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Ecclesiology and the Dialogues Between Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches

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Ecclesiology and the Dialogues Between Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches

by Will Cohen (SVS MDiv thesis, St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary Crestwood, N. Y. 2002):

 

Abstract

This thesis is a study of the ecclesiological perspectives explicit and implicit in forty years of 20th century dialogues between Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Christians. It focuses particularly on arguments for and against the lifting of anathemas issued more than fifteen hundred years ago by each of these two communions against persons venerated by the other as saints. Most of the major elements of the arguments for or against lifting the anathemas were already being articulated (by and large with at least as much cogency as they would come to be in later decades) from the earliest stages of the informal consultations between Eastern and Oriental Orthodox in the 1960’s and ‘70’s; therefore, those consultations and the papers delivered at them represent one major area of source-material in my research. A second major area of source-material are the reactions, positive as well as negative, to the recommendation to lift the anathemas that was issued in 1990 by the Joint Commission of the Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches. These reactions have been aired in numerous articles, memoranda, papers delivered at symposia, online sites devoted to Orthodoxy and ecumenism, and interviews and official statements issued by Patriarchates or by the synods of local Churches. Through all of them as through the earlier consultations, there run certain salient lines of ecclesiological thought. The main purpose of this thesis is to delineate these lines of thought and to evaluate them both through an analysis of their own internal coherence or incoherence and in the light of what can be reasonably said about the ancient Church and how it seemed to approach questions of unity and division. The conclusion of this thesis is that much of what is presented as standard Orthodox ecclesiology today is at odds with the practice of the ancient Church, and that most of the arguments against lifting the anathemas are without a sound basis. At the same time, this thesis concurs with the judgment that the agreement the Joint Commission claims the two Communions have reached on Christology has yet to be adequately solidified. However, the reasons for this have less to do with anything that stands between the two Communions than with a fundamental irresolution within each one. No viable, enduring framework within which it would make sense for the anathemas to be lifted—not quietly as some have urged, but boldly, with a clear conscience—has yet been put in place. All of the elements of it, I believe, are present in the insights of the many clear-thinking writers and dialogue participants who have labored to realize genuine unity, but it is not yet assembled. If and when it were it would deliver Chalcedonians and non-Chalcedonians alike not only from separation from one another but from profound and rapidly sharpening internal tensions. Finally, this thesis offers a few dim outlines of the sketch of what such a framework might be.

Acknowledgments

This thesis grows out of more than three years of frequent intimate encounter with what the 1928 Book of Common Prayer calls “the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions.” For whatever reason, I seem unusually ill-equipped to protect myself from these dangers and would no doubt have been driven completely crazy by them long ago were it not for the mentors and friends I have been surrounded by at St. Vladimir’s Seminary. I am especially indebted to Dr. A1 Rossi and Fr. Thomas Hopko for their sane guidance on innumerable occasions. I am grateful as well for the affection, trust and honesty of my classmates.
In addition, I would like to extend my appreciation to the following people: my parents who on many levels and with great faith have supported me in my theological training at St. Vladimir’s; Shane for his integrity and loyal friendship; Leslie and the late Bishop John Cahoon whose delight and trust in God had so much to do with my coming to Christian faith and to St. Vladimir’s; Julie for the magnificent depth of her strength in being willing to withstand (already so many times!) the heavy pressure of uncertainty rather than turn and enter at the wide gate.

 

Finally, I would like to thank Father Paul Tarazi, with whom I have not discussed the content of this thesis, but without whose ongoing, Lenten refusal to be fathered by anyone or anything apart from the Scriptural Word of God this work (whatever its own deficiencies) would never have come to fruition.

 

+++

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
Mt. 5:9

because, yea, because they have misled my people, saying ‘Peace,’ when there is no peace…”
Ez. 13:10

+++

 

INTRODUCTION

 

 

In the fifth century, Christians who until then had regarded themselves as being of the same faith came to the conclusion that they were separate from one another insofar as some of them insisted that Jesus Christ is of one nature while others insisted that He is of two natures. The efforts made over the course of the following two centuries to reconcile the estranged parties failed, and the cause of this failure has been a subject of intense debate. Whatever the real reason or reasons for it, whether primarily political, terminological, or, as some people continue to maintain, truly theological, at any rate there persisted in at least some measure a gnawing sense that perhaps the faith of those who spoke of only one nature of Christ and those who spoke of two was really the same.

 

Among those who revisited the question was St. Nersess the Graceful of the Armenian Church, one of the Churches which had long opposed the two-natures Christology of Chalcedon. In the 12th century he entered into discussions with a Byzantine theologian and imperial ambassador named Theorianos. These discussions led St. Nersess to conclude, against the conventional thinking of his own church, that the supporters of Chalcedon were actually every bit as orthodox in their faith as were those like the Armenians who rejected Chalcedon. “I find nothing in the horos [of Chalcedon] against the Orthodox faith,” he wrote, “and I am astonished that those before us opposed it so strenuously.”1 This view of St. Nersess that the Chalcedonian teaching about Jesus Christ is actually consistent with the non-Chalcedonian (Oriental Orthodox) teaching was not without occasional witness,2 but it was not the view that prevailed—neither in his lifetime, nor afterwards as the sense of separation between the two traditions persisted and even hardened over the course of the next seven hundred years.

 

In the twentieth century, however, the possibility that each party had wrongly condemned the other was again raised and with a kind of fresh pain and anxiety. With globalization, as mutual contacts increased, a significant number of church leaders, bishops, priests and lay theologians from both sides, pursued this possibility that the centuries-long estrangement might have been only the function of a misunderstanding, not of any fundamental error. Each party sought to examine more closely and carefully its own presentation of the other side in Church councils and patristic writings going all the way back to the time of the initial estrangement. Each side questioned its own traditional denunciations of the other. In a series of what were at first informal meetings and what then developed into official consultations under the name of the “Joint Commission of the Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches,” members of the respective Churches came to see in one another a surprising degree of commonality that had survived their longstanding separation.3

 

According to the consensus which emerged, the two parallel traditions had actually, in spite of long-held fears to the contrary, maintained the same faith through all their centuries of separation. This unexpected consensus was expressed in two Agreed Statements issued by the Joint Commission, the first in June 1989 and the second in September 1990. The latter states:

we have now clearly understood that both families have always loyally maintained the same Orthodox Christological faith, and the unbroken continuity of the Apostolic Tradition, though they may have used Christological terms in differing ways. It is this common faith and continuous loyalty to the Apostolic Tradition that should be the basis for our unity and communion.4

 

The work of the Joint Commission was permeated by an optimistic belief that an end to the fifteen-hundred-year-old division was in sight. A 1994 article in Christianity Today reporting on the movement toward reconciliation was headlined “Orthodox Church: Leaders Ending 1,500 Years of Official Schism”.5

 

Not only doctrinal but also ecclesiological issues were addressed by the Joint Commission. Throughout the centuries in which the two sides had defined themselves against one another, each had formally condemned certain teachers and theologians venerated by the other side as saints. Anathemas had been issued by the non-Chalcedonians specifically against Leo of Rome, in whose Tome the “two natures” Christology was given articulation, and by the Chalcedonians against Dioscorus of Alexandria, Philoxenos of Mabbugh and Severus of Antioch all of whom, in the 5th century, stood against the Council of Chalcedon out of their concern that its formulation lent itself to the heresy of Nestorianism.

 

It was the view of the Joint Commission that, Christological agreement having been reached, the lifting of these anathemas would or ought to proceed with dispatch and with a minimum of complications. As the Second Agreed Statement asserted simply, “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.”6

 

Of course, as anyone knows who has paid even remote attention to the work of the Joint Commission, to the talks that led up to it and to the discussions that have followed upon it, not everybody has understood the twentieth century warming of relations between the Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian Churches as a positive development. In some quarters within each of the communions, the speed and confidence with which the dialogue participants came to the conclusion that they are actually the same in all essentials of the faith has been cause for great alarm. In these quarters, the Joint Commission has been regarded as being insufficiently humble in the face of the witness of the Fathers, the great majority of whom never indicated that mere language and politics, mere unfounded suspicion and stubborn habit were all that divided the two Communions. For many people in both traditions, it is inconceivable that the Church could have been divided for fifteen hundred years: instead, they would insist that the other party fell into heresy or went into schism and that only by way of repentance and return can that party be reintegrated into the True Church which by definition remains eternally unbroken and undiminished in its fullness. Moreover, they argue that the decrees of an Ecumenical Council have a divine authority which cannot be challenged. They are suspicious of any notion that the hierarchs and theologians of the 20th century are more loving, more discerning, more reliably guided by the Holy Spirit than were the Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils. Understanding themselves to be more sober and less given over to sentimental enthusiasms than they believe the advocates of unity have tended to be, these critics of the rapprochement have taken upon themselves a role of guarding vigilantly the priceless pearl that has been handed down by Holy Tradition. From their point of view, it is important not to make changes that in any way risk calling into question the sacred character of this tradition. ‘The Faith is in danger, and we cannot trifle with things which cannot be trifled with. We are aware of our responsibility for the protection and preservation without innovations of the doctrine and ecclesiology of the holy Church as we have received them from the holy Fathers.”7 Naturally, this resistance to the work of the Joint Commission, this raising of voices in opposition to the lifting of the anathemas and in alarm over the possibility of reestablishing Communion between the two Churches, has come as a great discouragement to many of the participants and proponents of the dialogues. The mood of historic opportunity has been dampened. Joy at the imminent prospect that long-estranged brothers and sisters devoted to the same fully divine, fully human Jesus Christ might again dwell in unity has been replaced by disappointment, frustration and even resentment as that prospect has rapidly become more remote, due to the outcry against unity raised by those who say that the centuries-long division is itself proof of an intractably deep-seated difference in the faith.

 

It has been observed, meanwhile, that little of the resistance to the Joint Commission’s work has actually been concerned with the substantive doctrinal issues that initially divided the two communions. As John Erickson has written, “This opposition to the work of the Joint Commission does not appear to be based on Christological concerns.”8

 

Instead, what comes across in dozens of articles and memoranda expressing displeasure with the Joint Commission is that the central objections to the Commission’s activity have all been on ecclesiological grounds. Indeed, in the Athonite Memorandum’s list of objections to the Commission’s statements, the first four items are related to ecclesiology, and only the fifth item directly to Christology. A second statement issued by a committee from Mount Athos again lists as its first and foremost objection to the Commission’s findings a complaint “that in all three official statements [issued by the Joint Commission] the Orthodox have abandoned Orthodox ecclesiology, according to which our Orthodox Church constitutes the only One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.”9 This committee from Mount Athos does not address directly the claims about Christological agreement at all.

 

That issues of ecclesiology rather than Christology should be the focus of so much energy and controversy conforms precisely to predictions made very early in the course of the unofficial dialogues between representatives of the two communions. As early as 1971, the Russian Archpriest Vitaly Borovoy, an advocate for the lifting of the anathemas, observed:

The question of discontinuing the efficacy of the anathemas and mutual condemnations, and the recognition of saints, appears extremely complicated, very delicate and indeed the most difficult problem in the whole complex of ‘rapprochement’ between the Orthodox Churches which accept the Council of Chalcedon and those Eastern Churches which do not accept the Council.10

 

Fr. Borovoy goes on to say that this question is “far more difficult than the reaching of agreement about the foundations of a unified understanding by both sides of Christological formulae and about the correct interpretation of the dogmatic definition of the Council of Chalcedon.”
Fr. John Meyendorff, another proponent of reunification who participated in the dialogues from an early stage, shared Fr. Borovoy’s perception that ecclesiological issues would raise a thornier problem than the doctrinal ones. “Our real problem is how we should deal with Tradition. I am optimistic about real agreement on Christology. The problem is not just the acceptance of certain councils, but how we should deal with the whole range of problems connected with Tradition.”11 More specifically, Fr. Meyendorff elsewhere mentioned the mutual anathemas.

…the schism has led to opposing views and anthemas [sic] concerning people like Leo of Rome and Flavian of Constantinople, on the one side, and Dioscorus of Alexandria, Philoxenos of Mabbugh and Severus of Antioch on the other. In some ways, since our churches are churches holding strongly to tradition and continuity, this problem might be seen as more agonizing and difficult than the doctrinal agreement itself.1

 

Thus, though it is certainly true, as will be continually apparent in the chapters ahead, that strikingly different points of view have been set forth as to how to resolve the ecclesiological questions raised by the Joint Commission’s work—by its claim that Christological agreement has been reached and by its recommendation that the mutual anathemas be lifted—nevertheless there has been a remarkable degree of agreement in the view that the ecclesiological questions are what really need to be resolved. Referring to “the issue of our ecclesiological self-consciousness,” one Chalcedonian Orthodox writer has suggested that ‘The Athonite Memorandum has.. .done us all a considerable service in pointing to a dangerous situation within the Orthodox Church.”13 The danger is what he describes as a certain “incoherence” internally, in regard to different ecclesiological conceptions. Whatever the extent of this incoherence, there is little doubt that in dialogues and articles about relations between the two Communions, whatever people have called one another or whatever they have considered themselves to be— moderates, extremists, ecumenists, traditionalists—virtually all have understood that their most pointed differences with one another, as well as many of the uncertainties they may have within themselves, are connected somehow to this looming question of the nature of the Church.

 

This thesis offers some small bit of further reflection on that question. Specifically, it attempts to examine the ecclesiological principles behind the opposition to the Joint Commission’s recommendation to lift the mutual anathemas thus far maintained by the non-Chalcedonians against Leo of Rome (along with the other Fathers of Chalcedon) and by the Chalcedonians against Dioscorus of Alexandria, Philoxenos of Mabbugh and Severus of Antioch.

Chapters one and two consider arguments that are concerned directly with the issue of anathemas themselves—to the extent that it is possible to isolate this issue from the whole complex of issues with which it is connected.

 

Chapter one focuses on arguments about anathemas primarily in terms of their meaning in relation to their object; chapter two, primarily in terms of their meaning in relation to their source.

 

The third chapter examines a particular conception of unity that effectively disallows reunification of separated communions under any circumstances except by the submission of one, which has lost something in the moment and act of separation, to the other, which has lost nothing.

 

Chapter four looks at the question of terminological difference in terms of its ecclesiological implications. If two formulae exist and only one truth, this means either that one formula is right and the other wrong, that neither is quite right, or that both are right. Chapter four argues that the only sound basis for the reunification of Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian Orthodox is if it is agreed unequivocally that both the two-nature and one-nature Christologies are right—that each one is right not merely for those in the tradition which has upheld it but, now that mutual understanding has been reached (if indeed it has), absolutely and universally.

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

WHETHER ANATHEMAS HAVE AN ONTOLOGICAL OR A DIDACTIC BASIS

 

 

Responses to the recommendation that the specific mutual anathemas in question be lifted often vary according to different understandings of the purpose and meaning of anathemas in general. The outlines of two basic perspectives can be discerned in the various reflections and arguments set forth on this subject in the context of the twentieth century dialogues. One perspective is that when a person is anathematized, sure knowledge is thereby conveyed that he or she exists outside the communion of saints.

 

The other perspective is that when a person is anathematized it is primarily for the purpose of addressing a particular ecclesial situation. The first view understands anathemas to have an ontological basis; the second understands them to have a didactic function. Of course, these are by no means mutually exclusive perspectives, but invariably in the discourse surrounding the Joint Commission’s recommendations, one finds that, in fact, just one or the other way of undersanding anathemas is emphasized heavily and virtually to the exclusion of the other. Those who emphasize the ontological aspect tend to oppose any lifting of anathemas. Those who emphasize the didactic aspect are generally more eager to see them lifted.

 

Metropolitan John Zizioulas gives forceful expression to the view that whenever a name is commemorated or anathematized in the liturgical worship of a local church, this is meant to have an ontological significance, disclosing the eternal reality of the communion of saints.

 

…the expression: ‘remember, oh Lord, in the first place every Orthodox bishop,’ indicates that all local communities are taking part in each Eucharist with all the saints, living and departed. The Eucharist is thus a real synodos of the Church of God… An oclusion [sic] from this company of the saints by means of crossing out certain names from the Diptychs is thus to be understood ecclesiologically and not as a mere disciplinary act. The gravity which the ancient Church attached to anathema lies precisely in the view that in each Eucharistic celebration the entire communion of the saints participates in God’s kingdom and an exclusion from this communion means a break of deep ecclesiological, soteriological and even eschatological significance.14

 

The idea that in each Eucharistic celebration the entire communion of saints participates in God’s kingdom might imply that somehow the whole of every deceased person—down to his inmost thoughts and his destiny—is present with and accessible to the living who commemorate or otherwise include him with themselves in this communion. It seems that Metropolitan Zizioulas has in mind this mystical sense of the communion between the living and the dead when he contends that exclusion from the eucharistic celebration (by a pronouncement of anathema) is itself the sign that either the one anathematized or the gathered community anathematizing has undergone a break from the Church, from the means of salvation available through it and thus from the kingdom of God itself. Ultimately, this line of thinking about the communion of saints suggests that the Church understands itself to be disclosing, and to have had disclosed to it, every time it commemorates or anathematizes any human being, nothing less than the mind of God in relation to that person. To cite a name in the diptychs during the divine liturgy is then tantamount to having laid opened before the faithful the Book of Life itself in which are written the names of the elect. To exclude a name from these diptychs means the faithful can already know that that name does not appear in the Book of Life.

 

Two major questions are raised by this ontological understanding of the communion of saints. The questions are intertwined but can be considered each in its turn. One concerns the issue of ecclesial authority—to be taken up in the next chapter. The other is epistemological: it concerns the potential for further data to emerge and to intrude at any given time upon an image which may have taken shape within the mind of the Church about any and every historically bound person who in some very real sense has been known in and to the Church but not fully and perfectly as he is known to God.

 

The didactic understanding of the communion of saints emphasizes that in commemorating or in anathematizing a person, the Church does not make a final judgment about that person’s standing before God, Rather its purpose in holding up the person for veneration or for condemnation is to present very particular aspects of the person and even possibly to shape these aspects so as to provide an example through which to offer its guidance to the community of believers. According to this understanding, the saints are figures in the hands of the Church, molded and formed not, presumably, beyond all recognition from the unedited whole of themselves, yet defined nonetheless quite decisively and without any anguished sense of obligation on the part of the Church that its depiction be a work of meticulous realism.

 

In exactly the same way there is necessarily a process of selection of qualities and characteristics that goes on in how the Church pronounces an anathema (as well as in how it might repeat it in a later period). “It is erroneous to understand even dogmatic anathematizing, let alone canonical, as a spiritual death sentence, a complete separation from the Church.”15 After a certain point and in periods especially of great theological and ecclesial tumult, the Church does not hold off on making a determination about an influential teacher or hierarch until it has had a chance to do a more thorough and sensitive scholarly investigation into all the permutations of the writings or activities of the person in question. It acts boldly without always giving the same attention to the full personal reality of the individual it condemns as it gives to the urgent message it means to send out into a present and pressing ecclesial reality.

 

John Erickson has shown that some anathemas lose their theological specificity as they are repeated over time and thus become instances of a kind of “theological shorthand” which then might even take on meanings quite different from that of the original condemnation.

While III Constantinople can say anathema to Dioscorus and regard him as a progenitor of the monothelite heresy, this does not accurately reflect the views and activities of Dioscorus or how the Council of Chalcedon actually dealt with him. At the council Dioscorus was indeed deposed, but as the acts of the council indicate, “it was not for the faith that Dioscorus was deposed but because he had excommunicated the lord Leo, archbishop [of Rome], and that summoned three times, he did not come. This is why he was deposed.”

This same sixth council gives equally little attention to the specific teachings of Severus of Antioch when it proclaims the monothelite heresy (which it condemns) to be “similar to the mad and wicked doctrine of the impious Apollinaris, Severus and Themistius.”17 As Fr. Verghese observes: “Putting Apollinaris and Severus in the same bracket shows how little their thought was understood by the sixth synod.”18

 

What is underscored by these examples is the fairly elementary yet often neglected point that more than just a single, fixed identity can potentially be connected with a particular name. The ecclesial identity of historically bound persons is not static. Here the case also of Ibas of Edessa and Theodoret of Cyrhus is illuminating. How they were “known” at the time of Chalcedon, which did not speak out against them (though their writings had by then circulated), differed from how they were “known” a century later when the Council of II Constantinople did speak out against them.19 Furthermore, even with II Constantinople a certain ambiguity remains as to the ecclesial identity of these two figures. This fifth council specifies that its condemnations in regard to Ibas and Theodoret concern certain of their writings; they themselves are not condemned personally. This suggests that their relationship to others within the communion of saints remains ambiguous, neither quite here nor there. There is a break and, at the same time, not a complete break. Such a circumstance cannot be so well accounted for by the ontological understanding of the communion of saints; yet it can be by the didactic understanding. “We should try to realize continuity. But I doubt if true continuity can be maintained on the level of persons…. [T]ake Origen. He was indeed in communion with many, but does not even a council proclaim him out of communion? I would suggest that all we can do is to consider individuals as models in particular situations. Theopholis was considered a model in Egypt; but certainly he was not a model in his treatment of Chrysostom.”21
Thus the ecclesial identity of one person or another is often more mixed and unsettled than the ontological understanding of the communion of saints tends to suggest. Who Origen is at one time in the life of the Church is different from who he is at another time. Who the Dioscorus is who is named at the sixth holy synod differs from who the Dioscorus is who is named at the fourth. And, as the foregoing examples indicate, there is no guarantee that as the ecclesial identity of an anathematized individual changes over time, it will necessarily come to correspond more closely to the actual facts of that person’s life and activity.

 

One of the salient features of the twentieth century rapprochement between Chalcedonians and non-Chalcedonians has been the concern on both sides to at least attempt to come to a more balanced and accurate knowledge of the identities of the persons venerated by one tradition as saints and condemned by the other as heretics. Rather than just reaffirm their mutually exclusive loves and hatreds for these particular figures, both sides have begun to ask the question, more earnestly perhaps than it has been asked for many centuries: who really is the person represented, brought to mind, by a certain name spoken in condemnation by some and in veneration by others? Perhaps the anathematized Dioscorus is actually a different person from the venerated Dioscorus of the non-Chalcedonian Churches, and if there can be clarification about who Dioscorus is, then the change in his status in one Communion or the other would really be no change at all in what that Communion accepts or rejects—what it believes—but only a change in the understanding of whether Dioscorus represented it or not. “What we think of (or rather, how we understand) a person is not a guarantee of the actual position of that person. It may be that that person’s position is not according to what we think. Therefore we must study and conduct researches into these matters.”22

 

Such investigation requires an uncommon degree of detachment toward the figures venerated by one’s own tradition as saints (or, for that matter, toward the figures anathematized by it as heretics). One’s attachment to a venerated saint must not be so overpowering that one would refuse to look at information about him or her contrary to what had till then been known or taught. Instead, one’s first loyalty would never cease to be to the truth, and only secondarily would one be loyal to a particular person understood—thus far—to have embodied that truth.

The following passage contains a description of this kind of loyalty and unbounded receptivity to truth above all else:

 

…in 1179 when the…catholicos convened a council in Hromklay to consider the nine demands of the Byzantines for union, the Armenian fathers were cautious about Dioscorus. They stated that until now they had never heard of his being in agreement with Eutyches, and cited the letter of the eighth century Byzantine patriarch Germanus who had asked the Armenians to anathematize only Eutyches and no one else. They stated that their predecessors had already anathematized Eutyches but insisted that the Greeks provide the texts of Dioscorus’ and Eutyches’ writings for examination, and added that if there were any doctrinal similarities, then they would be willing to anathematize Dioscorus with those in agreement with Eutyches.23

It is not a Platonically eternal Dioscorus in some mystical ontological sense to whom the 12th century Armenian fathers felt attached, but to the Dioscorus they had known only so far as to have gained the impression about him that he had upheld the apostolic faith accurately. They understood that Dioscorus in their minds was a function of what they knew about him, and they did not presume to know and to commune with Dioscorus in his essence, nor did they cower in fear that finding out something different about him from what they had known would result in a profound shift in ecclesiological, soteriological and eschatological reality.

 

Confusion invariably sets in whenever events and personalities in the history of the Church are considered to be sealed off as completely from the realm of imminence and contingency as are the events and personalities to which access can be gained only through Scripture. The ontological understanding of the communion of saints contributes to such confusion. It does so by encouraging the notion that in some meaningful sense the saints departed from this life share with the living a communion that flies mystically above the material channels through which the living come into actual, mundane contact with them—that is to say, through what is told about them and what is left of their writings, artwork, and so on. If and when the Church chooses to fix a person’s identity, for example by pronouncing an anathema (if this is to be understood as irrevocable), in fact it severs its own literary image of that person from the contingent, imminent realm of that person’s earthly existence. In that case, there must be an awareness that the person is then knowable ecclesially as nothing more or less than a consciously, selectively shaped literary creation of the Church—presumably with edifying impact—and not in his or her ontological reality before God, For if a claim is made for the latter, then the Church, operating differently, remains ready to change its image of the person in question according to what further data might be brought forward about him or her; the matter of who the person really was then remains open-ended.24 To return to the example of Dioscorus: there is Dioscorus as he has been defined and shaped by the expressions about him uttered by the Chalcedonian Church, and a quite different Dioscorus defined and shaped by expressions about him uttered by the non-Chalcedonian Church, and then there is the historical Dioscorus who may at any moment be revealed to be something other than one or both of these depictions. This is patently not the case with regard to personal identities fixed eternally within the pages of Scripture. What is said about Jesus Christ in the Gnostic gospels or anywhere else has no bearing on the image of Him which, to believers in the apostolic revelation, is accessible only through the canonical Scriptures.

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWO

THE “WHEN” OF THE INFALLIBILITY AND HOLINESS OF THE CHURCH

 

The previous chapter offered a challenge to the epistemology implicit in any view of the communion of saints that suggests that the Church has full and inerrant knowledge of those whom it venerates or anathematizes. The present chapter will address the related issue of the holiness of the Church. If it is so, as the previous chapter argued, that the anathemas issued by the Council of Chalcedon are not guaranteed to disclose any ontological truth about the persons anathematized, what does this then say—or fail to say—about the Church as holy? The holiness of the Church, after all, is an article of faith no less fundamental than that of the communion of saints.

 

In discussions about lifting anathemas, differences have arisen as to how final any formal pronouncement of condemnation issued by the Church is to be taken to be. This question touches at once upon the related question of authority in the Church. As we shall see, the different points of view about whether or not the mutual anathemas can be lifted correspond to different points of view about how the Church is to be understood as speaking with one unerringly reliable voice. Ultimately, the main issue of debate is over the question of how and when there is assurance that that voice has made itself heard.

 

At one very far end of the spectrum are those who would suggest that whenever an anathema is issued by any duly ordained, elected or assembled authority within the single, visible and unbroken Apostolic Church of Christ, what has in fact occurred is that the one reliable voice of the Church has infallibly spoken. Almost nobody would consciously endorse this way of understanding the matter. Often enough, however, it forms the unexamined basis for much of the dim reflection upon the Church that can have a quite powerful and widespread influence. In Moscow at the Jubilee Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, in August 2000, one of the “Basic Principles” included under the heading “The unity of the Church and the sin of human divisions” is the following:

The One, Holy, Catholic Church is the Apostolic Church. Through the divinely instituted priesthood the gifts of the Holy Spirit are communicated to the faithful. The apostolic succession of the hierarchy, beginning from the holy apostles, is the basis of the communion and unity of grace-filled life. Any deviation from the lawful Church authority is a deviation from the Holy Spirit, from Christ Himself.25

Though not quite impossible to construe in such a way that it might be understood to say something true, this passage is nevertheless highly misleading. Its last sentence is egregiously so. Taking it in its plain sense it suggests that the enemy of Christ is by definition anybody who holds convictions contrary to the teaching or guidance of any validly ordained bishop in apostolic succession, none of whom can be mistaken since, as the document elsewhere maintains, “The Catholic Church cannot transgress or even err or utter falsehood instead of truth,” the reason being that the Holy Spirit “always acts” through the faithful of the Church and “guards her against every mistake.”
What is articulated here without much nuance is the conception of the Church as holy. It is, in fact, true that the Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church cannot err. But how often particular “lawful Church authorities” in a given place and time are acting and speaking in conformity to the mind of the Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church is another question.

 

The history of the Church makes amply apparent how untenable it is to say that an anathema issued by any “lawful Church authority” is infallible and irrevocable—that is, if “lawful Church authority” is to be taken in its plain sense to refer to something easily identifiable at any given time and place simply by observing the canonical status of a given bishop or priest. To take a simple and obvious example: is St. Cyril of Alexandria to be regarded as a “lawful Church authority”? A duly ordained and consecrated patriarch of one of the most ancient sees, and for more than fifteen hundred years since his death a venerated saint (venerated by Chalcedonians and non-Chalcedonians alike), he is remembered as a great defender of the faith; selections of his writings are included as bedrock theological foundations in the acts of two Ecumenical Councils. It is hard to imagine who could be held up as a higher or more sure “lawful Church authority” than St. Cyril. Yet he regarded his contemporary St. John Chrysostom, to use the words of Fr. Meyendorff, as “a heretic and an imposter” and refused to have his name read out in the Alexandrian diptychs. The mind of the Church has determined (without any great hand-wringing) that it is Cyril’s anathema against John Chrysostom that was “a deviation from the Holy Spirit, from Christ Himself’—irrespective of Cyril’s own status as a “lawful Church authority”, indeed even as an outright saint and pillar of the faith. As Meyendorff points out, “one should remember that the Church never believed in the infallibility of any human being, not even the saints.”27

But what about saints acting together? St. Cyril, it might be argued, does not have the authority to issue a formal anathema by himself, but when a council at which 600 bishops are gathered together proclaims that certain persons are anathema, does not the element of conciliarity ensure that these pronouncements are issued with the unmistakeable authority of the Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church?

Even here, the issue remains ambiguous. Lionel Wickham expresses this colorfully:

Whatever it is, an ecumenical council is not like a sacrament; it is not valid in virtue of its form and matter. Whoever convokes an ecumenical council takes the risk that it may be a complete flop, like Shakespeare’s Glendower, in Henry IV part one, you may call spirits from the vast deep: ‘but will they come when you call for them?’—as Hotspur puts it skeptically. Something beyond formal correctness is required both for the efficacy and the validity of ecumenical councils; namely, the assent of the Church’s heart and mind. Indeed, ‘assent’ may not be the right word, for it hints too much at constrained obedience.28

Wickham’s understanding of authority sees the Church not only in the role of issuing decrees and statements but also in the role of receiving and assenting to them. In its role of expounding doctrine and pronouncing condemnations the Church of course is forward-facing in time; in its role of receiving them it is backward-facing. But the Church cannot be understood as infallible unless it performs both of these roles; and with regard to any given statement it cannot do so simultaneously.
To act or speak infallibly, then, the Church must commune with itself—always an act across time. Section III/5 (‘The Infallibility (Unerring) of the Church”) of the “26 Agreed Statements” of the Old Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue 1(975-1987) points toward this concept when it connects infallibility with wholeness:

The Church is only infallible as a whole but not its individual members themselves, be they bishops, patriarchs, or popes, or be they clergy, people, or individual local Churches themselves. Because the Church is the fellowship of believers who are all taught by God (cf. Jn. 6:45), infallibility uniquely applies to the whole Church. .. .It is the believers as a whole who have the ‘unction of him who is holy’, who rightly know the truth (cf. 1 Jn. 2:20, 27) and live by it. These believers as a whole, then, do not commit an error when they profess a common faith in one accord from the bishops to the last believer of the people.29 [italics mine]

If no anathema would be understood to be infallible, not even one issued by an Ecumenical Council, unless it had been fully received by the whole Church, at once there arises the question of what it is that signals that such reception is complete. The statement above speaks of the infallibility of any expression as something that is secured not before all members of the Church, from the bishops to “the last believer” of the people, have professed their common belief in it with one accord. Pushed to a logical conclusion, this would mean that the infallibility of any statement is never secured— except eschatologically. For the communion of saints consists not only of those who have come before us and of those now living with us in the body of Christ but also of those who are to come after us, and it is always possible that a present delusion into which the Church is unaware of having fallen awaits exposure by somebody yet to be bom. Understood in these terms, and, again, to take the line of thought to its logical conclusion, the very existence of ongoing discussion about a particular pronouncement made in the name of the Church, however long ago, would itself be an indication of incomplete reception and thus would mean that the pronouncement cannot be assumed to have the stamp of infallibility.30

 

In considering the question of the holiness of the Church, what we have seen thus far are two general approaches or emphases. Each raises fears of a slippery slope in its own direction. Where the first approach seems virtually to end up is in saying that the Church on earth—embodied by the words spoken and the actions done by particular people consecrated as bishops, baptized in particular places, teaching according to the styles of the traditions in which they have been formed, etc.—is always holy. The second approach seems virtually to end up saying that the Church on earth is never holy.
The contrast is evident in the following pair of passages. The first is from a paper delivered at the Addis Ababa consultations in 1971. The second is a response to it.

 

Together they indicate one of the perennial tensions in ecclesiological thought, manifest throughout the twentieth century dialogues.

 

The sway of the absolute in the Church, in ecclesiastical consciousness, widens exaggeratedly and takes over nearly everything that is relative, historical or human. This awareness of the absolute is carried over also into everything that is secondary in the Church, even into her everyday life which is created by sinful human hands. But the sober history of the Church speaks clearly to every ignoramus of how it is essential to have reciprocal admission, by the Churches, of their mistakes and failings—all of which in no way damages the infallible and absolutely true essence of the Church…..In a word, it is evident that the infallible principle of the Church rests, not on the surface of her historical life and practice, but on the depths.31

I thought that the human element in church history (which is very strong) was well stressed in the paper. However, I think Fr. Borovoy was a little weak on the side of the divine or eternally true element. There is too much relativisation.32

The fear of relativism is one that will be given more extensive attention in chapter four (in the context of examining how two different doctrinal formulae can be known to refer to a single absolute truth). For now, it may be noted that there are indeed dangers both in the direction of calling too many things holy and divine and in the direction of calling nothing holy and divine—nothing, at any rate, that can be put into words. When Borovoy suggests the Church is infallible “not on the surface of her historical life and practice, but on the depths,” the statement invites the question whether it is not on the level of her historical life and practice that her members most intimately know her. If it is the case that the holiness of the Church does not rise up from the depths to reach this level, this leaves a great deal of uncertainty as to what it is from day to day that members of the Church cling to and depend on, where they put their trust. If everything that representatives of the Church ever say is provisional, awaiting final assent by the “last believer” yet to be bom, then what is it presently that secures and binds together the faithful?

The alarmed reactions from Mount Athos and elsewhere to the recommendations of the Joint Commission to lift the anathemas must be understood in light of this concern. Their overstated claims in regard to the undifferentiated holiness of the Fathers and the inerrancy of the Councils come in reaction to an emphasis on the unreliability of the Fathers and of the Councils that they fear might easily open the way to a situation in which everything would be considered debatable, nothing sacred.33

Their resolution to the dilemma, however, comes from a misunderstanding of the true nature of the holiness of the Church. The paternalism (so different from the patristic outlook itself) with which Christendom has sought repeatedly to secure a bulwark to protect the flock of Christ from multiplicity of possibilities, from drowning in a sea of open-ended questions, proves eventually to shut out the work of the Holy Spirit whose action occurs precisely upon these chaotic waters and not where there has been no venturing out into them with “the risk of faith.” What this chapter has attempted to show is that, first, the Church is never assuredly itself in its fullness except in its twin roles of proclamation and reception; and, second, that in its receptive role, it is never completely safeguarded from having to distinguish holiness from unholiness in any ostensibly charismatic locus of itself at all, not even in a venerated saint such as St. Cyril. There is no automatic or foolproof means of knowing where, when and specifically in what aspects the Church as it exists in time is indeed the Holy Church in its reliable, unerring fullness. Even in regard to one of its Ecumenical Councils the Church of the present cannot assume it already knows all it needs to know and thereby has been released—set permanently on dry land—from the disturbances involved in the task of looking again if circumstances press upon it this demand. “In fact, the opinion that subsequent generations must refrain from critical analysis of the Ecumenical Councils’ heritage denies the Holy Spirit’s continued activity in the Church, insofar as it presupposes that the Spirit was active only in antiquity and not today.”34

As Alfeyev here suggests, the mind of the Church as it struggles to know itself in the present cannot be merely subservient to, controlled by, and subsumed into the mind of the Church as it has come to us through the fires of its struggles to know itself in the past. The Holy Spirit indwells this mind of the Church both in the present and in what reaches us from the past, but the Holy Spirit is not all that is to be found in either one.

If we see the Church as it comes to us from the past as dead or creatively irrelevant, having nothing to bring to us that we specifically need, we deny the holiness of the Church that extends throughout all ages, and deny also the communion of the saints across time. Conversely if we see the Church of the present as dead or creatively irrelevant, having nothing to bring to the past that it still needs,35 we equally deny the holiness of the Church and the communion of saints. Neither past nor present in the life of the Church is sufficient without the other. Just as any two people in the body of Christ need each other if the body is to function properly, so the present and past generations stand in ongoing need of each other. Each past generation in our encounter with it is a mix of holiness and unholiness which it did not manage by itself to sort out fully in its own time. Until the Last Day it will continue to be in a state of at least some need for further communion with subsequent generations who can offer it correction.36 At the same time even as it receives this help it always offers the present generation with whom it comes into contact something holy from within itself, a timely word, something that contributes to the purification of the present generation. The danger, then, is not to dare to say that unholiness stains the lives of the Fathers and some of the words that come down to us from them, but rather to say either of two things: that the words of the Fathers are coterminous with the Holy Spirit and we cannot possibly judge them, or that the words of the Fathers are void of the Holy Spirit and cannot possibly judge us.

According to Nikos Nissiotis: “’Reception’ presupposes a communal act and leads to community.” If this is so, and if the communion of the saints extends throughout the ages, then an irrevocable end to the act of reception would be a break in communion.

 

 

CHAPTER THREE

SCHISM, CONFESSIONALISM AND EXISTENTIALISM

 

This chapter will briefly examine two further aspects of prevalent conventional thinking on ecclesiology given expression during the dialogues between Chalcedonians and non-Chalcedonians. Like those considered in the preceding chapters, these lines of thought, both of which erect extra hurdles in the path of reunification, are contradicted by viewpoints others have offered during the consultations or in written response to the issues raised in them.

 

First, there is the idea that the integrity of the Church would be compromised were the Church to be reunited with any Communion that has been separated from it.
This idea derives from a conviction that as the body of Christ, the Church cannot be divided, and that therefore anytime a split occurs, one party has remained the true Church while the other party has fallen away from it. The only possible avenue to reconciliation, then, is for the party that has fallen away to recognize its error, repent of it and return to the true Church which has, for the benefit of all, continued faithfully to bear witness to its own unbroken reality in continuity with the Church of the Apostles.

 

“Every division or schism implies a certain measure of falling away from the plenitude of the Church. A division, even if it happens for non-doctrinal reasons, is a violation of Orthodox teaching on the nature of the Church and leads ultimately to distortions in the faith.”38

According to this perspective no other Communion can be regarded as being of equal standing with one’s own. The 1995 Athonite Memorandum formulates the first of its eleven denunciations in the following words: “For the bringing into question by the Joint Commission of the continual consciousness of our Church, that it constitutes the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, when the Commission accepted the statement ‘Both families have always preserved faithfully the same authentic Orthodox Christological Faith and the uninterrupted continuity of the apostolic tradition.”’39

 

In a similar vein, outrage against an Oriental and Eastern Orthodox symposium in the mid-1990’s was generated on the grounds that “the symposium, in heinous violation of the ecclesiological self-definition of the Orthodox Church as the One and Only Church of Christ, blasphemously referred to ‘the two Orthodox Churches’ as ‘one Orthodox family,”’ to quote the heretical phrase of one Coptic priest.”40 The criticism here is not simply that while the two Communions remain in division it is inaccurate to say they are “one”. More profoundly, the criticism is rooted in the conviction that the two never could (except by way of the other’s repentance and submission) become one, for the reasons outlined above. Any notion to the contrary is immediately branded a version of the “Branch Theory” according to which all the various Churches separated from one another but having emerged from the same trunk and roots can be cheerfully thought of as belonging to the same tree despite their current state of separation from one another—a state which need not be overly lamented, so the theory goes, since they all continue to be nourished by the same root system.

 

The Branch Theory is properly disparaged insofar as it is used to say that any and all separated communities which call themselves Christian can simply be assumed to be equally rooted in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, and that all remain in full spiritual health even if they remain in a state of perpetual separation. The criticism that such a view sees too little wrong in Christian division is justified. However, in and of itself, the use of the image of branches to represent separated Communions cannot always be assumed to be inappropriate; it does not automatically imply adherence to the “Branch Theory”. In the history of the Chalcedonian Church there have in fact been branchings on numerous occasions within the life of what is often superficially imagined as a tradition of perfect continuity. Diverging and re-connecting streams, perhaps, would be a better image than branches to apply to those schisms that only in retrospect are able to be seen as having been internal and impermanent.41 But whatever image is used, such instances of separation and reintegration within the life of the una sancta suggest that the conviction of the Church has not always been that every and all division places one party outside the body of Christ. Fr. Borovoy in his article concerning anathemas and recognition of saints calls attention to several important moments in the history of the Church in which schisms—even ones where doctrinal errors had been held—ended without any idea that in the meantime the spiritual life of one side had been interrupted or degraded to the point that upon reconciliation it was not still recognized as having been the Church all along.

In the Arian period the Eastern episcopate under the leadership of the Antiochenes fell away from Nicene orthodoxy which had been strongly conserved by the Western Churches under the leadership of Rome. The reconciliation experiment of the Council of Sardica (343) only led to a formal separation of the Churches ‘which imposed mutual excommunications on nine leading bishops from each side. After this Council,” in the words of the historian Sozomen, “the Easterners and the Westerners no longer mixed with one another and did not have communion as fellow-believers.’ The rift lasted throughout four decades. As late as 378, at a Council in Rome, the Antiochenes were abused for being Arians from the lips of Peter of Alexandria! Only in 379 did Rome recognize Meletios of Antioch, and the group of 146 Eastern bishops around him, as Orthodox, although many of them had received consecration from Arians. In response to this, the Council of Antioch in 379 bore witness from its side to the reconciliation of the Churches which was then—in 381—solemnly affirmed at the Council of Constantinople, later recognized as ecumenical. In the face of this reunification of Churches living separately, they simply did not recall the mutual excommunications of the Council of Sardica in 343. Both sides reciprocally declined to suspect one another of opposing heresies. Both approached one another in mutual understanding, each preserving its own shade of theology. The Easterners signed afresh the Nicene ‘consubstantiality’. The Westerners accepted the Eastern formula ‘three hypostaseis’ and did not reject the Arian ordinations of the Easterners. Nobody ‘annexed’ anybody else to himself. Both halves of the Church united afresh. All that had been experienced in the time of separation was not reckoned as empty or deprived of grace.42

An implicit but crucial factor in the unfolding of these events Borovoy describes is that the Western Church, which alone had maintained doctrinal orthodoxy, did not place under ongoing, torturous observation the inward state of mind of the 146 Eastern bishops who had not maintained it. In other words, what the Eastern episcopacy really thought and felt—in a sense, both before and after the reconciliation—was understood by the West to be effectively unknowable. Their inner reality could not fruitfully or responsibly be taken as an object of concern. Rather, the object of concern was right teaching. Not an existential change in the hidden depths of the life of the Church but an outward, mutually voluntary agreement about sound doctrine was what marked the difference between 378 and 379. The fact that all could now agree together on what the right teaching was and that all agreed to promote it was the important thing; the ever-ambiguous mystery of people was not.

 

One further historical example recounted by Borovoy again illustrates this point that unity on the verifiable level of teaching, and not on the level of the spiritual states or “locations” (whether outside or inside the Body) of people, was actually the abiding concern of the Church in discerning when or how to lift or maintain anathemas.

A new split between the Churches took place at the Third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus (431) with the Alexandrine and Roman Churches on the one side and the Antiochene on the other. And there was a new reconciliation in 433. St. Cyril gave up his 12 anathemas and signed a text that was typically Antiochene. A normal reconciliation came about. It was a reunification with a mutual ignoring of the harsh anathemas pronounced by one side and the other two years before. The bishops who had anathematized each other agreed to leave general excommunication on the head of only one person—Nestorius. By this it was tacitly acknowledged that all other bishops, reciprocally excommunicated from the Church in the course of the past two years, had not been objectively deprived of the grace of priesthood and had not been performing the sacraments in vain, also that their congregations, both in Alexandria and in Antioch, had not been deprived of the gifts of grace in their churches and so continued to save their souls, in spite of the subjective conviction of their bishops that their theological antagonists in the other Church were already expelled from the priesthood and were accordingly without grace. Both sides were real and possessed of grace, both were genuine catholic Churches, only from a conditional, formal, disciplinary and outward point of view they had separated.43

The fact that this schism lasted only for a couple of years, and the schism after the Council of Sardica not quite forty, obviously means that neither of them is comparable in every respect with the schism that has lasted for more than fifteen hundred years between Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian Christians: in the case of the schism that ended with the Reunion Formula of 433, those who separated and then reconciled were the same actual people. On the other hand, a schism lasting four decades is long enough at least that during it many people would have died; in this much, it provides a point of comparison with a schism lasting centuries. In regard to both there arises the natural question: when the schism heals, what “becomes” of the ecclesial status of those who died while it lasted? Does the fact of their continuity with those of their own “stream” who chronologically followed them and who lived to see the reunification of the two streams have the effect of binding them together retroactively with those from whom they had been disconnected in their lifetimes? These questions are thought-provoking— interesting drawings might be made to elucidate them—but as Borovoy’s comments have persuasively shown, the Church was not concerned with them. The behavior of the ancient Church in its handling of schismatic situations indicates that it saw as its essential task the securing of sound doctrine, not the gaining or disclosing of knowledge about the destinies of individuals.

 

The preceding pages in this chapter have dealt with the ecclesiological misconception that division is always, axiomatically, its own evidence of a break from the communion of saints and is something alien to the bosom of the una sancta. The second misconception with which this chapter will be concerned is actually of a piece with the first. That it is treated separately at all is somewhat artificial but perhaps will be useful insofar as it may make more clear the shape of the misconception in contrast to the perspective I present as normative in the life of the Church.

Broadly speaking, the normative perspective I have attempted to delineate can be called “confessionalist”; and the one to which it stands in contrast can be called “existentialist”. These terms may have their limitations, but since the former is employed already (by a particularly strong and articulate proponent of the latter position), and since no criticism leveled against it yet suggests to me a reason why “confessionalism” has anything actually wrong with it either as a term or as a position, it seems sensible to follow the lead established by its usage. As for the suitability of the term “existentialist,” the reader may assess this in the pages ahead.

 

The prolific spokesman for ecclesiological existentialism (if not even its architect), Metropolitan Zizioulas, offers the following statement of intended criticism of “confessionalism”:

The development and spread of confessionalism in the last centuries has led even the Orthodox to regard the differences between divided Christians as being mainly matters of theological or strictly speaking doctrinal disagreement, and to think of reunion as the automatic result of an agreement on these issues. This confessionalistic approach to the problem of healing existing schisms is basically incompatible with Orthodoxy. Genuine Orthodox tradition never allowed an understanding of the Church in confessional terms.44

If the most serious strike against confessionalism is that genuine Orthodox tradition never allowed an understanding of the Church in such terms, a reasonable place with which to begin would be to ask what is meant by genuine Orthodox tradition. The historical examples considered earlier are just two of many that would appear to show that confessionalism was exactly the understanding of the ancient Church. It is difficult to see on what Zizioulas bases his contention that it is an untraditional approach. Yet he is adamant that as a basis for reunification, whether between Chalcedonians and non-Chalcedonians or any other pair of divided Communions, it is inadequate.

 

Achievement of reunion is not to be sought primarily through dialogue and negotiations of a confessional character…[E]ven when such confessional dialogue does prove to be fruitful, unity should not and cannot be based simply on the results of such a dialogue. Schism and division do not affect only the Church’s teaching. Even if a schism begins with confessional disturbances, it always affects much more deeply and widely the reality of the Church. 45

 

In fact the evidence points in the opposite direction. Surely, schism has always been discouraged in the life of the Church, from the time of St, Cyprian and well before. But the treatises against schism written by Cyprian, Augustine and others have served a preventive function in the life of the Church—to discourage schism before it happens—more than they have been used after the fact as disclosures about the ontology of schismatics or as a basis to say why any quick or simple reconciliation is impossible. In the case of the Arsenite schism, which did not involve any matter of doctrine, one can see that when the time was ripe for them to set aside their differences, the opposing sides were not caught up in meditating upon how their separation had affected “deeply and widely the reality of the Church”. Rather, they simply proceeded to be reunited, by whatever means necessary to insure the sense of legitimacy and continuity—in that case, exhuming the body of Arsenius himself and ceremonially taking from his skeletal hand a note exonerating those he had anathematized half a century before.46 If this example shows anything, it is the lengths to which the Church was willing to go to bring factions back into unity, and without somber inquiries into whatever nebulous effects the schism may have had on the Church’s existential reality. It did not take the view that being in schism was its own evidence of a virtually insurmountable problem. Zizioulas seems to take such a view when he writes:

 

We should bear in mind that the Oriental and Eastern Orthodox Churches have not simply been in disagreement on matters of Orthodox faith but in a state of schism. This is a very harsh reality, much harsher than any disagreement on issues of doctrine. The roots of this reality are deep and complicated and call for a very careful and delicate treatment of the problem.47

 

One awaits some specific comment as to what the complex roots of the state of schism are. Zizioulas instead takes the peculiar step of saying that the complex trouble is rooted in the schism. “In the lines that follow, an attempt will be made to point out some of these complicated issues which are rooted in our schismatic situation.”48 The circular logic is evident: in the span of just two successive sentences, Zizioulas has gone from saying that the harsh reality of being in schism has deep, complicated roots to saying that what the complicated issues are rooted in is the schismatic situation itself. The roots of schism are deeply complicated and are rooted in the schism!

In contrast to this sense of deep complexity and ontological mystery surrounding schism, consider the simplicity of the quite different approach of Patriarch Ignatius IV of Antioch who strips the issue down to its bare essentials.

To say that in Christ there is perfect divinity and perfect humanity is acceptable. The error occurs when one would say that one of these (i.e. either the divinity or the humanity) is not perfect. Therefore, our question to them, and this really took place in our discussions while I was present, stemmed from our (Chalcedonian Orthodox) Baptismal Service. We asked the Syrian Orthodox: According to (our) Rite of Baptism, do you believe that Christ is Perfect God? Their answer was a ‘yes’. Another question we asked them: Do you believe that Christ is Perfect Man? Their response was another ‘yes’. Therefore I don’t understand where there is disagreement between us, specifically in this issue. Therefore the content of our faith is the same.49

 

Patriarch Ignatius readily acknowledges that the reaching of doctrinal agreement does not magically or immediately make two longstanding traditions one.50 The magnitude of the division does not escape him. His entire conception of the Church, however, begins with the Church’s mission outward and thus with questions about kerygmatic content of faith rather than with its inward life and questions about an existential reality deeply or mystically particular to it.

 

It is the existentialist conception of the Church that finds expression in the document from the Jubilee Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church: “The division of Christendom is a division in the experience of faith itself, not just in doctrinal formulations. Formal doctrinal unity does not exhaust what is meant by the unity of the Church, though it is one of its essential conditions.”51

If division is understood to relate not just to doctrinal formulations but to “the experience of faith,” then the range of possible faith-dividing factors, tangible or intangible, can be extended indefinitely. Small matters might count as much as large ones. “Everyone knows,” writes Fr. Theodore Zisis, a professor at the University of Thessaliniki, “that unity presupposes unity in faith, worship and administration, and that especially in matters of faith unity reaches even to the small points, because by reason of the coherence, cohesion and innermost connection of the truths of the faith ‘he who damages a small part damages the whole.’”52

One of the writers of the patristic period who appeared to be ignorant of all this that professor Zisis says everyone knows is St. Gregory of Nazianzus. He wrote, “there is a separation not only between us and those who hold aloof in their impiety, but also between us and those who are most pious—a separation in regard both to such doctrines as are of small consequence and to expressions intended to bear the same meaning.”53 Gregory obviously did not feel that all differences even in doctrine warranted disunity.

To presuppose, in the manner of existentialist ecclesiology, that unity of faith reaches even to the small points often involves, as a natural consequence, the suppression of any sense of permission, let alone obligation, to differentiate between what is primary and what is secondary (not to mention what is holy and what is actually unholy) in the recorded thoughts and feelings of the Fathers within one’s tradition. No longer are these Fathers then the vehicles merely for transmitting the apostolic revelation, but for transmitting themselves, their own personalities—their experience. How they saw and felt in everything, we must see and feel. The disclosure or refined comprehension of data they either lacked or had yet to be able to synthesize cannot be admitted now without severing us completely from the anchor of their influence. So it is said for example that to see the true faith in non-Chalcedonians would constitute, ipso facto, a fissure in the unity of the faith with the Fathers of the Chalcedonian Church who did not see it. As professor Zisis exclaims, “[W]ill we provoke a schism in the perduring unity and catholicity of the Orthodox Church, forcing the Orthodox of the twentieth century to believe differently about the non-Chalcedonians than the Orthodox of the preceding generations, especially when this faith was fortified and taught by enlightened and holy persons?”54

One can see how easily the phrase “believe differently” comes to have its own dark meaning quite apart from what the actual object of the differing belief might happen to be, whether it is something central or peripheral. In either case to “believe differently” is a problem in itself—affecting the “experience of faith.” The early Church of course was always concerned with divergences in belief over major doctrinal matters, but not always over others, and certainly not with the nonspecific idea (lacking any substantive direct object) of believing the same for the sake of believing the same. A man destined to be venerated as a great saint of the Church, St. Cyril, believed differently, as we have seen, about another man similarly destined, St. Chrysostom, than subsequent generations did, yet remains in continuity with those later generations himself.

Where the propensity did increase toward regarding differences in the “small points” as a grounds for division, this tended to be in contexts where a division already was in place and polemics entered in to make of it as much sense, so to speak, as possible. In reference to the post-Chalcedon period, S. Peter Cowe writes: “…the debate often lost its purely dogmatic nature when additional ‘ammunition’ for the dispute was garnered from divergences in liturgical practice. Whereas before these had added to the richness of the church’s catholicity in glorifying the Creator of all, now legitimate diversity in worship was read as suspicious deviation.”55

Once parallel liturgical traditions have evolved separately over a long period, the process of bringing them together again is difficult—and in the view of some, impossible.

 

Theodore Pulcini has written of the notion of liturgical “immiscibility”.56 If the “experience of faith” is an indispensable aspect of unity, ongoing separateness in regard to liturgical worship—even if doctrinal agreement exists—would keep the members of two traditions from being able to share fully with one another the life in Christ. This is the assumption of existentialist ecclesiology. In apparent sympathy with its premises, Pulcini proposes “encounter weekends” between non-Chalcedonian and Chalcedonian parishes. “It seems to me that it is of little consequence to speak of unity on a theological level if there is no experience of unity in the day-to-day encounters between our churches.”57 (italics added) It is of the utmost importance, however, to look very closely at the actual goal of Pulcini’s recommendation and to see that it is entirely distinct from the goal of existential ecclesiology. For he writes: “I firmly believe that once the sense of ‘liturgical strangeness’ is overcome through such interactive weekends, much of the resistance to formal union will be overcome.”58 For Pulcini, the activity of everybody’s participating together in one particular form of liturgical worship—beholding exactly the same icons, smelling the same smells, hearing the same intonations, following the same movements of the celebrants, singing precisely the same hymns and thereby, taking all of this together, sharing, one might say, the same “experience of faith”—is not an end in itself, as it is for ecclesiological existentialists. Rather, the end in view is that of overcoming “the resistance to formal union”. In other words, the purpose of the encounter weekends is not to enter into the spiritual space of one another so as to be united in it, but to allow deep-seated, long-nurtured parochialisms and prejudices to be confronted and dispelled. Another means for working toward this same result—since, after all, not every member of the communion of saints can share the liturgical experience of every other, from every place and time—is to encourage through plain and insistent teaching, in direct opposition to existentialist ecclesiology, a return to the mindset described by Cowe that thought that divergences in liturgical practice, so long as there was secure, tested confessional identity, “added to the richness of the church’s catholicity in glorifying the Creator of all.”
In the other direction lies a deeper and deeper preoccupation with “my own experience”, or, what is really just an extension of this, “our own experience”—hinging, in any case, upon what Freud called “the narcissism of minor differences”. In his Gontag (encyclical) of 4 July 1965, Catholicos Vazken of the Armenian Church urged that “each historically developed Christian Church with its saints, doctrines, traditions, etc., should be preserved in their purity, whole and unmixed and unchanged, without the addition or subtraction of an iota.. .Efforts for unity through reexamination of doctrinal positions so as to effect uniformity are still premature. Such efforts may open the door to new disputes, new misunderstandings and new dissensions.”59

 

There is little doubt that “efforts for unity through reexamination” do indeed open the door to new disputes, misunderstandings and dissensions. But in that case it might possibly only mean that what is coming, contrary to the usual associations, from the hand of the ecumenist is the sword and from the mouth of the traditionalist the words “peace, peace” when there is no peace. The hope is that the new disputes, misunderstandings and dissensions will be fruitful. As matters stand now, to use the words of John Erickson, “we seem to be entering the age of the parallel monologue. What counts are my own people, my own tradition, my own group, my own orientation. Those formed by other contexts may be tolerated or even honored with faint words of praise, but they are, as it were, ‘ontologically different’ (to quote Patriarch Bartholemew’s Georgetown speech once again). They are, for me, spiritually empty. No solid basis exists for dialogue, communication and communion.”60

 

This inward-turned focus claiming that communication cannot travel across the boundaries of dissimilar personal experience is salient in the following passage. It is at once a claim to know on the basis of personal experience that the Chalcedonian Orthodox Church is alone the Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church in its fullness, and a lament over what the author observes to be, on the part of many lifelong Chalcedonian Orthodox, a lack of awareness or appreciation that this is so.

 

The ‘cradle-born’ Orthodox ecumenist simply does not know, cannot know what it is like not to be Orthodox. On this account, judge us not unless one has been where we have been.. .So, let us never cease calling people to come home, even though some of our own would condemn us still. Many of us know what it is like to be orphans and then to have the joy of arriving safely home. By the waters of Baptism and the sealing of Chrismation, God’s grace, active in our heterodox lives, to be sure, was sealed; but oh, the fullness, the abundance of that grace now. It is a chalice overflowing, a source of living water. It is the fulfillment of the prophecy of a river overflowing from the temple, the One True Church of Christ, into all nations, setting the captives free, and bringing them home, for ever.”61

 

Ordinarily, and particularly in an academic work on ecclesiological questions, direct reflection upon another’s personal testimony would be averted, since this testimony has a certain sacredness it is nobody else’s business to handle. But since the personal testimony of Fr. Reeves is put to the purpose of furthering in the give-and-take of public discourse a particular ecclesiological perspective that has implications and consequences—as this chapter has attempted to show—for the Church as a whole, the unseemliness of my commenting on his testimony will perhaps be offset, if not excused, by the concern to assess the more general perspective. The problem with his thesis is that in order for it to be tested, he would need to join yet another Communion he has not known first-hand and see how he experienced being in it, how much “fullness” and “abundance” of grace he felt. If he joined, for example, one of the non-Chalcedonian Churches and felt just as much fullness and abundance as he now does, then he could conclude that the two Communions are both True. If he felt more than he now does, he could conclude that the non-Chalcedonian is the True one; if less, he could conclude that the True one is, just as he had thought, the Chalcedonian. Obviously, this is a less promising way of understanding the Church than the confessional approach, which seeks to identify commonality of faith on the basis of teaching and not of experiences of fullness. The Church of the first millennium seems to have approached divisions in this more confessional, less experiential way. As a consequence it seemed to handle them more hopefully.

 

CHAPTER FOUR

“TWO RIGHTS” AND THE SPECTRE OF RELATIVISM

 

This chapter will consider different understandings of the relationship between the two christological formulae by which, originally, and still most centrally, Chalcedonians and non-Chalcedonians have understood themselves to be divided from each other. We have seen in the preceding chapters that it is, in fact, quite possible for the two Communions to understand themselves as fundamentally different even without ever returning to the original question of these differing christological formulae. Without speaking of the formulae it is possible to point to the anathemas as evidence in themselves that a boundary between the two traditions is fixed; without speaking of the formulae it is possible to say that if there had not been a fundamental difference, schism would never have begun; or to say that however large or small the significance of the original disagreement, once the schism did begin, there were, from that point forward, two dissimilar identities/realities that could then never be one again. I have hoped to show that all these ways of insisting, without reference to the christological formulae, that two separated Communions—any two—cannot be reunited as equals, or as diverted streams able to be reconnected, are illegitimate. Far from being universal principles of Orthodox ecclesiology and thus immovable obstacles to the reunification of Chalcedonians and non-Chalcedonians, they are distortions, borne of a certain oversystematization of doctrines concerning the oneness of the Church, the holiness of the Church and the communion of the saints.

 

If that is so, it still leaves the question of the two christological formulae and how they are to be understood in relation to each other. To this question, four basic responses or approaches can be discerned in the various dialogues and related writings. These are:

 

  • 1) To say that the two-nature formula is absolutely true and the one-nature formula absolutely false, or vice versa.62
  • 2) To say that whichever formula the proper organ of the Church has declared to be the orthodox one demands submission, whether or not the other formula could perhaps have been declared instead.
  • 3) To say that both formulae may point in the direction of the absolute truth but both are inadequate to it—hence, strictly speaking, both are false, at best partial and incomplete.
  • 4) To say that both formulae are absolutely true.

This chapter will consider each of these positions in its turn.

In the case of the first, there is little to say. If the true situation is that one tradition has been in fundamental christological error for fifteen hundred years while the other tradition has maintained christological orthodoxy, then the truth would demand that the tradition in error acknowledge itself to have strayed from the apostolic faith and rejoin the other, not as equals but as penitents being accepted back into the Church. At least on the Chalcedonian side, few of even the most vigorous opponents to re-unification have argued strongly and directly for this position. Rather than assert that any formula other than that of their own tradition is heretical beyond a shade of doubt—even that the one-nature formula definitely is so—usually they express anxiety that it might be; and they are more adamant simply that a single formula (theirs) must be exclusively held by all. “To bear the name Orthodox, one must confess—without equivocation—the Ecumenical Christology of the Catholic and Apostolic Tradition: Jesus Christ united without confusion within His Own Hypostasis His Divine Nature and His Human Nature, His Divine will and His Human will, and His Divine energy and His Human energy. There is no room here for semantic sidestepping.”63

Hard-nosed as it is in its language, the passage leaves unclear whether its conviction is really that any and every Christological formulation worded differently from the Chalcedonian formulation would necessarily represent a different Christ, or only that once a true formulation has been laid down, no other formulation, even if also true, can be allowed. Something of the latter principle seems to be present in the reasoning of the Athonite committee:

The attempt of the Joint Commission to redefine the Orthodox Christology in order to achieve an agreement with the non-Chalcedonians despite the masterful formulation of the 4th, 5th and 6th Holy Synods seems to us purposeless and dangerous. Purposeless because we are going to start talking all over again about matters that our Fathers with so much toil and effort have debated and in the Holy Spirit defined in dogma ‘in a few words and much wisdom’ (Doxastikon, Sunday of the Holy Fathers) in a manner not susceptible to mistranslation.64

It is curious that the passage cannot admit even of a purpose—even an insufficient one— to “talking all over again” about the matters of Chalcedon. The passage concludes, “Dangerous, because under the new wording of the Joint Commission, though at first sight Orthodox, there are perhaps interpretations of moderate or even covered monophysitism.” Here it is plain that the committee has not come to the clear conclusion that the Commission’s formula is heretical. The problem is that it might be.65 Since reasons more specific than that are left aside, the main basis for its being faulty seems to be that it is not the formula the Fathers set down. Such is the emphasis in the following words of Metropolitan Konstantinidis of Ephesus: “We have insisted in the past and we insist now that the quest of a new Christological formula or a new editing in, out of or even parallel to the terms of the Chalcedonian Synod is useless and not permissible.”66 Here again, no reasons are given. Thus it would seem that the position that only the formula of one’s own tradition—nothing else—can legitimately lay claim to being true derives from an idea that whatever the Church has decreed demands submission. According to this, the second of the four understandings as to how the two-nature and one-nature formulae relate to each other, what is decisive and, in a sense, beyond investigation, is the fact that the Church of one’s tradition has privileged one formula and one only. So long as this formula is itself true, and regardless of whether or not another wording might equally well have been chosen, this one stands as the consensus of the Body of Christ against which, from that point forward, any holding of alternatives (even if considered legitimate in the past) becomes culpable on the grounds of rebellion if not of untruthfulness in some absolute sense.
About this approach several points may be made. Exclusion of alternate true formulations may in some particular situation seem to be the pastorally responsible approach to take. However, in no sense can it be regarded as the proper working of the Church. The function of the Church is to proclaim the truth, not to limit for reasons of contingency how far or in what manner truth can be proclaimed, and then to malign truthful expressions outside of this imposed limit. For to do that is nothing less grave than to call light darkness. In the long run, people are never protected by such a limit imposed upon allowable expressions of truth however “lawful” the authority that imposes it and however well-meaning its intentions.

The coincidence of truth and authority must not be oversimplified. In chapter fifteen of the Book of Acts, the conclusions of the council are final not because of any notion that once something is decided, it is decided, and no one is allowed thereafter to go back on it or back into it. They are, rather, final because they are true and would be revealed as such again and again (to the pure of heart) regardless of the number of times they were revisited. In this sense they differ qualitatively from a determination reached by drawing straws such as we find recounted elsewhere in Acts. In that case there is a consensus reached prior to the drawing that the outcome will be taken at once as revealing the will of God. Of course if the straws were to be drawn a dozen more times the outcome would be different from one occasion to the next. It is only this occasion and it alone that is understood to be revelatory of the truth of God’s will; and so there is no question of re-opening deliberations once an outcome is obtained.

In many quarters the outcomes of Ecumenical Councils are understood as though they were the same as the outcomes of inspired occasions of drawing straws. This is a mistake. The determinations of an Ecumenical Council are, unlike the humanly arbitrary determination when straws are drawn, articulated so as to be understood and not merely accepted without active engagement and reflection. Unfortunately, the most strident defenders of the honor of the Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils very often imply, as we have seen, that the writings of these Fathers are as much above our heads as are the inscrutable workings of providence by which this one and not that one is chosen as an apostle when straws are drawn—a mystery beyond our means of penetrating. It is considered impious to presume to wish to work through the theology articulated in a Council. The paradox here is that only by way of such active engagement—which necessarily involves raising questions and considering, with an effort at objectivity, the points of view of those with whom the Fathers disagreed—can the theological perspective of a Council ever be received with confidence as the truth, and not be simply upheld rigidly and with a dim fear that it might turn out to be wrong if it were looked at too closely. Any serious effort to know for oneself the truth of any teaching of the Church involves a heightened risk of discovering that it is false. If it holds true, its power settles much more deeply and organically into the heart of the one who didn’t simply assume it to be so. This is again the “risk of faith”.

Moreover, we must assume that the Fathers wrote with the intention that the truth of their words would win the day not just once and for all, at a single crossroads in history, but again and again in the minds of those who would come later and would be as actively participatory in receiving and witnessing to this truth as were those of earlier generations. Not every question will be “re-opened” in every generation. But as and when pressures emerge to look again at one aspect or another of what has been passed down, the impulse to keep the lid tightly closed will only lead either to cynical doubt or to fanatical adherence.

What, then, of the approaches which presume to re-open the lid and consider acceptance of alternative Christological formulae? In this chapter thus far we have looked at the pair of approaches that refuse (virtually out of hand) to consider acceptance of more than one formula to express one truth. Another pair of approaches starts from the opposite vantage point, affirming that it is at least possible that two expressions might be as good as only one for indicating the one truth. Why they affirm this, however, is for dissimilar reasons. That is, in specific cases where they affirm that two particular expressions not only might be, but are, as good as only one for indicating the one truth, they do so for dissimilar reasons. One of them when it does this asserts that after all neither formula is quite right and that, since indeed no formula composed of human words is ever totally and perfectly adequate to express a divine mystery, the more numerous the not-quite-right formulas there are, the better. The other approach, if it should likewise affirm two formulae, asserts, much differently, that both express the truth fully and adequately and that either one could stand alone as an absolute means of transmitting it.

In the efforts to reunite Chalcedonians and non-Chalcedonians, there has been much emphasis on the notion—common to both of the approaches I have just outlined— that truth can be expressed in more than one way. “Perhaps the most important phenomenon which was neglected by our forefathers was and is the possibility of expressing the same truth in various formulae.”67

While it is true that this phenomenon is often neglected, and most likely often was in all periods, it is not true that it was overlooked by the Fathers consistently. Gregory Nazianzen is pertinent again here. He refers to the lamentable circumstance of separation “between us and those who are most pious”, a separation based on teachings of little consequence as well as on “expressions intended to bear the same meaning.” Thus, Gregory did not proceed from a conviction that one meaning could have only one expression. Neither did St. Cyril, who understood, as one critic of the Joint Commission’s findings acknowledges, “that the Orthodox view of the Incarnation could be expressed in other terms; in his letters he indicated that he also accepted speaking of Christ as having two natures, as long as that was interpreted in an Orthodox way.”68 It is of course on this basis that the 20th century dialogues have proceeded. “That one can roughly distinguish between identical christological substance and differing christological terminology is presupposed in all the dialogues,” writes Dorothea Wendebourg.69

If one were to try to encapsulate the difference between the mood of the twentieth century dialogues and the mood of the Fathers of both traditions around the time of Chalcedon, it would perhaps be fair to say that whereas the 5th century Fathers were on the lookout for heresy, the 20th century dialogue participants have been on the lookout for orthodoxy. Some of the implications of this shift will be explored in the pages below.

 

First, however, some space will be devoted to addressing the evidence that what is often called a “hermeneutic of suspicion” has continued to be operative in the 20th century, and not only among those who have remained scrupulously aloof from the official dialogues, but also among some who have participated in them, and even, in an indirect but problematical way, in the proceedings of the Joint Commission itself.

 

By and large, Chalcedonian Orthodox participants in the dialogues have been ready to admit not only the possibility that two formulae might express identically the same truth about Christ, but the reality that the particular formulae in question do express this same truth identically, and always have, despite longstanding perceptions to the contrary. Somewhat less clear, both in the dialogues and in certain aspects of the Joint Commission’s Second Agreed Statement, is whether the non-Chalcedonians have been as ready to recognize in the language of Chalcedon an acceptable expression of Christological truth.

 

In the early stages of the unofficial dialogues, at the consultation in Geneva in 1970, Bishop Gregorios of the Coptic Church stated flatly, “Our fathers found Nestorianism in the horos of Chalcedon. We cannot accept any expression that lends itself to be interpreted as a duality in the person of Jesus Christ.” Significantly, Bishop Gregorios objects to Chalcedon not in that it went too far in its condemnation of one-nature Christology but that it is in itself, in its two-nature Christology, fundamentally dubious. At the same consultation a statement from another non-Chalcedonian participant hinted at pressures within some of the Oriental Orthodox Churches to continue to denounce the Chalcedonian Church. “Within the last five years a bishop of the Ethiopian Church was suspended from his bishopric because something he wrote lent itself to be interpreted as an acceptance of Chalcedon.”71 In a paper presented at the Addis Ababa consultation in 1971, Fr. Verghese of the Indian Malankara Orthodox Church insisted, “For us Leo (of Rome) is still a heretic. It may be possible for us to refrain from condemning him by name, in the interests of restoring communion between us. But we can not in good conscience accept the Tome of Leo as ‘the pillar of the right faith’ or accept a council which made such a declaration.”72

Toward the end of this chapter I will discuss critically the course of action sometimes recommended, and by implication recommended in the passage above, to drop the mutual anathemas “quietly”. At this point I wish only to say that here again, in this passage, the objection to Chalcedon is not specifically and clearly based on Chalcedon’s denial of alternatives to itself, but—as it appears—on Chalcedon itself as an alternative. The purpose of including these passages here is not to draw general conclusions on the basis of them about what one or another non-Chalcedonian theologian or local Church, let alone the non-Chalcedonian communion as a whole, “really” or “ultimately” thinks about Chalcedon, as though a curtain were being drawn back on an unchangeable, monochrome inner state of mind. Rather, they are included in order to make the observation that however representative or unrepresentative they are (of the whole range of the thought of the person who uttered one or another of them, or of the non-Chalcedonian world at large) they themselves do not form an adequate basis for bilateral agreement. Fr. Romanides correctly perceived this problem—an imbalance in how the two Christological articulations were being viewed—in the early stages of the informal dialogues.

We have known for centuries the non-Chalcedonian accusations against Chalcedon. Now we are given the impression that the Chalcedonians can be considered Orthodox by the non-Chalcedonians, not because Chalcedon is Orthodox, but because the Chalcedonians are no longer faithful to Chalcedon.. .If the non-Chalcedonian position on Chalcedon is correct, then the Chalcedonians must reject Chalcedon. If the Chalcedonian Greek position on Chalcedon is correct, then the non-Chalcedonians must accept the dogmatic teaching of Chalcedon as Orthodox.

Strictly speaking, Fr. Romanides here does not say that if Chalcedon is indeed orthodox as the Chalcedonians obviously have contended, the non-Chalcedonians must abandon or renounce the truth of their own, differing articulation. His main demand is simply that the orthodoxy of Chalcedon be affirmed if there is to be true unity of faith.

 

The perception of an imbalance in the degree of acceptance of the two Christological traditions is not Fr. Romanides’ alone, nor is it limited in its field to the early stages of the dialogue (based, perhaps, on a few stray remarks of non-Chalcedonians). Several observers have perceived its persistence into the later phase of the official dialogues as well, indeed into the language of the Second Agreed Statement.

 

Dorothea Wendebourg observes about the Joint Commission’s treatment of the two traditions’ respective Christological formulae that “an unequivocal preference is expressed for one of the disputed formulations—and decidedly not for that of Chalcedon, but for the language of the ‘one nature’”.74 Later in her article she notes: “The declaration on which final agreement was reached in actual fact represents the victory of the Oriental view, in that it lifts up the formula of Cyril as the common solution, at the expense of the Chalcedonian discourse of the two natures of Christ.”75

 

According to Fr. Alfeyev, the Joint Commission’s statement leaves too cloudy the question of the Oriental Orthodox acceptance of the Christology of Chalcedon. It is specifically the eighth item of the “Second General Statement on Christology” of the Joint Commission that Alfeyev deems “unsatisfactory and ambiguous,” for how it stops short of affirming that the non-Chalcedonians/or themselves grant the orthodoxy of Chalcedon’s Christology, correctly understood.76 He strongly believes that the non-Chalcedonians “must accept that the dogmas of the Ecumenical Councils mentioned in no way contradict their own teaching. Only such theological agreement can provide a genuine basis for reunion.” 77

The same point is made by Fr. Voronov: “the way out seems to be for the non-Chalcedonians to agree that they do not object to the teaching of the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh councils.”78

The foregoing passage, along with several others that have used the word, raises the question what is exactly meant by “teaching.” This, I shall argue, is a crucial question, one that goes to the heart of the difference between those who advocate reunification on the basis that neither Christological formula is quite adequate to the truth and those who advocate reunification on the basis that both formulae are adequate to the truth (to the full extent such that either one, once its context is penetrated, could stand alone).

Several pages above, we saw the 1970 statement of Bishop Gregorios of Egypt— “We cannot accept any expression that lends itself to be interpreted as a duality in the person of Jesus Christ.” Just following this clear rejection of the language of Chalcedon, Bishop Gregorios goes on to make a further remark, not quoted above: , .Even if we accept the teaching of Chalcedon we are not obliged to accept Chalcedon.”

What is at once apparent when these two statements are brought together (as indeed they were delivered in tandem) is that to reject Chalcedon and the language of Chalcedon while, in some highly general sense, accepting its “teaching,” may give a certain impression of rapprochement but is in fact to accept nothing tangibly having to do with Chalcedon at all. One can say that the teaching is anything one wants it to be once it is severed from the language. What Bishop Gregorios himself really means is not at issue. The significant point is that the particular ecclesiology underlying such a manner of speaking—an ecclesiology common within both communions, and emerging at times even in the language of persons who would not consciously espouse it—whereby “teaching” and “faith” become ethereally disconnected from words, is the third of the four itemized (on p. 53) near the start of this chapter. It is the idea that what is said does not have an ontological connection with what it signifies. Thus, it is possible to reject what is said (the language) but accept what is meant (the teaching).

The Joint Commission itself leaves this possibility open—meaning to do so only in regard to Chalcedon’s two-nature language, since the Oriental Orthodox were apparently unready to affirm it as wholeheartedly as they did their own one-nature language. But the severing of the language from the truth it means to transmit, in even just that instance, makes a larger statement. Wendebourg writes of the Joint Commission’s Agreed Statements on Christology: “In [the] avoidance of the use of disputed terminology the conviction is articulated that dogmatic concepts and ecclesiastical doctrine never fully grasp the mystery of the incarnation, but always represent only partial and relative approximations of faith, formulated in a particular context.”79

In fact, only half of what she says here about dogmatic concepts and doctrine is true. It is true that the teachings are formulated in a particular context; what is untrue is the conclusion that they are thus partial and relative approximations. The mistake is to suppose that particularity and universality are mutually exclusive.

Naturally, if the particular context (linguistic, theological, ecclesiastical) out of which a dogmatic formulation emerges is unknown beyond itself, objective evaluation of the formulation (by anyone not inside that context) is impossible. However, once the context is penetrated and understood, then the universality and absolute quality of the truth of the statement made within this context are revealed. And from that point forward, there is nothing partial or inadequate about it—furthermore, any lover of truth now can see that there never was.

 

This understanding, by which both particularity of context and the absolute nature of a formula’s Christological truth are maintained, is reflected in Fr. John Behr’s comment about the Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian Churches that “for both of them to maintain the same faith, historical circumstances have required them to speak in different terms.”80

The same point was made in a paper delivered at the Bristol Consultation in 1967:
“ When the Egyptians used the same language of Chalcedon, they meant something different than Chalcedon; to mean the same, they must speak differently.”81 (italicized in the text)

 

The crucial words in these two passages are “required” and “must”. These words imply an imperative borne of faith, an unshakable commitment to truth. The rewritings of church history that have been called for by proponents of lifting the mutual anathemas would proceed, presumably, according to this insight into the division between Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian Christians. Prior to the 20th century, there is evidence of little if any consideration of this possibility that not only could there be two different formulations of the same Christological truth but that in certain cases there must be two different formulations in order that the same Christological truth be expressed. This explanation of the division between Chalcedonians and non-Chalcedonians, which easily lends itself to misinterpretation, must be carefully elaborated and qualified in the following manner.

 

First, it would mean that the Holy Fathers who resisted each other’s formulations did so in good faith. It suggests that had Severus agreed with the Council of Chalcedon and gone along with the renunciation of the one-nature Christology, he would have been betraying the truth of Jesus Christ. And it means that if Leo or the other Fathers of Chalcedon had agreed with the Severan party and renounced the two-nature Christology, they would have been betraying the truth of Jesus Christ. Those on either side who were persecuted and even martyred for refusing to give up affirming the truth of their formulation are, then, martyrs or confessors whom all can now glorify since it now can be seen that it was the one true faith (even if, at the time, hidden to others who also held that same true faith but in different terms) to which they bore witness. Often the argument is offered that if Chalcedon is correct and the non-Chalcedonians have come to see that it is, then the way out of the division is not to come to a new agreement but for the non-Chalcedonians simply to “come over” to the Chalcedonian side. Yet if there are indeed “two rights”—if both Christologies are fully adequate to the truth—then this way of ending division could not be done in integrity. To abandon one true Christology for another true Christology and to begin for the sake of good order or for unity to call the abandoned one erroneous would be to bear false witness to the truth of that formulation and to the Fathers who upheld it—such a movement from truth to truth would not serve Christ since it would be in one direction to call light darkness. The fear of doing so must not be seen as stubbornness or as a sectarian clinging to “one’s own way” but as a fear of bearing false witness, of succumbing to an excruciating mix of pressures, all the more forceful since the character of some of them is positive—unity, brotherly love, obedience, etc.82

 

By contrast, the perspective that sees every formulation as being contextual and not quite adequate to the truth would allow, much more readily, for an abandonment of one Christology which would be regarded then as having been serviceable only in its day, or in its context. In fact, then, clinging to one’s own tradition’s Christology becomes little other than a form of phyletism. If all are half-truths or three-fourths truths, then for the sake of unity, it would indeed be best to do whatever is necessary—to recognize them all (multiculturalism), to submit universally to just one (monarchism), or whatever else— depending on the socio-political currents ascendant at that particular period.

Fr. Romanides shows that at the time of the Reunion Formula of 433, there was not an abandonment of something that had been only half-correct, but a salvaging and honoring of whatever was fully true from each (temporarily) separated stream. At that time there was no suggestion that there is a sort of impenetrable cloud of mist around the actual truth and that every human statement can do nothing more than suggest, hint at, and roughly and imperfectly point toward this inexpressible truth, Fr. Romanides comments about the 433 Reunion Formula:

On the one hand there was no compromise in dogma, but there was accommodation in terminology. On the basis of mutual explanations and clarifications, each side accepted the other as Orthodox in spite of differing terminologies. However, John did accept as Orthodox both the Third Council and the Twelve Chapters of Cyril and Cyril did accept John’s use of two natures. No one gave up his position, but recognized and accepted the other as Orthodox. This must be the pattern for us also.83

According to this approach—which, transposed to the present circumstance, would say that both the one-nature and the two-nature formulae are absolutely true—nothing is jettisoned; all that is affirmed is absorbed into the present moment with its encompassing formula. That there can be, as Romanides puts it, “mutual explanations and clarifications” indicates that the truth that may have been hidden from the view of one side is disclosed to it now without ambiguity, such that there is full mutual acceptance.

 

There can be no persisting partiality to one’s own tradition’s formula or one’s own tradition’s story as a better or a more assuredly solid or pure one. It is inadequate to say that for the non-Chalcedonians looking at things (still) from within their context the one-nature formula is the best approximation of a truth beyond full human grasp and that for the Chalcedonians looking at things from within their context the two-nature formula is the best approximation. It is inadequate also to say that the Chalcedonians, placing love of their non-Chalcedonian brothers above pride in their own formula and above Pharisaical legalism, are agreeable to affirming together with the non-Chalcedonians a formula which, as Wendebourg has accurately observed, leaves very much in question the truth-value of the formula of Chalcedon. These approaches cannot undergird a genuine re-unification of the Communions because they leave a cloud of suspicion over one Communion’s Christological teaching of the past fifteen hundred years. Fr. Romanides is right to say that if this Christological teaching is indeed suspect, then what is called for is that the Chalcedonians abandon Chalcedon explicitly and submit to the non-Chalcedonian Communion of Churches. If, alternately, Chalcedon remains clearly true in the eyes of Chalcedonians and at best questionable in the eyes of non-Chalcedonians, then genuine and complete agreement has not been reached that both Communions have all along maintained the same Apostolic faith in its fullness—and then reunification should not occur.

 

By way of the “two rights” approach, however, there would be a preservation of the dignity of both sides even as the possibility is opened for recognizing the error on both sides. The dignity is that both sides clung to the one true faith, at whatever cost. The error is that neither side recognized that the other was doing so.

 

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 CONCLUSION

 

The conclusion of this thesis is that in the dialogues between Chalcedonians and non-Chalcedonians, nearly all of the reasons—but not quite all—set forth to argue against the immediate lifting of the mutual anathemas are unsound. The first chapter addressed the claim that the anathemas cannot be lifted because they disclose eternal, ontological realities about the boundaries between the justified and the condemned; this was shown to be a distortion of the doctrine of the communion of saints. The second chapter addressed the claim that the anathemas cannot be lifted since the Church which issued them is infallible; this in turn was shown to be a distortion of the doctrine of the holiness of the Church. Chapter three addressed the claim that the anathemas, regardless of any agreement on Christology, cannot be lifted in order to remove the last impediment to unity since this would effectively mean that the una sancta had admitted of a division of fifteen hundred years’ duration; the argument that the Church could never and has never “branched” into two subsequently re-connecting Communions was shown to be untrue, a distortion of the doctrine of the oneness of the Church. Chapter three addressed also the claim that unity must consist in a shared inward existential reality (that can somehow be ascertained) rather than in mere confessional agreement; this argument was shown to be at odds with the pattern of the ancient Church in its overwhelming concern that agreement be reached on what was to be taught, and in its almost complete disinterest in questions having to do with the “experience of faith.” (One might say that the anti-confessionalist or supra-confessionalist stance critiqued in chapter three amounts to a distortion of what it means to say “I believe.insofar as it shifts focus from the object or content of the belief to the mystery of the believing subject.)

Chapter four turned to the question of the truth-value of the respective Christological formulae taught by Chalcedonians and non-Chalcedonians. It first addressed the claim that only one or the other could possibly be true; this was shown to be at odds with instances in the life of the ancient Church when the possibility was granted that more than one dogmatic formulation might be equally true. Second, chapter four addressed the claim that even if more than one formulation might be true, none other than that which has been decreed can be allowed, since to allow more than one would be to create confusion; this was shown to derive from a mistaken understanding of the function of the Church, which must always be to call light light and never to call it darkness, regardless of any paternalistic or pseudo-pastoral objectives. Third, chapter four addressed the fact that in spite of the claims of the Joint Commission to the contrary, there seem to be some lingering questions as to whether non-Chalcedonians have indeed come to understand Chalcedon’s formulation as a, even if not the, fully acceptable statement of the truth of how Christ is fully divine and fully human. Here, in line with the observations of Wendebourg, Romanides, Alfeyev and Voronov (and with the prescriptions of the latter three), chapter four suggested that indeed, greater clarity from the non-Chalcedonians that they do affirm the teaching—i.e., the positive Christology— of Chalcedon will be needed before there can be assurance about the Joint Commission’s claim that “we have now clearly understood that both families have always loyally maintained the same authentic Orthodox Christological faith”.

Finally, the central conclusion of chapter was twofold: first, that a rejection of Chalcedon, not in its entirety but in its condemnations of those who believed one-nature Christology to be true, is consistent with the goal of a genuine reunification of Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian Orthodox Christians—indeed, is a requirement of any such reunification, a requirement not only for non-Chalcedonians but for Chalcedonians as well; and second, that a rejection of Chalcedon’s language as unacceptable is not consistent with the goal of genuine reunification of the divided communions.

This thesis has been a kind of manifesto for looking as opposed to already knowing. In this looking, if it is truly that, vision is unclouded both by parochial attachment to one’s own way and by sentimental overeagerness to distort the other’s way to make it seem better than it is. When we read the exhortation that each community “be open to see that sometimes the same dogmatic teaching is hidden under different theological formulas,”84 what must be emphasized here is that “open to see” means really to see, not just to figure, assume, hope or grant with condescending magnanimity and with eyes half-averted for the sake of some higher good. Advocates for reunion can be as guilty as opponents can be of choosing not to look too closely out of fear of what might be found.

But if it is found? If it should be found to be the truth, Christ’s own truth? Then, of course, at once there is not only boundless peace and freedom for those who follow it, but also danger. There is even spiritual trial in it insofar as the opposition to truth always includes prophets indistinguishable outwardly from the holiest of holy men.

Finally, then, the “two rights” position which asserts the absolute and universal truth of both formulas is qualified by the condition that both parties openly and decisively take this single, united stand, thereby embodying one newly-delineated Church with one newly-delineated story. There would indeed be many within what are currently the two parties, Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian, who would stand opposed (decrying the dishonor to the Fathers, and so on), and they—if a sufficient critical mass converged against them, around the “two rights” perspective—would have to be cut out of the Church with the same kind of bold language with which the Councils condemned those outside the consensus at which they arrived in their day. As there were then, there would likely be again today councils and counter-councils, condemnations and reciprocal condemnations. In the fallen world where all must be tested this is the only authentic life of the Church running the risk of faith.

 

 

 

 

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Notes:

 

  • 1 Cited by J. Erickson, “Beyond Dialogue: The Quest for Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Unity Today”, a paper given at the Symposium on the 1700th Anniversary of Christian Armenia, October 27-28,2000 at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Crestwood, NY.
  • 2 E.g., the correspondence of the 9th century Chalcedonian Patriarch Photius of Constantinople with the Catholicos Zachariah of the Armenians and with the Armenian King Ashot led to the positive statements contained in Photius’ Encyclical Epistle of 867; then also, however, no further development toward reconciliation ensued.
  • 3 The impetus for the official dialogues grew out of a meeting in 1959 between the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras and the theologian Paul Verghese of the Oriental (i.e., non-Chalcedonian) Orthodox Church of India. Two years later the first Pan-Orthodox Conference was held, in Rhodes. Subsequent correspondence between Patriarch Athenagoras and the Oriental Churches prepared the way gradually for the official dialogue that would not begin until December, 1985, in Chambesy, near Geneva. In the meantime a series of unofficial meetings of theologians from the two communions went forward with the assistance of the World Council of Churches. Four of these meetings took place from 1964 to 1971, in Aarhus (1964), Bristol (1967), Geneva (1970) and Addis Ababa (1971). Following the first official consultation in 1985 in Chambesy, a second meeting of the Joint Theological Commission took place at the monastery of St. Bishoy, Egypt in June 1989. This meeting issued a communique after having considered a Christological agreement drafted by a subcommission that had met in Corinth in 1987,. The third meeting of the Joint Theological Commission was held at Chambesy in September, 1990. Here, the text unanimously adopted by the Commission emphasized that its work had been completed: no further essential theological problems remained. Finally, a fourth meeting, held in 1993 again in Chambesy, considered procedures for the restoration of full communion, with particular attention to the question of the means for lifting all anathemas. For further details about the unofficial consultations and about the official meetings of the Joint Commission and for transcripts of the statements issued by the latter, see most conveniently Towards Unity: The Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches, edited by Christine Chaillot and Alexander Belopopsky; Inter-Orthodox Dialogue, Geneva, 1998.
  • 4 Second Agreed Statement, printed in Towards Unity, 64.
  • 5 Christianity Today, January 10, 1994, p. 51.
  • 6 Joint Commission of the Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches; Orthodox Centre of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Geneva, September 23-28, 1990.
  • 7“Memorandum of the Sacred Community of the Holy Mountain (Mt. Athos) concerning the dialogue between the Orthodox and the Anti-Chalcedonian Churches,” Ser. no. ph2/l 16/455 Karyai, May 14/27th 1995 – typescript.
  • 8 Erickson, “Beyond Dialogue,” 10.
  • 9 “Suggestions of a Committee from the Sacred Community of the Holy Mountain Athos Concerning the Dialogue of the Orthodox with the Non-Chalcedonians”, February 1, 1994.
  • 10 V. Borovoy, “Recognition of Saints and Problems of Anathemas: A Summary of the views of N. Berdyaev, S. Bulgakov and A.V. Kartashev”, The Greek Orthodox Theological Review (cited hereafter as GOTR) 16 (1971): 245.
  • 11 “Minutes of the Consultation in Geneva, 16-21 August, 1970,” GOTR 16 (1971) 33.
  • 12 Meyendorff, J., “Chalcedonians and non-Chalcedonians: The Last Steps to Unity,” originally published in Orthodox Identity in India: Essays in Honor of V.C. Samuel, edited by M.K. Kuriakose (Bangalore: 1988, 105-117). Reprinted in St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly (cited hereafter as SVTQ) 33: 325.
  • 13 Alexander Golitzin, “Anathema! Some Historical Perspectives on the Athonite Statement of May, 1995,” St. Nersess Theological Review (henceforward cited as SNTR) 3 (1998): 116-117.
  • 14 “Ecclesiological Issues Inherent in the Relations Between Eastern Chalcedonian and Oriental non-Chalcedonian Churches”, GOTR 16(1971): 148.
  • 15 Vitaly Borovoy, “Recognition of Saints and Problems of Anathemas,” GOTR 16 (1971): 257.
  • 16 “Anathema! An Obstacle to Reunion?”, SNTR 3 (1998): 73.
  • 17 Fr. Paul Verghese, “Ecclesiological Issues Concerning the Relation of Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches”, GOTR 16 (1971): 137.
  • 18 Ibid.
  • 19 Cf. John Meyendorff, Christ in Eastern Christian Thought (Crestwood, SVS Press, 1975): 31-33; 80-81.
  • 20 Messier still is the case of Saint Peter the Iberian venerated by the Chalcedonian Church of Georgia though he was not in eucharistic communion with the Chalcedonian Church and even fought aggressively against the Council of Chalcedon.
  • 21 Fr. John Meyendorff, “Minutes of the Consultation in Geneva,” GOTR (1971): 34.
  • 22 Patriarch Ignatius IV, ‘Transcript of the interview with H.B. Ignatius IV Hazim, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, held on 8 July 1999 at the Antiochian Archdiocese in New Jersey”, interview conducted by Charles Baz and printed in Unity in Antioch (SVS MDiv thesis, 2000): 79.
  • 23 Krikor Maksoudian, “Reconciliation of Memories: The Maligned Dioscorus,” SNTR 3 (1998): 42.
  • 24 Cf. Peter Bouteneff, “Chalcedonians and non-Chalcedonians: Realizing Unity,” SVTQ 42 (1998), especially p. 160 where he observes that in regard to persons it has anathematized the Church has indeed felt free to reverse itself not only “as the persons involved changed their approach, but also as more information came to light.”
  • 25 Jubilee Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, August 13-16, 2000, Moscow. “Basic Principles of the Attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church Toward the Other Christian Confessions,” p. 2.
  • 26 Ibid.,2,
  • 27 Meyendorff, J., “Chalcedonians and non-Chalcedonians: The Last Steps to Unity,” SVTQ 33 (1989) 326.
  • 28“Response to Bernard Sesboue,” Reception and Communion Among Churches, ed. Herve Legrand, Julio Manzanares, and Antonio Garcia y Garcia, CUA, Washington DC (1997): 118.
  • 29 0ld Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue, 1975-1987. 26 Agreed Statements. III/5, Moscow, Sept. 20, 1981. Printed in One in Christ 26 (1990) 169.
  • 30 A large and growing literature on the subject of “reception,” not limited to but almost always bearing on the question of reception specifically of ecumenical councils, has developed in recent decades through the work especially of Roman Catholic but also of Orthodox and Protestant scholars. While the range of issues analyzed in this literature is vast, the temporal dimension of reception is the focus of a great deal of its reflection. The Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement published in 1991 by the World Council of Churches contains a three-column entry on “Reception” which includes the definition adopted at the Faith and Order meeting in Louvain in 1971: “Reception represents the process by which the local churches accept the decision of a council and thereby recognize its authority. This process is a multiplex one and may last for centuries. Even after the formal conclusion of such a process and the canonical reception of a council’s doctrinal formula, usually through a new council, the process of reception continues in some way or other as long as the churches are involved in self-examination on the basis of the question whether a particular council has been received and appropriated properly and with justification.”(WCC Publications 1991, p. 844.) Not all observers share the view that reception is quite so open-ended. Bernard Sesboue has written: “Reception is an event which has an end. At the end of a complex process, which includes reversals, the council becomes the object of ‘peaceful possession’ by all those who have received it. When the cultural world which saw its meeting is transformed, the council and its reception make a single piece as a unit which belongs to the deposit of faith, but no longer addresses believers in the same manner. A council will always be the object of a hermeneutic,it is not longer truly an object of reception. The churches which received it remain free to propose new documents of faith for the reception of their faithful. They remain free to conclude ecumenical accords on the points engaged by the ancient councils, without for this having to require their partners to receive these councils. It thus appears less happy to speak of a continuous process of reception or of the ‘re-reception’ of a council.”(“Reception of Councils from Nicea to Constantinople II: Conceptual Divergences and Unity in the Faith, Yesterday and Today”, Reception and Communion Among Churches, 116.) I would question the basis for Sesboue’s distinction between being an object of a hermeneutic and an object of reception and how one knows at what point a council goes from being one to the other. My thesis also diverges from Sesboue’s suggestion that churches having received a council are free to leave it to the side in concluding ecumenical accords (based on new documents of faith) with churches that have not received it. As I will argue in chapter four, to return to communion with one another it is necessary that churches divided over an ancient council come to a (refined, sharpened) common mind in regard to it. Finally, Sesboue’s remarks met with the following response from Lionel Wickham: “I think I am in agreement with him about reception’s finding its terminus. But if we cannot fix a terminus because that would be to assimilate reception to something juridical, when can we know that it has occurred? Might it not be better to think of ecumenical councils as privileged interpreters of tradition, received once and yet ever being received? Finally, is there such a thing as reception of substance coupled with rejection of form?”(“Response to Bernard Sesboue”, Reception and Communion Among Churches, 121-122.) Of course, these are the very questions this thesis pursues.
  • 31 Vitaly Borovoy, “Recognition of Saints and Problems of Anathemas,” GOTR 16 (1971): 254-255.
  • 32 Statement made by Professor Sabas Agourides of the Church of Greece. “Minutes of the Second Session,” the Fourth Consultation in Addis Ababa, 22-23 January 1971; printed in GOTR 16 (1971) 226.
  • 33 A pastoral concern to protect the flock of Christ from multiplicity of possibilities, from drowning in a sea of open-ended questions, seems to have had some bearing on the language of the Ecumenical Councils themselves. It must be acknowledged that the rhetoric of the seven Councils regarded by the Chalcedonian Churches as Ecumenical—rhetoric indistinguishable from that of rejected councils such as Hieria in 753—is by no means scrupulously true to the reality of how such councils are indeed authoritative. We have seen that no Council is authoritative merely on the basis of its self-consciousness of being so, nor on the basis that it is in some canonical or juridical sense “lawful”. Whether or not a Council truly articulates the faith cannot be known except through its reception. And yet the Councils do not actually express themselves according to this understanding. Their rhetoric typically insists boldly that they are sure guides, unerring, speaking with the voice of the Holy Spirit. We do not find in the acts of the Councils any humble words to the effect that the decrees herein set forth will have turned out to be truly and divinely inspired if, and only if, within a hundred or two hundred years’ time, it should turn out to be the case that the holy people of God have received them as such in conformity to their faith which they all hold with one accord. It is perhaps even more instructive that the two communions which mutually condemned one another in the time of Chalcedon did so with equally bold, forceful language (even as they continued to seek reconciliation). Such language has the potential to guide those who hear it into safety and away from the spiritually exhausting work of endless analysis, and, at the same time, it has the potential to intimidate those who hear it and to chain them to a moment of premature closure. Neither its mode of rhetoric nor any of its other trappings can make clear to us which of the two functions it is serving in a given instance. The forceful language calling Dioscorus “hated of God” might be of the holiness of the Church; it might likewise be of the sinfulness of the Church. (As I shall argue in chapter four, it cannot be both.) The Athonite monks have seen fit to cling to this statement as divine, on a par with Scripture; certain others have seen fit to flee from it as sinful, on a par with St. Cyril’s condemnation of St. Chrysostom. Many do not know what spirit is contained in it. They do not know whether to fear adhering to it or breaking from it. In either case, what must eventually be involved is the “risk of faith”. (See the chapter by Fr. Meyendorff pertinent to the themes under discussion, “Historical Relativism and Authority in Christian Dogma,” in his book Living Tradition, SVS Press, Crestwood (1978): 37.)
  • 34 Fr. Hilarion Alfeyev, “On the Reception of the Ecumenical Councils in the Early Church,” translated with the assistance of Peter Bouteneff. Unpublished.
  • 35 If only to speak more truthfully to the present and future. Note, also, that “past” here refers to the realm of imminence. Scripture lies outside this category. The words of Scripture stand in need of nothing from us, no correction or sorting out, since “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be completed, equipped for every good work.”(II Tim. 3:16-17) Here there can be no question of mutuality. This is not to deny the role of scriptural interpretation and the need for Spirit-led readers in community, but to make the differentiating point about Scripture that it alone cannot be refashioned based on the emergence of new data, unprecedented insights, and so on.
  • 36 Just as not all people within a single generation come to know each other equally well, so not every generation is in the same degree of intimate communion with every other; certain ones share with certain others particular affinities and resonances; by these God draws them to each other for the purpose of the working out of their mutual salvation. Some future generation, if the Lord has yet to come, will have the joy and agony of being bound together especially closely with ours to struggle with our problems as with its own and to sift as we did not perfectly well do (!) the chaff from the wheat of our words even as it is prodded and stung, by some of these sifted words, into the way in which it is meant to go. Finally, the notion that communion of the saints implies a two-way interaction across time is something that seems to be indicated by a pair of verses in the famous eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews. One refers to Abel whose sacrifice God found acceptable: “.. .he died, but through his faith he is still speaking”; the other speaks of an influence in the other direction, from the present generation back upon those already fallen asleep: . .that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”
  • 37 The Meaning of Reception in Relation to the Results of Ecumenical Dialogue on the Basis of the Faith and Order Document ‘Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry,” Orthodox Perspectives on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (Holy Cross; Brookline 1985): 52.
  • 38 “Jubilee Bishops’ Council” 1.14.
  • 39 “Memorandum,” 2.
  • 40 “Eastern Orthodoxy and ‘Oriental Orthodoxy’, Orthodox Tradition 13 (1996): 21.
  • 41 Yet even with branches, there are those rare instances in nature when a pair of branches grows back together.
  • 42 “Recognition of Saints and Problems of Anathemas”, 249-250.
  • 43 Ibid., 250-251.
  • 44 Zizioulas, “Ecclesiological Issues,” 145.
  • 45 Ibid., 145-6.
  • 46 Cf, J.M. Hussey, The Orthodox Church in the Byzantine Empire, Clarendon Press (1986): 243-244; 253.
  • 47 Ibid., 146.
  • 48 Ibid, 146.
  • 49 Baz, 75.
  • 50 Ibid, 79.
  • 51 The Jubilee Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, August 13-16,2000, Moscow. Basic Principles and Attitudes of the Russian Orthodox Church Toward the Other Christian Confessions, 7.
  • 52 “St. John of Damascus and the ‘Orthodoxy’ of the Non-Chalcedonians,” Gregorios Ho Palamas 744 (1992): 1142.
  • 53 Or. 21.35. Cited by John Erickson, “Beyond Dialogue: The Quest for Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Unity Today,” 16.
  • 54 Ibid, 1137.55 “The Tome of Leo: Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Perspectives,” SNTR 3 (1998): 4.
  • 56 “Eastern Orthodox-Oriental Orthodox Relations: Practical Steps Toward Unity,” SNTR 1 (1996): 59-65.
  • 57 Ibid, 64.
  • 58 Ibid, 63.
  • 55 “The Tome of Leo: Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Perspectives,” SNTR 3 (1998): 4.
  • 56 “Eastern Orthodox-Oriental Orthodox Relations: Practical Steps Toward Unity,” SNTR 1 (1996): 59-65.
  • 57 Ibid, 64.
  • 58 Ibid, 63.
  • 59 Cited in Verghese, “Orthodox Churches—Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian. A resume of some recent contacts,” Eastern Churches Review 1 (1966): 141.
  • 60 John Erickson, “A Retreat from Ecumenism in Post-Communist Russia and Eastern Europe?”, 13.
  • 61 Fr. John Reeves, The Price of Ecumenism, originally printed in Vol. 9 of The Christian Activist (now defunct): 23.
  • 62 Either way, the position is the same as far as ecclesiology is concerned. Consider the remarks of Bishop Auxentios of Photiki, cited in “Suggestions of a Committee…(p. 10, endnotes). “Strange as it may sound, if they [the non-Chalcedonians] had a truly Orthodox mentality [ie, that of the allegedly universal Orthodox ecclesiological principles this thesis has argued are neither universal nor sound], they would be arguing for our un-Orthodoxy (based on the centuries of our separation from them), rather than trying to prove we are one and the same.” The irony is that examples are numerous in which non-Chalcedonians do demonstrate this so-called “Orthodox mentality” by arguing precisely that Chalcedonians and many of their Fathers are heretics (see in this thesis pp. 60-61 below; see also J. Erickson, “Anathema: An Obstacle to Reunion?”, SNTR 3 (1998): 68.) One wonders whether in these uncompromising non-Chalcedonians who flatly condemn his Communion, Bishop Auxentios really recognizes his own truly Orthodox mentality and rejoices over it.
  • 63 “Eastern Orthodoxy and ‘Oriental Orthodoxy’,” Orthodox Tradition 13 (1996): 20-22.
  • 64 “Suggestions of a Committee from the Sacred Community of the Holy Mountain Athos Concerning the Dialogue of the Orthodox with the non-Chalcedonians,” 2.
  • 65 Here it is pertinent to note that the parallel accusation against the Tome of Leo has of course been made by the non-Chalcedonians, namely, that under the wording of the Tome, there might be interpretations of moderate or even covered Nestorianism. Indeed, Nestorius himself is reported to have felt that the Council of Chalcedon vindicated his position! Yet on these grounds, the Chalcedonian Church has never rejected the Council’s Christological formula. The fact that a formula can be interpreted to be consistent with a heresy does not make it heretical.
  • 66 Cited approvingly by the Athonite committee in the same document, p. 2. The passage was originally in Met. Konstantinidis’ article “Dialogue of the Orthodox Church and Ancient Oriental Churches”, Theology 51(Athens, 1980): 40.
  • 67 Mesrob Krikorian, “Review of the Agreed Statements and Documents of the Joint Commission”, SNTR 1 (1996) 69.
  • 68 Anonymous author, “Chalcedonians and non-Chalcedonians: Do We Share the Same Beliefs?”
  • 69 Wendebourg, 316.
  • 70 Ibid, 30.
  • 71 Ibid (Rev. Dr. K.C. Joseph, Syrian Orthodox Church in India), 29.
  • 72 Fr. Paul Verghese, “Ecclesiological Issues Concerning the Relation of Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches”, GOTR 16 (1971): 139.
  • 73 Minutes of the Consultation in Geneva, 16-21 August 1970, GOTR 16 (1971): 22.
  • 74 Wendebourg, p. 318.
  • 75 Wendebourg, 321.
  • 76 This eighth item reads as follows: “Both families accept the first three Ecumenical Councils, which form our common heritage. In relation to the four later Councils of the Orthodox Church, the Orthodox state that for them the above points 1-7 are the teachings also of the four later Councils of the Orthodox Church, while Oriental Orthodox consider this statement of the Orthodox as their interpretation. With this understanding, the Oriental Orthodox respond to it positively.
  • 77 Alfeyev, 11.
  • 78 “Minutes of the Consultation in Geneva,” GOTR 16 (1971): 35-36. Voronov here goes on, “We should perhaps state that the ecumenical councils are the normal, but not the only, means by which the infallible teaching of the Church is expressed. Further, the infallibility of the ecumenical councils apply only to the substance, and not necessarily to the form, of doctrinal teaching.”
  • 79 Wendebourg, 316-317.
  • 80 J. Behr, “Severus of Antioch: Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Perspectives,” St. Nersess Theological Review, vol. 3, nos. 1-2, January/July 1998, pp. 23-35 at p. 26.
  • 81 K.N. Khella, “Do the Four Later Councils Prevent Reconciliation of the Orthodox Churches?” Papers and Discussions Between Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Theologians: The Bristol Consultation July 25-29, 1967, GOTR 13 (1968): 279.
  • 82 The importance of this insight for present relations between the two Communions cannot be exaggerated. One possible reason for not conceding the orthodoxy of the other side’s formulation is the fear that it would then leave little reason for holding to one’s own. If it could be established that there would nevertheless remain every reason to hold to one’s own, not because it is one’s own but because it is absolutely and universally true just as the other formulation is absolutely and universally true, then, I believe, anxiety and defensiveness might be reduced to the point that faithful people seeking righteousness would be able to look at the facts with unclouded vision. If agreement should emerge that there are indeed “two rights” present alongside one another, not partial and approximate but absolutely, universally true and able to be affirmed as such by all who have penetrated— on the lookout for orthodoxy—the context from which each one emerged, then this would demand from the members of each Communion the boldness of faith in God to make a clear, categorical, unequivocal and unapologetic break with the Holy Fathers of their respective traditions on the specific points of the condemnations and anathemas. The problem with quietly dropping the anathemas is that it leaves important questions unconfronted. The anathemas would have to be ended with an unambiguous declaration that the Holy Fathers were wrong in having leveled them. For their mistake, if such it is discerned to be, no elaborate justification or explanation or apology need be wrought, though there may well be explanations such as that it simply never dawned on anyone in the midst of so heated a Christological dispute that the issue might not have needed to be forced in the first place, just as St. Basil a century earlier had felt no need to force the issue of the Holy Spirit’s divinity and the proper terms for recognizing this. The point is that it is not necessary to find a “holy” reason for the mistaken anathematizations. Nor need it be unduly confusing to people now—so long as the Church has the nerve to speak clearly and powerfully—to be arriving afresh at a common mind which is, on the one hand, in solid continuity with these Fathers in regard to their positive Christological assertions and, on the other hand, in stark discontinuity with these very same Fathers in regard to (some of) their Christological denunciations. As Fr, Meyendorff has called to mind, there is no dogmatic teaching of the Church that says that venerated saints and/or martyrs and confessors are infallible.
  • 83 “Minutes of the Consultation in Geneva, 1970,” (Wednesday, August 19, 3pm session), GOTR 16 (1971): 36-37.
  • 84 Alfeyev, 11.

 

 

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