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Definition of the Word Orthodox

What do the words "ortho" & "doxa" mean?

In Greek - the earliest common language of the Christian Church in her Eastern Mediterranean birthplace - the word "orthodox", was actually two words: "ortho" and "doxa".

The Greek word "ortho" may be defined by concepts that can be captured only by the use of several English words:

  • Straight
  • Correct
  • Proper
  • Right
  • True

To help us recall this set of ideas we may think of the English word "orthodontist", a dentist who specializes in straightening or correcting our teeth.

The Greek word "doxa" may also be defined through the use of several English words:

  • Worship
  • Teaching
  • Practice
  • Glory
  • Faith

To help us recall "doxa", think of the familiar religious term, "doxology", meaning the worshipful giving of faithful praise to the Holy God (e.g. "Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.").

What does the word "Orthodox" mean?

Within 100 years of Christ's Resurrection, Ascension and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, it became necessary to state specifically the nature of the Faith. Some said the Faith was other than what was believed to be true by the rest of the Church Community (the "orthodox"). The battles over major questions raged on in the early Church. These burning issues were most often settled in Councils of gatherings of bishops and priests of the Church who sought the guidance of the Holy Spirit and then debated issues such as:

  • How could the experience of One God in Three Persons be truly expressed?
  • Who is Jesus Christ and how could He be both God and Man?
  • What books should constitute the Bible of the Christian Church?
  • What forms of worshipping God were proper for the Church?
  • How should Christians behave morally towards others?

There were seven Ecumenical Councils from 325 AD to 787 AD that established most of what the Church believes today, which is stated in the Nicene Creed and the Sacred Canons. Only when finally accepted by the whole Church were these teachings declared "ORTHODOX"

  • Theology and church order
  • Worship and spirituality
  • Morality and ethics

Christians today do not enjoy that same communion. What happened? Schism. In 1054 AD, the Western (Latin or Roman Catholic) Church under the Pope of Rome left the Eastern Patriarchs of Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria over the theological issue of the Western Church's unilateral changing of the Nicene Creed. Five hundred years later in the West, the many schisms of the Protestant Reformation have resulted in over 22,000 different denominations. Many groups have "added to" and many have "subtracted from" the ancient, Holy Faith.

However, the Orthodox Church persists, and can reasonably claim to be, truly "orthodox" because she still holds to the very same tradition of theology, church order, worship, spirituality, morality and ethics as did the undivided Church before the Schism.

The Context of the Question, the Answer, and the Response

Somehow - and there are many ways this can happen - "the Problem of the Question" presents itself. One friend says, "That belief is very Orthodox" or "I'm an Orthodox Christian and therefore I do this or that." The response of the non-Orthodox friend is totally predictable: "What does 'Orthodox' or 'Orthodox Christianity' mean?"

"The Problem of the Answer" is that being Orthodox is really a whole way of seeing reality and of living life in Christ and in His Church. How can The Question be answered initially in a very introductory fashion without putting the questioner to sleep - or worse? This article attempts such a brief - yet still helpfully true - beginning answer to The Question.

"The Problem of the Response" is in the hands and heart of the person who receives the answer. What's next? How may I learn more without "signing on the 'dotted line' before I know if all this is true?" Below are some suggested readings. We hope your response will be to come join with us in prayer to the Holy Trinity, to read the Holy Bible and good Orthodox books and to speak with us over time until you decide on you ultimate response.


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