Eastern Christianity comprises the Christian traditions and churches that developed in the Balkans, Eastern Europe, Asia Minor, the Middle East, Africa, India and parts of the Far East over several centuries of religious antiquity.
The term is generally used in Western Christianity to describe all Christian traditions that did not develop in Western Europe. As such the term does not describe any single communion or common religious tradition and in fact some "Eastern" churches have more in common historically and theologically with "Western" Christianity than with one another. The terms "Eastern" and "Western" in this regard originated with divisions in the church mirroring the cultural divide between the Hellenistic east and Latinate west and the political divide between the weak Western and strong Eastern Roman empires. Because the most powerful church in the East was what has become known as the Eastern Orthodox church, the term "Orthodox" is often used in a similarly loose fashion as "Eastern", although strictly speaking most churches consider themselves part of an Orthodox and Catholic communion.
Eastern Christians do not have shared religious traditions but many of these groups have shared cultural traditions. Christianity divided itself in the East during its early centuries both within and outside of the Roman Empire in disputes about christology and fundamental theology, as well as national divisions (Roman, Persian, etc.). It would be many centuries later that Western Christianity fully split from these traditions as its own communion. Today there are four main branches or families of Eastern Christianity, each of which has distinct theology and dogma.
In many Eastern churches, some parish priests administer the sacrament of chrismation to infants after baptism, and priests are allowed to marry before ordination. While all the Eastern Catholic Churches recognize the authority of the Pope, some of them who having originally been part of the Orthodox Church or Oriental Orthodox Church closely follow the traditions of Orthodoxy or Oriental Orthodoxy, including the tradition of allowing married men to become priests.
The Eastern churches' differences from Western Christianity have as much, if not more, to do with culture, language, and politics, as theology. For the non-Catholic Eastern churches, a definitive date for the commencement of schism cannot usually be given (see East-West Schism). The Church of the East declared independence from the churches of the Roman Empire at its general council in 424, which was before the Council of Ephesus in 431, and so had nothing to do with the theology declared at that Council. Oriental Orthodoxy separated after the Council of Chalcedon in 451.