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. Hence, these Churches are also called Old Oriental Churches. Despite potentially confusing nomenclature, Oriental Orthodox 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 in the same sense understood for the one extended among the Eastern Orthodox churches 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.

History

The schism between Oriental Orthodoxy and what would become the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches 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 has two natures — one divine and one human. This was not because the council stated that Christ has two natures, but because the council's presiders refused to confess (more than wordly) that the two natures are inseparable and united. 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 Nestorian-flavored terminology, according their definition of Christology, which was founded in the Alexandrine School of Theology that advocated a formula that stressed unity of the Incarnation over all other considerations.

The Oriental Orthodox churches were therefore often called Monophysite churches, although they reject this label, which is associated with Eutychian Monophysitism, preferring the term "non-Chalcedonian" or "Miaphysite" churches. Oriental Orthodox Churches reject the heretical Monophysite teachings of Eutyches, the heretical teachings of Nestorius and the Dyophysite definition of the Council of Chalcedon.

Christology, although important, was not the only reason for the refusal of the Council of Chalcedon - political, ecclesiastical and imperial issues were hotly debated.

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 Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, and in unstable communion with Constantinople. It was not until 518 AD 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 AD, anti-Chalcedonian Christians found themselves being persecuted by the Roman Empire; this would not end until the rise of Islam.

In the 20th century, the Chalcedonian schism was not seen with the same relevance any more, and from several meetings between the Roman Catholic Pope and Patriarchs of the Oriental Orthodoxy, reconciling declarations emerged.

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.
From the common declaration of Pope John Paul II and HH Mar Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, June 23 1984

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 his 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 AD 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. 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."

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Oriental Orthodoxy is a dominant religion in Armenia (94%), the ethnically Armenian breakaway republic Nagorno-Karabakh (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%). Whereas it is a minority in Egypt (15%), Sudan (3-5%) out of the 15% of total Christians), and Syria (2-3% out of the 10% of total Christians). Also in Kerala, India (8% out of the 23% of Christians). In 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).

Oriental Orthodox Communion

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

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 AD 400, and then broke communion with the latter in reaction to the Council of Ephesus held in 431. 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 OrthodoxReformed OrthodoxEastern CatholicAssyrian 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 ChurchSyro-Malabar ChurchChaldean 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)

See also

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Autocephalous and Autonomous Churches of Oriental Orthodoxy
Autocephalous Churches
Alexandria | Antioch | Armenia | Ethiopia | India | Eritrea
Autonomous Churches
Alexandria: British Orthodox Church|French Orthodox Church Antioch: Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church Armenia: Jerusalem|Cilicia|Constantinople
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