The Map and the Compass
Being an Orthodox Christian can be difficult at times. Sometimes it’s hard to have a ready answer for those who ask about our faith. Below are some of the questions you may be asked, or questions you may have yourself. The answers may help you to have a better understanding of your faith, your responsibility within your relationship to God, and the powerful heritage found in the Church.
Don’t we just need the Bible and nothing else to understand and follow God?
When you go on a journey, it is important to have both a map and a compass. The word of God is the map that God has given the world to lead us to Himself. He has chosen the Church to be the compass by which we are able to keep to the narrow path. Before we had the Bible, God Himself opened the minds of the prophets, and then the apostles, to the Holy Scriptures. It was through these men, and the church fathers who followed, that God chose to instruct His Church. Neither the Church nor the Scriptures is independent of the other. There are over 30,000 different Protestant denominations, all of which claim to follow Scripture alone (sola scriptura), but they don’t all believe the same things.
When we neglect to look to the church fathers and tradition for the interpretation of Scripture, then we fall into the trap of relying on our own life experiences and limited understanding. What happens when two people reading the same portion of scripture come up with two separate interpretations? Whose interpretation is correct? Just as some countries may use a constitution as the standard when interpreting law, the Church uses the Living Tradition to determine the accuracy of any interpretation and understanding.
What’s the big deal about Mary?
Mary wasn’t just some girl who happened to be in the right place at the right time; her role was more deliberate than that. We see in the genealogies mentioned in the Gospels that this young woman and her role had been planned from the beginning. Mary was essentially the first Christian, as she was the first to say “yes” to Christ. We do not worship her, but we do honour who she was and what she did. She is the Theotokos or “God-bearer.” We honour her for saying yes and being the door by which the Church was born.
Do you pray to the saints? Why?
When we pray to the saints, we are both asking them to pray for us and asking that they become active in our lives. Those who have gone on before us are known as the Church Triumphant, for they have finished the race victoriously. Those of us remaining are known as the Church Militant, because we are still in the heat of battle. In Revelation 5:8 we have the description of the saints in heaven bringing our prayers before the throne of God. When we ask the saints to pray for us, we are asking someone to pray who is no longer bound and limited by this world, but who can wholly devote him – or herself to prayer on behalf of those in this life.
Father Marc Dunaway