Eastern Liturgical Family
Eastern Liturgical Family
4 Eastern Liturgical Family
The Eastern Orthodox Church continues the church established in the apostolic era, the first generation of Christianity, in the eastern Mediterranean Basin. The Eastern Church and the Western Roman Church formally coexisted as two branches of the same church for centuries. However, cultural differences, politics, and doctrinal disagreements finally led to official division and mutual excommunication in 1054. By that time, the Eastern Church dominated the eastern Mediterranean Basin, spreading through Greece, Egypt, Asia Minor, some of the Arab countries, and the Balkans. It would later spread northward through Eastern Europe and become the dominant faith in Romania, the Ukraine, and Russia. Then, in the early Middle Ages, its dominance would be weakened by the loss of the “heretical” churches (the non-Chalcedonian Orthodox churches) and most thoroughly by the Muslim conquests.
In each area it came to dominate, the Eastern Church developed an episcopal structure of national autonomous sees. Certain older sees were more prominent and had been designated patriarchates. They included Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Constantinople. In more recent years, patriarchates have been designated in Bulgaria, Serbia, Russia, and Romania. Autocephalous churches, headed by a bishop but without a patriarchate, exist in the Ukraine, Cypress, Albania, Greece, Poland, and Georgia. Autonomous churches, headed by a bishop, self-governing on internal matters but dependent on a patriarchate for the appointment of a primate (head bishop) and relations with other churches, exist in Finland, Estonia, Czechoslovakia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and at the monastic community at Mt. Sinai.
The Eastern Church finds its spiritual unity in the office of the ecumenical patriarchate headquartered at Istanbul (formerly known as Constantinople and the lead city of the eastern Byzantine Empire), though his position of primacy is one of honor, not power. All of the patriarchs are of equal authority and none has the right to interfere with the work in another’s territory. The patriarchates and leaders of various national churches have expanded their authority into the West as parishioners have moved into Europe and the Americas. Jurisdiction for the Greek-speaking Orthodox in the West has been placed under the authority of the ecumenical patriarchates, though the Church of Greece now has a small number of parishes in North America. The various Orthodox churches are “in communion” with each other, and in the United States the bishops of the churches who directly relate to the ecumenical patriarch work together as the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas. Most Orthodox Christians in America are members of these churches.
During the first century c.e., the Christian movement established centers around the Mediterranean Basin. As the movement grew, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch, and Constantinople became the leading centers from which the movement emanated through the eastern half of the Roman Empire. Jerusalem was the ancient biblical center. Antioch was the place mentioned in the book of Acts where the followers of Jesus were first called Christians. Alexandria, the Egyptian city, was the center of Orthodoxy in the face of the refusal of the majority of Egyptian Christians to accept the promulgations of the Council of Chalcedon in 451. Constantinople was, of course, the capital of the empire established by Constantine (r. 306–337). In 451 it was named second only to Rome in importance.
During the years of the Byzantine Empire, the Christian movement had already begun the thrust into the east that would see the establishment of Christian movements as far east as India and strong Christian nations in such places as Armenia. Most of the work to the east would, like Egypt, be lost during the conciliar era, as different national churches refused to accept the latest promulgation of one council or another. Also, contact with these churches would be additionally hindered by the rise of Islam, which decimated their ranks in many areas.
The loss of the Eastern churches would be compensated by the movement of Christianity northward into the Balkans, Romania, and Russia. These lands, which today are thought of as traditionally Orthodox, only began to be reached by missionaries in the ninth century. Christianity was introduced into Bulgaria around 854 when Boris I (r. 852–889), the ruler, accepted the new faith and imposed it upon the people. A short time later, Christians from Moravia came into the country and introduced the Old Slavonic liturgy, which had been developed by the missionaries Cyril (c. 827–869) and Methodius (c. 826–885). The church adhered to Constantinople when the Christian movement split in 1054. A bishop resided in Okhrida (or Akrida) in western Bulgaria
|Eastern Liturgical Family Chronology|
|325–787||Concilior Era. The decisions of the Seven Ecumenical Councils define Christian Orthodoxy. By the fourth council, the Eastern Orthodox churches are separated from the dissenting Arian, Monophysite, and Nestorian churches.|
|1054||Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches go their separate ways following mutual excommunication by the Pope and the Archbishop of Constantinople.|
|1743||First resident of the Aleutian Islands is baptized as a Christian.|
|1768||Greek Orthodox lay people settle in New Smyrna, Florida.|
|1794||Saint Herman leads mission to Paul’s Harbor, Alaska.|
|1815||First Orthodox parish church built in Sitka, Alaska.|
|1848||Saint Innocent of Alaska is consecrated as North America’s first Orthodox bishop.|
|1864||Greek Orthodox parishes are founded in New Orleans and St. Augustine.|
|1872||The Russian Orthodox Church’s American diocese moves to San Francisco.|
|1904||Raphael Hawaweeny, the first bishop consecrated in North America, is appointed to head the Syrian Mission of the Russian Orthodox Church.|
|1916||Russian Bp. Alexander become first Orthodox bishop to reside in Canada.|
|1918||The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in North and South America organized under the authority of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.|
|1921||Former African American Episcopal priest George Alexander McGuire is consecrated as an independent bishop and founds the African Orthodox Church.|
Metropolitan Platon of Odessa is appointed Metropolitan of North America for the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.
|1924||North American Russian Church declares its autonomy from Moscow at its second Sobor (synod) in Detroit, Michigan.|
|1927||Metropolitan Platon appoints Bp. Aftimios Ofiesh to head an American Orthodox Church for English-speaking Orthodox believers. The rejection of this new jurisdiction by the Episcopal Church and other Orthodox jurisdictions leads to the development of multiple independent orthodox jurisdictions.|
|1930||Bp. Fan Noli organizes Albanian Orthodox parishes into the Albanian Orthodox Archdiocese in America.|
|1937||The first diocese of Orthodox Bulgarians is formed by Bp. Andrei Velichky.|
|1945||Soviet hegemony is extended over Bulgaria and Romania and atheist Communist governments arise in Albania and Serbia (as part of Yugoslavia). Reacting to the new political situation, new anti-Communist branches of the Bulgarian, Romanian, Serbian, and Albanian Orthodox churches emerge.|
|1946||Unity of Russian Orthodox in America is broken when the leadership of the Russian Orthodox church outside of Russia disagree with the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of America’s desire to reestablish ties with the Patriarch of Moscow.|
|1950||Various Orthodox jurisdictions become charter members of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.|
|1959||American Greek archbishop Iakovos meets with Pope John XXIII, the first such meeting in 350 years.|
|1960||Abp. Iakovas leads in founding of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas.|
|1961||Abp. Iakovos elected one of the presidents of the World Council of Churches.|
|1965||Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I of Constantinople mutually nullify the excommunications of 1054.|
|1991||Soviet Union is dissolved and replaced with Commonwealth of Independent States. The end of Soviet power (and control over the Russian Orthodox church) makes possible the realignment of relationship between Orthodox churches in Central Europe and their related jurisdictions in North America.|
|1992||Two jurisdiction of Serbian Orthodox in America merge.|
|2003||Russian Orthodox Church severs relations with the Episcopal Church over its consecration of the openly gay bishop.|
|2005||Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America withdraws from National Council of Churches over its relatively liberal stance on issues of sexuality. As part of an effort to strengthen ties to its Orthodox members, the National Council of Churches General Assembly elects Armenian Orthodox bishop Vicken Aykazian as its president-elect.|
and in Tirnova in the east. The Bulgarian bishops existed autonomously until the Turkish conquest of the land in 1393, when Tirnova was absorbed into Okhrida.
Christianity was introduced among the Serbian people as early as the seventh century, but effective evangelization efforts did not occur until the end of the ninth century. It was not until the last half of the twelfth century that the Serbians were united into a single state, and finally in 1219 a bishopric was established. A synod in 1346 declared the church autonomous. While leaning toward Rome for many years, the Serbian church gradually shifted allegiance to the East.
Romanians, a Latin people living in a land surrounded largely by Slavic peoples, received Latin/Western Christianity as early as the third century. In the ninth century, the Bulgarians conquered the area and imposed their Eastern Slavonic ways on the Christian community. Their Orthodoxy became an issue in their continuing conflict with their Hungarian neighbors (Roman Catholics) to the north, and Orthodoxy became integral to the emerging national identity. The Romanian church made some gain after the land was overrun by the Turks and was able to attain a degree of independence from the Bulgarian authorities.
Crucial for the future of the church in the southern Balkans was the fall of Constantinople in 1453. The conquest of the capital of the old Eastern Roman Empire ended any hope of its comeback. The conquest also brought the “headquarters” of Eastern Christianity under the thumb of a Muslim government. In the eighteenth century, the Turkish Empire would attempt to organize all the Christians in its empire under the authority of the patriarch in Constantinople, an action that would be greatly resented by many.
A notable gain for Orthodoxy occurred toward the end of the tenth century when Prince Vladimir I of Kiev (Ukraine) (c. 956–1015) invited missionaries from Constantinople into his land. In 988 he “gave” Christianity to his people, and it is from that year that later generations would date the conversion of the land to Christianity. Entirely dependent upon Constantinople, the church in Russia adhered to Eastern Orthodoxy during the schism of 1054. Several centuries later, after Kiev fell to the Mongol invasion, the center of Russian Orthodoxy moved to Moscow, and the Moscow patriarchate ruled over the lands controlled by the Russian government. Included in these lands were the Ukrainians and the Byelorussians, both people with a separate language and culture who have periodically attempted to exist as an autonomous church body.
The Turkish invasion of the lands of the southern Balkans had a telling effect upon the churches under its control. In the eighteenth century, the Turks imposed the idea that all Christians were under Constantinople. In 1767 the government suppressed the independent bishoprics, and the Greek church, headquartered at Constantinople, followed with a period of hellenization. The most important effect was the imposition of the Greek language in the worship of all monasteries and the larger churches. Old Slavonic, which had existed as primarily a liturgical language, was slowly forgotten. The Turkish government reversed its policy in 1856 and declared the freedom and equality of the Christians residing in the empire. That new policy, and the accompanying gradual disintegration of the Ottoman Empire through the nineteenth century, allowed autonomous national churches to reemerge.
Romania emerged as an independent nation by several steps in the nineteenth century. Under the reign of Alexandru Ioan Cuza (1820–1873), which began in 1864, a fully independent country allowed the emergence of a Romanian church independent of Constantinople. Constantinople formally recognized the new situation in 1885.
The Serbian church also lost its autonomy in 1767 and went through a period of hellenization. Like Romania, Serbia gained its independence in stages through the nineteenth century. It was declared an autonomous state in 1879, and the independent status of the church immediately followed. The Serbian church gained from the establishment of Yugoslavia following World War I (1914–1918), suffered from the rise of a secular Marxist government after World War II (1937–1945), and has yet to rebound from the war that followed the breakup of the country in the early 1990s.
The Bulgarian church began to lobby for independence from Constantinople as part of an overall effort by Bulgarians to free themselves from Turkish control. This finally occurred in 1878. Ecclesiastical independence, however, was gained in 1870. The patriarch in Constantinople excommunicated the Bulgarian bishops two years later and considered the Bulgarian church schismatic until 1945, when it was finally recognized as an autonomous body.
The Orthodox churches of the southern Balkans have experienced great ups and downs through the twentieth century as various boundaries changed, often radically, and successive governments adopted different policies toward Christianity. Some formerly independent jurisdictions have disappeared altogether. Through the twentieth century, the Orthodox churches saw the disappearance of the Ottoman Empire; the emergence of communism and its dominance for many decades in Russia, Romania, Serbia, and Bulgaria; and the overthrow of communist governments. After World War II, those Eastern Orthodox churches in countries under communist control experienced schisms among members outside of the country. Many members argued that the leadership had departed from the faith by becoming puppets of the communist governments.
Throughout this period, Greece has a unique and interesting history. It stood on the border between East and West with a background of orientation toward Rome, but was later assigned to the territory of the Eastern Roman Empire. It eventually leaned toward the Eastern Church, and its ecclesiastical life came directly under Constantinople. Greece was conquered by the Turks in the fifteenth century, but as it was already part of the land under the Patriarchate in Constantinople, little change in church structure occurred. Then, in the nineteenth century, a successful civil war freed much of the land from Turkish control. In 1831 the Greek church declared itself free of the control of the patriarchate, who still resided in territory controlled by the hated Turks. The territory of the Church of Greece grew in stages, but has suffered periodically due to government instability.
One particularly grievous event was the adoption of the Western calendar early in the twentieth century. The abandonment of the old Julian calendar became a symbol of unwanted change, and the Old Calendar conservatives have been a small but vocal group that has formed independent episcopal jurisdictions and has continually caused problems for the Orthodox Church ever since.
Since World War II, the Eastern churches have also become involved in the worldwide ecumenical movement and have developed friendly relationships with Western Protestant churches through structures such as the World Council of Churches. This new openness to non-Orthodox Christians brought many charges that the church was changing and adopting un-Orthodox practices. Ecumenical structures became important in supplying Orthodox churches formerly in the Soviet Union or in those countries under its hegemony. The World Council of Churches was a force in reintroducing the world to the Russian Orthodox Church in the post-Soviet era, and other churches from Bulgaria, Romania, Moldavia, and Georgia also affiliated. In the decades since their initial involvement, the Orthodox churches have been among the most vocal critics of what they have seen as questionable interference into tense political situations and, more recently, the advocacy of rights for homosexuals.
The World Council of Churches moved in 1998 to address the concerns articulated by its Orthodox members by setting up a special commission to deal with a wide range of issue, such as the council’s process for making decisions and the scope of its public statements. This action was a response, in part, to the withdrawal of the Orthodox Church of Georgia. Subsequently, in 2005, the Orthodox Church of
|The Seven Ecumenical Councils|
|Council||Place and Date||Decision|
|Adapted from www.atl.americanchurch.org|
|Nicea, Asia Minor, 325 A.D.||Formulated the First Part of the Creed. Defining the divinity of the Son of God.|
|Constantinople 381 A.D.||Formulated the Second Part of the Creed, defining the divinity of the Holy Spirit.|
|Ephesus, Asia Minor 431 A.D.||Defined Christ as the Incarnate Word of God and Mary as Theotokos.|
|Chalcedon, Asia Minor 451 A.D.||Defined Christ as Perfect God and Perfect Man in One Person.|
|Constantinople II 553 A.D.||Reconfirmed the Doctrines of the Trinity and Christ.|
|Constantinople III 680 A.D.||Affirmed the True Humanity of Jesus by insisting upon the reality of His Human will and action.|
|Constantinople 692 A.D.||Completed the 5th and 6th Ecumenical Councils.|
|Nicea, Asia Minor 787 A.D.||Affirmed the propriety of icons as genuine expressions of the Christian Faith.|
America publicly called its membership in both the World Council of Churches and the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. into question. Although as of 2008, the Orthodox Church of America remains a member, the Antiochian Christian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America did withdraw. In response, like its international partner, the National Council of Churches has instituted several structures to become more sensitive to the Orthodox perspective on ecumenical dialogue.
To most Americans, familiar with only the Roman and Anglican traditions, the Eastern Orthodox tradition presents several distinctive features. The celibate priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church is not demanded. In the East, priests may marry (though they must do so before ordination). Monks do not marry. Bishops are drawn from the ranks of the monks. Priests who are not monks are not eligible for the episcopacy. The Eastern Church does not recognize the authority of the bishop of Rome over the various patriarchs of the Eastern Church.
The Eastern churches recognize only the seven ecumenical councils held between 325 and 787 because no further councils occurred at which the bishops of Rome and the Eastern patriarchs worked together. In their acceptance of these councils, the Eastern Church is doctrinally at one with Roman Catholicism and the churches of the Western tradition. This doctrinal consensus has been illustrated since the later twentieth century by the meetings of the ecumenical patriarch and the pope, and the Eastern churches’ membership along with Protestant and free churches in the World Council of Churches and other regional and national ecumenical bodies.
After the formal split between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern churches, the Roman Church continued to hold councils at which new doctrinal positions were promulgated. Several of these remain unacceptable doctrines to the Eastern Church, which, for example, rejects the filioque doctrine as popularized in the Western Church beginning in the fifth century. Filioque is the Latin word for “and the Son,” added to the Western version of the creed to assert the equality of the Father and the Son by suggesting that the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. Some theologians of the Eastern Church insisted that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son. The Eastern Church rejected the filioque doctrine partly on biblical grounds, in that John 15:26 makes no mention of the Son and instead speaks of “the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father.”
The Greek Liturgy of St. Chrysostom is used throughout the Eastern Church. The various national bodies have translated it into their native tongues, and in America, English translations are being increasingly used.
Those areas where Orthodoxy exists only as a small minority religion, geographically removed from the ancient centers, are designated Orthodoxy in diaspora. The single largest diaspora community is the more than three million Orthodox Christians in the United States.
Orthodoxy entered the United States in the eighteenth century following the discovery of Alaska by Russians in 1741. In 1743 an Aleutian by the name of Andreu Islands was baptized. The Russian Orthodox Church was firmly established in 1794 when seven monks came to Paul’s Harbor and consecrated the first church. By 1841 a seminary was in operation in the Aleutian Islands. The first diocese, created after Alaska was purchased by the United States, was moved to San Francisco in 1872.
Sporadic movement of Orthodox Christians into North America began in the first part of the nineteenth century, but did not become significant until the 1890s. Prior to 1891, the only parishes were those in Alaska and a single church in San Francisco. At this time, the Russian Orthodox Church included members from all ethnic backgrounds and had all of North America under its hegemony. Then, the movement of people from the Middle East and from eastern and southern Europe increased significantly because of growing tension in Russia, Turkish and Russian expansion, and the general suffering occasioned by World War I. This wave of immigration was all but stopped by the immigration quota limitations imposed in 1924. Immigrants settled in the northern and eastern urban centers but found their way to the prairies of western Canada and the farmlands of California. As significant numbers of each national group arrived, they began efforts to form their own unique parishes and then to organize separate dioceses. By the early twentieth century, the Russian church began to lose its ethnic parishes, and the various ethnic branches of the Orthodox Church formed.
As these new branches were formed one by one, most were severely tested by two outside forces. First, the inevitable process of Americanization—the demands of conformity, especially in language—divided the generations, and on occasion led to schism. Of more concern, however, was the Russian Revolution and the spread of atheist regimes in predominantly Orthodox countries. Because Orthodox churches have tended to align with the state, the loss of state support was devastating. The actual hostility of a government that appeared ready to either destroy or subvert the church to its own purposes called into question the relationship of American and Canadian churches to the patriarchal headquarters caught in the revolutionary situations. Some Americans demanded loyalty to the patriarchs and accommodation to the new regimes, while others with equal strength demanded autonomy from the homeland. Beginning in the 1920s with the Russians and accelerating after World War II, schism rent almost every branch of Eastern Orthodoxy in North America.
The structure of American Orthodoxy was dramatically changed in 1970 with the creation of the Orthodox Church in America by the merger of several of the Russian churches. Russian Orthodoxy, by reason of its early arrival date, has always had primacy in America. Many of the currently existing independent Orthodox bodies were formed under its care. The growth of the Greek Orthodox Church in America led to challenges to Russian primacy, challenges based on the claims of the ecumenical patriarch in Istanbul as the first among equals in world Orthodoxy. The argument was somewhat academic, since each American church was directly related to a different overseas see. The Orthodox Church in America, unattached to a foreign see, was authorized by Patriarch Alexis (1877–1970) in Moscow, whose right to grant such status has been questioned by the Greek Orthodox Church.
The new body, the Orthodox Church in America, hoped to become the point of unity for Orthodox bodies of all ethnic groups, the goal being the union of all into a single American Orthodox body. This ideal has been championed by several bishops, most notably Archbishop Philip Saliba (b. 1931) of the Antiochean Church. The Orthodox Church in America is the only Orthodox church that has all of the structures necessary to continue without outside help—seminaries, monasteries, and charitable institutions. However, in spite of vocal support from several influential individuals, no sign of a move toward unity has become manifest. American Orthodoxy remains divided into a spectrum of churches serving individual ethnic constituencies.
During the nineteenth century, Orthodox believers from many of the European national churches migrated to America. A few, such as the Greeks, remained autonomous and eventually formed their own ethnic church. Others, such as the Syrians, began as an ethnic group under the care of the Russian church, which, because it was the first Orthodox church to establish work, had a special hegemony within the United States. Once in the United States with its multiethnic atmosphere, geographically removed from its homeland, the Orthodox Church became subject to a variety of forces that split its community into a number of ecclesiastical factions. The first major splinter began as a movement to unite American Orthodoxy.
Aftimios Ofiesh (1890–1971) came to America in 1905 to work among Syrians, then a part of the Russian Orthodox Church. In 1917 he was consecrated bishop for the Syrian work, succeeding Bishop Raphael Hawaweeny (1860–1915). On February 2, 1927, the Russian bishops gave him the duty of caring for the American-born Orthodox, especially the English-speaking parishes, not otherwise being given proper attention. By their action they created a new jurisdiction, the American Orthodox Church, as an autonomous body with a filial relationship to the Russian church.
The project met immediate opposition. The non-Russian bishops were not supportive of a united American Orthodoxy as proposed and the ecumenical patriarch, the nominal head of all Orthodox churches, denounced the project as schismatic. The Greeks were angered by Ofiesh’s publication of a magazine, Orthodox Catholic Reporter. Especially offended were the Episcopalians, who considered themselves the American form of Orthodoxy and who were providing the Russians with large amounts of financial support. They applied pressure on Metropolitan Platon (Rozhdestvensky) (r. 1907–1914, 1921–1934) to abandon Ofiesh. Even though soon abandoned by the Russians, Ofiesh continued in his project and, beginning with Emmanuel (Rizkallah Abo-Hatab) (1890–1933) in 1927 and Sophronius Bishara (1888–1940) the following year, he consecrated four bishops to head his independent work.
The problem with Ofiesh was not the only trouble to disturb the Russian church during the 1920s. As a result of the Russian Revolution and the coming to power of an antireligious regime, the close allegiance of the church to the Russian government was called into question, especially after the imprisonment of the patriarch of Moscow in 1922. Soviet supporters within the Russian church in 1924 organized a sobor (convention) of what came to be called the Living Church faction. They voiced support of the Soviet government and elected the only American at the sobor, John Kedrowsky, bishop of America. He came to America with his sons, Nicholas (later his successor as bishop of America) and John, and through court action took control of St. Nicholas Cathedral in New York City. However, he was rejected by a synod of the American Russian Church in 1924 that declared its autonomy in administrative matters from the church in Russia.
While the Russians were splintering into several factions, the Greeks, never under Russian control, were having their own problems. In 1908 the Greek parishes in America were transferred from the direct authority of the ecumenical patriarch to the holy synod of the church in Greece. That arrangement did not provide the necessary leadership for the burgeoning American church, so in 1918 the ecumenical patriarch began the process of establishing the American church as an archdiocese, a task finally accomplished in 1922. However, that arrangement also did not resolve the leadership question, and in 1930 the ecumenical patriarch reasserted his hegemony in America by appointing a representative to go to the United States and take over leadership of the archdiocese.
Meanwhile, as organizational trouble plagued the church, it was further divided by internal problems in Greece. A faction of the American membership opposed the transfer of the allegiance of the American church from the church in Greece to the ecumenical patriarch. In the 1930s, they removed themselves from the archdiocese and sought consecration of a new bishop by the church in Greece. Thus, in 1934, Christopher Contogeorge (1894–1950), with the blessing of the church in Greece, was consecrated the archbishop of Philadelphia by Albanian bishop Fan Stylin Noli, assisted by Bishop Sophronius Bishara. Archbishop Christopher was the consecrator of Bishop John Kedrowsky’s son and successor, Nicholas Kedrowsky.
By the mid-1930s, Archbishop Christopher and bishops Sophronius, Nicholas (Kedrowsky), and Fan constituted a group of independent Orthodox bishops both organizationally and emotionally separated from the larger body of Orthodox bishops and faithful. These four participated in a number of consecrations of new bishops, both in their several jurisdictions and in other independent Orthodox churches. From their lineage came bishops Joseph Klimowicz (1880–1961), Walter A. Propheta (1912–1972), and Peter A. Zhurawetsky (1901–1994), who in turn consecrated most of the men who head the next generation of independent Orthodox churches.
There is one strain of independent Orthodoxy that has a history independent of the bishops discussed above, that which derives from Archbishop Joseph Renè Vilatte (1854–1929) of the American Catholic Church (discussed in chapter 2 as one of the founders of Old Catholicism in America). Vilatte’s episcopal orders came from a small Orthodox body in India, and during the later years of his life he consecrated individuals who adopted an Orthodox stance, most notably George A. McGuire (1866–1934), founder of the African Orthodox Church. Also, at least one person from the Vilatte lineage participated in the consecration of Propheta.
Finally, it should be noted that just as both Orthodox and Catholic jurisdictions derived from the work of Vilatte, so too have they both derived from the independent Orthodox bishops. Most notably, the Christ Catholic Church derived as an Old Catholic body from the previous jurisdiction of Peter Zhurawetsky.
In the 1980s, Orthodox bishops who carried lineages from several lines of apostolic succession (including Catholic and Anglican lines) emerged, and in the 1990s it became common for bishops leading Orthodox jurisdictions to note the various lines of apostolic succession they offer. The bishops holding these several lineages passed them to any persons they consecrated.
Separating during the years of the great ecumenical councils, the Christian churches of Egypt, Armenia, and the Middle East, for a variety of reasons, refused to ratify one or more of the creeds, primarily the Chalcedonian Creed of 451, which most of the Eastern Orthodox world accepted as a standard of Orthodox Christian faith. Both the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox churches have branded these churches as heretical in faith, though the Armenian church has vigorously protested such labeling as a misunderstanding of its position both theologically and relationally to the Council of Chalcedon.
The monk Nestorius (d. c. 451), who became patriarch of Constantinople in 428, believed that Christ was not the Son of God, but that God was living in Christ. The two natures of Christ—divine and human—were separable, said Nestorius. Further, he said Mary bore the human Christ, not God. Thus she was not Theotokos, the God-bearer. And it was not God who suffered and died. Nestorius preached his doctrines throughout the Eastern Church. In 431 the Third Council of the early church met at Ephesus to treat the teachings of Nestorius. The council ruled that Mary was Theotokos, and that the human and divine natures are inseparably bound together in the one person of Christ. The council condemned Nestorius, declared his teachings heretical, and deposed him as patriarch of Constantinople. These actions began a four-year battle of ecclesiastical and imperial politics. The result was Nestorius’s banishment and the burning of his books.
The Nestorians continued to spread Nestorius’s beliefs. They conducted missionary work in Persia, India, and China and won followers in Arabia and Egypt. Under the Mohammedans they were essentially free from persecution until the modern era. They survive to this day as the Church of the East. Their largest losses have been to proselytizing efforts by Roman Catholics, Jacobites (to whom they lost much of the church in India), and more recently, Protestants.
The Church of the East belongs to the non-Chalcedonian Orthodox tradition in the sense that it opposes the statement of the Council at Chalcedon that Christ was “begotten … of Mary the Virgin, the God bearer.”
When the Nestorians were rediscovered in the 1830s by Protestant missionaries, their preservation of an old Aramaic dialect also became news. They have since made this dialect the language of their scriptural translation. The seven sacraments they observe are baptism, ordination, the Holy Eucharist, anointing, remission of sins, holy leaven, and the sign of the cross. The holy leaven refers to the belief that a portion of the bread used at the Last Supper was brought to the East by the apostle Thaddeus, and every Eucharist in the Church of the East is made from bread continuous with that meal. The sign of the cross is considered a sacrament, and a specific formula is prescribed for its rubric.
As with all of the Eastern churches, relation with a particular apostle is assumed. The Church of the East claims a special relationship with the apostle Thaddeus, who visited the kingdom of Oshroene soon after Pentecost, and with Mari (one of the 70 disciples). Supposedly there was correspondence between Abgar, the ruler of Oshroene, and Christ, in which the former invited Jesus to settle at Edessa, the capital city.
The liturgy of the Church of the East is that of the “Holy Apostles Addai and Mari” (saints Thaddeus and Mari), who brought it from Jerusalem. The leadership of the church is found in the patriarchate, which has since 1350 been hereditary in the family of Mar Shimun. Since the patriarch is celibate, the office passes from uncle to nephew. Under the patriarch are the metropolitans and bishops. The priests are allowed to marry at any time, even after their ordination.
The Monophysite churches, like the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic, emphasize liturgy in their church life; they believe strongly in an apostolic succession, and they derive their doctrinal position from the ancient creeds. Their distinctiveness comes from the content of their creed, which differs more from both Constantinople and Rome than the latter two differ from each other. The Monophysite churches are united on doctrine, but have lines of succession and liturgy with a national flavor.
The distinct Monophysite doctrines derive from the fifth-century discussions on the nature of Christ. It was the Monophysite position that Christ was one person of one (mono) nature (physis), the divine nature absorbing the human nature. In the context of the debate, Monophysitism was opposed to Nestorianism, which said that Christ had two natures but that they were separable.
Monophysitism was condemned by the Fourth Council of the early church, held at Chalcedon in 451. The council formulated what came to be called the Chalcedonian Creed, which says that Christ is “of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood.” Rejecting this creed, most of the Armenian, northern Egyptian, and Syrian churches broke away from the main body of the Christian church. In general, the Monophysite churches accept only the first three councils of the early Christian church (those at Nicea, Constantinople, and Ephesus) as valid and binding.
Theologians continue to debate Monophysite Christology. Some writers contend that the Monophysite churches are Eutychean, that is, that they follow the teaching of Archimandrite Eutyches, a monk of Constantinople, who asserted the unity of nature in Christ in such a way that the human nature was completely fused and absorbed in the divine. Others, however, assert that the Monophysite churches (at least some of them) are not Eutychean, but Orthodox with an “undeveloped terminology.” The Armenian, Syrian, and Coptic churches represent the Monophysite tradition, but they
deny the label Monophysite and deny that they teach any submergence of Christ’s human nature.
THE ARMENIAN CHURCHES
According to tradition, Christianity was brought to Armenia by Thaddeus and Bartholomew, two of the original 12 apostles. By 260, a bishopric had been established in Armenia and was referred to in Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History. In 301 Tiridates II, the king of Armenia (r. c. 197–238), became the first Christian monarch. St. Gregory the Illuminator (c. 257–c. 331), who converted Tiridates, worked with the king’s blessing to organize the Armenian church. Through the church, a written language was developed and a literate Armenian culture emerged. As is common with Monophysite churches, the Armenian church accepted only the first three ecumenical councils (those at Nicea, Constantinople, and Ephesus), and uses the Nicene Creed. Members of the Armenian church did not attend the Council of Chalcedon in 451 and rejected its decisions.
Ecclesiastical authority in the Armenian church was invested in the catholicos who originally resided at Vagharshapat in central Armenia. There, close to the palace, Gregory built Etchmiadzin, the great cathedral. Because of changing political fortunes, the catholicos was frequently forced to move, first to Dovin (484), then, among other places, to Argina (944), Tauplour (1054), Domnplov (1065), and finally Sis, in the kingdom of Lesser Armenia or Cilicia (1293). In 1441 an assembly was held at Etchmiadzin, and a catholicos was installed. The catholicos at Sis at that time took the title Catholicos of Cilicia. Both sees—Etchmiadzin and Cilicia—have functioned until the present.
There are several minor peculiarities in the Armenian church’s sacraments, distinguishing it from other churches in the liturgical family. Holy communion is customarily celebrated only on Sunday and on special occasions and cannot be celebrated twice in the same day. Pure wine (without water) and unleavened bread are used, and the laity receive the Eucharist by intinction. The Eucharist is served to infants immediately after baptism by touching the lips with the elements.
Armenians in America
During the last 1,500 years, Armenia has suffered foreign domination and persecution by Muslims and Russians. The most terrible of these persecutions were the ones begun by the Turks in 1890 and carried on intermittently for the next 30 years. The effect was practically to destroy and scatter the Armenian nation. The arrival of Armenians in America dates from the immigration begun as a result of the massacres. The antireligious persecution by the Russians after World War I followed the Turkish onslaughts.
Armenians in America began to form churches in the late nineteenth century. The first was organized in 1891 in Worcester, Massachusetts. After 1921, American Armenians began to divide politically into two factions. One group remained intense nationalists, loyal to an independent Armenia and its symbols. The other group, often described as pro-Soviet, accommodated themselves to and then supported the inevitable Russian dominance of Armenia. The political division was deeply felt throughout the entire American Armenian community, including the church.
Though practically autonomous, the Armenian church in America recognized the authority of the catholicos of Etchmiadzin. Archbishop Levon Tourian (d. 1933) was designated by the see of Etchmiadzin as the supreme prelate of the Armenian Apostolic Church in America. Shortly after his arrival he managed to offend both political parties with contradictory statements concerning the nationalist flag. The continued polarization of the two factions led in 1933 to a split in the church itself.
The split occurred during the annual meeting of the national church council. Pro-Soviet lay delegates began to hold rump sessions, and from their meeting a second church was, in effect, begun. While there was little doubt of the legal continuance through the church council, Archbishop Tourian recognized the pro-Soviet group and declared some of the nationalist priests “unfrocked.” A few months later, Bishop Tourian was assassinated during High Mass in New York City. So deep was the split in the Armenian community that, as one writer observed, “Armenians have come to hate one another with a passion that has exceeded at times even a hatred for the Turks” (Atamian, The Armenian Community, 1955, p. 358).
THE SYRIAN CHURCHES
Antioch, an ancient city of Syria, is the place where the followers of Jesus were first called Christians (Acts 11:26). In the early centuries, Antioch was the center of a large Christian movement rent by the Monophysite controversy concerning whether Christ had two natures, human and divine, or one (mono) nature (physis). Jacob Baradeus (r. 542–578), a resident of Antioch though bishop of Edessa, was both a favorite of Empress Theodora (c. 500–548) and a fervent Monophysite. After his consecration in 542, he toured all of the area from Turkey to Egypt, organizing churches. Those churches under his authority were to take his name in later years.
The evangelical zeal of the Jacobites was hindered and many of their gains destroyed by the conquests of Islam. In 1665 the Jacobites gained strength in India and Ceylon when the Nestorian Malabar Christians came under the Antiochean patriarch. This action more than doubled the size of the church, and today makes up more than 60 percent of its worldwide membership of 100,000.
The Jacobites have several distinctive practices. Baptism is by triune infusion (pouring). Auricular confession to the priest is not used. During the Eucharist, the priest waves his hand over the elements to symbolize the operation of the Holy Spirit. The action is also used in ordination ceremonies.
THE COPTIC CHURCHES OF EGYPT AND ETHIOPIA
At one time, the church in Egypt, the Coptic church, was among the largest in Christendom. But in 451 Dioscurus (d. 454), the patriarch of Alexandria, was deposed by the Council of Chalcedon, the fourth of the general councils in the early centuries of Christianity. There began an era of persecution of the Copts, first by their fellow Christians and then after 640 by Arab conquerors. Beginning with heavy taxes, the persecutions became bloody toward the end of the first millennium c.e. By the end of the Middle Ages, the Coptic church had shrunk from six million to 15,000 members. Growth since that time has been slow, but religious toleration in the nineteenth century helped, and by the middle of the twentieth century, there were three to five million members.
The Coptic church developed its own traditions. Its members are proud of Egypt as the childhood home of Jesus and the location of the ministry of St. Mark, who traditionally is credited with Egypt’s initial evangelization. Several liturgies are used, but the most popular is the Liturgy of St. Basil, written by St. Basil the Great (b. 330). There is particular veneration of the Virgin, manifest in the 32 feasts in her honor during the ecclesiastical year. In 1971 she is said to have appeared over the Coptic Cathedral in Cairo.
The head of the Coptic church is the patriarch of Alexandria, with his see at Cairo. In 1971 this office was assumed by Pope Shenouda III (b. 1923). On May 6, 1973, Pope Shenouda greeted Pope Paul VI (1897–1978) with a kiss of peace on a visit to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Ethiopia accepted Christianity in the fourth century and the first bishop, Frumentius, was consecrated by Athanasius, who was the patriarch of Alexandria. The Ethiopian church came under the jurisdiction of the Coptic church in Egypt, and followed its theological lead. Isolated by its mountains, Ethiopia withstood the advances of Islam but was cut off from the rest of Christendom. It reached its heights of glory in the thirteenth century under King Lalibela, who gave his name to a city of churches, 10 of which were hewn from solid rock. Modern history for this church began when Catholic missionaries sought to bring the Abyssinians under the Roman pontiff. They almost succeeded in the seventeenth century, when for a few years Roman Catholicism was accepted by the ruler.
The Ethiopian church differs from the Coptic church in that it has absorbed strong Jewish traits. It accepts the apocrypha as scripture, venerates the Sabbath along with Sunday, recognizes Old Testament figures as saints, and observes many Old Testament regulations on food and purification.
IN THE MODERN WORLD
Since the mid-twentieth century, the non-Chalcedonian churches have received some recognition from the larger Christian community. Most are now members of the World Council of Churches along with their Protestant and Orthodox sister churches. In the United States, many have joined the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Included in this latter body are the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, the Coptic Orthodox Church in North America, the Malankara Orthodox Church, the Mar Thoma Church, and the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch.
Prominent archives of the Eastern Orthodox tradition in North America are located at the Department of Archives and History (Orthodox Church in America), Syosset, NY; Logos Mission Center (Greek), PO Box 4319, St. Augustine, FL 32085; and the headquarters of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the U.S.A., PO Box 495, South Bound Brook, NJ 08880. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America created its Department of Archives in the 1980s. It is located at the church’s New York headquarters. The Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in America has sponsored the Orthodox Theological Society in America, which provides for both theological and historical inquiry.
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