The Oriental Orthodox Churches

The formal division between the Orthodox Churches and the Oriental Orthodox Churches dates from the fifth century. Differences in the articulation of Christology were compounded by linguistic, cultural and political factors. With the rise of Islam in the seventh century, the divide between these two families became entrenched. While some limited contacts took place in subsequent centuries, the division was not resolved.

Each of the Oriental Orthodox Churches has its own particular history and liturgical traditions. In their historical context, each has served a particular people and has expressed very little sense of mission. In the United States too, each of these Oriental Orthodox Churches has its own identity and, until the end of the twentieth century, there was little formal contact either among themselves or between them and the Eastern Orthodox. Since the 1960s, theological dialogues between the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox have led to an affirmation that the two families share the same faith despite 1,500 years of formal division. The discussions have also led to greater contacts especially in the Middle East, North America, Western Europe and Africa. There are about 500,000 Oriental Orthodox in the United States, gathered in the following six churches.

Coptic Orthodox The Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandra established a diocese serving immigrants from Egypt in 1965 in conjunction with a parish in Toronto, Canada. The first parish in the United States was established in New York in 1970. With further immigration from Egypt, the single diocese was divided into six in 1995. There are about 70 parishes.

Syrian Orthodox Syrian Orthodox immigrants from Turkey began to arrive in the United States in the late nineteenth century. The Patriarchate of Antioch began to organize parishes in the 1920s. A visiting bishop came to the United States in 1949 and this led to the establishment of an archdiocese in 1957. The patriarchate divided the archdiocese into three vicarates in 1995. These serve 23 parishes.

Armenian Apostolic Orthodox As early as 1889 a parish was established in Worcester, Massachusetts, serving Armenian immigrants. Then in 1898, the Catholocate of Ejmiadsin created a diocese in Worcester and sent a bishop to the United States. The diocesan centre eventually moved to New York. A separate diocese serving the western United States was established in Los Angeles in 1928. The St Nerses Seminary, now near New York City, was opened in 1961 and subsequently developed a cooperative programme with St Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary. Because of greater immigration from the Middle East in the 1950s, a number of parishes became associated with the Catholocate of Cilicia, located in Lebanon. Reflecting political differences, deep divisions between the two groups eventually led Cilicia to establish a prelacy in New York and another in Los Angeles. Towards the end of the twentieth century there have been efforts to heal the rift. There are about 65 parishes related to Ejmiadsin and 33 related to Cilicia.

Ethiopian Orthodox The Church of Ethiopia received autocephaly from the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate in 1959. In the same year, it established a parish in New York. With the growth of parishes, a diocesan jurisdiction was established and divided into three regions in 1992. There are about 29 parishes.

Eritrean Orthodox After Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993, the Church there was granted autocephaly by the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria, with which the Church of Ethiopia concurred. Political difficulties in Eritrea in this period led to a significant emigration of Orthodox believers to the United States. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, 19 parishes had been created and a diocesan centre established in Atlanta, Georgia.

The Malankara Syrian Orthodox Immigrants from the region of Kerala in India led the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch to establish an archdiocese in New York in 1993 to serve them and assist developing parishes. However, disputes in India beginning in 19 75 over the relationship of the Malankara Orthodox to the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate led to divisions there as well as in the United States. Since 1996, a process of reconciliation has been taking place. There are two diocesan jurisdictions in the United States with about 56 parishes.

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