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Joint Commission for the Dialogue between Eastern Orthodox & Oriental Orthodox Churches Revamped

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Addis Ababa – 1971

Fourth Unofficial Consultation
Orthodox-Oriental Orthodox Theologians

Summary of Conclusions

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
January 22-23,1971

The following conclusions and questions have arisen out of our informal discussions in Addis Ababa about the lifting of anathemas and the recognition of Saints:

1. We agree that the lifting of the anathemas pronounced by one side against those regarded as Saints and teachers by the other side seems to be an indispensable step on the way to unity between our two traditions.

2. We are also agreed that the lifting of the anathemas would be with a view to restoring Communion between our two traditions, and therefore that it presupposes essential unity in the faith between our two traditions. The official announcement by both sides that there is in fact such essential unity in faith, a basis for which is already provided by the reports of our earlier conversations at Aarhus, Bristol and Geneva, would thus appear to be essential for the lifting of anathemas.

3. We agree further that once the anathemas against certain persons cease to be effective, there is no need to require their recognition as Saints by those who previously anathematized them. Different autocephalous Churches have differing liturgical calendars and lists of Saints. There is no need to impose uniformity in this matter. The place of these persons in the future united Church can be discussed and decided after the union.

4. Should there be a formal declaration or ceremony in which the anathemas are lifted? Many of us felt that it is much simpler gradually to drop these anathemas in a quiet way as some churches have already begun to do. Each church should choose the way most suited to its situation. The fact that these anathemas have been lifted can then be formally announced at the time of union.

5. Who has the authority to lift these anathemas? We are agreed that the Church has been given authority by her Lord both to bind and to loose. The Church, which imposed the anathemas for pastoral or other reasons of that time, has also the power to lift them for the same pastoral or other reasons of our time. This is part of the stewardship or Oikonomia of the Church.

6. Does the lifting of an anathema imposed by an ecumenical council call in question the infallibility of the Church? Are we by such actions implying that a council was essentially mistaken and therefore fallible? What are the specific limits within which the infallibility of the Church with her divine-human nature operates? We are agreed that the lifting of the anathemas is fully within the authority of the Church and does not compromise her infallibility in essential matters of the faith. There was some question as to whether only another ecumenical council could lift the anathema imposed by an ecumenical council. There was general agreement that a council is but one of the principal elements expressing the authority of the Church, and that the Church has always the authority to clarify the decisions of a council in accordance with its true intention. No decision of a council can be separated from the total tradition of the Church. Each Council brings forth or emphasizes some special aspect of the one truth, and should therefore be seen as stages on the way to a fuller articulation of the truth. The dogmatic definitions of each Council are to be understood and made more explicit in terms of subsequent conciliar decisions and definitions.

7. The lifting of anathemas should be prepared for by careful study of the teaching of these men, the accusations leveled against them, the circumstances under which they were anathematized, and the true intention of their teaching. Such study should be sympathetic and motivated by the desire to understand and therefore to overlook minor errors. An accurate and complete list of the persons on both sides to be so studied should also be prepared. The study should also make a survey of how anathemas have been lifted in the past. It would appear that in many instances in the past, anathemas have been lifted without any formal action beyond the mere reception of each other by the estranged parties on the basis of their common faith. Such a study would bring out the variety of ways in which anathemas were imposed and lifted.

8. There has also to be a process of education in the churches both before and after the lifting of the anathemas, especially where anathemas and condemnations are written into the liturgical texts and hymnody of the Church. The worshipping people have to be prepared to accept the revised texts and hymns purged of the condemnations. Each Church should make use of its ecclesiastical journals and other media for the pastoral preparation of the people.

9. Another important element of such education is the rewriting of Church history, textbooks, theological manuals and catechetical materials. Especially in Church history, there has been a temptation on both sides to interpret the sources on a partisan basis. Common study of the sources with fresh objectivity and an irenic attitude can produce common texts for use in both our families. Since this is a difficult and time-consuming project, we need not await its completion for the lifting of anathemas or even for the restoration of Communion.

10. The editing of liturgical texts and hymns to eliminate the condemnations is but part of the task of liturgical renewal. We need also to make use of the infinite variety and richness of our liturgical traditions, so that each Church can be enriched by the heritage of others.

11. There seems to exist some need for a deeper study of the question: “Who is a saint?” Neither the criteria for sainthood nor the processes for declaring a person as a saint are the same in the Eastern and Western traditions. A study of the distinctions between universal, national and local saints, as well as of the processes by which they came to be acknowledged as such, could be undertaken by Church historians and theologians. The lifting of anathemas need not await the results of such a study, but may merely provide the occasion for a necessary clarification of the tradition in relation to the concept of sainthood.

12. Perhaps we should conclude this statement with the observation that this is now the fourth of these unofficial conversations in a period of seven years. It is our hope that the work done at an informal level can soon be taken up officially by the Churches, so that the work of the Spirit in bringing us together can now find full ecclesiastical response. In that hope we submit this fourth report to the Churches.

 

(Minutes of the Unofficial Consultation 1970 Geneva and 1971 Addis Ababa)

Geneva – 1970

Third Unofficial Consultation
Orthodox-Oriental Orthodox Theologians

Summary of Conclusions

Geneva, Switzerland
August 16-21,1970

The third unofficial consultation between the theologians of the Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox Churches was held from August 16-21, 1970, at the Cenacle, Geneva, in an atmosphere of openness and trust which has been built up thanks to the two previous conversations at Aarhus (1964) and Bristol (1967).

I. Reaffirmation of Christological Agreement

We have reaffirmed our agreements at Aarhus and Bristol on the substance of our common Christology. On the essence of the Christological dogma our two traditions, despite fifteen centuries of separation, still find themselves in full and deep agreement with the universal tradition of the one undivided Church. It is the teaching of the blessed Cyril on the hypostatic union of the two natures in Christ that we both affirm, though we may use differing terminology to explain this teaching. We both teach that He who is consubstantial with the Father according to Godhead became consubstantial also with us according to humanity in the Incarnation, that He who was before all ages begotten from the Father was in these last days for us and for our salvation born of the blessed Virgin Mary, and that in Him the two natures are united in the one hypostasis of the Divine Logos, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation. Jesus Christ is perfect God and perfect man, with all the properties and faculties that belong to Godhead and to humanity.

The human will and energy of Christ are neither absorbed nor suppressed by His divine will and energy, nor are the former opposed to the latter, but are united together in perfect concord without division or confusion; He who wills and acts is always the One hypostasis of the Logos Incarnate. One is Emmanuel, God and man, Our Lord and Saviour, whom we adore and worship and who yet is one of us.

We have become convinced that our agreement extends beyond Christological doctrine to embrace other aspects also of the authentic tradition, though we have not discussed all matters in detail. But through visits to each other, and through study of each other’s liturgical traditions and theological and spiritual writings, we have rediscovered, with a sense of gratitude to God, our mutual agreement in the common tradition of the One Church in all important matters of liturgy and spirituality, doctrine and canonical practice, in our understanding of the Holy Trinity, of the Incarnation, of the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit, on the nature of the Church as the Communion of Saints with its ministry and Sacraments, and on the life of the world to come when our Lord and Saviour shall come in all his glory.

We pray that the Holy Spirit may continue to draw us together to find our full unity in the one Body of Christ. Our mutual agreement is not merely verbal or conceptual; it is a deep agreement that impels us to beg our Churches to consummate our union by bringing together again the two lines of tradition which have been separated from each other for historical reasons for such a long time. We work in the hope that our Lord will grant us full unity so that we can celebrate together that unity in the Common Eucharist. That is our strong desire and final goal.
II. Some Differences

Despite our agreement on the substance of the tradition, the long period of separation has brought about certain differences in the formal expression of that tradition. These differences have to do with three basic ecclesiological issues: (a) the meaning and place of certain Councils in the life of the Church, (b) the anathematization or acclamation as Saints of certain controversial teachers in the Church, and (c) the jurisdictional questions related to manifestation of the unity of the Church at local, regional and world levels.

A. Theologians from the Eastern Orthodox Church have drawn attention to the fact that for them the Church teaches that the seven ecumenical councils which they acknowledge have an inner coherence and continuity that make them a single indivisible complex to be viewed in its entirety of dogmatic definition. Theologians from the Oriental Orthodox Church feel, however, that the authentic Christological tradition has so far been held by them on the basis of the three ecumenical councils, supplemented by the liturgical and patristic tradition of the Church. It is our hope that further study will lead to the solution of this problem by the decision of our Churches. As for the Councils and their authority for the tradition, we all agree that the Councils should be seen as charismatic events in the life of the Church rather than as an authority over the Church; where some Councils are acknowledged as true Councils, whether as ecumenical or as local, by the Church’s tradition, their authority is to be seen as coming from the Holy Spirit. Distinction is to be made not only between the doctrinal definitions and canonical legislations of a Council, but also between the true intention of the dogmatic definition of a Council and the particular terminology in which it is expressed, which latter has less authority than the intention.

B. The reuniting of the two traditions which have their own separate continuity poses certain problems in relation to certain revered teachers of one family being condemned or anathematized by the other. It may not be necessary formally to lift these anathemas, nor for these teachers to be recognised as Saints by the condemning side. But the restoration of Communion obviously implies, among other things, that formal anathemas and condemnation of revered teachers of the other side should be discontinued as in the case of Leo, Dioscurus, Severus, and others.

C. It is recognised that jurisdiction is not to be regarded only as an administrative matter, but that it also touches the question of ecclesiology in some aspects. The traditional pattern of territorial autonomy or autocephaly has its own pragmatic, as well as theological, justification. The manifestation of local unity in the early centuries was to have one bishop, with one college of presbyters united in one Eucharist. In more recent times pragmatic considerations, however, have made it necessary in some cases to have more than one bishop and one Eucharist in one city, but it is important that the norm required by the nature of the Church be safeguarded at least in principle and expressed in Eucharistic Communion and in local conciliar structures. The universal tradition of the Church does not demand uniformity in all details of doctrinal formulation, forms of worship and canonical practice. But the limits of pluralistic variability need to be more clearly worked out, in the areas of the forms of worship, in terminology of expressing the faith, in spirituality, in canonical practice, in administrative or jurisdictional patterns, and in the other structural or formal expressions of tradition, including the names of teachers and Saints in the Church.
III. Towards a Statement of Reconciliation

We reaffirm the suggestion made by the Bristol consultation that one of the next steps is for the Churches of our two families to appoint an official joint commission to examine those things which have separated us in the past, to discuss our mutual agreements and disagreements and to see if the degree of agreement is adequate to justify the drafting of an explanatory statement of reconciliation, which will not have the status of a confession of faith or a dogmatic definition, but can be the basis on which our Churches can take the steps necessary for our being united in a common Eucharist.

We have given attention to some of the issues that need to be officially decided in such a statement of reconciliation. Its basic content would of course be the common Christological agreement; it should be made clear that this is not an innovation on either side, but an explanation of what has been held on both sides for centuries, as is attested by the liturgical and patristic documents. The common understanding of Christology is the fundamental basis for the life, orthodoxy and unity of the Church.

Such a statement of reconciliation could make use of the theology of St. Cyril of Alexandria as well as expressions used in the Formula of Concord of 433 between St. Cyril and John of Antioch, the terminology used in the four later Councils and in the patristic and liturgical texts on both sides. Such terminology should not be used in an ambiguous way to cover up real disagreement, but should help to make manifest the agreement that really exists.
IV. Some Practical Steps

Contacts between Churches of the two families have developed at a pace that is encouraging. Visits to each other, in some cases at the level of heads of Churches, and in others at the episcopal level or at the level of theologians, have helped to mark further progress in the growing degree of mutual trust, understanding and agreement. Theological students from the Oriental Orthodox Churches have been studying in institutions of the Eastern Orthodox Churches for some time now; special efforts should be made now to encourage more students from the Eastern Orthodox Churches to study in Oriental Orthodox institutions. There should be more exchange at the level of theological professors and Church dignitaries.

It is our hope and prayer that more official action on the part of the two families of Churches will make the continuation of this series of unofficial conversations no longer necessary. But much work still needs to be done, some of which can be initiated at an informal level.

With this in mind this third unofficial meeting of theologians from the two families constitutes:

A. A Continuation Committee of which all the participants of the three conversations at Aarhus, Bristol and Geneva would be corresponding members, and

B. A Special Executive Committee of this Continuation

Committee consisting of the following members, and who shall have the functions detailed further below:
1. Metropolitan Emilianos of Calabria
2. Archpriest Vitaly Borovoy
3. Vardapet Mesrob Krikorian
4. Professor Nikos Nissiotis
5. Father Paul Verghese

Functions

a. To edit, publish and transmit to the Churches a report of this third series of conversations, through the Greek Orthodox Theological Review;

b. To produce, on the basis of a common statement of which the substance is agreed upon in this meeting, a resume of the main points of the three unofficial conversations in a form which can be discussed, studied and acted upon by the different autocephalous Churches;

c. To publish a handbook containing statistical, historical, theological and other information regarding the various autocephalous Churches;

d. To explore the possibility of constituting an association of theological schools, in which all the seminaries, academies and theological faculties of the various autocephalous Churches of both families can be members;

e. To publish a periodical which will continue to provide information about the autocephalous Churches and to pursue further discussion of theological, historical and ecclesiological issues;

f. To make available to the Churches the original sources for an informed and accurate study of the historical developments in the common theology and spirituality as well as the mutual relations of our Churches;

g. To sponsor or encourage theological consultations on local, regional or world levels, with a view to deepening our own understanding of, and approach to, contemporary problems, especially in relation to our participation in the ecumenical movement;

h. To explore the possibilities of and to carry out the preliminary steps for the establishment of one or more common research centres where theological and historical studies in relation to the universal orthodox tradition can be further developed;

i. To explore the possibility of producing materials on a common basis for the instruction of our believers, including children and youth and also theological textbooks.

 

(Minutes of the Unofficial Consultation 1970 Geneva and 1971 Addis Ababa)

Bristol – 1967

Second Unofficial Consultation
Orthodox-Oriental Orthodox Theologians

Agreed Statement

Bristol, England
July 25-29,1967

1. We give thanks to God that we have been able to come together for the second time as a study group, with the blessing of the authorities of our respective Churches. In Aarhus we discovered much common ground for seeking closer ties among our Churches. In Bristol we have found several new areas of agreement. Many questions still remain to be studied and settled. But we wish to make a few common affirmations.

2. God’s infinite love for mankind, by which He has both created and saved us, is our starting point for apprehending the mystery of the union of perfect Godhead and perfect manhood in our Lord Jesus Christ. It is for our salvation that God the Word became one of us. Thus He who is consubstantial with the Father became by the Incarnation consubstantial also with us. By His infinite grace God has called us to attain to His uncreated glory. God became by nature man that man may become by grace God. The manhood of Christ thus reveals and realizes the true vocation of man. God draws us into fullness of communion with Himself in the Body of Christ, that we may be transfigured from glory to glory. It is in this soteriological perspective that we have approached the Christological question.

3. We were reminded again of our common fathers in the universal Church—St. Ignatius and St. Irenaeus, St. Anthony and St. Athanasius, St. Basil and St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. John Chrysostom, St. Ephraim Syrus and St. Cyril of Alexandria and many others of venerable memory. Based on their teaching, we see the integral relation between Christology and soteriology and also the close relation of both to the doctrine of God and to the doctrine of man, to ecclesiology and to spirituality, and to the whole liturgical life of the Church.

4. Ever since the fifth century, we have used different formulae to confess our common faith in the One Lord Jesus Christ, perfect God and perfect man. Some of us affirm two natures, wills and energies hypostatically united in the One Lord Jesus Christ. Some of us affirm one united divine-human nature, will and energy in the same Christ. But both sides speak of a union without confusion, without change, without division, without separation. The four adverbs belong to our common tradition. Both affirm the dynamic permanence of the Godhead and the manhood, with all their natural properties and faculties, in the one Christ. Those who speak in terms of “two” do not thereby divide or separate. Those who speak in terms of “one” do not thereby commingle or confuse. The “without division, without separation” of those who say “two,” and the “without change, without confusion” of those who say “one” need to be specially underlined, in order that we may understand each other.

5. In this spirit, we have discussed also the continuity of doctrine in the Councils of the Church, and especially the monenergistic and monothelete controversies of the seventh century. All of us agree that the human will is neither absorbed nor suppressed by the divine will in the Incarnate Logos, nor are they contrary one to the other. The uncreated and created natures, with the fullness of their natural properties and faculties, were united without confusion or separation, and continue to operate in the one Christ, our Saviour. The position of those who wish to speak of one divine-human will and energy united without confusion or separation does not appear therefore to be incompatible with the decision of the Council of Constantinople (680-81), which affirms two natural wills and two natural energies in Him existing indivisibly, inconvertibly, inseparably, inconfusedly.

6. We have sought to formulate several questions, which need further study before the full communion between our Churches can be restored. But we are encouraged by the common mind we have on some fundamental issues to pursue our task of common study in the hope that despite the difficulties we have encountered, the Holy Spirit will lead us on into full agreement.

7. Our mutual contacts in the recent past have convinced us that it is a first priority for our Churches to explore with a great sense of urgency adequate steps to restore the full communion between our Churches, which has been sadly interrupted for centuries now. Our conversations at Aarhus in 1964 and at Bristol in 1967 have shown us that, in order to achieve this end by the grace of God, our Churches need to pursue certain preliminary actions.

8. The remarkable measure of agreement so far reached among the theologians on the Christological teaching of our Churches should soon lead to the formulation of a joint declaration in which we express together in the same formula our common faith in the One Lord Jesus Christ, whom we all acknowledge to be perfect God and perfect man. This formula, which will not have the status of a confession of faith or of a creed, should be drawn up by a group of theologians officially commissioned by the Churches, and submitted to the Churches for formal and authoritative approval, or for suggestions for modifications which will have to be considered by the commission before a final text is approved by the Churches.

9. In addition to proposing a formula of agreement on the basic Christological faith in relation to the nature, will and energy of our One Lord Jesus Christ, the joint theological commission will also have to examine the canonical, liturgical and jurisdictional problems involved—e.g. anathemas and liturgical deprecations by some Churches of theologians regarded by others as doctors and saints of the Church, the acceptance and nonacceptance of some Councils, and the jurisdictional assurances and agreements necessary before formal restoration of communion.

10. We submit this agreed statement to the authorities and peoples of our Churches with great humility and deep respect. We see our task as a study group only in terms of exploring together common possibilities which will facilitate action by the Churches. Much work still needs to be done, both by us and by the Churches, in order that the unity for which our Lord prayed may become real in the life of the Churches.

 

(Minutes of the Unofficial Consultation 1968 Bristol)

Aarhus – 1964

First Unofficial Consultation
Orthodox-Oriental Orthodox Theologians

Agreed Statement

Aarhus, Denmark
August 11-15,1964

Ever since the second decade of our century, representatives of our Orthodox Churches, some accepting seven ecumenical councils and others accepting three, have often met in ecumenical gatherings. The desire to know each other and to restore our unity in the one Church of Christ has been growing all these years. Our meeting together in Rhodos at the Pan-Orthodox Conference of 1961 confirmed this desire.

Out of this has come about our unofficial gathering of fifteen theologians from both sides, for three days of informal conversations, in connection with the meeting of the Faith and Order Commission in Aarhus, Denmark.

We have spoken to each other in the openness of charity and with the conviction of truth. All of us have learned from each other. Our inherited misunderstandings have begun to clear up. We recognize in each other the one Orthodox faith of the Church. Fifteen centuries of alienation have not led us astray from the faith of our fathers.

In our common study of the Council of Chalcedon, the wellknown phrase used by our common father in Christ, St. Cyril of Alexandria, mia physis (or mia hypostasis) ton Theou Logon sesarkomene (the one physis or hypostasis of God’s Word Incarnate), with its implications, was at the centre of our conversations.

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

The Council of Chalcedon (451), we realize, can only be understood as reaffirming the decisions of Ephesus (431), and best understood in the light of the later Council of Constantinople (553). All councils, we have recognized, have to be seen as stages in an integral development and no council or event should be studied in isolation.

The significant role of political, sociological and cultural factors in creating tension between factions in the past should be recognized and studied together. They should not, however, continue to divide us.

We see the need to move forward together. The issue at stake is of crucial importance to all Churches in the East and West alike and for the unity of the whole Church of Jesus Christ.

The Holy Spirit, who indwells the Church of Jesus Christ, will lead us together to the fullness of truth and of love. To that end we respectfully submit to our Churches the fruit of our common work of three days together. Many practical problems remain, but the same Spirit who led us together here will, we believe, continue to lead our Churches to a common solution of these.

 

(Minutes of the Unofficial Consultation 1964 Aarhus)