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Oriental and Eastern Orthodox: questions
14-04-2007, 12:58 PM,
Dear John

Interestingly, I am currently reading "The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian" by Hilarion Alfeyef. Isaac's view of the unity of creation and of God's love which never abandons us even when we abandon Him, resonates very deeply with me. It seems to me that he tends to Apocatastasis, as I do, though I can accept the official Orthodox line on the subject.

Whether or not Isaac was a Nestorian doesn't in any way diminish his absolute holiness, nor the Orthodoxy of his Christian witness. As you say, he's a saint of the Orthodox Church
Yours in Christ
14-04-2007, 02:00 PM,
St. Isaac
Dear Paul,

It is a wonderful book, isn't it? As I understand it the Church has not said that Apocatastasis is not possible, it has simply said that it is not the teaching of the Church; what is not allowed is the form of it propagated by Origen, which includes the pre-existence of souls.

I can see that one would not want to negate the idea of our free will by saying that we will be saved whatever we want; that would be a denial of the need for the Incarnation. On the other hand, left open as the possibility that we will all repent and be saved, and as the love that God bears for us that can save us if we let it, it is indeed attractive. Except, in my experience, to some EO fundamentalists; but let us not go there!

In Christ,

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
18-04-2007, 08:35 AM,
Oriental and Eastern Orthodox:questions
Dear Paul and John,
An interesting anecdote on the subject of whether we will all be saved or not. The Russian Orthodox St Silouan the Athonite, when hearing a fellow monk loudly enjoying the thought that all atheists, heretics and other ne'er-do-wells will endure the eternal torments of hell, responded, "No!
Love could not bear that! We must all pray harder!"
Implicit in this response is a/ that God does not want anyone to be damned, b/ that it is up to us believers to help save those who could be damned. An awesome responsibility.
Although we finite human beings cannot really grasp the complexities of the issue fully, we can do as much as we can to help save our fellows by
prayer and open witness of our faith.
Regarding the dead, we do pray for the souls of the departed, and not just the faithful departed, as I had believed, but even for those who died
either unrepentant or in a state of indecision. It was explained to me that in every Syriac Orthodox monastery prayers are said for the dead every
Saturday evening, and that any believer, praying for the soul or souls of their beloved dead, even atheists, will have their prayers attached to these monastic prayers. A believing wife may hopefully pray for the soul of a nonbelieving dead husband, for example. It has also been explained to me that nonbelievers may actually die in a state of grace through a last
moment thought of repentance, or dying act of charity. We are not to know this because it can happen in the case of road or plane crashes when open confession was impossible.
Let us remember that when warning against the unpardonable sin against the Holy Spirit, Christ explained that this can be forgiven neither in this world, nor the next, implying that the sins of the dead can be forgiven in the next world. The great Matta el-Maskeen wrote about this once in a pamphlet on prayer.
Orthodoxy does not believe in the existence of Purgatory because either we have been forgiven in this life or, through the prayers of others, we are forgiven in the next.

Kirk Yacoub
20-04-2007, 12:02 PM,
In brief, Gentlemen, what are the differences between the EO and the OO? This for a newbie.

In particular, are there any genuinely dividing points that preclude communion, or are they matters that can be resolved in time, if people really want to, and should be put down to ecclesial fallibility?
20-04-2007, 12:13 PM,
Eastern and Oriental
Dear Solly,

Good to have you here, and already your energies make their mark in directing our discussions - which is wholly to the good.

This is a question for those who wish to concentrate upon division. As the website on the unity talks (mentioned above) shows, there are those who would answer this question by saying that the differences are historical and due mainly to linguistic misunderstandings; my own view would be in line with that.

But there is more to be said, and I shall come back with some thoughts, if I might?

Any way, a warm welcome here.

In Christ,

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
20-04-2007, 12:55 PM,
Please do John
20-04-2007, 12:57 PM,
Eastern and Oriental
Dear Solly,

A few thoughts on the theme of the differences.

Much of what passes for Christian history reflects on the divisions, heresies, schisms and discontinuities in the Church(es). This is natural in a number of ways. Firstly because they are dramatic events, and such history always attracts writers and readers; secondly because we have a tendency to trail back into the past looking for the origin of our present discontents. Moreover, as an academic discipline, history has tended to become a dissolvent, eating away at easy certainties with the acid rain of a drizzle of questions which seem designed to disturb a simple faith.

There way be another way of coming at these things. What are the continuities in what it has meant to be a member of the body of Christ across the time and the space Christians have occupied; being, as they are, one with the faithful departed and the saints? What does it mean to be a member of that body? Who is a member? Who defines the criteria for that membership? Who provides the labels such as 'Monophysite' which explicitly seek to define boundaries to God's saving Grace? What is the function of such labels for those who produce them - and what is the effect on those labelled?

One of the characteristics of an hegemonic culture is that it will describe other cultures in its own terms without even asking what it is they might mean by what they say. This we see at Chalcedon and after. The dominant cultural and political force in the region was Greek; the Greek-speakers read what the Copts and the Syrians wrote through their own perceptions of what was correct Christology. Words such as 'nature' and 'hypostasis' can be translated in a variety of ways and depending on the context, they can mean different things; at Chalcedon what the Egyptian Christians and the Antiochene believed was filtered through the Greek understandings and pronounced heretical. A real understanding of what those who were thought of as politically and culturally inferior really meant by their own terminology was thought unnecessary. 'The Church' understood and could - and did - pronounce - even if it took nearly 200 years for the Byzantine model to triumph.

The labelling was one of the ways the hegemonic culture defined its hegemony; it alone had the power to describe others - who became what they were labelled. This has left a huge and powerful legacy of damage. A form of theological imperialism still hampers an understanding from the EI side, which finds it understandably difficult to lose its age-old imperial tendency to expect others to accept its definition of who they are; and which, indeed, can take their refusal so to do as a sign of 'heresy'.

I don't pretend to have an answer to the paradox of how we can believe in a God who is Infinite and whose love is available to all who repent and believe on Him, and then seem to attempt to circumscribe that love by defining the boundaries of the body of Christ in a way that exclude most of those who would consider themselves members of it. But it seems worthy of note that I have not come across the Copts using these labels in this way, not becoming defensive if the paradox is pointed out.

There are things we can only understand by looking for a new Christian history, which deals with continuities and the experience of history in the shadow of the Cross. That way we may end up concentrating on what we have in common as Orthodox folk, and being able to see whether what divides us is just history and our fallen nature, and is therefore not as important as what we have in common; or whether, as some would have, some of those who call themselves Orthodox are deluded schismatics.

It seems important to be able to ask these questions - and I have found the Coptic Church a place where people don't label you, but listen and try to understand.

I hope this makes a contribution to a different way of approaching your question!

In Christ,

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
26-04-2007, 11:56 AM,
Hello John.

I seemed to have missed this reply, but belated thanks.

I can understand what you mean by Hegemonic culture, and the 'giving of names' I am a Baptist. It's not a name we chose, it was given as an insult, the same as Anabaptist, Quaker, etc. In my time on another board (for 4 years) I have striven, despite being a Calvinist, to understand the other view, even if I couldn't agree with it. Between wider differences, ie protestant and Catholic, the problems become more prominent, ie the term 'grace', so I guess I have a lot to learn about Orthodox use of terms, let alone intra-orthodox usages.

I am on a learning curve. After encountering Orthodoxy, I then find there are different flavours: Greek, Russian, Serbian, etc. Now I find there are families of flavours: Eastern, Oriental, and some others. It's quite breathtaking.

You can understand that given the 'bad press' the Coptic and other Orientals get, I have endeavoured to look into the matter more. There is that very long thread on monachos that I am currently going through - 70 A4 pages in 7pt font!!! as well as Peter's OrthodoxUnity site, John Romanides essays, and some others.

I was interested firstly in the graciousness of the discussion at Monachos - not what I am used to at all, where anathemas fly at a moment's notice!! Interestingly, the only fly in the ointment seemed to be Scott Pierson, who seems to me to be a convert from Evangelical fundamentalism, since he argues like one, in tone and style, unlike the other participants. His arguments are circular, imperialist, and full of unexamined presuppositions more appropriate to an unreformed Ian Paisley!

At least I can say that I have no qualms about the Coptic Church now.

Scott kept raising the point of OO being schismatics who need to return to the fold, and that there can be only one True Church, and the other must be schismatic by definition. I wonder. Why can't the situation be looked upon as a dysfunctional family? Both halves of a split family are still the family, talking to each other or not, and awaiting hopeful reunion, or finally going their own way. But you can't deny blood. Why must one be WRONG, because the other is RIGHT? Surely it's better to assume both are wrong in one way or another and start afresh. But I write that as someone who obviously doesn't have the culture in his blood, who doesn't recount the names of heretics in his liturgy - I can't believe that is so!! or has the same 'feel' for such as was evidenced in, say Northern Ireland between the two communities.

And I read with interest recently Robert Taft's essay Anamnesis not Amnesia which has some interesting things to say about Eastern Orthodox agression against Eastern Catholic churches.

Yes, the Coptic church does seem more open and friendly - even if it doesn't, at first sight, have the depth and breadth of theology that I personally enjoy (for instance I have about 60mb of downloaded material from the Russians and Greeks) Florovsky, Lossky, Zizioulas, Romanides, Vlachos etc.

As for the question, I think it was well put by another: the only barrier to ending the division is the division itself, and divisions are of the devil and human sin, not of God.
[b]Fides Qu?rens Intellectum[/b]
26-04-2007, 01:36 PM,
Dear Antony

I remember those discussions with Scott. In fact in the end he became much more open-minded, and in fact it was at that point that it became forum policy not to allow any more such discussions, and it was stressed very firmly that it was an Eastern Orthodox forum. I rather felt that there was concern over the fact that an Eastern Orthodox as zealous as Scott might find that there was much to commend in Oriental Orthodoxy.

About Oriental Orthodox theology....I think that if you dig below the surface, as I have had to do, then you will discover there is a rich seam to be enjoyed.

I don't know if you have visited - <!-- m --><a class="postlink" href=""></a><!-- m --> but you will see there that the British Orthodox Church is trying to republish and publish serious works which relate to Oriental Orthodoxy. By the end of the year I hope there will be approaching 50 such volumes available, a good proportion of them will be unpublished materials outside of academic journals and will be modern writings. I am presently formatting a collection of papers by Dr Youhanna Youssef, a scholarly Coptic Australian.

I can recommend - The Council of Chalcedon Re-Examined by Father V.C. Samuel, but also Orthodox Prayer Life by Father Matthew the Poor, which is published by an Eastern Orthodox seminary, while being written by the most famous of Coptic Orthodox monks in modern times. There are lots of other books I could recommend, and will in due course.

My opinion, as far as it is worth anything, is that Oriental Orthodoxy suffers from having been in the Anglo-phone West for a generation or so less than the Eastern Orthodox and so it is playing catch up in terms of English language materials. This is very rapidly changing however, and I think that the British Orthodox Church is playing a part.

There are a great many Oriental Orthodox materials in French, which I am enjoying reading, and I am trying to facilitate some sort of organisation online which would allow me to get these translated competently and quickly, all of St Severus' homilies for instance, are available in French and are wonderfully spiritual and theological, but you need to know French at present.

A selection of his letters are available in the Oriental Orthodox Library in English, and they are very interesting and theologically stimulating.

So watch this space...but if you let me know your particular theological interests I may well be able to point you in the direction of some Oriental Orthodox material. It should also be said however, that much Eastern Orthodox material is of a very high quality and would be recognised as being entirely Orthodox by the Oriental Orthodox. There is not the same exclusivity from our direction as there is often from the Eastern Orthodox.

I hope some of this helps a little. I will try to post some more thoughts but I am busy trying to prepare a stall at the Festival on Saturday.

Best wishes

26-04-2007, 03:46 PM,
Thanks Peter.

As far as buying volumes are concerned, I am very restircted on finances, so have to resort to the internet. I have this very day found Cyril on John and Luke and Letters of Severus at Tertullian.
They also have Severus' history of the coptic popes. <!-- m --><a class="postlink" href=""> ... eintro.htm</a><!-- m -->

I see that Isaac the Syrian is highly recommended on all sides. But I am glad about what you say about EO material, I was going to ask actually.

Having mentioned it, I think I have seen the Matthew book in my local Christian bookshop, I must dash there after work!!

At this porecise time, i would love to get my hands on a hard copy of Irenaeus' Adv Haer. My particular interest is in biblical theology ie the structure, progression and development of biblical ideas, not systematics, and Ir is a classic writer in this, and someone outside my usual Reformed sources.

I'm glad about Scott, although sad that the website closed the thread down, I can't remember a more informative and enjoyable read. but, i have been there before, when the first forum i was on stamped on all discussion that was opposed to its favourite eschatological scenario.
[b]Fides Qu?rens Intellectum[/b]
26-04-2007, 05:42 PM,
Eastern and Oriental
Dear Solly, Dear Peter,

An interesting discussion. As Solly will have seen, both Peter and I post regularly on Monachos, which is, I think, a good site - but they do get very defensive when one appears not to agree with their ecclesiology.

If you look at <!-- m --><a class="postlink" href=""> ... thodox.pdf</a><!-- m --> you'll see why; essentially they really do think we are heretical schismatics, like everyone else, and they are the only Church. It is an understandable point of view, but there's not much one can do with it when one reaches a point where one is, effectively, saying what you did, which is that we are like two members of a dysfunctional family; they see us as not family; a shame.

If you look at the recent St. Isaac thread you'll see the phenomenon at work. I hope that, as members of the BOC, Peter and I both try to evince an attitude of eirenicism, but even that is seen as smuggling in some hidden agenda.

There is so much that unites us, and so little that need divide us - and when one looks at the heathen secular world, it makes you wonder why we can't all do a better job of witnessing to His love. Still, there we are.

I think what you say about the literature is correct, and it is up to us, in part, to try to do something about it. Peter's efforts merit the description 'heroic', and his work, that of Abba Seraphim and of Fr. Gregory all seems to me of a very high quality; we just need more of it!

In Christ,

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
27-04-2007, 04:58 AM,
A book I purchased today contains what I think is a good overview of the major differences in theological paradigm between ?East? and ?West? (both Roman Catholic and Protestant).

?During the declining years of Byzantium an influential group of Byzantine theologians and churchmen, affected by developments in the Western Church, advocated the adoption of scholasticism as the primary approach to theology and denounced the spiritual practices of the hermits and monks of Mount Athos as heretical. The Athonite monks? way was known at the time as Hesychasm, or the way of quietude. Their goal was direct experience of the Uncreated Light and Theosis.
The leader of the anti-Hesychast campaign was Barlaam, an erudite,
Western-trained Greek monk from Calabria, Italy. As a humanist theologian and scholar he advocated intellectual contemplation, Aristotelian metaphysics, and Thomist theology as the appropriate ways to contemplate and search for God. He mocked the methods of the Athonite ascetics as the product of ignorance and superstition and considered reports of holy elders having experiences of the Uncreated Light as pure nonsense and delusion. Barlaam and his group taught that God?s essence is beyond reach and beyond all human knowledge. The Uncreated Light as experienced by Athonite elders, therefore, is not of God but purely the product of the elders? distorted imaginations.
The leading proponent of the Hesychast school of thought was the archbishop of Thessaloniki, Gregory Palamas, who as a monk on Mount Athos for many years is said to have had a firsthand experience of the Un- created Light. An erudite scholar, Palamas vigorously opposed the arguments of the scholastic philosophers and theologians and skillfully defended Hesychasm as the primary pathway toward God-realization, toward Theosis. He agreed with his opponents that the essence of God is absolutely unknowable and beyond all human understanding. Palamas, however, based his theology on the teachings of the early holy elders of the Ecciesia and stressed the fact that human beings can have a real experience of God through His Energies which are emanations of His Divine Essence. The experience of the Uncreated Light as the energies of God are therefore real and not delusions. By making that argument Palamas tried to rescue the belief that Theosis is humanly possible. He claimed that a purely philosophical approach to knowing God may prevent human beings from really knowing God.
The theological confrontation between Gregory Palamas and the Hesychasts on one hand and Barlaam and his supporters on the other went on for some time during the middle of the fourteenth century. It unfolded in the form of public letters, books, and debates that created much dissension within the Eastern Church. Eventually Palamas?s position won the day, and the Church in Constantinople, during the two subsequent Councils of 1341 and 1351, declared his teachings as the true teachings of the Orthodox Church. At the same time Barlaam?s teachings were rejected and anathematized as heretical. ?The struggle of St Gregory,? wrote a contemporary Athonite abbot and former professor of theology at the University of Thessaloniki, ?did not aim at justifying some philosophical position, but had as its target Theosis as an achievable goal for human beings.? According to Saint Gregory and the Hesychasts, a philosophical approach is insufficient as a method to know God. ?A theology that is based on intellectual constructs and not on the direct experience of God is philosophy and not theology. It is a human creation that offers neither real knowledge of God nor peace to the heart.?

Kyriacos Markides ?The Mountain of Silence. A Search for Orthodox Spirituality? Image Books, New York, 2001:233-234. The author is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Maine.

Those for whom ?Aristotelian metaphysics, and Thomist theology? are foundations of thought, Eastern theology will often appear confused, vague, imprecise or even superstitious.

There is a considerable amount of readily available and helpful literature in English on the Hesychast tradition; I am happy to recommend key works for those who may be interested.

Although Oriental Orthodoxy was clearly not directly influenced by the Barlaam-Palamas conflict, I think there has been a more significant but less recognized intrusion of ?Aristotelian metaphysics, and Thomist theology? into Oriental Orthodoxy (without a Gregory Palamas to overcome it!). This has been through the impact of Roman Catholic and Protestant (notably Anglican) missionaries. Perhaps we should pray for an Oriental Gregory Palamas to arise?

Fr Gregory
27-04-2007, 07:56 AM,
Scholasticism and Orthodoxy
Dear Fr. Gregory,

Many thanks for this. Markides' book is an interesting one which offers much food for thought.

Is it that, perhaps because of a shortage of translated works, we in the west lack the adequate account of the Oriental Orthodox tradition; or is there not one to be had? I have several studies of the Coptic Orthodox Church, but none of them actually gives me much in the way of an account of how its thought has developed since, say, the seventh century. To what extent is this a reflection of the want of suitable studies in translation; or just of suitable studies?

Or is it something deeper? To what extent have the years of Muslim ascendancy meant that the Copts have had to devote most of their energy to surviving - and that it is only with the growth of the last half century or so that they have begun to do more than that?

In Christ,

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
27-04-2007, 08:00 AM,
The pseudo-Aristotelian [since the West never had a full Aristotelian corpus, only a partial loan from Islamic sources] underpinning of Western theology is a matter of concern in the West too. Karl Barth attempted to get back beyond it, and it's modern manifestations in Cartesian and Existential theology. There are more recent attempts trying to take this forward, as well as further researches into the Hebraic thought world that runs counter to Western thought, whether it be through interaciton with writers like Zizioulas, or home-grown movements like Radical Orthodoxy [no relation] and Open Theism.
As far as 'world views' are concerned, I have found Orchid Land Publications very helpful in tackling the issues, as well as the works of Romanides and Vlachos. I have come to learn that Orthodoxy is not Roman Catholicism with lots of gold colouring at all, but something almost completely different!
[b]Fides Qu?rens Intellectum[/b]
27-04-2007, 08:03 AM,
Re: Scholasticism and Orthodoxy
John Charmley Wrote:Or is it something deeper? To what extent have the years of Muslim ascendancy meant that the Copts have had to devote most of their energy to surviving - and that it is only with the growth of the last half century or so that they have begun to do more than that?


it seems to me you have hit the nail on the head John. Persecuted churches don't have time for writing theological tomes. But more hagiography wouldn't be a bad thing: theology in action.
[b]Fides Qu?rens Intellectum[/b]

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