- History of Eastern Christianity
Christianity has been, historically a
Middle Easternreligion with its origin in Hebrew tribal Judaismand the Ancient Eastern Roman Empire. Eastern Christianity refers collectively to the Christian traditions and churches which developed in the Middle East, Egypt, Asia Minor, The Far East, Balkans, Eastern Europe, Asia Minor, Northeastern Africa and southern Indiaover several centuries of religious antiquity. It is contrasted with Western Christianitywhich developed in Western Europe.Tomas Spidlik, "The Spirituality of the Christian East: A systematic handbook", Cistercian Publications, Kalamazoo, Michigan, 1986. ISBN 0-87907-879-0] Kallistos Ware, "The Orthodox Church", St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, London, 1995. ISBN 978-0913836583] As a historical definition the term relates to the earliest Christian communities and their long standing traditions that still exist.
The History of Eastern Christianity
Christianity as a religion was founded by
Jesus Christ(8–2 BC/BCE to 29–36 AD/CE) and his Twelve Apostles. Christianity was an underground movement having been in conflict with Judaism and then also with the Pagan Roman Empire (see Persecution of early Christians by the Romans). Much of early Christianity as an underground movement had no above ground or established churches as many of the Early Christians attended Synagogueand prayer meetings at their homes and other secret locations. Church meant gathering or community more so than building or structure. Some during the times of persecutions and secrecy did have churches that were underground though, as can be seen in the underground citiesof Anatoliaand the catacomb churches of Rome. Many churches which were established as primary in authority, were established by the early apostles. This tradition is outside of the canon of the biblebut is tied to the canon, in the sense that each church used their respective Gospel given to them by their communities' founding Apostle. To establish Christianity in their respective regions. Tradition stated that St Markfounded in the small Jewish Christian community in Egypt as the Patriarch of Alexandria, the Egyptian and therefore by proxy the African churches or communities.That St Jamesbrother of Jesus (by Eastern tradition a step brother to Jesus as Joseph was a widower) as the established first Patriarch of Jerusalem. St Peterbeing the establisher of the church in Jerusalem with St James. Saint Peter as also the first Patriarch of Antioch. Where as by tradition the churches of Greece and the Mediterranean Islands were founded by St Paul and St John. St Paul and St Peter by tradition are noted as the founders of the church of Rome. The churches of Babylon and India being founded by St Thomas and also by Saint Paul. The churches of southern Asia, Armenia, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Georgia, the Balkans and Eastern Bloc states and Constantinopleby St Andrew. St Judeand St Bartholomewas founders of the church of Armenia. St Matthewbeing the patron saint of Italy, though Orthodox tradition has him martyred in Ethiopia.There where of course other communities established by Christians that where not the original Apostles. Some Christian communities where established by the Seventy Disciplesof the Apostles (see Thaddeus of Edessaand Ananias of Damascus). Also important were the Seven Deacons.
The churches that where the original churches founded by the Apostles where later established as authority centers under the
* Rome (Sts. Peter and Paul), i.e. the Pope, the only Pentarch in the
Western Roman Empire.
* Alexandria (St. Mark), currently in
* Antioch (St. Peter), currently in
* Jerusalem (St. James), currently in
* Constantinople (St. Andrew), currently in
Common characteristics of Eastern Christianity
The church as established in the Middle East was done so under the concept of unity i.e.
catholicand or ecumenical. For the earliest Christian communities the concept of unity was one were the church communities agreed on a doctrinal understanding of Christianity. Such an understanding was based on the tradition of unity within the different ancient Christian communities. One such tradition is the biblical texts used by each of the ancient communities or churches. Unity was established in what was taught to the communities by Christ and then his apostles which was doctrinal in its expression. When various persons or groups within the many ancient Christian communities began to come at odds with innovations or interpretations of the traditions of Christianity, the communities set out to clarify the validity of the variation in the comparison to traditional understanding. To establish why this change was to be accepted or rejected. As such was the case of the first council in Jerusalem. The later councils where prompted to clarify tradition and address what was proper and what was improper. Proper being what was established by Jesus Christ and then his apostles, then the Seventy and the clergy of the churches and the Patristic text, that take their linage directly back to the Apostolic era. Innovations being that which changed the understanding that Christian communities had as the basis for the understanding and definition of their religion. Such innovations, where as the community believe, at the expense of tradition.Tradition being then established as dogma. A dogma which mystically created a relationship between each individual and the personal Triune God. Any innovation which cut off this relationship and was therefore to be condemned.
This right believing and right teaching was to first establish in each individual a personal relationship with Christ, the God. This original teaching established by a community of persons that through these traditions created and then maintained a relationship with God. As various teachings appeared the Church as a united community addressed and confirmed or denied the teaching or teachings. Tradition was the cornerstone to how teachings were to be deemed valid since tradition itself cultivated a living relationship with the living God. The councils which were conducted after the legalization of Christianity were done so to define what Christianity and a Christian was. This in contrast to Paganism and the Judaism and the various non-traditional Christian beliefs of the time. The Christian communities not within the regions of the Empire of Rome still communicated with one another and it was the break out of the sectarian and deemed new to tradition, teachings of Arius that caused the communities to gather to define what a Christian was and to use this definition to counter the teachings of Arianism.
Eastern Christian Ecclesiastics
Ecclesiastical structure of the Eastern churches
ecclesiasticalstructure of the church is based on Judaism, as was the lay out of the church once Christianity became legal. Systematic persecution of the early Christian church caused it to be an underground movement. The first above-ground churches were "officially" built in Armenia("see Echmiadzin"). Armenia was the first country to legalize Christianity around 301 AD under King Tiridates III and also embrace it as the state religion in 310 AD. However, illegal churches before "Christian legalization" are mentioned throughout church history; such an example would be in the persecutions of Diocletian. Of the underground churches that existed before legalization, some are recorded to have existed as the catacombsin Europe, Rome, and also in the underground cities of Anatoliasuch as Derinkuyu Underground City("also see Cave monastery"). Today the gates though which Paul escaped, named Bab Kisan, and mentioned in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, have been converted into a church in Paul's memory. This is a structure still standing that dates from the time of the Apostles.
Ecclesiastic Services or Liturgy
Liturgical services and in specific the
Eucharistservice, are based on repeating the actions of Jesus ("do this in remembrance of me"), using the bread and wine, and saying his words (known as the words of the institution). The church has the rest of the liturgical ritual being rooted in the Jewish Passover, Siddur, Seder, and synagogueservices, including the singing of hymns (especially the Psalms) and reading from the Scriptures (Old and New Testament). The final uniformity of liturgical services became solidified after the church established a Biblical canon, being based on the Apostolic Constitutionsand Clementine literature. As a common characteristic of Eastern Christianity each shares the standard liturgy structure which came from the Liturgy of St James(see ).
clergyof the Eastern Churches are the bishops, priests, and deacons, the same offices identified in the New Testament and found in the early church. Bishops include archbishops, metropolitans, and patriarchs.Priests (also called presbyters or elders) include archpriests, protopresbyters, hieromonks (priest-monks) and archimandrites (senior hieromonks). Deacons also include hierodeacons (deacon-monks) archdeacons and protodeacons; subdeacons, however, are not deacons, and comprise a separate office that is not to be major clergy, as do readers, acolytes and others. Bishops are usually drawn from the ranks of the monks, and are required to be celibate; however, a non-monastic priest may be ordained to the episcopate if he no longer lives with his wife (following Canon XII of the Quinisext Council) [http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/NPNF2-14/Npnf2-14-136.htm#P6201_1388746] . In contemporary usage such a non-monastic priest is usually tonsured to the monastic state at some point prior to his consecration to the episcopacy.
Ascetic or Charismatic Orders
Pre-Ecumenical Christian heresies
Meetings between Christian communities or churches were held before the Ecumenical councils. These meetings however were not as large because the Christian Church was still an illegal community. These early meetings and correspondence lead to the clarification of early heresies.
Roman Empire and Byzantine Orthodoxy
The creation of the Universal Christian church is a complicated and long history. Hebrew (Semitic), Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Arab Christian communities of the Mediterranean faced various opposition from governments, opposing religions, and splinter groups from within their own faith. This catholic movement within the cradle of Christianity was to unite all Christians into a Universal church based on Christ through tradition, faith and community. The communities sought to balance unity with truth. The truth of these early groups was a shared truth that was communicated to each successive group based on early tradition. Once documented it was the understanding of tradition that caused the various schisms and internal conflicts. Christianity as first established was united Christians from within the Imperium Romanum. The Roman Empire ruled the Middle Eastern coastal communities and the Mediterranean during the time of Christ. As Christians within the Roman Empire many different nationalities and ethnic peoples where subject to Roman rule.
Though the power of the Empire was seated in Rome the greatest unifying force of the Empire was its foundations, which were built on the conquests of
Alexander the Great. It was the Hellenistic Empire which established a unified civilization of the Mediterranean and Greater Middle East, parts of Africa, India and southern Europe. With its conquests of the Mediterranean including Egypt and Babylon, that Rome inherited by its absorption of the Hellenistic Empire. The unity was based on the implementation of common or KoineGreek as the language of the Empire. It was this language that the earliest Christians' text were written in.
A marked change in the life of the church occurred in in 313 when Emperor
Constantine the Greatproclaimed the Edict of Milanand legalized Christianity within the Roman Empire. As the communities united by a Christian faith and tradition lived on to see the legalization of their religion they were faced with the need to address various misconceptions and unclear definitions of their faith and tradition. This culminated in the early writings of the Church fathers and then later the Ecumenical councilsset to define the Christian faith and tradition. It is this origin founded by Christ, his apostles, the seventy disciples, Patristicschurch fathers, ecumenical councils, teaching of the Holiest Christians and witness of martyrs that the Eastern Christian Orthodox community is based on.These all being traditions that found expression in art, literature, architecture, linguistics and ascetic activities of these earliest Christian communities. The Eastern Christian communities were united as a whole. Though as with all groups of humans not every single person who claimed to be a Christian was accepted as a member.
The heresy of Arius was rejected in the community of Christians in theregions of the Pentarchy. This also included the communities of Christians of the far East (the Assyrian Churches) and the churches of Africa (Ethiopians). Churches that were not under the control of Rome. Several doctrinal disputes from the 4th century onwards led to the calling of
ecumenical councils which from a traditional perspective, are the culmination and also a continuation of previous church synods. The first ecumenical council in part was a continuation of Trinitarian doctrinal issues addressed in pre-legalization of Christianity councils or synods (see Synods of Antiochbetween 264-269AD). These ecumenical councils with their doctrinal formulations are pivotal in the history of Christianity in general and to the history of Eastern Christianity. The tradition was not new, but was now public and no longer were the ancient Christian communities forced to hide, but could now meet with all of the clergy out in the open. Even with churches outside the regions of the Byzantine Empire. This would somewhat change.
yrian Orthodox Church
It was not until the third ecumenical council (see
First Council of Ephesus) that the Assyrian church and the churches of Asia, parted ways in schism with the Eastern Orthodox Church, the church of Byzantiumwhich was still united with Rome.
Oriental Orthodox Church
Later councils to define the tenets of the community of Christianity, caused the Oriental Orthodox community to part in schism as well (see the
Council of Chalcedon). The churches or communities at this point were National churches so a great deal of nationalistic sentiments played into the various schisms.
Nationalistic Ecclesiastical Characteristics
There was a degree of nationalistic animosity between the different communities that were united in Christ. Past historical conflicts between these different groups also feed the sentiments of division. As an understanding of the sensitivities of ethnic and or nationalistic characteristics, the early churches did implementnationalistic identities. Hence the establishment of the Greek, Coptic, Armenian, Russian churches. This was balanced with the tradition of churches also being named more for location rather than Nationalistic identity i.e. the church of Antioch or the church of Jerusalem.
* Alexandria (St. Mark), currently in
Egyptnote: After the Council of Chalcedonthe Coptic churches and Byzantine churches went into schism.
* Antioch (St. Peter), currently in
* Jerusalem (St. James), currently in
* Constantinople (St. Andrew), currently in
Patriarch of Moscow
Patriarch of Serbia
Patriarch of Romania
Along with the
Armeniansand Ethiopians, the Assyrians were one of the first groups to convert to Christianityin the first century and later spread NestorianChristianity and Nestorianismto the Far East. The ancient Assyrian capital of Ninevehhad its own bishop of the Church of the East at the time of the Arab conquest of Mesopotamia. [http://utpjournals.metapress.com/content/yv544142p5rnx055/ Hannibal Travis] (2006), "Native Christians Massacred": The Ottoman Genocide of the Assyrians During World War I, "Genocide Studies and Prevention: An International Journal", vol. 1.3, pp. 329] During the era of the Islamic Empire, Assyrians maintained their autonomy; in a fatwa, the Islamic Prophet Muhammaddemanded the "protection of the Assyrian people of Mesopotamia". [ [http://www.christianitytoday.com.au/ct/2004/131/52.0.html Iraq's Church Bombers vs. Muhammad | Christianity Today |A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction ] ] The Assyrians eventually lost their autonomy when the region was conquered by the Ottoman Empireand the written fatwa destroyed in 1847, after which thirty thousand Assyrians were subsequently massacred. [New-York Weekly Tribune. January 2 1847]
The Assyrian churches were founded by Saint Paul as well as by Saint Thomas. The Church traces its roots after the apostles to the
See of Babylon, said to have been founded by Saint Thomas. It accepts only the first two Ecumenical Councils— the Council of Nicaeaand the First Council of Constantinople— as defining its faith tradition. During the reign of Shapur IIa Zoroastrian King, many of the Assyrian faithful where persecuted for their Christian faith. What is unfortunate is that Shapur appears to have been motivated by the belief that Christians within in his own empire where loyal to Rome. Shapur's Persian Empire having been at war with Greece and Rome for many hundreds of years. Once Christianity was made legal in Rome, a proclamation of Constantine's was seen as provocative by Shapur II. This on going conflict lead to schism when Nestoriusthe Patriarch of Constantinople was deposed during the 3rd ecumenical council.
The history of the Assyrian Church and the
history of Eastern Christianity in Asiahas been given greater clarity in the past century or so by the discovery on the Silk Roadof the Jesus Sutrasand the Nestorian Stele. Nestorianism in Chinahas also saw a great influx of interest historically due to Daqin Pagodachurch which is the oldest surviving Christian church in mainland China.
Ecumenism between Assyrian Church of the East and the Roman Catholic Church
Ecumenismbetween the Assyrian church and the Roman Catholic church is an on-going process. Most recently, on November 11 1994, an historic meeting of Mar Dinkha IV and Roman Catholic PopeJohn Paul II took place in the Vatican and a "Common Christological Declaration" was signed. One side effect of this meeting was that the Assyrian Church's relationship to the Chaldean Catholic Churchwas improved.
Today, the Assyrian churches have split into four main denominations:
Chaldean Catholic Church
Church of the East
Syriac Orthodox Church
Syriac Catholic Church
Oriental Orthodoxy refers to the communion of Eastern Christian Churches that recognize only the first three
ecumenical councils — the First Council of Nicaea(325 AD), the First Council of Constantinople(381) and the Council of Ephesus(431) — and reject the dogmatic definitions of the Council of Chalcedon(451). Hence, these Churches are also called Old Oriental Churches. Despite potentially confusing nomenclature, Oriental Orthodox churches are distinct from the churches that collectively refer to themselves as Eastern Orthodoxy.
Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandriais 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 Churches. Historically, the church has been labeled monophysitebecause it rejected the decisions of the Council of Chalcedon, which condemned monophysitism. The Armenian body of the Church officially severed ties with the West in 554, during the second Council of Dvinwhere the dyophysiteformula of the Council of Chalcedonwas rejected.The Oriental Orthodox Church argues that this is a wrong description of its position, as it considers Monophysitism, as taught by Eutychesand condemned at Chalcedon, a heresy and only disagrees with the formula defined by that council. The Oriental church instead adheres to the doctrine defined by Cyril of Alexandria, considered as a saint by the Chalcedonian churches as well, who described Christ as being of one incarnate nature, where both divine and human nature are united. To distinguish this from Eutychianand other versions of Monophysitismthis position is called miaphysitism.
Oriental Orthodoxy developed in reaction to Chalcedon on the eastern limit of the
Byzantine Empireand in Egyptand Syria. In those locations, there are now also Eastern Orthodox Patriarchs, but the rivalry between the Eastern Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox has largely vanished in the centuries since schism. In recent times, both Chalcedonian and anti-Chalcedonian churches have developed a deeper understanding for each other's positions, recognizing the substantial agreement while maintaining their respective theological language. Hence, the Monophysite label is avoided when describing the Armenians' or Copts' belief regarding the Nature of Christ.
Ecumenism between Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental Orthodoxy
Both the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches formally believe themselves to be the continuation of the true church and the other to have fallen into schism, although in the past 20 years much work had been done toward ecumenism or reconciliation between the Oriental and Eastern Orthodox churches. There has been an attempt to achieve
ecumenism(Russian: sobornost) between the Antiochian and Oriental Orthodoxchurches. At Chambesy in Switzerland, plenary talks were held resulting in agreements in 1989, 1990 and 1993. [cite web |title=Orthodox Church Relations | url=http://www.antiochian.org.au/content/category/7/30/21/ ] All the official representatives of the Eastern Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox reached agreement in these dialogues that the Christologicaldifferences between the two communions are more a matter of emphasis than of substance. Although elements in a number of the Eastern Orthodox Churches have criticized the apparent consensus reached by the representatives at Chambesy, the patriarch and holy synod of the Antiochian Orthodox Church welcomed the agreements as positive moves towards a sharing in the Love of God, and a rejection of the hatred of insubstantial division. As recommended in the Second Chambesy Agreement of 1990, the Antiochian (Eastern) Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius IV formally met with the Syriac (Oriental) Orthodox Patriarch, Ignatius Zakka I, on July 22, 1991. [cite web |title=Second Chambesy Agreement of 1990|url=http://orthodoxwiki.org/Agreed_Official_Statements_on_Christology_with_the_Catholic_and_Eastern_Orthodox_Churches|url=http:http://orthodoxwiki.org/Pastoral_Agreement_between_the_Coptic_Orthodox_and_Greek_Orthodox_Patriarchates_of_Alexandria_%282001%29] At that meeting, the two patriarchs signed a pastoral agreement which called for "complete and mutual respect between the two churches." [cite web |title=Antiochian Orthodox Archidioces of Australia & New Zealand |url=http://www.antiochian.org.au/content/view/143/21] It also prohibited the passing of faithful from one church to the other, envisaged joint meetings of the two holy synods when appropriate, and provided for future guidelines for inter-communion of the faithful and Eucharistic concelebrationby the clergyof the two churches. The Church of Antioch expects these guidelines to be issued when the faithful of both churches are ready, but not before. Patriarch Ignatius has also overseen participation in a bilateral commission with the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, which is exploring ways of healing the 18th century schism between the Melkite Catholics and the Antiochian Orthodox. In an unprecedented event, Melkite Patriarch Maximos V addressed a meeting of the Orthodox holy synod in October 1996. The members of the holy synod of Antioch continue to explore greater communication and more friendly meetings with their Syriac, Melkite, and Maronite brothers and sisters, who all share a common heritage. [ [http://orthodoxwiki.org/Agreed_Official_Statements_on_Christology_with_the_Catholic_and_Eastern_Orthodox_Churches Agreed Official Statements on Christology with the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches - OrthodoxWiki ] ]
The following Oriental Orthodox churches are autocephalous and in full communion:
Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church
Armenian Apostolic Church
Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church
Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church
Indian Orthodox Church
Syriac Orthodox Church
History of Christianity
History of the Eastern Orthodox Church
History of the Russian Orthodox Church
* "The Spirituality of the Christian East: A systematic handbook" by Tomas Spidlik, Cistercian Publications Inc Kalamazoo Michigan 1986 ISBN 0-87907-879-0
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