Beliefs and Ritual
Orthodox belief holds that the Orthodox Church is Christianity's true, holy, and apostolic church, tracing its origin directly to the institution established by Jesus Christ. Orthodox beliefs are based on the Bible and on tradition as defined by seven ecumenical councils held by church authorities between A.D. 325 and 787. Orthodox teachings include the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and the inseparable but distinguishable union of the two natures of Jesus Christ--one divine, the other human. Among saints, Mary has a special place as the Mother of God. Russian Orthodox services, noted for their pageantry, involve the congregation directly by using only the vernacular form of the liturgy. The liturgy itself includes multiple elaborate systems of symbols meant to convey the content of the faith to believers. Many liturgical forms remain from the earliest days of Orthodoxy. Icons, sacred images often illuminated by candles, adorn the churches as well as the homes of most Orthodox faithful. The church also places a heavy emphasis on monasticism. Many of the numerous monasteries that dotted the forests and remote regions of tsarist Russia are in the process of restoration. The Russian Orthodox Church, like the other churches that make up Eastern Orthodoxy, is autonomous, or self-governing. The highest church official is the patriarch. Matters relating to faith are decided by ecumenical councils in which all member churches of Eastern Orthodoxy participate. Followers of the church regard the councils' decisions as infallible.