Five years or so ago, when I was teaching at the University of Dayton, a colleague in the Religious Studies Department asked me to compose an essay on the Orthodox Church to be included in an introduction to religion textbook which was to be entitled World Religions in Dialogue . The project eventually was abandoned, and my essay on Eastern Orthodoxy was returned to me to do with as I wished. I’ve decided to convert it into a blog series, and publish it as such. It was intended to be a general introduction to the Orthodox Christian faith in a book that had an ecumenical bent to it. This is my original draft as the project never got to the stage of editing or asking me to rewrite text.
History – Beginnings
The Middle East has through history been a crossroads for many varied cultures and kingdoms. It has been the grounds for much cross pollination of thought and belief. Two thousand years ago a new religious movement began in the Middle East which fertilized by a cross pollination of culture and language blossomed into one of the world’s major religions. This nascent movement came to be known in history as Christianity. This new religion began as a movement within Judaism itself but quickly jumped cultures and rapidly evolved and adapted to a Greek milieu which surrounded the Judaism of Palestine.
Judaism of two thousand years ago was itself in the process of change. The religion which was centered in and identified with the Temple in Jerusalem and with the written Torah, had itself been adapting the culture changes brought about by the changing fortunes of history and kingdoms. Judaism had a long standing relationship with the cultures and religions of the Syrians, Babylonians, Persians and Egyptians. But all of these lands had come under the influence of the Greeks as Alexander the Great (4th Century BCE) conquered all of these territories in rapid succession causing a Greek cultural influence to be spread throughout the region. Not all forms of Judaism resisted the influx of Greek culture to the same extent, though religiously some of Judaism tried to limit the effects of Greek thinking on its own practices. However, in the centuries following the invasion of Alexander the Great, the Jews themselves translated their scriptures, the Tanakh, into the Greek language giving the world the Septuagint and an international access to the wisdom, beliefs and revelation of Judaism. The Septuagint became accepted by Jews as an authoritative version of their own scriptures for Jews as well as for Gentiles. It’s appearance on the world scene occurred as Judaism was beginning to expand beyond Jerusalem and Palestine through the rabbinic synagogues which made Judaism accessible where ever Jews settled. Coupled with the Greek language Septuagint which opened its faith to the world, Judaism was beginning to be a world religion, not limited by geography, language or ethnicity. The prophets of Israel and the Messianic form of Judaism furthered the notion that Judaism had a message for the world.