Orthodox Christianity

The Annunciation in Little Rock is a vibrant community of faithful Christians of varied backgrounds who are committed to serving God and loving our neighbors by adhering to Orthodox Christian principles that are concurrently Scriptural, Traditional, Apostolic and Eucharistic. The life of the parish is dedicated to drawing people closer to Christ and sharing His light to the world guided by the Holy Spirit. Hopefully these brief overviews will help you begin to better understand the Orthodox Christian faith and way of life.

A Brief History of the Orthodox Christian Church

The One, True, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic, and Orthodox Church of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ began on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended from God the Father upon the Apostles.  St. Paul and the other Disciples spread the Gospel throughout the Mediterranean world during the infancy of the new Church. This was also the time when the Books of the New Testament were being written. St. Thomas traveled to India. St. Luke evangelized Greece and the Balkan region. St. James was the first Bishop of Jerusalem and was martyred about 61 A.D. St. Philip went into Asia Minor. St. Matthew is said to have done missionary work in Ethiopia. St. Andrew traveled throughout Greece, the Balkans, Georgia, and southern Russia. Saint Timothy was the Bishop of Ephesus. St. Mark evangelized Egypt. St. John traveled to Rome, Patmos, and Ephesus. St. Bartholomew went to Armenia. St. Jude went to Persia. St. Barnabas established churches in Cyprus. St. Titus established churches on Crete. St. Peter was the first bishop of Antioch and was martyred in Rome. "And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch" (Acts 2:26). 

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Orthodox Christian Traditions & Sacraments

Sacraments:

One of the best-known prayers of the Orthodox Church speaks of the spirit of God being "present in all places and filling all things." This profound affirmation is basic to Orthodoxy's understanding of God and His relationship to the world. We believe that God is truly near to us. Although He cannot be seen, God is not detached from His creation. Through the persons of The Risen Christ and the Holy Spirit, God is present and active in our lives and in the creation about us. All our life and the creation of which we are an important part, points, to and reveals God.

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Orthodox Christian Links & Recommended Reading

The Ecumenical Patriarchate: http://www.ec-patr.org/default.php?lang=en

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America: http://goarch.org

The Metropolis of Detroit: http://www.detroit.goarch.org/

Orthodox Christian Mission Center: http://ocmc.org/

International Orthodox Christian Charities: http://www.iocc.org

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Roman Emperor Constantine legalized the Christian Faith in the year 313 A.D. Constantinople became the official center of Orthodoxy in 330 A.D. when Emperor Constantine moved the Roman imperial capital there. Constantinople was know as the "New Rome." Other ancient Orthodox Patriarchates include Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria. In 392 A.D., Emperor Theodosius recognized Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire.

The Orthodox Church has been called the "Church of the Ecumenical Councils." In fact the first Apostolic Council of the Christian Church was called in Jerusalem about 50 A.D. (Acts 25). In all there have been seven Ecumenical Councils. In 325 A.D., the First Ecumenical Council was convened in Nicea to define the divinity of the Son of God. In 381 A.D., the Second Ecumenical Council was called in Constantinople to define the divinity of the Holy Spirit. The Third Ecumenical Council was called in Ephesus in 431 A.D. to define Christ as the Incarnate Word of God and Mary as Theotokos. The Fourth Ecumenical Council was convened in Chalcedon in the year 451 A.D. to define Christ as Perfect God and Perfect Man in One Person. In 553 A.D. the Fifth Ecumenical Council met in Constantinople to reconfirm the Doctrines of the Trinity and Christ. In 680 A.D. the Sixth Ecumenical Council again met in Constantinople to affirm the True Humanity of Jesus. The Seventh Ecumenical Council met in Nicea in 787 A.D. to affirm that icons are a genuine expression of the Christian Faith.

It was the Eastern Orthodox Church which gathered together the Books of the New Testament, declaring which were inspired by the Holy Spirit, and then canonized the Bible about 400 A.D. The authoritative Old Testament used by Orthodox Christians is know as the Septuagint.

The magnificent church, Hagia Sophia, was completed in 537 A.D. in Constantinople by Emperor Justinian. In 550 A.D., the Monastery at St. Catherine on Mount Sinai was constructed at the request of Justinian. Both the Hagia Sophia Church and Sinai monastery are still in constant use today. In the 9th century, the Orthodox Faith spread throughout Eastern Europe from Constantinople due to the missionary activities of Saints Cyril and Methodius. Soon, the countries of Bulgaria, Serbia, and Russia were converted to Orthodox Christianity.

About the year 1054 A.D., the Western Church, centered in Rome, broke away from the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church over issues of faith, dogma, church custom, politics, and culture. Attempts by the Roman Papacy to exert control over the other four Patriarchates of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, and Constantinople eventually led to an official separation. In 1204 A.D., Latin Crusaders sacked the Holy City of Constantinople.

After 1453 A.D. when the Ottoman Turks conquered the Holy City of Constantinople, Moscow began to play a more important role in the Orthodox Church. Moscow became know as the "Third Rome" and began sending missionaries eastward toward the Pacific Ocean.

In 1794 A.D., eight Russian Orthodox monastics arrived on Kodiak Island, Alaska from Siberia to begin missionary activities on the North American continent. Bishop John Veniaminov (St. Innocent) was the first Orthodox bishop in the New World. Alaska became the first American Orthodox diocese in 1840 A.D. The first Orthodox priest to have been born in the United States was Sebastian Dabovich who was ordained in the 1880's. Since that time Orthodox Christians from other nations such as Greece, Albania, Romania, Ukraine, Georgia, Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt, and Ethiopia have arrived in America.

The ancient, first-century Christian Church stills exists today. In fact, His All Holiness Bartholomew I is the 270th successor of St. Andrew as the Patriarch of Constantinople. His Beatitude Ignatius IV is the 170th successor of St. Peter as the Patriarch of Antioch. His Beatitude Diodoros I is the successor of St. James as the Patriarch of Jerusalem. His Beatitude Peter VII is the 114th successor of St. Mark as the Patriarch of Alexandria.

In 1768 A.D., the first Greek Orthodox faithful landed on the shores of Florida. The colony of New Smyrna was settled but abandoned by 1773. The official Greek Orthodox presence in the New World is considered to be 1864 when the first Greek Orthodox church was built in New Orleans. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America was incorporated in 1921 A.D. Archbishop Demetrios is the current spiritual leader of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church of Little Rock was first chartered as a parish in 1913 A.D. The parish with the Rev. Dr. Nicholas Verdaris as its parish priest, is a part of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Detroit under Metropolitan Nicholas of Detroit; in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America under Archbishop Demetrios and within the Patriarchate of Constantinople under Patriarch Bartholomew. Our parish is the living continuity with Jesus Christ, His Apostles, and all other Orthodox Christians throughout the centuries. We are a dynamic community of faithful Christians worshipping together and working together to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ to all peoples.

There are special experiences in our corporate life as Orthodox Christians when the perception of God's presence and actions is heightened and celebrated. We call these events of the Church Sacraments. Traditionally, the Sacraments have been known as Mysteries in the Orthodox Church. This description emphasizes that in these special events of the Church, God discloses Himself through the prayers and actions of His people.

Not only do the Sacraments disclose and reveal God to us, but also they serve to make us receptive to God. All the Sacraments affect our personal relationship to God and to one another. The Holy Spirit works through the Sacraments. He leads us to Christ who unites us with the Father. By participating in the Sacraments, we grow closer to God and to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This process, takes place not in isolation from others, but within the context of a believing community. Although the Sacraments are addressed to each of us by name, they are experiences which involve the entire Church.

The Sacraments of the Orthodox Church are composed of prayers, hymns, scripture lessons, gestures and processions. Many parts of the services date back to the time of the Apostles. The Orthodox Church has avoided reducing the Sacraments to a particular formula or action. Often, a whole series of sacred acts make up a Sacrament. Most of the Sacraments use a portion of the material of creation as an outward and visible sign of God's revelation. Water, oil, bread and wine are but a few of the many elements which the Orthodox Church employs in her Worship. The frequent use of the material of creation reminds us that matter is good and can become a medium of the Spirit. Most importantly, it affirms the central truth of the Orthodox Christian faith: that God became flesh in Jesus Christ and entered into the midst of creation thereby redirecting the cosmos toward its vocation to glorify its Creator.

Holy Communion:

The Eucharist is the very center of Orthodox piety, worship and theology. “The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him” (John 6:56). We are spiritually fed by receiving in Holy Communion the very Body and Blood of Christ. Christ instituted this Sacrament at His Last Supper to show the new relationship that exists between God and His Church. The Eucharist is the central mystery of the Church. When we receive the precious Body and Blood of Christ, we become filled with the saving presence of God. An Orthodox Christian should try to receive Holy Communion as often as possible, preferably once a week. After all, with the reception of Holy Communion faithful men and women become one with Christ, our Lord and Savior.

Because of the deplorable state of division that exists within Christianity, Orthodox Christians are not permitted to receive Holy Communion or participate in the sacraments of any other Christian denomination other than Orthodox. Likewise, non-Orthodox Christians are not able to receive Holy Communion in the Orthodox Church. Reception of the Eucharist is a sacred privilege reserved for the baptized or chrismated members of the Orthodox Church. It remains the constant prayer of the Orthodox Church that one day all of Christianity will be reunited and all men and women in oneness of faith will be able to approach the common chalice.

To prepare for receiving Holy Communion, self-examination and fasting are required. It is expected that Orthodox Christians will genuinely seek to prepare their heart and soul for this great Gift of Christ with prayer and fasting during the week in anticipation of receiving the Eucharist. This means that at the very least, Orthodox men and women will not only follow a prayer rule during the course of the week, strive to study Scripture and genuinely strive to avoid sinning, but on Wednesdays and Fridays we will not consume meat or dairy. On the day we intend to receive the Sacrament, nothing can be eaten or drunk after waking in the morning (unless medically required) and we must attend the Divine Liturgy from the beginning of the service. For an evening Divine Liturgy or Presanctified Liturgy, it is suggested that we adhere to the strict fast for at least six hours prior.

Confession:

The gift of God’s forgiveness is received through private prayer, corporate worship, the disciplines of prayer and fasting, penitential services and above all, through the sacrament of Holy Confession.

The value of Holy Confession is twofold. First, through this sacramental act of the ordained priest and the Orthodox Christian believer we have the assurance of Divine forgiveness, according to the words of Christ (Jn 20:23). Secondly, Holy Confession provides the opportunity to talk about one’s deep concerns, to receive counsel and to be encouraged towards spiritual growth, all of which are universally recognized as extremely beneficial to personal life.

Holy Confession is appropriate whenever an Orthodox Christian reasonably feels the need for it. It is a sad consequence of the modern age that Confession cannot be offered regularly in large part due to the limited number of clergy within the community and the continued growth of our parishes. Nevertheless, confession should be a part of our total spiritual preparation during Holy Seasons. Furthermore, Holy Confession is especially necessary when a serious sin has been committed, when a habitual sin has overwhelmed a Christian, or when a Christian has stopped growing spiritually and needs a reexamination of priorities.

We confess our sins to God and the power of forgiveness is Gods. However, the gift of God’s forgiveness, although assured, is not magical. It does not automatically spare us from spiritual struggle – the continual vigilance against evil and the unceasing warfare against sin. Holy Confession will bear fruits in the Spirit only when the believer combats evil, utterly rejects sin and patiently cultivates the positive habits of a life in Christ. “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to Christ Jesus… Do not yield your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but yield yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life” (Rm 6:11, 13).

How does one prepare for Holy Confession? Preparation for Holy Confession is a prayerful examination of feelings, thoughts, words, acts, attitudes, habits, values, priorities, goals, direction and way of life. This prayerful self-examination includes not only one’s personal religious life, but also one’s family relationships, social activities, professional conduct, business dealings, political commitments and even recreational pursuits, because our entire existence should be lived under the light of the Holy Spirit. Confession is not an opportunity to condemn ourselves, but to affirm our true selves in Christ who has given us access to God’s mercy and forgiveness and who has taught us to live for God’s glory.

The priest in the sacrament of Confession speaks for the Church as well as for God when he reads the prayer of absolution for forgiveness and reconciliation. The priest is not the source of forgiveness, but serves as a visible instrument of the Lord. Thus, when the priest offers the prayers of forgiveness within the sacrament, he is expressing God’s forgiveness of the truly penitent heart. Just as there is no sin which in some way is not an offense against the Lord our God, our neighbor and our Church, there is no abiding peace without reconciling ourselves with God, His Church and our fellow man. The sacrament of confession is not something abstract and invisible. It has to do with our real relationship with God and actual people in our life.

In order to partake of the sacrament of Confession one must make an appointment by contacting the Church office to arrange a day and time to meet with Fr. Nicholas. According to Tradition, Confession takes place inside the Sanctuary and the faithful are guaranteed absolute and strict confidentiality.

Baptism:

The Sacrament of Baptism is one of the sacred mysteries of the Church Baptism incorporates human beings into the Body of Christ and the Church. Through Baptism men and women of all ages and walks of life are introduced to the life of the Holy Trinity at the Annunciation in Little Rock. Because it is through Baptism that one is introduced into the dynamic life in Christ, age is not a factor. An infant is usually baptized between five and ten months of age. In the case of a child, parents are encouraged to carefully select the sponsor (godparent) for their child. In the eyes of the Church, a godparent shares with the parents the responsibility for the spiritual growth of the child and becomes an indissoluble spiritual member of the family. The sponsor is more than a ceremonial position as they should serve as an important role in the life of the child as they do in the celebration of the sacrament. Ultimately, the sponsor should be an individual whom the parents are confident will provide their child with a dynamic model of the Orthodox Christian way of life outside of the immediate family.

Before making any other arrangements, one must call the Church office to arrange for the date and time of a Baptism at least two months in advance. When preparing to contact the parish to schedule a baptism, parents must be prepared to give the name and address of the Orthodox sponsor so that pertinent instructions outlining the sponsor’s role in the Baptism may be sent to them prior to the sacrament. Because Orthodox Christians cannot independently maintain a meaningful relationship with the Lord apart from the Church, the sacraments are an integral part of our life within the Church, and the Church is the vehicle of the Holy Spirit, it is incumbent of parents and sponsors alike to be faithful stewards of their respective Orthodox Christian Church.

Matrimony:

The Sacrament of Marriage in the Orthodox Church sanctifies the union of a man and a woman who are brought into a communion of love for mutual companionship and fulfillment. This blessed union is not expressed through vows, but through a shared and committed relationship with the Risen Lord. In the Orthodox marriage ceremony, the priest, the couple and the laity pray that the Christian marriage of a man and a woman be sanctified and preserved by God in the image of Christ’s perfect union to the Church.

General Requirements for a marriage to be celebrated at the Annunciation:

  • The Orthodox Church solemnizes marriages in which either the bride or the groom of the Orthodox faith seek to marry a Christian.
  • An Orthodox Christian bride and /or groom seeking to be married at the Annunciation must be in good standing and faithful stewards of the Annunciation.
  • A non-Orthodox spouse (bride or groom) must be able to provide documentation that they have been baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity with water in a Christian denomination.
  • Arrangements for the Sacrament of Marriage to be celebrated at the Annunciation is predicated on a participation in a Marriage Seminar with Father Nicholas which both the Orthodox and non-Orthodox individuals must attend.
  • The sponsor (best man or maid of honor) in an Orthodox Marriage must be an Orthodox Christian in good standing, a faithful steward of the Annunciation or their local Orthodox parish and, if married, have been married in the Orthodox Church.

Because life in the body of the Church is all-encompassing and cannot be compartmentalized, the Orthodox Church has determined that any Orthodox Christian that marries outside of the Orthodox Church in effect severs their ties with the Orthodox Church and as a result forfeits their good standing in the Church. As such, an Orthodox Christian married outside of the Orthodox Church is not “in good standing,” they may no longer receive Holy Communion or participate in a formal capacity in any of the Sacraments and their role in parish life is severely limited.

Funeral:

From the earliest Christian times, psalms and hymns were sung to our life-giving God when a believer died. The basic parts of the Funeral Service in use today can be traced mainly to the fifth century. It is one of the most versatile, dramatic and moving services of our Church.

The Funeral Service of the Orthodox Church is an example of how Orthodox theology influences the formation of a healthy understanding of the true nature of life and death. The Service accomplishes the following: a) utilizes the occasion of death to help us develop a more profound understanding of the meaning and purpose of life; b) helps us to deal with the emotions we have at the time of death and as time passes after the death; c) emphasizes the fact that death for the Christian is not the end, and affirms our hope in salvation and eternal life; d) recognizes the existence of the emotions of grief caused by the separation from a loved one, and encourages their expression. With a contrite spirit, the priests and people invoke the infinite mercy of the Almighty God for the departed.

The Funeral Service is not only an opportunity to express our love for the loved one who has fallen asleep; it is also a sacred time, an opportunity for reflection and inner meditation on our own relationship with God and on the orientation of our lives. When we reflect on the sublime thoughts of the Funeral Service our souls become contrite, our hearts are softened, and we pray fervently for the forgiveness and the repose of the person who has been transferred to the life beyond the grave. Also, we who are still alive are beckoned to live the rest of our lives in repentance and in full dedication to Christ.

The deceased must be a baptized Orthodox Christian for the funeral rite to be offered.

Except in extreme circumstances to be determined by the parish priest, the casket must be open during the funeral service. Lastly, the Orthodox Church does not grant funerals to those persons who opt for cremation.

Recommended Reading:

  1. The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware. A clear, detailed introduction to the Orthodox Church, written for the non-Orthodox, as well as for Orthodox believers. Part One describes the history of the Eastern Church over the last 2,000 years and particularly its life in 20th century Russia. Part Two explains the beliefs and worship of the Orthodox today.
  2. The Church Is One by Alexei Khomiakov. An excellent essay on the nature and faith of the Orthodox Church.
  3. The Faith We Hold by Archbishop Paul of Finland. This book was written "to describe Orthodoxy from the inside to those outside." It deals with the Orthodox faith in its most basic elements in three main sections: doctrinal, liturgical, and spiritual, revealing with remarkable simplicity and directness its message of salvation for all mankind.
  4. Orthodox Spirituality by a monk of the Eastern Church. This classic covers the historical development of Orthodox spirituality, its essentials, the Baptizing Christ and Christ our Passover
  5. The Orthodox Way by Kallistos Ware
  6. For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy by Alexander Schmemann
  7. The Orthodox Study Bible: Ancient Christianity Speaks to Today’s World by Jack Norman Sparks (Project Director)
  8. At the Corner of East and Now: A Modern Life in Ancient Christian Orthodoxy by Frederica Mathewes-Green
  9. Father Arseny, 1893-1973: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father: Being the Narratives Compiled by the Servant of God Alexander Concerning His Spiritual Father by Vera Bouteneff (Editor/Translator)
  10. The Christian Tradition 2: The Spirit of Eastern Christendom 600-1700 by Jaroslav Pelikan
  11. Facing East: A Pilgrim’s Journey into the Mysteries of Orthodoxy by Frederica Mathewes-Green
  12. Becoming Orthodox: A Journey to the Ancient Christian Faith by Peter E. Gillquist
  13. Light from the Christian East: An Introduction to the Orthodox Tradition by James R. Payton
  14. The Way: What Every Protestant Should Know about the Orthodox Church by Clark Carlton
  15. Thirsting for God: In a Land of Shallow Wells by Matthew Gallatin
  16. Introducing the Orthodox Church: Its Faith and Life by Anthony M. Coniaris
  17. Of Water and the Spirit: A Liturgical Study of Baptism by Alexander Schmemann
  18. The Eucharist: Sacrament of the Kingdom by Alexander Schmemann
  19. The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy by Alexander Schmemann
  20. Love, Sexuality, And The Sacrament Of Marriage by John Chryssavgis