In his book, Encountering the Mystery, His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew defines the Orthodox Church with these words:
It is defined not in relation or in contrast to Roman Catholicism or Protestantism, but rather as a seamless continuation and spiritual succession of the early Church of the Apostles, martyrs, confessors, monastics, great teachers, and saints.
I would add that for a Church to call itself Orthodox it needs to be in communion with another Orthodox Church. In the modern era this has become more and more of a problem. Do a simple Google search on the term “orthodox church” and returned will be thousands of links to websites that say they are the orthodox church. This is not always the case and I would suggest that you do a little bit of research before you attend or join any such church.
Here in North America there exists and organization of bishops called the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in North and Central America. This Assembly is the inheritor of all of the work that the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA) had been doing for the last 50 plus years. On the website of the Assembly is a list of all of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops, Priests, Deacons, and Church in North and Central America. If the Church in question is not on that list then they are NOT a canonical Orthodox Church.
This may sound harsh but the truth needs to be told that there are many thousands of so called patriarchs, metropolitans, archbishops, bishops, priests, deacons, monastics etc. out there on the internet purporting to be orthodox and leading people down the wrong road. (I used lowercase letters here for a reason.)
There is only one Orthodox Church that has many parts but they are all in communion with each other. Ask the priest who his bishop is and then check the website to see if he is listed, or even before that, check the website to see if the church is listed. The website of the Assembly has the most comprehensive list of Orthodox Churches in North and Central America anywhere on the internet.
Why is this important? I for one take the care of souls very important. I belong to a Canonical Orthodox Church, and I am a graduate from a seminary that is recognized by the Canonical Orthodox Church. I was ordained by a bishop of the Canonical Orthodox Church. I don’t just call myself Orthodox I am Orthodox.
There are many well-meaning people out there who only wish to help others and that is commendable but Scripture clearly tells us to beware of those who will lead us astray. We need to verify that the church we attend is really and truly a church in communion with the rest of the Orthodox World and the best place to start is with verification by consulting the website of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in North and Central America. The care of your soul is far too important! Please take this serious.