What we believe
It is a wonderful thing when the Holy Spirit begins to draw someone to the saving ship of His holy Church. In times like these we need to know where truth is found, where love exists and where the way that leads to life is followed. For this and more, one finds their way to the ancient Orthodox Church of Jesus Christ.
Yet, as one enters the Orthodox Church today, one must realize that we are Orthodox Christians of the latter times. Just like Herod tried to kill Jesus when He was but an infant, so too this new attraction of your spiritually infant heart will be opposed. There are traps without and snares within. So we must be rooted, watchful, and trusting in God's care over this new life as we proceed. To help us on this journey, of inestimable value is a kind of spiritual map, a nautical chart. It describes the basics of the Faith as well as things that are being attacked in our modern times. May we not only learn these things in theory, but may they be deeply rooted experientially, in practice, as well.
In this life, a Christian must choose which path he or she is going to follow. Simply, one chooses either to follow the Cross of Christ or to follow the way of the world. The way of the Cross will undoubtedly bring many outward and inward sufferings upon a soul, but this pain will be overshadowed by the spiritual joy of being with Christ. The world also offers its joys, but they do not last long and give way to the inward gnawing of our conscience, which reminds us that although we may call ourselves Christians, we are not truly with Christ if we choose the pleasures of this world over the Cross of Christ. Yet, perhaps the worst suffering of all comes from the state of "sitting on the fence," in which our desire for Christ is neutralized by a love of the world which leaves a person spiritually handicapped and unable to do the work of God.
Thus, we must remind ourselves that we can only be fulfilled when we are following the way of "Suffering Orthodoxy." To keep our bearing on this narrow path, we have a compass by which we can gauge the direction we are going—the Five Fidelities.
The Five Fidelities
It is essential in embarking on a journey not only to know one's destination, but also to have a checklist with which to measure one's beginning. The following are five areas in which we seek to be faithful, in order to assure that what we are following is indeed the true Orthodox Faith of the Apostles and not a trendy substitute, so prevalent in our times.
1. We believe … in CHRISTOLOGICAL fidelity—faithfulness to Jesus Christ. The foundation of the Church is the Lord Jesus Christ. Much of what occurred during the first eight centuries of Christianity was laying the first layers of the Church solidly upon the Rock of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Apostles, their followers (called the Apostolic Fathers), and the Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils precisely defined who Christ is for posterity, up to the end of the world. We worship Jesus Christ in full truth as historic reality and incarnate God, Who is accessible to Christians through the truthfulness of a loving, repentant heart. We worship Christ in the Holy Trinity, knowing that the revelation of God's Tri-unity is the highest revelation of God's unknowable Essence that has been given to mankind, and that none of the religions on earth contains this mystery as does the Faith of Christ. Any "revelations" which do not measure up to these truths—the incarnation of God in Christ, and the utter transcendence of the Trinitarian revelation—are false. They are devoid of genuine kinship to our Savior. They separate us from worship of the true God in Trinity; while the Sacraments connect us with Him and enable us to live in Him.
2. We believe … in APOSTOLIC fidelity—faithfulness to the Apostles. When the Lord Jesus Christ sent forth His Apostles, He explained to them, He who receives you, receives Me, and he who receives Me, receives Him Who sent Me (Matthew 10:40). To be faithful to the Apostles is to have faith in what the Apostles passed down to us in the full context of their earthly experience. What was good and valid for them is dear to the faith of their successors up to our own times. Apostolic succession in ordination is a spiritual transmission of apostolic grace, but it is not "automatic" outside of Orthodoxy: it must be succession from hierarchs who have Orthodoxy of faith, who are tied to the fullness of the Orthodox understanding of Christianity. Thus, it must be passed from one truthful heart to another, bringing with it apostolic power which makes a person free.
3. We believe … in TRADITIONAL fidelity—faithfulness to the Traditions passed down from Jesus Christ, His Apostles, and their followers. In 2 Thessalonians 2:15, St. Paul the Apostle taught the Thessalonians to hold fast the Traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistles. Even at such an early date of the Apostolic period, they were referring to two sources of Tradition: oral (by word) and written (by our epistle). These two aspects of Tradition form what is referred to as Holy Tradition today. The written is the Holy Scripture. The oral is that which has been passed down from the Fathers of the Church to their spiritual children, especially found in the creeds, canons, liturgical services, lives of saints, and writings of the Holy Fathers. From these two sources we also see that there is a difference between mere human tradition (cf. Matthew 15:3) and Apostolic tradition. The Apostles based their tradition on that which they received from Jesus Christ, the Lord God and Savior. Writing regarding the mystery of Holy Communion, in I Corinthians 11:23, St. Paul reveals, I received of the Lord that which I delivered unto you, and he proceeds to describe Holy Communion. He refers to this in verse one of the same chapter as keeping the traditions as I delivered them to you. This traditional faithfulness refers to the whole content of basic Christianity, which includes the Holy Scriptures, theology, liturgical practice, icons (which come from Apostolic times), the study of the lives of saints (what you find in Hebrews chapter 11 and continued throughout Church history), the study of the Holy Fathers and their teachings, etc. This traditional faithfulness is found today not only in the things found in other Orthodox bodies, but also in distinctive aspects like not having pews in our churches in keeping with the ancient mode of worship, going by the Julian Calendar (the same one in use at the time of Christ and His Apostles), etc. In other words, to be faithful to the Tradition of the Apostolic, Orthodox Church we refuse to be intimidated by the fashion of our times. We prefer to share in the Cross of our Savior to whatever degree just to be found faithful to that which has been delivered to us in these times. When we are in the fullness of Tradition (as opposed to the traditions of men, which are the products of the fallenness of this world), we inherit not only the Tradition itself, but also an approach to the Tradition that is humble, loving, simple and sober. Being in the spirit of the Tradition, we will be able to defend it against the arbitrariness of fallible human teachings.
4. We believe … in TRANSMISSIONAL fidelity—faithfulness to those who passed on this holy Faith to us. Holding to this, Holy Tradition cannot be recreated, reinvented or imitated, as many have tried to do solely through studying books. It is received through personal Transmission. Transmissional faithfulness is holding to the living link that passed this holy Faith on to us. You are in a direct link with those who have been taught and led by saints. What we have received comes from suffering Christianity. It has produced saints in recent times. It is the kind of Christianity that gave the strength to millions to become martyrs in this past century. The first love which they begat in us we believe we must struggle to preserve and pass on to others. Transmissional fidelity is that which we receive as from father to son. The father, as a human being, may be mistaken, fallen, confused or ignorant, yet the son, if he remains in a spirit of sober, filial love, acquires from him the substance or content of what it means to adhere to the fullness of truth. This fidelity enables one to hold to the true and good in the preceptor, while accepting that he has human limitations. It is like an electric wire that permits the fullness of grace to be transmitted. When, on the other hand, one proudly attempts to revise what has been transmitted, setting one's opinions against the transmissional imperfections, then one severs one's connecting joint with his supporting bone in the Body of Christ. In the last days, our Lord Jesus Christ said the love of many will wax cold (Matthew 24:12) due to lawlessness and taking offense. Having a daring, tenacious love is essential in these times of fickle relationships. St. Paul wrote to his disciple and co-apostle Timothy, Endure hardship as a good soldier of Christ Jesus, and again, do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God (2 Timothy 2:3, 1:8). To preserve our first love, these are the inner attitudes that must be cultivated in these times.
5. We believe … in AESTHETIC (Philokalic) fidelity—faithfulness to the beauty of the truth and goodness as it is found in the hidden wisdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is what helps us to extract the precious truth from the secondary in what is given to us. Within each healthy soul lies a divine realm of human personality, which by its very essence yearns for God, just as a plant reaches up to the sun. This inner voice of unspeakable awareness in each individual strives for Godliness and Divine Beauty. It is the aesthetic vein which has been placed in man by the Creator in order that man might show fidelity towards that which is pure, ideal, full of beauty and righteousness. St. Ignatius Brianchaninov said, "He who does not feel that the Kingdom of God is within his soul will not identify the spirit of antichrist" when he comes. This is the tuning fork of the soul. It enables one to tell when something is not in accord with Christ. It also responds with a ring of truth when one sees or hears something in harmony with the Creator and His Truth. Aesthetic fidelity is the tie that binds a person, made in the image of God, with the rest of creation and with God Himself, the Author of Beauty.
Just as a plant withers and decay sets in from being often uprooted, so when people uproot themselves, they lose beauty and grace. Once a person, for instance, has been baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, by triple immersion, they're not to have a flippant attitude about this and go fishing for a new church. They have entered the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church by the One Baptism. Now they are to get rooted and bear fruit for God. Prior to coming to Christ's Church they will seek in many different horizontal directions. But once baptized, that kind of search is over. Now their search is vertical, upward, heavenward. They search for ways to please their Creator and beautify their souls with divine attributes called virtues; they get vested in the Light of Christ. Those that demand fidelity to human organizations have begun to step aside from these Five Fidelities. Partisan spirits begin to dictate when people have ceased holding to the beauty of Christ's Truth in their hearts. The idea of ultra-conservative vs. ultra-liberal is unorthodox. The Holy Fathers teach the middle path as the Royal Path. These Five Fidelities enable a soul to find the royal path in the midst of the turbulent waters of these troubled times.
As you set out on this holy and wondrous journey, remember Who is at the helm of the Ship. Our Lord Jesus Christ has come into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. These Five Fidelities act as lighthouses so we can stay clear of dangerous reefs. Trust the Captain of our souls, Jesus Christ, and may He bring you safely into His Glorious Kingdom. Amen.