Greetings in Christ, and welcome to the website of the Holy Metropolis of America!
We receive many inquiries from people located in Brazil about becoming Orthodox Christians. After receiving one such inquiry, we endeavored to establish a mission, in 2001, when His Grace Bishop Christodoulos and Fr. Theodore Giannakopoulos travelled to Recife, at the invitation of some faithful. Unfortunately, that effort did not bear permanent fruit.
Since that time, the inquiries continue to come in, but owing to the logistical problems of distance, we have not been able to try again to establish a mission. Still, Brazil is included in the canonical territory of our Holy Metropolis, and we pray fervently that God will bless someday that there be traditional Orthodox Churches founded across Brazil. Perhaps you, dear reader, will be a part of this effort.
Those inquiring into our Church often have the same types of questions, and so we believe it is best to formulate a summary of them and post them here publicly so that anyone interested may have the information before contacting us. The unfortunate fact is that some people have had misconceptions about who we are, and at the same time, we have discovered that some people are not serious. Please read the following information, and you are welcome to contact us if you desire to take the next steps toward becoming an Orthodox Christian in our Metropolis, and forming the nucleus of a mission in Brazil.
The Website Staff
Q: What is the Orthodox Church?
A: The Orthodox Church is the original Church established by Jesus Christ, on the day of Pentecost. An objective analysis of history will show that only the Orthodox Church has preserved all of the doctrines of the Apostles (unlike the Protestants) while not adding on any additional doctrines (as the Roman Catholics did). The Apostles appointed successors in each place they ministered, and these successors were called bishops. The faith was transmitted mostly in oral form at first, with Apostles and bishops sending letters to the Churches they had established or were planning on visiting. In addition, accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus were written down, and four of these writings were approved by the Church as the Gospels, while false writings were rejected. Eventually, at the end of the 4th century, councils were held which confirmed the list of books that were God-inspired, and this collection was called the Bible, consisting of the Old and New Testaments.
Originally, the Roman Catholic Church was part of the Orthodox Church; the patriarch in the West held the title of Pope, which was a title that was also given to the patriarch in Alexandria. Gradually, the Western Pope claimed more authority for himself, and eventually demanded that the other patriarchs recognize him as the “head” of the Church. The Pope also began to allow innovations into the Church, such as the Filioque, which was a unilateral modification of the Creed established at the Councils of Nicea and Constantinople several hundred years earlier. Eventually, the one Western patriarchate under the Pope broke from the four Eastern patriarchates, which remained Orthodox, some one thousand years ago. Since that time, the Roman Catholics have continued to innovate, and have spawned multiple breakaway churches, known as the Protestant Churches. While some of the Protestant goals were laudable, instead of returning to Orthodoxy, they added their own extremes and innovations to the faith, and threw away some of the clearly-held doctrines of the Early Church, such as asking the Saints for intercessions, and the belief in Sacraments. All the while, however, the Orthodox Church has remained firm in the original faith of the Apostles, and invites all Roman Catholics and Protestants to return to the Church of Christ.
Q: What is the True Orthodox Church?
A: The Orthodox Church is the light of Christ shining in a dark world; a city on a hill, calling all people to a vision of the heavenly realm, giving them a chance to taste the bliss of life with God, both now in this world in a small foretaste, and eternally, in the life to come. This process involves a fight against sin and the underlying passions, a true struggle. Not everyone can complete this struggle, because of the weaknesses of the flesh, and the temptations of the demons, those angels who succumbed long ago to their own will and pride, and who now seek to bring down humans with them.
One of the ways that the demons tempt man to fall, and one of the ways that man justifies his failure to subdue his sin, is to create alternative religions and belief systems to support his rebellion against God. By replacing God with one’s own imagination, man can pretend that he is on the right path, while not having to face the hard task of destroying sin and changing his own life. Demons often support man in this process by performing cheap imitations of miracles, in order to delude man into thinking he is experiencing the true God.
This is especially enticing when men who were originally part of the true faith break away, and form counterfeit versions of the Church. Some of these divisions are the result of heresy—the changing of Orthodox beliefs—and some are called schisms—the breaking away from lawful Church authority.
A process that had its roots in earlier decades culminated in 1920 and 1924. In 1920, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the first patriarchate in terms of honor in the Orthodox Church, issued an Encyclical addressed “Unto the Churches of Christ Everywhere” which denied the uniqueness of the Orthodox Church, and sought to achieve Church unity not by converting the fallen back to the Church, but by compromising the very truth of the Church in order to effect a corporate reunion based on the least common denominator.
One of the proposed ways of doing this was the adoption of the so-called New Calendar, which had previously been condemned by the Orthodox Church in three Synods in the 16th century. The Church of Greece was the first to adopt this innovation, in 1924. We now call this general heresy “Ecumenism,” which is found in various forms; in its most extreme forms, it calls as brothers and those heretics who have been condemned numerous times by the Orthodox Church, and as Sister Churches those churches which broke away from Orthodoxy. This heresy also inspired a daughter heresy, Modernism, which seeks to modernize the Orthodox Church, by lessening fasting, removing distinctive clerical garb, and other such things.
All of these alterations of faith and practice hit the spiritual life strongly; they are not optional things. The Fathers of the Church established these practices as good for the soul, and centuries of saints have grown close to God following them. The Ecumenists and Modernists, however, believe they know better than the Fathers, whom they often believe were ignorant, or limited by their own culture, whereas the modern people of today somehow know better.
When these innovations occurred, groups of faithful in each local Church resisted the change, and they were called the True Orthodox. To this day, the True Orthodox have not adopted the New Calendar, do not pray with heretics or recognize them as part of the Church, and have not altered the liturgy or other practices inherited by the Fathers. The adjective True is used because while we believe ourselves to be the Orthodox Church, the heretics continue to call themselves Orthodox, thus requiring a qualification on our part.
Q: I see some Churches call themselves True Orthodox or Old Calendar already in Brazil; why should I not join one of them?
A: There were once parishes in Brazil that were under Old Calendar bishops, but at some point in the 1990s, they entered communion with the rest of the Ecumenists via the Polish Orthodox Church. There are also numerous people who claim to be True Orthodox or Old Calendarist who are not; many of them have ordination from what one might term “vagante” bishops, or in other words, bishops who have no ecclesiastical standing in any Church, usually bishops who were deposed for some reason or another, and proceeded to ordain people who repeated the process. As you will see explained more fully below, the Orthodox Church does not accept that apostolic succession continues after a bishop has left the Church, so such ordinations are considered invalid by the Orthodox Church. The vagante bishops who claim to be Orthodox know this, but prefer to use the Roman Catholic understanding since it would give them a status. This kind of approach is fundamentally dishonest, although sometimes people are truly ignorant, owing to the sad state of affairs in the world today.
A truly Orthodox bishop is one who does not commune with New Calendarists, does not engage in joint prayers with heretics, and is part of a Synod that has an Orthodox confession, which can trace its history to before the events of 1924. Any other bishop claiming to be True Orthodox or Old Calendarist, who cannot prove this, cannot be considered to be True Orthodox.
Q: I was baptized already in another Church. How would I be received into the Orthodox Church?
A: Following the lead of St. Cyprian of Carthage and many other fathers, including in more recent times St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite, a 19th century compiler of the canons and well-known spiritual writer, the Orthodox Church does not accept that there are valid sacraments outside the Church. The Orthodox Church has always reserved the right to baptize anyone converting to it, regardless of whether he was baptized in some other church previously. It has, at times, chosen to give grace after the fact (in effect, to correct) the baptism of heretics by other methods, such as anointing with holy oil (chrismation), when there was a sufficient reason to do so, a practice mentioned by St. Basil the Great in such places as his First Canonical Epistle, or for instance in the ecumenical Council of Trullo, canon 95. In such cases, triple immersion was presupposed. In recent centuries, the Russian Church allowed some to be given chrismation when they lacked three full immersions, but had three pouring; this practice was reversed in 1971 by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. The Greek Church has insisted explicitly on baptizing those without three immersions since the time of the Oros of 1755, although baptism had occurred before this time as well.
The basic point, then, is that in no way does the Church consider non-Orthodox baptisms to be valid in and of themselves, but it has chosen at various times to employ diverse methods to restore heretics and schismatics to herself. In our modern times, due to the heresy of Ecumenism, the risk of causing confusion is too great to allow the blanket use of economy, and in fact, many churches have completely done away with anything resembling a true baptism. For this reason, all Roman Catholics and Protestants will be given Holy Baptism upon their entrance into the Orthodox Church. Those coming from the Ecumenist and New Calendarist churches, on the other hand, will be examined on a case-by-case basis, primarily to see if there is a record of how their baptism was performed. Where they have three immersions, they will normally be received by profession of faith and chrismation.
Q: I am a clergyman of another Church with valid orders. How would the Orthodox Church receive me?
A: Given that the Orthodox Church does not accept the baptism of heretics, it certainly does not accept that heretics and schismatics can have apostolic succession. The idea that apostolic succession can exist apart from communion with the Church was advanced by St. Augustine of Hippo, who while venerated by the Orthodox Church, held some opinions which were at variance with the consensus of the rest of the Church. His intention was to battle the Donatists, who declared that the grace of sacraments depended on the personal piety of the priest or bishop. This obviously would have the effect of making someone never know if they were truly receiving the sacraments, because they would never know if the priest were worthy. However, when it comes to heresy, and people who have been publicly cut off from the Church, this is a different case. The Orthodox Church has no problem stating that such persons do not have grace. Sacramental grace can only exist inside the Church, because it is not a magical power possessed by a person by right. There is no concept of an indelible mark in the Orthodox Church. If one has apostolic succession, it is to ensure that his teaching has been approved by the whole Church; if he leaves communion with the Church, then he loses the blessing to function as a minister of the Church. Therefore, those converting to Orthodoxy from non-Orthodox backgrounds who are in orders, will be baptized. If, at some point in the future, they are called to be priests in the Orthodox Church, it will be up to the bishop to decide such a course of action. The priesthood is a grave task, which cannot be undertaken lightly.
Q: I am a layman interested in becoming an Orthodox priest. How do I do that?
A: The first question to ask yourself is if you are Orthodox, and if you are properly baptized. One must not try to become a priest before he is even truly a member of Christ’s Church! All things must occur in their own good time.
However, there is a great need for priests, so the Church is always looking for candidates. A man who has been baptized as an adult has the advantage of having no impediments to the priesthood. If he feels a call to serve God, and is patient, improving himself daily and living in obedience to a spiritual father, then at the appropriate time, the Church will ordain him with joy. Therefore, if you feel a call to serve God, first get your own house in order. Get baptized, and be content to serve God as a layperson. Pray, fast, and confess to your spiritual father. He will help you discern if you have a calling to serve as a priest, and he will notify the bishop if this is the case.
Q: Does the Orthodox Church have a monastic order for me to join?
A: The Orthodox Church does not have monastic orders. All Orthodox monasteries follow basically the same typikon, with minor adjustments from region to region. We are looking to establish not only missions, but also monasteries in your country, and so naturally we are interested in hearing from those who would like to become monastics. As with priesthood, this is a serious undertaking that requires time and effort. You are welcome to visit one of our monasteries in the United States or Greece for a time, to see if you are called to this life. However, if financial reasons keep you from this, then you should mention your desire to your spiritual father, who will help you in the discernment process, and assist you in reaching your goal at the appropriate time.
Q: How can I begin the process of conversion?
You will begin a prayer rule under the obedience of a spiritual father. You will also be given reading, which you will be able to discuss with him, in order to catechize you and prepare you for baptism. After at least one year’s time, we will discuss the arrangements for baptism, when we discern that you are prepared. You must be patient, as nothing good comes quickly; but we also promise that you will not have to wait forever!
The situation that presents itself today, where Orthodoxy has been so compromised, and there are so few Orthodox in the world, is indeed sad; but it will not stop the sincere person from being accepted into the bosom of the Church. God’s grace is available to all who seek it, despite the limitations. We look forward to you contacting us.
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