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ORIENTAL ORTHODOXY is the third largest communion of Christian churches , with about 86 million members worldwide. As one of the oldest religious institutions in the world, it has played a prominent role in the history and culture of Abyssinia , and parts of the Middle East and India
India
. An Eastern Christian communion of autocephalous churches , its bishops are equal by virtue of ordination , with doctrines summarised in the recognition of only the first three ecumenical councils . Although Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria is considered the most prominent , it lacks central governance analogous to the Papacy in the Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
.

The Oriental Orthodox communion is composed of six autocephalous churches: the Coptic Orthodox Church
Coptic Orthodox Church
of Alexandria
Alexandria
, the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch
Antioch
, the Armenian Apostolic Church
Armenian Apostolic Church
, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church , the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church , and the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church . Collectively, they consider themselves to be the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic church founded by Jesus Christ
Jesus Christ
in his Great Commission , and that its bishops are the successors of Christ's apostles . Most member churches are part of the World Council of Churches
World Council of Churches
. All member churches share a virtually identical theology, with the distinguishing feature being Miaphysitism
Miaphysitism
. Three very different rites are practiced in the communion: the western-influenced Armenian Rite , the West Syrian Rite of the two Syriac churches, and the Alexandrian Rite of the Copts and Ethiopians.

Prior to the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD, the Oriental Orthodox churches shared in this communion with the contemporary Roman Catholic Church , and Eastern Orthodoxy , separating primarily over differences in Christology
Christology
. Subsequent to this event, Oriental Orthodoxy developed distinctively under the patriarchate of Alexandria
Alexandria
in Egypt, originally part of the Pentarchy , and the only episcopal see besides the Holy See
Holy See
to maintain the title "Pope". Its Syriac Orthodox patriarchate member church was recognised as authority among part of the Saint Thomas Christians in India
India
, retained until this day.

The majority of Oriental Orthodox Christians live in Egypt
Egypt
, Ethiopia , and Eritrea
Eritrea
, with smaller Armenian and Syriac communities living in the Middle East
Middle East
- descreasingly due to persecution - and India
India
. There are also many in other parts of the world, formed through diaspora , conversions , and missionary activity.

CONTENTS

* 1 Overview

* 1.1 Chalcedonian Schism
Schism

* 2 History

* 2.1 Post Council of Chalcedon (451 AD) * 2.2 20th century

* 3 Geographical distribution * 4 Churches

* 5 Internal disputes

* 5.1 Armenian Apostolic * 5.2 Ethiopia
Ethiopia
* 5.3 India
India

* 6 Occasional confusions * 7 See also * 8 Notes * 9 References * 10 Bibliography * 11 External links

OVERVIEW

The Oriental Orthodox churches are distinguished by their recognition of only the first three ecumenical councils during the period of the state church of the Roman Empire – the First Council of Nicaea in 325, the First Council of Constantinople in 381 and the Council of Ephesus in 431. Oriental Orthodox shares much theology and many ecclesiastical traditions with the Eastern Orthodox Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
; these include a similar doctrine of salvation and a tradition of collegiality between bishops, as well as reverence of the Theotokos and use of the Nicene creed .

The primary theological difference between the two communions is the differing Christology
Christology
. Oriental Orthodoxy rejects the Chalcedonian Definition , and instead adopts the Miaphysite formula, believing that the human and divine natures of Christ are united. Historically, the early prelates of the Oriental Orthodox churches thought that the Chalcedonian Definition implied a possible repudiation of the Trinity or a concession to Nestorianism
Nestorianism
.

Other differences include minor deviations in social teaching and different views on ecumenism. Oriental Orthodox churches are generally considered to be more conservative with regard to social issues as well more enthusiastic about ecumenical relations with non-Orthodox churches. Creationism
Creationism
is popular among Oriental Orthodox clergy, while it is clearly a minority opinion in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

The break in communion between the various Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches did not occur suddenly, but rather gradually over 2-3 centuries following the Council of Chalcedon . Eventually the two communions developed separate institutions, and the Oriental Orthodox did not participate in any of the later ecumenical councils.

The Oriental Orthodox churches maintain their own ancient apostolic succession . The various churches are governed by Holy Synods , with a primus inter pares bishop serving as primate . The primates hold titles like patriarch , catholicos , and pope . Among these patriarchs, the Pope of Alexandria
Alexandria
takes precedence, and is sometimes considered the "face" of Oriental Orthodoxy; that said, the Pope of Alexandria
Alexandria
has no governing powers with respect to the non-Coptic churches. Oriental Orthodoxy does not have a magisterial leader like the Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
, nor does the communion have a leader who can convene ecumenical synods like the Eastern Orthodox Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
.

CHALCEDONIAN SCHISM

Main article: History of Oriental Orthodoxy § Schism
Schism

The schism between Oriental Orthodoxy and the adherents of Chalcedonian Christianity was based on differences in Christology
Christology
. The First Council of Nicaea, in 325, declared that Jesus Christ
Jesus Christ
is God , that is to say, "consubstantial " with the Father. Later, the third ecumenical council, the Council of Ephesus, declared that Jesus Christ, though divine as well as human, is only one being, or person (hypostasis ). Thus, the Council of Ephesus
Council of Ephesus
explicitly rejected Nestorianism
Nestorianism
, the Christological doctrine that Christ was two distinct beings, one divine (the Logos) and one human (Jesus), who happened to inhabit the same body. The Churches that later became Oriental Orthodoxy were firmly anti-Nestorian, and therefore strongly supported the decisions made at Ephesus.

Twenty years after Ephesus, the Council of Chalcedon reaffirmed the view that Jesus Christ
Jesus Christ
was a single person, but at the same time declared that this one person existed "in two complete natures", one human and one divine. Those who opposed Chalcedon saw this as a concession to Nestorianism, or even as a conspiracy to convert the Church to Nestorianism
Nestorianism
by stealth. As a result, over the following decades, they gradually separated from communion with those who accepted the Council of Chalcedon, and formed the body that is today called Oriental Orthodoxy.

At times, Chalcedonian Christians have referred to the Oriental Orthodox as being Monophysites – that is to say, accusing them of following the teachings of Eutyches (c. 380 – c. 456), who argued that Jesus Christ
Jesus Christ
was not human at all, but only divine. Monophysitism was condemned as heretical alongside Nestorianism, and to accuse a church of being Monophysite
Monophysite
is to accuse it of falling into the opposite extreme from Nestorianism. However, the Oriental Orthodox themselves reject this description as inaccurate, having officially condemned the teachings of both Nestorius
Nestorius
and Eutyches. They define themselves as Miaphysite instead, holding that Christ has one nature, but this nature is both human and divine.

Today, the Oriental Orthodox Churches are in full communion with each other, but not with the Eastern Orthodox Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
or any other churches. Slow dialogue towards restoring communion between the two Orthodox groups began in the mid-20th century, and dialogue is also underway between Oriental Orthodoxy and the Catholic Church
Catholic Church
and others. In 2017, the mutual recognition of baptism was restored between the Coptic Orthodox Church
Coptic Orthodox Church
and the Catholic Church
Catholic Church
.

HISTORY

Main article: History of Oriental Orthodoxy

POST COUNCIL OF CHALCEDON (451 AD)

The schism between the Oriental Orthodox and the rest of Christendom occurred in the 5th century. The separation resulted in part from the refusal of Pope Dioscorus I of Alexandria and the other thirteen Egyptian Bishops to accept the Christological dogmas promulgated by the Council of Chalcedon, which held that Jesus is in two natures: one divine and one human. They would accept only "of or from two natures" but not "in two natures".

To the hierarchs who would lead the Oriental Orthodox, the latter phrase was tantamount to accepting Nestorianism
Nestorianism
, which expressed itself in a terminology incompatible with their understanding of Christology. Nestorianism
Nestorianism
was understood as seeing Christ in two separate natures, human and divine, each with different actions and experiences; in contrast Cyril of Alexandria advocated the formula "One Nature of God the Incarnate Logos" (or as others translate, "One Incarnate Nature of the Word"), stressing the unity of the incarnation over all other considerations. It is not entirely clear that Nestorius
Nestorius
himself was a Nestorian.

The Oriental Orthodox churches were therefore often called "Monophysite", although they reject this label, as it is associated with Eutychian Monophysitism
Monophysitism
; they prefer the term "Miaphysite". Oriental Orthodox churches reject what they consider to be the heretical Monophysite
Monophysite
teachings of Apollinaris of Laodicea and Eutyches , the Dyophysite definition of the Council of Chalcedon and the Antiochene christology of Theodore of Mopsuestia , Nestorius
Nestorius
, Theodoret , and Ibas of Edessa .

Christology, although important, was not the only reason for the Alexandrian Church's refusal to accept the declarations of the Council of Chalcedon; political, ecclesiastical and imperial issues were hotly debated during that period.

In the years following Chalcedon the patriarchs of Constantinople intermittently remained in communion with the non-Chalcedonian Patriarchs of Alexandria
Alexandria
and Antioch
Antioch
(see Henotikon ), while Rome remained out of communion with the latter and in unstable communion with Constantinople. It was not until 518 that the new Byzantine Emperor, Justin I
Justin I
(who accepted Chalcedon), demanded that the Church in the Roman Empire accept the Council's decisions.

Justin ordered the replacement of all non-Chalcedonian bishops, including the patriarchs of Antioch
Antioch
and Alexandria. The extent of the influence of the Bishop of Rome in this demand has been a matter of debate. Justinian I
Justinian I
also attempted to bring those monks who still rejected the decision of the Council of Chalcedon into communion with the greater church. The exact time of this event is unknown, but it is believed to have been between 535 and 548.

St Abraham of Farshut was summoned to Constantinople
Constantinople
and he chose to bring with him four monks. Upon arrival, Justinian summoned them and informed them that they would either accept the decision of the Council or lose their positions. Abraham refused to entertain the idea. Theodora tried to persuade Justinian to change his mind, seemingly to no avail. Abraham himself stated in a letter to his monks that he preferred to remain in exile rather than subscribe to a faith which he believed to be contrary to that of Athanasius of Alexandria .

20TH CENTURY

By the 20th century the Chalcedonian schism was not seen with the same importance, and from several meetings between the authorities of the Holy See
Holy See
and the Oriental Orthodoxy, reconciling declarations emerged in the common statement of Syriac Patriarch
Patriarch
Mar Ignatius Zakka I Iwas and the Roman Pope John Paul II
Pope John Paul II
in 1984.

The confusions and schisms that occurred between their Churches in the later centuries, they realize today, in no way affect or touch the substance of their faith, since these arose only because of differences in terminology and culture and in the various formulae adopted by different theological schools to express the same matter. Accordingly, we find today no real basis for the sad divisions and schisms that subsequently arose between us concerning the doctrine of Incarnation. In words and life we confess the true doctrine concerning Christ our Lord, notwithstanding the differences in interpretation of such a doctrine which arose at the time of the Council of Chalcedon.

According to the canons of the Oriental Orthodox Churches, the four bishops of Rome
Rome
, Constantinople
Constantinople
, Alexandria
Alexandria
and Antioch
Antioch
were all given status as Patriarchs ; in other words, the ancient apostolic centres of Christianity, by the First Council of Nicaea (predating the schism)—each of the four patriarchs was responsible for those bishops and churches within his own area of the Universal Church. Thus, the Bishop of Rome has always been held by the others to be fully sovereign within his own area, as well as "First-Among-Equals", due to the traditional belief that the Apostles Saint Peter
Saint Peter
and Saint Paul were martyred in Rome.

The technical reason for the schism was that the bishops of Rome
Rome
and Constantinople
Constantinople
excommunicated the non-Chalcedonian bishops in 451 for refusing to accept the "in two natures" teaching, thus declaring them to be out of communion.

The highest office in Oriental Orthodoxy is that of Patriarch. There are Patriarchs within the local Oriental Orthodox communities of the Coptic, Armenian, Eritrean, Ethiopian, Syriac, and Indian (Malankara) Orthodox Churches. The title of Pope, as used by the leading bishop of the Coptic Church, has the meaning of "Father" and is not a jurisdictional title. All the heads of the mentioned oriental churches are equal unlike those within the Eastern Orthodox Churches.

GEOGRAPHICAL DISTRIBUTION

Further information: List of Christian denominations by number of members DISTRIBUTION OF ORIENTAL ORTHODOX CHRISTIANS IN THE WORLD BY COUNTRY: Main religion (more than 75%) Main religion (50–75%) Important minority religion (20–50%) Important minority religion (5–20%) Minority religion (1–5%) Tiny minority religion (below 1%), but has local autocephaly

According to the Encyclopedia of Religion, Oriental Orthodoxy is the Christian tradition "most important in terms of the number of faithful living in the Middle East", which, along with other Eastern Christian communions , represent an autochthonous Christian presence whose origins date further back than the birth and spread of Islam
Islam
in the Middle East. It is the dominant religion in Armenia
Armenia
(94%), the ethnically Armenian unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic
Nagorno-Karabakh Republic
(95%) and in Ethiopia
Ethiopia
(43%, the total Christian population being 62%), especially in two regions in Ethiopia
Ethiopia
: Amhara (82%) and Tigray (96%), as well as the capital city of Addis Ababa
Addis Ababa
(75%). It is also one of two dominant religions in Eritrea
Eritrea
(50%).

It is a minority in Egypt
Egypt
(

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