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Unity in Antioch

Unity in Antioch

by SubDeacon Charles Baz


This booklet is simply a reprint of my Master of Divinity Thesis, completed and presented to the faculty of St Vladimir’s Seminary, Crestwood, NY, on 1 May 2000. The original title of the thesis is: “Unity in Antioch Between the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches.”

A lot remains to be researched on this important topic, and discussed. Moreover, our faithful Orthodox people need to know more about the Non-Chalcedonian Orthodox. I believe that for the first-time reader on this topic, so much will be discovered about the similarities we share with the Non-Chalcedonian Orthodox.

I am a strong supporter of dialogue, good and fruitful dialogue that is. In my thesis, I use some very strong language against the so-called “traditionalists,” the self-made righteous and the “Pharisees” of the Orthodox Church. I ask for the reader’s forgiveness in this regard. However, the reader must be made aware of “both sides” of any given argument, and to the best of my abilities, I tried to present that in my thesis, as objectively as possible. And God is our Helper.

Subdn Charles Baz
Feast of Ss. Constantine & Helena
AD 2002 (more…)

Unity in Diversity: The Opportunities and the Challenges

Unity in Diversity: The Opportunities and the Challenges

by Dr. Peter C. Bouteneff

During this year’s Orthodox Education Day at our seminary I moderated a panel discussion between two (Eastern) Orthodox professors and two Oriental (Non-Chalcedonian) professors. Although the estrangement between these two bodies has lasted since the middle of the fifth century, for the past five decades a dialogue process has revealed convergences beyond all expectations. Our panel looked at the current state of our relationship. For years now, St Vladimir’s has offered a joint degree with St Nersess Armenian Seminary, and has benefited from a student body including also Malankara Indian, Syrian, Coptic, and Ethiopian students. We have jointly held regular symposia on issues relating to our historical and theological heritage. Our location in a land of such Eastern-Oriental diversity presents unique opportunities for a theological school such as ours, and responding to them has been deeply enriching. (more…)

Restoring the Unity in Faith: The Orthodox-Oriental Orthodox Theological Dialogue

Restoring the Unity in Faith: The Orthodox-Oriental Orthodox Theological Dialogue

By Fr Thomas FitzGerald

The Orthodox Church and the Oriental Orthodox churches throughout the world are engaged in a process of reconciliation. This process is aimed at affirming the same faith and restoring full communion between the two families of churches. This process is taking place through theological dialogue, common witness and service, and prayer. The division between the Orthodox Church and the Oriental Orthodox churches dates from the period following the Council of Chalcedon in the year AD 451.

The holy synods of all the autocephalous Orthodox churches and the autocephalous Oriental Orthodox churches have formally blessed and encouraged this process of reconciliation. The churches have affirmed that their divisions from each other are contrary to the reconciling message of the gospel of Christ. Our Lord has prayed that his followers be united in a manner that reflects the unity of the persons of the Holy Trinity (John 17). The churches have also affirmed that their divisions inhibit their witness to Christ in the world today.

Informal theological dialogues between theologians from both families of churches began in 1964. These dialogues benefited from renewed studies of the theological and historical issues of the fifth and sixth centuries. These dialogues and the related studies also provided the churches with new perspectives on the old issues of division.

Because of these theological studies and preliminary dialogues, the Orthodox Church and the Oriental Orthodox churches formally acted to establish a commission for theological dialogue. This was a clear expression of the desire of the churches to address the issues of division. The Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Oriental Orthodox churches first met in 1985. Since then, it has produced official statements in 1989 and 1990. These statements were reaffirmed at a meeting of the Plenary Commission in 1993. The commission has also encouraged greater understanding and cooperation between the two families of churches at the regional and local levels.

The results of the formal theological dialogue have been remarkable. Through their studies, the official representatives of the churches have examined all aspects of the division. In its statements, the commission has concluded that both the Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox share the same historic apostolic faith despite over fifteen centuries of formal separation. The Joint Commission has recommended that the churches take the appropriate steps to end their division and to restore their unity.

The churches are now studying the agreed-upon statements of these formal theological dialogues and their practical recommendations. The ultimate goal of the theological dialogue is the restoration of full communion through the profession of the apostolic faith. This unity in faith will be expressed in the sharing of the Holy Eucharist.

The unity of the churches means a true communion of churches that profess the same apostolic faith and are united in the teaching of that faith. Unity in faith does not mean the absorption of one church by another. The unity in the faith recognizes a diversity of customs and traditions that are part of the life of the churches. Unity does not mean uniformity in all aspects of church life. Rather, unity in the historic Orthodox faith can also treasure the distinctive history, liturgical traditions and cultural inheritance of the various churches. This diversity, however, should not impede unity in the faith and the communion of the churches.

Here in North America, the relationship between the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox has been developing both informally and formally for more than fifty years. Already there have been many valuable opportunities for cooperation in the areas of theological education, youth ministry, and religious education. There have also been valuable opportunities for cooperation in the areas of ministerial and priestly formation. Some local parishes have also already developed opportunities for cooperation.

Recognizing the advances made here and in other parts of the world, the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops and the Standing Conference of Oriental Orthodox Churches established in the United States a joint commission in 2000. The commission seeks to assist in the process of restoring unity. The activities of this commission will build upon the theological agreements that the churches have achieved already. The commission is especially concerned with increasing contacts and cooperation among the bishops, clergy, and laity of the two families of churches. Since the year 2001, the commission has sponsored an annual service of prayer in the New York City area.

Historical and Theological Background

The Church and the Apostolic Faith

The life of the Church is centered upon Jesus Christ and his gospel. Christ is our Lord and Savior. As the Word of God, the Lord took flesh and dwelt among us for our salvation (John 1:1-18). He united himself with us in order to restore us to communion with God the Father through the Holy Spirit. As the “light of the world” (John 8:12), Christ revealed to us the depth of divine love for us. In so doing, the Lord taught us about the triune God: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He affirmed the dignity of the human person created in the “image and likeness” of God. Our Lord taught us that we are created to live in communion with God and with one another in the midst of creation. As “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), Christ revealed to us a new way of living. He taught us to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). He established the Church as a community of believers who honor God in worship and proclaim the message of the gospel. As the risen Lord, Jesus conquered the power of sin, Satan, and death. Today, the Lord is not a remote figure of the past. He is present in our midst. He promised to be with us always!

From the time of Pentecost, the apostles and disciples were obedient to the command of the Lord to preach the gospel throughout the whole world (Matt 28:18-20). The Church was truly a missionary community of faith. The message of Christ was not meant to be confined to a particular place or to a particular people. Wherever the early missionaries went, they preached the gospel and Christian communities were established. This pattern has been followed through the centuries. From the very beginning, the Church that Jesus established guided believers in their relationship with the triune God and with one another. The Church is a sign and an expression of the salutary relationship that God offered to all.

Because of her concern for the salvation of all, the Church has always sought to teach and to preserve the faith free from distortion. The Church has opposed false teachings, which challenge the essential and saving truths of the gospel. In using limited human language to describe the mighty acts of the loving God, the Church has expressed her faith in a way that both forms its members and maintains its members’ unity. Ultimately, this concern for teaching the faith and preserving the unity of the Church was rooted in its faithfulness to the Lord and was expressed in its desire to guide all towards salvation. As the community of faithful believers, the Church has been the sacred instrument of the triune God who “desires that all be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4).

The Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople

The early encounter with peoples and cultures beyond Palestine also raised new challenges for the Church. Among the most serious doctrinal challenges were questions related to the understanding of the Holy Trinity. During the first four centuries of its life, the Church was challenged to express its faith and to defend it against distortions and heresies. Among the early heresies were the teachings of Arianism, Gnosticism, and Pneumatomachianism. Each of these heresies presented distorted views of the persons of the Holy Trinity, often with misleading references to the Scriptures and Tradition.

The early fathers and mothers of the Church responded to these heresies. They sought to defend the faith and maintain unity among Christ’s followers. The great teachers always explicated the apostolic faith in relationship to questions being raised through a proper interpretation of Scripture and the early Tradition. When necessary, they also acted to restore the unity of believers wherever possible through a common profession of faith.

The Council of Nicaea in 325 and the Council of Constantinople in 381 were important meetings of bishops at which the faith of the Church was expressed in opposition to a number of heresies including Arianism, which denied the full divinity of Christ. In their creedal affirmations, the councils did not create the apostolic faith. Rather, the councils bore witness to the apostolic faith in relationship to the distorted teachings of the time.

The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, which emerged from these councils, became an important expression of the apostolic faith. Since that time, this creed has been used in preaching and teaching the faith by all the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches. The creed has also been used as an expression of unity among the churches and as a basis for restoring unity among divided believers.

The Council of Ephesus

During the early fifth century, the Church was confronted with new challenges related to its understanding of the person of Christ. Affirming the experience of the first Christians, the Church always taught that Christ was both truly and fully divine, as well as truly and fully human. This was an affirmation of the mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God. By the early fifth century, however, new questions began to be raised about the relationship of divinity and humanity in Christ as well as about the appropriate terminology to express this reality.

Especially significant were the different perspectives on Christology, which characterized the theological traditions of Alexandria and Antioch in that period. The Alexandrian tradition emphasized the unity of humanity and divinity in Christ. The Antiochian tradition emphasized the distinctiveness of humanity and divinity in Christ. Both traditions in their best expressions affirmed that Christ is fully human and fully divine. However, both traditions looked at the reality of Christ from different perspectives. Moreover, both traditions often used the same theological terms differently. Both perspectives on the mystery of Christ were correct and complementary, provided they were not pushed to an extreme.

This is precisely what happened with the Nestorian heresy in the fifth century. Nestorius and his followers emphasized the distinctiveness and integrity of humanity and divinity in Christ to such a degree that they could not easily affirm a true unity of the two in the single person of Christ. The sign of this difficulty was the unwillingness of Nestorius to refer to Mary as the Theotokos. The perspectives of Nestorius and his followers pushed the Antiochian perspective to an extreme.

Opposed by St. Cyril of Alexandria, the position of Nestorius and likeminded teachers was formally rejected at the Council of Ephesus in 431. At this council, the christological teachings of St. Cyril were affirmed. At that time, the Cyrilian statement that that the incarnate Word was one nature (physis) became the hallmark of the opposition to Nestorianism. In this instance, St. Cyril was using the phrase “one nature” (physis) to mean “one person.” Sadly, the initial actions of this council led to a break in the relationship between the Patriarchate of Alexandria and the Patriarchate of Antioch.

Fortunately, moderate teachers in both churches repudiated the division and actively sought to heal it. By the year 433, the differences between the two churches were resolved under the leadership of Patriarch Cyril of Alexandria and Patriarch John of Antioch. An historic statement of reconciliation and unity was agreed upon. This statement spoke of Christ as one person of two natures and clearly opposed the extreme teaching of Eutyches. At the same time, it sought to clarify terminology. In accepting the two-nature terminology in 433, St. Cyril recognized that the phrase “two natures” could also be used in reference to the divine and human realities in the one Christ. This agreement ultimately led many in the Church of Antioch to accept the decision of the Council of Ephesus.

In the course of time, however, some elements of the Church in East Syria and the Persian Empire refused to accept the Council of Ephesus and the agreement of 433. This eventually led to the development of the Assyrian Church of the East, at that time located chiefly in the region of the Persian Empire. It is worth noting that St. Isaac the Syrian of Niniva, the great teacher in the late seventh century, was a member of this church. Yet both the Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox honor him as a saint.

There also was an extreme reaction to the position of Nestorius and similar teachers led by the Alexandrian monk Eutyches and his followers. They emphasized the unity of the divine and human in Christ in such a way that his full humanity was not preserved in the union. It appeared as though the humanity was lost through its contact with the divine. The teachings of Eutyches pushed the Alexandrian tradition to an extreme.

The Eutychians were true “dogmatic Monophysites” because they taught that Christ’s human nature was subsumed by his divine nature. In speaking of the “one nature” of Christ, the followers of Eutyches did not properly affirm the integrity of the divine and human in the one Christ. However, their extreme views dominated another meeting of bishops held in Ephesus in 449 under the leadership of Patriarch Dioscorus of Alexandria. Although this meeting was subsequently repudiated, it created a true crisis that divided a number of the regional churches.

The Council of Chalcedon

A new council of bishops was held in the city of Chalcedon, near Constantinople, in 451. It was designed to heal the growing christological division. This council was a bold and swift reaction to the meeting of bishops held in Ephesus in 449. That gathering, dubbed the “Robber Synod” by Pope Leo of Rome, had expressed an extreme Alexandrian Christology. The bishops at Chalcedon repudiated the council of 449 and deposed Patriarch Dioscorus of Alexandria because of his role in that gathering.

The bishops at Chalcedon were concerned with bearing witness to the fullness of the apostolic faith in opposition to extremes in both the Alexandrian and the Antiochian traditions. The council was also concerned with reconciling the ever-widening division between the regional churches, which were expressing divergent theological tendencies especially in the wake of the council of 449. Although they were opposed to the extreme tendencies of Eutyches, the bishops affirmed the christological teachings expressed by St. Cyril of Alexandria. The bishops of the Council of Chalcedon did not wish to create a new creed. Indeed, the Council of Ephesus had forbidden the creation of a new creed that would supplant the Creed of Nicaea of 325. Yet the bishops clearly wished to reject both the heresy of Nestorianism and the heresy of Eutychianism. In rejecting the decision of the council of 449 and the extreme tendencies reflected in it, the bishops recognized the need to fashion a statement of faith that would express more clearly the Church’s understanding of reality of Christ.

They also recognized the need to come to an agreement on theological terms. Theological differences had been compounded by the fact that key words such as physis (nature), hypostasis (nature/substance), ousia (substance), and prosopon (person) were often used differently in different contexts. There was not full agreement as to how the terms should be used with reference to the reality of Christ. The statement of Chalcedon, therefore, must be understood within the context of the christological differences reaching back before the Council of Ephesus in 431 and the differing theological terms being used to describe Christ.

The statement of the Council of Chalcedon affirmed that Christ is one person in whom there is a human nature and a divine nature. Each nature is full and complete. Neither his divine nor his human nature is diminished or lost by the union in one person. The two natures exist in Christ “without confusion, without change, without division, and without separation.” The statement of the council further affirmed that “the difference between the natures is in no way removed because of the union, but rather the peculiar property of each nature is preserved and both combine in one person and in one hypostasis.” While recognizing the profound mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God, the statement affirmed that Christ is one person in two natures.

This statement of Chalcedon opposed both the extreme position of the Alexandrians represented by Eutyches and the extreme position of the Antiochians represented by followers of Nestorius. At the same time, the statement of Chalcedon sought to be faithful to the teachings of St. Cyril of Alexandria.

The statement of Chalcedon says in part:

Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his humanity begotten, for us humans and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; 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, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us. 2

The statement of Chalcedon sought to express the essential positive elements both from the moderate Alexandrian tradition and from the moderate Antiochian tradition. It also reflected the language of the agreement of 433 between St. Cyril of Alexandria and Patriarch John of Antioch as well as a statement from Rome known as the Tome of Pope Leo. In so doing, the conciliar statement sought to express agreement on the use of the key terms such as nature (physis), substance (hypostasis), and person (prosopon), which had been used in different ways by earlier teachers.

In the wake of the council, the difficult process of receiving the statement began in the regional churches. Although the Church of Rome accepted the statement, it did not immediately accept the canons of the council. The situation was even more difficult in eastern portions of the Church. By the middle of the sixth century, the patriarchates of Alexandria and Antioch were divided between Chalcedonians and Non-Chalcedonians. The Church of Armenia, strongly opposed to Nestorianism, rejected Chalcedon in 508. For a time, the Church of Georgia also rejected Chalcedon. During the reign of Emperor Zeno, the statement of Chalcedon was even rejected by many within the Church of Constantinople, especially between the years 482-518. It was truly a complicated period.

At the theological level, those who rejected the statement of Chalcedon presented a number of reasons that continued to reflect differences in emphasis in Christology and its expression.

First, some opponents of the statement of Chalcedon felt that the use of the terminology of “two natures” went in the direction of the teaching of Nestorius and his followers. They questioned whether there was a genuine contact between the divine and the human in Christ. The council had in fact anathematized Nestorius. However, the on-going teachings of extreme Antiochian theologians could not be prevented by the council. There were, therefore, continuing conflicts with regional churches that adhered to Nestorian views in areas near the Persian Empire. The Church of Armenia was especially troubled by these encounters.

Second, many opponents of the Chalcedonian statement claimed that the “two natures” terminology was a betrayal of St. Cyril’s usual affirmation of “one nature of the incarnate Word.” St. Cyril frequently used this terminology. In doing so, however, he was using the term nature (physis) in the way the council used the term person (prosopon and hypostasis).

It should also be remembered that St. Cyril recognized the use of the “two natures” terminology as understood properly in the agreement of 433. However, some of the followers of St. Cyril overlooked this fact. They continued to prefer to speak of the “one nature” of Christ when referring to the reality of his person. They can be considered “linguistic Monophy sites.” For them, nature (physis) meant person.

Third, many Alexandrians were also troubled by the fact that Patriarch Dioscorus had been deposed at Chalcedon. Although Dioscorus was not accused of heresy, many felt his deposition was unjust. Moreover, many Alexandrians were disturbed by the fact that the Tome of Leo received so much attention at the council. Some Alexandrians felt that its terminology could support the Nestorian perspectives that the council condemned.

Fourth, some of the staunch opponents of Chalcedon, especially in Egypt, continued to express the extreme Alexandrian position espoused in the past by Eutyches. They refused to acknowledge the fact that the full humanity of Christ was maintained in its contact with the divine nature. Like Eutyches, they were true “doctrinal Monophysites” because they taught that the humanity of Christ was subsumed by his divinity. In defending their position, they also strongly accused the council of teaching a form of Nestorianism.

Finally, the gradual divisions between those regional churches that accepted Chalcedon and those that did not also reflected other significant factors. Chief among these were political and cultural differences between those within the Roman-Byzantine world and those living on its boundaries and beyond. During the period following Chalcedon, those who rejected the council’s teaching made up a significant portion of the Orthodox Christians living especially in the southern and eastern portions of the empire and beyond. Their opposition to Chalcedon was intensified because of persecution by some leaders of the Byzantine Empire.

The Period after the Council of Chalcedon

With a desire to heal the growing division, councils of bishops were held in Constantinople in 553 and 680. They accepted the Council of Chalcedon and addressed ongoing questions related to the description of the person of Christ. Both councils were clearly concerned with healing the widening schism. The council of 553 especially sought to clarify the statement of Chalcedon with the hope of reconciling those who had rejected it. In fact, the council anathematized those who did not accept the Twelve Chapters of St. Cyril of Alexandria. These councils eventually were recognized as the fifth and sixth ecumenical councils by the Orthodox churches of the Byzantine-Roman world. The family of Oriental Orthodox churches eventually did not formally recognize these councils as ecumenical, although it is worth noting that bishops from the Church of Armenia participated in these councils, indicating that the lines of division had not entirely hardened.

Major attempts at reconciling the two families of churches were suspended by the seventh century. At that time, the rapid rise of Islam led to new and difficult challenges for the churches. The ancient centers of Christianity in North Africa and the Middle East came under the political control of Islam by the eighth century. The political situation created a further wedge between those churches that accepted Chalcedon and the subsequent councils, and those that did not. Despite many efforts, this prevented an enduring reconciliation between Chalcedonian and Non-Chalcedonians. From that time, the two families of Orthodox churches generally went their own ways.

There were, however, some noteworthy contacts and movements towards reconciliation during the Middle Ages. Patriarch Photius of Constantinople, whose mother was of Armenian background, wrote to the Armenian Catholicos Zacharia in the ninth century in an effort to heal the division. Similar contacts, especially in the tenth and twelfth centuries, took place between representatives of the Church of Constantinople and the Church of Armenia. These theological dialogues nearly led to a formal reconciliation at the time.

Yet as time went on, opportunities for genuine encounters and theological dialogue diminished. Indeed, as the divisions became more solidified, a polemical spirit frequently characterized the relationship between the two families of churches.

The churches which accepted the Chalcedonian statement were accused of being “diophysites” or Nestorians by the Non-Chalcedonians. The Chalcedonian churches refected these accusations, since they repudiated the Nestorian heresy. Likewise, those that accepted the decision of Chalcedon accused those churches that rejected the Chalcedonian statement of being “Monophysites.” The Non-Chalcedonian churches rejected these accusations because they repudiated the heresy of doctrinal Monophysitism as expressed by Eutyches. Both families of Orthodox churches, however, honored St. Cyril of Alexandria and affirmed his christological teachings.

The rapid and extensive growth of Islam after the eighth century tended to prevent further dialogue, especially between the Chalcedonian Orthodox of the Roman-Byzantine world and those Non-Chalcedonian Orthodox living in Egypt and the Middle East. Christians living in lands dominated by Islamic political power had little opportunity for theological reflection and dialogue.

Moreover, the growing alienation between the Church of Rome and the Church of Constantinople came to occupy the attention of Byzantine theologians from the ninth century to the fall of Constantinople in 1453. After the fall of the empire to the Ottoman Turks, the Byzantines also had limited opportunities for theological reflection and dialogue. Increasingly, survival in a hostile political environment became the principal concern.

Clearly, these facts demonstrate that the period after Chalcedon was a complex one involving legitimate doctrinal concerns, theological perspectives, and terminological differences.

Moreover, this complexity was also compounded by political factors, most especially the desire of many Byzantine emperors to reconcile with the Non-Chalcedonians and, thereby, avoid divisions within the empire. Some of these attempts, such as those by Emperor Zeno with his Henotikon in 482, proved to be shortsighted. Other attempts, such as those guided by Emperor Justinian between 531 and 536, nearly healed the division. Although Emperor Heraclius initially followed a policy of reconciliation in 610, he eventually turned to a policy of military conquest.

Likewise, the alienation was gradual, taking place over the course of decades, if not centuries. The differences in theological emphasis and terminology existed prior to the Council of Chalcedon. Yet Chalcedon marked the formal beginning of a division that endures to this day. This division did not occur overnight. It was a gradual process that varied in intensity from place to place. At times, there was dialogue and a restoration of communion. As time went on, however, the theological division, compounded by politics and geography, became more pronounced.

Renewed Contacts and Dialogues

New opportunities for contact between the theologians of both families of churches accompanied their involvement in ecumenical gatherings from the early decades of the twentieth century. The meetings of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches frequently provided valuable opportunities for theologians of the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches to meet and discuss common concerns. With these meetings and discussions, the centuries of formal estrangement began to be overcome.

On the 1500th anniversary of the Council of Chalcedon in 1951, Patriarch Athenagoras and the Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople formally called for the establishment of a process of dialogue that would lead to the healing of the schism. In this encyclical, the patriarch referred to the historic observation of St. John of Damascus, who claimed that those who did not accept the terminology of Chalcedon were “nevertheless Orthodox in all things.”3

At the Pan-Orthodox Conference in Rhodes in 1961, the Orthodox Church formally recognized that its relationship with the Oriental Orthodox churches was one of the most urgent matters awaiting serious attention. Likewise, the patriarchs of the Oriental Orthodox churches proposed the establishment of a theological dialogue with the Orthodox Church in 1965.

During this period, highly respected theologians held a number of significant but informal theological dialogues with both families of churches. These were held in Aarhus, Denmark, in 1964; Bristol, England, in 1967; Geneva, Switzerland, in 1970; and in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1971. Each of these consultations undertook intensive theological studies of the issues related to the division. Each meeting produced a significant statement. Because of these discussions, the theologians affirmed a common christological teaching. They affirmed that both families of churches profess the historic Orthodox faith. Their conclusions also provided a valuable basis for establishing more formal theological dialogue.4

The statement issued at the meeting in Aarhus in 1964 provided a significant foundation for all subsequent discussions.

A valuable portion of the statement says:

On the essence of Christological dogma, we found ourselves in full agreement. Through the different terminologies used by each side, we saw the same truth expressed. Since we agree in rejecting without reservation the teaching of Eutyches as well as Nestorius, the acceptance or non-acceptance of the Council of Chalcedon does not entail the acceptance of either heresy. Both sides found themselves fundamentally following the Christological teachings of the one undivided Church as expressed by Saint Cyril (of Alexandria), (par. 4)

Following the Fourth Preconciliar Conference in 1968, the Orthodox Church established a Preliminary Commission for dialogue. The Oriental Orthodox churches agreed in 1972 to establish a similar commission. Representatives from both commissions met in 1972 and 1978 to discuss the direction of the dialogue. These meetings laid the groundwork for the establishment of the Joint Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches. Following an inaugural meeting in Chambesy, Geneva, Switzerland, in 1985, the full commission met June 20-24,1989, at the Anba Bishoy Monastery in Wadi-El-Natroum, Egypt, and produced its first statement. The second statement was produced at the meeting of the full commission held at the center of the ecumenical patriarchate in Chambesy on September 23-28, 1990. The third meeting of the full commission was also held in Chambesy on November 1-7, 1993. This meeting produced a communique that dealt especially with the lifting of anathemas by both families of churches. In addition to these meetings of the full commission, there have been numerous meetings of subcommittees of the Joint Commission.

From its beginning, the Joint Commission has been composed of distinguished bishops and theologians who are the designated representatives of the Orthodox churches and the Oriental Orthodox churches. Many representatives have been engaged in discussions on this topic dating back to at least 1964. Metropolitan Damaskinos of Switzerland (Ecumenical Patriarchate) and Metropolitan Bishoy of Damietta (Coptic Orthodox Church) have served as the co-presidents of the Joint Commission during most of the history of the Joint Commission.

The meetings of the Joint Commission and its subcommittees have been complemented and supported by the numerous exchanges of visits by patriarchs and bishops of the two families of churches. This isolation, which once characterized the relationship between the two families of churches, has been dramatically overcome, especially in the past fifty years. In their meetings, the members of the two families of churches have engaged in prayer for unity and in discussions of theological themes.

Theological Affirmations of the Joint Commission

The formal statements of the Joint Commission are relatively brief. Yet this brevity does not conceal the fact that the statements represent a precise and cogent affirmation of the common faith shared by both the Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox. Since the statements come from a Joint Commission formally established by the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches, they deserve great attention. They contain a number of significant points whose importance cannot be underestimated.

The statements reflect both the common doctrinal convictions expressed at the earlier consultations as well as the historical and theological study of the Council of Chalcedon and other events associated with it.

1. The Apostolic Faith

Most importantly, the statements solemnly affirm that both families of churches share the same faith. This conviction is expressed in the opening words of the Anba Bishoy Statement (1989):

We have inherited from our Fathers in Christ the one apostolic faith and tradition, though as Churches we have been separated from each other for centuries. As two families of Orthodox Churches long out of communion with each other we now pray and trust in God to restore that communion on the basis of the common apostolic faith of the undivided Church of the first centuries which we confess in our common creed….

Throughout our discussions we have found our common ground in the formula of our common father, St. Cyril of Alexandria—mia physis (hypostasis) tou Theou Logon sesarkomene—and his dictum that “it is sufficient for the confession of our true and irreproachable faith to say and to confess that the Holy Virgin is Theotokos.” (par. 1-2)


This affirmation is further strengthened in the Chambesy Statement of 1990. The Joint Commission restates that both families of churches reject both the Eutychian and Nestorian heresies. In opposition to the former, both families of churches affirm that the Logos, “the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, only begotten of the Father before the ages and consubstantial with Him, was incarnate and was born of the Virgin Mary Theotokos, fully consubstantial with us, perfect man with soul, body and mind” (par. 1).

In opposition to the Nestorian heresy, the commission affirms that both families of churches “agree that it is not sufficient merely to say that Christ is consubstantial both with His Father and with us, by nature God and by nature man; it is necessary to affirm also that the Logos, who is by nature God, became by nature man, by His incarnation in the fullness of time” (par. 2).

It is significant that the statements clearly affirm that both families of churches reject both the Nestorian and the Eutychian heresies. In the centuries following Chalcedon, those who accepted the decision of the council were frequently accused by their opponents of harboring Nestorian tendencies. Likewise, those who rejected Chalcedon were often accused by their opponents of harboring Eutychian tendencies. Indeed, they were frequently labeled Monophysites despite the fact that they explicitly repudiated the position of Eutyches. These unfortunate and inaccurate perceptions were frequently the basis of the anathemas that were exchanged in the period following Chalcedon.

Moreover, the agreed-upon statements affirm that both families of churches share a common understanding of the hypostatic union of the divinity and humanity in the unique theandric person of Jesus Christ. The Anba Bishoy Statement (1989) says that this is a “real union of the divine with the human, with all the properties and functions of the uncreated divine nature, including natural will and energy, inseparably and unconfusedly united with the created human nature with all its properties and functions, including natural will and natural energy.” (par. 8). The Chambesy Statement (1990) says that “the hypostasis of the Logos became composite [synthetos] by uniting to His divine uncreated nature with its natural will and energy, which He has in common with the Father and the Holy Spirit, [the] created human nature, which He assumed at the Incarnation and made His own, with its natural will and energy” (par. 3).

The statements clearly affirm that both families of churches reject not only the Monophysite heresy as expounded by Eutyches but also the Monothelite heresy, which denied that Christ possessed both a divine will and a human will.

2. Common Terminology

While they do not deal directly with the Council of Chalcedon, the statements recognize that some of the important terminology used at that council is shared by both traditions. The Anba Bishoy Statement (1989) says, “The four adverbs used to qualify the mystery of the hypostatic union belong to our common tradition—without co-mingling (or confusion) (asyngchytos), without change (atreptos), without separation (achoristos) and without division (adiairetos)” (par. 10).

The Chambesy Statement (1999) is even more explicit in affirming that both families of churches “agree that the natures with their proper energies and wills are united hypostatically and naturally without confusion, without change, without division and without separation, and that they are distinguished in thought alone” (par. 4).

While no direct reference is made to the statement of the Council of Chalcedon, it is noteworthy that the theologians felt comfortable in citing terms that are so central to the dogmatic affirmation of that council. In this way, the theologians indicate that both families of churches profess the same understanding of the relationship of the human and divine natures in Christ.

3. Different Historical Formulas

The statements recognize that the authentic faith of the Church can be expressed in different formulas which, when properly understood, are not necessarily incorrect or contradictory.

As has been noted, the justification of the division between the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches often pointed to different uses of the same terms to describe the reality of Christ.

The Anba Bishoy Statement (1989) says:

Those among us who speak of two natures in Christ do not thereby deny their inseparable, indivisible union; those among us who speak of one united divine-human nature in Christ do not thereby deny the continuing dynamic presence in Christ of the divine and the human, without change, without confusion, (par. 10)

Likewise, the Chambesy Statement (1990) affirms that both families of churches can continue to use the christological terminology to which they are accustomed.

The Orthodox agree that the Oriental Orthodox will continue to maintain their traditional Cyrillian terminology of “One nature of the Incarnate Logos” [mia physis tou Theou Logou sesarkomene], since they acknowledge the double consubstantiality of the Logos which Eutyches denied. The Orthodox also use this terminology. The Oriental Orthodox agree that the Orthodox are justified in their use of the two-natures formula, since they acknowledge that the distinction is “in thought alone” [te theoria mone]. Cyril interpreted correctly this use in his letter to John of Antioch and his letter to Acacius of Melitene (PG 77,184-201) to Eulogius (PG 77,224-228) and to Succensus (PG 77, 228-245). (par. 7)

The statements of the Joint Commission recognize that the same Orthodox faith can be expressed in an appropriate manner by different theological terms. Indeed, some would say that the alienation that came in the wake of the Council of Chalcedon was based in good measure upon the inability of theologians at that time to recognize this crucial perspective. In an effort to affirm the authentic faith, both families of churches held fast to their own theological formulations and rejected those of the other. Each side claimed to follow the christological teachings of St. Cyril of Alexandria. However, the spirit of charity, mutual respect and openness to legitimate theological diversity were in short supply. Sadly, the example of Cyril of Alexandria and John of Antioch, who agreed to the historic reunion agreement of 433, was neglected in the polemical period that followed.

4. The Faith Expressed in the Ecumenical Councils

The statements of the Joint Commission deal with the issue of the ecumenical councils. Both families of churches accept fully the councils of Nicaea in 325, of Constantinople in 381, and of Ephesus in 431. However, the councils of Chalcedon in 451, Constantinople in 553 and 680, and Nicaea in 787 are formally recognized only by the Orthodox churches. These four councils are not formally recognized by the Oriental Orthodox churches.

The Joint Commission has wisely sought to deal with the doctrinal affirmations expressed at these councils rather than the more formal issue of the acceptance or rejection of particular councils. The statements affirm that the two families of churches are in full agreement in their understanding of the historic Orthodox faith. This means that the Oriental Orthodox churches recognize the faith of the church as expressed in the doctrinal decisions of the councils of 451, 553, 680, and 787, although they may not formally recognize these councils as being ecumenical.

Conversely, it also means that the Orthodox recognize that the Oriental Orthodox churches profess the same historic Orthodox faith, although the latter do not formally recognize certain councils as ecumenical. The Joint Statements seek to make a clear distinction between the faith expressed at a council and the council itself. The Anba Bishoy Statement (1989) says:

Our mutual agreement is not limited to Christology, but encompasses the whole faith of the one undivided Church of the early centuries. We are agreed also in our understanding of the Person and Work of God the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father alone, and is always adored with the Father and the Son. (par. 11)

The Chambesy Statement also refers especially to the understanding of icons:

In relation to the teaching of the seventh Ecumenical Council of the Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox agree that the theology and practice of the veneration of icons taught by that Council are in basic agreement with the teaching and practice of the Oriental Orthodox from ancient times, long before the convening of the Council, and that we have no disagreement in this regard, (par. 8)

The statements of the Joint Commission point to a deeper understanding of councils in the life of the Church. The faith of the Church was full and complete in the period before the great councils. The councils did not invent the faith of the Church at a given time in history. Rather, the councils bear witness to the faith of the Church, especially in response to specific challenges. Generally in opposition to a particular distortion, the dogmatic affirmations of the ecumenical councils bear witness to the faith at particular times in history and using particular theological terms. The councils are councils of the Church. It is the Church that convenes them and interprets them. It is the faith of the Church that is expressed in and through the councils.

This perspective on the nature of an ecumenical council and its doctrinal affirmations is quite important. It reminds us that the emphasis must be placed on the faith expressed by the councils and not necessarily on the exact number of councils or the specific representatives who participated in a particular council. Indeed, even the terminology used at a particular council must be understood both historically and contextually.

The Church’s reception of a particular council does not depend on the number of bishops who attend or their geographical distribution or the person who convened it. It does not even depend on whether a council was designated as ecumenical at the time of its convocation. Indeed, there have been such councils, which have been subsequently repudiated by the Church. Rather, the issue of reception is rooted in the reality of the authentic faith of the Church. The doctrinal affirmation of a council is honored and received by the Church if it bears witness to the authentic faith of the Church.

5. The Lifting of Anathemas

The statements of the Joint Commission recommend that the churches lift the anathemas and condemnations of the past as an important recognition of the common faith of the two families of churches and as a step towards reconciliation and unity.

The Chambesy Statement (1990) says:

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 anathemas and condemnations will be consummated on the basis that the Councils and the fathers previously anathematised or condemned are not heretical, (par. 10)

During the decades following the Council of Chalcedon, some churches in both families imposed anathemas (excommunications) upon teachers from the other tradition. These anathemas reflected the growing divisions and conflicts that could be found in specific places, such as in the churches of Alexandria and Antioch, where rival patriarchs and bishops existed. These anathemas also reflected the inability of each tradition to recognize the fullness of the faith expressed in teachings of the leaders of the other.

Clearly, the theological discussions of the fifth and sixth centuries were difficult and complex. Moreover, they were compounded by cultural and political factors of the time. Because of this, some Oriental Orthodox placed anathemas upon those who accepted Chalcedon and specifically upon Pope Leo of Rome and Patriarch Flavian of Constantinople. This was done because some Oriental Orthodox felt that the Chalcedonian statement repudiated the position of St. Cyril and tended toward Nestorianism. Likewise, the Orthodox placed anathemas upon Philoxenos of Mabbugh and Severus of Antioch chiefly because they refused to accept the terminology of Chalcedon.

As a result of intensive studies of the period after Chalcedon, these teachers can be seen in a more accurate perspective. Each teacher was a proponent of a particular christological perspective and terminology reflecting issues associated with either the acceptance or rejection of the Council of Chalcedon. Given the fact that both the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox recognize that both families of churches have maintained the apostolic faith, they can now also recognize that these teachers bore witness to the faith, although they may have reflected different theological traditions and preferred different terminology in their explication of Christology.

The Chambesy Communique (1993) says:

In the light of our Agreed Statement on Christology at St. Bishoy Monastery in 1989, and of our Second Agreed Statement at Chambesy in 1990, the representatives of both Church families agree that the lifting of anathemas and condemnations of the past can be consummated on the basis of their common acknowledgement of the fact that the Councils and Fathers previously anathematized or condemned are Orthodox in their teachings. (par. 1)

In recommending the lifting of anathemas, the Joint Commission recognizes that such actions would not be unprecedented.

Throughout the early centuries of the Church, there were occasions when anathemas were removed as part of the process of reconciliation. The Joint Commission (1993) recommends, therefore, that the “lifting of the anathemas should be made unanimously and simultaneously by the Heads of all the Churches of both sides, through the signing of an appropriate ecclesiastical Act, the content of which will include acknowledgements from each side that the other one is Orthodox in all respects.” The lifting of the anathemas should imply “that restoration of full communion for both sides is to be immediately implemented” (par. 2).

6. Greater Understanding and More Regular Contacts

The Joint Commission recommends that the relationship between the two families of churches be strengthened through greater understanding and more regular contacts among all members, both clergy and laity. The Joint Commission says in the Chambesy Statement (1990) that “a period of intense preparation of our people to participate in the implementation of our recommendations and in the restoration of communion of our Churches is needed” (par. 1).

With this in mind, the Joint Commission makes a number of important practical recommendations. It proposes that there be exchanges of visits by clergy and laity of the two families of churches, exchanges of teachers and students of theology, and attendance at worship services. The commission also recommends that acts of “rebaptism” not take place and that practical agreements at the local level deal with issues related to marriages.

The commission advocates that the documents of the theological dialogue be made available and that special publications be devoted to the traditions of the various churches. Both families of churches have distinctive histories. They have their own liturgical traditions and customs, which often reach back to the period before the schism. These differences in customs and liturgical practices need not be a barrier to unity. Yet it is important that there be increased familiarity with the characteristics of the various churches.

The process of restoring unity must be done in such a way that recognizes the distinctive liturgical customs, linguistic preferences, iconographic tradition, and legitimate historical character of the various ecclesial traditions. Indeed, this diversity is usually obvious in parish settings. Unity in the apostolic faith does not mean the destruction of legitimate diversity in liturgical practices, customs, art, and languages. Ultimately, this process will affirm not only that the Church manifests the apostolic faith but also that the Church is truly catholic.

7. Common Witness

The Joint Commission also recommends that representatives of the two families cooperate in ecumenical meetings and in providing a united witness in society. Already in the activities of the World Council of Churches and in many local ecumenical councils, the Orthodox Church and the Oriental Orthodox churches generally work together to present a common perspective on the historic Christian faith and Christian ethics. The commission also says that the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox can coordinate their existing activities in the areas of humanitarian and philanthropic assistance. Both families can work together to address issues such as hunger, poverty, and discrimination as well as the needs of the youth, refugees, the handicapped, and the elderly.

The Chambesy Statement (1990) says:

We need to encourage and promote mutual co-operation as far as possible in the work of our inner mission to our people, i.e., in instructing them in the faith, and how to cope with modern dangers arising from contemporary secularism, including cults, ideologies, materialism, AIDS, homosexuality the permissive society, consumerism, etc. (par. 16)

We also need to find a proper way for collaborating with each other and with the other Christians in the Christian mission to the world without undermining the authority and integrity of the local Orthodox Churches, (par. 17)

Some Recent Developments

Since the historic theological statements have been produced, a number of the churches have responded formally in a positive manner to the statements of the Joint Commission. From the family of the Orthodox Church, these are the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the Patriarchate of Alexandria, the Patriarchate of Antioch, and the Church of Romania. From the Oriental Orthodox family, these are the Patriarchate of Alexandria, the Patriarchate of Antioch, and the Church of Malankara, India. The Church of Ethiopia and the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia have made a positive response to the First Agreed Statement. The other Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches continue to study the statements of the commission.

In addition to these formal responses, there have been two important initiatives at the regional level.

First, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch came to an agreement in 1991 on the joint participation of clergy in the sacraments. The agreement affirms that clergy from both churches can join in leading the sacraments other than the Divine Liturgy. With regard to the Divine Liturgy, the statement makes an important recommendation: “In localities where there is only one priest, from either Church, he will celebrate services for the faithful of both Churches, including the Divine Liturgy, pastoral duties and holy matrimony. He will keep an independent record for each Church and transmit that of the sister Church to its authorities” (par. 9). Additionally, the statement says, “If two priests of the two Churches happen to be in a locality where there is only one Church, they take turns in making use of its facilities” (par. 10). This statement expresses in practical ways that both families of churches share the same faith and sacraments.

Second, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria reached an agreement in 2001 with regard to the sacrament of marriage and related regulations. The agreement declares that both churches recognize the sacrament of baptism in each other’s church. This formal recognition reflects the fruits of the theological dialogue. Furthermore, both churches recognize the sacrament of marriage blessed in the other church. This agreement implicitly discourages “dual ceremonies” and the “repetition” of a marriage ceremony in separate parishes of the two traditions.

Future Directions

The members of the Joint Commission affirm in their historic statements that there is no doctrinal issue dividing the Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox. The Chambesy Communique (1993) says:

In 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 always 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. (par. 1)

How will the unity of the two families of churches be formally proclaimed and restored?

This question does not lend itself to a simple answer. First, it should be noted that the two families of churches are not speaking about the “return” of one group or the “submission” of another. Rather, they are speaking about the “restoration of full communion” between two families of local churches that share the same apostolic faith.

Some might say that the present movement toward reconciliation is unprecedented and, therefore, there is no clear historical precedent for its formal resolution.

On the other hand, some would take note of the historic agreement of 433. With this simple statement of reconciliation, Patriarch Cyril of Alexandria and Patriarch John of Antioch agreed to end the schism and to restore communion between the two local churches. This may prove to be an important historic model.

In recent years, two scenarios have been proposed regarding the formal process of reconciliation. One approach emphasizes a regional form of restoration of full communion between churches from the two families that are in close contact. This is a “bilateral” approach. The agreement already reached between the two patriarchates of Antioch and the two patriarchates of Alexandria are a step in this direction.

The other perspective emphasizes a more multilateral approach, which would involve at once all the members of the two families of churches. Some theologians have suggested that a council would have to be convened formally to proclaim the reconciliation between the two families. This council would bring together the official representatives of the Orthodox churches and the Oriental Orthodox churches. These representatives would solemnly affirm the end of the schism and the restoration of full communion in the apostolic faith. In conjunction with this council, the delegates would then join in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. This celebration would indeed be the solemn and public affirmation of full unity.

Both families of churches will need to examine the manner in which the reconciliation will be manifested in the actual organization of the Church in specific places. The process of reconciliation and the restoration of full communion will require pastoral sensitivity, creativity, charity, and patience. Where there are currently “parallel episcopal jurisdictions,” a process will have to be devised to establish one bishop in each city or region and to unite bishops into a single regional synod. This process may take some time. Indeed, the process may have to follow the reestablishment of full communion. It should be clear to all, however, that the bishop must not be seen as the symbol of disunity but rather as the sign of unity of God’s people.

This means that no one should fall into the trap of believing that all organizational issues must be formally settled before the solemn reestablishment of full communion. Certainly, the leaders of both families of churches need to make an unambiguous commitment to the resolution of all organizational concerns. Yet there needs to be patience, prudence, and care that the God-given grace that moves us toward reconciliation is not held hostage to human sin. Indeed, it could be argued that the present state of disunity prevents church leaders from seeing potential resolutions. These resolutions of organizational concerns may become more evident once full unity is restored and the “scandal” of disunity is overcome.


The significance of the agreed statements of the Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches in 1989 and 1990, together with the Communique of 1993, cannot be underestimated. These statements are the work of a Joint Commission composed of the official representatives of both the Orthodox churches and the Oriental Orthodox churches. The conclusions affirmed by the members come from an official body that has a very high standing.

The statements affirm that the two families of churches share the same Orthodox faith in spite of more than fifteen centuries of formal isolation and reflect the study of the “schism,” a study that has been taking place, both in an unofficial and official manner, for nearly forty years. The two families of churches are now in a position to move toward the eradication of anathemas and the development of a plan to proclaim formally the restoration of full communion.

The consensus expressed in the statements affirms fundamental agreement in the understanding of the apostolic faith of the Church. Although the statements recognize that different terms have been used by the two families of churches to express this faith, there is a firm and unequivocal affirmation that the same Orthodox faith is being expressed. These statements reflect the painstaking work of theologians from both families of churches reaching back at least to 1964.

Clearly, the dialogue between Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox theologians should demonstrate to all involved in ecumenical discussions that agreement in doctrinal affirmation is of critical importance. The dialogue between the Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox has not reflected an indifference to doctrine. On the contrary, both sides clearly desire to seek the truth of the faith and to proclaim it. Clearly, reconciliation is to be based on and expressive of a common understanding of the apostolic faith.

Now the historic conclusions of the Joint Commission must be communicated better at all levels of the churches. These statements should be studied by bishops at their synodal meetings, by clergy at their meetings, by the members of theological schools and by parish communities. The clergy and the laity need to become aware of the conclusions of the commission and to lay the groundwork for the restoration of full communion. The God-given opportunity for reconciliation should not be lost. Many have become accustomed to this schism. Moreover, there is a danger that ignorance, pride and complacency will prevent this process of reconciliation from moving to fruition. Education is certainly needed. Even more importantly, there is also a need for a certain “change of heart.” Through prayer and study, the members of the churches need to recognize the tragic consequences of Christian division. In addition, we need to recognize that division damages our witness to the world. Thus, we need to pray, as the Lord prayed, “that all may be one” (John 17:21), and we need to live our lives in accordance with this prayer.

  • 1. Thomas FitzGerald, protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Patriarchate-Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, is Dean and Professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. Portions of this essay first appeared as “Towards the Reestablishment of Full Communion: The Orthodox-Oriental Orthodox Dialogue,” Greek Orthodox Theological Review 36:2 (1991), 169-88.
  • 2. “Statement of the Council of Chalcedon,” in Henry Bettenson, ed.,Documents of the Christian Church, 2nd ed. (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1967), 51-52. See also John Leith, ed., Creeds of the Churches (Atlanta: 1973), 35-36. For a comprehensive discussion of the period of the council, see Jaroslav Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1971), 226-77; R. V. Sellers, The Council of Chalcedon: A Historical and Doctrinal Survey (London: SPCK, 1961); John Meyendorff, Christ in Eastern Christian Thought (Washington: Corpus Publications, 1969); Karekin Sarkesian, The Council of Chalcedon and the Armenian Church (London: SPCK, 1965); Aziz S. Atiya, History of Eastern Christianity (Notre Dame: Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 1968).
  • 3. Orthodoxia 26 (1951), 484-89. See also St. John of Damascus, The Fount of Knowledge, 2.53 (PG 94.741).
  • 4. See the texts in Greek Orthodox Theological Review 10:2 (1964-65), 14-15; 13:2 (1967), 133-36; 16:1-2 (1971), 3-8,210-13. See also Paulos Gregorius, William Lazareth, and Nikos Nissiotis, Does Chalcedon Unite or Divide? Towards Convergence in Orthodox Christology (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1981); Tiran Nersoyian and Paul Fries, eds., Christ in East and West (Macon, GA: 1987).

Source: Fr Thomas FitzGerald, “Restoring the Unity in Faith: The Orthodox-Oriental Orthodox Theological Dialogue.” Edited by Thomas FitzGerald and Emmanuel J. Gratsias (Massachusetts: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2007) 5-36.

Second Letter of Cyril to Succensus

Second Letter of Cyril to Succensus

Another memorandum written in reply to our questions by the same, to the same Succensus.

1. Truth makes herself plain to those who love her, but hides, I think, and tries to escape the notice of complicated minds, for they show that they are not worthy to look on her with radiant eyes. And those who love the blameless faith seek the Lord, as it is written, ‘in simplicity of heart’ (WS.1.1), but those who walk down twisting alleys and have a ‘crooked heart’ as it is said in the psalms (Ps. 100.4) gather for themselves complicated pretexts for their distorted thoughts in order to pervert the straight ways of the Lord and seduce the souls of the simpler folk into believing they ought to hold what is not right. I say this after having read your Holiness’ memorandum and having found in it certain unsound propositions which were advanced by those with an unaccountable love for the perversity of so-called knowledge (cf. 1 Tim.6.20). They were as follows:

2. ‘If Emmanuel was composed from two natures’, they say, ‘and after the union one conceives of only one incarnate nature of the Word, then it necessarily follows that we must admit he suffered in his own nature.’ The blessed Fathers who defined for us the venerable creed of the orthodox faith said that it was the Word of God himself, the Only begotten from God’s own essence, through whom are all things, who became incarnate and was made man. Evidently we would not say that these holy ones were unaware of the fact that the body that was united to the Word was animated by a rational soul, and so, if anyone says that the Word was made flesh he is not thereby confessing that the flesh united to him was devoid of a rational soul.

It was this, I think, (no, I’m quite sure of it) that the all-wise evangelist John meant when he said that the Word became flesh (Jn.1.14), not as if he were united to a soulless flesh, God forbid, and not as if he underwent any change or alteration, for he remained what he was, that is God by nature. He took it on himself to become man and was made like us in the flesh, from out of a woman, and yet he remained a single Son, though indeed no longer without the flesh as he was of old before the time of his incarnation, but now clothed as it were in our nature. And even though the flesh endowed with a rational soul was not consubstantial with the Word born from God the Father, with whom it was united (for we can mentally envisage the difference of natures in the things united), nonetheless we confess One Son and Christ and Lord, since the Word has become flesh. When we say ‘flesh5, therefore, we mean ‘man5. If we confess that after the union there is one enfleshed nature of the Son how does that imply by necessity that he suffered in his own nature? Certainly, if there was nothing in the system of the economy that was capable of suffering, they would have been right to conclude that since there was nothing there that was passible then the suffering must of necessity have fallen upon the nature of the Word. On the other hand, if the word ‘incarnate5 implies the whole system of the economy with flesh [for he was made flesh precisely by taking descent from Abraham and being made like his brethren in all things (Heb.2.16) and assuming the form of a slave (Phil. 2.7)] then in that case those who argue that it is an absolutely necessary implication of his assumption of flesh that he has to undergo suffering in his own nature are talking utter nonsense. It is the flesh which has to be seen as undergoing suffering while the Word remains impassible. Nonetheless we do not rule out the legitimacy of saying that he suffered, for just as the body became his very own, just so can all the characteristics of the body be attributed to him, with the sole exception of sin, in terms of the economy by which he made them his own.

3. They also said the following: ‘If there is one incarnate nature of the Word then it absolutely follows that there must have been a mixture and confusion, with the human nature in him being diminished or ‘stolen away’ as it were.5 Once again those who twist the truth are unaware that in fact there is but one incarnate nature of the Word. The Word was ineffably bom from God the Father and then came forth as man from a woman after having assumed flesh, not soulless but rationally animated flesh; and if it is the case that he is in nature and in truth one single Son, then he cannot be divided into two personas or two sons, but has remained one, though he is no longer fleshless or outside the body but now possesses his very own body in an indissoluble union. How could saying this possibly imply that there was any consequent necessity of mixture or confusion or anything else like this? For if we say that the Only Begotten Son of God, who was incarnate and became man, is One, then this does not mean as they would suppose that he has been ‘mixed’ or that the nature of the Word has been transformed into the nature of flesh, or that of the flesh into the Word’s. No, each nature is understood to remain in all its natural characteristics for the reasons we have just given, though they are ineffably and inexpressibly united, and this is how he demonstrated to us the one nature of the Son; though of course, as I have said, it is the ‘incarnate nature’ I mean. The term ‘one’ can be properly applied not just to those things which are naturally simple, but also to things which are compounded in a synthesis. Such is the case with a human being who comprises soul and body. These are quite different things and they are not consubstantial with each other, yet when they are united they constitute the single nature of man, even though the difference in nature of the things that are brought into unity is still present within the system of the composition. So, those who say that if there is one incarnate nature of God the Word, then it necessarily follows that there must have been a mixture or confusion with the human nature being diminished or ‘stolen away’, are talking rubbish. It has neither been reduced nor stolen away, as they say. To say that he is incarnate is sufficient for a perfectly clear indication of the fact that he became man. And if we had kept silent on this point there might have been some ground for their calumny, but since we add of necessity the fact that he has been incarnated then how can there be any form of ‘diminution’ or ‘stealing away’?

4. They have also said: ‘If the same one is understood to be perfect God and perfect man, and consubstantial with the Father in the deity, and consubstantial with us in the manhood, then how can there be a perfection if the nature of man no longer endures? and how can there be consubstantiality with us if our essence, that is our nature, no longer subsists?’ The explanation or response contained in the preceding section adequately answers these points. For if we had said that there was one nature of the Word and had kept silent and not added that it was ‘incarnate’, as if we were excluding the economy, they might perhaps have had a point when they pretended to ask where was the perfection in the humanity or how did our human essence endure. But since both the perfection in the humanity and the assertion of our human essence is implied by the word ‘incarnate’ then let them stop leaning on this broken staff (Is.36.6). For if anyone took away from the Son his perfect humanity he could rightly be accused of throwing the economy overboard, and of denying the incarnation. But if, as I have said, when we say that he was incarnated this is a clear and unambiguous confession of the fact that he became man, then there is nothing at all to prevent us from thinking that the same Christ, the One and Only Son, is both God and man, as perfect in humanity as he is in deity. Your Perfection expounds the rationale of the salvific Passion most correctly and very learnedly when you assert that the Only Begotten Son of God, in so far as he is understood to be, and actually is, God, did not himself suffer [bodily things] in his own nature, but suffered rather in his earthly nature.

Both points must be maintained in relation to the one true Son: that he did not suffer as God, and that he did suffer as man, since his flesh suffered. However, these people think that here we are introducing what they call ‘Theopaschitism5. They do not understand the economy and make wicked attempts to displace the sufferings to the man on his own, foolishly seeking a piety that does them harm. They try to avoid confessing that the Word of God is the Saviour who gave his own blood for us, and say instead that it was the man Jesus understood as separate and distinct who can be said to have achieved this. To think like this shakes the whole rationale of the fleshly economy, and quite clearly turns our divine mystery into a matter of man-worshipping. They do not understand that blessed Paul said that he who is of the Jews according to the flesh, that is of the line of Jesse and David, is also the Christ, the Lord of Glory (1 Cor.2.8), and is ‘God ever blessed and over all5 (Rom.9.5). In this way Paul declared that it was the very own body of the Word which was fixed to the cross, and therefore he attributed the crucifixion to him.

5. I understand that another query has been raised in regard to these matters, as follows: ‘So, anyone who says that the Lord suffered only at the level of the flesh, makes that suffering mindless and involuntary. But if anyone says that he suffered with a rational soul, so that the suffering might be voluntary, then there is nothing to prevent one from saying that he suffered in the nature of the manhood, and if this is the case then how can we deny that the two natures endured after the union? So, even if one says: ‘Christ, therefore, having suffered for us in the flesh’ (1 Pet.4.1), this is no different from saying: ‘Christ having suffered for us in our nature’.

This objection is yet another attack on those who say that there is one incarnate nature of the Son. They want to show that the idea is foolish and so they keep on arguing at every turn that two natures endured. They have forgotten, however, that it is only those things that are usually distinguished at more than a merely theoretical level which split apart from one another in differentiated separateness and radical distinction. Let us once more take the example of an ordinary man. We recognise two natures in him; for there is one nature of the soul and another of the body, but we divide them only at a theoretical level, and by subtle speculation, or rather we accept the distinction only in our mental intuitions, and we do not set the natures apart nor do we grant that they have a radical separateness, but we understand them to belong to one man. This is why the two are no longer two, but through both of them the one living creature is rendered complete. And so, even if one attributes the nature of manhood and Godhead to the Emmanuel, still the manhood has become the personal property of the Word and we understand there is One Son together with it. The God-inspired scripture tells us that he suffered in the flesh (1 Pet. 4.1) and it would be better for us to speak this way rather than [say he suffered] in the nature of the manhood, even though such a statement (unless it is said uncompromisingly by certain people) does not damage the sense of the mystery. For what else is the nature of manhood except the flesh with a rational soul? We maintain, therefore, that the Lord suffered in the flesh. And so they are simply splitting hairs when they talk about him suffering in the nature of the manhood, which serves only to separate it from the Word and set it apart on its own so that one is led to think of him as two and no longer the one Word of God the Father now incarnated and made man. To add the qualification ‘inseparably’ seems to indicate that they share the orthodox opinion along with us, but this is not how they really think, for they understand the word ‘inseparable’ in the same empty sense as Nestorius. They say that the man in whom the Word took his dwelling was inseparable from him in terms of equality of honour, identity of will, and authority, all of which means that they do not use the words straightforwardly but with a certain amount of trickery and deceit.


From Fr John A. McGuckin’s “St. Cyril of Alexandria. The Christological Controversy: Its History, Theology, and Texts” (New York: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press: 2004) 359-363

First Letter of Cyril to Succensus

First Letter of Cyril to Succensus

Memorandum of the most holy and God-beloved archbishop Cyril to the most blessed Succensus bishop of Diocaesarea in the Eparchy of Isauria.

1. I read the memorandum sent by your Holiness and was most delighted that even though you are quite capable of bringing advantage both to us and to others from your own considerable learning, you saw fit to ask us to set down in writing what is in our mind, what we stand by. Well, we think the same things about the economy of our Saviour as the holy Fathers did before us. We regulate our own minds by reading their works so as to follow in their footsteps and introduce nothing that is new into the orthodox teachings.

2. Since your Perfection enquires whether or not one ought to admit that there are two natures in Christ I thought it necessary to address this point. A certain Diodore, who had previously been a Pneumatomachian, so they say, came into communion with the orthodox church. Having shook off, as he supposed, the contagion of Macedonianism, he went down straight away with another sickness. He thought and wrote that he who was born of the line of David from the holy virgin was one distinct son, and the Word of God the Father was again another and quite distinct son. Disguising the wolf in sheep’s clothing (Mt.7.15) he pretended to say that Christ was one but he referred the tide only to the Word and Only Begotten Son born of God the Father. Even then he attributed the tide also to the one who was of the line of David, although, on his own admission, this attribution was only ‘in the order of a grace’. Diodore called him a son on these terms, that is in so far as he is united to the True Son. But here he is united not in the way that we think of it, but only in terms of dignity and authority and equality of honour.

3. Nestorius became this man’s pupil and being rendered dim by his books he also pretends to confess one Christ and Son and Lord, though he too has divided the One and Indivisible into two. He says that a man has been conjoined to God the Word by a shared name, by equality of honour, and by dignity. He even makes distinctions in the sayings in the evangelic and apostolic preachings which refer to Christ, and he says that some must be referred to the man (evidently the human ones) while others are only applicable to God the Word (clearly the divine ones). He makes a multitude of distinctions and sets on one side, quite separately, a man born from the holy virgin, and likewise sets apart on the other side the Son of God the Father, the Word, and for this reason he concludes that the holy virgin is not the Mother of God, merely the mother of the man.

4. We maintain, however, that this cannot be the case. We have learned from the divine scriptures and the holy Fathers to confess One Son, and Christ, and Lord. This is the Word of God the Father born from him in an ineffable and divine manner before the ages, and the same one is born from the holy virgin according to the flesh, for our sake, in the last times of this age. Since she gave birth to God made flesh and made man, for this reason we also call her the Mother of God. There is, therefore, One Son, One Lord Jesus Christ, both before the incarnation and after the incarnation. The Word of God the Father is not one distinct son, with the one born of the holy virgin being another and different son. No, it is our faith that the very one who was before the ages is the one who was born from a woman according to the flesh; not as if his Godhead took the beginnings of its existence or was called into being for the first time through the holy virgin, but rather, as I have said, that the eternal Word is said to have been born from her according to the flesh. For his flesh was his very own in just the same way as each one of us has his own body.

5. But since certain people are trying to implicate us with the opinions of Apollinaris, saying: ‘If you maintain that the Word of God the Father incarnated and made man is One Son in a strict and compact union, perhaps you imagine or have come to think that some mixture or blending or confusion occurred between the Word and the body, even a transformation of the body into the nature of Godhead? We are fully aware of such implications and we refute such a slander when we say that the Word of God, in an incomprehensible manner, beyond description, united to himself a body animated with a rational soul, and came forth as man from a woman, not becoming what we are by any transformation of nature but rather by a gracious economy. For he wished to become man without casting off his natural being as God, and even when he descended into our limitations, and put on the form of the slave, even so he remained in the transcendent condition of the Godhead and in his natural state as Lord.

6. And so, we unite the Word of God the Father to the holy flesh endowed with a rational soul, in an ineffable way that transcends understanding, without confusion, without change, and without alteration, and we thereby confess One Son, and Christ, and Lord; the same one God and man, not someone alongside someone different, but one and the same who is and is known to be both things. For this reason he sometimes speaks economically as man, in human fashion; and at other times, as God, he makes statements with divine authority. It is our contention that if we carefully examine the manner of the economy in the flesh and attentively investigate the mystery, we shall see that the Word of God the Father was made man and made flesh but did not fashion that sacred body from his own divine nature, but rather took it from the virgin. How else could he become man except by putting on the human body? As I have said, if we understand the manner of the incarnation we shall see that two natures come together with one another, without confusion or change, in an indivisible union. The flesh is flesh and not Godhead, even though it became the flesh of God; and similarly the Word is God and not flesh even if he made the flesh his very own in the economy. Given that we understand this, we do no harm to that concurrence into union when we say that it took place out of6 two natures. After the union has occurred, however, we do not divide the natures from one another, nor do we sever the one and indivisible into two sons, but we say that there is One Son, and as the holy Fathers have stated: One Incarnate Nature of The Word.

7. As to the manner of the incarnation of the Only Begotten, then theoretically speaking (but only in so far as it appears to the eyes of the soul) we would admit that there are two united natures but only One Christ and Son and Lord, the Word of God made man and made flesh. If you like we can take as our example that very composition which makes us men. For we are composed of body and soul and we perceive two natures; there is one nature of the body, and a different nature of the soul, and yet one man from both of them in terms of the union. This composition from two natures does not turn the one man into two, but as I have said there is one man by the composition of body and soul. If we deny that there is one single Christ from two different natures, being indivisible after the union, then the enemies of orthodoxy will ask: ‘If the entirety amounts to one nature then how was he incarnated or what kind of flesh did he make his own?’

8. But I found in your memorandum a certain suggestion of the idea that after the resurrection the holy body of Christ the Saviour of us all was changed into the nature of Godhead so that the whole is henceforth only Godhead, and so I thought it necessary to address this point as well. The blessed Paul explains for us the reasons of the incarnation of the Only Begotten Son of God when he writes: ‘In so far as the law was powerless, since it was weakened by the flesh, God sent his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin. He condemned sin in the flesh in order that the requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who no longer walk according to the flesh, but according to the spirit’ (.Rom.8.3-4). And again: ‘Since the children have a fellowship of flesh and blood, he too shared in flesh and blood so that by death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and might liberate all those who throughout their lives were held in bondage by the fear of death. He did not take to himself descent from angels but from the line of Abraham, which is why it was necessary for him to be made likehis brethren in all things’ (Heb.2.14-17).

9. We maintain, therefore, that since human nature was suffering corruption because of Adam5s transgression, and since our intellect was being tyrannised by the pleasures or rather the innate impulses of the flesh, then it was necessary that the Word of God should be incarnated for the salvation of us who are on this earth. This was so he could make his own that human flesh which was subject to corruption and sick with its desires, and destroy corruption within it since he is Life and Life-giver, bringing its innate sensual impulses to order. This was how the sin that lay within it was to be put to death, for we remember how the blessed Paul called our innate impulses the law of sin (Rom.7.23). From the time that human flesh became the personal flesh of the Word it has ceased to be subject to corruption, and since he who dwelt within it, and revealed it as his very own, knew no sin being God, as I have already said, it has also ceased to be sick with its desires. The Only Begotten Word of God did not bring this about for his own benefit, for he is ever what he is, but evidently he did it for ours. And if we were subject to the evils following from Adam’s transgression then Christ’s benefit also must come to us, that is incorruption and the putting to death of sin. This is why he became man. He did not assume a man as Nestorius thinks. The scripture says that he was wearied from the journey, experienced sleepiness, anxiety, pain, and all the blameless human passions (cf. Jn.4.6; M l8.24; Mt.26.38 et passim) for this very reason that we might believe that he did become man, even though he remained what he was, that is God by nature. On the other hand, to assure those who saw him that he was truly God as well as being man, he worked divine signs, rebuking the sea (Mt.8.26), raising the dead (Jn. 11.43), and performing other wonderful works. He even endured the cross so that by suffering death in the flesh (though not in the nature of the Godhead) he might become the first-born from the dead (Col.1.18). He opened up the way for human nature to incorruption and despoiled Hell, taking pity on the souls who were imprisoned there.

10. Even after the resurrection the same body which had suffered continued to exist, although it no longer contained any human weakness. We maintain that it was no longer susceptible to hunger or weariness or anything like this, but was thereafter incorruptible, and not only that but life-giving as well since it is the body of Life, that is the body of the Only Begotten. Now it is radiant with divine glory and is seen to be the body of God. So, even if someone should call it ‘divine’ just as one might call a man’s body ‘human’, such a fitting thought would not be mistaken. In my opinion this is what the most-wise Paul said: ‘Even if we have known Christ according to the flesh, nonetheless we know him so no longer’ (2 Cor.5.16). As I have said, because it was God’s own body it transcended all human things, yet the earthly body itself did not undergo a transformation into the nature of Godhead, for this is impossible, otherwise we would be accusing the Godhead of being created and of receiving into itself something which was not part of its own nature. It would be just as foolish an idea to talk of the body being transformed into the nature of Godhead as it would to say the Word was transformed into the nature of flesh. For just as the latter is impossible (for he is unchangeable and unalterable) so too is the former. It is not possible that any creature could be converted into the essence or nature of Godhead, and the flesh is a created thing. We maintain, therefore, that Christ’s body is divine in so far as it is the body of God, adorned with unspeakable glory, incorruptible, holy, and life-giving; but none of the holy Fathers has ever thought or said that it was transformed into the nature of Godhead, and we have no intention of doing so either.

11. Your Holiness ought to be aware of this fact too, that our father Athanasius of blessed memory, formerly the bishop of Alexandria, wrote a letter to Epictetus the bishop of Corinth when certain people raised these issues in his time, and this is full of all orthodoxy. But because Nestorius was refuted by it, and because the defenders of the orthodox faith read it, and were able to discredit those who wanted to share Nestorius’ opinions, then his party could not endure its charges against them and so they did an evil deed, something worthy of their profane heresy, they corrupted the letter and published it with omissions and interpolations to make it seem that the famous man shared the opinions of Nestorius and his party. This was why it was necessary to take a transcript from the copies we have here, and send it on to your Reverence in case certain people there show you a corrupted version. The most holy and reverend bishop Paul of Emesa raised this matter when he came to Alexandria, and we found that his copy of the letter had been corrupted and falsified by the heretics, and so he asked for a transcript from copies we have here to be sent off to the Antiochenes. And indeed we did send one.

12. In complete accord with the orthodox doctrine of the holy Fathers we have composed a book against the teachings of Nestorius and another against certain people who have criticised the meaning of the Chapters. I have also sent on these texts to your Reverence so that if there are any other of our brethren who share our faith and are of the same mind as us but are carried away by the vain babblings of certain people, and begin to think that we have changed our mind on what we have said against Nestorius, they can be proven wrong by reading them, and can learn that we brought him to order quite rightly and properly as one who was in error. They can see that even now we are just as actively engaged in fighting his blasphemies on every side. Your Holiness, whose mental powers are even greater, will be able to help us by writing and by prayer.
From Fr John A. McGuckin’s “St. Cyril of Alexandria. The Christological Controversy: Its History, Theology, and Texts” (New York: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press: 2004) 352-358