Oriental Orthodoxy

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The term Oriental Orthodoxy refers to the communion of Eastern Christian Churches that recognize only the first four ecumenical councils—the First Council of Nicaea, the First Council of Constantinople, the First Council of Ephesus and the Second Council of Ephesus—and reject the dogmatic definitions of the Council of Chalcedon. Despite potentially confusing nomenclature, Oriental Orthodox churches (also called Old Oriental Churches) are distinct from the churches that are collectively referred to as Eastern Orthodoxy.

The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria is considered the spiritual leader of the Oriental Orthodox Churches. It is to be noted that the spiritual leadership is not understood in the same way as the Eastern Orthodox churches' relationships to the Church of Constantinople; it is however, in the spirit of respect and honor for the Apostolic Throne of Alexandria. It does not give any prerogatives, jurisdiction or rights to the Church of Alexandria in any way as in the Eastern Orthodox Church.


The separation between Oriental Orthodoxy and what would become known as the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church occurred in the fifth century. This 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 has two natures—one divine and one human. Dioscorus' rejection was not over the council statement that Christ has two natures, but over its refusal to confess that the two natures are inseparable and united. Pope Dioscorus would accept only "of or from two natures" but not "in two natures." Oriental Orthodox Christology was founded in the Alexandrine School of Theology, which advocated a formula that stressed unity of the Incarnation over all other considerations.

Due to this perspective, the Oriental Orthodox churches were often called "Monophysite" churches, although the Oriental Orthodox Churches reject the heretical Monophysite teachings of Eutyches, the heretical teachings of Nestorius and the Dyophysite definition of the Council of Chalcedon. They prefer the term "non-Chalcedonian" or "Miaphysite" churches.

Christology, although important, was not the only reason for the Oriental Orthodox refusal of the Council of Chalcedon—other political, ecclesiastical and imperial issues were also involved.

In the years following Chalcedon, the patriarchs of Constantinople remained in communion with the non-Chalcedonian patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, while Rome remained out of communion with Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, and in unstable communion with Constantinople. It was not until 518 C.E. that the Byzantine Emperor, Justin I, on the ultimatum of the Roman patriarch, demanded that the Church of the Roman Empire be Chalcedonian once and for all. Justin ordered the deposition and replacement of all anti-Chalcedonian bishops, including the patriarchs of Antioch and Alexandria. By 525 C.E., anti-Chalcedonian Christians found themselves being persecuted by the Roman Empire; this would not end until the rise of Islam.

In the twentieth century, a warming of relations between the Roman Catholic Pope and Patriarchs of the Oriental Orthodoxy has occurred, and reconciling declarations have been made.

According to the canons of the Oriental Orthodox Churches, the four Archbishops of Rome, Alexandria, Ephesus (later transferred to Constantinople) and Antioch were all given status as Patriarchs, or in other words, the Ancient Apostolic Centers of Christianity by the First Council of Nicea (predating the schism)—each of the four being responsible for those bishops and churches under its jurisdiction within his own quarter of Christendom, being the Metropolitan Archbishop of the Province (with the exception of the Archbishop or Patriarch of Jerusalem, who was to be independent of all of these.) Thus, the Archbishop of Rome (ie, the Pope of the Catholic Church) has always been held by the others to be in Communion, and fully sovereign within his own quadrant.

The technical reason for the schism was that the Bishop of Rome excommunicated the non-Chalcedonian bishops in 451 C.E. for refusing to accept the "in two natures" teaching, thus declaring them to be out of communion with him, although they have continued to recognize him as an equal. With the recent declarations, it is unclear whether the Archbishop of Rome still considers the other three to be excommunicated, or now sees them as being fully in Communion as before.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that it is the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church founded by Jesus. However, it does not deny that the one and only, true Church of Christ exists in other churches and ecclesiastic bodies. Vatican Council II said in its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen gentium, 1964, § 15), "in some real way [non-Catholic Christians] are joined with us in the Holy Spirit, for to them too He gives His gifts and graces whereby He is operative among them with His sanctifying power."

Geographical distribution

Oriental Orthodoxy is the dominant religion in Armenia, and in Ethiopia. It also has a significant presence in Eritrea, Egypt, Sudan, Syria, and in Kerala, India. In total number of members, the Ethiopian church is the largest of all Oriental Orthodox Churches.

Oriental Orthodox Communion

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

  • The Oriental Orthodox Communion
    • The Armenian Apostolic Church of All Armenians
      • The Armenian Apostolic Church of Cilicia
      • The Armenian Apostolic Church of Constantinople
      • The Armenian Apostolic Church of Jerusalem
    • The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria
      • The British Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom
      • The French Coptic Orthodox Church in France
    • The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church
    • The Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church
    • The Indian Orthodox Church, also known as the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church
    • The Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch (also known as the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch)
      • The Malankara Jacobite Syriac Orthodox Church

Assyrian Church of the East

The Assyrian Church of the East is sometimes, although incorrectly, considered an Oriental Orthodox Church. Being largely centered in what was then the Persian Empire, it separated itself administratively from the Church of the Roman Empire around 400 C.E., and then broke communion with the latter in reaction to the Council of Ephesus held in 431 C.E. Additionally, the Assyrian Church venerates Saints anathematized by the previously mentioned Church and its descendants. In addition, the Assyrian Church accepts a Nestorian or Nestorian-like Christology that is categorically rejected by the Oriental Orthodox Communion.

Syriac Tradition Groups in INDIA
West Syriac (Antiochian) East Syriac (Chaldean)
Oriental Orthodox Reformed Orthodox Eastern Catholic Assyrian Church of the East
Malankara Jacobite Syrian Church (Syriac Orthodox Church) Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (Indian Orthodox Church) Malabar Independent Syrian Church (Thozhiyoor Church) Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church (Mar Thoma Church) Syro-Malankara Catholic Church Syro-Malabar Church Chaldean Syrian Church
N.B. The Malabar Independent Syrian Church, while Oriental Orthodox in tradition, is not in communion with the rest of Oriental Orthodoxy. This church is in communion however with the Mar Thoma Church and both churches have assisted each other in the consecration of bishops. The Mar Thoma Church itself, while continuing to maintain a Syrian identity, has moved closer to the Anglican Communion and maintains communion with both the Anglican groupings in India - The CNI (Church of North India) and CSI (Church of South India)

Syriac and Indian ecclesiastical jurisdictions

(in alphabetical order by Communion)

  • Eastern Catholic Churches
    • Syro-Malabar Church
      • Archdiocese of Kottayam (Knanaya)
    • Syro-Malankara Catholic Church
    • Chaldean Catholic Church
  • Oriental Orthodox Communion
    • Jacobite Syriac Orthodox Church (Autonomous and a constitute an integral part of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch)
      • Knanaya Diocese
    • Indian Orthodox Church or the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (Autocephalous Church)

  • Oriental Orthodox in Tradition but not in communion with the Oriental Orthodox Communion
    • Malabar Independent Syrian Church (in communion with the Mar Thoma Church)
    • Diocese of Cosmopolis
    • Antiochian Catholic Church in America
  • Assyrian Church of the Eas
    • Chaldean Syrian Church in India

  • Oriental Orthodox in Tradition but protestant in beliefs
    • Mar Thoma Church (in communion with Anglican member churches but not a member of the Anglican Communion)
  • Evangelical Protestant
    • St. Thomas Evangelical Church

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Betts, Robert B. Christians in the Arab East Athens: Lycabbetus Press, 1978.
  • Binns, John. An Introduction to the Christian Orthodox Churches (Introduction to Religion). Cambridge University Press, 2002.
  • Charles, R. H. The Chronicle of John, Bishop of Nikiu: Translated from Hermann Zotenberg's Ethiopic Text. Evolution Publishing, 1916. Reprinted 2007. ISBN 978-1-889758-87-9
  • Harakas, Stanley H. The Orthodox Church; 455 Questions and Answers. Light and Life Publishing Company, 1988. ISBN 0-937032-56-5
  • Ware, Timothy. The Orthodox Church. Penguin Books, 1997. ISBN 0-14-014656-3

External links

All links retrieved November 17, 2022.


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