Help Now >
FREE Catholic Classes
I. DEFINITION OF AN EASTERN CHURCH
An accident of political development has made it possible to divide the Christian world, in the first place, into two great halves, Eastern and Western. The root of this division is, roughly and broadly speaking, the division of the Roman Empire made first by Diocletian (284-305), and again by the sons of Theodosius I (Arcadius in the East, 395-408; and Honorius in the West, 395-423), then finally made permanent by the establishment of a rival empire in the West ( Charlemagne, 800). The division of Eastern and Western Churches, then, in its origin corresponds to that of the empire.
Western Churches are those that either gravitate around Rome or broke away from her at the Reformation. Eastern Churches depend originally on the Eastern Empire at Constantinople; they are those that either find their centre in the patriarchate of that city (since the centralization of the fourth century) or have been formed by schisms which in the first instance concerned Constantinople rather than the Western world.
Another distinction, that can be applied only in the most general and broadest sense, is that of language. Western Christendom till the Reformation was Latin; even now the Protestant bodies still bear unmistakably the mark of their Latin ancestry. It was the great Latin Fathers and Schoolmen, St. Augustine (d. 430) most of all, who built up the traditions of the West; in ritual and canon law the Latin or Roman school formed the West. In a still broader sense the East may be called Greek. True, many Eastern Churches know nothing of Greek; the oldest ( Nestorians, Armenians, Abyssinians ) have never used Greek liturgically nor for their literature; nevertheless they too depend in some sense on a Greek tradition. Whereas our Latin Fathers have never concerned them at all (most Eastern Christians have never even heard of our schoolmen or canonists), they still feel the influence of the Greek Fathers, their theology is still concerned about controversies carried on originally in Greek and settled by Greek synods. The literature of those that do not use Greek is formed on Greek models, is full of words carefully chosen or composed to correspond to some technical Greek distinction, then, in the broadest terms, is: that a Western Church is one originally dependent on Rome, whose traditions are Latin; an Eastern Church looks rather to Constantinople (either as a friend or an enemy) and inherits Greek ideas.
Help Now >
The point may be stated more scientifically by using the old division of the patriarchates. Originally (e.g. at the Council of Nicaea , A.D. 325, can. vi) there were three patriarchates, those of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch. Further legislation formed two more at the expense of Antioch: Constantinople in 381 and Jerusalem in 451. In any case the Roman patriarchate was always enormously the greatest. Western Christendom may be defined quite simply as the Roman patriarchate and all Churches that have broken away from it. All the others, with schismatical bodies formed from them, make up the Eastern half. But it must not be imaged that either half is in any sense one Church. The Latin half was so (in spite of a few unimportant schisms ) till the Reformation. To find a time when there was one Eastern Church we must go back to the centuries before the Council of Ephesus (431). Since that council there have been separate schismatical Eastern Churches whose number has grown steadily down to our own time. The Nestorian heresy left a permanent Nestorian Church, the Monophysite and Monothelite quarrels made several more, the reunion with Rome of fractions of every Rite further increased the number, and quite lately the Bulgarian schism has created yet another; indeed it seems as if two more, in Cyprus and Syria, are being formed at the present moment (1908).
We have now a general criterion by which to answer the question: What is an Eastern Church? Looking at a map, we see that, roughly, the division between the Roman patriarchate and the others forms a line that runs down somewhat to the east of the River Vistula (Poland is Latin), then comes back above the Danube, to continue down the Adriatic Sea, and finally divides Africa west of Egypt. Illyricum (Macedonia and Greece ) once belonged to the Roman patriarchate, and Greater Greece (Southern Italy and Sicily ) was intermittently Byzantine. But both these lands eventually fell back into the branches that surrounded them (except for the thin remnant of the Catholic Italo-Greeks ). We may, then, say that any ancient Church east of that line is an Eastern Church. To these we must add those formed by missionaries (especially Russians) from one of these Churches. Later Latin and Protestant missions have further complicated the tangled state of the ecclesiastical East. Their adherents everywhere belong of course to the Western portion.
II. CATALOGUE OF THE EASTERN CHURCHES
It is now possible to draw up the list of bodies that answer to our definition. We have already noted that they are by no means all in communion with each other, nor have they any common basis of language, rite or faith. All are covered by a division into the great Orthodox Church , those formed by the Nestorian and Monophysite heresies (the original Monothelites are now all Eastern-Rite Catholics ), and lastly the Catholic Eastern Rites corresponding in each case to a schismatical body. Theologically, to Catholics, the vital distinction is between Eastern Catholic, on the one hand, and schismatics or heretics, on the other. But it is not convenient to start from this basis in cataloguing Eastern Churches. Historically and archeologically, it is a secondary question. Each Catholic body has been formed from one of the schismatical ones; their organizations are comparatively late, dating in most cases from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Moreover, although all these Eastern-Rite Catholics of course agrees in the same Catholic Faith we profess, they are not organized as one body. Each branch keeps the rites (with in some cases modifications made at Rome for dogmatic reasons) of the corresponding schismatical body, and has an organization modelled on the same plan. In faith a Catholic Armenian, for instance, is joined to Catholic Chaldees and Copts, and has no more to do with the schismatical Armenians than with Nestorians or Abyssinians. Nor does he forget this fact. He knows quite well that he is a Catholic in union with the Pope of Rome, and that he is equally in union with every other Catholic. Nevertheless, national customs, languages, and rites tell very strongly on the superficies, and our Catholic Armenian would certainly feel very much more at home in a non-Catholic church of his own nation than in a Coptic Catholic, or even Latin, church. Outwardly, the bond of a common language and common liturgy is often the essential and radical division of a schism. Indeed these Eastern Catholic bodies in many cases still faintly reflect the divisions of their schismatical relations. What in one case is a schism (as for instance between Orthodox and Jacobites ) still remains as a not very friendly feeling between the different Eastern Catholic Churches (in this case Melkites and Catholic Syrians ). Certainly, such feeling is a very different thing from formal schism, and the leaders of the Eastern Catholic Churches, we well as all their more intelligent members and all their well-wishers, earnestly strive to repress it. Nevertheless, quarrels between various Eastern Catholic bodies fill up too large a portion of Eastern Church history to be ignored; still, to take another instance, anyone who knows Syria knows that the friendship between Melkites and Maronites is not enthusiastic. It will be seen, then, that for purposes of tabulation we cannot conveniently begin by cataloguing the Catholic bodies on the one side and then classing the schismatics together on the other. We must arrange these Churches according to their historical basis and origin: first, the larger and older schismatical Churches; then, side by side with each of these, the corresponding Eastern-Rite Catholic Church formed out of the schismatics in later times.
The first of the Eastern Churches in size and importance is the great Orthodox Church. This is, after that of the Catholics, considerably the largest body in Christendom. The Orthodox Church now counts about a hundred millions of members. It is the main body of Eastern Christendom, that remained faithful to the decrees of Ephesus and Chalcedon when Nestorianism and Monophysitism cut away the national Churches in Syria and Egypt. It remained in union with the West till the great schism of Photius and then that of Caerularius, in the ninth and eleventh centuries. In spite of the short-lived reunions made by the Second Council of Lyons (1274) and the Council of Florence (1439), this Church has been in schism ever since. The "Orthodox" (it is convenient as well as courteous to call them by the name they use as a technical one for themselves) originally comprised the four Eastern patriarchates : Alexandria and Antioch, then Constantinople and Jerusalem. But the balance between these four patriarchates was soon upset. The Church of Cyprus was taken away from Antioch and made autocephalous (i.e., extra-patriarchal) by the Council of Ephesus (431). Then, in the fifth century, came the great upheavals of Nestorianism and Monophysitism, of which the result was that enormous numbers of Syrians and Egyptians fell away into schism. So the Patriarchs of Antioch, Jerusalem (this was always a very small and comparatively unimportant centre), and Alexandria, losing most of its subjects, inevitably sank in importance. The Moslem conquest of their lands completed their ruin, so that they became the merest shadows of what their predecessors had once been. Meanwhile Constantinople, honoured by the presence of the emperor, and always sure of his favour, rose rapidly in importance. Itself a new see, neither Apostolic nor primitive (the first Bishop of Byzantium was Metrophanes in 325), it succeeded so well in its ambitious career that for a short time after the great Eastern schism it seemed as if the Patriarch of the New Rome would take the same place over the Orthodox Church as did his rival the Pope of the Old Rome over Catholics. It is also well known that it was this insatiable ambition of Constantinople that was chiefly responsible for the schism of the ninth and eleventh centuries. The Turkish conquest, strangely enough, still further strengthened the power of the Byzantine patriarch, inasmuch as the Turks acknowledged him as the civil head of what they called the "Roman nation" ( Rum millet ), meaning thereby the whole Orthodox community of whatever patriarchate. For about a century Constantinople enjoyed her power. The other patriarchs were content to be her vassals, many of them even came to spend their useless lives as ornaments of the chief patriarch's court, while Cyprus protested faintly and ineffectually that she was subject to no patriarch. The bishop who had climbed to so high a place by a long course of degrading intrigue could for a little time justify in the Orthodox world his usurped title of Ecumenical Patriarch. Then came his fall; since the sixteenth century he has lost one province after another, till now he too is only a shadow of what he once was, and the real power of the Orthodox body is in the new independent national Churches with their "holy Synods "; while high over all looms the shadow of Russia. The separation of the various national Orthodox Churches from the patriarch of Constantinople forms the only important chapter in the modern history of this body. The principle is always the same. More and more has the idea obtained that political modifications should be followed by the Church, that is to say that the Church of an independent State must be itself independent of the patriarch. This by no means implies real independence for the national Church ; on the contrary, in each case the much severer rule of the Government is substituted for the distant authority of the Ecumenical Patriarch. Outside the Turkish Empire, in Russia and the Balkan States, the Orthodox Churches are shamelessly Erastian -- by far the most Erastian of all Christian bodies. The process began when the great Church of Russia was declared autocephalous by the Czar Feodor Ivanovitch, in 1589. Jeremias II of Constantinople took a bribe to acknowledge its independence. Peter the Great abolished the Russian patriarchate (of Moscow ) and set up a "Holy Governing Synod " to rule the national Church in 1721. The Holy Synod is simply a department of the government through which the czar rules over his Church as absolutely as over his army and navy. The independence of Russia and its Holy Synod has since been copied by each Balkan State. But this independence does not mean schism. Its first announcement is naturally very distasteful to the patriarch and his court. He often begins by excommunicating the new national Church root and branch. But in each case he has been obliged to give in finally and to acknowledge one more "Sister in Christ" in the Holy Synod that has displaced his authority. Only in the specially difficult and bitter case of the Bulgarian Church has a permanent schism resulted. Other causes have led to the establishment of a few other independent Churches, so that now the great Orthodox communion consists of sixteen independent Churches, each of which (except that of the Bulgars) is recognized by, and in communion with, the others.
These Churches are
- The Great Church, that is, the patriarchate of Constantinople that takes precedence of the others. It covers Turkey in Europe (except where its jurisdiction is disputed by the Bulgarian Exarch ) and Asia Minor. Under the Ecumenical Patriarch are seventy-four metropolitans and twenty other bishops. Outside this territory the Patriarch of Constantinople has no jurisdiction. He still has the position of civil head of the Roman Nation throughout the Turkish Empire, and he still intermittently tries to interpret this as including some sort of ecclesiastical jurisdiction -- he is doing so at this moment in Cyprus -- but in modern times especially each attempt is at once met by the most pronounced opposition on the part of the other patriarchs and national Churches, who answer that they acknowledge no head by Christ, no external authority but the seven Ecumenical Synods. The Ecumenical Patriarch, however, keeps the right of alone consecrating the chrism ( myron ) and sending it to the other Orthodox Churches, except in the cases of Russia and Rumania, which prepare it themselves. Bulgaria gets hers from Russia, Greece has already mooted the question of consecrating her own myron , and there seems to be no doubt that Antioch will do so too when the present stock is exhausted. So even this shadow of authority is in a precarious state.
- Alexandria (covering all Egypt as far as it is Orthodox) with only four metropolitans.
- Antioch, extending over Syria from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates as far as any Orthodox live so far East, touching the Great Church along the frontier of Asia Minor to the north and Palestine to the south, with twelve metropolitans and two or three titular bishops who form the patriarchal curia.
- Jerusalem, consisting of Palestine, from Haifa to the Egyptian frontier, with thirteen metropolitans.
- Cyprus, the old autocephalous Church, with an archbishop [whose succession (1908), after eight years, rends the whole Orthodox world] and three suffragans. Then come the new national Churches, arranged here according to thedate of their foundation, since they have no precedence.
- Russia (independent since 1589). This is enormously the preponderating partner, about eight times as great as all the others put together. The Holy Synod consists of three metropolitans (Kiev, Moscow, and Petersburg), the Exarch of Georgia, and five or six other bishops or archimandrites appointed at the czar's pleasure. There are eighty-six Russian dioceses, to which must be added missionary bishops in Siberia, Japan, North America, etc.
- Carlovitz (1765), formed of Orthodox Serbs in Hungary, with six suffragan sees.
- Czernagora (1765), with one independent diocese of the Black Mountain.
- The Church of Sinai, consisting of one monastery recognized as independent of Jerusalem in 1782. The hegumenos is an archbishop.
- The Greek Church (1850): thirty-two sees under a Holy Synod on the Russian model.
- Hermannstadt (Nagy-Szeben, 1864), the Church of the Vlachs in Hungary, with three sees.
- The Bulgarian Church under the exarch, who lives at Constantinople. In Bulgaria are eleven sees with a Holy Synod. The exarch, however, claims jurisdiction over all Bulgars everywhere (especially in Macedonia ) and has set up rival exarchist metropolitans against the patriarchist ones. The Bulgarian Church is recognized by the Porte and by Russia, but is excommunicate, since 1872, by the Greek Church and is considered schismatical by all Greeks.
- Czernovitz (1873), for the Orthodox in Austria, with four sees.
- Serbia (1879), the national Church of that country, with five bishops and a Holy Synod. The Serbs in Macedonia are now agitating to add two more sees (Uskub and Monastir) to this Church, at the further cost of Constantinople.
- Rumania (1885), again a national Church with a Holy Synod and eight sees.
- Herzegovina and Bosnia, organized since the Austrian occupation (1880) as a practically independent Church with a vague recognition of Constantinople as a sort of titular primacy. It has four sees.
This ends the list of allied bodies that make up the Orthodox Church. Next come, in order of date, the old heretical Eastern Churches.
FREE Catholic Classes Pick a class, you can learn anything
The Nestorians are now only a pitiful remnant of what was once a great Church. Long before the heresy from which they have their name, there was a flourishing Christian community in Chaldea and Mesopotamia. According to their tradition it was founded by Addai and Mari (Addeus and Maris), two of the seventy-two Disciples. The present Nestorians count Mar Mari as the first Bishop of Ctesiphon and predecessor of their patriarch. In any case this community was originally subject to the Patriarch of Antioch. As his vicar, the metropolitan of the twin-cities of Seleucia and Ctesiphon (on either side of the Tigris, north-east of Babylon) bore the title of catholicos. One of these metropolitans was present at the Council of Nicaea in 325. The great distance of this Church from Antioch led in early times to a state of semi-independence that prepared the way for the later schism. Already in the fourth century the Patriarch of Antioch waived his right of ordaining the catholicos of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, and allowed him to be ordained by his own suffragans. In view of the great importance of the right of ordaining, as a sign of jurisdiction throughout the East, this fact is important. But it does not seem that real independence of Antioch was acknowledged or even claimed till after the schism. In the fifth century the influence of the famous Theodore of Mopsuestia and that of his school of Edessa spread the heresy of Nestorius throughout this extreme Eastern Church. Naturally, the later Nestorians deny that their fathers accepted any new doctrine at that time, and they claim that Nestorius learned from them rather than they from him ("Nestorius eos secutus est, non ipsi Nestorium", Ebed-Jesu of Nisibis, about 1300. Assemani, "Bibli. Orient.", III, 1, 355). There may be truth in this. Theodore and his school had certainly prepared the way for Nestorius. In any case the rejection of the Council of Ephesus (431) by these Christians in Chaldea and Mesopotamia produced a schism between them and the rest of Christendom. When Babaeus, himself a Nestorian, became catholicos, in 498, there were practically no more Catholics in those parts. From Ctesiphon the Faith had spread across the frontier into Persia, even before that city was conquered by the Persian king (244). The Persian Church, then, always depended on Ctesiphon and shared its heresy. From the fifth century this most remote of the Eastern Churches has been cut off from the rest of Christendom, and till modern times was the most separate and forgotten community of all. Shut out from the Roman Empire (Zeno closed the school of Edessa in 489), but, for a time at least, protected by the Persian kings, the Nestorian Church flourished around Ctesiphon, Nisibis (where the school was reorganized), and throughout Persia. Since the schism the catholicos occasionally assumed the title of patriarch. The Church then spread towards the East and sent missionaries to India and even China. A Nestorian inscription of the year 781 has been found at Singan Fu in China (J. Heller, S.J., "Prolegomena zu einer neuen Ausgabe der nestorianischen Inschrift von Singan Fu", in the "Verhandlungen des VII. internationalen Orientalistencongresses", Vienna, 1886, pp. 37 sp.). Its greatest extent was in the eleventh century, when twenty-five metropolitans obeyed the Nestorian patriarch. But since the end of the fourteenth century it has gradually sunk to a very small sect, first, because of a fierce persecution by the Mongols (Timur Leng), and then through internal disputes and schisms. Two great schisms as to the patriarchal succession in the sixteenth century led to a reunion of part of the Nestorian Church with Rome, forming the Catholic Chaldean Church. At present there are about 150,000 Nestorians living chiefly in highlands west of Lake Urumiah. They speak a modern dialect of Syriac. The patriarchate descends from uncle to nephew, or to younger brothers, in the family of Mama; each patriarch bears the name Simon (Mar Shimun) as a title. Ignoring the Second General Council, and of course strongly opposed to the Third (Ephesus), they only acknowledge the First Nicene (325). They have a Creed of their own, formed from an old Antiochene Creed, which does not contain any trace of the particular heresy from which their Church is named. Indeed it is difficult to say how far any Nestorians now are conscious of the particular teaching condemned by the Council of Ephesus, though they still honour Nestorius, Theodore of Mopsuestia, and other undoubted heretics as saints and doctors. The patriarch rules over twelve other bishops (the list in Silbernagl, "Verfassung", p. 267). Their hierarchy consists of the patriarch, metropolitans, bishops, chorepiscopi, archdeacons, priests, deacons, subdeacons, and readers. There are also many monasteries. They use Syriac liturgically written in their own ( Nestorian ) form of the alphabet. The patriarch, who now generally calls himself " Patriarch of the East", resides at Kochanes, a remote valley of the Kurdish mountains by the Zab, on the frontier between Persia and Turkey. He has an undefined political jurisdiction over his people, though he does not receive a berat from the Sultan. In any ways this most remote Church stands alone; it has kept a number of curious and archaic customs (such as the perpetual abstinence of the patriarch, etc.) that separate it from other Eastern Churches almost as much as from those of the West. Lately the Archbishop of Canterbury's mission to the Nestorians has aroused a certain interest about them in England.
All the other separated Eastern Churches are formed by the other great heresy of the fourth century, Monophysitism. There are first the national Churches of Egypt, Syria, and Armenia.
The Copts form the Church of Egypt. Monophysitism was in a special sense the national religion of Egypt. As an extreme opposition to Nestorianism, the Egyptians believed it to be the faith of their hero St. Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444). His successor, Dioscurus (444-55), was deposed and excommunicated by the Council of Chalcedon (451). From his time the Monophysite party gained ground very quickly among the native population, so that soon it became an expression of their national feeling against the Imperial (Melchite, or Melkite ) garrison and government officials. Afterwards, at the Moslem invasion (641), the opposition was so strong that the native Egyptians threw in their lot with the conquerors against the Greeks. The two sides are still represented by the native Monophysites and the Orthodox minority. The Monophysites are sometimes called Jacobites here as in Syria ; but the old national name Copt (Gr. Aigyptios ) has become the regular one for their Church as well as for their nation. Their patriarch, with the title of Alexandria, succeeds Dioscurus and Timothy the Cat, a fanatical Monophysite. He lives at Cairo, ruling over thirteen dioceses and about 500,000 subjects. For him, too, the law is perpetual abstinence. There are many monasteries. The Copts use their old language liturgically and have in it a number of liturgies all derived from the original Greek rite of Alexandria (St. Mark). But Coptic is a dead language, so much so that even most priests understand very little of it. They all speak Arabic, and their service books give an Arabic version of the text in parallel columns. The Church is, on the whole, in a poor state. The Copts are mostly fellaheen who live by tilling the ground, in a state of great poverty and ignorance. And the clergy share the same conditions. Lately there have been something of a revival among them, and certain rich Coptic merchants of Cairo have begun to found schools and seminaries and generally to promote education and such advantages among their nation. One of these, M. Gabriel Labib, who is editing their service books, promises to be a scholar of some distinction in questions of liturgy and archeology.
The Church of Abyssinia, or Ethiopia, always depended on Egypt. It was founded by St. Frumentius, who was ordained and sent by St. Athanasius in 326. So Abyssinia has always acknowledged the supremacy of the Patriarch of Alexandria, and still considers its Church as a daughter-church of the See of St. Mark. The same causes that made Egypt Monophysite affected Abyssinia equally. She naturally, almost inevitably, shared the schism of the mother Church. So Abyssinia is still Monophysite, and acknowledges the Coptic patriarch as her head. There is now only one bishop of Abyssinia (there were once two) who is called Abuna (Our Father) and resides at Adeva (the old see of Axum ). He is always a Coptic monk consecrated and sent by the Coptic patriarch. It does not seem, however, that there is now much communication between Cairo and Adeva, though the patriarch still has the right of deposing the Abuna. Abyssinia has about three million inhabitants, nearly all members of the national Church. There are many monks and an enormous number of priests, whom the Abuna ordains practically without any previous preparation or examination. The Abyssinians have liturgies, again, derived from those of Alexandria in the old (classical) form of their language. The Abyssinian Church, being the religion of more than half barbarous people, cut off by the schism from relations with any other Christian body except the poor and backward Copts, is certainly the lowest representative of the great Christian family . The people have gradually mixed up Christianity with a number of pagan and magical elements, and are specially noted for strong Jewish tendencies (they circumcise and have on their altars a sort of Ark of the Covenant containing the Ten Commandments ). Lately Russia has developed an interest in the Abyssinians and has begun to undertake schemes for educating them, and, of course, at the same time, converting them to Orthodoxy.
The Jacobites are the Monophysites of Syria. Here, too, chiefly out of political opposition to the imperial court, Monophysitism spread quickly among the native population, and here, too, there was the same opposition between the Syrian Monophysites in the country and the Greek Melkites in the cities. Severus of Antioch (512-18) was an ardent Monophysite. After his death the Emperor Justinian (527-65) tried to cut off the succession by having all bishops suspect of heresy locked up in monasteries. But his wife Theodora was herself a Monophysite ; he arranged the ordination of two monks of that party, Theodore and James. It was from this James, called Zanzalos and Baradaï (Jacob Baradæus ), that they have their name ( Ia'qobaie , "Jacobite"); it is sometimes used for any Monophysite anywhere, but had better be kept for the national Syrian Church. James found two Coptic bishops, who with him ordained a whole hierarchy, including one Sergius of Tella as Patriarch of Antioch. From this Sergius the Jacobite patriarchs descend. Historically, the Jacobites of Syria are the national Church of their country, as much as the Copts in Egypt ; but they by no means form so exclusively the religion of the native population. Syria never held together, was never so compact a unity as Egypt. We have seen that the Eastern Syrians expressed their national, anti-Imperial feeling by adopting the extreme opposite heresy, Nestorianism, which, however, had the same advantage of not being the religion of Caesar and his court. Among the Western Syrians, too, there has always been a lack of cohesion. They had in Monophysite times two patriarchates (Antioch and Jerusalem ) instead of one. In all quarrels, whether political or theological, whereas the Copts move like one man for the cause of Egypt and the "Christian Pharaoh ", the Syrians are divided amongst themselves. So there have always been manymore Melkites in Syria, and the Jacobites were never an overwhelming majority. Now they are a small minority (about 80,000) dwelling in Syria, Mesopotamia, Kurdistan. Their head is the Jacobite Patriarch of "Antioch and all the East". He always takes the name Ignatius and dwells either at Diarbekir or Mardin in Mesopotamia. Under him, as first of the metropolitans, is the Maphrian, a prelate who was originally set up to rule the Eastern Jacobites as a rival of the Nestorian catholicos. Originally the maphrian had a number of special rights and privileges that made him almost independent of his patriarch. Now he has only precedence of other metropolitans, a few rights in connection with the patriarch's election and consecration (when the patriarch dies he is generally succeeded by the maphrian ) and the title "Maphrian and Catholicos of the East". Besides these two, the Jacobites have seven metropolitans and three other bishops. As in all Eastern Churches, there are many monks, from whom the bishops are always taken. The Syrian Jacobites are in communion with the Copts. They name the Coptic patriarch in the Liturgy, and the rule is that each Syrian patriarch should send an official letter to his brother of Alexandria to announce his succession. This implies a recognition of superior rank which is consistent with the old precedence of Alexandria over Antioch. At Mardin still linger the remains of an old pagan community of Sun-worshippers who in 1762 (when the Turks finally decided to apply to them, too, the extermination that the Koran prescribes for pagans ) preferred to hide under the outward appearance of Jacobite Christianity . They were, therefore, all nominally converted, and they conform the laws of the Jacobite Church, baptize, fast, receive all sacraments and Christian burial. But they only marry among themselves and every one knows that they still practise their old pagan rites in secret. There are about one hundred families of these people, still called Shamsiyeh (people of the Sun).
6. Malabar Christians
The Malabar Christians in India have had the strangest history of all these Eastern Churches. For, having been Nestorians, they have now veered round to the other extreme and have become Monophysites. We hear of Christian communities along the Malabar coast (in Southern India from Goa to Cape Comorin) as early as the sixth century. They claim the Apostle of St. Thomas as their founder (hence their name "Thomas Christians ", or "Christians of St. Thomas"). In the first period they depended on the Catholicos of Selecuia-Ctesiphon, and were Nestorians like him. They are really one of the many missionary Churches founded by the Nestorians in Asia. In the sixteenth century the Portuguese succeeded in converting a part of this Church to reunion in Rome. A further schism among these Eastern Catholics led to a complicated situation, of which the Jacobite patriarch took advantage by sending a bishop to form a Jacobite Malabar Church. There were then three parties among them: Nestorians, Jacobites, and Catholics. The line of Nestorian metropolitans died out (it has been revived lately) and nearly all the non-Catholic Thomas Christians may be counted as Monophysites since the eighteenth century. But the Jacobite patriarch seems to have forgotten them, so that after 1751 they chose their own hierarchy and were an independent Church. In the nineteenth century, after they had been practically rediscovered by the English, the Jacobites in Syria tried to reassert authority over Malabar by sending out a metropolitan named Athanasius. Athanasius made a considerable disturbance, excommunicated the hierarchy he found, and tried to reorganize this Church in communion with the Syrian patriarch. But the Rajah of Travancore took the side of the national Church and forced Athanasius to leave the county. Since then the Thomas Christians have been a quite independent Church whose communion with the Jacobites of Syria is at most only theoretic. There are about 70,000 of them under a metropolitan who calls himself "Bishop and Gate of all India ". He is always named by his predecessor, i.e. each metropolitan chooses a coadjutor with the right of succession. The Thomas Christians use Syriac liturgically and describe themselves generally as "Syrians".
The Armenian Church is the last and the most important of these Monophysite bodies. Although it agrees in faith with the Copts and Jacobites, it is not communion with them (a union arranged by a synod in 726 came to nothing) nor with any other Church in the world. This is a national Church in the strictest sense of all: except for the large Armenian Catholic body that forms the usual pendant, and for a very small number of Protestants, every Armenian belongs to it, and it has no members who are not Armenians. So in this case the name of the national and of the religion are really the same. Only, since there are the Eastern Catholics, it is necessary to distinguish whether an Armenian belongs to them or to the schismatical ( Monophysite ) Church. Because of this distinction it is usual to call the others Gregorian Armenians -- after St. Gregory the Illuminator -- another polite concession of form on our part akin to that of "Orthodox" etc. Quite lately the Gregorian Armenians have begun to call themselves Orthodox. This has no meaning and only confuses the issue. Of course each Church thinks itself really Orthodox, and Catholic and Apostolic and Holy too. But one must keep technical names clear, or we shall always talk at cross purposes. The polite convention throughout the Levant is that we are Catholics, that people in communion with the "Ecumenical Patriarch" are Orthodox, and that Monophysite Armenians are Gregorian. They should be content with that is an honourable title to which we and the Orthodox do not of course think that they have really any right. They have no real right to it, because the Apostle of Armenia, St. Gregory the Illuminator (295), was no Monophysite, but a Catholic in union with
This Christmas Season, we humbly ask you to join the 1% of readers who give. If everyone reading this right now gave just $5, we'd hit our annual goal in a couple of hours. The price of a cup of coffee is all we ask. Thank you. Help Now >
Help Now >
Join the Movement
When you sign up below, you don't just join an email list - you're joining an entire movement for Free world class Catholic education.
Mysteries of the Rosary
St. Faustina Kowalska
Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Saint of the Day for Wednesday, Oct 4th, 2023
St. Francis of Assisi
Female / Women Saints
7 Morning Prayers you need to get your day started with God
Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- Daily Readings for Wednesday, December 06, 2023
- St. Nicholas: Saint of the Day for Wednesday, December 06, 2023
- Everything has its Time: Prayer of the Day for Wednesday, December 06, 2023
- Daily Readings for Tuesday, December 05, 2023
- St. Sabas: Saint of the Day for Tuesday, December 05, 2023
- Infant Jesus of Prague Novena Prayer: Prayer of the Day for Tuesday, December 05, 2023
Copyright 2023 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2023 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.
Catholic Online is a Project of Your Catholic Voice Foundation, a Not-for-Profit Corporation. Your Catholic Voice Foundation has been granted a recognition of tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Federal Tax Identification Number: 81-0596847. Your gift is tax-deductible as allowed by law.