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Eastern Christianity
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Eastern Christianity Portal

History
Byzantine Empire
Crusades
Ecumenical council
Christianization of Bulgaria
Christianization of Kievan Rus'
East-West Schism
By region
Asian - Copts
Eastern Orthodox - Georgian - Ukrainian

Traditions
Church of the East
Eastern Catholic Churches
Eastern Orthodox Church
Oriental Orthodoxy
Syriac Christianity

Liturgy and Worship
Sign of the cross
Divine Liturgy
Iconography
Asceticism
Omophorion

Theology
Hesychasm - Icon
Apophaticism - Filioque clause
Miaphysitism - Monophysitism
Nestorianism - Theosis - Theoria
Phronema - Philokalia
Praxis - Theotokos
Hypostasis - Ousia
Essence-Energies distinction
Metousiosis

Eastern Christianity refers collectively to the Christian traditions and churches which developed in the Balkans, Eastern Europe, Asia Minor, the Middle East, Northeastern Africa and southern India over several centuries of religious antiquity. The term is generally used in Western Christianity to describe all Christian traditions which did not develop in Western Europe. As such the term does not describe any single communion or common religious tradition (indeed some Eastern Churches have more in common historically and theologically with Western Christianity than other Eastern Churches).

The terms Eastern and Western in this regard originated with the division between the Eastern and Western Roman Empire and the cultural split that this caused. The term Orthodox is often used in the same way as Eastern in referring to church communions although, strictly speaking, most churches consider themselves part of an orthodox and catholic communion.

Contents

Families of churches

Eastern Christians do not have a shared religious traditions but many of these groups have shared cultural traditions. Christianity divided itself in the East during its early centuries both within and outside of the Roman Empire in disputes about christology and fundamental theology, as well as national divisions (Roman, Persian, etc.). It would be many centuries later that Western Christianity fully split from these traditions as its own communion (SEE: SCHISM). Today there are four main branches or families of Eastern Christianity, each of which has distinct theology and dogma.

All of the Eastern churches, as well as the Western churches, share a common Christian tradition and most of the same Christian Biblical canon. Many Eastern churches also share traditional practices in common which are not shared by the Western churches but there is no particular tradition that distinguishes non-Western churches from Western churches. In many Eastern churches, parish priests administer the sacrament of chrismation to infants after baptism, and priests are allowed to marry before ordination. While all the Eastern Catholic Churches recognize the authority of the Pope, some of them who having originally been part of the Eastern Orthodox Church closely follow the traditions of Eastern Orthodoxy, including the tradition of allowing married men to become priests.

The Eastern churches' differences from Western Christianity have as much, if not more, to do with culture, language, and politics, as theology. For the non-Catholic Eastern churches, a definitive date for the commencement of schism cannot usually be given (see East-West Schism). The Church of the East declared independence from the churches of the Roman Empire at its general council in 424, which was before the Council of Ephesus in 431, and so had nothing to do with the theology declared at that Council. Oriental Orthodoxy separated after the Council of Chalcedon in 451. Since the time of church historian Edward Gibbon, the split between the Church of Rome and the Orthodox Churches has been conveniently dated to 1054 (though the reality is more complex). This split is sometimes referred to as the Great Schism, but now more usually referred to as the East-West Schism. This final schism reflected a larger cultural and political division which had developed in Europe and southwest Asia during the Middle Ages and coincided with Western Europe's re-emergence from the collapse of the Western Roman Empire.

Church of the East

Historically, the Church of the East was the widest reaching branch of Eastern Christianity, at its height spreading from its heartland in Persia and Mesopotamia to the Mediterranean, India, and China. Originally the church of Sassanid Persia, the Church of the East declared itself independent of other churches in 424 and over the next century became affiliated with Nestorianism, a Christological doctrine advanced by Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople from 428 to 431, which had been declared heretical in the Roman Empire. Thereafter it was often known as the Nestorian Church in the West. Surviving a period of persecution within Persia, the Church of the East flourished under the caliphate and branched out, establishing dioceses throughout Asia.

After a period of expansion under the Mongol Empire, the church went into decline through the 14th century, and was eventually confined largely to its heartland in what is now Iraq and to the Malabar Coast of India. In the 16th century dynastic struggles sent the church into schism, resulting in the formation of two rival churches. Two modern churches developed from the schism, the Chaldean Church, which entered into communion with Rome as an Eastern Catholic Church, and the Assyrian Church of the East. In India, the local Church of the East community, known as the Saint Thomas Christians, experienced its own rifts as a result of Portuguese influence.

Assyrian Church of the East

The Assyrian Church of the East emerged from the historical Church of the East, which was centered in Persia and spread widely throughout Asia. The modern Assyrian Church of the East emerged in the 16th century following a split with the Chaldean Church, which later entered into communion with Rome as an Eastern Catholic Church.

The Church of the East was associated with the doctrine of Nestorianism, advanced by Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople from 428 – 431, which emphasized the disunion between the human and divine natures of Jesus. Nestorius and his doctrine were condemned at the First Council of Ephesus in 431, leading to the Nestorian Schism in which churches supporting Nestorius split from the rest of Christianity. Many followers relocated to Persia and became affiliated with the local Christian community there; this adopted an increasingly Nestorian theology and was thereafter often known as the Nestorian Church. As such, the Church of the East accepts only the first two Ecumenical Councils of the undivided Church — the First Council of Nicaea and the First Council of Constantinople — as defining its faith tradition, and took a rapidly took a different course from other Eastern Christians.

The Church of the East spread widely through Persia and into Asia, being introduced to India by the 6th century and to the Mongols and China in the 7th century. It experienced periodic expansion until the 14th century, when the church was nearly destroyed by the collapse of the Mongol Empire and the conquests of Timur. By the 16th century it was largely confined to Kurdistan and the Malabar Coast of India. The split of the 15th century, which saw the emergence of separate Assyrian and Chaldean Churches, left only the former as an independent sect. Further splits into the 20th century further affected the history of the Assyrian Church of the East.

Oriental Orthodox Churches

Oriental Orthodoxy refers to the churches of Eastern Christian tradition that keep the faith of the first three Ecumenical Councils of the undivided Church: the First Council of Nicaea (AD 325), the First Council of Constantinople (381) and the Council of Ephesus (431), and rejected the dogmatic definitions of the Council of Chalcedon (451). Hence, these churches are also called Old Oriental Churches.

Oriental Orthodoxy developed in reaction to Chalcedon on the eastern limit of the Byzantine Empire and in Egypt and Syria. In those locations, there are now also Eastern Orthodox Patriarchs, but the rivalry between the two has largely vanished in the centuries since schism.

The following Oriental Orthodox churches are autocephalous and in full communion:

Eastern Orthodox Churches

The Eastern Orthodox Church is a Christian body whose adherents are largely based in Russia, Greece, Eastern Europe and the Middle East, with a growing presence in the western world. Eastern Orthodox Christians accept seven Ecumenical Councils.

Orthodox Christianity identifies itself as the original Christian church founded by Christ and the Apostles, and traces its lineage back to the early church through the process of Apostolic Succession and unchanged theology and practice. Orthodox distinctives (shared with some of the Eastern Catholic Churches) include the Divine Liturgy, Mysteries or Sacraments, and an emphasis on the preservation of Tradition, which it holds to be Apostolic in nature.

Orthodox Churches are also distinctive in that they are organized into selfgoverning jurisdictions along national, ethnic, and/or linguistic lines. Orthodoxy is thus made up of 15 or 16 national autocephalous bodies. Smaller churches are autonomous and each have a mother church that is autocephalous.

The Eastern Orthodox Church includes the following churches

Most Eastern Orthodox are united in communion with each other, though unlike the Roman Catholic Church, this is a looser connection rather than a top-down hierarchy (see primus inter pares).

It may also be noted that the Church of Rome was once in communion with the Eastern Orthodox Church, but the two were split after the East-West Schism and thus it is no longer in communion with the Eastern Orthodox Church.

It is estimated that there are approximately 240 million Orthodox Christians in the world.[1] Today, many adherents shun the term "Eastern" as denying the church's universal character. They refer to Eastern Orthodoxy simply as the Orthodox Church.

Eastern Catholic Churches

The twenty-two Eastern Catholic churches are all in communion with the Holy See at the Vatican, but are rooted in the theological and liturgical traditions of Eastern Christianity.

Many of these churches were originally part of one of the above families and so are closely related to them by way of ethos and liturgical practice. As in the other Eastern churches, married men may become priests, and parish priests administer the mystery of confirmation to newborn infants immediately after baptism, via the rite of chrismation; the infants are then administered Holy Communion.

The Syro-Malabar Church, based in Kerala, India, has never been out of communion with Rome. Other Christians of Kerala, who were originally of the same East-Syrian tradition, passed instead to the West-Syrian tradition and now form part of Oriental Orthodoxy (some from the Oriental Orthodox in India reunited with the Catholic Church in 1930 and became the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church). Maronite Church also claims never to have been separated from Rome, and has no counterpart Orthodox Church out of communion with the Pope. It is therefore inaccurate to refer to it as a "Uniate" Church. The Italo-Albanian Catholic Church has also never been out of communion with Rome, but, unlike the Maronite Church, it uses the same liturgical rite as the Eastern Orthodox Churches.

Rejection of Uniatism

At a meeting in Balamand, Lebanon in June 1993, the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church declared that these initiatives that "led to the union of certain communities with the See of Rome and brought with them, as a consequence, the breaking of communion with their Mother Churches of the East ... took place not without the interference of extra-ecclesial interests" (section 8 of the document); and that what has been called "uniatism" "can no longer be accepted either as a method to be followed nor as a model of the unity our Churches are seeking" (section 12).

At the same time, the Commission stated:

  • 3) Concerning the Eastern Catholic Churches, it is clear that they, as part of the Catholic Communion, have the right to exist and to act in response to the spiritual needs of their faithful.
  • 16) The Oriental Catholic Churches who have desired to re-establish full communion with the See of Rome and have remained faithful to it, have the rights and obligations which are connected with this communion.

Saint Thomas Christians

The Saint Thomas Christians are an ancient body of Christians on the southwest coast of India who trace their origins to the evangelical activity of Thomas the Apostle in the 1st century.[2] By the 5th century the Saint Thomas Christians were part of the Church of the East, or Nestorian Church. Until the middle of the 17th century and the arrival of the Portuguese, the Thomas Christians were all one in faith and rite. Thereafter, divisions arose among them, and consequently they are today of several different rites.[3] Relationship of the Nasrani (Saint Thomas Christian) groups

Catholic-Orthodox ecumenism

Ecumenical dialogue over the past 43 years since Paul VI's meeting with the Orthodox Patriarch Athenagoras I has awoken the nearly 1000-year hopes for Christian unity. Since the lifting of excommunications during the Paul VI and Athenagoras I meeting in Jerusalem there have been other significant meetings between Popes and Ecumenical Patriarchs of Constantinople. The most recent meeting was between Benedict XVI and Bartholomew I, who signed the Common Declaration. It states that "We give thanks to the Author of all that is good, who allows us once again, in prayer and in dialogue, to express the joy we feel as brothers and to renew our commitment to move towards full communion". [1]

Dissenting movements

In addition to these four mainstream branches, there are a number of much smaller groups which, like Protestants, originated from disputes with the dominant tradition of their original areas, but are usually not referred to as Protestants because they lack historical ties to the Reformation, and usually lack a classically Protestant theology. Most of these are either part of the more traditional Old Believer movement, which arose from a schism within Russian Orthodoxy, or the more radical "Spiritual Christianity" movement. The latter includes a number of diverse "low-church" groups, from the Bible-centered Molokans to the anarchic Doukhobors to the self-mutilating Skoptsy. None of these groups are in communion with the mainstream churches listed above, aside from a few Old Believer parishes in communion with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia.

There are national dissidents, where ethnic groups want their own nation-church like with the Macedonian Orthodox Church and Montenegrin Orthodox Church; both domiciles of the Serbian Orthodox Church. However, it should be noted that in Macedonia, the influence of the Serbian Orthodox Church is minimal, due to Macedonia's efforts to create an autocephalous Macedonian primacy in the Orthodox Church. The vast majority of Orthodox ethnic Macedonians view the Serbian Orthodox Church as hostile to Macedonian history, national interests, and self-determination.

A little known movement of "reformers" in the Greek Orthodox Church traces its history to the 18th century. The leaders of this "schism" within the Orthodox Christian churches were called by a Greek word meaning 'unstable' (astateos).[citation needed] The children of these leaders left the East toward Western Europe, mainly Spain.[citation needed] In Ibero America these families are known by the derivative name 'Astacios' or 'Astacio.' One of their descendants was one of the first converts to the Pentecostal movement in 1916, Petra Astacio, of Montellano (Ponce, Puerto Rico).[citation needed] The Astacios have intermarried with native people of the Americas as well as with Spanish Jews (Sephardim) and Afro-Caribbeans.

Liturgy

The Eastern churches (excepting the non-liturgical dissenting bodies) each belong to one of several liturgical families:

See also

For other definitions and meaning for the word orthodox, see Orthodoxy.

Notes

  1. ^ See details for Major religious groups
  2. ^ A.E. Medlycott, India and The Apostle Thomas, pp.1-71, 213-97; M.R. James, Apocryphal New Testament, pp.364-436; Eusebius, History, chapter 4:30; J.N. Farquhar, The Apostle Thomas in North India, chapter 4:30; V.A. Smith, Early History of India, p.235; L.W. Brown, The Indian Christians of St. Thomas, p.49-59
  3. ^ Dr. Placid Podipara, The Thomas Christians”

Further reading

  • Angold, Michael, ed (2006). The Cambridge History of Christianity. Volume 5, Eastern Christianity. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521811132. 

External links








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