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Ecumenism - John Charmley - 06-07-2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I hope that the very title of this thread will not raise blood pressures!

On another site where Peter Farrington and I post, the very word itself raises hackles as it is seen by some within the EO tradition as a heresy - see, for example <!-- m --><a class="postlink" href=""></a><!-- m -->. Mind you, since this site also thinks that the Copts are Monophysite heretics who need to 'submit' to 'true' Orthodoxy, <!-- m --><a class="postlink" href=""></a><!-- m --> you'd not want to believe too much of what such a sectarian mindset wrote, I guess.

Now, I can see that a syncretist approach - something akin to what I was familiar with when I was an Anglican, for example, would be undesirable because it sought a lowest common denominator; but the idea of fostering unity by finding out what it is other Christians actually believe, seems entirely in line with our commitment to unity.

I wonder how others here see this subject?

As one possible place to begin, I offer this from the great Syrian theologian and polymath, Mar Greogius Yujanon Abu 'l-Farag Bar Ebroyo (Barhebraeus, to most of us) was getting at when he wrote in chapter 4 of the Book of the Dove

Quote:When I had given much thought and pondered on the matter, I became convinced that these quarrels of Christians among themselves are not a matter of factual substance, but rather one of words and terms. For they all confess Christ Our Lord to be perfect God and perfect human, without any commingling, mixing, or confusion of the natures. This bipinnate 'likeness' ( Phil. 2:6-7) is termed by one party a 'nature', by another 'a hypostasis' and by yet another a 'person'. Thus I saw all the Christian communities, with their different Christological positions, as possessing a single common ground that is without any difference. Accordingly I totally eradicated any hatred from the depths of my heart, and I completely renounced disputing with anyone over confessional matters.

In Christ,


ecumenism - kirk yacoub - 07-07-2007

Dear John,
If ecumenism is a dirty word, then let us wallow in its filth like hippos!!
Seriously though, I recently read the text of a talk given by the Syriac Orthodox Archbishop of Aleppo, Mor Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim, to a group of Protestant Churches in Berlin a few years ago. He states that ever since the splits schisms and persecutions began over perceived
disagreements in the understanding of Christ's nature, the Syriac Church has strived to bring people together to heal wounds. He states the example of
St Severius of Antioch, the 6th century "Crown of the Syrians", who continually worked towards common dialogue. Happily the writings of St Severius are available to us. His approach was echoed loudly by Bar Hebraeus. Their approach has been followed very carefully over the centuries, with some significant results.
If people do not want to hear I suggest we do not cast pearls before swine, but rather pray. Argument, no matter how reasoned, tends to bring out the worst in people!
Kirk Yacoub

Ecumenism - John Charmley - 07-07-2007

Dear Kirk,

I'm with you on this - on the line that real ecumenism is what we should be about. By 'real' I mean talking to our fellow Christians to find out what it is they actually believe, and then seeing how it squares with the Tradition of the Church.

The result is often instructive.

I am struck by the frequency with which, in dialogue with Some ROCOR folk, they assume that its purpose is to try to secure unity with them, and so set out what their terms for 'submission' are. That's a sad experience, because, of course, no one is wanting union with them on their terms - just a dialogue where we might find what we have in common - as well as one which establishes where the divide comes.

Oddly enough (and I know Peter has found this too) I find dialogue with Roman Catholics much easier and more fruitful.

In Christ,


ecumenism - kirk yacoub - 09-07-2007

Dear John,
Yes, Ecumenism is easier and more fruitful at the moment with the Roman Catholic Church. For instance, I am permitted to receive Communion at any RC church in the world, but only some Eastern Orthodox churches will allow this. However, many leading voices in Eastern Orthodoxy have long ago stated that there is no real difference between the "two" orthodoxies, which makes it frustrating when dealing with the hardliners.
Recently I borrowed from a public library "The Greek East and the Latin West" by Philip Sherrard, hoping it would provide an in-depth analysis of the differences between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. However, although the late Philip Sherrard was an Orthodox theologian, one of the main translators of the Philokalia into English and, in collaboration with
Edmund Keeley, one of the finest translators of 20th century Greek poetry, the book was a huge disappointment. The style is costive, which means that the reader has to make great efforts to understand what is really being said, and once reaching some form of comprehension, the poor reader must then make further strenuous efforts to find out the book's logic. The book does not clarify differences with the aim of finding solutions, but rather it complicates everything still further.
Sherrard tells us that that the Papacy is in error because it gives ultimate spiritual authority to one Bishop only, a statement we'd agree with, but having added that the Papacy also concentrated political power into its hands, something obviously at variance with Christ's declaration that His Kingdom is not of this world, and therefore being a fundamental error,
Sherrard then tells us that the only real stability for any state is its spiritual stability, meaning that Christianity is the only guarantee of political stability. Byzantine Orthodoxy, he claims, had this stability because of the relationship between temporal and spiritual power as expressed in the relationship between Emperor and Patriarch. Apart from the obvious objection that, in reality, this relationship was rarely harmonious, but usually full of unresolved tensions, we would ask the question: What is the real difference between the Papacy holding both supreme spiritual and political power, and the Orthodox Patriarch being, at best, a partner of the Byzantine Emperor? There is no real difference, both 'systems' follow the wrong road of trying to make Christ's Kingdom "of this world".
Sherrard spends much time on the Roman Catholic introduction of the
Filioque into the Creed, and whilst we agree that this is wrong, that the Holy Spirit proceeds only from the Father, many of Sherrard's conclusions which he reaches as to the consequences of this RC error are somewhat breathtaking. According to Sherrard, if it were not for the Western Church adopting the Filioque into the Creed there would be no United Nations or secular education. And here we come to the crux of the disagreement:
many of the Greek Orthodox faithful, including some Patriarchs, became influenced and tainted by western ideas, ideas that not only poisoned the body politic of the Byzantine Empire, but also the very basis of an independent Greece. According to Sherrard, political democracy is wrong, secular education is wrong because it comes from the West and has deprived the Greek Orthodox Church of its temporal as well as spiritual power. (The loss of the latter being due to the loss of the former!) Whereas Christians should rejoice in the loss of temporal power, Sherrard acts as a spokesperson for those who bemoan it.
One of the differences between Christianity and Islam is that Christianity strictly differentiates between the things that belong to Caesar and the things that belong to God, whereas Islam makes no differentiation, stating that everything belongs to God. This is not the time or place to go into the subtleties of this argument, suffice it to say that the Islamic view has been used as a spiritual justification for theocratic states which, in reality, have been secular states using religion as a fig-leaf. In essence the old-style Papacy and Byzantine Orthodoxy did the same thing.
So, remember, when you collide with obstinate Eastern Orthodoxy you are not really colliding with spiritual objections to ecumenism, you are colliding with the mind-set of power. Those Eastern Orthodox who oppose ecumenism are actually demanding that we accept everything they say, particularly their mistaken charges of Monophysitism, that we abandon our beliefs, and bend the knee to Byzantine state power. (Which no longer exists!) However, we bend the knee only to God, which means, of course, that we must follow His commandment to earnestly pray for those who have set themselves up as our enemies.

Kirk Yacoub

Ecumenism - John Charmley - 09-07-2007

Dear Kirk,

Goodness me, what a powerful and well-argued post; I wish I could have out it so well!

Yes, it seems to me that at the base of the ROCOR (and it does seem to be centred there) objections to ecumenism is a profoundly Russian phenomenon. On the one hand the Russian Orthodox have been used to being an Imperial Church and see themselves as the 'Third Rome' and as the inheritor of the Byzantine tradition; on the other hand, the Russians have long had a profoundly ambivalent relationship with the West.

There have been those, like Peter the Great, Catherine the Great and Alexander I, who have admired the West, seen it as more advanced, and wanted their backward country to imitate it; on the other there have been those such as Nicholas I and huge parts of the Orthodox Church who have seen the West as the spawn of Satan and something to be shunned as the home of all harmful innovation. When I see this in the Russian Orthodox Church, and then see it portrayed as 'the Orthodox mindset', I recognise the fatal confusion of ethnic practice and Orthodox praxis, and sorry for it.

We can deal with the filoque elsewhere, but my limited understanding of it is that there is one very particular definition of 'procession' which since it amounts to subordinationism, we would definitely rule out; but some of my Catholic friends tell me this is not what they believe. That may be so, but at least we are prepared to hear what they say they mean, rather than tell them what it is we think they mean.

The notion that we need to submit to their definition of the term Ecumenical Council, when many of the EO neither know what those Councils decided or what Ecumenical means is, of course, simply a hard-liners' device to avoid actually saying they do not want union. On a very simple basis of fact, if 'Ecumenical' means accepted by the whole Church, then nothing after Ephesus has that designation.

I think your analysis a shrewd and thoughtful one, and I find it intriguing and informative; we are all much in your debt for it.

In Christ,