Since starting my involvement in the Orthodox Church, the practices and beliefs of my Christian faith have been altered quite a bit. I wanted to share what I feel are the most important differences from my previous Protestant background, which includes the Orthodox perspectives on salvation, the Church and daily Christian living. I’m still no expert in Orthodoxy, so take what I say with a grain of salt. Also, feel free to just read the topics you're interested in if you don't feel like reading my whole article.
The Orthodox Church tends to distinguish it's view of what Jesus accomplished on and after the cross as medicinal rather than the Western Churches' perspective as penal. To clarify the distinction, I'll spell out a general Western understanding, though I know there is some variation. The general idea is that we sin by breaking God's law. Because of this, we deserve to die [or be sent to hell.] Jesus took that punishment in his death, and God was satisfied by that, so now He doesn't have to kill us [or send us to hell] anymore.
The Orthodox Church has quite a different perspective. Sin is like a sickness that ultimately culminates in death. God overcame sin and death in the Person of Jesus, and paved the way for us to do the same by uniting with Him. Jesus said to the paralytic "your sins are forgiven," so God was able to forgive people's sins before Jesus died on the cross. One thing I really like about this is the understanding of infant salvation. An infant, or even an unborn child, is not saved by Jesus because Jesus took the punishment that infant deserved for breaking God's law. Rather, that infant dies because the sickness and corruption of a sinful world extends to him or her. Jesus heals and saves that baby from death through His death and resurrection, and this isn't necessarily because he or she deserves to die [or be sent to hell.]
The process of a person's salvation is called "deification." The image and likeness of God we have is tainted by sin, but our goal is to change that. We are to become like God; like Christ. This process is assisted through the sacraments.
I would like to make a final quick note that Orthodox Christians do not believe in predestination in the same way that Calvinists do, but support the idea of free will and us being co-workers with God.
Like Catholics, the Orthodox believe they make up the one real Church. They do, however, make a distinction between other Christians and non-Christians. For example, an Orthodox Christian can marry a non-Orthodox Christian, but not a non-Christian. Also, a conversion from non-Orthodox Christianity to Orthodoxy is often seen as a progression of God working in one’s life rather than a heathen who just began to interact with God. So, it’s better to be Orthodox than merely Christian, but better to be merely Christian than pagan or atheist.
The Church is made up of several regional self-governing churches led by a bishop called a “Patriarch.” The five original churches were Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. Before the Schism, the Pope was considered the Patriarch of the Church of Rome and the “first among equals.” The current Church list is as follows: Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Russia, Georgia, Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria.
I found it particularly interesting how the structure of Church plays out in evangelism. The idea is that missionaries go into a region and convert the populace, translating the Scriptures and Liturgy into the local languages. The local culture is then infused into the regional church. When the church in that area becomes big enough, it becomes self-governing and creates its own Patriarch. Probably the best example of this is the Russian Orthodox Church. There is an obvious cultural and lingual distinction between it and the Greek Orthodox Church, yet they are both in communion with each other as Orthodox.
It didn't really work like this in America, since it wasn't simply a population that was converted. Rather, America is a great melting pot of immigrants, so each group of immigrants brought its own church with it- Russians from the West and Greeks from the East. There is a plan to work this out and have a unified Church in the US eventually. However, there are some difficulties. For example, many Greeks don’t only see their Church as a place of worship, but as a cultural center as well.
I currently attend an Antiochian Orthodox Church, which has its roots in the Middle East. This is pretty cool because my Church has a tradition of music like this- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fzRyoWjXMqo
That’s what’s up
Daily Christian Living
I unfortunately found few good tools in Protestantism for my daily Christian walk. Reading the Bible and having a quiet time is often strongly encouraged, but it's a bit discouraging that whenever I would try to read or pray, I would not know when or where to start or end. I'm left on my own in an abyss. I eventually started making my own structures of prayer, such as emphasizing different parts of the Lord's prayer into different days of the week in order to cover everything I thought I should be praying for.
Protestants do have devotionals, but I almost never end up following through with them. The only one I really liked and read through to the finish is a book called Face to Face: Praying the Scriptures for Spiritual Growth. It's pretty hard to go wrong with your book if its composition is 97% Scripture.
I have been pleased to find that the Orthodox Church has a plethora of utilities for daily Christian living. If you feel like interacting with God at any time or place, there is something available for you. First off, there are morning, mid-day, and evening prayers used by Orthodox Christians around the globe. You can participate int the life of the larger Church Body by praying these (even on your own), which I have in my Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians. If you feel like praying in between any of these, you can grab a prayer rope and go through "the Jesus prayer." It's sort of like a rosary, but the prayer is "O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." Feel like reading the Bible? You don't need to worry about finding a place to start or end! The global Orthodox Church has a calender with readings for each day, each one taking a bite-sized ten minutes: http://www.antiochian.org/calendar/readings. The commentary in my Orthodox Study Bible also based on a rich history of interpretation. Want to fast but don't know when or how? The Orthodox Church has fasting days almost every week with specific directions! There are also feast days for celebrating appropriate things in the Christian faith.
There's a saying in some Protestant circles- "relationship, not religion," which can be taken as a criticism of some of these things that I have found helpful. I would like to reply that the systematic prayers I have done multiply, rather than replace, my conversational prayers with God.