You know what really grinds my gears???

27/04/2023 Thursday Ninth Hour/Ώρα Ενάτη - This is a blog post complaining about one of my biggest pet peeves in Orthodox online spaces: people conflating Oriental Orthodoxy and Eastern Orthodoxy in a way that belies that they have no fucking clue what the difference and outs them as idiot Westoid retvrnist trad wannabes. At least once per week in any given Orthodox online space, somebody will post something like do u think oriental orthodoxy and eastern orthodoxy should unite huehuehue and this is just the stupidest thing ever because anyone who knows even the slightest bit of information about the origins of Oriental Orthodox churches and the theological doctrines of the major branches of Christianity knows that the only thing Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Orthodoxy have in common is the presence of the word "Orthodox" in their names.

The Oriental Orthodox Churches are a loosely interconnected group of historically separate Non-Chalcedonian (miaphysite) Churches. They have their origins in one of the early Christology-related schisms, the miaphysite-dyophysite schism that occurred following the Council of Chalcedon in 451. In early Christianity, there was a rich and diverse tapestry of different approaches to the emerging theology; the various Church Councils were meetings between local leaders from all over Christendom (generally representing the five ancient patriarchates: Constantinople, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch, and Rome), with the goal of creating a central, standardised theological doctrine for the emerging centralised institution of the Church to follow. The Chalcedonian Creed asserted the Christological opinion that Christ was of two natures: "...One and the Same Christ... acknowledged in Two Natures... the difference of the Natures being in no way removed because of the Union, but rather the properties of each Nature being preserved, and concurring into One Person and One Hypostasis". This position became known as dyophysitism: the understanding of Christ as two complete and inseparable natures, one divine and one human, existing within one Person. The schism occurred when the clerical authorities of the Coptic Church refused to accept this definition, adhering instead to Cyril of Alexandria's Christology which underlined the "Oneness" of Christ. The Coptic Church's doctrine is called the miaphysite position: Christ exists in a single unified nature that is both fully human and fully divine. They dissented and separated from the unified Church; this miaphysite doctrine would go on to become a foundational principle of the Christologies of the Armenian, Ethiopian, and Syriac Churches. The miaphysite Churches are also oftentimes referred to by the descriptor "Non-Chalcedonian" due to the origins of the schism.

So the Oriental Orthodox Churches separated from the rest as a result of a fundamental irreconcilable difference in their Christological Doctrines. Where does Eastern Orthodoxy fall in this debate? It would shock these online idiots who think they're the same thing to know that in terms of doctrine, Eastern Orthodoxy is MUCH more in line with the Western Church than it is with the Oriental Churches. Eastern Orthodoxy and Western Christianity are both Non-Nestorian and Chalcedonian. That's both of the major schisms that led to the origins of groups that still exist today accounted for. Sure, Eastern Orthodoxy and Western Christianity have a schism of their own, but this is based on a relatively minor difference in interpretation of the Nicaean Creed that holds little relevance in the beliefs of the churches today. Honestly, I feel like the only reason either Church continues to give a fuck about the filioque clause is literally just to differentiate themselves from the other and give some semblance of theological basis to what was basically a political schism lmao. Beyond this, there's not really much different between Eastern Orthodox and Western theological doctrine - sure, they've evolved in different directions since then, but their starting points are really not different at all.

But - Eastern ORTHODOX! Oriental ORTHODOX! Surely there must be something here? right? ...right?

Orthodox: what does it mean and why do they use it? The word Orthodox is derived from the Greek words ορθός (straight, correct) and δόξα (opinion, doctrine). Basically in the Christian context this means adhering to the principles laid out in the various foundational creeds of The Church™. Generally Churches use this word to claim some sort of special adherence to the right creeds, in the right way, as opposed to those who follow the wrong and fake heretical creeds, or interpret the right creeds in the wrong way. In modern day we associate the word Orthodox with Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental Orthodox Churches mostly, but this doesn't reflect any sort of special emphasis on or connection to the principle of Orthodoxy in any of these religious contexts above the others; in fact, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox Churches, AND the Catholic Church, Anglican Communion, and Assyrian Church all refer to their churches as "Orthodox" in the literal sense of following the correct doctrine. Similarly, the Eastern Orthodox Church refers to itself as catholic (καθολική), in its literal sense meaning of "universal" i.e. claiming to be the one true Church for all Christians. So the presence of the word Orthodox in the names of these Churches does not reflect any deeper theological principle they have in common; it's just a label that we use to identify these particular institutions.

So there is no necessary overlap in doctrine; but surely, as they use the same name, there is some historical connection between the two that was severed at some point and can be re-connected in the event of the necessary doctrinal realignment? No. Eastern Orthodoxy has been referred to as such across many languages for many centuries, it's a name that does have some history as a wawy of differentiating between the Eastern Church and the Western Church. This is not the case for Oriental Orthodoxy. The Oriental Orthodox Churches do NOT operate as a single unified institutional communion in the same way as Eastern Orthodoxy does - they are completely separate institutions. The Only Reason™ that we even refer to them by one unified label dates to 1965, with the Conference of Addis Ababa. The conference was organised by Abuna Basilios, Primate of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, who brought in the primates of the Coptic, Syriac, Armenian Apostolic, Cilician Armenian, and Malankara Orthodox Syrian Churches. The purpose of the conference was to discuss the establishment of a communion. They succeeded, and formed a loose communion. The name they chose? The Oriental Orthodox Churches.

So this name only dates back to 1965! it's not even reflective of any sort of historical connection or whatever! So WHY, WHY, WHY DO THESE GET CONFLATED??

I think this particular common genre of online post is reflective of a tendency in the way that people in the West (primarily North America though I'm sure it exists elsewhere as well - like the weird LARPy "Orthodox" adjacent groups such as the "Western Rite Orthodox" in France) treat native Eastern varieties of Christianity. This tendency is very common, deeply engrained, and at its core - dare I pull out the twitter word - very problematic.

Let's delve into the way Westoids talk about Orthodoxy and Oriental Orthodox. What are the things you commonly hear them say, online and in real life? They tend to place a lot of emphasis on the "ancientness" of these faiths and their institutions. You'll often hear Western people who are interested in Orthodoxy talk about how it's the "original Church", talk about its rites and liturgies as unchanged representations of the "original" Christian practices - basically, they talk about Orthodoxy as though it's some kind of a living fossil, an exotic ancient religion that has somehow survived to present day. Let's think about this a little bit more deeply. The assertion that Orthodoxy is the "original" Church is hardly new - this is, after all, the official position of the Orthodox Church. You know what other Churches say this about themselves? Oh, just ALL OF THEM. But for some reason, in the context of Orthodoxy, people treat this as some kind of big huge deal, some kind of indicator of a unique authenticity, instead of just a pretty standard claim that is normal for a Christian Church to make. In terms of their historical understanding, they often seem to labour under the false assumption that once upon a time, there was the Orthodox Church, and then the Catholic Church split away and started doing its own thing (and succumbed to innovation and unbased evolution, as opposed to base tradness - we'll talk more about this later). In reality, of course, before there was Catholic and Orthodox, there was one unified Church with perpetual political struggle between its two major centres, who eventually split and went their own respective ways. As for the idea that Orthodox Rites and Liturgies are some fossilisation of "original" Christianity - this is outright false. Sure, Orthodoxy has on the whole changed less, but its practices have undergone variation and evolution just like any other religion, changing with intellectual trends, altering their practices to remain relevant when threatened by the rise of other religions in the region, and so forth. The only reason it hasn't evolved as radically as Western Christianity is that it has faced different kinds of stressors and pressures - had Orthodoxy had to compete with a Reformation of its own, I'm sure we would've seen a lot more radical change à la catholique.

In effect, they talk about Orthodoxy as though it's some late-surviving mystical ancient religion, with some unique claim to innate authenticity as the "original" Church. But that is not at all what it is! It isn't some kind of fossil - it's a living, modern faith, just like any other, practiced by real people in present day as a normal religion. And I think part of what allows them to feel like it's so alien and ancient and mystical is purely aesthetic. Orthodox art, music, the vestments of the clergy, the architecture and interior decoration of churches - it's decidedly non-western and very foreign to someone used to Western Christianity. And here we finally find our answer for why Oriental and Eastern Orthodoxy are conflated: because aesthetically, they all share something vaguely mediterranean-middle eastern, something decidedly nonwestern. There are VAST aesthetic differences between the churches, but to the Western viewer, they all appear extremely similar, even the same. This is not uniquely an affliction of Westerners - the average outsider who is not from the region or familiar with any of these religions would see little difference between the aesthetics of a Byzantine, East Syriac, and Coptic Liturgy. So what's the difference between Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Orthodoxy? To the Western observer, there is no meaningful difference.

This is TEXTBOOK orientalism. These people build up an inaccurate picture of Eastern Christianity in their minds, based on stereotypes and misunderstandings of the faith, and then they fetishise it and its practitioners, treating it with a kind of special sense of wonder and othering fascination. They take a handful of different faiths and religious institutions from vaguely the same region and go "eh they're all basically the same thing". This orientalism is directed not just at the religions themselves, but by extension at the associated cultures and people groups. So in the contemporary age, where we're all about undoing racism and orientalism and all that shit, why do we let this fly? Purely and simply because in most of the world, Christianity is synonymous with whiteness, westernness, and opression. We've been given the green flag to level against white Christians that which would be unacceptable towards minorities. And this makes sense - after all, the issue at hand here is power dynamic. The problem lies in the conflation of Eastern Christianity with all of this stuff. White Westerners who level this kind of orientalism against Orthodoxy feel empowered to do so because Christianity is 1. a religion they belong to (so they're allowed to say what they want about it) and 2. the religion of the oppressor. But this is not the case! Eastern Christianity is culturally an institution of Eastern Mediterranean, Levantine, Middle Eastern, and Eastern European people. This is neither something to which Westerners can lay claim, nor is it the religion of a white western oppressor. But they use this idea, this misconception that Christianity is inherently a white, western religion, to allow themselves to be Orientalist towards Eastern Christianity in a way that would be totally unacceptable against most other people groups.

Another classic phenomenon is that of the Orthodox-obsessed online trad. Picture, if you will, our protagonist, a young white male named Trevor from, shall we say, Hamilton, Ontario. Trevor in all the wisdom of his 16 years has decided that it is very good and based to hate women and gay people. Trevor has also fallen into the classic trap of fetishising Orthodoxy in an orientalist way; this feeds into his based and trad tendencies, as the more foreign and exotic and mystical it is, the more original it is, and the more original it is, the more he gets to hate women and gay people. Now, of course, the ultra-online Christian fascist is hardly an Orthodox specific phenomenon, in fact I would say this particular thing afflicts Catholics more than it does us, but it does take on a specific Orientalist flair with those that are drawn to Orthodoxy, or rather what they think Orthodoxy is, from their warped perspective. There's this sort of attitude of "gay people??? abortion??? in le based trad Orthodox Greece, where the air is made of incense and the people bleed communion wine, they don't stand for this kind of nonsense!!!!" Catholics get more annoying trads, but they hardly have the same kind of Orientalist fascination with like... poland or whatever

Anyways, this is my pissed off old lady rant for the day. This was originally going to be like a two paragraph blog post about how I think people who lump Orthodoxy and Oriental Orthodox together are dumb but I guessed it turned into a bit of a tirade. Tomorrow I will finish my theory assignment and help Zachary start moving in. Excited!


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