Oriental Orthodoxy


The term Oriental Orthodoxy is currently used to describe those churches of the Eastern branch of Christianity that accept the first three ecumenical councils and reject all the later councils.  This term is often used, but is less than ideal, since "Eastern" and "Oriental" are in fact synonyms. (This particular terminology is also impossible in languages such as French, where the word for 'Eastern' is the cognate of 'Oriental'.)

They are also called Non-Chalcedonian or Miaphysite.  They are called Monophysites by some writers from the Eastern Orthodox churches.  Monophysitism (from the Greek monos meaning 'one' and physis meaning 'nature') is the belief that Christ has only one nature, as opposed to the Chalcedonian position (451 AD) which holds that Christ has two natures, one divine and one human.  However, "monophysites" themselves object to the term, preferring the term miaphysite. This term uses a different Greek root, mios meaning 'a complex unity', reflecting their position that in Christ the divine and human nature become one nature, the natures being united without separation, without confusion, and without change.

Churches that fall under this designation include:

1- Coptic Orthodox Church

2- Syrian Orthodox Church

3- Armenian Orthodox Church

4- Indian Orthodox Church

5- Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church

6- Eritrian Orthodox Church

1- Coptic Orthodox Church:


A- From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Coptic Christianity is the indigenous Christianity that developed in Egypt in the 2nd century AD. The first Christians in Egypt were mainly Greeks and Jews in Alexandria, and according to tradition the church there was founded by St. Mark. In the second century Christianity began to spread to the rural areas, and scriptures were translated into local languages.

In the third century, during the persecution of Decius, some Christians fled to the desert, and remained there to pray after the persecutions abated. This was the beginning of the monastic movement, which was reorganised by St. Antony and St. Pachomius in the 4th century. It attracted the attention of Christians in other parts of the world, and many came to Egypt to see what was happening, and took monastic ideas back home with them, so monasticism spread throughout the Christian world. It was an indigenous movement of Egyptian Christians (the word "Coptic" means "Egyptian").

In the 4th century a theological dispute about the nature of Christ started by an Alexandrian priest called Arius spread throughout the Christian world as well. The First Council of Nicaea (AD 325) was called to resolve the dispute, and eventually led to the formualtion of the Symbol of Faith, also known as the Nicene Creed. Another theological dispute in the 5th century led to the calling of the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451), but many Egyptian Christians including many monks, were unhappy with the decisions of the council, and pro-Chalcedonian and anti-Chalcedonian parties formed in the church, and tried to get their candidates appointed as the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria, who was the chief bishop of the church in north-eastern Africa. Eventually the two parties split. Those who supported the Chalcedonian definition remained in communion with the other leading churches of Rome, Constantinople, Antioch and Jerusalem. The non-Chalcedonian group called them "Melchites", meaning "the king's men", because their party was supported by the Emperor in Constantinople. The non-Chalcedonian party became what is today called the Coptic Orthodox Church, and the Ethiopian Church followed their lead. Ever since then there have been two Popes in Alexandria. The Coptic Orthodox Pope today is Pope Shenouda III, while the Greek Orthodox Pope is Pope Petros VII.

The Chalcedonians sometimes called the non-Chalcedonians "monophysites", though the Coptic Church denies that it teaches monophysitism, which it regards as a heresy. They have sometimes called the Chalcedonian group "dyophysites".

Since the 1980s theologians from the two groups have been meeting to try to resolve the theological differences, and have concluded that many of the differences are caused because the two groups use different terminology to describe the same thing. In 1990, The Coptic and Greek Orthodox Churches agreed to mutually recognize baptisms performed in each other's churches, making rebaptisms unnecessary. In the summer of 2001, the Coptic Orthodox and Greek Orthodox agreed to recognize the sacrament of Marriage as celebrated by the other. Previously, if a Coptic and Greek wanted to marry, the marriage had to be performed twice, once in each church, for it to be recognized by both. Now it can be done in only one church and be recognized by both.

The Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt is one of the Oriental Orthodox Churches.

In the Coptic Church only men may be ordained, and they must be married before they are ordained, if they wish to be married. In this respect they follow the same practices as does the Eastern Orthodox Church.

External link: The Christian Coptic Orthodox Church Of Egypt

B- From http://www.philtar.ucsm.ac.uk/encyclopedia/christ/early/coporth.html

Coptic Orthodox Church



The Coptic Orthodox Church is one of the five so-called monophysite churches, characterised by their acceptance of the first three ecumenical councils and rejection of the Council of Chalcedon (451). In contrast to Chalcedon's doctrine that Christ is one person existing in two natures the Coptic Church affirms that Christ's humanity cannot be separated from his divinity. After the incarnation, the thoughts and actions of Jesus were those of a single unitary being. This doctrine has sometimes been described as monophysitism because it ascribes to Christ one nature.



The Coptic Church is the ancient church of Egypt. According to tradition its founder was Mark the Evangelist. The church became separated from mainstream Christianity after the Council of Chalcedon in 451. Because of their rejection of Chalcedon the Copts were subjected to a wave of persecution by the Byzantine empire. In response to this persecution the Copts elected their own national patriarch. The Islamic conquest of Egypt in 641 relieved the church from Greek persecution but led gradually to the assimilation of most Egyptians into the Islamic faith. During the 18th and 19th centuries the Russian Orthodox Church and the Anglican Church sought unsuccessfully to merge with the Copts. Since 1954 the Coptic Church has been active in the World Council of Churches.



Ostrich eggs hang from the vault of Coptic churches to symbolise steadfast watchfulness. They bring to mind the way the ostrich buries her eggs in the sand and keeps her eyes fixed on the spot.
The bread of the eucharist consists of small round cakes with a cross stamped in the middle surrounded by twelve smaller crosses. The eucharistic wine is unfermented grape juice. The main utensil of the eucharistic celebration is the ark, a cubical box with paintings of the Last Supper, the Virgin Mary, an angel and the patron saint of the church. The vestments used by the priests are always white, symbolising purity and chastity.



There is considerable controversy surrounding the size of the membership of the Coptic church. According to government figures there are 2 million Copts in Egypt. According to Coptic sources there are some 7 million members in Egypt.
There are about 10 million Copts world-wide with followers in Egypt, the Sudan, other African countries, the U.S.A. (115,000), Canada, Europe and the Middle East (Europa Publications Limited 1995, 1:1073, 2:3289).

Main Centre


St Mark Cathedral, POB 9035, Ana Ruess, 222 Ramses St, Abbasiya, Cairo.


2- The Syrian Orthodox Church:

A- From http://www.philtar.ucsm.ac.uk/encyclopedia/christ/early/syrorth.html


The Syrian Orthodox Church



The Syrian Orthodox Church is one of the five so-called monophysite churches, characterised by their rejection of the Council of Chalcedon. In contrast to Chalcedon's doctrine that Christ is one person existing in two natures the Syrian Orthodox Church affirms that Christ's humanity cannot be separated from his divinity. After the incarnation the thoughts and actions of Jesus were those of a unitary being. This doctrine has sometimes been described as monophysitism because it ascribes to Christ one nature.



The church's history dates back to the earliest period of Christianity. It was to Antioch in Syria that the apostles fled in the face of persecution by the Jewish religious authorities. In the 4th and 5th centuries relations between the church in Syria and the Byzantine church deteriorated in the face of growing Byzantine domination. Tensions erupted over the two nature christology promulgated at the Council of Chalcedon (451). The Chalcedonian formula was rejected by the Patriarch of Antioch, leading to the persecution of the non-Chalcedonian Syrian church.
The Arab conquest of Syria provided an environment tolerant towards the church, enabling it to flourish and expand. By the 12th century the church had 103 bishops and millions of adherents in Syria and Mesopotamia.
Recent history, however, has witnessed the serious decline of the church. Confronted with Kurdish persecution in the 19th century, Turkish persecution at the beginning of the 20th century, and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, the church has had to struggle to survive.



The Syrian Orthodox Church is very sparing in its use of icons. During church services the priest sprinkles water on the congregation with an olive branch. The olive branch symbolises peace and the water symbolises the gift of the Holy Spirit.



The Syrian Orthodox Church has an estimated 3 million adherents throughout the world (Europa Publications Limited 1995 2:2940).

Main Centre


BP 914, Bab Touma, Damascus.


B- From http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Forum/2455/soc.html


The foundation of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch goes back to early Apostolic days. This event in the history of Christianity is recorded in the Book of Acts 11:26

Apostle Peter Himself established his See 37 AD.He is, therefore, rightly considered the founder and first Patriarch of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch.

The history and name of our Church is also intimately associated with the Arameans or Syrians, the inhabitants of the land of Aram or Syria where Antioch is located.

The dialect of the Arameans (Aramaic) became the common language of that area. Still later, just before and after the opening of the Christian era, Aramaic underwent a particularly rich evolution. This evolved new form of Aramaic known as "Syriac", the language of the amalgamated or unified Syrian People.



3- The Armenian Orthodox Church:

From http://www.philtar.ucsm.ac.uk/encyclopedia/christ/early/armen.html


Church of Armenia



The Church of Armenia is one of the five so-called monophysite churches, characterised by their rejection of the doctrines of the Council of Chalcedon (451). In contrast to Chalcedon's doctrine that Christ is one person existing in two natures, the Church of Armenia affirms that Christ's humanity cannot be separated from his divinity. After the incarnation the thoughts and actions of Jesus were those of a single unitary being. This doctrine has sometimes been described as monophysitism because it ascribes to Christ one nature.



According to legend, Christianity was brought to Armenia by Thaddaeus and Bartholomew. However, the earliest reliable sources providing evidence of a Christian presence in Armenia date from the middle of the third century. In about the year 300 the Armenian king, Tiridates III, was converted to Christianity by Gregory the Illuminator, a missionary from Cappadocia in Asia Minor, who would later become chief bishop of the Armenian church. The conversion of King Tiridates made Armenia the first nation to officially adopt Christianity.
In 363 the nation came under Persian rule, exposing the Armenian church to Syrian Christian influence. In 506 the Armenian church separated itself from the mainstream church, rejecting the Council of Chalcedon which it regarded as Nestorian.
Recent church history has been an unhappy tale of schism and persecution. In the 19th century the occupying Ottoman empire recognised an Armenian Catholic church within the Roman communion, thus splitting the Armenian church. During world war one 500,000 Armenians were massacred by the Turks. For much of the present century the church has been subject to the political constraints exercised over it by the Soviet Union. This has come to an end with the break up of the Soviet Union. But the political vacuum created by this has led to other problems, particularly violent conflict between the Armenians and the neighbouring Muslims of Azerbaijian.



The Armenian church has made very significant contributions to Christian art and iconography. Illustrated manuscripts were at the centre of Armenian church art. These were elaborately decorated with biblical scenes such as the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary or Christ's baptism.
A unique feature of the Armenian tradition is the khatchkhar. The khatchkhar is an upright stone slab, fixed on a rectangular base, with a cross in the middle and religious images such as the Virgin Mary or the saints around the cross. The cross has been a powerful political, as well as religious symbol, for the Armenians. During the Arab occupations the cross and resurrection came to represent the country's struggle for liberation from Arab domination.



The Armenian church has some 4 million members world-wide (Harris et al. 1994, 25). In Armenia it has 3,30,680 members (Europa Publications Limited 1995 1: 405) and there are small Armenian communities in Georgia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Russia and the U.S.A.

Main Centre


Echmiadzin, Armenia.


4- The Indian Orthodox Church:


A- From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The Indian Orthodox Church, a prominent member of the Oriental Orthodox church family, was established by St. Thomas, the Apostle in A.D. 52. At that time India had trade relations with the middle-east. This helped St. Thomas to reach Kerala, the southern part of India. He preached the Gospel to the locals, baptised a lot, ordained some as clergy and founded 7 churches. All these churches still remain as the major Christian centres in Kerala. So the Indian Christians are known by the name, St. Thomas Christians. The church slowly expanded throughout the entire Kerala and later to the rest of the nation. Now the church has 21 bishops, 1000 priests and around 3 million laity. The head of the church is Catholicose of the East H.H. Baselius Mar Thoma Mathews II whose HQ is at Kottayam, Kerala, India. The church has dioceses outside India in the UK, Europe, Canada and the USA.

The church, though modern in its vision and outlook, keeps the traditional Orthodox faith and liturgy. It accepts the first 3 ecumenical synods. The liturgy now in use is the translation of the Syrian liturgy adopted from the Syrian Orthodox Church in the 17th century.

The Indian Church was related to the Persian church in the early centuries. Bishops were sent to India from that church. This relationship halted at a later period. The Portuguese who colonized India in 1498 also tried to convert the local Christians to Catholicism. In 1599 they succeeded in forcibly converting some to the Roman Catholic Church. But in 1653, the St. Thomas Christians broke the shackles of foreign authority, as it is against the basic Orthodox tradition. Some people remained with the Catholic Church whose predecessors now belong to the Roman Catholic Church in India.

Later in the 19th century, the English also tried to convert the whole church into a reformed one, but in vain. However they were able to convert a few to the Anglican church. Even after such splits in the church, the Indian Orthodox Church remains the stronghold of Oriental orthodoxy in the sub continent.

There are additional groups which, one in particular, is the Malankara Portuguese Orthodox Church consisting of those who did not wish to come under the archdiocese of the Syriac Church but who also respected the needs and traditions of the St. Thomas Christians. These Malankara Portuguese Christians are independent with their own patriarchy in America and Portugal. They are known as the Saint Thomas Christian Church of America under the governance of Archpatriarch Chazak Yaza.

The church has a theological seminary at Kottayam, Kerala which was established in 1815.

The church takes part active roles in various ecumenical activities at national and international levels. It is a member of the World Council of Churches. Famous theologians Mar Paulose Gregorious, Mar Geevarghese Osthathios are bishops of the Indian church. Rev. Fr.V.C. Samuel, who contributed a lot to the negotiations between the Oriental and Byzantine churches also belongs to this church.

For more information visit the official website of Orthodox Theological Seminary, Kottayam - http://www.otsindia.org

B- From http://www.malankara.com/


From History of:

Malankara Archdiocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church in North America


Kerala (Indian) tradition is that Apostle St.Thomas established Christianity in Malankara in AD 52, and it get organized and prospered with the arrival of Knai Thoma from Syria in AD 345, which happens to be the first known colonization of Syrian Christians and as a result, the Christians of Malankara (Kerala) came to be known as Syrian Christians, as they received the Apostolic benediction from the Syrian Patriarchate and thus started to use the liturgy of the Holy Syrian Church of Antioch.  The Church in Malankara continued to be under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Antioch, and his subordinate 'Mapfriyono'/'Catholicose' of the East then residing in Mesopotamian region, till the arrival of Nestorian bishops in 1490.  Later with the Portuguese aggression of the 16th & 17th century, the Syrian Christians of Malankara came under the influence of Roman Catholics and when they tried to forcibly introduce their faith, the Malankara Syrian Christians revolted and finally re-organized once again under the guidance of the delegate of the Holy See of Antioch and thereby retained the ancient true Apostolic faith of Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch.  After that in the 19th century, a split occurred in the Church with the introduction of European protestant faith by the British colonists and after that in early 20th century, once again a group of people defied the Holy Church to form an independent faction after much harassment.  Even in the midst of such aggressions, the ancient Syrian Orthodox Church, which in India (Malankara) also referred to as Jacobite Syrian Christian Church, still follows the true faith taught by Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Apostles; and our Holy fathers who sacrificed for the cause of Christianity. 


5- Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church:


From http://www.philtar.ucsm.ac.uk/encyclopedia/christ/early/ethorth.html


Ethiopian Orthodox Church



The Ethiopian Orthodox Church is one of the five so-called monophysite churches, characterised by their rejection of the Council of Chalcedon (451). In contrast to Chalcedon's doctrine that Christ is one person existing in two natures the Ethiopian Orthodox Church affirms that Christ's humanity cannot be separated from his divinity. After the incarnation the thoughts and actions of Jesus were those of a single unitary being.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church closely follows the precepts of the Old Testament. Church members are expected to be circumcised, to follow the dietary practices set out in the Old Testament, and observe Saturday as the Sabbath.



Christianity in Ethiopia dates back to the 4th century. It was brought to the region by a Christian captive, Frumentius, who later became Ethiopia's first bishop. Frumentius was consecrated by Athanasius the Great in Alexandria, an act which placed the Ethiopian church under the jurisdiction of the Coptic Church of Egypt. Monasticism was introduced towards the end of the 5th century by nine monks from Syria who are believed to have translated the Bible into the local language, Ge'ez. From the 7th century Ethiopia was cut off from the rest of the Christian world by the Islamic conquest of North Africa. Chronic skirmishes between Christians and Muslims led to the outbreak of civil war in the 16th century and the sacking of monasteries and the burning of churches. In the 17th century the conversion of the emperor to Roman Catholicism and the attempt to impose his faith on his subjects produced fierce resistance and the martyrdom of many thousands of Christians. In 1959 the Ethiopian church became independent from Egypt when an Ethiopian patriarch was elected.



The finest examples of Ethiopian symbolism and iconography are to be found at the Cathedral of Axum, the site of the oldest church in Ethiopia. The cathedral is lavishly decorated with paintings of scenes such as the coming of the Ark of the Covenant, the Virgin and Infant, and the nine saints. The most treasured icon is what the church believes to be the Ark of the Covenant which according to tradition was removed was removed from the Queen of Sheba's retinue in the time of King Solomon. The ark has never been described by Christian sources since it is forbidden to see it. However, Muslim chroniclers relate that it is a large white stone inlaid with gold.



The church is estimated to have 22 million adherents in Ethiopia. The church also has members in America and Trinidad (Europa Publications Limited 1995, 1:1135).

Main Centre


The Cathedral of Axum. The church can be contacted at the following address: POB 1238, Addis Ababa.




6- Eritrean Orthodox Church:


See http://www.uk-christian.net/boc/98edit.shtml for the Ordination of the first Eritrean Patriarch by Pope Shenouda III of the Coptic Orthodox Church in 1998.


This Church was part of the Ethiopian Church before this event. Also the Ethiopian Church was part of the Coptic Church till 1959.