Oriental Orthodoxy is the faith of those Eastern Christian churches which recognize only the first three ecumenical councils—the First Council of Nicaea, the First Council of Constantinople and the First Council of Ephesus. They rejected the dogmatic definitions of the Council of Chalcedon held in AD 451 in Chalcedon. Hence, these Oriental Orthodox churches are also called Old Oriental churches, Miaphysite churches, or the Non-Chalcedonian churches, known to Western Christianity and much of Eastern Orthodoxy as Monophysite churches (although the Oriental Orthodox themselves reject this description as inaccurate, having rejected the teachings of both Nestorius and Eutyches). These churches are in full communion with each other but not with the Eastern Orthodox churches. Slow dialogue towards restoring communion began in the mid-20th century.
Despite the potentially confusing nomenclature (the word "Oriental" being synonymous with "Eastern"), Oriental Orthodox churches are distinct from those that are collectively referred to as the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Oriental Orthodox communion comprises six churches: Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Eritrean Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (Indian Orthodox Church) and Armenian Apostolic churches. These churches, while being in communion with one another, are hierarchically independent.
The Oriental Orthodox Churches and the rest of the Church split over differences in Christological terminology. The First Council of Nicaea (325) declared that Jesus Christ is God, that is to say, "consubstantial" with the Father; and the First Council of Ephesus (431) that Jesus, though divine as well as human, is only one being (hypostasis). Twenty years after Ephesus, the Council of Chalcedon declared that Jesus is one person in two complete natures, one human and one divine. Those who opposed Chalcedon likened its doctrine to the Nestorian heresy, condemned at Ephesus, that Christ was two distinct beings, one divine (the Logos) and one human (Jesus).
The schism between the Oriental Orthodox and the rest of Christendom occurred in the 5th century. The separation resulted in part from the refusal of Pope Dioscorus, Patriarch of Alexandria and the other 13 Egyptian Bishops, to accept the Christological dogmas promulgated by the Council of Chalcedon, which held that Jesus is in two natures: one divine and one human. They would accept only "of or from two natures" but not "in two natures". To the hierarchs who would lead the Oriental Orthodox, the latter phrase was tantamount to accepting Nestorianism, which expressed itself in a terminology incompatible with their understanding of Christology. Nestorianism was understood as seeing Christ in two separate natures, human and divine, each with different actions and experiences; in contrast Cyril of Alexandria advocated the formula "one nature of the Incarnate Word of God", stressing the unity of the Incarnation over all other considerations. It is not entirely clear that Nestorius himself was a Nestorian.
The Oriental Orthodox churches were therefore often called Monophysite, although they reject this label, as it is associated with Eutychian Monophysitism; they prefer the term "Miaphysite" churches. Oriental Orthodox Churches reject what they consider to be the heretical Monophysite teachings of Apollinaris of Laodicea and Eutyches, the Dyophysite definition of the Council of Chalcedon, and the Antiochene Christology of Theodore of Mopsuestia, Nestorius of Constantinople, Theodoret of Cyrus, and Ibas of Edessa.