How Did Orthodox Christianity Begin?
There are several stories about how orthodox Christianity began. For example, the story of St. Paul is part of the history of Christianity. The Acts of the Holy Apostles is another important source. Another story involves the controversy surrounding Hesychasts. It is also worth noting that the church had legal status in the Roman Empire when Constantine the Great elevated Christianity to the status of a religion.
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In the Acts of the Holy Apostles
As the faith of the early Christians grew, it spread throughout the Eastern World, first to Jews and then to Gentiles. Eventually, there were five Christian patriarchates: Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Rome, and Constantinople. These patriarchates were in unity with each other.
The Orthodox Church traces its history to Jesus Christ and his Apostles. These men appointed other bishops, or prelates, to continue the teachings of the early Church. This process is known as apostolic succession. When the first Christians came together, they followed the teachings of their teachers and practiced the breaking of bread and prayers.
Since the early Christians did not have any means of copying the texts of the Bible, they relied on the liturgical services of the early church to teach the faith. Even today, these services continue to serve that purpose. Although this process took time, it was motivated by the need to deal with heresy.
According to Holy Scripture, the apostle Peter occupied a central place among the apostles. The Roman Catholic Church, however, assigns him a more extreme position. The Acts of the Holy Apostles recounts Peter’s activities after the Resurrection of Jesus. Eventually, Peter was martyred in Rome. Eventually, he was crucified upside down – but at his request. According to tradition, he felt that he was not worthy of the same death as the Lord. Peter is credited with two Epistles and his feast day is June 29.
Later, Constantine the Great elevated Christianity to legal status within the Roman Empire. The resulting change in ethical standards led many Orthodox Christians to flee the world and become monastics. Egypt, in particular, flourished as a center for monasticism, with two major monasteries: Wadi Natroun (by the Western Bank of the Nile) and Scetis (Skete).
In the Council of Nicaea
In the First Council of Nicaea, Christian leaders met to resolve a dispute involving Arianism and the Trinity. However, this council ended up enacting decisions that did not reflect the belief of the entire church. Although every bishop had been invited to attend, only a fraction of them turned up. Because of this, the council’s decisions were not fully considered by the church. To make matters worse, the council required its members to sign a statement of faith or face excommunication.
This first council was called to address many disagreements and controversies within the church. The council’s agenda addressed five main points: the Arian question, the celebration of Easter, the baptism of heretics, and the status of lapsed Christians.
The Council of Nicaea was the first of seven general councils and occupied a central place in the history of Orthodoxy. It also affirmed the Holy Spirit as God. It also changed some of the provisions of the Sixth Canon of Nicaea and established Constantinople as the capital of the Roman Empire.
The council also condemned the Arianism heresy. It also condemned Arius, anathematizing him and his followers. After the council was finished, there was a burst of applause, with the delegates applauding the divinity of Jesus Christ. The council’s result was that the First Council of Nicaea started the process of orthodoxy and orthopraxy in the Christian Church.
In the Hesychast controversy
The term Hesychasm has several different meanings in Christianity. Its origins are unclear. But the basic terms hesychia and hesychazo first appear in fourth-century writings of the early Cappadocian Church Fathers. The word was often taken to mean anchorite. It also appears in St John of Sinai’s Ladder of the Divine Ascent.
The Hesychasts believed that knowledge of God can be experiential. However, this concept was challenged by a Calabrian monk named Barlaam, who was a formal member of the Orthodox Church but was trained in Western Scholastic theology. Barlaam held that knowledge of God is purely propositional. Later, St Gregory Palamas defended the practice of Hesychasm.
Despite its philosophical overtones, the Hesychasts were not entirely free of magic. In fact, they were prone to gross magic. But, they believed that contemplation of uncreated light can lead to union with God. Nevertheless, their system never drifted very far from neo-Platonic theories.
The Hesychasts held that God is made up of two elements, the essence and the energy. This view was opposed to the Western Scholastic system, which emphasized the idea that God is one, simple, and uncreated. Nevertheless, Hesychasm believed that God is not the same as matter and that the two parts are different.
In the third decade of the fourteenth century, the Byzantine Empire was in turmoil and the Orthodox Church was shaken by an acrimonious controversy. This conflict reshaped the traditional trinitarian dogma. In 1351, a church synod declared the existence of the “divine” nature of God and the operation of the Holy Spirit, and condemned the idea that they were created.