Oriental Orthodox Churches

The Oriental Orthodox Churches are Eastern Christian churches adhering to Miaphysite Christology,[1][2] with approximately 50 million members worldwide.[3][4] The Oriental Orthodox Churches adhere to the Nicene Christian tradition. Oriental Orthodoxy is one of the oldest branches in Christianity.[5]

Oriental Orthodox Churches
OrientationEastern Christianity
LanguageCoptic, Classical Syriac, Ge'ez, Armenian, Malayalam, Koine Greek, local languages
LiturgyAlexandrian, West Syriac and Armenian
FounderJesus Christ, according to sacred tradition
Separated fromRoman state Church
Members50 million
Other name(s)Oriental Orthodoxy, Miaphysite churches, Oriental Orthodox Communion

As some of the oldest religious institutions in the world, the Oriental Orthodox Churches have played a prominent role in the history and culture of Armenia, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Western Asia and the Malabar region of India. As autocephalous churches, their bishops are equal by virtue of episcopal ordination. Their doctrines recognize the validity of only the first three ecumenical councils.[6][1]

The Oriental Orthodox communion is led by its standing conference in which six churches are constituent members: the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria; the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch and its constituent autonomous Malankara Syrian Church; the Armenian Apostolic Church; the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, and the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church.[7] The mainstream Oriental Orthodox are generally autocephalous national churches, namely the Coptic Church; the Syriac Orthodox Church along with its constituent autonomous Malankara Syrian Church in India; the Armenian Apostolic Church, comprising the autocephalous Catholicosate of Etchmiadzin in Armenia and the Catholicosate of Cilicia in the Levant and of diaspora; the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church;[8] and also the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church in India. The Malabar Independent Syrian Church—based in India—and the British Orthodox Church in the UK are independent Oriental Orthodox churches, having formerly been part of one of the mainstream Oriental Orthodox churches.[9]

Oriental Orthodox Christians consider themselves to be the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church founded by Jesus Christ in his Great Commission, and that its bishops are the successors of Christ's apostles. Three rites are practiced by the churches: the western-influenced Armenian Rite, the West Syriac Rite of the Syriac Church and the Malankara Syrian Church of India, and the Alexandrian Rite of the Copts, Ethiopians and Eritreans.

Oriental Orthodox Churches shared communion with the imperial Roman church before the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD, and with the Church of the East until the Council of Ephesus in AD 431, separating primarily over differences in Christology.

The majority of Oriental Orthodox Christians live in Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, India, Syria, Turkey and Armenia, with smaller Syriac communities in Western Asia decreasing due to persecution.[unreliable source?] There are also many in other parts of the world, formed through diaspora, conversions, and missionary activity.

Name and characteristics edit

The name "Oriental Orthodox Churches" was formally adopted at the Conference of Addis Ababa in 1965. At the time there were five participating churches, the Eritrean Church not yet being autocephalous.[10]

Other names by which the churches have been known include Old Oriental, Ancient Oriental, Lesser Eastern, Anti-Chalcedonian, Non-Chalcedonian, Pre-Chalcedonian, Miaphysite or Monophysite,[11] although the Church of the East is equally pre-Chalcedonian.[10][better source needed] The Roman Catholic Church has referred to these churches as "the Ancient Churches of the East".[12]

Theology and ecclesiology edit

The Oriental Orthodox Churches are distinguished by their recognition of only the first three ecumenical councils during the period of the State church of the Roman Empire: the First Council of Nicaea in 325, the First Council of Constantinople in 381 and the Council of Ephesus in 431.

Oriental Orthodoxy shares much theology and many ecclesiastical traditions with the Eastern Orthodox Church; these include a similar doctrine of salvation and a tradition of collegiality between bishops, as well as reverence of the Theotokos and use of the Nicene Creed.[13][14]

The primary theological difference between the two communions is the differing Christology. Oriental Orthodoxy rejects the Chalcedonian Definition, and instead adopts the miaphysite formula,[15][16] believing that the human and divine natures of Christ are united. Historically, the early prelates of the Oriental Orthodox Churches thought that the Chalcedonian Definition implied a possible repudiation of the Trinity or a concession to Nestorianism.

The break in communion between the imperial Roman and Oriental Orthodox Churches did not occur suddenly, but rather gradually over two to three centuries following the Council of Chalcedon.[17] Eventually the two communions developed separate institutions, and the Oriental Orthodox did not participate in any of the later ecumenical councils.

The Oriental Orthodox Churches maintain ancient apostolic succession.[18] The various churches are governed by holy synods, with a primus inter pares bishop serving as primate. The primates hold titles such as patriarch, catholicos, and pope. The Alexandrian Patriarchate, the Antiochian Patriarchate along with Patriarchate of Rome, was one of the most prominent sees of the early Christian Church.

Oriental Orthodoxy does not have a magisterial leader like the Roman Catholic Church, nor does the communion have a leader who can convene ecumenical synods like the Eastern Orthodox Church. Meanwhile its ecumenical dialogues and internal church relations are led by the Standing Conference, which acts as the permanent representative council of its member churches.

Some Oriental Orthodox Churches such as the Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Eritrean Orthodox, places a heavier emphasis on Old Testament teachings than one might find in other Christian denominations, and its followers adhere to certain practices: following dietary rules that are similar to Jewish Kashrut,[19] require that their male members undergo circumcision,[20] and observes ritual purification.[21][22]

Non-Chalcedonian Christology edit

The schism between Oriental Orthodoxy and the adherents of Chalcedonian Christianity was based on differences in Christology. The First Council of Nicaea, in 325, declared that Jesus Christ is God, that is to say, "consubstantial" with the Father. Later, the third ecumenical council, the Council of Ephesus, declared that Jesus Christ, though divine as well as human, is only one being, or person (hypostasis). Thus, the Council of Ephesus explicitly rejected Nestorianism, the Christological doctrine that Christ was two distinct persons, one divine (the Logos) and one human (Jesus), who happened to inhabit the same body.

Twenty years after Ephesus, the Council of Chalcedon reaffirmed the view that Jesus Christ was a single person, but at the same time declared that this one person existed "in two complete natures", one human and one divine.

At times, Chalcedonian Christians have referred to the Oriental Orthodox as being monophysites—that is to say, accusing them of following the teachings of Eutyches (c. 380 – c. 456), who argued that Jesus Christ was not human at all, but only divine. Monophysitism was condemned as heretical alongside Nestorianism, and to accuse a church of being monophysite is to accuse it of falling into the opposite extreme from Nestorianism. However, the Oriental Orthodox themselves reject this description as inaccurate, having officially condemned the teachings of both Nestorius and Eutyches. They define themselves as miaphysite instead,[15][16] holding that Christ has one nature, but this nature is both human and divine.[23]

Modern alignments edit

Interior of St. Mary's Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Adama, Ethiopia (2010)

Today, Oriental Orthodox Churches are in full communion with each other, but not with the Eastern Orthodox Church or any other churches; the Oriental Orthodox Churches, while in communion, do not form a single church. Like Catholics or Eastern Orthodox, the Oriental Orthodox Church includes several self-governing churches. Slow dialogue towards restoring communion between the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox groups[24] was renewed in the mid-20th century,[25] and dialogue is also underway between Oriental Orthodoxy and the Catholic Church and others.[26] In 2017, the mutual recognition of baptism was restored between the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria and the Catholic Church.[27] Also baptism is mutually recognized between the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Catholic Church.[28][29]

The Oriental Orthodox Churches are generally considered to be more conservative with regard to social issues as well as enthusiastic about ecumenical relations with non-Oriental Orthodox Christian Churches. All Oriental Orthodox Churches are members of the World Council of Churches.[30]

History edit

Post-Council of Chalcedon (AD 451) edit

To the hierarchs who would lead the Oriental Orthodox, the latter phrase was tantamount to accepting Nestorianism, which expressed itself in a terminology incompatible with their understanding of Christology. Nestorianism was understood as seeing Christ in two separate natures, human and divine, each with different actions and experiences; in contrast Cyril of Alexandria advocated the formula "One Nature of God the Incarnate Logos"[31] (or as others translate, "One Incarnate Nature of the Word"[32]).

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 "miaphysite".[15][16]

In the years following Chalcedon the patriarchs of Constantinople intermittently remained in communion with the non-Chalcedonian Patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch (see Henotikon), 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.[33]

20th century edit

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 Syriac Patriarch Mar Ignatius Zakka I Iwas and the Roman 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.[34]

Worship edit

Oriental Orthodox Christians, such as Copts, Syrians and Indians, use a breviary such as the Agpeya and Shehimo, respectively, to pray the canonical hours seven times a day while facing in the eastward direction towards Jerusalem, in anticipation of the Second Coming of Jesus; this Christian practice has its roots in Psalm 119:164, in which the prophet David prays to God seven times a day.[35][original research?] Before praying, they wash their hands and face in order to be clean before and to present their best to God; shoes are removed in order to acknowledge that one is offering prayer before a holy God.[36][37] In this Christian tradition, it is customary for women to wear a Christian headcovering when praying.[38]

Organization edit

Aswan Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Egypt

The Oriental Orthodox Churches are a communion of six autocephalous (that is, administratively completely independent) regional churches.[11]

Below is a list of the six autocephalous Oriental Orthodox churches forming the main body of Oriental Orthodox Christianity. Based on the definitions, the list is in the alphabetical order, with some of their constituent autonomous churches and exarchates listed as well.

There are a number of churches considered non-canonical, but whose members and clergy may or may not be in communion with the greater Oriental Orthodox communion. Examples include the Malabar Independent Syrian Church, the Celtic Orthodox Church, the Orthodox Church of the Gauls, the British Orthodox Church, and the Tigrayan Orthodox Tewahedo Church. These organizations have passed in and out of official recognition, but members rarely face excommunication when recognition is ended. The primates of these churches are typically referred to as episcopi vagantes or vagantes in short.

Adherents edit

Distribution of Oriental Orthodox Christians in the world by country:
  Main religion (more than 75%)
  Main religion (50–75%)
  Important minority religion (20–50%)
  Important minority religion (5–20%)
  Minority religion (1–5%)
  Tiny minority religion (below 1%), but has local autocephaly

According to the Encyclopedia of Religion, Oriental Orthodoxy is the Christian tradition "most important in terms of the number of faithful living in the Middle East", which, along with other Eastern Christian communions, represent an autochthonous Christian presence whose origins date further back than the birth and spread of Islam in the Middle East.[40]

It is the dominant religion in Armenia (94%) and ethnically Armenian unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (95%).[41][42]

Oriental Orthodoxy is a prevailing religion in Ethiopia (43.1%), while Protestants account for 19.4% and Islam – 34.1%.[43] It is most widespread in two regions in Ethiopia: Amhara (82%) and Tigray (96%), as well as the capital city of Addis Ababa (75%). It is also one of two major religions in Eritrea (40%).[44]

It is a minority in Egypt (<20%),[45] Syria (2–3% out of the 10% of total Christians), Lebanon (10% of the 40% of Christians in Lebanon or 200,000 Armenians and members of the Church of the East) and Kerala, India (7% out of the 20% of total Christians in Kerala).[46] 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).

Also of particular importance are the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople in Turkey and the Armenian Apostolic Church of Iran. These Oriental Orthodox churches represent the largest Christian minority in both of these predominantly Muslim countries, Turkey and Iran.[47][48]

Internal disputes edit

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

Armenian Apostolic edit

The least divisive of these disputes is within the Armenian Apostolic Church, between the Catholicosate of Etchmiadzin and the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia.

The division between the two sees intensified during the Soviet period. The Holy See of Etchmiadzin was seen as a captive Communist puppet by some Western bishops and clergy. 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 Etchmiadzin See.

Ethiopia edit

In 1992, following the abdication of Abune Merkorios and election of Abune Paulos, some Ethiopian Orthodox bishops in the United States maintained that the new election was invalid, and declared their independence from the Addis Ababa administration forming separate synod.[49] On 27 July 2018, representatives from both synods reached an agreement. According to the terms of the agreement, Abune Merkorios was reinstated as Patriarch alongside Abune Mathias (successor of Abune Paulos), who will continue to be responsible for administrative duties, and the two synods were merged into one synod, with any excommunications between them lifted.[50][51]

India edit

Indians who follow the Oriental Orthodox faith belong to the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church and the Jacobite Syrian Christian Church. The two churches were united before 1912 and after 1958, but again separated in 1975. The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, also known as the Indian Orthodox Church, is an autocephalous church. It is headed by the Catholicos of the East and Malankara Metropolitan. The Jacobite Syrian Christian Church is an autonomous Maphrianate of the Syriac Orthodox Church in India.

The Malabar Independent Syrian Church also follows the Oriental Orthodox tradition, but is not in communion with other Oriental Orthodox churches.

Occasional confusions edit

The Assyrian Church of the East is sometimes[52] incorrectly described as an Oriental Orthodox church,[53][54] though its origins lie in disputes that predated the Council of Chalcedon and it follows a different Christology from Oriental Orthodoxy. The historical Church of the East was the church of Greater Iran and declared itself separate from the state church of the Roman Empire in 424–27, years before the Ecumenical Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon. Theologically, the Church of the East was affiliated with the doctrine of Nestorianism, and thus rejected the Council of Ephesus, which declared Nestorianism heretical in 431. The Christology of the Oriental Orthodox Churches in fact developed as a reaction against Nestorian Christology, which emphasizes the distinctness of the human and divine natures of Christ.

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ a b "Orthodox Christian Churches". pluralism.org. Retrieved 2020-11-25.
  2. ^ "Oriental Orthodoxy « Western Prelacy". westernprelacy.org. Retrieved 2020-11-25.
  3. ^ Lamport, Mark A. (2018). Encyclopedia of Christianity in the Global South. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 601. ISBN 978-1-4422-7157-9. Today these churches are also referred to as the Oriental Orthodox Churches and are made up of 50 million Christians.
  4. ^ "Orthodox Christianity in the 21st Century". Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project. 8 November 2017. Oriental Orthodoxy has separate self-governing jurisdictions in Ethiopia, Egypt, Eritrea, India, Armenia and Syria, and it accounts for roughly 20% of the worldwide Orthodox population.
  5. ^ "Orthodox churches (Oriental) — World Council of Churches". www.oikoumene.org.
  6. ^ Hindson & Mitchell 2013, p. 108.
  7. ^ "Member churches – SCOOCH". scooch.org. Standing Conference of the Oriental Orthodox Churches. Retrieved 2024-03-07.
  8. ^ "Oriental Orthodox | USCCB". www.usccb.org. Retrieved 2024-03-30.
  9. ^ Winkler, Dietmar (2019). "The Syriac Church Denominations: An Overview". In King, Daniel (ed.). The Syriac World. Routledge. p. 119. ISBN 9781138899018.
  10. ^ a b Boutros Ghali 1991, pp. 1845b–1846a.
  11. ^ a b Keshishian 1994, pp. 103–108.
  12. ^ John Paul II (25 May 1995). "Ut Unum Sint: On commitment to Ecumenism". www.vatican.va. Retrieved 2023-02-12.
  13. ^ St. Maurice and St. Verena Coptic Orthodox Church – Divine Liturgy on YouTube
  14. ^ "The Transfiguration: Our Past and Our Future". Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Los Angeles.
  15. ^ a b c Winkler 1997, p. 33-40.
  16. ^ a b c Brock 2016, p. 45–52.
  17. ^ "Chalcedonians". TheFreeDictionary. Retrieved June 11, 2016.
  18. ^ Krikorian 2010, pp. 45, 128, 181, 194, 206.
  19. ^ Appiah, Anthony; Gates, Henry Louis (2005). Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience. Oxford University Press. p. 566. ISBN 978-0-19-517055-9. It emphasizes the dietary laws and rules of circumcision found in the Old Testament of the Bible, and in addition to the Christian Sunday Sabbath, Ethiopia Christians observe the traditional Jewish Saturday Sabbath, as do the Ethiopian Jews.
  20. ^ N. Stearns, Peter (2008). The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern World. Oxford University Press. p. 179. ISBN 9780195176322. Uniformly practiced by Jews, Muslims, and the members of Coptic, Ethiopian, and Eritrean Orthodox Churches, male circumcision remains prevalent in many regions of the world, particularly Africa, South and East Asia, Oceania, and Anglosphere countries.
  21. ^ Ian Bradley (2 November 2012). Water: A Spiritual History. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4411-6767-5.
  22. ^ H. Bulzacchelli, Richard (2006). Judged by the Law of Freedom: A History of the Faith-works Controversy, and a Resolution in the Thought of St. Thomas Aquinas. University Press of America. p. 19. ISBN 9780761835011. The Ethiopian and Coptic Churches distinguishes between clean and unclean meats, observes days of ritual purification, and keeps a kind of dual Sabbath on both Saturday and Sunday.
  23. ^ Davis 1990, p. 342.
  24. ^ "Joint Commission, First Agreed Statement". Orthodox Joint Commission. 14 December 2013. Retrieved 15 February 2024.
  25. ^ "Middle Eastern Oriental Orthodox Common Declaration – March 17, 2001". sor.cua.edu.
  26. ^ "Dialogue with the Assyrian Church of the East and its Effect on the Dialogue with the Roman Catholic". Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria Diocese of Los Angeles, Southern California, and Hawaii. Retrieved 2 June 2016.
  27. ^ "Apostolic Journey to Egypt: Courtesy visit to H.H. Pope Tawadros II (Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, Cairo – 28 April 2017) | Francis".
  28. ^ "Agreed on baptism in Germany". www.churchtimes.co.uk. Retrieved 2019-01-08.
  29. ^ Fanning 1907.
  30. ^ Roberson, Ronald G. (1995). Oriental Orthodox-Roman Catholic Interchurch Marriages: And Other Pastoral Relationships. USCCB Publishing. p. 81. ISBN 978-1-55586-097-4.
  31. ^ Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria (1999). "NATURE OF CHRIST" (PDF). copticchurch.net. St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church. Retrieved 30 November 2014.
  32. ^ Cyril of Alexandria; Pusey, P. E. (Trans.). "From His Second Book Against the Words of Theodore". The Tertullian Project. Retrieved 30 November 2014.
  33. ^ Kirsch 1910.
  34. ^ "Common declaration of Pope John Paul II and His Holiness Moran Mar Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East (June 23, 1984) | John Paul II". www.vatican.va.
  35. ^ "Prayers of the Church". Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. Retrieved 25 July 2020.
  36. ^ Mary Cecil, 2nd Baroness Amherst of Hackney (1906). A Sketch of Egyptian History from the Earliest Times to the Present Day. Methuen. p. 399. Prayers 7 times a day are enjoined, and the most strict among the Copts recite one of more of the Psalms of David each time they pray. They always wash their hands and faces before devotions, and turn to the East.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  37. ^ Kosloski, Philip (16 October 2017). "Did you know Muslims pray in a similar way to some Christians?". Aleteia. Retrieved 25 July 2020.
  38. ^ Duffner, Jordan Denari (13 February 2014). "Wait, I thought that was a Muslim thing?!". Commonweal. Retrieved 26 July 2020.
  39. ^ "Member Churches – SCOOCH". Retrieved 2022-04-21.
  40. ^ Encyclopedia of Religion (2nd ed.). Farmington Hills, MI: Thomson Gale. 2005. pp. 1672–1673. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)
  41. ^ UN Security Council resolutions on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict
  42. ^ "Statement of the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group". OSCE. Retrieved June 25, 2011.
  43. ^ "Ethiopia – Religion". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2019-10-25.
  44. ^ "Eritrea – Religion". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2019-10-25.
  45. ^ "The World Factbook: Egypt". CIA. Retrieved 7 October 2010.
  46. ^ "Church in India – Syrian Orthodox Church of India – Roman Catholic Church – Protestant Churches in India". Syrianchurch.org. Archived from the original on 16 October 2013. Retrieved 14 October 2013.
  47. ^ "Foreign Ministry: 89,000 minorities live in Turkey". Today's Zaman. 15 December 2008. Archived from the original on 20 May 2011. Retrieved 16 May 2011.
  48. ^ Golnaz Esfandiari (2004-12-23). "A Look At Iran's Christian Minority". Payvand. Retrieved 2012-03-21.
  49. ^ Goldman, Ari L. (22 September 1992). "U.S. Branch Leaves Ethiopian Orthodox Church". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 April 2016.
  50. ^ Dickinson, Augustine (31 July 2018). "Decades-Old Schism in the Ethiopian Church Mended". Ethiopicist Blog. Archived from the original on 7 May 2021. Retrieved 8 August 2018.
  51. ^ Kibriye, Solomon (27 July 2018). "Ethiopian Orthodox Unity Declaration Document in English". Orthodoxy Cognate Page. Retrieved 8 August 2018.
  52. ^ Bryner, Erich (2004). "Die orthodoxen Kirchen von 1274 bis 1700" (PDF). www.eva-leipzig.de. Retrieved 2023-02-12. S. 114 ff: "Die Orientalischen Orthodoxen Kirchen" (miaphysitische und dyophysitische Kirchen)
  53. ^ Johannes Oeldemann: Konfessionskunde, 2017, Kap. 2: Die Orthodoxe Kirche und die Orientalisch-Orthodoxen Kirchen enthält drei Unterkapitel: Die Orthodoxe Kirche, Die Assyrische Kirche des Ostens und Die Orientalisch-Orthodoxen Kirchen d.h. die Assyrische Kirche des Ostens gehört sowohl zu den Orientalisch-Orthodoxen Kirchen als auch nicht zu den Orientalisch-Orthodoxen Kirchen.
  54. ^ artin Tamcke: Orientalische orthodoxe Nationalkirchen. In: Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (RGG). 4. Auflage. Band 6, Mohr-Siebeck, Tübingen 2003, Sp. 653

Sources edit

External links edit