Eastern Christianity comprises Christian traditions and church families that originally developed during classical and late antiquity in Western Asia, Egypt, Northeast Africa, Eastern Europe, Southeastern Europe, Asia Minor, the Malabar coast of southern India, and parts of the Far East. The term does not describe a single communion or religious denomination. Major Eastern Christian bodies include the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox Churches, the Eastern Catholic Churches (which have re-established communion with Rome but still maintain Eastern liturgies), Protestant Eastern Christian churches who are Protestant in theology but Eastern Christian in cultural practice, and the denominations descended from the historic Church of the East. The various Eastern churches do not normally refer to themselves as "Eastern", with the exception of the Assyrian Church of the East and the Ancient Church of the East.
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Historically, after the loss of the Levant to the Sunni Caliphate, the term Eastern Church was used for the Greek Church centred in Byzantium, in contrast with the (Western) Latin Church, centered on Rome, which uses the Latin liturgical rites. The terms "Eastern" and "Western" in this regard originated with geographical divisions in Christianity mirroring the cultural divide between the Hellenistic East and the Latin West, and the political divide of 395 AD between the Western and Eastern Roman empires. Since the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, the term "Eastern Christianity" may be used in contrast with "Western Christianity", which contains not only the Latin Church but also Protestantism and Independent Catholicism. Some Eastern churches have more in common historically and theologically with Western Christianity than with one another.
Because the largest church in the East is the body currently known as the Eastern Orthodox Church, the term "Orthodox" is often used in a similar fashion to "Eastern", to refer to specific historical Christian communions. However, strictly speaking, most Christian denominations, whether Eastern or Western, regard themselves as "orthodox" (meaning "following correct beliefs") as well as "catholic" (meaning "universal"), and as sharing in the Four Marks of the Church listed in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (325 AD): "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic" (Greek: μία, ἁγία, καθολικὴ καὶ ἀποστολικὴ ἐκκλησία).
Eastern churches (excepting the non-liturgical dissenting bodies) utilise several liturgical rites: the Alexandrian Rite, the Armenian Rite, the Byzantine Rite, the East Syriac Rite (also known as Persian or Chaldean Rite), and the West Syriac Rite (also called the Antiochian Rite).