March 7, 2023

What Does It Mean To Be An Orthodox Christian? (St. John Maximovitch)

Orthodox Christianity
By St. John Maximovitch

Soon after the spread of the teachings of Christ among the pagans, those who believed in Christ and became His followers began to be called Christians in Antioch.

The word Christian indicated that the one who bore that name had given himself to Christ, belonged to Him in his heart, and would follow His teachings.

The name Christian, which well defined the essence of the followers of Christ, entered their hearts, and calling themselves Christians, from Antioch the name quickly spread everywhere. Christians cherished that name, being glad to call themselves by the name of their beloved Teacher and Lord. Often, when asked what their name is, Christians answered that their name was "Christian."

Jews and Gentiles also began to call them by that name, uniting with it all the malice and hatred that they breathed against Christ.

“Where do you come from, what is your name and patronymic?” the tormentor Latronian asked the aged presbyter Epictetus and his young disciple Astion (Comm. 7 July). “We are Christians and born of Christian parents,” they answered. "That's not what I'm asking you about; tell me your names, your dogma is known to me," said the tormentor. “We are Christians: we worship our only Lord Jesus Christ, and we abhor idols,” continued the holy martyrs.

The tormentor ordered to beat them, cut them with iron claws, scorch them with lit torches, but nothing could be heard from them except: “We are Christians, may the will of the Lord our God be done to us.” This makes such an impression on one of the pagans, Vigilantius, that for three days he constantly repeated in his mind the words he heard from the martyrs, and on the fourth day he declared before everyone: “I am a Christian” and accepted Holy Baptism. Even after that, Saints Epictetus and Astion were subjected to many torments, but they did not stop confessing “we are Christians” and, having accepted martyrdom through the decapitation of their heads with a sword, they departed to Christ, whom they loved and for whom they suffered.

However, no matter how valuable their name was to Christians, soon after the beginning of Christianity, it often began to not correspond to its content. There were people who, calling themselves Christians, were not in the spirit of Christ. Christ Himself spoke of them: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). Christ even foretold that many would impersonate Himself, calling themselves His Name: “Many will come in My Name, saying, I am the Christ” (Matt. 24:5).

The apostles, in their inspired epistles, pointed out that false bearers of the name of Christ appeared already in their time and warned against any communication with them. “As you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us” (1 John 2:18-19), writes the Holy Evangelist John the Theologian.

Instructing the disciples to avoid disputes and disagreements in every possible way on issues that are not important for salvation (1 Cor. 1:10-14), the apostles at the same time commanded them to completely shun those who do not bring true teaching. They pointed out that not by name, but by their faith and deeds, a true servant of God is recognized (Rom. 2:17-29), since if the name does not correspond to them, it is false.

The Lord Himself in the Revelation given to Saint John the Theologian, menacingly spoke about those who falsely assumed the name of the followers of the Old Testament: "I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan" (Rev. 2:9).

Similarly, a Christian in the strict sense is only one who professes the true teaching of Christ and lives according to it. “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:4), writes the Holy Apostle Paul about perverting the true doctrine. Many such perverts of the true faith, who continued to falsely bear the name of a Christian, lived even in the time of the apostles, and even more appeared in subsequent centuries. "Unlike such false Christians, those who profess the true faith began to be called Orthodox, for true Christianity consists in glorifying God with one's life."

“So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father Who is in heaven,” commanded Christ (Matt. 5:16). To glorify God with our lives is possible only when we have the right faith, and we express this faith in what is really the truth in words and deeds. “Therefore, Orthodox in the true sense is the one who professes the right, that is, the true faith and lives according to it.”

Calling our confession Orthodox, we distinguish it from false Christianity, and calling ourselves Orthodox, we indicate that our faith is true, genuine and uncorrupted Christianity and our duty is to faithfully fulfill its teaching.

And that Orthodoxy does not bear that name in vain, but is the real truth, excluding the possibility of the existence of any other truth, and that the Orthodox Church is precisely that about which Christ said: “I will build my Church, and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18), it is testified and confirmed by many signs that have taken place from the founding of the Church and do not cease to be clearly manifested in the Orthodox Church, as well as by the miracles not only of the ancients, but also in times close to us, by the holy saints of God who have shone forth.

Therefore, it is fitting for us to joyfully proclaim on the day of the Triumph of 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.”

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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