|Part of the series on
Eastern Christianity Portal
Oriental Orthodoxy is the communion of 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.
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. These six churches, while being in communion with each other, are hierarchically independent.
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."
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, 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. 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.||”|
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.
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% 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).
The Oriental Orthodox Communion is a group of churches within Oriental Orthodoxy which are all in full communion with each other. The communion includes:
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.
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 Church of Cilicia claims that it is independent of Etchmiadzin and in no way answers to their Catholicos. The Church of Etchmiadzin, on the other hand, claims that it is the Supreme See of Armenians, and thus that, to a certain degree, Cilicia is bound to answer to it. 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.
The Assyrian Church of the East is sometimes incorrectly considered as Oriental Orthodox. Being largely centered in what was then the Persian Empire, it was separated administratively from the Church of the Roman Empire around 400, and then broke communion with the latter in reaction to the Council of Ephesus (431). Additionally, it accepts a Nestorian dyophysite Christology that is categorically rejected by the Oriental Orthodox Communion, and venerates as saints people anathematized as heretics by the latter.
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.
|Autocephalous and Autonomous Churches of Oriental Orthodoxy|
|Alexandria | Antioch | Armenia | Eritrea | Ethiopia | India|
|Alexandria: British Orthodox Church | French Orthodox Church|