Eastern Christianity

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Eastern Christianity , Christian Orient ( Latin Oriens Christianus ) or Eastern Church refers to the part of Christianity whose traditional origins go back to the ancient church patriarchates of Constantinople , Alexandria , Antioch and Jerusalem and, from the point of view of the Western Church, lie in the east . The origins and mission areas are Eastern and Southeastern Europe , the Near and Middle East to India and the Far East as well as eastern North Africa .

The scientific disciplines of Byzantine Studies , Science of the Christian Orient , Eastern Church Studies and Ecumenical Theology deal with Eastern Christianity .


Already in early Christianity different formed in Christian communities rites and traditions , which further developed as a result. The patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem and Rome held a special position in the ancient church .

In late antiquity, the Roman Empire split into Western Roman ( Rome ) and Eastern Roman ( Constantinople ) and the Roman Empire developed into different ecclesiastical traditions in the Latin West and Greek East, which ultimately led to division in the Eastern Schism . In Western Christianity , the Latin Church and the resulting churches of the Reformation and later secession emerged from the ancient church patriarchate Rome .

However, since at least the Middle Ages, the geographical allocation is no longer clear; Among other things through the Crusaders , Latin, Western Christianity also came to the Middle East.

Territorial expansion

Number of Orthodox Christians by Country
  • more than 50 million
  • more than 20 million
  • more than 10 million
  • more than 5 million
  • more than 1 million
  • Due to the Islamic expansion , large parts of the areas of origin of the Eastern Church are predominantly Muslim and the Eastern Church Christians are mostly in the minority. In modern times, the Eastern Church Diaspora was added to the ancestral or mission areas of the Western Church, especially in Western Europe , North America and Australia .

    In return, through historical developments, the Western Latin Church has also spread to the original areas of Eastern Christianity.

    Eastern Churches

    Eastern churches ( Latin Ecclesiae Orientales ) are the pre-Reformation churches of Eastern Christianity. The religious traditions in the individual churches are very different. These differences go back to the early Christian centuries, when the various churches separated from one another due to differences in Christology and fundamental theology , but also for political and national reasons. They can be divided into four main groups of Eastern church families, each of which has certain theological and cultural similarities:

    Oriental churches

    The Eastern Churches belong to the Eastern Churches, whose traditional origins go back to the Oriental rites (Alexandrian, Armenian, Western and Eastern Syriac) and whose historical development was separate from the Roman Imperial Church. These include the Eastern Orthodox Churches and the Eastern Catholic Churches with Eastern rites, united with Rome.


    Byzantine Christianity

    Based on the ecumenical patriarchate of Constantinople , which today still holds the honorary rank in the Byzantine Orthodox churches, the Byzantine Orthodox churches and Eastern Catholic churches of the Byzantine tradition , each consisting of a large number of national churches with different degrees of independence, emerged.

    Syrian Christianity

    Family tree of the Syrian churches

    Syrian Christianity originated in the Near East from the early church patriarchates Antioch and Seleukia-Ctesiphon . These include the Syrian-speaking ethnic groups of the Aramaeans , Assyrians , Chaldeans and Maronites as well as the Thomas Christians in India.

    The West Syrian or Antiochene churches include the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch , the Syrian Catholic Church , the Maronite Church , the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, and the Malankar Catholic Church . The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch has Syrian roots, but is classified as part of Byzantine Orthodoxy.

    The East Syrian, Nestorian, or Chaldean churches include the Chaldean Catholic Church , the Assyrian Church of the East, and the Ancient Church of the East .

    Armenian Christianity

    Armenian Christianity, which is mainly supported by the Armenian diaspora , has even had a Protestant branch since 1846, the Armenian Evangelical Church with its headquarters in Yerevan and Beirut.

    Alexandrian Christianity

    From the Patriarchate of Alexandria , the Coptic Church and various Oriental-Orthodox and Catholic churches and the resulting Ethiopian Christianity in Ethiopia and Eritrea arose . Nubian Christianity has perished.

    The basic language of Alexandrian-Egyptian liturgy is and remains Greek. Various Coptic languages ​​were still used in late antiquity, and Nubian and Ethiopian in the mission areas. After the Arabization of Egypt, Arabic was taken up for the biblical and hagiographic readings and used in the priestly prayer books as an aid to understanding in marginal translations. In modern times, Arabic is increasingly used in the texts of the community. Despite the social disadvantage in an Islamic environment, Coptic Christianity has preserved its traditions and developed a self-confidence that can be traced back to ancient Egypt.


    Although the Eastern Churches differ in their specific rite and canonical jurisdiction in many ways, they have the following essential similarities:

    Roman Catholic pronouncements on the Eastern Churches

    The Apostolic See has issued a large number of pronouncements on the Eastern Churches, extracts of which are listed below:

    I. Encyclicals

    II. Apostolic Letters

    III. Decrees


    • Johannes Oeldemann: The churches of the Christian East. Orthodox, oriental and Eastern churches united with Rome . Topos plus, Kevelaer, 2nd, updated edition 2008, ISBN 3-8367-0577-X .
    • Johannes Oeldemann: Orthodox churches in ecumenical dialogue. Positions, problems, perspectives . Bonifatius, Paderborn 2004, ISBN 3-89710-255-2 .
    • Reinhard Thöle (Ed.): Approaches to Orthodoxy (= Bensheimer Hefte 68). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1998, 3rd, revised edition ISBN 3-525-87176-7 .
    • Dietmar W. Winkler, Klaus Augustin: The Eastern Churches - a guide . Pro Oriente, Graz 1997.
    • Book series The Eastern Christianity . Edited by the Eastern Church Institute at the University of Würzburg. Echter, Würzburg 1936ff.

    Web links

    Individual evidence

    1. ^ Siegfried G. Richter : The Coptic Egypt. Treasures in the shadow of the pharaohs. (with photos by Jo Bischof). Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 2019, ISBN 978-3-8053-5211-6 , pp. 120–127.