Dictionary of Terms of the Orthodox Church

by Matt Slick

The following words and definitions have been extracted from The Complete Book of Orthodoxy, by George W. Grube, Published by Regina Orthodox Press: Salisbury, MA, 2001.

  1. Absolution--"the act of pronouncing forgiveness, in the name of God, to penitents who have participated in the sacrament (Mystery) of confession. From the earliest days of the Church the apostolic authority granted by Christ to His Apostles was used for healing penitents and returning them to the bosom of the Church (Matthew 16:19)."
  2. Adoration--"the act of worshiping God alone. It is used to distinguish "latria," the worship due to God, from "dulia," the veneration given to things created. Adoration is usually coupled with praise and prayers of adoration."
  3. Ark of the Covenant--"the elaborate box where the 10 Commandments were enshrined . . . a title for the Virgin Mary since, as a tabernacle holds the Eucharistic Lord, so Mary held (carried) our Lord before his birth . . . "
  4. Baptism --"unites us to Christ. It is a rite of passage, an entrance into the Kingdom of God and eternal life. Through baptism we become members of Christ's Church. Actually in the teaching of the Church, each of us is called by our baptism to serve the people of God in a sacred capacity, and each of us has a role to play in serving God's Kingdom . . . baptism waters make us new creatures in the Lord and we begin a regenerated life as "Christians," a word which means "living in Christ." Orthodoxy practices the ancient custom of triple immersion in water. Pouring and sprinkling may be used only in severe emergencies or at the point of death. The Orthodox Church baptizes infants and adults who have never been validly baptized and is always done in the name of the Holy Trinity."
  5. Bible--"Canon of Holy Scripture (i.e., the books to be included in the Bible) was finally set at the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451 A.D.) this confirmed the decision/list of the local Council of Carthage (397). The Bible consists of 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 books in the New Testament . . . the Church, interpreting the Bible is the vessel which leads us to the truth . . . the Holy Scriptures are a product of Tradition which have come down to us from the earliest days of the faith, and are at the very core of our lives as faithful followers of the Lord.
  6. Born Again--"translated literally, "born from above." In order to gain eternal life the person must be born again to new life. This new birth is through Jesus Christ in the Mystery of Baptism. This new life is received from the Holy Spirit through the sanctifying waters of baptism."
  7. Capital sin--"a deadly sin which results in the spiritual demise of a person. The so-called "Seven Deadly Sins" are pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth."
  8. Chrismation, Mystery of--"the Mystery (Sacrament) of Chrismation (sometimes referred to as Confirmation in the West) immediately follows baptism. From the earliest days of the Church it was called "Sealing the Spirit," and was conferred immediately after Baptism. In Chrismation we are strengthened with the life of the Holy Spirit imparted to us in a very special way. Chrismation marks us as unique members of the People of God, each with certain gifts and talents. Our bodies are anointed with Chrism (Holy Oil) consecrated by the bishop to remind us that souls and minds and hearts are involved in our salvation, and that our physical bodies are utilized in leading us to eternal life."
  9. Church--"the Church is the realization (or actualization) in time of the Kingdom of Heaven for all who believe in, live in, move in, and after being in Christ . . . When one becomes a member of the Church he or she begins a journey to eternity aboard the "Ark of Salvation" and is one of the faithful in "The New Israel." One cannot journey to eternal salvation without the help of Christ's Church, or receiving the Holy Mysteries.  We are transformed into the Body of Christ, through the Eucharist, we literally partake of Christ's Body and Blood to give us the strength and nourishment on our salvific journey."
  10. Confession--" . . . confessing sins by an individual before God in the presence of a priest, who serves as a spiritual guide and confessor (pneumatikos). God alone forgives sin, the priest is a witness and spiritual guide . . . sometimes priests are asked if Orthodox Christians cannot just confess to God in private. This is not permitted since all sin is social and it would be very easy for us to deny our guilt alone without seeking the forgiveness of the Church, therefore never fully admitting our sin. It is necessary to confess to a priest, who represents the Church, and also to seek his counsel and guidance. The Mystery of Confession belonged to the Church, not to individual consciences. As in all the Mysteries (Sacraments) of the Church a priest is required for Confession to be valid and beneficial. Confession is a spiritual cleansing and an inventory of our posture before Almighty God and those who actually benefited from Holy Confession know the liberating feeling of the words of the priest as he pronounces the forgiveness promised by Christ . . . "
  11. Dormition--"although the Virgin Mary underwent a physical death she was taken up into heaven as on anticipation of the resurrection of the human body at the end of this world."
  12. Eucharist--The Mystery (Sacraments) under which the bread and wine become the very Body and Blood of Christ. Along with baptism, the Eucharist is at the core of the Orthodox Christian faith . . . we celebrate the Holy Eucharist each Sunday according to the most ancient tradition."
  13. Faith--"the power given us by Almighty God which enables us to believe what He has revealed to us. Faith is necessary for salvation and must be accompanied by good works, as a sign that one is indeed imbued with faith itself.
  14. Forgiveness--"the remission of sins committed after baptism. Forgiveness of continual sin is granted by the Mystery of Confession to the mercy and love of God."
  15. Free Will--"the choice given to human beings to choose between good and evil, or between the love of God and sin. Sin imparts a stain on the image of God in our soul but does not obliterate it."
  16. Glorification--"the process by which a person is declared a saint through his or her supernatural intervention in the lives of the faithful."
  17. Grace--"the name given to the assistance by a loving and compassionate God to those who seek his help. Grace also refers to the mercy of God and his abundant goodwill to men and women of all ages . . . It is this power which sanctifies, gives life and perfects that which is in the church for the benefit of her numbers . . . We must cooperate with his grace . . . if he (who claims the name Christian) does not bear in his heart the conviction that the grace of God, given for faith, is the mercy of God . . . If he does not labor with the aim of receiving the grace of God, first of all through baptism, or if he had it and it departed by reason of his sin, to cause it to return again through repentance, confession, and a self belittling life, and if, in giving alms, fasting and performing vigils, prayers and the rest, he thinks he is performing glorious virtues and good deeds valuable in themselves, the labors and exhausts in vain."
  18. Icon--"a painting on wood or other material representing our Lord, the All Holy Virgin, saints, or events in their lives. Icons are produced in all sizes, and may be portable or stationary, e.g., painted on a wall or on iconostasis . . . Orthodox churches are replete with icons and the first action of any believer upon entering the sanctuary will be to reverence the Holy Table by bowing in front of the Holy Doors, and then the icons of our Lord and the Mother of God, and the various saints . . . icons are to be honored and venerated but never worshiped, for that is something reserved for God alone."
  19. Justification--"the process of God for giving the repentant sinner and making him a righteous person. We are unable to gain justification through good works are human merit, since justification is a free gift of God given to the faithful when they respond to His love and truth. True faith is not just belief but a sincere commitment to Christ which is shown forth by works of righteousness.
  20. Patron Saint--"a saint chosen to answer particular needs as advocate, Guardian, and a protector. Saints called upon for particular needs (Psalm 37:27-29) . . . "
  21. Penance, Mystery of--"sometimes named the Mystery of Penitence (Confession), whereby sins are forgiven. The penitent must acknowledge sin, confess them, and be truly sorry in order to receive forgiveness from God. The priest acts as a representative of God and the Church (Matthew 16:19)."
  22. Prayer--"calling upon God through words of praise, gratefulness, sorrow for sin, intercession, and requests for blessing. Prayer is communion with God with our hearts and minds. Prayer may be vocal or meditative, without words. It can rise to its highest form when it is in the Power of the Spirit . . . "
  23. Purgatory--"the place or state of temporal punishment where unforgiven sins are expiated and punishment due to these sins is served. The doctrine developed slowly in the Western church and is not accepted by the Orthodox Church, which denies the "suffering of souls" in purgatory."
  24. Remission--"the forgiveness of sins through the Sacramental services of the Church. When our sin is forgiven, and forgotten, it is our obligation to forgive the sins of those who have offended us."
  25. Sacrament--"the Western term for "Mystery," or that manner through which God imparts His life to His people. The Church is a sacrament and her rights are ways of granting God's grace to the faithful."
  26. Salvation--"the term used to describe deliverance from sin and death, union with Christ and abiding with God forever in eternity. Salvation is a process from Baptism until death. It is not an instant movement of "being saved" by pronouncing a simple formula of trust in Jesus as personal Savior. We are saved through faith, a gift from God, but our salvation must show itself in works of righteousness. We gain the grace of salvation through the Mysteries of the Church. St. Paul refers to "working out" once salvation in "fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12)."
  27. Scripture and Tradition--"these are not to be understood as complementary or conflicting authorities in Orthodoxy. The Church does not accept the idea of "autarkeia" or "Sola Scriptura." Orthodoxy sees Holy Scripture was a product of, or fruit, of Tradition. God, in fact does not speak to the Bible alone, since the Fathers were witnesses to the early faith, and along with the liturgy, creed, and decrees of the faith transmit divine Truth to all believers. The Orthodox Church teaches us that the books of the Bible are based on a huge body of oral tradition whose limits are not able to be defined."
  28. Tradition--"tradition is the living continuity with the past, the link we have with the church of ancient days. Tradition cannot change; it is Truth! . . . tradition includes the books of the Bible, the Creeds, the Church Fathers and their teachings, their decisions of the Ecumenical Councils, the Liturgy, the canons and the entire system of Church government and worship which are given us to preserve, protect, and defend . . . tradition is of utmost importance in maintaining the golden link with the faith which comes to us from the Apostles.
  29. Unction---"the act of anointing with oil. In the Orthodox Church, Unction is used in both Baptism and Chrismation."

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.