Portal:Eastern Christianity

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The Eastern Christianity Portal

Iconostasis at Holy Trinity Cathedral (Chicago, Illinois)


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.

Selected article

9th century Syriac manuscript of John Chrysostom's Homily on the Gospel of John
Aramaic is a group of Semitic languages with a 3,000-year history. It has been the language of administration of empires and the language of divine worship. It is the original language of large sections of the biblical books of Daniel and Ezra, and is the main language of the Talmud. Aramaic was the native language of Jesus (see Aramaic of Jesus). Modern Aramaic is spoken today as a first language by numerous, scattered communities, most significantly by Assyrians, Syriacs, and Chaldeans. The language is considered to be endangered. Christian missionaries brought the language into Persia, India and even China. From the seventh century AD onwards, Aramaic was replaced as the lingua franca of the Middle East by Arabic. However, Aramaic remains a literary and liturgical language among Jews, Mandaeans and some Christians, and is still spoken by small isolated communities throughout its original area of influence. The turbulence of the last two centuries has seen speakers of first-language and literary Aramaic dispersed throughout the world.

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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 Mammes and Duke Alexander Tapestry

Selected biography

Icon of Yaropolk
Yaropolk Izyaslavich (died 1087) was a Knyaz (prince) in eleventh-century Kievan Rus. The son of Grand Prince Izyaslav Yaroslavich by a Polish princess named Gertruda, he is visible in papal sources by the early 1070s but largely absent in contemporary Rus'ian sources until the year of his father's death, 1078. During his father's exile in the 1070s, Yaropolk can be found acting on his father's behalf in an attempt to gain the favor of the German emperors and the court of Pope Gregory VII. Yaropolk followed his father when the latter returned to Kiev in 1077.

After his father's death in the following year, 1078, Yaropolk was appointed Prince of Vladimir-in-Volhynia and Prince of Turov by the new Grand Prince, his uncle Vsevolod. By 1085 however, Yaropolk had fallen into a state of enmity with the Grand Prince and by extension the Grand Prince's son Vladimir Monomakh, forcing him to flee from his principality to his mother's homeland, Poland. He returned in the following year, but was soon murdered. He was remembered in Rus'ian sources as extremely pious and generous to the church, and is recognized as a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church. He was said to have left all his wealth to the Monastery of the Caves in Kiev. The Primary Chronicle's eulogy is the first indication of saintly regard, and indeed today he is venerated as a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church, with his feast day falling on the reported day of his death, November 22.

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