Frequently asked questions

Below are some answers to some questions we are often asked. Obviously not every question that could be asked is answered below. If not, consider this answer as a substitute.

In the words of the 18th century New Jersey Quaker, “Love was the first motion.” Our touchstone in dealing with each other and with those who knock on our doors is love. When in doubt, we recall that Jesus taught us that the first and greatest commandment is love, and his disciple John taught us that God is love. If only we can find a way to respond in love, any problem can be faced, any question answered, and the Kingdom of God is brought nearer.

Or, looked at in another way, we are interested in you and your spiritual journey, not in making and keeping sets of rules.


BASIC
How can I learn more about you? Do you have a congregation near me?
Do you have the answers I am seeking?


BELIEFS & PRACTICES
What are your services like?
What calendar do you use?
Who may take communion?
Is there a dress code? Are there dues?
Do you accept baptism from other Christian churches?
Do you baptize infants?
Do you have confession?
Do you believe in the Bible?
Do you believe in Jesus as our personal savior?
Do you worship Mary?
Do you believe in the saints?
Do you worship icons or statues?


PASTORAL CONCERNS & SOCIAL ISSUES
Do you ordain women to Holy Orders?
Are your priests and bishops married?
Do you accept homosexually inclined persons?
Where do you stand on same-sex marriage?
How do I become a member?


ORGANIZATION
Are you under the Pope?
Are you affiliated with the Greek or Russian Orthodox Church?
Are you still under the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch?
How are you organized?
How are you funded?
How do your clergy support themselves?



BASIC


How can I learn more about you? Do you have a congregation near me?
You can refer to our Diocese/Parish/Clergy page for our local presence. If you can’t find anybody close by—as may likely be the case, since we are a small and scattered group—you may email us at mail@orthodoxcatholicchurch.org
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Do you have the answers I am seeking?
We offer no easy answers, no quick formulas to the spiritual life. In our tradition, we accept that much is unknowable and do not worry about pinning everything down. We are comfortable enough in our place before the Almighty to know that we do not know, and we are willing to sit in mystery.

With that understanding, we invite any and all seekers to join us in seeking a closer walk with God. Our paths may not always be the same, but we can be companions along the way.
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BELIEFS and PRACTICES


What are your services like?
We are a liturgical church and celebration of the Eucharist (communion service) is central to our worship. Most of our congregations use some form that resembles an Episcopal or modern Roman Catholic service, but a few use Eastern Christian or Oriental forms instead. We strive for plainness and full participation by all. Our readings follow the Revised Common Lectionary used by Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians and others.
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What calendar do you use?
We celebrate Easter and the moveable feasts that depend on it according to the Western calculation, like Roman Catholics or Episcopalians or most other American churches. We celebrate the fixed feasts by the Gregorian calendar, unlike some Orthodox churches which use the Julian (“old”) calendar. We have our own calendar of saints and holy teachers and models.
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Who may take communion?
Our table is open to all baptized believers.
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Is there a dress code? Are there dues?
We strive to practice an open and welcoming Christianity. Some congregations may take a collection; many do not. We want you to feel as if you are with your family—the family of Christ.
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Do you accept baptism from other Christian churches?
Most of us have come to OCCA from other churches where we or those we love may not have been accepted as full and equal participants in the Body of Christ. We accept any baptism performed in the name of the Trinity.
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Do you baptize infants?
Yes, we follow this ancient practice of the church, believing that the surest way to grow in the love of God is to be a full participants in the divine mysteries (sacraments) from an early age.
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Do you have confession?
We believe that the mystery of reconciliation is a powerful way to heal the soul and spirit and gives us strength to grow toward God. We do not require confession as a prerequisite to receiving communion, or for any other purpose, though regular confession is often a valuable spiritual practice. Like other Orthodox churches, our view of confession is that it is a mystery of healing and reconciliation, not judgment and punishment, and we see the role of the priest as being simply that of a witness on behalf of the Body of Christ, and as a spiritual counselor and physician. God forgives, not the priest.
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Do you believe in the Bible?
We believe in the Holy Scriptures as inspired by God, but like other Orthodox and Catholic Christians, we do not believe it is the only guide. The many books that make up the Bible were chosen and validated over time by the Church, which is a living organism, rather than being the criterion for the Church. We also believe in the continuing wisdom of the Body of Christ, which is all believers, through the generations, and we call this Tradition, another way of testing for truth. Finally, we know and experience the continuing presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit, as Christ promised, as we face the issues and challenges of the present.
Furthermore, we recognize that many different kinds of books are contained in the Bible are of many different kinds—poetry, legislation, narrative, proverbial wisdom—and that they must be interpreted accordingly. The Bible is not a science or history textbook but a way of understanding the mysteries of our lives as children of God and sisters and brothers to one another.
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Do you believe in Jesus as our personal savior?
Like most Orthodox, we believe nobody is saved alone. We understand being “born again” as happening in and through baptism and the other mysteries or sacraments. We see salvation not as being “from” something (sin and eternal death) but as growth in the Spirit toward participation in Christ (following Paul’s “It is not I who live, but Christ lives in me,” and “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ”) and ultimately closer love and understand of God. This ancient, apostolic understanding of salvation is often called “theosis.”

We do not believe in the need for a “substitutionary atonement” or “vicarious sacrifice.” Like most Eastern Christians, although we accept that our habits and desires may be tainted or clouded by sin, we do not believe in the Augustinian doctrine of a mechanical “original sin” inherited automatically from Adam by sexual reproduction or any other means.
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Do you worship Mary?
We hold great reverence for the mother of Our Lord, but we do not worship her. We celebrate her life in the cycle of our feasts, and hold her to be a free and willing participant in God’s work of salvation by consenting to give birth to the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity. She is the most perfect model of what human beings can become. We do not, however, require belief in the Roman doctrines of her Immaculate Conception (mainly because we do not accept the Roman doctrine of original sin, of which that dogma is a corollary) or of her Assumption.
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Do you believe in the saints?
Yes indeed.  We recognize and remember in our calendar the “cloud of witnesses,” the many holy people who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith.  They are sources of strength and inspiration to us.
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Do you worship icons or statues?
We believe images or icons can be powerful aids to our understanding and prayer, but we do not worship them. Many of us use them as ways to concentrate our prayer, and as “windows into the divine,” however. It is not the object that we venerate, but the person or mystery they represent. We reserve our worship for God.
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PASTORAL CONCERNS and SOCIAL ISSUES


Do you ordain women to Holy Orders?
We do not believe that there is any valid reason to reject the calling of women to any office or service in the church. Ordination one form of living out the baptismal vows we all have taken, and thus we do not consider gender or marital status of candidates for Holy Orders.
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Are your priests and bishops married?
As was the practice among the earliest disciples, we make no distinction between married or unmarried candidates for any of the threefold orders of clergy.
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Do you accept homosexually inclined persons?
We make no distinction among persons with respect to sexual or gender identity or orientation. We are not a specifically “gay church” but we have many LGBTI people among us in all capacities. We welcome people on the basis of love, not category. One of our proud historical roots is in the first congregation in the United States to meet the needs of gay men and lesbians who were rejected by their own faith traditions, organized in Atlanta in 1946. 
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Where do you stand on same-sex marriage?
We celebrate the mystery of matrimony without regard to the gender of the two persons joining in it.
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How do I become a member?
As noted under Beliefs & Practices, we do not have an elaborate membership procedure. Our table, our congregations, our mysteries, and our welcoming arms are open to all who come to us. Many of us, clergy and laity alike, have experienced rejection or alienation from our original religious traditions. Therefore our fundamental approach is to be open, affirming, and welcoming. To repeat the quotation at the top of this page, “Love was the first motion.”

For those already baptized who wish a more formal way of marking their joining with us, consult your local clergy person. Because we are a ritual/sacramental church, we will be able to conduct an appropriate service to celebrate your commitment to us.
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ORGANIZATION


Are you under the Pope?
No. Our first bishop was ordained priest by a bishop in Europe who dissented from the doctrine of papal infallibility, and consecrated bishop in India, under the authority of the Syrian (Jacobite) Patriarch of Antioch, by bishops who had withdrawn from the Roman Catholic Church there. We are self-governing.
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Are you affiliated with the Greek or Russian Orthodox Church?
We are not members of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America (the successor to the Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas, commonly called SCOBA) or any similar body. Nor are we part of any similar group of Oriental Orthodox churches, although our episcopal lineage comes from them. We practice intercommunion with several other small “independent” jurisdictions. You may visit our “Affiliations” page for more information.
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Are you still under the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch?
No. After our first bishop returned to North America, successors of Patriarch Ignatius Peter IV, who had authorized his consecration and mission did not keep up contact with him and in 1910 we declared ourselves self-governing.
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How are you organized?
We have a synod of bishops and all our clergy, along with representatives of the laity, meet in General Synod every four years. A very small chancery staff assists the elected Metropolitan Archbishop in administrative matters, with the help of committees.
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How are you funded?
The very modest chancery budget is funded by contributions from members. The church as a whole owns no property, although individual congregations may. Very few do, however. Most of us worship in homes or in rented or borrowed spaces. None of our clergy are paid by the church.
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How do your clergy support themselves?
We adhere to the tentmaker tradition of the apostle Paul. Clergy support themselves in the same way the laity do, with a wide variety of jobs.
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