We need to remember that the Orthodox Faith was at one time not confined to the East, where it has been faithfully kept, but that it was also once upon a time the faith in the West.
Orthodoxy cannot and must not be confined to a particular city, region, or ethnicity. Orthodoxy is catholic. The word “catholic” comes from the Greek καθολου for “all together” or “general.” In the early creeds the term “catholic church” was used to describe the Church’s universality as opposed to the individual local congregation. Later the term “catholic church” came to denote the true Church as opposed to the various heretical or schismatic off shoots.
The Church’s catholicity is grounded in the Great Commission when Christ sent the Apostles into all the world to disciple nations and to baptize them in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19-20).
And He commissioned the disciples. He said to them: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations . . . . Not only Greeks. Not only Antiochians. Not only Russians, or Serbs, or Romanians. Go and make disciples of all nations. Baptizing them in the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Protestant inquirers into Orthodoxy can easily get distracted by the variety of ethnic representations. This is especially so where various ethnic branches of Orthodoxy are zealous to preserve their own particular heritage — the small “t” traditions. It is critical for Protestant inquirers to realize Orthodoxy IS the Christian faith in the best “universal” or catholic sense. Centuries before Rome broke away in 1054 there was a great unity amidst all the diversity. The faith Tradition passed down by the Apostles was believed from Britain, France, Russia, Syria, Africa, Greece and Italy. Do not let the ethnic trees cause you to miss the beauty and unity of the Forest!
The Light of Orthodoxy is not lit for a small circle of people. It is our obligation to share our spiritual treasures, our truth, our light, and our joy with those who do not have these gifts. This duty lies not only on pastors and missionaries, but also on lay people, for the Church of Christ, in the wise comparison of St Paul, is a body, and in the life of the body, every member takes part.
Orthodoxy is more than eastern, it is a universal faith. To say Orthodoxy is eastern is often a shorthand reference to Orthodoxy’s deep roots in Byzantine culture and its indebtedness to the Greek Fathers. In that sense one can use the phrase “Eastern Orthodox.” But to imply that Orthodoxy is restricted to a particular region or a particular culture is misleading and can lead to a distorted understanding of Orthodoxy.
Unlike Roman Catholicism which has one spiritual center: Rome, Orthodoxy has many spiritual centers. What unites us is the Apostolic Faith – “what has been believed everywhere, always, and by all.” Orthodoxy in Australia has an opportunity to manifest the catholicity of Orthodoxy. The challenge for many Orthodox parishes founded by immigrants is to go beyond their ethnic roots and embrace the larger Orthodox Tradition. One small step can be the inclusion of icons of American, African, or Asian saints in the sanctuary. Another small step can be children or adult class presentat
ions on the lives of the saints. The honoring of the saints on their feast days requires the blessing of the bishop. Just as the honoring of the North American saints is an important step towards a unified American Orthodox Church, so it must be with Australia and its saints in the future.
The Twelve Gates of New Jerusalem
A prophetic description of Orthodoxy’s catholicity can be found in Revelation 21:13. In that passage New Jerusalem is depicted as having twelve gates: three on the east, three on the north, three on the south, and three on the west. Access to New Jerusalem from all four points of the compass points to the universality of the Gospel and Christ’s reign. They also point to the catholicity of the Church as it welcomes peoples from all over the world into the Kingdom of God.