Oriental Orthodox Churches

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Oriental Orthodox Churches

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Eastern Orthodox denominations – the Oriental Orthodox churches broke off in the earliest of schisms in Church history. Some were Nestorians, others were “monophysites” (a complex understanding of Christology unfairly declared heretical). This family still has a representation of denominations dating back to the third century – Coptic Christians in Egypt (heavily persecuted by Muslims), Church of India (established by the Apostle Thomas), Armenian Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (possibly dating as far back as the Biblical encounter between the Apostle Philip and the influential Ethiopian eunich in Acts 8)

Oriental Orthodox Church

– Emerged from the Western Church in 451 A.D. as a result of Christological differences and persecution at the hands of Roman church leadership.

This group of early Christians primarily drew their authority, although largely de-centralised, from the Alexandrian Arch Bishop (Coptic Christians) and were primarily concentrated in Northern Africa. They recognised (and still do somewhat recognise) four primary centres of authority for the Christian church: Rome, Alexandria, Ephesus (Constantinople), and Antioch.

As with all the primary Bishops of Christianity, they took part in Ecumenical Councils beginning with Nicaea, then Constantinople, then the Council at Ephesus, the Second Council at Ephesus, but stopped participating (along with many other Christian regions) after the Council of Chalcedon. It was at this Council that the complex topic of Christ’s dual natures: human and divine were discussed and a verdict of orthodoxy declared: Christ has two natures, one human and one divine which are inseparable and united.

Many Christian Bishops took issue with this position as it seemed to them to be at odds with Scripture whereby the author of Hebrews says that Jesus was “in all ways tempted as we are, yet without sin”. They would contend that two inseparable natures would make Jesus “other than we are” and ultimately impossible to be tempted “as we are”. Nevertheless this doctrine was decreed into orthodoxy, primarily at the urging of the Roman contingency – Chalcedonian Christology still remains as the “orthodox” position to this day.

In that day (451 A.D.) Dioscorus, the “Pope” or “Archbishop” of Alexandria took exception to this declaration and asserted the alternative position: Christ has two natures one human and one divine – of or from two natures (Miaphysite). This puts the greater emphasis on protecting the position of the incarnation of Christ as God incarnate as MAN – thus satisfying the concept that Jesus, being God, was fully man with a fully human nature and therefore able to be “tempted as we are yet without sin”.

This alternative was fully rejected by the Roman contingency, who, at this very Council, began to assert themselves as the “pre-eminent See” of all Christian Sees and therefore of the highest authority and Leo I who was their Archbishop, the “Pope” over the whole of Christianity.

Because of the political manoeuvring of the Roman leaders in steering much of the proceedings to satisfy political positions, the Bishops of the area now considered under the “Coptic Christian” jurisdiction, withdrew from all future Ecumenical Councils and fully rejected the Dyophysite definition of Christ’s natures along with the Chalcedonian Council itself.

Another group which hotly contested this position of Christ’s dual natures were led by a man named Nestorius who held to a third alternative view of Christology: Christ has two natures, one human and one diving which are “intermingled” as one person (Monophysite). The dyophysite position was autocratically established at Chalcedon primarily to oust Nestorius from his position as Archbishop and to gain support for declaring his “monophysite” Christology as “heresy”.

Because the Oriental Orthodox leaders also disagreed with the Roman Christology, they were incorrectly labeled as followers of Nestorius’ monophysitism and to this day many wrongly refer to them as “Nestorians” or “Monophysites” both of which were, and are decidedly rejected by the Bishops of the Oriental Orthodoxy, along with the Dyophysite position, and the Roman assertion of supreme power over the whole church. The Oriental Orthodox consider Rome to be one of four equal primary Sees but not superior to any of them and prefer the label of “Non-Chalcedonian” or “Miaphysites” as this distinguishes them from Nestorius altogether.

Unfortunately, within 70 years, the Roman Church would declare the Oriental Orthodox Christians to be “heretics” and began to persecute them and exclude them from participation in gatherings and removed several Bishops and Archbishops from their positions of acceptance – considering them “excommunicated” or “out of communion” with the mother church of Rome. This early 6th century persecution was the beginning of nearly 1000 years of persecution at the hands of the Roman Catholic church for nearly any and all groups that would dare to disagree with the declarations of its Pope in Rome.

The Armenian Orthodox Church is considered a part of the decentralised authority structure of Coptic and Oriental Orthodox Archbishops. There is a disdain in this church for the practice of praying to saints and/or Mary. Today, the Oriental Orthodox Church is most prominent in Armenia, Ethiopia (highest concentration), Egypt, Sudan, Syria, and parts of India.


Betts, Robert B. Christians in the Arab East Athens: Lycabbetus Press, 1978.
Binns, John. An Introduction to the Christian Orthodox Churches (Introduction to Religion). Cambridge University Press, 2002.
Charles, R. H. The Chronicle of John, Bishop of Nikiu: Translated from Hermann Zotenberg’s Ethiopic Text. Evolution Publishing, 1916. Reprinted 2007. ISBN 978-1-889758-87-9
Harakas, Stanley H. The Orthodox Church; 455 Questions and Answers. Light and Life Publishing Company, 1988. ISBN 0-937032-56-5
Ware, Timothy. The Orthodox Church. Penguin Books, 1997. ISBN 0-14-014656-3

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