The Coptic and Ethiopian liturgies are textually similar but quite different in style and setting. The Coptic liturgy is sober and restrained, while the Ethiopian liturgy is full of life and exuberance.
The liturgy of the Armenian church reveals the influence of many sources but is basically of Syrian origin. It expresses the theme of sacrifice more than other Eastern liturgies and has the flavor of a temple rite.
The churches in the Byzantine tradition are those with an historic relationship to the church of Constantinople (originally Byzantium); they are familiar to North Americans as the Orthodox churches (among them the Greek and Russian). The Byzantine rite is complex and proceeds as two interwoven liturgies, one conducted with the congregation and the other performed by the celebrants behind the icon screen (iconostasis) that separates the altar from the rest of the church. The dominant theme of this liturgical tradition is the presence of Christ, both in his incarnation and in his heavenly ministry.
The liturgy of the West Syrian churches derives from Antioch, although some elements are believed to have come from the Jerusalem church of which James, the brother of Jesus, was the head. The tone of the liturgy is optimistic, and different parts anticipate the triumphal return of Christ.
The East Syrian Christians engaged in widespread missionary activity across the Asian continent, but the rise of Islam reduced their communities to small remnants. The liturgy of these churches is doxological in character, filled with expressions of praise and emphasizing the fulfillment of Christian hope in the kingdom of heaven.
The liturgical traditions of the East derive ultimately from the forms of worship used in Antioch and Alexandria. As with all ancient Christian liturgies, the Service of the Word led into the sacramental offering of the Eucharist. The Eastern traditions comprise the East and West Syrian, the Byzantine (including the Greek and Russian Orthodox), the Armenian, and the Coptic/Ethiopian.