The spread of monasticism on Mt. Athos begins.
726 Emperor Leo the Isaurian starts his campaign against the veneration of icons.
771 Arabs invade Spain.
†780 St. John Damascene the author of the Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith.
787 The era of Ecumenical Seventh Council ends at Nicea; the Seventh Council restores the centuries old use of icons to the church.
864 The Prince Boris of Bulgaria is baptized. About this time Sts. Cyril and Methodius spread the Orthodox faith among the Slavs.
988 Prince Vladimir is baptized and begins conversion of the Rus (Russians) to Christianity.
1051 Sts. Anthony and Theodosius found their monastery near Kiev.
1054 The Great Schism occurs. Two major issues include Rome’s claim to a universal papal supremacy and her addition of the filioque clause to the Nicene Creed. The Photian Schism (880) further complicates the debate.
1066 Norman conquest of Britain. Orthodox hierarchs are replaced with those loyal to Rome.
1095 The Crusades, begun by the Roman Church, weaken the Eastern Orthodox churches in Palestine and Syria.
1204 The Sack of Constantinople by the crusaders adds to the estrangement between East and West.
1333 St. Gregory Palamas defends the Orthodox practice of hesychast spirituality and the use of the Jesus Prayer.
1438 St. Mark of Ephesus defends the Orthodox faith at the Council of Florence.
1453 Turks overrun Constantinople; Byzantine empire ends.
1455 Gutenberg prints the Bible.
1517 Martin Luther nails his 95 Theses to the door of the Roman Church in Wittenburg, begins Protestant Reformation.
1529 Church of England begins pulling away from Rome.
1782 First publishing of the PHILOKALIA, a classic of spirituality.
1794 Russian missionaries, St. Herman and others arrive in Alaska; introduce Orthodoxy to North America.
1871 St. Nicholas establishes a Japanese mission.
1870 Papal infallibility becomes Roman Dogma.
1917 The revolution in Russia begins. Christians are persecuted and martyred.
1918 Bishop Tikhon of San Francisco becomes Patriarch of Russia.
1988 1000 years of Orthodoxy in Russia, as Orthodox Church worldwide maintains fullness of Apostolic Faith.
1990 Beginning of renewal of Orthodoxy in Russia.
2005 1,972 years of Orthodox Christianity.
What is Catechism?
A catechumen is an individual engaged in the process of becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ and receiving instruction in the basic doctrines of Christianity before admission to communicant membership in the Church. However, we welcome everyone, including our own members, to grow in knowledge of the Church teachings and traditions.
Where Do I Start?
There are many wonderful books that we suggest reading as you venture in to learning more about Orthodox Christianity.
Books to Start With
Here are a few books to check out if you are new to the Faith. Holy Apostles Church has a full lending library and bookstore where you might also find some of these titles:
The Orthodox Study Bible, published by Thomas Nelson
The Orthodox Church, by Bishop Kallistos Ware, Penguin Books.
The Orthodox Way, revised edition by Bishop Kallistos Ware, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, New York.
Becoming Orthodox: a journey to the Ancient Christian Faith, by Peter Gillquist, Conciliar Press
In the Heart of the Desert: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers,by John Chryssavgis, Wisdom Press.
Facing East: A Pilgrim’s journey into the Mysteries of Orthodoxy, by Frederica Mathewes-Green, Harper, San Francisco.
What is the Church?
April 10, 2010
By Fr. Evan Armatas
Not too long ago, a friend of mine who is not Orthodox challenged me with the following question: he wondered why Orthodox Christians couldn’t just get back to the Bible and use it as a means, like other Christian denominations had, for agreeing over what Christianity truly is. This same friend was concerned that many of the teachings and traditions that we, as Orthodox Christians, profess were not found in Holy Scripture. In the end, his feeling was that the true Christian faith had been corrupted and lost by the Orthodox Church and that a return to the Bible and its teachings would help us Orthodox separate those incorrect teachings and traditions we hold from what he deemed as “true, Bible-based Christianity.”
Today, many share my friend’s opinion, and it is not difficult to notice that there is a proliferation of churches in America that claim to be Bible-based. Many of those who attend such churches are extremely faithful and wonderful people who are truly seeking to know Jesus Christ. Their sincere desire to walk with our Lord has prompted them to join a certain congregation, and through it, connect with their Savior.
Many of our own parishes are full of similar people, men and women who want to follow Christ. In fact, many of our parishioners at one time belonged to another church or have family members who attend churches other than the Orthodox Church. Their journey to know Jesus just so happens to have brought them to the Orthodox Church, but we could argue that other peoples’ journeys have led them into the Methodist, Baptist, or Presbyterian churches.
Without a doubt, all of us have friends who are not Orthodox Christians but who love Jesus and want to live a Christian life. This reality raises another question that I know many of us have struggled to answer. Namely, does it matter whether or not someone is an Orthodox Christian? Surely, Christians of other denominations are being saved and the truth that all of us are children of God is firmly established, so does it really matter what church you belong to, or is it just important that you belong to a church?
To answer these questions, as well as the one raised by my friend, it is important that we first understand what the Church is. Scripture tells us in Colossians chapter 1 verse 18 that, “[Christ] is the head of the body, the Church.” We also learn from scripture that each of us, once baptized becomes, “members of his body,” (Ephesians 5.30). This same point is made in 1 Corinthians 6.15, when the Apostle Paul writes, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” The Church, therefore, is Christ; He is its body, and each one of us are members of that body, the one body of Jesus Christ. Again, we can look to scripture for this exact definition, which can be found in 1 Corinthians 12.27, St. Paul writes, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” There is one last point, however, that comes from scripture that we must investigate, and once again, this point relates to how we understand what a Church is. St. Paul asks the Church of Corinth the following question in 1 Corinthians 1.13: “Is Christ divided?” The answer, of course, is no. Christ is not divided; His body is whole. So we have learned from Holy Scripture that the Church is made up of Christ, who is its head, as well as each of us, who are members of that one undivided body.
These statements St. Paul makes regarding the Church have enormous implications for those of us who live in the twenty-first century. For it is plain to see that the Christian faith is anything but whole; rather, it is splintered into thousands of expressions. In America alone, some estimate that the number of Christian traditions exceeds 5,000. Thus, the circumstance in which we find ourselves begs the question, “How did we get here?” How did Christianity become so fragmented, so divided, when Scripture tells us that there should be one Body? Even Jesus prayed that the Church would remain united. He said, “And now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one, (John, 17.11).”
When Jesus died, he did not leave us a book. He didn’t even leave us the New Testament, and as far as we know, he never wrote down a single thing on paper. What he did leave us, however, is His Church, a Church that He promised would never fail, a Church that the very gates of Hades would not overcome, Matthew 16.18. This means that if the Church had ceased to exist even for one moment, as some people propose, Christ would be a liar! More importantly, since the Church is headed by Christ Himself it is, therefore, Christ. So, if the Church had become corrupt, or even ceased to exist, Christ Himself would be corrupt or non-existent. Thankfully, this is not the case. Rather, we know that Christ’s Church has continued to exist, and its existence can be traced to the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem. An unbroken connection exists between the first Church in Jerusalem, which was headed by the Bishop James, and our own parishes here in the United States and our beloved Bishops.
Therefore, the unity of the Orthodox Church for 2000 years stands in stark contradiction to the fragmented Christianity of our modern century. It is interesting to note that the fragmentation of Christianity, the emergence of denominations and expressions, is rooted in my friend’s desire for us to return to just the Bible. In 1517, Martin Luther would post his thesis and set in motion the Protestant Reformation. At the center of Reformation was the concept of Sola Scriptura, only scripture (of course the concept of sola scriptura cannot be found anywhere in the Bible. In fact, the opposite argument is made by St. Paul in 2 Thessalonians, 2.15: “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter,”). St. Paul commands the Corinthians to hold to those things they were taught by word-of-mouth, and those things they were taught by the written word. Throughout the centuries, the Orthodox Church has faithfully kept these traditions. For example, the Orthodox Church still professes the belief that the Eucharist is indeed the Body and Blood of Christ. This tradition is confirmed by Scripture in 1 Corinthians 10.16, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not communion in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not communion in the Body of Christ?” Or Matthew, 26.26, where Christ commands his disciples to, “Take, eat; this is my body.”
In working against the developments of the Catholic Church, the Reformers believed that a return to the scriptures alone would return the Church to the true faith in Jesus Christ. Thus, a movement was started that eventually led to the proliferation of denominations and interpretations of Holy Scripture. Once Holy Scripture was divorced from the Church and her traditions, its exegesis, or explanation, was left up to the individual. Missing from the Protestant’s mindset was the concept that scripture was never to be taken out of the context of the worshiping community. St. Peter had warned against such an abuse of scripture in his second letter 1.20, when he wrote, “First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” Notice how St. Peter switches from the singular, man, to the plural, men, when speaking about proper interpretation. The community of the faithful was always the measure stick by which scripture was to be interpreted. Once this was removed, any one interpretation became valid.
Today, you’ll find hundreds of interpretations of the same passage of scripture, and as a result, you’ll find thousands of different churches teaching different things. The irony is that all of them point to the Bible as the sole source of their interpretation! Once again, contrary to this fact, the Orthodox Church stands united in her witness to the faith and in the teachings she professes. Whether you attend an Orthodox Church in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, or Cape Town, South Africa, the teaching and the worship of these parishes is the same. This does not mean that the Orthodox Church looks down on other Christian expressions, nor does it mean that the Orthodox Church teaches intolerance or that she passes judgment on people who are members of other churches. Rather, the Orthodox Church simply witnesses to what she is by grace: the Church of Christ, established by her Lord, Jesus Christ. Furthermore, the Orthodox Church does not deny the activity of the Holy Spirit (or even salvation) cannot be found elsewhere beyond her walls, for God is great, and His love endures forever. However, she is assured of the Holy Spirit’s activity within. Finally, the Church knows that elements of the Truth can be found everywhere, but she alone possesses the full deposit of the faith, the entire inheritance of the sons and daughters of the Lord, is found only within her embrace.
In the letter of Jude, we read in 1.3, “Beloved, being very eager to write to you of our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” This letter, which was written by St. Jude, the brother of St. James, the first Bishop of Jerusalem, appeals to Christians to hold onto their common faith—the faith that was once and for all delivered to the saints, a faith rooted in the teaching of the Apostles, and a faith that is not subject to development or change. As the Apostle Paul wrote in Hebrews 13.8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
Unfortunately, my friend’s appeal is an appeal that leads to disaster, for it has resulted not in unity but disjointing. A simple return to the scriptures has resulted in the loss of the full deposit of faith for many. Our Protestant brothers and sisters are correct to encourage each Christian to learn scripture, to study God’s word, to commit their lives to Christ, and in a sense, to return to the Bible. However, each of us must do so under the guidance of the Church, which was established by Christ. Only then can we be assured that our own interpretation will be in line with that of the community established by Christ and cultivated by the Holy Apostles.
In the end, the most convincing aspect of our faithful witness to Jesus Christ will be found in our ability to love. This means our argument for the Lord will be measured by the amount of love we show one another and those outside of the Church. If we do not open our hearts and love, any measure of disrespect, intolerance, or hate will totally destroy all messages that the Church might express. May your love for our Lord provide an ample witness that you are indeed one of His children.
(For further study see, the website of the Greek Archdiocese of America, www.goarch.org, The Faith, understanding Orthodox Christianity, an Orthodox Catechism, by Clark Carlton, Regina Orthodox Press, Salisbury, MA, The Orthodox Way, revised edition by Bishop Kallistos Ware, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, New York, Introducing the Orthodox Church, its Faith and Life, by Anthony M. Coniaris, Light and Life Publishing Company, Minneapolis, MN)
Six Questions Concerning Orthodox Christianity...And How to Answer Them From the Bible
1. Does the Orthodox Church place tradition above or equal to Scripture?
The Church sees the Scriptures as inspired and authoritative Holy Tradition: the word of God. The key here is to see how the word "tradition" is used in the New Testament, which condemns the tradition of men but calls us to follow apostolic or holy tradition.
Tradition of Men
a. First of all, Jesus warned against holding to the "tradition of men" and "your tradition" in the strongest possible terms (see mark 7:6-16). All Christians agree: The Bible says no to the tradition of men.
b. Secondly, Saint Paul warns in Colossians 2:8: "Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ." Here again, the phase "tradition of men" stands out, which the Orthodox Church condemns.
c. In distinction to the tradition of men, the Bible calls us to obey tradition which has God as its source. In II Thessalonians 2:15, Saint Paul writes, "Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle." In contrast to man's tradition, apostolic tradition is our foundation in the Church.
d. Further, in II Thessalonians 3:6 we read, "But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us." Here again, we are dealing with Apostolic tradition, the tradition which God planted in the Church. Thus the Church is "the pillar and ground (or support) of the truth" (I Timothy 3:15).
e. All true tradition comes from the same source: the Holy Spirit in the Church. The same One who inspired holy Scripture prompted the on-location teaching of the Apostles, whether written or oral (II Thes. 2:15). Further, it was on the basis of Church tradition that the Biblical canon was determined.
f. Tradition is giving our ancestors a vote. It is walking in the "path of righteousness for His name's sake" (Psalm 23:3). Or, as Jeremiah writes, living by holy tradition is a call from God Himself. "Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you will find rest for your souls" (Jer. 6:16).Thus, there are two kinds of tradition: that of God and that of men. It is to the former that the Orthodox Church is singularly committed.
2. How does the Orthodox Church view communion?
Some Protestant groups teach that communion, or the Lord's Supper, is only a sign or symbol. Most all of Christendom, however, believes it is far more. The Orthodox Church has always believed that we, in a mystery, receive the body and blood of Christ. Let us look at Holy Scripture concerning Communion.
a. Jesus said at the Last Supper: "This is my body" and "This cup is ...my blood" (Luke 22: 19 and 20, italics added). The Lord is clear that His gifts to us are more than just sign or a mere memorial.
b. In I Corinthians 11:29, 30, we read of people who became sick and even died for receiving communion hypocritically. People do not die over something merely "symbolic." The bread and wine is, in mystery, the body and blood of the Lord.
c. In I Corinthians 10, Saint Paul is comparing the manna and water in the wilderness with the true bread and drink of the New Covenant. In I Corinthians 10:4 he writes, "And all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ." The question is, was the Rock Christ? Under laboratory observation, the rock was still most likely granite. But the word of God says, "The Rock was Christ." We do not subject the gifts to chemical analysis, but to the word of God. It's mystery, but never magic. Christ was present in the Rock as He is present in the Holy Gifts.
d. In John 6:53 we read, "Then Jesus said to them, 'Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.'" The Church receives this passage at face value — nothing added, nothing taken away. In communion we become partakers of the body and blood of Christ. Just as the new birth (John 3) gives us life through water and the Holy Spirit, so the body and blood of Christ sustains His life in us.
e. Christ our High Priest enters the Heavenly Sanctuary with His own blood (Hebrews 9:11-12), and it is in this Heavenly Sanctuary that we worship (Hebrews 10: 19-25). There is only one Eucharist, the one in heaven, and we join in that one feast.
For further insights on the subject, see the article, “The Eucharist” in the Orthodox Study Bible —
We must neither add to nor subtract from the word of God. Therefore we confess with Holy Scripture that the consecrated bread and wine is the body and blood of Christ. It is a mystery: we do not pretend to know how or why. As always, we come to Christ in childlike faith, receive His gifts, and offer Him praise that He has called us to His heavenly banquet.
3. Why does the Orthodox Church emphasize the role of Mary?
Let us turn to the New Testament and see what God says about Mary. A key passage is Luke 1:26-49.
a. The Archangel Gabriel calls the Virgin Mary "highly favored" with God (see also Luke 1:30) and the most "blessed" of all women (Luke 1:28). We must never do less.
b. In Luke 1:42, 43, Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, also calls Mary "blessed," and "the mother of my Lord." Can we make the same confession? For centuries, the Church with one voice has called Mary the mother of God. If God was not in her womb, we are dead in our sins. By "mother of God" we do not mean, of course, that she is mother of the Holy Trinity. She is the human mother of the eternal Son of God. Mary bore God in her womb, and thus we can rightly call her the Theotokos, or God-bearer.
c. Not only does Elizabeth call her blessed, Mary herself, inspired by the Holy Spirit, predicts, "All generations will call me blessed" (Luke 1:48). This biblical prophecy explains the Orthodox hymn, "It is truly right to bless you, O Theotokos." Tragically, our generation has forgotten to call her blessed. Orthodox Christians bless her in obedience to God, fulfilling His holy words.
d. It is important to secure Mary's identity as the mother of God to protect the identity of her holy Son, "the Son of the Highest" (Luke 1:32), God in the flesh. If we cannot face up to Mary, we will miss the incarnation of the Son of God.
e. The Old Testament Prophet Ezekiel writes, "This gate shall be shut; it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter by it, because the Lord God of Israel has entered by it; therefore it shall be shut" (Ezekiel 44:2). The early Church Fathers consistently saw this gate as a picture of the womb of Mary, shut after Jesus' birth. We do not worship Mary.
Worship is reserved only for God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We honor or venerate Mary, the mother of God, as the Scriptures teach.
4. Why do Orthodox Christians honor the saints?
The Scriptures themselves call us to honor other Christians, both the living and departed.
a. In Acts 28:10, St. Luke writes, "they honored us (the Apostolic band) in many ways." The biblical injunction concerning Mary, "All generations will call me blessed" (Luke 1:48), is an example of how we are to honor the saints for all time (see also Heb. 11:4-40).
b. We are to honor all believers and true authorities, not just departed ones. This is why Saint Paul exhorts us to honor one another (1 Timothy 5:17), and why Saint Peter tells husbands to honor their wives (1 Peter 3:7). May we gain back true honor, both in the Church and in the culture.
c. In Orthodox worship, we see pictures or icons of the believers of history all around us. This is, in part, how we honor our forerunners in the faith. In Hebrews 12:22-24 we read that in worship we join with the heavenly throng to praise and worship God. We come to join "an innumerable company of angels," "the general assembly and church of the first- born who are registered in heaven" and "the spirits of just men made perfect." And as "in spirit and in truth" we join these angelic and redeemed heroes of the faith, we do give them proper honor as the Scripture teaches.
d. Some modern Christians tend to give notice primarily to living Christian heroes, often newly-believing athletes, beauty queens and political figures. But throughout Church history, honor went to those who finished the race (I Corinthians 9:24-27), not to those who have merely begun or who are still on the earthly track (Galatians 5:7). These saints of old are not dead, but alive in Christ forever!
5. Do the icons of Orthodoxy border on idolatry?
In Orthodox Christianity, icons are never worshipped; but they are honored, or venerated.
a. The Second Commandment says, "You shall not make for yourself any carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth" (Exodus 20:4-5). The warning here is that we are not to image things which are limited to heaven and therefore unseen, and we never bow down to or worship created, earthly things such as the golden calf. Does this condemn all imagery in worship? The Bible speaks for itself, and the answer is no.
b. Just five chapters later, in Exodus 25, God gives His divine blueprint, if you will, for the tabernacle. Specifically in verses 19 and 20, he commands images of cherubim be placed above the mercy seat. So true imagery is not condemned in Scripture, but false imagery. Also, God promises to meet and speak with us through this imagery! (Exodus 25:22).
c. In Exodus 26:1, Israel was commanded in no uncertain terms to sew "artistic designs of cherubim" in the tabernacle curtains. Are these images? Absolutely! In fact, they are Old Testaments icons. And they are images God commanded.
From the beginning the Church imaged heavenly things brought to earth: Christ Himself, the Cross (Galatians 6:14), and the saints of God (Hebrews 11 and 12). Worship is reserved for the Holy Trinity alone. Icons depicting Christ, the primary subject of Orthodox iconography, help make Christ more present. Christ is worshipped, not wood and paint. Likewise, we honor the great men and women of the faith by remembering them in the Orthodox Church via visual aids, called icons or windows to heaven.
6. What do Orthodox Christians believe about liturgy?
Biblically and historically true worship consistently has been liturgical. "Spontaneous" worship is an innovation of the last century or so.
a. Liturgical worship, written Prayers (the Psalms) and feast days were the norm throughout the history of Israel (see Exodus 23:14-19; 24:1-30:38; etc.).
b. The worship of heaven is liturgical (Isa. 6:1-90; Heb. 8:1-3; Rev. 4).
c. The foundations of liturgical worship in the Church are apparent in the New Testament. The most oft-repeated prayer of the Church is there (Matthew 6:9-13). The words we say at baptism are there (Matthew 28:19). The words spoken at Holy Communion are there, with St. Paul repeating Jesus' words (I Corinthians 11:23-26). Further, the believers in Acts 13:2, about 49 A.D., were seen in a liturgical service to the Lord: "As they ministered (Gk: leitourgouaton, our root word for liturgy!) to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said...." Note, too, in this passage that the Holy Spirit speaks to us during liturgical worship. Thus praise to God must never become dead form, but rather living worship, "in spirit and truth" (John 4:23-24).
d. Documents like the Didache (70 A.D.), the writings of St. Justin Martyr (150 A.D.) and Hipploytus (early 200s) all show the worship of the early Church was, without exception, liturgical.
Because of their disdain for Rome, some Protestant groups have reacted by dismissing liturgical worship (though everyone has patterned worship, "spontaneous" or not!) But the Bible and Church history are clear; liturgical worship is the norm for the people of God.