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Eastern Christianity refers collectively to the Christian traditions and churches which developed in the Balkans, Eastern Europe, Asia Minormarker, the Middle East, Northeastern Africa and southern Indiamarker 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.

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 the Eastern Catholic Churches recognize the authority of the Pope, having originally been part of the Eastern Orthodox Church they closely follow the traditions of Eastern Orthodoxy, including the tradition of allowing priests to marry.

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 Assyrian 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 Church 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.

Assyrian Church of the East

The Assyrian Church of the East traces its roots to the See of Babylon and is said to have been founded by Saint Thomas the Apostle. It accepts only the first two Ecumenical Councils of the undivided Church—the Council of Nicaea and the First Council of Constantinople—as defining its faith tradition. This church, developing within the Persian Empire, at the east of the Christian world, rapidly took a different course from other Eastern Christians. In the West, it is sometimes inaccurately called the Nestorian Church.

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 Egyptmarker and Syriamarker. 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. 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 Maronite Church always remained in communion with the Holy See, and thus does not have a counterpart among the non-Catholic Eastern churches. The (Italo-Albanian) Italo-Greek Catholic Church has come under Papal authority very soon under the Schism, and thus has no counterpart not in communion. Eastern Catholics form around 2% of the entire membership of the Catholic Church. Most of the Eastern Catholic churches re-established communion with Rome during the 17th through 19th centuries.

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.


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". [6823]

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 Macedoniamarker, the influence of the Serbian Orthodox Church is minimal to non-existent. 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). The children of these leaders left the East toward Western Europe, mainly Spain. 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). 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

External links




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