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Eastern Christianity

The Eastern Orthodox Church, the Assyrian Church, the Oriental Orthodox Churches and the Eastern Catholic Churches are the four main constituents of the family of churches that make up Eastern Christianity.

Churches and Christian traditions which developed in Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Asia Minor, Africa, India, the Middle East and parts of the Far East over the course of centuries are all part of Eastern Christianity.

Although the term is used in contrast with Western Christianity, some Eastern churches actually share more similarities in terms of history and theology with Western Christianity than amongst themselves.

Understanding Eastern Christianity
  • Eastern Christianity does not refer to a blanket religious tradition or one single communion.
  • The terms western and eastern were originally used to refer to the geographical divisions within the Church which mirrored b two important conditions of that time- the cultural separation between the Latinate West and the Hellenistic East and the political divide that kept growing between the strong eastern Roman empire and the weak western empire.
  • ‘Orthodox’ and ‘Eastern’ are often used interchangeably to refer to the church families constituting Eastern Christianity because the Eastern Orthodox Church is the biggest church in the East.

However, there are many churches from the west which also consider themselves ‘orthodox’ which means ‘following correct beliefs’ and/or ‘catholic’, which means ‘universal’, even though they do not have these words included in their official names.

There are various theological, political, lingual and cultural, liturgical differences which separate the Roman Catholic Church from the Eastern Orthodox Churches.

A few points of distinction which separated Eastern Christianity from Western Christianity are as follows:

  • In most Eastern churches, priest can deliver the sacrament of chrismation to new born babies after baptism.
  • Priests can get married before ordination.
  • Eastern Christianity follows the Julian calendar for setting the liturgical calendar.
  • The primary language used was Greek, in contrast to the Latin used in Western Christianity.
Four Main Branches of Eastern Christianity The Eastern Orthodox Church

The Eastern Orthodox Church looks at itself as the original Christian church. Most adherents of this church are based in Russia, Greece, Caucasus, Eastern Europe and the Middle East and Anatolia. The characters which distinguish this church include- Divine Liturgy, Byzantine Rite, the emphasis on continuing to follow the Holy Tradition and the sacraments.

The Oriental Orthodox Churches

Oriental Orthodox Churches are also known as Old Oriental Churches as they are traditional in their faith and follow the first three Ecumenical Councils that were held within the undivided church- the First Council of Nicaea (AD 325), the First Council of Constantinople (AD 381) and the Council of Ephesus (AD 431). Oriental Orthodoxy developed in Syria, Mesopotamia, Egypt and at the edge of the Byzantine Empire in reaction to the Chalcedon Council which they rejected.

The Assyrian Church of the East

The Church of the East was initially the widest stream of Eastern Christianity and flourished in Assyria under Persian Rule and extended its reach to China, India and the Mediterranean. The Assyrian Church of the East arose from the historic Church of the East grew and spread within the Persian Empire and reached Asia where it expanded and grew largely. The modern Assyrian Church emerged as late as the 16th century.

The Eastern Catholic Churches

There are twenty three eastern catholic churches, which despite being in communion with the Holy See, are rooted deeply in the theological and liturgical practices and beliefs of Eastern Christianity. Initially these churches were part of the Orthodox Eastern Church but have since then Reconciled with the Roman Catholic churches.

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