When you think about the word "orthodox", what comes to mind? For many it is the bearded, long haired, robed Greeks swinging a giant censor in a church filled with icons of various saints, chanting prayers in a language you can't possibly understand. Yes, they're called Orthodox Christians, but what makes them "orthodox", and are they truly so?
Let's define the word first.
(of a person or their views, especially religious or political ones, or other beliefs or practices) conforming to what is generally or traditionally accepted as right or true; established and approved.
|synonyms:||conservative, traditional, observant, devout, strict|
Do the Greek, Russian, Byzantine, Ukrainian, and host of other churches fit the definition of orthodox? Do they conform to what is generally or traditionally accepted as right or true? Do they conform to what is established and approved? Are they traditional, observant, devout and strict? We could answer yes to all of these questions, but we have to qualify our answer. And that's where the rub comes in. They meet those standards in their own peculiar ways.
Certainly the various ethnic churches meet the textbook definition for orthodoxy, but this does nothing to establish whether their particular brand of orthodox is really orthodox. Okay, I know I've lost you so let me explain. If we define orthodoxy as all of the above, but explain that this tradition, and what is right and true must meet a certain standard- a criteria by which it is measured that exists as a divine deposit of truth that is unchangeable- then we can understand why the ethnic Orthodox churches might not really be so orthodox after all. The standard, that criteria and divine deposit of truth, is first and foremost Sacred Scripture. All doctrine, dogma and practice must be in conformity with this central Apostolic witness. Anything not meeting this standard must be rejected as unorthodox. What about those areas where the Scriptures may be silent? That is where the secondary criteria for orthodoxy comes in- the Apostolic Fathers, Many of these men studied directly under the tutelage of the Apostles. This places them in a very good position to tell us what the early church believed and how they practiced the faith. In other words, they inform us as to Apostolic tradition.
Do the practices and beliefs of the various Orthodox churches meet the criteria of both Scripture and the Church Fathers? They would certainly says yes, but the facts say otherwise. I'll give you a couple of examples.
The ethnic Orthodox will kiss icons, and pray to the various saints. What do we find in Scripture and the Church Fathers on these topics?
"We, it is true, refuse to worship or adore, I say not the relics of the martyrs, but even the sun and moon, the angels and archangels, the Cherubim and Seraphim and "every name that is named, not only in this world but also in that which is to come." For we may not "serve the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever."- Jerome- Letter 109
"From whence they are called idolaters who tender that service to images which is due to God. For it is this service concerning which it is said, "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve." For this is found also more distinctly in the Greek Scriptures, which have latreuseis."- Augustine- On the Holy Trinity
"What is properly divine worship, which the Greeks call latria, and for which there is no word in Latin, both in doctrine and in practice, we give only to God. To this worship belongs the offering of sacrifices; as we see in the word idolatry, which means the giving of this worship to idols. Accordingly we never offer, or require any one to offer, sacrifice to a martyr, or to a holy soul, or to any angel. Any one falling into this error is instructed by doctrine, either in the way of correction or of caution."- Augustine-Reply to Faustus
"We judge it improper to pray to those beings who themselves offer up prayers."- Origen
"..the saints are cut off from the knowledge of this world..."- Tertullian
"It is clear that those who make prayers to the dead..do not act as becomes men. They will suffer punishment for their impiety and guilt. Rebelling against God, the Father of the human race, they have undertaken unforgivable rites. They have violated every sacred law."- Lactantius
Now let's look at Scripture.
There is no biblical teaching at all that states we are to pray to those who once were alive on earth and are now in heaven. Revelation, the same book used by them to justify their position says the following:
"And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said to me, "Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy," -Rev. 19:10
John wants to bow the knee and worship the angel. But the angel tells him not to do that because he is a fellow created being and servant. If an angel says this, then we certainly shouldn't offer worship to a dead man or woman. Worship includes prayer. Therefore, no one should pray to any created thing.
Biblically, prayer is always offered to God and is a form of worship. Also, prayer is not the same thing as talking to someone face-to-face. Prayer is a humble petition to the Lord and not to a friend who's in the same room with you or on the other end of the phone--or presumably in heaven. Prayer is offered to God--never to any created thing. To do so is to offer worship that should only be directed to God, which is idolatry. Prayer should be offered only to God.
What we can see here just from a few quotes is that the so-called Orthodox churches are not truly orthodox, nor are they keeping Apostolic tradition. Now, we could go on and on with our examination, but it would only be to belabor the point.
True Christian orthodoxy lays in an adherence to Scriptural doctrine and Apostolic tradition, not in the various cultural accretions of the ethnic churches, nor even in the acceptance of each and every practice supported by various post-Nicene church councils. What is needed then is a return to the practices of the early church and an adherence to Sacred Scripture as the infallible Word of God and primary standard by which everything is measured- including the writings of the Church Fathers! I think this is consistent with, for example, the approach of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. That is, the fourfold methodology of Rev. John Wesley for theological reflection: Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience. By approaching theology and ecclesiology in this way we arrive at what can be rightly called a Reformed Orthodoxy- a true orthodoxy in conformity with both Scripture and the consensus of the early church.