The Orthodox Church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic, as we confess in the Creed, i.e. in the Symbol of Faith. It is the communion (Gr. &&koinonia&&) of the holy since all its members are united in Christ, through the Holy Spirit. There exists a ceaseless unity in prayer between the visible, earthly, part of the Church and that part of it which is in Heaven.
The Church is present on all continents and with its presence and apostolic work it serves as a witness of Gospel to all nations. Millions of Orthodox faithful are organized as autocephalous Churches of which the Serbian Orthodox Church is also one: that of Constantinople (Patriarch of Constantinople is the first in honor among all heads of autocephalous Orthodox Churches), Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Russia, Bulgaria, Romania, Georgia, Cyprus, Poland, Albania, America; and as autonomous Churches: Czech, Slovakian, Churches of Sinai, Crete, Finland, Japan, China and Ukraine.
They believe in the same God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, they get baptized and labor to live according to their baptism; they partake in the Communion of the body and the blood of Christ at the same Last Supper with Apostles, martyrs and the holy of all ages.
Autocephalous Churches consist of dioceses, and these are divided up into parishes.
At the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church there stands a patriarch chosen by the Holy Council (Assembly) of Bishops consisting of all bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Serbian Orthodox Church is divided into dioceses each headed by its own bishop.
Church As A Communion Of Love
All in all, Serbian Orthodox Church consists of 40 dioceses: The Archbishopric of Beograd and Karlovats, with its See in Beograd; Australia and New Zealand (See in Elaine); Australia and New Zealand (Hall, Metropolis of Nova Grachanitsa); Banat, (Vrshats); Banyaluka, (Banyaluka); Bachka, (Novi Sad); Bihach and Petrovats, (Bosanski Petrovats); Branichevo, (Pozharevats); Britain and Scandinavia (Stockholm); Buda (Sentandrea); Vranye, (Vranye); Upper Karlovats, (Karlovats); Dabar Bosna, (Sarayevo); Dalmatia, (Shibenik); Zhica, (monastery Zhica); Zagreb and Lyublyana, (Zagreb); West America (Alhambra); West Europe (Paris); Zahumlje and Hercegovina, Mostar); Zvornik and Tuzla, (Tuzla); Zletovo and Struma, Ser. (Shtip); East America (Edgeworth); Canada (Milton); Milesheva, (monastery Milesheva); Nish, (Nish); America, Canada and the Third Lake (Metropolis of Nova Grachanitsa); Ohrid and Bitola, (Bitola); Osechko-polska and Baranya (Dalj), Rashka and Prizren, (Prizren), Skoplye, (Skoplye), Slavonia, (Pakrats), Mid-West American (Libertyville), Central Europe (Hildesheim), Srem, (Sremski Karlovtsi), Serbian Orthodox Vicariate of Skadar (Skadar), Temishvar, (Temishvar), Timok, (Zajechar), Crna Gora and Primorye, (Montenegro and the Littoral, Cetinye), Shabac and Valyevo, (Shabac), Shumadia, S (Kraguyevats).
Dioceses are divided up into Episcopal Deaneries, each consisting of several Church Congregations and Parishes. Church Congregations consist of one or more Parishes. Parish is the smallest Church unit – a communion of Orthodox faithful congregating at the Holy Eucharist with the parish priest at their head.
Metropolitans (bishops of provincial Capitals) did not all have the same standing in the Christian world. The most important cities of the Empire – Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, and later Constantinople, all included metropolitan sees that had higher standings than other metropolies, and enjoyed spiritual jurisdiction over those that were physically the closest.
Metropolitans of the above-mentioned cities came to be known as patriarchs in V century. In accordance with the local popular custom Patriarch of Rome was also known as the Pope. Metropolitan of Jerusalem received the title of Patriarch at the occasion of the IV Ecumenical Council in Chalcedon (431), owing to the honor enjoyed by this great city in the eyes of all Christians – as the mother of all the churches of the world.
Canon 36 of The Council of Trullo established the rank of patriarchs as follows: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. All rights enjoyed by the metropolitans of these cities were passed on to the patriarchs. All bishops under their spiritual jurisdiction were obliged to mention their names at church services.
The patriarch himself is responsible to the Holy Assembly of Bishops of his Church. Today there are nine patriarchs in the Orthodox world: Patriarch of Constantinople, Patriarch of Alexandria, Patriarch of Antioch, Patriarch of Jerusalem, Patriarch of Russia, Patriarch of Serbia, Patriarch of Romania, Patriarch of Bulgaria, and Patriarch of Georgia. Serbian church became a patriarchate in 1346.
The communion of the Church is entered through the Sacrament of Baptism. Baptism is the Holy Mystery of our rebirth in Christ, of our inclusion into the communion of a renewed mankind. God has united with man through Christ, and to all those who believe in Him as being the Son of God, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, He bestows new life through the grace of being reborn.
In the early Church those that have discovered faith in Christ and wanted to become members of the Church became first of all catechumens. They were instructed in faith by being introduced to the teachings of the Church and by attending that part of Liturgy that served to communicate the basics of Christian faith (this part of Liturgy is called Liturgy of the Catechumens even today). The Church prayed for them.
Today, the basic preparation consists of a small service observed before Baptism itself. This service includes three prayers of exorcism, the denial of Satan, the acceptance of Christ, the Confession of Faith (reading of the Symbol of Faith, the Creed; this is done by the Godfather in case a child is being baptized), and a short prayer by the priest for the enlightenment of the catechumen through the Sacrament of Baptism.
The Sacrament of Baptism begins with the consecration of water. The following sequence of events is observed: initial solemn blessing, the grand ektenial, prayers for the blessing of the water, anointment of the catechumen with the oil of joy, threefold immersion of the catechumen in the water accompanied with pronunciation of following words “In the name of the Father. Amen. And the Son. Amen. And the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Following that, the 32. psalm is being read and the newly baptized puts on a white garment thus symbolizing purity of life received through Baptism.
The Sacrament of Confirmation or Chrismation then follows the Sacrament of Baptism. The priest anoints the forehead, the eyes, the nostrils, hands, and feet of the newly baptized with the Holy Oil, pronouncing each time: “Seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit”.
This ceremony ends with the solemn circling of the baptismal font, with the reading of the Epistle to the Romans, with removal of traces of the Holy Oil, and with the ceremonial hair cutting.
The Church has included matrimony as one of its Sacraments. Orthodox matrimony is a Holy Mystery whereby two persons of opposite sex commit themselves, in the manner prescribed by the Church, to a lifelong spiritual and corporal bond, seeking to achieve total communion, which would also effect birth of children and result in their proper upbringing. Wedding ceremony is a sacred rite as prescribed by the Euchologion. It cannot be concluded on fasting days or during a fasting season.
The wedding ceremony consists of two services combined into one: betrothal, usually performed in the vestibule of the church, and consisting of an exchange of rings between the betrothed; and their solemn entrance into the church while being adorned with crowns.
This entrance into the church is particularly significant since it reveals the transfiguration of matrimony from being something completely natural into matrimony in Christ. It is here that matrimony adopts a new meaning, a new dimension.
Wreaths (crowns) reveal the essence of matrimony. A person becomes a ruler of a kingdom however small it might be, but the same person also becomes a martyr (wreath = symbol of martyrdom). Matrimony, as life itself, is a journey, a common journey, and its goal is the same as the goal of life itself – Kingdom of God. This journey demands growth, martyrdom, deeds and love – in its deepest sense – a love inseparable from the cross.