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Beyond dialogue: the quest for Eastern and Oriental Orthodox unity today


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#1 Guest_Athanasius Abdullah

Guest_Athanasius Abdullah
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Posted 26 February 2006 - 12:45 PM

Beyond Dialogue: The Quest for Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Unity Today
John H Erickson, Dean
Symposium on 1700th Anniversary of Christian Armenia
October 27-28, 2000

Henry Chadwick, distinguished church historian and veteran observer of the ecumenical scene, is fond of remarking that the chief reason for Christian division today is division itself. Whatever may have been the issues initially leading to division, a division once established very quickly takes on a life of its own, as each side tries to justify its own role in the division. Differences that would not in themselves have been church-dividing are invested with new meaning, to the point of becoming symbols of division rather than examples of legitimate diversity. Signs of particular divine favor are discovered on each side, whether in supernatural portents or in the steadfastness of new confessors and martyrs. Competing ecclesial structures are erected. Anathemas are hurled. And even if the issues that led to the division are eventually resolved, the division itself - buttressed in these many ways - remains.

Certainly these generalizations hold true if we look at the long history of relations between the Eastern, or Chalcedonian, Orthodox Churches and the Oriental, or Non-Chalcedonian, Orthodox Churches. As these commonly-used designations suggest, both families of churches regard themselves as orthodox, as “right-believing,” or (more accurately) as “right worshipping.” But they have differed on their position with regard to the Council of Chalcedon (451 A.D.) and the definition on Christological dogma made at that council. Thus their long and often painful division goes back over 1500 years. In recent decades relations have begun to improve, yet developments have been both encouraging and frustrating. Encouraging - because theological dialogue, first informal in the 1960s, then formal in the 1980s and 1990s, has led to the conclusion that the Christological issues that initially prompted the division of these churches have been resolved, so that continued division can no longer be justified on dogmatic grounds. Frustrating - because the division does continue. At this point the reason for the division of our churches seems to be division itself. A closer review of relations between our churches in the last decades of the twentieth century may place in sharper relief both how far they have come in their quest for unity and also how many divisive and potentially divisive issues remain.

In this year in which we commemorate the 1700th anniversary of Armenian Christianity, it may be useful to begin our review with another anniversary year, 1951, the 1500th anniversary of the Council of Chalcedon. In a letter commemorating that anniversary, Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople quoted with approval St. John of Damascus, who in the eighth century observed that those who do not accept the terminology of Chalcedon were “nevertheless Orthodox in all things,” and he called for theological dialogue with the Non-Chalcedonian churches. The openness of Patriarch Athenagoras stands in contrast to the way in which Chalcedon was presented in popular literature of the period. On the Chalcedonian side, Chalcedon then as now was numbered as the fourth of the seven ecumenical councils; and just as the other ecumenical councils, it was remembered chiefly in terms of the heresy condemned. Just as I Nicaea had condemned the Arian heresy, I Constantinople the Macedonian heresy, and Ephesus the Nestorian heresy, so also Chalcedon had condemned the monophysite heresy. Those whom the Eastern Orthodox (or for that matter Western Christians) today refer to as Oriental Orthodox or Non-Chalcedonians were most often called monophysites in popular books of the period. The genesis of this heresy and its condemnation at Chalcedon were presented more or less like this: The Council of Ephesus (431 A.D.) quite rightly had condemned Nestorius for emphasizing Christ’s humanity to the point of separating Him into two persons; by contrast Nestorius’ chief opponent, Cyril of Alexandria, emphasized Christ’s divine nature, and followers such as Eutyches quickly enough carried this to an extreme, to the point of denying Christ’s human nature; so Chalcedon, basing itself on the carefully balanced Christology of the Tome of Pope Leo of Rome, quite rightly condemned this monophysite heresy, this heresy which held that Christ had but one nature, viz. the divine.

This, of course, is the stereotype that was widespread among the Eastern Orthodox circa 1951. No doubt comparable stereotypes existed among the Oriental Orthodox. For most Orthodox, however, whether Eastern or Oriental, the climate of opinion has changed considerably since 1951. Why?

(1) First of all, we must acknowledge the contribution of the modern ecumenical movement. Both the Eastern Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox Churches have criticized certain developments within the ecumenical movement, and quite rightly. At the same time, both have benefited from the ecumenical movement in diverse ways. The very dialogue which has brought these churches so close to the point of unity and full communion is, in many respects, a product of the ecumenical movement and, more specifically, of the close contacts and resulting friendships which this movement has made possible. Back in the early 1960s, two then-young staff members of the World Council of Churches, Nikos Nissiotis and Paul Verghese - later Mar Paulos Gregorios - of the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church, sensed the fundamental unity of the Eastern and Oriental churches. They succeeded in winning over their respective church authorities, and in turn - at first in conjunction with meetings of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches - a series of informal consultations began (1964-71). In an atmosphere of mutual respect, relatively free from the cultural and political pressures that had doomed earlier attempts at reunion, leading theologians from both sides [1] were able to address the subject of Christology from a fresh perspective, concentrating not on what divides (as in older polemical literature) but rather on what unites (in this case, our common father from the early Church, St. Cyril of Alexandria, and his formulation “one incarnate nature of God the Word”).

Already the joint statement issued by the first of these informal consultations (Aarhus 1964) could declare: “We recognize in each other the one Orthodox faith of the church. Fifteen centuries of alienation have not led us astray from the faith of our fathers.... On the essence of the Christological dogma we found ourselves in full agreement. Through the different terminologies used by each side, we found the same truth expressed.” The second informal consultation (Bristol 1967) extended agreement to include virtually every hitherto-disputed aspect of Christology: “Some of us affirm two natures, wills and energies hypostatically united in the one Lord Jesus Christ. Some of us affirm one united divine-human nature, will and energy in the same Christ. But both sides speak of a union without confusion, without change, without division, without separation. These four adverbs” - which of course lie at the heart of the Chalcedonian definition - “belong to our common tradition. Both affirm the dynamic permanence of the Godhead and the Manhood, with all their natural properties and faculties, in the one Christ.” [2]

Building on the work of these and subsequent informal consultations, an official Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Orthodox Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches began to meet in the 1980s. In its agreed statements on Christology, the Commission repeatedly and unequivocally affirmed the churches’ full agreement on the substance of the faith, notwithstanding differences in terminology. “In the light of our four unofficial consultations (1964, 1967, 1970, 1971) and our three official meetings which followed (1985, 1989, 1990), we have understood that both families have loyally maintained the authentic Orthodox Christological doctrine, and the unbroken continuity of the apostolic tradition, though they may have used Christological terms in different ways” (Chambesy 1993). Indeed, as the documents of the dialogue point out, “Our mutual agreement is not limited to Christology, but encompasses the whole faith of the one undivided Church of the early centuries” (Anba Bishoy 1980), including, for example, the veneration of icons. [3]

(2) While the modern ecumenical movement has contributed significantly to the progress in relations between our churches, we must acknowledge an even greater debt to modern historical scholarship. During the twentieth century, our churches began to engage not only in synchronous dialogue - dialogue with each other and with other churches involved in the ecumenical movement - but also in diachronous dialogue - dialogue with their own past. They discovered, among other things, that their popular presentations of the period of church history in question were gross oversimplifications. After Chalcedon, Christological positions whether among those accepting the council or those rejecting it were much more varied and fluid than popular presentations suggested, making it difficult any longer to view one “side” as purely orthodox or the other as purely heretical.

Among those rejecting Chalcedon, there were indeed some who put forward positions that quite properly could be described as monophysite, most notably Julian of Halicarnassus, who asserted that Christ’s body was by nature incorruptible from the moment of the union, even before the resurrection, so that “even though Christ wept over Lazarus, it was his incorruptible and divine tear that raised him from the dead.” But as modern specialists beginning with Lebon demonstrated conclusively, mainstream “monophysites” like Severus of Antioch simply sought to continue the mia physis Christology of St. Cyril of Alexandria. [4] They spoke of “one incarnate nature of God the Word,” but this did not mean that they denied the fullness of Christ’s humanity. In fact, much of their energy was spent in combatting the apthartodocetism of Julian of Halicarnassus and others like him, who compromised the fullness of Christ’s humanity by arguing that it was essentially different from our own. [5]

At the same time that Non-Chalcedonian “monophysitism” was being reassessed, Chalcedonian diphysitism was also being reassessed. Reacting again the older and characteristically Western approach which saw ancient church history and dogmatic development as culminating and indeed ending with Chalcedon, scholars like Fr. John Meyendorff called attention to developments after Chalcedon and indeed to neglected aspects of Chalcedon itself. [6] As Fr. Meyendorff often emphasized, at Chalcedon it was not just the Tome of Pope Leo of Rome that was the touchstone of orthodoxy. Whenever a difficult moment arose in the proceedings, the witness of Cyril, not just of Leo, was invoked. In addition, as Meyendorff and other scholars pointed out, Chalcedon itself left a number of issues unresolved, both in Christology and in the inseparable area of soteriology. Many - indeed perhaps the majority - of those who rejected Chalcedon did so on the grounds that it could be interpreted in a Nestorian way and that it had rehabilitated certain Nestorian sympathizers - personages like Theodoret of Cyrus, who with some justice have been labeled crypto-Nestorian. This possibility was eliminated only after yet another council, the fifth ecumenical council by Eastern Orthodox reckoning, in Constantinople in 553, during the reign of Emperor Justinian. This council once again emphasized the authority of St. Cyril, condemned the suspect Nestorian sympathizers, and fully incorporated into its definition the “theopaschite” formulations which those rejecting Chalcedon had long regarded as essential for orthodoxy. The hymn “Only-begotten Son,” generally ascribed to Justinian and sung each time the Divine Liturgy is celebrated, testifies to the continuing importance of this council’s understanding of Christology within the Byzantine tradition.

Only-begotten Son and Word of God: Thou art immortal,
yet for our salvation Thou didst deign to be incarnate
of the holy Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary,
and without change Thou didst become man and wast crucified, O Christ our God,
trampling down death by death;
Thou art one of the Holy Trinity,
glorified together with the Father and the Holy Spirit:
Save us!

After 553, there would be no thought of rejecting or simply ignoring Chalcedon within the Byzantine imperial church, but it was also clear that Chalcedon could be interpreted only in the light of the Christology of St. Cyril of Alexandria and, behind that, the soteriology of St. Cyril. In short, Chalcedon, the fourth of the councils regarded as ecumenical in the Eastern Orthodox Church, does not stand alone. It must be read in the light of the fifth and subsequent councils.

The modern ecumenical movement and modern historical scholarship have indeed helped bring our churches closer. They are now able to view both each other and their own histories in a new perspective. But we should not conclude from this that the present rapprochement is simply the result of modern relativism or the “pan-heresy of ecumenism,” as some self-styled traditionalists might charge. Even during the long centuries of division there were some on both sides who recognized that differences between the churches’ preferred Christological formulations were essentially verbal rather than substantive. And during those centuries there also were efforts to reach agreement and to restore communion. These early efforts are instructive and merit closer examination. They illustrate what both sides - at the time at least - regarded as the proper basis for reunion.

Attention already has been drawn to Emperor Justinian’s efforts in the sixth century to address the legitimate concerns of those who did not accept Chalcedon. The council which he summoned did not in fact achieve its goal of unity. By that point both sides had begun to erect parallel, competing hierarchies, and ethnic, national and political issues were further aggravating what had begun as a theological dispute. The chief reason for division was becoming division itself. Yet efforts at reunion continued - and indeed intensified - under Justinian’s successor, Justin II, who issued what has been called “a manifesto of Neo-Chalcedonian theology.” Addressing all his Christian subjects, he affirmed that orthodox Christology can be expressed both in Cyrillian terms (“one incarnate nature of God the Word”) or in Chalcedonian terms (“the difference of natures is not annulled by the union...”); and he called on all parties to unite on the basis of orthodoxia, avoiding “unnecessary disputes about persons or words, since the words [used on either side] lead to one true belief and understanding.” [7]

One problem, of course, is that emperors of this and every age tend to become impatient when their initiatives are not immediately crowned with success. In Christian antiquity imperially sponsored dialogue too often alternated with imperially sponsored persecution of dissidents. No doubt some churchmen were happy to go along with the persecutions, just as they went along with the dialogues. But there also were those who rejected force. One such was John the Faster, a sixth-century patriarch of Constantinople. “What did the dissidents do or say that deserves persecutions?” he asked. “If pagans have been justified and amnestied, how can I persecute Christians who are blameless in their Christianity and, so it seems to me, have more faith than we?”[8] Another noteworthy figure is John the Merciful, Chalcedonian patriarch of Alexandria, who is honored as a saint by both sides because of his even-handed charity.

During this early period there were also important developments in how each side viewed the ecclesial status of the other. In the wake of Chalcedon, some self-proclaimed champions of akribeia, or “strictness,” on both sides tried to ransack the archives of the churches to expunge the names of long-dead “heretics” and insisted on the rechrismation and reordination of those “repenting” of their former adherence. This approach, however, was vigorously resisted and ultimately defeated by moderate churchmen on both sides, who explored the proper limits of oikonomia, or “prudent pastoral management.” For example, Severus of Antioch, leading Non-Chalcedonian theologian of his age, railed against what he called “the heresy of the self-appointed reanointers,” i.e., those of his fellow Non-Chalcedonians who advocated rechrismation of Chalcedonians. On the Chalcedonian side too, we can see an analogous development in canon 95 of the Synod in Trullo, a synod which for the Chalcedonian Orthodox possesses ecumenical authority: Those coming over from among the Non-Chalcedonians are to be received simply by profession of faith, not by anointing with chrism or, a fortiori, by rebaptism.

While much of this discussion of oikonomia and its limits proceeded case by case, there was at least one attempt at a systematic presentation, a special treatise on the subject by the seventh-century Chalcedonian patriarch of Alexandria Eulogius. His work expresses what I take to be the accepted position of Chalcedonians and Non-Chalcedonians like: (a) By oikonomia a temporary concession can be made in matters of practice to avoid irremediably damaging the peace of the Church (e.g., Paul’s circumcision of Timothy); (b) by oikonomia differences in theological terminology can be tolerated indefinitely; (c) by oikonomia technical barriers to communion - an occasional heretic’s name in the diptychs and other vestiges of past error - can simply be ignored. But in no case may present purity of faith be compromised.

The proper basis for unity is orthodoxia, even if this is expressed in different Christological formulas. This was the conviction of leading figures on both sides in antiquity. This also was the conviction of the theologians who participated in the informal consultations between the churches in the 1960s and 1970s. This also forms the basis for the agreed statements issued subsequently by the official Joint Commission for Dialogue. But as is pointed out so often, orthodoxia involves not only right belief but also right worship, and in antiquity and continuing in the Middle Ages many differences in worship that would not in themselves have been church-dividing came to be invested with new meaning, becoming symbols of division.

Particularly instructive are the ways in which certain distinctive Armenian liturgical practices, such as the use of azymes (unleavened bread) and a chalice unmixed with water in the eucharist, come to be linked to Christological doctrine. The origins of these practices are unknown, but they certainly antedate any division of the churches. By late sixth century, however, they were becoming symbols of Armenian identity vis-a-vis the Greeks, who used leavened bread and wine mixed with warm water in the eucharist. Refusing an invitation from Emperor Maurice to come to Constantinople to discuss reunion, Catholicos Movses II in 591 declared: “I will not cross the River Azat nor will I eat the baked bread of the Greeks or drink their hot water.” [9] By the late seventh century these distinctive liturgical practices, already symbols of national identity, have become even more potent symbols of Christological doctrine. Reflecting the aphthartodocetism of Julian of Halicarnassus, which was then in the ascendency in the Armenian Church, Catholicos Sahak III (d. 703) writes: “Now we profess the body of Christ [to be] incorrupt and all-powerful always and constantly from [the moment of] the union of the Logos. This is why we take azymes [unleavened bread] for the bread of holiness with which we offer the salvific sacrifice, which signifies incorruptibility.” [10] Then, after a barrage of typological and moral arguments supporting the use of unleavened bread, Sahak goes on in like manner to associate the unmixed chalice, free from the adulteration of added water, with the incorruptible blood of Christ. The Byzantine Church quickly enough responded in kind. The Synod in Trullo (691-92) almost certainly had Sahak’s treatise in mind when it decreed that any bishop or presbyter who does not mix water with the wine in the eucharist is to be deposed, on the grounds that he thus “proclaims the mystery incompletely and tampers with tradition” (canon 32). [11] Very possibly Trullo also had Armenian liturgical practice in mind when it decreed “Let no man eat the unleavened bread of the Jews...” (canon 11). In any case, in subsequent polemical literature the issue of the bread and wine of the eucharist figures prominently, frequently to the exclusion of deeper theological reflection. Thus, despite their common rejection of Chalcedon and the generally Severan orientation of their shared Christology, the Armenian and Syrian churches in the Middle Ages sometimes attacked each other precisely because of such liturgical differences. So also, as schism yawned between the Byzantine and Latin churches in the eleventh century, Byzantine polemicists transferred their anti-azyme arguments from the Armenians to the Latins, notwithstanding the latters’ manifestly Chalcedonian Christology. Use of leavened bread and mingled wine, or conversely of unleavened bread and pure wine, immediately marked a community as either heretic or orthodox, no matter what Christological doctrine the community in question actually held!

Other liturgical practices became equally divisive. Consider, for example, the Trisagion: “Holy [is] God! Holy [and] mighty! Holy [and] immortal! Have mercy on us!” The origins of this troparion are disputed, Non-Chalcedonians claiming an Antiochian provenance and Chalcedonians attributing it to a heavenly vision when earthquakes were threatening Constantinople in 438-39. Even more disputed its interpretation. To whom is the troparion addressed? In its original form, it may have been addressed to Christ. This, in any case, is how the Non-Chalcedonian Patriarch Peter the Fuller of Antioch understood the troparion when he interpolated the theopaschite clause “who was crucified for us” into it sometime between 468 and 470, i.e., at a time when many Chalcedonians regarded any theopaschite formula with deep suspicion. Quickly enough the Trisagion became yet another bone of contention. Among Non-Chalcedonians, Catholicos Sahak III went so far as to trace the origins of the Trisagion, interpolation and all, to St. Ignatius of Antioch at the end of the first century.[12] In response to his claims, the Synod in Trullo (691-92) condemned the interpolation “as being foreign to true piety”; and by the time of the earliest Byzantine commentary on the Divine Liturgy, that of Patriarch Germanos I in the early eighth century, the troparion was being interpreted as addressed to the three persons of the Trinity, “Holy God” referring to the Father, “Holy Mighty” to the Son, and “Holy Immortal” to the Holy Spirit. [13]

One final example illustrates particularly vividly the ease with which a minor liturgical difference can be transformed into a symbol of division. In the Coptic, Syrian and Armenian liturgical traditions, a week of strict fasting - variously called the Fast of Heraclius, the Fast of Ninevah or the Forefast (Arachavorats) - preceeds the “Forty-Day” Great Fast of Lent. The same week in the Byzantine tradition calls only for abstinence from meat, not from dairy products. The historical development of the fasting practices of these various liturgical traditions is complex, but the differences between them were not the result of any dogmatic differences. [14] Yet in the context of church division, these differences came to be given a polemical explanation. Here is the rubric given in the Byzantine Triodion for Cheesefare Sunday, which introduces the week in question: “During this week the accursed Armenians fast from eggs and cheese, but we, to refute their damnable heresy, do eat both eggs and cheese for the entire week.” What one side does is enough to prompt the other to do the opposite! We see here the tragic way in which our sense of ecclesial identity has, in the context of division, been formed by opposition rather than by reference to a common faith. The characteristics by which we identify ourselves and our churches as “orthodox” all too often have been simply those extrinsic elements which make us different from others.

Must differences of worship, once invested - however artificially - with dogmatic significance, continue to divide? In the course of the Middle Ages, a few conciliatory voices could be heard. Worthy of special mention is St. Nersess the Graceful, who in the twelfth century entered into some very promising discussions with the Byzantine didaskalos Theorianos, head of the patriarchal school and ambassador of Emperor Manuel Comnenos. St. Nersess agreed, first of all, that there was indeed unity of faith, Chalcedon notwithstanding. He writes: “I find nothing in the horos [of Chalcedon] against the Orthodox faith, and I am astonished that those before us opposed it so strenously.”[15] He also is able to place an irenic interpretation on the liturgical diversity that distinguished the churches. For example, he observes concerning the Trisagion: “...whether one says [it] to the Holy Trinity, as you do, or to the Son alone, as we do, both are pleasing to God when they are said without contention.”[16] Unfortunately, initiatives towards reunion in St. Nersess’ day were not carried through. The vartabeds of eastern Armenia were slow to respond. The “guardians of Orthodoxy” in Constantinople were less than enthusiastic about the emperor’s ecumenical initiatives whether towards the Armenians or towards the Latins.[17] Perhaps more importantly, with the Battle of Myriocephalon (1176) the last remnants of Byzantine hegemony in eastern Anatolia were swept away, eliminating whatever political advantages either side might have gained by reunion.

Are current efforts to restore unity any more likely to succeed than those of the twelfth century? Certainly the modern ecumenical movement has provided a more auspicious “political” climate than that of the twelfth century, and modern scholarship has provided a clearer, more dispassionate understanding of many of the issues which have divided our churches in the past. Reflecting some of the progress that has been made in discussion of liturgical differences, the Joint Commission’s subcommittees on liturgical and pastoral issues, meeting in Damascus in February 1998, agreed - among other things - “that the Orthodox Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches basically maintain the old liturgical traditions in their local liturgical types, which co-existed in the undivided Church”; and they also declared

that liturgical issues have to be theologically clarified to indicate that they are in agreement with our common Christological Statements. For example, the expression “who was crucified for us” in the Trisagion hymn can be properly understood only in a Christological interpretation, while the hymn without this phrase can be understood both in Trinitarian and Christological senses. In the same spirit, the use of unleavened bread and unmixed wine by the Armenian Orthodox Church in the eucharist can be explained without any implications for the Christological consensus. [18]

But one can sense that, in the course of the last decade, the impulse towards reunion of the churches has slowed. Articles published in the late 1980s and early 1990s, soon after the Joint Commission issued its agreed statements on Christology, could speak optimistically of “recent strides toward reunion” and “last steps to unity.” [19] Since then, however, progress has slowed considerably. Opposition to reunion on the basis of the agreed statements of the Joint Commission has been mounting in Greece, Russia, Jerusalem and, on the Non-Chalcedonian side, Ethiopia. An unsigned article in a “traditionalist” Orthodox periodical, reflecting this changing tide of opinion, bears the title: “Patriarch Bartholomew Attempts to Strong-Arm the Church into Union with the Monophysites.” [20] Particularly strident, and certainly more influential, has been the 1995 “Memorandum of the Sacred Community of the Holy Mountain [Mount Athos] Concerning the Dialogue between the Orthodox Churches and the Anti-Chalcedonian Churches.” [21] Many more examples could be given. This opposition to the work of the Joint Commission does not appear to be based on Christological concerns. The Athonite memorandum, for example, refers to the actual substance of Christology only twice, and even then it fails to explore the contents of the “monophysite heresy.” [22] Objections coming from both sides have focused rather on liturgico-canonical issues, and more specifically on the anathemas which the churches hurled against each other during their many centuries of division. According to the 1990 agreed statement of the Joint Commission, “Both families agree that all the anathemas and condemnations of the past which now divide us should be lifted by the Churches in order that the last obstacle to the full unity and communion of our two families can be removed by the grace and power of God. Both families agree that the lifting of anthemas and condemnations will be consummated on the basis that the Councils and fathers previously anathematized or condemned are not heretical.” (para. 10) But so far this has not been done. Instead, in “traditionalist” quarters on both sides, the same kinds of questions have arisen: How can we lift these anathemas without betraying our holy fathers who imposed them in the first place? How can we enter into communion with those who honor as saints precisely those whom our holy fathers in the past anathematized as heretics?

One can read statements from both Oriental and Eastern Orthodox arguing precisely this. For example, according to a popular presentation of the position of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tawahido Church:

...to lift the anathemas imposed in the past upon those Chalcedonian Fathers and to accept them as saints would dishonor those Oriental Orthodox Church Fathers who condemned the Chalcedonians.... Since these anathemas have been observed for about 1500 years by our Holy Fathers as inscribed in our liturgical texts and hymnody, they shall not be lifted. [23]

Much the same attitude can be seen in the memorandum from the monks of Mount Athos, which vigorously objects to “purging the liturgical books of texts which refer to the Anti-Chalcedonians as heretical.” As the memorandum continues:

The sacred services of many confessors of the Faith, of many righteous Fathers, and especially the Holy Fathers of the Fourth Council in Chalcedon will be mutilated.... We ask: Are all the texts referred to above simply ornamental elements in Orthodox hymnology so that they can be painlessly and harmlessly removed, or are they basic elements of Orthodoxy, whose removal will cause the eradication of what we understand as Orthodoxy.

The memorandum from Mount Athos also rejects that line of thinking which “considers that the anathemas were laid upon the heretics by the Ecumenical Councils in a spirit lacking love, while today, since love now exists, union can be accomplished.” “Such a way of thinking,” the memorandum states, “directs a profound blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, through Whose inspiration these decisions were made, and against the sacred memory of the Holy Fathers, whom the Churchs calls God-bearers, Mouths of the Word, and Harps of the Spirit....”

Practically inseparable from the question of anathemas is the question of the meaning and authority of ecumenical councils. The Oriental Orthodox regard three councils as ecumenical, the Eastern Orthodox, seven. It was in councils four through seven that Oriental fathers like Dioscorus of Alexandria and Severus of Antioch were condemned; and it was in these councils that Leo of Rome, condemned as crypto-Nestorian by the Orientals, was hailed as a pillar of right belief. According to the Joint Commission for Dialogue, a sufficient basis for reconciliation is the fact that both families of churches confess the faith of all seven of the councils recognized as ecumenical by the Chalcedonians, even though they do not accord the same ecumenical authority to all these councils. But is this sufficient? According to some Eastern Orthodox, the Orientals must indicate their full and unqualified acceptance of seven ecumenical councils; they must accept not only the substance of the faith of these councils but also their disciplinary norms and terminology -- and presumably also their anathemas. For example, Patriarch Diodorus of Jerusalem in 1997 wrote a letter to Patriarch Ignatius of Antioch protesting, among other things, the latter’s eagerness to move forward to reunion on the basis of the work of the Joint Commission. “According to Holy Tradition,” Patriarch Diodorus avers, “the Non-Chalcedonians ought to accept absolutely and completely all the terms and canons of the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon, in its entirety, as well as the following Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Ecumenical Councils, also in their entirety.” [24]

For the Chalcedonian Orthodox, can the anathemas pronounced at councils four through seven be lifted? If so, how? This question sometimes has been approached from a juridical perspective: Who has the authority to lift an anathema? In this perspective, the answer would appear to be clear: An anathema can be lifted, but only by a body of the same or greater authority as the one which imposed it. The Joint Commission in 1993 urged that “the lifting of anathemas should be made unanimously and simultaneously by the heads of all churches of both sides.” But are “the heads of the all the churches” the juridically competent body? Not according to the memorandum from Mount Athos, which denounces this “decision of the Joint Commission concerning the possibility of lifting an anathema placed by an ecumenical council.” According to the memorandum, this is “alien to the sound mind of the Church” and “offends the fundamental consciousness of the Church concerning the authority of the ecumenical councils.” From this juridical perspective, only another ecumenical council would have the authority to lift the anathemas imposed by councils four through seven, though in a pinch presumably a Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church would do - when and if such a council meets.

But the issue of the anathemas - and along with it the issue of the number of ecumenical councils - is not simply a juridical question. It is a question of the identity and historical consistency of Orthodoxy itself, a question of the unity of the Church not only in space, with other professing Christians here and now, but in time, with the holy fathers and mothers of all ages. In this perspective, it becomes a matter of considerable significance whether one labels a given individual a saint or a heretic. As Metropolitan John Zizioulas has pointed out, membership in the Church does not mean simply the enjoyment of an a-temporal communion with Christ. It implies entering into communion with the saints of all the ages, as expresssed among other places in the diptychs, the calendar, and liturgical observances. And here by “saints” we should not think simply of those conspicuous for their personal sanctity. As Zizioulas points out, “saints are signs of the glory of God in this world not so much as individuals as in the context of the communion of saints, the advance guard of the One Body. ‘Saint’ therefore is a relational term; if relationship is broken -- if unity is broken -- the meaning of sanctity itself dramatically shifts.” [25] Can any body, even an ecumenical council, attempt to overturn the decision of a previous ecumenical council concerning who is a holy father and who is a heretic without calling into question the unity and continuity of the Church through time? This is the question which the memorandum from Mount Athos raises when it denounces “the attack upon the validity and authority of the Holy Ecumenical Councils by the decision of the Joint Commission that the Anti-Chalcedonian heresiarchs Dioscorus, Jacob, Severus, etc. be considered not heretical but Orthodox in their thinking.” As the memorandum continues, “The consciousness of the Orthodox Church recognizes that infallibility and authority in the Holy Spirit is in the ecumenical councils and refuses to accept the possibility of revising the decisions of an ecumenical council by another ecumenical council without the latter council being considered as an heretical conventicle...” [26]

How can one respond to such denunciations? Certainly ancient writers like Patriarch Eulogius of Alexandria would appear to be far more generous and forgiving. Here it is important to consider what kind of authority we ascribe to ecumenical councils. The memorandum from Mount Athos uses the word “infallibility.” This may be an unfortunate choice of words, the result of an understandable but regrettable reaction to Roman claims of papal infallibility. (We see here another example of the way in which ecclesial identity has, in the context of division, been formed by opposition, in this case by opposition to Roman Catholicism.) It would be more accurate to say simply that the ecumenical councils have inerrantly defined the faith and delineated the boundaries of true piety. But even if we speak of the “infallibility” of ecumenical councils, certainly this infallibility does not imply full and direct divine inspiration for each and every statement made in the course of these councils. It does not, for example, mean that councils and council fathers cannot be mistaken concerning matters of fact or inconsistent in their terminology. Councils - even ecumenical councils - do not invent or produce the faith of the Church. Rather, they bear witness to it. Therefore the adequacy of their words for this faith - and the appropriateness of their terminology and of their anathemas - must always be evaluated in the light of this faith.

Let us turn specifically to anathemas as these have been pronounced by successive ecumenical councils. These show an interesting progression as we move from earlier councils to subsequent councils. At the time when a given error or heresy is most pressing, an anathema, if pronounced, is usually quite specific about the position that is being condemned. The first ecumenical council at Nicaea, for example, reacting against the heresy which subsequent generations have called Arianism, concluded its creed with the following words: “And whosoever shall say that there was a time when the Son of God was not, or that before he was begotten he was not, or that he was made of things that were not, or that he is of a difference substance (hypostasis) or essence (ousia} [from the Father] or that he is a creature, or subject to change or conversion -- all that so say, the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes them.” [27] As we come to later councils, the formulation becomes much less specific about the errors in question. Instead, it tends to be attached specifically to the person of Arius rather than to the position which he espoused: Anathema to Arius! We see a similar progression when it comes to other heresies. In the early stages of the Christological controversies, St. Cyril’s Twelve Anathematisms directed against the theology of Nestorius are quite specific. For example, the fourth anathematism reads: “If anyone shall divide between two persons or subsistences those expressions which are contained in the Evangelical and Apostolical writings, or which have been said concerning Christ by the Saints, or by himself, and shall apply some to him as to a man separate from the Word of God, and shall apply others to only the Word of God the Father, on the ground that they are fit to be applied to God: let him be anathema.” [28] These anathematisms were included verbatim in the acts of the third ecumenical council, Ephesus (431 A.D.), but thereafter formulations generally are content simply to anathematize Nestorius. In other words, a kind of theological “short-hand” develops. Instead of anathematizing a heretical position, which may be rather cumbersome to summarize and explain, we give this position a name and anathematize it as a heresy - Arianism or Nestorianism - or, more often, we associate it with a specific person and anathematize him - Arius or Nestorius.

In the case of Arius or Nestorius, the meaning of this “short-hand” is reasonably clear to the point of being self-evident. By saying “anathema to Nestorius” we are saying “anathema” to the positions denounced by St. Cyril in his Twelve Anathematisms and thereafter by the Council of Ephesus. But in some cases this “short-hand” can deceive. If we are very clear about what is being condemned, well and good. But if we rely simply on the “shorthand” of later councils, we may be misled. This point may be illustrated by reference to what Chalcedonian Orthodox regard as the sixth ecumenical council, III Constantinople (681 A.D.), which proclaimed anathema to Dioscorus “hated of God” and to the “impious” Severus of Antioch. This council was faced by the heresies of monotheletism and monenergism, which held that there was but one will and one natural energy in Christ. As frequently the case when faced with a new challenge, orthodox churchmen on the one hand denounced these heresies as dangerous innovations, but on the other they tried to demonstrate that the new heresies were simply old, long-condemned heresies in disguise. Like the monks of Mount Athos, like the fathers of the ancient councils generally, and for that matter like the heretics who assembled in the various ancient pseudo-councils, the fathers of III Constantinople wished to demonstrate the historical consistency of their own position and at the same time, the coherence of their opponents’ position with that of earlier heretics. Thus at III Constantinople the contemporary monothelites were seen as holding, among other things, the heresy of Apollinarius, who had held that Jesus Christ did not possess a human rational soul (nous) - a heresy which, according to III Constantinople, was condemned at I Constantinople (381 A.D.). In fact the story of I Constantinople is much more complex than a reading simply of the acts of III Constantinople would suggest; at I Constantinople itself, the question of Apollinarius’ teaching seems to have been tangential at most. [29] So also, at III Constantinople the monothelites were seen as holding the heretical positions condemned at Chalcedon and II Constantinople (553 A.D.), which the council associated respectively with Dioscorus and Severus, among others. Hence, in the course of a long series of anathemas pronounced at the final session of the council, we find the names of Dioscorus and Severus. Clearly, by the time of III Constantinople popular opinion did associate these names with heretical positions condemned at earlier councils. And this tendency continues in later centuries. For example, hymnography for the Feast of the Seven Ecumenical Councils (July 16 - originally the commemoration of the Council of Chalcedon) can exhort the orthodox to “abhor” Dioscorus and Severus along with a multitude of other heretics. But these formulations - these “short-hand” notes from later times - in fact are very misleading.

Let us first consider the case of Dioscorus. While III Constantinople can say anathema to Dioscorus and regard him as a progenitor of the monothelite heresy, this does not accurately reflect the views and activities of Dioscorus or how the Council of Chalcedon actually dealt with him. At that council Dioscorus was indeed deposed, but as the acts of the council indicate, “it was not for the faith that Dioscorus was deposed but because he had excommunicated the lord Leo, archbishop [of Rome], and that summoned three times, he did not come. This is why he was deposed.” [30] He did not in fact espouse the teaching of Eutyches, whose teaching concerning Christ and whose person were condemned at Chalcedon. To use the words of Fr. John Romanides, an Eastern Orthodox theologian deeply engaged in the theological dialogue with the Oriental Orthodox: “The backbone of the Orthodox tradition is the fact that the Logos became consubstantial with us. There can be no doubt that Dioscorus agrees with this fact and so could never be accused of being a monophysite along with Eutyches.”[31]

Let us also consider the case of Severus. He clearly affirms the basic Christological truth that Jesus Christ is consubstantial with His Father in His divinity and consubstantial with us in His humanity. In other words, he does not fall into the heresy of Eutyches condemned at Chalcedon, which denied Christ’s consubstantiality with us and thus His full humanity. But Severus uses technical terms like hypostasis and physis in ways very different from the later formulations of Chalcedonian Orthodoxy. If read on his own terms, he is not guilty of either the heresy of monophysitism or the heresy of monotheletism as these have been condemned by the ecumenical councils. [32] His terminology may seem idiosyncratic, but it is hardly less so than that of most of his contemporaries, whether Chalcedonian (like Leontius of Byzantium) or Non-Chalcedonian. In other words, he was misunderstood, perhaps deliberately, perhaps inadvertently, by the time that Constantinople III labeled him “infamous” and anathematized him as one of the progenitors of monotheletism.

Here a further question may be posed. What weight should be given to an objection raised by Patriarch Diodorus in his letter to Patriarch Ignatius: “Are we to believe that they [viz., the theologians of the period in question] did not correctly understand those present in the Synods with whom they communicated in a common language and education?” But while it certainly is true that these theologians were working in the same language, Greek, it does not follow that they used technical terms - especially those with a philosophical coloring - in the same way. We sometimes face the same problem today. English now serves as an international language in much the way that Greek did in antiquity, but as a frequent participant in international meetings once remarked, “We live in a world in which everyone knows English -- bad English!” A concrete word like “shoe” will be understood in much the same way by virtually every speaker of the English language, even by those for whom English is a second language, but a word like “existential” or “natural” will mean different things to different people, even to those whose only language is English. And of course the problem becomes even more complicated in the case of theologians who worked in different languages.

The faith of the ancient councils - I Nicaea, I Constantinople, Ephesus, Chalcedon, II Constantinople, III Constantinople, II Nicaea - is consistent, whether one labels all seven or only the first three as ecumenical. But their terminology is not always consistent. I Nicaea, for example, used the words hypostasis and ousia as synonyms, while the later councils took great pains to distinguish them. So too, the anathemas of the ancient councils are not always consistent. Too often we have mistaken the “short-hand” of later periods for historical fact. The conclusion of the Joint Commission therefore is quite appropriate: “Both families agree that the lifting of anathemas and condemnations will be consummated on the basis that the Councils and fathers previously anathematized or condemned are not heretical” (1990 Chambesy Agreed Statement, para. 10). But will this happen any time in the foreseeable future?

The question at this point is whether we really desire unity more than our present disunity. Will we continue to be divided simply by the power of division itself? Certainly at the present time we seem to prefer the disunity of the status quo. Our cherished anathemas and preferred formulas give us a sense of security. Without them, our very identity seems threatened. Of course, much of Christian doctrine arose precisely because of the need to define the truth in opposition to heresy. But the words in which the truth are expressed are not the same as the truth itself. Failure to recognize this can lead to the kind of situation described by St. Gregory of Nazianzen. He notes how, when we try to lift a handful of water to our lips, some can be found slipping through our fingers:

In the same way, there is a separation not only between us and those who hold aloof in their impiety, but also between us and those who are most pious - a separation in regard both to such doctrines as are of small consequence and to expressions intended to bear the same meaning. [33]

Certainly this is the situation in which the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox find themselves today. If our church families can overcome the division of centuries, if they can recognize in each other the same one faith, if they can enter into a life of communion in the deepest sense of that word, their reunion will be a sign of promise for all Christians.
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[1] Participants included, among others, Georges Florovsky, John Meyendorff, John Karmires, John Romanides, John Zizioulas, Paul Verghese and V.C. Samuel.
[2] Reports of the four unofficial dialogues (1964-1971) are published in The Greek Orthodox Theological Review 10.2 (1964-65), 13 (1968), and 16.1 and 2 (1971).
[3] At this point the agreed statements and proposals of the Joint Commission are available in English translation most conveniently in St. Nersess Theological Review 1.1 (1996) 99-110.
[4] J. Lebon, Le monophysisme Severien (Louvain, 1909).
[5] On Severus’ Christology and its significance for dialogue today, see most recently John Behr, “Severus of Antioch: Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Perspectives,” St. Nersess Theological Review 3.1-2 (1998) 23-35.
[6] See especially his Christ in Eastern Christian Thought (Crestwood NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1975).
[7] Evagrius, Eccl. Hist. 5.4, cited by J. Meyendorff, Imperial Unity and Christian Divisions (Crestwood NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1989) 262.
[8] John of Ephesus, Hist. Eccl. 5.15, ed. and trans. E.W. Brooks (Paris - Louvain: 1935-36), cited by Meyendorff, Imperial Unity 264-5.
[9] La Narratio de Rebus Armeniae, ed. G. Garitte (Louvain: Peeters, 1952) 242-4, cited by M. Findikyan, “Liturgical Usages and Controversy in History: How Much Diversity Can Unity Tolerate?” St. Nersess Theological Review 1.2 (1996) 197, to whose discussion of liturgical diversity the present summary is deeply indebted. On this episode and others from this crucial period in Armenian ecclesiastical relations with Constantinople, see now Nina Garsoian, L’Eglise Armenienne et le grand schisme d’Orient (Louvain: Peeters, 1999), esp. 267-77.
[10] Girk’ Tlt’oc’ [Book of Letters], ed. J. Ismireantz (Tiflis: 1901) 475-76; French trans. with extensive commentary M. van Esbroeck, “Le discours du Catholicos Sahak III en 691 et quelques documents armeniens annexes au Quinisexte,” in The Synod in Trullo Revisited, ed. G. Nedungatt and M. Featherstone (Rome: Pontificio Istituto Orientale, 1995), 323-454 at 431; English trans. M. Findikyan, “Liturgical Usages...” 198-99.
[11] The canon in question takes pains to correct Sahak’s manifestly incorrect interpretation of a passage from St. John Chrysostom’s homilies on Matthew: Chrysostom was condemning the ancient sect of the Hydroparastatae, who substituted water for wine in the eucharist, not those who mix water with the wine. On this and other aspects of Sahak’s treatise and its importance in the history of Byzantine - Armenian relations, see van Esbroeck, “Le discours...” passim.
[12] On Sahak’s argument and Trullo’s response, see van Esbroeck, “Le discours...” passim.
[13] R.F.T[aft], “Trisagion,” in the Dictionary of Byzantium (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991) 2121; S.P. Brock, “The Thrice-Holy Hymn in the Liturgy,” Sobornost/Eastern Churches Review 7.2 (1985) 24-34; V.-S. Janeras, “Les byzantines et le trisagion christologique,” in Miscellanea liturgica in onore di sua eminenza il Cardinale Giacomo Lercaro 2 (Rome: 1967) 469-99.
[14] See T.J. Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year (New York: Pueblo, 1986) 168-222.
[15] Theoriani Disputationes com Armeniorum Catholico I, PG 133:204B, cited by A. Papadakis, The Christian East and the Rise of the Papacy (Crestwood NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1994) 116.
[16] Encyclical Letters of St. Nersess Shnorali (Jerusalem: 1871) 138, cited by M. Findikyan, “Liturgical Usages...” 207.
[17] The expression is that of Paul Magdalino, The Empire of Manuel I Komnenos, 1143-1180 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993) 386-88 et passim.
[18] Communique of the Meeting of the Subcommittees on Liturgical and Pastoral Issues, 2-5 February 1998, Damascus, Syria, points 3 and 4 (typescript). The English text - practically incomprehensible in the original press release - has been lightly modified for greater grammatical and lexical clearity.
[19] See, for example, John Meyendorff, “Chalcedonians and Non-Chalcedonians: The Last Steps to Unity,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 33.4 (1989) 319-329; Thomas FitzGerald, “Toward the Reestablishment of Full Communion: The Orthodox-Orthodox Oriental Dialogue, “Greek Orthodox Theological Review 36.2 (1991) 169-181; Theodore Pulcini, “Recent Strides Toward Reunion of the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches: Healing the Chalcedonian Breach,” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 30.1 (1993) 34-50.
[20] In Orthodox Life 45.3 (1995) 39-41, where it is followed by a lengthy critique of the work of the Joint Commission and of the churches participating in it.
[21] Ser. no. ph2/116/455, May 14/27, 1995 - typescript.
[22] See the trenchant critique of the memorandum by A. Golitzin, “Anathema! Some Historical Perspectives on the Athonite Statement of May, 1995,” St. Nersess Theological Review 3.1-2 (1998) 103-117, especially 106-9.
[23] The Ethiopian Tewahido Church (New York?: n.d.) 108.
[24] Letter no. 361, May 17, 1997.
[25] “Ecclesiological Issues Inherent in the Relations Between Eastern Chalcedonian and Oriental Non-Chalcedonian Churches,” Greek Orthodox Theological Review 16 (1971) 144-62 at p. 149.
[26] Cf. the extremely valuable assessment of D. Wendebourg, “Chalcedon in Ecumenical Discourse,” Pro Ecclesia 7.3 (1998) 307-332 at p. 330: “Why is so much made of the question, ‘Three or seven ecumenical councils?’ if a consensus has nevertheless been reached on the substance of Christology? This question is of such great importance because it is directly concerned with the identity of the divided churches, identity understood not simply in a psychological sense, but in a theological one. It is a matter of the relation of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the church to the concrete history of the church. Both sides concede to each other that they are legitimate representatives of faith in Christ, and that means filled with the Holy Spirit. But each side has existed for fifteen hundred years in a distinctive way, characterized - positively - by a distinctive expression of faith in Christ and negatively - by being distinguished from those who do not share this exposition. Can the concrete historical form of their path under the guidance of the Spirit be detached from a ‘substance’ of the presence of the Spirit without this presence of the Spirit becoming a purely abstract reality?”
[27] Trans. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, ser. 2, vol. 14, 3.
[28] Ibid. 211.
[29] For a convenient presentation of I Constantinople see Archbishop Peter L’Huillier, The Church of the Ancient Councils: The Disciplinary Work of the First Four Ecumenical Councils (Crestwood NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press,1996) 101-42.
[30] Patriarch Anatolius of Constantinople, in Session 5, quoted by L’Huilllier, Church of the Ancient Councils 189, with further discussion of the case of Dioscorus.
[31] “Leo of Rome’s Support of Theodoret, Dioscorus of Alexandria’s Support of Eutyches, and the Lifting of the Anathemas,” paper (as yet unpublished?) presented at the November 1993 meeting of the Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Orthodox Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches (Geneva) 6.
[32] On this subject see most conveniently John Behr, “Severus of Antioch...” 23-35.
[33] Or. 21.35.
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#2 Guest_Mina Monir

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Posted 17 March 2006 - 04:26 PM

dear brothers , I was asking about the idea why did chalcedon cause more than 33,000 martyrs in egypt between 451 - 454 ? it is simply, we refused the imperial patriarche sent by leo because our pope is alive and in exile for the correct faith , is it a christian reaction? mrs.Butcher and hefele mentioned stories about the horrible massacres in egypt .. could any one tell me why?

please some one tells me : why Leo of rome defended for Roman Papacy (and the quotes are infinite!) and is considered as saint?

I read parts in the greek theological review book of fr.Florovsky we can see his quote: modern theologians now can confess that the tome of leo divided the christ by two ... Nestour himself blessed that council!!!!!!

also, prof.John Romanides says : if you use the latin translation of the tome you will use a stick against us!

why all that?

last question from fr.Schmemann : BYZANTIUM or CHURCH?
any way I'm sending a paper presented by HE Metropolitan Bishoy in the last committie betweem Russian and Oriental orthodox familiies.
in Christ

#3 Guest_Athanasius Abdullah

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Posted 21 March 2006 - 09:12 PM

Dearest to Christ Mina,

Peace and blessings with you:

Weren't you the one who consistently placed emphasis on the "official" mutual agreements of the Joint Commission? As I recall, one point of agreement related to the lifting of anathema's, which would include that which is presently placed on Leo of Rome by our Church. So what relevance do your comments pertaining to Leo of Rome have within the context of this thread, which is primarily concerned with achieving practical unity, if issues relevant to Leo have in effect been declared null with respect to their being stumbling blocks to such unity?

As for the issue relating to the massacres that took place; we forgive and forget. Although I must admit that I find it troubling to have bumped into the odd one Chalcedonian who staunchly defended the moral integrity of such actions. I'd hope that attitude does not reflect that of the predominant majority of Chalcedonians. In any event, however sensitive such historical issues may be, as long as they are not faith related, then I likewise fail to see the relevance of bringing up that issue within the context of this thread.

Forgive me if I have offended you,

In IC XC
-Athanasius


#4 Scott Pierson

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Posted 17 July 2006 - 01:39 AM

Its time for me to put me not so worthwhile two cents (that I cant refrain from putting in because I'm addicted this message board) in on this topic :)

I have mixed feelings about the eccumenical relations between the Orthodox and the OO. On the one hand we do have so much in common, much more then with any other Church. On the other hand people are in such a hurry for union they dont seem intent on makeing the OO's accept ALL of the Eccumenical councils as being eccumenical (they say its enough for them to "agree with them in priniciple" etc..). Secondly anyone who Anathematized or insulted the Orthodox Church or Her saints should not continue to be recognized as a saint by the OO's if they want Union imo. Basically if they want Union ( and I would love that to be true) they should become Orthodox! Even if those who claim that OOs are not heretical but 'only" schismatic are correct the OOs would still need to renounce and apologize for their schism at least and stop reverencing their ancient leaders who lead them to schism in the first place.

#5 John Charmley

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Posted 31 August 2006 - 02:09 PM

Mr. Pierson makes important points, but does not the statement 'Basically if they want Union ( and I would love that to be true) they should become Orthodox!' rather beg the question raised by Athanasius Abdullah?

As a newcomer to this community and an Anglican who has had contacts with both Oriental and Eastern Orthodox communities (and knows just enough to realise that some in both sets may take offensive at the adjective), I stumbled on this thread because, feeling left behind by my own Church, I am pulled towards Orthodoxy and have found what is posted here most illuminating. The Oriental Orthodox response to Mr. Pierson's perfectly reasonable argument could, I suppose, take the same form, since they could, and I suspect would, argue that they are Orthodox. That would create a situation that was indeed 'beyond dialogue'.

But since this is a forum for exploring Orthodoxy with thoughtfulness and prayer, it would be good to hear from those more knowledgeable on these matters, about how the existing dialogue (which has produced some interesting statements) might be pursued. I know there are those who see in this the cloven hoof of ecumenism, and suspect there may be a natural Anglican tendency towards syncretism in even posing the question, but from the position I am in, as an enquirer looking to find an Orthodox community, it seems deeply sad that in this secularised and increasingly Godless civilisation, the enemies of the Faith should be able to exclaim 'See how they love each other!'

Given the state of my own Communion, I am, despite that question, among the last to want to see the Orthodox faith in any way weakened or watered down, but where the existing dialogue has already pronounced a great measure of agreement on fundamentals, it would be tragic (in our contemporary world) to lose any opportunity that might lead to real unity (which, of course, begs another set of questions).

But I suspect that simply telling the other lot that they need to convert to real Orthodoxy (which is a perfectly defensible response) won't take a dialogue very far. For those who look upon such a dialogue as deeply misguided that would be fair enough, but Christ's message was for all mankind, and I do wonder how members of this community think His Church is doing on that score.

Can I apologise in advance to those who will find this chain of thought deeply shot through with Anglican syncretism - it is a hard habit to shake, I fear, but the question is, I hope, well intentioned.

Asking pardon for any offence,

In Christ,

John

#6 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 31 August 2006 - 04:57 PM

Mr. Pierson makes important points, but does not the statement 'Basically if they want Union ( and I would love that to be true) they should become Orthodox!' rather beg the question raised by Athanasius Abdullah?

As a newcomer to this community and an Anglican who has had contacts with both Oriental and Eastern Orthodox communities (and knows just enough to realise that some in both sets may take offensive at the adjective), I stumbled on this thread because, feeling left behind by my own Church, I am pulled towards Orthodoxy and have found what is posted here most illuminating. The Oriental Orthodox response to Mr. Pierson's perfectly reasonable argument could, I suppose, take the same form, since they could, and I suspect would, argue that they are Orthodox. That would create a situation that was indeed 'beyond dialogue'.

But since this is a forum for exploring Orthodoxy with thoughtfulness and prayer, it would be good to hear from those more knowledgeable on these matters, about how the existing dialogue (which has produced some interesting statements) might be pursued. I know there are those who see in this the cloven hoof of ecumenism, and suspect there may be a natural Anglican tendency towards syncretism in even posing the question, but from the position I am in, as an enquirer looking to find an Orthodox community, it seems deeply sad that in this secularised and increasingly Godless civilisation, the enemies of the Faith should be able to exclaim 'See how they love each other!'

Given the state of my own Communion, I am, despite that question, among the last to want to see the Orthodox faith in any way weakened or watered down, but where the existing dialogue has already pronounced a great measure of agreement on fundamentals, it would be tragic (in our contemporary world) to lose any opportunity that might lead to real unity (which, of course, begs another set of questions).

But I suspect that simply telling the other lot that they need to convert to real Orthodoxy (which is a perfectly defensible response) won't take a dialogue very far. For those who look upon such a dialogue as deeply misguided that would be fair enough, but Christ's message was for all mankind, and I do wonder how members of this community think His Church is doing on that score.

Can I apologise in advance to those who will find this chain of thought deeply shot through with Anglican syncretism - it is a hard habit to shake, I fear, but the question is, I hope, well intentioned.

Asking pardon for any offence,

In Christ,

John


Thanks for these charitable and sober comments. I agree that simply telling the other to 'convert to real Orthodoxy' won't get very far. But that reflects the unique circumstance that each of us believes we are already Orthodox. On the one hand it could be that we are indeed at this point close enough in belief to fruitfully pursue dialogue. The danger however is that the 'desire for dialogue' which is so often a cover for syncretism in our time, does not take properly into account the real differences which still divide us.

I have to admit that my own thoughts about this are not clear. I personally rejoice at the indications of a certain warming up to Chalcedon by our non-Chalcedonian brethren. The piety and love for tradition shown by the non-Chalcedonians are edifying to say the least. But then statements are still made which portray Chalcedon as being Nestorian- a sure way to drown out any optimism since this Council is so central to the division which occured.


Then the question of saints who witnessed & suffered for the truth of their particular vision of Orthodoxy comes up. This is such a delicate question because no one will give up the veneration of their own saints. In some cases I suppose we could get to the point where we portray the saint as recognising one side of the mystery of Faith while the other side recognised another. In their own day they were opposed but in the larger picture maybe they actually complement each other. It gets harder though where one side's saint was the other's persecutor. Could this be seen differently in the larger picture? I don't know- but certainly not if it's just part of an effort to 'overlook' the past.


If the past is any precedent for the future it seems that these things are healed only through time and effort. The faithful on both sides have to get to the point where there is a basic trust in each others' Orthodoxy. If this is achieved then it's often surprising what differences can be overcome. But without this no agreements will work. And the desire for unity needs to spring from a common desire to heal the past through the present; not to overlook the past through the present.

My own belief is that the reason we have not yet achieved unity is that even though there are real signs of approaching each other with a common theological vision as opposed to the past, this vision is not yet common enough. Dialogue can help in achieving a common desire for unity but it can only go so far in attaining the common vision necessary for this.

It can often take a long time to attain once more this common vision. Often in the past it has come about only with the recognition that separation involves the loss of something crucial like the loss of a hand or foot. Maybe the hand went its own way for a time but still it shows signs of being part of your body. And perhaps this has to do with recognising that the other has something else which we can accept which doesn't involve us in compromising the Faith in any fundamental way.


In Christ- Fr Raphael

#7 John Charmley

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Posted 31 August 2006 - 10:44 PM

[QUOTE
My own belief is that the reason we have not yet achieved unity is that even though there are real signs of approaching each other with a common theological vision as opposed to the past, this vision is not yet common enough. Dialogue can help in achieving a common desire for unity but it can only go so far in attaining the common vision necessary for this.

It can often take a long time to attain once more this common vision. Often in the past it has come about only with the recognition that separation involves the loss of something crucial like the loss of a hand or foot. Maybe the hand went its own way for a time but still it shows signs of being part of your body. And perhaps this has to do with recognising that the other has something else which we can accept which doesn't involve us in compromising the Faith in any fundamental way.
[/QUOTE]

I am, as I suspect all readers will be, grateful for Father Vereshack's wise words - and for the tone in which they are delivered.

I come at this as an outsider, still marvelling at the richness of Orthodoxy, but saddened to see two sets of Orthodox communities divided each from the other, when it seems they have much in common.

Of course, Father, you are right to remind us of the difference between union for its own sake and real unity; the latter is a chimera encouraged by the sort of ecumenism which seeks unity by refusing to confront real differences and problems; as an Anglican I know only too well where that road leads, and Orthodoxy has surely been guided by its founder away from all of that.

With the sort of spirit and wisdom manifested by Father Vereshack, and so many others on this forum, perhaps it may yet be possible for those sundered by Chalcedon to bear a united witness to the flocks of hungry sheep who look up for food; but it will only happen by a prayerful and humble willingness to acknowledge where there are real differences, and ask for help from the Source that never fails us.

In that sense, whatever doubts one harbours about some types of ecumenism, properly approached, it can provide a forum for real reconciliation between those who seem to an outsider to have more in common than perhaps sometimes appears to be the case. Given the nature of the past divisions, I wonder how many on both sides of the divide have a clear picture of where the other side stands? Chalcedon may have divided, but we know that Christ unites - and Orthodoxy, if it can be one again, is so needed in this world, not least in those areas where the division of 1054 paved the way for so many later schisms.

Of course, to those of you steeped in Orthodoxy (of both varieties), I can only offer such thoughts with great hesitation, but there may be times when the view from outside has some value. As one searching to find the Orthodox way who finds so much to admire in both the Eastern and Oriental, it is fascinating to see the past dialogue between the two sides, and I pray that it continues - in the spirit Father Vereshack's post exemplifies.

It seems wise to remember that however misguided some of us may appear to those already growing in the Orthodox tradition, we see ourselves as fellow Christians, and to treat any such as Amalekites to be smitten hip and thigh, is perhaps to fail in our duty of Charity - not a criticism that anyone could label at the posters to this site.

In Christ,

John

#8 Brian B.

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Posted 01 September 2006 - 02:19 AM

Dear In Christ Athanasius Abdullah,

Thank you for posting that article. It explains much that I have been wondering about. As an inquirer I find the story of the Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian Orthodox communions to be both a source of inspiration and hope, and a source of considerable consternation for myself.

The consternation arises because as one who has been called to truth, I must now discern using my imperfect faculties between two communions claiming to be the sole and visible Body of Christ on Earth. Yet if they are largely in agreement on doctrine and practice, on what objective basis may I judge? If the choice were one of mere practicality or numbers, then certainly one of the eastern Orthodox jurisdictions makes sense, at least in North America. But practicality is a poor substitute for Truth, and further it leaves the sneaking suspicion that such an approach is more the result of my asserting my autonomy than in listening to God. Of course the only real answer will come through prayer.

The history of the schism is extremely complicated and fraught with tears as indicated in the article by Rev. Erickson, and yet it is also paradoxically a sign of potentially immense hope and a revelation of truth in the world. For what else can one conclude when two communions, after 1555 years of separation and strife, find themselves so close doctrinally and liturgically and attitudinally. Can such a miracle be found with any other pair of religious communities in the world, over a period of 78 generations of Man? I think not. Surely this is an indication of where truth lies, for the truth resides in all men's hearts, and when two communities of men are so close after so long a division, then surely one can take that as a sign that truth informs much of both. For an inquirer such as myself, the example of the eastern and oriental churches is one of hope, hope that my quest for the fount of truth is nearing an end, even if that final step is one of the most difficult.

Please pray for me and all inquirers, and please pray that truth endures and prevails, and that the two communions find a legitimate way to reunite. For if that happens I think the unified Church can say that even in division truth is undeniable, and Orthodoxy is the living proof of that.

Peace in Christ,

Brian

#9 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 01 September 2006 - 01:25 PM

John Charmley wrote


In that sense, whatever doubts one harbours about some types of ecumenism, properly approached, it can provide a forum for real reconciliation between those who seem to an outsider to have more in common than perhaps sometimes appears to be the case. Given the nature of the past divisions, I wonder how many on both sides of the divide have a clear picture of where the other side stands? Chalcedon may have divided, but we know that Christ unites - and Orthodoxy, if it can be one again, is so needed in this world, not least in those areas where the division of 1054 paved the way for so many later schisms.


In a way in my post yesterday I was trying to say that when we get a clear picture of what the other side is saying and that picture shares a common vision of Christ, even if expressed differently, then we are on the road to reconciliation.

To put it most simply we insist that to be in communion with us there must be a shared vision of Christ as referred to by Chalcedon.

One and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence (hypostasis), not as parted into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ



Can one have an Orthodox understanding of Christ without using the precise language of Chalcedon? In a way that is what we discussed here in the past few years often in lengthy and detailed discussion. At least as I read it at the time there were times when it appeared from what was posted here by our non-Chalcedonian brethren that we really were saying the same thing about Christ using different language. At other times however it appeared, especially from the adamant rejection of Chalcedon by some for being Nestorian, that something fundamental was indeed missing which relates to Christology. I have to admit that for me at least it was this which left me feeling uneasy.

Who knows- maybe the language of St Cyril can still be used as long as the intent is Chalcedonian. This after all is how we read St Cyril's words (Mark Harrison refers to this in his post today). I can't be the arbiter of this even if I have my own thoughts about it. As they say it will be the Church in common and guided by the Holy Spirit which will determine this.

However I can say that if the non-Chalcedonians reject not only the expressions used by Chalcedon (to be fair some seem to reject the events that led up to it as having been more political than anything else. So other cultural issues are at work here which need to be at least taken into account) but also the inner meaning of its Christology then we are still deeply divided. And yes this is a heretical understanding of Christ no matter what.

To put it simply another way. As an Orthodox priest I need to be able at some point in this exchange between us and the non-Chalcedonians to give a clear enough answer to my parishioners. Is the non-Chalcedonian vision of Christ heretical or not? From our discussions here I have to say I still can't give a clear answer to this question.

Again I don't know but maybe the vision is common at this point. But if past history of healing Church divisions is any precedent than what is needed is not only a common vision, but also the intent and desire to say this openly. Maybe the reasons behind this hesitation are what prevents unity between us from going forward any further than it has for the past 30 years or so.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#10 John Charmley

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Posted 01 September 2006 - 03:37 PM

Dear Father Vereshack and Brian B

I find Brian B's formulation of his dilemma identical to my own:
'as one who has been called to truth, I must now discern using my imperfect faculties between two communions claiming to be the sole and visible Body of Christ on Earth. Yet if they are largely in agreement on doctrine and practice, on what objective basis may I judge?'

I take heart from the perception that:
'two communions, after 1555 years of separation and strife, [can] find themselves so close doctrinally and liturgically and attitudinally. Can such a miracle be found with any other pair of religious communities in the world, over a period of 78 generations of Man? I think not. Surely this is an indication of where truth lies, for the truth resides in all men's hearts, and when two communities of men are so close after so long a division, then surely one can take that as a sign that truth informs much of both. '

And that is where Father Vereshack takes both Brian B and I, as well as the discussion, forward in a most useful way. It is, indeed, necessary to see clearly what both Orthodox communions believe. I have found the following comment of Abba Wahba of California helpful in this respect. In an article reproduced on Coptnet he describes what the existing dialogue has revealed in terms of commonality:

'1- They all condemn and anathematize Nestorius, Apollinarius and Eutyches.

2- The unity of the divinity and humanity of Christ was realized from the
moment of His conception, without separation or division and also without
confusing or changing.

3- The manhood of Christ was real, perfect and had a dynamic presence.

4- Jesus Christ is one Prosopon and one Hypostasis in real oneness and not
mere conjunction of natures; He is the Incarnate Logos of God.

5- They all accept the communicatio idiomatum (the communication of idioms),
attributing all the deeds and words of Christ to the one hypostasis, the
Incarnate Son of God.'


How far does that help? I would be most interested to know what Father Vereshack and others think here. It does not meet Father Vereshack's condition about the precise language of Chalcedon, but as with the text reproduced by Athanasius Abdullah who started this thread, it does seem to the outside observer to indicate that more than fifteen centuries of separation have not created an unbridgeable gulf.

But then I am mindful of the other part of Father Vereshack's post, namely:
'At least as I read it at the time there were times when it appeared from what was posted here by our non-Chalcedonian brethren that we really were saying the same thing about Christ using different language. At other times however it appeared, especially from the adamant rejection of Chalcedon by some for being Nestorian, that something fundamental was indeed missing which relates to Christology. I have to admit that for me at least it was this which left me feeling uneasy.'
and that perhaps requires elucidation from the Christology thread here, and form those more learned in Patristics than I (a hint, perhaps, for our moderator?).

Certainly Father Samuel's learned tome on Chalcedon (recently republished by the Oriental Orthodox Library - details on www.britishorthodox.org) gives one pause for thought, but then I am not well versed enough to know the extent to which his own Communion influenced his interpretation of a very complex and contested event.

Where even an experienced and learned Orthodox priest such as Father Vereshack finds difficultly in knowing what to tell his flock on this issue, we may all feel the need for prayer - and elucidation.

Like Brian B., I can only pray for help for those of us still searching. But as we both come at this from outside, we can both say that the world needs Orthodoxy now - as it always has and, until the end of all things, always will.

I am sure we both look forward to further posts on this.

In Christ

John

#11 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 01 September 2006 - 04:05 PM

Dear John,

Although it's not clearly indicated who the author is I think I've found the article by Fr Samuel you refer to by following one of the links on the British Orthodox site.

The article is: The Oriental Orthodox Rejection of Chalcedon. I'll have a look at it.

It's also a very interesting site.

Many thanks.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#12 John Charmley

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Posted 01 September 2006 - 04:21 PM

Dear Father Vereshack,

I think the author of the piece you mention is Peter Farrington, who is a subdeacon of the British Orthodox Church. It was he, through the Oriental Orthodox Library (which is mentioned on the website) who put me onto Father Samuel's book.

The articles are interesting to me, but I cannot read them with the experience you can bring, and I would be very interested indeed in your opinions - and those of other Orthodox folk.

The book itself is in the Oriental Orthodox Library, and I quote from the website:

'Vol II - The Council of Chalcedon Re-Examined

This work by the late Father V.C. Samuel of the Indian Orthodox Church is the fruit of an entire life devoted to the study of the Orthodox faith. It is perhaps the most important study of Christology and the Council of Chalcedon to be published in the 20th century.

It is an entirely eirenic study of these deeply controversial times and deserves to be read by every Orthodox Christian concerned to see the reconciliation of the Oriental and Eastern Orthodox communions.'

From that last sentence you can see why it interested me!

In Christ,

John

#13 Scott Pierson

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Posted 02 September 2006 - 03:42 AM

ierson's perfectly reasonable argument could, I suppose, take the same form, since they could, and I suspect would, argue that they are Orthodox.


I think the whole movement to "unite the Churches" (as opposed to uniting persons who happen to have been Oriental Orthodox at one point to the Church) is a waste of time. In the past people would belong to the Church they "knew" was the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church (right or wrong in their knowledge). If one thought that the latins are the true Church they would become Roman Catholic, the same with the monophysite (if the saints used the term I see no reason not too) Church and the Orthodox church, etc. Now no one wants to accept absolute truth.. we all have our truths and we are not so differnt anyways lets just all join together. They say " I want to be an Oriental Orthodox (and revrence the monophysite "saints" who labeld the Orthodox Church heretical and nestorian) but still be in communion with the Orthodox Church" or " I want to be in communion with the pope but with the Orthodox too". Like they cant pick which Church is the One Church so they are trying to play it safe by being in communion with everyone lol. Or even worse they have fallen for the plans of the devil and are working to bring about a new one world religion.

The fact that an ecclesial body holds Orthodox views on theology does not imply that the said body is the Church (or a "branch" of the Church). One could be Orthodox in beliefs but still be a schismatic. .. that is assuming the OO's are even totaly Orthodox in theology. One of our Churchs is the Church and the other is a schismatic sect. Its true the OO's says that they are the Church and we are the schismatics and we say the oposite. well then the thing to do is find out who is telling the truth and then join that Church. It solves so many problems that way.

If the OOs are warming up to Chalcedon why not join the Chalcedonian Church ?

Sorry if I sound like a broken record. I cant say I'm totaly oblivious to the fact that there are some more legitmate reasons for people wanting the union of churches but I just see those as the main reasons.

#14 John Charmley

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Posted 02 September 2006 - 08:30 AM

Mr. Pierson offers an interesting point of view, and one that, as he indicates, is shared on both sides of the divide created by Chalcedon; it is also, as he implies, shared by those who derived their 'Church' from the post 1054 split. And, of course, the problem with the 'let them become Orthodox' line is that since they all think they are Orthodox, God's people set a lamentable example of divisiveness to a world badly in need of the Gospel; that is the main reason for constructive ecumenism.

Mr. Pierson correctly divines the problem with so much of what passes for ecumenism, which is that it seeks a lowest common denominator (low Church Anglicanism might almost be your default position, especially since it does not have much time for the episcopate), and this is where Father Vereshack's words of wisdom need to be heeded. He was right to point out the need to really understand what issues are at stake and then to face up to them.

This is wisdom, and we should all attend it. So much of what one reads is not dialogue, it is a rephrasing of old positions designed to denigrate one's opponent and promote one's own position; these may be good debating school tactics and are used by all politicians, but I wonder if they leave much room for the promptings of the Holy Ghost?

I am far from being the only Christian being pulled towards Orthodoxy, and I know I am not alone in being perplexed when I study its Eastern and Oriental manifestations in being unable to know which path to choose. I know of cases where fellow Anglicans have been told that Orthodoxy was not for them because they were not Russian or not Greek, which as well as being a trifle unfriendly, seems rather unbiblical as in Christ there is neither Greek nor Russian. The Coptic Church, by contrast, has been happy to let the British Orthodox Church find a way of presenting the Faith to the British in a way that they can understand; no one has asked any of the BOC to become Egyptian in order to experience Orthodoxy. The contrast here may be an accident of personal experience, but it gives one to think.

The Faith is not a Country Club or a sect, God's message is for us all; but, of course, we need His Church to guide us on the way; it is hard to hear the words of Our Lord in the maxim 'the other lot had better convert then'. It would, as Mr. Pierson says, be wrong to want 'union' for its own sake, but are we sure we do God's work when we refuse to speak to our fellow Christians about such matters?

In Christ,

John

#15 Scott Pierson

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Posted 02 September 2006 - 12:47 PM

I apologize for my last post. There should be some sort of fail safe that prevents people who havent had enough sleep from posting . Not that I disagree with what I posted previously just that I wouldnt have written it so sacrasticly.

I think dialogue and learning more about eachothers Churchs is a wonderful thing. Its great that many OO's are finding themselves more comfortable with Chalcedon and want union with EO Church. I just think the proper fruit of that learning and dialogue should be conversion. If for example the OOs learn that they have a lot in common w/ the EO Church and there was no reason for the seperation (despite the fact that many of our saints claimed that they are not only schismatics but also heretics and theirs vice versa) then they should say " we apoligize for seperating and would like to leave our schismatic church and rejoin the Church." If they didnt come to that conclusion how would our Churchs unite in the first place?.. The idea that one finds oneself in the Church through dialogue and gaining the proper beliefs doesnt make sense imo. One Joins the Church through Baptism (or by economy, Chrismation) not via eccumenical dialogue or finding out over a thousand years later that "hey I guess we really agreed with you all along".

It may be possilbe that the majority of OO would never be willing to do that but its also true that the majority of muslims, buddhists, etc wouldnt be willing to do that either but we still try our best to bring them to the Church (and some of them do). Many muslims would be unwillling to renounce "the Prophet" do we tell them they can keep venerating him but still be communion with the Church? I know its not the same thing but I think the idea is simmilar.. to allow OOs to venerate as saints people who labeled our Church heretical while still being in communion w/ us.

#16 Athanasius Abdullah

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Posted 04 September 2006 - 02:24 AM

Dear Scott Pierson,

+irini nem ehmot.

As an OO who has actually undergone an in-depth and balanced study of the issues surrounding the EO/OO divide, both academically and personally, I find your approach to the matter to be void of the necessary dispassionate objectivity which requires one to abandon their presuppositions in order to avoid question-begging assertions and arguments. Considering the fact you are in dialogue with a) those who do not agree with your position, and b) those who are seeking to ascertain the right position for them, such dispassionate objectivity is pre-requisite.

Ultimately, I believe your conclusions and judgments on the matters in question to be fallaciously reductionist and ill informed; they furthermore evidently fail to demonstrate a real and adequate sense of appreciation of the complexity of the sensitive matters at hand.

Additionally, the condescending (yet nonetheless amusing) demand that OO's “apologise” to the EO’s seems to be inspired by nothing but an irrational sense of triumphalism and arrogance (superficially sugar-coated with a warped sense of responsibility to “defend the truth” against “political correctness” – a self-justification often appealed to by fundamentalists of most if not all religious groups, and one motivated by misguided zeal) that frankly, with all due respect, repels and discourages me from an attempt to pursue dialogue with you (especially in light of the fact that it was only a few days ago that the Coptic Orthodox Church commemorated the departure of the 30, 000 Coptic martyrs killed under Chalcedonian rule); nevertheless, I do so in consideration of the fact that this is a public forum and I feel a sense of duty to present readers with a balanced perspective.

There are a few issues brought forth that I wish to investigate:

The first concerns the idea that OO’s are “warming up to Chalcedon”. Such a statement, worded in such a manner, can invoke some very misleading implications. I can only conceive of one interpretation of the statement in question as being adequately reflective of the reality of the situation from the OO perspective as deduced from Her formal and official approach to the matter.

1) The first possibly intended implication that is of a misleading character is that the OO’s acceptance of the perfect, complete, real, and dynamic reality of the humanity (consubstantial with mankind) and divinity (consubstantial with the Father) of Christ and their unconfused union represents a “warming up to Chalcedon”.

It is only from the subjective perspective of an EO who presupposes the Council of Chalcedon to be the authoritative source and standard for such a doctrine, that the idea that OO’s--who would also generally be presupposed to have once rejected the aforementioned Christological principles--are “warming up to Chalcedon” by virtue of their present day acceptance of such Christological principles, makes any sense.

From the subjective OO perspective, however, such Orthodox Christology that the EO’s presently attribute to the Council of Chalcedon, is one that has always and consistently been assumed by the OO Church, and one that is grounded in the teachings of our own Councils and our own Fathers. In this sense, the position of the OO Church on the matter is static; it is not “warming up” to, or “cooling away” from anything. In other words, our present Christological beliefs do not represent a “warming up” to Chalcedon, but rather a consistent and solid adherence to our own Christological tradition.

Ultimately, proof that such an implication is misleading, requires the objective vindication of the subjective OO perspective of her history and present, over and above the aforementioned subjective EO perspective (which is not in fact shared by all EO’s, for many recognise the fact that OO’s were never “Monophysites”), and I am prepared to argue toward such an end if the above proposed intended implication was and is in fact the actual intended implication.

2) The second possibly intended implication of a misleading character is that OO’s are starting to favourably modify their position on the Council of Chalcedon.

Well, we are, but only in a particular sense, which is in fact in the very same sense that EO’s are starting to favourably modify their position on the OO Church (and hence our own Councils, such as Ephesus II (449) and Ephesus III (475) and our own Fathers, such as Sts. Dioscoros and Severos). It is in the sense of recognising doctrinal soundness. Through present-day dialogue we are able to see that EO’s point to Chalcedon as the source and standard of and for a Christology which they have proved to be perfectly Orthodox from our perspective, and that, in and of itself, is a good thing. In spite of the historical issues surrounding Chalcedon, it is a good thing that Chalcedon serves EO’s today as a basis of what we recognise to be Orthodox Christology, which is why our hierarchs have indicated that they are willing to accept Chalcedon as a local council constituting an element of the developing Christological tradition of the EO Church.

Ultimately, however, we find no objective reason to accept Chalcedon as Ecumenical. We have our own OO councils that are not even officially titled Ecumenical, that we believe to be more ecumenical in nature than Chalcedon itself. Needless to say, the fact Chalcedon was not historically received by us is a primary reason why OO’s cannot consider Chalcedon to be Ecumenical, and in spite of what has been said above, the historical Chalcedon wasn’t rejected without good and valid reason. It was not only the OO who historically rejected Chalcedon as Nestorian, but it was Nestorians who in fact advocated Chalcedon as a vindication of their doctrines—this is not a polemical attack, it is a historical fact. Notice, I am not raising the question of whether Chalcedon was in actual fact Nestorian or not, but whether it was of such a nature that, for whatever reasons be they political or whatnot, it lead reasonable Orthodox men to reasonably believe it to be a compromise of the established Orthodox Tradition of the time. According to us, it did, hence even if we were to recognise the goodness of Chalcedon in its retrospective service to EO’s, we still maintain that it was a historically inadequate and controversial expression of that Orthodoxy (it in fact historically served Nestorians) which is why our Fathers rejected it, and which is why, ultimately, according to our position, it was not received by the ecumene of the Church and hence why, also according to our position, it cannot be considered Ecumenical. Our Holy Fathers’ reaction to Chalcedon was not motivated by anything other than a genuine allegiance to Holy Tradition that they reasonably perceived, within their historical context, to have been compromised.

With respect to the issue of our Saints labelling your Saints and Councils heretics, I believe that was mutual. Therefore, unless you would like to provide an objective justification as to why OO’s should offend their Holy Fathers in the manner you stipulate and why EO’s shouldn’t treat their Saints in like manner by virtue of the same underlying reason—a justification that doesn’t involve question-begging arguments such as, “well my Fathers were right and yours were wrong, because my Fathers belong to the Church I axiomatically believe to be the Orthodox Church”--then your remarks are without force.

In IC XC
-Athanasius

#17 John Charmley

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Posted 04 September 2006 - 07:48 PM

Dear Scott Pierson,

+

Ultimately, I believe your conclusions and judgments on the matters in question to be fallaciously reductionist and ill informed; they furthermore evidently fail to demonstrate a real and adequate sense of appreciation of the complexity of the sensitive matters at hand.

Additionally, the condescending (yet nonetheless amusing) demand that OO's “apologise” to the EO’s seems to be inspired by nothing but an irrational sense of triumphalism and arrogance (superficially sugar-coated with a warped sense of responsibility to “defend the truth” against “political correctness” – a self-justification often appealed to by fundamentalists of most if not all religious groups, and one motivated by misguided zeal) that frankly, with all due respect, repels and discourages me from an attempt to pursue dialogue with you


I can understand where Athanasius Abdullah is coming from on this. His original post is an attempt to encourage us all to examine what the Oriental Orthodox actually believe rather than the picture painted by polemic, and this new post seems to be cast in the same spirit.

If one examines the dialogue then it becomes difficult to hold to the view that the OOs are 'monophysite' in any meaningful sense of that word. As Athanasius points out, those who opposed Chalcedon did so because they saw themselves as defending the traditional teachings of the Fathers against the taint of Nestorianism. If we can now see that the majority of the Chalcedonian Fathers were not Nestorian, we can also, I suspect, see that the majority of the non-Chalcedonians were not monophysites. I find the nuanced and balanced account given by Athanasius more compelling than the sort of rhetoric that generates more heat than light, and am very grateful to him for starting this discussion.

As Father Raphael has pointed out, we shall get nowhere with the sort of ecumenism that sweeps differences under the carpet, but one of the splendid things about this discussion is that by facing upto what the Oriental Orthodox actually believe, it might sweep away many misconceptions; I guess a millenium and a half leaves many of these.

I spent Saturday at the opening of the Coptic Cathedral of St. George in Stevenage, UK, where Archbishop Gergorios of the Ecumenical Partriarchy was present along with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Armenian Patriarch. It was a moving experience to see so many of my fellow Christians prepared to meet to celebrate another step in bringing Christ's word to those who need it; no one was pretending there were not differences, but it was good to feel that they all thought that real dialogue might be possible.

I am just discovering the wonders of Orthodoxy - but wish that I had been able to do so thirty years before - but at that time I was told that since I was not Russian, I could not be Orthodox!

Perhaps sometimes we forget Our Lord's primary commission?

In Christ,

John

#18 Scott Pierson

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Posted 04 September 2006 - 08:55 PM

In all due respect some of the points you made support what I was saying imo.

Ultimately, however, we find no objective reason to accept Chalcedon as Ecumenical. We have our own OO councils that are not even officially titled Ecumenical, that we believe to be more ecumenical in nature than Chalcedon itself. Needless to say, the fact Chalcedon was not historically received by us is a primary reason why OO’s cannot consider Chalcedon to be Ecumenical, and in spite of what has been said above, the historical Chalcedon wasn’t rejected without good and valid reason.


The OO Church has every right to develop whatever view of Chalcedon they feel is acceptable. The EO Church (hereafter termed “the Church“) however considers it to be ecumenical and binding on all Christians. If one claiming to be Orthodox denies this they are in effect (and by definition) an anathematized heretic and have no right representing the Church in ecumenical dialogue.

Our Church teaches that it is the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. That those bodies who are no longer in communion with her are by definition schismatic. If one is representing the Church in ecumenical dialogue I would hope they at least hold to the teachings of our Church. People want this discussion to take place from a supposedly unbiased viewpoint that is neither traditionally EO or OO and I don’t find that to be an honest way to do things. People basically imply that we cant look at this from the presuppositions of our Church (which as Orthodox we consider to be the Pillar and Ground of Truth) but must have an “open mind”.


Neither traditional OO ecclesiology or the ecclesiology of the Church allow for two separate One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Churches, that are not in communion, recognize different saints and councils and have anathematized each other for over a thousand years. I don’t really need to prove that my Church is correct and the others are wrong.. Regardless of who is right the fact remains that we cant all be right at the same time and one of the said Churches has to be at least schismatic… And if one of us is right and the other is wrong why not join the one that is right? If both of us are wrong why worry about union? The union of two wrongs doesn’t make a right. These are things people need to look into before they decide what faith they are going to follow.

I’m certainly not telling OOs that they cant venerate whoever they wish. What I am saying is that if one wants to be in communion with the Church they need to refrain from venerating people who have labeled our Church heretical, schismatic and Nestorian.

I consider it the height of arrogance for our modern scholars and ecumenists to claim that they know better then the saints.. That the saints just couldn’t see things as clearly and dispassionately as we moderns do. I’m sure if I was OO I would feel the same way. You point out the fact that

“specially in light of the fact that it was only a few days ago that the Coptic Orthodox Church commemorated the departure of the 30, 000 Coptic martyrs killed under Chalcedonian rule”

would those 30,000 people agree with the idea that we really believed the same thing all along and it was just a silly misunderstanding ?
Are the saints that each of our Churches respectively venerate so close minded and ignorant that they didn’t really know what they were talking about?. I wouldn’t doubt that in the future our ecumenists friends will find out that the Nestorians really agreed with us all along too and we can have three sets of saints that all mutually anathematized each other in same communion ;).

Considering your are right though and the OO’s are not monophysites (despite what the fathers of the Church claim) do they also denounce the heresies of Monotheletism and Monoenergism?

This web page has a few good articles on this topic that I would recommend http://www.orthodoxi...sm/ea_mono.aspx

#19 Athanasius Abdullah

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Posted 05 September 2006 - 03:16 AM

Dear Scott Pierson,

+irini nem ehmot

[QUOTE]The EO Church (hereafter termed “the Church“)[/QUOTE]

You have every right to believe your Church to be “the Church”, but I don’t think it’s proper etiquette to pursue such language within the context of inter-Communion dialogue.

I personally do not intend on countering your provocatively subjective language, so as far as my choice of terminology within the context of this dialogue is concerned, the OO Church will remain “the OO Church”, and the EO Church will remain “the EO Church”.

[QUOTE]If one claiming to be Orthodox denies this they are in effect (and by definition) an anathematized heretic.[/QUOTE]

Council’s generally anathematise those who reject the doctrinal substance of that for which the Council is called for in the first place, and not those who formally reject the practical and historical integrity of that Council.

As a significant pre-Chalcedonian precedent, you will find that all St. Cyril of Alexandria required to accept John of Antioch and his party back into Communion with the Church was a profession of the substance of the Ephesian faith.

[QUOTE]People want this discussion to take place from a supposedly unbiased viewpoint that is neither traditionally EO or OO and I don’t find that to be an honest way to do things.[/QUOTE]

On the contrary, it is the only honest way of doing things. If you are unable to let go of your presuppositions for the sake of examining them and allowing them to be put under scrutiny, then they are worthless within the context of dialogue with those who do not share your presuppositions, and your claim to their being representative of the absolute truth is just about as good as those axiomatically propagated by the followers of any other belief system.

Your position is hypocritical in a sense, because it expects all those who do not share your presuppositions to re-consider their own presuppositions, even though you are unable or willing to do so yourself. As such, even your request that OO’s “apologise” to your Church is hypocritical, for in order for us to come to some sort of conclusion regarding any possible personal culpability, we would have to be prepared to do the very thing which you are unwilling to do yourself.

[QUOTE]People basically imply that we cant look at this from the presuppositions of our Church (which as Orthodox we consider to be the Pillar and Ground of Truth)[/QUOTE]

Not when you’re in dialogue with those who do not share your presuppositions!

Tell me what your thoughts would be if you were to engage in dialogue with a Muslim regarding the nature of Christ, and he pointed to verses in his Qur’an remarking, “Aha! See! Christ is only a man; you Christian’s must denounce this false belief of yours and take heed to the words of Allah”? Wouldn’t you express sentiments to the effect of, “Sorry my Muslim friend, but the potential cogency of your claims is contingent upon the presupposition that the Qur’an is indeed the word of God—a presupposition I do not accept, and hence one that we must investigate first”? And if he were to respond with outrage and mockery at your expectation that he question his own presupposition (that which he considers to be “the Pillar and Ground of Truth”), would you not accuse him of narrow-mindedness, lack of objectivity, and all other related and warranted epithets? Yet this poor Muslim fellow is adopting the very same mind-set that you are; it is simply applied in a different context.

[QUOTE]What I am saying is that if one wants to be in communion with the Church they need to refrain from venerating people who have labeled our Church heretical, schismatic and Nestorian.[/QUOTE]

Ultimately this is not your call, but rather the call of your hierarchs, and as far as official and formal progress on the matter goes, hierarchs from both our Churches have shown a favourable inclination towards the idea of a mutual lifting of anathemas from our respective Saints and Fathers.

The OO Church in particular has gone out of her way to prove that the accusations of your Saints against ours, are not borne out by, and in fact directly negated by, the available evidence; yet we have made no such demand that you discard the Sainthood of these men, for we are willing to put history aside for the sake of the present and future. If Leo of Rome retrospectively serves EO’s as a pillar of the integrity of the humanity of Christ against a Eutychian extremism, then we consider that to be a good thing (Eutychus was anathematised by OO’s in the Council of Ephesus III-475). Whether or not Leo of Rome was indeed Nestorian or whether or not, being motivated by a sense of papal supremacy and political intrigue, he lead reasonable Orthodox men to reasonably believe he was a Nestorian, are historical questions that bear no essential relevance to the prospect of a future re-intercommunion which should ideally stand or fall upon mere consideration of potential unity of faith.

[QUOTE]I consider it the height of arrogance for our modern scholars and ecumenists to claim that they know better then the saints.[/QUOTE]

I consider it the height of naivety to fail to recognise the limitations of our human Fathers, whether personal or contextual, and to realise that we, in our present circumstances which are void of the historical and political tensions which undoubtedly would have affected human judgment, are retrospectively able to see through and overcome those limitations.

There seems to be a tendency amongst various members of certain Christian groups who claim allegiance to a set of Fathers, to effectively idolise them. The Fathers of the earliest Christian Church were not perfect—Apostles were denying Christ, abandoning Christ, disobeying Christ, displaying hypocrisy in their methods of bringing people to Christ etc.—and as long as they are human beings, they never will be. Christ said the gates of hell would not prevail over the Church; He didn’t say those gates would not affect her. A man can be wounded without being killed, particularly if he is wounded as a result of his own shortcomings and weaknesses.

[QUOTE]would those 30,000 people agree with the idea that we really believed the same thing all along and it was just a silly misunderstanding ?[/QUOTE]

As I argued earlier, assuming for arguments sake that a majority of the Chalcedonian Fathers were not Nestorian (a proposition I am willing to accept as I find there to be a plausible basis for it), I maintain that the Council a) lead reasonable Orthodox men to reasonably perceive it to be a compromise of the established Orthodox Tradition of the time, and b) gave Nestorians a loophole to propagate their doctrines. As such, the historical resistance of our Fathers and Martyrs to the Council was practically warranted within that historical context.

Again I should emphasise, that if there were a misunderstanding, it would certainly not have been a “silly” misunderstanding. This tendency of yours to trivialise the matter results from (in my opinion), as I stated earlier, a failure to truly appreciate the complexity of the situation at the time. Such an appreciation requires more than a basic encyclopaedic reading of the events in question; it requires thorough and committed research and engagement with scholarship of all shapes and sizes.

[QUOTE]I wouldn’t doubt that in the future our ecumenists friends will find out that the Nestorians really agreed with us all along too[/QUOTE]

Actually, the OO Church has already pursued dialogue with the Nestorians, and has reached the conclusion that such dialogue is futile, and hence dialogue has ceased with them for the time being. Our Church is seeking honest and genuine unity, as the Lord commanded, which is why, despite our dialogue with a range of Churches, including the RC’s, Nestorians, and the Anglicans, it is only with the EO’s that we perceive a viable and warranted prospect of re-union in light of the present circumstances.

[QUOTE]Considering your are right though and the OO’s are not monophysites (despite what the fathers of the Church claim)[/QUOTE]

I am willing to prove it if you are willing to listen and willing to accept the prospect that the historical polemics of your Fathers were false. This shouldn't be seen as an attack on their sanctity or their integrity.

[QUOTE]do they also denounce the heresies of Monotheletism and Monoenergism?[/QUOTE]

Yes. It follows from our being miaphysites, that we are also miathelites, and miaenergists.

[QUOTE]This web page has a few good articles on this topic that I would recommend http://www.orthodoxi...sm/ea_mono.aspx[/QUOTE]

I read all the articles on that website a long time ago; they’re quite infamous. I believe them to be infected with emotional sensationalism (take for example the article of ArchBishop Chrysostomos of Etna—an article intended to mock and humiliate), circular reasoning (many of their arguments rest upon EO presuppositions), and poor scholarship (there is very little engagement with primary and secondary OO sources, and much is taken out of context). I can go through one of them line by line if you wish me to demonstrate that I am not just blowing hot air.

In IC XC
-Athanasius

#20 John Charmley

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Posted 05 September 2006 - 01:57 PM

Dear Athanasius Abdullah,

Re-reading both your last post and your original one, I would just like to thank you for two things: for the enlightenment, and for the courteous tone you bring to what is so often a topic whose discussion generates more heat than it does light.

Professor Erickson's paper has so much in it, and its references are taking me off into reading which I might not have come across otherwise.

What I would be interested to know is whether those discussions between the two Communions have now stalled? As an outsider beginning to experience Othodoxy, I am hesitant to say much for fear of giving offence, but it does seem to me that the dialogues of the past few decades have clarified in a helpful way, what differences still remain, and it would be good to see progress here.

If the Christological controversies and their soteriological implications are, in truth, not as divisive as we have assumed, then it would be excellent to spread the word; although we all know it is easier to hold to old beliefs rather than go through the painful process of examining them (as an Anglican I have been guilty of that for many years).

I am grateful to Athanasius Abdullah for raising this important topic. If the EO and OO have more in common than they have things that divide them, even after a millenium and a half, that might tell us something important - if we will only open our ears.

Unity would be, after all, a means to an end and not an end in itself (which is why it is important that there should be a properly respectful but robust discussion process). As a newcomer (and still an outsider) to Orthodoxy, I don't know what to be more amazed at - its richness and its wonders, or the fact that it is so difficult to encounter in the West. Unity would be not only a great symbol, but a means to mission.

In Christ,

John




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