The Evangelical Universalist Forum

How close is the EOC to the historical Church?

I wanted to know if you can tell me how close the theology and rituals
of the Eastern Orthodox Church is to the historical church in the first centuries and biblical times?
Thank you and God bless you
Shalom and Love

You might find the information and discussion contained in this thread of interest in finding out more on Eastern Orthodoxy:

There area a few more things to bear in mind with Eastern Orthodoxy, terms and ideas can be understood differently, also there are different approaches in Eastern practice and worship to Western, to quote a section from Andrew Louth’s book Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology which I quoted in that thread:

Rather, it’s distinctiveness is to be found in the way in which the traditional faith of Christians is upheld among the Orthodox. For Orthodoxy sees its faith as expressed, and tested, in prayer and worship.

Many Christians would assent to that, but there have been influential movements within Western Christianity that have sought to express Christianity in some comprehensive philosophy - the scholasticism of the Western Middle Ages is a striking example - or make some particular doctrine the article by which the Church stands or falls - as Luther did with the doctrine of justification by faith. In reaction against that, in the West, other movements have sought to reduce Christianity to a non-dogmatic devotionalism - implicitly in certain strands of Western medieval mysticism, or explicitly in pietism. But for Eastern Orthodoxy it is in prayer and worship of God that our faith is defined and refined: a God who created this world and loves it, whose love is expressed in identifying himself with his creation, and especially the human creation, made in his image, through the Incarnation and the cross, a love that is manifested in its transfiguring power through the resurrection. The centrality of prayer and worship prevents us from narrowing down our faith to some human construction, however magnificent.

If there is any reason why Eastern Orthodoxy has found this way of confessing the Faith, it could be because of the way Eastern Orthodoxy has led through persecution and martyrdom: in every century there have been Christians of the Orthodox communion who have faced persecution - throughout the whole Christian world in the first centuries, and then while living under Islam, and in the last century atheist communism. In all these centuries it has been faithfulness to prayer and worship of the Church that has enabled the Church to survive. Often it was only in gathering together for prayer and worship that Orthodox Christians were able to express their faith, and frequently such gathering together was subject to harassment - a harassment sometimes as severe as any persecution. And they found that that was enough, that faithfulness in prayer and worship, in celebrating the divine liturgy, in belonging to the saints of all ages and joining our prayers with theirs, and then living out, as fully as they could, lives formed by that worship: all this proved to be in truth the touchstone of their faith. The experience of martyrdom and persecution has been the crucible in which Orthodox Christians have found their faith refined.’
Louth, A. ‘Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology,’ (on my mobile (cellphone) kindle app 6% location 214-232 - it feels wrong to cite without page numbers lol, I feel a negative mark coming :wink: ).

This is a good link for giving an understanding (at least the latter section of the article) of the Orthodox understanding of Tradition (though I think with some points on Papias the author could do with reading John Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, that would end up I think strengthen his position, but it would differentiate the point slightly). The article is written strongly from an Eastern Orthodox specipective, and in relation to Protestant tradition of sola Scriptura, which whether someone agrees or not I think will give a starting insight into the concept of apostolic Tradition, useful for reading other things from the Orthodox tradition. … rt-2-of-4/

This video by John Behr can also be useful in some concepts of the general ground and initial hypothesis or grounding understanding in Orthodoxy.

None of this is comprehensive, and perhaps the thread I began and give you more insights, the Orthodox Church does regard itself as founded and keeping the deposit of the apostolic faith, and that this has been keep and guided through the Holy Spirit, which is their understand of Jesus promise in John and some of Paul’s promises, and expressed in worship in the liturgy, the Scriptures, the Fathers and in the bishops and in the conciliar agreements most clearly represented in the 7 Ecumenical Councils. That might give a start, getting a book like Louth’s Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology or reading the Divine Liturgies of St John Chrysostom and St Basil the Great can also help, but it can be a difficult question to answer without being partisan over whether the Orthodox or another Church reflects the true inheritance of the early Church, the best thing to do is familiarize yourself with Orthodoxy and take your understanding from there.

Dani, your question, as formulated, is more difficult to answer than you imagine. From an EO perspective, the Orthodox Church simply is the Church instituted by the Apostles. The faith she professes is the faith of the Apostles. The eucharistic liturgy she celebrates is the Eucharist of the Apostles.

This does not mean that there have not been changes in the way that the Church has proclaimed the faith (the first century Church, for example, did not confess that Jesus Christ is of one substance with the Father–that’s a later dogmatic development), nor did the apostolic Church celebrate the Byzantine rite in all of its particulars (yes, there have been liturgical developments over the centuries); but it is true that the Eastern Orthodox Church is exceptionally conservative, which means that the liturgy celebrated at your local Orthodox Church is infinitely closer to the liturgy celebrated by, say, fifth century Eastern Christians than anything you will encounter today outside the Orthodox Church. The prayer and praise service that you find in evangelical churches today is a modern invention. Sadly, the modern Roman Rite has abandoned its patristic roots.

But what happend to the other 4 centuries?
Why did the change happen from 1st century Christianity?
And can we today get a realisic understanding of the way 1st century Christians celebrated their faith?
Would it not be better to do it like them?
Blessings, Shalom and Love

IMHO there is no Institutional church that is even close to the first century church in the way they operate. May I suggest reading Frank Viola’s book ‘Pagan Christianity’ . The simplicity of the first century church is very difficult to find and almost all IC are based on manmade traditions that you will not find in the Scriptures.

They came and went. :slight_smile:

“To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often” (John Henry Newman).

We forget how limited the historical evidence for the life of the first century churches really is. All we have are snippets. Of course, that doesn’t stop folks, both academics and nonacademics, from writing volumes and volumes on the topic, as if they really knew what they were talking about. There’s a reason why church historians have referred to the first century as the “tunnel period.” Hence even if we wanted to imitate the first century church, we can’t, because we don’t know a great deal about how first century Christians structured their ecclesial communities or how they preached the gospel or how they catechized or how they … [take your pick].

I’m sure there are many ways in which we might want to imitate first-century Christians, just as there are many ways in which we might want to imitate fourth-century Christians and 13th century Christians and so on. Most certainly we should wish to be faithful to the apostolic deposit of faith. But what does faithfulness mean here? I live in the 21st century. I’m not interested in wearing first century clothing or restricting myself to first century technology. To do so would be a form of unfaithfulness to both myself and to the gospel. Living within the Holy Tradition is something more than imitation. We must think, proclaim, and live the gospel in the conditions of the era and culture in which we live. This is a huge challenge. There is no returning to a golden age that never existed.

How important is tradition to be faithful to Jesus?

It’s all about faithfulness to Jesus–to the living Jesus.

In a word, they are identical.

What we know about the liturgy of the early Church (up to, say, A. D. 165) is in conformity with the liturgy you find in an Eastern Orthodox Church today. The basic liturgical structure is the same.

The earliest Christians worshipping in the catacombs had icons, even as today’s Orthodox Church has icons.

The early Christians worshipped the Trinity, believed that God the Son is incarnate, and experienced deification through participation in the uncreated Energies of the Trinity–all like the Orthodox Church today.

The earliest Christians baptized babies, celebrated the Eucharist every Sunday, and gave Holy Communion even to little infants–all just like the Orthodox Church today.

The earliest Christians recognized that each of their liturgies was a participation in the Heavenly Liturgy with the saints in Heaven, even as recognized today.


Nothing of substance has been changed. Only terminology has been developed. Why? Because heretics periodically come and attack the Church. In defending and rightly defining the Faith of Peter, the Church has unavoidably made use of terms that were never uttered by the Apostles. The word “Trinity” is one such example. This is necessary because the heretics pervert the very writings of the Apostles. Thus, quoting Scriptures to the heretics is ineffective because they understand the Apostles’ words wrongly. To distinguish heresy from Orthodoxy, the Church has to use non-Biblical terminology.

As I see it, the EOC is similar to the early church in much of its theology.

As for liturgy, I don’t find any in the second-century church.

In the second century disciples of Christ gathered in the name of Jesus alone, and there was a body ministry. That is, even disciple who gathered with them ministered to the others in terms of singing, prophesying, giving a short discourse, etc. There were overseers and deacons, but these did not take upon themselves the lion’s share of the ministry. The function of the overseers was precisely what the name implies, and the deacons were servants, or more accurately servers, of the church.

An afternoon reading the seven epistles of St. Ignatius of Antioch would be time well spent. He was:

  1. the second bishop of Antioch
  2. martyred in Rome circa A. D. 110
  3. a disciple of St. John the Apostle


Seriously, if this guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about, who does?

We have seven of his epistles that he wrote at the end of his life on his way to Rome to be martyred:

Epistle to the Ephesians
Epistle to the Magnesians
Epistle to the Trallians
Epistle to the Romans
Epistle to the Philadelphians
Epistle to the Smyrnaeans
Epistle to Polycarp (bishop of Smyrna and also a disciple of St. John the Apostle)

Each of these epistles is short, and the collection can be read in an afternoon. They were one of the things that first got my attention regarding Orthodoxy. I read them and thought, “This doesn’t feel like Protestantism. Nor does it feel like Roman Catholicism, though that’s a bit closer.” Shortly thereafter I became acquainted with Orthodoxy and thought, “Aha! These feel Orthodox.”

A good volume (which includes the above seven epistles) to study is this book: … ic+fathers

It is basically a collection of all the Christian writings we have (outside of the New Testament) that were written in the 1st century or in the first half of the 2nd century. These are THE primary sources for a study of second-generation Christianity (i. e., the generation of Christians after the Apostles). It also has the original Greek texts on facing pages, so one can easily check the translations.

I should also mention that the Shepherd of Hermas (included), which was written sometime between A. D. 85 and 150, is one of the most intriguing Christian writings I’ve ever read from any century.

I think what Paidion was saying was that the (surviving) writings from the early first couple of centuries don’t give us liturgy; the liturgy on the other hand is sometimes drawn from them.

On the other hand, Ignatius comes from the 2nd century and certainly has a high regard for overseers/shepherds/bishops/episkipoi.

Dani, Geoffrey and Father Kimel are both correct that the Eastern Orthodox practices and beliefs go back a long way, with roots in the 2nd and even 1st centuries (since they do respect and transmit the “faithful deposit”).

Another somewhat different primitive option would be Messianic Jewish Christianity, which works hard to pattern on synagogue worship forms. (The EOx and RCs do, too, in their own way(s) – which explains a lot of what we Protestants tend to complain about as “accretions” – but the various “Catholic” forms look a little too different now, so they’re hard to recognize. Part of that is due to reaching out more to Gentiles where they were at.)

I’m not sure if I was misunderstood, so let me explain. :slight_smile: My post about Ignatius and his contemporaries was not meant as a response to Paidion’s post about liturgy. Rather, my post was directed to Dani’s OP.

As regards to liturgy, probably the earliest texts we have are from St. Justin Martyr (slain in 165), the Didache (written between 60 and 125), and St. John’s Apocalypse (1st century). The glimpses (and only glimpses, alas) of the early Church’s worship are consonant with the liturgies of Orthodoxy.

Another consideration is the liturgical form of worship of the pre-Christian Jews. It would be odd to assume that the early Church, with its Jewish Apostles and Jewish core of members, abandoned a liturgical form of worship, only to resume liturgy a century or two later.

One more thought: A old Southern Baptist minister friend of mine once told me that the Southern Baptists have a liturgy (though I don’t believe he used that word) no different in principle from that of Roman Catholics. He basically said something like this: “Just look at how we conduct our Sunday worship: We start with a hymn, then we have a prayer, then we have several hymns led by the music leader, then another prayer, then a Scripture reading, then a sermon, then an altar call, and finally a hymn. Just watch what would happen if I were to alter that! I’d get admonished from many members for changing things up. I one time tried moving a hymn, and you can believe that plenty of people told me about their problems with that!”

The point is that it is difficult to NOT have a liturgy. I would submit that my old Southern Baptist church (just described) in fact had a set liturgy that we followed each and every Sunday. It was NOT free-form worship. Things were done in a certain way, in a certain order, and not otherwise.

I think it practically unavoidable that the Apostles also conducted worship in a certain way, in a certain order, and not otherwise. We Orthodox believe that our liturgies today follow the basics of how the Apostles worshipped. We believe our services are Apostolic in the sense of A) being based on the practices of the Apostles and B) being part of the Apostles’ own Heavenly worship in Heaven. :slight_smile:

And I didn’t mean liturgical forms developed later, just that we don’t have examples of them (except in arguable snippets) surviving in the first couple of centuries. If it comes to snippets after all, there are some in the New Testament canon scattered around – maybe, we think. (Quite a few kergymatic hymns referenced in Paul’s letters, according to some prevalent source theories, for example. Which I happen to agree with.)

But yes, liturgical forms of some kind date back super-far, and the older Catholic groups have more call than anyone (even the Messianic Jewish movement, which uses more restricted versions) to be preserving the oldest forms even along with developments over time. And we agree the forms tend to go back to synagogal worship.

There are of course equally ancient Christian groups, though much smaller, whom Dani might be in more contact with, like the Church of the East – their services will have some differences but again pretty similar in the core. (This is aside from the legitimate question of proper legitimate hierarchical sanction for worship practices and content.)

  1. The 1st and 2nd century Christians baptized babys? What source do we have for that?
    And that little children took part at the Lord’s Supper?
  2. Did there not happen a change under Emperor Constantine?
  3. Did the 1st and 2nd century Christian honor Mother Mary and the Saints as the EOC does today?
  4. The icons made today are they like the ones we find from the earliest centuries?
  5. Is it important that we have a certain way in how we worship God?

1a.) Not sure when baptism of babies started; I’ll have to defer to other students on that.

1b.) I’ve never heard of any children simply taking Mass / Lord’s Supper per se, though, no matter how old the Christian group is. Not without a clear profession and confirmation of faith – my seven-year-old niece was baptized a few Sundays ago and so can take the Lord’s Supper now, for example, but she had made a profession of faith at 5 and we held off to make sure she knew what she was doing. The old Catholic groups (up to and including the Anglicans), so far as I’ve ever understood, are far more regimented than that about when and under what conditions children are confirmed and so officially permitted to partake in the Mass. Maybe this is a local thing where you are?

2.) Constantine didn’t change much. Constantine per se didn’t make many changes at all, though he acted as executor for the college of bishops. He introduced some trivial things like changing and regulating the holidays, notably Christmas. (The evidence from the time is that Christians before then celebrated it in the autumn around the time of the Feast of Tabernacles, but we don’t have a lot of evidence when exactly Christians celebrated it.) He found ways to integrate the church hierarchy into the officially civil cultic life, which tended to involve helping ease people into accepting the newly legalized religion by assigning parallel titles they were already familiar with (like “pontifex maximus”, greatest bridge builder).

Becoming a legally protected religion with preferential treatment at Imperial levels tended to change the tone of Christianity, but again for most of the 4th century the Arians were in the driver’s seat. I’m not blaming them for what happened either, but they show that the 4th century mostly wasn’t when a particular kind of Christianity latched permanently into an Imperial form. (Otherwise the Arians would have never been able to overtake orthodoxy at the Imperial level, and orthodoxy would never have been able to re-overtake Arianism and neo-Arianism at the Imperial level.)

3.) I do think Marian honors picked up substantially in the 2nd century – not sure about the 1st in the extra-canonical docs. Obviously there isn’t much of that sort of thing in the canonical texts, but there are hints of it in RevJohn and in the technical language used by the angel at the Annunciation in GosLuke. The term “God-bearer” goes back a long way, too. Praying religiously to Mary and the Saints seems to start rather later; there’s nothing about that in the canon, and I don’t think anything about that for a few centuries afterward. A lot of it comes from the expectation that the servants chosen by God continue helping even more after death, which is a respectably cooperative belief (even if I don’t agree at all with the religious venerations that were developed along the way.)

4.) Icon-making has progressed as an art form. I’m sort of doubtful they existed in more primitive forms – I know Christian art existed, but I haven’t seen evidence they were treated as icons are religiously treated. But I wouldn’t be upset to learn otherwise. :slight_smile:

5.) On one hand, so long as we’re worshiping in spirit and in truth, I’m not sure God cares overmuch about the details. On the other hand, God seems to care a lot about some details in the scriptures, even if not to the degree of detail found in advanced liturgicals. And if worshiping in spirit and in truth is important (which it is), then details which help a person do that would be proportionately important, even though not strictly necessary. Liturgy helps get across fine points of doctrinal truth (or what is believed to be doctrinal truth anyway) to people who don’t have the time, opportunity, and/or talent to work on the theological math for themselves. That’s true about icon usage, too. I may protest about iconic veneration, but I appreciate the basic concept. :slight_smile:

Paedocommunion (i. e., the giving of communion even to infants) has always and everywhere been practiced by the Orthodox Church. This Wikipedia article is pretty good:

Sorry that I don’t have time for more right now. Bedtime!

Oh. Huh. Literally the first time I’ve ever heard of it. Doubtless this comes of being too hyper-Protestant (i.e. Baptist :laughing: ), since a lot of post-Catholic congregations not only allow but encourage it (though the RCs themselves are currently spotty on it and strongly rejected it in the past). Cyprian in the 3rd century seems the earliest surviving testimony to it, but he wasn’t innovating it so the practice must precede him substantially at the very least.

Thanks for the link, Geoffrey!

Thank you Jason for your detailed answer.
I do know that children are baptised and take the Lord’s Supper even in evangelical churches like your niece.
I actually wanted to know when it started with the unconscious baby baptism.
Do we find any hints in the Scripture for it?

Is this passage for instance not a little bit to farfetched?

What is the response of the EOC to that kind of verses?
Dosen’t that sound like Jesus oposing Marian honors?

A very great help for me was an EO explenation of hell:
God is the source of a fire for the faithfull it is a blessing for the unfaithfull it causes pain (in my words).
Even if the EOC is very close to universal reconciliation why did the EOC oppose it by agreeing with the Council of Constantinople II?
How do I know if I worship God in Spirit and Truth?**

I do not want to criticise. I just want to understand :slight_smile: .
Thank you all for your help.
Shalom and Love

It is questionable whether ANY of the letters ascribed to Ignatius are genuine. There are 15 Ignatian letters althogether, and 8 of them are known to be spurious. Even the 7 which MAY be genuine are heavily interpolated, for particular parts, especially those in connection with the “bishop” of each church. Such statements, found in the letters, are not characteristic of the age in which Ignatius lived. There are also two different recensions of these 7 letters, a longer one and a shorter one. It is certain that not BOTH can be the genuine writings of Ignatius. In my opinion, all 15 are forgeries, though I cannot prove it.

Those who wish to know more about the letters of Ignatius may want to look at the sites below: