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As one of the oldest surviving religious institutions in the world, the Eastern Orthodox Church has played a prominent role in the history and culture of Eastern and Southeastern Europe, the Caucasus, and the Near East.Eastern Orthodox theology is based on the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (known simply as the Nicene Creed).Missionaries brought Orthodoxy to many regions without ethnic Greeks, where the Greek language was not spoken.In addition, struggles between Rome and Constantinople to control parts of Southeastern Europe resulted in the conversion of some churches to Rome, which then also used "Greek Catholic" to indicate their continued use of the Byzantine rites.A number of other Christian churches also make a similar claim: the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion, the Assyrian Church and the Oriental Orthodox.In the Eastern Orthodox view, the Assyrians and Orientals left the Orthodox Church in the years following the Third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus (431) and the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451), respectively, in their refusal to accept those councils' Christological definitions.

To all these churches, the claim to catholicity (universality, oneness with the ancient Church) is important for multiple doctrinal reasons that have more bearing internally in each church than in their relation to the others, now separated in faith.The Eastern Orthodox Church shared communion with the Roman Catholic Church until the East–West Schism in 1054, disputing particularly the authority of the Pope.Before the Council of Ephesus in AD 431 the Church of the East also shared in this communion, as did the Oriental Orthodox churches before the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451, all separating primarily over differences in Christology.The meaning of holding to a faith that is true is the primary reason why anyone's statement of which church split off from which other has any significance at all; the issues go as deep as the schisms.The depth of this meaning in the Eastern Orthodox Church is registered first in its use of the word "Orthodox" itself, a union of Greek orthos ("straight", "correct", "true", "right") and doxa ("common belief", from the ancient verb δοκέω-δοκῶ which is translated "to believe", "to think", "to consider", "to imagine", "to assume").

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Similarly, the churches in Rome and Constantinople separated in an event known as the East–West Schism, traditionally dated to the year 1054, although it was more a gradual process than a sudden break.

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