How to Be an Orthodox Christian

To be an Orthodox Christian, two things are necessary:

1. To be in communion with the Orthodox Church, for ‘there is no Christianity without the Church’ (St Hilarion of Verey).

Unfortunately, the word ‘Orthodox’ is much misused and abused, in similar ways to words like ‘Apostolic’ or ‘Catholic’. Thus, although there are those who describe themselves as ‘Orthodox’, if they are not in fact members of one of the canonical Orthodox Churches and in communion with them, they are not Orthodox, not part of the Orthodox family. In reality, in the narrower context of life in Western Europe, to call oneself Orthodox actually means to belong to one of only seven Local Orthodox Churches: either to the Russian, Romanian, Serbian, Bulgarian or Georgian Orthodox Churches, or else to the Greek Patriarchate of Constantinople or the Arab Patriarchate of Antioch.

In concrete terms, if those in Western Europe who claim to be Orthodox do not belong to one of these seven Local Orthodox Churches, they do not belong to the Orthodox Church. What are they then? In reality, they may be Copts (Miaphysites), who reject the Universal Councils of the Orthodox Church, or they may belong to some tiny, perhaps nationalistic, uncanonical grouping which may have Orthodox rites and icons but which is not in communion with the Orthodox Church, or they may simply be fantasist vagantes. And in this country these individuals may in fact be former or retired Anglicans, who have found an exotic hobby, an unusual past-time, which they have shaped in their own image.

2. To think and live as an Orthodox Christian

It is one thing to be a nominal member of the Orthodox Church, but it is another thing actually to be an Orthodox Christian. Since Faith is at the root of civilisation and culture, it is clear that if we are Orthodox Christians, then we think in terms of Orthodox Christian civilisation and culture. And quite simply, Orthodox Christianity is a different civilisation and culture from other civilisations and cultures because the Orthodox Christian Faith is different from other Faiths. If people do not think as Orthodox Christians, have Orthodox civilisational values, then they will only be semi-Orthodox, watered down Orthodox, nominally Orthodox, outwardly Orthodox, compromised Orthodox, westernised Orthodox.

It is in fact only when people inwardly think as Orthodox Christians, instead of as Anglicans, Protestants, Roman Catholics or something else, that they speak and act as Orthodox Christians. And it is vital to understand this, for Orthodox Christianity is not an ideology, philosophy or personality cult, but a life based on an integrated view of the world, a conscious set of values made incarnate, a life imbued by a conscious mindset and mentality, in other words, a way of life with all its ramifications. If we live as Orthodox Christians, these ramifications mean consistently striving to obey in full the two simple commandments, to love God and to love our neighbours as ourselves.