The Orthodox Church Does Not Change?
By Archpriest Andrew Harrison
Someone told me that when he had visited his Roman Catholic parish
priest to talk to him about his intended bride who was Orthodox, the priest said, "
They don't change." What did the priest mean by that statement? Did he mean they don't
change religions or did he mean that the Orthodox Church does not change? Probably he
meant change of religions. His statement says a lot about the commitment of Orthodox
Christians, I wish it were always true.
"They don't change," referring to the Church, can be confusing. As
Orthodox Christians we tend to brag about how the church has not changed from the time of
the Apostles. We say we are the repository of the faith that was given to the Apostles by
Jesus Christ Himself. Yet if we trace the history of the Orthodox Church we see a lot of
change. The Divine Liturgy structure and the date of Pascha were not fixed until the 4th
century. Holidays such as Christmas and all the feasts of the Virgin Mary did not come
into existence until the fifth century. The Church of Constantinople did not reach the
status of Ecumenical Patriarch until the 6th century. The Orthodox Church of Greece did
not exist until the 19th-century. The use of Icons came and went and came back again in
the seventh century. Rules about lent and fasting evolved over time. Today in America you
can attend services in a parish of one of the 18 ethnic jurisdictions and find that not
one does exactly the same thing in the Liturgy. You can even go from one parish to another
in the same jurisdiction and you will not find uniformity. So how can it be said that the
Orthodox Church does not change?
The Orthodox Church does change. It is changing before our very eyes.
After 500 years of the enslavement of its major centers it is emerging to meet the
problems of the third millennium. The church of Russia is restructuring itself to
re-evangelize an entire nation and recently published a document on social issues related
to secularism and globilzation. In Greece there is a renaissance of spirituality with
young people flocking to churches in Athens. In Romania there has been a significant
increase in monastic vocations. In America the progress toward an American Patriarchate
is moving at an astonishing pace. The Orthodox Church has and will change to confront the
ages in which it finds itself. If it ever stops changing is will be dead like all living
things that die. The Orthodox Church is the living body of Christ of which we are its
The Orthodox Church is an institution established by Jesus Christ in
33AD for one purpose. That purpose was and is to proclaim the Gospel and baptize all
nations. (Matt. 28: 19). This is called the great commission.
The church changes with the times. Even Christ acknowledged this when
he said he would send the Holy Spirit as a guide to all truth. (John 16: 13) Guidance
implies change. What does not change is the life and teaching of Jesus Christ and that
is the Gospel. The word Gospel does not mean a book in means good news. The only book the
apostles had at Pentecost was the Old Testament or Hebrew bible. They remembered the
Gospel (the life and teaching of Jesus Christ) and eventually wrote down what he did and
said. (Luke 1:1) The New Testament as we know it was written in the first century by
seven or more men and finally put together in one volume in the second and third century.
It would be more correct to say that the Orthodox Church does change
but the Orthodox faith remains the same. It is the Orthodox faith that we call Holy
Tradition. We call it that because this is exactly what St. Paul called it. " Stand
fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or by epistle.
(2 Thess 2: 16) and that is what the Orthodox Church has done and that is why it is
called orthodox. See the description of the word Orthodox on our website www.stlukeorthodox.com
under Parish Info