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Eastern and Oriental Orthodox - Fr Gregory - 24-04-2007 07:49 AM

Much recent discussion has focussed, either directly or indirectly, on what ?they? (the Eastern or Byzantine Orthodox) say about ?us? (the Oriental Orthodox) and how misunderstood ?we? seem to be.

Perhaps a useful discussion might be undertaken on what assertions are made or questions are asked about the Oriental Orthodox, and what responses might be appropriate (and accurate)? This could even provide the basis for a draft work of explanation.

So: let me begin with some of the questions I have often been asked, and encourage others to offer possible answers:

1. Why don?t the Oriental Orthodox accept the Seven Ecumenical Councils?
2. Which of the Ecumenical and other Councils do the Oriental Orthodox accept, and why?
3. Everyone (!!) says the Oriental Orthodox are Monophysite: is that true? if not, why is it so commonly claimed?
4. Why don?t the Oriental Orthodox accept the Primacy of honour of the Patriarch of Constantinople?
5. Do the Oriental Orthodox accept the validity of the Sacraments of the Eastern Orthodox Churches? Do the Eastern Orthodox Churches accept the validity of the Sacraments of the Oriental Orthodox?

Fr Gregory


- Solly - 24-04-2007 07:57 AM

On Question 3 Peter's article on the 6 anathemas of Diocorus seems pretty useful, and an eye-opener to me as a Protestant who, at least nominally, accepts the early credal and conciliar formulations.


eastern and oriental orthodox - kirk yacoub - 26-04-2007 08:31 AM

Regarding the questions posed by Fr Gregory, I think that John has given a succint reply to all of them.
Regarding question 5, whether we Oriental Orthodox Christians accept the
Eastern orthodox Sacraments as valid, I would like to reiterate what I have said elsewhere, namely that the Syrian Orthodox Church will commune anyone who has been baptised into an accepted Apostolic Church, which means that the Sacrament of Baptism in Eastern Orthodoxy is definitely accepted. The fact that Oriental Orthodox Christians seek to be communed by Eastern Orthodox Churches in places where no Oriental Orthodox Church is available shows that we accept their Sacraments as valid.
For me the main question is still, why at one level do the Eastern Orthodox accept our Orthodoxy as legitimate, explicitly stating that we are
not Monophysite heretics when, at another level we are refused communion because we are ..... Monophysite heretics?!

Kirk Yacoub


Eastern and Oriental - John Charmley - 26-04-2007 05:33 PM

Dear Kirk,

I am relieved that you think I represent our situation accurately.

The following document at <!-- m --><a class="postlink" href="http://www.scoba.us/resources/documents/guide_for_orthodox.pdf">http://www.scoba.us/resources/documents ... thodox.pdf</a><!-- m -->
tells us much about the EO attitude towards ecumenism. It would seem as though their view essentially amounts to giving us an opportunity to repent and come across to ask to join them.

This is a little sad. I know of no one who has given the topic any serious thought who believes that we are in any sense 'Monophysite'; 'Miaphysite', yes, but I am at a loss to think of any serious OO thinker who has ever argued that Christ's human nature was in some way overshadowed by and inferior to His divine nature.

The talks about unity long ago revealed that there are no substantive Christological differences, but since the continuation of the split has nothing to do with that any more, it seems to have made little difference. The EO see ecclesiology as a way of perpetuating the split; that is a shame, but of course, their prerogative. They do seem to lack a way of articulating authority, which doesn't help; the way some of the Athonite monks insult the EP seems to suggest that the EO will never find a way of reaching a collective decision. Of course, talks should continue - but we should be aware that the EO see them rather differently than we do.

In Christ,

John


- AndrewY - 12-07-2007 12:45 PM

Dear all,

In response to question three I often invoke the oft-repeated maxim: "history is written by the winners." John, being a professional historian, would probably be in a better position to discuss this truism in further length with some concrete examples which demonstrate how such a trusim has mislead the vast majority of the populace in relation to other historical issues.

In IC XC
Andrew


EO and OO - John Charmley - 12-07-2007 02:27 PM

Dear Andrew,

First, welcome here; it is good to have you on this site. For those who have not come across it, Andrew is moderator of the St Mary & St Merkorious Coptic Orthodox Church Forum, based at the Church of that name in Sydney, <!-- m --><a class="postlink" href="http://abusefein.org.au/modules/newbb/index.php?cat=1">http://abusefein.org.au/modules/newbb/index.php?cat=1</a><!-- m --> .

Given their cavalier way with it, it has always surprised me that the EO seem so antagonistic to history; still, if I had rewritten it in such a fashion, I guess I wouldn't want anyone scrutinising too carefully what I'd written either!

I suspect we need to recall the Imperial nature of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Labelling the Church of the East 'Nestorian' when it had not even been invited to Chalcedon or informed of its decisions, is one example of the way in which the imperial dimension mattered; there are some reasons to suppose that 'Ecumenical' is actually meant as a reference to the Roman 'Ecumene', which effectively marginalised those Christians outside the Empire; this was what the Melkites did after Chalcedon; except this time the insult was 'Monophysite'. We see, from the start of the spit, the determination (still there today) to tell others what it was they believed and then to punish them for it; it is the oldest imperial device - the make the outsiders the 'other'.

The fact that the Russian Church was also an imperial Church has meant that the habit was continued. If we wished to be less tolerant than we are, we could point out the absurdity of the Russian Orthodox Church writing about the 'Consensus Patronum' when most of the Fathers have not been translated into Russian, and Greek is not widely read in Russian quarters; so just which Fathers are they talking about? Would these be the Egyptian ones such as Sts. Athanasius and Cyril? The Coptic Fathers were defining and defining the Faith when the Russians were worshipping idols of stone and wood. We are all delighted that they eventually converted to Christianity, but of course, the only model they had was the Byzantine one. Not exposed at all to Oriental Orthodoxy, and knowing nothing of it, they simply took on board the old Byzantine anathemas and translated them into Slavonic.

These may be readings of history which the EO find uncomfortable, and they are certainly ones they would deny; but what they do not see is that their own readings are far from infallible. Only when the EO actually allow others to speak for themselves and abandon their imperial mindset will any real unity with them become possible; after a millennium and a half no one is rushing!

In Christ,

John


eastern and oriental orthodox - kirk yacoub - 13-07-2007 08:32 AM

Dear John,
Hopefully, tomorrow I will post some info about Russian Orthodox Fathers who did know Greek and were ecumenical in the true sense of the term.
I possess a booklet of "aphorisms" taken from the writings of several
Russian Orthodox saints, and it is very clear that there was ( and still is) a very sharp difference between those who looked outward and above the head of Tsarism and those who comfortably conformed.
See you tomorrow!
Kirk Yacoub


eastern and oriental orthodox - kirk yacoub - 14-07-2007 08:49 AM

Knowledge of the Greek Fathers does not,of course, guarantee that someone will become an open-hearted proponent of ecumenism, but there has been a number of Russian Orthodox saints who not only absorbed the words but also the spirit of the Fathers.
St Theophan the Recluse (1815-1894) who translated the Philokalia into Russian, had an open mind and an open heart that were both nourished by a lengthy stay in Jerusalem where he not only studied Greek, Hebrew and Arabic, but also met with Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Oriental Orthodox clergy. Despite fierce opposition in Russia he seriously evaluated Roman Catholic spirituality, reminding his opponents that the 18th century St Paisius Velichkovsky, who spent time on Mt Athos, who translated the Philokalia into Church Slavonic, and who performed the great task of renewing Russian hesychastic spirituality, did not oppose the spirituality of the Roman Church, but rather its dogmatic schematicism.
St Theophan's most powerful opponent, St Ignacy Brianchanninov (1807-1867) was so violently anti-ecumenical that he described St Francis of Assisi and St Teresa of Avila as "western lunatics"! It is interesting to compare their spiritual writings. Both wrote extensively and powerfully, but
whereas St Ignacy is formidably 'upright', it is St Theophan who displays the greater sense of mercy.
St Nil Sorsky(c1443-1508) was so dissatisfied with the laxity of his Russian monastery that he went to Mt Athos, where he was taught the mysteries of the Jesus Prayer and studied such Church Fathers as St Basil
the Great, St Makarios of Egypt, St Isaac the Syrian, and St John Klimakos. He returned to Russia and founded a monastic community dedicated to living the truths he had learned on the Holy Mountain. Despite his deliberate "otherworldliness", he did become involved in important controversies. He opposed western-style monasticism in Russia
which owned not only vast tracts of land, but also enormous numbers of serfs. Monks, he said, should devote themselves to prayer, not the administration of agriculture and finance. he resolutely opposed the common practice of his time of burning heretics at the stake, proclaiming
the need for forgiveness and charity, controversially emphasizing that the
human conscience should be left free to choose.
St Silouan the Athonite (1866-1938) was a Russian peasant who, at the age of 27, went to Mt Athos, where he spent the rest of his life. The essence of his understanding and his teaching was love for one's enemies:
"The soul cannot know peace unless she prays for her enemies..."
"If you pray for your enemies, peace will come to you... whereas,
if you revile your enemies, it means there is an evil
spirit dwelling inside you..."
So, three Russian Orthodox saints (and there are many more) who espoused open-hearted spiritual enquiry, forgiveness and charity, and the absolute need to love one's enemies. Of such is the ecumenical spirit.
Unfortunately the dictates of the world, the demands of patriotism (that old, old lie, to paraphrase Wilfred Owen) which require eulogies for one particular state power, have decieved many with chimerical notions of theocracy. "The power of the monarchy resides in faith in God, and the strength of the state resides in faith and devotion to one's own rulers,"
wrote St Philaret of Moscow (1782-1867). And: "Only an earthly empire united with God's Kingdom can be strong and truly happy." Here the differences between this world and the next, so clearly defined by the great spiritual Fathers, have been blurred, resulting in a eulogy of an illusory "Orthodox state". Such distortions have led to Churches not only supporting, but also advocating so-called 'civilising', 'crusading' wars.
However, "many are they who reign and rule over peoples, yet who are themselves slaves to sin and prisoners of their own passions," wrote
St Tikhon Zadonsky(1724-1783), another Russian who opened his heart to experience western spirituality. And while puncturing myths about earthly rulers, St Tikhon also continued to advocate obedience, not because the powers of this world can be trusted, but because obedience is an essential part of obtaining humility, of removing ourselves from the vain contentions of this world, enabling us to concentrate more clearly on
the King who is "not of this world."
The Church in Russia has, alas, never been able to free itself from the acute tensions between the so-called 'westernizers' and the 'asiatics', the
consequence of which has often been civil war. Yet God's powerful implements of peace, the examples of such saints as Theophan the Recluse, Nil Sorsky, Silouan the Athonite, and Tikhon Zadonsky, are great sources of light with which to illuminate the heart of the Russian Church.
Through their example and through their prayers they summon the faithful of Russia to the Body of Christ, where they become neither
'westerner' nor 'asiatic', but joyful citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Kirk Yacoub.


Saints - John Charmley - 14-07-2007 04:25 PM

Dear Kirk,

Thank you for these references - it is good to know about such men.

I am sorry if my last few posts have given the impression that I was having an anti-EO fit of pique! It is just that Peter and I have been engaged in a dialogue elsewhere where we are treated by some of the Russian Orthodox as though we were little, if any, better than pagans - and it really had led me to wonder whether this was generally so in Russian circles; so it is good to know of these exceptions.

The contemporary world poses great challenges for the Orthodox Church - and to meet them by pretending they are 'western' phenomena which will not touch the 'Russian' soul is blinding oneself to the lessons which the Spirit can teach in this encounter.

In Christ,

John


- Fr Gregory - 15-07-2007 06:52 AM

I am surprised that anyone would be surprised at intolerance, ignorance and a lack of charity in discussions between members of different churches.

I am more surprised, however, that anyone would bother with such discussions (unless for the sheer enjoyment of some sort of intellectual debating exercise) unless the participants were adequately educated in their respective theologies. The ?blind? debating the ?blind? may constitute an amusing spectacle, but it is rarely edifying or productive.

My limited experience of a range of ?let?s have a theological fight? chat sites does not inspire me to read further, let alone to take part.

Such inter-church discussions as I have experienced (for example, with the ROCOR Archbishop in Sydney, or at the ?Orientale Lumen? conference in Sydney) have been entirely polite, scholarly and Christian. Even my discussions with the Old Rite Russians (a group all too unlikely to be labelled educated or open!) have been thoroughly enjoyable and educational.

There is a basic principle in Conflict Resolution (reverting to my professional field!): dialogue. Dialogue has a very specialized meaning when used in this way?.I could, but won?t, ramble on about it endlessly! It is not about agreement, approval, acceptance, etc.: it is a process seeking mutual understanding, including understanding of essential and irreconcilable differences if these exist. This is not (uncanonical) ?Inter-Faith Worship? or (largely meaningless) ?Mutual Statements? ? but about a desire to understand the other, and to be understood.

We need to be careful about assuming or implying that the Oriental Orthodox are all rational, informed and eager to understand while the Eastern Orthodox are all narrow minded, illiterate bigots! There are Oriental Orthodox websites and publications (including those produced by the Copts) that peddle pseudo-theological nonsense (and heresy) and attack others (including the Eastern Orthodox) with nastiness and misinformation.

Dialogue can only occur in a spirit of genuine openness, willingness to listen and preparedness to acknowledge error. It requires an enthusiasm for asking (genuine) questions, and for offering (genuine) explanations, rather than for scoring debating points or ?proving? the other wrong.

If someone does not wish to engage in dialogue with me, so be it. We can either engage in another form of communication (debating or argument, for example) or we can go our separate ways.

I do not consider ecumenism a ?dirty word?, but I do consider much of what passes for ecumenism to be meaningless, uncanonical or fraudulent ? or, in some cases, all three!

Preoccupation with being accepted as ?genuine? (as in wanting them to agree that we are really Orthodox) or ?valid? (as in wanting them to accept that I really am a Priest, or offering me Communion) are distinctly Western concerns (although some Orthodox have become infected by what might be called ?Westernism?). Many Anglican churches will, for example, excitedly ?recognize? any passing Orthodox and hand out Communion to anyone who turns up. What value should be placed on such ?ecumenism?? It is an old Orthodox axiom that ?Intercommunion is the sign of union not the means to achieving it?.

When I attend the Liturgy at the truly magnificent Old Rite Russian Cathedral in Sydney (as I do when Fr Serge Kelleher, editor of the ?Eastern Churches Journal? is in Sydney), we are received with honour, invited to be seated in the choir, and offered the antidoran at the conclusion of the service. Do they accept us (me British Orthodox, him Greek Catholic) as Orthodox? I am sure the official answer, if we ever sought one, would be something like ?not really?. Seeking an official answer would seem to me to be (again) a Western approach. We can be received in the spirit of Orthodoxy, and engage in rich dialogue and fellowship without seeking something like a ?Certificate of Approval?.

Fr Gregory


Eastern and Oriental - John Charmley - 15-07-2007 08:31 AM

Dear Fr. Gregory,

The site being referred to is one which advertises itself as a scholarly one dedicated to Patristics, and our purpose in being there is precisely so
Quote:about a desire to understand the other, and to be understood.
The frustration came not from the intolerance, but from the insistence that only one, very partial, reading of Patristic texts was allowable; and yes, I fear that I am partial to a good intellectual argument!

I suspect that at certain levels of interaction things are easier, and the internet certainly brings its own strange dynamic to bear. Dialogue does, indeed, require a willingness to listen to others, and to try to understand what it is they are saying; very often it is more similar to one's own position than the language they are using might lead you to think. The injunction to love one another is, alas, too often ignored.

In Christ,

John