To find out how the Orthodox Church came into being, let’s look at the history of the Christian Church. The early church began as a community of believers in Rome. As the church developed, its members began to migrate to other parts of the world. Among these people were St. Leo the Great and St. Simeon the New Theologian. These three individuals were crucial to the spreading of the Orthodox faith in Russia and the Balkans.
St. Leo the Great of Rome
The rise of the orthodox church in the West begins with St. Leo. A native of Tuscany, Leo yearned for spirituality and became a deacon under St. Cyril of Alexandria. He later rose to become an archdeacon under Pope Sixtus III and was unanimously elected Bishop of Rome. Leo’s pastoral care combined with uncompromising fidelity to the faith made him one of the most important defenders of Orthodoxy against heresies.
During his pontificate, Leo was responsible for reforming the Church, restoring good order in Sicily and Africa, and reaffirming the papal authority. His greatest theological achievement was the positive formulation of orthodoxy.
St. Simeon the New Theologian
St. Simeon the New Theologian was born in 949 and educated in Constantinople, where he briefly served as an imperial court official. While at Constantinople, he met Elder Simeon the Pious of the monastery at Studion. This monk was a great influence on his spiritual development, and he helped prepare him for monastic life. When he turned twenty-seven, he entered a monastery.
Saint Simeon was a gifted church poet, and his chief theme was the struggle of the natural man against his sinful nature. While many people regard the sinful life as natural, the Orthodox Church teaches that the natural man is transformed and regenerated spiritually by virtue of his passions.
The story of St. Simeon began when he was a child. He went into the wilderness to live alone and was watched over by an angel. St Simeon’s devotion was such that he became a monk and practiced asceticism. He wrote letters about repentance, monasticism, the Incarnation of Christ, and the future Judgment. During this time, his service continued in various places throughout the world.
Simeon was six years old when the earthquake struck Antioch. He was a boy and was not able to find his way back home. His mother, Martha, spent seven days looking for him. During that time, St. John the Baptist appeared to her, indicating that the lost boy was nearby. As a result, the mother moved her son to a quieter area. During Simeon’s childhood, the Lord appeared to him. He was baptized when he was just two years old.
St. Mark was an apostle of Christianity. He spent his last two years in a life of suffering, and his last year was a time of persecution. Yet his life and work brought many to Orthodoxy. Upon his death, his successor was chosen as Patriarch of Constantinople. George Scholarios, who had come back to the Church, defended Orthodoxy against the false Union and restored St. Mark to the Church. Today, the orthodox church commemorates St. Mark with a feast day in August.
While in Egypt, St. Mark founded a Christian community and ordained three priests and seven deacons. He then traveled to Rome to meet St. Peter and St. Paul. After their meeting, he spent the next two years preaching against the pagan gods and won more converts.
In 1988, a group of Copts settled in West Covina and started a church in its present location. The community continued to grow and the church was moved in 1990 to the present parcel of land. In 2004, His Holiness Pope Shenouda III consecrated the church and dedicated it to the Orthodox faith.
St. John preached about the need for repentance and a turning away from selfish pursuits. He also denounced the Pharisees as “generations of vipers” and warned soldiers and tax collectors to stop extortion. His preaching was effective and many people were baptized. In the end, he was chosen by God to fulfill all righteousness.
The parish is now home to 300 members, including a large number of inquirers and catechumens. While most parishioners live in the Memphis metropolitan area, some come from outside. The congregation started in the late 1960s as an independent church and then gradually began to incorporate more Orthodox practices. In 1987, St. John’s was received into canonical Orthodoxy, allowing it to continue to serve the community and spread its faith.