Orthodoxy Q and A

You are here: » Christianity in View » Introduction to the Orthodox Church » Orthodoxy Q and A

Orthodox Cross - Jesus Christ, Conquers Questions and Answers


The questions are grouped into sections below, and the answers are kindly supplied by Father Gregory Hallam of St Aidan’s, Manchester.

NOTE: OC denotes the Orthodox Church, RCC denotes the Roman Catholic Church.

Orthodox Cross - Jesus Christ, Conquers The Orthodox Church

Why do you believe that the OC is the “one true church” ?

This commonly used phrase is misleading because it can be interpreted as overstating our position. We certainly do believe that the Orthodox Church as it is found today stands in unbroken structured and faithful continuity with the New Testament Church. It is in fact the same Church, not only by sharing the same faith and life but also by virtue of its structured organic apostolic continuity in and within the same body. In this sense, therefore, the Orthodox Church is united, true and singular.

Of course, the Roman Catholic Church makes exactly the same claim on the same grounds and the Protestant churches on similar grounds. To a disinterested observer, therefore, it comes down to evidence. What are the characteristic marks by which we might judge ANY church to be singular (one) and true?

If we insist (as we do) on apostolic succession in structural and organic terms as well as in faith and life terms, then this cannot be shown in the Protestant traditions, which, to be fair do not consider this to be an essential mark of apostolic continuity anyway. Why then do Orthodoxy and Catholicism consider structured succession to be essential? Briefly, we explain this in terms of BOTH staying within the family (of the Church of course) AND observing the family’s normative life … according that is to the Scriptures and Tradition. We believe that this was Christ’s intention from the start and empirically we submit that those who have not chosen to stay in structural and organic unity with us have found it much more difficult to maintain the family’s normative life.

The final resolution according to the criterion of apostolic succession must, therefore, concern the identical but competing claims of Catholicism and Orthodoxy in respect of fidelity to that. We maintain, for all our great sharing in the essentials (and that would go for Protestantism as well but in a different context) that Rome has introduced novelties of doctrine and practice which were never originally part of the family’s life and even if they should be, were never submitted to the bar of ecumenical consensus, (filioque clause, certain Marian teachings, papal infallibility). In reacting against SOME of these, Protestantism has, in our view, denied other aspects of Christian faith and life that always were part of Apostolic Tradition.

In the Orthodox view, therefore, Rome simply has to deal with the novelties having retained everything else intact. Protestantism has to recover what she has excluded and embrace once more structural continuity. That might seem a very stringent and unacceptable basis on which to pursue ecumenical dialogue but for the Orthodox, unity can never be pursued at the expense of truth and truth can never be pursued at the expense of unity. We maintain that in the non-Orthodox west since the Schism trade-offs between truth and unity in and between both Protestantism and Catholicism have continued to weaken the western Christian tradition and in evidence of that we submit the thousands of fracturing and multiplying denominations that continue to plague the search for both truth and unity in the west.

What is certainly true is that our Lord grieves at the disunity of his People and urges us by his grace to do everything to re-establish that unity; but this has to be done in the proper manner or else the great ecumenical project will continue to be harmed by false unions and dreams of false unions.

Can you explain specifically why the OC rejected the ‘Filioque’ clause ?

We reject it because the Father is the timeless Source of the eternally begotten Son and proceeding Spirit. The west introduced the “filioque” because it thought thereby that it was defending the divinity of the Son against the Arians. All it succeeded in doing was to marginalise the Holy Spirit in subsequent western theology by indicating that “sourcing” was an essential predicate of divinity. It is not. (Obviously, the Spirit doesn’t “source” anything). The “sourcing” of the Father (eternally not in time) is his prerogative. It does not define the consubstantial essence but rather the distinctive role of his hypostasis in the Trinity. The Son has a role of agency in the procession of the Spirit … but not as sender or timeless Source. That belongs to the Father alone.

Explain the OC view of Icons as aids to worship.

They are not simply “aids” … although they are that. We believe that the love shown to the person represented in the icon passes to the person him / herself. We need this tangible mode of expression because we are EMBODIED souls. Much of the same rationale applies to the sacraments … although, of course, icons are not sacraments (or Mysteries as we call them).

How are Clergy selected in the OC ? Are they elected or appointed ?

Both the congregation and the bishop select the clergy. BOTH have to assent. The choice of a person depends on the sense by both the congregation and the bishop of:-

(a) The calling of this person.
(b) His suitability as to personal and pastoral gifts.
(c) His understanding of and commitment to Orthodox Faith and Life.
(d) The absence of any canonical impediments, (cohabiting unmarried with a partner for example).
(e) The reputation of that person in the community.

What is the position of the OC on the ordination of women ?

The Orthodox Church does not permit women to be ordained to the episcopate and therefore does not permit women to be ordained to the priesthood. It’s that way round because our understanding of priesthood, shared by Catholicism and underwritten by the historical development of ministry in the Christian Church, is that the presbyter / priest is the bishop’s representative when he is not present in the community. He is simply an extension of the bishop’s persona as to order and ministerial role with only ordination being reserved to the bishop and overall oversight of the diocese of community of communities, monastic, parish and missions. The priest cannot be female, therefore, because the bishop cannot be female. It’s not a question of “promotion” or “career” or even “equal opportunities” even if that is how the world sees it.

What is it then about a BISHOP that means that women are excluded? First we have our Lord’s own practice and intention.

Before the resurrection the Twelve were disciples, not apostles. They represented the New Israel … the Church ‘in embryo.” The resurrection created a new birth and a sending. The disciples, renewed and empowered by the Holy Spirit became “apostles” … that is, in the Greek etymology of the word, those ‘sent’ to preach the gospel and manifest the Christian life, first to Israel and then to the Gentiles. When the apostles died they needed successors to continue the work.

The bishop / presbyter distinction was not initially clear in the New Testament period but it seems likely that at first there were bishops and deacons inherited from the Apostles, then as the Church grew, the bishops themselves ordained presbyters to share in their own extended apostolic work. The link, therefore, for the purposes of this argument concerning female ordination is Christ > Disciples > Apostles > Bishops > Presbyters. (Deacons were a separate ordination of the apostles having a quite different character of ministry).

Notwithstanding the fact that each of these ministries in the link are not identical in context, they do have the same character as ultimately deriving from the calling of the Twelve. So the question now clarifies and simplifies a little. Why did Jesus call twelve MEN? Was he beholden to the culture of his day? Could he do nothing other?

These justifications for female episcopal ordination seem to us to be extraordinary and unwarranted in light of the fact that Jesus broke so many other taboos, including those associated with women. Surely at the very least he could have given his own Mother the dignity of being an Apostle in the light of the fact that by the time of his ministry she was both respected spiritually and a widow to boot. But no, Christ did not do this. He certainly invited women to share in his work and let them minister to Him but he never let them join the Twelve and in that we think that he had good reason.

We could speculate about the roles of men and women in relation to their distinctive identities as male and female but to do so invites justifiable criticism that we are claiming to know what the rationale for our Lord’s practice actually was. It has become particular difficult in a post-Christian culture to ask those questions anyway because, frankly, many people don’t much care at all what Christ himself did and wanted. They simply want gender parity according to their own understanding.

Now, Christians can either go along with this or say:- “no … we will judge this according to our Lord’s practice and not the teaching of men (or women).” That makes us unpopular and marginal of course; but since when did being accepted and popular characterise truth? Is this not rather a failure of both confidence and conscience, a degrading of the Christian mind and a weakening of Christian identity? After all if Jesus was wrong about female apostles, maybe he was wrong about a lot of other things as well. The real question then is much more fundamental. Can Christianity do without Jesus?

Deacons are a completely different order of ministry to that of the bishop / presbyter. They are commissioned to serve, teach and, in some cases, to preach. Their ministry has a sacramental character in its formation but not in its operation. The sacramental operation of the ministry of the bishop / presbyter is directly linked to our Lord himself. Jesus, however, did not call any deacons. He did, however, call all, men and women alike to serve, to teach and, yes, to preach … hence we should not be surprised that St. Mary Magdalene was the first preacher of the resurrection. By the time that a formal diaconal order had become necessary (as recorded in Acts 6:1-6), it was not even noteworthy that women eventually became deacons, (or maybe deaconesses). This tradition and practice continued into the life of the early Church and only fell into disuse in Orthodoxy in the medieval period. There are moves to restore female participation in the diaconate in Orthodoxy today and, on account of historical precedent alone, this is not at all controversial. However, as this has so often been misunderstood in the west, a deacon is not an “apprentice priest” and we are not talking about “promotion” here from one order to the next. The two ministries are quite different.

Finally, a postscript. In the Orthodox Church women have always held prominent ministerial roles. The foremost of these women ministers have even been given the title:- “Equal-to-the-Apostles,” for example, St. Mary Magdalene and St. Nina, Evangeliser of Georgia … the first Christian nation. The charge of misogyny will not, therefore, stick. This is not about “equal rights” for us still less about patriarchy. It’s about following Our Lord’s own practice and example.

What does the concept of “Apostolic Succession” mean to you ?

In Orthodoxy, being in the Apostolic succession means being in communion with an Orthodox bishop who is himself in communion with the global college of Orthodox bishops. In Orthodoxy, if a bishop falls into heresy and teaches it he will be deposed. All his priests and congregations from that point must seek out a new canonical Orthodox bishop with assistance from his / her own jurisdiction as being part of the global college, (by way of an autocephalous church or patriarchate).

Orthodox Cross - Jesus Christ, Conquers Ecumenism

How does the OC view the Ecumenical movement ?

We view the ecumenical movement with gratitude to God … but with careful discernment and not uncritical praise. We are always looking for signs of orthodox (lowercase) faith and life in other churches but neither do we subscribe to the common view “that all the churches are the same really” nor that the Church’s unity is something to be built rather than, in fact, expanded upon. We regret (as we see it) the politicisation of the World Council of Churches in recent years and would rather it returned to its original calling of expanding the common ground and fruitful encounter between different Christian traditions.

Orthodox Cross - Jesus Christ, Conquers Sacraments

Explain the OC view of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist ?

We believe it and affirm that a real but unquantifiable change takes place in it becoming the body and blood of Christ. However, we do not subscribe to the scholastic Aristotelian notion of substance and accidents where that particular expression of the doctrine … transubstantiation acquires its particular expression.

What is the significance of Baptism ?

By baptism we become members of Christ’s body, the Church, and participate in the death and resurrection of Christ. Salvation, however, is not assured by baptism; it becomes a possibility through baptism. In other words we are fully immersed in the death and resurrection of Christ (no deficiency here) but salvation fruits of that come subsequently by repentance, faith and obedience to the gospel of Christ.

Orthodox Cross - Jesus Christ, Conquers Protestantism

What is the general attitude of the OC towards Protestantism ?

It tried to solve the problems of the western Catholic Church in the Middle Ages … but only half succeeded … because it did not address capably (in our view) the doctrine of the Church in relation to Scripture and Tradition.

The Orthodox Church does not subscribe to the idea of the “Invisible Church” in which the elect are scattered across different denominations which are themselves assumed to be of equal status. The Church is a visible, identifiable particular body of Christians. However, salvation may certainly be acquired outside this body and few Orthodox would be prepared to say: “The Church stops here.” So long as the non-Orthodox Churches though continue to think of Scripture and Tradition as two separate and parallel sources there will be little theological agreement. The Orthodox Church insists that Scripture is PART of Tradition … albeit a normative and controlling core. She makes this claim on the grounds that the oral component of Tradition, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, was that which, in part, the Church later codified as the text of canonical Scripture.

What is the Orthodox view of Justification (Sola Fide etc.) ? Does the idea of imputed righteousness make any sense ?

We are justified by grace through faith in good works. The prepositions are vitally important!

‘Imputed righteousness’ means that the only holiness of which we are capably is that given to us by God Himself. Although this emphasises (biblically) the work of grace it can be pushed too far. Unless we are careful, repentance and faith will count for little since nothing that we could do under this scheme would make one jot of difference to what God was (prepared) to do in us …. with or without our consent. In the Orthodox Church, holiness is always both our work and God’s work. Against this, imputed righteousness is a dangerous half-truth.

Orthodox Cross - Jesus Christ, Conquers Catholicism

What is your personal view on the relationship between the OC and the RCC ?

My personal view is that we are very close but that we won’t be one again until we clarify the role of the papacy in the Church and the world today. The reunification of ‘east’ and ‘west’ remains a vitally important goal; but not unity at any price and certainly not a centralised uniformity.

What is the OC’s view of the Pope, specifically his claims to Infallibility ?

We believe that the Church as a whole is indefectible … that is, the Holy Spirit will lead her into all truth. We do not, however, accept infallibility as attaching to the Petrine Office. We want to see the papacy reformed in an Orthodox manner so that the Pope may once again take his place amongst us as the “senior brother” amongst the bishops.

Orthodox Cross - Jesus Christ, Conquers The Bible and Tradition

How is divine truth revealed to us ? (e.g. Sola Scriptura v Scripture plus tradition etc.)

As stated before, we hold Scripture to lie WITHIN Tradition … we do not believe in Scripture and Tradition as two separate or parallel sources. Tradition is simply the mind and heart of the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Scripture is the authoritative core of that which is written down as the canonical norm of believing and living. However, Scripture on its own without Tradition can lead people astray …. not on account of Scripture itself of course, but by their refusal to attend to the mind and heart of the Church.

Does the OC accept the Apocrypha ?

Yes. For us these are simply Scriptural books. We accept the Septuagint translation and collection of the Old Testament rather than the Masoretic text as this (the Septuagint) was the version and collection usually used in the time of Christ.

Orthodox Cross - Jesus Christ, Conquers Mary and the Saints

Can you give a brief outline of Mariology as it is understood in the OC.

We can refer to Mary as “immaculate” in the sense that her obedience to God was so marked that she may rightly be declared as pure as any sinner might be. Her holiness has never been matched or exceeded. However, we do not believe in the Immaculate Conception as understood in Catholicism. We do not believe that she had to be herself conceived free from any taint of original sin. Our objection, substantially has to do with St. Augustine’s characterisation of original sin. As Bishop Kallistos has observed (also John Meyendorff and other Orthodox theologians) … if we believed what St. Augustine taught about original sin then the Immaculate Conception would be a logical outworking of that in terms of Mary’s holiness and obedience. However, since we do not believe that original sin is transmitted sexually, conception is irrelevant to this issue.

As to the Assumption, we believe that Mary truly died but that she shared immediately in the resurrection gift of her Son, according to which she was crowned in heaven, (the calling of all Christians in fact). For this reason we celebrate the feast with the west but with more emphasis on her repose in the Lord … hence, usually, Dormition, not Assumption.

Does the OC believe in the “Communion of saints” ?

Absolutely! We are never separated in Christ from our brothers and sisters … alive on this earth and alive in heaven in God. As on earth we seek their prayers … and pray for them. They provide for us, not only godly examples of Christian living, but also an ecclesial fellowship, a communion in the Holy Spirit which is the Church.

Orthodox Cross - Jesus Christ, Conquers Sin and Morality

Does the Orthodox church allow artificial methods of Contraception ?

Yes. The only constraint is that contraception should only be used to plan a family … not remove the possibility of a family altogether, (unless for medical reasons … e.g., danger to the woman). The morning after pill however is not allowed being an abortion agent.

Why does the OC allow Divorce ?

We do not “allow” it, but we do grant it in certain limited situations and circumstances. We distinguish between akiribeia (strictness) of teaching / discipline and economia (adaptation). The key objective of discernment is for a confessor to proscribe that which will best aid a person’s salvation. We are not neither legalists therefore, nor relativists.

Do you divide sin into Mortal and Venial types, as in Catholicism ? If not, how is sin defined ?

No. Sin is defined as a falling short of the glory of God for our lives. When we sin we experience alienation from God and a little of our humanity dies. When we confess our sin to be forgiven in Christ we then have the possibility of achieving our true stature as sons and daughters of God.

Orthodox Cross - Jesus Christ, Conquers Last Things

Can a non-Christian attain salvation ?

Of course. God will save whom he wills in accordance with that person’s understanding and life.

Can a Christian lose their salvation ?

By apostasy, by being a living denial of the gospel. It is definitely not for us to judge such things though. God alone is the Judge.

What is the OC view of the Roman Catholic doctrine of Purgatory ?

Purgatory makes sense if one believes that the intermediate state (which we do believe in) requires itself a period of purification for the redeemed. We do not believe this but rather hold to the view that THIS life is the arena for redemption and purification. Anything lacking will be made up by God and there is no reason to suppose that entails purifying suffering after death. (cf. the parables of the Rich Man and his barns, Dives and Lazarus etc). For us, the intermediate state is necessarily, for now, something of which we must remain relatively agnostic.

How would the OC define hell ?

We explain hell as a self-chosen state of final isolation from God. Our salvation doctrine does not simply (if at all) see hell as punishment or heaven as a reward. Heaven is our natural state as humans. Union with God is our goal. Hell is an alienation from that. Some Orthodox writers, whilst not subscribing to universalism as a conviction of faith, (for which there is no warrant in Tradition) would certainly express this as a desire, a hope and a work in grace (for which there is authoritative precedent). This is an important distinction in meaning.

Orthodox Cross - Jesus Christ, Conquers More information:


Here is a selected series of links that will give more information:

Orthodox church in America | Antiochian Orthodox Church | St Aidans Church, Manchester |

Orthodox Cross - Jesus Christ, Conquers Wise words:


“Die daily, that you might live eternally, for one who fears God will live forever”

St. Anthony the Great (251-356)

St. Anthony the Great

Comments are closed.