Rev. Aristeides Papadakis, Ph.D.

The History of the Orthodox Church

The true orthodox way of thought has always been historical, has always included the past, but has never been enslaved by it. . . [for] the strength of the Church is not in the past, present, or future, but in Christ..

Fr. Alexander Schmemann

Christianity has always been unusually sensitive to the past; its enduring relevance has, in fact, never been in doubt. The basic reason for this sensibility is that Christian biblical revelation takes place in a historical context and is, quite simply, a revelation of historical data, of God’s activity in history. It is in time and human space that man’s salvation unfolds-God’s chosen way to redeem us. That Christian Scripture takes the form, more often than not, of a richly detailed historical narrative should come as no surprise.

These considerations, taken together, explain the powerful appeal history has always had for Orthodox Christianity. Orthodox worship, for example, is invariably also a witness to history; it recalls, in its rich diversity, particular historical events not only from the earthly life of the Lord, but from the life of the Church, its saints, ascetics, martyrs, and theologians. Every liturgy, every feast, is at once a celebration of time and of the eschatological reality; an anticipation of the “world to come” – of what is beyond history – as well as a remembrance of a concrete historical past. But history likewise lies at the root of Orthodoxy’s conviction that it is the true Church of Christ on earth. It is actually because of its possession of an uninterrupted historical and theological continuity that it is able to make this claim at all. The Church, as we should expect of any historical phenomenon, has changed and developed through the centuries. True enough. Still, the Church in its essential identity – in its organic and spiritual continuity – remains substantially coextensive with the Church of the Apostles. It is, in effect, the living continuation in time and space of the primitive Church in Jerusalem. In a full theological sense it is the one Orthodox Catholic Church in all its fullness and plenitude.

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