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Author Topic: "Oriental" and "Eastern" Orthodox Titles  (Read 2635 times) Average Rating: 0
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Ghazar
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« on: December 15, 2005, 04:23:56 AM »

Dear Brethren,

Does anyone know the history behind the differing titles, "Eastern Orthodox" and "Oriental Orthodox"? I have a good idea of why they are now used in preference to "Monophysite vs. Dyophysite" or "Greater vs. Lesser Orthodox" or "Chalcedonian vs. non-Chalcedonian" Orthodox Churches. But I am in a discussion with a friend who asked who it was that gave my Communion of Churches the title "Oriental" to differentiate us from the other Orthodox Churches who are called "Eastern Orthodox." Of course both titles means exactly the same thing, which is ironic. I have even read that this distinction in titles is hard to duplicate in other languages. But if anyone knows the "when" and "who" of where this came from, I'd appreciate your help.

Wm. DerGhazarian
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Trusting in Christ's Inextinguishable Light,
Rev. Sub-Deacon Ghazaros Der-Ghazarian,
Holy Apostolic Orthodox Church of Armenia, Eastern Diocese USA
The Armenian Orthodox Evangelization Mission: www.looys.net
Ghazar
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« Reply #1 on: December 15, 2005, 04:28:21 AM »

To start things off, here is my defence of the current usages to a fellow Armenian Orthodox:

Dear... ,

Considering you are a Doctor of Sociology (in California where there is a large Asian population) I appreciate where you are coming from in mentioning the negative connotations of the word "Oriental." But I am not really approaching this issue of Church titles from a sociological perspective but rather an ecclesiastical one. I.e., I don't think the most important question is "how will our society view our Church's title," but rather "what title is most appropriate and accurate in the framework of historic Christianity and ecumenical inter-relations."

Historically, the West has always been the Occident and the East the Orient. Like you, I take the terms, titles and language I use very seriously and always try to think through how I speak. Having said that, the word "Oriental" for me, has nothing but positive connotations and I am most thankful to be able to use it in reference to my Church.

In this country it is true, as it is with many words, that the Protestant majority has distorted the original meaning of the word "oriental," making it synonymous with "Asian." But historically (and more importantly ecclesiastically) this has never been the case. The "orient" has always meant the Near East and still does. I like using "Oriental" the correct way because such use serves as a corrective to erroneous ways of speaking. I'm not too shy to do that.

In the same vein I try to avoid referring to the Eastern Roman Orthodox as "Byzantine." This title was actually a fabrication coined by French writers a century or so ago and there is no historical precedent for it. In fact, there is no such thing as "Byzantine" Churches or culture. What is often called "Byzantine" was actually Roman (albeit, perhaps, of the Eastern variety). The late Greek Orthodox theologian and historian Fr. John Romanides argues this quite convincingly in his articles: (see "What if anything is a 'Byzantine'?" @ http://www.romanity.org/index.htm ) It is my understanding that our Armenian Church always referred to them as the "Rum" or Romans, whereas the so-called Roman Catholics have historically been known as "Latins" or "Franks."

Getting back to the word "Oriental" it has a fine pedigree of positive usage, e.g. in reference to rugs, as connoting something not only from distant lands but also as something of fine and exquisite quality. "Oriental," as you mentioned, indeed carries the additional connotation of "exotic" which, again, I like. Compared to the bland worship services of the West, our Orthodox worship is indeed beautiful and exotic. In mentioning this, I am reminded of St. Vladimir's emissaries who were sent by the king to find a new religion under which he could unite his kingdom. After attending the worship services of many of the world's great religions (including Latin Catholicism), they finally came to the Divine Services of Hagia Sophia at Constantinople. Their report to the king about their experience of Orthodox worship was, "We did not know whether we were in heaven or on earth!" This is what the word "Oriental" conveys to me. It is a guarantee to the inquirer that what they will find within our sacred Temple walls is indeed exotic and beautiful.

Yet there is even a more important reason for not avoiding the title "Oriental." The most important reason of all is that it directly relates to our Lord Himself. As the High Priest Zacharia prohesized in his prayer, the Benedictus, "...through the mercy of our God in which the Orient from on high hath visited us to enlighten them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death..." (St. Lk. 1:78). This is seen as a fulfillment of the prophecy of the Holy Prophet Zachariah who states in referrence to the coming Christ, "Thus saith the Lord of hosts, saying: Behold a man, the Orient is his name..." Christ is this "man" and the "Orient from on high," as many of the Fathers have testified. Therefore the word "Orient" ("anatole" in Greek) can never be a bad word for Christians but rather a glorious one. In my insignificant opinion, it never should be shied away from. Of course, ecclesiastically the English word "Eastern," the Latin based "Oriental" mean the same thing. To me this underlines our unity of faith.

As for your idea of calling them "Chalcedonian" and ourselves "Nicean," this too is problematic. The problem is we both accept Nicea. For them to call us "Nicean" is tantamount to them admitting we are keeping to the true Nicean faith and they are not. That would never fly. Then there's always the "Greater - Lesser" titles which refer to our quantity of members. The problem with this title is that it seems to suggest one Church is greater in its Orthodoxy and the other is "lesser." :-)

"Oriental" and "Eastern" are the only current titles that I know of that are being used by all sides without much objection or offense being taken. I still think they are the best we have. I really appreciate your help again and am open to hearing any further thoughts you have on this.
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Trusting in Christ's Inextinguishable Light,
Rev. Sub-Deacon Ghazaros Der-Ghazarian,
Holy Apostolic Orthodox Church of Armenia, Eastern Diocese USA
The Armenian Orthodox Evangelization Mission: www.looys.net
Salpy
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« Reply #2 on: December 16, 2005, 12:11:26 AM »

It sounds good to me.  I like the Biblical quotes.  Smiley
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« Reply #3 on: December 16, 2005, 02:25:13 AM »

Quote
Then there's always the "Greater - Lesser" titles which refer to our quantity of members.

I've never heard of the greater/lesser distinction. What primary works have made use of such a distinction? And which respective communion is "greater" and which is "lesser"?

+Irini nem ehmot
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« Reply #4 on: December 16, 2005, 07:02:38 PM »

With respect to the words "Oriental" & "Eastern", I would say that we (Greeks & Slavs) are called Eastern Orthodox because of the division of the United Church into Western (papal) & Eastern (Constantinoplean) parts.
Well, generally speaking, with the word "Oriental", it's not Russia or Greece that comes to mind, it's something like Persia or India, Arabia, something a lot more eastern, more asian, more african, less European.

I think it's geographical definition mainly. We are considered "Eastern" as we are mainly situated in Eastern Europe, while you are considered Oriental because your main part is situated in Oriental places.
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Ghazar
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« Reply #5 on: December 16, 2005, 10:16:18 PM »

I've never heard of the greater/lesser distinction. What primary works have made use of such a distinction? And which respective communion is "greater" and which is "lesser"?

+Irini nem ehmot

I'm not sure.  I don't even know if they were "major works."  But I have certainly seen it in older writings.  It doesn't matter becuase I'm not defending the titles.  I actually don't like them.  My argument was Eastern and Oriental are probably the best we are going to get.
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Trusting in Christ's Inextinguishable Light,
Rev. Sub-Deacon Ghazaros Der-Ghazarian,
Holy Apostolic Orthodox Church of Armenia, Eastern Diocese USA
The Armenian Orthodox Evangelization Mission: www.looys.net
Ghazar
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"Ghazaros, toors yegoor:" "Lazarus, come forth."


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« Reply #6 on: December 16, 2005, 10:17:48 PM »

It sounds good to me.ÂÂ  I like the Biblical quotes.ÂÂ  Smiley

As always, thanks for your encouragement, Salpy.
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Trusting in Christ's Inextinguishable Light,
Rev. Sub-Deacon Ghazaros Der-Ghazarian,
Holy Apostolic Orthodox Church of Armenia, Eastern Diocese USA
The Armenian Orthodox Evangelization Mission: www.looys.net
Ghazar
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"Ghazaros, toors yegoor:" "Lazarus, come forth."


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« Reply #7 on: December 18, 2005, 10:35:11 PM »

With respect to the words "Oriental" & "Eastern", I would say that we (Greeks & Slavs) are called Eastern Orthodox because of the division of the United Church into Western (papal) & Eastern (Constantinoplean) parts.
Well, generally speaking, with the word "Oriental", it's not Russia or Greece that comes to mind, it's something like Persia or India, Arabia, something a lot more eastern, more asian, more african, less European.

I think it's geographical definition mainly. We are considered "Eastern" as we are mainly situated in Eastern Europe, while you are considered Oriental because your main part is situated in Oriental places.

Ntinos:  I think you hit the nail on the head.  Simple explanation but very insightful.  Thanks for your help.
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Trusting in Christ's Inextinguishable Light,
Rev. Sub-Deacon Ghazaros Der-Ghazarian,
Holy Apostolic Orthodox Church of Armenia, Eastern Diocese USA
The Armenian Orthodox Evangelization Mission: www.looys.net
Ghazar
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"Ghazaros, toors yegoor:" "Lazarus, come forth."


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« Reply #8 on: December 18, 2005, 10:37:49 PM »

I'm not sure.ÂÂ  I don't even know if they were "major works."ÂÂ  But I have certainly seen it in older writings.ÂÂ  It doesn't matter becuase I'm not defending the titles.ÂÂ  I actually don't like them.ÂÂ  My argument was Eastern and Oriental are probably the best we are going to get.

Btw, to answer the rest of your question, the Eastern Roman Orthodox are considered the Greater Orthodox and we the Lesser Orthodox because they are greater in numbers than we.
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Trusting in Christ's Inextinguishable Light,
Rev. Sub-Deacon Ghazaros Der-Ghazarian,
Holy Apostolic Orthodox Church of Armenia, Eastern Diocese USA
The Armenian Orthodox Evangelization Mission: www.looys.net
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