Someone has calculated that there are more than 35,000 groups in the world all claiming to be the Church. Many of these are very tiny, some consisting of only a single congregation. But these numbers of different groups all claiming to be the Church make it important that we ask – well where is the Church?
When Jesus Christ gathered his disciples around him he formed the beginnings of a new community of faithful people. These were the chosen people of God, they were called to spread the news of God’s love around the world. Jesus Christ appeared to them after his resurrection from the dead, together with several hundred other followers. He taught them carefully and promised that the Holy Spirit would descend upon them and fill their lives with a sense of peace and a knowledge of the truth after he had returned to heaven.
On the first day of Pentecost as the disciples were gathered together in prayer with some of the other followers of Christ, and with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the Holy Spirit came upon them in a visible manner, like a heavenly flame and they were given a sense of courage to go and share what God had done for them. This is the beginning of the Christian family, of the Church.
We can see what happened to this community. In the important city of Antioch these followers of Christ were first called Christians. At first they were led by the disciples of Christ, the Apostles, who chose other men as bishops, or overseers, of the new communities which sprung up in more and more countries as the message about Jesus Christ spread. There were other false groups which emerged but the true Church could easily identify which communities had bishops who had either been appointed by the Apostles, or had been appointed by bishops who had been appointed by Apostles. It was impossible for a group to suddenly come into existence separately from the continuous life of the Church established by Christ.
In the same way, if someone came to our home claiming he was a cousin, we would ask, ‘who is your mother and father’, and if they were not related by close ties of blood then we would not accept their claims.
Over the centuries many groups have chosen to seperate themselves from this true Church, this original Church, but that doesn’t mean that the original Church ceased to exist. The Western Church started to develop new teachings which were condemned by the Church in the first 1000 years of Christian history, and eventually it became a new group, the Roman Catholic Church. Within the Roman Catholic Church there were further developments of new teachings which the original Church rejected, and this caused division between the Roman Catholics and Protestants. Within Protestantism there were many more divisions based on new ideas being taught, so that in the present day we find tens of thousands of Protestant groups all teaching something different.
But remarkably, the original Church, the Orthodox Church, still teaches the same things which were taught by the followers of Jesus Christ. We have many documents left by these earliest Christians outside the Bible, and Orthodox Christians today believe and teach the same things. Since the Orthodox Church has not changed what it believes, and since the Orthodox Church can show that it has a continuous history back to the very beginning of the Church, the Orthodox Church makes the claim that it is the Church, it is the community of faithful believers which Jesus Christ formed.
This does not mean that Orthodox Christians are perfect or claim to be perfect. Far from it. But we do believe that the things which we are taught within the Orthodox Church are the complete Christian faith, and provide the greatest possibility for people to experience the presence of God in their lives. We recognise the love of God which is found in other Christian communities, but each of these other groups has added new things that are not part of the original faith, or had taken away things which the first Christians, the original Christians, thought were necessary to the Christian life.
We invite you to explore our Orthodox Faith with us. Not because we are perfect or better than others, but because we believe that the faith we are being taught and which we try to live in an authentic and honest manner, is the true faith, the original faith, the whole faith.