The parish of the Annunciation in Little Rock welcomes you to this window into our parish. Much like the American experience, we are a diverse community of men and women from every ethnicity and background, who are bond together by an Orthodox Christian way of life that actively seeks the way of the Lord in body and spirit. While our parish was established in Little Rock, AR, in 1913 and has been in its present location since 1983, we are a part of the Orthodox Christian Church has spanned the globe since 33 AD. Feel free to explore our site and know that the doors of our parish are open to all men and women who are looking to grow closer to God within an Orthodox Christian Church family in Little Rock.
The men and women in 1913 who helped formally establish an Orthodox Church in Little Rock could not imagine just how richly the Lord would bless their faithful efforts. At its inception, the Annunciation was founded by a small group of Greek immigrants, 100 years later, the parish aptly reflects Arkansas & the American experience as is comprised of more than 200 families (representing 18 different nationalities) who regularly come together in order to witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ, strive to reflect His love, and live according to the principles and discipline of the Orthodox Christianity. With steadfast confidence in God and a tireless work ethic, generations upon generation of Annunciation Church members have helped forge a path that this parish is not only blessed to celebrate in 2013, but ensures a bright Christ-centered future.
Through God’s grace, the Annunciation in Little Rock is a vibrant, growing community of men and women from every background and age, adhering to Orthodox Christian principles that are concurrently Scriptural, Traditional, Apostolic and Eucharistic. Our Church family continually searches for dynamic ways to serve the Lord, manifest the light of Christ to the world and try to address the needs of all of God’s people. For at its core, the Annunciation in Little Rock is an Orthodox Christian family that faithfully comes together at the Eucharistic Banquet every Sunday to worship the Lord; and in this light discover the manner and means by which to better know Him and do His will.
While we hope that this web site will help you learn more about our parish, our Centennial Celebrations and our Orthodox Christian faith; above all, we hope you will personally visit us! Please feel free to visit the Annunciation in Little Rock and pray with us on any given Sunday. Come and discover a welcoming Church family, an ancient and dynamic Orthodox Christian Faith, and perhaps even a spiritual home where you and yours may want to plant roots and expand your relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Come celebrate with us!
The Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church located at 1100 Napa Valley Drive in Little Rock, is a place where the light of Christ is accessible to all. At the Annunciation (the Church name commemorates the event in Scriptures in which the Archangel Gabriel was sent to announce to the Virgin Mary that she was to bear the Christ) you will find a warm and welcoming place where people of all ages and backgrounds are able to develop a dynamic relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This parish was formally established in 1920 and has been at the top of Napa Valley hill since 1983. The parish today aptly reflects America and is comprised of more than 250 families from a broad variety of nationalities and walks of life, all witnessing to the Good News and striving to reflect the love of God to all people. Our parish continually strives to provide a holy place of worship that is inviting to all – men, women and children alike. Though perhaps not as well known as some other Christian denominations, Orthodox Christians belong to the body of Christ that strive to vibrantly maintain sacred traditions that are concurrently Scriptural, Traditional, Apostolic and Eucharistic as have been passed down for more than 2000 years. While visitors to the Annunciation initially cannot help but notice the way in which the Church uses art in the form of Byzantine icons to teach and inspire people in their spiritual journey, the faith experience does not end there – it’s all about how people united in Christ are able to grow as Christians with the help of timeless traditions. In fact, the best way to appreciate exactly what the Orthodox Church teaches and how it strives to help build a person’s relationship with the Lord and with one another is to attend a Sunday service at 10:00am. Personally experiencing the hymns, prayers, Scripture readings and ceremonies is the best way to appreciate why the Annunciation means so much to our family, and why we encourage others to come and experience our Church.
by Frederica Mathewes-Green (Edited)
Welcome to the Orthodox Church! There are a number of things about our worship that are different from the services of other churches, whether Roman Catholic, liturgical Protestant, or evangelical. In an effort to help alleviate confusion, here are twelve things I wish someone had explained to me the first time I visited an Orthodox church.
1. A Sense of Holiness
If you are from a Protestant or non-liturgical tradition, you may feel overwhelmed the minute you walk in the door of an Orthodox church. You will find yourself surrounded by a blaze of color in the priests’ vestments and the icons that adorn the walls. The pungent odor of incense will assault your nose, possibly making you sneeze. Rich, deeply moving but unfamiliar music will fill your ears. All around you people will be doing things – lighting candles, kissing icons, making the sign of the cross, bowing, standing in prayer – everything but sitting still. To someone accustomed to four bare walls and a pulpit, all this may seem pretty strange. It is important to remember that none of this is an end in itself. Everything we see, hear, smell, touch, taste or do in the Orthodox Church has one purpose and one purpose only: to lead us closer to God. Since God created us with physical bodies and senses, we believe He desires us to use our bodies and senses to grow closer to Him.
By Rev. Thomas Fitzgerald (Edited)
The Orthodox Church throughout the ages has maintained a continuity of faith and love with the apostolic community which was founded by Christ and sustained by the Holy Spirit. Orthodoxy believes that she has preserved and taught the historic Christian Faith free from error and distortion, from the time of the Apostles. She also believes that there is nothing in the body of her teachings which is contrary to truth or which inhibits real union with God. The air of antiquity and timelessness which often characterizes Eastern Christianity is an expression of her desire to remain loyal to the authentic Christian Faith. Orthodoxy believes that the Christian Faith and the Church are inseparable. It is impossible to know Christ, to share in the life of the Holy Trinity, or to be considered a Christian apart from the Church. It is in the Church that the Christian Faith is proclaimed and maintained. It is through the Church that an individual is nurtured in the Faith.
God is the source of faith in the Orthodox Church. Orthodoxy believes that God has revealed Himself to us, most especially in the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom we know as the Son of God. This Revelation of God, His love, and His purpose, are constantly made manifest and contemporary in the life of the Church by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Being an active part of the Annunciation Church family is about receiving the light of Christ and then making sure to let it shine. To that end, our parish is very active in many ministries on a local as well as global level. Locally, we have very active youth ministries. With age-appropriate youth groups and a vibrant Sunday School program which weave together the elements of faith and fellowship, we try to give our children not only the tools to meet the challenges of life, but a loving Christian community in which to grow. In addition to our youth programs, there are also plenty of ways for adults to get involved. From a vibrant ladies philanthropic organization, Bible study classes, to ongoing charitable projects, there is always room in our parish for new ideas and plenty of ways for a person to become fully engaged in meaningful and edifying ministries. Indeed, the passionate commitment to share our blessings with all in Little Rock is perhaps best expressed in the form of our annual International Greek Food Festival held every year the weekend before Memorial Day. For nearly three decades our church family has sought to transform some tasty ethnic delights into proceeds that help a host of local charities do what they do best. While our church is continually looking for ways to use its talents and traditions towards making Little Rock a better place for all, it also strives to share the light and love of Christ beyond our borders. Globally, our parish has been active in supporting people throughout the US and in places like Turkey, Egypt, Syria and Guatemala, the question is never what to do with the light of Christ, it is always matter of what can we do to help His light shine even brighter through us.
As you can tell, we feel that this parish is a special place where all people can come together to develop a dynamic relationship with the Lord, experience new life in Him, raise a family in faith, and help others in His name. We would love for you to come and pray with us – explore Orthodox Christianity and consider joining our Church family. You and your family are invited to come and pray with us at a Sunday service at 10:00am and “come receive the light.”
2. Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus (collapse the text) typical thru out this section, once a new section is opened the other section collapse
In the Orthodox tradition, the faithful stand through nearly the entire service. Really. In some Orthodox churches, there won’t even be any pews, just a few chairs scattered at the edges of the room for the elderly and infirm. Expect some variation in practice: older churches, especially those that purchased already existing church buildings, will have well-used pews. In any case, if you find the amount of standing too challenging, you’re welcome to take a seat. It gets easier with practice.
3. By This Sign, Pray
To say that we make the sign of the cross frequently would be an understatement. We sign ourselves whenever the Trinity is invoked, whenever we venerate the cross or an icon, and on many other occasions in the course of the Liturgy. But people aren’t expected to do everything the same way. Some cross themselves three times in a row, and some finish by sweeping their right hand to the floor. Often before venerating an icon, people will cross themselves twice, bowing each time with their right hand to the floor, then kiss the icon, then cross themselves and bow again. Don’t worry; that doesn’t mean you have to follow suit.
We cross with our right hands, touching forehead, chest, right shoulder, then left shoulder to end over the heart, the opposite of Catholics/Episcopalians. We hold our hands in a prescribed way: thumb and first two fingertips pressed together, the last two fingers pressed down to the palm. Here as elsewhere, the Orthodox impulse is to make everything we do reinforce the Faith. Can you figure out the symbolism? (The three fingers held together represent the Trinity; the two fingers against the palm represent the two natures of Christ.)
4. Pucker Up
We kiss things. When we first come into the church, we kiss the icons (Jesus on the feet, and saints on the hands, ideally). You’ll also notice that some kiss the chalice, some kiss the edge of the priest’s vestment as he passes by, the acolytes kiss his hand when they give him the censer, etc. as a sign of love respect.
We kiss each other (“Greet one another with a kiss of love.” 1 Peter 5:14). When Catholics/Episcopalians greet one another in peace, they give a hug, handshake or peck on the cheek. In Orthodox Christianity there is a tendency to often greet one another with a kiss each cheek.
5. Blessed Bread and Consecrated Bread
Only Orthodox Christians may receive Holy Communion in the Divine Liturgy – a consequence of Christian disunity. But at the conclusion of the service, everyone in attendance in invited to receive blessed bread. Here’s how it works: the round communion loaf, baked by a parishioner, is imprinted with a seal. In the preparation service before the Liturgy, the priest cuts out a section of the seal and sets it aside; it is called the “Lamb.” The rest of the bread is cut up and placed in a large basket and blessed by the priest.
During the Eucharistic prayer, the Lamb is consecrated to be the Body of Christ, and the chalice of wine is consecrated as His Blood. Here’s the surprising part: the priest places the Lamb in the chalice. When we receive communion, we file up to the priest, standing and opening our mouth wide while he gives us a portion of the wine-soaked bread from a spoon. He also prays over us, calling us by our first name or by the saint-name which we chose when we were baptized or Chrismated (received into the Church). After receiving Holy Communion, we approach an altar boy holding a basket of blessed bread. People will take portions for themselves and for visitors and non-Orthodox friends around them. If someone hands you a piece of blessed bread, do not panic; it is not the Eucharistic Body. It is a sign of fellowship.
6. No General Confession?
In our experience, we don’t have any general sins; they’re all quite specific. There is no complete confession prayer in the Orthodox Christian Divine Liturgy. Orthodox Christians are always encouraged to privately seek a nopportunity for the Sacrament of Confession with their parish priest.
The role of the pastor is much more that of a spiritual father than it is in other denominations. He is not called by his first name alone, but referred to as “Father (first name).” His wife also holds a special role as priest’s wife and is often referred to as the “Presbytera” (which mean “priest’s wife).
Another difference you will probably notice is in the Nicene Creed. In the Orthodox Church, we affirm that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, but we don’t add “and the Son,” as Western denominations do. In this we adhere to the original form of the Creed.
7. Music, Music, Music
About seventy-five percent of the service is congregational singing. Nonetheless, to help with process of singing praises to God, a small choir with the assistance of an organ, leads the people in offering the hymns of the Divine Liturgy. The style of music varies as well, the hymns of the Orthodox Church are not necessarily familiar classics, but instead come from a rich tradition of Christian music that has been part of the historical Church as far back 200 – 300 AD.
It may be a bit overwhelming at first, but there is such beauty and depth woven into the hymnology of the Church that has informed, nourished and sustained Christians for thousands of years, that once one begins to regularly attend the services the beauty and depth of music speaks to one soul. With the music of the Orthodox Church, one is empowered to enter into the presence of God.
8. No Shortcuts
The original Liturgy within historical Church lasted something over five hours; the Liturgy of St. Basil edited this down to about two and a half, and later (around 400 A.D.) the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom further reduced it to about one and a half. Most Sundays we use the St. John Chrysostom Liturgy, although for some services (e.g., Sundays in Lent, Christmas Eve) we use the longer Liturgy of St. Basil.
When you arrive for Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning, worship will already be in progress and you will feel chagrined at arriving late. You are not late; the priest, cantors and some parishioners are just winding up Matins, which began about an hour before (Matins is an introductory service, replete with hymns and readings that celebrate the Resurrection of Christ and addresses the overarching spiritual theme of the day). Divine Liturgy follows on its heels, with the posted starting time only approximate. Orthodoxy is not for people who find church boring!
9. About Mary
We love her and it shows. What can we say? She’s His Mom. We often address her as “Theotokos,” which means “Mother of God.” In providing the physical means for God to become man, she made possible our salvation. Not that we think she or any of the other saints have magical powers or are demigods. We do not worship Mary or the saints, only the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are worshipped. When we sing “Holy Theotokos, save us,” we don’t mean “save” in an eternal sense, as we would pray to Christ; we mean “protect, defend, take care of us here on earth.” Just as we ask for each other’s prayers, we ask for the prayers of Mary and the other saints as well. They’re not dead, after all, just departed to the other side. Icons surround us, in part, to remind us that all the saints are joining us invisibly in our worship.
10. The Three Doors
Every Orthodox church will have an Icon Screen in the front of the Church. It is an ornate wall adorned with icons before the “Holy of Holies” with three doors. The central opening, in front of the Altar itself, usually has two doors, called the “Royal Doors,” because that is where the King of Glory comes out to the congregation in the Eucharist. Only the priest and deacons, who bear the Eucharist, use the Royal Doors.
Two other openings on the sides of the icon are decorated with icons of angels; they are termed the “Deacon’s Doors.” Altar boys and those who have received an ecclesiastical blessing may enter into the Altar through these doors. Following the example of the Lord and the Apostles, Altar service – priests, deacons, acolytes – is restricted to males. Females are invited to participate and lead in every other area of church life. Their contribution has been honored equally with that of males since the days of the martyrs; you can’t look around an Orthodox church without seeing Mary and other holy women of the Church. Within Orthodox Christianity, women can do everything else men do: lead congregational singing, paint icons, teach classes, read the epistle and serve on the parish council.
11. Are All Welcome?
Flipping through the Yellow Pages in a large city you might see a multiplicity of Orthodox churches: Greek, Romanian, Carpatho-Russian, Antiochian, Serbian, and on and on. Do these divisions represent theological squabbles and schisms?
Not at all. All these Orthodox bodies are one church. There are about 6 million Orthodox in North America and 250 million in the world, making Orthodoxy the second-largest Christian communion.
The astonishing thing about this ethnic multiplicity is its theological and moral unity. Orthodox throughout the world hold unanimously to the fundamental Christian doctrines taught by the Apostles and handed down by their successors, the bishops, throughout the centuries. They also hold to the moral standards of the Apostles – abortion and homosexual behavior remain sins in Orthodox eyes.
Orthodoxy seems startlingly different at first, but as the weeks go by it gets to be less so. It will begin to feel more and more like home, and it will draw you into the Kingdom of God. I hope that your first visit to an Orthodox church will be enjoyable, and that it won’t be your last.
The Orthodox Faith does not begin with mankind's religious speculations, nor with the so-called "proofs" for the existence of God, nor with a human quest for the Divine. The origin of the Orthodox Christian Faith is the Self-disclosure of God. Each day the Church's Morning Prayer affirms and reminds us of this by declaring: "God is the Lord and He has revealed Himself to us." While the inner Being of God always remains unknown and unapproachable, God has manifested Himself to us; and the Church has experienced Him as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity, which is central to the Orthodox Faith, is not a result of pious speculation, but the over whelming experience of God. The doctrine affirms that there is only One God in whom there are three distinct Persons. In other words, when we encounter either the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit, we are truly experiencing contact with God. While the Holy Trinity is a mystery which can never be fully comprehended, Orthodoxy believes that we can truly participate in the Trinity through the life of the Church, especially through our celebration of the Eucharist and the Sacraments, as well as the non-sacramental services.
Incarnation of Jesus Christ:
Together with the belief in the Holy Trinity, the doctrine of the Incarnation occupies a central position in the teaching of the Orthodox Church. According to Orthodox Faith, Jesus is much more than a pious man or a profound teacher of morality. He is the "Son of God who became the Son of Man. " The doctrine of the Incarnation is an expression of the Church's experience of Christ. In Him, divinity is united with humanity without the destruction of either reality. Jesus Christ is truly God who shares in the same reality as the Father and the Spirit. Moreover, He is truly man who shares with us all that is human. The Church believes that, as the unique God-man, Jesus Christ has restored humanity to fellowship with God.
By manifesting the Holy Trinity, by teaching the meaning of authentic human life, and by conquering the powers of sin and death through His Resurrection. Christ is the supreme expression of the love of God the Father, for His people, made present in every age and in every place by the Holy Spirit through the life of the Church. The great Fathers of the Church summarized the ministry of Christ in the bold affirmation: "God became what we are so that we may become what he is.
The Holy Scriptures are highly regarded by the Orthodox Church. Their importance is expressed in the fact that a portion of the Bible is read at every service of Worship. The Orthodox Church, which sees itself as the guardian and interpreter of the Scriptures, believes that the books of the Bible are a valuable witness to God's revelation. The Old Testament is a collection of forty-nine books of various literary style which expresses God's revelation to the ancient Israelites. The Orthodox Church regards the Old Testament to be a preparation for the coming of Christ and believes that it should be read in light of His revelation.
The New Testament is centered upon the person and work of Jesus Christ and the out pouring of the Holy Spirit in the early Church. The four Gospels are an account of Christ's life and teaching centering upon His Death and Resurrection. the twenty-one epistles and the Acts of the Apostles are devoted to the Christian life and the development of the early Church. The Book of Revelation is a very symbolic text which looks to the return of Christ. The New Testament, especially the Gospels, is very important to Orthodoxy because here is found a written witness to the perfect revelation of God in the Incarnation of the Son of God, in the person of Jesus Christ.
While the Bible is treasured as a valuable written record of God's revelation, it does not contain wholly that revelation. The Bible is viewed as only one expression of God's revelation in the on-going life of His people. Scripture is part of the treasure of Faith which is known as Tradition. Tradition means that which is "handed on" from one generation to another. In addition to the witness of Faith in the Scripture, the Orthodox Christian Faith is celebrated in the Eucharist, taught by the Fathers, glorified by the Saints, expressed in prayers, hymns, and icons; defended by the seven Ecumenical Councils; embodied in the Nicene Creed, manifested in social concern; and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, it is lived in every local Orthodox parish. The life of the Holy Trinity is manifested in every aspect of the Church's life. Finally, the Church, as a whole, is the guardian of the authentic Christian Faith which bears witness to that Revelation.
Councils And Creed:
As Orthodoxy has avoided any tendency to restrict the vision of God's revelation to only one avenue of its life, the Church has also avoided the systematic or extensive definition of its Faith. Orthodoxy affirms that the Christian Faith expresses and points to the gracious and mysterious relationship between God and humanity. God became man in the person of Jesus Christ not to institute a new philosophy or code of conduct, but primarily to bestow upon us "new life" in the Holy Trinity. This reality, which is manifest in the Church, cannot be wholly captured in language, formulas, or definitions. The content of the Faith is not opposed to reason, but is often beyond the bounds of reason, as are many of the important realities of life. Orthodoxy recognizes the supreme majesty of God, as well as the limitations of the human mind. The Church is content to accept the element of mystery in its approach to God.
Only when the fundamental truths of the Faith are seriously threatened by false teachings, does the Church act to define dogmatically an article of faith. For this reason, the decisions of the seven Ecumenical Councils of the ancient undivided Church are highly respected. The Councils were synods to which bishops from throughout the Christian world gathered to determine the true faith. The Ecumenical Councils did not create new doctrines but proclaimed, in a particular place and a particular time, what the Church has always believed and taught.
The Nicene Creed, which was formulated at the Councils of Nicaea in 325 and of Constantinople in 381, has been recognized since then as the authoritative expression of the fundamental beliefs of the Orthodox Church. The Creed is often referred to as the "Symbol of Faith." This description indicates that the Creed is not an analytical statement, but that it points to a reality greater than itself and to which it bears witness. For generations the Creed has been the criterion of authentic Faith and the basis of Christian education. The Creed is recited at the time of Baptism and during every Divine Liturgy.
When the young Church was getting under way, God poured out His Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and their followers, giving them spiritual gifts to build up the Church and to serve each other. Among the specific gifts of the Spirit mentioned in the New Testament are: apostleship, prophecy, evangelism, pastoring, teaching, healing, helps, administrations, knowledge, wisdom, tongues, and interpretation of tongues. These and other spiritual gifts are recognized in the Orthodox Church. The need for them varies with the times. The gifts of the Spirit are most in evidence in the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church.
Holy Icons - Theology in Color:
One of the first things that strikes a non-Orthodox visitor to an Orthodox church is the prominent place assigned to Holy Icons. The Iconostasis is covered with them, while others are placed in prominent places throughout the church building. The walls and ceiling are covered with iconic murals. The Orthodox faithful prostrate themselves before Icons, kiss them, and burn candles before them. They are censed by the clergy and carried in processions. Considering the obvious importance of the Holy Icons, then, questions may certainly be raised concerning them: What do these gestures and actions mean? What is the significance of Icons? Are they not idols or the like, prohibited by the Old Testament?
Icons have been used for prayer from the first centuries of Christianity. Sacred Tradition tells us, for example, of the existence of an Icon of the Savior during His lifetime (the "Icon-Made-Without-Hands") and of Icons of the Most Holy Theotokos immediately after Him. Sacred Tradition witnesses that the Orthodox Church had a clear understanding of the importance of Icons right from the beginning; and this understanding never changed, for it is derived from the teachings concerning the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity - Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The use of Icons is grounded in the very essence of Christianity, since Christianity is the revelation by God-Man not only of the Word of God, but also of the Image of God; for, as St. John the Evangelist tells us, "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14).
"No one has ever seen God; only the Son, Who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known" (John 1:18), the Evangelist proclaims. That is, He has revealed the Image or Icon of God. For being the brightness of [God's] glory, and the express image of [God's] person (Hebrews 1:3), the Word of God in the Incarnation revealed to the world, in His own Divinity, the Image of the Father. When St. Philip asks Jesus, "'Lord, show us the Father,' He answered him: 'Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father'" (John 14:8-9). Thus as the Son is in the bosom of the Father, likewise after the Incarnation He is constubstantial with the Father, according to His divinity being the Father's Image, equal in honor to Him.
The truth expressed above, which is revealed in Christianity, thus forms the foundations of Christian pictorial art. The Image (or Icon) not only does not contradict the essence of Christianity, but is unfailingly connected with it; and this is the foundation of the tradition that from the very beginning the Good News was brought to the world by the Church both in word and image.
St. John of Damascus, an eighth-century Father of the Church, who wrote at the height of the iconoclastic (anti-icon) controversies in the Church, explains that, because the Word of God became flesh (John 1:14), we are no longer in our infancy; we have grown up, we have been given by God the power of discrimination and we know what can be depicted and what is indescribable. Since the Second Person of the Holy Trinity appeared to us in the flesh, we can portray Him and reproduce for contemplation of Him Who has condescended to be seen. We can confidently represent God the Invisible - not as an invisible being, but as one Who has made Himself visible for our sake by sharing in our flesh and blood.
Holy Icons developed side by side with the Divine Services and, like the Services, expressed the teaching of the Church in conformity with the word of Holy Scripture. Following the teaching of the 7th Ecumenical Council, the Icon is seen not as simple art, but that there is a complete correspondence of the Icon to Holy Scripture, "for if the Icon is shown by Holy Scripture, Holy Scripture is made incontestably clear by the Icon" (Acts of the 7th Ecumenical Council, 6). As the word of Holy Scripture is an image, so the image is also a word, for, according to St. Basil the Great (379 AD):
By depicting the divine, we are not making ourselves similar to idolaters; for it is not the material symbol that we are worshipping, but the Creator, Who became corporeal for our sake and assumed our body in order that through it He might save mankind. We also venerate the material objects through which our salvation is effected - the blessed wood of the Cross, the Holy Gospel, Holy Relics of Saints, and, above all, the Most-Pure Body and Blood of Christ, which have grace-bestowing properties and Divine Power.
Orthodox Christians do not venerate an Icon of Christ because of the nature of the wood or the paint, but rather we venerate the inanimate image of Christ with the intention of worshipping Christ Himself as God Incarnate through it.
We kiss an Icon of the Blessed Virgin as the Mother of the Son of God, just as we kiss the Icons of the Saints as God's friends who struggled against sin, imitating Christ by shedding their blood for Him and following in His footsteps. Saints are venerated as those who were glorified by God and who became, with God's help, terrible to the Enemy, and benefactors to those advancing in the faith - but not as gods and benefactors themselves. They were the servants of God who were given boldness of spirit in return for their love of Him. We gaze on the depiction of their exploits and sufferings so as to sanctify ourselves through them and to spur ourselves on to zealous emulation.
The Icons of the Saints act as a meeting point between the living members of the Church [Militant] on earth and the Saints who have passed on to the Church [Triumphant] in Heaven. The Saints depicted on the Icons are not remote, legendary figures from the past, but contemporary, personal friends. As meeting points between Heaven and earth, the Icons of Christ, His Mother, the Angels and Saints constantly remind the faithful of the invisible presence of the whole company of Heaven; they visibly express the idea of Heaven on earth.
Amid the current speculation in some corners of Christendom surrounding the Second Coming of Christ and how it may come to pass, it is comforting to know that the beliefs of the Orthodox Church are basic. Orthodox Christians confess with conviction that Jesus Christ "will come again to judge the living and the dead," and that His "kingdom will have no end." Orthodox preaching does not attempt to predict God's prophetic schedule, but to encourage Christian people to have their lives in order so that they might be confident before Him when He comes (I John 2:28).
Heaven is the place of God's throne, beyond time and space. It is the abode of God's angels, as well as of the saints who have passed from this life. We pray, "Our Father, who art in heaven." Though Christians live in this world, they belong to the kingdom of heaven, and that kingdom is their true home. But heaven is not only for the future. Neither is it some distant place billions of light years away in a nebulous "great beyond." For the Orthodox, heaven is part of Christian life and worship. The very architecture of an Orthodox Church building is designed so that the building itself participates in the reality of heaven. The Eucharist is heavenly worship, heaven on earth. St. Paul teaches that we are raised up with Christ in heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6), "fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God" (Ephesians 2:19). At the end of the age, a new heaven and a new earth will be revealed (Revelation 21:1).
Hell, unpopular as it is to modern people, is real. The Orthodox Church understands hell as a place of eternal torment for those who willfully reject the grace of God. Our Lord once said, "If your hand makes you sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched - where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:44-45). He challenged the religious hypocrites with the question: "How can you escape the condemnation of hell?" (Matthew 23:33). His answer is, "God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved" (John 3:17). There is a day of judgment coming, and there is a place of punishment for those who have hardened their hearts against God. It does make a difference how we will live this life. Those who of their own free will reject the grace and mercy of God must forever bear the consequences of that choice.
Orthodox Christians confess God as Creator of heaven and earth (Genesis 1:1, the Nicene Creed). Creation did not just come into existence by itself. God made it all. "By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God" (Hebrews 11:3). Orthodox Christians do not believe the Bible to be a science textbook on creation, as some mistakenly maintain, but rather to be God's revelation of Himself and His salvation. Also, we do not view science textbooks, helpful though they may be, as God's revelation. The may contain both known facts and speculative theory, but they are not infallible. Orthodox Christians refuse to build an unnecessary and artificial wall between science and the Christian faith. Rather, they understand honest scientific investigation as a potential encouragement to faith, for all truth is from God.
Abortion is the termination of a pregnancy by taking the life of the baby before it comes to full term. The Scriptures teach, "For You have formed my inward parts; You have covered me in my mother's womb" (Jeremiah 1:5). When a child is aborted, a human being is killed. For the Christian, all children, born or unborn, are precious in God's sight, and are a gift from Him. Even in the rare case in which a choice must be made between the life of the child and the life of the mother, decision-making must be based upon the recognition that the lives of two human persons are at stake.
Marriage in the Orthodox Church is forever. It is not reduced to an exchange of vows or the establishment of a legal contract between the bride and groom. On the contrary, it is God joining a man and a woman into one flesh in a sense similar to the Church being joined to Christ (Ephesians 5:31, 32). The success of marriage cannot depend on mutual human promises, but on the promises and blessing of God. In the Orthodox marriage rite, the bride and groom offer their lives to Christ and to each other - literally as crowned martyrs.
While extending love and mercy to those who have divorced, the Orthodox Church is grieved by the tragedy and pain divorce causes. Though marriage is understood as a sacrament, and thus accomplished by the grace of God, and permanent, the Church does not deal with divorce legalistically, but with compassion. After appropriate pastoral counsel, divorce may be allowed when avenues for reconciliation have been exhausted.
The Orthodox Christian faith holds to the biblical teaching that sexual intercourse is reserved for marriage. Sex is a gift of God to be fully enjoyed and experienced only within marriage. The marriage bed is to be kept "pure and undefiled" (Hebrews 13:4), and men and women are called to remain celibate outside of marriage. Our sexuality, like many other things about us human beings, affects our relationship with God, ourselves, and others. It may be employed as a means of glorifying God and fulfilling His image in us, or it may be perverted and abused as an instrument of sin, causing great damage to us and others. St. Paul writes, "Do you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body" (I Corinthians 6:19, 20).
Although there have been many changes in society with reference to this issue, there is definite reference to it in the Scriptures that directs the Orthodox Church’s understanding. The frequently used synonym, sodomy, comes from the apparent homosexual activity among men of Sodom (Genesis 19), and the severity of strictures set forth in the Holiness Code, with nothing short of the death penalty being imposed, suggested that the need for discipline must have been great, (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13). The Old Testament understood normal sexual intercourse as not only a way of expressing a loving relationship, but also as a divinely appointed way of procreating new life.
In the New Testament, St. Paul condemns male prostitutes and homosexuals (I Corinthians 6:9-11). In the first chapter of his epistle to the Romans (Romans 1:24-32), he also judges it as unnatural. Homosexuals are included elsewhere among the immoral persons who, St. Paul says, deserve judgment by God (I Timothy 1:10). There is no example in all of the New Testament of approval, acceptance, or even tolerance of homosexuality.
Throughout Christian history, this disapproval of the homosexual lifestyle has continued to be the case. In the patristic era, freedom from homosexuality was seen as a mark of the Christian's ethical superiority to the wanton way of life that converts had left. Patristic thinking, like scriptural references, were directed to the practice of homosexuality, not to the desire itself. The Orthodox Church does not condemn the person who keeps this propensity in check, and ministers to homosexuals who wish to find release from this inclination. As with all matters antithetical to God and His Will, we hate the sin – not the sinner.