I'm not sure your replies give evidence of your research, and having some familiarity with the sources you claim to be behind your research, I'm quite confident you have no direct citations that directly substantiated your assertions. Indeed, based on your replies, I see little else here but your raw assertions based on preconceptions (many of which, as I'll address below) are simply mistaken and/or in direct contradiction to the historical evidence that is readily available.
I say this not to be insulting or to offend--though you may no doubt feel offense--but to simply clarify that in public discussions such as these there are the following elements: a) common evidence (textual and historical) and facts which are not proprietary to any one interlocutor but the property of all; b) previously held assumptions by which the common evidence is sifted and evaluated and by which arguments are crafted; c) arguments proper (in which, following the rules of logic and research, parts a and b come together and can be agreed to and/or disputed; and finally d) assertions made without the benefit of argument and/or evidence and which usually are simply expressions of b.
I see in your comments to which I will respond a lot of assertions without any reliance on evidence or argument. Again, I'm not try to insult or offend, but simply stating what appears to be quite clear. That said, however, if you do have evidence and/or argument to support your assertions, this would be much welcome, and was what I was requesting originally.
Now to my responses.
*** If the Orthodox church had been directly blessed with the original teachings of the apostles in action, there would have been no need for ecumenical councils. 787AD, and there were still serious lingering questions that affected worship services. Some on Orthodoxy called it veneration of icons, some said it was idol worship. Over 700 years to figure out icons, for example.
First of all, this is a rather large and significant misunderstanding of the Councils. None of the ecumenical Councils ever introduced anything new with regard to Christian belief. The use of icons, for example, did not need to be "figured out" as their use dates back to the first century catacombs. And in fact, the house church in Dura-Europos, dating from the AD 200s, demonstrates a very ancient and quite developed usage (you can Google Dura-Europos for more scholarly articles). The seventh Council did not suddenly determine that icons were now legit, but, rather, answered a very recent innovation--brought on by conflict with Muslims--that prohibited the use of icons. The ancient practice of using icons won out.
Secondly, the ecumenical Councils did nothing else but answer the question "Who is Jesus Christ?" and answered that question in light of the Apostolic Gospel and Apostolic traditions. In fact, all the ecumenical Councils were convened because new and innovative ways of speaking about Christ were being introduced (Arianism, Monothelitism, iconoclasm, to name a few), and the Church needed to clarify what was the ancient way, the way of the Gospel from the beginning with the Apostles.
*** Again, referencing Orthodox ecumenical councils: The Trinity was not defined or it would not have been an agenda of councils. The point is, the church did not have a dictate from the apostles as to exactly what the Trinity is. While the Orthodox officially (T.W) understand the Trinity cannot be fully understood in our human condition, definitions were put to the issue at least as late as the 4th century. BTW, the fact that they see it as a non-understandable mystery is a credit to the Orthodox in my opinion. I think they are right on that score, but the church did not start out with this agreement.
Again, this is simply mistaken. There is no evidence to support that the Christians did not have a common teaching regarding the Trinity from the very beginning. Every council that had to address the doctrine of the Trinity did so because new innovations that had never before been believed were being put forth as Christian teaching. The Councils had to state, "This is what has been believed always, everywhere and by all." So, if you will investigate the ecumenical councils with regard to the Trinity, you will see that it is precisely the same as the Scriptures and the earliest Christian writings, without variation.
One other comment I'll make with regard to the councils: particular terminology had to be utilized to safeguard the apostolic tradition; for example the term hypotasis
(used in the epistle to the Hebrews, but otherwise a relatively little-used term). The Christians appropriated the term so as to distinguish the proper ancient tradition and the teaching on Christ from that of the Arian heresies. But the use of the new term was not an introduction of something new into the Christian faith: it was a reaffirmation of what had been believed always, everywhere and by all. The term was used so as to distinguish the Tradition from the new innovations and heresies being introduced among Christians.
So, while new terminology appears from time to time throughout Christian history, this in no way is an introduction of something new into the beliefs of the Christians. It was, rather, used to preserve the beliefs already held by the Church.
*** Notice the "strictest sense" limitation. Tradition was clearly not totally handed down from the apostles. (see above two answers) Original church, small "c", seems Ok for a definition if one is cognizant that it was generations from the time of apostolic leadership until the formation of the Orthodox church as we know it... The church structure and many customs were not part of the apostolic churches, they came later. As far as the original "large C" Church, and one must be a member of Orthodoxy to be saved, Metropolitan Antony Khrapovitsky is pretty clear the he thinks this is true (The Orthodox Church, page 309). However, the priest I spoke with sees it as a church, the original church, but not the only Church.
I have disputed your assertion that somehow the Orthodox Church introduced new beliefs into Christianity that were not part of the Apostolic deposit. So I'll not repeat that.
As to the Orthodox Church being the one true Church: there are, as you have discovered, differences among Orthodox as to how strictly to hold these truths. Some, more rigorous, would hold that there are no Christians outside the Orthodox Church--but this is a minority view and not generally recognized among Orthodox. Most Orthodox, especially those here in America, believe that the Orthodox Church is the one true Church, period. But we do not then go on to claim that there are no Christians outside the Orthodox Church. In fact, most Orthodox Churches will recognize Christian baptism (so long as it's done in the name of the Holy Trinity and by immersion) done in other churches. (I know of no Orthodox Church that will not recognize marriages done outside the Orthodox Church.) So there is a belief that the Holy Spirit operates outside the boundaries of the Orthodox Church and does so in grace-filled ways.
That said, however, we also believe that only the Orthodox Church contains the fullness of the faith and life in Christ, that all other churches lack this fullness, though they do not lack grace. This has been my own personal experience. I do not doubt my conversion and baptism done many, many years ago long before I became Orthodox. And I also believe that I experienced God's grace, including answers to prayers, forgiveness and cleansing of sins, etc., while a member of non-Orthodox communities. But on becoming Orthodox my experience has also been that as an Orthodox my life in Christ and experience of his grace is fuller and richer than any other time prior to becoming Orthodox. I most definitely want everyone to experience this way of life and the tangible experiences of God's grace and transformation.
I also find it a bit interesting that there seems to be a lot of justification of position based on what past men (bishops, etc.) said instead of scripture. After all, is this not exactly an issue the Orthodox have with Rome and Protestantism, following what a man, or men, say?
Can you demonstrate how it is anyone can read the Scripture without at the same time interpreting it? If you cannot, then please demonstrate how it is that one can have an infallible (or at least epistemically certain) knowledge that the interpretation one espouses is the correct one?
*** If I read your meaning right, we're in agreement here. Looking to the Scripture is what should be done, interpretation being done accordingly.
If we're in agreement, then your point that someone is holding to tradition rather than Scripture seems moot. The key is not whether or not someone is holding to tradition rather than Scripture but whether that tradition accords with the way Christians for two thousand years have understood Scripture.
*** I knew this would stir the pot. But if a duck tells me he is only moving his feet, but not really swimming, I'd say, "Silly duck!" Veneration (worship) was not always totally accepted in the Orthodox church. If icon veneration was OK with the apostles, it would not have taken over 700 years to politic enough to get the votes to pass it in the 7th council. Not everyone thought that decision came down on the right side. There is no icon veneration in the Bible. The same with Mary. Where is it in the Bible? It also is a custom, a "small t" tradition, but not something we're shown Biblically, and not something directly handed down from the apostles or there would have been no reason to still be discussing the veneration of Mary in ecumenical councils centuries after Christ.
Again, you misunderstand the use of icons and the historical evidence for their use. With all due respect, you cannot look at our practice and judge it according to your spin--especially when we say that your judgment is false. I happen to know that icons have been used in the Church since the first century. I happen to know that the teachers of the Faith throughout history have demonstrated that our use of icons is not the worship that is proper to God alone. And I also have my own experience: I bow before, kiss and say prayers before icons and I in no way worship them. Period. Full stop. For you to contradict me based on your own beliefs is, to say the least, somewhat lacking in humility.
*** I certainly do think the Orthodox is a church of Christ, and a very great people of God throughout the ages, but not solely Christ's Church. To say it is Christ's Church means all others are damned to hell because Christ only has one Church. All those who heard Christ and the traveling apostles did not necessarily belong to one of the original churches the Orthodox cite as its beginning. And what about the "other sheep?"
***John 10-16 And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, [and] one shepherd.
*** Obviously these sheep were not of the Orthodox church (which was not yet formed). The Orthodox do not have a monopoly on being Christs Church. I have great respect, but also concerns about some issues.
See my comments above. It does not follow that because we claim Orthodoxy to be the one true Church that all others are damned to hell. There is no logical necessity to this claim.