Portal:Eastern Christianity

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The Eastern Christianity Portal

Holy Qurbono in Syro-Malankara Rite


Eastern Christianity comprises the Christian traditions and churches that developed in the Balkans, Eastern Europe, Asia Minor, the Middle East, Africa, India and parts of the Far East over several centuries of religious antiquity.

The term is generally used in Western Christianity to describe all Christian traditions that did not develop in Western Europe. As such, the term does not describe any single communion or common religious tradition, and in fact 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 one exception (the Church of the East).

The terms "Eastern" and "Western" in this regard originated with divisions in the Church mirroring the cultural divide between the Hellenistic east and Latinate west and the political divide between the weak Western and strong Eastern Roman empires. Because the most powerful Church in the East was what has become known as the Eastern Orthodox church, the term "Orthodox" is often used in a similarly loose fashion as "Eastern", although strictly speaking most Churches consider themselves part of an Orthodox and Catholic communion.

Eastern Christians do not have shared religious traditions but many of these groups have shared cultural traditions. Christianity divided itself in the East during its early centuries both within and outside of the Roman Empire in disputes about Christology and fundamental theology, as well as national divisions (Roman, Persian, etc.). It would be many centuries later that Western Christianity fully split from these traditions as its own communion. Today there are four main branches or families of Eastern Christianity, each of which has distinct theology and dogma.

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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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Saint Catherine's Monastery
Credit: Berthold Werner

Saint Catherine's Monastery, an Eastern Orthodox monastery which lies in Saint Catherine, Egypt, on the Sinai Peninsula. Established between 548 and 565 AD, it is recognised by UNESCO as one of the oldest working Christian monasteries.

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Saint Daumantas of Pskov

Selected biography

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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