Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches

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The word Orthodox is derived from the Greek words ρθός (right) and δόξα (belief).

Orthodox Churches

The term "Orthodox Churches" in its conventional historical sense designates those Churches of the Christian East that: (a) accepted and have maintained the teachings of the Council of Chalcedon, (b) hold on to the historic ecclesial and liturgical traditions of Byzantium, and (c) are in communion with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. The Orthodox Churches comprise three categories: (1) autocephalous churches that are self-governing, but in communion with each other and with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, (2) autonomous churches that have internal autonomy but remain dependent on an autocephalous church; and (3) dependent churches. A fourth category exists, comprising those churches that hold on to (a) and (b), but are separated from communion because of political exigencies (e.g., Russian Church Abroad) or theological controversies (e.g., Old Believers and Old Calendarists), are presently not in communion with Constantinople or Moscow. These churches are:

Autocephalous Churches (in order of precedence and honor):

Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople
Patriarchate of Alexandria
Patriarchate of Antioch
Patriarchate of Jerusalem
Orthodox Church of Russia
Orthodox Church of Serbia
Orthodox Church of Romania
Orthodox Church of Bulgaria
Orthodox Church of Georgia
Orthodox Church of Cyprus
Orthodox Church of Greece
Orthodox Church of Poland
Orthodox Church of Albania
Orthodox Church in the Czech and Slovak Republics

Orthodox Church in America**The autocephaly status of the Orthodox Church in America is recognized by all other autocephalous Orthodox Churches except the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which insists that the Moscow Patriarchate has no right to grant autocephaly without its agreement.

Autonomous Churches:

Orthodox Church of Mount Sinai
Orthodox Church of Finland
Orthodox Church of Japan
Orthodox Church of China Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church

Churches Dependent on the Ecumenical Patriarchate:

American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church
Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and Diaspora
Russian Orthodox Archdiocese in Western Europe
Albanian Orthodox Diocese of America

Belarusan Council of Orthodox Churches in North America
Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada

Orthodox Churches of Irregular Status:

Old Believers (Old Ritualists)
Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia
Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kiev Patriarchate
Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church
Macedonian Orthodox Church
Old Calendar Orthodox Churches

Characteristic Features of the Orthodox Churches. Centralization of Church government was never developed in the East as was the case in the Latin West; therefore the stress has been on the autonomous action of each local bishop in his diocese, guided by the concerted actions of a Holy Synod or collegiality type of government. In all the Orthodox Churches, the bishop of the capital city, whether he is a patriarch, metropolitan, or archbishop, is considered the chief among all the other bishops of that given nation, but he has no jurisdiction in the strict sense over other bishops. All Church decisions are made by the episcopal council or synod at which the chief prelate presides, but as an equal among equals. Not only is there a supreme synod gathered around the chief prelate, but there are also lesser synods and councils for each diocese and parish. Ordinarily there are two such councils: one, an ecclesiastical tribunal, passes judgments on marriage cases, dispensations, and the granting of divorces; the other deals with the financial administration of ecclesiastical property. Orthodox Churches hold Sacred Scripture and tradition as the two fonts of Christian revelation. These two sources are presented to the faithful mainly in a setting of strongly liturgical emphasis. Orthodox fidelity to tradition is revealed in its scrupulous fidelity to the teachings of the first seven ecumenical councils and the writings of the early Fathers.

Oriental Orthodox Churches

The term "Oriental Orthodox Churches" refers to those six Churches that are identified by their non-reception of the Council of Chalcedon (451), and are not in communion with the Ecumenical Patriarch. In the past, these churches were called Monophysite Churches by their opponents, although the reality was far more complex and nuanced. The term "Oriental Orthodox" is preferred, as none of these churches ever held on to the strict monophysite position of Eutychus and Dioscorus. Through ecumenical dialogues and joint statements that have emerged since the 1970s, the dispute over Chalcedon has been acknowledged as essentially one of semantics and terminology rather than substantial theology, viz., the Oriental Orthodox Churches hold on to the same christological understanding as the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. The six Oriental Orthodox Churches are:

Armenian Apostolic Church
Coptic Orthodox Church
Ethiopian Orthodox Church
Syrian Orthodox Church
Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church
Eritrean Orthodox Church

For further information about these churches, see under their separate headings in this encyclopedia.

Strictly speaking, the Assyrian Church of the East (erroneously known as the "Nestorian Church") is neither Orthodox nor Oriental Orthodox, as a result of its unique christological tradition.

See Also: assyrian church of the east.

Bibliography: a. atiya, A History of Eastern Christianity (London 1968). s. bulgakov, The Orthodox Church (Crestwood, NY 1988). d. constantelos, Understanding the Greek Orthodox Church: Its Faith, History and Practice (New York 1982). n. davis, A Long Walk to Church: A Contemporary History of Russian Orthodoxy (Boulder, Co. 1995). m. efthimiou and g. christopoulos, A History of the Greek Orthodox Church in America (New York 1984). j. ellis, The Russian Orthodox Church: A Contemporary History (London 1986). d. geanakoplos, A Short History of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (330-1990) (Brookline, Mass. 1990). p. gregorios, w. lazareth, and n. nissiotis, eds., Does Chalcedon Divide or Unite? Towards Convergence in Orthodox Christology (Geneva 1981). h. hill, ed, Light from the East: A Symposium on the Oriental Orthodox and Assyrian Churches (Toronto 1988). j. meyendorff, The Orthodox Church (Crestwood, NY 1981). r. roberson, The Eastern Christian Churches: A Brief Survey, 6th ed (Rome 1999). k. ware, The Orthodox Church, rev. ed. (New York 1997).

[g. a. maloney/eds.]