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Oriental Orthodox Churches

The term “Oriental Orthodox churches” is now generally used to describe a group of six ancient eastern churches. Although they are in communion with one another, each is fully independent and possesses many distinctive traditions.

The common element among these churches is their rejection of the christological definition of the Council of Chalcedon (451), which asserted that Christ is one person in two natures, undivided and unconfused. For them, to say that Christ has two natures was to overemphasize the duality in Christ and to compromise the unity of his person. Yet they reject the classical monophysite position of Eutyches, who held that Christ’s humanity was absorbed into his single divine nature. They prefer the formula of St. Cyril of Alexandria, who spoke of “the one incarnate nature of the Word of God”

During the period following Chalcedon, those who rejected the council’s teaching made up a significant portion of the Christians in the Byzantine Empire. Today, however, they are greatly reduced in number. Some of these churches have existed for centuries in areas where there is a non-Christian majority, and more recently others have suffered from many decades of persecution by communist governments.

Because they denied Chalcedon’s definition of two natures in Christ, these Christians have often erroneously been called “monophysites,” from the Greek word meaning “one nature.” The group has also been referred to as “the Lesser Eastern churches,” “the Ancient Oriental churches,” “the Non-Chalcedonian churches,” or “the Pre-Chalcedonian churches.” Today it is widely recognized by theologians and church leaders on both sides that the christological differences between the Oriental Orthodox and those who accepted Chalcedon were only verbal, and that in fact both parties profess the same faith in Christ using different formulas.

Table of Contents
The Assyrian Church of the East
Oriental Orthodox Churches
  • The Armenian Apostolic Church
  • The Coptic Orthodox Church
  • The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church
  • The Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch
  • The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church
  • The Eritrean Orthodox Church
  • The Orthodox Church
    The Catholic Eastern Churches
    Appendix I
    Appendix II
    Appendix III
    Biography: Ronald G. Roberson, CSP
    Edition VI Appendix I on Catholic-Eastern Orthodox Relations
    Edition VI Appendix II

    Oriental Orthodoxy

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    Oriental Orthodoxy refers to the faith of those Eastern Christian Churches that recognize only three ecumenical councils — the First Council of Nicaea, the First Council of Constantinople and the Council of Ephesus. They rejected the dogmatic definitions of the Council of Chalcedon (451). Hence, these Oriental Orthodox Churches are also called Old Oriental Churches or Non-Chalcedonian Churches. These churches are generally not in communion with Eastern Orthodox Churches with whom they are in dialogue for a return to unity.[1]

    Despite the potentially confusing nomenclature (Oriental meaning eastern), Oriental Orthodox churches are distinct from those that are collectively referred to as the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Oriental Orthodox communion comprises six groups: Syriac Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Eritrean Orthodox, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (India) and Armenian Apostolic churches.[2] These six churches, while being in communion with each other, are hierarchically independent.[3]

    The Oriental Orthodox Church and the rest of the Church split over differences in Christological terminology. The First Council of Nicaea (325) declared that Jesus Christ is God, "consubstantial" with the Father; and the First Council of Ephesus (431) that Jesus, though divine as well as human, is only one being. Twenty years after Ephesus, the Council of Chalcedon declared that Jesus is in two complete natures, one human and one divine. Those who opposed Chalcedon likened its doctrine to the Nestorian heresy, condemned at Ephesus, that Christ was two distinct beings, one divine and one human.

    In 2001, certain theologians of the Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox traditions concluded that they had always believed in the same Christology, but differed over how this was to be formulated. This conclusion became the basis for healing the schism between them, and the two groups jointly issued a "Middle Eastern Oriental Orthodox Common Declaration."[1]



    [edit] History

    The schism between Oriental Orthodoxy and the rest of the Church occurred in the 5th century. The separation resulted in part from the refusal of Pope Dioscorus, the Patriarch of Alexandria, to accept the Christological dogmas promulgated by the Council of Chalcedon, which held that Jesus is in two natures: one divine and one human. Pope Dioscorus would accept only "of or from two natures" but not "in two natures." To the hierarchs who would lead the Oriental Orthodox, this was tantamount to accepting Nestorianism, which expressed itself in a terminology incompatible with their understanding of Christology. Founded in the Alexandrine School of Theology it advocated a formula stressing the unity of the Incarnation over all other considerations.

    The Oriental Orthodox churches were therefore often called Monophysite, although they reject this label, as it is associated with Eutychian Monophysitism; they prefer the term "non-Chalcedonian" or "Miaphysite" churches. Oriental Orthodox Churches reject what they consider to be the heretical Monophysite teachings of Apollinaris of Laodicea and Eutyches, the Dyophysite definition of the Council of Chalcedon, and the Antiochene Christology of Theodore of Mopsuestia, Nestorius of Constantinople, Theodoret of Cyrus, and Ibas of Edessa.

    Christology, although important, was not the only reason for the Alexandrian Church's refusal to accept the declarations of the Council of Chalcedon; political, ecclesiastical and imperial issues were hotly debated during that period.

    In the years following Chalcedon the patriarchs of Constantinople remained in communion with the non-Chalcedonian patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem,[citation needed] while Rome remained out of communion with the latter and in unstable communion with Constantinople. It was not until 518 that the new Byzantine Emperor, Justin I (who accepted Chalcedon), demanded that the Church in the Roman Empire accept the Council's decisions.[4] Justin ordered the replacement of all non-Chalcedonian bishops, including the patriarchs of Antioch and Alexandria. The extent of the influence of the Bishop of Rome in this demand has been a matter of debate.

    By the 20th century the Chalcedonian schism was not seen with the same importance, and from several meetings between the authorities of the Holy See and the Oriental Orthodoxy, reconciling declarations emerged in the common statement of the Syriac Patriarch (Mar Ignatius Zakka I Iwas) and the Pope (John Paul II) in 1984.

    The confusions and schisms that occurred between their Churches in the later centuries, they realize today, in no way affect or touch the substance of their faith, since these arose only because of differences in terminology and culture and in the various formulae adopted by different theological schools to express the same matter. Accordingly, we find today no real basis for the sad divisions and schisms that subsequently arose between us concerning the doctrine of Incarnation. In words and life we confess the true doctrine concerning Christ our Lord, notwithstanding the differences in interpretation of such a doctrine which arose at the time of the Council of Chalcedon.[5]
    Coptic icon of St. Anthony the Great

    According to the canons of the Oriental Orthodox Churches, the four bishops of Rome, Alexandria, Ephesus (later transferred to Constantinople) and Antioch were all given status as Patriarchs; in other words, the ancient apostolic centres of Christianity, by the First Council of Nicaea (predating the schism) — each of the four patriarchs was responsible for those bishops and churches within his own area of the Universal Church, (with the exception of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, who was independent of the rest). Thus, the Bishop of Rome has always been held by the others to be fully sovereign within his own area, as well as "First-Among-Equals", due to the traditional belief that the Apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul were martyred in Rome.

    The technical reason for the schism was that the bishops of Rome and Constantinople excommunicated the non-Chalcedonian bishops in 451 for refusing to accept the "in two natures" teaching, thus declaring them to be out of communion. Recent declarations indicate that the Holy See now regards itself as being in a state of partial communion with the other patriarchates.

    [edit] Geographical distribution

    Ethiopian priest

    Oriental Orthodoxy is a dominant religion in Armenia (94%), the ethnically Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (95%), and in Ethiopia (51%, the total Christian population being 62%), especially in two regions in Ethiopia: Amhara (82%) and Tigray (96%), as well as the chartered city of Addis Ababa (82%), and is also important in Oromia Region (41%). It is also one of two dominant religions in Eritrea (50%). It is a minority in Egypt (15%), Sudan (3-5% out of the 15% of total Christians), Syria (2-3% out of the 10% of total Christians), Lebanon (10% of the 40% of Christians in Lebanon) and Kerala, India (8%[1] out of all the 2.3% of total Christians in India). In terms of total number of members, the Ethiopian Church is the largest of all Oriental Orthodox Churches, and is second among all Orthodox Churches among Eastern and Oriental Churches (exceeded in number only by the Russian Orthodox Church).

    [edit] Oriental Orthodox Communion

    The Oriental Orthodox Communion is a group of churches within Oriental Orthodoxy which are all in full communion with each other. The communion includes:

    [edit] Other Oriental Orthodox Churches in history

    Two ancient Oriental Orthodox autocephelous Churches are not existing at present as it was before. They are

    While the Orthodox Church of Caucasian Albania was merged to Armenian Orthodox Church fully (except some in Hereti which joined the Georgian Orthodox Church), the Indian diocese of Orthodox Church of the East was raised to a separate autocephelous church in 1912 AD. The remaining dioceses of Orthodox Church of the East was taken over by the mother Syriac Orthodox Church in 1860 AD.

    [edit] Internal dispute

    There are numerous ongoing internal disputes within the Oriental Orthodox Churches. These disputes result in lesser or greater degrees of impaired communion.

    The least divisive of these disputes is within the Armenian Apostolic Church, between the Catholicosate of Etchmiadzin and the Catholicosate of Cilicia. The division of the two Catholicossates stemmed from frequent relocations of Church headquarters due to political and military upheavals. The division between the two Sees intensified during the Soviet period. By some Western Bishops and clergy the Holy See of Etchmiadzin was seen as a captive Communist puppet. Sympathizers of this established congregations independent of Etchmiadzin, declaring loyalty instead to the See based in Antelias in Lebanon. The division was formalized in 1956 when the Antelias (Cilician) See broke away from the Echmiadzin See. Though recognising the supremacy of the Catholicos of All Armenians, the Catholicos of Cilicia administers the clergy and dioceses independently. The dispute, however, has not at all caused a breach in communion between the two churches.

    The next least divisive dispute is among Indians who are Oriental Orthodox. This dispute is between two jurisdictional bodies among Oriental Orthodox Indians: the Jacobite Syrian Christian Church and the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church. The former is an archdiocese of the Syriac Orthodox Church. It experiences a certain degree of autonomy, but is ultimately responsible to the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch. The latter, on the other hand, claims to be entirely independent of the Syriac Orthodox Church, rejecting any form of jurisdictional submission to the Syriac Patriarch. The Syriac Patriarch never agreed to this arrangement. In 1972, then Patriarch Ignatius Ya`qub III excommunicated the Indian Catholicos Baselios Augen I. The current Syriac Patriarch, Ignatius Zakka I Iwas maintains this excommunication. Practically, however, there is a fair amount of intercommunion in various parts of the world between the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Jacobite Syrian Christian Church, and the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church.

    [edit] Occasional confusions

    Kottayam St.Mary's Orthodox Church
    Indo-Persian Architecture of a Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church. It is a mix of Hindu and Persian Christian religious architecture

    The Assyrian Church of the East is sometimes incorrectly described as an Oriental Orthodox church, though in reality its origins lie in disputes that predated the Council of Chalcedon, and follows a different Christology from Oriental Orthodoxy. The historical Church of the East was the church of Persia, and declared itself separate from the church of the Roman Empire in 424 – 27 years befor Chalcedon. Theologically, the Church of the East was affiliated with the dyophysite doctrine of Nestorianism, and thus rejected the First Council of Ephesus, which declared Nestorianism heretical in 431. The Christology of the Oriental Orthodox churches in fact developed as a reaction to Nestorian Christology, which emphasizes the distinctness of the human and divine natures of Christ.

    There are many overlapping ecclesiastical jurisdictions in India, mostly with a Syriac liturgical heritage centered in the state of Kerala. Two of these, the autonomous Malankara Jacobite Syriac Orthodox Church, which comes under the Syriac orthodox church, and the autocephalous Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, are Oriental Orthodox; the others include two Eastern Catholic Churches, and various independent churches, one of which, the Mar Thoma Syrian Church is in communion with the Anglican Communion & Malabar Independent Syrian Church.

    [edit] See also

    [edit] References

    [edit] Bibliography

    [edit] External links

    Autocephalous and Autonomo
    1. Oriental Orthodox Churches

      Listing of Oriental Orthodox Churches, which are not part of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
      aggreen.net/autocephaly/oriental.html - Cached - Similar
    2. Oriental Orthodox Churches

      The following article is the entry on Oriental Orthodox Churches from the Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement published jointly by the World Council of ...
      www.wcc-coe.org/wcc/what/ecumenical/ooc-e.html - Cached - Similar
    3. Oriental Orthodox - OrthodoxWiki

      31 Dec 2009 ... The term Oriental Orthodox refers to the churches of Eastern Christian traditions that keep the faith of only the first three Ecumenical ...
      orthodoxwiki.org › ... › Canon LawEcclesiologyJurisdictions - Cached - Similar
    4. An Introduction to the Oriental Orthodox Churches

      The Oriental Orthodox Churches were united with Rome and Byzantium in a common profession of faith until the fifth century, when the Council of Chalcedon ...
      pluralism.org/affiliates/student/.../Oriental-Orthodox/Home.html - Cached - Similar
    5. Oriental Orthodox Church

      A discussion on the Oriental Orthodox Church. A source of information for deeper understanding of religious subjects.
      mb-soft.com/believe/txh/orientor.htm - Cached
    6. Religion Universe: ORIENTAL ORTHODOX CHURCHES

      The six Oriental Orthodox churches – Coptic, Syrian, Armenian, Ethiopian, Eritrean and (Indian) Malankara – are also called ancient Oriental, lesser Eastern ...
      www.religion-religions.com/.../sub_sub_chapters.php?...orthodox000300... - Cached - Similar
    7. Eastern Orthodoxy and "Oriental Orthodoxy"

      This perfunctory approach has been eagerly employed by Orthodox modernists in their theological dialogues with the so-called "Oriental Orthodox" churches. ...
      www.orthodoxinfo.com/ecumenism/east_orth.aspx - Cached - Similar
    8. Oriental Orthodox Church

      His Holiness Aram I, the head of one of the ancient oriental orthodox churches founded in the latter half of the 1st centaury, was elected twice as the ...
      orientalorthodox.blogspot.com/ - Cached - Similar
    9. --------------------------------
    The Christian Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt
    His Holiness Pope Shenouda III 
    Coptic Church is based on the teachings of St. Mark who brought Christianity to Egypt during the reign of the Roman emperor Nero in the first century, some 12 years after the Lord's ascension. He was one of the four evangelists and the one who wrote the oldest canonical gospel.

    The Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria
      Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Britain  - Also known as the British Orthodox Church.
    Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Southern United States
    Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Los Angeles, Southern California, and Hawaii
    Coptic Orthodox Church of Australia
    Coptic Orthodox Church in the Netherlands
    Eritrean Orthodox Church

    His Holiness Patriarch Abune Dioskoros

    The Eritrean Orthodox Church comprises some 1.7 million faithful; 1,500 churches and 22 monasteries, served by 15,000 priests. Until Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in May 1993, the Eritrean Orthodox Church formed a single diocese of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

    The Eritrean Orthodox Church has no known web site.

    About the Eritrean Orthodox Church.

    Although this church does not have an official jurisdictional web site, a parish in Atlanta is developing a web presence.

    Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church
    According  to St. Luke, the Ethiopians received the Good News first hand from St. Philip the Evangelist at the very beginning of the Christian era (Acts 8:26-39).

    The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church has no web site.
    Indian Orthodox Church
    The church was  founded in Kerala, India, AD 52, by St. Thomas (one of the twelve Apostles of  Christ). Most people are unaware of the spread of Christianity in India and especially about the fact that Christianity existed in India before most of Europe and the west knew about it.

    Malankara (Indian) Orthodox Church - Many good links to information about St. Thomas’ spreading the gospel and eventual martyrdom in India.
      The Malankara Orthodox Church of India - Buffalo, NY. Also known as the Diocese of Canada and Europe.
    Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch

    [Not to be confused with the canonical Church of Antioch which shares a common foundation in St. Peter "The Rock."]

    The church's web site notes: “The foundation of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch goes back to early Apostolic days. This event in the history of Christianity is recorded in the Book of Acts 11:26. Apostle Peter Himself established his See 37 AD. He is, therefore, rightly considered the founder and first Patriarch of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch."

    The Syrian Orthodox Church  - Mirror site.
      Archdiocese of the Eastern United States