How did christianity split up?

edited December 1969 in Coptic Orthodox Church
May someone please share his knowledge with me.



    This is a very big question.

    I think a good place to start would be to read the history of the eccumenical councils.  The info on Wikipedia is a decent start

    If you're only interested in how and why the Orthodox Church split, it was at the Council of Chalcedon, and it seems to have been a monstrous misunderstanding.  Those at the council of Chalcedon, who would go on to become the Eastern Orthodox Church (EOC), agreed that the Church should accept the doctrine of Dyophysitism (i.e. the belief that Christ is of two natures, humand and divine).  Our fathers understood that to mean that those who accepted the decision at Chalcedon were accepting the teachings of Nestorius who believed that Jesus was sometimes divine and sometimes not, so we (The Oriental Orthodox Church (OOC)) rejected the Council.  The current day EOC does not believe in the doctrine of Nestorius, they believe that Jesus had two natures that were never separated.

    The Fathers of the EOC understood the OOC rejection of the council to mean that we are a monophysite belief, meaning that Jesus being formless and divine-only essentially posessed a dead human body.  Of course this is not the case.  We are a miaphysite belief, meaning that we believe That Jesus had one nature which was both Divine and human, and that "His Divinity never parted from his humanity for a single moment nor the twinkling of an eye."

    I think the EOC and OOC frequentluy mutually misunderstand each other.  What I don't understand is this:  I was originally baptised Greek Orthodox, and that baptism was accepted by the Coptic Church.  I also understand that any Orthodox person can receive communion in any Orthodox Church (EOC and OOC).  Perhaps this has something to do with an eccumenical movement I've heard of to reconcile (and reunite?) the EOC and OOC, but at the same time I've still seen the misconceptions cited above on both sides (EOC and OOC).

  • ok, i'll try to give a short answer, as the long answer takes about a year to read!  ;)
    until the year 451, the churches were all together. everyone was catholic and orthodox and very very evangelical (spreading the good news about Jesus). there were some heretics, like arians, and they were put out of the church but everyone else agreed. in those days it was dangerous to be a Christian so there were not many people who attended church just to look good.

    later, it became a bit safer to be a Christian. so people started having too much power in the church. the church leaders of the churches in syria, egypt, palestine/israel and the place that are now greece and turkey had too much power and started to argue among themselves and fight about who was the strongest. they also fought about who could explain God the best (in other words, who was the best theologian).
    there was a very very big argument. it is impossible to know what really happened in 451 because all the historical documents are biased, blaming one side or the other.
    the church split into the oriental orthodox churches (today these are coptic, syriac, indian orthodox, armenian, and ethiopian (the eritrean church is part of the copitic church)) and the rest of the churches (today these are the eastern orthodox, catholic and protestant churches).

    recently, in 1990, the heads of all the orthodox churches (eastern and oriental) agreed that they basically believe the same thing and they all did some wrong things in the past.
    we don't yet have full communion (i can't take holy communion in the russian or greek orthodox churches, for example) but we are working on this.

    in 1056, there was another big split. in those days the roman empire was very powerful and split into 2 parts, eastern (based in constantinople, now istanbul) and western (based i rome). basically the church got too close to power and got involved in political fighting. the church in rome (now catholic) said they were the most important and the church in constantinople (now greek orthodox) said they were 'the new rome' and therefore the most important. so the catholic church then split from the eatern orthodox churches. the oriental orthodox churches were not involved in this split.

    after this lots of bad things happened in the churches, like the crusades, for example. the crusades weren't all wrong, for example if a turkish warrior is going to kill your family and you are a greek farmer who is a Christian, it is normal to defend your family and fight. but in the crusades, priests told people you could force someone to become a Christian by threatening to kill them. this is very bad. most of the ordinary people did not have access to a Bible in a language they could understand, so they just did whay they were told by their leaders. also, at one point, the greek orthodox Christians and catholic Christians were fighting each other. this is terribly wrong.

    after this, in the eastern orthodox (russian, greek etc) and catholic churches the priests became more and more detached from the general people and people started treating them as much more superior to ordinary people, and just did exactly what they said. the people were made to feel very sinful and, as a result, did not take communion very often. as the communion service (liturgy) became more elaborate, like a show in a king's palace, the people felt more and more distant, until most of the prayers in the liturgy were quiet ones at the altar with the people straining to look or giving up and failing to understand what happened.

    by the 1500s the situation was so bad in the catholic church, that priests were only giving absolution after confession if people gave them money and they had total power over the people. one catholic priest in germany was upset about all this and decided it needed to change. his name was martin luther. he wrote to the catholic patriarch (pope) and basically told him off. the patriarch was not terribly impressed, and after they tried to resolve their differences in writing, martin luther got thrown out of the catholic church. in his beliefs and practices, he was very catholic (at this time they were still very similar to the orthodox churches), just he was brave enough to ask for change. lots of people left the church with him, so he continued to serve them as their priest. he did not want to start a new church. i think if he had been in egypt he would have been a good coptic priest. but he was not succesful in improving the catholic chuch, so he started the first protestant church. 'protestant' comes for the word to 'protest', complain. recently the catholic church apologised for throwing him out of the church.

    the protestant churches that came after martin luther did have a lot of non-orthodox teaching, for example that the holy communion (body and blood of our Lord) was just a symbol and people did not have to take communion so much. they also said that anyone can ordain a priest, not just a patriarch or bishop.

    the catholic church also started to also preach new ideas, for example that the virgin mary never had the ability to sin and she was like this from the time of her conception in the womb of her mother. this remains the main difference between the catholic and orthodox churches to this day.

    in modern times, Christians from all the different churches have started to study their history and ask themselves how everything went so wrong and to cry to God for mercy and guidance. i believe God is shaking up his church and teaching people how they can be truly one in Him. many people in europe and north america, from other Christian groups and people who are atheists are joining the orthodox churches. in north america the antiochian orthodox churches (similar to syriac orthodox but in the eastern orthodox group) are growing and in some places there are few people who speak arabic as there are so many converts (from atheism) and new members who used to go to different churches.

    i believe it is very important we understand our theology and don't compromise on the Christian message for the sake of the appearance of unity. unity that does not come form a deep understanding of God and the power of His Holy Spirit is not true unity and will not last. however, it is also important that we don't label Christians from other groups as heretics, they may just be using different words for the same idea or they may have split off from an orthodox church group for a good reason (like martin luther). so we can only really come to a conclusion after detailed and humble discussion with other churches.
    for example, did you know that the arabic translation of the Bible that is in common use (the one quoted in the agpeya and holy week books) was translated from the hebrew and greek by two european protestant missionaries who had learned arabic? so it's important not to criticise someone until you have had long discussions with them to find out not only their theology but their motives and way of life.

    this started as a short answer. i am sorry, it is my favourite subject to discuss! if you like i can try to make it even shorter, but it may miss out important points. or someone else in the forum can answer, there are people here who have been studying this for much longer than i have and who know much more and have more wisdom.

    may God guide us to strengthen and care for His church and may He protect us.
  • george, you are describing the geneva 1990 agreement, which i allude to above.
    our patriarchs decided in principle that we all (eastern and oriental orthodox) agree, but some of the individual churches have been slower to ratify the agreement than others. so, i am sorry, but currently if you had communion in both greek and coptic churches you would be in trouble with one or both of them. as far as i can tell, the romanian church (eastern orthodox) has accepted communion with oriental orthodox churches and the syriac and antiochian churches within syria are definately in communion. i don't know if this extends outside syria.  in some communities in times of war (iraq, palestine etc) there are informal intercommunion agreements. in fact lots of informal intercommunion takes place, but technically you can be excommunicated for jumping the gun and going for it without permssion of both bishops. so we obviously can't recommend that here!

    as for baptism, your priest may accept all sorts of Christian baptisms as valid, but officially we accept only eastern and oriental orthodox baptisms as valid. so you were right not to be re-baptised.
    but in order to take greek orthodox communion you would probably need to be re-chrismated, thus leaving the coptic church. there is one way round it though, if you marry an eastern orthodox woman and have meetings with both bishops then you can 'do both'. the very fact this arrangement exists suggests to me that the whole thing should continue to be discussed. i mean the bread is either the body of our Lord or it isn't. both are not possible!

    i think it's really important we have discussed this and i hope to hear more from you  :)
  • Mabsoota, such a nice summary. I don’t think it can be made any shorter. In the discussion the two churches had in the past 40 plus years they have come some much close to each other. They have lifted their anathema and even permitted marriage between their members. But as for taking communion it is not allowed yet since the two churches have not become fully one yet.
    In Christ
  • There is certainly not an open communion between the two families of Orthodox Churches, but in practice I am aware of a very great many people in isolated circumstances, I mean not easily able to attend a church of their own communion, who are permitted to receive communion in the Churches of the other communion.

    This requires the permission of the priest and bishop of course.

    Father Peter
  • I think there is a sense in which the question itself is at fault for presuming that the Church was ever "split."

    I think we have to take caution with the kind of language we use to describe certain incidents within the history of the Church and qualify ourselves accordingly.

    Strictly, the Church can never be divided. 'Can Christ be divided?" was the rhetorical question posed by St Paul. Our Christology, as always, is the key interpretive framework to approaching all doctrinal matters.

    It was St Athanasius I believe who carried forward the Psalmist's prophetic utterance regarding the inability of Christ's bones to broken  in application to the Church as well. There is a sense--a very important sense!--in which the Church can never be regarded as being divided.
  • WOW...simply...WOW...
    Thaanks Mabsoota and george...and i agree with you iqbal...its wrong to say we split.
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