Truth That Matters

"What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" - Jesus Christ

The Orthodox Church

The (Eastern) orthodox church is a communion of churches distinct from Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism became distinct in the "great schism" of 1054 AD. Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, the orthodox church has no single authority. The "orthodox" beliefs mentioned below have been taken from various orthodox sources.

The following is a critique of Orthodox Christianity. We begin by comparing some orthodox teachings with Biblical teachings on the same subject. The lack of agreement of the former with the latter refutes the orthodox claim of being the "original/ancient/true" faith.

Note the following:

  1. Orthodox apologists give various reasons for practicing the contra-Biblical teachings mentioned below. There is no need to address these reasons. Why? See Point 16 at Bible Authority
  2. If the Bible does not bother about a distinction between two things, I won't. For instance, the "any likeness" in Exodus 20:4 does not bother about idols versus "ikons".
  3. Orthodox apologists often provide irrelevant Bible references to justify their contra-Biblical teachings. For example, Matthew 19:14, which says nothing about infant baptism is used to justify it. Similarly, Hebrews 12:1, which affirms that the physically "dead" Christians, are still alive as a cloud of witnesses is used to justify attempts to "pray to the saints". Space does not permit me to list each such irrelevant reference. Do take the trouble to look up references cited by orthodox apologists yourself.
  4. What is said below about the Orthodox Church is also applicable to the "non-Chalcedonian churches" (the Coptic Church, Armenian Church, the Ethiopian Church, the Syrian Church, the Jacobite church of Kerala) as their teachings are similar to orthodox teachings.
  5. In claiming that the Orthodox Church is wrong and that orthodox Christians are not true Christians, am I being hateful and judgmental?
  6. Orthodox teachings are in red; Biblical teachings are in green
  7. Orthodox apologists speak of the need to "interpret the Bible text in the light of tradition". As you will see below, this is a misrepresentation of the actual situation: the tradition completely contradicts the Bible text in many cases. There is no such thing as interpreting the text that "The sky is blue" in the light of the tradition that "the sky is orange".

The Bible

The Bible is one of the several products of church tradition and is to be interpreted according to what the leaders in the church hierarchy say.

This is fundamentally different from what the Bible claims about itself. It is factually incorrect to say that the Bible emerged out of church tradition. The Old Testament was completed 400 years before Christ. The New Testament was written by just eight or nine authors before 100 AD. Tradition developed centuries later - the seventh ecumenical council (the last such council recognized by orthodoxy) was held in 787 AD. Even 2000 years after the completion of the Bible, the Orthodox Church is confused about what constitutes the Bible. For example, the Greek and Slavonic Orthodox don't include 4 Maccabees in their Bible, but the Georgian Orthodox do. Much more confusion exists if we also take into consideration the Oriental Orthodox (Copt, Syrian and Tewahedo).

Church Leadership

The hierarchical structure ascends as: laity, reader, sub-deacon, deacon, priest, bishop, arch-bishop, patriarch.

This is completely different from Church Offices as given in the Bible.

Church organization

There are nine "patriarchates" and six "autocephalous archbishoprics". Under some of these 15 entities are about a dozen churches. Some of these are "autonomous" (while still being "under" one of the earlier 15 entities), and in some cases the autonomy is disputed. These 15 entities have an "order of preference". Then there are about 14 dissenting churches. Each of these "churches" is divided into "arch-dioceses". Each "arch-diocese" is divided into "dioceses" and each "diocese" into "parishes". This complicated hierarchy has thrown up absurdities such as "The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia".

In the Bible,
churches are autonomous and distinguished only by their locality. All the terms in quotes are completely foreign to the Bible. The Bible has no system of organizing territory into "diocese", "parish", etc. These divisions are artifacts of the Roman Empire.
 
"The division of the Orthodox Church into Western and Eastern - Roman and Constantinople began with the division of the Roman Empire in the late 4th century AD. Toward the end of the ninth century...Bulgaria was baptized and an argument broke out between Rome and Constantinople about the patronage of the new Christian country" [A Millenium of Russian Orthodoxy, pp20-21]
 
Here you can see the shameful foundations of both orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. Notice the errors at multiple levels:-
  1. Church doctrine about how the church is to be organized was shaped by the political intrigues of the Roman Empire instead of what God has revealed in His word, the Bible.
  2. The idea that a church spans across an empire is fundamentally opposed to the Biblical concept of church.
  3. The idea that "Bulgaria is baptized" and has become a "new Christian country" is rubbish. The Lord Jesus made it clear that most people would not believe in him (Matthew 7:13-14). God's purpose now is not to make the world Christian, but to call out a people from the world for himself (Acts 15:14). As any historian will tell you, the supposed "conversion" of Bulgaria was a matter of political expediency and involved the murder of half its aristocracy who preferred paganism to orthodox Christianity.
  4. The idea that a "church headquarters" such as Rome or Constantinople is needed to "patronize" a "new Christian country" is completely foreign to the Bible. To top it all, there was "competition"!

Spirituality

As an orthodox Christian you fast every Wednesday and Friday of your life; you're not supposed to have sex on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday; "Lent" consists of 40 days of fasting and abstinence. Asceticism and monasticism are part of orthodox Christianity. The orthodox have special days to honor various "saints".

All this is not only extra-Biblical, but it goes against Biblical principles (Colossians 2:20-23, 1 Corinthians 7:5, 1 Timothy 4:1-3, Galatians 4:9-11, etc).

The sacraments

The following are the orthodox "sacraments" or "mysteries".
 
Baptism:
Infants are baptized on the basis of the confession of faith of the godparents.

  • "Baptism...is being born to the life made new by our Lord Jesus Christ. Through holy baptism we become Christ's. We become Christians and have the opportunity to inherit God's kingdom." (One Church, Russian Orthodox Church, 1981)
  • "...washes [his sins] away in the sacrament of baptism. Then God the Word enters the baptized one..." [The Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate, Foundation, Nov-Dec 1980, p21]

Salvation is by faith in Christ; it is not by doing good works. The Bible makes no provision for transferring the standing of the parents to the infant via baptism. Forgiveness of sins comes from the blood of Jesus (Ephesians 1:7), not baptism! The above is completely different from Biblical teaching on baptism

Eucharist (the Lord's Supper):
The bread and wine gets transformed into the body and blood of Jesus. It is a sacrifice for the remission of sins. The sacrifice of Christ is not being repeated, but made present again. Incredulous? God does this and it is outside "earthly logic".


Something that is past (32 AD) cannot be made present again. Not only is it outside "earthly logic", it is also outside "heavenly truth" contained in the Bible. See The Lord's Supper

Confession:
When you confess your sins to a priest or monastic, your sins are forgiven.


Since both monasticism (see above) and the orthodox priesthood (see below) are against the Bible, so is "confession". Biblical confession of mere faults is to one another (James 5:16) and of sins is to God (1 John 1:9, Psalm 51:1, etc).

Chrismation (confirmation):
It is the holy mystery by which a baptized person is granted the gift of the Holy Spirit through anointing with oil. It is a personal participation in the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It is done shortly after baptism (that is, in infancy). Through chrismation, a person becomes part of the people of God. It is done by applying "holy oil" having 40 ingredients on specific body parts in the "sign of the Cross".


The Bible has no such practice. We see no oil, no forty ingredients, and no "sign of the cross"! You become part of God's people when you get saved by trusting Jesus Christ (something that infants can't do). When does the Holy Spirit begin to indwell in Christians?

Matrimony:
Married life requires a special gift from the Holy Spirit, which is bestowed in the sacrament of Holy Matrimony.

Marriage is suitable not only for believers but even unbelievers who do not have the Holy Spirit. Jesus readily attended weddings (John 2:1-2) and godly influence will definitely help believers to be better spouses than pagans but the Bible does not prescribe any procedure for the wedding ceremony, so it is pure presumption to pontificate about some "gift from the Holy Spirit" bestowed during a wedding ceremony conducted by "priests".

Ordination
It is unscriptural because
the positions to which the person is ordained are absent in the Bible. For Biblical offices, the Bible only prescribes the laying of hands and prayer by other leaders (Acts 13:3).

Anointing with oil
The basic procedure is scriptural (
James 5:14-15) but the orthodox church adds specific prayers and rituals.

The way to God

In order to be saved, you need:-

  1. right belief ("orthodoxy")
  2. good works (No orthodox authority can tell us how much good works are needed)
  3. The seven mysteries (sacraments) – these are remedies for removing our sins

The Orthodox do not see salvation in forensic, legal categories, but in medical terms.

We have access to God only by repentant faith in Jesus Christ. Works cannot save us; they are only a proof that our faith is genuine. The Bible does describe salvation in forensic/legal terms (see Romans 5:1 for example, where the word "justified" is a forensic term). In insisting on works for salvation, the orthodox reject God's way, and thus God has no option but to condemn them. Since orthodox Christianity differs from the Bible in this crucial aspect, Biblical Christians cannot accept the orthodox as fellow-Christians. 

"But the soul of the deceased is aided by the prayers of the church, of all those who knew and loved him, and also by acts of charity carried out for his sake. By doing good deeds for the sake of those who are dead, we are, as it were, completing what they left undone, paying their debts and offering our own sacrifice to the Merciful Lord on their behalf" (The Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate, No 10, 1976)

This is completely foreign to the Bible (Hebrews 9:27, Ephesians 2:8-9, Ephesians 1:7, etc).

The mode of getting from God

The early Church called the Sacraments of the Church, Holy Mysteries. A mystery is the reality through which the invisible grace of God is effected in or conferred upon the souls of the faithful under a perceptible form (sanctified matter). Seven things are grouped together as "mysteries" or "sacraments" (as described above).

There is confusion and error on several counts:-

  1. The Bible does NOT group together these 7 things. In fact, their Biblical meanings imply that they do not fall into the same class at all. See above for the Biblical meanings of these things.
  2. Apart from the spiritual meaning of marriage, the Bible does not use the word "mystery" for these things.
  3. The Bible asks us to approach God to receive from Him (Hebrews 4:16) but the mode prescribed is not any of the above "mysteries/sacraments". Then how do we get grace from God?
  4. The Biblical definition of mystery is something else: truth that was hidden in the past, but now revealed by God (see Ephesians 3:3-5). Biblical mysteries include: the development of God's kingdom (Mark 4:11), the current, temporary spiritual blindness of Israel (Romans 11:25), the rapture (1 Corinthians 15:51), the church (Ephesians 3:3-5), and the gospel (Ephesians 6:19) and the spiritual meaning of marriage (Ephesians 5:32).  

The mode of worship

The orthodox use liturgy, candles, "icons" (pictures), etc. in their "worship".

All the above are absent in the New Testament. Icons specifically violate Biblical commands (Deuteronomy 4:15-18, Exodus 20:4-5). In  Worship I explain why liturgy and candles are inappropriate for New Testament worship.

Mary

The Orthodox Church venerates Mary and other prominent Bible characters. Mary is called the "Mother of God". She was a "perpetual virgin".

The title "Mother of God" and the veneration that the orthodox give to Mary are absent from the Bible. God does not have a mother. Mary was the mother of Jesus. So if Jesus was God, why is it inappropriate to call Mary the mother of God? Because all the three persons of the Trinity, including the Son of God who came to earth as Jesus, existed since the beginning - long before Mary was even born. Mary did not carry the Father and the Holy Spirit in her womb! Mary was a virtuous woman and should be respected as such - there have been thousands of virtuous men and women since. God has not asked us to venerate them all. Nowhere in the New Testament are Christians asked to venerate Mary or other humans. Was Mary perpetual virgin?

Israel

"But the Jews of today have no hope of recovering their forefathers' way of life. In what prophet can they find proof that they will?...the temple would come to a final devastation and completely disappear...[Since Jewish attempts under Bar Kochba, etc to rebuild the temple have failed] Therefore there can be no dispute or question but that the Church has won the victory crown." Orthodox "church father" John Chrysostom, From Homilies Against the Jews, 4 and 5.

This doctrine is sometimes called Replacement Theology and it is contrary to what the Bible teaches

Unchristian conduct and double standards

The following are some of the better known misdeeds of the Orthodox Church:-

  1. The slaughter of the Roman Catholics
  2. The harassment of Biblical Christians in early 20th century South India,
  3. The banishment of theologians who disagreed with it: Eutyches at the Council of Chalcedon, Nestorius at the First Council of Ephesus, and Arius. 
  4. The genocide of the Bogomils and Paulicians (more than 100,000 victims)
  5. Lev Ponomaryov, head of the respected For Human Rights group and a former lawmaker chaired a parliamentary commission in the 1990s that investigated Soviet-era ties between the Russian Orthodox Church and the KGB. He found that 90 percent of church leaders had been KGB agents. The Orthodox Church is thus guilty of colluding with one of the most brutal and unjust regimes in history.
  6. In Alexandria, shortly after the Council of Chalcedon, a group of non-orthodox monks were boiled alive in oil in front of the city cathedral.
  7. Rioting Orthodox monks murdered the female mathematician Hypatia in AD 415.
  8. Trevin Wax who spent several years in Romania reports: "Orthodox priests I knew in Romania who would threaten the children attending evangelical AWANA clubs, even vowing to “cut off their fingers.”"
  9. Constantine was an ancient "Hitler" who mutilated Jews and paraded them because they tried to re-establish their nation. In his Homilies against the Jews, Orthodox "church father" John Chrysostom refers to the incident in a "that's what the Jews deserve" tone. The Orthodox Church is responsible for much of the vicious antisemitism that has plagued Eastern Europe and Russia.
  10. The "donation of Constantine" is a fraud jointly perpetrated by the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church.
  11. The Orthodox "Bible" book Judith has been established as fraudulent by historians because of its gross historical and geographical errors (while purporting to be historical). The Orthodox Church has no qualms promoting such fraud, not to mention female seduction as a legitimate means to an end (read Judith for the details). As a fraudulent Orthodox Bible book, Judith is not unique.
  12. Historian of religion Michael Kalopoulos recently debunked "Holy Fire", an Orthodox fraud.

These incidents illustrate a principle: the orthodox church has no conscience and no room for freedom of conscience. Wherever and whenever the orthodox church has had sufficient power, it has implemented this principle by ruthlessly persecuting those who disagree with her, including Biblical Christians. Unlike sexual abuse and financial misconduct, which orthodox apologists will evade as misdemeanor by deviants, persecution of those who disagree with orthodoxy is "official" policy. Biblical Christians fed up of persecution in Europe came to America. God blessed them and America became a center of freedom, prosperity, dignity, and innovation. Today, the Orthodox Church actively proselytizes in America – something it would never allow another faith to do in a country where it is dominant. Thus, the orthodox church is guilty of double standards (just like the Roman Catholic Church and propagandists for most religions).

The origin of orthodox theology

Here is a summary of some of the points mentioned above.

 DoctrineBible
Orthodoxy
Hinduism
 Can a dip in water take away sin? No Yes Yes
 Is it good/special to worship facing the East?
 No Yes Yes
 Is clergy distinct from laity? No Yes Yes
 Should clergy dress differently? No Yes Yes
 Does God have a mother? No Yes Yes
 Is asceticism good for spiritual development? No Yes Yes
 Is bowing before images of God good? No Yes Yes
 Do candles, incense, etc. have a place in worship? No Yes Yes
 Is grace imparted through stuff we eat? No Yes Yes
 Are works instrumental in justification? No Yes Yes
 Is it good to pray to good dead people? No Yes Yes
 Is there a religious calendar to be followed today? No Yes Yes
 Is there moral virtue in abstaining from sex with one's spouse? No Yes
 Yes

Looking at this table, you may wonder whether there was some secret correspondence between orthodox clergy and Hindus in distant India. The explanation is more mundane: all pagan religions have a common origin in the Tower of Babel. I've used Hinduism for reference, but all pagan religions are similar. Thus, orthodox theology is similar to Greek/Roman paganism. So there we have the conclusion: Orthodox Christianity is not the "original Christian faith". It is the result of a drift: the amalgamation of paganism with Christianity. Such a drift is not surprising. Language, tradition, fashion, etc have an inherent tendency to drift. That's why God's written word is so precious. 

Questions for orthodox

The position of the orthodox church raises the following obvious questions:-
  1. How do you know that the writings of the church fathers are authentic (and not distorted by participants in the theological controversies that raged in the first few centuries)? For example: when we read a sentence in 1 Clement, how do we know that it is what Clement wrote and not an interpolation by someone else?
  2. Can you give an exhaustive list of all the church fathers?
  3. Exactly what makes a council "ecumenical" or legitimate?
  4. Are all the church fathers' writings absolutely correct or do they contain outdated or wrong stuff? If yes, precisely which parts are wrong?
  5. (a) What is the criterion used to settle the previous three questions? Include Augustine and church leadership as expressed by Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch in your answer. (b) How did the Orthodox Church come to know that this is the appropriate criterion? (c) What historical evidence exists that this criterion was followed in each case?
  6. If you answered "majority vote/consensus" for Q5 (a), please clarify the following:-
    1. What qualifies a person to vote or express an opinion that counts in measuring majority or commands respect from the orthodox?
    2. How has the qualification in the previous question been decided?
    3. Is the majority vote "frozen" in history or is it amenable to change? For example, if the ancient majority concluded something, can we be sure that it is true or should we check the current majority opinion to verify? Why?
  7. If you answered anything other than "Emperor's diktats" for Q5 (a): Why do the Orthodox accept the First Council of Ephesus in which a question (Cyril versus Nestorius) was settled by appealing to an emperor (Theodosius II)?
  8. Has God said that He would provide long term guidance to ensure that the majority consensus of imperfect people would be perfect?
  9. Why do you give more emphasis to Mary's supposed perpetual virginity than Joseph's?

Conclusion

The orthodox church follows a host of contra-Biblical teachings that originate in paganism. Included in this list is a rejection of God's reaching out to humans. Therefore, the orthodox are not true (Biblical) Christians. If you're orthodox, I urge you to return to the original message of the Bible. Also see: Questions Orthodox ask and The Orthodox Faith in pictures