All about orthodoxy


“This is the Faith of the Apostles; this is the Faith of the Fathers; this is the Faith of the Orthodox; this is the Faith which has established the universe!” -The Synodicon: The Affirmation of the Orthodox Faith

The symbolism and rituals found in the Orthodox church are like no other. If you walked into my church on any given Sunday you would see a priest, iconography, incense, and a handful of altar servers. At first glance, it might not appear much different than a Catholic church. When in reality, there are an array of differences that not many people know of because Orthodoxy today is not as mainstream as the Catholic and Protestant religions in America.

After the Great Schism in 1054, The Eastern Orthodox Church split from the Roman Catholic Church. This means that the Orthodox church is now the oldest and most traditional church in the world, followed by the Catholic church. The Orthodox Church traces back to Jesus Christ and the Apostles and is the religion of over 260 million Christians all around the world. The Orthodox religion is very uncommon in America as most of its members reside in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the former Soviet countries. Some of the most predominantly Orthodox countries are places such as Russia, Ukraine, and Greece— just to name a few. That being one of the reasons my religion is so unknown to many Americans, especially Western Christians. Many are unfamiliar that my religion even exists because it is rarely talked about in the Western world and is often overlooked when compared to other religions.

Iconography on top of the altar at St. Anthony the Great. Photo by Adella Winder.

My family comes from a small city, six miles north of Jerusalem. This city is called Ramallah. It was a small village that consisted of the smallest populations of Christians in that region. Due to war and conflict, many Arab families were wrongfully kicked out of their homes and forced to flee elsewhere. Families in Palestine immigrated to other parts of the world and tried to instill that same Christian foundation into their own families. With that being said, it should come as no surprise that religion plays a very important role in my family. Culturally, I grew up similar to most of my friends but religiously there was a vast difference. To the average American, the Orthodox church is foreign. The term “Orthodox” is linked to Judaism, and the gold dome at the top resembles that of a mosque. The only common denominator among these three faiths is that we worship one God. The greatest difference is how we worship God.

There are many differences between the Eastern and Western churches, such as how the services proceed, what the Eucharist (the Holy Communion which represents the body and blood of Christ) and the Holy Spirit represent, the calendars the churches follow, and even the languages spoken in the church. There are many things to consider when comparing the churches. A difference I will always take such pride in though is how beautiful and ornate Orthodox churches are. An Orthodox church has very intricate architecture and is detailed with iconography all across the walls. An Orthodox church is a beautiful sight and should be treated with respect. Members of the Orthodox church do not face their backs to the altar as a symbol of respect to the icons and altar. Icons are venerated and the sign of the cross is done on one’s body many times throughout the service. The Houston Chronicle did a write up on my church a few years ago about the iconography in our dome being painted, and the process in which the artist went through to prepare for such a project.

When I was younger I did not necessarily like being Orthodox, my church service consisted of me standing for two hours and not being allowed to talk to any of my friends and as a kid, this was torture. Before I was old enough to understand the tradition behind our Divine Liturgy, I found myself continuously growing bored of it. I was always envious of my friends who went to churches of other denominations because their church looked way more fun. They had bands and loud music during their service. My church seemed so out-dated in comparison.

It wasn’t until I went to an Orthodox summer camp where I grew to love my faith. In fact, I found the more I educated myself about my faith and had a better understanding of it, the more I wanted to learn. Something I had always wondered about as a child was why people touched my priest’s vestments during the Great Entrance. Every Sunday my priest walks down the aisle carrying the Eucharist. People of our parish that need special prayers reach out and touch the vestments of the priest. I learned that they do this in the tradition of when Jesus walked in the Holy Land, and the sick and suffering reached out for his robe to ask for healing. I am thankful to be a part of a service that is so meaningful and has such a rich history behind it. I think my many years of not truly understanding my faith go hand in hand with why I admire it so much now. I’m happy to say that after many years, Orthodoxy has become a part of me.

With the current climate of the world, nothing seems to make sense. However, one place that remains to make sense to me through these unprecedented times is my church. Walking into the church I feel a sense of relief, and a sense of calm. There I am able to zone out of all the injustices, racism, corruption, and the current global pandemic happening around us. Something about the innocence and beauty of my church makes it feel so safe and comforting to me. The Orthodox Church never changes, despite what goes on in society, and that is why it remains so sacred.