Who are the Oriental Orthodox?

On another thread I made a challenge consisting of naming a Church other than the Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Churches that existed prior to the “Reformation”. It was pointed out that the Oriental Orthodox Churches certainly existed along side the CC and EO.

From what I can determine they split from the CC sometime in the 4th century, long before the schism between the CC and EO, yet they are rarely discussed.

Can anyone fill me in as to the Oriental Orthodox place in history and its relationship with the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches?



I’m not exactly 100% positive on this, but from my discussions with the Orthodox, I have found out that the Oriental Orthodox are considered to be “heretics” (by heretics I mean i’m not sure if they still are but I know they were back in the day). They believe in Monophysitism, which means that Jesus’ two natures were combined (so not two separate natures but two natures mixed together). From what I remember, the Oriental Orthodox consist of the Coptic Churches, and some other churches that I’m not exactly sure. So, they have different theology than the EO and CC.

Someone correct me if I’m wrong.

God Bless :smiley:


Thanks, I had read the same thing but they deny the Monophysitism charge. I had also read that the Catholic Church has been in theological discussions with the Copts since the 70’s with hopes of bringing them into communion with the CC.

That’s not really accurate. They are not considered heretical. They are the Churches that split over the Christological definition of Chalcedon in 451. They include the Coptic, Armenian, Syriac, Malankara/Indian and the Ethopian and Eritrean Orthodox Churches. There were several early attempts at reconciliation that failed. It is generally regarded among us, the Eastern Orthodox, that they do indeed believe the same things we do, that it’s just a matter of language. Many of the Oriental Churches agree to the point that intermarriage and limited inter-Communion is officially sanctioned for the laity in some places. I know for a fact that some Eastern Orthodox priests here in the US will Commune an Oriental.

Other than that their theology and ecclesiology is practically identical to Eastern Orthodoxy. Even though they were not officially present at any ecumenical council after the 4th they still hold to the veneration of icons, the same sacramental theology etc. They also recite the Creed without the filioque, they reject all of the post Great Schism Roman Catholic dogmas such as Papal Infallibility, papal supremacy, Purgatory, the Immaculate Conception among others.

I will say one thing has always interested me. Both the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, who broke communion with Rome in 1054 and 451 respectively, have identical ecclesiologies and theologies and together reject all of the post 1054 Latin dogmas even though the Oriental and Eastern Orthodox have not been in communion for over 1500 years. If I were a Roman Catholic that fact would give me great pause. I would wonder who really has the continuity from the early Church considering these two different communions share all the same beliefs and those are in conflict with Roman Catholicism.

Thanks. Very informative.

They do not believe in Monophysitism. Rather, they follow the Miaphysite christology of St. Cyril of Alexandria. They maintain that Christ is consubstantial with the Father with regards to his divinity and consubstantial with us with regards to his humanity. However, they do not articulate their christology in Chalcedonian terms.

I will also say if you look at their objections to Chalcedon they are not really outrageous at all. I accept Chalcedon fully but St Leo’s definition does skirt pretty close to Nestorianism. Of course many theological definitions walk a very fine line but I can certainly understand their objections. It is quite easy to understand Chalcedon in an improper way.

I tend to agree with you.

I think that is a fair assessment as well.

I would say except for union with the holder of the keys and development of dogma all three have continuity from the apostles. If you consider development of dogma as a lack of continuity then the term trinity would be a lack of continuity.

Every single ancient patriarchate has broken communion with Rome and in the case of Antioch and Alexandria they have broken communion with Rome twice. And every single one of those ancient patriarchates today have the same faith even though they have not been in communion for over 1500 years and all of them reject post 1054 Roman Catholic dogmas, every single one of them. And if you think the definition of the Trinity was a break in continuity you have a faulty view of the Church indeed.

It makes sense they reject the authority of the Roman See since they were anathematized by the Church including the primatial See. This shouldn’t be surprising: atheists reject the authority of God, non-Christians reject the authority of Christ, local schismatics reject the authority of their bishop, etc., etc. As far as the other points, from what I understand, the non-Chalsedonian Churches believe Mary to be pure and without sin (but the Nestorians even deny her to be the Mother of God) and they all pray for the dead. Likewise, they believe all need grace for salvation. I don’t see a fundamental difference.

But even if there was such a difference, a group was anathematized from the Church for altering the most fundamental truth about who Jesus Christ is and they condemned an orthodox definition from the Roman See. But agreeing with them is supposed to help your cause?

Why do you choose to even remain EO? Maybe the OO’s got it right first and your siding with Rome concerning her supposed Christological heresies was your Church’s first mistake?

This mischaracterizes the situation. There were three ancient patriarchal Sees. The other two were political creations. When the two other than Rome left, they were replaced by individuals willing to be subordinate to the new regime in Constantinople, who had always tried to infringe on their rights and jump over them in ranking. The fact that new versions of the old Sees politically dominated by Constantinople sided with Constantinople should not be a surprise.

In any event, the EO don’t believe any one bishop is “worth” more than any other–so those with the title of Patriarch are not special when it comes to the judges of truth. Either some sees are more special than others by divine right or they are not. You can’t reject the that had universally been held to be the most special on the grounds that it really isn’t, but then appeal to the specialness of the others.

And those ancient patriarchates do not have the same faith. In some cases, they are split and there are two or three groups claiming to represent the legitimate patriarchate and they disagree on fundamental points of Christology. Trying to pretend they are some sort of monolith is false.

And if you think the definition of the Trinity was a break in continuity you have a faulty view of the Church indeed.

And this is the very point. The Church we all agree is the Church developed and explained the faith, polishing what was rough, making explicit what was implicit, etc. like described in Ch. 23 of the Commonitory. Why is it a mark against the Church that continues to do this as opposed to a mark against the Churches who have ceased doing this from the moment they broke with that Church? (the EOs actually continued with the Catholic Church for centuries after the split but repudiated that development later).

Maybe you’re right. Maybe every single ancient patriarchate has gotten it wrong in exactly the same ways and one, single, solitary patriarchate has gotten it right. Maybe it’s just coincidence that all of the ancient patriarchates agree with each other and disagree with Rome on exactly the same points.

And I chose to remain Orthodox because it is the ancient, Apostolic faith. The faith both the Oriental and Eastern Orthodox share. :wink:

They are broadly speaking ancient christians who were considered heretical by the dominant eastern orthodox rulers because of their belief in monophysitism. Today you’ll find them mostly in Northern Africa. The copts of Egypt are probably the most famous example. They are also the largest religious group in Ethiopia where they have millions of members. In practice they are very similar to the Orthodox with perhaps even more rigorous rules. They are known for having some of the strictest fasting and dietary rules in christianity. Structurally wise they are very similar to the orthodox with a confederate like model based largely on self governing national churches in communion with each other. They have a coptic Pope but like the patriarch of Constantinople he’s largely a figurehead to the non Egyptian groups. They are pretty friendly with Catholics too and I think the coptic pope visited Pope Francis not to long ago.

I’m not a big fan of Oriental Orthodoxy, but if I was I would probably say something like this: In 451 the church split, one side being the OO and the other being the Chalcedonians. The latter split in 1054, forming what is now known as the Orthodox and the West. The latter split in the 16th century, into Catholics and Protestants. The latter split further into Lutherans, Zwinglians, and Anglicans, and later into Calvinists, Methodists, and Pentecostals. Conclusion: if you separate from the one true church (keep in mind, the “me” speaking here is a hypothetical one who is a fan of the OOy) you’re bound to keep on dividing.

I would definitely say the OO and EO are far, far closer to reunification than any of the other so called branches of Christendom. Both Churches have essentially recognized that they share the same faith. Reunification with the RC Church for either side will never happen because it will require one side or the other to renounces beliefs. That is not the case with OO/EO.

Or, or, or, or…:wink:

One could assume that the EO’s and OO’s lack of development of dogma could prove that they are more Pharisetical (more Pharisee like) and refuse to grow. The Church and her doctrines are like the spiritual life; you don’t just stay at one aspect in the spiritual life. You grow and form to a newer and deeper understanding of what you started with.

That’s my :twocents:

It reminds me of how the protestants try to pretend that the differences between their sects just boil down to church governance and that there’s still some kind of “mere Christianity” they share.

I see nothing at all Pharasaical about the Orthodox and find such a characterization to be insulting, especially as a member of an Eastern Catholic Church where our approach to spiritually and theology mirrors that of the Orthodox.

From the common declaration of Pope John Paul II and HH Mar Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, June 23, 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.”

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