What is an Orthodox Christian? (Also “are you Jewish?”)

Here’s an easy way to put it. An Orthodox Christian is someone who is part of the original Church that Jesus Christ established.

So why are we called “Orthodox”? “Orthodoxy” comes from the Greek for “right believing” and was the standard of Christian belief from the very beginning. Before Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy were separated in the 11th century, they were both referred to as “Orthodox” and “Catholic”– afterwards, their focus became based on their relative understandings of each word. So Orthodox believe they’re really catholic (as in “universal”), and Catholics believe they are actually orthodox (as in “right believing”).

However, the Orthodox Church uses the name for identification purposes. Orthodox Christians don’t see their Church as one of many, but as “the Church”. In fact, we believe in the Creed we read on Sundays where it is said we “believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

So why the Jewish assumption? A couple of things have led to this, but the main one is… the beards. Orthodox clergy are enjoined not to shave their beards (and even many pious laypeople do that) because the beard is a natural reflection of God-given masculinity. That said, non-clergy are not required to have a beard, and for work purposes should follow such guidelines as well as possible, remembering that facial hair is not only nothing to be ashamed of, but something God gave us. And this is in fact how we’ve lived since the time of Christ, and even became a point of contention at the time of the schism of Rome.

In short it has nothing to do with Orthodox Judaism, which as a movement is younger than the United States.