Portal:Eastern Christianity

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Introduction

Eastern Christianity consists of four main church families: the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox churches, the Eastern Catholic churches (that are in communion with Rome but still maintain Eastern liturgies), and the denominations descended from the Church of the East. The term is used in contrast with Western Christianity (namely the Latin Church and Protestantism). Eastern Christianity consists of the Christian traditions and churches that developed distinctively over several centuries in the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia Minor, Southern India and parts of the Far East. The term does not describe a single communion or religious denomination. Some Eastern churches have more in common historically and theologically with Western Christianity than with one another. The various Eastern churches do not normally refer to themselves as "Eastern", with the exception of the Assyrian Church of the East and the Ancient Church of the East.

The terms "Eastern" and "Western" in this regard originated with geographical divisions in Christianity mirroring the cultural divide between the Hellenistic east and Latin West, and the political divide between the Western and Eastern Roman empires. Because the largest church in the East is the body currently known as the Eastern Orthodox Church, the term "Orthodox" is often used in a similar fashion to "Eastern", to refer to specific historical Christian communions. However, strictly speaking, most Christian denominations, whether Eastern or Western, consider themselves to be "orthodox" (following correct beliefs) as well as "catholic" (or "universal"), as two of the Four Marks of the Church listed in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed: "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic" (Greek: μία, ἁγία, καθολικὴ καὶ ἀποστολικὴ ἐκκλησία).

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A reconstruction of the templon of St. Paul's and Peter's Cathedral.
A templon (from Greek τέμπλον meaning "temple", plural templa) is a feature of Byzantine architecture that first appeared in Christian churches around the fifth century AD and is still found in some Eastern Christian churches. Initially it was a low barrier probably not much different from the altar rails of many Western churches. It eventually evolved into the modern iconostasis, still found in Orthodox churches today. It separates the laity in the nave from the priests preparing the sacraments at the altar. It is usually composed of carved wood or marble colonnettes supporting an architrave (a beam resting on top of columns). Three doors, a large central one and two smaller flanking ones, lead into the sanctuary. The templon did not originally obscure the view of the altar, but as time passed, icons were hung from the beams, curtains were placed in between the colonnettes, and the templon became more and more opaque. Sometime between the 11th and 14th centuries, icons and proskynetaria began to be placed in the intercolumnar openings on the templon. After the reconquest in 1261, carving on the medieval templon approached sculpture in the round. The first ceiling-high, five-leveled Russian iconostasis was designed for the Cathedral of the Annunciation in Moscow Kremlin by Theophanes the Greek in 1405, and soon copied by his assistant Andrey Rublyov in the Cathedral of the Dormition in Vladimir in 1408.

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Hagia Sophia Church, Sofia
Credit: Plamen Agov

The nave of the Hagia Sophia Church, the second oldest church in the Bulgarian capital Sofia. The present basilica dates to the 6th century and is believed to be the fifth structure to be constructed on the site. The city took its name from the church in the 14th century. It is now one of the most valuable pieces of Early Christian architecture in southeastern Europe.

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Saint Daumantas of Pskov

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Prince Jovan Vladimir ruled Duklja ca. 990 - 1016.
Saint Jovan Vladimir or John Vladimir (Serbian Cyrillic: Јован Владимир; died 22 May 1016) was ruler of Duklja, the most powerful Serbian principality of the time, from around 1000 to 1016. Duklja was conquered in around 1010 by the expansionist Tsar Samuel of Bulgaria, who took Jovan Vladimir prisoner. A medieval chronicle asserts that Samuel's daughter, Theodora Kosara, fell in love with Vladimir and begged her father for his hand. The tsar allowed the marriage and returned Duklja to Vladimir, who ruled as his vassal. He was acknowledged as a pious, just, and peaceful ruler. In 1016 Vladimir was beheaded in Prespa by order of Samuel's successor, Ivan Vladislav, and was buried there. He was soon recognized as a martyr and saint; his feast day is celebrated on 22 May. Kosara reburied him in Duklja, and in 1381 his relics were preserved in the Church of Saint Jovan Vladimir near Elbasan. Since 1995 the relics have been kept in the Orthodox cathedral of Tirana, Albania; on his feast day they are taken back to the church near Elbasan for a celebration. The cross Vladimir held when he was beheaded is traditionally under the care of the Andrović family from southeastern Montenegro. The cross is carried on the Feast of Pentecost in a procession to the summit of Mount Rumija. Jovan Vladimir is regarded as the first Serbian saint. He is fabled to have carried his severed head to his place of burial.

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