Prior to the fall of the Empire in the middle of the fifteenth century, the Greek Church comprised within her borders, Greece, Illyricum (Dalmatia), the islands of the Archipelago; Russia; Asia Minor, Syria, and Palestine; Egypt, Nubia, and Abyssinia; Arabia, Persia, and Mesopotamia. After that disaster she fell into a dependent condition in those territories secured by the Turk. In the eighteenth century Russia claimed separation from Constantinople, and has been governed since by a Holy Synod; and when the new kingdom of Greece was established in the early part of last century, the Church there, in like manner, claimed a distinct organisation. Scattered portions of the Church, chiefly in Hungary, Servia, Bosnia, Bulgaria, and in Poland, which, while following the Greek rite, accepted the supremacy of the Pope, united themselves, A.D.1590, to the Roman See. But those Uniat Greeks, as they were termed, after 250 years, returned to the Eastern Church, in part associating themselves with the Russian Church, and in part with the See of Constantinople. Servia has now its own Metropolitan.
At the present time, the Eastern Church may be thus grouped --
I. The Greek Church proper.
II. The Heretical Churches.
III. The Russian Church.
I. The Greek Church comprises those peoples who speak the Greek language. Among these are the independent Church of Greece, the Apostolic Churches of Asia Minor, and those Uniats in the northern part of the Balkan Peninsula who returned to their former allegiance to the Patriarch of Constantinople. In this group we may also include the independent Church of Servia.
II. The Heretical Churches are self-supporting Churches in the countries in which they are situated. They are termed heretical on account of their revolt from the jurisdiction of Constantinople. They hold with the rest of the Church to the doctrine of the Nicene creed as drawn up at the first two Councils, but reject the decisions of the subsequent Councils. They are the Churches in Egypt, Syria, and Armenia, and in those countries known as Kurdistan.
The causes which gave rise to those so-called Heretical Churches are not a little interesting, but cannot be gone into here at any length. They may, however, be referred to as shewing the relation of the Churches of the East to the various Councils.
The Heretical Churches of the East owe their existence to the actions of the General Councils subsequent to the Councils of Nicea and Constantinople. At these the doctrines accepted by Orthodox and Heretical Churches alike were distinctly expressed. But when to the decisions of those Councils there came to be added the decrees of succeeding Councils, certain Churches revolted. Those universally accepted doctrines were that Christ was consubstantial with the Father (homoousios), and that He, the Son of God, became man (enanthropesas). It was, however, only when theologians tried to make plain what was meant by the latter phrase, that it prickled with disputable points. The differences of opinion emerging took two types. One of these so thoroughly divided the Divine from the human nature in Christ, as almost to destroy altogether any real union. Another insisted on an absorption of the human in the Divine, such as would disfigure both, and by that absorption create a distinct nature. The former, the separation of the natures, became the doctrine of the Churches of Chaldea, while the latter was adopted by the Churches of Egypt.
The Nestorians in like manner accept the decrees of the first two Councils, and refuse to entertain the additions made by the latter Councils, characterising them as unwarranted alterations of, or additions to the findings of the first two Councils. The Monophysites accept the addition of Chalcedon and of all the Councils following it.
The third General Council, that of Ephesus, decreed that the title Theotokos (God-bearer) should be applied to the Virgin, and at the Council of Chalcedon this was repeated, affirming that Christ was born of the Theotokos, according to the manhood; the same Symbol affirming that two natures are to be acknowledged in Christ, and that they are indivisible and inseparable. Thus it was that the Nestorians repudiated the decrees alike of Ephesus and Chalcedon, by repudiating the term Theotokos and holding the duality of Christ's nature so as to lose sight of the unity of His Person.
There was nothing for it, therefore, but to separate from the Greek Church (orthodox), and in separation from that Church they became most extensive and powerful.
At the Council of Chalcedon, the fourth General Council, the now widely acknowledged doctrine in all the Churches of the West, as also in the Orthodox Greek Church, was declared, that Christ was to be acknowledged in two natures. The Monophysites -- those who held by the one nature theory -- revolted, and gave rise to many sects, and to three Churches -- the Coptic Church of Egypt, the Abyssinian Church, and the Jacobite Church of Syria.
The Armenian Church is in much the same position; but it has been termed even more heretical than the Jacobite, a very erroneous charge against a Church which is really orthodox. The Armenian Church is separated from the Constantinopolitan by the difference which the accidental absence of the Armenian bishop from the Council of Chalcedon made: the decisions of which were never understood, and of course never formally accepted.
III. The Russian Church includes the peoples of that great Empire. Christianity was first preached in Russia at the close of the tenth century, when Prince Vladimir was baptised, A.D.992. Originally, and for many years this Church, subject to the Patriarch of Constantinople, as already stated, claimed separate jurisdiction in 1721. The Czar is the head of the Church in temporalities, but the Holy governing Synod is the spiritual head, and supplies the place of a patriarch.
Under so many jurisdictions, the Eastern Church is dogmatically one. She has no Confession of Faith; no Thirty-nine Articles: the Bible is her standard, and the Creed of Nicea her expression of dogma.
The Athanasian Creed is found in the Service Books of the Church, but it is not an acknowledged Symbol; and there it differs from the text accepted in the West in the clause relating to the Holy Spirit.