Oriental and Eastern Orthodox: questions - Printable Version
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Oriental and Eastern Orthodox: questions - John Charmley - 10-10-2006
Peter Farrington and I are both contributors to a site called Monachos, which can be found at: <!-- m --><a class="postlink" href="http://www.monachos.net">http://www.monachos.net</a><!-- m -->
One of my reasons for joining it was an interest in what still divided Eastern and Oriental Orthodox. My (no doubt) inadequate understanding was that the main divisions were now, in fact, historical. Peter and I have been trying to test this on the Monachos website, but rather frustratingly, none of our Eastern Orthodox bretheren will actually pin down where the remaining doctrinal differences are.
This leads me to the following questions:
- how do other members of the Fellowship view the relations between the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches?
- have other members of the Fellowship had experiences with the EO Churches?
- to what extent would it be true to say that the Oriental Orthodox are more open to the idea of British Orthodoxy than our EO brothers and sisters?
As far as I can discern, many of the EO converts became such because the EO churches were what they came into contact with first. For my part, I have made a conscious choice to come towards the BOC because of what I perceive as it more eirenic and sympathetic approach.
I wonder if anyone has thoughts on these matters?
- Michael Kennedy - 11-10-2006
Yes, I have.
I initially worshipped with the Russian Orthodox Church. I got as far as asking to be received but there seemed to be some problem with this - I put it down to the fact that the EO churches had an informal agreement at the time(post synod vote to ordain women as priests) with the CE not to ordain clergy. As a CE Reader some EO may well have regarded me as clergy, which of course I wasn't. Providentially I found the OCBI soon to become BOC. I joined because they were by then canonical, they worshipped in English, and they were not concerned with those sort of politics.
My dealings woith EO Christians have for the most part been cordial but I have noticed from time to time a tendency for them to dismiss the BOC as heretical in spite of clear evidence to the contrary and the agreed theological statements. Some, a very few, have been positively hostile.
The Oriental Orthodox seem to me to be far more interested in a British Orthodox Church precisely because they are not, in my opinion, playing the same political games mentioned above.
But by far the greater problem is convincing the EO that their orthodoxy is exactly the same as ours.
EO and OO - John Charmley - 11-10-2006
That is very interesting. It certainly matches my experiences.
Peter and I keep getting the EO posters on Monachos to the point where they either have to acknowledge that the OO believe exactly what they believe, or to shy away from this, and every time they choose the latter. The port of last resort appears to be to insist that the OO have to 'accept the Ecumenical Councils'.
Peter then usually asks 'how many do you think are Ecumenical' and 'what do you mean by accept'? They appear unable to deal with this and say that we have taken the dialogue as far as we can! For those who think this sounds unlikely, do check the 'EO/OO' section on Monachos.
This is a shame, since it is a step or three back from the talks on Unity, and seems bent on perpetuating division for its own sake.
One of the many things I like about the BOC is, as you say, that it doesn't indulge in this sort of thing. It is fully Orthodox and devoted to mission to the British people.
It is tempting to wonder what would have happened had those who went on mission to the Slavs insisted upon their learning Greek first; no Russian Orthodox Church, I suspect!
I admire the missionary spirit of the BOC, which is helpful without every being pushy; in itself, very British.
What do other members of the Fellowship think?
One will? - John Charmley - 28-03-2007
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I have recently been reading up on the Eastern Orthodox notion of the 'Two Wills' of Christ, partly out of interest, and partly because it has come up on Monachos, and I had little idea of what was really going on.
It became clear that this was a problem caused by the dyophysite tendencies of the Chalcedonian Christology; if Our Lord has two wills, one of them is divine, the other human, so does He have a fallen human nature? If so, is He tempted to sin?
It seems to me this is less of a problem for the Oriental Orthodox, since we follow St. Cyril and, whilst we confess Christ in two natures before the union, we do not talk about two natures after the union. That is how it seems to my reading - but is that right?
My halting answer to the EO people was that Our Lord's Human Nature was like unto us in everything save sin. That was because it was our true nature - in the very image of God - not marred by sin. Therefore His human will and divine will were united.
Now I tread warily here, because this could be misread, and I may have seriously misunderstood something important. I wonder if anyone might be tempted to engage with this one a little? Although we have previously said that there is little that really divides us from the EO, we often say it in a defensive way, or so it sometimes seems to me. On this one, or so it might seem, the Oriental Orthodox understanding of the unity of Christ seems more helpful than the EO one.
But, as I say, I may not be understanding this very well. Any help?
- Fr Gregory - 28-03-2007
At the risk of being controversial, I would suggest that one of the major problems in relations between the Oriental Orthodox and the Eastern Orthodox is the general theological ignorance of the Oriental Orthodox clergy and laity. There are obvious exceptions, of course! The Eastern Orthodox clergy often ask theological questions (having usually received formal theological academic education) and expect sound theological answers. The answers they do receive are often not theologically framed, or are framed in language which (usually unintentionally) implies dubious or even heretical teaching. This all too often leads to the conclusion that the Oriental Orthodox are not Orthodox! Particularly on complex theological issues, specialist knowledge and language is required for any serious discussion ? no less than, say, for any serious discussions about computers, or philosophy.
My own experience of relations with the Eastern Orthodox has been generally positive and friendly ? except for their criticisms of the lack of theological competence in most Oriental Orthodox clergy they meet (or of some Oriental Orthodox publications). On the occasions on which I?ve visited the local Greek Orthodox Theological College I?ve always been asked quite complex questions about theological issues. I could interpret this as an ?attack? on Oriental Orthodoxy, but, in fact, I interpret it as a desire to understand. This has also been the situation when I?ve met with the Russian and Greek bishops, or have attended academic or ecumenical conferences
The Oriental Orthodox generally need better educated clergy and laity, real theologians, writers capable of explaining Oriental Orthodoxy in proper theological language ? and in English! ? and representatives who can engage in dialogue with the Eastern Orthodox in theological terms they understand.
Two Wills? - John Charmley - 29-03-2007
Dear Fr. Gregory,
Although, I suspect, a little controversial to some, I should have thought your post hit several nails on the head; there is not much to be gained from avoiding the issue of how our Church is sometimes perceived elsewhere; that said, one comes across some rum views as one discusses these matters with some EO folk!
I suppose what I was trying to sound out was whether my view on Dilthelitsm was one of those rum views I have just mentioned. It seemed to me interesting that the Oriental Orthodox had not exercised themselves in the same way as the Chalcedonians on this matter, and I was searching for explanations. I can find plenty to read on St. Maximos and the controversy over Monothelitism, but not much on why this was not a problem for the Oriental Orthodox.
The usual EO position on this appears to have been that since the OO were Monophysites they were also, effectively, Monothelites; but that is clearly an old misreading of our position on both issues. Is there any literature from our point of view on this? My attempt above tries to bring in material from Coptic publications, and builds on reading St. Cyril, but is put forward for discussion with some hesitation.
In that sense, in a small way, I am hoping to encourage a little discussion to move in the direction you suggest, Fr. Gregory.
oriental and eastern orthodox:questions - kirk yacoub - 29-03-2007
Before taking Father Gregory to task, something which will require some time to formulate a straightforward response, I would like to post this as an experience with the Eastern Orthodox.
Having been baptised into the Syriac Orthodox Church, and having read of how well ecumenical discussions seemed to be going, I was shocked when, returning to work in Poland, the Eastern Orthodox Church in Poland refused to commune me because of my "heresy". There's was no discussion over it. When I put the question again on the website of the Polish Orthodox Church I was met with some sympathy, being told that the problem is that many Eastern Orthodox clergy and faithful are ignorant of who and what the Oriental Orthodox Churches are. I ended up being communed by the Greek Catholics (the Liturgy being celebrated in Ukrainian) which I preferred over the Roman Catholic Liturgy because it is closer to Orthodoxy.
Finally, the Eastern Orthodox should take note of the following: My wife, a Roman Catholic asked her parish priest if she would be able to take communion with me at the Syriac Orthodox Church.
"Absolutely!" came the immediate reply.
- Fr Gregory - 29-03-2007
The question of Intercommunion is a relatively simple one to address. The Orthodox (both Eastern and Oriental) Churches view Communion as a ?sign of union not a means towards union?. That is, to receive Communion in a church other than one?s own is a sign that the two churches are in union. Thus, a member of the British Orthodox Church can receive Holy Communion in any Oriental Orthodox Church since all the Oriental Orthodox Churches are in union. However, the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches are not so united and therefore Intercommunion is not canonically (or theologically) permissible, the exception being where the principle of Economy (applied in a specific case) allows it ? for example, in the case of a member of one Church in danger of death precluded by physical circumstances from receiving Communion in his or her own Church.
The general refusal of Communion is not, in Orthodox terms, a gesture of rejection or unfriendliness, but only a recognition that the ecclesial union necessary to allow Intercommunion does not (yet) exist. The best study of this matter is (Bishop) Kallistos Ware: ?Communion and Intercommunion. A Study of Communion and Intercommunion Based on the Theology and Practice of the Eastern Church? (1980).
The canonical and practical situation with the Roman Catholic and Eastern Catholic Churches is different. Their canon law allows Eastern and Oriental Orthodox to receive Communion (although it is assumed this will be done only when they do not have access to Communion in their own churches). Roman and Eastern Catholics may receive Communion in Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches when unable to receive it in their own churches. ?Unable?, of course, means ?physically unable?, not when inhibited or precluded by canonical discipline from receiving Communion in their own churches.
Eastern and Oriental Orthodox practice is not consistent with regard to Communion in Roman Catholic or Eastern Catholic Churches. It is sometimes seen as permissible for those who cannot receive Communion in their own churches, and sometimes forbidden. Some Oriental Orthodox Churches appear, in practice, to allow Communion in Anglican Churches.
The fundamental theological principle is this: Communion is not simply an individual act, it is an ecclesial act, a sign of participation in the life of the Church. If a person is unable, by reasons of physical circumstances, to receive Communion in his or her own church, or in a church in union with that church, Communion should only be received in another church with the permission of the Bishops of both churches (except in cases of dire necessity, such as danger of death). That permission may be implicit (as, for example, in Roman Catholic canon law) or explicit (as would be the case with the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches).
The same principle applies to all Sacraments, including Absolution, Marriage and Unction.
Communion - John Charmley - 29-03-2007
Dear Fr. Gregory,
Many thanks for such a clear and helpful exposition of the situation.
The situation described by Kirk is, I am sure, not unusual, and one needs to bear in mind what you have just written; and also that however well the discussions have gone between representatives of our Churches, the situation out in the parishes and among the laity has not changed all that much in some places.
What I can say from personal experience is that when I became a catechumen I knew that the heaviest price I would pay would be the Eucharistic fast; and all I can say is that when I took my first communion as an Orthodox the experience bore no relation to anything I had experienced in nearly 40 years as an Anglican - it was so deep, so meaningful that words cannot express what it meant - and means to me.
For the very first time I began to understand what it means to be part of the body of Christ, and I never cease to be grateful to the BOC for helping me into the true path.
oriental and eastern orthodox:questions - kirk yacoub - 31-03-2007
When I said that I was going to take Fr Gregory to task I was, of course, talking tongue in cheek. But only partially.
It perturbs me that too often the Oriental and Eastern Orthodox communities bemoan either each others ignorance, or the ignorance within their own ranks. This begs two questions: what is this ignorance?; who are the ignorant?
Nor am I convinced that well-formulated theological explanations, whether in English, Arabic or any other language will actually heal the rift between the two forms of Orthodoxy.
I do not believe that a lack of intellectual articulacy is ignorance. There are millions of Christians throughout the world - Roman Catholic as well as Orthodox - who are either illiterate, or lack a high level of education, or who find difficulty in grasping complex ideas, yet who faithfully recite the Creed, confess that Jesus Christ is God, take communion, pray, and strive to live a Christian life. Is this ignorance? No.
If any Eastern Orthodox Christian were to ask me about Oriental Orthodox Christology my first response would be to ask him: what does your priest, your bishop tell you? Because after so many discussions, conferences and Joint Statements, the good fruit of many years of ecumenical labour should have become the common property of both
communities. If this is not so, then I blame Church leaders, the Eastern Orthodox in particular.
As a Syriac Orthodox Christian I thank God that the late Pope John Paul II was able to call my Church "the great ecumenical Syriac Church." While great strides forward have been made in relations with Rome, and while the Syriac Orthodox Church will gladly commune any member of an Eastern Orthodox Church, the Eastern Orthodox attitude to Oriental Orthodoxy remains haphazardly unclear. But the so-called ignorance of the laity and lower clergy cannot be blamed. The onus lies with the leaders of Eastern Orthodoxy. The decision of the Eastern Orthodox in Poland to deny me communion was taken at the highest level.
For every positive, rigourously honest Eastern Orthodox theologian who strives to bring both communities together, there is another theologian who spreads discord and disinformation.
Disputation has been a plague in the Church, opening up the flood-gates
to torrents of pride and anger, which sooner or later drown the participants
in blindness. The divided Church is disputation's bitter fruit.
A Church divided is a grave sin. Only the Holy Spirit can truly heal our wounds and achieve real unity and, as the great Monastic Fathers teach us, we must make ourselves worthy of the activity of the Holy Spirit through prayer, fasting and, particularly relevant as an antidote to disputation, humility.
The great Syriac Orthox poet Mor Jacob of Serugh(d.521) wrote that,
"the discerning soul should abandon the debate [over Christ's nature]
and be filled instead with the wonder of Christ. Let us be filled with
the wonder that is Christ! Whoever pries into the unsearchably
Begotten no longer has wonder, and this is to say that he no
longer has Christ in himself... Therefore, O soul, make haste
rather to wonder, and take care to love. Be ready to worship.
Keep yourself in a state of wonder... Open the door of your spirit
Is it too much to ask that, in the name of Christ our God, and in the name of Hs Holy Body, the Church, we all stop wrangling, kneel down together and pray with and for each other, even with and for (particularly with and for) those who spout the foullest abuse about their fellows in Christ, so that our hearts may be filled with the exhilerating wonder that is the reality of Christ?
It is chastening to remember that Christ once prayed:
"I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because
thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and
hast revealed them unto babes." (Matt11v25)
The words of the Master. What else do we need?
Differences - John Charmley - 31-03-2007
How very much I agree with what you have written.
I suspect Fr. Gregory's point was more to do with discussions at the level at which both you and he mention, rather than at the more local one; but here your point about the attitude of the clergy is very relevant.
All religious groups have what might be called a 'Taliban tendency'; I guess in Orthodoxy that would be the 'Orthodox Taliban Tendency' (or OTT for short). They look for what divides rather than what unites; they confuse ethnic practice with Orthodox praxis; and they seem more obsessed with punishment than with the Gospel of love. If one wants to see examples, one only has to look at some of the pronouncements from Mt. Athos after the visit of the Pope at Christmas time; if some of those things are part of Christian obedience, few of us would wish to be part of Christianity; but they are not, they are the product of narrow minds channelling strong feelings of displaced hatred; in short, just the sort of Pharisaical behaviour Our Lord spent so much time castigating. 'Whited sepulchres' indeed! May the Lord they worship bring enlightenment and peace where there seems so much darkness and strife.
The spirit breathing through your post. Kirk, is of the loving Christianity which your Church has preached always and everywhere. How right you are to hope that we might all, yet, join in a prayer of thanks to He who has loved us so much and who has sent His only begotten Son to the end that we might live.
Yours is a wonderful post, Kirk, and gives me much hope. Of course, no one is preaching a syncretism in which necessary doctrines and dogmas are dissolved into a sort of Anglican fudge; but for most laymen and women, the things we hold in common are greater than those that divide us. He asked that we should love each other so that the world might know whose disciples we were; can we not, this Holy Week, try that one?
Again, Kirk, thank you for such a powerful and moving message.
- Paul Harrison - 12-04-2007
I'm glad to have read this thread because it confirms something I have picked up. Last October, when I joined this forum, I fully intended to come to Chatham and meet Fr Robson and Peter. In fact I met them bofore as ar back as 2001, but to renew my acquaintance with them. So why didn't I? The answer lies with the attitude of more than one Eastern Orthodox clergyman. Before deciding to visit the BOC, I went to the Antiochian Orthodox congregation in the City of London, as its only five minutes walk, both from where I work, and from the Anglican church I've been attending for the last five years. I was made very welcome. The Divine Liturgy was awesome and very moving, though it did seem alien to me. Most of the congregation including the priest and soon to be ordained deacon (who has now been ordained) are ex-Anglicans, the two of them former Anglican priests.
I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve in such encounters, and I told these people of my uncertainties and my search for a new spiritual home. I explained that I had a few places to visit, including the BOC. When I explained who you are, the silence made me feel like Oliver Twist when he asked for more! It was gently pointed out to me that the Coptic and other non-Chalcedonian jurisdictions are out of communion with all the rest of Christendon and are one of the oldest surviving heretical groups left.
Some weeks later I attended a small Orthodox group under the Patriarchate of Moscow, meeting in an Anglican Church in Kent. I could only describe the priest, another Anglican convert, as one of the most delightful and genuinely Christian people I've met. I was invited to his house where he and his wife, who isn't Orthodox, but is another lovely Christian person, made me most welcome. Again I described myself as a dissident Anglican looking for answers within Orthodoxy, but when I mentioned the BOC, I get the same looks and the same advice, ie if you want to be Orthodox, do it under Antioch, Athens, Moscow or ROCOR, but preferebly not the latter. Don't go with those Copts.
When I attended a Continuing Anglican community, the priest had heard of the BOC, because like yourselves, they are a missionary church trying to fish for souls in Kent, among other places. He had no problem with it. He advised me to visit several churches until I found what I was looking for and promised to include me in his prayers. The priest at my former Church of England parish, who is still a personal friend, looked the BOC up on the internet and told me that the Copts are "fine Christian folk."
So it seems to me that the BOC and the Coptic and Oriental Orthodox Churches are being put down continually by the Eastern Orthodox, but not by other Christian groups. This is obviously related to 1600 years of mistrust, but its time this ws addressed at the highest levels, and that Eastern Orthodox clergy should refrain from this practice. Why I'm pleased to have picked up on this thread is because I now realise that I should have followed my heart and visited you last year, something, God willing, I can correct in the near future.
Eastern and Oriental - John Charmley - 12-04-2007
It does make one sorrowful that our good Christian brothers should speaks such harsh words, but my response would be to do what St. Isaac suggests when he writes:
Quote: Prefer to be treated unjustly yourself to treating someone in an unjust wayfor, as the saint himself says elsewhere:
Quote:the day you open your mouth to denigrate somebody, consider yourself as dead to God and emptied of all your labours
It is through our love for each other that we confess whose disciples we are. Do go to Chatham, Paul, and make your own mind up. I know, through another forum, that Peter has helped many other folk, some of whom are now Eastern Orthodox - and I have never heard him, or anyone in our Church try to press someone to convert - or say bad things about the Eastern Orthodox.
As someone who has just had his first Orthodox Lent and Pascha I can say a number of things:
1. Abba Seraphim was spot on in suggesting that the start of Lent was the time for me to be received, if that was what I wanted.
2. I have never known such spiritual growth - and such pain at times - as I have since joining the Church.
3. The wonder of the Liturgy, and especially of the Eucharistic feast is beyond description.
4. All I have received from members of the BOC has been understanding, patience and Christian love.
5. My wife, who starts from a position of almost visceral hostility to Christianity because of her childhood experience of its evangelical Protestant manifestations, will now come to Church with me occasionally (a 120 mile round trip) and says without prompting (and if you knew my dear wife, you'd know there was no way of prompting her anyway) that she has never met such kind and genuine people in a Church; her comments about Abba Seraphim and Fr. Tony would bring a blush to their cheeks, so I will refrain from doing that.
I feel blessed to be part of this community of Christians - and I thank the Lord daily for bringing me here.
I wish it may be so for you, Paul - but I know that you will find, at Chatham, nothing but Christian love and humility - and good fellowship freely offered.
- Paul Harrison - 14-04-2007
We're all used to churches all diagreeing with each other about who's right, who is the real Church of Christ etc, but it seems to me that Eastern Orthodox Christians take this to a higher level. The recent visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the Ecumenical Patriarch, a bold gesture for both men, was in no way universally welcomed by Orthodox Christians. Pope Benedict has a genuine belief that something should be done to heal the affront to Christ which these divisions cause, and which most Christians are rightly ashamed of. I've debated on Christian message boards for the last seven years, and it seems to me that Orthodox contributors, priests and lay people, believe that unity is possible, only when the rest of the Christian world gives up its errors and returns to the Orthodox position.
I see their point. One only has to take a look at the history and geography of Christianity to realise that, when it was largely confined to Europe, the further West Christianity spread, the further it fell into error. Not immeditely, but over a period of 1500 years. Yet while Pope Benedict is willing to make these gestures out of a genuine commitment, he isn't about to admit that the last thousand years of Catholic history have been a mistake. It seems that the Orthodox people who strongly hold these views would require that of him, before they could enter into any meaningful dialogue.
The Catholic Church recognises the orders and, therefore, the sacraments of the Orthodox Churches, and would have no problem with allowing their members to share communion with the Orthodox. The Orthodox Churches don't reciprocate in kind, and will effectively have nothing to do with Rome. I'm not sure where Oriental Orthodoxy stands on these issues, but it seems that your Greek and Russian cousins don't treat you any better than they treat Rome and would require you to "give up your errors" in order to establish full communion. The antiquity of the Oriental Orthodox churches is at least a match for that of the Eastern Orthodox. Many of the more "complex" doctrines of Christianity are nowhere to be found in Scripture, and were worked out with much debate in the first 500 years of Christianity, by which time the division between Eastern and Oriental had already occurred. It is this arrogance on the part of Eastern Orthodox Christianity towards the rest of the Christian world which is, to me, one of its most offputting facets.
I don't support the kind of wooly-minded ecumenism where the lowest common denominator is sought. Nor do I believe in unity at any price. But Christians need to stay mindful that the divisions in world Christianity are in disobedience to Christ's teachings and are an affront to His universal love of mankind. Any gestures made in honesty and good faith to improve the situation should be welcomed.
Eastern and Oriental - John Charmley - 14-04-2007
I am in total agreement with everything you say; and even reassured to know that what I have experienced was not just down to the way folk reacted to me!
On another site, Peter and I are taking part in a discussion about St. Isaac of Syria. The EO posters have finally had to agree that he was a member of a Church they call Nestorian (although one or two wanted to do what the logic of a fundamentalist mindset suggests, and say St. Isaac was a bad thing), which has left them with a problem. How come their Church, the only Church (the one in the next village, valley or vilayet is probably a bit dodgy), has him as a Saint? Their first attempt was to deny that he was a Nestorian. Having accepted he was, they now say that history proves nothing; if the Church accepts him as Orthodox then he was, whatever he thought he was, and whatever historians, unillumined by the Light of Tabor, might say; the latter only have things called 'facts', which have to yield to what the Church says: QED!
This is all of a piece with what you describe, and what we have both experienced. I have asked a question of them which, thus far, they do not address: 'Can you circumscribe the love of God?' Is that not what one effectively does when one says: 'Outside of us all is dark and heresy?'
Like you, I am not looking for a syncretic Faith that has no doctrine or dogma; I should have remained an Anglican if that was what I wanted! But there is a gulf between that and an Orthodox fundamentalism.
It is interesting that those who adopt this fundamentalist approach have also become suspicious of +Kallistos, who has done more for Orthodoxy in the west than any man alive. They seem anti-intellectual, narrow, and not a little self-satisfied; not attributes which attract by their resemblance to the earthly life of Our Saviour; perhaps they just really liked those Pharisees and thought they would be suitable role-models? Who knows?
What I do know is that in the BOC I have not come across this mind-set - at all. Makes you think!